The Meaning of Ryan’s Departure

Paul Ryan’s fate over the past several years is as good an indication as any of how far our politics have fallen.

.. Though the anti-Ryan vitriol faded after Steve Bannon’s defenestration, he continued to be viewed with suspicion by the talk-radio crowd and other arms of Trump Inc.

This was his reward for attempting to drag his party, and the country, toward a grown-up reckoning with our debt. Nearly singlehandedly, Paul Ryan had managed to put tackling entitlements on the national agenda.

.. making incremental reforms now—with no changes for current beneficiaries or those in their 50s—can prevent drastic shortfalls and extreme benefit cuts that will be necessary in just 16 years when Social Security is depleted. The outlook is even worse for Medicare and Medicaid.

But Donald Trump arrived on scene with the supposedly blinding insight that changes to entitlements are unpopular. Well, no kidding. He promised never to touch Medicare and Social Security—not even to ensure their future solvency. And so, the responsible, future-oriented Paul Ryan found himself governing with a backward-looking, whistling past the graveyard president.

.. Ryan and the party he helped to lead also lost its compass on Ryan’s own signature issue—fiscal responsibility.

.. it would have been nice if the party that fulminated about the dangers of deficits in the Obama years had found anything at all to cut—particularly when the economy is growing and unemployment is low.

.. Under Republican guidance, the federal deficit will be roughly double what it was in the final year of the Obama administration.

.. What has Trump taught? That trade wars are the way to improve the lives of the working class? They are popular, at least with Republicans.

.. 65 percent of Republicans favored Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs.

.. We are not behaving as responsible adults. Our greatest political challenge is out of control debt. Our greatest social challenges are declining families, increasing dependency, and eroding social cohesion. The debt could have been addressed by government.

Trump’s Tool Kit Does Not Include the Constitution

a survey of 2000 voters that shows public faith in 27 key democratic principles — ranging from the independence of the judiciary to constitutional limits on executive power — has declined across the board.

.. from September 2017 to January 2018, voters’ assessments of the ability of the courts, Congress and the Constitution to “effectively check executive power dropped by 7-8 percentage points.”

.. If scholars are right that erosion proceeds on a piecemeal basis, and that the first steps often entail targeting democracy’s “referees,” then our results regarding declines in judicial independence and support for a free press are especially disturbing.

.. On Monday, he charged that Democratic members of the House and Senate were treasonous in their failure to applaud him during his State of the Union address. In a speech in Blue Ash, Ohio, Trump described how he saw it:

You’re up there, you’ve got half the room going totally crazy, wild — they loved everything, they want to do something great for our country. And you have the other side, even on positive news — really positive news, like that — they were like death and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, “treasonous.” I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not?

.. Iyengar posed the following hypothetical:

Let’s assume that Mueller uncovers evidence of collusion and close associates of the Prez are implicated. Republicans are likely to deny the validity of the charges on the grounds that the investigators are biased and Republicans in Congress, as they’ve repeatedly demonstrated, will stick by Trump since the base is with him. Trump, of course, will continue with the ‘hoax’ narrative, and his surrogates in the media will be only too happy to back him up. At that point, we will have a very real threat to the rule of law.

.. Trump’s attacks on the F.B.I. are a case study in his polarization strategy. Since its founding in 1908, the F.B.I. has had substantial popular support, especially among Republicans.

.. Polarization by party identity is so powerful at the moment that most voters see the world through thick red and blue lenses. Almost everything is politicized. And, in almost every study I have run, I find that Republicans are more intense partisans than Democrats on average. We’ve seen partisanship color Republican evaluations of the FBI (negatively) and Russia and Putin (positively).

..  Trump has a negative 40-55 percent approval rating, but it’s “his best overall score in seven months.”

.. Seventy percent of voters described the economy as excellent or good, the highest since 2001

.. in politics, “what matters in the economy is real disposable income over the 6-12 months before an election.”

.. the future of democracy in America during the Trump administration depends as much or more on unemployment, take home pay, the Dow Jones industrial average, tax rates and the gross domestic product as on principled support for the rule of law.

.. as the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, continues to pursue lines of inquiry reaching deep into the White House, Trump will have plenty of opportunities in the near future to push the envelope on the rule of law.

.. I see the Democrats poised right now to make net gains of about 10 to 14 seats. They need 25 or so depending on vacancies.

..  Franklin Roosevelt’s seeking of a third (and then a fourth) term is among the most important norm violations in American political history. He hadn’t been dead for two years before both chambers of Congress proposed the 22nd amendment to limit presidents to two terms.

.. After Lincoln’s use of emergency powers to flex presidential power in ways not previously seen, Congress fought back against his successor, Andrew Johnson. More of his vetoes were overridden (15) than for any other president and Congress limited presidential influence over executive branch employment by passing the Tenure of Office Act (1867).

.. Trump won the Republican nomination and the presidency by conducting a campaign directly challenging the notion that the electorate will punish a politician for “violating accepted constitutional arrangements.”

.. If Republicans retain control of both branches of Congress in 2018 — even if by just one vote in the House and a 50-50 split (with Vice President Pence the tiebreaker) in the Senate — Trump will claim vindication. His assault on the pillars of democracy will continue unabated, with increasingly insidious effect.

How Democracies Perish

Everybody agrees society is in a bad way, but what exactly is the main cause of the badness?

Some people emphasize economic issues’

People like me emphasize cultural issues. If you have 60 years of radical individualism and ruthless meritocracy, you’re going to end up with a society that is atomized, distrustful and divided.

Patrick Deneen ..  new book, “Why Liberalism Failed,”

.. democracy has betrayed its promises.

  • It was supposed to foster equality, but it has led to great inequality and a new aristocracy.
  • It was supposed to give average people control over government, but average people feel alienated from government.
  • It was supposed to foster liberty, but it creates a degraded popular culture in which consumers become slave to their appetites.

.. “Because we view humanity — and thus its institutions — as corrupt and selfish, the only person we can rely upon is our self. The only way we can avoid failure, being let down, and ultimately succumbing to the chaotic world around us, therefore, is to have the means (financial security) to rely only upon ourselves.”

..  Greek and medieval philosophies valued liberty, but they understood that before a person could help govern society, he had to be able to govern himself.

People had to be habituated in virtue by institutions they didn’t choose — family, religion, community, social norms.

.. Machiavelli and Locke, the men who founded our system made two fateful errors.

  1. First, they came to reject the classical and religious idea that people are political and relational creatures. Instead, they placed the autonomous, choosing individual at the center of their view of human nature.
  2. Furthermore, they decided you couldn’t base a system of government on something as unreliable as virtue. But you could base it on something low and steady like selfishness. You could pit interest against interest and create a stable machine. You didn’t have to worry about creating noble citizens; you could get by with rationally self-interested ones.

.. Liberalism claims to be neutral but it’s really anti-culture. It detaches people from nature, community, tradition and place. It detaches people from time. “Gratitude to the past and obligations to the future are replaced by a nearly universal pursuit of immediate gratification.”

.. Once family and local community erode and social norms dissolve, individuals are left naked and unprotected. They seek solace in the state. They toggle between impersonal systems: globalized capitalism and the distant state. As the social order decays, people grasp for the security of authoritarianism.

“A signal feature of modern totalitarianism was that it arose and came to power through the discontents of people’s isolation and loneliness,” he observes. He urges people to dedicate themselves instead to local community — a sort of Wendell Berry agrarianism.

.. Every time Deneen writes about virtue it tastes like castor oil — self-denial and joylessness.

.. Yes, liberalism sometimes sits in tension with faith, tradition, family and community, which Deneen rightly cherishes. But liberalism is not their murderer.

 

 

The Rise of the Violent Left

Antifa’s activists say they’re battling burgeoning authoritarianism on the American right. Are they fueling it instead?

.. The alliance said it didn’t object to the Multnomah GOP itself, but to “fascists” who planned to infiltrate its ranks. Yet it also denounced marchers with “Trump flags” and “red maga hats” who could “normalize support for an orange man who bragged about sexually harassing women and who is waging a war of hate, racism and prejudice.”

A second group, Oregon Students Empowered, created a Facebook page called “Shut down fascism! No nazis in Portland!”

.. Next, the parade’s organizers received an anonymous email warning that if “Trump supporters” and others who promote “hateful rhetoric” marched, “we will have two hundred or more people rush into the parade … and drag and push those people out.”

..  But in the country at large, some militant leftists are offering a very different answer.

  1. On Inauguration Day, a masked activist punched the white-supremacist leader Richard Spencer.
  2. In February, protesters violently disrupted UC Berkeley’s plans to host a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, a former Breitbart.com editor.
  3. In March, protesters pushed and shoved the controversial conservative political scientist Charles Murray when he spoke at Middlebury College, in Vermont.

.. these activists appear to be linked to a movement called “antifa,” which is short for antifascist or Anti-Fascist Action.  .. how the rest of the activist left responds will help define its moral character in the Trump age.

 .. In the late ’80s, left-wing punk fans in the United States began following suit, though they initially called their groups Anti-Racist Action, on the theory that Americans would be more familiar with fighting racism than fascism.
.. some American activists had adopted the name antifa
.. To most left-wing activists during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama years, deregulated global capitalism seemed like a greater threat than fascism.
.. Trump’s rise has also bred a new sympathy for antifa among some on the mainstream left. “Suddenly,” noted the antifa-aligned journal It’s Going Down, “anarchists and antifa, who have been demonized and sidelined by the wider Left have been hearing from liberals and Leftists, ‘you’ve been right all along.’ ” An article in The Nation argued that “to call Trumpism fascist” is to realize that it is “not well combated or contained by standard liberal appeals to reason.” The radical left, it said, offers “practical and serious responses in this political moment.”
.. Since antifa is heavily composed of anarchists, its activists place little faith in the state, which they consider complicit in fascism and racism. They prefer direct action:
  1. They pressure venues to deny white supremacists space to meet.
  2. They pressure employers to fire them and landlords to evict them.
  3. And when people they deem racists and fascists manage to assemble, antifa’s partisans try to break up their gatherings, including by force.

.. Such tactics have elicited substantial support from the mainstream left. When the masked antifa activist was filmed assaulting Spencer on Inauguration Day, another piece in The Nation described his punch as an act of “kinetic beauty.” Slate ran an approving article about a humorous piano ballad that glorified the assault. Twitter was inundated with viral versions of the video set to different songs, prompting the former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau to tweet, “I don’t care how many different songs you set Richard Spencer being punched to, I’ll laugh at every one.”

.. The violence is not directed only at avowed racists like Spencer: In June of last year, demonstrators—at least some of whom were associated with antifa—punched and threw eggs at people exiting a Trump rally in San Jose, California. An article in It’s Going Down celebrated the “righteous beatings.”

.. Antifascists call such actions defensive. Hate speech against vulnerable minorities, they argue, leads to violence against vulnerable minorities. But Trump supporters and white nationalists see antifa’s attacks as an assault on their right to freely assemble, which they in turn seek to reassert.

.. At that rally, a 41-year-old man named Kyle Chapman, who was wearing a baseball helmet, ski goggles, shin guards, and a mask, smashed an antifa activist over the head with a wooden post.

.. A politicized fight culture is emerging, fueled by cheerleaders on both sides. As James Anderson, an editor at It’s Going Down, told Vice, “This shit is fun.”

.. The Pacific Northwest has long attracted white supremacists, who have seen it as a haven from America’s multiracial East and South.

.. Now, in the Trump era, Portland has become a bastion of antifascist militancy.

.. A local paper said the ensuing melee resembled a mosh pit.

.. Trump supporters hosted another Portland rally, this one featuring Chapman, who had gained fame with his assault on the antifascist in Berkeley. Antifa activists threw bricks until the police dispersed them with stun grenades and tear gas.

 .. What’s eroding in Portland is the quality Max Weber considered essential to a functioning state: a monopoly on legitimate violence. As members of a largely anarchist movement, antifascists don’t want the government to stop white supremacists from gathering. They want to do so themselves, rendering the government impotent
.. Demonstrators have interrupted so many city-council meetings that in February, the council met behind locked doors.
.. activists protesting police violence and the city’s investments in the Dakota Access Pipeline hounded Mayor Ted Wheeler so persistently at his home that he took refuge in a hotel. The fateful email to parade organizers warned, “The police cannot stop us from shutting down roads.”All of this fuels the fears of Trump supporters, who suspect that liberal bastions are refusing to protect their right to free speech.

.. Joey Gibson, a Trump supporter who organized the June 4 Portland rally, told me that his “biggest pet peeve is when mayors have police stand down … They don’t want conservatives to be coming together and speaking.” To provide security at the rally, Gibson brought in a far-right militia called the Oath Keepers.

In late June, James Buchal, the chair of the Multnomah County Republican Party, announced that it too would use militia members for security, because “volunteers don’t feel safe on the streets of Portland.”
 .. Antifa believes it is pursuing the opposite of authoritarianism. Many of its activists oppose the very notion of a centralized state. But in the name of protecting the vulnerable, antifascists have granted themselves the authority to decide which Americans may publicly assemble and which may not. That authority rests on no democratic foundation.
.. Antifa’s perceived legitimacy is inversely correlated with the government’s. Which is why, in the Trump era, the movement is growing like never before. As the president derides and subverts liberal-democratic norms, progressives face a choice. They can recommit to the rules of fair play, and try to limit the president’s corrosive effect, though they will often fail. Or they can, in revulsion or fear or righteous rage, try to deny racists and Trump supporters their political rights. From Middlebury to Berkeley to Portland, the latter approach is on the rise, especially among young people.
.. Revulsion, fear, and rage are understandable. But one thing is clear. The people preventing Republicans from safely assembling on the streets of Portland may consider themselves fierce opponents of the authoritarianism growing on the American right. In truth, however, they are its unlikeliest allies.

All the President’s Advisers

Steve Bannon all but dares Trump and Kelly to fire him.

Some conservatives deride Mr. Cohn as a Wall Street Democrat, but he has assembled a first-rate policy team with free-market views. They are crucial to pulling off tax reform in the autumn and to holding off destructive ideas like withdrawing from Nafta.

.. Then there’s the national-security team that is trying to navigate the dangerous world they inherited from Barack Obama. Jim Mattis at Defense, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley are clear-eyed about the threats posed by Russia, Iran and North Korea. Whatever their policy differences, they know the value of alliances and diplomacy backed by military power.

They’re also reassuring to a world that doesn’t know how to read Mr. Trump’s Twitter outbursts. There’s no evidence they plan to leave, but if they did it would send a political shock that would ignite calls for Mr. Trump’s resignation.

.. Mr. Bannon has a Manichean view of politics, at home and abroad, that is sure to become destructive. “To me,” he told Mr. Kuttner, “the economic war with China is everything.”

.. Most striking is Mr. Bannon’s willingness to undercut Mr. Trump’s policy of pressuring China by saying there’s “no military solution” on North Korea. He said he’d consider a deal in which North Korea freezes its nuclear program with verifiable inspections in return for U.S. withdrawal from the Korean peninsula. But this would be a strategic windfall for China and North Korea, leveraging the nuclear threat to push the U.S. out of East Asia.

.. Mr. Bannon says he didn’t realize his chat with the journalist was on the record, which is hard to believe given his years of media experience. We almost wonder if it’s a dare to Mr. Kelly to fire him.

If Mr. Trump retains Mr. Bannon after such a public declaration of disdain for his colleagues, the President will risk other departures. And if Mr. Trump rejects such a request from Mr. Kelly, the chief of staff will have to wonder whether he can do his job.

  •  They see a rare moment of united Republican government to move in a better direction on domestic policy.
  • Or they want to correct the erosion of American power and influence that accelerated during the Obama years.

Every person has to decide how long he or she can serve in good conscience. But we hope the best stay as long as they can for the good of the country.

 

Donald Trump’s Craven Republican Enablers

Authoritarian leaders in foreign countries seize and maintain power this way. And, despite his bungling start, this is the project that Donald Trump appears to have embarked upon. Since the end of January, he has appointed one of his closest political allies, Jeff Sessions, to run the Justice Department; fired an acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, who had warned the White House that the national-security adviser was compromised; and axed forty-six U.S. Attorneys, one of whom, Preet Bharara, had jurisdiction over Trump’s business empire. Now the head of the F.B.I., James Comey, has been ousted, at a time when the agency is conducting an investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s election campaign and the Russian government.

.. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader

.. claimed, falsely, that it was not Trump but Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, who removed Comey. McConnell curtly dismissed calls for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation, saying that such a move would “only serve to impede the current work being done” on Capitol Hill

.. He has long demonstrated an unwillingness to look beyond partisan concerns

.. Ryan said that he would no longer defend Trump, who was then the Republican nominee. But since Election Day those words have turned out to be empty. “The President lost patience, and I think people in the Justice Department lost confidence in Director Comey himself,” Ryan told Fox News on Wednesday evening. He also said, “It is entirely within the President’s role and authority to relieve him, and that’s what he did.”

.. After Trump won in November, they made a political deal with him. As long as he pursues their legislative agenda—gutting Obamacare and other government programs, axing regulations, cutting taxes on the wealthy—they are likely to stick with him under almost any circumstances, even as their pact gets ever more Faustian.

.. Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, issued a statement that said, “Any suggestion that today’s announcement is somehow an effort to stop the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s attempt to influence the election last fall is misplaced.”

.. Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, who has criticized Trump on other matters, said, “I believe a fresh start will serve the F.B.I. and the nation well.”

.. And he fumed that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough to investigating leaks to journalists.”

.. It would be flattering Trump’s capacity for advance planning to claim that he has a blueprint for abrogating the Constitution and seizing more power. But throughout his career he has exhibited a willingness to push things as far as he can on an opportunistic basis, running roughshod over competitors, business partners, ordinary people, rules, and regulations. As the history of the high-pressure sales scam that was Trump University showed, he only backs off when he is forced to.

.. Trump’s willingness to say and do things that most people would shy away from because they are constrained by social norms, or ethics, helped carry him to where he is today. “He gets an idea in his head and just says, ‘Do it,’ “ Barbara Res, a former vice-president in the Trump Organization, told Politico’s Michael Kruse. Artie Nusbaum, one of the managers of the construction firm that built Trump Tower, said, “This is who he is. No morals, no nothing. He does what he does.” That is who the Republicans are enabling. Until they stop doing it, they will be complicit in the erosion of American democracy.