Fukuyama on Klein

Ezra Klein wrote a thoughtful piece on American polarization, based on his forthcoming book. I commented on it. Yesterday, Francis Fukuyama thoughtfully responded to Klein. I particularly liked his concluding thoughts:

Democrats will not win back swing voters by writing off their opponents as simple racists and xenophobes; they need to show empathy for the legitimate concerns of a working class that is in serious trouble. Identity is an inherently flexible concept that can be deliberately shaped in broader or narrower ways. Liberals around the world have lost ground to populists by ignoring the broad moral appeal of national identity, which in a diverse contemporary society needs to be built around liberal and democratic values. Klein dismisses complaints about political correctness and identity politics on the left, but a politics built on the grievances of ever narrower identity groups breeds similar thinking on the right, and it cannot be the basis for a broader democratic, civic identity that is the ultimate answer to polarization.

A Thought

You may think this connection is a bit of a stretch, but I do not.

I think the reason why Adam Schiff has so infuriated the wingnuts is that the whole unspoken premise of his presentation—and, BTW, the premise may be wrong, but it’s still Adam’s premise—is that people on the other side of the aisle must be spoken to as if we respect their intelligence and as if we respect their inherent worth and dignity.

Wingnuts are to reasoned, respectful discourse as vampires are to garlic.

vampires and garlic

They Are Arguing that Trump’s Partially Successful Obstruction of Congress Immunizes Him from Accountability for His Abuse of Power

That is the gist of the argument that the House case is weak because of the lack of direct evidence of Trump’s words, when that “weakness” came about through Trump’s obstruction of testimony from the witnesses.

Their argument is akin to that of the man Abraham Lincoln’s story. He killed his parents and pleaded for mercy as an orphan.

Why Trump Released the Military Aid

OK, let’s think this through. Let’s say my name is John Smith, Esquire, and I have the misfortune to be Donald Trump’s defense counsel. Let’s say that my particular job is to refute the Democrats’ factual narrative. Or at least to provide some legitimate doubt about it. Or, failing that, to gin up an explanation that, on cursory examination, looks like it might create something bearing some family resemblance to doubt about the Democrats’ account of what went down. All to the end that Senator Jubilation T. Cornpone the Fourth and his colleagues can emerge from the Capital, grab the microphone, and say that the Democrats haven’t made their case.

On the above assumptions, what would I, the hypothetical John Smith, Esquire, do?

I shall answer for the hypothetical defense attorney.

I would come up with a rationale to explain WHY Trump released the money WHEN Trump released the money. That is to say, an alternative to the explanation that Trump released the money, and released it when he did, because he had just been caught red-handed.

Did the defense team proclaim, adumbrate, or foreshadow any such argument this morning?

No, they did not?

Is their failure to proclaim, adumbrate, or foreshadow, any such alternative explanation evidence of their stupidity?

Probably not. It is probably evidence that there is no scintilla of evidence that he released the money for any reason other than that he got caught with his pants down.

pants down

A Republican Senator’s Alternatives, or, Scylla Looks Pretty Bad, Guess I’ll Take Charybdis

Scylla and Charybdis

In other words, to avoid being eaten by Dear Leader Scylla, I guess I’ll just risk sinking in the Charybdis whirlpool of public disapproval.

That’s how the punditariat are reading all 53 Republican senators, and their predictions may well come true. But, actually, they do have some other choices—choices that may look bad, but are not unreasonable, if you step back and consider things rationally.

One, they could resign.

Two, they could announce that they will not run in the next election.

Three, for some of them, it might be feasible just to change parties. With the Democrats supporting them, along with ten percent of the Republicans, they might actually win the next election.

Four, they could just do the right thing, and hope for the best. I would argue, that’s far from an unreasonable choice, even for a cynical politician. Wargame it out. Whatever you do, Trump will be acquitted by the Senate. Trump will immediately begin to manifest far more depravity than he has shown to date. By the fall of 2020, with Trump’s increasing depravity, things are going to look pretty ugly for Trump and his bootlickers. And you are going to look like goddamn Nostradamus and Mother Theresa, rolled into one.

Not exactly a lead pipe cinch winner for you. But I have seen far, far worse bets.

So, dear Republican senators, here’s some really good advice:

Adam Schiff’s Closing Argument This Evening

The Joker

Where I come from, the point of an oral argument in court is not, mainly, to convince those who already agree with you: it is, instead, to convince (at least some of) those who disagree with you that you might be (at least partly) right after all.

I caught Adam Schiff’s one-hour prime time speech this evening. Many things might be said, but let me say only of them. The big difference between what Schiff said tonight and what the Republican team will say tomorrow lies in this: Schiff looked the opposition in the eye, implicitly expressed respect for their reason and fairness, and appeared to be actually trying to persuade some of them.

By contrast, beginning tomorrow, Dear Leader’s team will put on a show intended only to persuade the already persuaded, and to give the middle finger to everyone else. Trump’s case is really bad, and would present a problem for any defense lawyer. That said, I could gin up some arguments on his behalf that wouldn’t actually insult your intelligence. But the arguments we are going to hear will be stupid arguments intended only to appeal to stupid people.

A little search of the Google machine this evening shows that Schiff’s wicked strategy—actually trying to persuade the opposition with facts, logic, and appeals to morality, as distinguished from jumping up and down and whooping and hollering—is driving the wingnuts into a frenzy of fear and loathing.

With any luck, the exercise will give the Hogwarts sorting hat process a real kick in the pants. With any luck, white people with college degrees willing to support Brand Republican will become scarcer and scarcer.

Meanwhile, Gabe Sherman reports that all is not going well in Trumpworld. Delusional Don is not doing himself any good:

As Donald Trump’s defense team prepares to make its first arguments on the floor of the Senate on Saturday, top Republicans are increasingly worried that Trump’s lawyers are woefully unprepared to counter Democrats’ meticulous, fact-based case for removing Trump. In the president’s circle there’s not full-blown panic—but there’s worry. “A lot of Republicans think the Democrats have done a very good job,” a prominent Republican who is close to Trump’s legal team told me. “It’s been a lot better than we expected.” Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, one of Trump’s fiercest House allies, seemingly spoke for many when he blasted Trump’s lawyers, telling Politico this week that the Trump team’s presentation was worse than “an eighth-grade book report.”

Trump himself is making the situation worse, both with his rages—he set a 142-tweet record on Wednesday—and his insistence that Republicans buy in fully to his defense strategy. “It’s really not helpful,” the Republican close to the legal team said. “Trump is mad at Republicans that they aren’t saying his call with [Volodymyr] Zelensky was perfect. He really thinks his call was perfect. It wasn’t.”

Removing Trump from office remains a distant outcome, but the dynamics of the Senate trial are clearly shifting in directions that are dangerous for the president. A new Emerson poll released on Thursday showed 51% of registered voters support removal, an uptick of two points. A Reuters poll published on Wednesday showed nearly three quarters of Americans want to hear new witnesses. The prospect that former national security adviser John Bolton would testify is alarming Republicans. (Trump and Bolton’s relationship is badly damaged. A day after Bolton left the administration in September, Trump raged that Bolton was “a liar and a leaker,” according to a person briefed on the conversation.) “If witnesses start coming and Bolton is negative, it could win some Republicans,” a source close to Trump told me. “Senators really dislike Trump and are tired of having to go to the mat for him on crazy, batshit stuff,” the source said. “We know if senators took a secret vote today, he’d be removed.”

Trump’s circle is waking up to the notion that impeachment is a serious drag on his campaign. “Impeachment is drowning out all his accomplishments,” a Republican insider said. But impeachment is only one aspect of the problem. Inside the campaign there is an intensifying debate between Trump and his advisers about whether the campaign should run on base-incitement issues like immigration or a moderate-appealing message about the economy that could win back suburban voters. “They’re all trying to get Trump to run on general election issues and not get caught up in side issues,” a source close to the campaign said. “But Trump is focused on other stuff and going after [Joe] Biden.”

The Bottom Line

Even if you are a bad person determined to do bad thing, it turns out that not knowing the difference between right and wrong is a fairly serious handicap in your struggle to achieve your evil ends.

Who knew?

A Call from Pollyanna

on the phone

Pollyanna called to report that her crying jag, reported in my last post, did not last too long. She reminded me of a few things:

Sixty-five percent of Republicans and “lean Republican” people say they “trust” Fox News. That means that 35 percent of them do not trust Fox News.

Now, a lot of the untrusting 35 percent are in on the joke—delighted that they have found a way to fool the boobies into voting their way.

BUT, ten percent of Republicans think Trump should be removed from office. And, mirabile dictu, that percentage is up—from a low of 7.8 percent in recent days.

The inference—which might or might not be an accurate inference—is that about two percent of Republicans are capable of rational thought. Bet you didn’t know that.

Meanwhile, over in the Senate, while the fat lady has not yet sung, everyone is predicting that all 53 Republican senators will tie themselves hand and foot to Dear Leader. That would include six senators, up for reelection this very year, with approval ratings currently under 45 percent: “Susan Collins (Maine), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Martha McSally (Ariz.), Cory Gardner (Colo.) and John Cornyn (Tex.).” I wonder how the ten percent of Republican voters who want to shitcan Trump will feel about voting for a senator who chooses to lick his boots, long and hard, and then to praise the smell and flavor of the fine Corinthian leather.

Finally, Pollyanna–clearly under the impression that I might have lost a step or two in my old age–that winning or losing elections is typically a matter of the small difference between two large numbers.

This Morning’s Read of the Day: It’s Enough to Make Pollyanna Weep

polyanna weeps

Ezra Klein, Why Democrats Still Have to Appeal to the Center, but Republicans Don’t: Polarization has changed the two parties — just not in the same way.

Young Ezra possesses remarkable wisdom. The first part of the piece elucidates the headline, and is very much worth reading. This is how he concludes:

The alternative to democratizing America is scarier than mere polarization: it is, eventually, a legitimacy crisis that could threaten the very foundation of our political system. By 2040, 70 percent of Americans will live in the 15 largest states. That means 70 percent of America will be represented by only thirty senators, while the other 30 percent of America will be represented by seventy senators.

It is not difficult to envision an America where Republicans consistently win the presidency despite rarely winning the popular vote, where they typically control both the House and the Senate despite rarely winning more votes than the Democrats, where their dominance of the Supreme Court is unquestioned and where all this power is used to buttress a system of partisan gerrymandering, pro-corporate campaign finance laws, strict voter identification requirements and anti-union legislation that further weakens Democrats’ electoral performance. Down that road lies true political crisis.

In the meantime, though, it’s important to recognize the truth about our system: both parties have polarized, but in very different ways, and with very different consequences for American politics.

Yes, and You Know What Else it is?

Heaven for the plutocrats while they can make it last. The French Revolution when the dam breaks.

And, by the way, if they can make it last in the short run by reelecting Trump, Trump is going to screw up so badly that the revolution is going to come a lot faster than they think.

Pollyanna happy