Tag Archives: Trump

Charlatans, delay, and normalization

On this day five years ago, Donald Trump wailed “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.” Obviously it did not work out that way.

I have remarked already that America basically normalized the Trump presidency. I think a lot lately about how “hypernormalization” is a defining feature of the culture, at this point; I don’t know how one can process contemporary America and not lose one’s mind, without understanding that “crisis” or “breaking point” aren’t really meaningful concepts.

In retrospect, the “Refuse Fascism” people were probably correct with their “Can’t Wait” for elections warning, if for the wrong reason. The big problem wasn’t what Trump would do in two more years or in three more months or in five minutes. The big problem was that the “wait patiently for the next scheduled election” approach meant that any and everything Trump did was thereby made part of “normal politics.” Imagine, again, if Ukraine had done that in response to a Putin crime capo being head of state. Fortunately, Ukraine didn’t. Unfortunately, we did.

Even more unfortunately, Americans were giving charlatans power over us well before Trump came along. Choosing a point when that began is an arbitrary selection, to some extent; some mild element of fraud at minimum is probably always present in political power.

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What if: Ukraine in a Trump Second Term

I think that I was relatively realistic about the outlines of how bad America’s possibilities were even before the 2020 election, whatever its outcome. Experiencing it still feels awful, but I can’t claim that I really expected far better. What did I write, among other things, how about “I only know that in any and every realistic scenario I can imagine, America will blow up.” I wrote that the election still mattered because a Biden presidency could prevent various atrocities; I probably meant in the sense of preventing them for a while, which seems like the most generous thing which can now be said of how it’s working out.

I certainly can not claim that I was thinking about the fate of Ukraine, ahead of the 2020 election. It is nonetheless arguable that the fate of Ukraine, and maybe partially Europe, has turned on the 2020 US election result. Jonathan Chait argued a month ago that “If Trump Was Still President, Ukraine Would Be So Screwed Right Now,” and it does not seem unthinkable.

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Theory of the Case

Like a lot that I post here, certainly of a political nature, this is a visit to familiar territory. I have often mentioned Carl Sagan’s quote about being “captured by the bamboozle.” (In fact I am bemused to discover that currently, at least on Ecosia, one of my posts is the third result when searching the term.)

I have also touched on the idea that’s on my mind, today, but perhaps it deserves a feature of its own:

It seems entirely possible that things can become so bad, that existing systems can be so unworkable, that an accurate assessment will sound like defeatism. Keeping things hypothetical for a moment, imagine a situation like that, and people simply rejecting the reality of it, because describing it absolutely does sound like defeatism. That seems functionally indistinct from the situation Sagan described: “we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. … The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken.”

Now obviously, I don’t really think this is hypothetical. I concluded back in 2020 that hopes for a healed democratic America were already unrealistic.

But what is the theory of the case, for those who still reject that assessment?

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Le vent se lève

Whenever it was, a year and a half ago or 30 years ago, I titled a post “Improv pandemi-coup-cession” which I think was a pretty credible impression of the multiple car pileup of alarming events and chaos. Right now I don’t even know where I would begin to attempt the same thing.

A big obstacle to bothering, with lots of things, is a high degree of confidence that the disruption right now is scarcely more than a brief sketch of the immersive 3D which is on its way.

A nuclear-armed state is moving toward mass invasion of a U.S. ally, accompanied by a global barrage of socioeconomic sabotage, gaslighting and brain-bending trolling.

It is difficult even to comment on the political crisis in America, which except for brief and pretty much meaningless jolts, is continually hypernormalized even as it deteriorates further and further. I actually have a more or less complete manuscript of a book of comment on this, yet it is difficult to do anything with it. I never saw much point to the project, anyway, in the sense of belief that circulating it would really change anything. But now it feels kind of like completing a manuscript on the fragility of Europe’s 19th-century long peace, in August 1914.

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Accountability vs. Mythmaking

Mythmaking seems like the greatest challenge to accountability for the January 6, 2021 Capitol putsch. I have written a bit about the mythmaking before, and about my skepticism toward accountability efforts, but I perceived the connection a bit more clearly today, I think.

Marcy Wheeler brought up the bureaucratic martial artistry of the Cheneys again, today, and in replying, it occurred to me that the biggest problem for Liz Cheney (and ultimately the rest of us) might be this:

  1. For Cheney, as I have posted here before, I’m not sure how her political career avoids a dead end, now, without making the Republican Party regret becoming the party of the Capitol putsch
  2. I’m not sure how she or anyone else can do that, partly because it seems like it would require turning all of American politics on its head; short of an electoral leveling, I don’t see how Cheney overturns even Republican elites’ ire, and I don’t think investigations, reveals or even convictions are going to produce such a leveling
  3. Also however, it occurred to me today, there is a larger problem that the Big Lie about a stolen election has now taken hold among Republicans and I don’t see anything which might even begin to reverse that. Unless something did so, how and why do Republicans end up genuinely regretting an aggressive attempt to “stop the steal”—?
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The limitations of getting the facts

I have written that investigators are doing the best job of just about anyone at responding to the January 2021 Capitol putsch. I find Marcy Wheeler, and her rebuttals to many particular complaints about the Department of Justice, very credible.

I think that no outcome of even the most successful investigation is, by itself, going to save America’s democracy. I also think that the standard for “getting the facts,” “establishing beyond reasonable doubt,” etc., as applied to so many things seems much like a mirage, forever visible on the horizon but never actually closer no matter how far you go in its direction.

Republicans’ effort to pressure Georgia’s election officials into fraud, more than a year ago, seem like an illustration verging on caricature of this reality.

Trump’s telephone harangue of Brad Raffensperger on January 2 seems like it amounted to illegal solicitation of election fraud, or else nothing ever could. But more to the point the phone call lasted one hour. The whole call was recorded, and published almost immediately. How much time can you spend investigating a one-hour conversation?

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Elites for Oligarchy

I wrote a reply to the “Republicans for democracy” feature in today’s The Morning email newsletter. Partly I was just reacting to the ongoing stupidity of this elite fantasy about a “grand coalition” in which democracy is saved by teaming up with anti-Trump Republicans. This is fan fiction, and bad fan fiction at that. But, I think my efforts to compose a relatively tight response helped clarify some concepts which are important. So here’s my email.

I appreciate The Morning emails. They are frequently informative and often thoughtful.

“Republicans for democracy” is really not good analysis.

One, your premise of a crucial division between the Republicans of Trump and the Republicans of Cheney is entirely arbitrary. Trump aspired to use procedural mumbo jumbo to overturn democracy; Bush and Cheney actually did so (as did Trump 16 years later), it’s called The Electoral College.

“But The Electoral College is a legitimate institution,” except it’s an antidemocratic and [as employed since the 18th century] extra-Constitutional institution, which the Cheney Republicans were and undoubtedly remain ready to delegitimize the instant that it might disfavor them instead of Democrats.

20 years before Trump did so, the Bush-Cheney team ginned up a mob to storm and disrupt official post-election processes. You pooh-pooh this precedent as mere “hardball,” and insist that the greater violence of Trump’s mob makes it “not consistent with American democratic traditions.” Yet in the very sentence before you insist that violence and supportive lies are firmly out of bounds, you insist that lying the nation into an entire war is firmly in bounds. Please.

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Coups, procedure, & cultural senescence

Picking up from “Systems are living forms… They, too, are born and die,” I want to make a few notes related to the recent “reveal” that Trump sought to overturn the presidential election.

Where even to begin, though:

  • Uh, we know that Trump sought to overturn the presidential election; how many times can this be “BREAKING” news?
  • In any meaningful sense, Trump already did use arcane procedural mumbo jumbo to overturn the presidential election in 2016, when he lost by nearly 3 million votes.
  • George W. Bush used arcane procedural mumbo jumbo to overturn a presidential election even 16 years before that, and even if you’re determined to look for sinister scheming, that’s where to look, since after that point America just normalized using arcane procedural mumbo jumbo to overturn presidential elections.

Seriously this is just ridiculous that even “experts” in these matters won’t see past the obsession with Trump to recognize that everything alarming in the Pence/memo/coup story is long-established and accepted.

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1,317 Days

It is difficult for most people genuinely to believe and adapt to a belief that the system doesn’t work, and not surprisingly, elites are generally more prone to this than average people. For this reason as much as any, I just can’t believe that American renewal is close.

It feels as though we are a society simply marking time, now. I made a counter of the days until Inauguration Day 2025, currently 1,317 days out. This date seems important because, until then, various limited but significant abuses of power will probably be on pause. That seems like nearly the only major reassurance available for American governance right now. Manifesting efforts aside, it seems very unlikely that Republicans can seize back the presidency’s terrible powers before then. This matters, given that their last presidency delivered not just vast corruption but e.g. concentration camps (even if they denied this term), an Attorney General publicly supporting a program to disappear dissidents off the street into unmarked vans, and Lafayette Square.

It’s a symptom of how complete the rot is that no one seems likely to be penalized for any of these things; on the last item, indeed, Biden’s Attorney General is defending Trump against a related lawsuit and media has recently picked up an attempt to gaslight the events’ reality out of history entirely.

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The US Capitol Besieged

Yesterday—January 6 2021—armed terrorists, inspired by the president, stormed the Capitol in a violent attempted coup. The terrorists had support from Capitol Police (in their actions) and Congressional Republicans (in their aim to reject the presidential election result).

As of now, Thursday morning, the terrorists are dispersed; a few have been arrested and more may follow. The terrorist-leader president is still in office although his administration is disintegrating through resignations. Both houses of Congress are adjourned after completing the mumbo-jumbo of election certification in the wee hours. The closest thing to an anti-Trump Republican in Congress, Sen. Mitt Romney, has actually said “I think we’ve got to hold our breath for the next 20 [sic] days.”

As concerned as I am about the next two weeks, I’m also minded to consider the long term and the big picture. Something big and terrible happened on Wednesday. Invaders raised a Confederate flag inside the Capitol, which many people pointed out never happened during all the years of the Civil War (even though DC was basically surrounded by rebel territory). Hostile forces have invaded the Capitol, before, but that was 200 years ago when the United States was a precarious upstart nation.

This morning my mind’s drawn back further, to the sack of Rome in 410, and how this appeared for some time afterward to be only an embarrassing brief event.

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