A Bonus Post Because I Can’t Help Myself

When I was a member of a very different Republican Party, it was easy to laugh at the way Democrats tended to self-destruct. Now, with American democracy and the rule of law teetering on the brink, it’s far less amusing.

It is hard for me to believe number of people who should know better who are undermining the party’s chances of winning in November by clutching their pearls and indulging in pious, handwringing pleas for Joe Biden to withdraw. Talk about “virtue signaling” while giving talking points to the Trumpers.

It’s one thing for people like those who comment here–most of whom are unfamiliar with political calendars and the arcane legal constraints on campaigns. It’s another to see presumably knowledgable pundits display their total ignorance of what is even possible.

Permit me to take you on a visit the real world: any effort to “swap out” candidates would have to take place at the upcoming Democratic convention on August 19th. While all states don’t have early voting, many do–in Indiana, early voting starts October 8th.

Even if the delegates could quickly agree on a replacement candidate–highly unlikely–there would be no time for that candidate to mount anything approaching a campaign, which requires money and messaging and field offices staffed with workers devoted to and knowledgable about the candidate. But of course, there is no single alternative acceptable to the entire party. The obvious choice would be Kamala, as Vice-President, but thanks to racism and misogyny–not to mention Republican and intra-party efforts to paint her as a floundering “diversity choice”–she couldn’t win either the delegates or the election. Of course, passing over a Black Vice-President would immediately jeopardize the essential Black vote (not to mention a significant part of the female vote.)

A two-month campaign with a divisive candidate is only part of it. The substantial funds Biden has raised couldn’t easily or rapidly be transferred to the new candidate (if at all). And much as I believe polling is badly broken, most polls do show that the only person who can defeat Donald Trump–and yes, save democracy–is Joe Biden.

Biden has been an excellent, even transformational, President. His cabinet is composed of talented, knowledgable, traditional public servants, and his Vice President is far more accomplished and adept than the nay-sayers paint her. If Biden had the oratorical skills of an Obama, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion, but as a FaceBook friend noted–under a photo of Hitler addressing a rapt crowd–deciding who to support on the basis of oratory isn’t necessarily a great idea.

But even if Biden were as senile as his detractors claim, he would be monumentally preferable to the alternative.

The job of patriotic Americans in the four months between this post and the election is to defeat Donald Trump and the MAGA fascist movement.  Nothing else matters. A Biden victory will allow us to deal with a corrupt Supreme Court and protect reproductive choice; a defeat–made more likely by the know-nothing naysayers–will facilitate remaking the nation in the form the authors of Project 2025 have mapped out.

There is no choice. This is our civil war, and we have to win it.

If Biden is truly impaired, he can step down after the election. Yes, that would give us a Black female President, and that would once again motivate the haters who crawled out from under their rocks after Obama was elected.

Right now, our marching orders are simple: defeat MAGA up and down the ballot, or lose America.


So Long, America–It Was Nice Knowing You…

The New York Times summarized the rogue Supreme Court’s immunity ruling in a sentence: “the Supreme Court has extended sweeping legal protections to presidents that apply to no one else in the country.”

In other words, in the most recent of a string of appalling and unprecedented rulings, this disgraceful Court has eviscerated the essence of the rule of law: that no one is above the law. Sources close to the Rightwing extremists behind Project 2025 immediately began planning how to use the Court’s decision to help them implement their unAmerican policy agenda, and Trump immediately called for jailing his political opponents.

The Court has demonstrated the naiveté of those Republican voters who justified sticking with Trump because “there are guardrails–laws that will keep him from doing the craziest shit.” Not anymore, there aren’t.

Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

I have never been so afraid for my country. Lest you think I am over-reacting, I will turn the rest of this post over to the considered reactions of people I respect.

There were the pundits, of course, many of whom bring solid legal credentials to the discussion. I can sum up their reactions by citing to Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, whose opinion piece was titled “God Save Us from this Dishonorable Court” and was subtitled “An egregious, unconscionable ruling on presidential immunity from the Supreme Court.”

But the most incisive and horrified analyses came from the scholars. 

Historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote:

This is a profound change to our fundamental law—an amendment to the Constitution, as historian David Blight noted. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that a president needs such immunity to make sure the president is willing to take “bold and unhesitating action” and make unpopular decisions, although no previous president has ever asserted that he is above the law or that he needed such immunity to fulfill his role. Roberts’s decision didn’t focus at all on the interest of the American people in guaranteeing that presidents carry out their duties within the guardrails of the law….

There is no historical or legal precedent for this decision. The Declaration of Independence was a litany of complaints against King George III designed to explain why the colonists were declaring themselves free of kings; the Constitution did not provide immunity for the president, although it did for members of Congress in certain conditions, and it provided for the removal of the president for “high crimes and misdemeanors”—what would those be if a president is immune from prosecution for his official acts? The framers worried about politicians’ overreach and carefully provided for oversight of leaders; the Supreme Court today smashed through that key guardrail…

Today, observers illustrated what Trump’s newly declared immunity could mean. Political scientist Norm Ornstein pointed out that Trump could “order his handpicked FBI Director to arrest and jail his political opponents. He can order the IRS to put liens on the property of media companies who criticize him and jail reporters and editors.” Legal analyst Joyce White Vance noted that a president with such broad immunity could order the assassination of Supreme Court justices, and retired military leader Mark Hertling wrote that he was “trying to figure out how a commander can refuse an illegal order from someone who is issuing it as an official act.” 

Lawyer and legal scholar Robert Hubbell minced no words:

Today, the Supreme Court overthrew the American Revolution and anointed the US president as a modern-day king. Their betrayal of the American revolutionaries, Founders, and Framers is all the worse because they did so to promote the most corrupt, dangerous, depraved person to disgrace the office of the presidency…

Trump v. United States will be overruled. The decision is so bad it will not stand. Like Dred Scott (holding that enslaved people are not citizens entitled to judicial protections), Plessy v. Ferguson (upholding segregation), Koramatsu v US (upholding the Japanese internment camps), today’s decision will be overturned by the acclamation of history in due course. It will be remembered as a mark of shame for the Roberts Court just as Dred Scott tarnishes Chief Justice Taney’s legacy to this day.

It may take a few years or decades to overturn Trump v. US, but the American people are the ultimate power under the Constitution. Majorities in the House and Senate can pass a bill to expand the Supreme Court, and a Democratic president can sign it. The reactionary majority can be overwhelmed by the appointment of four new justices, although expanding the Court by eight or more would be appropriate given the nearly hundred-fold growth in the US population since six justices were appointed in 1789.

The problem is, if Donald Trump wins in November–or if MAGA neo-fascists control either the House or Senate– there won’t be a United States in which the judicial process can self-correct. 

America as we’ve known it will be gone.


The New McCarthyism

Americans have long demonstrated a distrust of bureaucracy–generally seeing the growth of that managerial cohort as exclusively governmental, although it is typical of any large corporation or organization. More recently, MAGA Republicans have deepened the hostility to government workers by accusing civil servants of being a malevolent “deep state.”

That “deep state” of MAGA imagining is a cabal of anti-American “woke-ism,” dedicated to helping “those people” and restricting the God-given rights of the good White Christian men who are the only “real Americans.” Any government officials with the temerity to block one of Trump’s fever dreams is clearly a member of that “deep state.”

And according to Project 2025, the denizens of the “deep state” must be removed.

The public is gradually becoming aware of Project 2025, the detailed, thousand-page “transition plan” produced by a consortium of far-Right think tanks led by the Heritage Foundation. These culture warriors have (accurately) determined that their Presidential candidate– profoundly ignorant of government and rapidly losing touch with reality–would, if re-elected, be even more incapable of ushering in their desired changes than he was during his first term, so they have come together to provide a road-map.

That road map is filled with horrifying policy positions, a large number of which are (currently) unconstitutional. One of them, as described in the linked report from Talking Points Memo, takes aim at that hated “deep state.” (When I read it, it triggered a vision of Joseph McCarthy waving a paper and claiming he had the names of multiple Commies working for the government…)

The Heritage Foundation is funding the creation of a blacklist of federal government workers who MAGA loyalists claim might obstruct the Trump II agenda, the Associated Press reported Monday.

The work of compiling the list of names of some 100 government employees is being done by a Kentucky fellow named Tom Jones and his American Accountability Foundation. The work is being financed with the help of a $100,000 “Heritage Innovation Prize” from the Heritage Foundation, long a bastion of Reagan conservatism in DC but now fully in MAGA mode. Heritage announced the prize winner back in May, referring to “the presence of anti-American bad actors burrowed into the administrative state.”

In announcing the prize, Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts touted it as effort to expose the “Deep State”:

“The weaponization of the federal government under President Joe Biden is only possible because of the deep state of entrenched Leftist bureaucrats in the White House and its agencies. I am proud to support the outstanding work of AAF in their fight to hold our government accountable and drain it of bad actors determined to undermine our constitutional republic and weaponize government against the American people, our economy, and our institutions.”

Notably, the plan is to publish the list online. A doxxing in the public square as it were, with all the obvious historical echoes, as the AP rightly notes:

The public list-making conjures for some the era of Joseph McCarthy, the senator who conducted grueling hearings into suspected communist sympathizers during the Cold War. The hearings were orchestrated by a top staffer, Roy Cohn, who became a confidant of a younger Trump.

As for the criteria used to determine who makes the list and how those criteria are applied, the AP provides this chilling methodology: “They’re relying in part on tips from his network of conservative contacts, including workers.”

Civil service protections are only one of the many, many elements of American government that would be jettisoned by Project 2025. If even a small number of the desired changes were to become law, America would be a profoundly different place–and far less hospitable to women, non-fundamentalist Christians and minorities.

As Congressman Jared Huffman explained,when he announced the creation of a Stop Project 2025 Task Force:

“Project 2025 is more than an idea, it’s a dystopian plot that’s already in motion to dismantle our democratic institutions, abolish checks and balances, chip away at church-state separation, and impose a far-right agenda that infringes on basic liberties and violates public will.

Project 2025 advocates placing all government workers– including employees of independent agencies like the Department of Justice– under direct presidential control, allowing the president to “efficiently” implement policies in a number of areas. Civil service employees would be replaced by “loyal” political appointees.

In other words, Separation of Powers would be replaced with a “streamlined” dictatorship.

So much for those silly Founders, and their devotion to “checks and balances”…Meanwhile, people upset with Biden’s debate performance want to replace him, a mere ten weeks before early voting starts.  They are mimicking Nero, who–you will recall– fiddled while Rome burned.


What Fundraising Tells Us

Money, money, money…in politics, it matters greatly–but not necessarily in the way most Americans think about it.

One of my most politically-savvy friends points out that candidates need to raise enough money to get their message out, but need not out-raise or even match the fundraising of their opponents. Candidates definitely need sufficient funds to disseminate a persuasive message, but they need not blanket the airwaves. (For that matter, the airwaves are of declining utility, given the move to podcasts and streaming.)

That said, what can a candidate’s fundraising tell us?

I was initially excited to see the rise of the online fundraising that focused on generating many small-dollar donations, because I (naively) assumed that a candidate’s dependence on lots of folks giving less than $200 would reduce the influence of “big money” on candidates. However, I have come to realize that these appeals for small-dollar sums have had some very negative results.

The first is just annoying: those of us who are politically active–or simply unlucky enough to get on a list of partisan contributors–find our email inboxes inundated with appeals. (I have to believe that most people have come to respond as I do–by ignoring them all.)

Far more serious, however, is the way in which these appeals to small-dollar donors have incentivized extremism. The Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the political world have figured out that over-the-top accusations and ridiculous fabrications–what I’ve come to call “performative politics”–raise more money than serious communications of sound policy positions. Hysterical requests for  money to combat the “evil other” is more compelling and raises more money than requests to support thoughtful policymakers.

We need to remember, however, that while the fact that extremist A has raised more money online than sane candidate B tells us something about the passions and prejudices of candidate A’s supporters, it tells us very little about the number of voters committed to voting for candidate A.

If we are interested in assessing public opinion, it seems likely that the most relevant information communicated by these small-dollar donations isn’t the amounts raised, but the number of individual donors who are actually able to cast a ballot for the donee candidate. Given the fact that online solicitations aren’t simply going to people who live in that state and thus able to vote for a particular candidate, that information is tough to come by.

There is, however, one contest where the number and source of contributions rather than the amount raised can shed light on the strength of a candidacy: the Presidency. And that makes a recent report from Vox extremely interesting.

It’s very easy to overstate the degree to which Donald Trump is supported by America’s business establishment.

Why it matters: Just because corporate America has serious issues with Joe Biden doesn’t mean they are in Trump’s camp.

By the numbers: Data compiled by Yale’s Jeffrey Sonnenfeld show that zero Fortune 100 CEOs have donated to Trump this election cycle.

  • That’s the same amount of support he had when he opposed Hillary Clinton in 2016.
  • In 2020, when he was running as the incumbent, Trump managed to pick up the support of two Fortune 100 CEOs. The previous time a Republican incumbent was running for president, in 2004, George W. Bush picked up the support of 42 such CEOs.

Between the lines: Roughly two-thirds of CEOs are registered Republicans, but they’re not MAGA.

  • “The top corporate leaders working today, like many Americans, aren’t entirely comfortable with either Mr. Trump or President Biden,” writes Sonnenfeld in a NYT op-ed. “They largely like — or at least can tolerate — one of them. They truly fear the other.”

The other side: Big-name investors seem more likely to support Trump than big-name CEOs.

  • Steve Schwarzman of Blackstone is probably Trump’s most prominent investment world supporter. Susquehanna’s Jeff Yass was described recently by Bloomberg as “a former Never Trumper who’s recently softened to become an OK-Fine-Might-As-Well-Be Trumper.”

The bottom line: “Mr. Trump continues to suffer from the lowest level of corporate support in the history of the Republican Party,” writes Sonnenfeld.

Trump’s fundraising totals have been swelled by a couple of huge donations from “big-name investors.” Those donors each have one vote–just as we peons do.

We all need to cast them.


Deconstructing America

The Founders would be dumbfounded.

Remember what you learned (maybe) in high school government class about the three “co-equal” branches of government? Well, our rogue Supreme Court says that was wrong–that judges should be the imperial, all-powerful arbiters of national life, because they know far better than the experts serving in various government agencies what government can (or really, cannot) do about elements of our common lives like air and water quality, unfair competition…you name it.

I have previously explained what was at stake in a case challenging what is called “the Chevron doctrine.” But Robert Hubbell’s Substack letter explains better than I could the appalling, immensely negative consequences of Friday’s decision over-ruling that doctrine, and I am going to quote liberally from his explanation/diatribe.

You will be able to tell your grandchildren that you lived through a judicial revolution that rewrote the Constitution to suit the financial interests of corporate America and the social agenda of an extremist minority that fetishizes guns, hates government, and seeks to impose their narrow religious views on all Americans. The open question in 2024 and beyond is whether we will reverse that revolution. The first step is to understand the earth-shaking consequences of the Court’s ruling…

The Roberts Court has anointed the judiciary as the ascendant branch of government. The person of the president—not the executive branch—is nearly omnipotent in Roberts’ schema. Congress has been neutered…

The US economy is the largest in the world by a wide margin. That size is attributable in no small measure to (a) the orderly markets and business conditions created by federal regulations and (b) the comparatively corruption-free nature of the US economy (also attributable to federal regulations).

Managing and maintaining the immense US economy is a monumental undertaking. We need regulations that control how and when fish stocks can be harvested, where medical waste can be stored, how thick concrete must be on bridge spans, what type and color of insulation must protect electrical wires, what temperature meat must be kept at when being transported across the country, and what type of information can be collected and stored in a retail transaction.

Multiply those issues by a million, and you will have a vague sense of the complexity and scale of the US economy….

Those millions of regulatory decisions demand broad and deep expertise by career professionals with advanced degrees and years of experience in their field of regulation. That expertise resides in the federal agencies housed in the executive branch under the president..Businesses hate federal regulation because they impose a trade-off: protecting the health and safety of Americans by reducing the maximum profits unrestrained businesses could earn in the short term in an unregulated economy.

The so-called “administrative state” of federal agencies has been wildly successful. It is why all international airline pilots speak English when flying between countries across the globe. It is why the US dollar is the world’s currency. It is why the world’s science, technology, and innovation hubs are located in the US. It is why every Chinese corporation that goes public in China has the goal of transferring from the Chinese stock exchanges to the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq, and the Chicago Options Exchange as soon as possible…

As Hubbell writes, Friday’s decision dramatically reduces the power of Congress by requiring that legislation be as specific as an instruction manual. Under Chevron, when Congress directed the Executive Branch to achieve a desired goal, agency personnel with deep expertise in the relevant area would determine how best to reach that goal. If a regulation was challenged, the Court could strike it down if evidence showed it was unreasonable, but absent such evidence, the courts  deferred to the agency’s interpretation.

Hubbell provides an example:

If the Court requires Congress to specify the precise number of salmon that can be taken from the Klamath River each year rather than saying that the NOAA Fisheries Department shall establish fishing quotas to maintain healthy fish populations in inland waterways, Congress’s work will grind to a halt. Members of Congress have neither the time nor expertise to determine a healthy fish population for each inland waterway in the US. In the absence of “the administrative state,” Congress (or the courts) must serve as the regulators of the millions of daily transactions governed by federal regulations.

In the future, when a business challenges a regulation, federal judges rather than agency experts will interpret and apply–or more likely, overturn– the regulation. We’ve seen the arrogance and fact-free behavior of recent, ideologically-driven judicial appointees. 

The Trump judges on the Supreme Court have accomplished things near and dear to the Rightwing heart. In addition to dramatically undermining the liberties protected by the Bill of Rights, they have substantially deconstructed the checks and balances of the Founders’ government structure. They certainly aren’t “originalists” in any sense that matters.

At best, it will take years–generations–to undo the damage. At worst, a Trump win in November and implementation of Project 2025, would foreclose any possibility of enlarging or otherwise restraining this rogue Court and beginning to reverse the enormous damage it has caused.

What is truly terrifying is how few Americans seem to understand the stakes.

This election is a choice between an elderly man who has been an exemplary President but a poor debater and an equally elderly man who, in service to his own monumental ego and his rabid White Christian Nationalist base, is intent upon destroying America as we know it.