The following appeared in my inbox while I was in the air. I'll read them later:
I'll probably read them after my body wakes me up at 6am local time tomorrow. The westbound time change is so much easier than eastbound, but it's still hard to sleep in.
New Republic has excerpted How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, to be published this January. Salient points:
If constitutional rules alone do not secure democracy, then what does? Much of the answer lies in the development of strong democratic norms. Two norms stand out: mutual toleration, or accepting one’s partisan rivals as legitimate (not treating them as dangerous enemies or traitors); and forbearance, or deploying one’s institutional prerogatives with restraint—in other words, not using the letter of the Constitution to undermine its spirit (what legal scholar Mark Tushnet calls “constitutional hardball”).
Donald Trump is widely and correctly criticized for assaulting democratic norms. But Trump didn’t cause the problem. The erosion of democratic norms began decades ago.
In 1979, newly elected Congressman Newt Gingrich came to Washington with a blunter, more cutthroat vision of politics than Republicans were accustomed to. Backed by a small but growing group of loyalists, Gingrich launched an insurgency aimed at instilling a more “combative” approach in the party.
Though few realized it at the time, Gingrich and his allies were on the cusp of a new wave of polarization rooted in growing public discontent, particularly among the Republican base. Gingrich didn’t create this polarization, but he was one of the first Republicans to sense—and exploit—the shift in popular sentiment. And his leadership helped to establish “politics as warfare” as the GOP’s dominant strategy.
If, 25 years ago, someone had described to you a country where candidates threatened to lock up their rivals, political opponents accused the government of election fraud, and parties used their legislative majorities to impeach presidents and steal Supreme Court seats, you might have thought of Ecuador or Romania. It wouldn’t have been the United States of America.
The rest is history. Let's just hope that it's the history of a successful republic, not a Weimar one.
I've been in frenetic housecleaning mode today, since it's the first work-from-home Wednesday I've had in...let me see...10 weeks. And apparently I last had my housekeeping service here 16 weeks ago. (It wasn't that bad; I do clean up occasionally.)
The activity and actually having to do my job has led me to miss a couple of news stories, which I will now queue up to read:
- Former President Obama spoke at the Economic Club of Chicago last night, and said, at one point, "American democracy is fragile, and unless care is taken it could follow the path of Nazi Germany in the 1930s."
- Citylab outlines how the tax bill now working its way through reconciliation between the House and Senate will be really, really bad for cities. As if we didn't know. As if that wasn't a feature, rather than a bug.
- And it doesn't take a Nobel-winning economist to understand the chutzpah behind the Republican Party's bait-and-switch on taxes and deficits. "Now, to be fair, there are some people in America who get lots of money they didn’t lift a finger to earn — namely, inheritors of large estates." How true.
- In more neutral news, the Atlantic has the the year in photos (part 1), with more on the way later this week. I especially like the Turkish seagull (#22).
- Finally The Daily WTF has an example of life imitating satire, and it's sad and funny all at the same time.
I'm now going to throw out all the empty boxes in my office closet, though it pains me to do so. After all, someday I might need to return this pair of wired headphones from 1998...
Jeet Heer states what should be obvious: if Democrats try to impeach the president and fail, it will completely legitimize his presidency.
The practical problem is that for impeachment to be meaningful, Trump would not just have to be impeached by the House of Representatives (which requires a simple majority) but also removed by the Senate (requiring a two-thirds vote). It’s easy to imagine a scenario where the Democrats win the House of Representatives in 2018 and have the necessary votes for impeachment. But even in that best-case scenario, in which Democrats win every toss-up race for the Senate, they would still be well short of the votes they need in the Senate. Which means that kicking Trump out of the White House by necessity has to be a bipartisan effort with significant Republican buy-in.
The Republican Party has proven that they will tolerate just about anything from Trump. They continue to stand with him despite his demented tweeting, the political support he’s given to Roy Moore, his repeated expressions of contempt for the justice system, and his cavalier threats to launch a nuclear war. Unless Robert Mueller finds the possibly apocryphal “pee tape,” Republicans are likely to remain loyal to Trump. In fact, there’s a real possibility that even if the “pee tape” is real and widely viewed, Trump would still remain politically sacrosanct among his own party.
The most promising route for stopping Trump, then, is through the ballot box.
This means that we're probably stuck with him for 1142 more days, but if we win back the legislature, we can thwart him nearly completely.
I'd rather have an incompetent, sane person as president (see, e.g., most of the past Republican presidents) than an incompetent, insane one. But ya gotta dance with the one that brung ya:
And why would the Republican Party allow all of this to continue? Gosh, who can say.
Michele Goldberg today:
If you think 2017 was bad, imagine an America without allies fighting another two-front war, this one involving nuclear weapons, under the leadership of the most hated president in modern history, while a torture apologist runs the C.I.A. The world right now is a powder keg. Trump, an untethered maniac, sits atop it, flicking a lighter that Republicans in Congress could take away, but won’t. If everything goes up in flames, we can’t say we weren’t warned.
Why imagine? He's literally insane.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's director resigned last week and named his chief of staff, Leandra English, acting director. Citing a statute predating the Dodd-Frank Act (which created the CFPB), the Trump Administration appointed the current OMB Director, Mick Mulvaney, to run the CFPB.
The result is chaos:
On Monday, Mulvaney occupied the CFPB director’s office, dispensed excellent New England doughnuts and emailed the agency staff to “disregard any instructions you receive from Ms. English in her presumed capacity as Acting Director.” English, for her part, sent her own email greetings to agency staff — and filed a lawsuit calling Mulvaney “the person claiming to be acting director” and herself “the rightful director” of the CFPB.
The legal question turns on whether the FVRA gives the president an option for appointing its head — i.e., the deputy or someone else — or whether the text of Dodd-Frank forecloses that option. The FVRA says it is the “exclusive means” of filling a position, except if another statute specifies a particular acting successor. English’s proponents argue that Dodd-Frank does precisely that. Better yet, in doing so it uses the word “shall,” not “may.” That word “shall” is significant, legal scholars such as Marty Lederman emphasize.
The Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, by contrast, issued an opinion defending the president’s right to use the FVRA procedure. Perhaps more surprisingly, so did the CFPB’s own general counsel Mary McLeod. Quoting an earlier Office of Legal Counsel opinion, McLeod concluded the fact that the FVRA “is not exclusive does not mean that it is unavailable.” That is to say, the FVRA may not be the only way to handle the matter, but it is a possible (an “available”) way, and it’s up to the president to make the call — as other legal scholars such as Adam White emphasize.
On Tuesday, a district court judge declined to grant a temporary restraining order against Mulvaney’s claim to the CFPB throne. That does not settle the merits of the case, of course. And in the meantime, other subplots abound.
One is that the judge in the case, Timothy Kelly, was appointed by Trump and only took the bench in September.
The whole analysis is worth a read. Because like just about every other action of the current administration, it's bloody insane.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders infantilized the White House press corps on Monday by demanding reporters say what they're thankful for before asking a question. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank has some thoughts:
Sarah, I am thankful for the checks and balances the Founders put in place, for they are what stand between us and despotism when a demagogic president’s instincts would take us there. And I am profoundly grateful to the many men and women who, often at great personal cost and risk, have stood up to the authoritarian in the White House. President Trump has done much damage, particularly to our international standing and our civil culture, but it would be so much worse without these profiles in courage.
I’m thankful to the voters of Virginia and elsewhere, who gave us a first sign that Trump’s scourge of nationalism and race-baiting can be repelled.
And I’m profoundly thankful that Trump and so many of his appointees have turned out to be incompetent, unable to implement some of his most dangerous ideas.
The whole column is worth a read.
Following an order of the New York Attorney General, the Donald J. Trump Foundation has started the process of dissolving:
In a statement, a spokesperson for the foundation confirmed that it is being shuttered. "The Foundation continues to cooperate with the New York Attorney General’s Charities Division, and as previously announced by the President, his advisers are working with the Charities Division to wind up the affairs of the Foundation. The Foundation looks forward to distributing its remaining assets at the earliest possible time to aid numerous worthy charitable organizations."
The attorney general's press secretary, Amy Spitalnick, said the foundation can't close just yet, however. "As the foundation is still under investigation by this office, it cannot legally dissolve until that investigation is complete," said Spitalnick.
This is a reminder that the State of New York is not subject to the President's pardon power, and has jurisdiction over just about all of Trump's affairs. Were Robert Mueller to be fired, it's likely Eric Schneiderman will pick up where Mueller left off, with no loss of forward momentum. It's also likely Trump's lawyers know this.
At least the Trump Foundation is on its way out. That's one fewer potential source of criminal activity we'll have to worry about.
I have some free time coming up next Friday, but until then, there's a lot going on. So I have very little time to read, let alone write about, these stories from this week:
Back to project planning...