The Weinstein Rebranding

People are still wondering what to do about Harvey Weinstein.

CBS’ James Corden mentioned the issue – after late night hosts were taken to task for NOT mentioning the issue – at an October 13 event in Beverly Hills, by opening with ““This is a beautiful room, it’s a beautiful night here in L.A.   It’s so beautiful, Harvey Weinstein has already asked tonight up to his hotel to give him a massage.”  And later: “Harvey Weinstein wanted to come tonight, but he’ll settle for whatever potted plant is closest.”

This did not go over well.  Rose McGowan, who was at the forefront of this issue, called Corden a “motherfucking piglet” and said that he was a friend of “HW.”  Anthony Bourdain, whose girlfriend Asia Argento has (like McGowan) accused Weinstein of rape, ripped that much deeper into Corden, saying “NOONE stood up and said, ‘fuck you, Pop’n Fresh!'” and “Mr. Corden is free to tell whatever jokes he likes.  As he should be.  I’m free to suggest he’s a porcine, pandering tool”.

I was struck that while both McGowan and Bourdain were trying to strike out to stop women from being objectified, neither felt qualms about making fun of Corden’s weight.  Now I love Anthony Bourdain, but: He’s on CNN.  Not only that, he’s a chef, and should be a little more sensitive to the fact that weight gain is a possible hazard of gastronomy.  I could ask Bourdain if his ability to eat without getting fat is a beneficial side effect of his former heroin addiction.  But that would be mean.

I can understand the resentment somewhat.  Harvey Weinstein is simply one very obnoxious example of something that has been tolerated in management-labor relations for longer than anyone has reported, and the culture is getting to a point where people want to do something about it.  So they want comedians to bring it up.  But then when comedians tell jokes about the subject, they go, “how DARE you!  This has been made light of for far too long!  The time for tasteless jokes about sexist millionaires is OVER!”

Oh, of course.  When all the tasteless jokes and sexist millionaires have monopolized the Republican Party, there should be no place for them in our sense of humor.

But this is a serious subject.  When Harvey Weinstein’s own brother says their relationship was so poisonous that he could barely deal with him on a professional level, the brand of the family name has gotten to the point that the future of The Weinstein Company – which produced the Lord of the Rings films and award-winning works by Anthony Mingella and Quentin Tarantino – is almost certainly limited.  And it struck me: How does the rump organization survive when people still know it was associated with the lowest form of sexist, bullying boor?

Have Donald Trump buy it!

After all, he has much the same reputation, and he actually got elected.

And it’s no secret that Trump craves media attention and respectability.  He tried to make himself an Atlantic City casino mogul in direct opposition to the industry in Las Vegas.  And ran four casinos into the ground.  He became a major owner in the spring-league USFL.  And ran it into the ground.  Then he lent his name to NBC’s The Apprentice.  Which got cancelled in its first iteration after steadily declining ratings.  So if anything happened to the (former) Weinstein Group under Trump, at least it doesn’t have much to lose.

And it is testimony to how surreal and reality-threatening this Administration is that just after I came up with that idea, I saw this article while web-surfing:

Close Trump Associate Invests in Weinstein Company, Will Presumably Also Pursue Cosby Partnership

“On Monday, the Weinstein Company announced that a financier named Tom Barrack has agreed to provide it with “an immediate capital infusion” and begin negotiations regarding ‘a potential sale of all or a significant portion of the Company’s assets.’  … In other words, it appears that Tom Barrack is bailing Harvey Weinstein and his enablers out.

“What are some of the other items on Tom Barrack’s professional résumé? Let’s hear from CNN:

It was 1994 and the land once known as “Trump City” was an embarrassing boondoggle, crumbling at the feet of an erratic namesake who took out $400 million in loans and seemed all too willing to default on more. Chase realtors could not see a path to black for debt king Donald Trump.

Tom Barrack could.

“Barrack, the network writes, then traveled from “New York to Los Angeles, Taiwan, London and Saudi Arabia, begging billionaires to buy the loans and keep the bankers from Trump’s throat.” And it worked! Barrack would go on to become a major fundraiser for Trump’s presidential campaign and chair Trump’s inaugural committee. Trump, of course, has been accused of sexual assault by 15 women.”

Truly, birds of a feather.

One has given lots of money and media attention to Bill and Hillary Clinton.  One has been known to be violently abusive of his male associates and underlings, in public.  One has an unproven but well-rumored reputation of of philandering, sexual harassment and even physical abuse and rape.  And such rumors never get anywhere because said person has always used his legal and media connections to crush any individual victim’s attempts at exposure.

What’s the real difference between Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein?  Clearly, the difference is that when one is a Democrat, Republicans actually care.

That’s the key.  Republicans are clearly willing to tolerate the exact same things in Donald Trump that they would never tolerate in any other person.  Not even any other Republican.  Why?  Because Republicans are good Christians.  Because you have to have faith.  And faith is trust in things unseen.  Such as, Donald Trump’s intelligence, competence, and moral integrity.

Weinstein, or more directly, his company, needs a rebranding.  Trump desperately craves legitimacy in the media.   He can get it by attaching his brand to an equally desperate institution that used to have success and prestige and is now just trying to survive.  Like he did with the Republican Party.

Trump.  Weinstein.  It’s a match made in Heaven.

That is, if you, like me, are an atheist.

Twitter Is Too Aptly Named

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely.  A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.

-George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

This week, one of the biggest news stories was the sudden and cascading decline of movie producer Harvey Weinstein as testimony about his history of sexual harassment continued to reach the media. Things have gotten to the point where The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to expel Weinstein from the institution “well in excess of the required two-thirds majority”.

There’s not too much more I can add except to touch on two points people have already made. One, Harvey Weinstein resembles nothing so much as a bowl of oatmeal with a beard on it. Second, Republicans cannot accuse feminist liberal Democrats of hypocrisy in supporting fundraiser Harvey Weinstein if they’re going to continue to enable Donald Trump, whose sexist behavior is that much more thoroughly documented and whose bullying and vengeful temperament is that much more publicly obvious.

Rather, I want to use this issue to touch on something that has been bugging me for a while and ties into it in several ways.

During this week, former actress Rose McGowan has been increasingly active on social media, especially Twitter, in regard to the Weinstein case. Eventually she stated that she was not merely harassed but actually raped by Weinstein. But on Thursday October 12, Twitter suspended her account, which caused McGowan to respond on Instagram asking concerned people to boycott Twitter over the matter. Twitter stated – after the fact – that the reason for McGowan’s suspension was that she had posted someone’s private phone number. They also said, “We will be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future.”

But as Vox.com pointed out, the miscommunication led to intense controversy for Twitter, along with accusations of inconsistency. “Because the offending tweet that included the phone number had been deleted, it wasn’t initially clear from McGowan’s Instagram post or a perusal of her Twitter feed which of Twitter’s rules she had violated. McGowan didn’t appear to have threatened anyone, and she wasn’t sharing graphic content or engaging in hate speech or violent speech.

“The industry veterans McGowan had been discussing in her tweets, however, are all powerful public figures in Hollywood. This fact, along with the lack of initial clarity about why she was suspended, led to rampant speculation that she was being silenced for being too aggressive about calling out the many men who allegedly stood by while Weinstein continued his pattern of assaults on women for years. ”

On Saturday, the ABC News site released a story about Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s official response to the issue.  And reading this piece I was struck by two things. One was that the platform was going to be clarifying new rules: “New rules around: unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual nudity, hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence. [sic] These changes will start rolling out in the next few weeks. More to share next week.”

I’m not sure if anybody else finds it odd that such a public platform would need to add strictures about non-consensual “advances” and displays of nudity, not to mention glorification of hate and violence. But then when someone like Milo Yiannopoulous gets banned for violating Twitter’s “terms of use” I think the implied joke is that Twitter has any.

Secondly, for Dorsey to make his statement on Twitter, he had to release it in multiple posts. This is an increasingly common usage of the platform known as a “tweetstorm.” In this case, the article shows an excerpt starting with post 6: “We decided to take a more aggressive stance in our rules and how we enforce them. 7/ New rules around: unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual nudity, hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence. 8/ These changes will start rolling out in the next few weeks. More to share next week. ” As in, the quote that I just gave from the news article had to be posted as two separate posts in Twitter, within a larger announcement.

This phenomenon has started to develop some criticism within Twitter. One article on Buzzfeed implied that much of the need for the tweetstorm could be solved by just getting a blog. But it went further and mentioned complaints that the tweetstorm violates Twitter etiquette (‘Twitter etiquette’ being an oxymoron that ranks up there with ‘gaming journalism’) in that the “stormer” is making a multi-post statement with no indication of when it winds up, although there are some exceptions. This already shows signs of escalating: “Imagine, for a moment, a future version of Twitter where the tweetstorm™ convention spreads, bleeding first through the tech venture capital and entrepreneur community. Then the tech reporters catch on, issuing long monologues on the future of the industry/a given product. Tweetstorms™ are rebutted by other tweetstorms™, which is manageable and contained in a niche media sphere until Politics Twitter catches on. Always on the lookout for a new broadcast platform, the tweetstorm™ spreads from reporters to pundits and think tanks and then to the politicians themselves. Once a frenetic but followable place, your timeline is now virtually destroyed by an avalanche of soliloquies. ”

But the tweetstorm is simply bringing up both the deliberate and practical limitations of Twitter. When the press interviewed Dorsey in 2009 about the origins of Twitter, he said that at the time (2006) he and the other developers were working with the constraints of the instant-message (IM) format for mobile devices, where basic phones were limited to 160 characters before they split the message. Limiting a username to 20 characters and the main text to 140 was where the concept developed. They worked with that format precisely because it allowed the user to update from anywhere. Dorsey said the “twitter” name came from that idea: “We wanted to capture that in the name — we wanted to capture that feeling: the physical sensation that you’re buzzing your friend’s pocket. It’s like buzzing all over the world. So we did a bunch of name-storming, and we came up with the word ‘twitch,’ because the phone kind of vibrates when it moves. But ‘twitch’ is not a good product name because it doesn’t bring up the right imagery. So we looked in the dictionary for words around it, and we came across the word ‘twitter,’ and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds.’ And that’s exactly what the product was.”

Unfortunately, Twitter is too aptly named. Tweets are exactly that, short bursts of inconsequential information, but that very informality has exploded the popularity of the format such that people are using it in ways that just don’t work. Thus, the tweetstorm. The tweetstorm is for people who are trying to express complex, paragraph-length arguments in a format that is deliberately hostile to the complete sentence, let alone the paragraph.

But the popularity and convenience of Twitter ties into the other issue, namely that the tweetstorm implies the question, “why not just start a blog?” Twitter and other social media like Facebook are designed for immediate transmission and feedback. They are impulse media. I believe that if you are going to have a social media presence, you should know the right tool for the right job. I don’t need a blog to share cute animal videos to friends. For that I have Facebook. I don’t post to this blog every day or even every week because I don’t always have time to elaborate on my ideas, whereas I can usually find the time to post something on Facebook. But I decided to create my own blog not only to post essay-length pieces but because I could control the content to a greater degree than something I posted or liked on Facebook. I had already mentioned that this blog has no comments option because I had noticed the same problem on Facebook that critics are finding with Twitter, the capacity of people to hijack the thread with their own opinions which end up becoming bitter debates that crowd out the original post.  Just as the posting format affects the content, so does the larger context of the medium. Just as Twitter is built around the “short burst of inconsequential information” to an even greater degree than other platforms, that is the way its reply/comment function works. In that respect, for the Buzzfeed writer to complain about the extended reply is to miss the point. To be worried about such a thing is to believe that the other person’s opinion is consequential and worth respecting. That’s not what Twitter is about. Twitter is not about considered opinion. Twitter is about hit-and-run posting.

Which brings us to the most problematic Twitter abuser. Liddle Donnie Trump. The Harvey Weinstein of presidents.

There’s usually a recurring theme in Washington DC’s assessments of the “president”, even from Republicans who have always supported him. It’s words to the effect of “somebody needs to take away his phone.” That is, someone on Trump’s staff needs to make him stop tweeting. The most glaring recent example of this problem was when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced indirect efforts to talk to North Korea and Trump tweeted, “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man”. This is not the sort of thing that a president does if he cares about his Secretary of State and his position as a representative. But that’s not the sort of thing that you do if you care about actions, period. And yet every time the subject comes up,  Trump and his shills defend his use of his personal account to blur the line between personal and political statements, saying that it is how he speaks “directly to the people.” Trump would not be the first president, especially in the Republican Party, to try to bypass the media gatekeepers of information. But as with everybody else who uses Twitter, his choice of platform both shapes and becomes the message. Analysts have noted that a lot of his tweets take place at 3 am or some other time when he is in bed or sleep-deprived, which only increases the likelihood that the posts are impulsive rather than deliberate. Or perhaps, Trump’s actions are deliberate only in that he has just enough concentration to be impulsive. Given that Trump was caught on tape in 2000 saying he couldn’t support Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign because it was supported by David Duke, there is evidence that Donald Trump once had a brain. But Trump, like his party, has since become prone to unsubtle, unconsidered opinion to the exclusion of serious thinking. Before social media, you had AM radio concentrating “conservative” positions down to emotionalism. Now on the Internet, the medium of expression is that much more prone to opinion that is literally reactionary.

The concepts that George Orwell referred to in Politics and the English Language were developed in setting for his novel 1984 with Newspeak, the Party’s official version of the English language. Characters in the book mentioned that Newspeak was the only language in history whose dictionary got smaller with each new edition. In the book’s appendix Orwell stated that the language was deliberately constructed by the Party for specific goals: “The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. … Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum. ”

Orwell’s legacy is full of ironies. A defender of cooperative anarchism, he has become the right-winger’s favorite critic of socialism. More ironic than that, his concept of language control is being best realized not by a state socialist program but by a capitalist endeavor.

In this context, Aja Romano’s Vox article is worth reviewing in that it emphasizes the political element of Twitter’s inconsistent enforcement of policy. “The suspension of McGowan’s account neatly illustrates what has become a pattern in terms of how Twitter deals with harassment and abuse on its site. That is, while victims of abuse and marginalized users who deal with harassment are frequently censured over strict readings of Twitter’s abuse and safety rules, like McGowan, users who are widely seen as perpetuating real ideological violations of those rules are rarely censored.” Milo Yiannopoulous is only one famous example. Donald Trump himself is considered above censure on his Twitter account on the ground that his position makes his posts “newsworthy.” Of course threatening national security by threatening regional nuclear exchange over North Korea is going to be newsworthy. Romano continues: “McGowan’s suspension makes clear that Twitter’s abuse policies, or at least its inconsistent and confusing enforcement of those policies, do not protect abuse victims. In particular, women like McGowan who have experienced harassment and attempted to speak out about it on Twitter can be silenced at any time using the same inconsistent policy that Twitter refuses to levy against a Richard Spencer, a David Duke, or a Donald Trump — men who take advantage of the vagueness of Twitter’s abuse policies to perpetuate racism, violence, harassment, and fear.”

I would assert that the “vagueness” that Twitter’s critics observe is in fact consistent with the site in operation. Twitter is intended to be used in haste. It is intended to change the terms of debate to favor snark, insult and negativity. The positions of users like Richard Spencer or (pre-election) Donald Trump were less provocative to Twitter management than those of a Rose McGowan because whether Twitter’s users or management admit this or not, people like Donald Trump are the ones using the platform in the manner it was designed to be used.

I cannot say that this is a deliberate position on the part of the site developers, given that Jack Dorsey has apparently only now been made aware that such antisocial behavior needs to be discouraged. But that very fact indicates it was not something he was concerned with up to now.

This is also a cautionary example. Twitter became very popular with the liberal pop culture because of its wide access and ease of use, but as with much of liberal culture, it has become co-opted by the authoritarian Right, which is that much more committed to a mindset of whim and irrationality.

In the Vox article, media critic Matt Zoller Seitz was quoted (from Twitter) saying “I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it now: if a superior alternative to Twitter appeared tomorrow, I’d be gone from here in a heartbeat.” My advice to Seitz would be to get together with like-minded people and come to a consensus about what “a superior alternative to Twitter” means, and then find people of means to finance it and experts to create it. My personal goal is to make enough money to where I can buy out Twitter with the specific purpose of destroying the website. Either that, or use the space for something more ennobling, like bumfights or fetish porn.

The Shooting

How long

How long must we sing this song?

-U2, Sunday Bloody Sunday

So this morning I got up with the radio alarm at 3:30 and the station’s “morning zoo” crew was on early to update on “The Violent Incident In Las Vegas.” And as happened over 15 months ago in Orlando, I got my phone and checked Facebook and there was a page asking people to report in to tell their friends they were safe.

But it was happening here.

It remains unclear exactly why the hell things happened the way they did on Sunday night in Las Vegas, but at last count 59 people were killed and over 500 were injured because a man got a full collection of weapons into his hotel room and was able to fire from a distance of 1200 feet towards an outdoor country music festival towards the crowds of people on the ground. Beyond that reports are conflicted as to whether he had 10 rifles, or 18, or 20. And certainly nobody knows why. But hopefully in the next few days Metro police will be able to give us more details.

Where did the attacker get his weapons? And how was he able to get all of them into his hotel room? Because if you know anything about being a security guard in a Las Vegas Strip hotel, you will know that a collection of semi-auto rifles is not the most bizarre thing that you could confiscate from a hotel room.

One disturbing thing that witnesses and ballistic experts agree on is that based on the sound of the gunfire, the shooter’s attack was with full automatic fire. However the police have not confirmed that that was in fact the case, nor whether the semi-auto weapons allegedly found in the hotel room were modified for full auto fire. In any case Metro police did confirm that the shooter did have some guns in in the home that he bought in Nevada legally, and fully automatic arms are, since 1986, not only illegal for civilians to purchase but also illegal for gun companies to manufacture for the market. (New York Magazine’s Benjamin Hart points out “(the) NRA’s Wayne LaPierre actually advocated for that provision, which seems unimaginable now.” In other words, if the main weapon in the attack was either made full-auto or modified for automatic fire, it was already illegal.

The reason we can’t have a “sensible argument about gun safety” is that every time liberals ask for one, somebody like me has to point out inconvenient facts like this.

At the same time, the facts do not favor a right-wing agenda. In particular the talking point that “a good guy with a gun” could stop the bad guy. The bad guy was firing down on a crowd in front of a lighted stage while he was on the 32nd floor of a high-rise hotel directly across the street. A good guy with a gun could not have stopped the attacker. Not from uprange. Not unless he was a much better sniper than the attacker.

And contrary to what national media have been saying, Nevada has passed at least one “common sense gun safety regulation”, that being Question 1, which was on the ballot last year and narrowly approved. Question 1 prohibits private sale of firearms without a federal background check. However Nevada’s attorney general (a Republican) states that the provisions cannot be enforced because the FBI refuses to enforce a state regulation. (In the 2016 election, Nevadans also voted to legalize possession of marijuana, which does NOT prevent a federal agency from prosecuting marijuana possession.) In other words, a case of mutual buck-passing.

As I said with Orlando, it doesn’t particularly matter, because again: THERE WILL BE NO ANTI-GUN LEGISLATION PASSED DUE TO THIS MASS SHOOTING. And it’s not like the reasons why matter. Which doesn’t stop political advocates from saying so. Today in The New Yorker, columnist Adam Gopnik was straightforward: “In The Wake Of The Las Vegas Shooting, There Can Be No Truce With The Second Amendment.” Substitute “First” for “Second” and you can see why people might get offended. But even the constitutional arguments are a red herring. It’s not like this government cares much about the other nine Amendments, so why is the Second the only part of the Bill of Rights that matters? We all know that if some liberals like Gopnik enshrine the First Amendment and wish to destroy the Second, a lot of conservatives in this government want it the other way around.

Rights are not the issue. I have a right to own a gun. I also have the right to vote. My right to vote implies that I and other voters had a right to vote for Donald Trump. Did voting for Donald Trump make the world any better? Not necessarily.

The reason people like me are suspicious of more laws is not just because of the practical considerations – like, any gun prohibition or gun confiscation program would have to be administered by Jeff Sessions. To libertarians, it’s the principle of the thing. Human beings can perform any task that is within their abilities whether government gives us the “right” to do so or not. That is something libertarians realize that the general population doesn’t grasp. Government simply exists to protect the rights that we have. But by the same token that means government exists to serve legitimate needs. And this is something that the general population grasps better than libertarians. Why does government grow? Because it serves a demand. Whether that demand is legitimate or not is up for debate. But as I keep saying, the reason that the Affordable Care Act passed despite all the problems with the bill and all the problems revealed since passage was because Americans found the prior state of healthcare intolerable. Why do legislators campaign to pass laws restricting the activities of businessmen? Because frankly, business concerns can be unethical. Why do we pass labor laws and minimum wage laws? Because we can’t trust that businesses will do “the right thing” by their employees out of the goodness of their hearts. Nor should we even expect this.

For the creep in government and regulation to reverse, people have to be capable of living ethically, not in the expectation that they will need no government at all, but in the knowledge that government can’t be expected to regulate basic decisions for everyone. This might seem unrealistic to people who are disturbed by free will. But the alternative is to give government more and more power. America has become a country where the citizen has more responsibilities than rights, because it is easy to make the case that people assume more rights than responsibilities.

Simply having the power to do something does not give you the right to do so, and in any case, having the power to do a thing does not mean that one should do a thing. Knowing this is part of being an adult, but we seem to be demanding that laws take the place of common sense and morality. Morality is often thought to be subjective, but I think a common denominator is to leave the world a better place than you found it. And if you can’t do that, don’t die after actively making the world worse. This mass murderer deserves to be called a coward because he killed himself rather than live with the consequence of his action, which was to make the world more violent, and thus more fearful, and thus more susceptible to appeals to control. A cycle that has been feeding on itself since at least 9-11.

In that regard, my advice in the short term, if you live in the Las Vegas area, is to schedule an appointment to donate blood. But in the long term, we must accept that each of us has an individual responsibility to stop violence. You cannot trust the collective to do so. Because collective action is enforced by government, and as we see with healthcare and other issues, the collective has its collective head up its collective ass. Until of course you take responsibility to help change that.

Prior to the next election, however, responsibility is an individual commitment. So if you are concerned about the spread of violence in this country, my best advice is:

Try not to kill people.

I know that for some of you, that may be too much to ask. But we have to start small.

Libertarianism as Gateway Drug? Continued

This is a follow up to the previous piece, “Libertarianism as Gateway Drug?” On Sunday September 3, reason.com published a rebuttal to Matt Lewis’ piece in The Daily Beast asserting “It seems observably true that libertarianism is disproportionately a gateway drug to the alt-right.” This was after Reason’s Nick Gillespie had already done a critique of the same article, although in Sunday’s piece, the author, Sheldon Richman, has some interesting observations that should be followed.

Richman’s point is that libertarianism is a formalized version of the classical liberalism that preceded social democracy and its American expression in the policies of the Democrat Franklin Roosevelt and “Progressives” like Republican Teddy Roosevelt. It resembles conservatism and other right-wing philosophies in holding that facts exist, independent of social construction, and that observation of facts has led us to certain conclusions that are useful (such as the necessity of property rights within a system of wider recognized rights) and should not be thrown out for political purposes. But in promoting concepts such as equality under law and individual rights, libertarianism is closer to liberalism than to a conservatism which is (in theory) concerned with the protection of tradition and (in practice) the promotion of authority. But as I’ve said, conservatism in NOT a political philosophy in itself. It is a governing approach towards a political philosophy, and in the case of America, the guiding philosophy is based on classical liberalism.

This has led American politics to several points of contradiction as the social-democrat philosophy co-opted liberalism and the preservation of classical liberalism (including respect for capitalism and property rights) became a “conservative” position by default. As Richman points out in his article,

“To say the libertarian movement is a “gateway drug” is to say more than that some prominent members of the alt-right once called themselves libertarians. It’s also to say that alt-rightism provides a purer form of what those members had found in libertarianism (aka original liberalism, or simply liberalism). A good measure of ignorance of liberalism is required to entertain this thought.”

The body of Richman’s piece focuses on how the alt-right focuses on the “exclusionary side of property (rights)” in asserting, for instance, a right to deny access to services, and that this attitude directly contradicts the more inclusionary premise of liberalism, in that free trade promotes greater exchange of ideas between individuals and cultures. “As an institution, property was of a piece with cosmopolitanism and exchange of all kinds. That’s why a “pure” race or culture is as chimerical as a “pure” language. ”

In my post last week I had asserted that the phenomenon Matt Lewis described, while very real, was not a case of libertarianism leading to alt-right philosophy. Rather, it was a case of alt-right philosophy taking over Republican Party conservatism, not libertarianism. One reason for this is the simple pragmatic point that the Republican Party has much greater numbers than the Libertarian Party or the libertarian movement in general, and is thus a better vehicle for politics. But to the extent that the alt-right has a philosophy, it is not a terribly pragmatic one.

What we’re seeing is the result of the misnomers that American politics have been based on since at least the start of the 20th Century. As “liberalism” in both social-democrat and classical-liberal senses becomes more and more identified with the Democratic Party, as I have also said, that means that the modern conception of government is now impossible outside of allegiance to the Democratic Party. This in turn means that both original and modern aspects of liberalism are identified with what people don’t like about the federal government, which in our election system means that the only alternative to that party is the Republican Party.

One of Richman’s other points is: “Another explanation is that some people are attracted to a “fringe” movement not because of anything particular to it but because like the idea of being a big fish in a small pond. If for some reason one pond doesn’t suit, they may jump to another “fringier” pond.” But again, the Republican Party is not more on the fringe of politics or respectability than the Libertarian Party. Or at least, it wasn’t. Which I think confirms my point that libertarianism per se is not the issue here. The common denominator of the “alt-right” movement is a reactionary hatred of anything liberal, even those aspects of liberalism (like tolerance of immigration) that libertarians coincidentally agree with. The Republican Party was already more disposed to that reactionary direction than the libertarian one. But to the extent that libertarianism differs from (what we now call) liberalism in its disagreement with the place of government in our personal lives, it does hold some attraction to that reactionary view. In that regard, Richman is correct, but not for the reason he thinks. Those who seek to rebel against modern liberalism are drawn to libertarianism insofar as it rejects the social-democrat position, but what neither conservatives nor liberals want to acknowledge is how much it retains in common with liberalism. Once certain people realize this, they start looking for something much more deliberately anti-liberal. Richman says that “those who migrate from the libertarian movement to the alt-right have rejected the essence of the freedom movement and its philosophy. They are certainly not looking for a purer version of it.” But this conclusion assumes that alt-right people were looking for freedom at all.

So again, this is the second time that Reason magazine has responded to Matt Lewis’ thesis. It’s another case where Reason has become the unofficial authority on “what is a libertarian?” and in that regard, they’re probably doing a better job than the Libertarian Party. But what all this means is that there is more pressure on the libertarian movement to be more proactive in defining its terms, and to promote them more clearly and to a wider audience. The aftereffects of the 2016 election simply confirm its terms: conservatism has completely lost any constructive role in government, or even public life, while liberals continue to assume they can coast on their reputation as champions of the same government that people are disaffected with. For libertarians to have a constructive role – if that’s what they want – they need to analyze the terms of their own movement, and what “liberty” means and how it is to be achieved.

For example: One of my left-wing friends on social media observed that the liberal plan on race issues (for example, the 1964 Civil Rights Act) could be described as Hamiltonian means towards Jeffersonian ends- that is, the use of a strong federal government to promote and protect individual rights. Recent Supreme Court decisions on gay rights could be described in similar terms. But by contrast, what we are seeing on the Right, especially the reactionary element, would be Jeffersonian means toward Hamiltonian ends -the presentation of a government rollback on the pretext of preserving federalism, state priorities and smaller government, but for the purpose of enforcing government power on the individual, by withdrawing federal oversight of abusive state government.

And then there’s the issue of business. The guy who harassed Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz’ wife over their ties to Goldman Sachs hired numerous Goldman Sachs alumni for the Trump Administration (technically including Steve Bannon) while the Administration maintained a general pattern of appointing department secretaries whose main qualification was being champions of the industry their department is regulating. While libertarians have wanted to get rid of many federal bureaucracies outright, the current setup is more dangerous than having no regulatory agency at all, given that government is now actively on the side of the interests being regulated. What is the need for regulatory capture when you can just BE the government?

This is why I think the question of libertarian influence on the current Right is overblown. Sadly. If that was the main influence on the Republican Party it would be going in the direction of Paul Ryan (at worst) rather than Donald Trump. And if Gary Johnson or other libertarians were in charge of things, I’m sure liberals and “progressives” would hate the results, but the country as a whole would hate them a lot less than they hate Trump right now.

Libertarianism as Gateway Drug?

I wanted to address a recent article in The Daily Beast, written by their token conservative, Matt Lewis, and entitled “The Insidious Libertarian-to-Alt-Right Pipeline.”

Lewis’ thesis is that “a disproportionate number of today’s prominent alt-righters began as libertarians.” Lewis talked to various libertarians for the article, including The Cato Institute’s David Boaz, who told him, “People change ideologies all the time… Jason Kessler apparently was in Occupy Wall Street before he became an alt-right leader. The original neocons were leftists first. Hillary was a Goldwater Girl.” Boaz also said: “Some people may become libertarians because they’re angry… For a while, it’s enough to be angry at the government. But ultimately libertarianism is about peaceful cooperation―markets, civil society, global trade, peace―so it just isn’t angry enough for some people. Racial intolerance is a way to be angry at the whole world. And I think you hear that in some of the alt-right types.” Lewis also quoted Steve Horwitz of the Bleeding Heart Libertarians site, who points out: “The paleo-libertarian seed that Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard, and Lew Rockwell planted in the 1990s has come to bear some really ugly fruit in the last couple of years as elements of the alt-right have made appearances in various libertarian organizations and venues”.

Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine, who was interviewed for this piece, nevertheless responded to it, saying “there is no “pipeline” between libertarianism and the alt-right. The alt-right—and Trumpism, too, to the extent that it has any coherence—is an explicit rejection of foundational libertarian beliefs in “free trade and free migration” along with experiments in living that make a mess of rigid categories that appeal to racists, sexists, protectionists, and other reactionaries. In that sense, the call by Hot Air‘s Taylor Millard for libertarians to purge white supremacists, anti-Semites, and living, breathing Nazis from our movement is misdirected since such people by definition are not libertarian.”

I personally think Gillespie protests too much, because there are clearly a lot of un-libertarian right-wingers who nevertheless identify themselves to the public as libertarians. But we do need to state why libertarianism itself is not the issue.

Broadly, part of the issue is that leftists aren’t the only ones who have the wrong idea about libertarianism. It is no longer worth recounting the number of people I’ve seen on social media yapping that “libertarians are just Republicans who like dope” as though that were an original or profound observation. Unfortunately I’m coming to think that liberals have lost the ability to come up with original observations on this subject or any other.

But certainly it’s true that many people have the wrong idea. It stands to reason if the libertarian virtue can be broadly defined as “freedom” or individualism. But that leads to a herding-cats problem where you have to get a bunch of declared individualists to get on the same page with something. In particular, it comes down to whether the virtue of freedom for oneself as an individual is an ethic that can be applied universally to other people. It’s insufficient for libertarianism to be reduced to “I don’t want the government telling ME what to do.” Because that attitude is something that everyone has at some point in life. The rich guy doesn’t want to pay taxes. The woman doesn’t want to be forced to carry a pregnancy. If libertarianism is going to expand beyond its current following, it should promote a broader and more challenging ethic. Such as: Do I want the government telling everyone else what to do?

And this is where we come to the issue of the Right having the wrong idea about libertarianism.

So much of leftist criticism of libertarianism comes down to a perception that rights (especially property rights) only apply to “me.” Unfortunately there are a lot of people who justify their bigotry on exactly those grounds. In the article, Lewis gives the example of Christopher Cantwell (aka ‘Crying Nazi‘ ). On his blog, Cantwell mentioned the influence of Lew Rockwell and Hans Hermann Hoppe, and from these concluded “that the libertine (sic) vision of a free society was quite distorted. The society we sought actually would provide far more order and control than [would] modern democratic governments. It would encourage more socially conservative behavior and less compulsory association. Just when I thought I had everything figured out, I was once again reminded of my naivety (sic).” Similarly the sudden fashion in Confederacy apologism actually has its roots in a perception that a government more oriented around the states than a central authority is more conducive to liberty, and these advocates point out, accurately, that the policy of Republican President Abraham Lincoln was a great leap in the promotion of a big nationalist government over one that recognized its limits and the sovereignty of states. (Which makes their current devotion to ‘small-government’ Republicans that much more odd.) As the phrase goes, before the Civil War, Americans would say “the United States are…” and afterward we said “The United States IS.”

It’s just that such a perception also ignores the central contradiction in upholding a state’s “right” to legalize slavery while also declaring that “all men are created equal.” In his blog, Cantwell also said ““People should be free to exercise complete control over their own person and property. If blacks are committing crimes, or Jews are spreading communism, discriminating against them is the right of any property owner. The fact that he may or may not miss out on good blacks or Jews is a risk he takes, and the merit of his decisions will be proven out by the market. Since a libertarian society would permit this, it seemed foolish that I should be compelled to support a democratic government policy which did not”. Again, the concept of “people” seems to specifically exclude blacks and Jews where Cantwell is concerned. But to uphold a value, especially in politics, is to say it applies outside oneself. By contrast, Ayn Rand once wrote:  “Since Man has inalienable individual rights, this means that the same rights are held, individually, by every man, by all men, at all times. Therefore, the rights of one man cannot and must not violate the rights of another.  For instance: a man has the right to live, but he has no right to take the life of another. He has the right to be free, but no right to enslave another. He has the right to choose his own happiness, but no right to decide that his happiness lies in the misery (or murder or robbery or enslavement) of another. The very right upon which he acts defines the same right of another man, and serves as a guide to tell him what he may or may not do.” (emphasis added)

The danger (to both libertarianism and conservatism) is that disregard for ethics serves to undermine once-valid principles of individual liberty, and political concepts like “states’ rights” (which are at the core of the federal system of government but are undermined by racist arguments). Indeed, many of the “Big Government” expansions we have seen in the last one hundred years, such as the Civil Rights Act, gained support precisely because individual liberty (for blacks and other minorities) was being undermined by arguments ostensibly in defense of liberty (for whites who already held power). Rand opposed the Civil Rights Act for the same reason that Barry Goldwater did: it attempted to legislate not only states’ rights but voluntary association in places like restaurants. But this argument eventually became the basis for the “Southern Strategy” in which the Republican “Party of Lincoln” increasingly shifted its pitch to Southern states, including those that voted Barry Goldwater for President in 1964, even though he also opposed segregation. Which in turn made it that much easier for the Left spectrum to claim that Goldwater in particular and the Right in general were on board with racism. This is only one example of how apparent attachment to principle disregards the moral objective and allows the Left to shape the debate to the general public in ways that their own propaganda cannot achieve.

In any case a lot of right-wingers don’t even have Goldwater’s real (if problematic) level of principle. In Lewis’ article, he references another Bleeding Heart Libertarians blogger, Kevin Vallier, who writes: “So what’s wrong with us? What’s our problem?  My answer: the contrarian trap.

“Libertarianism is an unpopular view. And it takes particular personality types to be open to taking unpopular views. Some of these personality types are people who are open to new experience, love the world of ideas and have a disposition for independent thought. However, some of these personality types simply enjoy holding outrageous and provocative views, who like to argue and fight with others, who like insult and and shock. The contrarian is someone of the latter type. … The worst flaw in the contrarian trap is that it makes libertarians open to views that deserve to be unpopular and despised, including the thinly-veiled racism of the sort the Hans Hermann Hoppe trades in from time to time.”

And Gillespie told Lewis, “It’s ironic that some of these people start off calling themselves libertarian, but they are the antithesis of everything that the libertarian project stands for—which is cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, individualism vs. group identity, and libertarianism or autonomy versus authoritarianism”.

So basically you have a group of people who glommed onto the libertarian label without deep analysis for the sake of being contrarian and used it to promote a tribalist, illiberal and authoritarian politics totally at odds with what the term actually means.

You know, the same way they also call themselves “Christians.”

I need to return to my theory on “polarization” in American politics because this is important. Polarization in America doesn’t work the way people assume it does, where the Democrats become more extreme-Left and the Republicans become more extreme-Right. No. The way it’s turned out in practice is that the Republican Right has become more obsessed with ideological purity as attempts to get things done through the system are stymied not only by Democrats but by moderate “RINOs” and “cucks.” Not only does that mean that the “leftist” agenda of the Democratic Party is muddied by a bunch of center-to-right people who really don’t belong there but no longer have a home in the Republican Party either, it means that the “mainstream” Republican Party becomes more attractive to a certain group. People who are not merely contrarian but angry and intolerant, as Boaz implies. The libertarian movement is not what these people are looking for. Moreover, if being an unpopular third-party movement gives libertarians the freedom to endorse unpopular policies, we also have freedom in that we have no fear of losing votes that we don’t have in the first place. But what party has a chance of changing the laws, enforcing policy on undesirables, and is actively recruiting people with a desire to turn the government into an instrument of right-wing culture war? And what party needs those people to win elections on turnout when they will never appeal to a majority? The Republicans.

Lewis holds that libertarianism is an insidious pipeline to reactionary belief on the Right. The truth turns out to be more insidious: Reactionary thought has built a pipeline to mainstream conservatism.

Lewis concludes his piece by saying that libertarians need to focus on purging the white supremacists from the movement. And that is excellent advice. The problem is that given the much broader following and influence of (what was) mainstream conservatism, it is a lesson that applies much more strongly to conservatives and the Republican Party. And it’s not as though they were not once aware of this. When William F. Buckley sought to forge conservatism as a philosophy that was actually fit to challenge the dominant New Deal liberalism, he and his editors at National Review deliberately sought to frame the definitions of the conservative movement, including a purge of right-wingers like the extremist John Birch Society and the philosopher Ayn Rand (whose main sin was thinking that altruist Christianity was incompatible with capitalism). Eventually National Review came to oppose contemporary segregation – after Buckley had endorsed it.   So it’s not like conservatism was a philosophy where people were incapable of reason or unable to change their minds after review of facts. Indeed, that was the reputation for intellect that Buckley and his magazine had built- and it is the reputation that has since been trashed by Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes and the school that holds politics to be less about serious policy and more about stirring up grievances for profit.

What is the difference between that conservative movement and the contemporary one? One example may illustrate.

Austin Gillespie, who legally changed his name to Augustus Sol Invictus, a follower of Aleister Crowley’s Thelemite philosophy who was kicked out of the Ordo Templi Orientis, admits to animal sacrifice, and had run for US Senate in Florida last year as a Libertarian, causing the state party chairman to resign in protest, mainly over his (alleged) support for eugenics. After losing the Libertarian state primary (by 50 points), Invictus identified himself as a reactionary, and in July 13, 2017, changed his party registration to Republican to run as that party’s nominee in the 2018 Senate race.

So any liberals or conservatives who are concern-trolling on the bad influence of reactionaries on the libertarian movement, please consider that “Augustus Sol Invictus” had to change his party registration to Republican because the Libertarian Party didn’t want to be associated with radical fringe weirdos.

In any case the official Libertarian Party is already aware of the problem. In response to the Charlottesville riots, on August 15, National Committee Executive Director Wes Benedict released the following statement: https://www.lp.org/libertarians-condemn-bigotry-irrational-repugnant/

“The Libertarian Party condemns bigotry as irrational and repugnant, and offers its condolences to the family of the woman killed in Charlottesville, Va.

There is no room for racists and bigots in the Libertarian Party. If there are white nationalists who — inappropriately — are members of the Libertarian Party, I ask them to submit their resignations today. We don’t want them to associate with the Libertarian Party, and we don’t want their money. I’m not expecting many resignations, because our membership already knows this well.

The Libertarian Party Platform states, “We condemn bigotry as irrational and repugnant. Government should neither deny nor abridge any individual’s human right based upon sex, wealth, ethnicity, creed, age, national origin, personal habits, political preference, or sexual orientation.”

The Libertarian Party is tolerant and accepting, supporting civil liberties, gay marriage, and freedom of religion for all, including Jews, Muslims, Christians, and atheists. The Libertarian Party supports open borders, civil liberties, racial diversity, and free trade — things that white nationalists abhor.”

Given the influence of libertarianism on the alt-right (or vice versa) Benedict’s warning is probably not enough. But it is unequivocal, and it is clear in stating that racists are not welcome in his Party. That is a lot more than the institutional Republican Party has dared to do.

Which implies that one party is more scared of losing racist votes than the other.

 

Here’s Another Idea

In my analyses of Donald Trump and the people who vote for him, I have said that part of the challenge for the post-Trump period is for lawmakers to create safeguards against the errors that led us to this point, and that may require more regulation, not less. For instance, I think there should be a maximum income rule so that if a presidential candidate or president makes more than (say) 1 million dollars a year, he is no longer eligible for free Secret Service protection and must either pay the government for personal services or buy them privately. An issue that’s come back into the news recently.

There are other issues we need to consider. Reviewing some of the news feeds this week where some of the Trump cult have revealed themselves to be just a little bit racist, it’s getting harder and harder for “conservatives” to ask the rest of us why the rest of us think they’re all racist. I was reminded of an earlier post where I said, among other things, that  Trump voters can’t all be racist, “Just as not everyone with lung cancer smoked cigarettes in their life, but things have gotten to where it’s a leading indicator.”

And then it hit me that the analogy applies beyond that point.

When television became a true mass medium in the 1950s, tobacco companies were major sponsors of TV programs. But as evidence of the health effects of tobacco addiction mounted, it became easier and easier for the government to regulate not only cigarette advertisements on TV but other sponsorship activities by tobacco companies. By 1970, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act was signed by everybody’s favorite conservative, Richard Nixon, and cigarette advertising on both television and radio was banned. Advertising restrictions were expanded until at this point tobacco ads (for both smoked and smokeless tobacco) are banned in most media except print sources. More recently (2010) the “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act” prohibits tobacco companies from sponsoring music and sporting events, and even forbids advertising on T-shirts or other apparel.

It is questionable exactly how much government should protect us from our own stupidity, but this example certainly proves there is legal precedent for them to do so. Given the damage we have already seen the Trump Right inflict on the process of government, it is not a matter of abstract speculation as to whether their influence will be addressed in the future, let alone how. But the increasing regulation of the tobacco industry gives us some guidelines on how such action could proceed.

For one thing, since most people get their information from basic cable, social media and other Internet sources, the FCC can simply ban political advertisements on broadcast TV and radio, which are already regulated.  Of course, there would be cause to object on the grounds of free speech, especially from Republicans who are more reliant on TV advertising than Democrats. At that point both parties would have to admit just how often the FCC has used it’s regulatory mandate for transparently political purposes. But that’s a subject we can discuss at another time.

Another aspect of cigarette regulation is that as of 1965, each pack of cigarettes has the famous “Surgeon General’s Warning” on it. In 1981, the Federal Trade Commission reported in a study that despite the pervasiveness of this warning,  it had little effect on consumers’ smoking habits.  Thus after 1984, it was mandated that the warnings be more specific than the traditional “The Surgeon General has determined that smoking may be hazardous to your health.” These newer warnings include “Smoking Causes Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema and May Complicate Pregnancy.” Not fucking around.

Rather than a straight ban on advertising, a similar set of warnings could be mandated for any political advertisements (for instance, anytime Donald Trump or one of his shills appears on CNN). These warnings would have to be equally specific and relevant to the content of what is being sold to the public through mass media. For instance, whenever Trump says “We’re going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it” the screen would read:

“The Only People Paying for The Wall are American Taxpayers, Including Those Who Were Gullible Enough to Vote for a 4-Time Bankrupt New Jersey Casino Boss.”

Or the next time a political action committee advertises on TV for the Congressional agenda, the ad would include:

“The Last Republican Healthcare Bill Was Not Reviewed Even By Republicans And Would Have Made You Pay More Money For Less Coverage.”

And the next time someone draws a moral equivalence between General Lee and General Washington, equivocates on racism or supports that political agenda, the screen would read:

“WARNING: Supporting Racism In Government Can Cause Your Hometown To Be Bombed Into Rubble, Your Bridges Demolished, Your Food Supplies Raided, Your Women Raped and Your Families Relocated By Pissed-Off Soldiers From the Countries You Wanted to Destroy.”

I must admit, I hesitated before writing this piece. As a libertarian, I think that making this idea into a regulation with the force of law would be slightly nauseating. But at this point, that’s how I feel about the entire Republican Party. And in any case, we cannot suppress “hate” speech, political ideas or political parties simply because they offend the day’s transitory fashion of political correctness. By the same token, we should bring attention to offensive ideas so that they do not go unchallenged or tacitly encouraged. Think of this suggestion as an example of caveat emptor.

 

Are Nazis Bad?

The surreal part of living through the reign of King Donnie, First of His Name is that we have to ask ourselves civic questions that we really shouldn’t have to ask. Like: Can a president pardon himself for gross corruption involving Russian agents and criminals? And then in the wake of Charlottesville, there’s another question being asked that ought to be obvious: Are Nazis bad?

Well, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on what you mean by “bad.”

The beautiful thing about the English language is that any given concept can be described with a number of words, and by the same token, several words can be interpreted in more than one way. As with “bad.” When we say Nazis are bad, does that mean that they are spiritually Evil? Yes.

Does that mean that they are wrong and should not be allied with? Yes.

But does “bad” mean that Nazis are bad in the sense of being bad at their jobs, in the sense that they won’t do what they say they will, or that they are outright incompetent?

Let’s see.

Anybody who saw the original Star Trek will remember the episode where Captain Kirk went to look up John Gill, the history professor he studied under at the Academy, and found that the planet where Gill had gone to study had somehow turned into an analog of Nazi Germany. And when the Enterprise crew investigated, Kirk discovered to his horror that his professor was actually the Fuehrer of this Nazi regime. Once Kirk got to confront the professor, he asked why he would come up with such a horrible idea, and the old man said that Nazi Germany was the “most efficient state Earth ever knew.” And Spock concurred, saying: “Quite true, Captain. That tiny country, beaten, bankrupt, defeated; rose in a few years to stand only one step away from global domination.”

When the Nazis formed a parliamentary government in 1932, they spent the next two years consolidating power, especially after the death of the aged head of state Paul von Hindenburg. A primary goal of the Nazis, and of the establishment military who were not always on board with Hitler, was to re-arm the country so that it could become a major power again.

One major instrument in this program was a financial scheme based on a previous program of the Weimar Republic. Promissory notes were issued by the Society for Public Works through the Reichsbank and used for job creation and public building projects, similar to projects in both Fascist Italy and Franklin Roosevelt’s later New Deal. When the Nazis took over, this project was used by Economics Minister (and Reichsbank president) Hjalmar Schacht. As part of the public-works program, Schacht helped initiate the construction of the Autobahn network (which was expanded under post-Nazi governments) and also modified the promissory bills program, creating the limited liability company Metallurgische Forschungsgesellschaft or “MEFO” for short. Mefo bills served as notes of exchange convertible to Reichsmarks on demand. The MEFO company had no existence except as a balance sheet entity. In his postwar testimony at the Nuremberg trials, Schacht said that the device “enabled the Reichsbank to lend by a subterfuge to the Government what it normally or legally could not do”.

While Mefo bills did serve to address the government’s deficit problems, inherited from the Great Depression, it also served to allow the Nazi regime to fund re-armament programs, paying arms manufacturers with off-sheet funds that concealed a military buildup forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles.

This government spending, as in Italy and the US, did help pull Germany out of the Depression, but the Mefo bills had interest that would eventually come due. Furthermore, in order to satisfy the regime’s demand for imported materials, Schacht supervised the “New Plan” that operated “by various measures suspending the service on Germany’s foreign indebtedness, by freezing other claims of foreigners on Germany, by a stringent system of export controls and by eliminating foreign travel and other unessential foreign expenditures.” These imports and domestic product were in turn directed by the Ministry of Economics with production quotas, in particular scarce war materials, in preparation for the eventual wartime economy.

In the Star Trek parallel, Kirk asked Spock why John Gill would use Nazi Germany as a political model knowing the results, and Spock answered “Perhaps Gill felt that such a state, run benignly, could accomplish its efficiency without sadism.” That turned out not to be the case; in the episode Gill was secretly neutralized and drugged by an unscrupulous lieutenant who used propaganda to incite his nation toward a genocidal war. In the case of the real Nazis, Hitler’s whole agenda was predicated on race war and conquest of Europe, and any beneficial changes were simply instrumental to creating a better war machine for that purpose. The economic miracle was based on a financial shell game whose bill was coming due and which could only be paid by looting nearby countries.

Which is why ultimately there is no distinction between the moral and the practical. If one seeks the quick and easy path to power by alliance with Evil, that means you cut corners and you make mistakes. The bad guys cut corners in that they dispense with bourgeois luxuries like “individual rights” and “rule of law.” But a leadership that holds itself to no higher standards than their own whim is prone to ignore information that goes against its dogma (like, don’t pick fights with the entire planet at once) and they suffer in the long run.

But one could argue that in the short run, Germans weren’t aware that things would turn out the way they did. When Hitler took over, Germany was still fairly screwed. And over six years, it became an industrially strong military power again. If Hitler had left off after saying the Sudetenland was “my last territorial demand” his regime might have survived. Because up to that point, evil as the Nazis were, they hadn’t made too many administrative mistakes.

And this is where the comparison to the modern day comes in. And even now, I generally find direct comparisons of Adolf Hitler to Donald Trump overheated. Although there was that one time in June 1941 when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, and then six months later said, “nobody told me that conquering Russia would be so complicated.”

Part of the problem in comparison is that as racist as America is, it was always more liberal and multiracial than Prussianized Germany, and thus the would-be Nazis of our time are still a product of the generally liberal culture they are doing their utmost to destroy. What do you call a Nazi with a Slavic wife, Jewish in-laws, and connections to Goldman-Sachs? A STUPID Nazi. What do you call a Nazi who sees his Leader with a Slavic wife, Jewish in-laws, and connections to Goldman-Sachs, and still thinks that guy is the savior of his race? A REALLY stupid Nazi.

One thing that ex-President Steve Bannon  got right is when he gave that interview to The American Prospect  and told their reporter that his focus more than foreign policy or even racism was what he called economic nationalism- the use of various devices and protectionist policies to strengthen the economy versus other nations like China. “The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.” Given how many Americans either actively support “alt-right” racism or just don’t care, the real danger of Trump’s election was there was a chance that Trump could have done just as well as Hitler – if in fact he had done just as well as Hitler. Most Germans didn’t really care about (or hate) Jews as much as they cared about getting their jobs and their country’s prestige back. The comparison of the Trump Administration to the Nazi regime would hold up better if the Leader of the movement had even Adolf Hitler’s level of emotional maturity and common sense.

Fortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Donald Trump, contrary to the apologist view of Nazism, is not efficient, but certainly is sadistic. The key is that the Nazis had enough regard for their own program that they could plan it out in advance with short notice and then implement it over a period of years. The Republican Party outside Trump may not be fascistic, but they did have both social and economic agendas that they had years to plan in advance anticipating a Republican president. As we have seen, they did not use that time wisely, and had no plan to replace Obamacare or enact the rest of the agenda. Their tax reform plans are probably more fleshed out than their healthcare plans, but given how much of them were based on a transfer of tax liabilities from the upper percentile to put the costs of healthcare on most customers’ deductibles, it’s doubtful that the “fiscal conservatives” will amount to much. And those guys in Congress are the serious and experienced politicians. As opposed to Mister “I’m Not A Billionaire, But I Play One On TV.”

It would take a while to go over exactly how much Donald Trump has failed his own program, assuming that he has one. So rather than print out every fuckup and self-inflicted wound that Trump has performed in just the last four weeks… just watch this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1eRNCGR6pUg

Again, Bannon had at least the inkling of an idea to enact a useful “nationalist” policy with potential, but the real value is in the execution. It is generally considered that Steve Bannon was the architect of the Administration’s early “travel ban” on citizens of seven Muslim countries, but that order was unvetted, not examined by legal counsel, and so haphazardly put together that it was quickly shut down by lawyers and courts. And Bannon was the brains of the outfit. Trump’s blanket ban on transgender persons in the military seemed to have no backing other than a Twitter post, and the day afterward the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced that the policy on who may serve will not change until the White House sends new rules and the Secretary of Defense issues new guidelines. In other words, “we are not enforcing this tweet until it is backed up by something legally coherent.” This is of a pattern with Trump being so mercurial, acting on the spur of the moment rather than any long-term plan, that it is easy for his maneuvers to get checked by rivals within the system – who actually know how the system works, and who fear that his bull-in-a-china-shop behavior will wreck the structure on which they all depend. It’s that much worse when the “smart” people in the White House and in the Republican Party are supposed to be on board with the reactionary plan and they fight amongst themselves. If Trump has one thing in common with Hitler, it’s his possibly deliberate method of controlling his underlings by pitting them against each other for his favor. The difference is that Hitler’s underlings were mostly loyal to both him and the ideology, and (at least in the short term) were competent.

It’s horrible enough that anybody could endorse Nazism when it works. What’s truly pathetic about the Trump Right is that they’re bad at being Nazis. If you put these schmucks in charge of invading Poland on September 1, 1939, the Polish Army would have hit Berlin by the 4th.

Of course even more pathetic than the weekend Nazis of the alt-right are the sensible cloth-coat Republicans who must now realize that their boy has enhanced their reputation the way Hitler enhanced German nationalism. I mean, if you sold your soul to the Devil for luxury and power, and you actually got it, you might tell yourself you got some short term benefit for your damnation. But if you sold your soul to kill Obamacare and build a wall on Mexico and your Devil turned out to be a whiny little punk who had to beg Mexico to pay for his idea, and then bullied more experienced Senators on Obamacare and ended up with that whole thing blowing up in his face- what have you gained? Now you’re eternally damned AND you look like a tool. That’s gotta sting.

Charlottesville

What’s the difference between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump? One is a spoiled megalomaniac who wants to destroy America. The other is Kim Jong-un.

I posted that on Facebook a few days ago. Even then I didn’t know how right I was.

Overnight, white nationalists led by Richard Spencer marched with tiki torches at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. There they confronted anti-racist protestors near a statue of Thomas Jefferson, chanting “Blood and Soil“.  “Former” Klansman David Duke identified this movement with the vote for Donald Trump, saying “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.”

Today, August 12, the “Unite the Right” rally converged near Emancipation Park, formerly named for General Robert E. Lee and the Lee equestrian statue in the park. The Governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency before the rally could reach the park, with authorities using tear gas and chemical spray to break up protests between the white nationalists and counter-protestors. At one point a Dodge Challenger with no license plates drove into a crowd of protestors, crunching into the rear of another vehicle, before backing up (into other witnesses) and leaving the scene. At least 35 people have been injured by various causes.

A 32-year old woman has since died from the vehicle attack. As I write this, there are reports of a State Police helicopter in the area crashing and killing two occupants.

Supposedly the city’s decision to remove the Lee statue was the reason for the rally. I agree with many on the Right that we shouldn’t be using political correctness (or rather, fashionable opinion) to erase history. Unasked is the question of what history is really being erased.

The Lee equestrian statue was commissioned in 1919 and fully completed in 1924. Robert E. Lee died in 1870, only five years after the Civil War. In his postwar career, the former Confederate general had his citizenship revoked for his actions. In 1865 he was made the president of Washington College in Virginia. Before the war he had actually opposed secession but became a Confederate to defend his state of Virginia. At the time of the surrender, he opposed a postwar guerrilla campaign, saying “far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South.” Lee was always against giving black men the vote but as the head of Washington College expelled students for attacks on local black men, and toward the end of his life, helped establish state schools for blacks.

Both during and after the Civil War, Robert E. Lee was admired even in the North, because whatever his opinions on race, he was at least a gentleman of honor. Which the people who act in his name today are not.

Assume, for the sake of argument (because I know some people are making this argument) that the driver turns out to be an “Antifa” leftist hitting people just to smear the Right. How would it make the Left look good if that turned out to be the case? Wouldn’t that just turn people against their tactics? So consider that in the far more likely event that the assailant is one of your guys, how does that make you look? Does it reflect well on you at all that innocent blood is on your hands? You’re not trying to unite the country. In your own terms, you are trying to mobilize a Racial Holy War. But what you don’t get is that you are convincing more and more of the country, many of whom (like me), are technically in “your” demographic, that YOU are the enemy.

See, I was setting up to post a post-election opinion on the recurring subject of whether Hillary Clinton was more to blame for the 2016 election than third-party voters. But both Jill Stein and Gary Johnson ran for President in 2012 and the psychology that made Donald Trump president in 2016 did not help Mitt Romney. Goodness knows that in 2012 there were enough right-wing racists speaking against Barack Obama, but they were not enough to win an election. This is not the fault of Gary Johnson. It is not the fault of Jill Stein. (OK, maybe a tiny bit Jill Stein.)  It is not even the fault of people who stayed home, and it is certainly not the fault of people who voted for Clinton.

You people who voted for Donald Trump?

This is on YOU.

That woman’s blood is on your hands. This is what you wanted and this is what you got.

In his grudging statement against violence today, Donald Trump, who had previously told a gathering of New York police officers “don’t be too nice” when apprehending suspects, said “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time.”

But there were a double-digit number of people in the Republican Party running for president in 2016, and all of them would have been offensive to the Left. It was quite likely that one of them could have gotten elected anyway, due to either Clinton hate or a general fatigue with the incumbent party, and they most likely would enact policies that would offend liberals and even moderates. None of them except Trump started their campaign by saying that Mexicans “aren’t sending (us) their best … they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists”.

None of them except Trump would ally with a self-described Leninist like Steve Bannon.

None of those campaigns would have responded to a Russian offer of Clinton campaign dirt with the three words: “I love it.” None of those campaigns would have coordinated a meeting with Russian agents with the help of Paul Manafort. None of them would have hired Paul Manafort as a campaign manager after what he did in Ukraine.

None of those potential presidents would have “gotten tough” on immigration with a crackdown on legal immigrants that was immediately thrown out by courts.

And while most of the other Republicans could have started a blanket ban on transgender people in the military, none of them would have used Twitter to do so, in such a brain-dead manner that it offended even Orrin Hatch.

But more important: None of those people would have gotten Trump’s level of support, and for those very reasons. When you saw the pathological liar with the circus peanut tan make shit up on camera, you said, “Finally, someone who’s authentic!” When it was pretty damn clear he didn’t have a plan to replace Obamacare, or build the Wall, you didn’t care. When he said John McCain wasn’t a hero just because he was tortured by the communist Vietnamese (at the same time Trump was dodging the draft), you agreed. And when he was caught on tape saying “grab ’em by the pussy, you can do whatever you want”, you didn’t disavow your hero. You cheered.

Remember, this event in Charlottesville came in the wake of a press conference where Trump actually praised Vladimir Putin for cutting Moscow embassy staff, on the grounds that we needed to reduce our payroll anyway.  After a certain point, the enemy doesn’t even bother to hide what they really are anymore.

The question is what the rest of us are going to do about it.

 

They’re Getting Sick Of Winning

On the July 30 episode of Game of Thrones, Queen Daenerys met Jon Snow and they were locked in tense negotiations over his desire for aid against the White Walkers versus her demand for fealty. Meanwhile, Queen Cersei’s new ally and Yara’s main enemy Euron Greyjoy captured Yara and the remaining Dornish leaders to parade through King’s Landing, eventually to be tortured. Cersei was told by the Bank of Braavos to pay her outstanding debts. Daenerys kept Jon on hold long enough to execute Tyrion’s plan to take the Lannister stronghold of Casterly Rock, only to find that Jaime Lannister had already decided to sacrifice the castle and use his family army to defeat Daenerys’ ally, House Tyrell, who also happened to be the richest family in the Seven Kingdoms, thus solving the bank problem. And out of courtesy Jaime agreed to let Dame Tyrell poison herself rather than be tortured, only for the old woman to tell him that she’d poisoned King Joffrey (Jaime’s incestuous son) for everyone’s good.

This is simpler to follow than the Trump Administration.

Where did this all begin? Well, a bunch of people in Hillary Clinton’s “firewall” states decided to mainline Alex Jones with a Rush Limbaugh chaser and gave the government a lobotomy. But this specific thread of events started with Donald Trump getting increasingly fed up with his press flack, Sean Spicer and pushing him further and further away from the press. Eventually Trump “solved” the problem by creating a new Commuincations Director, Anthony Scaramucci, who actually went by the nickname “the Mooch.” Which would make him the most aptly named public figure since Andy Dick. Trump seemed to have appointed Scaramucci to this role because he liked his style. It turned out he had all of Donald Trump’s entertainment value and none of his common sense. In a now-legendary phone conversation with Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker, The Mooch not only went through several New York Italian turns of verse, he attacked White House leakers in general and (alleged) Chief of Staff Reince Preibus in particular, saying “Reince Priebus—if you want to leak something—he’ll be asked to resign very shortly.” And lo, Preibus was made to resign around July 27, just after Scaramucci’s oratory was made public. The problem was that now Trump needed a chief of staff, and by either advice or his own inclination he decided to make his current Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly the new Chief of Staff, and one Kelly’s priorities seems to be getting grownups in charge. Certain people in the White House were embarrassed by The Mooch (obviously not Trump, or he wouldn’t have fired Preibus so quickly after The Mooch roasted him) and apparently at Kelly’s behest Tony the Mooch JUST resigned his office today. So even though he would have been SO MUCH FUN to watch in the job, Scaramucci wasn’t a very good Communications Director, unless the message being communicated was “this Administration is a Monty Python sketch directed by Martin Scorsese.”

Even then, that was just an especially colorful coating of the real news from the last ten days, which was the defeat of Trumpcare in the Senate. Prior to the vote to allow debate on a bill, it had already been categorically opposed by several senators, some of whom, like Rand Paul, were persuaded to change their minds. Two who didn’t were both moderate Republican women: Senator Susan Collins (R.-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R.-Alaska). With only 52 Republican Senators possible to vote for Mitch McConnell’s “reconcilation” maneuver, and all 48 Democrats set to vote against letting it to the floor, McConnell could not allow more than two defections if he wanted the vote to proceed, or for any bill to pass. McConnell and Trump desperately called Sen. John McCain (R.-Arizona) to come and vote for the bill even though he was recuperating from cancer surgery back home. But for the sake of his party, McCain came to Washington. He made a big show of endorsing “regular order” and the old bipartisan negotiation for bills, but on July 24 voted with 49 other Republicans and against Collins, Murkowski and the Democrats to allow the motion to proceed. With Vice President Mike Pence as the Senate tie-breaker, McConnell was able to proceed with votes for a bill that didn’t exist. So they voted for a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. That got only 43 Republican votes. Then they voted on a “clean” repeal that would be phased in two years, ostensibly to give Republicans time to create a replacement plan as if they hadn’t had seven years already. That one got 45 votes. Then McConnell’s people came up with a vaguely promised “skinny” repeal that would have repealed Obamacare’s individual mandate but not Medicaid expansion. On Thursday July 27, after liberals had had much wailing and gnashing of teeth over McCain letting things get to this point, the skinny repeal got a mostly party-line vote with Collins and Murkowski voting against it – along with McCain.

Collins and Murkowski had no reason to march with the Republican herd, because of their constituencies, and several reasons to go against it. McCain had that more reason to go against this White House, if not Republicans in general, and yet he kept us in suspense.

Why did McCain have his agony at Gethsemane for the better part of a week when he could have just shut the whole thing down by voting Nay for a floor debate? Because as it turns out, that wouldn’t have been the end of it.  Basically, McConnell, as is his way, tried to gin the result he wanted by eliminating Democrats from a process that is designed to work via negotiation. Most budget bills require a two-thirds majority in the Senate. But both chambers can request a reconcilation debate which allows a bill to pass with only a simple majority in the Senate (51 votes) and no filibustering. However such a special bill gets only 20 total hours floor debate, and- this is the key- only one such reconciliation bill can be proposed in any given year.

Had the bill never been allowed to get to the floor, McConnell could have potentially brought it up at a later time. Now that the bill has been debated, another bill cannot be proposed except through “regular order” – a standard Senate debate with two-thirds vote, which would require working with Democrats to get anywhere. And McCain knew all this.

Of course, it is still not clear whether McCain’s stunt was motivated by serious disagreements with the Republican approach to legislation or because of desire for revenge on a politician who’d insulted him and other POWs by saying “I like heroes who weren’t captured.” Because the two matters may be related.

Again, the latest Trumpcare effort crashed on July 27, and that was the same day Preibus was fired by Trump. Most of the reason that Preibus was even in the White House was as a liason to the Republican establishment, given that in 2016, he was the head of the Republican National Committee. In particular, he was a friend of House Majority Leader Paul Ryan, and allegedly Trump was persuaded by Priebus to focus on Ryan’s healthcare “reform” over other legislative priorities, even though Trump himself had little involvement in the healthcare issue and to the extent that he did, his whims were more populist than fiscally conservative. The failure of the healthcare drive was the last straw for Preibus as Chief of Staff. However useless he was, he was the only tie Trump had to the rest of the Republican institution. And now that’s gone.

Moreover, this all comes in the wake of other bad news from the Republican Party. In conjunction with Democrats, both houses of Congress passed veto-proof majorities for a bill to expand sanctions on Russia and in particular to limit Trump’s power to modify the sanctions without congressional approval. And in response to rumors that Trump would fire his Attorney General in order to find someone who would fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Senator Chuck Grassley (R.-Iowa), no liberal he, announced on Twitter “Everybody in D.C. (should) be warned that the agenda for the (Judiciary Committee) is set for rest of 2017. Judges first subcabinet 2nd / AG no way”. In other words, if Trump wants to hire a stooge who will help him obstruct justice, the Republican Senate will not help him.

When you’re a politician, you aim to run for office in hopes of boosting your resume to run for Congress. You run for Congress in hopes of running for Senate. And you run for Senate in hopes of getting elected President. But very few people get to be president, and sometimes these career politicians reach a point in their lives, like McCain has, where they realize that’s not going to happen. And when they realize this, they have to take stock of what the institution will be like when they’re gone. And some, not all, Republicans are looking at their Leader and they see a 70-year old man with a well-known fondness for KFC, McDonald’s and well-done steaks. Forget the 25th Amendment, Trump might not survive to 2020. And some of these guys have also come to realize that while their institution could survive Trump, he is enough of a spiteful little shit that he saw he was going down, he would try to take everything with him. The prospect of replacing him with Vice President Pence seems more practical by the day.

Pence certainly does not have Trump’s charismatic hold on the “base” and from a liberal standpoint, he would be that much more committed to a regressive agenda, but for the conservative establishment, that would be a point in his favor. But more important to them, a President Pence would eliminate the greater-than-zero possibility that Donald Trump will pull down his pants and take a hot dump on the Oval Office carpet during a televised interview, not to mention the even more disgusting possibility of Fox News and “Heartland America” praising such behavior as presidential.

There’s just one problem. It may already be too late for them.

There is an article in The American Conservative where columnist Rod Dreher analyzes the potential impact of Trump’s abortive ban on trans people in the military. He refers to other columns by National Review staffer David French and liberal writer Josh Barro, who both point out that whatever the military merits of such a ban, Trump’s strategy, or lack thereof, was the worst way to propose such a policy. French says “(Trump’s) typical inflammatory tweeting was guaranteed to ignite yet another round of public fury. He virtually guaranteed that the next Democratic president would immediately reverse his policy, and he made any congressional debate that much more challenging. Here’s what actual presidential leadership would look like. After permitting his respected secretary of defense to comprehensively study the issue of transgender service, he would draft a carefully written, factually supported statement describing in detail the military justifications for the policy. Then, with the full, prepared backing of the Pentagon, he’d approach a Republican-controlled Congress and write his policy into law — creating a far more permanent standard that couldn’t be quickly reversed by the next administration and wouldn’t jerk the military into a game of culture-war hot potato depending on whose party controls the White House. But that’s hard work. It’s much easier just to tweet.” Barro concurs: “By seeking to bar transgender people from the military, Trump makes the fight all about public policy. And he moves the public discussion of transgender people to some of the most unfavorable political ground possible for conservatives: Should people who wish to serve their country in a way Trump never did be allowed to do so? Democrats shouldn’t worry they’ll get in trouble for saying yes.”

By knowing nothing and caring less, Trump makes things that much harder for conservatives on an issue where he should be able to frame the debate on socially conservative and pro-military terms. Just as a population that was largely sympathetic to cracking down on scary immigrants was turned off by the treatment of legal aliens by this Administration. Just as Trump and Republicans enabled each other to create the worst of all possible worlds with healthcare and created a system that cost more and covered less, mainly to pass costs from rich people’s taxes to poor people’s deductibles, then wondered why no one wanted to kill Obamacare anymore.

This is the sort of rhetorical victory that the Left spectrum could never achieve on the merits of their own program. Likewise conservatives didn’t win because they had better ideas- they didn’t. Conservatives just managed to make people hate liberals more. It was easy given how insufferable some of their followers are. But for the most part liberals aren’t also out-and-proud bigots, and Democrats weren’t trying to actively destroy their own benefits program for the sake of their donors’ tax returns.

Republicans did not win elections because they were popular, because they had good ideas, or because they had a mandate. They won because voters hated their opponent more, or did not hate them enough to come out and vote. They fail to consider that if you get voters sufficiently pissed off, that dynamic may reverse.

 

Can I Pardon Myself? Asking For a Friend

Dear Don,

If it was that easy, don’t you think I would’ve done it?

Sincerely, Your Old Pal,

Bill

So I got back home from Comic-Con this Monday, and Donald Trump hasn’t declared martial law yet, and that’s always a good week.

But over the course of last week, Trump has made noises, tweets and possible leaks to the effect that he is thinking about firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who might actually be more authoritarian and bigoted than he is) for the sole reason that he recused himself on the matter of the Trump-Russia connection and thus allowed his deputy to appoint a special counsel that he cannot remove. And of course the chattering class was all abuzz about that. Then around the same time leaks came out saying that in regard to the Trump Tower meeting led by Don Jr., Trump was asking legal counsel if he could not only pardon Junior or Jared Kushner, but also himself.

And the legal answer to that question is, he probably CAN, if only because while the Founding Fathers anticipated that a presidential candidate might be the product of “cabal, intrigue, and corruption” they did not anticipate that voters and the Electoral College would be so GODDAMNED STUPID as to enable it for the sake of tribal loyalty.

Although even then, there are two caveats. First, Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution https://usconstitution.net/xconst_A2Sec2.html clearly states that the President “shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” In other words, if Congress decides that the time has come to impeach the president, the Constitution specifically eliminates that loophole. He can pardon his family and cronies, and could preemptively pardon himself, but Congress can always impeach on its own charges. I don’t think there is a legal case for impeaching a president because he is a screaming little man-baby whose penis has retreated into his scrotum like a suicidally depressed turtle, but I think a lawyer could make a good presentation for it.

Second, if Trump did pardon Donald or Jared, legal precedent – specifically the case of Burdick v. United States (1915) https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/236/79/case.html holds that a pardon implies guilt on the part of the person accepting the pardon: ” This brings us to the differences between legislative immunity and a pardon. They are substantial. The latter carries an imputation of guilt; acceptance a confession of it. The former has no such imputation or confession. It is tantamount to the silence of the witness. It is noncommittal. It is the unobtrusive act of the law given protection against a sinister use of his testimony, not like a pardon, requiring him to confess his guilt in order to avoid a conviction of it. ” So that being the case, in making a pardon of his associates, Viceroy Trump would be officially and legally implying that there was something to hide, and there would then be grounds for impeachment. This move would tip his hand.

This isn’t a move that you would seriously make if you thought about the implications of it, but that isn’t the person we’re dealing with. Everything is just another disruption to keep Washington off-balance.

Which may be why on July 26, Trump pulled the totally non sequitur move of unilaterally declaring that the military “will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity”. Numerous reasons for this have been speculated. It was supposedly a sop to Mike Pence and other religious conservatives. According to Politico,  the main rationale was that conservatives objected to costs of gender reassignment surgery in the military and held up funding for Trump’s wall over it. But that could have been resolved simply by agreeing to forbid such surgery, and offensive as that would be to trans advocates, it would not require a blanket (and hasty) ban on trans people themselves. It’s far more likely that this is yet another smoke grenade to rile up the right-wing “base” and enrage the Left so their concentration is broken so that neither side pays attention to the important maneuver. Which according to The Washington Post is the idea of using a recess appointment to replace Jeff Sessions. Of course that requires Congress to actually be in recess, and Trump insists that Congress not go home until they pass his repeal-and-replace-no-wait-just-repeal-no-wait-replace, oh-who-gives-a-damn-just-fuck-Obama healthcare “reform.” And even with John McCain’s “principled” decision to vote for floor debate, the legislation is losing more and more Republican votes with each iteration it’s pretty clear that they just want to go home before August, and if you wonder why, you have never lived in the Maryland-Northern Virginia area in August. So not only is Trump at cross-purposes with himself, Democrats can hold “pro forma” sessions during the period so as to block an official recess. So even this is all just bullshitting. That doesn’t mean he won’t do it.

The conventional wisdom is that, oh, if Trump fires Sessions, that’ll get the Republicans upset. Like, majorly. They might actually… do something. Like they did when he insulted John McCain for being captured in a war that he avoided serving in. Like when he said “grab ’em by the pussy.” Like when he fired FBI Director Comey, who probably did more to gin the election in Trump’s favor than any Russian skullduggery. The conventional wisdom is that Trump can only go so far without the system rising up to protect itself.

Because the system has been so good at protecting itself up til now.

Do not take solace in “the way things are done.” The way things are done is gone. Every time Democrats and “decent” Republicans have thought Trump would hold back from breaking some norm, he breaks that norm and a couple more besides. If he wants to fire Sessions, the only thing stopping him from doing so is the contrary whims of his possibly-no-longer-cocaine-addicted brain.

Trump has two things in common with other bullies. The first of course is that he is a chickenshit little coward.  The second is that he gets away with bullying because bullying is gaming the social system. People maintain social norms (like, don’t be a dick) because they fear negative consequences. But what if there are no negative consequences? Bullies push the system and dare it to push back, and sometimes it doesn’t, either because the people in charge sympathize with them, or because they’ve never had their bluff called. And thus the moral code that tradition depends on is revealed as immoral, and loses its authority.

One other reason that people respect tradition and norms is that they realize that such norms protect them and theirs in the long run. They understand that it’s not all about them. That is not Trump. For all the armchair analysis, Trump is remarkably easy to understand: He is a spoiled little child, and his only philosophy is “anything that gets me what I want is Good, anything that stops me from getting what I want is Evil.” He is literally no more complex than that. He cannot consider anything above himself.

This is to be distinguished from what some of us call “ethical egoism” or “rational selfishness.” We advocate that philosophy because it is existential: You are the person in best position to judge what is in your own interest, and you ought to act in regard to your own survival. But acting in the interest of survival means having recognition of the world around you, and Trump can’t do that. Or rather, everyone in a position to discipline him, including his father and the regulatory system, protected him from such discipline. There is a difference between having no respect for others (the traditional definition of ‘selfishness’) and having no recognition of anything beyond oneself, and Trump has never had to learn this.

Thus Trump’s self-absorption is not merely evil in the traditional altruist sense of selfishness, but reflects a dangerous antipathy to reality. That is another reason why he can get away with pissing in the punch bowl, because not only does he not care about the consequences to himself, he doesn’t care about the consequences to others – including his own party.

But that goes back to two points I have repeatedly brought up. One, Donald Trump is simply what the average Donald Trump supporter would be if he had money. Secondly, Republicans, by their reflexive antagonism to anything beyond their increasingly narrow tribe, made their party the Party of Trump even before he showed up. And when he did, all the Bushes and Rubios and Cruzes weren’t able to appeal to decency or rational self-interest, because Republicans had made such virtues politically incorrect. And the other part of the problem is that all Trump’s competitors wanted him to go down but they didn’t want to be blamed for it, because each of them expected to be the one to pick up his voter base- blanking out the fact that they voted for him because they’d finally found their guy. Republicans on both state and national levels have always played the game of playing to the red-meat “conservatives” as much as possible for the primaries then tacking to the center for general elections. They can’t do that anymore. The radicals have taken over. And because of that even the Republicans who know better can’t do anything about it, because they always put off their big goals until they could get a Republican president to nominate conservative judges and sign their legislation. And because if they didn’t, it no longer matters how anti-abortion, anti-tax or pro-Israel you are, if you want to not be steamrolled in your next primary. All that matters is if you can anticipate what color Donald Trump says the sky is today.

Republicans… there is a term in psychology for this. The term is “pussy-whipped.” That isn’t the politically correct thing to say, but you’re Republicans, so fuck political correctness, right?

Because of how you have gamed the political system, you are the only ones in position to stop Donald Trump from enforcing his delusional agenda, but you are the main reason it has gotten as far as it has. Ultimately, he is not the problem. YOU are. So I am talking to you, because now YOUR rational self-interest is at stake. Now I know that if you really believe in the Bible, you’re not supposed to care about the things of this world, and should probably be looking forward to the Apocalypse, but if you really believed that no man knows the day or the hour, you probably wouldn’t care much about your bank accounts.

So consider: Jeff Sessions actually cares about the movement. Sessions is dangerous to liberals because he is what Trumpism would be if it was led by somebody competent and concerned with a philosophy beyond himself. It has been noted by analysts that Attorney General Sessions is responsible for all the Trump Administration’s policy accomplishments. Jeff Sessions was the first Senator to endorse Donald Trump for president. And this is the thanks he gets. He gets treated like Jim Comey. Or one of Trump’s ex-wives.

The irony being that if Trump wants a new AG on the premise that he would be devoted to blocking investigation of Russian entanglement, that means this person would have to prioritize Trump’s defense (or obstruction) over the rest of his job, making the Trump Administration’s impact on the government more transitory.

None of that matters to Trump of course. All that matters is the moment. And if that requires sacrificing long-term interest to save his hide one more day, good. Especially when that sacrifice is someone else.

You know why you’re antsy about what Trump is doing with Sessions, Republicans. Because he is you. If this is how such loyalty is to be repaid, what reward is there in your loyalty? What is the point of following him if everything he was supposed to give you is endangered by his actions? He doesn’t care about all the people he lied to. He doesn’t care about West Virginia. He doesn’t care about LGBTQ. You knew that, because you don’t care about them either. Now you are starting to learn he doesn’t care about you.

You are starting to learn that as the Russians advance, he will hunt and destroy the disloyal. He will scorch the country because he can.

You are starting to learn that when you feed the wolf, the sheep are not your worst enemy.

Sick of Winning Yet?

“Any sufficiently advanced malice is indistinguishable from incompetence.”

Well now.

On July 17, after two of 52 Republican Senators announced they would not vote for a debate to allow the Senate’s healthcare “reform” to come to the floor (Susan Collins because the bill didn’t keep enough of Obamacare, Rand Paul because it kept any part of Obamacare at all), two other Republican Senators, Mike Lee and Jerry Moran, followed suit, which meant that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s vote could not proceed, because it was predicated on only requiring a simple majority instead of a two-thirds vote that would have required Democrats. So following Donald Trump’s directive to just repeal Obamacare without worrying about a replacement (one suspects that was the goal all along), Mitch “the Bitch” McConnell decided to re-introduce a repeal bill that Republicans passed in 2015 – when Obama was President, and they knew they wouldn’t have to back it up. Of course the reason they went through this whole rigamarole is that there were even less votes for a straight repeal than there were for a negotiated reform. So no surprise that this last gasp at the Republican dream got taken out on July 18 by Collins, Senator Lisa Murkowski and Senator Shelley Capito. All women, which is probably just a coincidence.

Donald Trump responded. “We’re not going to own it, I’m not going to own it,” Trump said. “I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us and they are going to say ‘how do we fix it, how do we fix it’ or ‘how do we come up with a new plan?”

Of course as one guy on the news shows put it, Trump doesn’t own most of the stuff that has his name on it. But the best response to that sentiment was probably from Shepard Smith on Fox News: “But politically, Trump does own it. Because voters gave them control of Washington. It was a central promise of Republicans’ campaigns. For eight years, they told constituents and voters, give us control and we will repeal and replace Obamacare.”

If even some on the Right are criticizing the Republican approach, it’s not necessarily because they’re centrist-liberal squishes who were more aligned to the Democrats anyway. Some of the observers on the Right worked towards getting a Republican majority because they assumed that Republicans would do something with it. They thought that their side would have a better idea than the Democrats. As opposed to the people actually in charge, who apparently just wanted to string the voters along and didn’t realize that at some point they’d have to show their hand.

As for: “We’ll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us and they are going to say ‘how do we fix it, how do we fix it’ or ‘how do we come up with a new plan?” it’s of a piece with their general attitude. Blame the Democrats for doing it wrong then ask them to do it for you cause you can’t do it at all. Hold the thinking, productive people hostage to their own morals so that the mindless moochers can avoid individual responsibility. Among the many ironies of late-stage “conservatism” is how it re-enacts Atlas Shrugged with the political sides reversed.

Republicans: You got everything you wanted. You had both houses of Congress and the White House. And we as a nation gave you all the power because even if we didn’t agree with you on all things, or even most things, we agreed that we hated the Democrats, we hated liberals in general, and we REALLY HATED Hillary Clinton. And you took that opportunity and did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING with it, and that’s because you’ve GOT nothing. You used Russia as an excuse to dither about the domestic agenda, and then you used the domestic agenda as an excuse to dither about Russia. Now you have no domestic agenda, and you’re on record as being enablers for Putin’s butt boy. Sick of winning yet?

And this is just in the first six months of a Republican President. You’ve got about 16 more months to undermine your status before the next midterm elections. Granted, if this all hinges on the ability of Democrats to pick up a clue with two hands, then God-Emperor Trump may be ruling the galaxy from his life-support chamber well past the year 40,000 AD. But if Democrats do fail to gain at least one house of Congress in the 2018 midterms, it won’t be because Republicans didn’t give them every opportunity they possibly could. Especially when “we’ll let Obamacare fail” is telegraphing a strategy to sabotage the system for political purposes so that you DO own the final result, and then expecting Democrats to crawl to people who have proven themselves to be untrustworthy and then expecting voters to crawl to the people who took away their healthcare as though that was a top resume item.

And the thing is, it didn’t have to be this way. Once you realized that as hated and flawed as the Affordable Care Act was, it was better than the prior status quo, and that repeal-and-delay was not nearly as popular as repeal-and-replace, which in turn was less popular than not repealing it at all, a sane party would have realized it was political malpractice to mess with the ACA without having an actual alternative. And since we now know you didn’t have that, you still had an option. At that point you could have just done what the Clintons do, and engaged in “triangulation.” You could have just juggled a few details and came up with basically the same thing, and shamelessly pandered saying that the ACA was a Republican idea all along. Because after all, it WAS.

But accepting the new status quo would have meant accepting Obamacare, and that just wasn’t possible for your Dear Leader, or your “base.” Even if the roots were a conservative idea, you didn’t like it just because Democrats liked it. (Specifically because the biracial whippersnapper with the middle name Hussein liked it.)

The problem is that even though the Democrats’ usual M.O. is to compromise their way through everything, Republicans have ruled that out because of their consistent “Fuck you because YOU want this” attitude. When you’re dealing with that level of brattiness, there is no point in negotiation.

Eventually Democrats are going to figure that out. In fact, some of them already have. Half the reason that the Affordable Care Act was insufficient by leftist standards (and why Obama never pushed things like a public option) is because the Obama Administration and the Democratic Senate were trying to get votes from Republicans, and when they couldn’t get those, they needed to compromise with the centrists of their own party to get a two-thirds majority. The latest bills being debated within the Democratic caucus are less about tinkering with Obamacare, which they already have, and more about pushing national healthcare systems like “Medicare for All.” Bill Maher, among others, has pointed out that the problem with Democrats is that they haggle from the middle. That is, rather than acknowledging that a negotiation is only going to give you some of what you want, they start from the position that they want to end up in rather than make exaggerated demands that the other side would not accept. As a result, rather than haggling bringing them to half a loaf of bread, they compromise down to the crumbs. There is now not much point in doing that. It should be obvious even to Democrats that there is no room to negotiate with the Republican Party as an institution even if individual Republicans are open to it, and as for centrist Democrats, they already got what they wanted in the Obama Administration. If (and that’s a big if, of course) Democrats regain the political initiative, the push will switch from “this is too socialist” to “this isn’t socialist enough.”

Republicans had the only serious attempt to reconcile a market-based insurance system with the supports necessary to cover high-risk patients who were not feasible for insurance companies to cover. That system just happened to be Obamacare. And yes, Obamacare has flaws. Because it does not address costs, it really is not feasible in the long run, but it is still more feasible in the short run than the status quo ante of leaving everything up to the insurance companies. That’s why a lot of businesses were secretly lobbying for the ACA, because the costs of insurance to businesses are costing more and more on the bottom line.

A fiscal conservative would have taken all of this into account. But the motivation here was never fiscal conservatism.

Having no free-market alternative to the ACA, “conservatives” have abandoned the field to those who want more government, not less. By sponsoring a medical “reform” that was more about shifting costs from rich people’s taxes to poor people’s deductibles, Republicans did more to justify the class-warfare paradigm than generations of leftist propaganda. And by hiring total incompetents to run Cabinet departments rather than either reforming them or making a clear case why they should be abolished, “small government” Republicans make it clear that their goal is to grow government to enrich the elite.

Republicans, you had a country that had gotten sick of ivory-tower liberalism after eight years of Obama, and the last thing they wanted was a Clinton comeback. They wanted an improvement from that. They got anti-intellectual parasites. Because that’s what you are, and that’s the kind of person you vote for. And in attempting to turn back the clock rather than acknowledge where you are now, you run the risk of a backlash that will make the backlash to Obama-Clinton look like nothing. After all, Clinton DID get more votes than your little boy, and that’s before people saw what he was going to do. And if the whole point of you voting for Republicans is “fuck your feelings, fuck Clinton and fuck the Social Justice Warriors”, what do you think they’re going to do when the political climate turns again?

They’re not just going to give you something to cry about. You’re going to scream like a little bitch.

Yes, Mr. and Mrs. America, your daughter WILL marry a Syrian Muslim woman. (After declaring herself to be a man.) And they will move into a taco truck. And they will support themselves with the aid of socialized medicine.

And it’s all your fucking fault.