SATURDAY: Is "our democracy" in peril?

SATURDAY, MAY 14, 2022

It has been for a long time:  With apologies, we didn't do a very good job explaining our argument yesterday. 

We were discussing the perils involved in the possibility of charging Donald J. Trump (and an array of lesser GOP figures) with a series of crimes. 

Should Donald J. Trump be charged with a crime? We can't answer that question.

For starters, we don't know if he has actually committed a crime. Also, we don't know if he has committed a type of crime which can be described to the wider public in a way the wider public will understand.

Some types of crime are quite clearcut. You can't steal someone's wallet or purse. You can't shoot someone on Fifth Avenue. 

Other crimes (and constitutional rulings) involve layers of complexification which are very hard to explain—and which may not even make sense. It may be especially hard to explain such matters to the general public when deeply felt policy views, or deeply held political loyalties, are involved.

Criminal charges of that type would generate major backlash. Perhaps such charges should be brought, but this is a tricky and dangerous time.

On Deadline: White House, Nicolle Wallace's "favorite reporters and friends" have been walking the "criminalization" road all through these Trump and post-Trump years. They've been trying to address a serious political problem—How can we persuade people to vote against Donald J. Trump?—by means of criminalization.

For years, they've been asking this question: How we can get Trump locked up? More recently, they've even been asking this related question:

How can we get the candidates we don't like removed from the ballot?

Yesterday, Wallace joined Max Boot in worrying about the fate of "our democracy." In fact, our democracy has been on life support for decades, dating back—let's recall one of the most ridiculous episodes—to the time when the mainstream press corps had a collective nervous breakdown over the fact that a certain candidate for president was wearing three-button suits.

That was an undisguised lunacy of the mainstream press. The mainstream press is a major part of "our democracy"—and we've been detailing such lunacies for the past twenty-four years. 

In many respects, "our democracy" has been a tightly-scripted clown show dating at least to 1992. People like Wallace and Boot are never going to tell you that. Neither will the other stars of our own tribe's "corporate cable."

For now, just consider the functioning of "our democracy" and those three-button suits:

In the fall of 1999, two experienced Democratic candidates—Senator Bradley and Vice President Gore—conducted a debate which focused on American health care. It was the first Democratic debate of the 2000 campaign. 

At the conservative National Review, the late Kate O'Beirne praised the candidates for their breadth of  knowledge. At the Washington Post, Pulitzer winner Mary McGrory started her column as shown:

MCGRORY (10/31/99): Vice President Albert Gore came to his fateful encounter with newly menacing challenger Bill Bradley carrying heavy baggage. He was wearing an outfit that added to his problems when he stepped onstage at Dartmouth College: a brown suit, a gunmetal blue shirt, a red tie—and black boots.

Was it part of his reinvention strategy? Perhaps it was meant to be a ground-leveling statement—"I am not a well-dressed man." It is hard to imagine that he thought to ingratiate himself with the nation's earliest primary voters by trying to look like someone seeking employment at a country music radio station. 

McGrory barely mentioned what the candidates had said about health care. Instead, she lambasted Gore's deeply troubling wardrobe, in this and in her next column.

Everyone treated this lunacy as normal. Within "our democracy," things spiraled downward from there, with major mainstream journalists conducting lunatic discussions of every conceivable aspect of Gore's deeply troubling wardrobe.

That included the fact that some of his deeply troubling suit jackets had three buttons, not two. Eventually, one major national figure even sewed a fourth button on!

No, we aren't making that up—and the lunacy came to be even more lunatic than whatever you may be imagining. That was the state of "our democracy" as of the fall of 1999, and all the people our tribe admires knew that they had two choices:

They could play along with this jihad if they chose. But they mustn't notice or mention the lunacy, and they certainly mustn't complain.

Wallace herself has long been part of the threat to "our democracy," dating back to 2004, when she was pimping state ballot measures on same-sex marriage to enhance voter turnout for Bush. That said, "our democracy" has been a joke for decades—but you will never be told such things as corporate cable sells product.

We hope to do better again at this site starting on Monday. According to a string of experts, it won't make a lick of difference. But we'll be trying to find ways to get our time and our focus back.

Should Donald J. Trump be charged with a crime? On the merits, we have no idea. On the politics, it strikes us a very risky maneuver.

That said, people like Wallace are busy earning millions of dollars selling "cable news" product. You should never trust their judgment or their factual statements or the pleasing product they sell.

First three buttons, then four: Within the realm of the fourth estate, "our democracy" was a manifest joke as of the fall of 1999.

The conduct of the mainstream press was crazier than you think. "Our democracy" has been a form of lunacy for decades, and that isn't likely to change. 

To consider the troubling number of buttons on that one candidate's suits, you can just click here. This was the state of "our democracy" as of 1999—and you can trust us on this point:

What you find, if you click that link, will be crazier than you think. None of our blue tribe's exalted leaders said even a word in real time. 


FRIDAY: Ignoring the need to win elections?

FRIDAY, MAY 13, 2022

A preference for "locking them up:" From 2009 through 2015, Eric Holder was President Obama's attorney general.

Holder is intelligent, sensible, smart. He doesn't seem to be crazy at all. We'd call him transparently sane. 

Also, Holder has recently changed his mind—or has started to think about changing his mind—concerning a difficult question:

Would it be a good idea to indict former president Trump—to charge him with a crime? 

On Monday evening, Holder appeared on The Last Word. At the start of the program, Lawrence O'Donnell quoted Holder's account of a recent change in his thinking:

O`DONNELL (5/9/22): Our first guest tonight is an institutionalist—the 82nd attorney general of the United States of America, Eric Holder.

The current attorney general, Merrick Garland, is an institutionalist. If you asked either of those Justice Department institutionalists say, ten years ago, if they believe that newly appointed attorney generals, serving a newly elected president, should spend time investigating the previous president of another party, or the actions of the Justice Department itself serving that previous president, they both would have said no.

Yesterday, former Attorney General Eric Holder said:

"I am an institutionalist. My initial thought was not to indict the former president out of concern of what how divisive it would be. But given what we have learned, I think that he probably has to be held accountable." 

Holder has come to believe that Trump "has to be held accountable"—or at least that he probably should be.  

O'Donnell was quoting Holder's Sunday appearance on Face the Nation. Should Donald J. Trump be charged with a crime? Here's the fuller exchange between Holder and Margaret Brennan of CBS:

HOLDER (5/8/22): At some point, people at the Justice Department, perhaps that prosecutor in Atlanta, are going to have to make a determination about whether or not they want to indict Donald Trump. The air is going to be—

BRENNAN: Would you do it?

HOLDER: Well, I think there's going to be sufficient factual information. And I think that there's going to be sufficient proof of intent.

And then the question becomes, What's the impact of such an indictment? 

I'm an institutionalist. My initial thought was not to indict the former president out of concern of what—how divisive it would be. But given what we have learned, I think that he probably has to be held accountable.

BRENNAN: We'll leave it on that incredible note.

Eric Holder still isn't totally certain.

Holder knows how divisive an indictment of Trump would be. But he says that, based upon what he now knows, it looks to him like Donald J. Trump probably should be held accountable—probably should be charged with a crime.

On Monday evening, Holder discussed this assessment with O'Donnell. You can peruse MSNBC's error-riddled transcript. To do so, just click here.

Speaking with O'Donnell, Holder discussed the reasons behind his ongoing reluctance. We've never indicted a former president, this former attorney general said. It's the sort of thing they do in other countries, he said. It's something we've never done here.

For what it's worth, we tend to be even more concerned about this idea than Holder now seems to be.  In the end, we don't know what Merrick Garland should decide concerning Trump's disordered behavior—but we think an indictment of Donald J. Trump would be profoundly divisive, at a time when our badly floundering nation is already breaking apart.

Having said all that, let us also say this—within our flailing, embattled blue tribe, there are major cadres who basically live for the chance to see Trump (and his allies) locked up. 

These people appear, day after day, on Nicolle Wallace's two-hour MSNBC show, Deadline White House. Yesterday, we watched for two solid hours as Wallace and her endless array of upscale guests dreamed of the day when Donald J. Trump would be indicted, with criminal charges against various others thrown in.

On Wallace's popular show, it has been time to "lock them up" for several years now. The program focuses on such delicious possibilities—and on little else.

Holder's concern about where this might lead is rarely mentioned on this show. And of course, the daily issues which bother everyday American citizens also go unmentioned.

Those everyday American citizens are also American voters. For many of them, the dream of locking Trumpists up falls quite low on their current wish list.

That said, the Wallace show brings a daily two-hour focus to the dreams and desires of a highly exercised blue tribe elite. 

Life seems to be good for her wealthy guests. To our ear, they seem to spend little time thinking about the topics which take us beyond their private war with corresponding red tribe elites.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our nation's systems have long been falling apart for some time.

On balance, the bugs in those systems make it harder for Democrats to win election—to the House, to Senate, to the White House. They even make it possible to imagine Donald J. Trump ending up in the White House again.

We admire Holder for his obvious sanity. We aren't fans of the tunnel vision displayed by Wallace and her endless array of upper-end guests.

For decades now, our own blue tribe has shown little interest in hearing about the interests, concerns and beliefs of The Others—of the people who keep defeating us in elections, helped along by the Electoral College and by so-called "Senate math."

We spent two hours yesterday watching Wallace act out her dreams. Our general view?

Every time she leads a discussion, Trump voters are getting their wings.

Wallace and her stable of guests keep dreaming of locking them up. This emphasis strikes us as unwise.  Holder sees this as a potentially dangerous move. We agree with his reluctance, and raise him some.

Our tribe isn't always real skilled at dealing with Others. With apologies:

As our own focus slowly returns, we expect to offer more cogent thoughts on this topic next week. Our nation has entered a dangerous time. We need to think very clearly.


The best letter we've read in a while!

THURSDAY, MAY 12, 2022

From yesterday's New York Times:  We should have posted the letter yesterday. It came from that day's New York Times.

It's the best letter we've read in a while. Heading included, it went exactly like this:

The Day I Skipped School

To the Editor:

Re “Your Kids Can Handle Dangerous Ideas,” by Matt Gross (Opinion guest essay, April 30), which opens with an anecdote about skipping school:

In 1943, on a warm spring afternoon, my mother was swayed by my pleas to skip school the rest of the day. I was surprised but delighted. The next day I brought the teacher my excuse note, written in my mother’s best hand, which said I had suffered an attack of spring fever.

At 90, I still remember lying on the lawn, watching drifting clouds.

Margaret Mary K— C— / Cleveland Heights, Ohio

In our view, the writer's mother seems to have gotten it right.

Fuller disclosure: On one or two occasions, our own sainted mother let us stay home from grade school to watch the seventh game of the World Series.

Such games were played in the daytime then. They involved the Milwaukee Braves, not long removed from our own native Boston.

Casey Stengel had once managed the team, when they were called the Boston Bees. Based upon an anecdote, our sainted mother, as a young woman, had dated one of Casey's players way back and long ago then.

If you're lucky enough to be able to do so, remember to drift with the clouds!

THURSDAY: Senate Democrats lose again!

THURSDAY, MAY 12, 2022

What the vice president said:  We continue to apologize for our lack of focus in the past few weeks. Medical issues involving our entire staff have dragged our attention away.

 (We hope to be back on track soon.)

Even as we apologize, the anthropology lessons continue in the wider discourse. Rather, those lessons emerge from the general absence—the general lack—of a functioning national discourse. 

The impending reversal of Roe v. Wade will involve a major upheaval in American life. Will we, the American people (such as we are) be able to conduct a serious discourse and negotiation as this episode unfolds? 

Will members of our embattled red and blue tribes be able to speak to each other?

The evidence suggests that the answer those questions is no. Indeed, experts say that our attempts at conducting a national discourse broke down long ago.

At this site, we favor abortion rights. We also favor respect for Others. This brings us to the most striking piece of videotape we saw on cable last night.

Democrats had just engineered a 49-51 loss in the Senate. The proposal which was voted down would have written a version of Roe into federal law.

Vice President Harris had presided over that Senate vote. When she emerged, she took one question from the press. 

Early in last evening's Last Word, Lawrence O'Donnell played the full videotape of what the vice president said. To see the official White House transcript, you can just click here:

QUESTION (5/11/22): Madam Vice President, what does this vote mean? And what is your message to women and childbearing people in America about what’s next?

VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Yeah, so, I just presided over the Women’s Health Protective Act vote. And sadly, the Senate failed to stand in defense of a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body.

And let’s be clear, the majority of the American people believe in defending a woman’s right, her choice to decide what happens to her own body. And this vote clearly suggests that the Senate is not where the majority of Americans are on this issue.

It also makes clear that a priority for all who care about this issue—a priority should be to elect pro-choice leaders at the local, the state, and the federal level, because what we are seeing around this country are extremist Republican leaders who are seeking to criminalize and punish women for making decisions about their own body.

That presentation is hardly unique to Vice President Harris. The messaging involved in that statement isn't something Harris dreamed up.

That said, we were struck by the unyielding tribal repetition involved in the vice president's statement. At the beginning, middle and end of her statement, she repeated the verbal framework with which our blue tribe addresses this matter:

Within the framework of our tribe, we want to give each woman the right to "decide what happens to her own body."  That's the way we frame this matter—and we leave the matter right there.

In the course of speaking that way, we disappear the fundamental beliefs of the Others—of the rival red tribe. For better or worse, The Others believe that another body and another life are involved in this matter—the life of an "unborn child."

That isn't our own fundamental view, but it's the view of the Others. And the Others have the same ownership stake in the society that we do.

That doesn't mean that the Others are right—but it's hard to prove that the Others are "wrong." Routinely, though, our tribe proceeds as Harris did, acting as if the Others, and their views, aren't even there.

Citizens, can we talk?

As a general matter, very few people would want to interfere with a woman's "right to decide what happens to her own body." When our tribe frames the matter that way, we make it sound like we are supporting the most obvious right in the world.

Elsewhere, though, in the other tribe, a different view of the matter prevails. Our neighbors and friends in the other tribe believe that a second body and life are involved—and as the Alito draft opinion has shown, the Others haven't abandoned that belief in the course of the past forty-nine years.

Here's what the experts have told us:

At times of tribal war, we human beings divide into membership / identity groups. We begin to otherize those in the rival tribe.

We come to believe that our views, and only our views, are worth considering or mentioning. We may even start to act as if the Others are less than human. 

They may start to seem like cockroaches. Their views aren't worthy of mention.

Our American nation, such as it is, has been dividing into tribal groups for a great many years at this point. A great deal of The Crazy is now involved—and just for the record, a great deal of that Crazy, down through the years, has come from the people our tribe admires in the mainstream press.

"Now we're involved in a great civil war," as President Lincoln once said. The way our own blue tribe discusses this matter tends to leave no way out.

As the Court prepares to overturn Roe, we're facing a very difficult challenge. At present, The Crazy is widespread in the red tribe. If we want to be honest for once, our blue tribe, such as it is, isn't necessarily a whole lot better.

That said, we the people have fundamentally different ways of understanding the topic at hand. "We must not be enemies," Lincoln once advised. "We are not enemies, but friends."

"We must not be enemies," Lincoln said. Disconsolate experts, trailing tears, describe that as a type of  response for which we aren't hard-wired.

We recommend respect for Others. We'd favor a "pro-choice" codification, but the Others are our fellow citizens. By the basic rules of the game, their views will have to be considered too.

Yesterday afternoon, our tribe achieved its latest win, by a 49-51 count. We're skilled at producing such victories, less impressive at everything else.

What President Lincoln said: Lincoln closed his first inaugural address in the manner shown:

LINCOLN (3/4/61): I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

It didn't turn out the way he hoped. Our bonds of affection, such as they are, are under a great strain again.