Mr. President, Tear Down That Word

Trump needs a way out of the shutdown. Meanwhile, Howard Schultz misjudges the country’s direction.

This week in Advice for People Who Didn’t Ask, we focus on two men of significant ambition who are making perplexing decisions.

President Trump just took a drubbing on immigration, undone by the deadly competence of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is now generally regarded as the answer to the question: “What if a Prada bag with a gun in it became a person?” That is from former Obama speechwriter and leftist provocateur Jon Lovett, and it’s a good line because it is true.

Republicans on the Hill are negotiating for a new deal, but their team just lost and Democrats are heady. (There is always, however, the deadly competence of Mitch McConnell.)

.. What should the president do? Survey the field after battle and notice that some of the landscape has changed. For a solid month Americans again focused on illegal immigration. In a country that’s never thinking about only one thing, that was a bit of a feat. Also, Mr. Trump in his statements and meetings with the press came across, for perhaps the first time, as sincere and informed. Previously he’d looked like a guy who’d intuited a powerful issue and turned it into a line.

.. Congressional Democrats did not seem sincere, and a lot of them found it necessary to say they very much want the border secure. They made a point of speaking of their fidelity to the idea. They were telling the people back home: I acknowledge there’s a problem and want to help.

At their best, Democrats oppose the wall as a matter of political aesthetics. A big, fat, glowering slab of concrete on the edges of America is . . . brutalist, unlovely, aggressive. That’s not who we are!

The word “wall” has become as symbolic to them as it is to the president. When they add, “But I’m not for the wall,” they are telling their immigrant constituents, “I don’t fear you, I’m for you.”

.. The Democrats must defeat the president on that one word.

The president should let them, while pretending it pains him.

The vast majority of the American people want order and the rule of law returned to the border. How it is done is up to the experts. They just want it done. The word “wall” has been symbolic to many of them too—it means taking the issue seriously.

But the president himself has given up on the idea of a wall specifically. He spoke often during the shutdown of barriers, structures, smart tech, dedicated personnel. He knows one big wall won’t cut it. He’s taken to talking about tunnels. Walls don’t stop tunnels.

But he can’t admit he’s backed off on the wall, and he loves his showbiz, so now and then he says, “Wall, wall,” and whoever’s around him will say, “Yeah, wall.” He should stop.

Mr. President, tear down that word.

Dividers, Not Uniters

In a new book, Steve Kornacki looks back at the 1990s — and finds the roots of today’s polarization in the Clintons’ ascent.

..  the 1990s was until recently an invisible decade. “The holiday from history,” it was called, a “lull” where nothing much really happened, a candy-colored coma between the Berlin Wall’s fall on 11/9 and the 9/11 attacks less than a dozen years later.

.. The Red and the Blue, is a political procedural that sets out to explain how we went from giga-landslides in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s to Electoral College squeakers today, how Republicans disappeared from the coasts and Democrats died their final deaths in the South and Midwest.

.. it benefits from the context provided by Trump’s ascent, which has clarified that one big reason we’re seemingly reliving the 1930s today is because both the Left and Right spent the 1990s and early 2000s rehashing the culture wars of the 1960s and early ’70s.

.. Because cable and the Internet have so completely transformed American culture over the past two or three decades, it’s easy to forget (and younger people can’t even remember) just how norm-shattering Bill Clinton was, compared to the Greatest and Silent Generation leaders who came before him. To social conservatives and foreign-policy hawks, Clinton’s election was downright triggering, and deserved nothing less than full-on #Resistance. Historian Steven Gillon famously interviewed one who succinctly fumed that Clinton was “a womanizing, Elvis-loving, non-inhaling, truth-shading, draft-dodging, war-protesting, abortion-protecting, gay-promoting, gun-hating Baby Boomer!”

.. aside from Gary Hart, whose ill-fated career was recently reexamined in the Jason Reitman movie The Front Runner, America hadn’t had a youthful, truly sexualized major-party presidential nominee since JFK — until Clinton came along.

  • .. The Federal Reserve’s preference for financialization and neoliberalism was at its very peak under the influence of Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan.
  • Nearly half of Americans still thought “sodomy” — never mind same-sex marriage or civil unions — should be illegal.
  • And while America was pro-choice, huge percentages of voters demanded restrictions to abortion-on-demand.

The Red and the Blue gives an excellent Gen-X-plaining of just how systemically, institutionally, and culturally impossible it would have been for Democrats to move even farther leftward than they did back then — of how much damage their “too far left” brand had done to the party in the ’80s and of the disastrous political consequences of Bill Clinton’s attempts to govern from the left in 1993–94, as epitomized by Hillary’s attempt at health-care reform. He reminds his readers with his trademark aptitude for facts and figures that America in the 1990s was still very much living in what Sean Wilentz called The Age of Reagan.

.. He manages, for example, to nail the most salient point of the abusive relationship between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich: that it was at heart a love story, and/or a co-dependency worthy of Dr. Phil. One man could simply not have managed to stay in office without the other.

.. It was Clinton hatred on the social right that gave us Gingrich, and it was Gingrich’s surefire ability to trigger the libs that protected Clinton year in and year out. “Do you want him – or me?” became the basic campaign pitch of both men.

.. his Officer Friendly approach to the media is just too naïve by half, especially for someone who is a cable-news host with considerable experience in online journalism. In Kornacki’s telling, reporters merely report, offering just the facts or serving as quickie Greek choruses and footnote sources. This might work for a tenth-grade term paper, but for a book that seeks to illuminate the decade that saw the rise of the Internet, the birth of Fox News, unprecedented media consolidation, and what Eric Alterman called “the punditocracy” at the height of its influence, it’s entirely inadequate.

From highly influential anti-Great Society “Atari Democrats” like
  • Michael Kinsley,
  • Joe Klein,
  • Sidney Blumenthal, and
  • Robert Samuelson and proudly un-PC pundits like
  • Camille Paglia,
  • Ben Wattenberg,
  • Bill Maher, and
  • Andrew Sullivan to donor-funded think tanks like
  • Heritage and
  • Cato, an entire intellectual infrastructure was shaping the national narrative for what became Third Way Clintonism well before the Clinton era began. Yet most of these people and institutions do not even appear in Kornacki’s index, or if they do, they’re curtly dispensed with in one or two lines.

.. It’s possible that with Donald Trump’s attacks on the press (and with some people using criticism of “the media” as an anti-Semitic dog whistle), Kornacki didn’t want to even go there.

.. But a book on 1990s polarization that omits Steve Jobs, Roger Ailes, and Bill Gates from its index? One that effectively ignores the O.J. trial, Maureen Dowd’s gendered, campy, sexist (certainly by today’s standards), Pulitzer-winning coverage of Monicagate, and Clarence Thomas vs. Anita Hill?

.. writers as far apart as Ann Coulter and Eric Alterman blamed Al Gore’s loss in 2000 on the media’s hatred of him (and his hatred of them)?

.. Limbaugh’s pioneering tactic (soon perfected by Gingrich, Coulter, and Karl Rove) of branding anyone whose politics were even slightly to the left of, say, Sandra Day O’Connor or Dianne Feinstein, as a Loony Liberal, Radical Leftist, or Femi-Nazi. From Clinton and Dubya well into the Obama years, red-meat conservatives intentionally fuzzed the line between corporate social-liberals and the true hard left of Michael Moore, Pacifica Radio, and Thomas Frank, and Kornacki captures their strategy perfectly.

.. Aside from the Obamas themselves, no other politician would even remotely disrupt or challenge Clintonistas’ hold on the Democratic party for another ten or 15 years. But Clintonism could only continue as long as the true far-left remained repressed, and as long as the economy kept humming.
.. When a fist-shaking socialist senator from Vermont lined up an army of Millennials in formation behind him eight years after the dawn of the Great Recession caused in no small part by Clinton-era financial policy, it became crystal clear that Newt Gingrich had won the war.
.. When they exited the White House, the Clintons left behind a Democratic party that working class, rural, and/or religious whites had become almost allergic to, one more dependent on African-American and Latino voters than ever.
.. Donald Trump cruised to triumph in 2016 using all of the dog whistles and wedge issues that Gingrich, Rove, Buchanan, and Ross Perot had refined to perfection.
.. And just as education-conscious, socially liberal white professionals reacted against Gingrich’s and Buchanan’s reactionary rhetoric in the late ’90s, Trump’s Republican party has now been effectively evicted from places as once-synonymous with the GOP as Long Island, Maine, New Jersey, San Diego, and Orange County.

Liberties; The Alpha-Beta Macarena

She has a point. Women are impressed by swagger and paternalism in presidential candidates, just as men are.

.. She devised the Good Father model for Bill Clinton. It was an obvious idea. But we live in a time when politicians don’t trust the contents of their own minds, when externalities are more important than internalities.

.. In the ’96 race, Harry Thomasson told Mr. Clinton to wear lighter suits. Then Mr. Morris told Mr. Clinton not to. Now Ms. Wolf approves of Mr. Gore’s switch from navy to tan.

It’s deliciously Byzantine. Mr. Gore, whose shot at the presidency is in jeopardy because Mr. Clinton had a preoccupation with sex, has turned to an author with a preoccupation with sex to save him.

And now, after turning Mr. Clinton, the predator, into the Good Father, Ms. Wolf will try to turn Mr. Gore, a good father, into more of a predator.

‘Riling Up the Crazies’

As long as I’ve covered politics, Republicans have been trying to scare me.

Sometimes, it has been about gays and transgender people and uppity women looming, but usually it has been about people with darker skin looming.

They’re coming, always coming, to take things and change things and hurt people.

A Democratic president coined the expression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But it was Republicans who flipped the sentiment and turned it into a powerful and remorseless campaign ethos: Make voters fear fear itself.

The president has, after all, put a tremendous effort into the sulfurous stew of lies, racially charged rhetoric and scaremongering that he has been serving up as an election closer. He has been inspired to new depths of delusion, tweeting that “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not! Vote Republican.

He has been twinning the words “caravan” and “Kavanaugh” in a mellifluous poem to white male hegemony. Whites should be afraid of the migrant caravan traveling from Central America, especially since “unknown Middle Easterners” were hidden in its midst, an alternative fact that he cheerfully acknowledged was based on nothing.

The word “Kavanaugh” is meant to evoke the fear that aggrieved women will hurtle out of the past to tear down men from their rightful perches of privilege.

Naomi Wolf told Bill Clinton, and later Al Gore, they should present themselves as the Good Father, strong enough to protect the home (America) from invaders.

Republicans inch towards action on global warming

The key is to avoid the language of guilt and repentance for climate change

Some coastal Republicans who must contend with the consequences of a warming planet do not attempt to deny the scientific consensus. Carlos A. Gimenez, the mayor of Miami, was plain when talking about rising sea levels last year: “It’s not a theory. It’s a fact. We live it every day.”
..  More than half of the Republicans who represent districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 are members of the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group that advocates climate-change fixes.
.. Some endangered Republicans defend the environment, if only in a NIMBYish way. Unfortunately for the overall sanity of their party, those Republican politicians are the most likely to lose their jobs if a Democratic wave transpires this autumn.
..  52% of Republican voters think there is “solid evidence” of global warming—up from 39% three years ago. Only 24% believe that human activity is to blame, though, compared with 78% of Democratic voters.
.. That huge partisan gap has grown since the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore turned green and made it a Democratic cause. “There’s a huge identity-based effect based on the cues Republicans have received from Fox News, conservative media and elected officials telling them that the science is uncertain
.. Yet moderate and younger Republicans are more likely to agree with the established science. And support for green policies can be found in odd places.
.. Slim majorities of registered Republicans back limiting carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power stations and favour a carbon tax on fossil-fuel companies
.. Conservatives have long had difficulty talking about climate change because the debate is often framed in the “language of repentance, guilt and doing with less, which doesn’t work well in the conservative community
.. That a rich, well-run country cannot pass a bipartisan law to deal with climate change is a tragedy. But if much Republican opposition to climate science is purely political—a way of identifying yourself as not a Democrat—then it can be swayed.
.. Republican voters will back carbon taxes if they are told Republicans favour such a policy.

Why Not Mike Pence?

our first openly Hefnerian president gets impeached

.. If Trump were impeached and removed from the White House, the presidency would devolve to precisely the kind of man whom much of pre-Trump religious conservatism insisted that it wanted in the Oval Office: an evangelical Christian family man with a bluenose’s temperament and a boring Reaganite checklist of beliefs.

.. evangelical leaders currently fretting about Trump’s political position would face a case where doing the consistent thing — namely, returning to their Bill Clinton-era position that character counts in presidents and using illegal means to conceal gross infidelities are impeachable offenses — would actually deliver something closer to what they claimed to want, not so very long ago: not a liberal in the White House, but President Mike Pence.

.. We do not have a parliamentary system where party leaders fight internal battles and get replaced by their internal rivals on the regular; instead, we elect a quasi-monarch, whose removal seems as traumatic as a regicide. And thus party loyalists tend to identify with their leaders the way royalists identify with their kings, and regard the prospect of impeachment not as an opportunity for a change of leadership but a revolutionary threat.

.. Sure, making use of Donald Trump to keep Hillary Clinton from being president is a fascinating flourish by history’s Author, but the idea that the Almighty might use a porn star to make Mike Pence president represents, if anything, an even more amazing miracle.
.. So anyone interested in looking for the hand of God in history should probably welcome that miracle’s arrival
.. That God is using Trump not as an agent of his good work but as a kind of ongoing test of everyone else’s moral character seems like a not-unreasonable inference to draw.

.. And for those same religious conservatives to pass up the chance, preferring a scorched-earth battle in defense of priapism, would be a sad confirmation of the point that a beloved Christian author made many years ago: The doors of hell are locked on the inside.

Donald Trump’s Real Porn-Star Problem

Remember the Clinton scandals. They provoked no decisive legal thunderbolt but a series of agonizing, consequential defeats.

It’s happening again.

.. If you want to talk about foreign influence on elections, the funneling of Chinese money into the 1996 Clinton presidential campaign is still stunning, even these many years later.

.. If the Clinton wing of the Democratic party is honest with itself, it has to understand the price it paid for its corruption. In 2000, the Democrats lost a presidential election they should have won. After all, in a previous time of peace and prosperity, the Republicans got three terms, even when the vice president wasn’t half the political talent that Ronald Reagan was. In 2000, America was on an economic roll, there was an actual budget surplus, and the threat of jihad was barely on the national radar screen. Yet Gore felt as if he had to distance himself from Clinton. He had to distance himself from the drama.

.. she lost a general-election campaign to the most disliked politician in the history of favorability ratings of presidential candidates.

.. While it may well be the case (though I’m skeptical) that some sort of climactic scandal will topple Trump, I think it’s far more likely that he’ll live the way he’s always lived — the way the Clintons always lived — doing what he wants, when he wants, as a phalanx of lawyers clean up his mess and a squadron of associates and allies take the fall.