Jonathan Chait

The American Discourse (Nazi Symbol)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during the 2016 Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 3, 2015 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

Jonathan Chait observes—

There is no better symbol for the Republican Party elite in the Trump era than Gary Cohn weighing the morality of opposing Nazism against corporate-tax-rate cuts and choosing the latter. But it is also a reminder that Nazism, which several generations of Americans have grown accustomed to thinking of as an exotic symbol of pure, abstract evil, in reality represents a political faction. Trump is not a Nazi. Nor, even, is Steve Bannon. They are, however, Nazi-adjacent, and actual neo-Nazis are excited about Trump, who has emboldened and empowered white nationalists in a way nobody could have fathomed until recently. They are just another part of the party coalition now.

—and it just seems worth noting this is what has become of the American discourse.

The important parallels here are not between Hitler and Trump. While Trump, like Hitler, is racist and authoritarian, his racism is not genocidal, his contempt for democracy is instinctive rather than ideological, and he crucially lacks any plan for massive territorial conquest. What makes the history pertinent, rather, are the eerie similarities in the behavior of the right-wing politicians who facilitated both men’s rise to power.

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A Note on Impetus

#SomethingTerrific | #WhatTheyVotedFor

A portion of the U.S. Capitol dome. (Detail of photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images, 2013)

There is always this:

Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican freshman from Louisiana, said yesterday that he likes the idea of turning health care over to the states—the core rationale behind the pending Graham-Cassidy proposal—but he’s not entirely comfortable with the direction some blue states might take.

“If you give California and New York a big chunk of money, they’re gonna set up a single-payer system,” the GOP senator said. “And I wanna prevent that.”

It’s curious. Republicans only seem to like turning over authority to states and local governments when they’re confident states and local governments will govern in a conservative way.

(Benen)

Perhaps a bit more directly:

Perhaps the oddest thing about the last-ditch Republican plan to repeal Obamacare is that it is being sold not as a repeal of Obamacare—which is popular—but instead as a rebuke to a law that does not yet exist. “If you want a single-payer health-care system, this is your worst nightmare,” Lindsey Graham has boasted of his plan. “Hell no to Berniecare.” Graham’s weird promise that his plan “ends single-payer health care” has somehow taken hold, to the point where Republicans appear to believe it would foreclose even public debate on left-wing alternatives. The bill “stops us from having conversation in the future about Medicare for all,” claims Senator Tim Scott.

(Chait)

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Asymetrically Expected

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of frame from Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor, episode 6, "An Aroma Sweet, a Heart Bitter...".

Steve Benen brings both setup and punch line, which is what it is, and he is certainly fine talent―

Republican voters opposed bombing the Assad regime in Syria, until Donald Trump took office, at which point they changed their mind. GOP voters thought the American economy was awful, until a Republican became president, at which point they suddenly reversed course.

And Gallup reported late last week that Republican voters had deeply negative attitudes about the current U.S. tax system, right before they changed their minds in early 2017.

―but come on, Republicans are making it too easy. Or perhaps this is part of their faustian bargain, that such simplicity, daring to be stranger than fiction in a distinctive context akin to denigrating parody and pantomime, is the price of their desires. To say this is how Republicans or conservatives behave—to predict or expect such simplistic behavior—merely for the basis of political affiliation ought to be some manner of offensive stereotype.

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Something Going On (Asymetrically Intriguing)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laughs before speaking to supporters at the Human Rights Campaign Breakfast in Washington, October 3, 2015. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

This is the thing: While it is easy enough to get lost in the spectacular noise and bluster, the breathtaking incoherence and disbelief, something does seem to have happened. Jonathan Chait dove in last month, noting, “The most important substantive problem facing political journalists of this era is asymmetrical polarization”. And to a certain degree, Chait is vital, here, because of something else he wrote, all of several days before:

I had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency until I saw Matt Lauer host an hour-long interview with the two major-party candidates. Lauer’s performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking. The shock, for me, was the realization that most Americans inhabit a very different news environment than professional journalists. I not only consume a lot of news, since it’s my job, I also tend to focus on elite print-news sources. Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them from Lauer matches the reality of the polls, which is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed.

Nor need one be any manner of confessed media elitist; outside the circles where people perpetually complain about the media, news consumers are more than a little puzzled―indeed, some or maybe even many are alarmed―about what they are witnessing.

Part of the problem, of course, is asymmetrical polarization; Chait considered the question―

Political journalism evolved during an era of loose parties, both of which hugged the center, and now faces an era in which one of those parties has veered sharply away from the center. Today’s Republican Party now resides within its own empirical alternative universe, almost entirely sealed off from any source of data, expertise, or information that might throw its ideological prior values into question. Donald Trump’s candidacy is the ne plus ultra of this trend, an outlier horrifying even to a great many conservatives who have been largely comfortable with their party’s direction until now. How can the news media appropriately cover Trump and his clearly flawed opponent without creating an indecipherable din of equivalent-sounding criticism, where one candidate’s evasive use of a private email server looms larger than the other’s promise to commit war crimes?

Liz Spayd, the New York Times’ new public editor, dismisses the problem out of hand in a column that is a logical train wreck. Spayd specifically addresses a column by Paul Krugman that lambastes two news investigations into the Clinton Foundation, one of which appeared in the Times. Both reports dug deep and found nothing improper, but instead of either walking away from the dry holes or writing an exculpatory story, dressed them up with innuendo. These stories supply a prime example of the larger critique often grouped under the heading of “false equivalence”―journalists treating dissimilar situations as similar, in an attempt to balance out their conclusions. Spayd dismisses false equivalence as liberal whining, without in any way engaging with its analysis.

―in the wake of a New York Times dispute between public editor Liz Spayd and columnist Paul Krugman.

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Something About the Speaker (Footnote Fury)

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI01) speaks at his primary night press conference, 9 August 2016, in Janesville, Wisconsin. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

“The new Paul Ryan tax cuts make the Bush tax cuts look like socialism.”

Jonathan Chait

Steve Benen frames the issue well enough:

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has largely pulled off an impressive public-relations gambit in recent years. The Republican leader has recast himself as an anti-poverty crusader, without making any meaningful changes to his far-right agenda, simply by using the word “poverty” a whole lot.

But it’s occasionally worthwhile to look past the rhetoric and focus on the hard data ....

.... Ryan’s tax plan is crafted in such a way as to give 99.6% of the benefits to the wealthiest of the wealthy by 2025. The other 0.4% would be divided up across the other 99% of us.

This is a feature, not a bug, of the House Speaker’s approach to economic policy. Ryan genuinely believes that massive tax breaks for those at the very top will spur economic growth that would, in time, benefit everyone. For the Wisconsin congressman, trickle-down policy, its track record notwithstanding, remains the most responsible course to broad national prosperity.

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The Marco Rubio Show (Gaffe Rig)

Marco Rubio: A New American Century

There are so many places to go and bizarre spectacles to see, but for the moment these paragraphs from Steve Benen ought to be devastating:

Rubio, a member of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, is basing much of his campaign on his alleged expertise on international affairs. The far-right Floridian would love nothing more than to be seen as the candidate who has a “deep understanding” of “the threats that the world is facing.”

But Rubio has run into Trump-like problems of his own. Just last week, in a big speech on foreign policy, the GOP senator told an embarrassing whopper about military preparedness, touching on an issue Rubio should have understood far better.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., arrives for the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)In June, Rubio was asked about his approach towards Iraq. Told that his policy sounds like nation-building, the senator responded, “Well, it’s not nation-building. We are assisting them in building their nation.”

Just this year, Rubio has flubbed the details of Iran’s Green Revolution. His criticisms on the Obama administration’s approach towards Israel were quickly discredited as nonsense. His statements of nuclear diplomacy were practically gibberish.

In the spring, Rubio had a memorable confrontation with Secretary of State John Kerry, which was a debacle – the senator stumbled badly on several key details, and Kerry made him look pretty foolish.

Soon after, Rhonda Swan, a Florida-based journalist, wrote that the Republican senator “should be embarrassed.” Swan added, “By his own standard that the next president have a ‘clear view of what’s happening in the world’ and a ‘practical plan for how to engage America in global affairs,’ Rubio fails the test.”

What’s more, as readers may recall, when Rubio has tried to articulate a substantive vision, he’s relied a little too heavily on shallow, bumper-sticker-style sloganeering, rather than actual policy measures. Rubio declared “our strategy” on national security should mirror Liam Neeson’s catchphrase in the film “Taken”: “We will look for you, we will find you and we will kill you.”

Soon after, the candidate’s team unveiled the “Rubio Doctrine”, described by Charles Pierce as “three banalities strung together in such a way as to sound profound and to say nothing.”

And yet the narrative leads with Donald Trump.

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The Rand Paul Show (Iran-Contra Episode)

"U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks in Washington on Dec. 2, 2014." (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

It really is a fun headline from Jonathan Chait: “Rand Paul Promises to Illegally Trade Weapons for Hostages With Iran”.

Right. The Kentucky junior did not make that promise explicitly, but the headline is intended to point out the problems of Sen. Paul’s generalizations. After all, “A skeptic might note that the actual Reagan approach to the Iran issue involved selling Iran coveted weapons in return for its helping to release American hostages, and then lying about it.”

Still, though:

But a Reagan skeptic fails to grasp the higher truths of the Reagan cult that are apparent to the Republican Party. It is a truism for the faithful that all of Reagan’s beliefs were correct, even the Reagan beliefs that contradicted other Reagan beliefs. Likewise all of Reagan’s actions projected strength and are worthy of emulation, even his underhanded appeasement of a radical regime that led to a massive scandal. Even Reagan’s appeasement projected strength. That’s just how great he was.

____________________

Chait, Jonathan. “Rand Paul Promises to Illegally Trade Weapons for Hostages With Iran”. New York. 7 April 2015.

Last Month’s List o’Links

Transgender pride

Notes from the Culture Wars:

Kevin Thornton, or, queer alt country on being gay and forty in the twenty-first century. (HuffPo)

Paige Lavender on Texas and the transgendered. (HuffPo)

Tresa Baldas tries to explain the unfortunate intersection of compassion, hatred, and your doctor. (Detroit Free Press)

Sam Levine, and this time it’s Kentucky and the transgendered. (HuffPo)

Cavan Sieczkowski on Freud on homosexuality. (HuffPo)

• Two reports, from Tammy Mutasa and Casey Weldon on a die-in demonstration at Fountain Square, Cincinnati, calling attention to violence against transgendered. (WLWT, WCPO)

• Education? State? Justice? Jennifer Bendery reports that the transgendered also have the Department of Defense on their side. (HuffPo)

• At this point, Michael Tomasky’s piece tying social conservative politics to the precipitous decline spectacular crash of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential ambitions to … Jerry Falwell. (The Daily Beast)

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Almost Unbelievable

Detail of cartoon by Monte Wolverton for The Cagle Post, 22 February 2015.

Mr. Walker likes to present himself as a man of courage, based on his record in Wisconsin, but maybe facing down public-sector unions doesn’t tell you all that much about the bravery of a Republican governor. On two occasions in recent days, he has proved himself incapable of saying basic truths that might offend some of his potential voters: First, that evolution is real, and second, that an honorable politician criticizes his opponent’s policies, not his patriotism.

The Washington Post

This is an ugly tale.

Indeed, a personal barometer of any given political news story is what we might refer to as the “GMA Test”α. That is to say, when last week’s news percolates to get a mention on Good Morning America, one might rest assured that the story has arrived. Whether or not anyone will care is an entirely separate question, but there is more going on here than just Rudy Giuliani being an idiot, or Scott Walker a coward.

For instance, there is Bobby Jindal, who wants to one-up them both.

But let us start with the basic outline, from Dana Milbank of the Washington Post:

As the world now knows, Giuliani, the former New York mayor, said at a dinner featuring Walker, the Wisconsin governor, that “I do not believe that the president loves America.” According to Politico, Giuliani said President Obama “wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”

And Walker, just a few seats away, said . . . nothing. Asked the next morning on CNBC about Giuliani’s words, the Republican presidential aspirant was spineless: “The mayor can speak for himself. I’m not going to comment on what the president thinks or not. He can speak for himself as well. I’ll tell you, I love America, and I think there are plenty of people — Democrat, Republican, independent, everyone in between — who love this country.”

But did he agree with Giuliani? “I’m in New York,” Walker demurred. “I’m used to people saying things that are aggressive out there.”

This is what’s alarming about the Giuliani affair. There will always be people on the fringe who say outrageous things (and Giuliani, once a respected public servant, has sadly joined the nutters as he questioned the president’s patriotism even while claiming he was doing no such thing). But to have a civilized debate, it’s necessary for public officials to disown such beyond-the-pale rhetoric. And Walker failed that fundamental test of leadership.

Something about ugly goes here.

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FOX News and World Domination

It's time for an 'American jihad' (Keith Ablow/FOX News, 28 October 2014)

An American jihad would embrace the correct belief that if every nation on earth were governed by freely elected leaders and by our Constitution, the world would be a far better place. And an American jihad would not only hope for this outcome, but work toward it.

Keith Ablow

Is there a doctor in the house? No, no, Mr. Ablow, not you. A real doctor.

A nagging whisper at the back of pretty much any politically aware American’s mind is the question of what point would mark the unmistakable, irrevocable transition of the American Dream from a shining city on the hill to an empire akin to Coruscant. And while there are plenty who would denounce the demonstrable aspects of imperialism in American society and governance, one might be tempted to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the solution isn’t to throw down and go full Palpatine.

Just sayin’.

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