Thursday, December 13, 2018

Some thoughts on our President

Donald Trump, it seems to me, has never really succeeded at any substantial enterprises. Yes, he built some large luxury buildings many years ago, but he eventually had to give up ownership of most of them and sell lots of units to foreign buyers who apparently used them to hide their cash.  He was the person most responsible for the failure of the US Football League in the 1980s.  His Atlantic City casinos went bankrupt.  He owes his success to his ability to sell the self-image of a glamorous,. brilliant businessman, the image that got him his gig on The Apprentice, which in turn made him enough of a national figure to run for President.  He has never shown any talent for running an effective organization or attracting and retaining capable subordinates--a problem which has gotten worse since he went into politics.   He was very narrowly elected because of the disastrous failings of both of our major political parties, who have lost touch with most of the electorate and no longer generate any loyalty among tens of millions of average Americans.

When he was elected people began to fear an authoritarian dictatorship. I was skeptical about that  from the beginning, and I still am.  Having established a strong connection with both the religious right and the Koch network through Mike Pence, Trump has mostly governed on behalf of the right wing of the Republican Party, which is libertarian, not authoritarian.  He and they are enthusiastically consigning the Progressive era, the New Deal, and much of the Great Society and its aftermath to the ash heap of history, but they want less government, not more.  The Trump Administration is treating illegal immigrants very cruelly, but that situation, once again, has arisen because of the cowardice of our political establishment, which for about three decades has refused to educate the people about the real economic needs of our nation and the source of the labor that feeds our economic growth.

Meanwhile, Trump has cast himself, from January 20 onward, in a particular role: the savior of the country, who copes fearlessly with terrible problems in the face of the treacherous opposition of the Democrats, the media, and a few Republicans.  Yet in fact, he has emerged as a coward and a wimp, especially on the world stage.  Just as he did in his business career, he repeatedly declares victory after sustaining defeats.  After threatening a nuclear attack on North Korea, he reached a deal with Kim Jong Il that lacked any safeguards, and now refuses to admit that Kim is ignoring his vague pledge to denuclearize.  He denounced NAFTA, but the new agreement he has reached does not differ from NAFTA in any fundamental way.  American corporations are ignoring his attempts to keep jobs in the US.   I expect something similar to happen in the China trade controversy--Trump will announce huge Chinese concessions that turn out to be illusory.  He is also telling the country that his famous wall is indeed being built, and that Mexico really is paying for it.  All this will, I think, continue to take a toll on his popularity, although some supporters will remain loyal.

I am even beginning to wonder if Trump enjoys the drama of the Mueller investigation, which allows him to portray himself as an embattled victim, and to keep his supporters riled up against Democrats and the Washington establishment.  He still may, in the next few weeks, try to shut down that investigation, asking his acting AG Matthew Whitaker to fire Rosenstein and Mueller to shut the investigation down.  I didn't see any other reason why he would have installed Whitaker in the first place, but time is running out, now that Trump has announced plans to replace him quickly with a mainstream Republican figure.  On some days Trump also seems to be preparing the country for pardons for Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, too.  But perhaps he really is ready to let the drama of the investigation continue indefinitely, as a useful distraction from his policy failures (and perhaps, it seems from some major economic setbacks that might be just around the corner.)  An argument over a presidential indictment could easily tie up the courts through next year, and there's a good chance that the Supreme Court would side with Trump.  Impeachment would fill up most of the news cycle for many months, and the Republican Senate would never convict, and might even refuse to respond to an impeachment in the House.

The real question the nation faces is whether in the 21st century we can do without a government based on Enlightenment principles of reason and the public good,. something which, at the moment, we do not have.  To get it back the Democrats have to offer it convincingly, and focusing merely on the president's many shortcomings won't do that.  The New York Times still runs excellent news feature stories on what the Republicans are doing to the country and the economy--most recently on how the Koch brothers have persuaded Trump's EPA to roll back and maybe even eliminate mileage standards for automobiles, on the grounds that the nation has more than enough oil for our SUVS and pickups.  But such stories do not penetrate the public consciousness in the cable news/social media era.  Trump is indeed a symptom, not the cause, of our problems.  Focusing on that symptom to the exclusion of all else will not solve them.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Persons and Censuses

 "Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.  The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. "  U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 2 (3).

Let us begin, first, with the long-term historical interest of this now-infamous passage.  Readers today are most likely to pick out the 3/5 clause.  Today many black and white Americans believe that it defined black people as 3/5 of a person, as Spike Lee, for instance, claimed in one of his movies.  It did not: the Founders in this as in other passages--as historian Sean Wilentz has just pointed out in a new book--carefully avoided any explicit mention of race, or of the institution of slavery, in the text of the Constitution.   Moreover, the southern slave owners, not the northerners whose states were then abolishing slavery, wanted to count all their slaves in the census that would determine how many representatives they sent to Congress, and the 3/5 rule was a compromise that marginally favored the southern position.   I can't resist noting, also, that the original Constitution is equally free of racist and sexist language.  In the trailer for On the Basis of Sex, the forthcoming biopic about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we see a dismissive white male justice tell then-attorney Ginsburg that "the word woman" does not appear in the US Constitution.  "Neither does the word 'freedom'," she replies.  The real Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I would like to think, would have responded--accurately--"Neither does the word 'man.'" The founders' chosen word to refer to inhabitants of the US, as shown in the passage above, was "persons"--one just as useful in the cause of equality today as it was then.  Yet young people today routinely refer to the founders as "those white guys" who cared about nothing but themselves.

The question I really want to address today, however, relates to the broader purpose of the above paragraph, the enumeration of inhabitants and the purpose which it is supposed to serve. The same issue found its way into the 14th amendment, the post-Civil War Republicans' first attempt to secure the rights of freed slaves and enshrine the outcome of the conflict.  It included the following:

"Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age,  and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State."

This clause, to begin with, makes even more explicit what the original Constitutional provision clearly implied: that the decennial census must count all inhabitants of each state, not simply all citizens--the point that has become relevant again today.  What I only learned relatively recently is that this clause was designed to encourage the readmitted southern states to allow freed slaves to vote.  Previously, under slavery, they had black inhabitants had counted at the rate of 3/5 of their numbers; now, if the southern states refused to let them vote, they would not count at all.  The Republicans also favored this solution because they were frightened to simply degree Negro suffrage (as it was then called) in the Constitution, fearing that many northern states, sadly, would reject it.  Under this clause the southern states had to choose between severely reduced representation and letting all adult males vote.  Unfortunately this tactic failed.  The former confederate states uniformly refused either to ratify the 14th amendment or to grant black citizens voting rights.  The 15th amendment followed in short order, and the northern states did ratify it.

Here, for the first time, sexism did find its way into the US Constitution--while this passage certainly does not clam that only men can vote, it denies women any specific constitutional right to do so.  As a matter of fact, 16 states--a third of the total--granted women the right to vote before the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920.  At  no time did the US Constitution prohibit women's suffrage.

And now, in 2018, the original passage from Article I has become controversial again, thanks in part because of the distinction that was implied in that passage and made explicit in the 14th Amendment: the distinction between inhabitants, who reside within the states and must be counted for the purposes of apportionment, and citizens, who now enjoy the right to vote.  The number of inhabitants of the US who are not citizens is probably at an all time high at this moment.  These include an estimated 13 million lawful permanent residents, or Green Card holders, who are eligible to become citizens but have not yet done so, and a comparable number of illegal aliens who at this time have no path to citizenship.  Illegal aliens (referred to on the left now as "undocumented") are often estimated at 11 million, but a recent study, which appears to be carefully researched, showed that the number could easily be as high as 22 million.  A new controversy has arisen because the Trump Administration wants to add a question to the census--one that has been part of the questionnaire in earlier periods--asking whether the respondent is a US citizen. Various states are suing to try to keep that question out of the census.

I hope my regular readers have come to understand that I have a real obsession with fairness, and with trying to identify workable, impartial rules to meet all sorts of legal and political situations, rather than simply to focus on what will help, or hurt, causes which I happen to favor.  That often divides me nowadays from many of my fellow Democrats.  The states and liberal activists oppose this question because they feel that it is designed to intimidate illegal aliens and cause them not to participate in the census, leading to an undercount. That may be true.  I on the other hand find the question not only reasonable, but necessary, if we are to try to deal realistically with the presence of 11 million or 22 million illegal immigrants within the US.  It seems to me that we all should care enough about this situation to try to find out the truth, whatever the motives of the administration happen to be.  I also believe that the present situation is not one that we should be trying to perpetuate.

A great many illegal immigrants live in blue states--although some red states, led by Texas, have large populations of illegals as well.  The Democrats are worried that if a great many of them avoid the census, their states will be undercounted, leading to a reduction in federal benefits allocated to their states, and even, possibly, a reduction in the number of representatives in Congress they receive in the next reapportionment.  What really disturbs me about all this is that the leadership of the Democratic Party seems to have dropped any demand for a path to citizenship for our 11-22 million illegal aliens, the vast majority of whom hold down jobs, obey the law, and are raising families.  The Democrats are finding it more expedient to focus on DACA and the dreamers, a more appealing group from a public relations standpoint, but who represent only a fraction of the real problem.  Ironically, by pushing for the fullest possible count of inhabitants both legal and illegal, while failing to push for a path to citizenship, the Democrats are echoing, weirdly, the position of the antebellum white southerners.  While they want these people counted to get full benefits and representation for their states, they don't particularly care if they get to vote.  And they seem comfortable with this position even though the current situation, like the situation in the South from 1876 to 1965, obviously undermines American democracy.  In each case, we have a large working population--most of it in the lower economic half of our society--who cannot vote.  That obviously skews national, state and local politics rightward, and helps perpetuate, and worsen, economic inequality.

On too many issues--especially economic ones--the Democratic Party has been reduced to calling for marginal changes that appear to at least check the prevailing trends in our political and social life, rather than make a fundamental attack on the ills of our age.  This also seems to me the problem with their stance on immigration. Yes, DACA recipients deserve protection, and yes, the increasingly aggressive persecution [sic] of illegal residents by ICE needs to stop,  but the only real solution to our demographic problem today is a path to citizenship, even if it has to be combined with new and more severe restrictions on additional  immigration.  We must not in my opinion try to sweep the issue under the rug, as we did the issue of suffrage for black Americans for 90 years.  I hope to live to see some real progress on this issue.




Sunday, November 25, 2018

A close look at some Trump voters


The Forgotten, by Ben Bradlee, Jr., is the latest in a series of books by blue state liberals about red state Trump voters.  It's unfortunate, as another reviewer of one of those books noted, that no comparable books by conservatives about blue state voters have appeared to balance them--we need to know how the other half sees us.  Bradlee writes about Luzerne County in northeastern Pennsylvania, in the heart of what was once anthracite coal country.  The county is 83% white, 11% Hispanic, and 5% black.  Traditionally Democratic, it voted for Barack Obama over John McCain in 2008, 72,000 to 61,000 (with 2300 minor party votes) and for Obama over Mitt Romney in 2012 (64,000 to 58,000, again with 2300 write-in votes.)  Two years ago, however, Donald Trump carried the county over Hillary Rodham Clinton, 79,000 to 52,000, and the minor party vote doubled to 4700 votes.  The 27,000 margin for Trump was about half of his total 45,000 margin in the critical state of Pennsylvania.  Note that the overall turnout fell significantly in 2012, but equaled the 2008 total in 2016.

Let me start with a point of my own.  While millions of racists undoubtedly voted for Donald Trump in 2016, I don't see how anyone can look at those figures and argue that racism won him the election, either in Pennsylvania or in the nation as a whole.  Barack Obama, who is black, carried the county with 72,000 (mostly white) votes in 2008 and 64,000 in 2012.  Hillary Rodham Clinton won ony 52,000 votes in 2016.  Sexism, it seems to me, might have cost the Democrats the  election (although I'm not aware of any sophisticated statistical analysis making that case.) Racism could not have.  Let's move ahead.

Bradlee's impressionistic but effective book consists of long interviews with a dozen Trump supporters about their individual political odysseys.  He begins with now-former Congressman Lou Barletta, who rose to local prominence and got some national ink in 2006, when he was the Mayor of Hazleton, a small city that has now become majority Hispanic.  In that year Barletta pushed through ordinances making it a crime to rent to or hire illegal aliens in an attempt to reduce the Hispanic influx.  Other cities around the country followed his lead.  Two federal courts ruled these measures unconstitutional on the grounds that they usurped federal authority, but, in a portent of things to come, Barletta became a local hero and was elected to Congress in his third race against a Democratic incumbent.  He has served there ever since,  although he gave up his seat to run for Senate this year. 

I am not going to discuss the rest of Bradlee's subjects in detail, but perhaps some basic Democratic data is in order. He begins with four men.  Vito DeLuca, 50, is a lawyer and self-described Reagan Democrat.  Ed Harry, 72, is a Vietnam veteran and labor organizer who voted for a Republican presidential candidate for the first time in 2016.  Marty Bacone, 54, owns a bar. Bruno Lanigan, 57, is a retired state trooper whose father was a leading figure in the A.F.L.-C.I.O.  Four women come next.  Lynette Villano, 72, is a long-time Republican, whose enthusiastic support for Trump led to a series of very painful email exchanges with her college-age son, who wrote, "Thanks to you and your kind, hatred and bigotry have been normalized and legitimized. I hope you're proud of that."  Donna Kowalczyk, 60, has run a hair salon for many years, and lives in a neighborhood now blighted by shootings and prostitution.  Kim Woodrosky,in her late 40s, is a very successful real estate developer who voted Democratic from 1992 through 2008 and didn't vote in 2012.  Tiffany Cloud, 50, is a housewife married to a veteran, and a long-time Republican.  Her husband Erik Olson gets a chapter of his own in recognition of the critical role veterans played in Trump's election, giving him a 2-1 margin.  Steve Smith, 47, a truck driver, gets a chapter to himself because he's an active white nationalist who holds a leadership position in the county Republican party.  And Jessica Harker, a 60-year old registered nurse,  is a devout Christian who thinks that God chose Trump to save America.

Reading their stories, I felt that these men and women took politics very seriously and, in many cases, had come to their new views slowly.  A good many, clearly, had been Democrats.  They had watched the coal mines, and then various other industries, die around them over the last few decades thanks largely to globalization.  Many of them had voted against George W. Bush and had greeted Barack Obama with some enthusiasm as an agent of change.  But he had disappointed them for the same reasons, really, that he disappointed me: he had done very little, if anything, to reverse the economic changes that had disturbed them so much.  The Democrats after 2008 had a chance to restore the nation's faith not only in themselves but in the whole political process, and they had failed to do so.  These voters chose Trump because he was an outsider who rejected all the conventional wisdom.  And because of that they were willing to excuse all his personal baggage.  They also despised Hillary Clinton--and accepted a lot of the accusations against her that they had heard from Trump and on Fox News. 

Democrats, it seems to me, have fallen into the trap of belief in their own moral superiority.  That, they feel, entitles them to the votes of any reasonable American, and anyone who votes against them is some sort of deplorable.  (Even Hillary Clinton, in the appearance in which she made that word famous, allowed that only half of Trump's supporters were racists, sexists, and homophobes; now the mainstream liberals I know are less likely even to be as generous as that.)  But in fact, many of thee people refused to vote Democratic because they didn't feel the Democratic Party had done anything meaningful for them in decades, and I for one cannot say that I blame them.  I will have more to say about this from another angle within the next month or so, after reading another much more important new book about global economic policy.  The Luzerne county voters also dislike illegal immigration on principle--illustrating the consequences of the establishments failure to legalize it over the last three decades--and the spread of political correctness in the culture.

Bradlee concluded his book with a return visit to Luzerne County earlier this year, in which he found all his subjects still enthusiastically pro-Trump, while wishing that he could stop tweeting and moderate some of his rhetoric.  The recent election, however, told a somewhat different story, there as elsewhere. 

In 2016 the popular Lou Barletta was re-elected to Congress with  a 64%-36% margin. Luzerne  county was split between two  Congressional districts and in the total vote the Republicans tallied 73,300 and the Democrats 58,200.  This year the district was split between the new 8th and 9th districts, and the Democrats won 53,600 votes and the Republicans 54,000, suggesting that far more Republicans stayed at home.  Barletta carried the vote for Senate handily in the county, but long-time Democrat Bob Casey, Jr., beat him 54-46 in the general election, at least temporarily ending his political career.  Republican voters in many other parts of the country, as I showed last week, did shift to the Democrats, and the critical questions for 2020, obviously, are the identity of the Democratic candidate and the degree to which Trump's personal magic will continue to work on the voters who elected him so narrowly in 2016.




Sunday, November 18, 2018

The 2018 election, a postscript

I decided to take another look at this week's post and do some research on the 2016 election to see what had changed.  The results are very interesting and seem to show that the whole country is moving in the same direction--but a huge X factor remains. The first thing the 2016 figures confirm is the high turnout.  133 million people voted for President, and 113 million voted last year.  That is unprecedented in recent history.

I will put off a thorough demographic analysis until later, but let's just look at basic race and gender breakdowns.  In 2016 Trump beat Clinton  52-41% among men (a full 7% of voters either voted for third parties or refused to answer), and Clinton won 54%-41% among women.   This year men favored Republicans by 51-47, and women favored them 59-40.  Essentially, Democrats picked up the entire third party or didn't answer vote among men, gaining a full 6% of them, while adding 5% of women.  In other words, Democratic gains among men and women were about equal.

As for race, whites voted for Trump, 57%-37%, while nonwhites voted for Clinton, 74%-21%.  (I'll provide a fuller breakdown later.)  This year  whites voted Republican by 54%-44% and nonwhites voted for Democrats by 76%-22%.  Democrats gained a full 7% among whites--71% of the electorate--and 2% among nonwhites, 29%.  Whether you were white or nonwhite, male or female, the odds that you would vote Democratic went up.  There isn't much reason to think that that will change during the next two years.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Race and politics, 2018

I have written here a number of times about postmodern ideology, which in my adult lifetime I have watched take over university life in the United States, becoming the dominant approach to the study of history and literature, and which has now become extremely influential among most liberals, many of whom probably don't understand what it is or where it came from.  Its dominant tenets, I would argue, are more or less as follows.

Human society is defined by struggles among different demographic groups contesting for power.  White people--especially straight white males--have traditionally dominated society, oppressing women, LGBTQs, and nonwhites. Each of us carries in our genes either the sins or the victimhood of our ancestors.  All right-thinking people have a duty to reduce the imbalance between straight white males on the one hand, and everyone else on the other.  A key aspect of white male oppression is visibility.  We need far more nonwhitemales in visible positions--such as positions of power--to correct for centuries of oppression.

Given this mindset, Democrats have easily adopted the equation, white people bad, nonwhites good, with the corollary (sometimes) that the really bad white people are men.  In another manifestation of this tendency, when a few white men commit terrible crimes, commentators (and Facebook posts) immediately cite them as proof of the intrinsic, evil nature of white men.  When President Trump does this about immigrants, we accuse him (rightly) of racism, but doing it about white men is quite acceptable in liberal circles.  Those who hold these views are also entirely intolerant of those who don't, which is why many liberal women view the 50% of American white women who voted Republican this month as traitors to their sex and are not afraid to say so.

The postmodern ideology, to a surprising extent, has convinced a lot of us that American politics are fundamentally about a racial divide.  I would like to present some figures from the election to suggest that this ideology has made it impossible to see reality clearly.

What triggered this post was a story about Congresswoman Marcia Fudge of Ohio, a black woman who is talking about challenging Nancy Pelosi for speaker. An interview quoted her as follows.

"Instead, Fudge said [that her possible candidacy] was about a fresh start in Congress, making sure that Democratic leadership reflects the voters who gave Democrats the majority ― specifically, African-American women. (Fudge pointed out that while women have gotten a lot of credit for ushering in the Democratic majority, white women are still broadly supporting Republicans. She mentioned that Stacey Abrams lost white women by 76 percent in her bid to be governor of Georgia, and that were it not for black women in Alabama, Roy Moore would now be a senator.)"

The big problem with this statement is that it is not true.  The following figures are based on CNN exit polls  The question I used the polls to answer was, who voted for Democratic candidates?

The CNN polls showed that 53.2% of the electorate voted Democratic.  That's very good news, even though the Democratic failures in Ohio and Florida suggest that it doesn't guarantee a win in 2020.  60% of all Democratic votes came from whites,   19% from blacks, 14% from Latinos (CNN's word), 4% from Asians, and 3% from other races.  Despite everything you have led to believe, most Democratic voters were white--even though 54% of whites voted Republican.  All the talk about demographic change, particularly among Democrats, seems to have obscured simple mathematics: 71% of the electorate remains white.

Having said that, the demographic breakdown of the Republican Party is a bit frightening.  White Americans cast 86% of Republican votes, compared to black Americans (2% of Republican votes), Latinos (7%), Asians (2%) and other races (3%.)  While white voters comfortably outnumber nonwhites among Democrats, they make up nearly the entire Republican Party.  150 years after Reconstruction, 64 years years after Brown v. Board of Ed, and 54 years after the great Civil Rights Act, the Democratic Party is highly integrated, or, to use the contemporary term, diverse. The Republican Party is integrated at a token level, at best. But let us not get confused about the significance of two different figures.  86% or Republicans are white--but only 54% of whites vote Republican.  That's too many, but it left room two weeks ago for 36 million Democratic votes.

The numbers remain just as interesting when  we factor in gender as well as race.  Combining these categories, we find that the single largest bloc of Democratic voters--contrary to what Marcia Fudge seems to think--are white women, 20.5 million strong.   The second largest is white men, with 15.4 million.  Then come black women (6.2 million), black men (5 million), Latino women (4.9 million), and Latino men (3.6 million.)  The CNN sample apparently wasn't big enough to break down Asians or "other races" by gender.

Now let's go back to Marcia Fudge's statement and test it and try to understand where she is coming from.  I can't see any justification for her statement that black women (6.2 million votes) deserve more credit for winning the Democratic majority than white women (20.5 million votes.)  She seems to be arguing that black women deserve a leadership position in the House because such a high percentage of them voted Democratic--92%, compared to 50% (essentially) for white women.  Her new colleague Arianna Pressley has put another slant on this issue by frequently remarking that "people closest to the pain should be closest to the power."  I can't help but wonder if Fudge's outlook has been skewed by representing a majority black district for many years, where white votes are a luxury rather than a necessity.  In any case, in the United States, we have never evaluated the significance of a person's vote (presuming that they could cast in the first place) based upon their demographic or how the rest of their demographic votes.  Every vote has always counted equally.  I personally do not believe in allocating leadership positions solely based on race and gender, but if you do, it seems to me that Nancy Pelosi--or failing her, a different white female Congresswoman--would have the best claim to the Speakership right now.

So far I have been focusing on pure equity based on numbers and attempting to show that the actual numbers do not bear out current liberal assumptions.  I would now like to take the argument a step further and talk about political strategy.

Black and Latino voters together made up 33% of the Democratic vote--and about 80% of black and Latino voters voted Democratic  (90% black, 69% Latino.)  That obviously makes them an indispensable part of any Democratic majority, but their numbers, as we have seen, are still dwarfed by those of white Democrats.  And, clearly, far more white than minority votes remain in play.  That, interestingly enough, was also the reason, as I showed in an earlier post, that Doug Jones was elected over Roy Moore in Alabama--not because black turnout was so huge, but because an extraordinary number of white voters refused to vote for Moore. Minority turnout might still increase, and we should make every effort to see that it does and to stop Republican voter suppression efforts.  But the Democrats will still depend more on white votes than on black ones to secure more votes than the Republicans get, simply because there are so many more of them.  And Donald Trump, in my opinion, won the 2016 election because many (though very far from all!) white people felt that the Democratic Party did not care about them anymore.

For 2020, in my opinion, the Democrats need a serious, charismatic candidate, preferably under 60, who bases his or her appeal on the needs of the great majority of Americans who are not rich, regardless of race or gender.  The last Democratic candidate to fit that profile was Barack Obama.  Developing an effective candidate has become extremely difficult for many reasons.  The media no longer pays enough attention to government, as opposed to politics, to allow anyone to make a national name for him or herself based on achievements in office, and the Republican Party has made it very hard for government to function on any level.  But I really doubt that postmodern ideology--the idea that only the election of a nonwhitemale can redress a history of oppression by giving the oppressed visible representation--can either win back the Presidency for the Democrats or move the nation to a better place.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Krugman vs. Brooks

While this will not be the topic of my piece today, may I mention that the possibility I have referred to here more than once in the last year--that President Trump will fire Robert Mueller after the midterms--appears to be coming true.  I see no other explanation for the decision to replace Jeff Sessions with Republican hack  and propagandist Matthew Whitaker.  Meanwhile, may I say that I looked into the question of whether the temporary appointment is constitutional, and while the law on the question is as impenetrable as any that I have ever encountered, I'm sorry to say that I don't think it's obvious that it isn't.  The President feels vindicated by the election results and confident that that the Republican Party belongs completely to him. Dramatic developments are just over the horizon.

Having gotten that out of the way, I turn now to the overall significance of the election.  I don't have the time or energy for a remotely complete analysis, but I have done some research on one key area: turnout.  The results were staggering.

In an earlier analysis of the 2016 presidential election, I noted that turnout for both presidential candidates was quite low, and that Hillary Clinton lost because her turnout in critical states was even lower.  In my discussion of Doug Jones's victory in Alabama I showed quite conclusively that high Democratic turnout did not elect him--he sits in the Senate because such a gratifying number of Alabama Republicans would not vote for Roy Moore.  Low turnout did not however decide any key races this year.  Turnout was virtually record breaking in many states.

I checked data in four critical states--Florida, Texas, Ohio, and Georgia--for 2014 and for this year.  5.7 million Floridians cast ballots (in a very close election) in 2014; 8.1 million Florida votes have been counted so far this year, with similarly close results.  In Texas the total vote increased by 78%, from 4.6 million to 8.2 million.  In Ohio, where the governor's race was less heated and the Senate race was not close, it went from 3.1 million to 4.2 million.  And 3.9 million Georgians voted this year, compared to just 2.3 million in 2014--a 70% increase.  Donald Trump, clearly, has gotten many millions of Americans more involved in the political process--but on both sides.  There were blue and red waves in this election.  The blue waves in Texas and Georgia were bigger insofar as Beto O'Rourke and Stacey Abrams did much better than previous Democrats in statewide races in Texas and Georgia--but they were not, it seems, big enough.  (A recount may possibly lead to a revote in Georgia but it won't give Abrams a victory.)

The increased turnout, moreover, does not seem to have increased the influence of younger generations.  More of them voted, but more of their elders did too. According to the national CNN exit polls in 2014 and 2018, the percentage of voters in the 18-39 age group was almost identical in those two years.

Within their home areas--which include the four states I listed above, even though Florida remains closely divided--the Republicans are as strong as ever.  Agricultural areas voted Republican this week even though Trump's trade policies are hurting them.   The gender gap in red states was quite small.  We remain two Americas, and both sides are quite confident in their values and beliefs. 

Much to my surprise, two columns in today's New York Times stated, as clearly as I could have myself, two opposing views of what the election means. They came from the paper of record's longest-serving opinionators, Paul Krugman and David Brooks.  Ten years ago I could not have imagined finding myself in agreement with Brooks, rather than Krugman.  Now, for reasons that will become apparent, that happens all the time.

Krugman caught much of the nation's eye around 2000 as an unregenerate New Deal Democrat, rather like myself, who called a spade a spade rather than referring to it metaphorically as a shovel during the George W. Bush administration.  He wrote frequently about the growth of inequality and nostalgically about the relatively equal economy of our youth.  He welcomed the emergence of Barack Obama in 2008.  But by 2016--for reasons I do not know--he had changed.  He was now an establishment Democrat who, to my horror (and not only mine) argued fervently for Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders, whom he dismissed as an unrealistic idealist.  In today's column, he repeats, not for the first time, the self-serving claptrap that so many Democrats, alas, are feeding on these days. 

Krugman starts with a valid point.  The movement of population into urban areas in the last half century has created an extraordinary differential in the population of different states that allows the Republicans to control the Senate with much less than half of the votes cast for Senators.  Unfortunately nothing can be done about that, since the Constitution specifically forbids taking equal suffrage in the Senate away from any state without that state's consent.  Then, however, he tries to explain Donald Trump's appeal to the Republican party.

"Not to put too fine a point on it: What Donald Trump and his party are selling increasingly boils down to white nationalism — hatred and fear of darker people, with a hefty dose of anti-intellectualism plus anti-Semitism, which is always part of that cocktail. This message repels a majority of Americans. That’s why Tuesday’s election in the House — which despite gerrymandering and other factors is far more representative of the country as a whole than the Senate — produced a major Democratic wave.

"But the message does resonate with a minority of Americans. These Americans are, of course, white, and are more likely than not to reside outside big, racially diverse metropolitan areas — because racial animosity and fear of immigration always seem to be strongest in places where there are few nonwhites and hardly any immigrants. And these are precisely the places that have a disproportionate role in choosing senators."

Now I happen to think that the Alt-Right movement has been a godsend to Donald Trump, but not for the reasons normally advanced.  The Alt-Right remains tiny and hardly represents an important bloc of votes.  But rather than face up to their own failings and blind spots, Democrats (see below) have chosen to regard the Alt-Right as the backbone of the Republican Party.  This is an undeserved insult to many Republicans and they resent it.  In fact, although I cannot prove it, I think that resentment of intellectuals and Democrats is much, much stronger among Republicans than resentment of any "darker people."  That certainly seems to be what Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity think--if you don't believe me, try listening to them for a few minutes any day of the week--and they ought to know. On another front, everyone routinely assumes now that opposition to immigration is simply racism, and thus unworthy of a moral person.  I favor immigration, but I also believe that the presence of between 11 and 20 million people with no right to be here in the country represents a huge problem that cannot simply be ignored. (The 20 million figure comes from a recent study by very reputable academics.)  Similarly, a liberal Gen X woman of my acquaintance just posted on facebook a graphic showing that a majority of white women in various key states voted Republican, with the caption, "Shameful."  It seems to me that liberal women would do well to understand that other women do not owe them agreement on anything.

Krugman, I am sorry to say, has moved in the last 20 years from being an independent left wing voice to very predictable partisan. David Brooks, whom I almost never agreed with about anything until quite recently, has done the opposite.  He is utterly disgusted with Donald Trump but almost equally disgusted with the Republican Party, and he sees that neither party is really offering what the country needs, a real platform that could bring us together.

Brooks notes today that large numbers of red state Republicans voted Tuesday to expand Medicaid and raise the minimum wage.  Trump's appeal, he argues, relates to both parties' failure to do anything meaningful for the working class for decades.  (Trump of course isn't doing much to help them either, unless they work in oil and gas drilling, but he has talked a good game.)  he then discusses a new book, The Once and Future Worker, by a certain Oren Cass, which deals with our economy and its discontents.  We focus on GDP, Cass argues, without asking hard questions about where gains are going.  We give poor people tax breaks (unpopular among Republicans) that help them consume more, but we don't help them produce more.  Our whole educational system is designed for the relatively few people go to college and become part of the elite. 

Democrats, others have argued, are now, above all, the party of the professional class. "We in the college-educated sliver," Brooks writes, "have built a culture, an economy and a political system that are all about ourselves." That class believes, for the most part, that what's good for the professional class must be good for the country.  But that isn't necessarily true at all in law, in medicine, in education, and in my own profession of academia.  The professional class believes itself entitled to power because of its superior values and has no use for people who do not share them--as a very impressive Harvard undergraduate just argued in the Crimson.  The Democrats won a substantial victory in the House of Representatives and brought out some new voters.   To win back the White House, in my opinion, they will need both an impressive new candidate, and some new values.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

The nature of our current crisis

War, wrote the great Clausewitz, "is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means."  Twice before in our history, in the great crises of 1774-94 and 1860-68 or so, political conflict has led to actual war, the first time to create an independent nation and the second time, to preserve it.  In this crisis we have been engaged since 2000, in my opinion, in a struggle over the future of the United States, waged peacefully but along party lines.  The Republican Party initiated the conflict to undo the work of the New Deal and the Great Society, destroy the rights of labor, complete the deregulation of the economy, and reduce the diversion of private wealth to public purposes.  They are waging the war by peaceful means, but those means are every bit as dangerous to our national health, at times, as real war.  The struggle has been complex, and often, we can only with some difficulty distinguish between ends and means.  The two sides are fighting, as they did from 1861 through 1865, on many fronts.  155 years ago the fronts were mostly geographic; now they represent different aspects of American politics, and even of American life.  Republicans have taken the offensive on some fronts, Democrats on others.  I do not believe that either side can win a total victory, and increasingly I believe that our real task now is to find a way to make some kind of peace.

The Republican offensive against the regulatory state of the New Deal and the Great Society is reaching a climax under Donald Trump.  Once again a round of tax cuts has left the federal government with a large, permanent deficit, as under Presidents Reagan and Bush II.  The deregulation of Wall Street, which at least slowed under Barack Obama, is plunging ahead.  Federal bureaucracies, managed by hostile ideologues or inexperienced incompetents, are having much more trouble doing their jobs.  Environmental protection has been rolled back on many fronts.    Unprecedented drilling on public lands goes forward.  The bulk of the American people oppose most of these measures, but the Republicans have managed to reduce the peoples' influence in politics.  They managed to steal the vote in Florida and thus the presidential election in 2000, and with the help of the Supreme Court (see below) they have gerrymandered districts in key states to an unprecedented degree, allowing them to retain a majority in the House of Representatives with less than 50% of the vote.  They have also taken advantage of the gerrymandering of the Senate--brought about by population movements, not legal legerdemain--which has given power to small states, most of them Republican, totally out of proportion to their size.  The 5-4 Republican Supreme Court majority has also allowed them to take full advantage of their superior financial resources in elections. They have also demonized the Democratic Party and its works, convincing their own voters that the welfare state simply subsidizes tens of millions of undeserving slackers, many of them immigrants, whom they insist on treating as outsiders. All told, they have eliminated the power of the Democratic Party and of liberal ideas in large parts of the country, and they currently control all three branches of the federal government.  Many of their leading ideologues and politicians want a total victory that will end New Deal and Great Society liberalism as we have known them--including Social Security and Medicare.

In the last crisis, the Democrats relied mainly on Congressional majorities to change the relationship between government and business, but Franklin Roosevelt also bequeathed to the nation a liberal Supreme Court.  President Eisenhower also made two key liberal appointments, Justices Warren and Brennan, and the Court decreed school integration, expanded civil liberties, legalized abortion, and in recent years, narrowly endorsed gay rights.   Several decades ago the Republicans embarked upon a campaign to train, identify, and promote conservative justices--a campaign now reaching its peak under Donald Trump.  The campaign will limit what government at all levels can do for decades to come.

Donald Trump, of course, initially disturbed the Republican establishment when he ran for President, but has reconciled them to his leadership since his victory.  The odyssey of Lindsay Graham, who abandoned criticism of the President in favor of support, is quite typical of leading Republicans, who see how much of their agenda the President is implementing.  Trump has certainly escalated the demonizing of the Democrats, issuing many repeated, violent personal attacks, especially against female and nonwhite Democrats.  And now, in a desperate attempt to retain control of the House of Representatives, he has created an immigration crisis largely out of whole cloth, proclaiming an imminent, dangerous invasion of the country and intermittently threatening to meet it with deadly force.  His administration is also using the ICE bureaucracy to try to terrorize our millions of illegal immigrants into leaving the country.  Making immigrants the primary target of the hatred that he has mobilized--an inevitable concomitant, as Clausewitz noted many times, of war--has huge advantages, since most Americans do not identify with these immigrants and they cannot vote.

On the other side, the Democrats have tried to protect our parents' legacy, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the EPA--although they have collaborated in dismantling the sweeping regulation of the financial industry that has changed the world.  They tried to extend that legacy with Obamacare, which so far has survived, in much weakened form, the return of the Republicans to power.  They have taken the offensive on another range of issues: women's rights, including abortion, LGBTQ rights, the protection (in states ruled by Democrats) of illegal immigrants, and an increase in the numbers of women and minorities holding public office.  This last effort seems to combine political tactics (a means of energizing their base) and an ideological commitment to reducing white male power as an end in itself.  For better or worse, the campaigns of women and minorities have shifted from struggles for equal rights to struggles for political power.   These tactics did help the Democrats win the presidency in 2008 and retain it in 2012, but it may have cost them the presidency in 2016.  We shall find out this Tuesday in Florida,. Georgia, and many Congressional districts, how successful it has been this year.

Both social and economic issues have left the two parties utterly at odds and without any trust in one another, every bit as much as the northern and southern states in the wake of the Civil War.  It is the years 1865-1876, I think, that come closest to what we are now going through, since the sectional conflict once again became political rather than military.   In those years the Republican Party controlled the national government--although it surrendered control of the House of Representatives in 1874--and it presided over the enormous growth of the power of corporations and financial institutions that created the Gilded Age.  Republican presidents appointed Supreme Court justices--most of them who had represented railroads--who defeated any attempts to regulate the economy. By the time the Democrats regained the White House in 1884 they had accepted this new order, and economic radicals had to form various third parties, including the Populists, whose achievements were quite limited.  Meanwhile, after a bloody local struggle, white southerners re-established white supremacy.  Two distinct political oligarchies ruled the South and the North from the 1870s through the early 1890s, and just a few swing states, led by New York and Indiana, decided most of the presidential elections.  In 1896 the populists essentially won control of the Democratic Party, but William Jennings Bryan suffered the party's worst defeat since 1872, ushering in another 16 years of Republican rule.

The Republicans have also achieved much (by their own lights) because they have fought their war in a relatively disciplined fashion.  While many still dislike Trump, nearly all of them are deferring to him because of his power among their constituents and because he has given them much of what they want.  This applies to many Republican women who continue to believe--as fewer Democratic women do--that other issues matter more than the president's casual misogyny and personal history.  Only in 2009-10 did the Democrats in Congress show similar unity.  A large number of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination will emerge after Tuesday's election, representing different demographics and different constituencies.  Age and ideology divide the Democratic party, and too many of its leaders are now well over 70.  If, as seems almost certain, the Democrats regain the House, legislative deadlock will follow for the next two years and President Trump will double down on divisiveness and hatred.  A Democratic candidate will have to offer something different to win over a new majority--and to lay the foundation for bringing our political war to some kind of conclusion.




Friday, October 19, 2018


Political Murders in Changing Times

Last week, it seems, Saudi officials murdered the exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.  Press reports have now identified one of the killers as a close associate of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the effective ruler of the Kingdom.  The world community in general and the government of the United States in particular are deciding what to do.  Kashoggi's death is more than a single international crime or an episode in the relations between the US and an important ally; it is another big step towards a world of authoritarian dictators who show no respect for established norms.  As such, it recalls another big step towards such a world in the early stages of the last great world crisis in the first half of the twentieth century: the murder of the Italian deputy Giacomo Matteotti by Fascist terrorists in June 1924.

European democracy began to die in the 1920s in Italy.  United by a series of small wars from 1859 through 1871, Italy had been a functioning constitutional monarchy from 1871 until 1922.  Its government and traditional elites had lost the confidence of the people, however, after a costly, disastrous decision to enter the First World War in 1915.  Although Italy was among the victors, the war brought less than no benefit to its people, and both left- and right-wing revolutionary movements arose in its wake.  Benito Mussolini, a former socialist, emerged in the early 1920s as the leader of the new Fascist Party.  Terrorism helped bring that party to power.  Fascist militias called Squadristi, for which there is at present no parallel in any western nation, terrorized large parts of Italy, driving socialists and liberals into exile in major cities.  In 1922 they escalated their revolution, marching into major cities, and later in that year Mussolini led them in a March on Rome. Mussolini was however in many ways a traditional politician, and he did not attempt to overthrow the established order. Instead he became head of the government within its own framework, appointed Prime Minister by the King—rather like Recep Erdogan in Turkey, or Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, or, in his own way, Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh.  Mussolini initially formed a coalition government with other right wing elements, and during the first two years of his rule, political violence ebbed within Italy and the country seemed to have stabilized.  Parliament, complete with opposition deputies, continued to function.  Similar situations prevail in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, where the new leaders have carried out extensive purges but the framework they have inherited remains, today.

The turning point in the history of Mussolini’s regime came in July 1924, when Squadristi kidnapped and murdered the socialist deputy and opposition leader Giacomo Matteotti,  To many Italians Matteotti symbolized honesty and rectitude in politics, and although Mussolini muzzled the Italian press, he suddenly became massively unpopular.  In January 1925, in an extraordinary parallel with current events, an Italian journalist named Camille Cianfarra obtained a confession from one of Matteotti’s murderers, the head of the press bureau of the foreign office.  Cianfarra was now the correspondent of the Chicago Tribune, and after the Tribune published the confession, the Italian government arrested him and tortured him. The American Embassy did secure his release, but he died shortly thereafter.  Meanwhile, Mussolini in January 1925 had proclaimed a totalitarian regime, the beginnings of the establishment of dictatorship.  Nonetheless, the British, French and German governments treated him as a fully equal power in the critical Locarno negotiations later that summer, which reached new agreements on the Franco-German frontiers.  The Matteotti murder started a long term trend.  In 1932, Japanese naval officers assassinated several leading politicians, including Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi, and effectively brought civilian politicians under control for the next 13 years.  Then on June 30, 1934, a year and a half after taking power, Adolf Hitler sent SS men to murder a number of key dissident Nazis and other political opponents in the Night of the Long Knives.  The era of Fascist dictatorship was in full swing.  Three years later, in 1937, Stalin began large-scale executions of leading generals and Communists.

Both President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Kim Jong Un of North Korea have apparently ordered assassinations of political opponents in foreign countries over the last few years.  President Trump has continued to heap praise upon them both, and he has not yet criticized Mohammed Bin Salman for Kashoggi’s death.  While there are no totalitarian movements comparable to Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism in power anywhere today, authoritarian rule has become a normal feature of our landscape.  While the western nations still must maintain some kind of relations with authoritarian states, they must also find ways to hold them accountable for acts on foreign soil, if not at home, and to make it clear that advanced democratic nations stand for something very different.  That is what Franklin Roosevelt managed to do in the 1930s.  As yet we have no FDR on the horizon this time around.





Saturday, October 13, 2018

Feminism, postmodernism, and politics

Because this post may easily make some people angry, I shall begin with a statement of what I am, and am not, trying to do with it.  I have no illusions that I can affect the ideological and emotional movement known as #MeToo, which burst upon the national scene once again last month in connection with Justice Kavanaugh's confirmation.  It is well established and its impact is going to continue.  It has helped to bring one prominent criminal to justice and may do the same again.  It has created a new orthodoxy within the Democratic Party.  My goal is simply to identify some of its intellectual origins, to explore some of the implications of its ideology that have emerged quite clearly in several contexts, and to assess its contemporary political impact.  I plan to stay away from any explicit value judgments about it and I hope that people of all political stripes might be able to get something out of this post.

The movement, of course, grows out very real problems, sexual violence against women and the exploitation of power by men for sexual purposes.  The intellectual fashions of the last few decades, however, have moved those problems in to a particular context and addressed them with particular language.  We must begin with those fashions.

To those who want to understand those fashions and what has happened in academia since the 1980s I comment an essay by a young British intellectual, Helen Pluckrose, entitled, "No, Postmodernism is Not Dead (and Other Misconceptions)."  Ms. Pluckrose's name is in the news because she, along with two authors, wrote a series of hoax articles based on grievance politics, some of which were accepted and published by academic journals.  She appears to have the makings of a Millennial Camille Paglia, not only because of her clarity of thought, but because she lacks the histrionics and extreme edginess of her Boomer counterpart.  Her essay, a serious piece of intellectual history, begins at the beginning and tries to distill the essence of Lyotard, Foucault, and Derrida, with particular attention to their view of the relationship between language and reality. Language, they argued, did not and could not objectively reflect reality, but served as a tool to situate people of different kinds within a hierarchy of power.  I would add, although she does not say this, that many postmodernists, consciously or unconsciously, have come to regard language as the only meaningful form of power, and indeed, to reduce real political events--up to and including the Second World War--to symbolic statements about power that resonate in people's memories (another favorite term.)  This has always looked to me like an easy trap for a professional academic in the relatively stable late twentieth century to fall into, since in academia knowledge, or holding the right views, is power, and often prevails without anything resembling a real-world test.  I don't disagree that ideas can and do acquire a power of their own, but that often has to do with the degree of their correspondence with reality.

The original postmodernists, Pluckrose argues, weren't very political at all. They only wanted to undermine the idea of objectivity and replace it, really, with chaos.  "Deconstruction" wasn't followed by "reconstruction," it was an end in itself.  New generations, Pluckrose argues, went in an entirely different direction. "The next wave of critical theorists," she writes, "developed postcolonial theory, queer theory, intersectionality, and critical race theory."  I don't know why she left out "gender theory,"  since she proceed to discuss various types of feminism.  To explain the shift these strains represented, she quotes KimberlĂ© Crenshaw, who defined the term“intersectionality.”

“While the descriptive project of postmodernism of questioning the ways in which meaning is socially constructed is generally sound, this critique sometimes misreads the meaning of social construction and distorts its political relevance… But to say that a category such as race or gender is socially constructed is not to say that that category has no significance in our world. On the contrary, a large and continuing project for subordinated people – and indeed, one of the projects for which postmodern theories have been very helpful in thinking about – is the way power has clustered around certain categories and is exercised against others.”

"Intersectionality" refers to multiple categories of oppression.  Dominant ideologies might subordinate an individual because she was female on the one hand and nonwhite on the other (as Crenshaw is), or as LGBT.  More importantly, however, Pluckrose says that "intersectional feminists. .  .developed a strong focus on identity politics which the earlier postmodernists had not, following Crenshaw and those who expanded upon her work. This form of feminism dominates the academy and activism now."  And she might have added, I think, that elite institutions have mainstreamed these ideas about liberals, as contemporary commentary and reporting on issues like Kavanaugh's confirmation shows.

To be specific I shall now focus on two specific controversies that have upended our political and intellectual worlds over the last month or so.  One, of course, is Kavanaugh's confirmation.  The second was the publication in The New York Review of Books--for half a century our outstanding intellectual journal--of a lamentation, "Reflections from a Hashtag," by Jian Ghomeshi, who was for some years a radio star on the Canadian Broadcasting Company, hosting a popular program on culture.  In 2014 the CBC fired him after allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and in 2016 he was tried for three charges of sexual assault brought by three different women.  The judge acquitted him for reasons which any readers can look into on a very detailed wikipedia page about  his trial. The Crown dismissed a fourth charge after Ghomeshi posted a peace bond and apologized for his behavior.  Notwithstanding his acquittal, he became a pariah in intellectual circles and the target of a widespread campaign on social media.

Just last month, the New York Review of Books published a long article by Ghomeshi detailing, not his version of the events which had led to his termination and trial but his experiences as a target of that campaign.  A firestorm of criticism immediately engulfed the New York Review and its editor, the very respected Ian Buruma, who had replaced the late Robert Silvers less than one  year ago.  Confronted by threats from university presses to pull the ads on which the publication depends, Buruma resigned as editor.  The current issue concludes with 36 different letters about Ghomeshi's piece, 31 one complaining about it (and a few canceling their subscriptions) and 5 approving of it.  It also includes a letter from more than 100 contributors to the magazine--really a kind of Who's Who of the intellectual elite of the Silent and Boom generations--praising Buruma's editorship and finding it "very troubling" that he could have been forced to resign because of one article, "repellent though some of us may have found this article." 

Both the feminist reaction to Christine Blasey Ford's testimony, in my opinion, and the negative letters about Ghomeshi's article, illustrate some essential principles of feminist activism today which, as Plumrose points out, reflect basic tenets of postmodernism in its two phases which no longer need to be spelled out, and which some protesters may not even explicitly understand themselves.  I would state these as follows.  Modern western society is characterized by the domination of men, especially straight white men, over women.  That domination is expressed both through language and through acts, which are themselves a form of language.  Any form of sexual assault is such an act.  (For decades feminists have argued, without systematic evidence of any kind, that rape is about power, not sex, and that its very purpose is to subjugate women.)  Straight white men also exercise domination by inflicting trauma--and any act that reflects their dominance can inflict such trauma.  This is the theory behind the idea of "microaggressions" which is a feature of campus ideology today.  And critically, every form of trauma experienced by any member of an oppressed group--that is, any nonstraightwhitemale--is simply one tiny part of a much larger trauma that straight white males have been inflicting for millennia.  That is why even hearing Christine Blasey Ford's story of 35 years ago, many women said, triggered their own traumas.  It's also why feminists claim that reporting an assault, much less bringing the accused to trial and testifying publicly against him and undergoing cross-examination, is a further trauma that victims should not have to undergo.  Let me say again that I am not taking any position on these tenets of the new ideology, I am merely trying to report them.  Everyone can decide for him or herself whether to accept them.  There is some reason to think that Blasey Ford accepted them herself.  That may be why she actually believed that by giving her story to her Congresswoman she might stop Kavanaugh from being nominated or confirmed.  Here Senator Feinstein, in my view, did her a grave disservice.  When the accusation reached her she should have told Blasey Ford that she had only two choices. She could come forward publicly, at great personal cost--a cost reflecting the political stakes involved in the appointment--or she could decide to remain silent.  There was no third way--and in a free political system, there should not be.

It is because every violation of boundaries, from actual rape to an unwanted hand on the posterior, supposedly symbolizes a much bigger system of oppression, I believe, that feminists have thrown out any concept of degrees of severity where these issues are concerned.   No less a figure than the junior Senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, stated this very clearly in a famous facebook post in which she explained why her colleague Al Franken had to resign from the Senate because a news reporter said that he had given her more of a kiss than she had bargained for, and a few women said he had patted their rear at campaign stops. I quote:

"
The pervasiveness of sexual harassment and the experience women face every day across America within the existing power structure of society has finally come out of the shadows. It is a moment that we as a country cannot afford to ignore. . . . To achieve lasting change, we will need to fight this everywhere on behalf of everyone by insisting on accountability and working to bring more women into leadership in each industry to fundamentally shift the culture. .  . .
"We have to rise to the occasion, and not shrink away from it, even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard. That is what this larger moment is about. So, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on Senator Franken’s behavior. Enough is enough. The women who have come forward are brave and I believe them. While it’s true that his behavior is not the same as the criminal conduct alleged against Roy Moore, or Harvey Weinstein, or President Trump, it is still unquestionably wrong, and should not be tolerated by those of us who are privileged to work in public service.
"As the mother of two young boys, we [sic] owe it to our sons and daughters to not equivocate, but to offer clarity. We should not have to be explaining the gradations between sexual assault, harassment and unwelcome groping. And what message do we send to our sons and daughters when we accept gradations of crossing the line? None of it is ok and none of it should be tolerated. [emphasis added.]
"We should demand the highest standards, not the lowest, from our leaders, and we should fundamentally value and respect women. Every workplace in America, including Congress, needs to have a strong process and accountability for sexual harassment claims, and I am working with others to address the broken and opaque system in Congress.
"While Senator Franken is entitled to have the Ethics Committee conclude its review, I believe it would be better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve."

Any transgression, in short, by any man against any woman, should evidently result in the termination of whatever his career happens to be, followed by an indefinite sentence as a social leper.  Neither exoneration in court, nor offenses that (as in Franken's case) could never be subject to prosecution, makes any difference--because every offense is part of something much bigger, a generalized series of offenses by men against women in which each must be punished for all.  And for the same reason, any man who defends an accused man, or even gives a public forum--as Buruma did for Ghomeshi--must be severely punished as well.  

To this must be added another tenet: that women's accusations against men should, by their very nature, be believed.  The general model of oppression helps get around some of the problems inherent in this tenet.  Ghomeshi was acquitted partly because he was able to produce a morning-after message from one of his accusers in which she spoke very warmly about the encounter that she later claimed to be abusive.  Many feminists would argue that this message merely proved the depths of her oppression.   

And behind this controversy lies the biggest question of all.  Has western civilization been mainly a system that allows straight white men to oppress anyone else? Or is western civilization characterized, especially in comparison to othercivilizations, by certain ideas of equality that initially applied only to white men but which inevitably have spread to include everyone else?  Forty years of academic postmodernism, I think, have brought the first view into the mainstream and into our politics.  I do not share it.

And thus, from the moment Christine Blasey Ford came forward, millions of women and many men immediately trusted her story and assumed that Kavanaugh, based on what she said he did 36 years ago at age 17, must be denied his seat on the Supreme Court.  Here, however, ideology met reality.

Numerous commentators and op-ed writers have suggested, in effect, that President Trump and Republican Senators stood up for Kavanaugh not in spite of the accusations against him, but because of them.  In this view they were defending their "white male privilege" and reasserting their contempt for women.  Only in the postmodern vision, however, does this  hold water.  I did not, as I explained here earlier, want Kavanaugh confirmed, either before or after the allegations.  The Republicans wanted him confirmed for one reason: that he would hand down the kinds of opinions that they wanted handed down.  (These do, to be sure, include overturning Roe v. Wade, but they include a lot more besides.)  They think his legal opinions are more important than what he may have done when he was 17 or 18.  The Republicans, unlike the Democrats (see Franken, Al), believe in strong party loyalty, which is one reason that they have achieved such dominance in our government at this time.  Now it turns out that the whole controversy has energized Republican voters and, crucially, made it easier for Republicans to turn red state races into referendums on national issues instead of local ones.  If they retain control of the Senate, which seems likely, Donald Trump may choose yet another Supreme Court justice.
To repeat: I have tried to describe the ideology of feminist activism accurately and to assess its effects.  In our hyperpartisan climate, many people, I think, are lining up behind certain ideas without really understanding where they came from or what their implications are.  I am asking readers to think about certain hard questions.  In another, quieter time, I think that other answers will emerge.



Thursday, October 04, 2018

Generations of Trumps--and Americans


Six months into Donald Trump’s presidency, in July 2017, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, we learn in Bob Woodward’s book Fear, brought the President and his senior advisers into a meeting at the Tank in the Pentagon to discuss post-1945 American foreign policy.  “The great gift of the greatest generation to us,” Mattis said, “is the rules-based, international democratic order,” which brought security, stability, and prosperity. “This is what has kept the peace for 70 years,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson added.  Unimpressed, Donald Trump—who was himself 70 at that very moment—shook his head. Later in the meeting he railed against ungrateful NATO allies, threatened to pull US troops out of South Korea, and argued that international trade merely took advantage of the United States.  He left the meeting defiant.

This week, the New York Times published one of the longest news-feature stories in history about the financial relationship between Donald Trump and his father Fred, who was born in 1905 and therefore qualifies as a member of the greatest generation himself.  It turns out that Donald Trump has treated his father’s financial and corporate legacy in the same way that he wants to treat the diplomatic and economic legacy of his parents’ generation.  Having taken advantage of it to become rich himself, he repudiated its basic principles and created an organization based on completely different values.  In so doing he has evidently destroyed the foundations of an extraordinarily successful business, while insisting, all along, that he is one of the great businessmen of all time.  That, essentially, is what he is now doing on the world stage: ripping up the foundations of a stable order, risking disaster not simply for himself but for the nation and the world, and claiming, all along, the status of a political genius.

Whatever his own politics, Fred Trump was a self-made man.  He apparently never attended college and started his construction business in New York in the midst of the Depression at the age of 15.  When he was in his twenties he built houses and a supermarket.  Then his career as a builder became intertwined with major developments in American life. He built barracks and apartments near shipyards on the East Coast during the Second World War, and after it was over, he built more middle-class houses and apartments with government help.   Fred Trump—like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life—was providing homes for his contemporaries and their growing families, and he was well-rewarded for it.   And like so many fathers of his generation, he spoiled his own five children materially.  Thanks to him, the Times tells us, his second son Donald—evidently his favorite—was a millionaire by the age of 8.  Two decades later, it turns out, Fred’s wealth allowed Donald to launch his career, and for the rest of Fred’s life, it allowed him to continue it, providing a safety net to bail the younger Trump out when, as so often happened, one of his more speculative moves went awry.

Comparing Donald’s real estate empire to his father’s can easily make one think of the contrast between two very popular television shows:  All in the Family, which like so many programs from the 1950s through the 1970s, focused on a lower middle-class family, and Dallas, which titillated the audience with a portrayal of profligate, super-rich Boomers in the 1980s.  Donald Trump wasted no time on housing for ordinary people.  He took advantage of the Reagan-era wealth explosion and a freer business environment to build luxury apartments and hotels.  Later, instead of providing for the most fundamental needs of working Americans like his father—the need for a house or an apartment—he tried to get richer by taking advantage of their addiction to gambling—an addiction which he, in his own way, seems to share.   He eventually turned himself, not his buildings, into the product that he was selling, enabling him to move into television and then into politics.  And he managed to move his role within his family onto the national stage.  He appears to have been the son who could get away with anything, confident that his father would bail him out when necessary.  In the same way he survived repeated bankruptcies in the 1990s by convincing banks that they needed his name to recoup more of their disastrous loans, and he now occupies the White House thanks to a political following that will forgive him for anything.

Sadly, the story of Fred Trump, his son Donald, and the two very different Americas they represent reflects a much broader contrast between the GI or Greatest generation on the one hand and the Boom on the other.  Boomers grew up in an era of large families and expanding infrastructure, including schools and universities, roads and bridges, and hospitals.  Their parents paid for all this with the help of high income tax rates (and high estate taxes, which Fred Trump, the Times shows, managed to avoid paying for the benefit of his children.)  The stable economy of the 1950s and early 1960s reflected tough regulation of Wall Street as well.  Today, after 25 years of Boomer rule, many public school teachers do not make enough money to live on. University education costs at least three times as much as it did in the 1960s, even allowing for inflation, students have to mortgage their futures to pay for it, which Boomers did not. Infrastructure is falling apart. Right wing Boomers unreservedly praise free markets and the benefits they have reaped with them.  Left wing Boomers seem to think that all is well as long as women and minorities claim their fair share of elite positions within our society.  Neither are meeting the needs of the mass of the American people.  In foreign policy, the last GI President, George H. W. Bush, left the nation with unprecedented power and prestige, only to see his own son squander it in an endless, useless crusade for democracy in the Middle East.  Now President Trump is turning the US into a rogue state whose closest allies are Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Rather than extend their parents’ and grandparents’ legacy, the Boom generation has largely squandered it to enrich themselves.  Eventually we may find out that Donald Trump’s share of his father’s fortune is now gone.  Meanwhile, Trump’s extraordinary presidency reminds us, every day, of the collapse of our political life in the era of the Boom generation.


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Judge Kavanaugh--A Different Perspective

I hadn't intended to blog about the Kavanaugh hearings, for various reasons, but an excellent story in this morning's New York Times  fact-checking Kavanaugh's testimony convinced me to do so.  I have never wanted Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court for the same reason that I didn't want Clarence Thomas there in 1991: that I knew I would not approve of the opinions he was going to hand down.  I believed Anita Hill's story, but I have to admit, at the risk of offending some readers, that I never thought she accused him of anything all that serious, since he neither touched her nor tried to punish her for failing to respond to his advances. She accused him of being a jerk, which is not a crime, although I know that courts have now defined it as creating an unfriendly environment, which is actionable.  On the court, Thomas has been even worse than I could imagine then.  Perhaps I should explain further: I was brought up to take politics extremely seriously, and non-violent sexual misbehavior among politicians much less so.  Today very few people take politics that seriously but many more, especially liberals, are obsessed with sexual misconduct.  This leaves me a bit out of step but I can't help it.

Kavanaugh has obviously been accused of more serious offenses, although all of them happened a long time ago and will be difficult to confirm.  Not for nothing did the sex crimes prosecutor that the Republicans hired to question her declare after the hearing that she would not have prosecuted Kavanaugh if the alleged offense had been brought to her.  I have been fascinated with the details of the case because, while I am 18 years older than Kavanaugh, I grew up in exactly the same neighborhoods, spent summers in them when I was in high school and college, and recognize both the geography and the ambiance in question.  I want to contribute one fact that many news outlets are confusing.  While the drinking age in Maryland, where he lived, was 21 in 1983 (and in 1965), 18 year olds could buy and drink wine and beer right over the border in D.C., and we did, a lot.  A junior in high school like Kavanaugh--who played two varsity sports--had plenty of older friends who would have been glad to buy for him.  I don't think I drank as much beer as he seems to have, but I drank plenty, too.

The Times story, by the way, introduced me to my first real hero of this sad controversy, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh's (and a Republican!) named Lynne Brookes, who said that the judge had "mischaracterized his drinking."

'He frequently drank to excess,”'she said. 'I know because I frequently drank to excess with him.'

"Like Judge Kavanaugh, Ms. Brookes, a Republican, was an athlete who went to a prestigious graduate school after Yale. She disputed the implication in his testimony that he could not have overindulged because he was too busy studying and competing in athletics. 'It is completely possible to do both,' she said."

 The piece got me thinking because it shows very clearly how Kavanaugh gave misleading or pretty obviously incorrect explanations of many details that have emerged from his past, such as those in his yearbook entry.  Several have a clear sexual connotation, which he denied.  They reminded me of a few senior entries in the 1964 and 1965 yearbooks of my own prep school, Loomis, but ours were in essay form--written by classmates, not the subject himself--and any references to sexual conquests, of which there are not many, were much more discreet and never identified a woman by name.  18 years later, of course, a lot of barriers to sexual discussion had come down.  If Kavanaugh had testified that the yearbook editors had written his entry based upon various legends, some true and some false, I would have believed him. Instead he said he wrote them but denied their obvious meanings.

That got me thinking about who Kavanaugh might actually be--not in the context of youthful sex and drinking, but as a lawyer, judge, and potential Supreme Court appointment.  Here, it turns out, the comparison with Clarence Thomas is even more apt.  Both represent a relatively new kind of potential Supreme Court Justice: the career apparatchik and ideologue.  One could fairly say that the conservative Republican movement that has reshaped our political life and law over the last few decades created their career path, which really lacks any counterpart on the Democratic side.

Since Clarence Thomas came first, let's start with him.  Born in extremely modest circumstances and raised by a single parent and grandparents, he made his way from South Carolina to a Catholic seminary in Missouri, and then to Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he graduated cum laude.  He then attended Yale Law School where, he explains in his autobiography, he constantly faced doubts that he would have been admitted without affirmative action.  But while at Yale he met the man who shaped his career, John Danforth, then the Missouri Attorney General.  He was Danforth's assistant in Missouri from 1974 until 1976, when Danforth was elected to the Senate.  After three years in private practice, working for the Monsanto Chemical Company, Thomas joined Danforth as a legislative assistant in 1979-81.  By this time Thomas had become an ideological conservative, influenced by authors including Thomas Sowell and Ayn Rand.  In 1981-82 he was an Assistant Secretary of Education and then, from 1982 to 1990, he was Chairman of the US Equal Opportunity Commission.  Anita Hill worked for him there.

I did not remember that Thomas had replaced Robert Bork, of all people, on the District of Columbia Court of appeals in 1990, where President George H. W. Bush had placed him at the urging of Senator Danforth.  Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first black member of the Supreme Court, stepped down in 1991, and Bush tapped Thomas, then 43, to replace him.  I see no need to rehash what happened during his confirmation hearings.

On the court, Thomas has developed an increasingly conservative view of the Constitution which seeks to undo most of the increased role of the federal government in the economic and social life of the country as it evolved during the 20th century.  He has argued that the the federal regulation of both industry and agriculture are unconstitutional.  He was the first justice to favor throwing out the key section of the Voting Rights Act and lived to see a 5-4 majority come around to agreeing with him.  He defended all the extreme anti-terror measures of the Bush Administration, has sided with the government against criminal defendants in many cases, and has opposed affirmative action in several contexts.  He has argued that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and that the Constitution does not include a right to privacy and therefore does not protect gay rights.

Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas shared the Catholic religion as children, but that was about all.  Kavanaugh was born in the D. C. area to a father who was a lawyer and corporate executive, and a mother who originally taught high school but went to law school and became a judge after her only child was born.  He attended an elite prep school, as we all know, where he was evidently a very good student and a star athlete, and Yale College admitted him without any benefit of affirmative action.  He graduated cum laude in history--which at Harvard would represent a good, but not outstanding academic performance--but was then admitted to Yale Law School, which was a very high bar to pass.  He became a Notes Editor of the Yale Law Journal.  I have not been able to discover anything about his parents' politics but he might easily have been one of millions of Gen Xers who were disgusted by Jimmy Carter (who became President when he was only eleven) and inspired by Ronald Reagan.  In any case, at Yale Law School, he intersected with a powerful political-legal current.

At the conclusion of the dozen-year period between Thomas's entry into Yale Law School and Brett Kavanaugh's, in 1982, conservative Republicans founded the Federalist Society.  The Yale Law patron of the Federalist Society, Prof. George L. Priest, got to know Kavanaugh, partly, it seems, o the basketball court.  Graduating from Law School in 1990, Kavanaugh clerked for Judge Walter King Stapleton of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  While Kavanaugh was working for him, Stapleton wrote a majority opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that essentially eviscerated Roe v. Wade, but which was overturned by the Supreme Court thanks to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.  Prof. Priest then recommended Kavanaugh to another appeals court judge, Alex Kozinski.  Kavanaugh then interviewed for a clerkship with Chief Justice Rehnquist, but failed to get the position--the first serious setback, it would appear, of his whole life.

In 1992, fatefully, Kavanaugh held a fellowship in the office of then-Solicitor General Ken Starr, and followed that up with a Supreme Court clerkship with Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom he now hopes to succeed.  Leaving the clerkship in  1994, he went back to work for Starr, who was now the independent counsel investigating Whitewater, and, eventually, much else besides.  While there, we now know, Kavanaugh--now in his late thirties--zealously pushed for the investigation of conspiracy theories about the death of Vincent Foster, to see if it had been murder rather than suicide.  After the Lewinsky revelations he pushed for a most explicit and intrusive interrogation of President Clinton about the details of their relationship (which, I continue to believe, was of no business of anyone but the two consenting adults involved.)  In 1997 he landed his first job in private practice--as a partner in the Washington firm of Kirkland and Ellis, which had been Ken Starr's firm.  (All facts courtesy of Wikipedia.)  He returned to Starr's office after only one year and helped prepare the Lewinsky report.

Kavanaugh returned to Kirkland & Ellis in 1999, and became, among other things, the counsel for relatives of Elian Gonzales who tried unsuccessfully to prevent him from returning to Cuba.  In December 2000 he joined the legal team of George W. Bush to help stop the recount in Florida.  Then he joined the White House Counsel's office under Alberto Gonzales, and from 2003-6 he held other positions in the Bush White House.   Bush originally appointed him to the D.C. Court of Appeals in 2003, but the Democrats blocked him for three years, citing excessive partisanship--a judgment in which I must concur.  A Republican Senate confirmed him in 2006.  He immediately became controversial. He has served there until now.

To summarize: Clarence Thomas took 17 years from his graduation from Yale Law School to ascend to the Supreme Court.  He spent 3 of those years in private practice, 11 years working in Republican state and federal administrations, and one year as an appeals court judge.  If Kavanaugh is confirmed 28 years after his graduation, he will have spent 4 years in clerkships and fellowships, about 2 years in private practice, about 4 years working for Ken Starr, and 12 years as an appellate judge.  Before becoming a judge he participated zealously in several of the most partisan and sensationalist Republican offensives of our era:  the Starr investigation, the Elian Gonzales case, the 2000 Florida recount controversy, and, in the Bush White House, the design of detention and interrogation policies after 9/11.

This post is moving further afield than I anticipated but it behooves me to compare these career paths to those of other incumbent appointments.  Let us begin with the Republicans.  John Roberts, who was a very brilliant history student at Harvard as an undergrad (he graduated in 1976, the year I became a full-time faculty member), had a career similar to these two but at a more distinguished level.  He went from Harvard Law (1979) to two clerkships for an appeals court judge and for Chief Justice Rehnquist, and then to six years' worth of positions in the Reagan Administration in the Justice Department and the White House.  After just 3 years of private practice he became  deputy Solicitor General under George H. W. Bush.  Ironically, although Bush put him on the D. C. Court of Appeals in 1992, the Senate did not confirm him and the appointment lapsed.  He therefore spent the Clinton Administration in 8 more years of private practice, where he remained until 2003, when George W. Bush finally managed to get him onto that same court, after the Senate, then Democratic-controlled, had failed to confirm him in 2001-2.  In 2005, he became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  Samuel Alito graduated from Yale Law School in 1975, he held a circuit court clerkship for a year. Then he spent 4 years as an assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey (1977-81), 7 years in the Reagan Justice Department,  and3 years as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey (1987-90).  George H. W. Bush then appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and he sat there until 2005 when Bush's son appointed him to the Supreme Court.  He alone appears to have no experience in private practice at all among today's justices. (None of them, I believe, has ever run for any office of any kind, which is a much more serious gap in my opinion.)  Neil Gorsuch was a classmate of Barack Obama's at Harvard Law, graduating in 1991.  He held 3 years' worth of clerkships, two on the Supreme Court,  and then spent 8 years in private practice.  In 2005 he joined the George W. Bush Department with responsibility for all cases having to do with the war on terror.  Then he was appointed to the Appellate Court for the 10th Circuit where he served until last year when President Trump nominated him to the Supreme Court.  Roberts, Alito and Gorsuch have all been members of the Federalist Society.

Stephen Breyer seems to have graduated from Harvard Law in 1964, and he clerked for Justice Goldberg and held positions in the Justice Department from 1965 through 1967. He then appears to have joined the Harvard Law School faculty although he returned to Washington in 1973, working for the Watergate Special Prosecutor, and became chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1979-80.  Then he returned to Harvard for the next 14 years.  He was primarily a legal academic.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg did a two-year clerkship after law school (1959-61) and then held positions in law schools, chiefly as a professor, from 1961 until 1980, while simultaneously doing a great deal of litigation on behalf of women's rights.  President Carter appointed her to the D. C. Court of Appeals in 1980 and she remained there until 1993 when President Clinton put her on the Supreme Court.  She was a legal academic with no previous Washington experience.

Elena Kagan, who appears to have had one of the more brilliant college careers of those under discussion, graduated from Harvard Law in 1986 and clerked on the D. C. Appeals Court and the Supreme Court for two years.  She then was in private practice for five years, but left to serve on the University of Chicago law faculty from 1991 to 1995.  Her former boss, Judge Abner Mikva, brought her into the White House Counsel's office in `1995 and she worked in the Clinton White House until 1999.  President Clinton tried to put her on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia then, but Republicans blocked her confirmation.  The University of Chicago declined to rehire her but Harvard Law took her on and she served as a professor and Dean from 1999 (I believe) through 2009.  President Obama appointed her Solicitor General in that year, and appointed her to the Supreme Court in 2010.  Like Breyer, she had spent most of her working life as an academic, interspersed with stints in Washington, before reaching the Supreme Court at age 49.

Sonia Sotomayor, who joined the court a little earlier than Kagan, also had a brilliant career as an undergraduate at Princeton and graduated from Yale Law in 1979. She did not secure a clerkship but worked in the district attorney's office in New York for four years, and in private practice for three more.  She appears to be the only Justice who was appointed to the bench by a President from the opposite political party, George H. W. Bush, who choice her for a district court position in 1991 (she was confirmed the next year at the age of 38.)  After 17 years on that court she was appointed by President Obama to the Supreme Court in 2009. 

Clerkships and service in the executive branch have been the mains paths to the federal judiciary among these judges.  If Kavanaugh is confirmed he will be the 7th of 9 sitting justices who came from other positions on the federal bench.  He would also, it seems very fair to me to say, have taken the most partisan path to the bench and to the Supreme Court of any of them and he will have had the least real-world experience of any kind before becoming a judge.  He was a zealous Republican apparatchik--as was Thomas.  None of the Democrats on the court have had careers that were really similar to either of theirs.  And that remains, for me, the biggest reason why neither of them should ever have been chosen for the Supreme Court.