The Gorsuch Nomination

After President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, my high school posted a brief bio and wished him well:

A Colorado resident, Judge Gorsuch served as Georgetown Prep’s President-of-the-Yard, the student body president, as a senior. He also participated in the forensics and international relations clubs. After graduating from Prep in 1985, …

Rev. Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., Georgetown Prep’s president, noted on the occasion of Judge Gorsuch’s nomination, “We are proud to have a son of Georgetown Preparatory School, a Catholic, Jesuit school founded the same year the United States Supreme Court was established, nominated to the nation’s highest court. All of us at Prep send our prayers and best wishes.”

Gorsuch graduated twelve years behind my class, so I can’t tell you that he was a great guy or otherwise. Fewer than five hundred students attend Prep (fewer than four hundred when I was there) so when we voted for President-of-the-Yard we already knew the candidates, or someone on a floor or team or club with them. Gorsuch must have managed to be the right combination of likable and respected. He may have had to do the occasional jug (a Catholic word for detention), or had to take a few laps, but probably never smoked weed in the steam tunnels. Or never got caught.

I watched Judge Gorsuch’s statement to the confirmation committee, and most of Senator Al Franken’s questioning. Like some of my classmates from Prep, he comes from very successful people of humble origins. He made sure to let us know that he and his wife once had a very small apartment, that he is a family man, etc. all of which is good. I’m sure if I met him at a reunion I’d like him well enough. Even if we talked politics.

Senator Franken grilled Gorsuch over his TransAm Trucking dissent against a driver who was fired because he briefly left a trailer with frozen brakes while suffering hypothermia in freezing weather. Gorsuch explained that he had great sympathy for the driver, but that the law simply didn’t support him. Franken might have asked whether Justice Gorsuch would support a new law that would have saved the trucker’s job.

Franken (and Pat Leahy) also asked a version of the question suggested by Cenk Uygur about whether Judge Merrick Garland had been treated fairly, but Gorsuch dodged that by claiming that a judge should not get involved in politics.

Despite all the brave talk about a Democratic filibuster, I can’t imagine that Gorsuch won’t be readily confirmed. But I fear that while he professes great sympathy for the struggling classes, his rulings will favor the entitled. According to Ari Berman at The Nation:

Yet we know enough about Gorsuch to surmise that he was nominated by Donald Trump to be a smooth-talking advocate on the bench for a far-right ideology. He was hand-picked by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation. He has close ties to a conservative billionaire and has praised one of the GOP’s most notorious voter-suppression advocates. He’s criticized liberals for challenging gay marriage bans in the courts. During the Bush administration, he praised the Guantánamo prison and defended harsh anti-terror policies. As a judge, he joined the Hobby Lobby decision restricting a woman’s right to choose and ruled against a truck driver who abandoned his trailer in subzero temperatures after it broke down. He’s consistently favored corporate power and corporate influence in the political process. In fact, a review of his opinions suggests he will be more conservative than Roberts and Alito, second only to Justice Thomas.

Purity Politics

Way back in 1938, Franklin Delano Roosevelt arranged for primary challengers to fellow Democratic incumbents who refused to support his New Deal agenda. The verb, Primarying, goes back to at least 2004, but gained popularity in 2008 as the Tea Party began challenging moderate Republicans. That same year the labor-sponsored, Working For Us PAC was formed to, “encourage Democrats to act like Democrats – and if they don’t – they better get out of the way of Democrats who will.” Working for Us helped elect Donna Edwards, and still exists, but is a minor factor in congressional elections.

Newer progressive groups, such as Justice Democrats working with Brand New Congress, plan to push the Democratic Party to the left by primarying corporate candidates in the next round of elections. Establishment Democrats have responded by accusing said progressives of conducting purity tests.

In response, Caitlin Firestone wrote, Call Me A ‘Purist’ Again:

There’s a new obnoxious buzzword in the corporate Democratic lexicon, and it’s being employed with increasing regularity by rank-and-file Democratic party loyalists. More and more I run up against vagina hat-wearing keyboard warriors of the McResistance dismissing progressive rebels as “purists,” “purity ponies” and “purity progressives,” the idea being that if you don’t want to vote for Democrats who actively facilitate corporatism, warmongering and ecocide, you are somehow being unrealistic and unreasonable.

A few days ago, TYT Politics Reporter Jordan Chariton and producer Emma Vigeland stood outside the TYT office and debated (on youtube) whether there should be a “purity test” for Democratic Party candidates.

In between denying that they were a couple, Jordan claimed the establishment’s accusations were code for, “just look the other way … let us be corrupt,” while Emma thought it was good strategy for a progressive to trade political capital for incremental legislative gains.

The anti-corporate Purity Test is of course, a Slippery Slope Argument, and thus a fallacy. Few progressives will end up supporting only candidates who eschew any contact with the business community (such as the Green Party). Most are simply looking for candidates that respond to their constituents rather than just their donors.

Learning a New Word

In support of friends Charles Murray and Allison Stanger, Andrew Sullivan wrote, Is Intersectionality a Religion? at New York Magazine.

Middlebury College’s American Enterprise Institute Club had invited Murray to speak with Poli Sci and Econ Professor Stanger about his 2012 book, Coming Apart: America’s Growing Cultural Divide, which does for the class divide what The Bell Curve did for racism in 1994.

Given Murray’s reputation for providing a semi-scientific basis for considering blacks to be genetically inferior, and Middlebury’s reputation for liberalism, I would have hoped that students would either stay away or politely challenge his position, but the latest issue of The Middlebury Campus offers a timeline of planning for a significant protest:

By evening on Feb. 24, several months after the AEI had scheduled Murray’s talk, the decision to bring Murray to the College had escalated into a campus-wide controversy. Over the weekend of Feb. 25-26, Middlebury Resistance, College Democrats, Wonderbread, other clubs and ad-hoc organizations were already beginning substantive organization efforts. Some of the first goals that emerged were to get the Department of Political Science to rescind its co-sponsorship in the event, to urge President of Middlebury Laurie L. Patton to not appear at the event and to pressure either the College or AEI to retract the invitation altogether.

On Monday, Feb. 27. Professors and students together led organizing efforts, which soon divided into two different groups: those who wished to carry out non-disruptive protests, and those who wished to shut down the event and prevent Murray from speaking.

There was in fact a loud protest along the lines of an Occupy march (“Racist, Sexist, AntiGay! Charles Murray go away!”), as shown in longer and shorter student videos. You can contrast these videos with the rigid sense of decorum afforded the debate between James Baldwin and William F Buckley fifty-two years earlier at Cambridge, but you should also contrast the relative life expectations of students then and now.

Organizers gave up on the debate in favor of a livestreamed discussion, but afterwards:

When Murray exited the building, escorted by [Middlebury VP] Burger and Stanger, the group was approached by protesters, several with their faces covered and some of whom were non-students. As Stanger and Murray attempted to get inside a car, protesters allegedly placed themselves in their path.

Murray was not physically harmed in the ensuing confrontation, but Stanger suffered from a neck injury following a physical altercation that transpired after she attempted to shield Murray and usher him to their vehicle. Stanger experienced whiplash that evening. On the following Sunday, she was diagnosed with a concussion. She was taken to Porter Hospital on both days.

As in so many protests that go violent, it is tempting to suspect black bloc provocateurs. Sullivan cites statements in the video (which I couldn’t find) and claims that these students are in the thrall of intersectionality. Which is, what?

“Intersectionality” is the latest academic craze sweeping the American academy. On the surface, it’s a recent neo-Marxist theory that argues that social oppression does not simply apply to single categories of identity — such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. — but to all of them in an interlocking system of hierarchy and power. At least, that’s my best attempt to define it briefly. But watching that video helps show how an otherwise challenging social theory can often operate in practice.

Sullivan’s goal is to portray intersectionality as just a left wing version of Trump-style intolerance, a charge that has been leveled against both the politically correct and social justice warriors. But intersectionality is a fairly straightforward idea, meaning that the challenges facing a person belonging to several traditionally-oppressed groups at once might not be covered by what we think of as racism, sexism, ageism, etc. White people trying to grok oppression is easy to parody, and critics who wish the idea of oppression would simply go away often comedically reduce it to a way of determining who gets to complain the loudest. Sharper critics observe that class differences are often overlooked in discussions of intersectionality.

No Country for Old Parties

On a cold Saturday, I was doing my laundry and browsing the internet, when I saw my old Talking Points Cafe buddy Jason in a Facebook video. Jason has started Artisan Politics, and plans to host interactive videos on Sunday evenings, and perhaps during the week. I skyped to ‘Artisan Politics’, and we had an off-the-cuff discussion – which is harder than it looks on TV – for about forty minutes.

At one point Jason said he thought that Richard Nixon had broken the Republican Party and that Ted Kennedy had broken the Democratic Party when he primaried President Jimmy Carter. That seems like ancient history, but it does roughly correspond with the regime change timeline proposed by Professor Corey Robin, which I summarized in a previous post. I was reminded of Jason’s comment while watching Press the Meat this morning. Chuck Todd introduced John Kasich:

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Even though Governor John Kasich of Ohio won only one primary, Ohio, last year, he developed a reputation as a Republican who was willing to work with Democrats and really say what’s on his mind. And Friday he had an op-ed column in the New York Times arguing that Democrats created Obamacare without Republican support and that Republicans are now trying to repeal and rewrite the law without Democrats. He said Democrats were wrong then and Republicans are wrong now. Governor Kasich joins me now. Not surprising to hear something like that from you.

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Well, it’s not sustainable. If you don’t get both parties together, nothing is sustainable. I mean, if they pass this just by themselves, we’ll be back at this again.

CHUCK TODD:

In three years when Democrats take over or whatever.

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Well, you know, look. The other thing is I was there when we created the CHIP program, the health program for children. It was done on a bipartisan basis. It was sustainable. I was there in ’97 when we did the budget deal. I was one of the architects. It was sustainable. But when you jam something through just one party over another, it’s not sustainable. It becomes a point of attack.

Kasich failed to mention that the Republicans were committed to opposing everything Obama proposed, but sure, he wants to work together now. But back to broken parties:

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

We’re all big boys and girls in this town. I mean, if you really want to be a leader. Look, I believe the political parties are disintegrating before our very eyes. I think more and more people across this country see no purpose for political parties.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you?

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Because — I’ll tell you something. You talk to people. There are more and more independents because of the squabbling. What’s at risk here to Democrats is you can’t turn your back on these people. And to Republicans, you need to invite Democrats in because we’re talking about lives.

All this consumption with who gains politically, you know, life is short. And if all you focus on in life is what’s in it for me, you’re a loser. You are a big time loser. And this country better be careful we’re not losing the soul of our country because we play politics and we forget people who are in need.

Unfortunately the moment of candor ended when Todd tried to put Kasich on the spot about his loyalty.

The question I have is whether the parties can be revitalized or whether something will arise to take their place.

Bagel Dems

Many years ago I read about a handful of competent, but older, married women tennis players who could afford to travel around and enter developmental tournaments – only to lose 6-0, 6-0 in the first round (unless they played each other). One might assume that after a certain number of losses they would be denied entry, but it didn’t seem to work that way. As I recall they often got some few ranking points just for competing. They were known as the Bagel Ladies. I understand in other countries there are Bagel Girls from wealthy families that do much the same thing.

Which brings us to the Democrats. And the Russians.

Dagblog founder Michael Wolraich, a published author and very bright guy, took the trouble to publish a timeline of all the alleged connections between Russia and the Trump administration in, TRUMP-PUTIN QUID PRO QUO?. He’s not alone in being concerned about some sort of a deal between Trump and Putin. You can find insinuations of Russian connections from CNN and the Washington Post to The Young Turks. Rachel Maddow is arching eyebrows like Rona Barrett and SNL’s Beck Bennett may never wear a shirt onstage again.

It isn’t hard to imagine Trump engaging in a deal, and his cronies are certainly acting guilty, but a lot former BernieCrats and other progressives just roll their eyes when Democrats mention Russia. Caitlin Johnstone advises, Tell Your Liberal Friends They Can Give Up On Their Russia Conspiracy Theories Now:

The still completely unproven conspiracy theory that Russian hackers stole emails from Democratic insiders with the specific goal of handing Donald Trump the election was initiated by the CIA in December of last year when it anonymously leaked those allegations to the Washington Post, whose owner has received hundreds of millions of dollars directly from the CIA. Later that month this same CIA-funded mainstream publication would then publish an article by a recently-retired CIA operative arguing strongly that the CIA shouldn’t have to provide the American people with any proof of these allegations. This consistent refusal to show the public one shred of proof of the allegations of Russian hacking or Trump’s ties to the Russian government already had the intelligence community in “Saddam has WMDs” territory due to the obvious political implications and the alarming way the corporate media instantly and unquestioningly jumped on board with the unproven allegations in the exact same way as they did in the buildup toward the unforgivable Iraq invasion.

Matt Taibbi urges caution in, Why the Russia Story Is a Minefield for Democrats and the Media:

There is a lot of smoke in the Russia story. The most damning item is General Michael Flynn having improper discussions with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak prior to taking office. There is the much-discussed Republican platform change with regard to American assistance to Ukranian rebels, and the unreported contacts between officials like Jeff Sessions (and even Trump himself now) with Kislyak.

Moreover, the case that the Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee now appears fairly solid. Even Donald Trump thinks so. This of course makes it harder to dismiss stories like the one in which former Trump adviser Roger Stone appeared to know that Wikileaks was about to release the hacked emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

But the manner in which these stories are being reported is becoming a story in its own right. Russia has become an obsession, cultural shorthand for a vast range of suspicions about Donald Trump. …

If there’s any truth to the notion that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian state to disrupt the electoral process, then yes, what we’re seeing now are the early outlines of a Watergate-style scandal that could topple a presidency.

But it could also be true that both the Democratic Party and many leading media outlets are making a dangerous gamble, betting their professional and political capital on the promise of future disclosures that may not come.

Let’s face facts. Democratic officeholders are dangerously uninspiring. They make fine speeches about social issues and the resistance, but quietly vote against lower priced drugs and for Trump’s toxic cabinet picks. The DNC’s recent election of Tom Perez was rife with hastily-contrived irregularities. They have co-opted Bernie Sanders for outreach, but refuse to listen to his message. They are doubling down on forcing us to choose between Trump or the establishment.

Year of Hell

One of the better plotlines on Star Trek: Voyager was the Year of Hell. In that two-part episode, Voyager was battered and her crew decimated over the course of a year of running battles with an implacable enemy. It struck me as a much more likely scenario than the usual melodrama of a lone ship escaping every situation either triumphant or at least mostly intact. The writers made everything revert to normal, of course, but continuing it would have been a learning experience for fans.

So in our real world plotline, we’ve had 100 days of limbo. Most of my friends and most of the media are outraged by President Trump, but a lot of the people I read or follow are equally outraged at the resistance which seems to have been encouraged, propagandized and orchestrated by the Deep State.

Why are progressives suspicious of the resistance? At Truthdig, historian Paul Street explains, The Deep State’s Hatred of Trump Is Not the Same as Yours :

… The issues that concern the swirling, record-setting crowds that have arisen from coast to coast are evident on their homemade signs. They include women’s and civil rights, climate change, social justice, racism, nativism, the police state, mass incarceration, plutocracy, authoritarianism, immigrant rights, low wages, economic inequality …, hyper-militarism and the devaluation of science and education. The marches and protests are about the threats Trump poses to peace, social justice, the rule of law, livable ecology and democracy.

Meanwhile, the national corporate media and the U.S. intelligence community have been attacking Trump for a very different and strange reason. They have claimed, with no serious or credible evidence, that Trump is, for some bizarre reason, a tool of the Russian state. …. Citing vague and unsubstantiated CIA reports, The New York Times, The Washington Post and many other forces in the establishment media want Americans to believe that, in Glenn Greenwald’s properly mocking words, “Donald Trump is some kind of an agent or a spy of Russia, or that he is being blackmailed by Russia and is going to pass secret information to the Kremlin and endanger American agents on purpose.”

Beneath the wild and unsubstantiated charge that Trump is some kind of Moscow-controlled Manchurian president is a determination to cripple and perhaps remove Trump because he wants to normalize U.S. relations with Russia.

In The Deep State vs. President Trump, retired polysci prof Gary Olson hits many of the same notes:

Why does the Deep State fear and despise Trump? First, his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, is a fervent disciple of capitalist economic nationalism. Further, his America is the “shining city on a hill,” but where the dwellers are Christian white people. Deep State types are convinced Trump’s skewed priorities will undermine the dominant role played by the U.S. in the global capitalist system from which they derive their power, wealth, and ultra-lavish lifestyles. We are witnessing a no-holds-barred clash between two warring camps.

Second, both the Pentagon and their arms-dealer friends are salivating over a new Cold War with Russia and will do anything to sabotage enhancing peaceful understanding between Washington and Moscow. This explains their hysterical Kremlin-baiting of Trump. Likewise, Trump sent chills through the Deep State when he voiced doubts about NATO as an archaic relic of the past, expensive and dangerously misused outside of Europe.

Third, Trump’s erratic behavior, penchant for confrontation and unwillingness to be a team player render him an unreliable caretaker of Deep State interests. They much preferred Hillary Clinton or even Jeb Bush. Trump was the “Frankenstein Populist” (Paul Street’s term) who, shockingly, won the election. Now he threatens to unwittingly expose their “marionette theater” of contrived democracy. My sense is that if Trump does not satisfy the Deep State doubts about his trustworthiness, his days in office are numbered.

Perhaps you think you’re being treated unfairly?

Essentially, a lot of people who were doing fine under Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama aren’t ready for that ride to be over. They expect everyone, EVERYONE to forget that life under neoliberals sucked and was getting worse for a lot of people, and to unite to defeat Trump. It’s the same deal they worked hard to arrange in the election, and even though it was a loser, they would rather make it work through insurrection than change one damn thing about the establishment.

We watched the film Elysium last weekend, which like Snowpiercer was a fairly transparent metaphor for our unequal society overlaid with fight scenes that resembled video gaming. As in Snowpiercer, the establishment was overthrown, and society was able to quickly reboot. Is the Trump administration robust enough to survive all his missteps? If not, is the US government robust enough to survive a bitter insider revolution? Are we robust enough to survive a series of authoritarian administrations?

In, American Regicide, Akim Reinhardt warns that the institution of the Presidency is increasingly fragile:

After Nixon’s resignation, 5 of the next 7 presidents suffered an impeachment motion in the House, and one of them, Bill Clinton was actually impeached. In fact, every president beginning with Ronald Reagan has seen a member of Congress move to impeach him.

Ronald Reagan faced an impeachment motion over the Iran Contra Scandal.

George Bush the Elder faced an impeachment motion over the first Iraq war.

Prior to actually being impeached over the Monica Lewinski scandal, Bill Clinton faced an impeachment motion for allegedly obstructing an investigation of alleged campaign contributions from foreign sources.

George Bush the Younger faced an impeachment motion over his version of the Iraq (and Afghanistan) war.

Barack Obama faced two impeachment motions: one for administering the drone program in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the other for the odd combination of charges that he failed to do perform his presidential duty while also abusing his presidential powers.

All of this is not a coincidence.

What Reinhardt doesn’t get around to saying is that the roots of government weakness lie in our failure to take part in, or even pay attention to its workings. Many of us work hard, and more of us play hard, but few of us go to the long boring meetings that determine the direction of government. Taking part in marches is a fine thing, but making one’s voice heard at all sorts of town meetings is a better thing. People get the government they deserve, but more to the point, we have also gotten the deep state we deserve, and we may get many years of hell while our government and deep state fight for supremacy.

Pivot or Divot?

A lot of mainstream media pundits, and some internet pundits, are suggesting that President Trump’s speech to a joint session of Congress indicates a political pivot. The mainstream media seem impressed by Trump’s relatively calm delivery. The guys and dolls at fivethirtyeight.com put their heads together in, On A Scale Of Pivot To Game-Change, What Did We Think Of Trump’s Speech? :

harry: This was a “pivot” moment. But it doesn’t mean that Trump is pivoting. This is merely a moment in time. The question is whether Trump likes being treated well by the press and decides to copy this behavior going forward. …

perry: There was no pivot on immigration, the travel ban, etc. Not to sound too much like Nate, but the media is obsessed with itself. And Trump pivoted by not bashing the media. Hence, his tone was softened, the media declared. It really wasn’t on most issues.

Debbie Lusignan at the Sane Progressive saw a capitulation to the deep state in the replacement of Flynn with McMaster, and in Trump’s relatively sane speech, but her podcast guest from last week, Caitlin Johnstone, thinks that McMaster’s resume is an indication that Trump will continue to engage the deep state:

After former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn drew glass-shattering shrieks of outrage from the political left for speaking to Russian officials during the transition period (which former ambassador to Russia Jack Matlock says is actually standard practice), he was fired for keeping those calls on the down-low and replaced with a largely unknown fellow from the Army named Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster. There were a number of think pieces written by various publications in which political commentators took guesses as to who Flynn’s replacement might be, but I never saw a single one which predicted McMaster. The guy came totally out of left field, and not much is known about him, but we do know this: his Ph. D. thesis was titled “Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam,” and he has publicly warned of the dangers of the military industrial complex, stating “the military-industrial complex may represent a greater threat to us than at any time in history.”

FWIW, I heard that McMaster was well-known and respected due to his battle record in the Iraq War, but was passed over for promotion to Brigadier General due to his book.

And now Trump brings in a Lieutenant General and Ph. D. out of left field to help him navigate matters of national security, whose area of study just happens to focus on the lies the deep state uses to dupe America into war and who just so happens to have an open disdain for the military industrial complex that President Eisenhower tried so urgently to warn us about in his farewell address upon leaving office fifty-six years ago.

I don’t think Trump’s goals have changed, but he may have learned to temper his arrogance.