Friday, February 19, 2016

Approaching Syzygy: GOP SCOTUS Gambit vs. Obama; Hillary vs. Bernie; Technocracy vs. the Sandernistas; and Donald Trump vs. Movement Conservatism (Plus Unrelated D.C. Snow Pics)

An eastern bluebird sits on a tree branch on a snowy day in the D.C. area, February 15, 2016.

This picture was taken by Erica Everhart either in or near Washington, D.C. It was reposted in this CWG entry featuring various images around the D.C. area in the Monday snowfall.

All the pictures in this blog post are from that CWG entry. There are no others (except the little cartoon to the left noting my disclaimer).

I am not linking to the original social media sites (e.g., Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr) whence they come, but I do include picture info including the names of those who took them.

As ever, posting the pictures those individuals took in no way means that they share my political beliefs or those of the columnists and pundits I quote.


I had intended to post a shortened version of this entry a few days ago (focusing only on Donald Trump), but I simply ran out of time on the three different occasions I tried to complete it. However, as the South Carolina Republican primary has not yet happened (it is this Saturday), it isn't too late.

In the meantime, the entry grew to include other related topics, although I've decided that I'm not even going to get into the Pope Francis - Donald Trump thing. It's just too weird. Let's keep the political crazy just inside the U.S. where it belongs.

A covered bridge over the Carroll Creek in Frederick Co., Md., on a snowy day, Feb. 15, 2016. Picture by Alex Turner (Twitter).


Replacing Scalia and the Brazen Republican Gambit

Before I get to that, though, there are other things I'd like to discuss including the almost-too-brazen-to-fly plan to deny Obama a Supreme Court pick to replace Scalia, who died in the Big Bend region of Texas at a secluded resort owned by a multi-millionaire industrialist and friend of his, and where he (along with every other guest) was staying for free.

Rock Creek Park (and the Rock Creek itself) on a snowy day, February 15, 2016. Picture by Igor Bobic (Twitter).


Needless to say, the Republican gambit -- openly stating the intention to deny a sitting U.S. President with nearly a full year to go in his term the ability to fill a Supreme Court vacancy -- has been a huge issue. Obama will still nominate someone but the question is whether that nominee even gets a hearing, much less a vote (it's highly doubtful).

The GOP position is that because Pres. Obama is a foreign-born Muslim Kenyan Socialist with a funny name in his final year, he doesn't get to pick a Supreme Court nominee.

A Civil War era cannon on the Manassas Battlefield on a snowy day, Feb. 16*, 2016. Picture by Jen Johnson (Twitter).

*I'm unsure if this was really taken Feb. 16th (by which time it had warmed up considerably and wasn't snowing) or Feb. 15th.


Here is an excellent Andrew O'Hehir piece (unfortunately, on on the matter (link embedded):


"Whether the Republicans can successfully run out the clock on the Obama administration without paying a devastating political price remains to be seen. It's a massive gamble, a game of Russian roulette played with four or five bullets in a six-shooter. But their vow to do so is the logical fulfillment of their party's long-term commitment to paralysis as politics, and it comes as a surprise to absolutely nobody in Washington. If that tactic poses unknowable hazards for the GOP in general and its presidential nominee in particular, that's not because it is qualitatively different from what they've been doing for years. It's only because it thrusts the nihilistic strategy of the right-wing conserva-trolls who have eaten the Republican Party's soul into the public's face in blatant and unavoidable fashion ..."

Snowy day, near Judiciary Square, Washington, D.C., February 15, 2016. Photo by George Jiang.


Excerpt continued:

"Our entire bipartisan political system is in dire and potentially terminal condition, and as I keep insisting there are ample reasons to believe that the virus that has destroyed one party has also infected the other, albeit in less dramatic fashion. We're already in a year when the Republicans seem likely to nominate a lunatic demagogue who is despised by the entire party leadership -- and who, whatever he is, is not a "conservative" by anyone's definition -- and when a septuagenarian Jewish socialist is one or two victories away from being the Democratic front-runner. What will come of Obama's impending Supreme Court nomination, and who will inherit the resulting mess next January? I have no idea. But if you still think political normalcy is about to reassert itself, any minute now, I have two words for you: Hi, Jeb!"


Snowy day at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., Feb. 15, 2016. Picture by Gregory Hughes (Twitter).


Will Hillary Get the Democratic Nomination?

I am beginning to think that Hillary might not be able to pull this off -- that the Sanders phenomenon is just too great and she will lose the nomination battle. All the energy and momentum are with Sanders and Hillary does seem to be slipping in polls and support. (Of course, her political obituary has been written countless times.) Now were Sanders to get the Democratic nomination, I still think he will fare horrible in a general election against, say, Rubio or Cruz, and even Donald Trump.

The United States is simply not going to elect an unhinged-looking-and-sounding, septuagenarian self-avowed Socialist (who is also Jewish) as President. That's not the reality we live in, at least as I understand it. Sure, I'd love to be wrong but I don't think so.


Snow melts off a bush or tree that keeps its leaves all winter, Reston, Va., Feb. 16, 2016. Picture by Charlotte Geary (Instagram).


Technocratic Progressivism Versus Ideological Socialism

There has also been this week a big back-and-forth about the extent to which the Sanders' campaign is becoming a mirror-image of the Conservative Movement, Inc., in its complete rejection of empiricism and fact-based policy proposals -- a.k.a., a traditional progressive technocratic approach to policy issues -- in favor of its own version of snake oil, voodoo, and cultic beliefs impervious to evidence.

Matthew Yglesias has this very interesting piece about how the Sanders crowd simply doesn't care about mainstream liberal-leaning economists critiquing his economic plans. Paul Krugman has been lamenting this fact both on this blog this week -- see here and here -- and in his Friday New York Times op-ed.

A snowy farm with red barn in Fredericksburg, Va., February 15, 2016. Picture by Theresa Rasmussen (Flickr).


For his part, Jonathan Chait chimed in with this piece on the matter (link embedded): Can Bernie Sanders Liberate the Democratic Party From Technocracy?

Chait isn't suggesting that he should but rather posing the question. Chait argues that Sanders' Socialism is actually akin to movement conservatism in being fundamentally an ideological (even moral) framework to which reality must bend rather than a New Deal / Great Society / traditional American progressive technocratic approach.

In a sense, this is obvious given that (as Michael Lind pointed out years ago in Up From Conservatism) today's conservative movement is basically an inverted Marxist movement, Ayn Rand substituting for Karl Marx.


A snowy walk with the dog, Alexandria, Va., February 15, 2016. Picture by Kathy Swendiman (Flickr).


Anyway, back to my original Donald Trump post from several days ago ...

The Trumpster, the GOP, and South Carolina

I've been eager to post an entry about Donald Trump's astonishing debate performance on Saturday night ahead of the upcoming South Carolina Republican primary.

Trump has been the favorite to win but in what has been described by others (I did not see it) as the most chaotic, angry, and invective-filled debate -- with each of the remaining candidates calling each other liars (except for the always-apparently-sedated and borderline-incoherent Ben Carson) -- Trump went to a place that no Republican candidate would ever go.

The Lincoln Memorial on a snowy day, Washington, D.C., February 15, 2016. Photo by Angela Pan (Flickr).


To be clear, I did not watch this debate (I've watched none of them). Instead, I have read a lot about them. (Of note, my dad called after it and left me a message saying how great it was to watch.)

During angry, interruption-filled exchanges with frickin' Jeb Bush, he blasted Jeb's brother -- former President George W. Bush -- as having lied us into a Iraq War debacle and, in one of the worst types of GOP blasphemy (save for criticizing the sainted Ronald Reagan himself), he accused Bush of not having kept Americans safe because the 9/11 attacks occurred on his watch.

Dogs frolic in the snow in Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C., February 15, 2016. Photo by Miki J (Flickr).


It is an article of doublethink faith inside the epistemically-closed GOP Bubble that the 9/11 attacks were Bill Clinton's fault (in effect, Bush became President of the United States on 9/12/2001) and that the Bush administration was exonerated in the scurrilous charge that it had manipulated intelligence to lead us into the Iraq War over non-existent WMDs.

Trump said this factually true but politically remarkable thing during heated exchanges with Jeb Bush:

TRUMP: "The World Trade Center came down during your brother's reign, remember that."

West Potomac Park, Washington, D.C., on a snowy day, February 15, 2016. Photo by Kevin Wolf (Flickr).


There was a fascinating debate that ensued about whether what Trump did was politically suicidal, a stroke of genius, the start of the breakdown of the established GOP order, or (building on that last view) something utterly politically transcendent in a way that cannot be grasped. As it is, polling really can't capture it since it was only a few days ago. Here are some different takes on it:

Matthew Yglesias saw it as political suicide: Donald Trump finally went too far for Republicans.

You have to read the Poulos one -- I can't really excerpt it well.

A dog sits in the snow at Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C., February 15, 2016. Photo by Jim Havard (Flickr).


Heather Digby Parton posited that it is possibly the beginning of the demise of the old GOP order: The rise of the Trump Party: Why the Donald’s shocking debate performance could signal the death of the old order.

Excerpt (conclusion):

"It is possible that Trump's instincts about the Republican base are much more finely honed than all the data and the models the professional strategists have put together. If he's right and this latest heresy doesn't destroy him, we will know that the Trump Party is rising from the ashes of the old GOP. And it's a very different beast. It has no dogma, it's not ideological and it's based on white resentment, celebrity worship and nationalism. And whether they want to admit it or not it's far from clear that the Democrats will be any better at dealing with it than the Republicans have been."

The U.S. Capitol on a snowy day in Washington, D.C., February 15, 2016. Photo by Mark Andre (Flickr).

I wish the restoration work were finished and that frickin' ugly scaffolding would come down already. It has been up for about a year now.


Jonathan Chait, after reviewing what happened and why what Trump did was such a heresy, concluded that if Donald Trump pulls off a South Carolina victory, it will show that something politically transcendent is a work in his relationship with Republican voters: In Most Heretical Debate Yet, Trump Attacks George W. Bush on 9/11 and WMD.

Best quote from that piece:

That Trump brought up this fact is incredible. That he did so in South Carolina is even more so. South Carolina is a military state, with a hierarchical political culture that makes its conservative voters loyal to their past leaders. It is not an accident that Jeb Bush waited until South Carolina to bring his brother out to the stump, or that it is the state where Ted Cruz emphasized his opposition to drafting women in the military. It is the worst possible place to associate yourself with the concept that the president who oversaw the deadliest terrorist attack in American history had anything but a stellar record in the field of counter-terrorism, or that the war he launched afterward was mistaken.

Washington, D.C.'s very own Spanish Steps in the Kalorama neighborhood where 22nd Street NW dead ends on a snowy day, February 15, 2016. Photo by Joe Flood (Flickr).


Excerpt continued:

"As Trump has defied his skeptics, evaluations of his political acumen have grudgingly embraced the conclusion that there is a method to his madness. But on Saturday night, he took the madness to a completely new level. By the normal standards of politics, Trump swallowed enough poison to kill himself ten times over. If he survives, it will be the strongest evidence that he has forged a connection with Republican voters that resides beyond any plane visible to the rest of us."

The inestimable Chait followed up that piece with this one in which he does a deeper dive into the epistemic bubble of the GOP on these matters (link embedded): Crazy Nut Donald Trump Thinks George W. Bush Was President on 9/11.

The District of Columbia War Memorial (to WWI veterans) on a snowy day, Washington, D.C., February 15, 2016. Photo by Angela Pan (Flickr).

In the CWG entry, it was misidentified as the D.C. World War II Memorial. (Maybe I should send an email about that.)


As a continuation of this topic, today Heather Digby Parton posted this enjoyable piece (alas, also on on the matter: The GOP machine can't touch Donald Trump: Why his heretical 9/11 claims won't even slow him down.


"As I've been writing for quite a while, the Trump phenomenon has exposed something completely unexpected about the Republican coalition, even to people who have spent years observing it. It comes more and more into focus every day: It turns out that a good many members in in good standing of the conservative movement don't care at all about conservative ideology and never have..."

"Trump's campaign is shocking conservative-movement true believers to their cores and it isn’t just the small government types or the military hawks. As the Atlantic reported recently, this schism is evident in every faction of the GOP, even among the faithful ..."

Rock Creek Park (including its roadway) as seen from the Duke Ellington Bridge on a snowy day, Washington, D.C., February 15, 2016. Photo by Jenn Wurzbacher (Flickr).


Excerpt continued:

"The chattering classes like to say "the GOP base is frustrated because conservative leaders let them down so they are turning to Trump as a protest." This misses the point. They did let them down but not because they didn't fulfill the evangelical/small government/strong military agenda. They let them down because they didn’t fulfill the dogwhistle agenda, which was always about white ressentiment and authoritarian dominance. Trump is the first person to come along and explicitly say what they really want and promise to give it to them."

There you have her take on it.

We will have some idea by Saturday (tomorrow) night when the South Carolina Republican primary takes place how this all shakes out. Ditto on the Democratic side and the Nevada caucuses.


Mount Vernon on a snowy day, February 15, 2016. Photo by Rob Shenk (Flickr).

Two issues: (1) I cropped this picture for purposes of posting it here. (2) Alas, the giant pecan tree that grew beside Mount Vernon since about 1860 is no longer there. It was removed in late 2013.


OK, that's all for now. It's Friday night and I'm heading out -- probably to Floriana and then Trade. I intend to post a jukebox Saturday night feature tomorrow night.


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