Is Trump Asking for Humiliation?

At the heart of tomorrow's Senate vote is the State of the Union address.

For 33 days ago, I have argued that the president is the weakest part of the shutdown fight. The Republicans have no reason to budge. Neither do the Democrats. Donald Trump does. His poll numbers are sliding, but that doesn’t matter as much as something else: The shutdown threatens his being the center of attention.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week that the president should submit his State of the Union address in writing or wait until the government reopens. That way, the Secret Service, whose agents are working without paychecks, can provide proper security for the event. Meanwhile, as Steny Hoyer said, “the State of the Union is off.”

While Trump’s aides told reporters that Pelosi’s letter made no difference, it clearly did. The president felt spiteful enough not only to ground her military flight to Afghanistan last week but to leak her destination to the press, effectively putting a target on her back. Trump’s staff, moreover, is preparing a State of the Union in spite of Pelosi’s request, pretty much daring her to stop him from entering the Capitol.

While Pelosi has not indicated whether she will bar the president of the United States from speaking (she has the authority), the State of the Union has been central to reporting on the latest development in the shutdown fight. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer agreed Tuesday to allowing two competing Senate bills to come to a vote on Thursday. If 60 senators vote for a stop-gap measure offered by House and Senate Democrats, it would give Trump what he wants. If he signs the measure, it will prove my thesis: that he values a television audience more than a campaign promise.

Odds are neither bill will pass and the shutdown will continue. Trump’s bill asks for nearly $6 billion for a wall in exchange for changes to DACA (the program protecting children of immigrants who arrived without proper authorization.) There are two reasons, other than the wall, why Senate Democrats will almost certainly kill it.

One, it replaces DACA with a severely restrictive program. Two, it revises existing immigration law. The Cato Institute’s David Bier said the bill would not expand protections for so-called Dreamers, as the president promised over the weekend, but gut them. Current immigration law, moreover, permits refugees to seek asylum no matter why or how they arrive. But Trump’s revisions would require them to stay where they are, no matter how dangerous, before applying for asylum.

While Senate Democrats are almost certainly going to kill Trump’s bill, it’s less certain whether Senate Republicans will do the same to the Democratic measure (which is the same the one passed by the House). That legislation offers nearly $2 billion for border security, but not a wall or a barrier, in exchange for reopening the government. The bill would fund the government through Feb. 8, and relieve whatever pressure Senate Republicans are feeling. Importantly, it would give Pelosi and Trump what they say they want. For her, proper security during the State of the Union address (because the Secret Service will be fully funded). For him, a national television audience.

Make no mistake how important this is to Trump. Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader, got in front of cameras this morning to say that the president should be allowed the address a joint-session of the US Congress, shutdown or no shutdown. He knows, however, that the House must pass a resolution before the president arrives. It has yet to do so. The one person standing in the way is Nancy Pelosi.

As he has so many times before, the president tipped his hand this morning. He sent a letter to Pelosi saying that he would address a joint-session of the Congress as planned on Jan. 29 in spite of her request that he reschedule the event while the government is shutdown. He said she was mistaken. Security is not a problem, he alleged.

Whether that’s true is immaterial. What matters is that the president believes he can power his way to the podium. What’s more is that he’s affirming Pelosi’s gambit of withholding the State of the Union in order to force him to choose: delivering a national address or delivering a campaign promise. And in telling her how much it means to him, he’s giving Pelosi all the more reason to say no soup for you.

I don’t know what Pelosi’s response will be, but it’s hard to imagine she gives in. Indeed, I think the more salient question is this: when will she tell Trump that he can’t come to the House of Representatives? Before tomorrow Senate vote or afterward?

If she informs him before tomorrow’s vote, she will give Trump and the Republicans a way out of the shutdown. Senate Republicans can vote for the Democratic measure and reopen the government, thus providing proper security and the center of national attention to the president. If she informs him afterward, then all she gets is the satisfaction of humiliating him. I think Nancy Pelosi is too practical for that.

—John Stoehr

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No Negotiating with a Criminal Mind

The only way out is for Trump to break first.

Some anti-Trump conservatives hope that Senate Republicans will come to their senses, and reopen the federal government after a stunning 32 days of closure.

They overlook an important nuance: President Donald Trump is getting more blame so far than the Republican Party is. In standing with him, Senate Republicans avoid accountability while appeasing the president’s base. Even if they wanted to reopen the government, why do that when they can point the finger at the White House?

This dynamic will be illustrated today after Mitch McConnell brings up for a Senate vote Trump’s offer to protect DACA recipients for three years in exchange for nearly $6 billion to build a wall. McConnell knows the bill is dead in the House. Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats won’t trade a temporary fix to Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals for a wall. They won’t reward a president for holding the government to ransom. Any border deal, they say, must come after the government reopens.

That doesn’t matter to Senate Republicans. The incentive to support Trump outweighs the incentive to reopen the government. So the proper poles in this fight are what they have been: between the Democrats and the president. Yet anti-Trump Republicans continue to hope that Senate Republicans will come to senses. They haven’t fully accepted the party’s long decline and sudden fall into irreversible bad faith.

Meanwhile, the Democrats can’t trust Trump. Between the time he announced his “compromise” and the time a bill was submitted to the Senate, someone, probably Stephen Miller, added a provision that would drastically change immigration law.

It bars Central American immigrants from applying for asylum if they do not dome through a “port of entry.” That undermines the whole point of asylum seeking, as it forces people fleeing for their lives to stay where they are fearing for their lives.

So even if the Democrats accepted Trump’s “compromise,” they’d have been tricked into voting for something they would not knowingly support. This issue of trust does not get the attention it deserves from the news media, especially CNN. Legitimate news media is increasing pressure on the Democrats to strike a deal with hostage-takers, frauds and saboteurs. The Republicans, meanwhile, feel no such pressure, because mainstream complaints bolster their image in right-wing media.

There’s yet another reason not to trust the president. If Trump doesn’t get what he wants, he might leak information jeopardizing your welfare and safety. That’s what happened last week. Few of us saw it, because the news media’s attention was largely on a Buzzfeed article drawing a beeline between Trump and the commission of federal crimes. Yet in a very real sense, the president put a target on Nancy Pelosi’s back. That’s as criminally minded as holding 800,000 federal workers to ransom.

Pelosi, citing the shutdown, asked Trump to postpone the State of the Union address. In response, Trump, citing the shutdown, did two things: One, he canceled Pelosi’s scheduled military flight. Two, he leaked that she was flying to Afghanistan. Even after making arrangements to fly commercial, she couldn’t due to the fact that you never, ever, say you’re flying into a war zone until you have gotten there. Otherwise, you’re giving terrorists—ISIS, the Taliban, other bad actors—a plum target to shoot at.

That Trump put a target on Pelosi’s back means he’s manifestly unfit to be president. But impeachment and removal are not my focus here. My focus is on this president’s giving the opposition a lunch menu of legitimate reasons to refuse bargaining with him. If the Democrats comprise, even that compromise in on favorable terms to them, they risk rewarding Trump’s unethical, dangerous and cowardly behavior.

To recap: the Republicans don’t have reason to budge. The Democrats don’t have reason to budge. That leaves Trump, who says he’s not budging. But that position is as reliable as everything else he says, which is to say worthless. He is most likely the one who to break before the others do. His job approval is below 40 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight. Support from white men without college degrees fell seven points since the shutdown began, according to Marist. It’s not going to get better.

Tom Brokaw said this morning the Democrats are as much to blame as the Republicans. That’s the kind of pressure Democrats face from traditional media, even if people like Brokaw have no idea what they are talking about. If Brokaw and others (I’m looking at you, Chris Cuomo) were serious about fully informing the republic, they’d stop with the one-dimensional both-sides nonsense. No sane person with integrity should encourage the Democrats to comprise with a criminal mind.

—John Stoehr

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An Early Look at the Democratic Field

One thing's for sure. Women will power the next Democratic candidate.

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Kamala Harris announced today her intention to run for the presidency. That gives us an occasion to take a look at the Democratic field. It’s big, diverse and exciting. It’s hard to say where things are headed. But to the extent that such a wide-open nomination process is a problem, I think we can say it’s a good problem to have.

First, Bernie Sanders. Regular readers know I think the independent senator’s time has come and gone. I disagree with those who say he moved the party to the left, because the party was already moving left by the time he arrived on the national scene. But he did reveal an appetite for leftist policies that was not apparent to many Democratic elites. For that we can thank him, as we can for rivals emulating him.

Sanders chief obstacle is that he’s not a Democrat. He and his supporters undervalue that liability. They overvalue his stated independence. To get around that problem, he’d have to expand the electorate by offering even more policy ideas outside the political mainstream, thus putting pressure on the party from the margins. But with so many Democratic copy-cats, there’s little room left for Bernie Sanders. The Overton Window is now opening. He will likely remain on the outside looking in.

I suspect that Democratic elites still fear Sanders, so they keep bringing up Joe Biden. (Andrew Cuomo did; Dianne Feinstein did.) We’re told the reason Biden’s name keeps coming up is because he’s the only one with white working class roots who can beat Donald Trump in the midwest. But I think it’s about Sanders, not the president.

Biden’s is among the first names to come up when people are asked about future prospects. That’s because he was vice president, and because lots of party elites don’t like Sanders. But even if it were true that Biden could take a share of the white working class votes, that may not matter as much in 2020. Women powered a wave election last year, and women will probably power the next Democratic candidate. Fact is, a clear majority of women really, truly, and intensely dislike Donald Trump.

The broad contours of the Democratic nomination process are yet to be sketched out, obviously, but there’s better than even chance, I think, that the party’s choices will come down to women candidates: Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Tulsi Gabbard. Given that Gabbard is toxic, that leaves three for now.

Of the three senators, Warren has the most visible constituency, as she’s aligned more or less with Bernie Sanders. She’s a reliable thorn in the president’s side. She doesn’t claim to be a democratic socialist, but she is leading her campaign with issues of economic justice. (She’s also firmly planted inside the party.) All this comes naturally, as it does for Biden. Like him, Warren comes from a white working class background. Unlike Biden, she has the academic pedigree giving heft to her populist rhetoric.

I understand that some Democrats won’t support Warren, because she claimed Native American ancestry. But I think this is a misunderstanding. She didn’t claim such heritage. She claimed that her family claimed such heritage, and that that mattered to her. (You could argue fairly that that’s a distinction without a meaningful difference.) In any case, though, I don’t think the issue is potent enough to dampen her appeal. If Warren fails, it won’t be due to a debatable decision to reveal her DNA profile.

Gillibrand is vulnerable to charges of being an opportunist. She was the first, though not the last, to call for Al Franken’s head after the Minnesota senator was accused a half a dozen and more times of sexual harassment and misconduct. Then there’s the fact that she was a pro-gun Democrat from a rural and conservative upstate district before succeeding to Hillary Clinton’s senate seat, and becoming uber-liberal.

This isn’t a groundless complaint but I don’t find it interesting. The reverse, actually. Someone who can shape-shift with relative integrity is someone who can win. Opportunism signals a level of ambition needed to endure the unblinking gaze of the campaign trail. I don’t need to remind you that goes double for ambitious women.

Gillibrand doesn’t have a constituency. That’s her most immediate problem. But given that a majority of American women dislike Donald Trump, given that Gillibrand is foregrounding issues related to gender, and given her talent for talking to rural voters, a constituency may be a matter of time. I’d say she’s the most underrated candidate.

Finally, Harris.

She’s only just announced her bid, but she has a constituency, as one of the main pillars of the Democratic Party is black women. Like Gillibrand, she isn’t as well known as Warren, but I think the more voters see her speak, the more they are going to like. Of the three, Harris is the one who should frighten Trump the most.

Her clearest liability at the moment is her background as a California prosecutor. A mixed record appears to be at odds with her image as a progressive criminal justice reformer. Some leftists are trying to convince party regulars that “Harris is a cop,” as if being a police officer would somehow undermine her appeal among party regulars who’d very much like to see a powerful black woman rise to the top of the party.

While Warren focuses on economic justice and Gillibrand focuses of gender issues, it’s not clear what Harris is going to focus on. I’m not sure she needs to. I suspect that Harris could plot a nominally middle course, much as Obama did, and allow the power of representation to carry much of the load. She’s a Democrat. That might be enough.

Are we ready for a woman president? Get ready to hear that question a lot, as we did during the last election. But unlike 2016, this time is different. This time we have Donald Trump. If we’re ready for a woman president, it’s because women said yes.

—John Stoehr

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MLK Day Special: Get a month off!

Today is the federal holiday commemorating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. The nation honors his memory, spirit and achievements on that day, as we should.

But let’s not forget what King was before he became a national treasure. He was a radical, and his fight for justice, equality and freedom was disliked by most.

Indeed, many saw him as a criminal who deserved his end.

This video, from the NBC News archives, shows King’s vision for a new chapter, after the 1965 Voting Rights Act, in the movement he founded. So many of the themes he touches on, and the questions he answers, are as timely today as they were then.

That’s not a good thing.

While you’re here, please consider subscribing to the Editorial Board. For this limited time, today and tomorrow only, get a month off your annual subscription.

Please. Support independent thinking. Subscribe today. —JS

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MLK Day Special: Subscribe now for month off

And let’s not forget what King was before he became a national treasure.

Image result for martin luther king in prison

Monday is the federal holiday commemorating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. The nation honors his memory, spirit and achievements on that day, as we should.

But let’s not forget what King was before he became a national treasure. He was a radical, and his fight for justice, equality and freedom was disliked by most.

Indeed, many saw him as a criminal who deserved his end.

This video, from the NBC News archives, shows King’s vision for a new chapter, after the 1965 Voting Rights Act, in the movement he founded. So many of the themes he touches on, and the questions he answers, are as timely today as they were then.

That’s not a good thing.

While you’re here, please consider subscribing to the Editorial Board. For this limited time, today and tomorrow only, get a month off your annual subscription.

Please. Support independent thinking. Subscribe today. —John Stoehr

Subscribe - first month FREE


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Behind 'Owning the Libs'? Sadism

Enjoying others' pain is today's Republican ideology.

The president’s response to Nancy Pelosi is another opportunity to talk about sadism and its role as the prevailing principle animating the base of the Republican Party.

Donald Trump canceled Pelosi’s military flight to Afghanistan while she was waiting on a bus ready to take her to the airport. The move came a day after she uninvited the president from delivering the State of the Union address. (The Post reported this morning that House Democrats had planned to fly commercial but didn’t due to leaks—including from the president himself!—compromising their security.)

But unlike Pelosi’s letter, Trump’s letter didn’t have a base of reasoning, as the Post’s Philip Bump explained Thursday. She said the government shutdown undermined efforts to provide adequate security. Trump didn’t need reasons for grounding Pelosi, because reasons weren’t the point. The point was throwing punches, Bump said.

Trump’s candidacy and his presidency are largely predicated on being the guy who picks the fights that commentators in conservative media say should be picked. The appeal of “owning the libs” — smacking down liberal political opponents or, more broadly, the elitists with whom the liberal population is believed to overlap — has enormous traction in some circles, including in much of Trump’s base.

I don’t disagree with Bump. I do think, however, that he and other elite journalists are not seeing, or haven’t yet seen, what’s behind “owning the libs.” It’s sadism.

It’s taking pleasure from seeing others suffer. It’s punishing those who “deserve it” and getting a thrill from seeing “justice” of such punishment rendered. You could say that they’re just being assholes, and you’d be right. But being an asshole is not an ideology whose contours we can try to understand. Republican sadism, however, is.

I have said that conservatism has always been sadistic, but I’m not sure that’s accurate. It’s possible to be conservative while being fully committed to full political equality. But such conservatism is almost always theoretical, the product of academics making arguments for their own reasons or partisans putting a gloss on power politics.

Such conservatism is rarely seen in the natural world. There, you find what the Times uncovered last week when a reporter asked a Trump supporter how she feels about the government being shut down while Florida is still recovering from the last hurricane.

“I voted for [Trump], and he’s the one who’s doing this. I thought he was going to do good things. He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.”

What you can say fairly is that conservatism has always featured elements of sadism. The American South’s history of constructing a sub-nation within a nation dedicated to preserving the institutions of slave society is a case in point. State’s rights, limited government, decentralized power, and local control—these and other anti-Federalist principles I have no doubt were genuinely held. It’s just that they were genuinely held along with the genuinely held belief that non-white people are sub-human.

Trump’s genius was seeing the difference, and discarding the half he had no use for. The president is a fraud, so he believes everyone else is too. Only Republican elites care about all that conservatism stuff. Your basic Republican voter doesn’t. Pick fights. Punch first. Own the libs. That’s all they care about. Trump was right.

Make no mistake. Sadism appeals greatly even to self-identified “Never Trump” conservatives, or to conservatives in the national media who are smart enough to understand the social utility of disapproving of this president. Normally, this is a veiled nuance, but occasionally the veil comes off, as it did yesterday.

Erick Erickson, an evangelical Christian Trump-skeptic, loved—just loved!—the president’s response to Pelosi. In a post titled “This Letter From Trump to Pelosi May Be the Greatest Letter of His Presidency,” he wrote: “His letter is hilarious.”

Read it for yourself. It’s not.

Actual suffering isn’t required for sadists to derive pleasure. Pelosi did not suffer from the president’s grounding of her military flight, because she wasn’t taking a military flight. Doesn’t matter. These people live in make-believe. Make-believe is “hilarious.”

Looking for actual suffering misses a subtlety. It doesn’t matter that most of the world saw Trump’s letter, and said: My God, how petty! What matters is that inside the club, it was a total own! Remember: fighting isn’t the same as winning. But Republican sadists can’t tell the difference. To them, fighting is winning, even when they lose.

Sadism was socially acceptable, to use Richard Rorty’s phrasing, until the civil rights era and the subsequent trend toward full, or at least fuller, political equality. By Reagan’s time, Republicans had figured out how to talk to their base without sounding like unreconstructed Dixiecrats. As long as sadism was coded, it was acceptable.

The question, since 2016, has been whether that changed. Trump’s victory suggested it didn’t need to be coded. Sadism that used to lurk in respectable Republican circles came out in the open and usurped those very same respectable Republicans. But as Rorty might have said, experience has taught the country a lesson, especially respectable Republicans who at one point denied sadism in their ranks.

A majority does not like a president flouting the rule of law, skimming the public till, and governing with impunity. A majority does not like a president who sides with white supremacists and anti-Semites. A majority does not like taking children away from immigrant mothers at the border. It does not take pleasure in others’ pain.

I don’t know if sadism will be defeated or merely put back in the closet.

But I do know it can’t stay out here.

—John Stoehr

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