Sunday, February 9, 2020

Every day calls into question whether American democracy can withstand Trumpism

We may be facing, functionally, a single-party system: the party of Trump.

For starters, this past week Iowa led the way in exposing rifts in the Democratic party. My favorites (except for Elizabeth Warren) were gone before the first tallies of the caucuses - Harris and Booker, for examples. (Tnx to Roving Reporter Sherry who shaped this post.)

Chaos Democratic style

NY Times columnist Michelle Goldberg worries about The Harrowing Chaos of the Democratic Primary: Is it really going to be Bernie or bust for American democracy?

… now that election is approaching, and the debacle of the Iowa caucuses only highlights how the Democratic Party is threatening to fracture. In its aftermath, we’re left with a national race led by two very old and extraordinarily risky general election candidates whose weaknesses were underscored by Iowa’s results, muddled as they were.

Bernie Sanders’s supporters have argued that he can expand the electorate to make up for the suburban moderates he’s likely to lose, moderates who were, incidentally, responsible for many of the gains Democrats made in 2018. But while Sanders claimed a popular vote victory in Iowa, there was no surge in voter turnout since the last election, and an NBC News entrance poll showed that the number of first-time caucusers actually went down.

Sanders still has the advantage of energy and ardor; young people are overwhelmingly on his side, and his campaign will be carried along by the same sort of ebullient cultural ferment as Barack Obama’s. (When the pop megastar Ariana Grande met Sanders in November, she wrote on Twitter, “I will never smile this hard again.”) I try to talk myself into believing that his passionate base, combined with a polarized electorate, will be enough. Still, with the survival of American democracy at stake, it seems like a wild gamble for Democrats to turn the fight against Trump into a referendum on Democratic socialism at a time when Americans’ personal economic satisfaction is at a record high.

How did it come to this? Mostly, I blame Joe Biden and those in the Democratic establishment who pushed his campaign. It’s been obvious for some time now that Biden is not nearly as vigorous as he once was. While he’s always been gaffe-prone, his speech has grown tentative and meandering in a way that engenders sympathy but also profound anxiety. In Iowa, where voters had a chance to see him up close, the most recent results show him with a distant fourth-place finish. Even if he somehow limps to the nomination, the general election will be a grim slog, like racing on a wounded horse.

Yet with his unmatched biography and name recognition, he deprived younger center-left candidates like Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Michael Bennet of oxygen even as he failed to consolidate centrists himself. That’s left the erstwhile novelty candidate Pete Buttigieg as Biden’s strongest competitor for moderate votes, but while he’s shooting up the polls in New Hampshire, he has virtually no support among voters of color.

According to the polling experts at FiveThirtyEight, Sanders now has a 1 in 2 chance of winning the majority of delegates in the Democratic race. The next most likely scenario, with 1 in 4 odds, is that no one does, which would spell a contested convention.

Should that happen, there will be forces in the Democratic Party that try to block Sanders. (A few members of the Democratic National Committee have already discussed rule changes meant to thwart him, though so far it’s just been marginal chatter.) But if Sanders emerges from the primaries with a plurality of votes, denying him the nomination would be not just unfair but potentially suicidal. I worry about Sanders’s chances against Trump, but a candidate foisted on the party over the furious remonstrances of a disempowered base would almost certainly fare worse, while permanently alienating the young people who should be the Democratic Party’s future.

The way things are going, the fate of American democracy could soon be Bernie or bust. I envy those who find that exhilarating rather than terrifying.

Or, in another word, harrowing.

Sanders not getting the nod would create incredible animosity among his Bernie-bots. That’s not an uninformed guess on my part. I heard too many of them proclaim that they would not vote for Clinton in 2016. In 2020, it’s one of the scenarios considered by David Brooks as he considers How Trump Wins Again Are Democrats going to give this election away?

Democrats may wind up in a position in which they can’t nominate Bernie Sanders because he’s too far left, and they can’t not nominate him because his followers would bolt from a Biden/Bloomberg/Buttigieg-led party.

Only 53 percent of Sanders voters say they will certainly support whoever is the Democratic nominee. This is no idle threat. In 2016, in Pennsylvania, 117,000 Sanders primary voters went for Trump in the general, and Trump won the state by 44,292 ballots. In Michigan, 48,000 Sanders voters went for Trump, and Trump won the state by 10,704. In Wisconsin, 51,300 Sanders voters went for Trump, and Trump won the state by 22,748. In short, Sanders voters helped elect Trump.

Even so, I’m with Goldberg right now on my choice of candidates - “Elizabeth Warren, the candidate I believe in more than any other. But I recognize that Warren has electability challenges of her own, and the truth is I’d be fine with any nominee who could generate enthusiasm without scaring suburbanites, if I could only see who that was.” Change “I” to “Scriber” and you have my choice. Is she close enough ideologically to Sanders to head off the Bernie-bot defections like those of 2016?

Another thought: perhaps Amy Klobuchar can tough it out and pick up support in the primaries to come. She ended up with a gangbuster of a closing statement in last night’s debate. The NY Times panel that picked Winners and Losers of the Democratic Debate voted Klobuchar as the winner beating Sanders and Warren and Mayor Pete. I always thought that her low numerical standing was far below what her substance merits.

If the Dems cannot get this sorted out in a way that unites the party, we are in for …

… four more years …

… that started with the sacking of Col. Vindman and the Trumpification of the National Security Council. His removal is petty and vindictive. It’s also part of a bigger plan.

Let’s start with promises made by DoD.

UK protests 1
DoD letter promising no reprisal

In a pair of tweets Neal Katyal and Rachel Maddow remind us of the DoD pledge to “not tolerate” any reprisal against Col. Vindman for his testimony before the House Intelligence committee. See letter.

Well, it just happened and DoD is as powerless as all other government agencies when it comes to edicts issued by the Mad Moron in the WH.

Neal Katyal
“Let me assure you, the Department will not tolerate any act of retaliation or reprisal against” Col. Vindman.

Rachel Maddow MSNBC
It was on official Pentagon letterhead and everything. And it wasn’t that long ago.
Maybe it was… satire?

On Friday, the White House announced that it was transferring Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified during the House impeachment hearings, out of the National Security Council. The move is unsettling, petty and vindictive. But it’s not a surprise: The dismissal is just one part of a campaign by the national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, to trumpify one of the most powerful and important institutions in government.

More than simply ridding the staff of resistance to the president, Mr. O’Brien has locked Trumpism into the government’s bureaucratic hub. His restructuring prioritizes geographic policy (like, ironically, Ukraine policy) while cutting or combining teams in functional and transnational issues such as international economics, nonproliferation and global health. The council is now tailor made for a president who sees foreign policy in transactional, bilateral terms, as either decisions to make alone or deals to be cut with another head of state.

But a Trumpian National Security Council is a terrible fit for today’s world. The coronavirus emerging from China is just the latest proof of how rarely global events cooperate with presidential preference, and how often they spread across continents and policy disciplines. Mr. Trump may not believe the whole world is interconnected or that it requires whole-of-government policymaking, but that does not make it so. Nor does it mean he can combat a potential pandemic armed only with talking points for a phone call with China’s president. Challenges like coronavirus demand the sort of dot connecting that had once been the m├ętier of the National Security Council, and is now lost in Washington.

At great risk to the country, Mr. Trump and Mr. O’Brien are finally winning the war at the council. But it’s the next president’s loss, and thus all of ours. Whoever replaces Mr. Trump will inherit a weaker and less worldly National Security Council, and learn the hard way it’s far easier to deconstruct a staff than rebuild one. As a result, even after Mr. Trump leaves the White House, Trumpism will continue to corrupt American foreign policy.

And how did they get away with it? Here are excerpts from an opinion piece by former Rep. Steve Israel on How Never Trumpers Fell in Line: Political rationalization has always been part of politics. But what is happening now is dangerous.

During my 16 years in Congress, from 2001 to 2017, I worked closely with Republicans in the House and, occasionally, in the Senate. Still, as I watched my former colleagues defend the president during his impeachment trial, I was struck by the same question that baffles many: Why didn’t more Republican senators convict President Trump, or at least allow additional witnesses in his impeachment trial? My conversations with lawmakers, and my own experiences in Congress, offer up a theory.

Republican members of Congress broadly fall into two types: those who, on principle, have always supported the president, and those who, fearing electoral consequences, have rationalized their decision to stick with him.

An occasional concession does no harm to democracy. But when justifying compromises becomes an operating system — when each day, politicians contort their views to fit the politically popular, as ordained by the president — our representatives become unrecognizable. They transform from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde — or 2016 Lindsey Graham to 2020 Lindsey Graham.

The pull to rationalize is made stronger by the fact that the president doesn’t allow for nuance in the Republican ranks. You’re either with or against him. Several Republicans have told me the story of Representative Mac Thornberry, a Republican from Texas, who announced in September that he was not running for re-election.

Two months later, he was asked on ABC News about Mr. Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president. Included in his otherwise fulsome defense of the president was this: “I believe it was inappropriate. I do not believe it was impeachable.” Hours later, Mr. Trump tweeted: “Republicans, don’t be led into the fools trap of saying it was not perfect, but is not impeachable. No, it is much stronger than that. NOTHING WAS DONE WRONG!”

Message received: If your support of President Trump isn’t complete and unequivocal, he will go after you in a viral tweet.

As Republicans flock behind the president, they start to believe his exaggerations and misinformation. Soon, an initial concession of a few inches widens to an inescapable partisan trench. What was once an adopted position — a line pushed by the president — becomes a tribal truth. It’s the Ukrainians who meddled not the Russians. Separating children from parents and putting them in detention centers is an exaggerated liberal narrative. The real problem isn’t President Trump, it’s Hunter Biden. There’s no more dancing around these issues; now they stomp in unison.

Pragmatism, compromise and even ideological agility have always been part of politics. But what is happening now is dangerous. The rationalizers aren’t just turning against their own principles; many are turning against fundamental norms of democracy. The constant rationalization has made them unrecognizable. Unlike the Republicans who were Trumpian even before Donald Trump, the rationalizers have forgotten that what they now believe they once made up.

So they will stick with Mr. Trump. No matter how damning the facts or clear the evidence, they will defend him.

For so many of them, the loyalty is, well, quite rational.

For the last word, I recommend this morning’s piece by the AZ BlueMeanie, The fog of fascism descends upon America. It is a horrifying prediction of what’s to come for the nation. The Friday night massacre is just the beginning of Trump’s weaponizing of the federal government in service of his autocratic vindictive motives. I’d like to think that the press is a sufficiently large institution to withstand Trump’s assault on investigative reporting. But then I thought that of State, Justice, and (in this post), Defense. Every one of those and other cabinet agencies have felt the filthy touch of Trump’s fascism. Remember Rick Wilson’s dictum: “everything Trump touches dies.”

RIP American democracy.

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