1. On Thursday night, The New York Times broke the story that President Trump tried to fire Robert Mueller in June. “President Trump ordered the firing last June of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, according to four people told of the matter, but ultimately backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive. The West Wing confrontation marks the first time Mr. Trump is known to have tried to fire the special counsel.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/us/politics/trump-mueller-special-counsel-russia.html.
2. The current debate over DACA and the fate of the Dreamers has turned into a brewing war within the Democratic Party. Liberals and Progressives alike are divided over the concessions to Senate Republicans that Democrats offered in exchange for funding the government and ending the shutdown. On one side is the enraged Michelle Goldberg, the progressive columnist for The New York Times. Her furious title is self-explanatory: “Schumer Sells Out the Resistance.” Goldberg’s argument (on Jan. 22) is that Charles Schumer gave away too much in postponing a vote on Dreamers, fearing backlash from voters who would come to blame the Democrats for initiating a shutdown over an immigration issue. “There was a legitimate fear among Democrats that if the shutdown dragged on, they would lose ground and the public might even turn against the Dreamers, who now have broad bipartisan support. But political cowardice carries its own risk. It emboldens your enemies and disheartens your allies. It’s true that Democrats had a lot to lose, but Republicans had even more; if Trump had to deliver his State of the Union to a nonfunctioning government, it would have underlined the sense that he’s a chaos president. Instead, Democrats reinforced their reputation for fecklessness.” She quotes Ezra Levin, a co-founder of Indivisible, as saying: “‘It’s Senator Schumer’s job as minority leader to keep his caucus together and stand up for progressive values and he failed to do it….He led them off a cliff. They caved.’ (An Indivisible chapter is planning a Tuesday evening protest outside Schumer’s Brooklyn apartment.) Representative Luis Gutiérrez, Democrat of Illinois, said in a statement, ‘This shows me that when it comes to immigrants, Latinos and their families, Democrats are still not willing to go to the mat.’” Read her column here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/22/opinion/schumer-sellout-resistance-shutdown.html.
And Politico reported, after the Women’s March on Saturday, “’Millions of people flooded the streets of every major American city to stand up to Trump this weekend,’ tweeted Leah Greenberg, co-executive director of the influential activist network Indivisible. ‘Your constituents want you to fight. How can you possibly not understand that?’” [emphasis added] https://www.politico.com/story/2018/01/22/government-shutdown-deal-liberals-angry-357268.
And on Wednesday, The Washington Post’s Ben Wikler suggests that “Yes, Democrats should have pressed their case beyond Monday. Looking back, it appears that Democrats had a stronger hand than they understood, and Republicans a weaker one. While nothing was certain, it’s a real possibility that grit from Democrats could have yielded a breakthrough. We now know that public opinion was moving sharply toward Democrats. A Morning Consult/Politico tracking poll showed voters swinging toward the view that the fight over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was worth a shutdown.” [emphasis added] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-polls-prove-it-democrats-should-have-kept-the-government-closed/2018/01/24/b9e4a680-014a-11e8-8acf-ad2991367d9d_story.html.
On the other hand, in an equally-well-reasoned column in The Washington Post on the same day, Carter Eskew argues, “Sometimes you have to blink to clear your vision. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) was wise to back down in the fight over the government shutdown. Party activists are reportedly livid over what they see as a Schumer sellout on protecting ‘dreamers,’ but shutdowns are shaky ground on which to press policy goals. The principles and arguments get lost in ticking clocks on media screens and in stories such as delaying death-benefit payments for veterans. Schumer realized there was better ground on which to fight and by ‘losing’ this round, he set his party up for an important victory in the coming weeks.” [emphasis added] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2018/01/22/schumers-strategic-retreat-on-the-shutdown.
And The Post’s Aaron Blake approves of the Democratic strategy, saying that “really, from the start of this process, Democrats have overestimated both their leverage and the benefit that might arise from this whole situation…Democrats simply had more to lose. They have been doing extremely well in special elections and in the 2017 general election. Polls show they have a double-digit lead on the generic ballot, and the conventional wisdom has them on-track for big gains in the 2018 midterms and possibly even winning majorities back in both chambers. With that as the backdrop, you have to wonder why they’d risk a shutdown controversy going sideways on them.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2018/01/22/democrats-caved-to-end-the-shutdown-just-ask-them.
A similar case is made in The New York Times by liberal columnist David Leonhardt on Jan. 21. He points out that “to say that Republicans are responsible for the shutdown is not the same as saying that they would suffer most from a protracted shutdown. I worry that some progressives are missing that distinction. The shutdown has created one of the more treacherous political moments of Trump’s presidency for Democrats. It’s one they can navigate, but it requires subtlety.” He goes on to make an uncomfortable realpolitik argument that “A culture war over immigration replays the racialized debate that dominated the 2016 presidential campaign. As much as it saddens me to say it, the evidence is pretty clear that a racialized debate helps Trump. It’s the kind of debate that will make it harder for Democrats to retake the Senate and House this year. Multiple studies have found that the political views of white Americans drift to the right when they are reminded that the country’s population is slowly becoming less white.” [emphasis added] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/21/opinion/democrats-should-settle.html.—This is of course the “risk” Michelle Goldberg asks Democrats to face and to take, as do other thinkers.
But on Wednesday, Charles Schumer did appear to stand up to Trump, declaring that he will rescind the offer to pay for the border wall. “‘The wall offer’s off the table,’ the leader, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, told reporters at the Capitol a day after senators overcame an impasse to end a three-day government shutdown.” But to confuse matters even further, the White House denies that there ever was a bipartisan deal with an offer to fund the wall to begin with. So reports The New York Times on Wednesday: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/23/us/politics/immigration-wall-mexico-schumer-senate.html. And Friday brought a new counter-proposal from the White House, supporting Dreamers but insisting on the wall and restricting family immigration: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/us/politics/trump-immigration-plan-white-house.html.
To summarize, reasonable commentators may disagree here. We have a precarious and contentious situation that will require thought and subtlety. a) We really cannot know how events this week will affect the November election; b) polls lurch back and forth as a government shutdown continues, so public reaction is hard to gauge; and c) there is still time (until the March deadline) either to reach a deal or to show up McConnell as a liar who reneged on a promise to innocent kids. So watch events unfold from now until March.
3. Now, about those millions who marched. There were two shockingly under-reported stories in the press as the week began. One was the huge protest march on Saturday. The other was a school shooting that left 2 dead and 13 injured. Our readers most likely did know about the march, and it certainly was covered on television on Saturday. In a sharply-critical article in The Washington Post, Helaine Olen points out, “In Los Angeles, an estimated 500,000 people took to the streets, and in Chicago, 300,000. New York City claimed 200,000. Even red states saw decent-size turnouts. Nashville saw 15,000 and Omaha 8,000. But after the initial flurry of media attention — crickets. According to an analysis by Media Matters for America, the Sunday morning news shows all but ignored the mass event. ‘Meet the Press’ granted the subject a mere 20-second exchange — and the NBC show was the most generous of the lot…. It’s hard not to compare the attention — and lack thereof — to the Women’s March against the attention given to the tea party, the movement that seemingly garnered all-but-nonstop coverage from the moment it began as a rant by CNBC personality Rick Santelli. Soon enough, there was enormous amount of media attention devoted to tea party rallies and the protesters’ concerns.” Moreover, what is being missed is not just a narrow “women’s issue” protest, as pollster Matt McDermott pointed out, in remarks to Olen, “’There is not coverage of the actual movement building on the left, which is arguably by any measure the greatest political movement we’ve seen in decades in this country.’” [emphasis added] Read her analysis, which emphasizes the attention the media are now giving, by way of over-compensation for the sins of 2016, to the angry white male voters. So women’s concerns are seen as “secondary” (and women are arguably leading popular opposition to Trump and will be crucial to future electoral victories). https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2018/01/22/why-is-the-media-mostly-ignoring-the-womens-march. *Recommended reading
4. And why, why, was the latest school shooting pushed so far behind news of the negotiations in Washington over the budget? The attack in Bentonville, KY was certainly the deadliest of the year. But if you thought it was noteworthy because it was the first, you are wrong. As The New York Times reports, “On Tuesday, it was a high school in small-town Kentucky. On Monday, a school cafeteria outside Dallas and a charter school parking lot in New Orleans. And before that, a school bus in Iowa, a college campus in Southern California, a high school in Seattle. Gunfire ringing out in American schools used to be rare, and shocking. Now it seems to happen all the time.” Have we become numbed to this carnage? “Researchers and gun control advocates say that since 2013, they have logged school shootings at a rate of about one a week. ‘We have absolutely become numb to these kinds of shootings, and I think that will continue,’ said Katherine W. Schweit, a former senior F.B.I. official and the co-author of a study of 160 active shooting incidents in the United States….Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a gun safety group, said ‘The news cycles are so short right now in America, and there’s a lot going on…But you would think that shootings in American schools would be able to clear away some of that clutter.’” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/23/us/kentucky-school-shooting.html.
5. And what other story did we miss while we were watching the countdown clocks on the government shutdown? In a powerfully-worded editorial, the Jan. 20th Washington Post points to what might have been the biggest news of the year: “One by-product of the day-to-day chaos of the Trump presidency is that the nation’s biggest, long-term challenges are often forgotten…According to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, last year was one of the warmest years on record — second or third, depending on which agency’s records you examine, because each has its own method for its calculations….Some climate doubters insist that while the warming trend is established, humans’ responsibility is not. This assertion is nearly as absurd as denying the warming in the first place. It is not coincidence that breakneck warming occurred just as humans began pumping increasing amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere….Last year also marked a recent low in the federal government’s response to climate change. President Trump installed a climate-change denier, Scott Pruitt, at the Environmental Protection Agency, signaling the end of landmark climate rules on power companies.” And of course, Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. “In 50 years, many of the unnecessary distractions that Mr. Trump packed into his presidency will be forgotten. But no one will forget how selfishness and purposeful ignorance reigned in the United States as the world began to cook.” [emphasis added] Read this one, and meditate on the long-term damage that is being done, right here, right now: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-shutdown-brouhaha-has-covered-up-far-bigger-news/2018/01/20/641bfc9c-fc97-11e7-a46b-a3614530bd87_story.html.
6. “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists advanced the symbolic Doomsday Clock a notch closer to the end of humanity Thursday, moving it ahead by 30 seconds after what the organization called a ‘grim assessment’ of the state of geopolitical affairs. ‘As of today,’ Bulletin president Rachel Bronson told reporters, ‘it is two minutes to midnight.’ In moving the clock 30 seconds closer to the hour of the apocalypse, the group cited ‘the failure of President Trump and other world leaders to deal with looming threats of nuclear war and climate change.’” [emphasis added]
For those who do not know, “The clock is symbolic, sitting at the intersection of art and science, and it has wavered between two and 17 minutes until doom since its inception in 1947. A board of scientists and nuclear experts meets regularly to determine what time it is on the Doomsday Clock. This group, called the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, was founded by veterans of the Manhattan Project concerned about the consequences of their nuclear research.” See the clock and read the story in Thursday’s Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2018/01/25/after-a-missile-scare-and-insult-war-with-north-korea-its-time-to-check-the-doomsday-clock.
You can read the op-ed from the Bulletin editors, distinguished scientists Lawrence Krauss and Robert Rosner, here, in Thursday’s Post: “We’re as close to Doomsday today as we were during the Cold War.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/were-as-close-to-doomsday-today-as-we-were-during-the-cold-war/2018/01/25/181ae8aa-0145-11e8-8acf-ad2991367d9d_story.html. *Recommended reading, but not for the faint of heart!
7. A very important analysis by Ruth Marcus, Deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post asks “What’s so extremely, uniquely wrong about Trump’s presidency?” Marcus begins by acknowledging that “[e]ven for those of us who had braced for catastrophe, the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency was worse than expected — more divisive, mean-spirited, erratic, unhinged, incompetent and egomaniacal than could have been imagined.” But what is really so uniquely wrong about the Trump presidency? It is not, she believes, ideology. Trump’s actions are those we might have expected from most any Republican President governing with a Republican Congress: a loosening of regulations; a major tax cut; repeal of the individual mandate in the ACA; appointment of very conservative judges; attacks on environmental and workplace rules; and even a crackdown on illegal immigrants. “Don’t conflate or confuse Trump outrage with outrage over run-of-the mill Republican policies. Elections have consequences,” she cautions.
Moreover, the tweeting and the vulgarity, while they offend us, are also not the most dangerous things about Trump. In a way they distract us from the larger threat. It is not the ignorant, mendacious, self-absorbed tirades. No. For Marcus, the real, deep danger is twofold: “The immediate risk is to national security: Will Trump provoke or instigate war with North Korea, or dangerously mishandle some other international crisis?” But the longer-term risk is perhaps greater, at least for our democracy: “Trump does not believe in American ideals and institutions. He does not believe in a free press or free speech; unconstrained, he would crack down on both. He does not believe in the rule of law, a Justice Department free of political interference, the separation of powers or an independent judiciary. He does not believe in the United States as a beacon and example to the world.” [emphasis added] Read this thought-provoking and clarifying essay (even if you may disagree with some points) here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/whats-so-extremely-uniquely-wrong-about-trumps-presidency/2018/01/19/431c55ae-fd56-11e7-8f66-2df0b94bb98a_story.html. *Highly recommended reading
8. One needs a guide to the rapid developments in the Mueller probe. An excellent summary appeared on Wednesday in The Atlantic, “Is the Mueller Probe Heating Up?” The web version of the magazine cites several new bits of important news. a) Attorney general Jeff Sessions was interviewed at length by Mueller, reported The New York Times; b) pressure mounted on Trump to testify to Mueller, which late on Wednesday he agreed to do. Read The Atlantic’s summary here: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/01/mueller-probe/551360/.
As for a): The New York Times broke the full story, as far as it is known, about Sessions’s testimony to Mueller. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/23/us/politics/jeff-sessions-special-counsel-russia.html. And, as Jennifer Rubin points out in her Jan. 24 Washington Post story, Sessions may know quite a bit about any obstruction by the President. He “presumably was aware of an early draft of the memo firing Comey, which explicitly mentioned the Russia probe,” she points out. Also, Sessions sent an aide to Capitol Hill to gather dirt on Comey; and Sessions himself apparently lied about his meetings with Russians during the campaign. Read her useful summary of what is at stake in the Sessions testimony: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2018/01/24/one-by-one-mueller-is-reaching-into-trumps-inner-circle/?utm_term=.8bd262933e73.
As for b): Donald Trump agreed, on Wednesday, to testify before Mueller “under oath.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/24/us/politics/trump-mueller.html. [Since testimony before an FBI agent or prosecutor is rarely if ever conducted “under oath” it is not clear if Trump was making a meaningful statement.]
9. A long-form essay in The Atlantic on Wednesday explores the conflicts among leftists about supporting the FBI in its investigation of Russian campaign interference. “The Epistemic Quandary of the FBI and Trump: the claims that Trump and his allies make about the FBI’s history of political retaliation, however cynically lodged, ring uncomfortably true.” “The ongoing story of Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as whether the Trump campaign colluded, seems almost too wild to believe,” says author David A. Graham. “The implausibility of this turn of events has left room for an unusual coalition to attack and question the official story. For the most part, this includes President Trump himself, Republican lawmakers aligned with him, and conservative media, but it also includes (for example) the left-wing journalist Glenn Greenwald. Their critique is built, with a range of sincerity, on an argument about the FBI being untrustworthy, scheming, and prone to exacting revenge on political opponents. The critique draws its force from the fact that this has, in fact, historically been true of the Bureau—yet many of its proponents have clearly dubious motives or have forfeited the right to any presumption of truth. This conflict, with flawed actors on both sides, presents an epistemic quandary for a sincere observer: How can you place your faith in either side?”
The left is divided on this whole question of trusting the FBI, and as an example, think of how we are to understand Comey’s peculiar Clinton-email announcement on the eve of the election. The left was furious. Then, after his firing, we on the left come to admire and trust this truthful public servant. It does lead to a kind of vertigo. And it was an FBI agent, Mark Felt, who was the Deep Throat who wanted revenge on Nixon and was the source that helped bring him down. Read about the complexity of the issue here: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/01/the-epistemic-quandary-of-the-fbi-and-trump/551276/.
8. On the other hand, The Washington Post reports on the whole unsavory attempt by Republicans to discredit the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference. “Republicans may be on the verge of publicly releasing a secret memo compiled by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), one of President Trump’s most devoted bodyguards against accountability on Capitol Hill, that purports to show serious misconduct by the FBI and Justice Department toward the Trump campaign. The memo is the latest effort to build an alt-narrative that casts the FBI’s Russia probe — which became special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe — as a Deep State Coup to remove Trump from power.” But the memo is, say Democrats on the committee, specious, “highly distorted,” and “misleading.” This is complex material, but is well covered by the Jan. 24 piece by Greg Sargent: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2018/01/23/republicans-launch-extraordinary-new-tactics-to-protect-trump-on-russia/?utm_term=.f6733357d4dc. So these are not normal times, and the Justice Department is leading the best investigation we are going to get into these crucial matters.
9. Just in case your more conservative friends have been lauding the generosity of Walmart and others in showering workers with raises because of their Trump tax cuts, read the whole truth in The New York Times business report on Jan. 11: “Walmart’s pay increase, purportedly inspired by the recent cut in the corporate tax rate, is a little less than real largess. The retailer’s extra spending on hourly wages is just a sliver of what it could save in taxes, though — and a tight labor market is likely to have been a more potent driver. Walmart will raise its hourly rate for starting staff to $11 in the United States, the third upward move in three years. Assuming a 40-hour workweek, the $300 million increase the company expects in its wage bill would suggest fewer than one in 10 workers in the United States will benefit directly. Put another way, the raise is equivalent to just 0.3 percent of the company’s sales and administration costs.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/11/business/dealbook/walmart-wage-increase.html.
10. It received little attention in the American press, but an immigrant support group, “No More Deaths,” had “published a report accusing border patrol agents of condemning migrants to death by sabotaging water containers and other supplies. It also accused agents of harassing volunteers in the field.” This according to The Guardian on Jan. 24. Now, reports The Guardian, “Eight activists helping migrants cross brutal desert charged by US government.” “The volunteers,” says the paper, “all members of the Arizona-based group No More Deaths, appeared in court on Tuesday charged with a variety of offences including driving in a wilderness area, entering a wildlife refuge without a permit and abandoning property – the latter an apparent reference to leaving water, food and blankets on migrant trails.” [emphasis added] Read this shocking story here: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/24/us-immigration-activists-arizona-no-more-deaths-charged.
11. The newest polling and its interpretation. New results have been released from a study by SurveyMonkey, a nonpartisan online-polling firm. They were published in the January issue of The Atlantic. The results? They “show Trump losing ground over his tumultuous first year not only with the younger voters and white-collar whites who have always been skeptical of him, but also with the blue-collar whites central to his coalition.” His support is low among key groups, including younger whites and women. However, there are some caveats: he has strong support with men over 50, and even with college-educated white men over 50 (a group Republicans do count on to go the polls). His support has actually increased among African-American men and Hispanics, though he has only minority support among them, only in the 20-23% range. Read the surprising details, which come from over 605,000 interviews conducted in 2017. Read the interesting details here: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/01/the-voters-abandoning-donald-trump/550247/.
On the other hand: according to The Washington Post columnist David Weigel, in a report on Jan. 24, “A Democratic pollster warned Wednesday that the party is not motivating lower-propensity voters at the levels it needs, putting gains at risk with poor messaging. ‘Democrats are setting themselves up to squander the opportunity Donald Trump is serving them on a silver platter because they aren’t motivating the Rising American Electorate to vote this fall,’ said Page Gardner, the president of the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, which funded the poll….’Our prediction is that 40 million Americans who voted in 2016 won’t cast a ballot in the 2018 midterms — and to make matters worse, two-thirds of those drop-off voters will be members of the Rising American Electorate,’ said spokesman Kevin McAlister at the time.” [emphasis added] These are generally less-white, younger, and women voters. This demonstrates the need to get out the mid-term vote, says Weigel. The pollsters suggest linking dislike of Trump to Republican tax and economic policy, merging anti-Trumpism with populist economics. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2018/01/24/democratic-pollster-warns-that-party-will-lose-young-voters-unless-it-defines-trump.
12. We are sure most of our readers have their own theories of why Hillary Clinton lost. It is true that many, many factors played a role in the 2016 election. But in The New York Review of Books for Feb. 8, Annette Gordon-Reed reminds us not to forget that it would be difficult for any woman to win the US Presidency. She is reviewing What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s book on her campaign and loss. Gordon-Reed acknowledges the many often-noted issues with Hillary and her campaign. But she remarks, “Even though it was not the only reason she did not become president—the media’s excessive focus on her e-mails and James Comey’s bizarre and devastating actions in the week before the election both did their part—it matters greatly to considerations of Clinton’s loss in 2016 that the United States has never elected a woman president, and it is naive to think otherwise. History and culture tell us why no woman has ever occupied this office, and why putting a woman in the country’s ultimate position of power might have been difficult for a good number of men and women voters to do—especially for many whites after the culture-shaking experience of having had a black president.” [emphasis added] Read her case that Hillary was treated differently from Trump, not just as Hillary Clinton, but also as a woman seeking the Presidency. She does not simply assert this; she argues for it, showing why the American Presidency makes it harder for women to win than premierships in other countries. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/02/08/hillary-clinton-female-trouble/.
13. In a shocking story broken by The Washington Post, “Shortly after President Trump fired his FBI director in May, he summoned to the Oval Office the bureau’s acting director for a get-to-know-you meeting. The two men exchanged pleasantries, but before long, Trump, according to several current and former U.S. officials, asked Andrew McCabe a pointed question: Whom did he vote for in the 2016 election?” [emphasis added] Trump apparently despises McCabe, whom he suspects of being a Democratic sympathizer intent on undermining him in the Russia investigation. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-asked-the-acting-fbi-director-whom-he-voted-for-during-oval-office-meeting/2018/01/23/2cb50818-0073-11e8-8acf-ad2991367d9d_story.html.
14. Are Trump and Chief of Staff John Kelly headed for a divorce? Kelly is said to be one of the “adults in the room” keeping Trump leashed. But rumors are that this characterization infuriates Trump. And on Monday, Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reported that “Donald Trump’s relationship with John Kelly, his chief of staff, fraught from the beginning, may finally have gone past the point of no return….In recent days, Trump has fumed to friends that Kelly acts like he’s running the government while Trump tweets and watches television. ‘I’ve got another nut job here who thinks he’s running things,’ Trump told one friend.” [emphasis added] https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/01/are-trump-and-kelly-heading-for-divorce.
15. Locally, The Chicago Tribune reports on the Women’s March in Chicago, attended by many local Indivisible groups, including Indivisible DuPage (below). Organizers report 300,000 for the Saturday event. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-womens-march-draws-thousands-012018-story.html.