Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, September 26, 2020
This is Not a Drill. The Reichstag is Burning.
For five years, my colleagues and I have taken pains to avoid Nazi comparisons. It is usually hyperbolic, and counterproductive, to label the right “fascists” in the way those on the right reflexively label the left “socialists.” But this is no longer a matter of name-calling.
With his repeated refusals this week to accept the peaceful transfer of power — the bedrock principle that has sustained American democracy for 228 years — PresidentTrump has put the United States, in some ways, where Germany was in 1933, when Adolf Hitler used the suspicious burning of the German parliament to turn a democracy into a totalitarian state.
Overwrought, you say? Then ask Yale historian Timothy Snyder, a top authority on Nazism and Stalinism. “The Reichstag has been on a slow burn since June,” he told me. “The language Trump uses to talk about Black Lives Matter and the protests is very similar to the language Hitler used — that there’s some vague left-wing conspiracy based in the cities that is destroying the country.”
Trump, as he has done before, has made the villain a minority group. He has sought, once again, to fabricate emergencies to justify greater powers for himself. He has proposed postponing elections. He has refused to commit to honoring the results of the election. And now, he proposes to embrace violence if he doesn’t win.
“It’s important not to talk about this as just an election,” Snyder said. “It’s an election surrounded by the authoritarian language of a coup d’etat. The opposition has to win the election and it has to win the aftermath of the election.”
[W]e voters must turn out in overwhelming numbers to deal Trump a lopsided defeat. The military must hold to its oath. Homeland Security police must not serve as Trump’s brownshirts. And we citizens must take to the streets, peacefully but indefinitely, until the will of the people prevails.
“It’s going to be messy,” Snyder said. “He seems pretty sure he won’t win the election, he doesn’t want to leave office,” and he appears to Snyder to have “an authoritarian’s instinct” that he must stay in power or go to prison.
It’s abundantly clear that Trump plans to fabricate an election “emergency.” First, he claimed mail-in balloting, a tried-and-true system, is fraudulent. Now his supporters are trying to harass in-person voters.
When Virginia’s early voting opened this week, Trump supporters descended on a polling station, waving Trump signs and flags, chanting and forming a gantlet through which voters had to walk.
Let’s be clear. There is only one political party in American politics embracing violence. There is only one side refusing to denounce all political violence. There is only one side talking about bringing guns to the polls; one side attempting to turn federal law-enforcement officials into an arm of a political party. And Trump is trying to use law enforcement to revive tactics historically used to bully voters of color from voting — tactics not seen in 40 years.
Trump embraced the “very fine people” among the homicidal neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. He embraced as “very good people” armed protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol to intimidate lawmakers. He embraced his supporter who allegedly shot and killed two people at a protest in Wisconsin. He embraced the “GREAT PATRIOTS” who drove into Portland, Ore., hurling paintballs and pepper spray at demonstrators. He embraced officers who kill unarmed African Americans, saying they simply “choke” under pressure.
Now he’s rejecting the peaceful transfer of power. Worse: Most Republican officeholders dare not contradict him. The Times reported that of all 168 Republican National Committee members and 26 Republican governors it asked to comment on Trump’s outrage, only four RNC members and one governor responded.
In Federalist 48, James Madison prophetically warned that tyranny could triumph under “some favorable emergency.” In 1933, Hitler used the burning of the Reichstag to do just that. Trump now, it appears, is aiming to do likewise.
America, this is our Reichstag moment. We have the power to stop it. Don’t let democracy burn to the ground.
Amy Coney Barrett: A Right Wing Radical
No issue is more pivotal in considering a Supreme Court nomination than the candidate’s view of when to overturn a case she considers wrongly decided.
No nominee in history has written as extensively on this seemingly obscure topic than Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who President Trump is expected to name to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
And no nominee has openly endorsed views as extreme as Barrett’s on the doctrine of stare decisis, the principle that the court should not lightly overrule its precedents. In a series of law review articles, Barrett makes clear that in matters of constitutional interpretation, she would not hesitate to jettison decisions with which she disagrees.
“I tend to agree with those who say that a justice’s duty is to the Constitution and that it is thus more legitimate for her to enforce her best understanding of the Constitution rather than a precedent she thinks clearly in conflict with it,” Barrett wrote in 2013.
In the arid language of law reviews, this is a bombshell, one that could explode across the landscape of constitutional law. It’s not just a matter of abortion and the future of Roe v. Wade.
Also on the Barrett chopping block could be the right of same-sex couples to marry; the existence of affirmative action programs at colleges and universities; the constitutional protections against discrimination based on gender that Ginsburg made the center of her career; and environmental protections and other regulatory efforts enacted as part of the congressional power to oversee interstate commerce.
Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor whose scholarship on stare decisis is cited extensively in Barrett’s writing, termed her approach to overturning precedent “radical.” If Barrett translates her academic views into action and four other justices go along, he said, “it will produce chaos and instability in constitutional law.”
[W]hile Barrett’s confirmation seems assured, it remains important to understand how she would approach the job, and what the consequences of her confirmation will be.
Friday, September 25, 2020
America is in Terrible Danger
Toward the beginning of a wise and beautifully stated essay about American partisanship and the response to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, the lawyer and political commentator David French wrote, “I have never in my adult life seen such a deep shudder and sense of dread pass through the American political class.”
I don’t think the shudder was confined to the political class. And the day after Ginsburg died, I felt a shudder just as deep.
That was when Trump supporters descended on a polling location in Fairfax, Va., and sought to disrupt early voting there by forming a line that voters had to circumvent and chanting, “Four more years!”
This was no rogue group. This was no random occurrence. This was an omen — and a harrowing one at that.
Republicans are planning to have tens of thousands of volunteers fan out to voting places in key states, ostensibly to guard against fraud but effectively to create a climate of menace. Trump has not just blessed but encouraged this. On Fox News last month, he bragged to Sean Hannity about all the “sheriffs” and “law enforcement” who would monitor the polls on his behalf.
Color me alarmist, but that sounds like an invitation to do more than just watch. Trump put an exclamation point on it by exhorting those supporters to vote twice, once by mail and once in person, which is of course blatantly against the law.
Is a fair fight still imaginable in America? Do rules and standards of decency still apply? For a metastasizing segment of the population, no. That’s the toxic wellspring of the dread that French mentioned. That’s the moral of the madness in Virginia.
We’re in terrible danger. Make no mistake. This country, already uncivil, is on the precipice of being ungovernable, because its institutions are being so profoundly degraded, because its partisanship is so all-consuming, and because Trump, who rode those trends to power, is now turbocharging them to drive America into the ground. The Republican Party won’t apply the brakes.
The week since Ginsburg’s death has been the proof of that. Many of us dared to dream that a small but crucial clutch of Republican senators, putting patriotism above party, would realize that to endorse McConnell’s abandonment of his own supposed principle about election-year Supreme Court appointments would be a straw too many, a stressor too much and a guarantee of endless, boundless recrimination and retribution. At some point, someone had to be honorable and say, “Enough.”
Hah. Only two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, broke with McConnell, and in Collins’s case, there were re-election considerations and hedged wording. All the others fell into line.
So the lesson for Democrats should be to take all they can when they can? That’s what some prominent Democrats now propose: As soon as their party is in charge, add enough seats to the Supreme Court to give Democrats the greater imprint on it. Make the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico states, so that Democrats have much better odds of controlling the Senate. Do away with the filibuster entirely. That could be just the start of the list.
I wouldn’t begrudge the Democrats any of it. The way I’m feeling right now, I’d cheer them on. But Republicans reach back to Harry Reid’s actions when he was the Democratic majority leader of the Senate to justify their wickedness now. Democrats will cite that wickedness to justify the shattering of precedents in the future. Ugliness begets ugliness until — what? The whole thing collapses of its own ugly weight?
The world’s richest and most powerful country has been brought pitifully and agonizingly low. On Tuesday we passed the mark of 200,000 deaths related to the coronavirus, cementing our status as the global leader, by far, on that front. How’s that for exceptionalism?
“The coronavirus pandemic, a reckless incumbent, a deluge of mail-in ballots, a vandalized Postal Service, a resurgent effort to suppress votes, and a trainload of lawsuits are bearing down on the nation’s creaky electoral machinery,” the article’s author, Barton Gellman, a Pulitzer winner, wrote. “The mechanisms of decision are at meaningful risk of breaking down. Close students of election law and procedure are warning that conditions are ripe for a constitutional crisis that would leave the nation without an authoritative result. We have no fail-safe against that calamity.”
Several hours after Gellman’s article appeared, Slate published one by Richard Hasen, a professor at the University of California-Irvine School of Law, with the headline: “I’ve Never Been More Worried About American Democracy Than I Am Right Now.”
“If you had told Barack Obama or George W. Bush that you can be re-elected at the cost that American democracy will be permanently disfigured — and in the future America will be a failed republic — I don’t think either would have taken the deal.” But Trump? “I don’t think the survival of the republic particularly means anything to Donald Trump.”
He’s [Biden’s] our best bid for salvation, which goes something like this: An indisputable majority of Americans recognize our peril and give him a margin of victory large enough that Trump’s challenge of it is too ludicrous for even many of his Republican enablers to justify. Biden takes office, correctly understanding that his mandate isn’t to punish Republicans. It’s to give America its dignity back.
There is another school of thought: Maybe we need some sort of creative destruction to get to a place of healing and progress. Maybe we need to hit rock bottom before we bounce back up.
But what if there’s bottom but no bounce? I wonder. And shudder.
Thursday, September 24, 2020
With Luck, Trump and McConnell Are Moving the GOP To Minority Status
The Republican Party is sealing its fate.
PresidentTrump refuses to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power, his vassals in the Senate are moving quickly to guarantee that Trump’s latest Supreme Court justice will be on the court in time to swing the results of any election challenge. GOP leaders, of course, have the constitutional right to jam through a vote, but any victory they secure in the coming confirmation fight will be Pyrrhic. Washington insiders have long considered Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to be a shameless and cynical operator. But the Kentucky Republican’s actions over the past four years have so radicalized the Supreme Court selection process that Democrats will surely respond to McConnell’s extreme partisanship once back in power. During Trump’s presidency, “the world’s greatest deliberative body” has been reduced to a crude vote-counting chamber; this new legislative reality means Democrats would need only 50 senators and one president to pack the Supreme Court in 2021. Expect that to happen, since McConnell’s callous response to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death will speed the GOP toward a permanent minority status.
[T]he Republican Party’s future was already grim; White resentment doesn’t mix well with revolutionary demographic change. And the appointment of yet another Trump justice before the election will only further alienate Republicans from women, suburban voters and independents.
It should be noted that when discussing the judicial nominating process, Rome was not burned in a day. The court wars have been running hot since Reagan nominee Robert Bork was vilified on the Senate floor as a champion of segregated lunch counters and back-alley abortions less than an hour after his nomination. With decades of inglorious history as a backdrop, Trump will soon nominate a judge for the highest court in the land with the goal of ending health-care coverage for millions and reversing almost 50 years of pro-choice precedent. But before Democrats submit to despair, they should remember wisdom I recall Illinois Sen. Paul Simon imparting upon his retirement: “In politics, sometimes when you win, you lose; and sometimes when you lose, you win.”
I was reminded of the late senator’s words when my phone began ringing after Ginsburg’s death. . . . . The GOP’s brutish moves will end in defeat for Trump, McConnell and the Republican Party’s most endangered senators.
The biggest political loser will be Susan Collins. Maine’s senior senator spent her political career posing as a pro-choice moderate. But when the future of Roe v. Wade hung in the balance in 2018, Collins backed Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination. That flip-flop transformed Collins from the most popular Republican in the Senate chamber to the least — her approval rating in Maine was a towering 78 percent in 2015; after she voted for Kavanaugh, it fell to 42. Maine’s maladroit senator promised voters that the new justice would respect precedent. But Kavanaugh quickly made Collins look foolish when he voted to undermine Roe this year.
Trump likewise made a liar of the Maine senator after she voted to acquit him of all impeachment charges because, as she explained, “the president has learned from this case.” Soon the “newly educated” president fired Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for the sin of testifying truthfully to Congress, interfered in confidant Roger Stone’s sentencing and encouraged congressional allies to launch a partisan investigation of Joe Biden. Now the prospects of another anti-choice justice on the court will only remind voters of all this.
Sen. Cory Gardner will meet a similar fate in Colorado, where the endangered GOP incumbent is already bleeding support from suburban voters and women. Iowa’s Joni Ernst is running in a state where 25 percent of Trump’s voters identified themselves as pro-choice in 2016. Ernst, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis and Montana’s Steve Daines will also feel the wrath of the constituencies Trump is alienating.
Still, the impact on Trump himself will likely be greater. The Kaiser Family Foundation polled Americans this year and found that 69 percent opposed the overturning of Roe; only 29 percent support its reversal. That is a political gantlet that only this president would charge through weeks before an election.
The collateral damage caused by Trump and McConnell’s strategic misstep will contribute to [Trump's]
the president’sdefeat and a Democratic majority in the Senate next year. The long-term impact on cases involving health-care coverage and abortion rights will likely be muted by the Democratic Senate’s response to McConnell’s brinkmanship. The Kentucky senator’s guiding principle of “might makes right” will soon be turned against him, and all his hard work destroying political norms in the U.S. Senate will be for naught.
America’s Health Care Is Under Existential Threat
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death could not have come at a worse time for the millions of Americans who get their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
One week after the election, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear yet another case about whether the law is constitutional. The case was worrisome enough when Chief Justice John Roberts held the swing vote. But if President Trump succeeds in seating a new justice, the political gravity of the court will lurch even further to the right. A case that once looked like a Hail Mary would stand a real chance of success.
That means more than ever, health care is on the ballot. Joe Biden has already tied the battle over President Trump’s Supreme Court appointee to the fate of health reform, and Democrats should keep banging that drum until Election Day.
What’s at stake is not just the coverage that millions of Americans have gained through the new insurance exchanges and the Medicaid expansion but also the parts of the law that protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.
Other popular provisions hang in the balance, including those that guarantee preventive care with no out-of-pocket payments; end lifetime caps; allow kids to stay on their parents’ insurance through age 26; and make vaccines free to patients. Even some key improvements to Medicare — including a reduction in prescription drug costs for beneficiaries — would be gone.
Overnight, if the Affordable Care Act is eliminated, we will return to the health care system of 2010 — all this as we battle a virus that has killed more than 200,000 Americans.
Indeed, contracting the virus is the ultimate pre-existing condition. The disease can bring with it mysterious complications and affect virtually every organ system, the immune system and even the limbs. Young, otherwise healthy people may find themselves uninsurable if the Affordable Care Act is struck down.
A group of red states led by Texas, however, built a tortured argument on top of that one word. By keeping “shall” while ending the penalty, they said, Congress must have meant to coerce people into buying insurance. And that kind of congressional coercion is unconstitutional. Furthermore, they claimed that the entire law must go because one part of it couldn’t be legally “severed” from another.
Instead of defending the law against the attack, however,
PresidentTrump decided to use the lawsuit as a vehicle for undoing the Affordable Care Act in the courts.
Yet even as
PresidentTrump has tried to eliminate Obamacare, the law has only grown in popularity. The more the law is threatened, the more the public realizes its value.
That’s why Republicans don’t want to talk about health care in this election. The topic typically ranks as the single most important issue for voters, who view Democrats more favorably on it. Indeed, Republican losses in the 2018 midterms were widely attributed to the party’s stance on health reform.
But President Trump’s support for a dangerous Supreme Court case offers a simple, clear way to explain to voters that Republicans are lying when they say they support protections for people with pre-existing conditions. The explanation will land with particular force in a country suffering from a botched response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawsuit poses an existential threat to the nation’s health care system, and
PresidentTrump should be judged for recklessly supporting it.
If Mr. Biden wins the White House and Democrats take the Senate, they could pass a law that either imposes a financial penalty (even a $1 penalty) for not having insurance or wipes the “shall” language from the books. Such a law would make the lawsuit moot before the Supreme Court acts. But if the Republicans manage to hold on to the presidency or either chamber, there is no guarantee the Affordable Care Act, its coverage or its protections will survive.
Passing a law would require Democrats to overcome a likely Republican filibuster — either by proceeding via a special procedure called reconciliation or by eliminating the filibuster. Depending on how the election breaks, however, Democrats may have the votes to do it.
Which is why this year’s election will — yet again — be a referendum on health reform.
In the coming weeks, the Affordable Care Act’s supporters have a chance to highlight
PresidentTrump’s opposition to protections for people with pre-existing conditions, to demonstrate that ending the law would be a calamity for millions of Americans and to prove that Republicans can’t win elections if they relentlessly oppose the principle that everyone — sick and poor alike — is entitled to health coverage.
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
More Wednesday Male Beauty
Catholics Like Amy Coney Barrett Inspired "The Handmaid's Tale"
Amy Coney Barrett, a favorite to be President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is affiliated with a type of Christian religious group that served as inspiration for Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale.
Barrett, a devout Catholic, and her husband both belong to the People of Praise group, current and former members have said, according to The New York Times.
The charismatic Christian parachurch organization, which was founded in South Bend, Indiana in 1971, teaches that men have authority over their wives. Members swear a lifelong oath of loyalty to one another and are expected to donate at least 5 per cent of their earnings to the group.
Members of People of Praise are assigned to personal advisers of the same sex—called a "head" for men and "handmaid" for women, until the rise in popularity of Atwood's novel and the television series based on it forced a change in the latter.
Atwood herself has previously referred to the practices of a charismatic Catholic group motivating her to write The Handmaid's Tale, set in the fictional Gilead, where women's bodies are governed and treated as the property of the state under a theocratic regime.
While Atwood has not elaborated on which sect she was referring to, a New Yorker profile of the author in 2017 mentions that in a box of newspaper clippings the author collected while writing the novel, there is "an Associated Press item reported on a Catholic congregation in New Jersey being taken over by a fundamentalist sect in which wives were called 'handmaidens'—a word that Atwood had underlined."
People of Praise describes itself not as a church, but as a "charismatic Christian community" on its website. The group has about 1,700 members in 22 cities across the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean, according to the website.
The covenant community is one of many that formed across the U.S. in the 1970s as a part of the Charismatic Renewal movement in American Christianity, which emphasizes direct personal experience of God through baptism with the Holy Spirit.
[S]ome former members have described how "heads" and "handmaids"—now known as "leaders"—can play a huge role in the lives of members, such as directing their choice of partner, where they live and how they raise children.
"They're very watchful of their people. They report things to your heads if they see you out doing things you're not supposed to be doing. It's very much a Big Brother type of thing," she said.
People of Praise believes that only married couples should have sex, and that marriage is only between a man and a woman, Lent added.
Lent told The Tribune that any person who admits to homosexual activity, or any other "ongoing, deliberate, unrepentant wrongdoing," would be expelled.
[C]oncerns have been raised that Barrett's ties to the group as would influence her decisions on the Supreme Court.
"These groups can become so absorbing that it's difficult for a person to retain individual judgment," Sarah Barringer Gordon, a professor of constitutional law and history at the University of Pennsylvania, previously told The Times.
And while the People of Praise group was never brought up in Barrett's 2017 confirmation hearing for her current post, Senator Dianne Feinstein told Barrett: "The dogma lives loudly within you." Barrett told the senators that her faith would not affect her decisions as a judge.
In recent days, abortion rights groups have expressed concern that if put on the Supreme Court, Barrett, a darling of the religious right, could help overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
It is disturbing enough that Barrett narrowly managed to gain a seat on a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. We definitely do not want her on the Supreme Court or, better yet, any court.
Trump Intensifies the Tyranny of the Minority
President Trump has blamed just about everybody but himself for the country’s multiplying woes: China, the World Health Organization, Democrats, his predecessor, his opponent, governors, mayors, the press, scientists, antifa and his own appointees. So it was perhaps inevitable that we would arrive at this point: Trump’s White House is now blaming the voters.
[W]e have a divisive president. The voters aren’t divisive. . . . There is partisan polarization, but voters aren’t really divided on the issues. They simply don’t like what Trump is doing.
This isn’t the first time Team Trump has blamed voters. Back in 2015, when Ben Carson was surging in the Iowa Republican caucuses, Trump said Iowans were fools for believing a personal story Carson told. “How stupid are the people of Iowa?” Trump asked. “How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?”
The American people are not stupid, and they are not with Trump. The “silent majority” Trump often refers to is in fact a boisterous minority artificially amplified by the electoral college, the Senate’s structure, gerrymandering and the Supreme Court’s rollback of voting rights. Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million in 2016 and he has been below 50 percent public approval for his entire presidency.
And what of the Senate majority, which now claims to be fulfilling a mandate from the American people? Senate Republicans received 18 million fewer votes than Democrats in 2018, and 10 million fewer votes in 2016.
Vast majorities of Americans are concerned about the coronavirus, support the mandatory wearing of masks and say they avoid crowds. Trump mocks mask-wearing, holds mass rallies and boasts about playing down the virus. Monday he falsely said covid-19 “affects virtually nobody” under 18. Meanwhile, The Post reports, his Pentagon spent $1 billion of pandemic-relief funds on military hardware.
Americans overwhelmingly oppose choosing a new justice now. A Reuters/Ipsos poll finds 62 percent, including half of Republicans, saying the winner of the election in six weeks should make the choice.
Nearly 90 percent of Americans, of all stripes, have pleaded for more civility from public officials. Yet this week, Trump attacked Ginsburg’s granddaughter three days after the justice’s death and claimed that Democratic leaders had ghostwritten Ginsburg’s dying wishes. Trump also celebrated the “beautiful thing” of authorities shooting a television correspondent with a rubber bullet at a nonviolent protest.
Most Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic. Trump gives himself an “A-plus.”
Two-thirds of Americans have at least a fair amount of trust in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trump and political appointees have attacked the CDC director’s remarks about vaccines, attempted to edit the CDC’s scientific bulletins and accused CDC scientists of “sedition.” Now the CDC has retracted (correct) information it had posted three days earlier warning about airborne viral spread.
About three-quarters of Americans believe citizens should be allowed to vote by mail — even after Trump tried for months to undermine it as fraudulent.
Americans favor the continuation of enhanced unemployment benefits and pandemic aid to states. Trump and his allies demanded cuts to the former and refused the latter.
More than 8 in 10 Americans insist that Obamacare’s protections for those with preexisting conditions remain in place. Yet the Supreme Court is poised to invalidate Obamacare, at Trump’s request, including protections for preexisting conditions. Obamacare may well go down because of the vote of the new justice that Republicans plan to jam through to confirmation against the wishes of the American people.
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Trump’s Closing Message to Seniors: I Don’t Care If You Die
Donald Trump’s campaign would be in pretty good shape if it weren’t for old white people.
In most polls, the president’s support among Black and Hispanic voters appears to be slightly higher than it was in 2016. In Florida — a state Trump (almost certainly) needs to win to secure an Electoral College majority — his numbers with nonwhite voters would guarantee him victory as long as the Sunshine State’s retirees provide him with roughly as much support as they did four years ago.
But as of now, Florida’s seniors are doing no such thing.
In 2016, exit polls showed Trump besting Clinton among Floridians 65 and over by 17 points. This week, an AARP poll shows Biden leading Trump by just one point with that constituency. Of course, the Sunshine State’s elders aren’t uniformly white, and Biden is almost certainly performing better with nonwhite seniors than with white ones. But America’s elderly population is much less diverse than the nation as a whole — and older white voters have been a linchpin of the Republican coalition for more than a decade as the GOP has used the demographic’s supremely high turnout rate to compensate for its unpopularity among the broader American public.
[A]n average of all national live-interview polls since August shows seniors backing Biden over Trump by eight points. If Trump loses this predominantly white, Republican, and high-propensity-to-vote demographic group, his presidency will (almost certainly) be over in four months.
Any remotely competent campaign would respond to this data by adjusting its messaging to better appeal to Trump’s birth cohort. So what is the president’s plan for making American seniors Republican again?
The answer is, apparently, to inform them that Donald Trump doesn’t care much whether they live or die.
At a rally in Ohio on Monday, Trump belittled the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing, “It affects elderly people. Elderly people with heart problems and other problems. If they have other problems, that’s what it really affects.”
Trump followed up this public-health analysis with a call for broader reopenings, implicitly arguing that a disease that kills only old people is not worth containing.
There have been 200,00 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. Many more people have suffered serious illness as a result of contracting the disease. The second-order victims of the pandemic’s economic and social effects arguably constitute the vast majority of the country. But Trump is right that COVID fatalities are heavily concentrated among those of advanced age. So if you consider senior citizens (or, at least, senior citizens who lack the wealth and power to insulate themselves from contagion) to be less than human, then perhaps you could say that COVID has killed “virtually nobody,” if you take a very expansive definition of the word virtually.
Maybe older Trump-to-Biden supporters are looking for a president who will tell them that their lives have no value and that the Dow’s performance must take precedence over protecting nonentities like themselves from a fatal disease. But it seems like a risky bet.
Republican Hypocrisy and Constitutional Etiquette
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina contortionist, illustrates the perils of attempted cleverness by people with negligible aptitude for it. He says that the principle he enunciated in 2016 and reaffirmed in 2018 — that he would not support confirming a Supreme Court nominee in the last year of President Trump’s term — has expired. One reason he gives is — really — that Democrats in 2013 ended filibusters for circuit-court nominees.
The pandemic of national cynicism that the likes of Graham exacerbate is engulfing the Supreme Court, an institution whose functioning will be especially damaged by it. Immediately after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016, Senate Republicans concocted a principle in order to give a patina of high-mindedness to something they were determined to do anyway. Now, for the same purpose, they have concocted a codicil that essentially nullifies the principle.
In 2016, slathering on populist rhetoric (about “the American people” having a “voice”), they proclaimed that no Supreme Court nominee should be confirmed in a presidential election year. Now they assert, without pretending to have an argument: Oh, never mind, because unlike in 2016, the Senate majority and the president are of the same party.
[T]he nation’s often ferocious political competition, although framed by the Constitution, should be lubricated by prudence, whereby ferocity is tempered by a statesmanlike refusal to exercise every power the Constitution grants.
Sixteen Republicans who were in the Senate in 2016 and who are seeking reelection this year said (Susan Collins did not say this) that refusing to confirm a new justice during a presidential election year was high statesmanship. How many will have the effrontery to vote for someone nominated while presidential voting is underway, or after the election even if the nominator loses?
But if just four non-plastic Republican senators do not ignore their caucus’s pretended 2016 principle, the coming nominee cannot be confirmed before the election. And if Trump loses, perhaps even this amazingly malleable Republican caucus might not confirm his nominee before Joe Biden’s inauguration. So, whomever Trump nominates might be about to have a tortuous Merrick Garland experience of disappointment.
Suppose, however — not altogether implausibly — that the Republican Senate caucus is incapable of embarrassment. Suppose Biden wins and Democrats have a net gain of at least three Senate seats. And suppose that either before the election, or before the new Senate is sworn in on Jan. 3, Republicans confirm a new justice. And suppose Senate Democrats, spurred by their party’s enraged base and enabled by their quick abolition of the filibuster, enlarge the Supreme Court by at least four members (two fewer than Franklin Roosevelt envisioned).
This would erase the principal achievement — three Trump nominees — for which Senate Republicans, during four years of canine obedience to the nominator, have rationalized shedding their dignity and shredding their reputations. This institutional vandalism by Democrats would be a grievous injury to the court, which has, so far, largely escaped being drenched by the Niagara of public contempt for the great institutions of national governance, not least Congress.
Confidence in the court is as perishable as the reputations of the senators of both parties who in the next few years might cause the court to be seen as just another scuffed and soiled plaything in the nation’s increasingly tawdry political game. If so, the Republicans among those senators will be able to see the monument to their careers when they look east from the Capitol’s Senate wing, across First Street NE, to the court’s glistening white building, where a liberal majority will be presiding on a lengthened bench for a long time.
Trump Loses Ground with White Voters
Donald Trump is making modest inroads with Latinos. Polls suggest he’s pulling slightly more Black support than in 2016.
But Trump is tilting at the margins with those groups. His bigger problem is the demographic that sent him to the White House — white voters, whose embrace of Trump appears to be slipping in critical, predominantly white swing states.
In Minnesota, where the contest between Trump and Joe Biden had seemed to tighten in recent weeks — and where both candidates stumped on Friday — a CBS News/YouGov survey last week had Trump running 2 percentage points behind Biden with white voters, after carrying them by 7 points in 2016. Even among white voters without college degrees — Trump’s base — the president was far short of the margin he put up against Hillary Clinton there.
It’s the same story in Wisconsin, where Trump won non-college educated white women by 16 percentage points four years ago but is now losing them by 9 percentage points, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll. In Pennsylvania, Biden has now pulled even with Trump among white voters, according to an NBC News/Marist Poll.
It’s possible that the focus on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s replacement will help Trump, reminding voters who have drifted away from him what they cared about in 2016. Four years ago, one in five voters — many of them white, social conservatives — said Supreme Court appointments were the most important factor in their vote.
But Trump is working from a disadvantage this year. There are relatively few undecided voters left to persuade. Democrats are also highly energized about the Supreme Court. And Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the court one month before the midterm elections two year ago did nothing to stop Democrats from steamrolling Trump and the GOP.
The erosion of Trump’s white support — and its significance to the November outcome — was never more obvious than in Trump’s messaging in recent days. Last week, he called for the creation of a commission to promote “patriotic education” while dismissing “critical race theory” and the 1619 project of The New York Times Magazine. At a rally in Mosinee, Wis., he lit into Kamala Harris — the first major party woman of color vice presidential nominee — lamenting the possibility of her becoming president “through the back door.”
[B]efore an overwhelmingly white crowd in Bemidji, Minn., Trump mocked Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) — the first Somali-American in Congress and a former refugee — and said Biden would “turn Minnesota into a refugee camp.”
He praised Minnesotans for their “good genes.”
But Trump’s rhetoric does not appear to be resonating with white America to the degree that he did in 2016. That year, whites cast nearly three-quarters of the vote nationally, and Trump won those voters by about 15 percentage points, according to Pew. Four years later, Biden has torn into that advantage, though to what degree is uncertain. The latest Morning Consult poll showed Trump now beating Biden among white likely voters nationally by just 5 percentage points. . . . a PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll on Friday showed Biden and Trump essentially tied with white voters.
“Suburban whites are pretty much gone” for Trump, said Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. And Biden is far less objectionable to many working class whites than Clinton, a more polarizing nominee whose favorability ratings were lower than Biden’s.
Trump is doing better with whites in some states than others. In North Carolina, he is drawing non-college educated white voters at about the same levels he was in 2016. But in other states, including some with sizable populations of people of color, he is underperforming with whites. In Florida, Trump is running ahead of Biden with white voters 56 percent to 39 percent, according to a Monmouth University poll. But that is far short of the 32 percentage point margin he posted in 2016.
But white voters have not proved immune to the damage inflicted on Trump by the coronavirus and its resulting economic wreckage, which have been a drag on Trump’s reelection campaign since spring. In particular, the pandemic appears to have hurt Trump with seniors, including older white voters concerned about both their retirement accounts and their health.
“It’s these older white voters that I think are the ones that are moving” away from Trump, said Jeff Link, a veteran Iowa-based Democratic strategist who has studied voters who turned from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. “The older people are like, ‘What the f--- is this guy doing?'”
And the issue that motivated many white voters in 2016 — immigration, amplified by Trump’s promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — has all but fallen out of view. During his successful presidential campaign, 13 percent of voters ranked immigration as the most important issue facing the country. Last month, immigration barely registered at 2 percent in Gallup’s survey of the most important problems facing the country.
Not only do public safety-based appeals appear to be faltering for Trump, white voters “still really care about pocketbook issues, and that is the underlying issue that drives their vote,” said Zak Williams, a Democratic mail strategist based in Duluth, Minn., near where Biden campaigned Friday.
“College-educated white voters were the first group that moved away from him,” Williams said, and now Trump is “starting to drive away non-college educated white voters,” too.
At the center of Trump’s re-election math has always been the expectation that he could turn out more white, non-college educated voters in 2020 than he did in 2016, squeezing more juice from a diminishing base.
Let's hope the exodus from Trump continues.
Monday, September 21, 2020
Four Reasons to Doubt Mitch McConnell’s Power
To use power, you must have it. On the night of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that a Trump nominee to replace Ginsburg would receive a vote on the floor of the Senate.
That announcement promised a use of power without hesitation or compunction, an abrupt reversal of the supposed rule that blocked an Obama nomination nine months before the 2016 election. This supposed rule would seem much better justified in 2020 than 2016. This time, the vacancy has occurred only 46 days before an election. This time, the party of the president making the nomination seems likely to lose, not win. This time, the Senate majority to approve the nomination may lose too.
What McConnell did in 2016 was an assertion of brute power, and what he proposes in 2020 is another assertion of brute power. And so the question arises: Does McConnell in fact have the power he asserts?
The answer may be no, for four reasons.
Does McConnell really command a Senate majority?
The polls do not favor Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, or Thom Tillis—senators from Maine, Colorado, and North Carolina up for reelection this cycle. Yet these competitors may not be ready to attend their own funerals. They may regard voting against McConnell's Court grab as a heaven-sent chance to prove their independence from an unpopular president—and to thereby save their own seats. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has also made skeptical noises, . . .
(Martha McSally of Arizona, however, is likely a safe vote for McConnell. The deadest of the Senate's dead ducks surely must be focused on retaining national Republican support for her post-Senate career. Mitt Romney of Utah is a more open question: His strong sense of fairness will push him against confirmation; his consistent support for conservative judges will pull him in favor.)
McConnell cannot afford more than three defections in the face of what will certainly be united Democratic opposition to any last-minute Trump nominee.
Does McConnell really have a nominee to advance?
Any last-minute Trump nominee will face a gantlet of opposition in the Senate, a firestorm of opposition in the country, and probably a lifetime of suspicion from the majority of the country.
Can McConnell and Trump find an appointee willing to risk all that for the chance—but not the guarantee—of a Supreme Court seat? . . . . And if they can find a woman, can they find a woman sufficiently moderate-seeming to provide cover to anxious senators? The task may prove harder than immediately assumed.
Will Trump balk?
Until now, judicial-nomination fights have mobilized Republicans and conservatives more than Democrats and liberals. The fight McConnell proposes may upset that pattern. Trump's hopes for reelection depend on suppressing votes and discouraging participation. The last thing he needs is a highly dramatic battle that could mobilize Democrats in states including Arizona and North Carolina—even Georgia and Texas.
The smart play for Trump is to postpone the nomination to reduce the risk of Democratic mobilization, and to warn Republicans of the risks should he lose. Trump’s people do not usually execute the smart play. . . . This time, though, they may just be desperate enough to break long-standing pattern and try something different.
Will the conservative legal establishment play ball?
The judicial status quo enormously favors conservatives. Even should Democrats win big in November, it will take many years for them to catch up to the huge Republican lead in judicial appointments.
But a last-minute overreach by McConnell could seem so illegitimate to Democrats as to justify radical countermoves should they win in November: increasing the number of appellate judges and Supreme Court justices; conceivably even opening impeachment hearings against Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
McConnell may want the win badly enough to dismiss those risks. But many conservative-leaning lawyers in the country may be more cautious. And their voices will get a hearing in a contentious nomination fight—not only by the national media, but by some of the less Trump-y Republican senators. This could be enough to slow down a process that has no time to spare.
Mitch McConnell has gotten his way so often that it’s hard to imagine he might ever lose. But the political balance of power is shifting this fall, and for once, McConnell may be on the wrong side of a power dynamic.