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Category: Miscellany

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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Um, hi.

Okay, sooo…that happened.

Listen, I will, I promise, have more to say soon and I hope you’ll check back in to see what that is. I may even try to resurrect some of the stuff I said before this, this, this thing…stuff that I burned and shredded and buried and locked until I could wrap my head around the firestorm created by this, this, this thing.

In the meantime, follow me @hyperationalist or here on WordPress (clickie the little drop-down arrow at the top) and I’ll keep you posted.



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