Campaign 2024, Trump

Donald Trump Is a Fascist

Tom Nichols has a great piece in The Atlantic in which he comes around to the idea that Donal Trump is a literal fascist. I have long thought that Trump is a textbook fascist—he has a cult of personality around him, he pines for an imagined past, and he is perfectly fine with using the power of government to punish his enemies. That America did not fall under the first Trump “administration” was due to the fact that Trump is also profoundly lazy and he had some guardrails around him. A second Trump term would still see a lazy Trump, but he would be empowered by a burgeoning movement of radical right-wing elements that have openly declared their intention to turn America into a one-party police theocracy. As Nichols defines fascism:

Fascism is not mere oppression. It is a more holistic ideology that elevates the state over the individual (except for a sole leader, around whom there is a cult of personality), glorifies hypernationalism and racism, worships military power, hates liberal democracy, and wallows in nostalgia and historical grievances. It asserts that all public activity should serve the regime, and that all power must be gathered in the fist of the leader and exercised only by his party.

That is the Trump ideology (such as it exists) in a nutshell. Trump is playing from the same old playbook that every fascist and caudillo has since time immemorial. And sadly, it is a playbook that works.

Where I disagree with Nichols is here:

But here I want to caution my fellow citizens. Trump, whether from intention or stupidity or fear, has identified himself as a fascist under almost any reasonable definition of the word. But although he leads the angry and resentful GOP, he has not created a coherent, disciplined, and effective movement. (Consider his party’s entropic behavior in Congress.) He is also constrained by circumstance: The country is not in disarray, or at war, or in an economic collapse. Although some of Trump’s most ardent voters support his blood-and-soil rhetoric, millions of others have no connection to that agenda. Some are unaware; others are in denial. And many of those voters are receptive to his message only because they have been bludgeoned by right-wing propaganda into irrationality and panic. Even many officials in the current GOP, that supine and useless husk of an institution, do not share Trump’s ambitions.

I have long argued for confronting Trump’s voters with his offenses against our government and our Constitution. The contest between an aspiring fascist and a coalition of prodemocracy forces is even clearer now. But deploy the word fascist with care; many of our fellow Americans, despite their morally abysmal choice to support Trump, are not fascists.

This is technically true—most Trump supporters might not be in favor of turning America into an anti-democratic police state. But that also does not matter in the slightest.

When the Nazis rose to power, the German people did not vote for crematoria and conquest. But they got both anyway. Most Germans were not ardent Nazis, but the Nazis controlled Germany anyway. The fact that most GOP voters are not on board with a fascist America means very little. Enough are, and history has shown time and time again that an illiberal and dangerous minority is all it takes to transform a society into a totalitarian hellhole. Anyone who supports Donald Trump is voting to end American democracy. Period. Whether they do so out of ignorance or malice does not make anything more than an academic difference.

I disagree that calling Trump what he is is dangerous. The threat that Trump poses is enhanced by euphemizing his conduct and treating him like just another political sideshow. In 2016 the media breathlessly covered his every move because it goosed the ratings. The results were Trump magnifying his bullshit personal “brand” to the Oval Office and the near destruction of this country. And today, the media is still too cowardly to openly speak the truth. The media still lavishes coverage on Trump, still tends to treat him like a normal candidate rather than an abject fascist. Trying to hide the truth will not serve this country’s interests.

We cannot afford another four years of Trump, because if he gets power again he will ensure that he remains in power for the rest of his life. There will be no guardrails, no people who will tell Trump no, no limits on what Trump will do. The best outcome we can hope for is what amounts to a civil war or coup. We cannot afford this. It might be that many of Trump’s supporters do not call themselves fascists, but at the end of the day they are enabling it. We can either grapple with that fact honestly and boldly or we can risk watching this country fall. I, for one, am tired of the euphemisms. Trump is a wanna-be dictator, a fascist, a totalitarian. He may be a stupid, unstable, and lazy dictator, but that makes him potentially more dangerous, not less.

Campaign 2024, Politics

Mike Johnson and the GOP’s Anti-American Litmus Test

Louisiana Congressman Mike Johnson is the Speaker of the House, defeating Minnesota’s Tom Emmer who was shivved by Trump and saw his candidacy last less than a day. Emmer’s grave sin in the GOP’s eyes was not supporting election denial—Emmer voted to approve the democratic results of the 2020 election, and therefore was a “RINO” in the eyes of the GOP. Speaker Johnson, on the other hand, is an avowed 2020 denialist, Christian nationalist, and extremist.

Make no mistake about it, the GOP has a litmus test: if you believe that the 2020 election was fair and the Joe Biden is the legitimate President of the United States, you are not welcome in the GOP today. Never mind the fact that the 2020 election was fair and that Joe Biden is the legitimately-elected President of the United States. Belief in a lie is necessary to be a part of the GOP now.

At one point, the GOP stood for actual values. However imperfectly, the GOP believed in democracy abroad and at home, a limited federal government of enumerated powers, a strong national defense, and having government serve as an exemplar of personal ethics. None of that matters today. Today’s GOP is about simple-minded “owning the libs” and using government to enforce a deeply broken system of values. It is a personality cult around the mentally and morally diseased Donald Trump.

Mike Johnson does not deserve to be Speaker of the House. No election denialist has any business being in government. And that means that no GOP candidate today belongs in government. And over the next year, hopefully another major electoral bloodbath for the GOP will make that closer to a reality.

Campaign 2024, Idiotarianism, Politics

The Chaos Caucus

The House of Representatives continues to be a national disgrace. Rep. Jim Jordan, an odious troll who has accomplished nothing in 16 years of public office, is trying to get himself elected as Speaker of the House. As of the date of this post he has gone through two rounds of voting and has lost ground in the second. As Tom Nichols writes in The Atlantic, this mess is exactly what GOP voters wanted all along. The GOP electorate does not give a damn about actually governing the country. It is all about “owning the libs” these days, which generally means spreading deranged conspiracy theories on Fox News or OANN. There is no GOP theory of governance, there is no GOP policy agenda, there is only the grift.

Meanwhile, the Russians continue to occupy a significant chunk of Ukraine as the Ukrainian people continue to bravely and deftly fight back. The situation in Gaza remains unstable as it appears that the destruction of a Gaza hospital was caused by an errant rocket launched by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Here in the United States, the government will shut down in a month unless Congress can get its shit together and do its job.

In other words, the country needs leadership. The GOP is not offering it. Jim Jordan is a joke, a waste of a Congressional seat, and not remotely the sort of person who belongs in political power.

The GOP has become the Chaos Caucus. Drama leads to fundraising and news hits, and that’s all the modern GOP gives a damn about. Meanwhile, President Biden went to Israel and negotiated a deal with Egypt allowing some humanitarian aid to cross into Gaza through the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. While the GOP was fighting amongst each other like a bunch of schoolchildren that found a crate of Pixy Stix, President Biden was saving the lives of Gazans while also ensuring aid to Israel to fight Hamas.

As a former Republican, seeing the GOP in this state is horrible. The country needs two functioning political parties. Right now, it has one. Voters are noticing that President Biden is getting things done and the GOP is unable to find its own ass with a roadmap and a flashlight. And while the GOP base is never going to leave, the GOP base is not enough to win national elections as we saw in 2020 and again in 2022. Even districts like CO-3 that is “represented” by the Platonic ideal of white trash Lauren Boebert are now likely swing districts. (Boebert only barely held on in 2022 and that was before the most politically disastrous night at the theater since the Lincolns went to see My American Cousin.)

The time to show real leadership is now. The GOP cannot even select a leader amongst themselves, and the frontrunner for the job is a hysterical idiot whose only accomplishment has been in covering up rampant sexual abuse. To paraphrase Reagan, it is a time for choosing. The GOP has chosen poorly, and that was very much a conscious choice by an electorate that wants this chaos.

UPDATE:

Jim Jordan is about to announce that he will not seek a third vote and will move to give powers to the current Speaker pro term Patrick McHenry. Whether that is allowable under House rules is unclear, but what is clear is that Jordan does not have the votes to become Speaker and never will. Jordan is not formally dropping his bid for Speaker, but the chances of it going anywhere are slim to none.

Campaign 2024, Idiotarianism, Politics

The Fall of Kevin McCarthy

For the first time in American history, the House of Representatives have kicked out the Speaker of the House, as Kevin McCarthy lost a vote to keep his office 216-210.

McCarthy sold his soul for power, and lost both in the process.

Now the GOP owns this chaos, despite increasingly desperate attempts to pin this all on the Democrats. It is a testament to just how screwed up the GOP is that the former President of the United States being put under a gag order to stop threatening the clerk of the judge in his civil case is not even the biggest and most damning story of the day. The GOP is simply a party that cannot govern because it does not want to govern. The entire nervous system of the GOP is based on getting approval from the radicalized right-wing media ecosystem which requires constant performative assholery. That is why the first thing that the interim Speaker did was kick Rep. Nancy Pelosi and other prominent Democrats out of their offices. It is all about what generates clicks and fundraising dollars. The process of governing the country is not even a consideration.

Ultimately, the reason why Kevin McCarthy lost his job was because he decided for one moment to do his job instead of throw chum into the wide-open maw of the right-wing rage machine. By working with Democrats on a continuing resolution that kept the government running McCarthy committed the one unforgivable sin in the GOP world: not putting the grift ahead of everything else.

Sadly, whatever poor sap that ends up replacing McCarthy will no doubt have learned their lesson: that to “lead” today’s GOP requires commitment to the grift above everything else, Actually governing is a fatal error. This is the way for the nihilism of today’s hollowed-out shell of the GOP. And this is ultimately why the GOP has to be completely destroyed as a viable party before there can be a responsible and mature conservative party in this country again.

Campaign 2024, Politics

Has Kevin McCarthy Found His Spine?

This weekend the United States narrowly avoided a government shutdown when Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy cut a deal with the Democrats to pass a 45-day continuing resolution that would keep the government open while Congress hammers out a long-term budget. The Atlantic asks if this marks McCarthy’s downfall as Speaker. Indeed, the radical Florida congressman Matt Gaetz is already promising a motion to vacate the chair to oust McCarthy.

Kevin McCarthy only barely became Speaker after a contentious 15 rounds of voting. His entire speakership has been under threat from the beginning by right-wing nutjob radicals like Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor-Greene. The members of the GOP Crazy Caucus extracted numerous concessions from McCarthy in order to end their blockade of his speakership. Now McCarthy has finally decided to put the country ahead of the radicals. And while the 45-day CR is deeply flawed—it fails to provide funding for the Ukrainians in their war against Russian invasion—it also manages to keep the government running with relatively few strings attached.

Luckily for McCarthy, the radicals may have overplayed their hand. Matt Gaetz is hated in the halls of Congress for being an impetuous and irritating figure. Gaetz is also subject to a House Ethics Committee probe investigating him for drug use, sexual assault, and financial crimes. And unlike “George Santos” or whoever he is, Gaetz has not been a team player. Given that Gaetz also has a safely GOP seat (unlike Santos), the political calculations of getting rid of him are quite different. Gaetz will undoubtedly try and defenestrate McCarthy with a motion to vacate the chair, but it might be his own political career he torpedoes.

In the end, this just shows how utterly dysfunctional the GOP House is. Even with Kevin McCarthy acting like the (relative) adult in the room, the GOP caucus has spent more time with a sham investigation into Joe Biden than doing anything about issues that matter to the American voter. The GOP caucus has a parade of political embarrassments from the entitled Lauren Boebert groping a date and vaping in a theater, to the constant antics of Marjorie Taylor Green, to the fraud of George Santos, to Matt Gaetz. These motley characters exist just to play to the QAnon-addled base of the GOP, but come across as toxic to the rest of the country.

For Kevin McCarthy, if he survives Gaetz’ efforts to oust him he comes across as the leader he’s never been in his political career. A government shutdown would be further political poison to the GOP. McCarthy may not be able to hold a candle to Nancy Pelosi in terms of rallying a narrow majority, but he is a political survivor. Whatever his reasons for doing the right thing, he showed something exceedingly rare in the GOP today: a small amount of spine.

Campaign 2024, Politics, Trump

The Fall of the House of Trump

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked. “Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

A New York judge has issued an order that essentially gives the Trump Organization the corporate death penalty. Judge Arthur Engoron’s order rescinds the Trump Organization’s business charters and puts Trump’s corporate empire into a receivership. Ultimately this may do just as much or more to end Donald Trump’s reign as the many criminal indictments against him.

The Trump Organization is in the bullshit business. Real estate is just the side hustle. Trump shamelessly slapped his name on anything he could—golf courses, steaks, a failed airline, even vodka (which tee-totaling Trump does not drink). Trump is right that the main source of his revenue was through his “brand,” a brand which is now synonymous with right-wing extremism. But ultimately Trump is incredibly cash poor and highly leveraged. His real-estate empire was basically an attempt to get more and more money from lenders to keep his incredibly-leveraged empire afloat.

Now, that scheme is falling apart. Trump was already radioactive to most banks, forced to go to less savory banks connected to Saudi and Russian oligarchs. But Trump needed legitimate assets to do that, including Trump Tower and his Mar-a-Lago club. Now, Trump has run out of both legitimate assets and likely the revenue streams he needs to keep his secured creditors at bay.

Trump’s money, real or imagined, is what kept everything together. Now Trump has a voracious need for cash, not only to keep his quasi-campaign afloat, but to pay his lawyers in his numerous criminal cases and keep his standard of living going. Right now Trump is quite adept at fleecing his followers with everything from t-shirts to worthless NFTs. But that is likely not going to be enough. While their may be a sucker born every minute, Trump needs a lot of suckers to keep himself afloat, and sooner or later that well will run dry.

The question becomes what happens next. Trump will certainly appeal Judge Engoron’s ruling. That appeal is highly unlikely to change anything, but it may delay the process. However, no matter what happens, Trump’s access to credit through conventional means is likely to be incredibly curtailed. That leaves Trump even more at the mercy of Saudi autocrats, Russian oligarchs, and other unsavory characters than he already is. Whether Trump can get enough support outside of banks depends on whether the Saudis, Russians, etc. see him as a valuable investment or simply damaged goods. The more legal hot water Trump gets into the less his “Teflon” appearance becomes.

Just as in Hemingway’s quotation above, Trump’s downfall could be gradual then incredibly sudden. Trump has so far been incredibly adept at avoiding the consequences of his actions, but this ruling strikes at the heart of who he is and who he makes himself out to be. At some point Trump’s luck and bluster will run out. His only hope at this point is to win the Presidency and use the power of his office to make his legal troubles go away. Sadly for the country, there remains a precipitously high chance that could happen. But the entire Trump mystique is based on him being the world’s greatest businessman. That has never been true, and the collapse of Trump’s empire of bullshit might be more personally devastating to him than even a jail sentence.

Campaign 2024, Politics

CBS Poll Shows Trump Barely Ahead – But Do The Polls Matter Now?

A rather shocking CBS/YouGov poll shows 91-count felony defendant Donald Trump leading President Biden by a 50-49% margin. The fact that Trump has been indicted in multiple jurisdictions, including crimes related to harming the national security of the United States seems to be less of a concern to voters than the fact that Joe Biden is old. And while it is certainly true that Joe Biden is old, the candidate with the clearest cognitive difficulties is Donald Trump. So why is it faced with such an obvious, stark choice that the American public is split down the middle?

The fact is that political polling in this country is broken. Pollsters still rely largely on phone calls to conduct polls. As technology has moved on that method of polling has become less and less reliable. And even when polling methods were much better a poll taken a full year prior to an election is hardly worth the paper it’s printed on the bandwidth used to transmit it. As the CBS article notes, in past polls at this time showed Bob Dole beating Bill Clinton and Barack Obama at risk of losing. We all know how those elections turned out.

What this poll really measures is less about the horse race of the election and more about political partisanship. The people who are answering pollster phone calls a year prior to the election are more likely than not the most partisan Americans. The “normal” voter is not paying attention except in the most general terms. And it would not be shocking at all if Trump has an edge—even a significant edge—in terms of partisan intensity. But as 2020 showed us, elections are not won by riling up the most partisan MAGA base. And even among the most tuned-in members of the electorate, the people crazy enough to answer a pollster’s phone calls, the vote is split evenly.

Now, if this were September 2024 rather than September 2023 that would be causing all sorts of alarm bells to ring in the Biden camp. But over the next year just about anything could happen. And the normal voter is just not paying attention, and it’s the normal voter that decides elections in this country. That’s why those very early polls showing Bob Dole up and Barack Obama down ended up not mattering at all. Plus there are a whole flock of black swans in the 2024 cycle. We already saw how suburban women punished the GOP for the Dobbs case in 2022, and that anger is not going away. We already saw how toxic Trump was with ordinary voters, especially moderate suburbanite voters, and that has not gone away either.

The real fear the Democrats should have is that Trump will motivate his base, which is only in the low 40% range of the electorate, but Democrats will decide to stay home. That would be a much bigger problem for the Democrats in a normal election year against a normal GOP candidate. But Biden isn’t going to be running against a normal GOP candidate, he’s going to be running against Donald Trump. And Trump motivates the Democratic base too.

The polls just do not matter right now except for generating clicks. What it does tell us is that among the most politically active Americans the race is evenly split. What happens when the rest of the country tunes in will decide how the 2024 race proceeds.

Campaign 2024, Politics

Kevin McCarthy’s Deal With The Devil Comes Due

In order for Kevin McCarthy to win his position as Speaker of the House after 15 ballots, McCarthy had to make a deal with the devil—he had to agree to ridiculous concessions that would give the most radical members of the House the power to force his hand on key issues. McCarthy was narrowly able to avert a government shutdown earlier this year, but now the GOP’s Caucus of Crazies have demanded that McCarthy launch a politically disastrous attempt to impeach President Joe Biden. McCarthy, with his Speaker’s chair turned into a Siege Perilous, has acquiesced to the insane demands of the most radical members of his caucus.

The claim is that President Biden has fostered a “culture of corruption.” The problem with this claim is that there is precisely zero evidence of it. Yes, his son Hunter Biden was clearly trading on his family name. However, that may be unethical, but it is absolutely not illegal. If you think that Jared Kushner got his $2 billion payout from the Saudi Royal Family on the basis of his business acumen, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. There is simply zero evidence that Joe Biden did anything wrong other than have a son with some very deep personal problems. The claims that President Biden somehow received a “bribe” or that he interfered in Ukraine on behalf of Burisma are both completely false. There is no evidence of either, as a GOP probe already determined. But the lack of evidence has not prevented the GOP from desperately trying to find a pony in that giant pile of right-wing horseshit.

Logan Roy from Succession saying "you are not serious people"
As Logan Roy from Succession might say, the GOP is not made up of serious people.

Ultimately, a clearly politically-motivated impeachment is a gift to President Biden. The impeachment investigation is likely to go nowhere. It it is not at all clear that McCarthy would have enough votes in the House to actually impeach Biden. Any impeachment would be DOA in the Senate. Instead, impeachment will demonstrate to independent and swing voters that the GOP is just not a serious party. Impeachment is a distraction, a base play for a base that is already shrinking. A serious GOP would be thinking of ways to win back the suburban voters that it lost during the Trump years. Issues like crime and inflation may not be quite as powerful as they were when the GOP’s “red wave” turned into a ripple, but at least they are real issues. Trying to paint Joe Biden as some kind of nefarious crime lord is just ridiculous. Voters did not care about Hunter Biden in 2020, and they’re not going to care in 2024.

Kevin McCarthy made a deal with the devil to become Speaker of the House, Not giving the radicals like Marjorie Taylor Green and Matt Gaetz the impeachment they demand mean losing his position as Speaker. But giving them what they want might well do the same. There are enough GOP candidates that won districts that were Biden leaning that will be made incredibly vulnerable by this quixotic impeachment campaign to swing the House. The problem with deals with the devil is that the devil always wants his due. Kevin McCarthy is finding that out the hard way.