Bright Lines

Without drawing that bright line, you are ceding your party to this: a party of not living in facts, that bullying is acceptable behavior and that violence is acceptable behavior if you are trying to preserve your “way of life”, whatever that means. This will result in more people, especially within the echo chamber they are living in, seeing people that they disagree with as a mortal enemy, which for some small percentage of them translates into “I have a justification for violence.

Elizabeth Neuman,
former Assistant Secretary for Threat Prevention and Security Policy
in Trump’s Department of Homeland Security

This week’s featured post is “The Week That Broke Trump’s Brand“.

This week everybody was talking about impeachment

Most of what I want to say about the impeachment trial is in the featured post. But it was already getting long and a few odds and ends didn’t fit there.

Lisa Murkowski’s vote to convict may be evidence for the moderating influence of what is sometimes called the “jungle primary” system. In November, Alaska passed a ballot initiative that changed its elections. Instead of the usual system, where parties hold primaries and then the winners of those primaries meet in the general election, Alaska now has a unified primary for the entire state. The top four vote-getters advance to the general election, which is decided by ranked-choice voting. That change seems like a big deal to me, so I’m surprised I hadn’t heard about it until now.

In other words, Murkowski doesn’t have to fear facing a Trumpist candidate in a primary restricted to Republican voters. Both the primary and the general will involve the entire electorate.

Of course, Murkowski may not have feared a primary anyway. In 2010, she lost the Republican primary to a more conservative candidate, but then won the general election as a write-in candidate.

I want to call attention to one of the arguments Trump’s defenders used: This bad precedent will come back to bite you. Trump lawyer Bruce Castor put it like this:

If you go down the road Mr. Raskin asks you to go down, the floodgates will open. The political pendulum will shift one day. This chamber and the chamber across the way will change one day and partisan impeachments will become commonplace.

He warned that former officials that Republicans love to hate — like Obama attorney general Eric Holder — could be impeached. Lindsey Graham predicted Kamala Harris will be impeached if Republicans take back the House in 2022.

In other words, the arguments used in this case and the precedents it establishes could be used in bad faith in the future. But that’s true of any government action: If we raise tax rates now, some future Congress could raise them to 100% and confiscate everything! If we convict a murderer of murder, someday you could be convicted of murder too!

Just stop. If there’s some reason to believe that the current impeachment was pursued in bad faith, Castor should have brought that up for discussion. Similarly, if there is something regrettable about a good-faith application of this precedent — say, if you think Democrats will be sorry when Biden is prevented from using violence to hang onto the White House four years from now — Trump’s defenders should have talked about that. But don’t threaten us with the unknowable bad faith of future Congresses.

Another bad argument is the one McConnell and Portman made after voting to acquit: The criminal justice system should handle this. That really is a precedent that could come back to bite us.

Here’s what’s wrong with it: I don’t know of any specific law against hanging onto power after you lose an election. Crimes were involved in Trump’s scheme, like possibly incitement to violence or election tampering, but his fundamental wrongdoing was political. He attempted a subversion of the entire system rather than the kind of specific action that a law might ban.

Having watched Trump’s attempt to wiggle through the loopholes in American democracy, I can imagine that a cleverer usurper might stay in power after losing without provably breaking any laws at all, just by abusing the power of his office and the zeal of his supporters to intimidate or cajole officials into doing what he wanted. Think back to the Raffensperger call, and now imagine that the Georgia secretary of state had believed — without the president even hinting at it — that some Trump supporter would kill his family if he didn’t “find” those eleven thousand votes. There might not be any provable crime, just the derailing of our constitutional system.

That’s why it’s wrong to take an overly legalistic view of impeachment. The point is to protect democracy, and the attack might consist of actions that nobody has ever thought to make illegal, because only the president can do them, and no president has ever tried before. “High crimes and misdemeanors” is vague for a reason. Similarly, beyond-reasonable-doubt is a good standard if we’re talking about putting someone in jail. But I don’t think everyone should stand around doing nothing if we’re only 75% sure our democracy is being subverted.

When our entire republic is threatened, Congress should do what it needs to do.

I find myself agreeing with Ben Sasse way more often these days. Should I worry about that, or should he?

Conservatives regularly denounce executive overreach – but we ought primarily to denounce legislative impotence. … If Congress cannot forcefully respond to an intimidation attack on Article I instigated by the head of Article II, our constitutional balance will be permanently tilted. A weak and timid Congress will increasingly submit to an emboldened and empowered presidency.

The NYT’s Charles Blow believes the January 6 riot and the Republican unwillingness to hold Trump to account for it is the end of the Blue-Lives-Matter movement.

In the Senate’s acquittal — or more accurately, abetting — of Donald Trump, they stripped away the facade of the opposition to Black Lives Matter and the elevation of Blue Lives Matter.

It was never about preventing the desecration of American symbols. Members of the insurrection mob smeared feces throughout the Capitol after they broke into it.

This was never really about the protection of officers, generally speaking, but about allowing officers to treat with more impunity the people who protested the maltreatment of Black people.

but there’s still a pandemic going on

The numbers continue to improve. CNN reports:

Covid-19 infection and hospitalization numbers are now plummeting nationwide after rounds of devastating surges that followed the holidays. The country’s seven-day average of new cases is now below 100,000 — down from a peak of about 250,000 in early January, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Hospitalizations are also way down from their peak of more than 132,400 on January 6, data from the COVID Tracking Project show.

Deaths are also down, but not as sharply. The seven-day average death toll is down to 2600, after peaking at over 3300 a few weeks ago. It makes sense that deaths would be a lagging indicator, because people usually don’t die until some while after they’ve had a positive test and been hospitalized.

The number of Americans who have gotten at least one vaccination shot is up to 38 million, and increasing by 1.5-2 million each day. But the experts CNN talked to believe that isn’t the reason for the decrease in cases. After taking chances with social gatherings during the Thanksgiving-to-New-Years holiday season, people have become much more careful. (I described this a few weeks ago as the deal-with-God theory: “If you just let me get through Christmas, I’ll be good.”)

Meanwhile, the more-contagious variants continue to spread, though none of them have become the most common version yet.

and Congress needs to do something about it

Right now, Biden’s $1.9 billion Covid-relief proposal is being turned into a fully detailed bill by the House Budget Committee. This is currently at the behind-the-scenes stage of putting together a proposal that has full Democratic support. Nothing formal will happen this week because Congress is on recess.

If House Democrats can stay united, they have enough votes to pass the package. The problem will come in the Senate, where the bill will either need to attract 10 Republican votes or fit through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process.

The looming deadline is March 14, when the Covid-related unemployment benefits lapse.

you also might be interested in …

Covid relief is a sufficiently popular bill that Senate Democrats will probably be OK with using reconciliation to get it through, especially if they can attract a handful of Republican senators, but not enough to overcome a filibuster. But the filibuster will become a real issue when the focus shifts to political reform: outlawing voter-suppression tactics, ending gerrymandering, and so on. Reconciliation was designed to get must-pass budget items through, so non-financial legislation doesn’t fit well into that process.

The voter-suppression issue is particularly important in the Black community, because Blacks have so often been targets of suppression. And Democrats owe a considerable debt to their Black supporters: High turnout in Black precincts was a major factor in Biden’s win, and even moreso in the two Georgia races that allowed Democrats to take the Senate.

A voting-rights bill should come out of the House before much longer. If moderate Democrats in the Senate let a filibuster kill it, the moderate/progressive split in the Party could reopen in a big way.

I’m trying hard not to let my relief that Trump is gone make me too gullible about the Biden administration. For example, I love watching Jen Psaki’s press briefings, because so often she communicates actual information that, when you check on it, turns out to be true. And she handles hostile questions without getting hostile in return. But I have to keep reminding myself: She’s a press secretary, so if the Biden administration ever needs something covered up, she’ll be the face of that effort.

Similarly, I’m cynical enough to know that no presidential interactions with the press are truly spontaneous. But damn. This four-minute clip of Joe and Jill out walking their dogs on the White House lawn and talking about what Valentine’s Day means to them. It’s awfully endearing.

Maybe stuff like that is why the public has been giving Biden the kind of honeymoon every president used to get. So far, his approval rating has never fallen below 50% — a level Trump never reached. 538 has him at 54.6% positive 37.3% negative.

In general, Biden is doing a good job of selling his positive image: a basically decent guy who is working hard and trying to do the right thing. If people continue to believe that about him, they’ll forgive him for policies they don’t fully agree with.

and let’s close with something old made new again

One of the classic songs about the dehumanization of the working class was Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons”. Geoff Castellucci has used his incredibly deep voice and some self-harmonizing software to produce a 21st century version.

One of the under-appreciated aspects of this song is how much religious content it has. Right from the first line: “Some people say a man is made out of mud.” Who says that? Genesis does. It says that humans are shaped by the hand of God, who breathes a soul into them. The second line’s counter “A poor man’s made out of muscle and blood” essentially denies that account. Maybe you rich folks were sculpted by God and endowed with a soul, but nothing in a poor man’s life testifies to that.

Going theological for a second, “having a soul” is a poetic way of saying that your life is an end in itself. You have your own reasons to be on this Earth; you’re not just a tool for other people to use. “Sixteen Tons” raises the question: Do we really believe that? About everybody?

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  • George Washington, Jr.  On February 15, 2021 at 12:13 pm

    It would not surprise me at all if the Republicans manage to win a House majority in 2022, and immediately strip Ilhan Omar of her committee assignments in “revenge” for Marjorie Taylor Greene. I also have no doubt that they will impeach Biden on some pretext. We’re in an era (which began with the asinine Clinton impeachment) where impeachment is being used to make a political statement. And I say this as someone who felt Trump deserved both impeachments. But since it was known in advance that the Senate would vote to acquit in both cases, that makes them political gestures, as necessary as they were.

    • weeklysift  On February 21, 2021 at 8:52 am

      When I worked in a big corporation, I came to this belief: You should never just assume that other people will screw their jobs up, no matter how convinced you are that they will. Because that kind of thinking leads to bad outcomes that are nobody’s fault. “Maybe I wouldn’t have done X, but nobody asked me to, so it’s not my fault.”

      So I think that whoever has the majority, the House should try to do its job in good faith: Impeach if you believe there are impeachable offenses, and otherwise don’t. If the Senate will refuse to convict, that’s on them.

  • wcroth55  On February 15, 2021 at 12:35 pm

    Probably wishful thinking… but I’ve seen suggestions that Congress could prevent Trump from being elected to any future office, via the 14th amendment, section III. (And that might require only 51 Senate votes… or maybe 60, depending.)

  • Craig Jackson  On February 15, 2021 at 1:37 pm

    Could Trump be criminally liable for violating his oath, in addition to impeachment? It seems like many federal employees (both civilian and military) swear to similar oaths, and I would expect they could be criminally charged for a violation of same.

    • weeklysift  On February 21, 2021 at 8:45 am

      The question is whether or not Congress has passed a law rigorously defining the crime and specifying a penalty. And I don’t know the answer to that.

  • James Conner  On February 15, 2021 at 7:58 pm

    So I read this guy posts on Mondays, They are always good, but take time to scroll down to the bottom and watch the video. Never realized the religious implications of the first two lines of this song. The boy made it to Dallas in time for sub zero temps and snow. Also a blackout. He fortunately is staying with one of Denise’s cousins, one of Wendels daughters, good people. Boy he just snuck through the storms, 2000 miles in 3 days. Enjoying winter are we? >

  • ccyager  On February 16, 2021 at 6:23 pm

    Such an interesting post. Thank you. I’ve been thinking that the trial was important to put everything on the record in minute detail. And then, I wonder, if someone is charged with treason, is that a criminal charge? What constitutes treason? If you can regard Trump’s activities before and after the election as being against American democracy, would that be treason? I just don’t know what truly constitutes treason or sedition. I’d been hoping that the trial would have answered those questions for me. Or maybe when the Jan. 6 rioters are brought to trial, then we’ll find out. I’m so, so, so happy not to be bombarded by Trump’s absurd life anymore. But I must admit, I really want to see him in an orange jumpsuit, no hair or make-up, no fast food, just the orange jumpsuit. 🙂

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