Thursday, May 30, 2024

May 30, 2024
Democracy as problem and solution

Recently I reread The Daughter of Time; by mystery novelist Josephine Tey.  Her detective, Alan Grant, is hospitalized after being injured pursuing a suspect, and he passes time reading history books and contemplating a portrait of Richard III who, according to many histories, had his two nephews murdered.  Grant is something of an expert in reading chacter in faces, and is convinced that Richard was not a murderer. He procedes, with the aid of a young researcher, to expose flaws in the story.  This restatement of history in detctive story form, in addition to presenting a persuasive refutation of the account of Richard as murderer of children, offers descriptions of historical gullibility, stories that those present knew were false but which became acepted lore.  In the age of Trump, believing lies is a too-familiar pattern.

A friend of Grant offered this explanation of why people continue to accept obviously false stories:
It’s an odd thing, but when you tell someone the true facts of a mythical tale, they are indignant not with the teller but with you.  They don’t want to have their ideas upset.  It rouses some vague uneasiness in them, I think, and they resent it, So they reject it and refuse to think about it.    
Our country today is full of such people, those who cling to Trump’s fantasies. Why do they believe him?  Stuart Stevens, in his recent book, offered an explanation: “Voting for Trump had nothing to do with solving problems.  That was the thing called ‘governing,’ which involved ‘policy’, and that wasn’t why MAGA voters loved Trump.  They embraced Trump for how he made them feel.”

What underlies that need for emotional reassurance?  Stevens refers to a “shared sense of victimhood that has defined the MAGA movement . . . .”  Many people see their status declining and are receptive to manipulators who will find someone to blame, whether immigrants or ”socialists” or “the deep state.” or globalist conspiracies.

Those of us who are more or less liberal claim to want more democracy, or at least to defend what we have of it and, given the autocratic tendencies of Trump and company, that is natural.  However, the extreme gullibility of the MAGA crowd makes one wonder whether democracy can work. A line attributed to Winston Churchill, although it apparently is apocryphal, summed up the problem cynically “The best argument against Democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

Nevertheless, our problem, at least in part, isn’t too much democracy but too little. The electoral college gives small states undue influence. (Wyoming has one elector for 188,000 people, California one for 677,345), as well as allowing the election of a candidate, such as Trump, who loses the popular vote   The Senate, too, is unrepresentative.  The situation is exacerbated by various programs of vote suppression.  

Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 and in 2020 which, at least until this November, preserves my belief in democracy and my desire to expand it.
24. The Conspiracy to End America: Five Ways My Old Party Is Driving Our Democracy to Autocracy (2023), p.32
25.  Id, p. 26
26. herrings-famous-quotes-churchill-never-said/
27. have-in-your-state#gid=ci02666ac9200024ec&pid=2-world-manhattan-nyc-new-york-sh

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

April 15, 2024
The Trump enigma

The support for Donald Trump always has been a mystery to me.  His grasp of issues never was firm and he seems to be going downhill, making repeated mistakes or odd statements.[14]  The explanations, or theories, are different for different groups. Much of his support by ordinary voters seems to be based on fear and resentment, reenforced and exaggerated. A  column by Jennifer Rubin described how that can be manipulated: “Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an expert on reactionary strongmen, explains, ‘To get people to embrace violence, fill them with existential dread- the fear that it’s the Leader or the abyss.’ “[15]

Recently I have seen several theories for the support by Republican politicians.  One is, in effecr, “He is our candidate, and we don’t want Biden.”  Even many of those Trump has attacked support him[16]  This is a familiar form of blind partisanship, remarkable only in being applied to someone so thouroughly unworthy.  Some just are afraid of him: they want to stay active in GOP politics and he controls the Party.  

Liz Cheney, in her recent book, describes several reasons or excuses for support by her fellow Republicans: fear that crossing Trump would lead to a primary challenge, even fear that crossing him would put them and their families in danger.  Early on, some didn’t actively oppose him because they thought he would fade away.[17]    

There is some movement away from Trump.  Explanations by those who oppose him also vary. Here is Mike Pence’s reasoning:

Donald Trump is pursuing and articulating an agenda that is at odds with the conservative agenda that we governed on during our four years. . . .  As I have watched his candidacy unfold, I’ve seen him walking away from our commitment to confronting the national debt. I’ve seen him starting to shy away from a commitment to the sanctity of human life. And this last week, his reversal on getting tough on China and supporting our administration’s efforts to force a sale of ByteDance’s TikTok,[18]  

As to the first issue, the record of their administration is nothing to boast about.[19]  However, Pence’s defection is significant, whatever the reason.

The notion that Trump was a conservative appeared in an extreme form in a column by by Mark Thiessen, a Washington Post columnist, who wrote recently: “Based on his record in office, Trump should be considered one of the greatest conservative presidents we’ve had.”  Thiessen would like to support Trump, but his reported attitude toward Ukraine, Russia and dictators is a problem:

After meeting with Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Friday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that Trump assured him he ‘will not give a penny’ to help Ukraine defend itself from Russian aggression. If true, that’s not the Trump I want to vote for. . . .I can’t vote for a candidate who would abandon Ukraine to Vladimir Putin.[20]

Thiessen also referred to “Trump’s recent flip-flop on forcing the sale of TikTok in the United States.”

Although most Republican oficeholders remain in the MAGA camp, there have been notable defections.  When Trump was impeached over his January 6 behavior, 10  House Republicanns voted to impeach and 7 Republican Senators voted to convict, both record numbers for those of the same party as the accused.[21]

There has been some defection by members of Trump’s inner crcle in addition to  Pence:

Several of Trump’s former top advisers and allies have refused to endorse their former boss’s campaign, including . . . former attorney general William P. Barr and former White House chief of staff John Kelly.
    * * *     
    Former defense secretary Mark T. Esper told HBO host Bill Maher that “there’s no way” he’ll support Trump in November because he believes his former boss “is a threat to democracy.”[22]

 Some are considering the next step:

    Esper: “Every day that Trump does something crazy, the door to voting for Biden opens a little bit more, and that’s where I’m at,”
    Sarah Matthews, a former deputy White House press secretary, supported Nikki Haley in the Republican primaries. She told The Post, however, that if her choice is between Trump and Biden on Election Day, she’ll support Biden.
    Ty Cobb, who was once a Trump loyalist and as White House counsel defended the former president during the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, has repeatedly said that the country cannot elect Trump again. . . . “If the time comes and a vote for Joe is required to stop Trump, then I’d grudgingly vote for Biden,” Cobb said.
Cassidy Hutchinson succinctly stated why that move should be taken: “everybody should vote for Joe Biden if they want our democracy to survive.”[23]

14. 872646de-bba4-11ee-911a-6f4c6a1dddfc.html
16. back-trump/
17. Oath. and Honor: A Memoir and a Warning, Little, Brown & Co.(2023). See pp. 59-60, 131, 190-91. As to threats, also see death-threats_n_660676c4e4b0c13128d023d9
19. ttps://
20. national-security/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_opinions&utm_campaign=wp_ opinions
21. to-impeach-trump    and gop-senators-voted-to-convict-trump-only-1-faces-voters-next-year
22. utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most&
23. Ibid

Thursday, March 14, 2024

March 13, 2024
Is Trump fading?  (episode four)

I have suggested several times[1] that Trump’s appeal to voters might be fading.  I may  have been too optimistic; he has won most of the primary contests and his opponents have dropped out.. However, his legal troubles, while they may establish him as a martyr to some, should be a net negative.

The stunning verdicts in the E. Jean Carroll cases, finding “sexual abuse” and defamation[2], (and awarding huge damages)[3] should give any supporter pause.  In addition he faces serious criminal charges.

Also, Trump’s apparent popularity may be in part illusory.  He had little positive influence on the 2022 midterm election and observers have pointed out that Trump’s vote totals in the early primaries were not impressive and that not all Republican voters are ready to support him.[4]

Trump has shown lapses that may raise concerns about his mental ability.  He attacked Nancy Pelosi for an imagined failure on January 6, but referred to her repeatedly as “Nikki Haley.” Often he seems confused, making mistakes.[5]   Niece Mary Trump pointed to this gaffe by Trump at a Fox News town hall: ’”Were going to take over Washington, D.C. We’re going to federalize. We’re going to have very powerful crime, and you’re going to be proud of it again,”[6]

Unfortunately. President Biden has shown lapses as well, and his seem to show declining mental acuity, whereas Trump’s are buried in shouted blather, so he can seem strong even while revealing confusion. The special counsel’s comment on Biden’s memory has made matters still worse.  Biden’s performance at the State of the Union address should help to dispel fears: he fumbled at times but gave a vigorous, combative speech.  On policy, he took the initiative on the border issue and proposed a project to get more aid to Gaza.  He should go farther and take a harder line with Israel on its attacks

Trump at times seems to be self-destructive. After winning the New Hampshire primary, instead of trying to maintain Party solidarity, he attacked Governor Haley.  Driving away potential Republican voters doesn’t seem bright, but Trump did that while showing a vindictive streak, referring to  “Birdbrain” Nikki Haley and threatening her supporters: “Anybody that makes a ‘Contribution’ to Birdbrain, from this moment forth, will be permanently barred from the MAGA camp. We don’t want them, and will not accept them.”[7]

Haley returned the favor, exposing Trump’s weakness while again potentially driving away Republican votes.  One of her ads said, of Trump, “He just can’t help himself, the ranting and raving. . . .  Chaos follows him, and he’s getting older.”  Trump is only “running to settle old scores” because “it’s about him, not you,” the voter.[8]  She referred to him as “unhinged.”[9]

Another Haley ad raised the issue of Trump’s deference to Putin.  “Every time he was in the same room with him, he got weak in the knees,” Haley told a Fox News town hall in South Carolina. “We can’t have a president that gets weak in the knees with Putin. We have to have a president that’s going to be strong with Putin in every sense of the word.”[10]

Trump has underscored the issue of weakness toward Russia by suggesting that he would encourage it to attack a NATO member. He recently recalled (or imagined) a conversation during his presidency.  Referring to financial contributions toward military preparedness by NATO members, he said:
    One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, “Well sir, if we don’t pay and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?” I said, “You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?” He said, “Yes, let’s say that happened.” “No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”[11] .   

All of this may persuade enough voters that Trump is a risky bet.  As Jennifer
Rubin put it, past presidential candidates “did not have the extra hurdle to prove they were sane, law-abiding and pro-democracy. Trump does, and he reinforces those concerns whenever he opens his mouth.”[12]

In addition to Trump’s weaknesses, the GOP is in disarray, as demonstrated by the antics, divisions and general uselessness of the House Republicans; that may drag its presidential candidate down.  Goaded by Trump, who wants border troubles as a campaign issue, they have lost interest in border enforcement after claiming that action there was critical.  Those voters who backed Trump because he vowed to close the border should be offended by his maneuvering to keep it open so he can complain about it.  

 Trunp’s cruise to the nomination is not necessarily bad news; in the two previous campaigns he lost the popular vote. Despite all of Biden’s troubles, including too-critical news media, I think (hope?) that voters will see that they must back him. As Robert Reich put it,  "When Americans actually focus on the presidential election and the stark reality of choosing between Biden and Trump, I expect they will once again choose Biden.”[13]

1.  See notes of 1/26/22, 11/26/22, 8/20/23
3. verdict.html
4. email&utm_campaign=Feb.26.2024_1.59pm
5. scene-trump-phillips-haley/?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source= newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most
6. 4346d51f8b3
7. 0166fc 770d5e2
8. 4b093b2e780cda7
9. diminished_n_65cd017ce4b0087d43c8bcec
10. c0abc5a7 c0abc5a7
11. 069b665dfb762
12. newsletter
13. medium=email&utm_campaign=Jan.23.2024_1.57pm

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

December 31, 2023
A dangerous situation
    Republicans refuse to support gun-control laws, pretending with the confused and doctrinaire Supreme Court that the Second Amendment is a blanket license to be armed and arguing that letting everyone carry a gun somehow improves safety.  One evasive response to mass shootings is that the problem is mental health, not guns.  An example is the comment by newly elected Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.).
    In an interview
[46] a day after eighteen people were killed in a mass shooting in Maine, he said guns aren’t the problem: “At the end of the day, the problem is the human heart. It’s not guns. It’s not the weapons. At the end of the day, we have to protect the right of the citizens to protect themselves, and that’s the Second Amendment, and that’s why our party stands so strongly for that . . . This is not the time to be talking about legislation.“  That time never seems to come, even at the end of the day.
    Johnson said the House should focus on mental health legislation. “I believe we have to address the root problems of these things. And mental health, obviously, as in this case, is a big issue, and we have got to seriously address that as a society and as a government.”
    That, it seems to me, is an excuse for inaction rather than a practical solution to the problem of gun-related violence.  However, In one sense, Johnson is right: violent, antisocial behavior is so common that it is appropriate to say that there is a behavioral issue.  However, the problem is only in small part one of the mental health of some individuals; there is a widespread condition of alienation, tribalism and the rejection of authority and of standards of behavior.  The cause and the cure are not medical but political, not the need for mental health counseling but for a new and responsible public attitude.  The tendency of some on the right to fabricate issues, stir resentment, encourage divisiveness, claim that the government is the enemy, and that liberals want to destroy the American way of life encourages antisocial behavior.  Arming the angry and disaffected completes the destructive circle.

46. -being-elected-house-speaker-transcript;

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

October 16, 2023
Whither the Court

A rogue, irrational, anti-democratic Republican Party is bad enough; a politicized Supreme Court may be worse.  It remains to be seen whether the Court, now with six conservatives, will move drastically to the right, but there is reason to worry.  

Even before the advent of the supermajority, the Court already had made a number of bad decisions. They include  District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago on gun control, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission on political spending, Shelby County v. Holder on discriminatory redistricting, Rucho v. Common Cause on gerrymandering, and Bucklew v. Precythe on the death penalty.  Together they made the nation less safe, less democratic and less civilized.[40]

The Court’s record was not all bad.  It rejected efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election and denied his attempt to prevent the January 6 Committee from obtaining records from his tenure.  However, on the whole, it was moving to the right, a move which now may accelerate.

One of the devices employed to justify conservative decisions is originalism, the notion that the Constitution must be interpreted as it would have been at the time the provision in question was written, or adopted, or ratified.  This does not make sense; the Constitution, in addition to creating a structure, sets out a set of principles; There is a difference between principles and applications or interpretations.  The latter are artifacts of the time, but the former are guides for decision or action in different times and different contexts. Originalism pretends that the creators of the Constitution intended that we be trapped in their time.  In effect it denies the possibility of intellectual and moral progress and even of changed circumstances.

In addition originalism is an invalid theory of interpretation because of its history and because its underlying premise is flawed.  The underlying premise of originalism is that the original understanding of a passage can be found; however, “For the vast majority of constitutional issues that arise, there is not a clear original meaning. With so many people involved in drafting and ratifying any given provision, there cannot be.”[41]

Originalism has a dark history. It underlies the infamous Dred Scott decision. which held that
neither slaves nor free Black people could be citizens. . . .  Dred Scott relied on what later would be called “originalism”. . . .[Chief Justice] Taney picked through founding era documents, laws passed in the early republic, and views of the framers to claim they intended the United States to grant rights only to white people throughout the country.[42]

In the Court’s hands, originalism is a flexible instrument; the Justices are selective as to what precedent to cite.  Heller is an example. The opinion allegedly adopts this principle: "Constitutional rights are enshrined with the scope they were understood to have when the people adopted them . . . .” However, rather than finding the intent, the scope, of the Second Amendment in its text, the opinion dismisses part of it as a mere preface and instead finds the alleged original intent in an English statute of 1689.

Heller was extended and originalism employed in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which limited gun-licensing laws by the practices allegedly common at the time the Second Amendment was adopted.

A recent development which does nor bode well is the frequent use of the shadow docket, orders issued without briefing or argument.  These began as procedural orders, but have become vehicles for substantive decisions.  
    . . . Since the mid-2010s, there has been a radical shift in how (and how often) the justices use the shadow docket — not just to manage their workload, but to change the law both on the ground and on the books.  From immigration to elections, from abortion to the death penalty, from religious liberty to the power of federal administrative agencies, the Supreme Court has, with increasing frequency, intervened preemptively, if not prematurely, in some of our country’s most fraught political disputes, through decisions that are unseen, unsigned, and almost always  unexplained.[43]

Thus far, the supermajority’s record has been mixed.  On the plus side, the Court upheld a decision that threw out Alabama’s maps for its seven congressional districts, which included only one with a majority of Black voters.[44]  It was a notable ruling for a court which has not been friendly to the Voting Rights Act.  The Court also stayed a lower court’s ruling which struck down a government regulation of ghost guns.[45]  On the negative side, in addition to Bruen, the Court went out of its way to overturn Roe. .

Hovering over the Court is the question of ethics, both in terms of questionable behavior and the absence of rules.
40. My more extended comments on these decision are here: Heller July 6, 2008 and December 19, 2015;   McDonald July 14, 2010; Citizens United February 6, 2010; Shelby County July 1, 2013; McCutcheon May 13, 2014; Rucho October 8, 2019; Bucklew April 13, 2019.
41. Erwin Chemerinsky, Worse than Nothing: The Dangerous Fallacy of Originalism, Yale University Press (2022), p. 51.
42. Michael Waldman, The Supermajority: How the Supreme Court Divided America, Simon & Schuster (2023) p. 22
43. Stephen Vladeck, The Shadow Docket Basic Books (2023), pp. 12-13
44. redistricting-voting-rights/
45. regulations_n_64d271a0e4b0677e5044cfc1

Friday, September 22, 2023

September 22, 2023
The house is crumbling
            Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided                     against itself
will stand. . .
            Matthew 12:25

Lincoln used the house-divided metaphor in describing the situation of the United States prior to the Civil War.  It applies as well today.  It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the division is so great today that our society, our culture, our democratic political system are in danger of collapse. There is no consensus on basic facts, let alone policies, and the Republican philosophy (stance, attitude) is one of  opposition based on fantasy.  The resort to fantasy is partly of necessity, as they have few legitimate complaints about the Biden administration, but that has not prevented the move to impeach him.  Having no positive program, they indulge in destructive posturing.  As Speaker McCarthy said of some of his colleagues, they “just want to burn the whole place down.”[37]

Much of the political Right is trapped in a self-imposed flight from reality. a sort of self-imposed insanity. Pretending that there is no climate change or that it has no role in current climate extremes or that the glut of guns is not a major factor in mass shootings is daffy enough.  Opposing Covid vaccines in the face of evidence that they save lives is not only ignorant; it is suicidal.
[38]   What sort of political philosophy leads people to refuse life-saving medical aid?   

A weekly newsletter from Media Matters lists claims by media figures or politicians on the right which are so ludicrous that it seems impossible that they believe what they say. The newsletter includes, appropriately, the categories “This week in stupid”,  “This week in scary” and “Excuse Me?” listing comments especially inane.   A column in The Washington Post
[39] set out many examples from Republicans in the House, some offered during a “hearing” which praised January 6 rioters.

The craziness reaches one of its peaks in talk of separation and even civil war. Much of this is prattle, but it feeds feelings of resentment and oppression, and there are too many people out there who will take such talk seriously.  Another peak is the tendency on the right toward authoritarianism, aided by vote suppression

The Donald, apparently proud of his mug shot, is using it as a fund-raising vehicle. He has posted it on the site mysteriously known as X.  The brief text includes “ELECTION INTERFERENCE,” no doubt intended as a claim that the indictment damages his re-election campaign.  Ironically, it also refers to the charges against him.  Apparently he thinks that the head-lowered, scowling pose portrays strength and determination, the image of a strongman, the leader of the new authoritarian state.  What it really shows is a petulant, defiant child saying “you can’t make me.”  

If enough voters see that, we may not elect him.  However, some of the crazies might take his defeat as the trigger for violent overthrow.  We have a long way to go to rebuild that house.   

37 spending-vote-mccarthy-republicans
38 The same actually could be said of the first two as well.
39. Dana Milbank, “As Trump is arrested, Republicans honor the insurrectionists."

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

August 20, 2023
Is Trump fading? (episode three)

Although Trump continues to dominate the Republican primary field, that is as much due to the lack of serious competition as to his continued appeal.   Despite his attempts to paint the indictments as political revenge, I think that they will have some negative effect on his popularity.  His legal troubles make him even more prone to outbursts, some of which may drive people away.

The news media, for all of their supposed liberal  bias, have not been especially kind to Biden and have  not been optimistic about his chance of reelection.  However, recent polls shows him at least even with Trump, and it seems to me that the trend will be away from the Donald.  He hopes to use the indictments and trials to play the martyr, rallying outraged fans.  Many will so respond, but he may lose others who will finally realize that he is not going to change the world for them..

The rigged-election story is beginning to fade; numerous leading Republicans, including presidential candidates, acknowledge that Trump lost.[34]  A Newsmax host announced this month that “Newsmax has accepted the election results as legal and final.”[35]

The Special Counsel will attempt to show that Trump knew that he lost which, if successful, should further undermine his support as well as aiding the prosecution.  According to testimony to the January 6 Committee, Trump acknowledged to staff that he had lost.  He is quoted as saying, referring to Biden: “can you believe I lost to this effing guy?”[36] There may be more such evidence and the Georgia indictment creates even more peril, legally as well as politically.

I may be too optimistic in predicting a decline in Trump’s support, but it does seem that he is nearing the point at which his image will collapse and at least some of his popularity with it.  

34. politics_am&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_politics
35. network-has-accepted
Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day