1. We have a lot to cover this week, and the Kavanaugh nomination is only one of many big stories. We reproduce here a summary of some of what we consider the best press coverage and opinion. However, this is a fast-developing story. We encourage all interested readers to watch major broadcast and print media. Avoid Facebook or other social media posts, which have often been misleading. For those who can’t get to a TVduring the day, CNN has been following the story minute-by-minute on its website here.
A. It would be useful to have a little review. Here is a timeline, as provided by The Washington Post, to whom Ford originally leaked her story.
“She contacted The Post through a tip line in early July, when it had become clear that Kavanaugh was on the shortlist of possible nominees to replace retiring justice Anthony M. Kennedy but before Trump announced his name publicly. A registered Democrat who has made small contributions to political organizations, she contacted her congresswoman, Democrat Anna G. Eshoo, around the same time. In late July, she sent a letter via Eshoo’s office to Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. [emphasis added]
“In the letter, which was read to The Post, Ford described the incident and said she expected her story to be kept confidential. She signed the letter as Christine Blasey, the name she uses professionally. [Note that she originally did sign her letter and was not anonymous to her contacts. She requested anonymity–Ed.]
“Though Ford had contacted The Post, she declined to speak on the record for weeks as she grappled with concerns about what going public would mean for her and her family — and what she said was her duty as a citizen to tell the story.
She engaged Debra Katz, a Washington lawyer known for her work on sexual harassment cases. On the advice of Katz, who said she believed Ford would be attacked as a liar if she came forward, Ford took a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent in early August. The results, which Katz provided to The Post, concluded that Ford was being truthful when she said a statement summarizing her allegations was accurate.
“By late August, Ford had decided not to come forward, calculating that doing so would upend her life and probably would not affect Kavanaugh’s confirmation.‘Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?’ she said.
“Her story leaked anyway…. As the story snowballed, Ford said, she heard people repeating inaccuracies about her and, with the visits from reporters, felt her privacy being chipped away. Her calculation changed. [emphasis added]
“’These are all the ills that I was trying to avoid,’” she said, explaining her decision to come forward. ‘Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation.’
B. We should be clear that as of Friday morning, Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford had not agreed to testify next week. But on Thursday, The Times reported that she would be open to testifying later in the week, if “senators offer ‘terms that are fair and which ensure her safety,’ according to an email her lawyers sent to committee staff members.” Negotiations are continuing on Friday as we go to press. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/20/us/politics/brett-kavanaugh-christine-blasey.html
The New York Times reported the following on Wednesday, and it remained basically true on Friday morning: “The confrontation between Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh and his accuser devolved into a polarizing stalemate on Wednesday as Democrats and Republicans advanced competing narratives to convince voters that the other side has been unfair in the Supreme Court confirmation battle.
“Christine Blasey Ford, the professor who alleged that Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers, said a Senate hearing set for Monday to hear her allegation would not be fair and Democrats insisted that an F.B.I. investigation take place first. Backed by President Trump, Senate Republicans rejected any F.B.I. inquiry, and said that Monday was her chance to be heard. Republicans later set a meeting for Wednesday for a possible vote.
“Dr. Blasey’s resistance to appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday seemed to galvanize Republicans and drew wavering Republican senators back into Judge Kavanaugh’s camp. Barring new information or an agreement by Dr. Blasey to testify after all, Judge Kavanaugh may now have enough momentum to be confirmed as early as next week on a party-line vote…. ” [emphasis added]
“For many Democrats, the insistence on quick action and the charge of obstructionism rang hollow given that Republicans refused to even meet with President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick B. Garland, in 2016. Judge Garland never received a hearing, and the vacant seat resulting from the death of Justice Antonin Scaliawas eventually filled by Mr. Trump’s first Supreme Court choice, Neil M. Gorsuch. Three of the Republican senators who had insisted on postponing a committee vote on Judge Kavanaugh originally scheduled for Thursday until hearing from Dr. Blasey have now said she should testify on Monday.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/19/us/politics/kavanaugh-accusations-trump-blasey-ford.html
And The New York Times reported on five viral rumors, among many more, spreading on social media about Ford, all false. We will not reproduce them here, but The Timessummarizes, “Dr. Blasey, as she is known professionally, has been the subject of a torrent of misinformation online. Some viral rumors about Dr. Blasey have been quickly debunked. But false claims have continued to spread on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other social networks.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/19/us/politics/christine-blasey-ford-kavanaughs-fact-check.html
D. Kate Zernike, in a New York Times essay Wednesday, expresses the ambivalence some on the left feel about using these charges against Kavanaugh, no matter how distasteful the man’s opinions and the attempts to ram through the nomination. “Both Democrats and Republicans have to carefully consider how their response affects their strategy just seven weeks before a midterm election where women are crucial voters,” she says. “Democrats have to worry about older women and those who have raised teenagers, who may be skeptical that an allegation from adolescence should doom a person as an adult, no matter what they think of this pick by President Trump. [But see Friedman, at F., below–Ed.] Republicans have to be mindful of the generational shift that has made the country far more vigilant on matters of sexual misconduct, and of the women demanding that the allegations made by Dr. Blasey, now a research psychologist in Northern California, be taken seriously….” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/18/us/politics/brett-kavanaugh-christine-blasey-politics.html
F. On the whole argument that teenage indiscretion can’t be held to the same moral standard as adult behavior; that an action over 30 years ago should not be held against someone; or that Blasey really can’t be trusted to remember this in detail, read the response by psychologist Richard A. Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College, in Wednesday’s New York Times. He points out that these casual assumptions are not in line with psychological research and clinical experience: “Some commentators don’t dispute Dr. Blasey’s veracity. Instead, they deem an assault as described by Dr. Blasey as irrelevant to Judge Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve on the Supreme Court because he would have been just 17 years old and drunk at the time. We all know that teenagers are notoriously impulsive and should be forgiven for doing things like that, right?
“Wrong. [emphasis added] Sexual assault cannot be easily dismissed as youthful indiscretion or the product of alcoholic intoxication. First, alcohol does not create violent sexual impulses so much as it unleashes or magnifies pre-existing ones. And second, a sexual assault in which Brett Kavanaugh put his hand over a girl’s mouth to silence her would be in a far different category from a dumb but not character-revealing prank like shoplifting cigarettes. Teenagers are notorious risk-takers because, in part, the reward circuit of the brain develops long before the prefrontal cortex, the seat of reasoning and control. But that doesn’t mean they have no sense of right or wrong or that they are hard-wired to violate the rights of others. [emphasis added]
“Some are saying that Dr. Blasey’s accusation, even if true, is just one ancient example of admittedly egregious behavior in an otherwise upstanding person who, as President Trump attests, ‘never had even a little blemish on his record.’ Since teenagers change so much, these people say, bad behavior then isn’t necessarily predictive of adult behavior. Sure, but why take the risk for someone who will have so much power? Dr. Blasey’s accusation is credible and deserves a full investigation.” [emphasis added] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/19/opinion/kavanaugh-christine-ford-sexual-assault.html
G. Can the FBI investigate this incident, as Ford and her attorney suggest?Republicans say no; this is false, says a piece in Politico by Josh Gerstein on Wednesday. “The White House could order the FBI to investigate the sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, several former senior White House and Justice Department officials from both parties said Wednesday, contradicting President Donald Trump’s claims that doing so would exceed the FBI’s mandate…. Several officials who have had direct roles in the nomination and background check process said it’s common, as part of the FBI’s vetting of presidential nominees for judicial posts and executive branch jobs, to investigate matters that do not qualify as federal crimes. Some noted that the Trump White House itself enlisted the FBI last winter to explore spousal abuse claims against former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter. ‘What happened here is actually not unusual,’ said John Yoo, a senior Justice Department official under President George W. Bush.” https://www.politico.com/story/2018/09/19/fbi-kavanaugh-allegations-trump-830150
And on Thursday, Harvard Law School lecturer and retired Federal District Court judge Nancy Gertner, supported this view in The New York Times: “To suggest that the F.B.I. doesn’t do these sorts of investigations, as President Trump did, is simply false.[emphasis added] The F.B.I. is responsible for doing background investigations of judicial candidates. I know; I went through one after President Bill Clinton nominated me for a federal judgeship in Massachusetts…. Yes, the F.B.I. did look into Judge Kavanaugh’s background before this accusation was made, though we don’t know whether behavior of this sort was explored. But now, this new information bears examining by the agency, just as Ms. [Anita] Hill’s complaints of sexual harassment did.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/20/opinion/why-we-need-an-fbi-investigation.html
H. We tend to think of this kind of hearing, with its dramatic witness confrontation, as a kind of trial. But it is not. What should the standard be for confirming a person to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court?It may not be Americans’ TV idea of a courtroom battle, says Kate Shaw, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, and a director of the Floersheimer Center for Constitutional Democracy. In Thursday’s New York Times she writes,
“It’s natural to place this sort of accusation within a criminal-justice framework: the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt; the presumption of innocence; the right to confront and respond to an accuser. If Judge Kavanaugh stood criminally accused of attempted rape, all of that would apply with full force. But those concepts are a poor fit for Supreme Court confirmation hearings, where there’s no presumption of confirmation, and there’s certainly no burden that facts be established beyond a reasonable doubt.”
What does history tell us? The decision is political, but not in the sense of partisan politics. It is more a question of the fitness of the candidate for the position, given the role he or she will play, and the standards of integrity that a Congress wants to apply. It may be hard to hear, but Shaw makes an historical point here:
“The Senate’s approach to its constitutional ‘advice and consent’ obligation has always depended on context. [emphasis added] A number of factors matter: the timing of the vacancy; the justice being replaced; the nominee’s likely impact on the ideological makeup of the court; even the popularity of the president (very popular presidents have always had more leeway when it comes to picking justices). Then, of course, there’s the nominee.
“Nominations have failed — that is, been withdrawn or voted down — for various reasons. Sometimes it’s because a majority of the Senate rejects a nominee’s vision of the Constitution and the role of the court. That was the case with Judge Robert Bork…. Other nominations have been unsuccessful because of private conduct. Another Reagan nominee, Judge Douglas Ginsburg, withdrew from consideration after the press uncovered reports of marijuana use that the F.B.I. had failed to unearth. And the Senate blocked President Lyndon Johnson’s attempt to elevate Abe Fortas to chief justice after…. questions were raised about the propriety of outside payments he had received while on the court….
“This context-dependent approach arguably leads to the conclusion that the existence of credible allegations against Judge Kavanaugh should be disqualifying, especially if further corroborating evidence emerges. That’s true even if the evidence wouldn’t support a criminal conviction or even civil liability.” [emphasis added]
Indeed, given that this Justice will be ruling on very sensitive women’s issues, “if members of the Senate conclude that a credible accusation of sexual misconduct has been made against Judge Kavanaugh, that should be enough to disqualify him from a seat that might allow him to cast the deciding vote on matters of women’s liberty and equality.”
On the latter, The Hill points out, Maryland does not have a statute of limitations on certain sex crimes, of which attempted rape of a 15-year old is among them:
“Constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe and former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti discussed Kavanaugh’s possible risk of legal consequences Tuesday, pointing out that both Kavanaugh and Judge could potentially face charges in the state of Maryland, where they attended Georgetown Preparatory school, and where the assault is alleged to have happened. Maryland has no statute of limitations for some sexual offenses, according to RAINN. When the victim is under the age of 16, these include gross sexual assault, unlawful sexual contact, and sexual abuse of minors.” The Hill reproduces tweets from Tribe and Mariotti: https://hillreporter.com/brett-kavanaugh-could-still-face-charges-for-attempted-rape-in-maryland-7580.
K. Finally, what are the political implications of the coming Kavanaugh vote? New York Times columnist Michael Tomasky has a sharp analysis of what the vote will mean for Red State Democrats. “Imagine this hypothetical. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, the two Republican senators who are under the most pressure to oppose confirmation, decide to do so. That takes Judge Kavanaugh down to 49 votes. Game over.
“Except maybe not. At that point, Republicans, far from accepting defeat, will surely start aiming fire at the three Democrats. Their opponents will taunt them about Judge Kavanaugh on the campaign trail. Right-wing money will pour in to their states for pro-Kavanaugh (and pro-Trump) TV ads….”
So the Red State Dems like Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly would end up voting yes on Kavanaugn. But a more likely scenario? “All 51 Republicans stand pat, in which case some Democrats will go ahead and confirm Judge Kavanaugh. But their votes won’t matter. Whether you got 51 votes or 55 or 100, they still call you Mr. Associate Justice.” The RSD’s may as well vote yes, to preserve their seats. And remember, if Kavanaugh is not confirmed, an even worse extreme conservative, Amy Coney Barrett, is just waiting in the wings. So perhaps, the RSDs will reason, even a slim chance of flipping the Senate Blue would be worth their voting yes to hang on to their own seats. Read this analysis here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/19/opinion/kavanaugh-accusations-democrats-senate-hearing.html.
2. Yes, there is a #2 this week. We are still at Trade War with China, and it deepened this week. As the Finance writer for The Washington Post, Tony Newmyer, wrote on Tuesday, “President Trump’s decision Monday to slap 10 percent tariffs on another $200 billion in Chinese imports starting September 24 ensures shoppers all over the country will face higher prices on everything from air conditioners to lamps. The move subjects roughly half of Chinese goods coming into the U.S. to import taxes that in many cases will be passed along to consumers. [emphasis in original]
“And it could soon get worse. Trump pledged to dial up the tariffs even further — imposing duties on all Chinese imports — if Beijing retaliates for the latest escalation; and the Chinese government on Tuesday said it will respond immediately. Either way, the administration will jack up the tariffs to 25 percent at the end of the year. [emphasis in original]
“Monday’s move marks the beginning of a new phase in a trade war that for many Americans so far has remained confined to headlines. Only 1 percent of the Trump administration’s initial round of tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports fell on consumer goods. By contrast, nearly a quarter of the new levies hit consumer goods.” [emphasis in original]
B. And Business reporter for AP and The Washington Post, Christopher Rugaber, explains that “China swiftly announced that it would impose tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. exports. [emphasis added] Caught in the crossfire are companies like [electronic manufacturer] Cedar [Corp.] that depend on affordable imports and other businesses whose exports may now become prohibitively expensive in China.
“The tit-for-tat blows signal that the trade fight will likely escalate further. While most analysts say the latest tariffs will likely have only a minimal effect on the U.S. or Chinese economy for now, they stand to inflict real damage, in the United States and perhaps globally, beginning next year…. The Trump tariffs will likely raise U.S. inflation modestly, economists estimate, particularly if all imports from China are taxed.[emphasis added] That would raise the cost of many more everyday consumer items — from shoes and toys to smartphones and home appliances.”
3. A. On Friday, Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to tax fraud, lobbying fraud, and obstruction of justice. Here is a handy summary from The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips on Sep. 14. “Given the murkiness of what Manafort might share, it’s worth laying out what Manafort might know, based on what we know about his status in Trump’s campaign and his many Russia connections.
“1. Did the Trump campaign have any heads-up about alleged Russian hacking of Democrats? … [emphasis in original]
“2. Did Trump know about that meeting with a Russian lawyer? [emphasis in original] When Donald Trump Jr. was told the Russian government wanted to ‘support’ his father — and oh by the way, do you want to meet with a Russian lawyer who has dirt on Hillary Clinton? — The younger Trump didn’t go alone. He brought along Manafort and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law…. That meeting’s circumstances are ‘as close as you can get to a smoking gun’ on whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, white-collar lawyer Jeffrey Jacobovitz and other legal experts told The Fix last summer when news of the meeting broke. Now a key question is whether Trump knew about the meeting. He and Trump Jr. have denied it.
“3. What do Manafort’s other ties to Russia mean? [emphasis in original] Among them: A Russian aluminum magnate. A pro-Russian former president of Ukraine. A Republican congressman who advocates for close ties between the United States and Russia. A business associate from his time in Ukraine who once served in the Russian army and had dinner with Manafort during the campaign. Manafort offered to give a Russian billionaire close to the Kremlin private briefings on the Trump campaign…. Of all the Trump campaign officials, Manafort has the most known connections to Russia.” [emphasis added] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/09/14/what-could-paul-manafort-share-with-mueller-lot-potentially/
C. Paul Rosenzweig, senior fellow at the R Street Institute, a policy research organization and a former Whitewater prosecutor under Kenneth W. Starr, and Justin Florence, legal director of Protect Democracy and a former White House associate counsel in the Obama administration, explain in a Sep. 14 Washington Post op-ed that “Trump cannot use a pardon to stop Manafort’s cooperation.” They point out that Trump cannot pardon himself or use a pardon to suppress an investigation of himself: “A self-pardon, or a pardon that is self-protective and serves the same purpose as a self-pardon, would be an abuse of power that violates the Constitution and, as such, could warrant impeachment.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-cannot-use-a-pardon-to-stop-manaforts-cooperation/2018/09/14/c8338d96-b770-11e8-a2c5-3187f427e253_story.html
D. Moreover, a Trump pardon of Manafort would not actually help him stay out of jail. As Slate’s Jed Shugarman reported back in August, “Manafort also faces New York state tax fraud liability with no double jeopardy protection. New York has a double jeopardy law, but it won’t help Manafort in another tax case. Leona Helmsley, the hotel magnate known as the “Queen of Mean,” had benefited from the double jeopardy rule to escape state tax prosecution. In 2011, New York fixed the rule to allow state tax fraud prosecutions to follow a federal prosecution. Now Manafort could face New York tax fraud charges, even after a federal pardon…. If Trump pardons Manafort on the charges from this month’s [August’s] federal case alone, then he would still face prosecution in three very blue states (New York, Illinois, and California) and one increasingly blue-ish state (Virginia). Those are four jury pools that would potentially be altogether worse for Manafort.” For full legal details see this piece in Slate by on Aug. 23: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/08/paul-manafort-will-likely-go-to-jail-if-trump-pardons-him-thanks-to-a-lone-holdout-juror.html.
4. “Get Over Your Election-Needle P.T.S.D.: The Blue Wave Is Real, and It’s a Monster. All the fundamentals are pointing to a Democratic tsunami rumbling offshore, even if we’re being too careful about saying it. As with most elements of Trump’s presidency, the most obvious thing is usually true. And what’s staring us in the face is a big blue Democratic takeover in Washington.” That is the title of a much-discussed article by Peter Hamby in the Sep. 12 Vanity Fair. He wants us to forget the “bad” polling that made us so arrogantly comfortable with a Hillary win in 2016. Current polling, and the anecdotal reports from Congressional districts, suggests that we should not be too worried about a Blue Wave: it is coming.
“For any American with a pulse and even a whiff of political intelligence, two things are now self-evident with just two months until Election Day. Democrats everywhere in the country will walk over broken glass to vote in November, and Republicans are about to confront an unholy midterm bloodbath up and down the ballot. Every single piece of on-the-ground reporting suggests a wipeout on par with 2006 or 2010.
“So why are the experts unwilling to say as much? Yes, the idea that Democrats will take over the House has congealed into conventional wisdom, and Republicans on Capitol Hill will privately tell you they’re bracing themselves for a turnover in the lower chamber. But few journalists or pundits are willing to step out further and declare what should be pretty obvious to any reporter who has covered campaigns in the past: the vaunted blue wave is coming….
“’There is some P.T.S.D. from 2016,’ said Amy Walter, the editor of the Cook Political Report. ‘Nobody wants to go out and feel too confident because of the “what if” factor. [emphasis added] All of the indicators are, “Boy, this is going to be really bad for Republicans.” If you’re the party in power, and your incumbents in districts that were easily held before are now only up within the margin of error, that’s not good. Or you can look at it and say, “Well in 2016, Hillary was up by the margin of error and look what happened!”’
“Walter’s point is that Trump’s election created a crisis of confidence inside the political world like nothing that has come before.” [emphasis added]
But, as Hamby points out, the 2016 polls were not that far off: “One of the biggest media failures in the presidential election was misreading analyses like FiveThirtyEight’s, which actually gave Trump a one-in-three chance of winning. In baseball, that would be a damn good batting average. ‘The thing people need to get comfortable with [is] there is no solution to this problem of predicting the future,’ Cohen said. ‘It’s not like if we could figure out the weights of certain polls, and we just knew the districts to visit to do on-the-ground reporting, we would have this perfect way to predict what’s going to happen. There is no perfect way. It’s a question about best guesses.’” In other words, if the 2016 election had been run 100 times, the prediction was that 30 times Trump would win. For a betting person, those are pretty good odds.
And, as Hamby says, the most trusted poll aggregator, FiveThirtyEight, has the Democrats with about an 80% chance of winning the House. Of course, that could still be wrong, and the Dems could lose the House by one seat. But we are talking about prediction here, not certainty. And as an old Danish proverb goes, “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” [Oh, by the way, it was not really Yogi Berra who said this: see the full documentation in the reliable website, Quote Investigator. –Ed.]
5. OK, but What About Trump in 2020? Hear out the respected New York Timescolumnist, Roger Stone, who reminds us that a replay of 2016 is still very very possible. He says,
“David Halberstam, in ‘The Best and the Brightest,’ listed the ‘virtues Americans have always respected’ as ‘hard work, self-sacrifice, decency, loyalty.’ I don’t believe that’s changed since 1972. President Trump, in his sublime indecency, fails the test on all these qualities except perhaps hard work, yet tens of millions of Americans still admire him. [emphasis added]
“It’s tempting to dismiss this reality. [emphasis added] It’s tempting to focus instead on the pressure building on Trump from multiple sources: the Mueller investigation, Paul Manafort’s cooperating with Robert Mueller, Michael Cohen’s guilty plea, the wins of progressive Democratic candidates, falling poll numbers. It’s tempting to think Trump’s finished, even if he’s already been pronounced politically dead countless times.
“This would be a mistake. [emphasis added] That the Democratic Party will take the House in the midterm November elections and start impeachment proceedings against Trump is plausible, even likely. It’s unlikely, however, that the Democrats will have the numbers in the Senate to convict him. This may be a positive scenario for Trump. As the victim president, or acquitted president, he’d fire up support going into 2020.”
What is the core of Trump’s appeal? Stone reminds us of Trump supporters’ suspicions of the Democrats: “In small-town America, now synonymous with Republican-majority America, any Democratic voter gets asked why Democrats are intent on taking away American guns, jobs and individualism, and replacing them with handouts to every peeved interest group. Regular mass shootings answer the gun question easily enough (even if not persuasively to most gun owners). The other questions are more problematic….
“Don Colcord, a pharmacist in southwestern Colorado and a lifelong Democrat, told me: ‘The Democratic Party has lost the ability to communicate with people who live in small towns. It seems to have no way of understanding their issues: how to pay bills, how to have a retirement, how to feed their families, what to do about bad schools, how to get health care, how to do better at creating new jobs when environmental concerns take them away.’”
And in Colorado, schools lack funding, and Obamacare is a disaster, with only one insurer left and premiums soaring. “Sure, if the Republican Party had not set out to destroy the Affordable Care Act, the legislation might have been amended to address its shortcomings. But on this signature issue, the Democratic Party is widely seen as the author of a policy that failed low-wage Americans. Again, this looks like elitist indifference.”
6. An important follow-up to this piece is a column in the Sep. 20 Guardian by Cass Mudde, “The Democratic party went AWOL in 2016 – and is still missing: The party has no clear leader, no convincing analysis of why they lost the election, and no strategy to do better next time.” Mudde is a respected political analyst of populism and is Stanley Wade Shelton UGAF Professor in International Affairs at the University of Georgia, and Professor at the University of Oslo.
Mudde says, “In a July 2017 Washington Post-ABC News poll a majority of Americans (52%) said the Democratic party ‘just stands against Trump,’ while just a minority (37%) believed the party ‘stands for something.’ I seriously doubt these numbers will have changed much since then. As Democratic leaders limit their interventions to anti-Russia and anti-Trump platitudes, they might rally their partisan core, but they lose the bigger base – including millennials….
“Democratic partisans will counter that, since Trump came to power, Democrats have won many of the local and state races that have been held. But they glance over the fact that these races were won with many different candidates and positions, some diametrically opposed to each other. Moreover, some races were won despite, rather than because of the Democratic party.
“In several races the local (or national) party establishment worked against candidates they believed might scare away the ‘moderate Republican’ – the political unicorn that was to bring Hillary Clinton the presidency. The fact that some of these candidates, often more outspokenly leftwing and/or non-white, like my district’s representative, Deborah Gonzalez, (Georgia House district 117) nevertheless won their seat, shows how insular the party establishment is….
“There is little doubt that in certain parts of the country, most notably the Democratic strongholds on the coasts, so-called ‘democratic socialists’ (read: social democrats) are successfully challenging the Democratic establishment. Whether they can defeat both Democrats and Republicans will have to be proven in November, but it is not unlikely. Still, while voters in the rest of the country might be ready for a liberal representative, even a non-white one, voting for a socialist might be a step too far.”
How can the Democratic Party meet the national challenges? “Democrats first have to defend the liberal democratic system, which requires a basic agenda that can be supported by both camps within the Democratic party as well as the (fast-decreasing) section of liberal democratic Republicans,” says Mudde. This would involve, for example, securing elections and working for non-partisan redistricting; campaign finance reform; and reforming the criminal justice system. There could be other ways into this problem, of course; but it is urgent that the national Party, say the above commentators, address its failures to provide coherent alternatives to Trump’s apparent (if fraudulent) concerns for middle American voters’ anxieties.
7. What are the dangers of an eight-year Trump presidency? You don’t want to look too closely at that. But in a good review essay in The New York Times Book Review on Sunday, Peter Beinart asks, “Is Trump A Fascist?” Beinart is reviewing a new book on fascism by Jason Stanley.
Of course much depends on definitions. Beinart criticizes Stanley, who is a “lumper” historian, rather than a “splitter,” meaning, in Stanley’s words, one who “’seek[s] to systematize complexity, to reduce the chaos, disorder and sheer untidiness of history to neat patterns.’”
Says Beinart, “Stanley’s a lumper. And that leaves him vulnerable to ‘splitters,’ who would object to cramming together Trump, Victor Orban, Hitler, the Confederacy, the Rwandan genocidaires and the current government of Myanmar, among others, into a one-sentence definition of fascism: ‘ultranationalism of some variety (ethnic, religious, cultural) with the nation represented in the person of an authoritarian leader who speaks on its behalf.’”
All the same, there is virtue in Stanley’s approach. “By placing Trump in transnational and transhistorical perspective, Stanley sees patterns that others miss. He notes the apparent paradox that Trump — like many fascist politicians — rode to power in part by attacking government ‘corruption,’ yet practices it even more brazenly himself. The explanation, Stanley suggests, lies in what fascists actually mean by the term.[emphasis added] ‘Corruption, to the fascist politician,’ he argues, ‘is really about the corruption ofpurity rather than of law. [emphasis added] Officially, the fascist politician’s denunciations of corruption sound like a denunciation of political corruption. But such talk is intended to evoke corruption in the sense of the usurpation of traditional order.’”
As Beinart says, too, Stanley’s method helps illuminate another odd facet of Trump’s appeal: “Fascist politicians, who portray themselves as defenders of a pure, mythic, patriarchal past, frequently play on fears that alien groups pose a sexual threat.” Read this interesting book review, and see for yourself how well Trump fits a fascist pattern, here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/books/review/jason-stanley-how-fascism-works.html
8. This next piece is long-form journalism at its best. So, to get a sense of what it is all about, it would be ideal for our readers to click through. We know you are busy; and you are reading these curated summaries precisely because we are giving you the gist of the stories. Still, there are times when only the articles themselves can speak their truths. Yes, there are paywalls. As we have suggested, there are ways to defeat them (try opening in different browsers or devices; accept or reject cookies… The Post seems not to enforce its paywall on Firefox… ). But ideally, you should try to subscribe or share with someone who does. We have had several readers say they have started subscriptions—which can indeed be expensive—to major newspapers. And, despite the cost, The New York Timeshas recorded huge upswings in readership (note to teachers: there are substantial savings for you, as well as promotions for first-time subscribers).
All this week, The New York Times has been running a feature about the full extent of Russian interference in the 2016 election and what we know so far about the Trump campaign’s conspiring with Russian operatives. They discuss the extraordinary efforts of hackers and spies to create mistrust in America of its elections and to help elect Putin’s candidate, Donald Trump. “The Plot to Subvert an Election: Unraveling the Russia Story So Far. For two years, Americans have tried to absorb the details of the 2016 attack — hacked emails, social media fraud, suspected spies — and President Trump’s claims that it’s all a hoax. The Times explores what we know and what it means.”
Here is just an opening example: “As Mr. Trump emerged in spring 2016 as the improbable favorite for the Republican nomination, the Russian operation accelerated on three fronts — the hacking and leaking of Democratic documents; massive fraud on Facebook and Twitter; and outreach to Trump campaign associates.
“Consider 10 days in March. On March 15 of that year, Mr. Trump won five primaries, closing in on his party’s nomination, and crowed that he had become ‘the biggest political story anywhere in the world.’ That same day in Moscow, a veteran hacker named Ivan Yermakov, a Russian military intelligence officer working for a secret outfit called Unit 26165, began probing the computer network of the Democratic National Committee. In St. Petersburg, shift workers posted on Facebook and Twitter at a feverish pace, posing as Americans and following instructions to attack Mrs. Clinton….
“On March 24, one of the members of the Trump foreign policy team, George Papadopoulos, sat in the cafe of an upscale London hotel with a Russian woman who introduced herself as Mr. Putin’s niece and offered to help set up a meeting between the Russian president and Mr. Trump. The woman and the adviser exchanged frequent messages in the weeks that followed. Today, Mr. Padadopoulos is unsure that those messages came from the person he met in the cafe.
“The Russian intervention was essentially a hijacking — of American companies like Facebook and Twitter; of American citizens’ feelings about immigration and race; of American journalists eager for scoops, however modest; of the naïve, or perhaps not so naïve, ambitions of Mr. Trump’s advisers. The Russian trolls, hackers and agents totaled barely 100, and their task was to steer millions of American voters. They knew it would take a village to sabotage an election.”
10. OK, now we have seen how the country is sliding toward fascism and Russian takeover. How about a feel-good ha-ha to make us all smile? You know, the way those news readers always adopt that idiotic smile at the end of the show, just after explaining the imminence of World War III? Here is this week’s smile story:
11. In local news, Sean Casten’s campaign has announced the results of their commissioned poll, showing Casten, for the first time, ahead of Roskam (within the margin of error). As The Chicago Sun-Times reported it on Wednesday, “The poll, conducted by the Garin Hart Yang Research Group on behalf of Casten’s campaign, finds Casten ahead 47 to 44 percent, with 9 percent undecided. The poll was taken Sept. 8-10 of 402 likely voters in Illinois’ 6th Congressional District…. The poll also asked voters about Trump. Poll takers said that ‘nearly three in five voters,’ or 58 percent, viewed Trump negatively in the district, which they claim is the worst ratings recorded for Trump since they began polling in the district.” https://chicago.suntimes.com/politics/congress-sean-casten-peter-roskam-illinois-poll-sixth-district-campaign-house/