The Nihilism Of Trump's GOP
There's not a democratic institution they won't vandalize for power.
The most poignant passage in the just-published excerpt of McKay Coppins’ biography of Mitt Romney is not the image of him eating cold salmon-and-ketchup sandwiches, but of him prepping for the impeachment of Donald J Trump:
Romney did his best to be a model juror — he took notes, parsed the arguments, and agonized each night in his journal over how he should vote. “Interestingly, sometimes I think I will be voting to convict, and sometimes I think I will vote to exonerate,” he wrote on January 23. “I jot down my reasons for each, but when I finish, I begin to consider the other side of the argument … I do the same thing — with less analysis of course — in bed. That’s probably why I’m not sleeping more than 4 or 5 hours.”
What’s poignant is the sincerity. And its rarity. It’s not a huge request of a Senator, after all: to take his or her Constitutional duties with a modicum of seriousness, especially when it comes to something as drastic as the impeachment of a president. And yet Romney was one of the very few Republican Senators who did. And he’ll be gone soon enough.
It’s worth comparing him to Mitch McConnell, mysteriously beloved by conservative columnists, whose jaw-dropping cynicism has done so much to hollow out what’s left of liberal democratic norms this past decade. “This is a political process,” McConnell instructed his troops on the impeachment process. Ignore the plain Constitutional text describing your obligations. Just do what is in the immediate interests of you own party and forget about the rest. McConnell is (barely) living proof of Romney’s remark to Coppins: “A very large portion of my party really doesn’t believe in the Constitution.”
He’s not wrong. This week’s launching of an impeachment inquiry into President Biden when there is no solid proof of a “high crime” anywhere in sight is also far outside Constitutional norms. Investigate the Biden family’s lobbying connections? Sure. Search for any indication that the president was secretly on the take from foreign sources? Absolutely. Make Biden pay a political price for staying too close to his sleaze-ridden grifter son, Hunter? Go for it.
But impeachment? On the basis of evidence yet to be found? On the tenuous principle that “courts have historically proved more willing to honor congressional demands when they are made as part of an impeachment inquiry”? That’s a recipe for routine impeachment for routine congressional oversight. It makes Newt Gingrich look like Howard Baker.
It’s not just in Washington. In Wisconsin, a crucible for partisan insanity, the state GOP appears intent on impeaching a recently elected state Supreme Court justice, Janet Protasiewicz, before she has even issued a ruling! Her alleged high crime is to have expressed an opinion about the grotesquely gerrymandered congressional maps that Wisconsin Republicans have constructed to give them a super-majority in state government out of all proportion to how they do in the actual vote. The charge is that having expressed an opinion during an election campaign, she is required to recuse herself from voting on the constitutionality of the gerrymander.
The trouble is this standard has never been applied to any other justices in the past, has in fact been dismissed in other cases with GOP-backed judges, and is clearly designed simply to block a liberal majority of 4-3 on the court. (The Wisconsin Judicial Commission cleared Protasiewicz of any violation of the rules.) The same state GOP, it should be noted, reacted to losing the governorship in 2018 by instantly voting to strip the new Democratic governor of many of the powers of his Republican predecessor. And, for good measure, they voted this week to impeach their non-partisan elections supervisor, despite no evidence that the elections of 2020 were anything but legit. I mean: why the fuck not?
The theme that connects all these dots is simply a refusal to grant legitimacy to the Democratic Party — even if that party wins a majority of the votes, even if they play by the rules, even if this means flouting the obvious democratic wishes of the voters. That’s also the underlying rationale behind Trump’s grotesque attempt to overthrow the results of the last presidential election — with no evidence of malfeasance. It is that no Democrat has a right to be president; and if they are elected, it must be because they cheated.
In yet another instance of Republican extremism, Senator Tommy Tuberville has effectively shut down the usual process for more than 300 promotions within the military for months now in order to protest the Pentagon’s policy of reimbursing female servicemembers who want to travel out of state to get an abortion. The Navy’s No. 2 officer told the Senate this week, “It will take years to recover … from the promotion delays.” This from a party that claims to respect federalism, and to care about national security. Quite obviously, neither is true. And let’s not talk about the possibility of another federal government shutdown, because the GOP is happier throwing tantrums than governing the country.
Yes, the Democrats are not blameless. The campaign to expand the Supreme Court, or to delegitimize it, because Trump lucked out on nominations, is an attempt to get around ordinary Constitutional politics. So, in a way, was the hyping of Russian interference in the 2016 election; and the new argument that the Constitution already has a provision for barring Trump from running for office again. But these notions have not been endorsed by the president, and are not seriously on the table. In the GOP, in stark contrast, the abuses are real, ongoing, and rooted in a deep rejection of liberal democracy by the Trump base.
All of these GOP tactics are abuses of legitimate procedures for extraneous and utterly cynical partisan ends. Some call these maneuvers authoritarian, but that, to me, suggests something too constructive. These abuses are varieties of vandalism and nihilism, procedural moves in the tit-for-tat destruction of liberal democracy, committed by partisans dedicated to no principle other than keeping the other party out of power.
MAGA is not interested in building anything, in winning a real majority, in constructing an actual future rather than lamenting an invented past. Everything is performative and destructive. It’s all driven by who they are against rather than what they are for. As a Republican Senator told Romney as he settled in, their view is that the first consideration in voting on any bill should always be: “Will this help me win re-election?”
There’s no definitive moment in the collapse of a republic, but that quote comes close. If all you care about is your own grip on power, regard the opposing party as ipso facto illegitimate, and give zero fucks for the system as a whole, a liberal democracy has effectively ceased to exist. A single major party, captured by radicals and nihilists, can do that.
How BLM Took Over 3,000 Black Lives, And Counting
A couple of years ago, Vox went out on a limb and tried to calculate the costs and benefits of the Black Lives Matter movement. They showed some courage in doing so, in particular in citing one preprint paper, by TravisCampbell, indicating a simultaneous decline in police homicides and and a big increase in civilian homicides in cities with major protests between 2014 and 2019.
It’s a subtle paper, and it’s now been peer-reviewed and published. What it reveals is a clear police pullback in the face of BLM protests, which led both to fewer police killings and more civilian deaths. Money quote:
The combined effect of police pullback and the widespread adoption of body cameras led to a 10% to 15% reduction in lethal force between the end of 2014 and 2019, preventing approximately 200 police killings.
[O]ver the five years after local BLM protests, property crime arrests decreased by approximately 12%, while reported murders increased by roughly 11.5%, which is over 3000 additional homicides. Moreover, the property crime clearance rate experienced a sharp decline of around 8 percent. … Unlike the 1960s, when police responded to protests with more aggressive policing, this paper suggests that police have reacted to BLM with less policing in general.
Which means to say that BLM took around 2,800 black lives — even before the huge increase in murder rates after 2020. Will those who championed this disastrous ideological campaign ever take responsibility? And has any social movement backfired so catastrophically in so short a period of time?
New On The Dishcast: Freddie DeBoer
Freddie is a writer and academic. He’s been a prolific freelancer at the NYT, the WaPo, Harper's, The Guardian, Politico, and The Daily Dish. His first book was The Cult of Smart, and his new one is How Elites Ate the Social Justice Movement. You should also follow his writing on Substack. A longtime friend of the Dish, Freddie is someone I felt I knew from his writing. He’s somewhat different in person.
Listen to the episode here. There you can find two clips of our convo — on the hypocrisy of helicopter parents on the left, and the relative evil of US foreign policy. That link also takes you to a bunch of listener commentary over last week’s debate with Sohrab Ahmari over the free market, as well as reader debate over my call for Biden to step aside in 2024.
Money Quotes For The Week
“[Biden] thinks so and that’s what matters,” - Nancy Pelosi, asked if Kamala Harris is the best running mate for 2024.
“The term ‘non-binary’ can be translated to Spanish as ‘no binario’ or ‘no binaria’ depending on the gender of the person,” - ChatGPT.
“My favorite thing about Biden is: anytime Biden finishes a speech, he transforms into a Roomba,” - Shane Gillis.
“Mitt Romney and JD Vance introduce minimum wage increase tied to EVerify strengthening so the increase only goes to legal workers. 20 years ago this would’ve been a popular Dem bill,” - Zaid Jilani.
“There’s a river of power that flows through this country … Some people — most people — don’t even know the river is there. But it’s there. Some people know about the river, but they can’t get in ... they only stand at the edge. And some people, a few, get to swim in the river. All the time. They get to swim their whole lives … in the river of power. And that river flows from the Ivy League,” - Joe Biden, a few decades ago.
“As long as your schmeckle works, you feel immortal,” - Gene Simmons.
“Yale University has more employees than it does students. In fact, the school has 2.44 administrators for every faculty member, and one administrator for every four students. That’s the same ratio the government recommends for childcare of infants under twelve months,” - Greg Lukianoff and Rikki Schlott.
“Five of America’s top law firms operate diversity programs that exclude white applicants or explicitly favor minorities,” - Aaron Sibarium.
“I have seen much suffering in this country. Yet despite all this, I can confidently assert that I would prefer to be a black in America than a Jew in Moscow, a Chinese in Peking, or a black in Uganda, yesterday or today,” - Bayard Rustin.
Yglesias Award Nominee
“I do realize, in retrospect, that I was too quick to take the official story — that [Covid] came from a wet market where wild animals were sold — at face value. If I am honest, I accepted it because it served my own motivated reasoning and reinforced my worldview … [Steve Bannon and others’] over-the-top conspiracies fed our over credulity; their ‘question everything’ led many of us to not questioning enough,” - Naomi Klein.
The View From Your Window
Petersfield, Manitoba, 5.27 pm
Dissents Of The Week: Biden Or Bust
There are some strong ones here. A reader makes the case for Biden 2024 in the face of my criticism:
He has deftly managed a normally unruly party by promoting center-left legislation that is well within the mainstream. And his record is very good: record levels of domestic employment; record levels of domestic private investment in new plants and warehouses; record levels of domestic fossil fuel production and investments in new, carbon-free technologies; professional management of the pandemic; a growing NATO; more robust and effective alliances in the Pacific to counter China.
Biden is America’s only politician who has actually defeated Trump. The reason? Biden appeals to a sliver of the electorate that are vital to Trump’s general election prospects: middle-of-the-road Catholics who identify with Biden as “one of us”; blue-collar swing populists who like Biden’s pro-union bona fides; conservative blacks who rewarded Biden for being Obama’s VP; center-right women who find generic Dems appealing in the wake of Dobbs.
My caveat is that defeating Trump in 2024 will require something a lot more than the Biden 2020 campaign. Another reader quotes me:
“And yet when I think of the presidency right now, it feels like an empty space.” That was the whole point of Biden’s election! Our two preceding presidents had a base who worshipped them (replacing religion as religion recedes), and neither Obama nor Trump made our politics healthier! What Biden promised was a return to a presidency that does not dominate the headlines, which does the job, makes the country better and lets us get on with our lives.
Good point. Especially against me. I just think there has to be a space between Trump’s manic narcissism and an inchoate sense of elderly drift. Another dissent:
Let’s get our terminology straight: the ability to serve effectively is not a function of age; it’s a function of our ability. Therefore, age and ability are two separate issues, and to conflate them is discrimination. Age is probably correlated with increased bodily and mental dysfunction, but it is not a determining factor of ability in itself.
No. But the polls show Americans understand this exact point — and it gives Trump a critical advantage. Another dissent:
If Biden is still breathing, he is going to run for reelection. There is a big difference between him and LBJ. Johnson’s Vietnam policy was failing and he knew it. Biden does not see himself as a failure because he isn’t. Could someone else be a better candidate? Maybe. Maybe not. The idea that you deny Harris (the first black woman ever to be VP) the nomination shows you really don't understand how the Democratic Party works culturally. Stop wasting our time with fantasy.
By the way, since you know so much about politics, how’s your boy DeSantis doing?
He was never “my boy,” but he was part of the hope that a Trump nomination was avoidable. And yes, it turns out he’s a prick who can’t reach beyond a very online base. This next reader worries about the Dem alternatives:
Sure, but what if a hurried nomination process favors higher-name-ID super progressives? All those governors you listed are great, but they have low national ID. We were also assured DeSantis was the next GOP king, and it turned out he’s terrible at national politics.
Along similar lines:
It goes without saying most Dem candidates would adopt highly woke positions, and anyone dissenting would be attacked as racist and transphobic. If you want to keep woke politics out of the headlines, Biden’s your best bet.
The primaries are for party activists to choose their preferred candidate. The only problem is they don’t care what a swing voter in the Midwest thinks. They will choose a liberal — who will lose versus Trump — and that’s a risk Biden won’t take. He should have picked Klobuchar for VP. Now it’s too late.
This next reader would agree:
I know Biden’s too old, but we’re stuck with him because there is no feasible way to get rid of Harris — who I agree is a hack with terrible political skills — without blowing up the party and re-electing Trump. How do you think Jim Clyburn, responsible as much as any individual for Biden’s ascent in 2020 and now his campaign co-chair, who brokered the deal to put Harris on the ticket — will defend an open primary process? How do you think black women — a bedrock constituency of the Dems — will react when Harris is seen to be shoved aside? Or women at large?
It would be entirely different if Biden were coming off his second term and couldn’t run, since Harris would have to compete like anyone else. But we are where we are. The only way out is through.
Another lesson in the perils of identity politics. As always, keep the dissents coming: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mental Health Break
In The ‘Stacks
Did a Chinese smartphone just outsmart the chip controls set by the US?
Did Ozempic just save the Danish economy?
Bob Wright takes the temperature of peace talks in Ukraine.
The seditionist leader of the Proud Boys gets a chorus of apologists, including Palin.
“Serial killers are out,” Erik Hoel observes, while “subway pushers and mass shooters are in.”
Ed West reviews Boomers: “In no other country in history have people been driven out of their citadels, not by foreign invaders but by crime.”
Should retribution have any role in the justice system?
Teixeira implores the Dems to listen to Oliver Anthony, the indie country singer crushing the Billboard charts.
Who’s the “unlikely face of the new labor movement”? NFL running-backs.
Drezner calls The Bear “the most pro-capitalist show on television” — “and one of the best.”
Patrick Brown dampens the claim that hurricanes have gotten worse with global warming. Here at the Eastern tip of Cape Cod this weekend, I hope he’s right.
Filipovic dissents over a Brooks column that praises marriage over career.
Music is getting sadder, especially for the kids.
When it comes to SCOTUS, “claims of politicization are dangerously overstated,” insists Ilya Somin.
Psychedelics without the hallucinations? Underway.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think? Email your entry to email@example.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. Proximity counts. The deadline for entries is Wednesday night at midnight (PST). The winner gets the choice of a View From Your Window book or two annual Dish subscriptions.
See you next Friday.