December 1, 2016: Keep Your Eyes Open

A minor problem I face when discussing this sordid new phase of our shared experiment in self-government is to not come off as histrionic. One reason is because it doesn’t really do much beyond provide some emotional satisfaction to like-minded people as it alienates others who aren’t so invested in libertarianism, nationalism, etc that they could be talked to. Another is that, in a time that is certain to be filled with legitimate outrages, to spend every day in a fit of pique over them without regard to scale and scope is going to be exhausting. Some crimes really are petty.

So it is with those concerns in mind that I have to approach what I’m going to post here, because not everything deserves indignation, and we will surely have to keep some indignation in reserve over the next four years.

And so, on to the histrionics.

Many of my friends have talked about how America has weathered worse storms, but those hopeful soothing words ignore the context of the times of those previous storms. Nixon was investigated by a press and impeached by a Congress genuinely unwilling to believe his actions, as they so contrasted with his “happy warrior” and “law and order” persona, not to mention precedent; we now have on our hands a man who gleefully describes committing constitutional & legal violations that Nixon (a lawyer, let us remember) could only have dreamed of, coupled with a Congress that will have no interest in stopping him, so long as they get their way. Reagan was confirmably addled and detached in his second term, and due to his apparent inability to recognize that his wishes were illegal (funding wars in Central America), he pressed his wishes until pliable members of the executive branch gladly contravened the law and the constitution to make the Gipper happy. We now have on our hands a man who, apparently, can only tolerate sycophancy from his underlings. If there is a limit to what he could possibly get away with, I haven’t been able to conjure it up.

I won’t get into the Bush years beyond mentioning that Dick Cheney was perhaps the most powerful VP in the history of the Republic and we have reports (and the evidence from our senses) that Trump, having no interest in actually governing, will devolve most responsibilities to Mike Pence.

And I gloss over the Bush years with reason. As far as I can tell, the outright unsuitability of every announced cabinet member to their posts is unrivaled by any other administration since the Reagan years, so much so that the term “regulatory capture” is perhaps mordantly inadequate. It is as if the Secretaries of each department were picked expressly to do the exact opposite of the supposed mandate of that department. An avowed, active opponent of public schools in charge of Education; as AG a former prosecutor who wants to continue and double down on failed policies that disproportionately negatively impact the poor; a former Labor secretary married to an opponent of infrastructure spending in charge of Transportation…it’s like you need to put everything in scare quotes: Secretary of “Education,” Department of “Justice,” “Health” and Human “Services.”

I have no answers, but I can provide coordinates of where we’ve been, where it looks like we’re being taken, and possibilities of different paths. That’s the whole point of this.

So, onto the jibber-jabber:

Rick Perlstein is an historian and essayist who has produced three essential books on the resurgence of the American conservative movement that has fully supplanted the traditional Republican establishment. His wealth of knowledge is always worth tapping, and his thoughts on what to expect (“Democracy and Indecency”) should be read. I included an excerpt from his book The Invisible Bridge because its passage on pundit myopia seemed relevant.

Thomas Frank is, among other things, a writer and co-founder of The Baffler with a Doctorate in History from the University of Chicago. His books What’s The Matter With Kansas? and Listen, Liberal! have traced the abandonment of traditional constituencies by the Democratic Party (and their courtiers) and that abandonment’s consequences. His recent piece in the November Harper’s covers similar ground while focusing on the treatment of Bernie Sanders in the 2016 campaign.

On a related note, Chris Hayes’ Twilight of The Elites diagnoses the failure of meritocracy, details its inducements to game the system and how failing up is always an option if you have the right CV. The excerpt below is a fine example of a writer with a keen mind. Buy the book, or bug your library to get it.

The final two links represent why we need to be vigilant and not be subsumed by the daily outrages. As we withstand a full-frontal on norms and customs, there has long been a much quieter erosion of the kind of rights we don’t think about until we don’t have them anymore.

There is a claim before the Supreme Court regarding a fairly obscure provision in federal law concerning birthright citizenship that you’ll need to read about to believe. I think the piece is nicely illustrative of how we’re subject to laws formed by long dead people with misguided intentions informed by half-baked notions (Aside: I’m currently reading Three Generations, No Imbeciles about the Buck v. Bell case).

The last link is to an article covering an even more abstruse area of jurisprudence that could impact discrimination claims, civil rights cases, and beyond. Related suggested viewing: Hot Coffee

A History of Abuse

Democracy and Indecency – From Nixon to Trump

I stroked my chin, and explained how such maniacal, anti-democratic, and violently anarchic rage had always been part of the story, though really only at the margins of the American conservative movement.

At the same time, as a citizen and as a journalist, I documented that margin encroaching on the center, until, with Donald Trump’s apotheosis, it seems now to have to consumed the entire damned thing.

Article Link GOP and Trump
Defining Deviancy Down

Excerpt from The Invisible Bridge

When Reagan began getting attention for talking this way, in America’s season of melancholy, Washington’s touts cited him only to dismiss him. No one who called the Watergate burglars “well-meaning individuals committed to the reelection of the President . . . not criminals at heart,” as Reagan had in the spring of 1973, could be taken seriously as a political comer. But a central theme of my previous two books chronicling conservatism’s ascendency in American politics has been the myopia of pundits, who so frequently fail to notice the very cultural ground shifting beneath their feet. In fact, at every turn in America’s reckoning with its apparent decline, there were always dissenting voices.

Article Link
A Town Called Malice

Swat Team

My project in the pages that follow is to review the media’s attitude toward yet a third politician, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination earlier this year. By examining this recent history, much of it already forgotten, I hope to rescue a number of worthwhile facts about the press’s attitude toward Sanders. Just as crucially, however, I intend to raise some larger questions about the politics of the media in this time of difficulty and transition (or, depending on your panic threshold, industry-wide apocalypse) for newspapers.

Article Link
How To Buy Merit

Excerpt from Twilight of the Elites

At the moment we are caught in a strange limbo between stage one and two. While the pillar institutions of American life are now, almost without exception, viewed with deep skepticism by the American public, these institutions remain largely unreformed, helmed by the same elites who screwed them up in the first place.The men who oversaw baseball’s scandal-ridden steroid era still run the sport. The same bishops who lied about and covered up serial sexual abuse of minors are still running dioceses around the country. In Washington, the very architects of disaster—the pundits who sold the Iraq War, the prophets of deregulation, the corrupt and discredited lobbyists and merchants of influence—return time and again, Terminator-like, to the seats of power. We’ve swapped out the party in charge in three successive elections, and yet the country’s key unelected power brokers remain unchanged.

Article Link
Half A Person

Searching for a remedy for constitutional violation on citizenship

Congress has determined that citizenship requires more of a connection to the United States for the child of one U.S.-citizen parent than a child with two U.S.-citizen parents. But it also carved out an exception to that general rule for children whose parents are not married, and whose mothers are U.S. citizens. That rule, the government reasons, derives from the presumption that, when two unmarried parents have a child together, “there ordinarily is only one legally recognized parent – the mother – at the time of birth.”

Article Link citizenship, civil rights, equality, law, and SCOTUS
The first thing we do...

Roberts Rules for Protecting Corporations

The changes to the rules have been part of a decades-long conservative project to limit access to the courts, and thereby limit corporate and government defendants’ exposure to liability. Unable to achieve many of these changes through the usual legislative process, conservatives have turned to the courts. And the courts, acting in an adjudicative capacity, have for the last several decades, largely been compliant in making it tougher to bring lawsuits to vindicate one’s federal rights.

Article Link law, policy, and SCOTUS