Their Vast Carelessness

“…they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

—Nick, from the Great Gatsby, on Daisy and Tom Buchanan


Every week is a slog and every Monday morning feels like deja vu as the crowd in the White House commits one more blunder, hires one more incompetent, sends one more tweet, and takes one more irrevocable step towards the downfall of democracy.

It’s easy to become fatigued, to think that other people will keep calling, that other people will march and protest, and that you can retreat for a while, rest, and let the world take care of itself. That’s what the left did during the Obama years, during the Clinton years, and more than anybody’s like to admit, during the Bush years, too.

Donald Trump and his ilk, when all is said and done and destroyed, will have no trouble returning to their money and their vast carelessness and by then it will be too late. If you’re ever going to care, you’ve got to care now.


Shenan-agains

So on Monday of last week, head of the FBI James Comey testified before Congress that the FBI had been running an investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia since last July. He would not specify who exactly or what exactly they were investigating, and he left aside why he had to announce a non-investigation of Hillary Clinton right before the election while remaining totally silent about an actual investigation of Donald Trump. He also confirmed what everybody already knew:

The committee that Comey testified in front of was the House Intelligence Committee. Set up after Watergate, it has traditionally been one of the most serious and least partisan committees in all of Congress, and its members have taken their duty (overseeing and checking the power of the Executive) very seriously.

Devin Nunes, the Republican chair of the Intelligence Committee, went to the White House on Tuesday, where somebody apparently “showed him documents related to U.S. intelligence surveillance.

On Wednesday, rather than showing those documents to the rest of the committee or even to Adam Schiff, his Democratic counterpart, Nunes first announced to the press that he’d be briefing the President since “he had seen evidence indicating that people close to Trump had been subjects of surveillance during the transition,” and then he went to the White House to brief the Administration on the same.

Two problems here. The first, and smaller, though still massive problem, is that Nunes, who has been crying in committee hearings for weeks that the only wrongdoing happening in the Trump administration is leaking of classified information, gave details of FISA court proceedings to the press, which is a leak of classified information.

The second is that the House Intelligence Committee only works if its members, Republican and Democratic, work together to investigate the Executive. If party trumps everything, then the Committee is worthless, and that’s the road Nunes isn’t just headed down but at the end of.

Imagine a scenario for me. A district attorney and a detective are investigating a case of fraud. They have a suspect, but so far only circumstantial evidence. The DA suddenly happens upon a cache of new information, but it’ll only hold up in court if the detective can go investigate it. And the DA, rather than turning that information over to his detective, gives it to the suspect instead.

That sounds like the wrong thing to do, right? Like something that would give the suspect plenty of opportunity to cover up whatever was contained in that cache of information?

Adam Schiff, Nunes’ Democratic counterpart, had words:

If you want to talk about the destruction of democratic norms and how they could bring this whole thing toppling down, talk to Nunes.


Neil Gorsuch

Trump’s first SCOTUS candidate started his hearings last week, and if you assumed at the outset that our president would only nominate the most conservative guy around, there haven’t been too many revelations.

Judges and judgeship nominees, from the circuit courts up to the supreme, do not comment on issues that might appear before their bench—nobody wants to bring a case to a judge who’s already publicly pre-ruled on a given subject. And SCOTUS nominees, in response to virtually any interesting or revealing question from the Congress, have repeated more or less what Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her nomination hearings in the 1990s: “I cannot say one word on that subject that would not violate what I said had to be my rule about no hints, no forecasts, no previews.”

So the hearings are, in general, pretty evasive and pretty dull, and what information we get is gleaned by rehashing cases that the judge in question ruled on in the past. Gorsuch is a corporate cheerleader, through and through, but there were a few cases that might have made even Scalia grumble from the grave. One summary, from Senator Bob Casey, no less, is as good as three:

Another case, TransAm Trucking, Inc. v. Administrative Review Board, involved a truck driver who was stranded on the side of the road at night in subzero temperatures with the brakes on his trailer frozen and the heater in his cab broken. He called dispatch for help multiple times, but after hours of waiting in the freezing cold, he was having trouble breathing and his torso and feet were numb. Worried about his safety, he unhitched his trailer and drove the truck away. The company fired him for abandoning his load. Two different authorities within the DOL ruled the firing was illegal and the trucker was protected under federal law. Judge Gorsuch disagreed, parsing a federal statute to argue the driver was not protected in his decision to drive away, despite the risk of freezing to death if he stayed put. Again, fortunately, the majority of the court disagreed, describing Judge Gorsuch’s labored interpretation of the statute as “curious” and ruling in favor of the driver.

Gorsuch and his hearings, while they might have been predictable and they may well be infuriating, aren’t exciting. What was, for the first time in a long time, was the Democratic response.

The Dems in the Senate have been stumped with how to oppose Trump. They couldn’t filibuster his cabinet nominees, since they themselves eliminated it when the Republicans refused to let Obama fill any slot at any level of the Federal government without 60 votes. And if they use the filibuster for anything else, like a SCOTUS nomination, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader and maybe literally the worst person alive right now, would be sure to nuke the filibuster for everything forevermore.

There were some horrible rumors that the Dems were going to give Gorsuch a pass in some sort of handshake deal where the Republicans would pinky promise not to torch the filibuster, but that turned out to be mist in the breeze, because the normally spineless Senate Minority Leader, Democrat Chuck Schumer, finally decided that it was time to play hardball.

You might remember that the Republicans created, sui generis, a new rule where a sitting President couldn’t nominate a new Supreme Court judge when he only had an entire year left in his term of office. Obama nominated a middle-of-the-road candidate after Antonin Scalia’s death, and the Republicans refused even to meet with him in their offices. You might also remember that the Democrats, rather than turning that into an unending garbage fire, pretty much shrugged and left it at that.

Well, miracle of miracles, they might actually return fire this time. Schumer, cleverly echoing both McConnell’s original refusal to hold hearings on Obama’s candidate and his threats to postpone a nomination for her entire presidency (since, in Trump’s America, she was assumed guilty of whatever it was she’s supposed to have been guilty of), Schumer has said that Democrats in the Senate will delay a vote on Gorsuch as long as Trump and his campaign are under investigation by the FBI.

“There is a cloud now hanging over the head of the president, and while that’s happening, to have a lifetime appointment made by this president seems very unseemly and there ought to be a delay,” was Schumer’s not-as-awesome-as-anybody-would-have-liked announcement.

Maybe finally connecting the dots and realizing that the Democrats have been running around with hankies tucked into their waistbands for the last eight years while the Republicans played full tackle, Schumer continued:

You can bet that if the shoe was on the other foot ― and a Democratic president was under investigation by the FBI ― that Republicans would be howling at the moon about filling a Supreme Court seat in such circumstances. After all, they stopped a president who wasn’t under investigation from filling a seat with nearly a year left in his presidency.

McConnell will torch the filibuster sooner or later, and it’ll probably be to get Gorsuch in. If the Republicans are going to burn down the government, make them do it now and make them do it publicly and fight them. Congressional Dems have been pretty milquetoast in the face of the most hostile, most pressing, most desperate time in a century, and we’ve just about had it.

As MetaFilter user supercrayon said it:

Tell them to hold the fucking line. Jesus effing Christ, Democrats. Why are your soldiers fighting in the trenches if you’re just going to lay down?

So yeah, maybe opposing Gorsuch isn’t going to stop Gorsuch. But if any elected Dem doesn’t want to get primaried out of the party and pilloried out of politics forever, they need to get with the program.


Sweet Victory

Moments worthy of celebration have been few and far between since last November, but last Friday gave us a big one. The American Health Care Act, the bill that Republicans had been talking about in theory for eight straight years, that Trump had promised the length of the campaign,  the Republican chance to finally repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, went down in flames when Ayn Rand sycophant and human-skin-wearer Paul Ryan wasn’t able to whip either any Democrats or even enough Republicans to carry the bill through the House, where his party holds a huge numerical advantage.

It should have failed because it attacked the healthcare of the very people that voted for Donald Trump. It should have failed because it would have left 24 million uninsured next year that are uninsured this year. It should have failed because the White House’s estimate of uninsured was actually 2 million people higher than the Congressional Budget Office’s.  It should have failed because it would leave fewer people insured than literally just repealing Obamacare wholesale. It should have failed because it was a massive, and explicit, tax break for the ultra-wealthy.

Instead, it failed because it wasn’t harsh or draconian enough for members of the House’s ultra-right Freedom Caucus—the guys that are always trying to default on US debt and shut down the government, and no amount of last-minute “sweeteners” or out and out bribes could stop the trainwreck.

These people are dumb, they’re hateful, and they’d let a hundred thousand needy folks die before they’d see a government penny going to a black or brown hand, but this time they shot each other in the feet, and that’s cause enough to make us all happy.


Don’tCare

We talked about the budget and the finer points of the AHCA last week, but I want to give you a couple of poignant passages from a piece Neal Gabler wrote for billmoyers.com last week called “Has the Trump Budget Blown Republican’s Cover?“:

Journalists ask Republicans about policies, mechanisms and money, but those are technical questions when the real and simple question they should be asking is a moral one: Why do Republicans seem intent on hurting the most vulnerable among us?

Unfortunately, the answer may just be, to paraphrase Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry on why serial killers murder: because they like it.

Sure, we know the rote answers. Republicans love to talk about “choice” and “freedom” and “markets” and “deficit reduction” and “personal responsibility” and all sorts of ideological claptrap that seems to slap principle on what really is punishment. At best these are smokescreens, at worst traps that have succeeded in entangling the media, Democrats and Americans generally in arguments about tactics or priorities rather than arguments about motives and their real-life consequences.

So, again, why? What kind of people seem dedicated to inflicting pain on others?

It is not an easy question to answer, since it violates all precepts of basic decency. I suspect it comes from a meld of Calvinism with social Darwinism. From Calvinism, conservatives borrowed both a pinched and unsparing view of humanity as well as the idea of “election” — namely, that God “elects” some folks for redemption, which, when rebooted for modern conservatism, has an economic component. Plain and simple, rich people are rich because they are better than poor people.

By the same token, poor people are poor because they are worse. This is God’s edict, so to speak. (The so-called Calvinist revival has an awful lot in common with Trumpism.) From social Darwinism, they borrowed the idea that this is the way the world should be: winners and losers, those who can succeed and those who can’t. It is a world without luck, except for tough luck.

From this perspective, conservatives may not really think they are harming the vulnerable but instead harming the undeserving, which is very different. In effect, conservatives believe they are only meting out divine and natural justice. It’s convenient, of course, that this justice turns out to be redistributive, taking resources from the poor and middle class and funneling them to the wealthy, who happen to be the benefactors of conservatism as well as its beneficiaries.

Sounds about right.


Horrible Miscellany:

Donald Trump gave an interview to Time magazine. How it happened, given that Time was calling him for comment on an article about lying and the destruction of truth, is anybody’s guess. Bannon was away from the Oval, maybe.

The interview, in all its total insanity, is here. And the guys at Pod Save America addressed it in their show last week, “He’ll run the country from jail like El Chapo” (I broke off some audio here, but their podcast, from a couple of ex-Obama staffers, is like #1 worth listening to and WAY more important than the one about Richard Simmons):


The Trump clan went to Aspen for a ski holiday this weekend, and if that wasn’t enough to make you angry, since it’s almost April, they also brought 100 Secret Service officers and you’re footing the bill.

Trump, of course, spent the weekend golfing outside of Washington.

But not everything on Twitter this week was the worst:

In other news about DJT’s other son, Don Jr., this Facebook post from a former college classmate resurfaced last week:

You might have to click on that to get it big enough to read, but suffice to say, DJT Jr. was Diaper Don in his dorm.

 

 

 

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