The Monday Morning Teaser

A lot of the news this week sounded like it came from The Onion. The fantasy of buying Greenland turned into a rift with our NATO ally Denmark. Our president was talking about being “the chosen one” and retweeting claims that he was “King of Israel” and “the second coming of God”. The chair of the Fed was a US enemy on a par with the dictator of China. American Jews are “disloyal” to a foreign country many of them have never seen.

This week I’m going to treat all that like trolling. It’s meant to make us jump up and down in outrage and ignore the real news: the Amazon basin is on fire, the G7 countries don’t look to the US for leadership any more, and the US/China trade war is nowhere near resolution as it pushes the world toward recession. Yes, our president is dangerously unstable and says ridiculous things that sometimes have real-world consequences, but that’s not news. We all knew that already.

The big thing going on in Sift-world this week was the accidental viral outbreak of last week’s featured post “How Should We Rewrite the Second Amendment?” It caught on, but with an audience I never intended: NRA types who hated it. A typical featured post these days gets 500-1000 page views (in addition to being seen by subscribers through email), but this one racked up 10K page views its first day, and eventually settled out just over 15K. At last glance, it had 290 comments, overwhelmingly negative.

I decided not to try to answer all the comments individually, so this week’s featured post will respond in general to the comment stream, which is an interesting artifact, revealing a chunk of the blogosphere that Sift readers may not see very often. That should be out soon.

The weekly summary — which, as I said, will try to skip quickly over the week’s various evidences of presidential instability and talk instead about the issues we’re meant to be distracted from — should be out around noon or so.

Call or Fold

The American people are ill-served when our leaders put forward unfounded allegations of voter fraud. To put it in terms that a former casino operator should understand: There comes a time when you need to lay your cards on the table or fold.

FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub

This week’s featured post is “How Should We Rewrite the Second Amendment?

This week everybody was talking about a change in immigration policy

If the courts don’t block the proposed change in immigration rules, people who come here with nothing — as a lot of the ancestors of current Americans did — will have trouble getting in, trouble staying, and trouble becoming citizens.

Monday, acting US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli announced the change:

Our rule generally prevents aliens, who are likely to become a public charge, from coming to the United States or remaining here and getting a green card. … Under the rule, a public charge is now defined as an individual who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period. … Once this rule is implemented and effective on October 15th, USCIS Career Immigration Services Officers — what we call ISOs — will generally consider an alien’s current and past receipt of the designated public benefits while in the United States as a negative factor when examining applications.

CNN gives some context:

Under current regulations put in place in 1996, the term “public charge” is defined as someone who is “primarily dependent” on government assistance, meaning it supplies more than half their income. But it only counted cash benefits, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security. …

[Advocates for immigrants] said [the new rule] would penalize even hard-working immigrants who only need a small bit of temporary assistance from the government.

The Washington Post elaborates:

[The new criteria] will skew the process in favor of the highly skilled, high-income immigrants President Trump covets. Since its first days, the Trump administration has been seeking ways to weed out immigrants the president sees as undesirable, including those who might draw on taxpayer-funded benefits.

Wealth, education, age and English-language skills will take on greater importance in the process of obtaining a green card, which is the main hurdle in the path to full U.S. citizenship.

WaPo’s Eugene Robinson creates a hypothetical example:

Say you’re an immigrant from Mexico who came here legally to join family members who are already permanent residents or citizens. Say you’re working a full-time minimum-wage job, plus odd jobs nights and weekends. You are a productive member of society. You are paying payroll taxes, sales taxes, vehicle registration fees and other government levies. Still, as hard as you work, you can’t make ends meet.

You may be legally entitled to health care through Medicaid. You may be entitled to food assistance through the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps. You may be entitled to housing assistance. But according to the new Trump administration rule — set to take effect in two months — if you use any of these programs, you might forfeit the opportunity to ever obtain a green card making you a permanent resident. That means you also forfeit the chance of ever becoming a citizen.

And Max Boot makes it personal:

I am certain that my family — my grandmother, mother and myself — had a credit score of zero when we arrived in 1976. There were no credit cards in the Soviet Union, and we didn’t have any money. We survived initially on handouts from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), whose help to more recent arrivals triggered the ire of the alleged Pittsburgh synagogue gunman. Luckily, my mother already spoke English, so she soon found a job. But my grandmother spoke only Russian and she was already retired. She got by with help from my family and her Supplemental Security Income and Medicare benefits. My family is far from rich, but we have been productive and repaid in taxes many times over the benefits my grandmother received — just as we repaid the aid from HIAS.

But if Trump had been in office then, I wonder whether my grandmother would have been barred entry or deported back to the U.S.S.R., where she had no one to take care of her? For that matter, I wonder whether any of us would have been allowed to come here given our unconscionable lack of a credit rating?

Here’s a factor anyone should be able to appreciate: In this era of super-bugs, when antibiotics are starting to lose their effectiveness, we shouldn’t be making people afraid to see a doctor. The most likely place for a really nasty plague to get started is among a group of people who either can’t afford healthcare or avoid it for some other reason. So discouraging people from signing up for Medicaid is a bad idea for all of us.


During an interview Tuesday morning with NPR’s Rachel Martin, Cuccinelli rewrote the inscription on the Statue of Liberty.

MARTIN: Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus’ words etched on the Statue of Liberty – give me your tired, your poor – are also part of the American ethos?

CUCCINELLI: They certainly are – give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge. That plaque was put on the Statue of Liberty at almost the same time as the first public charge law was passed – very interesting timing.

Clarifying Tuesday evening to CNN’s Erin Burnett, Cuccinelli said that Lazarus’ poem had European immigrants in mind.

Of course that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe where they had class-based societies, where people were considered wretched if they weren’t in the right class, and it was written one year after the first federal public charge rule was written.

At best, he was denying that the poem’s “give me … your poor” refers to people who lack money, rather than just those who weren’t born into the aristocracy. At worst, he was dog-whistling to white supremacists. (Among white supremacists who are trying to sound respectable, “European” has become a less obviously racist way of saying “white”.)


Trevor Noah has figured out the true target of Trump’s hard line on immigration: He wants to deport Melania.

and two members of Congress who won’t be going to Israel

Vice summarizes:

  • First, [Rep. Rashida] Tlaib and her colleague in the House, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar were scheduled to visit Israel. They’re both supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes boycotting Israel in protest of its human rights abuses against Palestinians.
  • But after some prodding from President Donald Trump, Israel barred the lawmakers from entering the country on Thursday. “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit,” the president tweeted.
  • The move sparked widespread outrage. Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee was upset with the decision.
  • Friday morning, Israel said it would allow Tlaib to enter the country for a humanitarian visit so long as she didn’t promote protests during the trip. “This could be my last opportunity to see her,” Tlaib wrote of her grandmother in a letter. “I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit.”

But after thinking about it, Tlaib changed her mind:

When I won, it gave the Palestinian people hope that someone will finally speak the truth about the inhumane conditions. I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies.

So then the deal was off and she isn’t going.

Always classy, Trump closed with this gratuitous insult:

The only real winner here is Tlaib’s grandmother. She doesn’t have to see her now!

He probably thought he had gotten the last word, but he didn’t reckon with Tlaib’s grandmother:

Ninety-year-old Muftia Tlaib, sitting in her garden in the village of Beit Ur Al-Fauqa, was not impressed. “Trump tells me I should be happy Rashida is not coming,” she said. “May God ruin him.”


The issue here is a bit bigger than Tlaib, her grandmother, Trump, and Netanyahu. Thomas Friedman comments:

Trump — with the knowing help of Israel’s current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu — is doing something no American president and Israeli prime minister have done before: They’re making support for Israel a wedge issue in American politics.

Few things are more dangerous to Israel’s long-term interests than its becoming a partisan matter in America, which is Israel’s vital political, military and economic backer in the world.

and the inverted yield curve

In general, the longer you want to borrow someone’s money, the higher the interest rate they will charge you. This seems as if it ought to be a natural law. After all, the two main common-sense justifications for charging interest are

  • the borrower gets to consume now while the lender delays his or her consumption,
  • and the lender is taking the risk that the borrower may not repay, or that by the time repayment happens, the currency the loan is measured in might have lost value.

Both of those considerations get weightier with time: The longer I have to delay my consumption the more I want to get paid for it, and the more time that passes before repayment, the more things can happen to interfere with it.

If you have one particular borrower — the US government, say — who owes money on a bunch of different time scales, you can plot out a “yield curve”: the interest rate on bonds that come due in 1 year, in 2 years, 10 years, 30 years, and so on. Given the discussion above, you’d expect the yield curve to slope upwards: longer maturities correspond to higher interest rates. And most of the time that’s true.

Wednesday, though, the interest rate on the 10-year US bond fell below the 2-year rate for the first time since 2007. That created an “inverted yield curve”, i.e., one that slopes downward, not upward.

For investors, an inverted yield curve is like birds migrating in the wrong direction or the jungle going silent at a time when it usually chatters: It’s a sign that something is seriously wrong. (You might take a clue from the “since 2007” above. The economy got pretty ugly in 2008.) So the inversion touched off a fast 800-point loss in the Dow Jones average.

The panic is partly superstitious and partly legitimate. (Superstition matters in the stock market because traders are always trying to guess what other traders might do. So while of course I’m not superstitious myself, those other traders …) Here’s the legitimate part: Think about why some investor might be willing to accept a lower interest rate on a 10-year loan than a 2-year loan. And the answer is: He’s worried that when the 2-year loan comes due, interest rates might be lower than they are now.

Imagine, for example, that you could earn 2% on a 2-year loan but only 1.5% on a 10-year. (The actual inversion is much smaller than this, but I’m trying to keep the numbers simple.) So you invest $1,000 at 2% and get $20 per year in interest rather than the $15 you’d get on the 10-year loan. But then at the end of two years, you get your $1,000 back, and now an 8-year loan will only get you 1%. Then you’d say, “Damn, I wish I’d taken the 1.5%, because then I’d get $15 a year for the next eight years rather than $10.”

So an inverted yield curve reflects the market’s expectation that interest rates are likely to go down. Falling interest rates, in turn, mainly happen during recessions. (In December, 2008, short-term interest rates in the US were .25%.) So the inverted yield curve is predicting a recession.


The inverted yield curve is happening at the same time as another anomalous event: European government bonds are paying negative interest rates. Irish Times reports:

[O]ddities now abound. Danish lender Jyske Bank last week issued a 10-year mortgage bond at an interest rate of -0.5 per cent, meaning homeowners are being paid to borrow. Meanwhile, Swiss bank UBS is planning to charge its super-rich clients for holding on to cash.

So a lot of stock traders are just plain spooked, and I can’t say I blame them.


Another source of anxiety: Germany may already be in recession. A recession is usually defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Germany has reported one.

But here’s an interesting spin on that: Countries where the workforce is shrinking (Germany is one), can simultaneously have a shrinking GDP and rising (or stable) incomes for individuals. Is it really fair to call that a recession? As populations stabilize in more and more countries, perhaps our targets for economic growth need to be adjusted.

That point is particularly significant for the United States. If Trump gets his way and immigration goes way down, but the birth rate stays low, GDP growth targets in the 3-4% range become unreasonable.

and Trump supporters

From the WaPo article “‘He gets it.’ Evangelicals aren’t turned off by Trump’s first term“:

While they cheer Trump’s many efforts to chip away at LGBT rights, they are much more concerned with protecting their own right to maintain their opposition. They want to be able to teach their values without interference — some churchgoers fretted about school textbooks that refer to transgender identities without condemnation and about gay couples showing up in TV commercials every time they try to watch a show with their children.

This attitude explains a lot: Conservative Christians have pushed their boundaries out so far that it’s impossible for other people to live their lives without “interfering” with them. The old adage was: “Your freedom to swing your fist ends at my nose.” But Evangelicals don’t look at things that way. In order to be “free”, they have to control the textbooks the rest of us use and the TV the rest of us watch.

It’s a kind of freedom that not everybody can have. Just them.

Another long thoughtful WaPo article about evangelical Trump supporters concluded with this:

Is there a way to reverse hostilities between the two cultures in a way that might provoke a truce? It is hard to see. Is it even possible to return to a style of evangelical politics that favored “family values” candidates and a Billy Graham-like engagement with the world, all with an eye toward revival and persuasion? It is hard to imagine.

Or was a truly evangelical politics — with an eye toward cultural transformation — less effective than the defensive evangelical politics of today, which seems focused on achieving protective accommodations against a broader, more liberal national culture? Was the former always destined to collapse into the latter? And will the evangelical politics of the post-Bush era continue to favor the rise of figures such as Trump, who are willing to dispense with any hint of personal Christian virtue while promising to pause the decline of evangelical fortunes — whatever it takes? And if hostilities can’t be reduced and a detente can’t be reached, are the evangelicals who foretell the apocalypse really wrong?


A number of articles talk about how tired Trump supporters are of being called racists. The Atlantic quotes a 50-year-old woman at a Trump rally in Cincinnati:

“I’m sick to death of it. I have 13 grandchildren—13,” she continued. “Four of them are biracial, black and white; another two of them are black and white; and another two of them are Singapore and white. You think I’m a racist? I go and I give them kids kisses like nobody’s business.”

This is a response I’ve run into fairly often in reading interviews: I can’t be racist because I have non-whites in my family (just like Trump can’t be anti-Semitic because of Jared and Ivanka). It’s an amped-up version of the some-of-my-best-friends-are-Jewish line that people would use when I was young.

I’m not sure why anyone thinks this is a get-out-of-racism-free card. The fact that you can make exceptions for people who are very close to you doesn’t mean that you don’t have prejudices. The essence of being close to someone is that you see that person as an individual, rather than as an example of a type. Your bigotry against the type may be completely untouched by your love for the individual.


A few facts about Trump’s speech to Shell petrochemical workers at a new plastics plant near Pittsburgh on Tuesday:

  • It was an official presidential event, with Trump’s expenses paid by taxpayers, even though he gave a campaign speech. He ran down Democrats in general and “Pocahontas” [Elizabeth Warren] and “Sleepy Joe” [Biden] in particular. He told the union workers to vote their leaders out if they didn’t support his re-election. That sort of campaigning at taxpayer expense is illegal. “In a free and open democracy, the government doesn’t use taxpayer resources to keep itself in power,” [Jordan] Libowitz [of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington] told Vox. “That’s what authoritarian dictatorships do.”
  • He lied about how well he’s doing in the polls, and “joked” about calling off the 2020 elections and going on to serve a 3rd and 4th term.
  • He falsely took credit for the new plastics plant’s existence. The commitment to build it was made during the Obama administration.
  • CNN’s David Dale listed a number of other false or bizarre claims.
  • Esquire’s Jack Holmes claims one of the lies — that he’s responsible for the Veteran’s Choice program Obama signed into law in 2014 — was told for the 80th time.
  • The workers would have lost that week’s overtime pay if they hadn’t attended, and they were instructed not to protest.

Elaborating a bit on the first point, official events are things like ribbon-cuttings. Past presidents have used them in a general image-building sort of way: They give upbeat remarks about how well the country is doing, lay out their vision for the future, make generically patriotic remarks, and so on. If they stray into campaigning — asking for support, running down their opponents, etc. — their campaign or political party is supposed to reimburse the government for the trip’s expenses. Trump hasn’t done that.


A subsequent Trump rally in Manchester had its own batch of lies, including the claim that he would have won New Hampshire in 2016 if not for voter fraud. This drew a response from Federal Election Commission Chair Ellen Weintraub, who wrote the president a letter.

Trump has made these claims before, and Weintraub has asked him to give his evidence to the FEC so that the alleged fraud can be investigated. But Trump has never responded, and has never provided any evidence in any forum.

The American people are ill-served when our leaders put forward unfounded allegations of voter fraud. To put it in terms that a former casino operator should understand: There comes a time when you need to lay your cards on the table or fold.

but I wrote about guns

The featured post is my attempt to rewrite the Second Amendment, and to explain why we need to rewrite it.

Meanwhile, various Democratic candidates put out their own gun plans: Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, and others. It remains to be seen what (if anything) the Senate will vote on when the congressional recess ends after Labor Day.

and you also might be interested in …

The New York City medical examiner has officially concluded that Jeffrey Epstein hanged himself. So of course all conspiracy theories immediately dried up (in some alternate universe).

Anyway, however he died, here’s hoping a full investigation tells the story of what he did, who helped him do it, and who went along for the ride. Democrats, Republicans — I don’t care.


A prison worker drove a truck into a crowd of Never Again Action protesters outside a private prison where ICE is holding immigrants. The crowd then surrounded the truck until prison guards pepper-sprayed them. The driver wasn’t arrested, but did later resign.


According to NOAA, July was the hottest month ever.

Nine of the 10 hottest Julys have occurred since 2005—with the last five years ranking as the five hottest. Last month was also the 43rd consecutive July and 415th consecutive month with above-average global temperatures.

Think about that: It’s been 34 years since the Earth has had a cool month.


The United Methodist denomination may split over LGBTQ issues.


Here’s how big a propaganda victory Kim Jong Un believes he got from his meetings with Trump: He put their picture on a postage stamp.


I refuse to waste my attention on Trump’s fantasy of buying Greenland. I liked Amy Klobuchar’s tweet:

The difference between Donald Trump and Greenland? Greenland is not for sale.


Trump has taken a stand as an anti-anti-fascist.


and let’s close with something portentous

Brexit is written in the clouds:

I want to point out what this portent signifies: The way for Britain to leave the EU is without Northern Ireland.

How Should We Rewrite the Second Amendment?

We argue so vociferously about the meaning of the Second Amendment because it doesn’t really mean anything any more. We should replace it with a new amendment protecting freedoms that matter to us today.


Whenever you pick up an article about gun control — pro or con — you can be virtually certain of one thing: The author believes that the Second Amendment has a unique and definite meaning, which he or she knows with certainty.

So the Amendment either clearly supports an individual right to own and use guns, or it was intended purely to prevent the federal government from disarming state militias (i.e., the National Guard). If it does indeed protect an individual right, the “arms” we are allowed to bear include only the guns appropriate for defending our homes — which leaves out military weapons — or else the Founders wanted us to have the means to overthrow the federal government should it prove tyrannical, making military-grade weapons not only permitted, but absolutely necessary. And so on.

I want to turn that conversation upside-down: Our arguments about the Second Amendment are so dogmatic because we are arguing about shadows in the dark. Each of us projects our own desired meaning onto the Amendment, because the Second Amendment no longer has any meaning of its own. With regard to the role of guns in society, so much has changed in the last 200 years that whatever the Founders intended when they wrote the Amendment is entirely inapplicable to us.

We argue so intensely because there is no answer. We’re like middle-aged siblings arguing about what Dad wants, when Dad has advanced Alzheimer’s and doesn’t know where he is or who we are. Rather than looking at the world as it is and deciding what we want to do with it, we sit around a Ouija board trying to contact the ghosts of the Founders — and then we complain that somebody else is pushing the planchette rather than letting the spectral vibrations work their will.

How meaning gets lost. Any text is vulnerable to having the world change out from under it, and the Founders gave us the power of amendment precisely because they never intended their words to stand as eternal truths. Is, say, the First Amendment’s protection of “freedom of speech” intended to protect your right to set up bots to spread disinformation on social media? What, exactly, was James Madison’s opinion on that issue? What would George Washington say about using facial recognition software to identify individuals as they move through a world whose public spaces are covered by networked surveillance cameras?

Judges make decisions about such issues because they have to; cases come to their courts and something must be done with them. And so old laws become encrusted with layers and layers of debatable interpretations. If judges do their jobs well, the public may retain confidence that some “spirit” of the law lives on, even as it applies to novel and unforeseen situations.

But at some point, we need to accept that the original meaning has been entirely lost, and so it’s time to shake off the encrustations and reconsider the relevant issues from scratch. That’s where we find ourselves with respect to the Second Amendment. Anyone who says he knows what the Second Amendment really means today is either fantasizing or lying, because it doesn’t mean anything any more.

Consider how different the world was when the First Congress wrote the Bill of Rights.

  • State militias were the first line of national defense. Political leaders of the Founding era were afraid of the tyrannical potential of a centrally controlled professional army, and imagined that the new nation would have either no army in peacetime or a very small one. [1] That army would grow in wartime, but wars were supposed to be rare, because early American foreign policy intended to avoid “entangling alliances” that would pull the United States into European wars. [2] A state militia (perhaps with help from the militias of neighboring states) would be adequate to deal with Indian raids, slave revolts, riots, criminal gangs, and other challenges that might occur more frequently. In Federalist 29, Alexander Hamilton described a “well-regulated militia” in detail, and judged it to be “the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.”
  • Private citizens played a much larger role in law enforcement. American cities wouldn’t start organizing modern police forces until more than half a century later.
  • Guns were single-shot weapons that took time and skill to reload. Modern re-enactors can reload 18th-century muskets in about 15 seconds, assuming no one is trying to interfere with them. An attack like the recent Dayton shooting, in which one man killed nine people and wounded 14 others in half a minute, would have been unimaginable.
  • The Bill of Rights did not apply to state and local governments. [3] Prior to the Supreme Court’s Heller decision in 2008, state and local governments could and often did regulate guns. About a century after the Second Amendment, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral was a dispute about gun control: The Earp brothers were lawmen enforcing the laws of Tombstone, Arizona, which required visitors to disarm. Many towns in the Old West had some form of gun control. They passed those laws for the same reasons people want such laws today: Law-abiding citizens should be able to go to a store or to church or send their children to school without worrying about getting caught in a crossfire.

Today, we have entangling alliances, fight more-or-less constant wars, and live in the midst of the large standing army that the militias were supposed to make unnecessary. Even small towns have professional police forces, and state and county police forces cover rural areas. The vast majority of citizens do not at any point in their lives belong to a well-regulated militia. (And no, self-appointed bands of armed yahoos running around in the woods bear no resemblance to the Founders’ vision.)

In short, the original reasons citizens needed to be armed no longer apply, the weapons themselves have changed beyond recognition, and the notion that no one can restrict weaponry is entirely new. Given all that, how can anyone interpret the Second Amendment with confidence?

Why mess with it? Currently, both sides deal with the Second Amendment’s fundamental emptiness in the same way: Decide what you want the Amendment to mean, and then try to win elections so that you can appoint judges who will pretend it says what you want it to say.

Two things are wrong with this approach. First, it’s dishonest and undermines respect for the law. The right way to change laws is to pass new laws, and the right way to change the Constitution is to amend it. Each side may claim that it is restoring the “true” meaning of the Second Amendment. But, as I have argued above, there is no longer any true meaning to recover. The society that gave the Second Amendment its meaning is gone forever.

Second, both sides in this argument need a credible goal, even if that goal is politically impractical at the present moment. The current approach of gun-control advocates (of whom I am one) is, “Can you just give us this much?” So we ask for background checks or assault-weapon bans or limits on bump stocks or large magazines. All those proposals are very reasonable, but even in combination they are not a solution to America’s gun problem. So even if those restrictions become law, sooner or later we’ll be back to ask for more.

This smallball strategy plays into the NRA’s slippery-slope argument, which claims that the ultimate unspoken goal is complete confiscation. I know of very few people who advocate complete confiscation, even in private. But as long as the gun-control movement has no stated goal, the NRA has complete freedom to assign us whatever goal most frightens its members. The response “No, I just want background checks” isn’t credible, so gun owners who want to protect any gun rights at all will want to hold the line.

Conversely, the NRA’s strategy of disrupting any potentially political conversation about guns — it opposes even studying the public-health implications of widespread gun ownership, as well as developing technology to make guns safer — is similarly untenable and provokes similar paranoia on the left: They won’t be satisfied until we’re all dodging bullets every day.

On each side, rewriting the Second Amendment is a worthy goal. It will force gun control advocates to grapple with the question of confiscation, and challenge gun-rights advocates to justify exactly which rights are worth protecting and why. The conversation about what the Second Amendment means can never reach consensus, because there is no meaning to converge on. But a conversation about what it should say has more potential.

The rest of this article describes and justifies my own attempt to rewrite the Second Amendment.

What rights don’t need constitutional protection? To be perfectly blunt, a lot of the reasons people want to own guns are frivolous. Those reasons might be perfectly fine in their own ways, but they don’t rise to the level of a right that needs constitutional protection.

Guns, I admit, are very clever mechanisms; they even can be said to have a certain kind of beauty. So I understand why someone might want to own a collection of them, just as someone else might collect the pocket watches of various eras. But the Constitution doesn’t protect any other collections; it shouldn’t protect this one either..

Similarly, target shooting is a worthy sport. It demands skill and concentration. Some people are particularly gifted at it, just as some are gifted at pole-vaulting or throwing footballs. But if a community decides that public safety demands restricting this sport, so be it. Ditto for the sport of hunting. It may be traditional and so forth, but it’s a sport. Baseball is also traditional, and raises similar sentiments about passing down interests from father to son. But my right to play baseball should not be enshrined in the Constitution, and neither should hunting.

What about overthrowing a tyrannical government? Then we come to the most contentious issue: resisting or overthrowing the government, should it turn tyrannical. A disarmed populace, according to this argument, is the precondition for tyranny, and gun control is often a precursor to taking away other rights.

The are a few things to note about this point: First, if you believe that an unarmed populace is an invitation to tyranny, I have two suggestions: Reconsider the history you think you know, and go visit the Netherlands. The Dutch have only 2.6 weapons for every 100 people (compared to our 120), and very strict gun-control laws. They also have a higher democracy index than we do: 8.89 to our 7.96.

Second, if retaining the ability to fight the government is the justification for the right to bear arms, then it’s hard to argue for any restrictions on armaments at all. Red State founder Erick Erickson made this explicit:

You may think a 30 round magazine is too big. Under the real purpose of the second amendment, a 30 round magazine might be too small.

Indeed, if my purpose in owning guns is to preserve my option to join a Red Dawn resistance and fight the U.S. Army, then I need a lot more than just an AR-15. I need grenade launchers and anti-tank weapons and shoulder-fired Stinger missiles that can take down helicopters (or airliners as they take off or land).

Do you really want to go there? I don’t. As much as I fear the current administration, I’d rather take my chances with the American government than get on a plane knowing that Stingers are available at Walmart.

And that leads to what I see as the biggest problem with this vision:  In the NRA fantasy, the American people are unified in their resistance to a vicious cabal at the top, and must fight to restore democracy. Second Amendment proponents like to think about the Minutemen or the French Resistance in World War II. But those aren’t the most likely scenarios.

You know what’s much more likely? A violent minority tries to impose its will on the rest of us through terrorism. That, in fact, is what we’re seeing now from armed white supremacists like the El Paso and Pittsburgh shooters. Their problem is that they don’t represent the American people and so they can’t achieve their white-homeland vision through the democratic process. That’s why they need guns.

The US has seen this pattern in the past as well. The Atlantic’s Mark Nuckols offers two examples:

  • Bleeding Kansas of the 1850s, where pro- and anti-slavery marauders tried to drive each other’s supporters out of the territory.
  • The post-Civil-War South, where the KKK and other white-supremacist groups terrorized blacks out of voting. The resulting white-supremacist governments eventually disenfranchised blacks legally and instituted Jim Crow.

In short, the situation we have now, in which a decreasing minority of people owns an increasing numbers of guns, doesn’t secure our democracy, it endangers our democracy. [4]

The right to self defense should be protected from federal interference. So far it sounds like I’m making a confiscation argument, because I haven’t identified any type of gun-ownership that deserves constitutional protection. But I believe self-defense qualifies on a number of grounds:

  • Self-defense is a fundamental human right. If someone attacks you, you shouldn’t have to just stand there and die. Depending on the severity of the attack, you may be justified in using lethal force. Few things are more horrifying than the thought that someone is coming for you or your loved ones, but there’s nothing you can do about it.
  • Americans broadly believe in a right to self-defense, whether or not they personally own weapons or get self-defense training.
  • Despite the risks that come with gun ownership, many people have in fact driven off or captured or killed attackers by using their own guns. The risk/reward balance of owning a gun varies from place to place and individual to individual, so judgments about it should not be made on the federal level.

Some of these considerations also apply on the city and state level, so the federal government shouldn’t prevent a lower-level government from equipping a force to defend the public safety or enforce the laws.

That said, there are some legitimate roles for the federal government to play. Self-defense is not an open door for any kind of weaponry at all. No one needs a tank or a nuclear bomb to defend their home or person, or to drive coyotes away from their sheep. Likewise, no one needs an assault rifle with a 100-round magazine or an armory with dozens of weapons. A closer analysis of what means of self-defense might be necessary in one place or another is better done at the state level, but the federal government should be able to make some broad restrictions.

Additionally, states that want to control guns more tightly need protection against their laws being undermined by neighboring states with looser laws. So in addition to its general power to regulate interstate commerce, the federal government’s power to regulate, police, or completely ban the interstate transportation or sale of firearms should be spelled out.

A few final considerations. The Constitution sets up a federal government whose powers are limited to those expressly granted. [5] But history has shown that the government can leverage the powers the Constitution grants to wield other powers that it doesn’t grant. A relatively harmless example was the 55-MPH speed limit set in 1974 as an energy-conservation measure. The Constitution doesn’t grant any speed-limit-setting powers to Congress, so it passed a law that denied federal highway funds to states that didn’t enact a 55-mph limit. Before the Supreme Court struck it down, the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion was another attempt at using federal funds to force state action.

So any amendment that limits federal power to regulate guns, but allows state and local powers more extensive powers, should also guard against federal coercion of the states.

Conversely, the federal government needs the power to regulate anything that otherwise would work around restrictions it can legally make. So, for example, if Congress can ban automatic weapons, it should also be able to ban kits for converting semi-automatic weapons to fully automatic ones.

What should it say? Here’s my proposal:

1. The Second Amendment to this Constitution is hereby repealed.

2. Congress shall make no law preventing individuals from securing adequate means to defend their homes and persons, or preventing state or local governments from equipping police forces adequate to enforce their laws and ensure public safety.

3. Congress shall have the power to regulate the interstate transportation and sale of weapons, ammunition, and other weapon-related items.

4. States shall have the power to regulate the use, manufacture, ownership, and transfer of weapons within their borders, or to delegate such powers to local governments.

5. No federal expenditure or regulation shall be contingent on a state or local government using its power to regulate weapons in a manner specified by federal law.

What does it mean? Several things:

  • In order to pass a gun restriction, Congress would need to establish that individuals still have the means to defend their homes and persons. So Congress could ban assault weapons, but not handguns. It could limit the size of your arsenal, but not disarm you completely.
  • More detailed gun laws would have to be passed at the state level, so states could implement wildly divergent visions. If Texas believes that guns-everywhere makes the public safer, it can try that. But if Illinois wants to let Chicago ban guns completely, it can try that too. People who feel unsafe in one state or the other don’t have to go there. (Texans who come to Chicago would have to check their guns, just as they would have when entering Tombstone.) Colorado might decide to allow a wide range of guns, but regulate guns and their users in a similar way to cars and drivers. This state-by-state diversity would be healthy; we would see clearly what does and doesn’t work.
  • State and local governments would keep the ability to enforce their own laws, and would not have to depend on a federal force. This was one of the main tyranny-restraining pieces of the Founders’ vision, and one of the few implications of the Second Amendment that still makes sense today.

Or write your own. The main advantage my amendment would have over the current Second Amendment is that it would mean something, independent of everyone’s hopes and fears. As a result, both sides could have more confidence about its interpretation. We could lessen the paranoia that now attends every presidential election or Supreme Court nomination.

The choices I have made are far from the only ones possible. I have left a lot of decisions to the states; you may wish to have a more uniform policy across the country. I have allowed outright bans on the local level; you may not want that. I have left room for interpretation by using the word “adequate” rather than spelling out exactly how I expect future generations to defend themselves. And so on.

But if you write your own version and we each promote our favorite, look how the discussion has changed: We are no longer arguing about something unknowable, such as what was in the minds of people centuries ago, or what they would want if they could see us now. Instead, we are arguing about the world we live in and what we want for our future. Anyone can participate in that discussion by drawing on their own experiences; you don’t have to be (or pretend to be) a historian or legal scholar.

That is a conversation that has potential for growth and change and compromise.

Conversely, no one who considers the recent history of Second-Amendment interpretation should have any confidence that they know what it will “mean” a generation from now. The Supreme Court’s current interpretation was considered a fringe position a generation ago. [6] Unless we replace the Amendment with one that has clear meaning to people of our era, no one can say what ideas on the fringe today might be constitutional doctrine tomorrow.


[1] After the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army was reduced to a single regiment of about 700 men stationed on the western frontier.

[2] President Washington said in his Farewell Address:

Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

[3] In general, constitutional restrictions didn’t apply to the states until the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were passed after the Civil War. The 14th Amendment says:

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Over time, the Supreme Court came to interpret “liberty” to include the rights described in the Bill of Rights. This doctrine is known as the “incorporation of the Bill of Rights“. The incorporation of the Second Amendment wasn’t fully recognized until 2010.

[4] People who are honestly worried about the future of American democracy should focus instead on making it work: End gerrymandering and voter suppression. Limit the influence of big-money donors, corporate lobbyists, and hostile foreign governments.

As long as the American people retain the ability to vote out governments that don’t serve their interests, the resort to guns won’t be necessary.

[5] For this reason, in Federalist 84, Alexander Hamilton argued against including a Bill of Rights in the Constitution because he believed it would be unnecessary.

For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said, that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed?

[6] As Jeffrey Toobin writes in the current New Yorker: “The Court changed the Second Amendment, and the Court can change it back again.” But unfettered by a text with any actual meaning, it could also go somewhere else entirely.



UPDATE

I was kind of overwhelmed by the quantity and negativity of the comments, so I decided not to answer them one by one. Instead, I wrote a sequel that summarizes a lot of the points commenters made and answers the ones that seem to need or deserve answering.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I felt like it was silly season this week. I mean, news networks spent serious amounts of time discussing whether or not Trump really thought he could buy Greenland.

It’s not that nothing important was happening, but we’ve gotten so shell-shocked — by mass shootings, impeachable offenses, attempts to take away our health insurance, putting people with serious anger issues on the Supreme Court, and so on — that this seemed like a slack week.

I decided to step back and take a longer-term look at the gun problem, which always ends up in arguments about the Second Amendment. I have a radical opinion about why these arguments are so interminable: Given how much has changed since the late 1700s, the Second Amendment doesn’t actually mean anything any more. We’re like middle-aged siblings arguing over what Dad wants, when Dad has advanced Alzheimer’s and doesn’t know where he is or who any of us are.

If the Republic were actually working, we’d leave the 1700s behind and write ourselves a new amendment protecting rights that are important to us today. Maybe we wouldn’t all agree with all of it, but at least we’d know what it meant. Interpreting it wouldn’t be like sitting around a Ouija board trying to contact the ghosts of the Founders.

So that’s what I’m doing in this week’s featured post: “How Should We Rewrite the Second Amendment?” It should be out around 9 EDT.

The weekly summary will not talk about Greenland, other than to repeat an Amy Klobuchar quip about it. Instead I’ll discuss the new anti-Statue-of-Liberty immigration rules and the two members of Congress who won’t be going to Israel. I’ll explain what an inverted yield curve is, and why it is one of several recent signs of the economic apocalypse — or at least an approaching recession. A bunch of writers made further attempts to understand Trump supporters. And I’ll mention a few other things that got drowned out by the Greenland discussion, like the fact that July was the hottest month in recorded history. I’ll try to get that out before noon.

Suggested Solutions

The language of infestation inevitably suggests the “solution” of extermination.

– Bret Stephens, “Trump’s Rhetoric and Conservative Denial” (8-8-2019)

That’s the fundamental con at the heart of Donald Trump. He says: “I’m going to hurt these people and I’m going to help you.” And he can deliver on the first part, but he’s done just about nothing on the second.

– Chris Hayes “Trump Can’t Help, So He Hurts” (8-8-2019)

This week’s featured post is “Republican Whataboutism Gets More Desperate“.

This week everybody was talking about guns

Facing criticism about the harmony between his anti-immigrant rhetoric and the manifestos of white-supremacist mass-murderers (discussed in more detail in the featured post), even President Trump wants to avoid the appearance of blocking action to limit gun violence. So he vaguely says he is for “intelligent” and “meaningful” background checks, and perhaps some measures to keep guns away from the mentally ill (though he relaxed such measures shortly after he took office). But he also tweeted that the NRA’s “very strong views” would be “fully represented and respected“. He made similar noises after the Parkland shooting and did nothing.

Mitch McConnell refused to interrupt the Senate’s recess to act on bills the House already passed, but promised that the Senate will “discuss” guns when it returns in September.

What we can’t do is fail to pass something. The urgency of this is not lost on any of us.

But it’s not clear what “something” might be, or if he will feel the same urgency after the heat dies down a little, as it presumably will by the time Congress reconvenes.


In general, Republicans want to blame our gun-violence problem on anything but guns: video games, mental illness, the lack of prayer in schools, and so on. But other countries have all that stuff and don’t have weekly mass shootings like we do. The difference is that we have lots and lots of guns.


Guess what? Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that. Her goal is to reduce gun deaths by 80%.

Warren is going beyond some of the more commonly discussed ideas, such as stricter background checks or a ban on assault weapons. Her plan calls for creating a federal licensing system, limiting the number of firearms someone could buy, raising the minimum age to 21 for purchasing a gun, holding gun manufacturers liable (and, in some cases, even holding gun industry CEOs personally liable).

She also wants to raise taxes for gun manufacturers (from 10% to 30% on guns and from 11% to 50% on ammunition).

Additionally, Warren’s plan calls for $100 million annual investment into gun violence research. She points out that the frequency of automobile deaths in the United States declined with widespread safety measures, such as seat belts and air bags. With the same approach, she says, her goal of an 80% reduction in gun-related deaths could be achieved.


The satirical site McSweeney’s: “God Has Heard Your Thoughts and Prayers and He Thinks They Are Fucking Bullshit“.

Hi. God here. I am contacting you in response to your prayers regarding the most recent and totally horrific mass shooting in a college/ high school/ elementary school/ bar/ nightclub/ park/ shopping mall/ concert/ movie theater/ parking lot/ church/ mosque/ synagogue. I have listened to your prayers, America, and I have come to the conclusion that they are cowardly, pointless, and shameful. Your prayers are not helping the victims or their families. Helping potential and actual gun violence victims is a bridge you could have crossed a long time ago, and you chose not to. You pray in order not to feel culpable in horrendous acts of violence. You pray in order to feel good. And for this, I say: fuck you.

and ICE raids

Wednesday, ICE raided seven different sites — mostly poultry processing plants — in Mississippi, arresting 680 people as undocumented immigrants. Owners and managers of the plants have not been arrested, and Time says “They might never be. They typically aren’t.”

The raids coincided with the first day of school

leaving friends, neighbors and, in some instances, strangers to temporarily care for children who did not know whether they would see their parents again, according to CNN affiliate WJTV.

Neither school officials nor local social-service agencies had any advance warning. ThinkProgress:

The morning raids at workplaces created confusion at schools around the state later in the day, as the children of people arrested were reportedly left uncertain where to go and what to do when their parents did not arrive to pick them up at the end of the day.


Meanwhile, the Washington Post fleshed out reports of undocumented immigrants employed by the Trump Organization.

President Trump “doesn’t want undocumented people in the country,” said one worker, Jorge Castro, a 55-year-old immigrant from Ecuador without legal status who left the company in April after nine years. “But at his properties, he still has them.”

Many Trump Organization properties use the same in-house construction company: Mobile Payroll Construction LLC.

In January, Eric Trump … said the company was instituting E-Verify, a voluntary federal program that allows employers to check the employment eligibility of new hires, “on all of our properties as soon as possible.” And the company began auditing the legal status of its existing employees at its golf courses, firing at least 18.

But nothing changed on the Trump construction crew, according to current and former employees.

A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization said Mobile Payroll Construction is enrolled in E-Verify for any new hires. The company is still not listed in the public E-Verify database, which was last updated July 1.

And the story isn’t that tricky immigrants fooled Trump supervisors.

[Edmundo] Morocho said he was one of those laborers. He joined the crew of roughly 15 people in 2000. He said he earned $15 an hour, working Monday through Saturday.

“Nobody had papers,” Morocho said.

In fact, Morocho recalled, [Trump supervisor Frank] Sanzo instructed the crew to buy fake Social Security numbers and green cards in New York so they would have something to put in the Trump Organization files. Morocho said he bought his papers for $50 in 2002.

“Frank said, ‘You can go buy a Social in Queens. They sell them in Queens. Then come back to work. It’s no problem,’ ” Morocho said. “He knew.”

The Post has interviewed 43 undocumented workers who have worked on at least eight Trump properties.


That report (and others like it going back some while) raise an obvious question: Why doesn’t ICE ever investigate or raid a Trump property?

Acting Customs and Border Protection commissioner Mark Morgan doesn’t want to answer that question, saying only that the public doesn’t know what investigations have been done or are ongoing.


Vox called attention to an issue in the background of the immigration debate: At times like this, when the unemployment rate is so low, we don’t have enough low-skilled workers.

There were more than 2.1 million open positions for low-skilled workers in March, but only 1.4 million people without college degrees looking for work.

and Trump’s visit to two grieving cities

The main thing that came out of Trump’s swing through Dayton and El Paso Wednesday was new evidence of what a poor excuse for a human being he is. This isn’t a partisan issue. You don’t have to be liberal or conservative to know how to act when people are hurting.

I wish I could remember who captioned that Trump photo: “Staff finds missing mental patient.”

We have a video of Trump talking to the medical staff inside an El Paso hospital. He says appropriately presidential things for a minute or so — what a great job they did and how proud the country is of them — and then he starts lying about how big the crowd was at his El Paso rally in February, and how much smaller Beto’s crowd was. 22 people are dead, and his delicate ego won’t let him go more than a minute without falsely building himself up and bragging about his popularity.

Trump himself tweeted out a video of his day that was prepared by the White House staff. It splices together scenes of Trump grinning broadly, surrounded by adoring people. (I’m reminded of the parody video The Daily Show did during the 2016 campaign. “Everybody loves me,” Black Trump says.) If you watch it, be sure to turn on the audio: The background music would be appropriate for an Avengers movie. It’s a video about Trump the Super-Hero, not the victims or the first responders or the strength of the community.

The clincher is the photo Melania tweeted of Trump smiling while she holds a baby whose parents were both killed in the shooting. Thumbs-up for you, little guy. You’re an orphan, but you’ll always be able to say you met the great Donald Trump.

and Biden’s ups and downs

Wednesday, Joe Biden gave a powerful speech [video, text] calling Trump out for his championing of white supremacist themes, and calling on the nation to prove that we are better than Trump thinks we are.

We’re living through a rare moment in this nation’s history where our president isn’t up to the moment, where our president lacks the moral authority to lead, where our president has more in common with George Wallace than he does with George Washington.

And he managed to strike the right balance between the greatness and the tragedy of America: that this nation represents a powerful vision, but has never fully lived up to it. Each generation must try to get closer than the previous one.

The most powerful idea in the history of the world, I think beats in the heart of the people of this country. It beats in all of us. No matter your race, your ethnicity, no matter your gender identity, your sexual orientation, no matter your faith, it beats in the hearts of the rich and poor alike, it unites America whether your ancestors were native to these shores, or they were brought here and forcibly enslaved, or they’re immigrants with generations back, like my family from Ireland or those coming today looking to build a better life for their families.

The American creed that were all created equal was written long ago, but the genius of every generation of Americans has open it wider and wider and wider to include those who have been excluded in a previous generation. That’s why it’s never gathered any dust in our history books. It’s still alive today, more than 200 years after its inception.

This kind of speech was what I had in mind last week when I wrote “Campaigning in a Traumatized Nation“. Democratic candidates need to recognize that the reason to vote Trump out isn’t just that he has the wrong policies and they have better ones. It goes deeper than that, and Biden talking about “the battle for the soul of this nation” is on the right track.

Unfortunately, Biden broke his momentum with a series of flubs: He said he was VP during the Parkland shooting. Like Trump, he got the name of one of the mass-shooting cities wrong. Trying to say, “Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as wealthy kids”, he said “white” instead of “wealthy”. He meant to repeat a line from his speech, “We choose truth over lies”, but this time it came out: “We choose truth over facts.

This set him up for Trump (who mangles his words even more often than Biden does) to say that Biden has “lost his fastball“.

I don’t want to run down Joe Biden. He’s the current Democratic front-runner, and I’m prepared to vote for him if he’s nominated. None of these misstatements suggest to me that he’s senile. It’s always been hard for Joe to get the right words out, and (as those of us who are aging understand) misplacing a word here or there is a long way from dementia. (I’m actually more alarmed by the word salads Trump so regularly serves up. Biden usually realizes when something didn’t come out right, while Trump seems to believe he’s making sense.)

But these sorts of mistakes raise the concern that Biden won’t provide the right contrast to Trump. The debates might look like two confused old men, each screwing up in his own way.

I understand many Democrats’ anxiety that Warren (who I think is much sharper than Biden) might be too liberal to attract the suburban Republicans who flipped in 2018, (though I also appreciate the counter-argument that a more radical message might raise turnout among younger and more alienated voters). But if you want a centrist, candidates like Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker are very sharp. Going down the stretch, I would feel more confidence in either of them than in Biden.

and you also might be interested in …

Jeffrey Epstein apparently committed suicide by hanging himself in prison Saturday. In late July he was found unconscious in his cell with marks on his neck, so you’d think prison officials would have been on the lookout for a suicide attempt. His death raises questions about whether we will ever know the full extent of his trafficking of underage girls, who else might have been involved, or how exactly he wrangled a sweetheart deal with federal prosecutors the last time he was arrested.

As you’d expect, conspiracy theories are rampant: Powerful people (Trump if you’re liberal, Bill Clinton if you’re conservative) didn’t want him telling what he knows about them, and so on. It’s natural to wonder, and to insist authorities provide some answers about how this happened. But at the same time we have to admit that (at this point) none of us actually know anything.

Of course, that doesn’t stop Trump from retweeting a conspiracy theory.



Chris Hayes makes an important point: When Trump arrests immigrant parents without giving a thought to what will happen to their kids, or deports a diabetic man to die in Iraq, or inflicts some other cruelty on people his base dislikes … does that actually help any of his supporters? Hayes thinks not.

That’s the fundamental con at the heart of Donald Trump. He says: “I’m going to hurt these people and I’m going to help you.” And he can deliver on the first part, but he’s done just about nothing on the second.

Miners and factory workers benefit hardly at all from the recent growth in the economy, and farmers are suffering from Trump’s trade wars, but corporations and the very rich enjoy a big tax cut. Undocumented migrant workers get arrested, but not the owners who hired them. (Trump even commuted the sentence of one major employer-of-the-undocumented who was convicted of money laundering during the Obama years.)

That’s the deal: You in Lordstown, you’re not going to get to keep your job. But instead, you’re going to get real acts of savage cruelty against some struggling families down in Mississippi, while Trump stuffs fatcats full of cash and parties with them in the Hamptons.

And meanwhile, all the structural inequalities in America, the great hollowing out of the industrial core and rural America, and the declining life expectancies for the first time since World War II, the 70,000 people we’re losing every year to opioids — all that will go on. Because Trump and his party and his donors could not possibly care less about all of that. “But look over here at the people I’m hurting, because that’s all you’re going to get.”


Two weeks ago, I suggested “Enough!” as the Democrats’ best anti-Trump slogan, and at least one Sift reader ordered some “Enough.” bumperstickers from Cafe Press. Looking at it, I think the period works better than the exclamation point I suggested.

This week Time used it to refer to mass shootings.

This also is a very clever anti-Trump sticker.


McSweeney’s again: The NYT announces that “In order to keep our editorial page completely balanced, we are hiring more dipshits.

Here at the New York Times, we believe that all sides of the story should be tolerated and explored, from white supremacists being actually kinda cool if you think about it to people who believe that saying college campuses should be less PC is somehow an interesting use of 1,000 words. That’s why we’re expanding our editorial staff to include more dipshits. Because everyone, no matter how intellectually lazy their conservatism, deserves a column in our newspaper.


For the most part, American voters believe in democracy. But more and more, Republican legislatures do not.

And so we have situations like the one in Florida, where in 2018 voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum allowing felons (other than murderers and rapists) to regain their voting rights after they serve their sentences. Prior to that, a felony resulted in permanent disenfranchisement, and more than 10% of the population was disenfranchised. That 10% was disproportionately poor and black.

But now the Republican legislature and narrowly elected Republican governor Ron DeSantis have largely undone that expansion of democracy. The NYT reports:

The law, which took effect July 1, requires people with a felony conviction to pay off all costs, fines, fees and any restitution arising from their conviction before they are eligible to register to vote.

As the lawmakers surely knew when they wrote the law, they would be re-disenfranchising a large number of people who just had their rights restored. Only about one in five Floridians with criminal records have fully paid their financial obligations, according to an estimate by an expert in voting and elections at the University of Florida, who analyzed data from 48 of Florida’s 67 counties.

The 4/5ths who re-lose their rights are, of course, the poorest ones. The effect is similar to a poll tax.

The burden of these fines and fees falls heavier on black voters, who are poorer; more likely to be unemployed; and more likely to be arrested, charged and convicted. Before voters approved Amendment 4, one in five black Floridians of voting age were barred from voting because of a criminal conviction — twice the rate of whites.

… Florida Republicans, like their counterparts in other states and in Washington, D.C., are becoming increasingly comfortable with the perks of minority rule, like the ability to disregard what the majority of voters demand. They appear to know that when you can’t win on your ideas, you win by undermining democracy.

This is not just minority rule, but minority rule tipped towards whites. By passing laws like these, Republicans become the party of white supremacy in a very literal sense.


Here we see the kinds of young people who form “Team Mitch”, having their picture taken groping and choking a cardboard cut-out of Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the annual “Fancy Farm” political picnic in Kentucky. (The original caption: “Break me off a piece of that.”) McConnell denies they are campaign staff, but they seem to be volunteers; a different photo with many of the same young men appears on the official Team Mitch Instagram account. In that photo they’re holding giant headshots of Brett Kavanaugh, who I imagine was much the same at that age.


Kashmir is a Muslim-majority region that India regards as belonging to it, but Pakistan also claims parts of. It is remote and mountainous, and has mainly symbolic value to the two rival countries.

For decades India has tried to minimize tensions by allowing Kashmir a large amount of autonomy. But the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi has changed that policy, making Kashmir a federal territory more directly under national rule. Kashmiris don’t like this change, but it’s unclear exactly how they’ll resist it.

Salman Rushdie‘s family is Kashmiri, though he was born in Mumbai. His novel Shalimar the Clown centers on Kashmir, and how external rivalries corrupt an idyllic land.

and let’s close with some perfect timing

The Moon decides to take a break by resting in a radio telescope dish.

Republican Whataboutism Gets More Desperate

Trump has been promoting many of the same white-supremacist themes that are found in mass-shooter manifestos. That can’t be excused or explained, so his cultists need to divert your attention.


Whataboutism is the tactic of responding to criticism of a politician you like by asserting (often falsely [1]) some equivalent wrongdoing by someone on the other side. (Examples: responding to mention of one of Trump’s 10,000 lies with “What about when Obama said you could keep your health insurance?” or to Trump’s birtherism by claiming Hillary Clinton started it.) Whataboutism has long been a tactic favored by conservatives, but Trump has taken it to a new level: It’s hard to come up with an example of him addressing a criticism any other way. He never explains or apologizes, but instead launches some new accusation against someone else.

David Roberts points out the general moral immaturity of a whatabout response

One thing to note is the bizarre implicit assumption that if responsibility is equal on both sides, then … we’re fine. We’re even. Move on. In other words, it’s not the damage done, or the principle violated, that concerns [WaPo columnist Marc Thiessen], it’s *blame*. We need not strive to be good as long as we are no worse than the other side. It’s the moral reasoning of a [10-year-old], focused exclusively on avoiding responsibility or sanction.

Gonna be lots of right-wing whataboutism focused on antifa and environmental extremists in coming weeks. [Conservatives] need to head off the growing consensus that [right-wing] terrorism is a unique problem.

This week saw two prominent attempts at whataboutism, both aimed at diverting attention from Trump’s role in promoting the false claims that inspired the El Paso shooting and have inspired other acts of white-supremacist terrorism.

  • What about the liberal views of the Dayton shooter?
  • What about Rep. Joaquin Castro revealing the names of Trump donors in his district?

Dayton. Roberts was specifically responding to the Thiessen column “If Trump is Responsible for El Paso, Democrats are Responsible for Dayton“.

But if Democrats want to play politics with mass murder, it works both ways. Because the man who carried out another mass shooting 13 hours later in Dayton, Ohio, seems to have been a left-wing radical whose social media posts echoed Democrats’ hate-filled attacks on the president and U.S. immigration officials.

The difference between the two cases is pretty obvious: The El Paso shooter justified his rampage in a manifesto that used Trumpist rhetoric about the “invasion” of our southern border. [2] His massacre took place near that border, and targeted Hispanics under the assumption that they were the “invaders”. Similarly last October, the man who slaughtered 11 Jews at a synagogue in Pittsburgh believed Jews were organizing the immigrant “invasion” caravans that Trump had been making the focus of his midterm-election messaging, and the MAGA bomber targeted people he saw as Trump’s enemies.

A window of the MAGA bomber’s van.

But so far no one has found any connection between the Dayton shooter’s left-wing views and his crimes. If the Dayton shooter had shot at “the president and immigration officials”, that would be comparable. In future, if someone follows up his retweets of Elizabeth Warren statements by, say, shooting some of the bankers or drug company CEOs Warren criticizes, that also would parallel the El Paso shooting (and we could expect Warren to issue a statement telling her supporters not to be violent). But the Dayton shooter did nothing of the kind.

In the wake of the El Paso shooting, Hispanics might legitimately fear further attacks from copycat killers; but fear of a copycat Dayton shooting afflicts anybody who goes out in public rather than some group criticized by Democrats.

Picturing what a comparable liberal shooting would look like just emphasizes the Trump connection to El Paso.

“How do you stop these people? You can’t,” Trump lamented at a May rally in Panama City Beach, Fla. Someone in the crowd yelled back one idea: “Shoot them.” The audience of thousands cheered and Trump smiled. Shrugging off the suggestion, he quipped, “Only in the Panhandle can you get away with that statement.”

Trump wasn’t horrified by the suggestion that someone might shoot Mexican border-crossers, and did not say it would be wrong. Instead he talked about what his followers could “get away with”, as if it’s natural to want to shoot Hispanics, but politically incorrect to say so out loud. If the El Paso shooter was listening to that exchange, it’s fair to assume that he was not discouraged from his plans.

“Hate has no place in our country!”

You have to go back to 2017 to find any kind of legitimate liberal parallel: the shooting of Republican Congressman Steve Scalise by someone who once volunteered for Bernie Sanders. Unlike Trump, who denounced the El Paso shooting in general terms (in one of his read-from-the-teleprompter statements that look as insincere as a hostage video) without acknowledging any connection to it, Sanders did the responsible thing:

I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign. I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be: Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.

Trump, on the other hand, undercut even his general denunciation of the shooting by implying that the shooter might have had a point: Limiting immigration should be part of the response. It’s as if Sanders had proposed that Republicans respond to the Scalise shooting by ending their attempts to repeal ObamaCare.

Trump also undercut his anti-white-supremacy statement by reverting to the both-sides rhetoric he used after Charlottesville: He’s against not just white supremacy, but “any other kind of supremacy“. (Both Trevor Noah and Seth Myers wondered what “other kind of supremacy” Trump might have had in mind. The Bourne Supremacy?) He’s also against “any group of hate”, and singled out the amorphous anti-fascist group Antifa, as if hating fascism is similar to hating Hispanics or Jews, and as if the Antifa body count (0) bears any comparison to the many dozens killed recently by white supremacists. Matt Bors makes the point with a cartoon.

Shaming Trump donors. The second whataboutist controversy started with a tweet on Monday: San Antonio Congressman Joaquin Castro listed the names of 44 San Antonians who had given the maximum allowable personal donation to Trump’s re-election campaign, and commented

Their contributions are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as ‘invaders.’

He got the names from publicly available FEC records; you could have looked them up yourself had you been so inclined.  And he used those names for the purpose that the disclosure laws intended: So that the public knows who’s bankrolling a political campaign.

Castro was clearly trying to shame the people he listed, and you might imagine Castro’s Twitter followers, especially Hispanic ones, deciding not to do business with big Trump donors: If money I give these people might flow through to ads that threaten me, maybe I’ll deal with somebody else. (This logic is similar to why so many LGBTQ people are reluctant to eat at Chick-fil-A. It’s also why #CancelSoulCycle has been trending after word got out that owner Stephen Ross was hosting a multi-million-dollar Trump fundraiser in the Hamptons.)

But nothing in Castro’s tweet suggests violence against these donors, and in fact there is no established pattern of violence against Trump donors. But conservatives needed to divert public attention from the violence Trump incites by accusing some Democrat of inciting violence too — because, as David Roberts pointed out, that would make it all OK from their grade-school moral perspective — and Castro was what they had to work with.

So Donald Trump Jr. went on Fox & Friends to compare Castro’s list of Trump donors to a “hit list” that the Dayton shooter had kept in high school. (As far as I know, none of the people on that list were targeted in the Dayton shooting. So even if you buy the idea that there’s a comparison, we’re talking about a list of fantasy targets, not actual ones.) Ted Cruz accused Castro of “doxxing” his constituents. (Falsely. [3]) House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted:

Targeting and harassing Americans because of their political beliefs is shameful and dangerous.

And I suppose that is true if you assume that someone has been targeted and harassed, rather than just called out for sponsoring insults against their neighbors.

So the whatabout here is equating a direct connection to several real-world mass murders with a fantasy about what some Castro-follower might do, even though none of them have actually ever done such a thing, and there are no examples of similar crimes.

What does it mean? Whataboutism isn’t new, of course. (What about Hillary’s emails?) But new whatabouts point out where conservatives believe they’re vulnerable. And the less convincing the whatabouts are, the more desperate the need for them must be.

If you meet whataboutism in the wild — in face-to-face conversation or in social media — it’s important not to get distracted by it. [4] Call it out for what it is (that meme at the top of the page is kind of handy) and restate the point the whataboutist is trying to divert you from. In this case, that’s Trump’s role in promoting the rhetoric of white-supremacist terrorism.


[1] Since the point of whataboutism is to derail a criticism rather than refute it, a false assertion often works even better than a true one, because the discussion then careens off into evidence that the assertion is false. Suddenly we’re rehashing the details of what Obama or Clinton did or didn’t do, while the original criticism of Trump scrolls off the page.

The assumption behind refuting the false whataboutism is that the Trumpist will be embarrassed to be caught saying something untrue, and so will stop repeating the false statement. But the essence of Trumpism is that shame is for losers, so refutation is pointless.

[2] A wrinkle in this argument is that the El Paso shooter seems to have worried that his actions might reflect badly on Trump. So he made sure to state that his views predated Trump’s candidacy.

the media will probably call me a white supremacist anyway and blame Trump’s rhetoric. The media is infamous for fake news.

But his concern for Trump’s image belies his point, and whether or not his murderous rage against the Hispanic “invaders” predates Trump’s rhetoric is irrelevant. Nobody is saying that Trump invented white supremacy or anti-Hispanic racism. Rather, he (along with many, many conservative opinion-makers) has promoted and mainstreamed ideas that have been floating around in the white-supremacist and neo-Nazi underground for decades.

Trump’s rhetoric is a Nazi gateway drug. After you get used to the notions that Central American refugees are really “invaders”, that immigrants are spreading crime and disease, that white Christians are victims, that people of color who criticize America should “go back where they came from”, and that political correctness is a far more serious problem than racism — all core Trump points — then when you chase a link to the Daily Stormer or some other Nazi site, 90% of what you read sounds perfectly normal.

So, for example, if you marinate long enough in TrumpWorld, and then start to wonder how these illiterate Guatemalan peasants are organizing their invasion of the US, the neo-Nazi answer — Jews like George Soros are behind it all — jumps out at you like a revelation.

[3] True doxxing reveals personal contact information like a home address or personal phone number, and typically violates an assumed boundary (like when someone attaches a name, address, and phone number to someone else’s Twitter handle). But donors to political campaigns know that their names are being recorded for the public record. Suzanne Nossel explains:

It’s fair to question whether Mr. Castro’s tweet was prudent or decorous. But to refer to it as doxxing or online harassment is inaccurate, and sows confusion over what online abuse actually looks like.

CNN adds:

Richard Hasen, an expert on election law at the University of California at Irvine, said neither the boycott calls [against SoulCycle] nor Castro tweet appears to cross the line into the “unconstitutional harassment” of donors. “Being called a bad name on Twitter is not the kind of harassment the Supreme Court was talking about” in allowing exemptions [from disclosures] for people who face a real threat of harassment, he said.

Republicans can’t have it both ways here. They want to allow unlimited political donations because “money is speech”. But when you speak in the public square, people know who you are. At the very least, an ad whose donors you can’t track down should end with “The sponsors of this message have chosen to remain anonymous” so that we can assume the worst about them.

[4] Don’t do the kind of lengthy explanation I’ve done here; this was for educational purposes only. Having seen a couple of whataboutisms dissected in detail should make it easier for you to spot new ones.

The Monday Morning Teaser

This week I want to look at the common discussion-diversion technique called Whataboutism, where a criticism of one (usually conservative) politician gets derailed by a competing (and often bogus) claim against someone on the other side. (“What about Hillary’s emails?” is the most recognizable example.) So I look at this week’s two biggest whatabouts in detail: “What about the liberal views of the Dayton shooter?” and “What about Rep. Castro outing the Trump donors in his district?”

That post is just about done and should be out around 9 EDT.

The weekly summary covers the growing clamor to do something about gun violence, the big ICE raids, Trump’s bizarre behavior in Dayton and El Paso, Joe Biden’s up-and-down week, the Epstein suicide (which I have little to say about because I don’t know anything), and a few other things. (I’m still looking for a closing.) That should be out before noon.

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.

Campaigning in a Traumatized Nation

Trump has damaged our country in ways too deep to fix with an executive order or an act of Congress. The campaign against him needs to reflect that somehow.

Two rounds of Democratic presidential debates are behind us now, and everyone I know was dissatisfied with them. We’re all casting about, looking for somewhere to assign blame. There are plenty of places to look.

  • Maybe it was the overcrowding. Spreading twenty candidates over two nights didn’t give any one of them a chance to put forward a coherent vision of what the country needs.
  • Maybe it was the moderators. Both CNN and MSNBC wanted to see conflict rather than thoughtful discussion, so questions often ignored the forest of beliefs all the candidates share, and focused instead on a few contentious trees of dubious significance.
  • Maybe it was the candidates, none of whom managed to overcome the format, the time limits, and the competing voices to deliver the clarion call we wanted to hear. The heavens did not part, and no ray of light illuminated the Chosen One.

All that is true, and yet I think my disappointment has another cause. Candidates standing behind lecterns, arguing about funding mechanisms and timelines and the meaning of whatever one or another of them did or didn’t do decades ago — it all seemed so ordinary. It’s exactly what Democrats would be doing if it were 1976 and we were hoping to replace Gerald Ford, a nice conscientious guy who happened to be wrong about a few things.

It’s not that I’m disappointed with the policy proposals of any particular candidate. But any set of policies seems inadequate as an answer to the Trump phenomenon.

My regular readers know that I think Trump has terrible policies. On climate change, for example, he seems to be working to bring on disaster as fast as possible. His trade wars are stupid. He loves all the world’s bad guys (Putin, Xi, Kim, MBS, Duterte, Bolsonaro …) and does his best to piss off all the good guys (Trudeau, Macron, Merkel …). His immigration/asylum policies are largely illegal, not to mention intentionally cruel. He’s been trying for years to take health care away from millions.

And yet, the real impact of Trump strikes much deeper than any of that. He both reflects and exacerbates something horribly wrong in our country. All forms of racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism have become more acceptable on his watch. Lying has gone off the scale. All sense of fair play has vanished from our politics. Countless norms and practices that were supposed to protect us against corruption and tyranny have been scrapped. We used to worry about how lobbyists would influence government officials, but now we just appoint lobbyists to high office and eliminate the middlemen.

Raising the minimum wage or canceling student debt isn’t going to touch that.

I thought George W. Bush was a terrible president, certainly the worst of my lifetime up to that point. And yet, a change of policies seemed adequate to put him behind us. If Obama could have succeeded not just in avoiding the Depression Bush had set us up for, but also in ending Bush’s wars, closing Guantanamo, and reversing the tax cuts that had put our nation in such perilous fiscal shape, the negative legacy of the Bush years would have been almost entirely sealed off. Wrong-headed mismanagement had been the problem, and good management could fix it.

That’s not true this time. Something deep and dark is happening to our country. If we are fortunate enough to elect a Democrat in 2020, the new president will have to deal with a traumatized nation.

Bush told a few big lies, but Trump has damaged the very notion that we can find common truth. Any fact he doesn’t want to face is “fake news”. Any criticism is met with wave after wave of conspiracy theories against whomever has had the effrontery to call him to account. All inconvenient expertise is painted as corrupt, and countered with opinions “I heard” or “a lot of people are saying”, even if those opinions contradict each other.

Trump doesn’t just oppose anyone who looks into his actions, he dismisses their right to do so. Congress has no business overseeing his administration at all. The courts owe him deference that no other president has received. Investigating his misdeeds is “treason”.

America has always debated where the common good might be found, but Trump destroys the entire idea of the common good. He does not speak at all to the 54% of the electorate who voted for someone else. He stereotypes entire races, religions, and ethnicities, offering them as scapegoats for whatever afflicts his followers. If you are the wrong color or speak the wrong language, you can either support him or “go back where you came from”, even if you are a citizen, even if you were born here, even if the people of your district have overwhelmingly elected you to represent them in Congress.

And it’s not just him. He has a following. People don’t just like him or his policies, they like the fact that he insults and abuses other Americans. He has done little or nothing to help most of the people who voted for him, but they love how mean he is to the people they resent. The Republican Party as a whole now doesn’t even pretend to favor democracy. Elections are simply about winning, and it doesn’t matter whether you win via massive amounts of corporate cash, by making it hard for people to vote, by gerrymandering districts so that you retain power in spite of being opposed by a majority of voters, or even with help from foreign enemies.

If Democrats win in 2020, they can change a lot of those policies: restrain corporate political influence, end gerrymandering, guarantee the right to vote, and so on. But the Republican willingness to subvert democracy will still be there, as well as the belief that some people’s votes should count more than others, or that a loss is not really legitimate if it is based on votes from someone other than white Christians.

The crisis in this country goes way beyond the usual policy discussions, to the point that debating how fast to phase in universal health care or whether crossing the border without a visa should be a civil or criminal offense … it almost mocks the sense of trauma I feel, and that I think a lot of people share.

That’s why many of the most memorable lines of the Democratic debates have nothing to do with policy. When Kirsten Gillibrand said her first presidential act would be to “Clorox the Oval Office“, she was speaking to that sense of a deeper wrongness than can be fixed by an executive order. The White House needs an exorcism, not just a new resident.

But the candidate who most often points to the deeper trauma is the most unlikely candidate: Marianne Williamson. She has no qualifications for a high executive office and her policy agenda has a lot of holes, but she speaks the language of spiritual transformation rather than ordinary politics. In an otherwise critical article, Tara Isabella Burton sums her up like this:

Williamson, a self-help spiritualist (and sometime adviser to Oprah Winfrey), preaches a gospel of “love” and “oneness,” blending a chipper New Age sensibility with progressive politics. In the Democratic debate Tuesday, she condemned the “dark psychic force” of hatred that she said Trump has unleashed, saying it could be combated only by “something emotional and psychological” — which only she could bring forth — accompanied by a dose of “deep truth-telling” on the subject of race. She’s called for a “moral and spiritual awakening” in the United States.

NYT columnist David Brooks claims that she “knows how to beat Trump” via an “uprising of decency”.

Trump is a cultural revolutionary, not a policy revolutionary. He operates and is subtly changing America at a much deeper level. He’s operating at the level of dominance and submission, at the level of the person where fear stalks and contempt emerges.

He’s redefining what you can say and how a leader can act. He’s reasserting an old version of what sort of masculinity deserves to be followed and obeyed. In Freudian terms, he’s operating on the level of the id. In Thomistic terms, he is instigating a degradation of America’s soul.

We are all subtly corrupted while this guy is our leader. And throughout this campaign he will make himself and his values the center of conversation. Every day he will stage a little drama that is meant to redefine who we are, what values we lift up and who we hate.

The Democrats have not risen to the largeness of this moment.

I haven’t risen to the largeness of the moment either. But I sense the need, and I’m struggling to figure out what it would mean to address it.

Remember 1980, when conservatives were not just hurting politically, but felt that America was slipping away from them? Vietnam, Watergate, double-digit inflation, bankrupt cities, gas shortages, rising divorce rates … they also felt a sense of crisis that went beyond policy. From this remove, we tend to remember the policy agenda of the Reagan administration: low taxes, deregulation, strong defense, free trade. But 1980 was also the high point of the Moral Majority, which called the country back to the old-time religion of fundamentalist Christianity.

1980 wasn’t just about political change. It was about spiritual transformation. That’s how it changed the country in ways that we’re still dealing with today.

The Left also has an old-time religion, but it’s not the liberal Christianity Pete Buttigieg wants to invoke, or any form of institutional religion. It’s the hippie idealism whose wisdom found its way into countless songs: All you need is love. Everybody come together, try to love one another. We’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden. Give peace a chance.

There’s a power there, and I’m not sure how to tap it. But I hope somebody actually qualified to be president figures it out soon.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Two more mass shootings this weekend, one of them apparently committed by someone who believed Trump’s talk about an “invasion” on our southern border. When you use war rhetoric, you shouldn’t be surprised if someone starts shooting.

And the trade war with China heated up. Trump announced more tariffs — this time on consumer goods made in China, so you’re likely to notice price increases in stores — and Beijing responded by letting its currency drop. Both moves sent global markets into a tailspin.

I found an insightful podcast on disinformation. McConnell hates his well-earned “Moscow Mitch” nickname. And I’ll close this week with a list of the best places to get ice cream in each state.

But I also wanted to talk about the second round of Democratic presidential debates, which I found so disappointing that it was hard to keep watching. There are a lot of details to criticize — the crowded stage, the format, the questions, and so on — but it took me a while to get to the bottom of what was really bothering me: A debate about policy proposals makes it seem like this is a normal election, when the country is in a very abnormal situation.

One of the mysteries of the Democratic field is Marianne Williamson, who not only has no qualifications for the job, but occasionally wigs off into invocations of the power of Love. Pundits have spilled a lot of ink trying to explain her attraction, but I wonder if it’s as simple as this: She’s the one candidate who makes it clear that this election is about something deeper than a policy disagreement. Trump has traumatized America, and the next president is going to have address that trauma somehow. A new health plan and a new immigration policy — while welcome — will not be nearly enough.

I don’t have the answer here (and I’m not recommending people vote for Williamson), but I want to raise the question in “Campaigning in a Traumatized Nation”. I’m not sure exactly when I’ll have that out, but probably not before 10 EDT. I’ll try to post the weekly summary by noon.