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Hyperationalist Posts

Abortion Jokes Aren’t Just Funny, They’re Vital

Plenty has been said about Michelle Wolf’s set at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner that I don’t need to get into here, but I would like to push back against one complaint I’ve heard that has mostly gone unchallenged, namely that abortion jokes aren’t funny.

This is an easy argument to not have with someone like Matt Schlapp, who has made a nice little career out of selling hardcore right-wing extremism as reasonable-sounding righteous indignation. Schlapp and his wife walked out of the dinner and he took to the airwaves to denounce Wolf’s abortion joke in particular. This is a prototypical example of his modus operandi. What TV personality in their right mind is going to argue with his false premise that abortion jokes aren’t funny?

You see, sometimes what’s funny about a particular kind of dark comedy isn’t the “joke” itself, but the position it puts the intended target in and, subsequently, the target’s response. Michelle Wolf’s bit on abortion wasn’t a joke, it was a razor sharp turning of the table. 

Conservatives don’t think twice about using their platforms and positions to persistently and mercilessly make women feel uncomfortable about the most personal decisions they make regarding their bodies. They feel no compunction about using manipulatively graphic, context-free descriptions intended to trigger revulsion.

Michelle Wolf stood up in front of a crowd full of these self-righteous pricks and used her platform and position to make them feel uncomfortable with a similarly gratuitous approach. And that’s why this liberal laughed and continues to laugh at their delicate snowflake demands that the WHCD be a safe space for their precious beliefs when they have never afforded women any such courtesy on this issue. Abortion isn’t the joke, they are the joke—and they performed the punchline perfectly on cue.

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[I Thought] You Like[d] Me! [I Thought] You Really Like[d] Me!

The NBC affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth reported this morning that Donald Trump blew up Jerry Jones’s mobile phone over the anthem controversy like John Favreau’s pathetically debased Mike in Swingers. And just like Nikki at the other end of the line, Jerry Jones realized he was dealing with a real fucking weirdo and tacitly asked him to never call again.

My initial reaction was glee that Trump was being rejected by yet another one of the kind of people he’s spent his entire life desperately seeking the approval of—celebrities, moguls, socialites, young nubile models, etc. Then I realized it’s even worse than that.

Trump is just self-unaware enough to have mistaken his piteous lust for approval for approval itself. He always thought he was part of the club, simply by virtue of having been born into it. He thought he was one of them and, perhaps more importantly, that they were one of him. He had no idea that all his vulgar grasping was something that was merely tolerated because that’s just what you do in those circles to avoid collapsing a wealth- and privilege-based house of cards that is stacked to the brim with idiots, sociopaths, hucksters, megalomaniacs, narcissists and all other manner of monsters whose mommies and/or daddies didn’t love them enough.

He lacked the imagination to see that being President of the United States would put him outside that endless circle jerk—that his actions as POTUS could threaten the material interests of the participants in the eternal, whites-only bukkake party, fundamentally changing their orientation toward him. Now he’s on the outside, unstimulated by the warm embrace of their validation, spewing his meager but toxic loads of mindless drivel into the void, wondering why no one will acknowledge him when he creepily whispers in their ear or taps them on the back.

The only thing saving Trump from a complete mental breakdown may well be that he is too intellectually and emotionally dotarded to understand that he is not merely being rejected for his current actions, but that he was never truly accepted in the first place. He is and always has been a complete zero to people he thought were his peers.

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Ending DACA Means Johnny Depp Can Bang Your Teenage Daughter

I’ll concede that it is at least theoretically possible for a person to exist who is strongly in favor of the expulsion of all illegal immigrants from the United States who is not also intrinsically racist. I suspect that these creatures are, if not entirely chimerical, exceedingly rare but even if they do exist their philosophical and ideological arguments are not to be found anywhere in the current debate.

I will not concede that it is theoretically possible for a person to exist who is even passively in favor of ending DACA who is not deeply, fundamentally, intractably racist to the bone.

That, of course, is precisely what our disgusting racist-in-chief (whose wife’s immigration status is very much an open question, by the way) is planning to do sometime this week. Worse yet, judging from his words (“You know, I love these kids,“), I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even understand that the Dreamers are, for the most part, not “kids” today. They’re grown people who were brought here as kids, which means he may very well think he’s talking about deporting actual children.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, established by the Obama administration in 2012, is an acknowledgement that if you were brought here as a child and grew up here, went to school here, got a job here—you are an American. You are culturally American. America is your home. The place you were brought from is not your home and sending you back makes about as much sense as sending you to any random nation on earth.

If that’s a thing you think we should do—send Americans to, basically, a random place just to get them off our shores—you are a vile and irredeemable racist whose chief concern can only be to get as many non-white people as far away from you as possible. You are also, by the way, in the minority.

Listen, racists, I know it’s hard for you to understand how a brown, undocumented 28-year old isn’t an “illegal immigrant.” It requires you to think (already we’re in trouble)  a couple steps beyond the visceral feeling that she is taking your country, stealing your job, getting handouts that might otherwise be added to your government check, etc. It requires understanding that she might have been brought here when she was three, six, nine or twelve years old and that the United States of America is thus, for all intents and purposes, the only place she really knows. She is not a Mexican or a Somalian or a Bosnian or a Canadian (hahaha, let’s be honest and admit that you’re not really worried about them). She is an American. There is nowhere to send her “back” to.

And let me just quickly address the very stupid argument that somehow older “Dreamers,” by which I mean kids who were brought here in their teenage years, are somehow less sympathetic—an argument that is in line with the increasingly common, cruel and unusual practice of charging some minors as adults when they commit particularly heinous crimes.

I have a simple test I like to apply in these cases: tell me how old your daughter should be before it would be okay for a 54-year old man—Johnny Depp, let’s say—to have sex with her without facing legal troubles. That’s the age at which you can go ahead and charge kids as adults and hold child border crossers culpable for their decisions. If Johnny Depp is allowed to fuck your 12-year old daughter, you can absolutely kick Mexicans out of the country who came to America when they were 12.

Prior to that age (which you’ll undoubtedly place somewhere in the 18-21 range) children are the shared responsibility of all good and decent adult people on earth. Wanting to punish adults for what happened to them as children makes you a disgusting and savage person. If time travel were possible, maybe you’d be fighting for your own DACA to avoid being sent back to whatever prehistoric swamp you’ve barely yet crawled out of.

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One Big Dot

Over the course of the last year, your husband has been spotted all over town with a certain attractive young lady. Dining in restaurants, walking through the park, dancing at clubs, walking into and out of hotels, etc.

“She’s just a friend!” he says defensively when you confront him once again with news of the latest sighting.

“Well then why didn’t you just tell me you were going out with a friend?”

“I forgot. But look how honest I am to be telling you now!”

This happens over and over again. And again.

And again and again.

But you just know he’s not screwing her. You’re sure of it. He would never lie about that. He would never betray you that way. So why does he have to keep making you look like a jerk by frolicking about with a woman whose Snapchat profile simply reads “#DTF #HomeWrecker #MarriedMenFuckTheBest?”

The thing is, there’s just no “smoking gun,” no actual evidence, so what exactly are you supposed to do? You haven’t seen him put his penis in her vagina. Until you do, it’s all just lies and smears and hysteria from the jealous losers who are sharing these ridiculous stories (and videos and audio recordings and photos and tweets from your husband himself saying awkwardly complimentary things about the young lady). Sad!

Your friends begin to lose respect for you, rightly believing that you’re quite stupid for continuing to rationalize his denials and excuses. They also sense something that just hasn’t occurred to you: that it no longer even matters if he has ever actually fucked her—because even if you are never able to prove that he has, he’ll never be able to prove that he hasn’t.

This is the situation that our President finds himself in.

Our President is hopelessly, irredeemably, utterly compromised. I do not mean that in the sense in which it is typically used—i.e. I do not mean that Vladimir Putin necessarily has the pee-pee tape or some other form of kompromat that he is holding over Donald Trump’s head in exchange for certain actions, although that may certainly be the case.

No, our President is even more compromised than that. Our President is so completely compromised that it no longer even matters what the underlying truth of the matter is. His words and actions (along with those of his family members) have created a web of lies, omissions, contradictions, suspicions, and conflicts that can never be sufficiently untangled.

Take, for example, the June 19th meeting at Trump Tower between Don Jr. and, at last count, roughly 847 shady characters, about half of which have/had some kind of connection to the Russian government, all of whom had to be revealed one-by-one after being told after the previous revelation that there was no one else to reveal. We have absolutely no idea what happened at that meeting and, as it happens, there wasn’t a single reputable, trustworthy person in the room whose account we have any reason to believe.

Now Robert Mueller will investigate this and get as close as he can to the truth, but the fact is that there’s not a single ending to even just this one story that, given the context, could possibly result in anyone being able to say “Oh, well that was all clearly a misunderstanding,” unless of course there were cameras in the room and it turns out they really just had a totally innocuous chit chat about adoption after jokingly arranging the meeting under the pretense of exchanging dirt about Hillary Clinton that was hacked by a foreign government.

Try to invent an explanation that works. It can’t be done.

Yesterday we learned that Trump, amid all of this, somehow could not resist getting up from his seat at a G20 dinner party, walking over to an open seat next to Vladmir Putin, and commencing to have a private, one-hour chat with ol’ Vlad and ol’ Vlad’s translator (without any other U.S. official or U.S. translator)—and that the White House inexplicably (and yet unsurprisingly) didn’t deign to inform the American people of this meeting until they were asked about it. We will never know what they discussed for that hour and neither party’s account, should they ever provide one, would be even minimally reliable.

The White House will continue to insist that these dots just don’t connect, but I’m here to say that it no longer matters whether the dots connect. There are so many dots now that they’ve basically merged into just one big, stupid fucking dot. If there was anywhere to draw the lines, maybe they’d connect, maybe they wouldn’t. It just doesn’t matter.

As things stand, we have no good reason to think that our President might not be under the thumb of Russia’s malevolent and autocratic leader in one way or another. We have no good reason to doubt that Putin is either giving direct orders to our President and/or merely toying with the bumbling idiot in order to diminish our status, thereby improving his own. We have no good reason to believe that our President ever has or ever will put the nation’s interests ahead of his own.

Our President is compromised—not specifically, not narrowly, not by a particular entity, but wholly and irreparably.

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Donald Trump And The Plausible Unforeseeability Event Horizon

I think it’s fair to say that one of the things about the Trump campaign and presidency that has caused the most consternation, even among the most deeply cynical of observers, has been the non-response of congressional Republicans to a series of statements, events, behaviors, and tweets that are just objectively horrifying to everyone else, everywhere. It didn’t seem possible that I could hold the GOP in lower esteem than I did in 2015—and yet never in a million years could you have convinced me back then that they’d have stood idly by while Donald Trump insulted his way to the White House and proceeded to dismantle our reputation in the world with his staggering incompetence and immaturity.

Now I don’t know about anyone else, but if I am to maintain any shred of hope for the future of the Republic, I need an explanation for the systemic moral meltdown of the political class on the Republican side of the aisle. It can’t really be that they’re just this craven, right? If they are…well, then politics as we know it is dead and we might as well stop trying. In a last ditch effort to salvage the presumption underlying decency, I’d like to postulate the existence of a psychological phenomenon I call the Plausible Unforeseeability Event Horizon.

Before I describe this phenomenon, let me provide a little background. One of the most affecting books I’ve ever read is called The Fifty Minute Hour, written by the preeminent psychoanalyst Robert Lindner shortly before his death. Published in 1954, it’s a collection of four case studies of particularly compelling and complex patients Lindner worked with. The story that sticks in my head is of a young man, Charles, who stabbed a young woman sixty-nine times with an ice pick and then raped her.

As in each of Lindner’s stories, the layers of this man’s life are peeled back until, by the end, you can scarcely imagine a different ending. Even if you care to dismiss the Freudian analysis, the circumstances of Charles’s childhood were brutal and led, as I see it, inexorably toward a horrible conclusion. Maybe it was the “upbringing since the age of three in a sequence of religious orphanages, where he experienced sadistic beatings that pushed him to identify with his ‘tormentors’ and to become what Lindner calls ‘an afflictor, delighting in giving pain.'” Maybe it was being “plied with alcohol and beaten up by a gang” at the age of eleven. Or maybe it was being sent, at thirteen, “to live with foster parents on a farm, where he does odd jobs and is treated as little more than a farm animal.” Most likely, it was all of those things.

Whatever it was, this obviously raises questions about the kinds of collective and individual failures that produced such a troubled soul. What could society have done differently to protect Charles as a child? Who actively contributed to his psychopathology? Who saw the signs and did nothing? At what moment in Charles’s life did his future become inevitable or, at the very least, foreseeable? When did a bad outcome stop being plausibly unforeseeable?

The question I’ve been asking myself lately is a slight twist on this way of looking at human behavior—an attempt to do it in the present, rather than from the future. That question is this: Is there anything Donald Trump could do today that, when looked back upon in five, ten, twenty years, would seem even remotely surprising?

If Donald Trump raped a waitress at Mar-a-Lago this weekend, would anyone be able to plausibly say “Oh god, I didn’t see that coming?” If Donald Trump strangled a reporter to death with his bare hands in response to a question he didn’t like, would anyone be able to plausibly say “Geez, there were no warning signs?” If Donald Trump stripped naked at the Lincoln Memorial and gave a wild-eyed speech demonstrating a very poor understanding of history and/or policy, would anyone be able to say “What the heck? He seemed so smart and normal before!”

The answer to all of those questions—indeed, the answer to any similarly structured question you can imagine about Donald Trump’s behavior—is an emphatic “No.” I defy anyone to suggest an act—short of displaying emotional maturity, intellectual aptitude, or human kindness—that would produce a different answer.

The fact that you won’t be able to do it suggests to me that at some specific moment in the last two years we crossed the Plausible Unforeseeability Event Horizon (PUEH).

And the psychology and politics changed for congressional Republicans the moment we crossed it. As we approached the PUEH, the incentive to denounce and distance themselves from the black hole that is Donald Trump increased at an exponential rate. On the other side of the PUEH, the incentives are essentially reversed. To say now that firing Comey was wrong, that leaking highly sensitive intelligence information to the Russians was bad, that whatever he does today is somehow worse or more dangerous than any of a thousand other things that have come before, would be character suicide. They couldn’t do it without admitting that they’d been wrong to give him passes on a thousand earlier transgressions and that they are thus manifestly unfit to take an unsupervised shit, let alone hold public office.

My gut sense is that the PUEH for Trump was probably the Access Hollywood tape. Intuitively, it felt at the time like openly admitting to being a serial sexual assaulter—someone who felt free to “grab ’em by the pussy”—should have been the last straw, despite it being not even the worst or most dangerous thing he’d done, said, or shown himself to be up to that point. And sure enough, Republicans came as close as they had to jumping ship, but couldn’t quite bring themselves to stop fucking that chicken. After all, the election was approaching, the tape had been recorded years earlier, it was locker room talk, Hillary did email, #Benghazi.

So they let themselves slip past the PUEH—and here we are. I’m not absolving them of their crimes against humanity. I’m merely suggesting that Republicans’ behavior now is perhaps more understandable from a psychological, self-preservation perspective than it was before they reached the PUEH, which is useless information unless they choose to learn from it, which they won’t.

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Actually, Healthcare Isn’t That Complicated

There’s been much ado about Donald Trump’s statement that “nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.” Before I get to the real point I want to make about this, let me just say something about these phrases: “A lot of people are saying,” “more than anyone has ever seen,” “no one can believe,” “bigger than anyone even knew.”

He uses these constantly. CONSTANTLY. These are the kinds of things you say when you need to impress but haven’t even bothered to fabricate any supporting data. They are utterly meaningless, content-free claptrap. They are almost always demonstrably false, but not the sort of thing that smart people waste anytime “fact-checking,” because the language is understood to be low-brow idiomatic and because it would be pretty absurd to report that “In the five or so minutes we spent working on this, we found no fewer than a dozen people who actually do believe [insert thing Trump said no one can believe].”

But that’s not really what I wanted to talk about here. What I want to do is push back a little against the notion that healthcare is really as complicated as Trump and the GOP would like us to believe.

Healthcare, as in the services provided by medical professionals is certainly complex and requires extensive learning and experience, but that’s not what Trump is talking about. He’s talking about the problem of ensuring access to healthcare for all Americans—and basically he’d just like us to know that it’s just too complicated for the plebs to understand so we should all please kindly just trust him and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to provide a tremendous plan that we’ll all really love.

This is a fun little trick for pulling the wool over peoples’ eyes and Republicans have been doing it in the healthcare debate for decades now. They’ve completely obfuscated the very simple yes-or-no question that lies at the heart of the debate. It’s a question that they don’t want to answer because both responses make them look bad; “yes” reveals them to be heartless bastards, while “no” invalidates everything they’ve ever claimed to believe on the subject.

I’ll get to the question by way of a short hypothetical:

Imagine a person we’ll call Willis. Willis has been a fall-down drunk asshole for as long as anyone has ever known him. He’s belligerent, violent, vulgar and mean. It’s easy to see how he ended up living all of his adult life on the streets. He’s ungrateful and rude to those who try to help him. Willis just plain sucks.

One night, in his usual state of stumbling blind inebriation, Willis walks in front of a bus and is grievously injured. He needs two things—transport to a hospital and immediate medical treatment—neither of which are “free,” (which is to say that while there is obviously a cost associated with police and fire department response, no one will be presented with an invoice for this specific incident).

The entirety of the real healthcare debate lies in the question of what you think should happen to Willis at this moment.

Free-market orthodoxy would dictate that if Willis is unable to pay (or unlikely to be able to pay, i.e. with credit) for the services he needs, no one is obligated to provide them. Willis made a lifetime’s worth of bad choices that led to his current predicament. Why should anyone provide tens of thousands of dollars in products and services to an indigent jerk who will never pay a nickel for any of it? This is an extremely compelling argument. I happen to disagree with it vehemently, but it is nevertheless rational, idealistic and worthy of being given voice and consideration in the debate.

Having said that, anyone wishing to take that position must be willing to extrapolate out consistently from the relatively easy case of Willis to less tidy hypothetical cases involving human beings who are more inherently sympathetic than Willis—people whose life choices have been more relatable, people who have fallen on hard times under circumstance beyond their control, people who have young children, etc. The vast majority of cases involve individuals and families who are more likable than Willis, but the fundamental facts of those cases are, when you get right down to it, identical to his: someone needs products and services they cannot afford; the free market demands that they be denied those products and services.

If you are unwilling to make that argument, you have wholly abdicated the free market position. The moment you admit that you are unwilling to let Willis or any other hypothetical or real person go untreated for inability to pay, you have become a socialist where healthcare is concerned. In terms of policy, a person simply cannot hold that a single mother working three jobs to stay afloat should receive treatment for ovarian cancer while Willis should be denied care—unless of course you want the government to get into the business of making value judgments about who is deserving of care. Talk about death panels.

Look, I’ll say it again—I see the appeal of the free-market argument. It is beautifully and phlegmatically simple. Conservatives should make this argument because it is the only intellectually consistent argument against universal healthcare for all. Nay, conservatives must make this argument if they wish to oppose establishing healthcare as a basic human right. It’s easy to see why they’d rather not; they don’t want to be seen as the kind of raging assholes who would argue that Willis should be left to die in the road or that a single mom with cancer should be denied treatment, but they face a brutal conundrum: they want the system to function in precisely that way without ever having to argue that it should.

This is why people think the healthcare debate is so complicated. We’re pretending to have a debate about healthcare, but what we’re really doing is muddling through a smokescreen the GOP has deployed in the form of a faux debate about things that are fundamentally unrelated to health and care, namely, unpleasant features of the private health insurance market: deductibles, co-pays, premiums, pre-existing condition exclusions, continuous coverage requirements, denial of services, etc.—all of which are just a bunch of knobs and levers designed to ensure that insurance companies can make and grow profits off of our need for healthcare services.  This is complicated, but it’s complicated by design.

Look, I am decidedly not arguing that insurance is bad. Insurance is an inherently socialistic scheme that I wholeheartedly approve of. It is nothing more or less than a way to pool risk so that when someone gets sick or injured, they don’t have to bear the full brunt of the costs. It’s kind of a perverse lottery; your premiums are the price of entry and those who hit the “jackpot” of illness or injury get a payout straight from the pockets of other people who weren’t lucky enough to “win.” That payout comes in the form of paid medical bills.

Let me elucidate this point by reframing a couple common complaints in lottery terms:

Complaint: “My premiums are too high!”

Translation: “These lottery tickets are too expensive.”

Response: Fine, drop out and pay cash for services.


Complaint: “My deductible is too high!”

Translation: “The taxes on my winnings are too high!”

Response: Too bad. It was all spelled out on paper before you bought your ticket. You had the choice to drop out and pay cash for services.

Yes, I know that Obamacare forced people to buy health insurance. I have two things to say about that. First, the penalty functions essentially as a tax to cover whatever we’re all going to have to pay for when you get sick or injured and can’t afford to pay your bills. It’s a nominal amount, especially if you make over $100,000 (roughly where the 2.5% of household income is capped).

Second, and more important, look at this:

Out-of-pocket healthcare costs were rising precipitously before Obamacare. Complaints about health insurance didn’t start in 2010 and they won’t stop if Obamacare is repealed. They also won’t stop if Obamacare is not repealed, because Obamacare is still a free-market system.

Back to my point: once you’ve signed onto the idea of health insurance as a good thing people should do, and if you’re not willing to let Willis die on the street, there is literally not a single good reason on the face of the earth not to a) put everyone in the same pool and b) stop letting a bunch of fat cats profit from our suffering. It’s not that that’s they’re doing so malevolently, necessarily. It’s just that for-profit health insurance is a casino—and in a casino, the house always wins. The house must win; shareholders must profit, executives must be paid exorbitant sums, the beast must be fed.

In a single-payer system, there are no such requirements. We all just pay the cost to run the lottery. Obviously, there are philosophical debates to be had about how such a system should operate—Should smokers pay more into the pool? Is birth control covered at the same level as Viagra? Does it make sense to spend hundreds of thousands on last-ditch, low efficacy treatment for terminal patients?—and so on. But those are honest debates about how to administer the pool equitably, about how to achieve the best possible health outcomes for the greatest number of people at the lowest cost.

I’ll take those debates every time over the casuistic garbage debate we’re having now between one side that views healthcare as a basic human right and one that won’t explicitly argue against healthcare as a basic human right but which also insists on the letting the market prevail, which is functionally the same as saying healthcare is not a basic human right.

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Jim’s Briefs: 2/21/17

1. The Establishment Is Just Who Shows Up

Blah blah establishment argle bargle establishment wah wah establishment blurp.

Enough already, BernieBros, BernieorBusters and DemExiters. There’s nothing easier than waking up one day, deciding you care about issue x, y or z and proceeding to scream at all the people someone has told you are responsible for things having not progressed as far to the right, left, top or bottom of that issue as you’d like.

Turns out, all those people did was show up, every day, over many years, to work on those issues plus a whole mess of other issues that aren’t even on your radar. They are the dreaded Establishment you speak of for no other reason than that they went to their local precinct meetings, congressional district caucuses, county and state conventions, served on standing committees, volunteered for candidates and ballot initiatives, gathered signatures, made phone calls, ran for office, etc.

Now you want that ship to turn on a dime because you got woke about, like, two or three things?

Well guess what, assholes? That’s not how it works. Here’s how it works: you start to show up, every day, over many years, to bring about the change you wish to see in the world. You stop bitching and moaning about what the Establishment is or is not doing and you go become the establishment. You’re likely to learn that it’s a hell of a lot more complicated than you thought and that ideological purity is not sustainable, but that persistent effort in the trenches can and will yield incremental change that, over time, adds up to important stuff.

There must be an establishment. Civilized society is built on the backs of public servants who care enough to get involved at every level. An establishment is, ultimately, what created the conditions that led to you having a tiny computer in your pocket that helped you find Bernie rallies where you could show hot chicks how progressive you were and maybe hookup after.

Fortunately, the establishment can be whatever you want it to be. Not today and not tomorrow, but you could be starting to shape it as soon as 2018 if you work your asses off and get a lot of your likeminded compatriots to join you. No one will stop you. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz will not be at the door of your next county meeting checking establishment cards and requiring the secret handshake. You’ll be shocked by how easy it is to waltz in and become part of the process.

NOTE: Rallies are not part of this process. Do them, by all means, but don’t kid yourself that they constitute meaningful civic engagement. If we’ve learned anything from recent events, it’s that any old jackass can scrounge up twenty or thirty thousand enthusiastic idiots for to cheer for crap they know nothing about.

The Democratic National Committee will vote this weekend to elect a new chairperson. 447 members will vote.  You can see who they are HERE. They are “the chairs and vice-chairs of each state Democratic Party committee and over 200 members elected by Democrats in all 50 states and the territories.” If you don’t like the person they select, you can make it your goal to become a voting member someday, or you can work at the local and state level to support the election of members who represent your views.

Or you can throw more tantrums and continue to try to tear apart one of the only entities that can serve as a check on Donald Trump.

2. Only One Way To Oppose Gorsuch

Pretend for a moment that we live in normal times where the normal rules apply and people behave like normal people. In such a world, the following statements would be uncontroversial: the duly elected President of the United States has every right to fill a vacant seat on the Supreme Court with a qualified nominee of his or her choosing; the Senate’s role is essentially to vet that nominee’s qualifications and temperament, to ensure that a lifetime appointment is not being handed to a lunatic.

In other words, there’s every expectation that liberal presidents will appoint left-leaning judges and that conservative presidents will appoint right-leaning judges, imprinting the will of the people on the judiciary. It is a huge perk of winning the White House and should be foremost in our minds when we vote in presidential elections.

Under normal circumstances, my position on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch would be as follows: I disagree with him on almost every issue where I know anything about his position and I would not like him to be on the Supreme Court. Having said all of that, he is a serious, smart, well-qualified judge and, barring any unexpected revelations in his confirmation hearings, he should be expeditiously confirmed. Democratic Senators should not vote against him on ideological grounds, just as Republican Senators should not vote against the judicial nominations of Democratic presidents on ideological grounds.

There is only one basis upon which to oppose Gorsuch, namely, that this seat was stolen from President Barack Obama by Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate. This is an argument worth making, but it should not be conflated or confused with the argument that Gorsuch is too conservative for our taste. Of course he’s too conservative—that’s why we shouldn’t have allowed Donald Trump to become President. And that’s where even this compelling argument is on shaky ground. Yes, Scalia’s seat was stolen, but we had a chance to take it back. All we had to do was elect Hillary Clinton. We failed to do that knowing full well what the result would be.

Then again, if we’re to take Mitch McConnell at his word that “the people should have a voice” in filling Scalia’s seat, we should probably look to the popular vote for their opinion on the matter.

The bottom line is that Gorsuch’s positions on the issues we care about are just not relevant to the confirmation process. Opposing him on these grounds opens the door to having left-leaning nominees blocked if/when the situation is reversed. It would be a mistake to think that Democratic Senators somehow owe it to us to further destabilize and degrade the system because we fucked up and left them in the minority with Donald Trump as President.

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Jim’s Briefs: 2/20/17

Let this serve as my roughly bi-annual notice that I intend to write with greater frequency and in shorter form. The Trump administration has got me all mentally constipated except for a handful of ponderous, overlong tracts I’ve been working on for months that I’ll probably never finish. The goal now is to tackle one or two thoughts or news items per day (ish) with limited attention to detail or coherence in a desperate attempt to clear the fire hazard of a backlog in my head.

Until I get cleverer, they’ll be called Jim’s Briefs. I hope you’ll get into Jim’s Briefs.

1. Trump’s Travel Toll

I know it’s an easy target and something that conservatives should be up-in-arms about, given their fetish for criticizing everything Obama did that was even remotely related to leisure, but I happen to think we should lay off the issue of the costs associated with Trump’s travel to and from wherever the hell he wants to go on the weekends. We can and should criticize his lack of seriousness in the position, his predilection for peddling access to high-paying members of his private clubs, his lax attitude about national security when mixing work with pleasure, and so on—but these are ultimately unrelated to the costs of his travel and security.

In other words, it is not impossible to imagine a serious and competent POTUS who travels frequently and I, for one, would wholeheartedly approve of whatever taxpayer monies were spent conveying and protecting such a person and/or his/her family. The presidency rightly comes with perks, but it also comes with costs that we must bear in connection with the presidency and I just don’t think it’s wise to spend any time or energy nitpicking over how much it costs to allow the President of the United States to travel freely.

2. A One-Dimensional Man

A much stronger line of attack against Trump is the one concerning his efforts to profit from the office, particularly in light of this new bit of leaked audio from POLITICO, in which Trump casually offers to let wealthy, dues-paying members of his Bedminster National Golf Club (“the special people,” as Trump calls them here) sit in on interviews for high-level administration positions:

But this is a front on which I think we need to be clearer about the nature of the allegation, lest it sound too much like a desperate conspiracy theory. Specifically, it strikes me as relatively reasonable for a low- to -medium information citizen to blithely dismiss the notion that Trump set out with a conscious, deliberate strategy to enrich himself by becoming President of the United States and that he is now taking clear actions to capitalize on that plan.

It’s easy, in fact, to dismiss the notion that he has ever done anything consciously or deliberately in his life; the man appears to be pure id. So in reality, what we’re really talking about is a profoundly one-dimensional person—a machine that was programmed to perform only one task.

We all know these people; they filter everything they hear or say through a very narrow lens that renders them almost completely unrelatable unless you happen to also be into the thing they’re into. The type I run across most often is the new-agey evangelical Christian who just can’t get through an interaction with another human being without referencing his or her church and/or dropping in some explicitly religious language in extremely loose reference to whatever the subject at hand is. (I think it’s worth briefly going off on this tangent for a second, so bear with me.)

A typical conversation with one of these folks goes something like this:

ME: Hey, do you know where I can get some good falafel?

THEM: Absolutely, man. There’s a great falafel place my pastor recommended right down the street from my church that I like to go to after bible study every Thursday evening at 6pm.

ME: Um, okay…thanks.

THEM: Totally, man. Have a blessed day—and give me a call or text if you want to hang out on Thursday evening.

Now maybe some of you are thinking “well, that doesn’t seem all that egregious to me,” and you’d be more-or-less right if we were talking about one exchange, but I’m talking about people for whom these are the contours of most encounters. (And I’ll just add that as a non-religious person, the multiple allusions to church and religion in just this single, barely-exaggerated back-and-forth come across as gratuitous and presumptuously overshare-y—the rough equivalent of me responding to the same question with “Oh yeah, there’s a place my girlfriend and I always go to get the tzatziki we like to bathe in before lovemaking. You should join us sometime.”)

Trump is the business version of this archetype. He relates to other people on a purely transactional level, where every  single interaction has the potential to lead—directly or indirectly—to the inception and/or success and/or failure of “the deal.” He’s not thinking any more or less about making money than he has at any previous point in his life, which is to say that it’s the only thing he has ever been capable of thinking about. (Prestige and approval ratings are one measure of his of his brand’s value.) In his mind, if he “does a good job,” (his phrase, not mine) he will make money incidentally. More dangerously, he may well think that if he makes money, it will be an indication that he’s doing a good job.

The neatest trick is that he didn’t even have to harbor real hate in order to become an agent of hate in the world. He just did what one-dimensional businesspeople do every day: indulge whatever racist, sexist, ignorant bullshit falls out of the mouths of people they’re doing business with; to object would be to kill the deal. If anti-racists had been as exploitable as the GOP’s base, he would just as easily played that part in an effort to close the deal.

It’s really very simple: Donald Trump is incapable of seeing or understanding the moral hazard inherent in failing to construct a fortress between his personal/business interests and the Oval Office because constructing such a fortress would entail changing the way he operates and he is incapable of changing the way he operates because he only exists on a single, razor-thin plane—and there can be no higher calling on a flat surface.

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The President Is Insane

Here’s what you need to understand about Donald Trump’s voter fraud allegations:

Donald Trump is not asserting that some individual or entity hacked into the election system and shifted three to five million votes into Hillary Clinton’s vote total in a failed effort to hand the election to her. That would be a wild-eyed conspiracy theory for which there is no proof, but one that would at least have the benefit of being conceivable as something that someone(s) might actually aspire or conspire to do.

That is not what Donald Trump is asserting.

Donald Trump is asserting that three to five million individuals took it upon themselves to do one or more of the following things:

  • register purposefully in two ore more states or find themselves accidentally registered in two or more states (most likely because they moved) and decide to vote in two or more of those states, even though doing so is a third-degree felony punishable by up to ten years in jail and $10,000
  • purposefully maintain the registration of one or more dead persons and proceed to impersonate that person or persons for the purpose of casting one or more additional votes on their behalf even though doing so is a third-degree felony punishable by up to ten years in jail and $10,000
  • somehow register and vote despite being a non-citizen

Donald Trump is also asserting that those three to five million individuals cast all of those extra votes for Hillary Clinton. Every last one of them—and he’s not even bothering to allege that there was a conspiracy between them, organized by some malevolent person or people. No, this just happened organically, apparently.

Now here’s the important thing: if a person or persons could pull of hacking the whole system and flooding it with votes for a particular candidate, that might well be a risk worth taking for someone of sufficiently low moral character and sufficiently high resources and know-how. The risk-benefit analysis for Joe the Voter, however, is vastly different. It would require an especially stupid person to even waste the effort required, let alone risk prosecution, to cast just one extra ballot in a sea of over one hundred twenty million votes.

This is a very insane thing for the duly elected President of the United States to be talking about. It did not happen. It could not have happened. There is no evidence that it happened. His investigation will not find that anything like it happened.

It’s not even a lie, per se. It’s just an incredibly stupid thing he chooses to believe as a defense mechanism to protect his singularly fragile ego. He can’t fathom that Hillary Clinton won three million more votes than he did so his childlike brain just lurched toward the first idiotic thing it could come up with. Fortunately for him, his supporters are exactly the sort of people to whom it sounds like something that probably definitely happened. Their brains are tuned to this frequency. Of course millions of liberals and/or brown people conspired to steal the election from Donald Trump, risking ten years in jail when every indication was that he’d lose anyway.

For the record, my wife and I moved to a different state last September. We registered in our new state the moment we arrived and, sure enough, we received our ballots in the mail from the old one (which does all elections by mail). Can you guess what we, a couple of foaming-at-the-mouth Hillary fanatics did? We tore those mail ballots up and threw them away.

Look, it’s very simple: the President is insane. No one will ever convince me that he’s making machiavellian use of some sort of authoritarian playbook and that this or any other bit of insanity he spews is a distraction or a tactic that is part of some larger conscious strategy. There is no authoritarian playbook—there are only the totally predictable actions and reactions of verifiably insane people. Insecure, sociopathic narcissists will always reject any assertion that they are not superior human beings in every conceivable way. Insecure, sociopathic narcissists will do anything and everything possible to destroy anyone who says otherwise. Insecure, sociopathic narcissists will never do a single thing that they do not perceive to be in their own interest.

Donald Trump is an insecure, sociopathic narcissist and we are now along for the ride. He will never stop, he will never surrender. He will drive himself and the rest of us right off the cliff if that’s what it takes to maintain his delusional image of himself.

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Dear Kellyanne

Dear Kellyanne,

Hey girl. What’s up? Just checking on you. Seems like maybe you could use a little unwind, disconnect, touch base…whatever…just a second to sort of step away and look at things from the outside.

Hey, do you remember that one time when you took this gig because you thought you could bring some professionalism and stability to the situation? Hahaha, those were good times. I admired you for that. I didn’t think it would work because there are just some beasts that can’t be tamed, but I figured it was worth a shot. Someone had to try, anyway.

And what was the worst that could happen, right? If things got untenable, you’d just walk away and never look back, knowing that you gave it your best, as a professional and as a patriot. Right?

Sure, there were times when I was all like “Oh my god, is she actually saying this right now?” but then you’d turn around and let loose with a little flash of brazen dissent from within, undoubtedly knowing it could mean your ass, and I’d be super proud. I’m sure it was a thrill for you too. I’m sure it made you feel like you were boldly doing what you set out to do.

And ultimately it all seemed pretty harmless because he wasn’t going to win. There was no way he was going to win. He couldn’t win.

When he did win (sort of), honestly, I was horrified for you. I knew you didn’t really, in your heart of hearts, want that to happen. You just wanted him to do less damage to the party on his way to defeat. Right? And so I was sure you’d find the exit as quickly and gracefully as possible.

But you didn’t. And not only that, you seemed to be relishing the victory with a mean spirit—more like that vile parasite Omarosa than like my old friend Kellyanne.

I think you’re still in there, old friend, but I’m not sure. It’s getting harder and harder to tell. It’s most difficult in those moments when it is no longer clear to me that you understand that you’re part of something uniquely malevolent. There used to be a knowingness in your eyes and in your tone that said “I know, I get it, let me do my job here the best I can.”

That shrewdness is completely gone now. For example, you seem to be in earnest when you complain about the way the press treats your boss, as if you can’t see—as the old Kellyanne would have been able to see—that they’re asking legitimate questions and you’re giving seriously insufficient, false, and/or misleading ones. You actually appear to feel persecuted.

Do you get it, old friend? Do you get that they’re not the wrong ones here? Do you get that you are working for a man who represents an existential threat to the republic and that probably the biggest piece of that threat is the way he manipulates information through people like you?

I’m not sure you do anymore. It’s not exactly Stockholm Syndrome, but something very similar appears to be at play here, because you are not the person you were. You are not doing the work you set out to do. You are not thinking of your family, your nation, your principles.

You are not the Kellyanne I knew.

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