Since Senator John McCain passed away after a protracted battle with brain cancer, the tributes have been pouring in from members of the media and political figures on both the left and right. He’s being hailed as a war hero, a maverick, a politician who put country first, and someone who brought dignity to his position as a legislator. He’s also being lauded for changing the way presidential campaigns are run, in that he provided journalists with more access than was the standard at the time.
Hop on Twitter and start digging, however, and you’ll find no shortage of comments from his detractors who, if not downright gleeful about McCain’s death, are devoted to dispelling the myth the media has created about the senator from Arizona. As author Dan Arel tweeted, “He was a monster who killed civilians in Vietnam, voted to kill civilians as a senator, tried to block Martin Luther King Day, sang about bombing Iran…I can keep going. He was a horrible human being and we should be celebrating his death.” But please, Mr. Arel—tell us how you really feel.
In no uncertain terms, therefore, John McCain was a divisive figure in U.S. politics, and since the mainstream media already has the extolling of his supposed virtues covered, let’s get another viewpoint from the vocal minority who has little, if any, praise to spare.
Paul Blest, news editor for Splinter News, wrote a piece shortly after McCain’s passing detailing “the myth of John McCain.” As Blest explains, the media helped McCain craft his image as a “maverick” and “honorable statesman” because, aside from his status as a war hero, he was “always willing to give the media access, the thing it craves above all.”
As such, the press lionized him for doing, as Blest characterizes it, the “bare-ass minimum.” One instance highlighted within is when, during a 2008 town hall, one of McCain’s supporters professed that she was worried Barack Obama might become president because he is “an Arab,” to which McCain replied by taking the microphone, shaking his head, and saying that he’s not an Arab but a “decent family man.”
Members of the media point to this example as emblematic of his extraordinary character, viewing the decade-old clip through rose-colored glasses. Blest and others have pointed out, meanwhile, that a truly meritorious response would’ve been to point out that even if Obama were an Arab, this would not be reason to fear or loathe him, i.e. being an Arab and a decent family man aren’t diametrically opposed.
Another instance of the press celebrating John McCain occurred when he cast his vote against the GOP’s attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act. In keeping his proverbial cards close to the vest until the last minute, McCain brought a wealth of media attention his way, and prior to entering the Senate chamber, reportedly told reporters to “watch the show.” McCain’s tone here belies the seriousness of the vote about to be cast. Over 20 million Americans were projected to have their health care plans disrupted by a repeal of the ACA. That’s not something to equate with popcorn entertainment.
Thus, while McCain’s willingness to stand apart from his fellow Republican lawmakers when it suited him (see also his opposition to confirming Gina Haspel as CIA director) shouldn’t go unmentioned, as Blest argues, that cases like these were few and far between should give us pause and force us to reconsider his legacy.
One area that really sets John McCain apart—and not in a good way, mind you—is his history as an unrepentant hawk. McCain’s was a leading voice in pushing for intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, even past the point when people were considering it a failure and waste of resources, human or otherwise. He also advocated for war with Iran, and celebrated President Donald Trump’s reversal on the Iran nuclear deal. To many, McCain is, simply put, a warmonger, and the decision to name the bill authorizing an exorbitant defense budget for 2019 after him is therefore apropos.
In addition to his beating the drums of armed conflict, and for all his ballyhooed departures from Trump—which the president has treated with his characteristic pettiness in affronts to him beyond the grave—McCain still voted in league with Trump some five-sixths of the time. This included supporting the nomination of Neil Gorsuch and the ability of a Republican-led Congress to block Obama’s pick, as well as voting for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a bill that primarily favored the super-wealthy.
And then there’s John McCain as presidential candidate. His correcting the record on Barack Obama aside, he still agreed to name Sarah Palin, someone clearly not suited to be next in line to run the country (or perhaps any public office of relative import), his running mate in 2008. Arguably, Palin’s rise in prominence gave way to the ascendancy of Donald Trump, for both have been elevated to national political stature owing to rhetoric steeped in factual inadequacy and prejudicial attitudes.
Plus, there’s his whole unapologetic commitment to use of the term “gook,” a racial slur directed at Asians. Even if he meant it primarily for his North Vietnamese captors, it’s still an epithet that Asians and non-Asians alike find offensive. Context notwithstanding, words matter, even (read: especially so) in the era of Trump.
In light of all of the above, and despite tribute after tribute in newspapers and on cable news, Blest suggests McCain’s place in American political history shouldn’t be so highly esteemed. He writes:
McCain’s political legacy should be largely that of someone who frequently and loudly toyed with doing the right thing and yet decided to do the other thing almost every single time, and who was a willing and active participant in the destruction of one country and helping the racist, authoritarian right rise in his own. What John McCain’s legacy will be, however, is the one crafted by the reporters and peers who loved him, who bought hook, line, and sinker that McCain was a different kind of politician, and not the fraud he actually was.
This is blunt talk coming from Blest, and in the immediate aftermath of McCain’s death, his words may come across to some as disrespectful, notably given McCain’s bipartisan acclaim. Just the same, though, Blest’s dissent appears more firmly rooted in patriotic concerns than Pres. Trump’s personal grudge, and at any rate, is authentic to how many Americans feel, particularly those of a progressive bent. These feelings, of course, may be magnified given the day’s tense political climate. But it doesn’t make them any less valid.
It’s admittedly difficult to approach John McCain’s memory with anything but reverence if we focus only on how much the man suffered while imprisoned during the Vietnam War. Certainly, if one recalls the late David Foster Wallace’s extensive profile for Rolling Stone of McCain while on the campaign trail circa 2000, his recounting of the physical abuse the man endured as a naval officer tells of a man committed to his principles and exhibiting a resolve few could hope to match. From Wallace’s piece:
In October of ’67 McCain was himself still a Young Voter and ﬂying his 23rd Vietnam combat mission and his A-4 Skyhawk plane got shot down over Hanoi and he had to eject, which basically means setting off an explosive charge that blows your seat out of the plane, which ejection broke both McCain’s arms and one leg and gave him a concussion and he started falling out of the skies right over Hanoi. Try to imagine for a second how much this would hurt and how scared you’d be, three limbs broken and falling toward the enemy capital you just tried to bomb.
His chute opened late and he landed hard in a little lake in a park right in the middle of downtown Hanoi, Imagine treading water with broken arms and trying to pull the life vest’s toggle with your teeth as a crowd of Vietnamese men swim out toward you (there’s film of this, somebody had a home – movie camera, and the N.V. government released it, though it’s grainy and McCain’s face is hard to see). The crowd pulled him out and then just about killed him. U.S. bomber pilots were especially hated, for obvious reasons. McCain got bayoneted in the groin; a soldier broke his shoulder apart with a riﬂe butt. Plus by this time his right knee was bent 90-degrees to the side with the bone sticking out. Try to imagine this.
He finally got tossed on a jeep and taken five blocks to the infamous Hoa Lo prison – a.k.a. the “Hanoi Hilton,” of much movie fame – where they made him beg a week for a doctor and finally set a couple of the fractures without anesthetic and let two other fractures and the groin wound (imagine: groin wound) stay like they were. Then they threw him in a cell. Try for a moment to feel this. All the media profiles talk about how McCain still can’t lift his arms over his head to comb his hair, which is true. But try to imagine it at the time, yourself in his place, because it’s important. Think about how diametrically opposed to your own self-interest getting knifed in the balls and having fractures set without painkiller would be, and then about getting thrown in a cell to just lie there and hurt, which is what happened.
He was delirious with pain for weeks, and his weight dropped to 100 pounds, and the other POWs were sure he would die; and then after a few months like that after his bones mostly knitted and he could sort of stand up they brought him in to the prison commandant’s office and offered to let him go. This is true. They said he could just leave. They had found out that McCain’s father was one of the top-ranking naval officers in the U.S. Armed Forces (which is true – both his father and grandfather were admirals), and the North Vietnamese wanted the PR coup of mercifully releasing his son, the baby-killer. McCain, 100 pounds and barely able to stand, refused. The U.S. military’s Code of Conduct for Prisoners of War apparently said that POWs had to be released in the order they were captured, and there were others who’d been in Hoa Lo a long time, and McCain refused to violate the Code.
The commandant, not pleased, right there in the office had guards break his ribs, rebreak his arm, knock his teeth out. McCain still refused to leave without the other POWs. And so then he spent four more years in Hoa Lo like this, much of the time in solitary, in the dark, in a closet-sized box called a “punishment cell.” Maybe you’ve heard all this before; it’s been in umpteen different media profiles of McCain. But try to imagine that moment between getting offered early release and turning it down. Try to imagine it was you. Imagine how loudly your most basic, primal self-interest would have cried out to you in that moment, and all the ways you could rationalize accepting the offer. Can you hear it? If so, would you have refused to go? You simply can’t know for sure. None of us can. It’s hard even to imagine the pain and fear in that moment, much less know how you’d react.
But, see, we do know how this man reacted. That he chose to spend four more years there, in a dark box, alone, tapping code on the walls to the others, rather than violate a Code. Maybe he was nuts. But the point is that with McCain it feels like we know, for a proven fact, that he’s capable of devotion to something other, more, than his own self-interest.
It’s episodes like this that John McCain’s backers can easily point to as evidence as a man of a certain character. I don’t know about you, but I don’t suspect I would fare particularly well under these circumstances. I mean, I’m the kind of person who freaks out when I can’t log into Pokémon Go because the server is down momentarily. By this token, four-plus years of physical and psychological torture seems like an impossibility.
And yet, it’s precisely because of what McCain saw and survived during wartime that makes his less savory political stances all the more frustrating. For him to witness or even be party to the atrocities of armed conflict and to turn around and to embrace a foreign policy that prizes indiscriminate bombing of foreign lands and wanton regime change is hard to process. It’s incongruous with the image of the younger man holding strong in a strange land against a hostile enemy, and surely flies in the face of the glowing portrait the mainstream press appears keen to paint.
John McCain’s hagiographic appeal in an era in which Donald Trump and current Republican leadership evidently seek to drag the party down to its darkest depths is such that even the likes of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have paid him tribute, much to the chagrin of their supporters.
It’s disappointing and frustrating, especially since it’s hard to know whether these champions of progressive ideals legitimately believe his “legacy represents an unparalleled example of human decency and American service,” as Ocasio-Cortez phrased it, or if they feel compelled to do so for fear of reprisal—and for that matter, which of these is worse. Maybe it’s just that they respect our Armed Forces like most Americans do, even in the face of the military’s ugliest acts, or that from working alongside him (in the case of Sanders and Warren), their sense of personal attachment prevents them from viewing his record more objectively.
Lapses like these are why, in the pursuit of a more progressive vision for the United States of America, it is often more rewarding to be invested in individual issues rather than individual candidates. In this regard, the postmortem borderline deification of Sen. McCain is already excessive, much in the way, for instance, liberals’ elevation of Barack Obama obscures his less commendable devotion to centrism and capitulation to Wall Street and other moneyed interests.
Suffice it to say, then, that not everyone was thrilled with the political career of John McCain, and as far as his legacy is concerned, it should be mixed. Alas, the whitewashing of that legacy appears already underway, a subset of the larger tendency to view long-tenured lawmakers like McCain as sacrosanct, the kinds of leaders we want to see rather than the complicated, flawed humans they are.
Ready for a deep dive into economic trends and theory facing the American manufacturing sector? I get it—the topic may not be an altogether sexy one—but the implications that accompany these trends are important ones, so bear with me for a bit.
Gwynn Guilford, reporting for Quartz, recently penned an excellent analysis of the United States’ effective stagnation when it comes to growth in the manufacturing sector, an eventuality that even trained data-driven economists have misinterpreted by viewing manufacturing more holistically. She begins her piece by talking about Donald Trump decrying globalization as a job killer on the campaign trail, and this being dismissed by economists and other data-driven analysts as rhetoric in favor of automation as the dominant explanation for job loss in the States.
As Guilford tells it, though, Trump was closer to the truth than a lot of experts might otherwise have entertained—though for reasons he likely can’t iterate, so let’s not give the Devil too much of his due.
First, a matter of context. According to Guilford, who cites data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing employment has declined by more than 25% since 2000, to the tune of some 20 million jobs. At the same time, however, the manufacturing sector’s output has continued to increase despite the job loss, roughly in line with growth in the U.S.’s gross domestic product (GDP). The easy explanation for this is that advances in management, skill, and—you guessed it—technology have made manufacturing processes more efficient, yielding superior output and production when adjusting for inflation.
True as these justifications for industrial improvement may be, though, there is still the matter of the paradox created with respect to rising output and concomitant declining employment in the manufacturing sector. Here’s where the economic theory comes into play. Susan Houseman, economist and specialist in matters of globalization, in conjunction with Federal Reserve economists, looked at detailed statistics regarding calculations of manufacturing output.
As Guilford explains, integral to understanding what Houseman and her colleagues saw is how economists assess year-to-year measurements. Not only do they look at the raw numbers of finished products made from one period to the next minus the costs of production (a principle known as “value added”), but they adjust for changes in price and product quality. The problem with measuring things in this way, meanwhile, is that adjustments based on assumptions of value can be misinterpreted as or otherwise confounded with sales data, making it seem as if the country is selling more goods than it actually is.
As Houseman et al. contend, this is precisely what’s happening with the consensus analysis of the U.S. manufacturing sector, and one relatively small subsector is skewing the observed data: computers. The evidence of this is alarming when controlling for the computing industry in plotting private industry and manufacturing growth over time. Between 1947 and 1977, graphs of statistics recorded by the Bureau of Economic Analysis show growth of manufacturing and private industry largely in step, on a steady incline. From 1977 on, however, taking computers out of the manufacturing equation creates a stark downward departure for the Manufacturing, Less Computers line. As Guilford puts a cap on this, “By 2016, real manufacturing output, sans computers, was lower than it was in 2007.”
In other words, the health of the American manufacturing sector looks to be dangerously overstated, and while automation did, of course, occur here, Guilford points to evidence that globalization and trade may have done more damage than previously considered. In this regard, China, a frequent target of Donald Trump’s as he stumped for votes, indeed plays a central role.
China’s emergence as a major exporter of goods is estimated by one group of economists as costing America over 2 million jobs from 1999 to 2011, helped by competitive advantages in the form of artificially devalued currency and cheaper labor, and exacerbated by the strengthening of the U.S. dollar, which reduced the demand for American exports. But American leadership is not without its culpability herein. As economists Justin Pierce and Peter Schott argue, China’s joining of the World Trade Organization as a member in 2001 negated the ability of the U.S. to retaliate against Chinese currency manipulation and other protectionist policies, a situation Bill Clinton, among others, encouraged as President of these United States.
Thus, if anyone or anything should get a wag of the finger, according to Gwynn Guilford, it’s “two decades of ill-founded policymaking,” the kind that “put diplomacy before industrial development at home, offering the massive American consumer market as a carrot to encourage other countries to open up their economies to multinational investment.” In doing so, we as a nation dismissed the threat of foreign competition and accepted (and continue to accept) the popular narrative that automation was and is the major driver of job extinction.
What’s particularly problematic about this mindset is that it obscures the importance of manufacturing to the U.S. economy and as a provider of skills to American workers. With production facilities closing their doors, there’s less incentive to do the kind of research and development that leads to better, more competitive products. As you might expect, too, the brunt of the costs of manufacturing’s decline outside of the computing subsector have been borne by the middle class, while the lion’s share of the benefits of globalization have been reaped by the so-called urban professional elite and multinational corporations.
In turn, politically and socially speaking, the country has become increasingly unequal and more polarized. All of these elements suddenly seem tailor-made for Trump and his faux populism to swoop in and capture an upset victory like he did in the 2016 election. The man struck a nerve in the heart of blue-collar America. Predictably and unfortunately, though, he hasn’t done much to boost U.S. manufacturing, instead focusing on tariffs and pushing the nation to the brink of a trade war with any number of entrants willing to fight back, and ignoring the currency manipulation angle that validates, in part, his anti-China tirades. Not that this exculpates the Democrats, either, whom Guilford characterizes as possessing “no vision for how to reverse the industrial backslide.”
All of this paints a fairly grim picture of the outlook for the manufacturing sector moving forward, as it does for the country’s susceptibility to divisive rhetoric and strongmen like Trump. To quote Guilford in closing:
US leaders’ longstanding misunderstanding of the manufacturing industry led to the biggest presidential election upset in American history. But they still don’t seem to grasp what’s been lost, or why. It’s easy to dismiss the disappearance of factory jobs as a past misstep—with a “we’re not getting those jobs back” and a sigh. Then again, you can’t know that for sure if you never try.
It’s one thing for political leaders, often derided as out of touch with John and Jane Q. Public, to misunderstand the issues about which they profess to know—assuming they ever understood in the first place. When economic analysts are falling prey to the same faulty reasoning, however, it doesn’t instill a great deal of confidence in those of us less well-versed in such matters. The most inspiring sentiment here is Guilford’s seeming doubt about whether or not the jobs we take for granted are really lost for good, that we don’t know for sure one way or another. Then again, we have to try first, and based on the current state of affairs, that’s no guarantee.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, meanwhile, speaking in dissent, was unequivocal in her negative assessment of the ruling, calling it “egregiously wrong,” and offering these additional sentiments on the matter:
The court today holds enforceable these arm-twisted, take-it-or-leave-it contracts—including the provisions requiring employees to litigate wages and hours claims only one-by-one. Federal labor law does not countenance such isolation of employees.
As the “Notorious RBG” finds, these agreements are evocative of the so-called “yellow dog” contracts used by employers until being outlawed in 1932 that barred workers from forming or participating in unions as a condition of employment. Now more than 85 years removed from a legislative remedy to such lopsided bargains, to know that we are potentially moving backward on the subject of workers’ rights is frightening.
Ginsburg isn’t the only one painting this decision in such ominously historical terms either. While the Court didn’t specifically address discrimination in the workplace with this ruling, civil rights advocates have expressed their fear it will set a precedent that will allow employers to skirt their responsibility with respect to claims of discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Add to this fears that a conservative majority ruling in Janus v. AFSCME could strip unions of their ability to collect “fair share” fees from non-members who nonetheless benefit from union representation, and there is any number of reasons for concern for the fate of American unions and the imbalance of political power fueled and perpetuated by moneyed interests.
As with intervening to attempt to save manufacturing jobs, the impetus should be on lawmakers and the country’s leadership to steer the nation in the right direction on upholding workers’ rights, a point Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphasized in her dissent. At least as long as Republicans control both Congress and the White House, however, any pushback on efforts to undermine organized labor appears unlikely, especially while establishment Democrats fail to rise more strongly to its defense until it’s time to campaign—and even then there are failings, as the story of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 electoral loss demonstrates. A year-and-a-half after the fact, one is left to wonder what lessons, to be exact, the Dems have learned from their defeats of previous years.
Donald Trump was closer than he probably realized to the truth about China’s role in the United States’ manufacturing woes, and it got him to the White House. Until we as a nation get better at diagnosing this reality and abandoning the “robots took our jobs” narrative, crafting proactive-minded policy to adapt to the challenges of a global market, and ensuring that workers can organize and advocate for better wages and working conditions, we run the risk of similarly unqualified candidates taking advantage of the unrest that is apparent in teachers’ strikes and other walkouts which are happening, have happened, and will continue to happen—not to mention continued efflux of research and development skill, factory closures, and job loss.
On the surface, American manufacturing looks to be growing as it has in past decades. A deeper dive into the numbers, though, tells a more complete story—and one that doesn’t obviously lead to a happy ending. Let’s hope we as a country realize this before it’s too late and we fall too far behind on the world stage.
To view this post as it appears on Citizen Truth, click here. Citizen Truth is an independent and alternative media organization dedicated to finding the truth, ending the left-right paradigm, and widening the scope of viewpoints represented in media and our daily conversations. For more on CT, please visit citizentruth.org.
2017 looks poised to finish on a high note, at least economically speaking. The stock market in the United States is near a record high, likely buoyed by the GOP’s corporation-friendly tax cut that President Donald Trump signed into law. Reportedly, the holiday season saw an increase of 5% in sales, an increase of 3.7% from the same span in 2016. Winning, winning, winning. Aren’t you tired of winning so much, fellow Americans? Aren’t you glad Pres. Trump is making America great again? Never mind the notion that he may not have as much to do with the economy as he would lead you to believe. Also, maybe we shouldn’t mention that, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research in London, England, China and India’s economies will surpass that of the U.S.’s by 2030. In other long-term news, meanwhile, productivity growth within America’s economy remains low, income inequality remains startlingly high, the federal debt continues to skyrocket, and the nation is gripped by an opioid dependency epidemic.
So, glass half empty or glass half full? How do you see these United States shaping up over the next few years and into the future? It likely depends on which side of the political or socioeconomic fence you live—and whether or not you stand to personally benefit from the policies the Trump administration and a Republican-led Congress aim to advance. Looking just at the GOP tax cuts, opponents of this policy shift have assailed it as a present for the super-wealthy and industry leaders at the expense of average Americans, and as a greasing of the slippery slope toward the erosion of Social Security, Medicare, and other social safety net programs. In other words, the advantages of this agenda would tend to be appreciated by the few rather than the many, and perhaps it is no wonder Trump’s approval ratings are languishing south of 40%, a historical low at this point in the presidency.
Perhaps it’s instructive to see where we’ve been to help gauge where we may be going in 2018, in 2020, and beyond. Let’s take a look back at some of the topics covered in 2017 on United States of Joe. Warning: we may have a bit more to say regarding our orange leader. If you have any small children in the room, you may want to move them to a safe location—especially if they happen to frequent beauty pageants. I hear El Presidente and his buddies like ’em young, and like to invade dressing rooms of contestants while they’re potentially less-than-fully clothed. Without further ado, let’s do the…
US of J 2017 Review: This Time, It’s Personal—Because Our President Takes Everything Personally
The Biggest Inauguration in U.S. History—Kinda, Sorta
Hey—did you realize Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election? No? Let Trump himself tell you about it! In fact, let him tell you about how he won going away every time something goes wrong or the press challenges him on the quality of his performance as President. You know, even though he didn’t win going away—dude didn’t even win the popular vote. Of course, Trump being the stupid baby that he is, he would challenge the legitimacy of Hillary Clinton’s supremacy in the popular vote, a harbinger of a disturbing trend that continues to play out with the Tweeter-in-Chief. Hillary didn’t win the popular vote—it was massive fraud involving undocumented immigrants that illegitimately got her that small victory. There’s absolutely no credible evidence of this, mind you, and the bullshit voter fraud task force the White House commissioned hasn’t turned up anything either. Trump’s Inauguration crowds were bigger than Barack Obama’s. Don’t believe the visual evidence? That’s OK—Trump, Sean Spicer and Co. were simply offering “alternative facts.” Don’t care for CNN’s brand of reporting? No problem—it’s “fake news.” After all, the media isn’t to be trusted in the first place—it’s the enemy of the people. I’m sure you felt that deep down anyhow, though.
Donald Trump’s assault on the truth and on verifiable fact is unmistakable, and his attacks on the press, including his fetishistic obsession with CNN, are overstated. That said, it’s not as if American news media is blameless in this regard either. Even before Trump was elected President, the mainstream media was an unabashed enabler of his antics. With Buzzfeed’s release of the “Pee-Pee Papers,” a salacious and unauthenticated account of Russian prostitutes performing sex acts at Trump’s behest supposedly based on credible intelligence, and CNN retracting a story on a supposed connection between Anthony Scaramucci, whose tenure as White House Communications Director was remarkably short-lived, and Trump’s Russian ties, Trump suddenly appears more credible. In the push for ratings and clicks in an turbulent era for journalism, the rush of media outlets to meet the demand of consumers for up-to-date information is understandable, but this does not excuse sloppy, irresponsible reporting. For the sake of the institution as a whole, the U.S. news media must balance the need to generate revenue with the importance of upholding standards of journalistic integrity, and must stand together when Trump et al. would seek to undermine one among their ranks—or risk a more precipitous downfall.
Gorsuch: Silver Fox and Supreme Court Justice
One of the big concerns following the death of Antonin Scalia and prompting voters to think hard about voting strategically between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was the idea the next President would get to nominate Scalia’s successor. We would be remiss if we did not mention that Barack Obama, well in advance of his departure from the White House, had already tapped Merrick Garland, a fine candidate to fill Scalia’s void. Mitch McConnell a.k.a. Turtle McTurtleface and the other Republicans in the Senate, meanwhile, would not even entertain Obama’s choice, prompting their constituents to protest outside of their offices and chant “Do your job!” In other words, it was really a dick move on the GOP’s part, and a gamble that the party would win the 2016 presidential election so they could install Antonin Scalia 2.0. Trump’s upset electoral victory thus paved the way for Neil Gorsuch to ascend to the highest court in the United States.
Gorsuch, previously a U.S. Circuit Court Judge with a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, is eminently qualified in his own right. This didn’t seem to be a point of contention between leaders of the two parties. Still, coming off a situation in which a perfectly good candidate in Garland was blocked as a function of mere partisanship, it brought an added measure of scrutiny and tension to confirmation proceedings. The Democrats filibustered to prevent cloture and delay a confirmation vote. The Republicans countered by invoking the so-called “nuclear option,” effectively changing Senate rules whereby they could break the filibuster with a simple majority. By a 54-45 vote, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed as the latest Supreme Court Justice. The whole process ultimately revealed few interesting tidbits about Gorsuch, and more so demonstrated the ugliness of political brinksmanship that has become a hallmark of Congress in this day and age. And we wonder why average Americans are not more politically engaged.
The Trump Administration vs. the World
As a function of “making America great again,” Donald Trump apparently believes strongly in defense spending and letting the world know the United States is #1. After alternatively touting his desire to bring the country along a more isolationist track and vowing to “bomb the shit out of ISIS” on the campaign trail, Trump, well, sort of did both. In terms of shows of force, his administration was responsible for dropping the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan, as well as approving the launch of dozens of missiles into Syria, supposedly as retaliation for the Assad regime’s use of toxic gas on its own people. The latter, in particular, got the dander of his white nationalist supporters up, though as far as most kinder, gentler souls are concerned, the disappointment of a bunch of ethnocentric xenophobes is not all that much of a loss. Less talked-about, but perhaps no less significant, were other less successful operations across international lines. First of all, not long after Trump took office, there was a botched raid in Yemen that saw Navy SEAL Ryan Owens killed, and to date, little information has been offered on the attack that led to his death and by all appearances was ill-advised. And there was the massacre at a mosque in Syria outside Aleppo. According to U.S. officials, numerous al-Qaeda operatives were taken out by the strike in the town of Jinah, but activists and others on the ground there tell a different story, one of civilians attending religious services and being fired upon as they tried to flee the place of worship. Reportedly, at least 46 people were killed in the assault on the mosque, and the U.S. military was criticized by humanitarian groups for not doing its due diligence in assessing the target for the possibility of civilian casualties. Oh, well—they were Muslims and not Americans anyway. Whoops!
In terms of isolating itself from the international community, America has done that under Donald Trump—if for other reason than it has done to things to alienate that international community. There was the whole backing of out of the Paris climate accord thing, which is voluntary in the first place and thus mostly serves as a middle finger to those here and abroad who give a hoot about polluting and climate change. Even before apparent attacks on American diplomats there, Trump and his administration have reversed course on Cuba relative to an Obama-era thawing of frigid diplomatic relations, and the benefit of this 180 to either side merits questioning. They’ve taken a tough tone with Iran and accused the country of not meeting its end of the bargain with respect to the nuclear deal much hated by conservative Republicans, in apparent deference to the whims of Saudi Arabia. Trump and North Korean president Kim Jong-un have basically had a year-long war of words through television news media and social media, with the latter referring to the former as a “dotard.” (Essentially, he told our President he’s a senile moron. Thanks, Merriam-Webster!) The White House has resolved to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and to acknowledge the city, contested as to its very boundaries, as the capital of Israel, prompting a United Nations resolution condemning the move. And this is all before we even get to the investigation into Trump, his transition team, his administration, and suspected ties to Russia. In short, if Donald Trump hasn’t pissed you off this year, you’re either one of his core supporters or have just run out of f**ks to give—and I’m not sure which one is worse.
Race to the Exit: The Trump Administration Story
Viewing some of Trump’s picks for Cabinet posts and various positions within the White House at length, it was a wonder for many to see who might be first to go or fail to even get confirmed. At least Andrew Puzder, then-CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, had the decency to withdraw before the confirmation process was over; as potential Secretary of Labor, it was his employ of undocumented immigrants which was his undoing. Not giving less than half a shit about his employees and being opposed to raising the minimum wage? Nah, that was fine. In fact, it made him more than suitable for nomination in the era of Trump. Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, Linda McMahon, Mick Mulvaney, Steve Mnuchin, Rick Perry, Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, Jeff Sessions—these are the kinds of individuals that Donald Trump, seemingly without irony, tapped for important government posts despite a lack of proficiency in their area of supposed expertise, a stated desire to abolish the very agency they were named to head, or both. Price ultimately resigned when information about his questionable spending of the government’s finances to suit his convenience came to light, and there have been whispers about the job security of Sessions and Rex Tillerson from time to time, but for the most part, the bulk of them still remain. And so much for draining the swamp—between Goldman Sachs and billionaires, this Cabinet is as marshy as they come.
As for other appointees and residual officeholders, there was yet more volatility to be had. Michael Flynn was National Security Adviser for all of about a month before getting canned, and currently, he’s facing repercussions after pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators. Not to be outdone, the aforementioned Anthony Scaramucci lasted a scant ten days before his sacking as White House Communications Director, and in that short time, he divested himself of business ties and ruined his marriage. Welcome to the team, Mooch—and don’t let the door hit you on your way out! His predecessor, Sean “Spicey” Spicer, made it to July before bowing out, but not before some hilarious cameos on Saturday Night Live featuring Melissa McCarthy as Spicer. Steve Bannon, the Skeleton King, made it to August before he was either fired or before he resigned—depending on who you ask. Sebastian Gorka also departed in August, and seeing as he didn’t do much but argue with the press in interviews anyway, I’m relatively sure he isn’t missed. Omarosa Manigault Newman is set to resign in January, and evidently is not afraid to tell all. In sum, people can’t get out of the Trump White House soon enough, and whether some vacancies will go unfilled or simply are taking forever to get filled, the hallmark of this administration is disarray and upheaval. And somehow Kellyanne Conway still has a job. Sorry—that’s the sound of my head hitting the wall. I’ll try to keep it down.
The Democrats Form a Killer Strategy to Win in 2018, 2020, and Be—Oh, Who Are We Kidding?
For a while, it was relatively quiet on the Democratic Party front following the election and even the Inauguration with the Dems licking their wounds. This is not to say, obviously, that nothing was going on behind the scenes. One event which seems fairly minor but reflects deep conflicts within the Democratic ranks was the election of a new Democratic National Committee chair to replace departing interim chair Donna Brazile, herself a replacement for Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Keith Ellison, a Bernie Sanders supporter and popular progressive Democrat, was the front-runner for the position early, but concerns about Ellison’s lack of obeisance to the positions of the DNC’s rich Jewish donors and the establishment wing of the party not wishing to cede too much control to the “Bernie-crats” among them led former Labor Secretary Tom Perez to enter the fray. In the end, the vote was close, but Perez carried the day. That the Obama-Hillary segment of the Democratic Party would expend so much energy on a position that is largely ceremonial and concerned with fundraising is telling, and signals that any progressive reform of the party will be slow in coming—if at all.
If there is any further doubt about this, look at how certain races played out outside of the presidential milieu. Sure, Democrats may point to more recent victories in the gubernatorial elections of New Jersey (Phil Murphy) and Virginia (Ralph Northam), as well as the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in Alabama (Doug Jones), but other losses appear indicative of the Dems’ failure to commit to a comprehensive, 50-state strategy, namely Jon Ossoff in Georgia, James Thompson in Kansas, and Rob Quist in Montana, who lost to Greg Gianforte, even after the latter beat up a reporter. Seriously. Elsewhere, Hillary Clinton, after a moment of repose, released a book in which she accepted full responsibility for losing a election she was largely expected to win. Kidding! She blamed Bernie Sanders, voters for not coming out more strongly for her, James Comey, and even the DNC. That last one seems particularly disingenuous, especially when considering that Donna Brazile herself had a book to release critical of Hillary and one which confirmed what many of us already knew: that Hill-Dawg and the Committee were in cahoots long before the primaries. The Democrats seem content to allow Donald Trump and the machinations of the Republican Party to dig the GOP into an electoral hole. For an electorate increasingly weary of the “We’re Not the Other One” line, though, this does not a strategy make, and without an obvious frontrunner for 2020, the Democratic Party’s presumed advantage could well be overstated. Such that, if Trump actually makes it that far, it’s not inconceivable to think he could be re-elected. Talk about a recurring nightmare.
The White Supremacists, They Come Bearing Tiki Torches
In 2017, I would’ve thought it crazy for a scene to play out like it did in Charlottesville, Virginia this past August. And yet, lo and behold, it did. Some 250 protestors, carrying kerosene-filled torches and rebelling against a perceived erosion of their heritage and history, marched on the University of Virginia campus, shouting epithets, vowing not to be “replaced,” and generally ready to start a ruckus over the planned removal of a statue honoring Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The next day, though, if not as frightening in terms of the imagery, was worse in terms of the outcome. Protestors arrived carrying nationalist banners clubs, guns, and shields. Counter-protestors were also on hand to “greet” the white supremacists, the anti-fascists among them armed as well. It was not long before violence broke out, and by the time the police intervened, there already were injuries to tally. The worst of it all, though, were the fatalities. Heather Heyer, a counter-protestor, was killed as a result of a man deliberately plowing into people, and two state troopers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, died in a separate helicopter crash. In terms of senseless violence and loss, the Charlottesville riots seem to epitomize the very concept.
The apparent surge in white nationalist leanings following the election of Donald Trump is disturbing in its own right, but by the same token, so too is it unsettling that people would condone attacks against their ranks so readily. Some people who reject any set of principles that resembles Nazism believe violence to suppress hateful rhetoric is justified. Such is the belief of various antifa groups, and this where the debate of the movement’s merits comes into play. Though anti-fascists like those who don the mark of the Black Bloc don’t actually have much to do with traditional liberalism, their association with the left threatens the credibility of true liberal and progressive groups, and nullifies the bargaining power that these individuals have over the deficient worldviews they oppose. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and violence as a tool to suppress violence does not serve its intended purpose.
Congress vs. Everyday Americans: F**k Your Health Care, and F**k Your Income Inequality
Per President Trump, the Affordable Care Act, also affectionately known as “ObamaCare,” is a total disaster. Republican leaders likewise have been decrying the ACA for some time now, painting it as an unwanted intrusion of the federal government in the health care industry. Never mind that a significant portion of red-state voters depend on the provisions of the Affordable Care Act to be able to pay for medically necessary services, and that a sizable subset of America would actually like to see the nation move to a single-payer/Medicare-for-all model. Trump and a GOP Congress had a lot riding on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and replacing it, though owing to the notion the devil is in the details, that Republicans tried to rush legislation through the House and the Senate with little idea of what was in it was telling that it probably wasn’t something they would want to share with their constituents. In the end, John McCain’s “no” vote on a “skinny” repeal of ObamaCare turned out to be pivotal in the measure’s failure to pass. Trump would later issue an executive order that would broadly task the government with working on ways to improve competition, prices, and quality of care, though it faced criticisms for how it essentially opened a backdoor for the destabilization of ACA marketplaces by taking younger, healthier consumers of the equation. Yet more significant could be the planned ending of cost-sharing subsidy payments to insurers that would likely mean higher prices for the consumer. Whatever the case, Trump and the GOP haven’t killed the Affordable Care Act, despite their boasts—they’ve only repealed the individual mandate aspect of the law. Of course, this doesn’t mean the Republicans are done coming for affordable health care. Far from it, in all likelihood.
Where Trump et al. found greater success—to our detriment, it should be stressed—is in the passage and signing of their tax reform bill. Once again, the knowledge of its contents prior to voting among lawmakers was questionable, but ultimately, by relatively slim margins in the House and Senate, what many have referred to as the “GOP Tax Scam” cleared Congress. Make no mistake: this is not good news for average Americans. Any benefits to be enjoyed in the short term are outweighed by how the wealthiest among us and corporations will experience that much more of a boon, with long-term consequences to the national debt and minimal rewards to be trickled down to the rank-and-file. In short, it’s class warfare, and potentially a troubling herald of future attempts to screw with Medicare, Social Security, and other entitlement programs—and the worst part is most of us seem to know it. One can only hope that Republicans will face their own consequences in forthcoming elections. It’s not a great consolation, but at this point, it’s the best we’ve got.
Some Protests Get Lost in the Shouting/Tweeting; Others Succeed Beyond Expectations
Even before Colin Kaepernick, there were player protests and refusals to stand at attention for the playing of the National Anthem at professional sporting events. Not long after the start of the NFL season, however, the continued kneeling, sitting, staying in the locker room, or raising of fists raised the ire of one President Donald Trump who, while apparently not busy playing golf or signing disastrous legislation into law, started a fracas about players refusing to stand during the Star-Spangled Banner, suggesting they should be suspended or outright released for their disrespect of the flag and of those who have served and died for our country. Trump also cited the NFL’s declining ratings and ticket sales as a direct impact of the players kneeling. While it’s possible reactions to player protests may be a factor in these downturns, this overlooks other persistent issues facing professional sports in general: declines in traditional television viewership among younger adults, high costs of premium sports channel packages, the prevalence of injuries and concerns about traumatic brain injuries, the steep price tag for attending games in person, and the mediocrity of play of any number of teams. All the while, the original thrust of Kaepernick’s protest—to raise awareness of the unfair treatment of people of color at the hands of police and other institutions—seemed to get lost in the discussion of who was protesting, which teams issued ultimatums about standing and which did not, and why people weren’t watching now. So much for fighting racial injustice. Better luck in 2018, people of color.
In perhaps a surprising turn of events, though, and possibly a watershed moment in the fights for gender equality and for standing up for victims of sexual assault and harassment, movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s exposure as a habitual offender of sexual misconduct, if not outright rape, opened the floodgates for other accusations, admissions, allegations, and denials. Hollywood has apparently borne the brunt of the revelations inspired by the #MeToo movement, with any number of projects shelved or cancelled as a result of men’s misdeeds, but the political realm also has seen its share of high-profile figures caught in the spotlight. Al Franken was forced to resign from his seat in the U.S. Senate after numerous women accused him of impropriety. John Conyers, another congressional Democrat, resigned too in the wake of a veritable mountain of allegations. Roy Moore didn’t abandon his political aspirations even after the likes of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan suggested he should step aside, but he also didn’t win as a Republican in Alabama. And then there’s maybe the biggest fish of them all: none other than Donald Trump. That Trump hasn’t been brought down by his own accusations—or for any other wrongdoing, for that matter—is somewhat deflating. Then again, maybe it’s only a matter of time. As with members of the GOP losing in 2018 and 2020, once more, we can only hope.
Meryl Streep famously put Donald Trump on blast at the Golden Globes. Predictably, this invited jeers from Trump supporters who felt “limousine liberals” like herself should “stay in their lane.” You may not like that Streep has a platform in this manner, but she still is an American, and that means not only is she entitled to say what she wants given the opportunity, but as she and others might see it, she has a civic duty to speak out when someone who ostensibly represents us, the people, does so in a destructive way. Kudos, Ms. Streep. I look forward to your acceptance speech at the forthcoming Golden Globes. Come on—you know it’s coming.
Bill Maher more or less engaged in a conversation with Sam Harris about how Islam is a deficient religion—though both men notably have their issues with organized religion, so take this for what it’s worth. In a separate chat with Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, when jokingly asked by the senator if he would work in the fields of Nebraska, Maher referred to himself as a “house n****r.” For an educated guy, Maher is kind of a dickish moron.
Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz had a health care debate on CNN. Why? Why not! At any rate, it was better than the Republican Party debates from last primary season.
In perhaps a glaring example of where we are as a nation in 2017, our President revealed he did not know who Frederick Douglass is—though Trump being Trump, tried to play it off like he did. Also, Kellyanne Conway continued to speak words that sounded like actual thoughts, declaring herself a “feminist” who apparently doesn’t know the meaning of the word, and elsewhere suggesting microwaves can be turned into cameras and be used to spy on us. Hmm—it appears my nose is bleeding. Or maybe that’s just my brain liquefying from these comments. Carry on, please.
In international news, Canada moved closer to legalizing marijuana, with a target date of Canada Day, 2018. In the States? Jeff Sessions the Racist Dinosaur and others like him talk about how weed is a drug for “bad people.” So, if you’re keeping score at home: cannabis :: bad; alcohol, tobacco, and firearms—things that are way more deadly than cannabis :: good. Well, at least we’ve got our priorities straight.
A handful of inmates were executed in Alabama, essentially because the state had a bunch of drugs used in lethal injection at its disposal set to expire, so—what the hell!—might as well use them! Pardon me for waxing philosophical as this moment, but the death penalty is state-sponsored murder. It is revenge for the sake of revenge, and way too often (and too late), it has ended the lives of those whose guilt would be proven false with new evidence and advances in forensic science. It should be abolished. Thank you. I’ll get down from my soapbox now.
James Comey was fired from his post as FBI director. This was in no way politically or personally motivated and in no way related to the investigation into Donald Trump, his finances, and any collusion with or other connections to Russia involving him or his surrogates. Right.
In Florida, the Grieving Families Act was signed into law, allowing women who have had miscarriages to obtain a “certificate of nonviable birth” for their fetus. So it’s about providing solace to women and their families? No, not really. At heart, it’s an end-around about abortion that seeks to specify when life begins and potentially heralds future attempts to chip away at women’s reproductive rights. Not to mention it connotes the idea that women who lose or terminate their pregnancies should only feel grief, when really, it can be a complex mix of emotions. As long as men are making decisions on the behalf of their female constituents about what they can and can’t do with their bodies, we’ll continue to see policies like this. Keep your eyes peeled.
Dana Loesch released a fiery video about the NRA and how it is “freedom’s last stand.” In other exciting gun news, a guy shot up a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and killed a bunch of people. Let freedom ring, eh?
White nationalists apparently love Tucker Carlson because he question the merits of all immigration—legal or not. Carlson, like Bill Maher, is kind of a douche.
Venezuela held a sham election “won” by Nicolas Maduro. Maduro identifies with socialism. Socialism, therefore, is bad, and Bernie Sanders is the devil. Are you following this logic? If it makes sense to you, um, you’re probably not the intended audience for this blog, but thanks for reading anyway.
Catalonia had a vote to declare independence from Spain. The Spanish government, well, didn’t like that too much. The result was a violent crackdown against pro-independence protests and a lot of international attention drawn to the situation, and in a recent vote, separatists won a slim majority after Spain ousted the previous Catalan government. Great job, Prime Minister Rajoy! You really screwed the Puigdemont on that one.
Joe Arpaio, a virulent racist and all-around ass-hat who held inmates in substandard conditions and profiled residents suspected of being undocumented immigrants as Maricopa County Sheriff in Arizona, was pardoned by President Trump. In other words, f**k off, Hispanics and Latinos.
Millennials can still be blamed for pretty much anything, depending on who you ask. The extinction of the dinosaurs? Oh, yeah—we did that shit.
Bitcoin continues to see wild swings in its valuation after the spike in the second half of the year which brought it to the national consciousness. Does this mean it’s inherently bad? Not necessarily. As with any emerging technology, there are ups and downs to be had with Bitcoin made more pronounced by its recent prominence. Are you behind the curve now, though, with respect to making big bucks off of a relatively small investment? Most definitely.
By installing Mick Mulvaney as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, America moved one step closer to eliminating the one agency expressly devoted to protecting consumer interests as regards their finances and investment vehicles. Consumer advocacy—what a joke!
Speaking of one step closer, the powers-that-be edged the Doomsday Clock one tick nearer to midnight. Er, pop the champagne?
In advance of the coming year, as far as politics and current events are concerned, there are all kinds of things that may factor into predictions for 2018. Certainly, though, we would expect certain things to continue as they are. Our beloved President will undoubtedly keep Tweeting acrimonious barbs at anyone who runs afoul of him and making cheap concessions to his supporters, especially from the context of rallies that he shouldn’t be having while not on the campaign trail. A GOP-majority Congress will still try to pass off policy designed to primarily benefit its wealthy corporate and individual donors as a boon for the “American people.” Bitcoin will probably still see extreme volatility as to its price, if the bubble doesn’t burst outright. And don’t even get me started about America’s attention to environmental conservation. When Trump and his Republican cronies are repealing Obama-era protections on keeping mining waste out of clean water, reversing bans on the Keystone XL Pipeline going through Native American reservations, allowing for the use of lead ammunition in national parks, and greenlighting drilling for oil in wildlife refuges, you know we are not close to doing our part to combat deleterious climate change. These actions belie the seriousness of the problem, and stunt the progress which can’t be stopped regarding the transition to renewable energy sources away from fossil fuels. At a time when we need to do all we can to slow or reverse the damage we’ve done to our planet, standing still is going backward.
Sounds bad, huh? While there are yet more reasons to be concerned from an activism/human rights standpoint—the all-too-slow recovery from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico; the pervasive influence of money in politics and gerrymandering purely for political gain; the plight of immigrants, migrants, and refugees worldwide; and the repeated iterations of the travel ban (read: Muslim ban) jump to mind—there is yet for hope for those on the left, and perhaps even those on the right. You know, even if they don’t know any better. In the political sphere, in particular, the deficient policies advanced by Republicans could end up in an electoral backlash in 2018 and 2020. Granted, this does not mean that Democrats don’t need to be held to higher standards, and as bad as GOP leadership has been, that Bernie Sanders, an aging independent from Vermont, remains a more popular choice than most prominent Dems suggests not is entirely well with the Democratic Party either. Speaking of bad leadership, and depending on the contents of Robert Mueller’s investigation, President Donald Trump might also be in real trouble from an ethical/legal standpoint. While visions of impeachment and President Mike Pence aren’t all that inspiring, at this point, anyone seems better than President Pussy-Grabber. I mean, eventually, all the terrible shit Trump has said and done has to come back to him, right? Right?
In truth, I am not terribly optimistic about 2018. But I’m also not done resisting against those who compromise ethical and moral standards to enrich themselves at the expense of others. By this, I mean the people at the top who are willing to see everyday Americans struggle through hunger, poverty, sickness and even death to further their bottom line. For all the preoccupation about border security, crime, and terrorism for many prospective 2020 voters, the “rigged” system about which Trump offhandedly talks is a yet bigger worry, and the aforementioned climate crisis our Earth faces is potentially worst of all. This all sounds very old-hat and trite, but until we start making real progress on the various forms of inequality which plague our society, these aphorisms must be repeated and stressed. Accordingly, through all the trepidation we might feel, there is too much work to be done not to do it. It’s worth the effort. After all, it’s our very lives and livelihoods we’re fighting for.
Whatever path you choose, best wishes to you and yours for 2018 and beyond, and keep fighting the good fight.
With all that is going on with recovery efforts after a barrage of hurricanes in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, and with a battle over the future of health care in the United States of America in its current iteration in the form of the Graham-Cassidy Bill causing divisions even within the Republican Party, it almost seems silly to be talking about whether or not players kneel during the National Anthem. Then again, man-child Donald Trump is our President, Twitter is readily available, and his base apparently values blind patriotism over most things, so here we are. Trump essentially picked a fight with those individuals who would protest by doing anything other than standing with hand over heart—and by proxy, started in with the entirety of the National Football League—even going as far as to call these would-be dissenters “sons of bitches” and suggesting they should be fired. The NFL, meanwhile, through statements released by commissioner Roger Goodell and various owners, as well as through on-field shows of solidarity including kneeling, sitting, locking arms, and even remaining in the locker room during the playing of the Anthem, took Trump to task for his divisive rhetoric. These sentiments echo those of a separate fight picked with Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors of the National Basketball Association regarding whether or not he and they would honor the invitation to the White House customarily afforded to the champions of their sport. After it became apparent Curry and the Warriors would not be attending, Trump assailed them on Twitter and disinvited them—you know, despite the idea they already said they weren’t going. YOU CAN’T QUIT—YOU’RE FIRED! DO YOU HEAR ME? YOU’RE FIRED!
What was especially significant about this turn of events regarding the NFL’s repudiation of Donald Trump’s off-color language is that admonishment came not only from those players who assumed the distinction of being the target of the President’s ire and their coaches, but from those individuals who had previously indicated their support for Trump during the presidential campaign. Rex Ryan, who appeared with Trump at one or more campaign stops in New York state (Ryan previously coached both the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills) and is now an analyst in ESPN’s employ, indicated he was “pissed off” by Trump’s comments and that he “did not sign up for” the kind of shenanigans in which Trump was engaging. This line of discussion, however, prompted some curious reactions on social media and even from his fellow on-air personalities (for example, see Randy Moss’s face when hearing Ryan reveal he voted for Donald Trump). A number of critics highlighted the notion that Rex Ryan evidently signed up for a man leading the country who has denigrated Asians, the disabled, environmentalists, the LGBT community, members of his own party, Mexicans, Muslims, veterans, and women—but calling football players a name was where he drew the line? Especially when, based on their size, these players are relatively more capable of defending themselves?
Psychologically speaking, it is perhaps unsurprising that Rex Ryan would react in this manner to the hissy-fit President Trump threw over players kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem. Tough talk and rhetoric is all well and good—until someone starts talking about you or someone you care about. Transcending the NFL and people who get paid to render their opinions on sports, however, Ryan is not the only person whose support for Donald Trump has ended with disillusion and distancing oneself from the so-called “leader” of the nation. After Trump’s response to Charlottesville and his condemnation of white supremacy were deemed to be—how shall we say this?—insufficient, his business councils were disbanded when CEOs couldn’t leave fast enough to separate themselves from his hate. When companies aren’t merely dissolving their working relationships with the Trump family, they are scaling back or outright terminating their business relationships with their litany of brands, in part thanks to targeted campaigns by members of the Resistance such as the #GrabYourWallet movement. As you might recall, months back, Donald Trump threw a whole different hissy-fit at Nordstrom for its announcement that it was phasing out his daughter Ivanka’s products from its stores—HIS DAUGHTER! WHAT A BUNCH OF MEANIES! Like with Rex Ryan and his support for Trump’s agenda up until the point of belittling rank-and-file football players for expressing their personal beliefs, all was well and good until Trump’s behavior threatened these organizations’ bottom line. As the saying goes, money talks and bullshit walks. In this instance, rather, people walk when Trump’s bullshit costs them money. After all, wouldn’t you?
If any of the above were isolated incidents, there wouldn’t be much here to discuss. Plenty of CEOs are dicks. Plenty of political leaders are dicks. Why shouldn’t Donald Trump—CEO-turned-President—be one of them? Ah, but Pres. Trump is not your average dick. The embodiment of rich white male privilege, Trump has never had to deal with meaningful consequences for his actions; even in business, some creditor or his daddy was there to bail him out. As the putative leader of the free world, meanwhile, Donald Trump is in a position that beckons diplomacy and restraint, two skills in which it is very clear at this point the man lacks proficiency because he has never had to hone them. Accordingly, for all those individuals who feel compelled to entertain Trump’s invitations to help him elaborate his policies, whether because of respect for the office of President of the United States or because they think they can manipulate him into serving their own interests, it is worth considering whether or not they truly understand what they’re getting themselves into.
Matthew Gertz, senior fellow at Media Matters for America, helps explain trying to work with Donald Trump at perhaps its most essential by keeping a running account of dealings with Trump in which #45 has publicly tried to debase or discredit the other party. Or, as Gertz, terms it, “If you try to work with Trump, he will humiliate you.” The list of instances of Trump throwing someone under the bus, getting into the driver’s seat, and backing over them again is far too long to regurgitate here. (If you really want to peruse Gertz’s ever-expanding Tweetstorm on the subject, suggested clicks are here and here.) That said, there are still, um, “highlights” to be had by which we can get a better sense of just how ill-fated any partnership with Donald Trump is owing to how self-aggrandizing this man is. Here is just a sampling of “working with Trump” looks like:
Trump passed over Mitt Romney for the office of Secretary of State, taking him out to dinner at a fancy restaurant and essentially having Romney publicly express his confidence in Trump as a repudiation of his earlier misgivings.
After Paul Ryan informed Trump he didn’t have the votes to make the GOP version of “repeal and replace” of the Affordable Care Act go through, Trump still wanted a vote. In subsequent talk of tax reform, Trump and his administration sought to take a more hands-on approach to the issue—and cut Ryan out of the picture in the process.
Trump regularly contradicted members of his administration and his aides regarding whether he had planned to fire James Comey as FBI director or whether he relied on the advice of deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein before doing so.
Disregarding the advice of members of his business councils, Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement.
There was this time when everyone around Trump’s table was praising him out loud. Super creepy and weird.
Sean Spicer felt he had to resign over the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director—who lasted less than two weeks in that role.
Scaramucci, for that 10 days in his tenure, sold his business and had his marriage dissolve. Congratulations, Mooch!
Steve Bannon had his supposed role in helping Trump get elected diminished by Trump himself, suggesting Bannon came onto the campaign late. Bannon was gone shortly thereafter.
Jeff Sessions has basically eaten shit over the issue of Russia. Heaps of it.
And now there’s the whole NFL thing. People like Rex Ryan and Tom Brady and owners like Jerry Jones (Cowboys) and Robert Kraft (Patriots) lent Trump their support in advance of the election, and to satisfy his base and distract from other issues like health care and North Korea, Trump picked a fight over kneeling for the National Anthem, one which only serves to magnify the race problems that he and the League face. Thanks for your contributions, guys! Perhaps beyond being momentarily “pissed off” or “humiliated,” Ryan and Co. don’t really mind so much. After all, they got the President they wanted—or at least got the man they thought they wanted—and from the appearance of things, a conservative agenda for the White House is in place, the economy is humming along, and “America first” is our raison d’être. By the same token, however, perhaps there is just a twinkling of a spark of regret from these Trump backers that they helped create a monster. Probably not, but—what can I say?—I’m an optimist.
If non-politicians may be looking on at President Trump’s tenure with a sense of buyer’s remorse, what might congressional Republicans be experiencing? Their own embarrassment or shame? Such a question implies that these lawmakers can possess these emotions, or genuine feelings altogether. (Like Trump re Mexicans, I assume some members of the GOP in Congress are actually good people.) One individual who seems to lack the ability to express actual human sentiments is Mitch McConnell the Toad-Man, a guy who has overcome having a neck pouch to become Senate Majority Leader. Vis-à-vis Trump, McConnell has toed the party line on elements of the President’s agenda where their goals have aligned, trying to push through health care reform legislation even Donald Trump himself, the Grinch Who Stole the Election, could recognize was “mean,” exercising the “nuclear option” to require a simple majority to confirm conservative justice Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, and arousing feminist ire around the country by silencing Elizabeth Warren on the Senate Floor for trying to read a letter from Coretta Scott King believed by Warren to be relevant to the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.
In the latest chapter of the Donald Trump-Mitch McConnell relationship, the two men were perhaps strange bedfellows in the Republican Party primary in the special election for the vacant Senate seat created when Jeff Sessions was sworn in as Attorney General. Trump, McConnell, and most of the GOP establishment backed Luther Strange, an attorney and the interim junior senator from Alabama so appointed when Sessions became part of the Trump administration. Roy Moore, the challenger, is—well, Roy Moore is a special individual. Former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore’s greatest claims to fame—or, perhaps, infamy—are refusing to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from outside his courthouse, thereby signaling his intentional blurring of the lines of separation between church and state, and his order to probate judges to refrain from issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. So, yeah, more of that whole church-state business. For these incidents, Moore was twice removed from his role as Chief Justice by the Alabama Court of Judiciary, and based on his experience and penchant for inflammatory conduct and remarks, he was likely considered a liability by Republican leaders. Again, though, in the current political climate, Moore may just as well be seen as a godsend by many of his prospective constituents, and in the deep red state of Alabama, he looks to be in a great position to be an elected successor to Mr. Sessions despite his apparent craziness to a national audience. What’s more, despite McConnell’s signaling that he intends to work with Roy Moore should he be elected, many—including Moore himself—probably see his primary victory as a rebuke to McConnell’s brand of politics and a movement to oust centrist, ol’ fuddy-duddy Republicans like him.
Rich Lowry, writer for the New York Post, devoted a recent column to matters of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Roy Moore, and the GOP’s handling of an evident insurgency within its own party. Hearkening back to the larger issue with which we began—the issue of working with Trump—as Lowry sees it, the party establishment still doesn’t understand how to do so, creating problems for both sides. Lowry explains:
The result in Alabama will render Trump even more up for grabs everywhere else. Is he going to simply move on and work with the congressional leadership on the next big priority, tax reform? Is he going to exercise the “Chuck and Nancy” option? Is he going to double down on his base and resume afflicting the comfortable of the GOP establishment as he did in the primaries? All of the above? Does he know?
Trump’s problem isn’t that he threw in with the establishment, as his most fervent supporters believe; it’s that he threw in with an establishment that had no idea how to process his victory and integrate populism into the traditional Republican agenda.
One of the many causes of the failure of ObamaCare repeal is that Republicans didn’t emphasize the economic interests of the working-class voters who propelled Trump to victory (and Trump showed little sign of caring about this himself). Out of the gate, tax reform looks to have a similar problem— the Trumpist element is supposed to be a middle-class tax cut, but it’s not obvious that it delivers one.
This gets to a fundamental failing of the populists. House Speaker Paul Ryan isn’t supposed to be the populist; Trump is. But the president and his backers haven’t even started to seriously think through what a workable populist platform is besides inveighing against internal party enemies, igniting cable TV-friendly controversies and overinvesting in symbolic measures like The Wall.
If the populists don’t like the results, they should take their own political project more seriously, if they are capable of it.
A success on taxes would provide some respite from the party’s internal dissension, yet the medium-term forecast has to be for more recrimination than governing. Whatever the core competency of the national Republican Party is at the moment, it certainly isn’t forging coherence or creating legislative achievements.
It’s no great surprise that Donald Trump and his cronies don’t have much of an idea about what they’re doing; concerning matters of domestic and foreign policy, Trump is a veritable Magic 8-Ball—shake him, wait a few moments, then shake again and see whether or not you get a different response. On the side of the Republican leadership’s veteran wing, however, this failure of party brass to respond to the needs of past voters and potential future voters is an ongoing concern somewhat mirrored in the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party between moderates and liberal progressives. The main difference, of course, is that, on the left, progressives seek to take centrist Dems to task for overvaluing corporate interests and not going far enough in seeking policy-based reforms, while Trumpist populists seem more concerned with the right’s refusal to embrace cultural elements of far-right conservatism. Germane to the Republican Party or not, it strikes the observer that Mitch McConnell and other GOP members of Congress greatly overestimated their ability to corral, handle, wrangle, or otherwise work with Donald Trump, much as they overconfidently thought they could ram the Graham-Cassidy Bill down our throats, underestimating we, the people, in the process. Thus, if you believe I believe that the likes of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell deserve a shred of sympathy for making a deal with the Devil, you would be sorely mistaken.
There’s no working with Donald Trump because he is a capricious, spoiled, man-baby with no room for other people’s considerations aside from his ego. Moreover, he is a known con man and liar who has exhibited a willingness to step on and over anyone who is an impediment to his desires, and for those who think that he will fulfill their own desires, they would be advised to wait for the other shoe to drop. Or, as Matthew Gertz might put it, wait to be humiliated.
Last August, before we had to truly entertain the notion of calling him “President Trump,” I wrote about a story that surfaced during the presidential campaign that I felt told me all I needed to know about Donald Trump. I’ll try to summarize it as briefly as I can. It came to the attention of various local historians that Trump had erected (why does that feel so awful to say?) a plaque at his golf course in Virginia commemorating the “River of Blood,” a site of numerous river crossings and skirmishes during the Civil War. Except none of it was true. The historians sought out by reporters had never heard of such a thing, and if it existed at all, it certainly wasn’t where Mr. Trump said it was. When confronted with the fabrication, however, Trump, as one might expect, gave no credence to it. Rather than owning up to an obvious lie, he cited his own historians who corroborated the description on the commemorative plaque (whose names he mysteriously could no longer remember), and he challenged the very integrity of the historians who disputed his account with this doozy: “How would they know that? Were they there?” In addition, he tried to reason his way out of being caught in a fabrication with some of what would now appear to be his trademark gibberish: “That was a prime site for river crossings. So, if people are crossing the river, and you happen to be in a civil war, I would say that people were shot — a lot of them.”
This excerpt from the presidential race, as minor as it may be, struck me as emblematic of the kind of campaign Donald Trump ran and what kind of man he is. That is, if he were willing to lie about something so inconsequential—with a straight face, no less—he obviously would have no problem lying about other more grave matters. Fast forward to the present day and we’ve already had 100+ days of President Donald J. Trump. In that time, he’s done a lot of shit that has either made people scratch their heads or has reinforced their lack of optimism about him or quantifiable embarrassment of his antics. Again, though, I am struck by two events that were of relatively small significance, but nonetheless speak volumes about what kind of man Trump is. Both happen to be sports-related. The first was his refusal to fill out a bracket for ESPN’s Bracket Challenge competition in advance of the NCAA Tournament. The second was his declining the offer to throw out the first pitch of the Washington Nationals game on Opening Day. In both cases, agreeing to play along would put #45 at risk for public criticism and ridicule, and seeing as if his skin were any thinner his vital organs would be showing, he might never be able to live down the shame of spiking the baseball twenty feet from the mound or the boos that would ensue—whether or not he actually threw the ball capably.
Finally, at the 100-day mark, there was the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, an event which has been known of late for its more casual, jocular spirit. And guess who wasn’t in attendance? Yup, Mr. Thin Skin himself. Trump announced back in February he wouldn’t be attending, and noting the contentious relationship between the President/his administration and the press, it was surmised that the cold shoulder might be reciprocated come time for the Dinner and that numerous media outlets would pass as well. Indeed, a rather different tone was anticipated for this event. So, where was our fearless leader instead? Rather than potentially needing to endure the playful barbs of comedians and an unbiased news media, Pres. Trump held a rally. Just for his supporters. More than three years away from the next presidential election. If you’re a strongman, you can’t look weak, can you? Especially when, up to now, your presidential tenure—like your business ventures over much of your adult life—has been marked by a questionable level of success.
So, what has the first 100 days entailed for President Cheeto Voldemort? Michael Grunwald, writing for Politico, breaks down this storied measuring stick used for each incoming President. My synopsis owes much to, well, his synopsis. OK—without further ado, let’s consider what exactly Donald Trump has accomplished up to this point.
100 DAYS OF TRUMP—SO WHAT, EXACTLY, HAS HE ACCOMPLISHED?
What I like in particular about Grunwald’s analysis is that he arranged it by topic, not merely chronologically; the headings and organizational structure I will use directly references his format. Also of note is his assignment of values on a scale of 1 to 10 for the Immediate Impact and Potential Significance of the events within each category. These ratings, of course, are subjective, but they likely give a good indication about how people who have followed and reported on the Trump presidency would assess its success as a whole.
With that said, let’s get to it. As Michael Grunwald et al. would have it, where are we after 100 days of Donald Trump in the White House?
1. The Short List
OK, let’s talk turkey from the get-go. Broadly speaking, what has President Trump meaningfully accomplished after 100 days in the Oval Office. Would it surprise you if I told you, “Not much?” Trump has been under the impression that he would be able to enact sweeping changes to U.S. domestic and foreign policy, aided and abetted by a Republican majority in both the House and Senate. Speaking of aided and abetted, Trump did get his Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch confirmed—you know, after the GOP stubbornly refused to entertain a legitimate pick in Merrick Garland and after changing the very Senate rules to allow a 51-vote majority to end a filibuster and bring about the final confirmation vote. Save for Andrew Puzder, whose employ of an undocumented immigrant made him political poison and necessitated the withdrawal of his name from consideration for Secretary of Labor, Trump has also managed to get his awful lot of picks for top Cabinet positions filled—once again, owing to a majority in the Senate and not without serious debate and close votes. In addition, Pres. Trump formally pulled us out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deeply flawed trade agreement, as part of his “tough-on-trade” rhetoric—even though all indications were that its prospects were all but dead in the water anyhow.
Other than that, though—get ready to be surprised—Donald Trump has not lived up to a number of his campaign promises or has been unable to achieve much of what he has set out to accomplish. His “travel ban” that really is a Muslim ban? Both iterations heretofore have been ruled unconstitutional. His executive order targeting sanctuary cities? Also blocked by the courts. His notion that ObamaCare would be quick to repeal and replace? Um, yeah, not so much. We can really just go down the line on things Trump, who has assailed other politicians as being “all talk, no action,” has not lived up to—at least not yet. He still doesn’t have a plan to pay for “the wall.” His proposed budget has been criticized by people on both sides of the political aisle. He hasn’t outlined an infrastructure rebuilding plan. He hasn’t reversed course on deals with Cuba and Iran. He has yet to pull us out of the Paris climate agreement. He hasn’t moved the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Sure, Trump has rolled back a few Obama-era pieces of legislation and filled a few Cabinet-level positions, but the vast majority of existing regulations and open positions have been left untouched. On the latter count, this is significant. Trump hasn’t even nominated candidates for hundreds of positions which require Senate confirmation, and without them being filled, their departments will run even less effectively and efficiently. To quote Grunwald, “So far he’s been a showhorse, not a workhorse, and in Washington, showhorses often struggle to produce lasting change.” Indeed, sir. Indeed.
Immediate Impact: 4 Potential Significance: 8
2. A Change in the Climate
No, literally—we’re talking about what Trump is doing for the Earth’s atmosphere. Sorry, that’s to the Earth’s atmosphere. In fairness, President Trump has vowed to do a lot of things that would at least stunt progress toward a greener approach to climate change—dismantle the Clean Power Plan, ease fuel efficiency mandates for car manufacturers, revive the coal industry, take us out of the Paris climate accord—but he hasn’t actually done any of that. But he very well could. After all, Rex Tillerson, former ExxonMobil CEO, is his Secretary of State, and Scott Pruitt, someone who repeatedly sued the Environmental Protection Agency, is his head of the freaking EPA. In his proposed budget, he also approved massive cuts to NOAA and the EPA itself, and has generally taken on an adversarial attitude toward any agencies which would promote a consciousness and conscience about climate change.
Donald Trump, in short, has made science and verifiable facts his enemy, and has even tried to unite the American people—or at least his staunch supporters—against the mainstream media, a trend that hasn’t required much of a push given declining support in traditional news media and various other American institutions (like, say, Congress). In taking these stances, especially those specific to matters of the environment, Trump is fighting a losing battle when it comes to the rise of clean energy and the phasing out of resources like coal. However, he can move us backward when we should be making advances in new energy technologies—and that is dangerous given models of the progression of climate change that would lead to rising seas, diminished habitable land, and other fun stuff. Quoting Michael Grunwald once more: “Trump can’t stop climate change progress. But he can slow it down, when the fate of the planet may depend on full-speed-ahead.”
Immediate Impact: 2 Potential Significance: 9
3. You’re Not Welcome
Mexicans, Muslims, federal officers who won’t do Donald Trump’s bidding—take your pick, because this administration has an ax to grind with all of them. The laws that Trump is enforcing are the same ones that President Barack Obama enforced with his scores of deportations. Certainly, though, the mindset is different, especially that of targeting undocumented immigrants who have committed no crimes other than illegally crossing the border. According to statistics cited by Grunwald, arrests at the southern border were down 67% in the month of March, presumably as a result of tougher enforcement at the border to begin with, and arrests of noncriminal immigrants have more than doubled since Trump has been in office.
So, while construction of the wall is still pending and while funding for this monstrosity is likewise up in the air, the winds of change have shifted regarding our nation’s identity as a welcoming melting pot—and foreign nationals have taken notice. As Grunwald also tells, tourism officials have reported a 6.8% decline in bookings to trips to the United States since Trump has been sworn into office. This is alongside reported harassment that immigrants have experienced in the wake of rise of Trump, both young and old, as well as a surge in warranted fear that they might be deported at any time. Thus, while President Trump’s executive order targeting funding of sanctuary cities has been at least temporarily halted, he has certainly (and unfortunately) put his stamp on domestic policy in this regard.
Immediate Impact: 5 Potential Significance: 8
4. From Russia with Love
The obvious parallel with the Trump administration’s alleged ties to Russia is to the Watergate scandal. As Michael Grunwald distinguishes, though, whereas Watergate required investigative work to connect the requisite dots, “Russiagate,” if you will, requires far less. Michael Flynn, disgraced former national security adviser who failed to last a month on the job, and Paul Manafort, whose ties to Russia and the Ukraine were so extensive he had to be removed as Trump’s campaign manager, were prominent figures in Trump’s world. Jeff Sessions, attorney general, had to recuse himself from any investigations into Russia because of his own undisclosed ties to a Russian ambassador. Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, had to recuse himself from his own committee’s investigation into the whole Russian affair.
Perhaps most telling of all, Donald Trump himself has continually heaped praise on Vladimir Putin (recall from the campaign season how Trump made reference to the Russian hacking scandal by suggesting the Russians hack Hillary Clinton, his political rival at the time), and tried (unsuccessfully) to deflect from all the suspicions about his possible ties with claims that Barack Obama, as President, had Trump Tower wiretapped for his sake—claims that have yet to be substantiated. Grunwald refers to the “drip, drip, drip” of revelations coming from investigations into the tangled web of connections between our government and Vladimir Putin’s country, and in due time, those dots stand to be connected. Whether it will prove truly damaging to President Trump and his political future, however, remains to be seen.
Immediate Impact: 4 Potential Significance: 9
5. Team Players
This section is less about Donald Trump and more about the refusal of establishment Republican leaders to, well, do anything about him. Without meaningful challenges from the likes of Devin Nunes, Jason Chaffetz, and others within the GOP power structure, Trump has been allowed to take trip after trip to Trump Organization-owned properties, chief among them Mar-a-Lago, at great expense to taxpayers and at personal benefit to the Trump family, owing to the patriarch’s refusal to divest or put his holdings in a blind trust. He similarly has not had to reveal the contents of his taxes, which may reveal his suspected financial dealings with Russia, or they may simply prove that he’s not worth as much as he says he is. Maybe both. The point is this: elected Republican officials are not taking a more hardline stance on President Trump, and this is because they do not wish to alienate his supporters in their own bids for re-election. It’s pretty simple, really, though no less disappointing.
Besides this, Republicans have gotten pretty much what they’d hoped for with Trump in the White House: a conservative agenda that favors corporations and military intervention abroad as opposed to populism and isolationism. So, right now, despite all his conflicts of interest and reprehensible behavior, GOP lawmakers are giving “the Donald” a free pass. Should Trump’s popularity becoming toxic, meanwhile, then the equation might change. In the meantime, those who oppose #45 are left to be frustrated by these politicians’ inaction and disgusted by their cowardice.
Immediate Impact: 4 Potential Significance: 9
6. Who Is Trump? Why Is He Here?
Promises, promises. For all of his promises made on the campaign trail, chief among them the stated desire to “drain the swamp,” and despite his history as someone who doesn’t fit the mold of the traditional conservative, Donald J. Trump, to the likely relief of the GOP, has governed like a rank-and-file Republican so far. His administration is full of former Goldman Sachs officers and K Street lobbyists, and he regularly consults with CEOs of major corporations. Speaking about those promises, Trump has just in the first 100 days broken a number of them. Fight cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security? Not when you were actively trying to promote the AHCA, you weren’t. Let Syria be someone else’s problem? Not when you’re shooting Tomahawk missiles off there and dropping the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan. China is a currency manipulator? Not when we’re picking fights with North Korea and when Trump personally stands to benefit personally from Chinese approval of Trump trademarks. For all of the boasts about not being a traditional politician, and for all the unprecedented ethical issues facing the Trump family and others within the administration, President Trump has had a familiar Republican ring to him.
To be clear, however, let’s not treat Donald Trump and his cronies like they’re normal. There’s the Skeleton King a.k.a. Stephen Bannon, who only recently was deposed from the National Security Council and who, before this gig, was instrumental in spewing hate from his lofty position within Breitbart Media. Jared Kushner has a ton of important individual responsibilities without the apparent expertise or know-how to be able to deal with them. Kellyanne Conway suggested microwaves could be used for surveillance. Sean Spicer tried to claim Adolf Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons on the Jews. Senior adviser Stephen Miller is a bigot who regularly clashed with members of minority groups at Duke University. Deputy adviser Sebastian Gorka has ties to far-right groups and Nazi-aligned organizations. Anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and a disturbing lack of transparency and a desire to diminish facts and science—these are the hallmarks of this administration. Accordingly, whether we’re talking about a standard GOP agenda or an abnormally pro-white, anti-globalist leadership team, if you’re a Democrat, independent, or liberal progressive, there’s a lot about which to worry with who’s at the top.
Immediate Impact: 6 Potential Significance: 8
7. The Community Organizer
Seemingly every weekend, there’s another march or rally in protest of President Trump and his and the GOP’s agenda. The Women’s March on Washington was just the kickoff event. Protests in solidarity with our immigrant populations and with our Muslim brethren. Demonstrations of resistance against policies that eschew concerns for the environment and scientific principles. Rallies in favor of protecting our health care, and women’s reproductive rights. All this alongside continuing struggles of the Black Lives Matter movement and the push for a $15 minimum wage from America’s working class. Certainly, there is unrest in this country among self-identifying members of the Resistance, and even a few of those individuals who supported Trump are now feeling a sense of buyer’s remorse. Plus, more and more Americans are staying engaged with political happenings and are even looking to get involved with local, county, state, and national politics as candidates. In short, the enthusiasm for change seems to be there within “the people.”
These feelings of resentment toward a Trump presidency and the ongoing efforts by Republican leaders to dismantle the Affordable Care Act have potentially given the Democratic Party valuable political capital. The question is, though: will they be able to capitalize on this surging excitement within grassroots circles in 2018, in 2020, and beyond? Recent performance in elections big and small would suggest no, as would the refusal of party leadership to embrace its more progressive elements and the kind of fighting spirit that someone like Bernie Sanders engenders. A seemingly growing segment of the populace is even calling for the formation of a new party such as the People’s Party which would more authentically represent working-class Americans and would strive to halt and eventually reverse the widening income and wealth inequality in the United States, among other things. This too, however, seems only remotely possible in the short term. It’s quite a conundrum for independents and liberals, and one that only serves to illustrate the tension produced by the entrenchment of money in politics and both major parties’ reliance on big-ticket donations.
Immediate Impact: 4 Potential Significance: 9
8. Tough Town
Donald Trump, presumably because he paid someone to write a book about him called The Art of the Deal, is synonymous with deal-making. For better or for worse, though, he hasn’t really done much deal-making. Essentially, he’s tried to bully the other party into agreeing to what he wants to accomplish—without much success. He couldn’t force the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives to help jam an awful health care plan through Congress. He hasn’t been able to badger the Democrats into submission on matters of budget and infrastructure. And to top it all off, Mexico still hasn’t agreed to pay for the wall. Thus, if Trump is master of the art of the deal, um, we’re waiting, Mr. Master, sir.
To perhaps his credit, Pres. Trump has indicated on multiple occasions that he didn’t realize being President of the United States and different facets associated with being POTUS would be so hard. Then again, even for an impulsive idiot without any experience in a public office and generally lacking in knowledge about economic and foreign policy, he really should have thought about that first. Especially with the kind of dirt he has slung around during the campaign and into his presidency, he deserves and should get no sympathy for the constraints of being the putative leader of the free world. Trump supporters and those otherwise in denial may still be optimistic about what he can accomplish for the sake of the United States of America. The rest of us, on the other hand, must painfully endure a President who, realistically speaking, doesn’t know shit about shit.
Immediate Impact: 5 Potential Significance: 8
9. Freak Show
This final section of Michael Grunwald’s analysis of Donald Trump’s first 100 days feels like a reiteration of its core themes more than anything, but perhaps there is value in the deliberation on the observations made within the article. A lot of the President Trump Experience has been strange. For Christ’s sake, he had Kid Rock, Sarah Palin, and Ted Nugent over at the White House for dinner and a photo-op. Grunwald stresses, though, that very little of it has been normal, and I would argue that it is a mistake to behave as if it is. He also underscores the idea that Trump got elected on a platform that paints a “dystopian” vision of the United States which doesn’t exist, but nonetheless, he is bound to this narrative. Now that he actually has to govern, however, the reality of being President and the reality of the difficult situations he faces both here and abroad have complicated matters. This is why President Donald Trump has gotten very little done aside from getting a few nominees confirmed—and this bodes poorly for future accomplishments for the rest of his tenure. Which could end in 2021. Or later. Or even sooner.
Immediate Impact: 3 Potential Significance: 9
Michael Grunwald closes his piece with these thoughts. To me, they seem ominous as much as they are true:
For now…only 2 percent of Trump’s voters say they regret their vote. They still trust Trump’s alternative facts more than reported facts. And they still prefer Trump’s norm-breaking to Washington norms. It’s a good bet that he’ll keep breaking them. It’s anyone’s bet how that will turn out.
As a number of us must realize, there are those ardent Trump backers who are, for lack of a better turn of phrase, “beyond help.” Even among those who voted for Donald Trump as the perceived best option between him and Hillary, though, or even when considering candidates from additional parties and independents, the move to reject and resist President Trump is going to be a slow build, if it ever gets pronounced enough to sway an entire election. For some people, his destructive actions and rhetoric simply don’t hit home. If you are an immigrant, or a Muslim, or an environmentalist, or just someone who values adherence to precepts of ethics and constitutional law, you are likely appalled, disgusted, and downright scared of what the rise of Trump and the emboldening of his supporters and members of the alt-right means for this country. Then again, maybe you view matters through the lens of economics and/or your personal finances. In this event, things may actually be looking up for you, or perhaps have yet to sour. Even if they do go south, meanwhile—and this is not something most of us are actively rooting for, either—as noted, there’s no guarantee Democrats will be able to make hay with what they’ve been given in terms of political ammunition. Both major parties are fundamentally flawed right now, and the Democratic Party arguably is that much more unappealing because it continues to capitulate toward the center in a bid to minimize losses rather than to engender genuine grassroots enthusiasm.
Indeed, Donald Trump has failed to accomplish much. Going back to Grunwald’s Immediate Impact and Potential Significance scores, while the Potential Significance of the various topics he covers related to Trump’s first 100 days average to a fairly high mark of 8.6, their Immediate Impact averages to a mark of but 4.1, with no one dimension getting above even a 6. This gap, it must be stressed, is a double-edged sword. On one hand, Pres. Trump hasn’t done that much to ruin the country and the planet. On the other hand, he hasn’t done much to help it either, and particularly on the dimension of slowing deleterious climate change, our standing still is as good as propelling us backward.
Even though we are now past the 100-day threshold, for those of committed to political resistance and/or genuinely worried about the fate of the free world, this is no time to rest on one’s laurels or to stop turning a critical eye on Donald Trump’s presidency. After all, it is still not normal, and even if Republicans won’t do a damn thing to curb his ethically-challenged agenda, the fight to rein Trump’s excess at our expense is a worthy one.
In today’s political climate, detractors who lean one way or another politically are seemingly always looking for a chance to call out the other side on its hypocrisy. With this in mind, and with all due apology, let me express my frustration as a liberal with those on the right who regard the lives of the unborn as sacrosanct and yet possess no qualms about—for the sake of a few examples—dropping bombs indiscriminately on Muslim-majority countries and killing civilians, refusing refugees from war-torn countries, and expressing support for the continuance of the death penalty as a form of punishment. It is these kind of stances alongside opposition to legal abortions that makes the pro-life movement all but a misnomer. These advocates are not pro-life as much as they are anti-choice or pro-telling-women-what-they-can-and-can’t-do-with-their-own-bodies. Even if you think I’m oversimplifying matters or cherry-picking the examples I want to prove my point, you have to admit—the juxtaposition is a bit weird.
While the questionable use of military force and the plight of refugees and economic migrants across the globe are serious problems in their own right, the death penalty is my specific issue here, with the execution of Ledell Lee in Arkansas part of just the latest turn in America’s history with capital punishment. I’ll get to Lee’s case in a moment, but first let’s talk about the death penalty in the abstract, both here and abroad. According to figures from Amnesty International, well-known for its mission of ending human rights abuses, in 2016, 1,032 executions were carried out worldwide across 23 countries. This may not sound like a lot, but two quick things to consider: 1) as many would have it, one execution is too many, and 2) this number is based only on what is reported and observed. In particular, China is cited not only for its use of the death penalty—it is #1 on the list—but of the notion that the true number of executions carried out by the Chinese government is a state secret; the 1,032 tally provided by Amnesty International does not even begin to include what is presumed to be thousands of executions which occurred there. Also high on the list and accounting for a vast majority of the reported executions were countries you might expect to be among the usual suspects, so to speak: Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.
The United States of America, interestingly enough, finished outside the top five. Good news, right? Well, if we’re judging by the one-is-too-many standard, then no, that we are still executing people in 2016 and into 2017 is not great news. Consider also that only 23 countries across the globe carried out executions last year—next to 141 countries that are considered abolitionist by law or practice. That puts the U.S. on a short list on the world stage, and regardless of the raw numbers, to join the likes of Iran and North Korea—two countries mentioned by name as sponsors of public executions—it’s not a minority of which you necessarily want to be a part. To be sure, that executions in America in 2016 were the lowest in a quarter of a century is encouraging. Still, it’s 2017, Donald Trump is our President, Jeff Sessions is the Attorney General, conservative judge Neil Gorsuch is now a Supreme Court justice, and anything seems possible. You know, in a bad way.
Another good sign-bad sign type of deal manifests with respect to the number of states that carried out executions alongside the level of support within the American public for the death penalty at large. Per a November 2016 report authored by David Masci for Pew Research, only five states executed inmates last year: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, and Texas. Hmm, notice a geographical pattern? Not to be a Debbie Downer about the scarcity of executions outside the South, but this does not consider those inmates who received death sentences or remain on death row. Also, despite only five states carrying out executions in 2016, 31 states still have the death penalty on the books (voters in California, Nebraska, and Oklahoma all rejected ballot provisions that would have banned capital punishment outright or would have restricted it further last year), as does the federal government. This appears to be largely in line with attitudes in the U.S. towards support for the death penalty. Though support for the death penalty is at its lowest point in some four decades, still more Americans (49%) are in favor of the practice than are opposed to it (42%), a reality explained by the disparity in views between Democrats (34%) and Republicans (72%). Another key demographic divide? Race. A majority of whites (57%) favors the death penalty, while only 29% of blacks and 36% of Hispanics favor it. Additionally, a 55% majority of men supports the death penalty, while only 45% of American women are in favor of its use.
In short, trends in use of capital punishment worldwide and support for the death penalty are a mixed bag. OK, so what do we do with this knowledge? Well, I feel that more important than the exact who-supports-what is the why behind those in favor of the death penalty and its use across governments. That is, why do 23 or more countries still insist on death as a viable punishment for certain crimes? It’s no secret that capital punishment has been around for centuries and has been used all over the world. The crimes for which the death penalty has been applied are about as numerous as the ways devised by different cultures for torturing and ending the lives of fellow human beings. Beheading, bludgeoning, boiling, burning, burying alive, crucifying, crushing, disemboweling, dismembering, drowning, falling, flaying, hanging, impaling, shooting, strangling—the list is an exhaustive and gruesome one when you get down to it. As far as contemporary use is concerned, while antiquated forms of execution such as, say, the brazen bull and the guillotine have fallen out of practice, beheading, hanging, lethal injection, and shooting are still viable ways for governments to put one out to pasture, proverbially speaking. In the United States, electrocution and gas inhalation are also among the ways inmates may choose to die, or be executed when lethal injection is unavailable.
But yes, the reasons for exacting the death penalty. Clearly, there are advocates for use of capital punishment, and the primary justifications for its implementation seem to be these:
1. In applicable cases (for certain crimes), the capital punishment is just.
According to judge, jury, and executioner—these views are not mine, as I think you’ve probably gathered. What makes this viewpoint problematic from at least an international perspective is the lack of consensus of certain classes of crimes. Crimes against humanity and murder (given an aggravating factor) have yielded the greatest sense of agreement across borders, but others may seem excessive given the nature of the crime. Depending on the jurisdiction, offenses including adultery, blasphemy, crimes against the state, drug trafficking, espionage, kidnapping, rape, sodomy, terrorism, and treason may also be punishable by death. A number of these crimes reference a moral/religious component, and as such, strike outside observers as contingent on a perhaps unfairly rigid set of beliefs, not to mention clearly eschewing the principle of separation of church and state, and otherwise simply proving too severe given the nature of the offense.
Additionally, some crimes punishable by death, despite being restricted to only one country, evoke questions of the burden of proof. In Saudi Arabia, sorcery and witchcraft may result in one’s being beheaded, despite not formally being defined as punishable offenses. As students of American history, particularly the sordid chapter of the Salem Witch Trials, may have considered, how are these charges to be assessed, at any rate? Can one study them as abstract concepts or does he or she have to knowingly use sorcery or witchcraft to violate these principles? Does circumstantial evidence suffice, or is eyewitness testimony required? These are rhetorical questions, to be sure, but keep the subject of the burden of proof in your mind for now.
2. It’s useful as a tool for police and prosecutors, esp. in plea bargaining.
The threat of the death penalty may indeed be eminently useful for law enforcement and prosecutors in relevant cases, but there are due concerns about how ethical this tactic is, or how effective it even is in reducing the amount of cases that go to trial, which would save money. Threatening defendants in murder cases with execution has been likened to holding a gun to their head, and may potentially coerce people to take a deal even when insisting on their innocence. Moreover, according to a 2006 study by Ilyana Kuziemko out of Princeton University on the effect of reinstatement of the death penalty in New York on plea bargains, while district attorneys were given greater leverage over murder defendants and these defendants were more likely to accept their original charges given the specter of capital punishment, in general, it was not more likely for defendants to accept lesser charges as a function of the law change. In other words, while defendants were more likely to revisit the terms of their arraignment, they were no more likely to accept plea deals with the death penalty on the table. Thus, for more than one reason, the death penalty as a prosecutorial tool appears to be fairly questionable.
3. It deters crime.
Let’s go back to Pew Research’s findings on attitudes toward the death penalty, as referenced above. Citing its own research circa 2015, while only about half of Americans support the death penalty, even fewer (about 40%) believe that it is a deterrent to serious crimes. Wait—if the death penalty doesn’t even accomplish this much, why bother supporting it in the first place? While you mull that over, consider that credible evidence for the notion capital punishment deters violent crime doesn’t exist. Go ahead. Google it. For every study or op-ed that claims to have evidence that the death penalty prevents certain types of crime from being committed, there is a corresponding article or report to show that this is not the case. At the very least, the idea that executions deter crime is suspect. Besides, as one might reason, if one is intent on killing another person, then concern for life—even for one’s own—is probably not of paramount concern.
4. It assures that convicted criminals do not offend again.
The concern here—to use a fancy term—is recidivism, or parolees becoming repeat offenders. Not only is it unlikely for the majority of murderers to commit the same offense, though, but with the death penalty already a mixed bag when it comes to being a tool for district attorneys to facilitate plea bargains as well as deterring crime, the only way to predictably avoid the possibility of recidivism via capital punishment is to, well, kill all inmates convicted of killing, and that can’t and won’t happen. A much more viable alternative is sentencing those convicted to life without parole.
If the case for the death penalty, based on the above four principles, seems tenuous as best, when considering the numerous reasons inherent in the case against this institution, justifying what is tantamount to state-sponsored murder becomes that much more difficult. The ACLU, like Amnesty International, is staunchly opposed to the use of capital punishment in the United States, and has outlined why the death penalty should be abolished better and more completely than I could ever hope to. The points as to why the death penalty is not effective as a means of better serving the public interest, according to the ACLU, include the following:
The death penalty is disproportionately levied against people of color and the poor, an effect exacerbated by the inability of disadvantaged defendants to afford sufficiently skilled legal representation, as well as implicit bias of the justice system toward defendants based on where they live/where the crime is committed.
According to views expressed by law enforcement professionals and research done on frequency of homicides across states, the death penalty does not deter individuals from committing violent crimes, and states that have the death penalty on the books actually tend to have higher murder rates. Factors which are better predictors of crime reduction include more police officers, programs to combat drug abuse, and better economic conditions leading to more jobs. In other words, it helps when we treat people like human beings as opposed to the sum of their bad behavior. Just a smidge.
Related to the last point, the death penalty is a waste of taxpayers’ money if it doesn’t prevent murders or help reduce their rate of occurrence. As if the cost of human life weren’t enough.
Innocent people may be killed to satisfy a death sentence, and because this isn’t Game of Thrones, that’s, ahem, a one-way street. Per the ACLU, in close to 45 years, over 140 people who were condemned to death have been exonerated as a result of new evidence, notably DNA evidence. Moreover, for every 10 people executed, one person is exonerated. In matters of life and death, you’d like a better rate of success than that, and again, these are the happy endings we’re talking about here. Particularly when prosecutors aggressively pursue a conviction and the death penalty, errors and omissions may be made, and the finality of death makes for a burdensome realization for all parties involved if the defendant’s innocence is proven at a later date.
As a liberal, I’m unquestionably biased as to what I think are the most compelling reasons for or against the death penalty, but even if considerations of right and wrong do not sway you, the notion that capital punishment is costly and ineffective should give one pause. If the morality behind the abstract concept does, in fact, move you, then the aforementioned story of Ledell Lee, with the primer on the death penalty fresh in your mind, should indeed provoke a reaction within you. Who was Ledell Lee, in the context of the ongoing debate on the death penalty? Lee was convicted in 1995 of the murder of Debra Reese after the latter was found dead in her home in Jacksonville, Arkansas, strangled and beaten with a baseball bat. Ledell was spotted by several witnesses around the area of the crime scene, but beyond this, not too much in the way of verifiable forensic evidence seems to tie him to the crime itself.
Per a report by Erika Ferrando and Michael Buckner for THV 11, a local CBS affiliate based in Little Rock, AR, Lee maintained his innocence up until his execution, and there are elements of both the case against him for Reese’s murder and other cases which are potential red flags that raise the mere possibility the defendant did not get a fair shake from the Arkansas criminal justice system. In one of his trials (Lee was also charged and convicted for the rape of two Jacksonville women following his being charged for Debra Reese’s murder, and was tried for the murder and rape of a woman named Christine Lewis), Ledell Lee had to be assigned a second lawyer after his first legal representative appeared to be noticeably intoxicated throughout the proceedings. As the execution date neared, and the ACLU became involved, they found that new post-conviction DNA testing may prove that Lee was not responsible for the murder of Debra Reese, and also brought up the potentially relevant fact that Lee suffered from an intellectual disability stemming from fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition evidently never raised or considered by his lawyers heretofore. If nothing else, the testing would be able to prove that Ledell Lee was unquestionably the murderer. After all, if the state’s case was as solid as it claimed, there should be no worry that the DNA evidence should prove anything to the contrary.
But Pulaski County Circuit Court judge Herbert Wright denied the request, insisting that even if the DNA testing on blood and hair samples could be found to not tie Lee to the murder, the state still had enough of a case to convict him. Wait—what? The Innocence Project, an organization specifically devoted to exonerating the wrongly convicted through DNA testing, at this point became involved, and appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court to stay Lee’s execution and allow the new DNA testing to occur. The appeals brought the question of the stay all the way up to the Supreme Court. And along ideological lines, the high court voted 5-4 to allow the execution of Ledell Lee to move forward, with—you guessed it—newly-minted Justice Neil Gorsuch casting the deciding vote. Quite a first vote to establish your legacy as part of the Supreme Court—paving the way for a man’s death despite a questionable lack of evidence.
What makes this all especially egregious on the part of Arkansas and governor Asa Hutchinson is that Ledell Lee’s execution is just one of eight originally planned as part of accelerated execution schedule designed by the state to make use of its supply of the drug midazolam before it expires at the end of the month. That’s right—can’t let this stuff go to waste, so we might as well cram as many executions as we can in. Strap ’em in, boys—we may have to schedule them two at a time! If this seems like a hollow reason as any to rush inmates through death row, it’s only because it is, and the state of Arkansas is apparently unfazed by the act of essentially herding in human beings like cattle to be slaughtered. Reportedly, the state may even have purchased vecuronium bromide, the second of three drugs to be used in its administration of lethal injections, under false pretenses from McKesson Medical-Surgical. It all adds up to what can be characterized, at best, as a case of bad optics for the state of Arkansas, and more probably, deliberate refusal to grant a stay for fear it may have to admit potential wrongdoing on multiple levels. Either way, Hutchinson and Co. should be ashamed of themselves—plain and simple.
I’d like to close with returning to Pew Research’s surveys into the attitudes of Americans on the death penalty and questions of its morality, fairness, and effectiveness. On the last two dimensions, the percentage difference between those who favor the use of the death penalty and those who do not hover somewhere between twenty and thirty percent, encompassing meditations on whether there is risk of innocent people being put to death, that it doesn’t deter crime, and that minorities are disproportionately sentenced to die. Those disparities are about what you’d expect. The greatest divide, meanwhile, was recorded on whether or not the death penalty is morally justified. 90% of those who support it agreed, while only 26% of those who oppose it agreed. That’s a veritable Grand Canyon between the two sides, and it makes me wonder just how long it will take for reform in jurisdictions where use of capital punishment and support for the death penalty is most entrenched. Talk about your cultural divides. Plus, while support for the use of the death penalty steadily declines, a rash of executions in Arkansas and tough talk from the likes of #45 and Jeff “Hawaii Is a Dumb Little Island in the Pacific” Sessions makes me worried that positive momentum built up toward making our criminal justice system, well, more just will not merely be stunted, but possibly even reversed.
Whatever your political ideologies or moral/religious convictions, there is ample justification for why the death penalty should be abolished in every state in the country, and efforts should be continued to change policy on an international front. I get it—an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, why not a life for a life?—but this is 2017. Not only are executions inefficient and ineffective, but—and not merely to be insensitive about matters such as these—but they don’t bring murder victims back, and if one or more life sentences for the convicted individual(s) does not provide sufficient relief or solace for the families of the victims, I don’t know that putting someone else to death will do it that much better or will give them a far superior sense of justice. Maybe I’d feel a lot different if I were in these relatives’ shoes—and I solemnly hope I never have to bear their sense of loss—but at present, I find this to be an example of “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Simply put, I’m against the death penalty no matter the circumstances, and I feel the sooner we move to an execution-free America, the better we’ll be as a nation for it.
Though it’s been fairly quiet on the confirmation front lately (President Donald Trump has been repeatedly criticized for his—shall we say—dilatory commitment to filling vacancies in his Cabinet), even ex post facto, it can be educational to see how our U.S. senators voted on the 19 nominees thus confirmed. A particularly valuable resource in this regard is an interactive graphic from The New York Times authored by Wilson Andrews, Times graphics editor, that plots the confirmation vote records of each and every senator, sorted by most “no” votes to least.
On the Republican side, the results are disappointing, if not unsurprising. Of the 52 Republicans with a seat in the Senate, only four have registered at least one “no” vote: Lisa Murkowski (DeVos), John McCain, (Mulvaney), Rand Paul (Pompeo, Coats), and Susan Collins (DeVos, Pruitt). Aside from Andrew Puzder, who withdrew his name for consideration for the role of Secretary of Labor, and Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, who required Vice President Mike Pence to break a 50-50 tie and has been the only nominee to receive multiple “no” votes from Republicans, no one else has really been in doubt to pass confirmation proceedings. The only other candidates who have failed to garner even 55 votes are Mick Mulvaney (Office of Management and Budget), Jeff Sessions (Attorney General), Tom Price (Department of Health and Human Services), Scott Pruitt (Environmental Protection Agency), and Steven Mnuchin, the likes of which, either based on their past conduct, their conflicts upon conflicts of interest, or both, haven’t exactly distinguished themselves—well, at least not in the positive sense.
As for the Democrats and independents, the results are decidedly more varied. The top “no” voter in the Senate, tallying 17 of 19 nays, is Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who is not really regarded as a progressive heroine, but has seemingly moved further left as she has gone along, and certainly more so than in her days in the House. Also high on the list are some of the more popular and well-regarded senators in terms of their principles—Cory Booker, Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, all of whom have issued 16 of 19 “no” votes. These senators and others who have voted no roughly two-thirds of the time—13 or more “no” votes, let’s say—comprise a minority even within the group of just Democratic and independent senators. Only 15 of this bloc of 48 senators have voted “no” 13+ times (31.25%), and that clip decreases to a scant 15% within the U.S. Senate at large. On one hand, that more Democrats are willing to break ranks is perhaps encouraging in terms of the desire to not merely rubberstamp or preemptively dismiss nominees along the path to confirmation. On the other hand, if you were looking for a unified front from the Dems, you can go ahead and keep looking, and moreover, the divide in votes may be indicative of a larger ideological divide within the Democratic Party.
Though a minority in its own right, a group of eight Democratic or independent senators has failed to record 10 or more “no” votes in 19 confirmation vote proceedings, with five of them failing to eclipse even six of 19, or a third of votes. These are the lowest of the low, literally speaking, regarding “no” votes:
Joe Manchin III (D-WV)
“No” Votes: 4 (DeVos, Mulvaney, Price, Ross)
Joe Manchin, a professed Democrat, has cast as many “no” votes as Republican Senators who have voted “no” altogether during the confirmation process. As noted, that’s a bar that should be fairly easy to clear—and he hasn’t. The votes for Scott Pruitt and Rex Tillerson don’t come as that much of a surprise for Manchin, hailing from a state that is synonymous with coal, but the “yes” vote for Jeff Sessions is particularly egregious. Some are comparing Joe Manchin, based on his willingness to break from other Dems, to Joe Lieberman, a comparison which is not all that endearing. Though obviously a joke, it’s telling when the official Twitter feed for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee suggests Democrats oppose Manchin in the 2018 primaries with a lump of coal. Brutal, but not wholly undeserved.
Heidi Heitkamp, like Joe Manchin III, suffers the ignominy of voting “yes” on both Pruitt and Tillerson. Also like Manchin, she hails from a state in North Dakota of which fossil fuels make up a significant part of the economy, so not a huge shocker there, but still disappointing. That she would be so principled on nominees like Mick Mulvaney, Jeff Sessions, Tom Price, and Steven Mnuchin makes her positions on Scott Pruitt and Rex Tillerson all the more jarring. Either way, Heitkamp and Manchin are the only two Democrats to vote for both Pruitt and Tillerson, and the former, like the latter, should receive her due censure from progressives within the party.
Angus King of Maine is one of two independents in the Senate, alongside a certain senator from the state of Vermont who gave Hillary Clinton a run for her money regarding the Democratic Party nomination. Like Bernie Sanders, he caucuses with the Democrats. Apparently, though, he doesn’t vote with them nearly as often as his counterpart. Certainly, the “yes” vote for Rex Tillerson is concerning, but his approval for the likes of Ben Carson and Rick Perry is also vaguely disconcerting. Mr. King, you may be independent and may caucus with the Dems, but you are no Bernie Sanders. Not even close.
Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
“No” Votes: 6 (DeVos, Mulvaney, Sessions, Price, Mnuchin, Tillerson; did not vote on Pruitt)
If you believe Joe Donnelly, he is a lawmaker committed to making life better for his fellow Hoosiers, and this includes working across the aisle when necessary. If you approach his statements and his voting record from a more pragmatic or even cynical viewpoint, though, you might say he capitulates to conservatives when he has to. As both a member of the House of Representatives and a U.S. Senator, Donnelly’s record has been marked by his being more moderate on both economic and social issues. While I respect that this likely has caused him stress in being the subject of attacks from both the left and the right, speaking as someone from the far-left, I and other progressive-minded individuals are looking for better than 6-for-19 on these confirmation votes. That would be fine in baseball, but Indiana does not have a major league team, and these matters are more important.
Mark Warner has the exact same voting record on Cabinet position confirmations as the aforementioned independent Angus King. That’s not an endorsement—nor should it be considered as such. Once again, the principled stance on Pruitt alongside a “yes” vote on Tillerson is an odd juxtaposition, and even casting votes in favor of Rick Perry or even Ryan Zinke raises the progressive brow. Warner, it should be noted, is the top Senate Democrat investigating ties between Russia and Trump, particularly in the arena of interference in the 2016 presidential election. That said, being recently spotted having a chat over wine with Rex Tillerson doesn’t exactly inspire confidence for Democratic supporters that his interests and party loyalty are all that pure. Mark Warner, you’re on notice.
Even for those Democratic senators who have cleared the low hurdle of six “no” votes, a few others have yet to garner double digits, putting their judgment in question, or, if nothing else, suggesting they may be too close to center to really inspire enthusiasm among younger members of the party base. The following senators, if not getting an explicit wag of the finger, are nonetheless worthy of a wary eye:
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
“No” Votes: 7 (DeVos, Mulvaney, Sessions, Pruitt, Mnuchin, Tillerson, Carson; did not vote on Price)
You may have heard Claire McCaskill’s name in the news recently, when she called upon Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from any investigations into Russia and Trump, averring that she personally had never met Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak—when, in fact, she totally had. She also has recently been making a push to Bernie Sanders supporters in her bid for re-election—you know, despite endorsing Hillary Clinton early in the primaries and criticizing Sanders’ campaign at the time. These stories may say enough about the Democratic senator from Missouri, but her voting record alone on Trump’s Cabinet nominees should prompt criticism from the left.
As far as moderates go, Jon Tester is fairly well regarded among liberals based on a number of his votes in the Senate, as well as policy positions which have evolved and moved further left over time (e.g. same-sex marriage, Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell). A bleeding-heart liberal Tester is not, though, with his pro-gun stance, for instance, painting him as more of a “your grandpappy’s” kind of Dem than the “elitist liberals” that are always being decried in right-wing circles. At least on the gun issue, this is perhaps to be expected in a red state like Montana. Still, one might have liked to see more push-back on nominees like Wilbur Ross or even Linda McMahon given his past diatribes against the wealthy. You get a pass this time, Sen. Tester. This time.
Tim Kaine’s presence on this short list means Virginia has two under-10 “no” vote senators to its name, the only such state to earn that distinction given two Democratic/independent senators. Kaine, as you’ll recall, was Hillary Clinton’s pick for vice president, and a way too “safe” one at that. He is the sort that is unlikely to generate much enthusiasm from even party loyalists, let alone a younger portion of the base looking for more conviction on important issues, such as free trade (like Clinton, Kaine has supported NAFTA and came late to his resolution against the Trans-Pacific Partnership) and regulation of the banking industry (proposals of his, while under the guise of being pro-regulation, have been criticized by progressive groups as being anything but). Tim Kaine may be a nice enough guy, but he was the wrong choice for Clinton’s presidential campaign, and may be symbolic of the “mainstream” wing of the Democratic Party that is keeping it from more enthusiastically embracing more liberal views.
To be fair, one might argue that “no” votes without much hope of dramatically altering the outcomes of these Cabinet nominees mean very little. In this regard, stances taken against potential office holders amount to little more than posturing. By the same token, however, for those who have registered more “yes” votes than “no” votes, perhaps these confirmation votes presage a deeper reluctance to embrace the Democratic Party as a whole, or at least magnify the effect of their senator’s centrism.
Where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, then, is with the looming vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch as the next Supreme Court justice. In a vacuum, Donald Trump’s choice of Gorsuch to fill the vacancy left by the passing of Antonin Scalia might not be so hotly contested by Democrats. As things in the political world have shaken out of late, though, there is additional context to consider. Republicans already had majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate before the fateful events of November, and with Trump—a loose cannon if ever there were one—ascending to the highest office in the nation, the stakes are higher than ever for a party in the Democratic Party that is reeling from electoral defeats up and down the levels of government.
Of even higher relevance, meanwhile, is Merrick Garland’s stalled nomination for this same vacancy. As you’ll likely recall, Garland was tapped by President Barack Obama near the end of his tenure, which he was perfectly justified in doing. Effectually, Obama called conservative Republicans’ bluff, nominating the kind of jurist that appeals to those on both side of the political aisle, and thus requiring GOP lawmakers to all but in name concede their refusal to confirm or hear Merrick Garland was petty gamesmanship. Which, of course, they did. Mitch McConnell and Co. held their breath and waited for Obama’s second term to conclude, rejecting calls from their Democratic counterparts and their constituents alike to “do their jobs.”
With all this in mind, we return to the current kerfuffle over Neil Gorsuch. Whereas Trump’s various Cabinet picks have only needed a 51-vote majority to secure confirmation, the role of Supreme Court justice, because it is so vital and because it is a lifetime appointment, would require 60 votes as part of a procedural cloture vote to end debate and move on to the actual confirmation vote if Senate Democrats are determined to filibuster the nomination. So, how committed are the Dems and independents in the Senate to staving off the confirmation vote? Well, let’s just say they should have enough votes—a minimum of 41 would be required—to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. But it’s not exactly a safe margin, and fairly significantly, I feel, a few senators have either wavered on whether or not they will support a filibuster, or have outright indicated they are against this measure. Once again, Wilson Andrews and The New York Times, with the help of Audrey Carlsen, Alicia Parlapiano, and Jugal K. Patel, have devised another helpful graphic to help us sort out the positions for or against filibuster.
Undecided or Unclear: 2
Up for Re-election: 2 (Benjamin L. Cardin, Robert Menendez)
Ben Cardin and Bob Menendez are likely to vote against Neil Gorsuch in a final vote to determine if he is confirmed or not. Remember, though, we are talking about specifically pledging to support the 60-vote filibuster, and as of Tuesday, April 4, 4:30 P.M. EDT, their commitment was judged by the team at the Times to be undecided or unclear on that front. Cardin, for what it’s worth, has said he supports the filibuster on social media, and Menendez has apparently followed suit. Both senators are facing re-election in 2018, but that provides only slight plausibility as to why they would wait until Democrats were all but assured of having the necessary 41 votes given they do not really hail from strong red states. In short, and to be quite frank, it’s pretty cowardly of Ben Cardin and Bob Menendez to make their intentions known after the fact. The above-cited article from The Hill also name-checks Angus King, who, as we know, is an independent and has only managed a scant six “no” votes (and is up for re-election), as a late decider. As Democrats, however, you would expect better of Cardin and Menendez, both of whom have gone 12-for-19 in “no” votes, and as a progressive hailing from the state of New Jersey, I am severely disappointed in the latter.
Against Filibuster: 4
Up for Re-election in Solid Trump State: 3 (Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin III)
Not Up for Re-election: 1 (Michael Bennet)
Joe Manchin. Heidi Heitkamp. Joe Donnelly. We’ve heard these names before, haven’t we? Suddenly, their positions on Cabinet nominees, viewed through the lens of their opposition to the filibuster, make a lot of sense. All three are running for re-election in what are deemed “solid Trump states,” meaning Donald Trump carried them by more than five percentage points in the presidential election.
On one hand, I get that re-election in hostile territory, so to speak, stands to be difficult, and there are those of us who would be willing to accept a moderate Democrat who agrees with the party at least some of the time as opposed to a Republican who is more likely to promote a regressive political agenda. On the other hand, though, being, for all intents and purposes, light versions of Republicans arguably does little for the party and only helps depress turnout in elections, especially among independents and progressives. In this regard, the Dems who capitulate to conservative or even moneyed interests can be seen as conceding without making a concerted effort to expand their base among neglected demographic groups in their jurisdictions—playing politics in the short term and risking party support in the long term. In other words, the likes of Donnelly, Heitkamp and Manchin are playing not to lose rather than to win, and this same strategy as employed by Hillary Clinton and other Democrats only seems to be hurting the Democratic Party at the polls. Once again, speaking bluntly, Democratic leadership doesn’t seem to “get it.”
As for Michael Bennet, even for someone whose job is not immediately in danger, he has recognizably faced pressure from both the left and right regarding the filibuster. If Jon Tester, a senator in a red state up for re-election can support the filibuster, however, I submit Bennet (10-of-19 “no votes”) could have, too. Way to ride that center rail, Mike.
The Senate Republicans are expected to exercise the so-called “nuclear option,” essentially rewriting the rules so that 51 votes can advance proceedings to the actual confirmation vote. So, why bother with a filibuster? Democrats and others on the left would insist that this is more than warranted for the GOP’s refusal to hear Merrick Garland, and besides, with a president whose ethical conflicts are barely disguised as such, and who many contend is too unhinged to serve in his present role, there are those who call on Senate Dems to demand Trump release his tax returns at a minimum before considering Neil Gorsuch for the vacancy in the Supreme Court. Then again, Republicans would say that the Democrats “started it,” after rewriting Senate confirmation rules for executive and judicial nominees in their own right in 2013. Is all fair in love, war, and politics, or do two wrongs not make a right? I guess it depends on what side of the fence you’re on, honestly.
Even if the Republicans “go nuclear,” as President Agent Orange would have it, resisting the confirmation of Gorsuch and other picks until that point based on the merit of held ideals would convey to voters that the Democrats are willing to fight for their constituents and for what they believe in rather than merely trying to hold on to what seats they have. Moreover, claims from Joe Manchin et al. that politics should be kept out of the judiciary are weak sauce when politics so clearly stand behind the decision to nominate Neil Gorsuch in the first place. If Dems like Claire McCaskill want votes from Bernie Sanders supporters, they can’t just ask for it—they have to earn it. That is, they have to demand the kind of change that authentically speaks to the needs of their rank-and-file constituents, and not merely count on voters’ ability to distinguish their policies from those of the GOP, especially when calling for incremental or middling reforms. Otherwise, with Democrats like these, who needs Republicans?
On the eve of the start of Black History Month, President Donald Trump didn’t disappoint his conservative fans or white supremacist supporters when he announced his nomination of silver-haired white dude Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court left when Justice Antonin Scalia left this Earth and departed for that big courthouse in the sky. Gorsuch, despite being the youngest SCOTUS nominee in a quarter of a century, has the pedigree of a Supreme Court Justice. He’s studied at Columbia, Harvard, Oxford—not a shabby hand, eh?—and in terms of his professional career, he’s been a clerk for a United States Court of Appeals judge and two Supreme Court Justices (Byron White and Anthony Kennedy), worked in a D.C. law firm, was principal deputy to Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum at the DOJ, spent time as a Thomson Visiting Professor at the University of Colorado Law School, and has served in his current role as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit out of his duty station in Denver, Colorado.
In other words, Judge Gorsuch is, unlike a number of Trump’s picks for his Cabinet, eminently qualified for the position for which he has been tapped, and for that, I respect the man. Do I think he should be confirmed as the next Supreme Court Justice, however? In a word, no. It’s nothing personal. I mean, heck, I didn’t know who the guy was until Pres. Trump’s prime-time announcement. Regardless, as I’m sure a number of key Democrats do, I have concerns about his priorities as a jurist and whether or not he would let his political and personal/spiritual ideologies interfere with his interpretation of the Constitution as a member of SCOTUS. Accordingly, I feel the Dems should take their time and do their due diligence before rubber-stamping Neil Gorsuch into service on the highest court in the country. After all, and if nothing else, it’s only fair.
On that last note, let’s take a few steps back and consider the current political climate in which we’re operating. In a vacuum, given his extensive experience, Gorsuch might not be considered a terrible pick, or at the very least, Democrats might have been more willing to work with the Trump administration and Republicans on moving along the confirmation process at a brisker pace. With Pres. Trump in the midst of signing a slew of grotesque executive orders to start his tenure in the Oval Office, however, and in light of the GOP’s obstruction of the Democrats’ own pick to fill Scalia’s vacant seat in the Supreme Court in the remaining months of President Barack Obama’s run as Commander-in-Chief, a measure of resistance on the Dems’ part might not only be advisable, but warranted.
Antonin Scalia died on February 13, 2016, and Obama officially nominated Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s vacancy on March 16, 2016. The move on President Obama’s part to pick Garland, in addition to selecting someone highly experienced in his own right, was intended to force the hand of Republicans in the Senate. Would GOP lawmakers confirm Merrick Garland and resign to having a Supreme Court Justice many of them admired, but wasn’t as conservative as the more vocal factions within their ranks would have liked, or would they be a dick about things and refuse to hear Garland on principle that he was Obama’s choice and therefore had to be neutralized? Um, I think you know where this is going. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republicans chose to be a dick about things. No hearings. No votes. Nothing. Essentially, they refused to do their jobs, claiming they lacked sufficient time to process Garland’s nomination and that the incoming President should decide who fills the vacant SCOTUS seat—even though they realistically had plenty of time to respond to Merrick Garland’s bid, and there was no standard or tradition which prevented a President of the United States from nominating someone to fill a sudden vacancy in his or her final year in office. Yup, Senate Republicans were being huge dicks.
Now, of course, the shoe is on the other proverbial foot, with of course the difference being that the Republicans had a majority in the Senate then and do now, which explains why they’ve been so keen to try to ram-rod President Trump’s Cabinet picks through the confirmation process. Not only do Republican leaders seek this treatment with Neil Gorsuch, however, but to an extent, they seem to expect it. The aforementioned Mitch McConnell had this to say about what he hopes to see from his Democratic Party counterparts:
In the coming days, I hope and expect that all Senate colleagues will give him fair consideration just as we did for the nominees of newly-elected presidents Clinton and Obama. This is a judge who is known for deciding cases based on how the law is actually written, even when it leads to results that conflict with his own political beliefs. He understands that his role as a judge is to interpret the law, not his own viewpoint.
Well, Sen. McConnell, you certainly talk a good game. Indeed, McConnell is not the only person to speak highly to Gorsuch’s credentials or his education, and Trump’s nominee has been known to diverge from his conservative principles when it suits him. Still, this blanket praise for Judge Gorsuch seems to be what we should anticipate from our federal jurists at somewhat of a minimum. Deciding cases based on how the law is actually written, interpreting the law and not one’s own viewpoint—these, one might argue, are important ethical standards for any judge. That is, Neil Gorsuch shouldn’t be assumed to be or propped up to be superior to other judges just by virtue of remaining free from bias. By this token, we should ask nothing less of the man, especially if he is to take up residency on the Supreme Court.
As for the timing of the SCOTUS nomination, Mitch McConnell conveniently leaves out what happened not at the onset of Barack Obama’s tenure, but in its twilight: that of the refusal to even dignify Merrick Garland’s nomination with a response. Thus, if Republicans are indignantly claiming that Democrats delaying votes to request additional disclosures from and information about key Cabinet picks or seeking to drag their feet on confirming Mr. Gorsuch is fundamentally and substantially different from their move to block Garland’s nomination so as to eliminate their chance of replacing the late Antonin Scalia with someone other than another version of him, let me not mince words by offering that this is complete and unmitigated bullshit.
Moreover, claiming that “the people” should be effectively allowed to pick the next Supreme Court Justice nominee by choosing the President is also balderdash, hogwash, and poppycock. Not only should politics not get in the way of going through the motions on reviewing a candidate for a SCOTUS vacancy (i.e. if you want to be dicks and refuse him after giving him a hearing, OK, but at least give him that), but numerous constituents did use their voice during the months of the GOP refusal to acknowledge President Obama’s nomination, and it was in protest, with the common refrain from those in dissent being “Do your job!” Especially for members of a political party that has made it a habit of treating those buoyed by the social safety net as lazy, shiftless sorts, refusal by Republican Party leaders to entertain Obama’s selection in the name of politics could be seen as blatantly hypocritical. At any rate, rather than heed the desires of all their constituents, Mitch McConnell and Co. catered to their base. Not terribly surprising, but ideally, not how lawmakers professing to act in everyone’s best interests should be acting.
Before we get ahead of ourselves in conceiving of Democratic Party resistance to Donald Trump’s nomination for the Supreme Court as political ransom, if not brinkmanship, it should be stressed that key Democrats do see legitimate reasons, if not to vote against Neil Gorsuch outright, to, if nothing else, demand the chance to engage him directly on his views and trends within his judicial record. Richard Primus, in a well-thought-out piece about Gorsuch for Politico, identifies him by the designation “Scalia 2.0,” a nod which probably won’t gain him much traction with Scalia 1.0’s detractors. This passage, in particular, perhaps best encapsulates the thrust of Primus’s article, and in doing so, puts President Trump’s nomination in a historical context:
The most sensible way to think of Gorsuch may therefore be to imagine what Scalia might have been if he had come along thirty years later. Scalia came of age at a time when legal conservatives were doing battle with a relatively liberal Supreme Court. Perhaps not surprisingly, they framed their views in terms of judicial restraint and deference to majoritarian lawmaking. Gorsuch’s generation of conservatives, which has lived its whole adult life with a more conservative Court, seems more inclined to see majoritarian regulation as the problem and the judiciary as a good solution.
If Richard Primus makes this very general distinction, though, why the allusion to Judge Gorsuch as a new version of Justice Scalia? Despite the two men operating or coming of age, so to speak, in different eras, they share the same staunchly conservative views on a number of key issues, including abortion, affirmative action, capital punishment, and firearms, which obviously appeals to the right. Meanwhile, noting the divergence within the quoted passage above, Neil Gorsuch tends to differ from Antonin Scalia on the dimension of the role of the courts in relation to business regulation, favoring instead greater judicial discretion and, therefore, diminished capacity for regulatory agencies to interpret existing statutes, and on the specific issue of the First Amendment, Gorsuch appears inclined to view “religious freedom” more expansively, which would stand to give businesses and closely-held corporations more leeway in how they operate and how they pay their taxes (or don’t). Again, a seeming victory for the religious right, notably evangelicals, who came out strongly for Trump in the 2016 election. In all, the concern is that Judge Gorsuch, as a Justice on the Supreme Court, would favor corporate interests over the concerns of average Americans, and would emphasize “religious freedom” over individual liberties and freedom from discriminatory business practices.
In all, representatives from both parties would appear to have important decisions to make in the coming days and weeks regarding Neil Gorsuch’s nomination. For Democrats, the chief concern is whether or not they should compel Republicans to seek 60 votes to confirm President Trump’s nominee. Under a procedural vote known as cloture, the minority party in the Senate has the ability to require the approval of 60 senators to end the debate over a candidate for a position as vital as Supreme Court Justice and advance to an up-or-down vote. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, for his part, has indicated his party’s intention to seek this strategic avenue rather than to acquiesce Gorsuch’s confirmation, though some Democrats conceivably could be concerned about employing this tactic only to have it used against them in the future, and would accordingly opt to fight harder another day on another issue.
Republicans, meanwhile, could override the 60-vote requirement of the cloture-filibuster-strategic-thing-a-ma-jig—you know, assuming the Dems actually go ahead with a unified front in favor of such a maneuver—by making use of the so-called “nuclear option.” This would involve an actual change of the rules for filibustering a Supreme Court nominee, enabling the GOP to push Neil Gorsuch through the confirmation process like poop through a goose. Donald Trump, because he is a big, stupid baby and wants to get his way all the time, has advised his Republican confederates to use the nuclear option at first sign of a potential deadlock on Gorsuch’s nomination. (Side note: even when not involving actual nuclear weapons, Trump seems way too eager to use the nuclear option. Dude may have a nuke problem, in fact. Just saying.) Understandably, despite their recent history of dickishness, Republican leaders may be reluctant to “go nuclear,” along similar lines as to why Democrats might be hesitant to insist on 60 votes to confirm Judge Gorsuch. As this report by Jake Miller for CBS News details, such a rule change would come fairly close on the heels of a shift in 2014 to require only a 51-vote majority to confirm non-Supreme Court judiciary and executive branch nominees, and could be seen as greasing the ever-slippery slope away from what many would argue is a necessary system of checks and balances for the federal government. Besides, they, too, by changing the rules of the engagement, run the risk of having this tactic turned around on them.
I, of course, as a registered Democrat and as someone who would like to see the Democratic Party regain control of the Senate, if not the House and White House eventually as well, have a dog in this fight over Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat on the Supreme Court. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I hope Senate Democrats filibuster the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, and do whatever is in their power to prolong the confirmation process in light of ideological differences they have with Judge Gorsuch. You know, push back a little. Show us party supporters you have a backbone, for Christ’s sake! Granted, challenging Republicans on the Gorsuch nomination and taking back control of the executive and legislative branches is only as good as the commitment to truly progressive policies and principles, something which isn’t exactly guaranteed from a party that just went all in on Hillary Clinton as its presidential nominee. In the short term, however, Neil Gorsuch can and should be resisted as an extension of Donald Trump’s and the GOP’s pro-business, anti-personal-freedom agenda. Case closed.