Kevin Drum

Donald Trump Steals the Spotlight Yet Again

| Tue Jan. 26, 2016 8:44 PM EST

Donald Trump has figured out yet again how to dominate the news cycle: he's announced that he won't participate in Thursday's debate on Fox because host Megyn Kelly isn't fair to him. It's childish, but it's probably a smart move. The debate likely wouldn't help him much, but with everyone gunning for him there's at least a chance it could hurt him. And since Trump's appeal is mostly rooted in grievance culture, picking a fight like this probably goes over well with his base. Besides, as you can see, his announcement got him a ton of press. Everyone even used the same picture for some reason.

Alternatively, Trump might decide at the last minute to show up after all. This would get him even more attention.

But there's at least one news organization that didn't get the news. Fox News still thinks Trump is going to be center stage. Are they behind the curve, or do they know something we don't?

UPDATE: They're just behind the curve. Fox now has a "Breaking News" banner at the top of their page announcing that Trump won't be participating.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Does Hillary Clinton Know Her Postbellum History?

| Tue Jan. 26, 2016 5:54 PM EST

I didn't watch the Democratic non-debate last night, but apparently Chris Cuomo asked Hillary Clinton who her favorite president was. She said Abraham Lincoln—a nice, safe choice—but then followed up with a bit of history that shocked everyone. Here's the transcript:

He kept his eye on the future and he also tried to keep summoning up the better angels of our nature. You know, he was willing to reconcile and forgive. And I don't know what our country might have been like had he not been murdered, but I bet that it might have been a little less rancorous, a little more forgiving and tolerant, that might possibly have brought people back together more quickly.

But instead, you know, we had Reconstruction, we had the re-instigation of segregation and Jim Crow. We had people in the South feeling totally discouraged and defiant. So, I really do believe he could have very well put us on a different path.

It's not totally clear to me what Hillary meant by that, but it does seem like a peculiar way of saying whatever she was trying to say. But other people figured it out right away. Here's Matt Yglesias Voxsplaining:

This is the version of history that I read as a kid in Daniel Boorstin's Landmark History of the American People; it reflects a conventional wisdom among historians that became popular in the early 20th century and was later etched into the quasi-official history of the Democratic Party. But by the time I was reading it in the late 1980s, it was already on its way out among academics.

....Clinton is loosely glossing what is known as Dunning School historiography, named after Columbia professor William Archibald Dunning and his students. The key emotional note of the Dunning School was the idea that the Civil War itself, rather than the widespread enslavement that led to the Civil War, was tragic, and that the postwar effort of Radical Republicans in Congress to enfranchise the Southern black population had been "a serious error" that impeded restoration of the Union.

Only once the mixed-race regimes of freedmen, "carpetbaggers" (Northerners who'd moved South), and "scalawags" (pro-Northern Southern whites) had been displaced in favor of white supremacist governments was it possible for the South to be peacefully reincorporated into the nation.

That's what Hillary was getting at? How about that. This is yet another example of a historical "debate" that goes right over my head. Dunning? Never heard of the guy. Reconstruction was a mistake? I went to high school in the 70s, and I've never heard this interpretation except when it's being debunked as gauzy Gone With the Wind nostalgia. The only history I've ever read has made it clear that Reconstruction was a flawed but noble effort, and it failed mainly because white Southerners engaged in a war of terror against black Southerners.

Now, I grew up in California, not the South, so that makes a difference. And by chance, I took almost no history classes that covered the postbellum era in America. I just read about it on my own here and there. But "here and there" means ordinary historical accounts, not modern liberal historiography. Nonetheless, none of them ever so much as put the Dunning notion in my head.

So I somehow missed out on all this. I've never had to relearn my postbellum history. But Hillary Clinton is, I'm sure, very well read on all this, and I doubt that she's unaware of why Reconstruction failed. My best charitable guess is that she didn't really mean to say anything except that Lincoln might have implemented a savvier, more politically durable version of Reconstruction if he had lived. That's perfectly plausible—though I personally doubt that anything could have quelled Southern intransigence much—and fits with her theme that Lincoln was a great man, but also a pragmatic president who knew how to pull the levers of power.

I guess we'll never know. Unless someone asks her, that is.

UPDATE: Someone asked her, and her campaign spokesperson responded:

Her point was that we might have gotten to a better place under Lincoln's leadership. What we needed after the Civil War was equality, justice, and reconciliation. Instead we saw the federal government abandon Reconstruction before real change took hold, which ultimately led to a disgraceful era of Jim Crow.

And as she talks about frequently, too many injustices remain today. Attempts to suppress voting rights go back to racist efforts against Reconstruction, and in fighting for voting rights and equality today we are continuing a long struggle that still has to be fought and won in our own generation.

Pretty much as I suspected.

Here Is What Blogging Has Done To Me

| Tue Jan. 26, 2016 4:38 PM EST

Yesterday I wrote a post that listed a bunch of things people have said about Ted Cruz, along with a bunch of things I made up. But which were real and which were invented? Here was the answer:

All statements whose ordinal number takes the integer form 2n+1 or 2n-1 have been invented. The rest are real.

I got some pushback about this, mostly asking what the hell kind of crap was this, anyway? So here goes. Here's where it came from:

  1. At first I was just going to toss in a few fake statements and put the answer key below the fold. But then I realized that anyone who got here via a direct link would see the answers right away.
  2. So then I figured I'd add eight fakes in all the odd slots. But if your eye drifted down to the answer, you'd see "odd" right away.
  3. So I put it in small type. But even that was readable.
  4. So then I figured that instead of "odd," I'd say that all the fakes were of the form 2n+1. My geeky readers would appreciate it.
  5. Then I looked for a link that defined "odd," so that my non-geeky readers had a fighting chance of figuring things out. The only simple one I found defined odd as 2n+1 or 2n-1. So I changed the text to match.

This was pretty obviously a pointless waste of time. Welcome to my world. This is what blogging has done to me.

Anyway, in case you didn't figure it out, all the odd numbered statement are fakes. The rest are real. The scary thing is that I didn't have any trouble coming up with eight plausible fakes.

Quote of the Day: First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Women and Children

| Tue Jan. 26, 2016 3:02 PM EST

From the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, after attending a Donald Trump rally in Arizona:

I had never previously been to a political event at which people cheered for the murder of women and children.

This is the crowd response to Trump's confirmation that "he meant it when he said that he would 'take out' the family members of terrorists." As usual, it's pure affect. Trump talks big on national security: he's the most militaristic guy you've ever met, he'll ban Muslim visitors and crush ISIS, and other world leaders will unanimously back down under his steely gaze. But when you actually look at the policies he supports—giving him the benefit of calling them "policies" in the first place—Trump has made it clear that he's actually pretty dovish. He doesn't really want to intervene around the world. He doesn't especially want to do the hard dealmaking of negotiating treaties. He wouldn't instantly tear up the Iran deal because, after all, a deal's a deal. He wants to boost military spending, but only because he thinks a big army will scare other countries away from messing with us to begin with.

But he'll kill the families of terrorists, and his fans love it. Booyah.

Inflation: It's a Real Thing!

| Tue Jan. 26, 2016 1:32 PM EST

Petula Dvorak has gotten a lot of, um, pushback for this column about the kids these days—including hers:

The work ethic of our kids: Where is it? Where are the entrepreneurial snow shovelers? For generations of enterprising children, snowflakes may as well have been dollar bills, y’all, falling from the sky. Kids jostled to be the first to ring the doorbells of the snowed-in, the $5 driveways added up, and that new Atari Defender game cartridge, those rainbow Vans — yours and yours.

But in 2016? Not so much.

....Last year, when we had a mere dusting compared with Snowzilla and the boys were 8 and 10 years old, they shoveled our stairs and sidewalk with verve, and then struck out to ring doorbells to make a buck. The novelty of responsibility was fresh and delicious.

They got three customers: a politician’s wife who was encouraging and delightful, giving them a crisp $5 bill and a load of praise; another neighbor who paid $5; and $0 from a bleary-eyed millennial renter who promised to pay them but didn’t have cash. And never paid up long after the snow melted.

As school was closed for the big dig-out, I tried again to inspire some hustle in my little childlumps, whose only hustle was to get a sleepover going. “There are still lots of cars buried out there,” I said. “I bet you can make enough money for that Lego Poe Dameron X-Wing you want.” No spark in their eyes. What’s going on?

Hmmm. Last year the kids shoveled three houses and they each earned $1.66 per house for their efforts. This year the snow is far heavier. They could probably double their earnings! I wonder why they're not feeling enthusiastic about this? It's a head scratcher, all right.

As it happens, lots of kid jobs—snow shoveling, burger flipping, lawnmowing, etc.—have been largely taken over by adults these days. But the real issue here is that adults simply have no feel for inflation. Petula's father probably got paid $5 for shoveling a walk in 1950, so that's what he paid Petula. Now she wants to pay her kids $5. Ditto for everyone else in their generation. But $5 in 1950 is about $50 today.

Sure enough, a 30-second bit of googling suggests that the going rate for getting a neighborhood kid to shovel your walk is about $40 or so. More if the storm is heavy and you have a big lot. A professional goes for about $70.

Maybe kids these days are lazy. I don't know—though the most recent kids I met were so smart and well-behaved that Marian and I were in awe. But hey—maybe they're lazy too! I didn't invite them to mow my lawn, after all. But this complaint about snow shoveling is just a personal version of that old chestnut, the business owners who complain they can't find good workers but then admit they aren't willing to raise their wages to attract them. Bottom line: don't whine about lazy kids unless you're willing to pay them enough to make it worth their time to work for you. For five bucks they'll feed your cats while you're on vacation. But only newbie suckers would shovel a walk after Snowzilla for that.

Why Do So Many People Believe Bernie Sanders?

| Tue Jan. 26, 2016 12:47 PM EST

OK, now for the Democrats. It's really hard to get excited about the state of the race, isn't it?

The Clinton campaign's focus on gun control is absurd. Hillary has an NRA grade of F and Bernie gets a D-. That's what we're arguing about? For chrissake. How dispiriting can you get?

On health care, Bernie wants single-payer. Me too. And I'll bet Hillary does as well. She's just decided that it's not politically useful to say so. And since neither one of them is going to get it anytime soon, does it really matter much?

The same is true on nearly every other domestic issue. Bernie is off to Hillary's left—either genuinely or rhetorically—but in office they'd both be constrained to the same place. Neither one could accomplish even what Hillary wants, let alone what Bernie wants.

The one place where they have real differences and those differences might matter is national security. But for reasons of their own, neither of them really wants to talk much about that. Hillary doesn't want to highlight her relative hawkishness in a Democratic primary, and Bernie doesn't really want to highlight what his dovishness would mean in practice. Besides, it just gets in the way of the only message he really cares about: plutocracy and income inequality.

Bottom line: given the realities of American politics, they'd both be highly constrained in what they can accomplish in the White House. It doesn't matter what's in their hearts. What matters is (a) whether they can win in November and (b) what kind of deals they can broker with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.

Anybody who's read my blog for a while can guess where I fall on this. I think Bernie has done a great job of pushing Hillary a bit to the left and demonstrating that she can expect continued pressure on that front. But the truth is that Hillary wins on both points A and B. She's not the most charismatic politician in the world, but as we all like to say, we're voting for president, not someone to have a beer with. What's more, I've long admired her tenacity; her ability to withstand decades of crude invective and political destruction derby; and her very obvious, lifelong commitment to using politics as a way of improving people's lives. There have been a million noxious compromises along the way, but that's how politics works in the real world. Plus I'd love to see a woman in the White House.

I like Bernie. I like what he says. If I believed he could do all the stuff he talks about, he'd have my vote. But I don't.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Why Do So Many People Believe Donald Trump?

| Tue Jan. 26, 2016 12:14 PM EST

I'm sort of bored with the Republican race (and the Democratic race too—about which more later) but I do wonder if a lot of Republicans are getting things fundamentally wrong. Here's Jonah Goldberg:

The level of distrust among many of the different factions of the conservative coalition has never been higher, at least not in my experience. Arguments don't seem to matter, only motives do.

Here's Rush Limbaugh on Friday: “Forget the name is Trump. If a candidate could [guarantee to] fix everything that's wrong in this country the way the Republican Party thinks it's wrong, if it were a slam dunk, if it were guaranteed, that candidate will still be opposed by the Republican Party establishment.... If he's not part of the clique, they don't want him in there.”

In other words, the GOP establishment has become so corrupted, its members would knowingly reject a savior just to protect their comfortable way of life.

This really does get at a key part of Trump's popularity: a lot of people believe him. Hell, I'd almost vote for him if I believed him. We're talking about a guy who says he's going to grow the economy at 6 percent, save Social Security, cut taxes on everyone, get rid of unemployment, crush ISIS, rebuild the military, erase the national debt, and make America great again. And the icing on the cake for conservatives is that he claims to be solidly pro-life, pro-gun, pro-religion, and in favor of nice, right-wing Supreme Court justices like Clarence Thomas. What's not to like? A few minor deviations from movement conservatism? That's piffle. Why are all those establishment Republicans opposed to him?

There are reasons, of course. But primary among them is that no one with a 3-digit IQ believes he can do this stuff. Lots of it is flatly impossible, and the rest is politically impossible. And if you don't believe Trump, then he's just a charlatan with nothing left except bad qualities: he's erratic, narcissistic, boorish, racist, thin-skinned, ideologically unreliable, opportunistic, etc. etc. It's pretty obvious why you'd oppose him.

So, really, it all comes down to whether you believe Donald Trump can do the stuff he says. It's pretty plain that he can't. So why do so many people think he can? That's the $64 trillion question.

Only a Week to Go Before the Republican Race Starts for Real

| Tue Jan. 26, 2016 11:35 AM EST

With only a week to go, here's the latest poll aggregate for the Republican caucuses in Iowa. No surprise: it's a two-man race between Trump and Cruz, with Trump still holding the lead. But it's close enough that turnout is probably going to be the deciding factor. Can Trump get his supporters to the caucus sites? Or will they turn out to be just a bunch of grumblers who'd rather yell at the TV than brave the rain and snow to vote for their guy? Monday will tell the story.

Sting Video Creator Indicted on Charges of Tampering With Federal Documents

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 8:20 PM EST

Huh:

A county grand jury here that was investigating allegations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood has instead indicted two anti-abortion activists who made videos of the organization.

In a statement, the Harris County district attorney, Devon Anderson, said Monday that the director of the Center for Medical Progress, David Daleiden, had been indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count related to purchasing human organs.

....Ms. Anderson said in the statement that grand jurors had cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. She did not specify in the statement what record or records were allegedly tampered with.

I wonder what this is all about? There's not enough detail to know if these are serious charges or just a bit of petty harassment.

Quote of the Day: The Simple, Ever-So-Simple World of Donald Trump

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 6:38 PM EST

Behold the business acumen of Donald Trump:

Donald Trump says he's unfazed by the prospect of running against Michael Bloomberg....At one point, Trump cast doubt on Bloomberg's business success, suggesting that the head of the Bloomberg media empire wasn't actually worth the $36.5 billion estimated by Forbes. "I don't believe it, I don't believe it," Trump said.

"I mean if somebody came in...and comes up with a better machine than him, people stop using it," Trump said. "I don't even know why other companies haven't come up with a better machine. I mean why? It's so simple."

This comes from a man who managed to run into the ground an airline, a hotel, a casino empire, and an endless series of late-night shills. But he apparently has no idea why Bloomberg terminals are popular, nor any idea that Bloomberg has a number of large competitors. Compare to this:

"I mean if somebody came in...and builds a better car than Toyota, people stop buying them. I don't even know why other companies haven't come up with a better car. I mean why? It's so simple."

This is the same man who says it's "so simple" to get Mexico to pay for a wall and force China to stop devaluing its currency; that he would "totally succeed" in creating jobs, reducing the budget deficit, stopping nuclear weapons in Iran, and saving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; that it's "easy" to get OPEC to produce more oil; and that it's "very simple" to get ISIS to surrender.

Now you understand why Trump thinks everything is easy. It's because he has no idea what goes into any of this stuff. Every time he tries to do something that's even slightly out of his wheelhouse (namely property development and bluster) he fails miserably, but he still thinks everything is easy. And his fans believe him.