As November approaches, Trump releases his “greatest” hits album

Trump Tulsa

The coronavirus is spiking again. The country is in the midst of what might be an unprecedented conversation about race. And polls show that Donald Trump is trailing Joe Biden by a considerable margin.

Trump is desperate. If he loses in November, he will limp back to New York as arguably the worst president in United States history.  His growing sense of hopelessness and despair is leading him to double-down on the issues that got him elected in 2016. It’s like a Trump greatest hits album.

It’s going to be a really bad album, but a lot of people will buy it between now and November.

Trump launched his 2020 campaign tonight. Not much has changed since 2016.

Trump Tulsa

Earlier this evening, Donald Trump started his campaign with a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The number of coronavirus cases in Oklahoma is rising. Most of those who did attend the rally were not wearing masks. With the exception of U.S. Senator James Lankford, none of the politicians Trump asked to stand and be recognized–Senators James Inhofe and Tom Cotton, Representatives Jim Jordan, Debbie Lesko, and Elise Stefanik, and Governor Kevin Stitt–were wearing masks. Six of Trump’s rally staff tested positive for coronavirus this week.

The millions of attendees that Trump promised this week did not show up. It looked like he had a decent crowd in Tulsa’s Bank of Oklahoma Center (BOK), but it was much, much smaller than what the Trump team estimated. As I watched on television (C-SPAN), I saw a lot of empty seats. Trump and Mike Pence had to cancel an outdoor speaking event today because no one came.

Trump chose to say nothing about the country’s race problems. He did not bring-up George Floyd, Juneteenth, the country”s racial unrest, or the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. His silence spoke volumes.

I live-tweeted and retweeted the rally

This is what we mean by Christian nationalism. Pence uses this verse all the time and applies it to the United States. I wrote about the way the Christian Right uses 2 Chronicles 7:14 here and here. Russell Moore has a nice piece on this here.

Much of the material in the link above comes from my discussion of “law and order” and Nixon in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

For those who can’t access the link in the above tweet, you can find it here. During the speech, Trump continued to extol his two Supreme Court justices, although he did not mention either of them by name. Readers will recall that we also looked at the Bostock case this week from the perspective of religious liberty and historical thinking.

I would love to know what was going through the mind of James Lankford during this rally. He does not seem like the kind of guy who likes these kinds of events. As we noted earlier this week, Lankford was behind Trump’s decision to move the Tulsa rally from June 19, 2020 (Juneteenth) to June 20, 2020.

Here is what Americans think about how Trump handled, and is handling, the coronavirus. His lies, mistruths, and partially true statements (at least before April 9, 2020) about the pandemic have been compiled here. The Associated Press reported that Trump “wasted” months before preparing the country for the virus. One could make a good case that Trump’s “America First” policy was to blame.

It is hard to pick the most disgusting thing Trump said tonight, but the above statement would be near the top. It reveals the inner-workings of Trump’s mind. Only a narcissist, who interprets everything through the lens of how it benefits his ambitions, would say publicly that there is a political downside to coronavirus testing.

The last five tweets cover the darkest moments of Trump’s speech

As noted above, Trump said nothing about race in America or Tulsa. Yet he spent a considerable portion of the speech talking about this:

John Gehring nails it. Court evangelicals, cover your ears:

Great observation from Kedron Bardwell:

Let’s remember that in 2016, Trump announced a list of  Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society judges. Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh were on that list. Trump’s promise of a new list, of course, is a direct appeal to the white evangelical base. Trump knows that evangelicals vote for a president based predominantly on his or her promises of conservative Supreme Court appointments. Gorsuch’s majority opinion in the Bostock case will not change anything here. Trump is hoping this strategy will pay off again in November.

Matt Lewis may be correct, but I am pretty sure Trump will give it his best shot.

If you can’t read the link in the above tweet click here.

Here Trump seems to be making a statement about the self-interested nature of humanity and his constituency’s inability to rise above such selfishness. He is essentially saying something like: “I dare you to place your morality and what is right over a strong economy.  You don’t have the guts.” It all reminds me of his “I can stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” line.

For more on John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, click here.

And the campaign has begun!

The Trump Impeachment Has Revealed Three “Deep Flaws” in the Constitutional System

22c0d-united-states-constitution

Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina, writes at The Atlantic:

…few think that the acquittal of President Trump is a triumph for the Constitution. Instead, it reveals a different, disturbing lesson, about how the American political system—and the Constitution itself—might be fundamentally flawed.

Since the writing of the Constitution, three developments have substantially altered the effectiveness of impeachment as a check on presidential misconduct.

They are:

  1. Extreme partisanship
  2. The internet and social media
  3. The direct election of Senators

See how he develops these points here.

What John Bolton’s Testimony Will Reveal About Republican Senators

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Mitt Romney: “Situational Trumpian”

Here is Damon Linker at The Week:

With it looking increasingly likely that Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t be able to prevent a vote in favor of calling witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Trump, the GOP finds itself in a tight spot.

Everyone agrees that there’s something close to a zero chance that 20 — and only a tiny chance that any — Republicans will join with 47 Democrats to vote in favor of convicting and removing the president from office, no matter what Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton says under oath. (Conviction and removal would require an affirmative vote of 67 senators.) Yet allowing Bolton to testify about what’s apparently in his forthcoming book — namely, that in August 2019 the president understood himself to be withholding badly needed aid to Ukraine in order to get its president to announce he was opening an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden — would force Republicans to clearly reveal where they stand on the most important issue dividing the party.

Linker argues that Bolton’s testimony will reveal three kinds of Republicans:

  1. “The full-on-reality-warping Trumpians”
  2. “The moral-relativist Trumpians”
  3. “Situational Trumpians”

Read how Linker defines these categories here.

Evangelical Theologian Ron Sider Wants to Ask the Democratic Presidential Candidates a Few Questions

sider_horzEvangelical theologian and author Ron Sider has a few questions for the candidates, and they are quite good.  Here is a taste of his recent blog post:

MEDICARE FOR ALL.

Bernie Sanders’ proposal is to end all private health insurance and put everyone on a government run single-payer system like Canada. Ask Sanders why he thinks it is not political suicide to tell the approximately 165 million Americans with private health insurance that they must promptly lose that coverage in exchange for a government program. Also demand that he tell you exactly how he will pay for it.

Elizabeth Warren also embraces Medicare for All (cost: $30 trillion over 10 years). When pushed to show how she would pay for it, she proposed new taxes on the rich. Then when criticized by Biden and others, she said she would move in two stages: first let everyone who wants to, buy into Medicare; then, a few years later, introduce a mandatory single-payer system.

Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar reject Medicare for All and instead want to let everyone choose between keeping their private insurance or buying into Medicare.

FREE COLLEGE

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders want to make tuition free at all public colleges and universities. Ask them: why should children from wealthy families get free college tuition? And why do they totally bias their proposal against private colleges and universities? Their proposal would probably destroy most Christian colleges and universities.

Would it not be better to give a greatly expanded Pell Grant ( up to the total cost of tuition at state universities) to students from lower income families and let them choose whether to use it at a state university or a private college?

NATIONAL DEBT

Our national debt is currently at $22 trillion – that’s more than our current total annual GDP which was $20.5 trillion in 2018. The national government spends more than it takes in every year. This year the deficit is close to $1 trillion and current projections (thanks significantly to President Trump’s tax cuts for the rich) mean it will go to more than $1 trillion every year beginning in 2022. That means adding $1 trillion plus to the national debt each year. Thanks grandchildren!

In my book, FIXING THE MORAL DEFICIT: A BALANCED WAY TO BALANCE THE BUDGET, I say two things: it is immoral to use our grandchildren’s credit card to keep demanding things we refuse to pay for with our taxes; and second it is also immoral to try to balance the budget on the backs of the poor (as the Republicans keep proposing) by cutting effective programs that empower poor people.

Ask all the Democratic candidates why none of them have a concrete proposal to move toward a balanced budget. And demand one.

ABORTION

Most Democratic candidates offer no circumstances where they think abortion should be restricted by law even though repeated Gallup polls show that about 50% of the US public think there should be some restrictions. Ask them why they disagree with half of the American people.

Amy Klobuchar has said she favors some restrictions in the third trimester. Joe Biden in 2003 voted for a ban on certain late term abortions. Ask both for more details

Read the rest here.

When a Pro-Life Democrat Wins the African-American Vote and Defeats a Pro-Trump Candidate in Louisiana

John Bel Edwards

This weekend Louisiana’s Democratic governor John Bel Edwards was reelected.  He defeated a Trump-supported Republican named Eddie Risponse.  Trump visited Louisiana twice in the last two weeks in the hopes of getting Risponse elected.  It did not help.

It is worth noting that John Bel Edwards greatly expanded Medicaid in Louisiana.  He also signed a bill banning abortion after a heartbeat is detected.  And his victory was largely due to overwhelming support among Louisiana’s African Americans.

Over at First Things, Fordham University moral philosopher Charles Camosy offers some analysis of Edwards’s victory.  Here is a taste:

It would be interesting to know what white, progressive, highly educated Democrats think of all this. After all, they have been primarily responsible for the party’s turn to the kind of abortion extremism that would have doomed an orthodox Democrat in a race like this one. Mother Jones ran a piece a few days before the election with the headline, “Is There Still Room for an Anti-Abortion Hardliner in the Democratic Party?” The answer in the party platform—which claims that abortion should be unrestricted, that it should be paid for by pro-lifers’ tax dollars, and that it is “core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing”—is obviously in the negative.

But when faced with the prospect of a Trump-supported governor, Democratic activists changed their tune. This kind of change needs to happen more generally throughout the party, especially as we head into 2020. In 2016, Trump over-performed with African Americans and Latinos—populations which tend to be more abortion-skeptical than white Democrats. For the Democrats’ progressive leadership, which at least says all the right things about listening to voices of color, the factors behind Edwards’s reelection should be highly instructive. But the party, at least as currently constituted, is light years away from permitting a pro-life Democratic candidate from running for national office.

And this:

Despite struggling in purple states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, there is, remarkably, increased talk of the Democrats becoming a dominant party by turning big states like Texas from red to blue. But it is nearly impossible to see how this would work given their current abortion platform—which, in addition to just being politically bananas, is made-to-order for devastating pro-life messaging.

Indeed, recent studies of pro-life political advertisements in Texas found that they had the biggest impact on—wait for it—Democratic-leaning women, young voters, and Latino voters. Such ads moved them 10, 8, and 13 points, respectively. And they had real political results—pushing Governor Abbott to a whopping 44 percent approval rating with Latinos, for instance. Is it possible that the progressive, white abortion rights activists who dominate the Democratic party leadership could be marginalized in favor of those genuinely committed to listening to black and Latino voices on abortion?

One might think that Trump’s 2016 victory, coupled with the Edwards reelection, would be enough to push the party to change course. But the bubble of coastal elites (on both right and left) is a difficult one to burst. I fear that only something totally devastating—like a 2020 Trump victory—could shake up the current leadership.

Read the entire piece here.

Wehner: Republicans are “Living Within the Lie”

Jordan

Conservative public intellectual Peter Wehner reflects on today’s impeachment hearings. Here is a taste of his piece at The Atlantic:

We are facing a profound political crisis. What the Republican Party is saying and signaling isn’t simply that rationality and truth are subordinate to partisanship; it is that they have to be obliterated for the sake of partisanship and the survival of the Trump presidency. As best I can tell, based on some fairly intense interactions with Trump supporters, there is no limiting principle—almost nothing he can do—that will forfeit their support. Members of Congress clearly believe Trump is all that stands between them and the loss of power, while many Trump voters believe the president is all that stands between them and national ruin. In either case, it has led them into the shadowlands.

For those of us who are still conservative and have devoted a large part of our lives to the Republican Party, it is quite painful  to watch all of this unfold. Perhaps too many of us were blind to things we should have seen, or perhaps the GOP is significantly different now that it was in the past, when it was led by estimable (if imperfect) individuals like Ronald Reagan. Whatever the case, we are where we are—in a very precarious and worrisome place.

You can be critical of the Democratic Party and believe, as I do, that it is becoming increasingly radicalized while also believing this: The Republican Party under Donald Trump is a party built largely on lies, and it is now maintained by politicians and supporters who are willing to “live within the lie,” to quote the great Czech dissident (and later president) Vaclav Havel. Many congressional Republicans privately admit this but, with very rare exceptions—Utah Senator Mitt Romney is the most conspicuous example—refuse to publicly acknowledge it.

“For what purpose?” they respond point-blank when asked why they don’t speak out with moral urgency against the president’s moral transgressions, his cruelty, his daily assault on reality, and his ongoing destruction of our civic and political culture. Trump is more powerful and more popular than they are, they will say, and they will be targeted by him and his supporters and perhaps even voted out of office.

The answer to them is that it is better to live within the truth than to live within a lie; that honor is better than dishonor; and that aiding and abetting a corrupt president implicates the aiders and abettors in the corruption.

Read the entire piece here.

“We’re a republic, not a democracy”

capitol-hill-washington-dc

How many times have you heard someone say this?  As Ed Burmilia, a political science professor a Bradley University writes at The Baffler, it is a loaded political phrase.  Here is a taste of his piece:

It is a cheap rhetorical sleight-of-hand, then, to justify outcomes or processes on the basis that America is “not a democracy,” not that such a statement is ever made as a legitimate argument in good faith. In practice, its use is to one of three ends.

First, as a non-sequitur defense of institutions that distribute political power unequally like the Electoral College or the Senate. The country is not a pure democracy with them and would not be a pure democracy were both abolished tomorrow and replaced. The “logic” here is that the existence of undemocratic or simply unfair institutions is justified by the fact that the country is not . . . an entirely different and unrelated kind of democracy. If that sounds stupid, it is.

Second, it is an argument against any vaguely majoritarian institution or idea. This is done with the utmost selectivity, as I am old enough to remember when “The majority of people oppose it” was considered a mic-drop argument against same-sex marriage. Invoke the will of the people one minute; the next—say, when large majorities want basic gun control legislation—smugly chuckle and say, “Sorry, buddy, read the Constitution: this here’s not a democracy.” Appeals to the will of the masses are often a last-ditch argument of convenience.

Third, and most troubling, is resorting to this phrase in defense of discretionary actions taken by political actors—like the president or Supreme Court. Every time the current president declares some breathtakingly dumb decision he makes after his six neurons fire simultaneously during Fox & Friends, defenders are quick to trot out the phrase as if anyone honestly thinks that presidential decision-making might be subject to a national plebiscite. In this usage, the argument is little more than a red herring, using the absence of mob-rule democracy as a justification of whatever lamentable actions are taken by the people elected or appointed to act on our behalf in accordance with Madison’s republicanism. Whether elected directly by voters or appointed through other processes, people in power make bad decisions—to which the nature of our system of government is not relevant.

Read the entire piece here.

James Fallows: “3 Simple Facts About the Shutdown”

wall street

James Fallows boils it down at The Atlantic:

  • Reality one: As recently as three weeks ago, Donald Trump was perfectly willing to keep the government open and defer funding for his wall— until a right-wing chorus made fun of him for looking “weak.”
  • Reality two: Trump and his Congressional party never bestirred themselves to fund this wall back when they had unquestioned power to do so, during the era of Republican control of the Congress in 2017 and 2018.
  • Reality three: the U.S.-Mexico border has come under more control in recent years, not less. It’s been controlled by fences and walls in the busiest areas — as has been the practice for decades. The “crisis” is the politics of the issue, not its underlying realities.

Read the rest here.

The Wall: A Political Box of Trump’s Own Making

trump at wall

Here is a taste of a great New York Times piece by Julie Hirschfield Davis and Peter Baker on Trump’s border wall proposal and its political consequences:

To many conservative activists who have pressed for decades for sharp reductions in both illegal and legal immigration — and some of the Republican lawmakers who are allied with them — a physical barrier on the border with Mexico is barely relevant, little more than a footnote to a long list of policy changes they believe are needed to fix a broken system.

The disconnect is at the heart of the dilemma facing Mr. Trump as he labors to find a way out of an impasse that has shuttered large parts of the government and cost 800,000 federal employees their pay. Having spent more than four years — first as a candidate and then as president — whipping his core supporters into a frenzy over the idea of building a border wall, Mr. Trump finds himself in a political box of his own making.

In transforming the wall into a powerful emblem of his anti-immigration message, Mr. Trump has made the proposal politically untouchable for Democrats, who have steadfastly refused to fund it, complicating the chances of any compromise.

“As a messaging strategy, it was pretty successful,” Mr. Krikorian said. “The problem is, you got elected; now what do you do? Having made it his signature issue, Trump handed the Democrats a weapon against him.”

Read the entire piece here.

Hey George Will, Why Don’t You Tell Us What You REALLY Think About Donald Trump?

George Will

Conservative columnist George Will has already told conservatives to vote for Democratic candidates in 2018.  In today’s column he calls Trump a “sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.”  Here is a taste:

Like the purloined letter in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story with that title, collusion with Russia is hiding in plain sight. We shall learn from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation whether in 2016 there was collusion with Russia by members of the Trump campaign. The world, however, saw in Helsinki something more grave — ongoing collusion between Trump, now in power, and Russia. The collusion is in what Trump says (refusing to back the United States’ intelligence agencies) and in what evidently went unsaid (such as: You ought to stop disrupting Ukrainedowning civilian airlinersattempting to assassinate people abroad using poisons, and so on, and on).

Americans elected a president who — this is a safe surmise — knew that he had more to fear from making his tax returns public than from keeping them secret. The most innocent inference is that for decades he has depended on an American weakness, susceptibility to the tacky charisma of wealth, which would evaporate when his tax returns revealed that he has always lied about his wealth, too. A more ominous explanation might be that his redundantly demonstrated incompetence as a businessman tumbled him into unsavory financial dependencies on Russians. A still more sinister explanation might be that the Russians have something else, something worse, to keep him compliant.

The explanation is in doubt; what needs to be explained — his compliance — is not. Granted, Trump has a weak man’s banal fascination with strong men whose disdain for him is evidently unimaginable to him. And, yes, he only perfunctorily pretends to have priorities beyond personal aggrandizement. But just as astronomers inferred, from anomalies in the orbits of the planet Uranus, the existence of Neptune before actually seeing it, Mueller might infer, and then find, still-hidden sources of the behavior of this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.

Read the rest here.

Trump’s “God and Country” Language in National Prayer Breakfast Speech

Trump prayer

I offered my take on the speech here. I also contributed to Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s piece at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

In some ways, Trump’s speech fit the types of prayer breakfast speeches given by presidents in the past, said John Fea, a professor of history at Messiah College. Trump spoke about the role America has to play to create a more just world, an idea President Barack Obama would have promoted as well.

“There are Christians both on the left and the right who see America as a force for good,” Fea said.

However, Trump went a bit further, he said, where American exceptionalism was implied. “This is something that gets the Christian right … very excited,” he said.

Read the entire piece here.

Should Conservatives Abandon the GOP and Vote for a “Straight Democratic Ticket?”

 

Republican U.S. presidential candidates Carson and Trump talk during a break at the second official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley

Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes think that they should.  Here is their recent piece in The Atlantic:

We have both spent our professional careers strenuously avoiding partisanship in our writing and thinking. We have both done work that is, in different ways, ideologically eclectic, and that has—over a long period of time—cast us as not merely nonpartisans but antipartisans. Temperamentally, we agree with the late Christopher Hitchens: Partisanship makes you stupid. We are the kind of voters who political scientists say barely exist—true independents who scour candidates’ records in order to base our votes on individual merit, not party brand.

This, then, is the article we thought we would never write: a frank statement that a certain form of partisanship is now a moral necessity. The Republican Party, as an institution, has become a danger to the rule of law and the integrity of our democracy. The problem is not just Donald Trump; it’s the larger political apparatus that made a conscious decision to enable him. In a two-party system, nonpartisanship works only if both parties are consistent democratic actors. If one of them is not predictably so, the space for nonpartisans evaporates. We’re thus driven to believe that the best hope of defending the country from Trump’s Republican enablers, and of saving the Republican Party from itself, is to do as Toren Beasley did: vote mindlessly and mechanically against Republicans at every opportunity, until the party either rights itself or implodes (very preferably the former).

Of course, lots of people vote a straight ticket. Some do so because they are partisan. Others do so because of a particular policy position: Many pro-lifers, for example, will not vote for Democrats, even pro-life Democrats, because they see the Democratic Party as institutionally committed to the slaughter of babies.

We’re proposing something different. We’re suggesting that in today’s situation, people should vote a straight Democratic ticket even if they are not partisan, and despite their policy views. They should vote against Republicans in a spirit that is, if you will, prepartisan and prepolitical. Their attitude should be: The rule of law is a threshold value in American politics, and a party that endangers this value disqualifies itself, period. In other words, under certain peculiar and deeply regrettable circumstances, sophisticated, independent-minded voters need to act as if they were dumb-ass partisans.

Read the rest here.

 

Two Quick Thoughts About Jeff Flake

Get up to speed:

1). A lot of folks on the Left are not taking Flake’s speech seriously because he still votes most of the time with Donald Trump.  This is a fair observation, but I think it misses the point and lacks nuance.  Flake never said he was leaving the Republican Party or ceasing to vote conservative.  His primary criticism of Trump is grounded in the way the POTUS debases the office, tarnishes the reputation of the United States around the world, enables the alt-Right, etc….  I think you can say the same thing about Bob Corker and John McCain.  I understand the intellectual purity of those on the Left.  Flake is not a progressive and probably never will be a progressive.  But by attacking Flake for voting with conservatives, those on the Left fail to recognize gravity of this particular moment.  Their criticism of Flake’s voting record would be the same no matter who was in the White House.  I don’t understand why those on the Left can’t bring themselves to be happy about the potential political implications of Flake’s speech.  In other words, if those on the Left want Trump out of office, isn’t what Flake did a step in the right direction?

I like Philip Bump’s piece on this issue at The Washington Post and Kevin Drum’s take at Mother Jones.  Jana Riess, a Mormon who votes Democrat, wants to buy Flake a cup of coffee.

2). Why aren’t more moderate Republicans concerned that their party will be held hostage by the extremists when Flake, Corker, McCain, and others leave?  Shouldn’t they stay in the Senate and fight?  Ana Navarro actually made this argument yesterday on CNN.

OK–have at it.

Gerson: Trump Broke Conservatism

Trump

Here is a taste of the latest from Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson:

A common defense of President Trump points to the positive things he has done from a Republican perspective — his appointment of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch and other conservative judges, his pursuit of the Islamic State, his honoring of institutional religious freedom. This argument is not frivolous. What frustrates is the steadfast refusal among most Republicans and conservatives to recognize the costs on the other side of the scale.

Chief among them is Trump’s assault on truth, which takes a now-familiar form. First, assert and maintain a favorable lie. Second, attack and discredit sources of opposition. Third, declare victory based on power or applause. So, Trump claimed that Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson’s account of his conversation with a Gold Star widow was “totally fabricated.” (Not true.) Wilson, after all, is “wacky.” (Not relevant.) And Trump won the interchange because Wilson is “killing the Democrat Party.” (We’ll see.)

Read the entire piece here.

Is Historical Ignorance a Source of Our Political Polarization?

Ignorance

I largely agree with Jonah Goldberg’s National Review piece on “The Dangers of Arrogant Ignorance.”

Here is a taste:

It is a common human foible to think you know more than you do and to assume that when someone, particularly someone you don’t like, says something you don’t understand that the fault must be in the speaker, not the listener. “It’s a universal law — intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education,” observed Alexander Solzhenitsyn. “An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.”

Ideological and political polarization is a big concern these days, and commentators on the Right and Left have chewed the topic to masticated pulp. But it occurs to me that one unappreciated factor is widespread historical ignorance, and the arrogant impatience of reaching conclusions before thinking. The instantaneity of TV and Twitter only amplifies the problem.

Read the entire piece here.

Can an Independent Counsel Be Truly Independent?

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J. Edgar Hoover

I hope so.  But, as Yale historian Beverly Gage argues, history reminds us that partisanship is difficult to overcome.

Here is a taste of her New York Times piece “Can Anyone Be Truly ‘Independent’ in Today’s Polarized Politics“:

In colonial America, “independence” meant something relatively simple: freedom from economic dependence, or the ownership of land and wealth. By the 18th century, though, the word had acquired a more explicit political meaning: Men needed to be “independent” in order to think clearly about the common good and thus to rule themselves. For the founders, this came with many limitations of race, gender and class. As a political vision, though, it communicated a higher purpose: Officeholders would have to reject the temptations of partisanship and personal interest lest, as George Washington warned in his farewell speech, “cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men” use the white-hot animosities of party politics to “usurp for themselves the reins of government.”

This ideal of the selfless federal servant was always partly a noble fiction; as “Hamilton” fans know, the founding era’s hostilities were vicious enough that a vice president killed a former Treasury secretary. The aspiration to meet that ideal nonetheless held sway well into the 1820s, creating what became known as the “Era of Good Feelings.” It was as debates over slavery and territorial expansion heated up that party warfare returned. The Civil War itself erupted in the aftermath of a partisan event: the election of the country’s first Republican president.

Two decades later, the assassination of President James Garfield brought a new round of national soul-searching. The deranged assassin, Charles Guiteau, said he committed the deed in order to unify the Republican Party and because he felt he had deserved a patronage appointment as a European ambassador. A couple years later, in 1883, Congress passed the Pendleton Act, the nation’s first comprehensive Civil Service law, designed partly to calm the roiling political waters. Under these new rules, many federal jobs would be parceled out according to “merit” rather than party patronage, ensuring the independence and integrity of at least some of the people serving in government.

As the 20th century dawned, and Americans embraced the promise of apolitical government expertise, administrative agencies and bureaus proliferated — among them the tiny Bureau of Investigation. Founded in 1908, the bureau started out plagued by the very problems Civil Service law was designed to eliminate: incompetence, corruption and crony appointments. Then, in 1924, a bustling young director named J. Edgar Hoover set about whipping the bureau into shape. Hoover is often seen today as a tyrant and a violator of civil liberties, but when he came to office, he was considered a reformer and an enemy of “politics,” a man who could be relied upon to tell the truth when everyone else seemed to be lying for partisan ends.

He was no political naïf, however. Despite his fealty to the idea of nonpartisan professionalism, Hoover fought to keep his agents out of the Civil Service, sure that its rules and regulations would limit his autonomy as director. This sleight of hand gave Hoover’s F.B.I. its peculiar character, at once a respected investigative body and a personal fief. It also helped to insulate Hoover from the fate visited upon James Comey. As the Times journalist Tom Wicker noted two years before Hoover’s death in 1972, the F.B.I. director achieved “virtually unlimited power and independence.” No president, Republican or Democrat, ever dared to fire him.

This is one example of how bureaucratic independence can go awry. In the mid-1970s, alarmed by abuses of power during Hoover’s nearly 48-year directorship, Congress decided that future F.B.I. directors should be subject to a 10-year limit. The policy effectively split the difference between autonomy and accountability: The president still had the right to fire an F.B.I. director, but the law established a standard period of service longer than any president’s two terms. One of several things Trump’s showdown with Comey calls into question is whether this arrangement is still enough to ensure a reasonable level of F.B.I. independence — especially under a president disinclined to observe political norms.

Read the entire piece here.