Desperate Fear

Back of the writhing, yelling, cruel-eyed demons who break, destroy, maim and lynch and burn at the stake, is a knot, large or small, of normal human beings, and these human beings at heart are desperately afraid of something. Of what? Of many things, but usually of losing their jobs, being declassed, degraded, or actually disgraced, of losing their hopes, their savings, their plans for their children, of the actual pangs of hunger, of dirt, of crime.

– W. E. B. DuBois (1935)
quoted in Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America (2019)

This week’s featured post is “Campaigning in a Traumatized Nation“.

This week everybody was talking about the Democratic debates

As I said in more detail in the featured post, I found this round of debates hard to watch. CNN’s moderators valued conflict above ideas, and the candidates were only rarely able to rise above that agenda. Particularly on the first night, round after round amounted to “Here’s a Republican talking point. Would any of you obscure centrist candidates like to pick it up and club the progressives with it?”

I’m not sure why Joe Biden can’t just say: “Men of my generation have seen enormous changes in our lifetimes, and those of us who have been paying attention have had to change our ideas about a lot of things.” I don’t know why he thinks he has to defend positions he wouldn’t take today.

and two mass shootings

It’s ironic that just last week, Ilhan Omar was taking heat for an interview in which she said that “if fear was the driving force behind policies to keep Americans safe” (a condition that was edited out of the viral video) “we should be profiling, monitoring and creating policies to fight the radicalization of white men.”

Saturday the nation saw yet another example of what she was talking about: a 21-year-old white man from a Dallas suburb opened fire in an El Paso WalMart, killing 20 and wounding 26. Minutes before, a white-supremacist manifesto (assumed to be his) appeared online, citing the “Hispanic invasion” of Texas.

They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.

Sunday in Dayton, another man killed nine people and wounded 27 in an attack that lasted on about 30 seconds. The gunman had an AR-15 with a 100-round magazine. (Is there any justification for a 100-round magazine being legal?) So far we don’t know his motive.

Mitch McConnell’s twitter response:

The entire nation is horrified by today’s senseless violence in El Paso. Elaine’s and my prayers go out to the victims of this terrible violence, their families and friends, and the brave first responders who charged into harm’s way.

This tweet demonstrates so much wrong-headedness.

  • This violence is not “senseless”; it appears to have had the very definite purpose of killing Hispanics, and is a direct response to the “invasion” rhetoric coming from McConnell’s party and president. Republicans used to be horrified that Obama refused to “name the enemy” as “radical Islamic terrorism“. When are they going to say the words “white supremacist terrorism”? When are they going to stop amplifying that enemy’s rhetoric?
  • Once again, Republicans respond to gun violence with “prayers” rather than legislation. But why should God help a country that is so unwilling to help itself?

One Republican who did say the words is Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana. He tweeted:

I deployed to Afghanistan as a response to radical Islamic terrorism. We now face a different enemy that has also emerged from the shadows but demands the same focus and determination to root out and destroy. #WhiteSupremacistTerrorism should be named, targeted and defeated.

Trump played his usual game, issuing a statement that said various right things, and then trying to cash in.

We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain. Likewise for those so seriously wounded. We can never forget them, and those many who came before them. Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform. We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!

He looks to be supporting background checks, a very popular and painless remedy that Republicans have blocked in the past. But what he’s really saying is that he might be willing to support checks as part of a package that also included the immigration provisions that he really wants. He’s holding background checks hostage.

If you actually support something, you support it on its own. You don’t expect a pay-off.

Both President Trump and top House Republican Kevin McCarthy politicized the tragedy to use it against violent video games. This is a popular GOP/NRA talking point, because (let’s face it) the GOP is dominated by older people who never play video games. The point is absurd on its face, because the Netherlands and South Korea (which have more game players but fewer guns) don’t have our mass-murder problem. The graph below is a little hard to read, but the dot all by itself at the top is the US, while the outliers at the bottom-right are South Korea and the Netherlands. Canada, the country most culturally similar to the US, has slightly higher video-game spending, but way fewer gun murders.

and the Ratcliffe nomination

The country dodged a bullet when Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe’s nomination as Director of National Intelligence got pulled. But there are probably more bullets coming.

The law creating the position says:

Any individual nominated for appointment as Director of National Intelligence shall have extensive national security expertise.

But this is the Trump administration, so of course Ratcliffe had nothing of the kind. He auditioned for the DNI position during the Robert Mueller hearing by advancing the idea that Volume II of Mueller’s report, which listed the times when Trump may have obstructed justice, should never have been written, and was in fact illegal. So Ratcliffe has what Trump is seeking in a high-profile job candidate: He looks good on TV and is willing to spout nonsense in Trump’s defense.

Unfortunately, he started with lukewarm support from Republican senators like Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr, and then the media discovered that Ratcliffe’s already thin claims of relevant experience were inflated. Trump tweeted the nomination’s withdrawal, while complaining that Ratcliffe had been treated “very unfairly“.

I’m not hoping for a better nominee, though, because that’s not what Trump’s looking for. Tuesday he told reporters:

We need somebody strong that can really rein it in because as I think you’ve all learned the intelligence agencies have run amok. They run amok.

“Run amok”, in this case, means to tell him things he doesn’t want to hear, like that Russia is still interfering in our elections, MBS killed a Washington Post reporter, Kim Jong Un is not going to denuclearize, climate change is a national security threat, and so forth.

By law, Deputy DNI Sue Gordon, a qualified intelligence professional, assumes the DNI role until the Senate approves a replacement. But this is the Trump administration, so the law may not matter. Trump reports that Gordon is being “considered” for the acting DNI job.

It’s important to notice what’s happening here.

When Trump was naming his original cabinet, there was a sense that some roles were too serious for the kind of stooges he was inclined to nominate elsewhere. Maybe it didn’t matter so much that Ben Carson knew nothing about urban housing and Rick Perry didn’t even know what his department did. Maybe Betsy DeVos’ main qualifications to oversee American education were big donations to Republicans and an abiding hatred of public schools. Maybe Scott Pruitt (EPA) and Tom Price (HHS) were bringing scandals with them into their new jobs. But some positions were serious, and they needed serious people in them — even in the Trump administration.

And so that first cabinet had James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, John Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security, and Dan Coats as Director of National Intelligence — because even Donald Trump had to acknowledge that national security was important and demanded serious people at the top.

At the time, Paul Waldman proclaimed it “the worst cabinet in American history”, and summed up its members as:

a combination of ethical problems, inexperience, hostility to the missions of the departments its members are being called to lead, and plain old ignorance that is simply unprecedented

None of us imagined we’d look back on that cabinet with nostalgia. But now we do. Because Trump has decided that his whims and hunches are all that really matters and has been reshaping the government accordingly. Trump doesn’t want be surrounded by people who make him face reality and tell him he can’t do things he wants to do. He doesn’t want a science advisor to tell him climate change is real and demands action, a DHS secretary to tell him he has to obey the law, an FBI director to tell him Russia helped make him president, or an economist to tell him that his tariffs won’t work.

If you want a clear example of why Trump needs a DNI who will push him in the general direction of reality, consider this tweet from Friday:

Chariman Kim has a great and beautiful vision for his country, and only the United States, with me as President, can make that vision come true.

Trump continues not to admit that Russia helped him and is continuing to help him. Asked Thursday whether he mentioned the issue to Vladimir Putin in the wake of the clear alarm bells in Robert Mueller’s testimony, Trump treated the whole idea as an absurdity: “You don’t really believe this. Do you believe this?

Jeff Sessions may have wanted to make America more like Alabama, but he was not the threat to the rule of law that Bill Barr is. When Trump instructed him to quash legitimate investigations and start bogus ones, Sessions refused. Unlike Barr, Sessions saw himself as the chief legal officer of the United States, not the personal attorney of Donald Trump.

Mattis has been replaced at Defense by Mark Esper, who was named by The Hill as one of the top lobbyists of 2016. One of his first acts was to interfere in a big corporate contract, apparently as part of Trump’s grudge against Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, whose Amazon subsidiary looked likely to get a big piece.

Do you even know who’s in charge of DHS right now, as it runs concentration camps on our border? It’s Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan, who has served since Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in April. Trump has not submitted a nominee to the Senate.

and the trade war

Trump unexpectedly announced new tariffs on Chinese goods Thursday. China retaliated by letting its currency drop, which could destabilize a bunch of trading relationships around the globe. The Chinese government also suspended imports of American agricultural goods. Markets around the world are plunging today.

and Mitch McConnell

Mitch McConnell is up for reelection next year. It’s looking like he might face some vigorous opposition this time.

In addition to his own race, Mitch is likely to be the face of the Republican Party in every Senate race in the country. One of the attacks against McConnell is the nickname “Moscow Mitch” which he has earned by blocking all efforts to make our elections more secure from Russian interference.

He apparently hates that nickname, so of course everyone is going to back off and stop using it.

and you also might be interested in …

The Trump administration lost another court case: A district court judge in Washington invalidated the administration’s rule making immigrants ineligible for asylum if they cross the border somewhere other than a designated entry port.

The judge’s order makes what seems to me like a compelling argument. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 says:

Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status may apply for asylum

The Trump administration argued that its new rule did prevent people from applying for asylum; it just made them ineligible to receive it. The judge wasn’t buying that distinction.

In practice, the new rule was often coupled with a refusal to process asylum claims at ports of entry, essentially shutting off the possibility of claiming asylum in the US, which is a treaty obligation.

With Trump bashing cities like Baltimore, 24/7 Wall Street’s list of the 25 worst places to live in America became topical again. It ranked counties according to an index based on poverty rate, bachelors degree attainment rate, and life expectancy. No urban counties make the list.

Nearly every county on this list falls into one of three categories: counties in Appalachian coal country, Southern counties along or near the Mississippi River, and those that lie within Native American reservations.

I could imagine quibbling with the criteria, maybe by adding some measure of violent crime. And at first I wondered about making bachelors degrees such a big component — until I tried to imagine living in a place like McDowell County, WV (#4 on the list), where only 4.9% have bachelors degrees. Picture that: There must be some teachers in the public schools. The federal government has to have some kind of presence. There has to be a doctor or two somewhere. Who else?

Amanda Marcotte, responding to an Atlantic article about Trump supporters who are “tired of being called racists”:

Time and again, the argument Trump supporters make against being called “racist” basically boils down to saying they’re fine with black people as long as they maintain a subservient, apologetic, inferior position.

Glaciers extend into the ocean, and it turns out that the underwater melting is much more extreme than previously thought.

The GOP’s only black congressman is retiring.

Here’s something you didn’t know, because you’re not watching the right televangelists: The Impossible Burger is part of a “Luciferian” plot. The point is to “change God’s creation” (because normal hamburgers just happen, without any human intervention), and the ultimate goal is “to change the DNA of humans … to create a race of soulless creatures”. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

The Raw Data podcast “Kinetic Effects” is well worth listening to. It discusses how Russian disinformation campaigns work, including interference in the 2016 election. It concludes with this illuminating exchange.

Mike Osborne (host): What’s the one thing you want people to know about disinformation?

Kate Starbird (expert): This is such a hard one. But I think the most important thing is not that we become cynics or skeptics to the Nth degree. I think the most important thing is for us to start identifying whom we can trust, rather than backing away and stop trusting everybody.

Mike Osborne: The answer I thought you were going to give is that we are all vulnerable, that none of us are immune from disinformation.

Kate Starbird: Yeah, I’ve been saying that a lot. And I hate to leave people with that, because I think that almost feeds into the goals of disinformation, which are to have us back away, to have us not know that we can trust information, and back away from the political sphere, get back on our heels. And the society that doesn’t know where it can go for trusted information is a society that’s easily controlled. It’s more important for us to find people and sources and voices that we can trust, than for us to stop trusting everything.

The new chair of the Florida Board of Education said this in 2008, when he was vice chair of a county school board:

As a person of faith, I strongly oppose any study of evolution as fact at all. I’m purely in favor of it staying a theory and only a theory. I won’t support any evolution being taught as fact at all in any of our schools.

and let’s close with something sweet

While looking for the list of worst counties mentioned above, I ran into a much more appealing list: The best ice cream parlor in every state.

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  • George Washington, Jr.  On August 5, 2019 at 1:42 pm

    Putting aside Andy Tuck’s belief in Biblical Creationism, I’m more concerned about his misunderstanding of what a scientific theory is. A scientific theory is a model that explains observations, which the theory of evolution does very well. Calling it a “fact,” even one he disagrees with, is concerning in someone responsible for overseeing an education organization. A “fact” is the boiling point of water or the speed of light; confusing theory with fact is in my view more disqualifying that simply disagreeing with a theory.

    • The Serapion Brotherhood  On August 5, 2019 at 11:36 pm

      Creationism and lying about what a theory is go hand-in-hand–everyone who does one does the other–“Evolution is only a theory!” is their favorite line. They have to do this because what they are really doing involves denying all of science. Noah’s flood alone, it it took place and was created by natural processes set in motion by god, as creationists claim, would contradict just about everything we know about reality.

  • Meg LeSchack  On August 5, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    Great article, Doug. For quite a while, after reading an article that reviews many disingenuous statements & acts (some by Democrats), I feel very tired. It seems that many ideas, beliefs, and intentions have become assault weapons… Meg L.

    Sent from my iPhone


  • The Serapion Brotherhood  On August 5, 2019 at 11:32 pm

    “Chariman Kim has a great and beautiful vision for his country, and only the United States, with me as President, can make that vision come true.”

    One is inclined to take this statement as simple ignorance. Doesn’t Trump know that North Korea is full of concentration camps where North Koreans are tortured and murdered? He must not know, or at least not care.

    But look at what Trump is doing. Maybe the camps are the very thing that Trump considers beautiful. Let’s hope I’m being alarmist, but people probably dismissed fears about Dachau when it was first established–its just for those union bosses and they’re communists anyway (not that we’re that far along yet).


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