He may or may not have been wearing Prada, but make no mistake: Howard Schultz is the devil.
Tuesday night, on the CNN Town Hall designed to introduce him to the nation, Schultz came across as intelligent, articulate, well-informed, well-intentioned. He had a compelling rags-to-riches life story and a modest but powerful way of telling it. You couldn’t see the horns hidden in his hair or the pitchfork he was holding, but they were there.
Schultz is not the devil because he is a centrist. Joe Biden is a centrist. Michael Bloomberg is a centrist. A number of the declared Democratic presidential candidates (Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg) will probably run as centrists. Despite decades of being pummeled from the right as some kind of Bay Area Bolshevik, Nancy Pelosi is a centrist. Not that anyone cares, but I am a centrist – by which I mean, I may be very liberal, but I recognize that many Americans are not, and that they count, too.
Centrists may be passé or short on star power or meh in the eyes of single-issue pressure groups or flat-out wrong. But centrists are not the devil.
Schultz is not the devil because he’s mega rich. Unlike the (supposed) billionaire in the White House, Schultz rose from nothing and has created tons of employment. At his town hall, he shrank from positing his business experience as a qualification for the presidency, but in key ways, it is one.
Of course, Schultz is the devil because if he mounts a third-party candidacy, he will bolster President Trump’s odds of re-election – but also, and importantly, because of the way he talks about the possibility of doing so.
As the CNN town hall made clear, that way is: he spins the oft-told, not-true tale that normal Americans can find no home in either of the major parties because both have gone equally crazy. Even when he wasn’t decrying it, Schultz was implying it: this vision of a “far left” and a “far right” and trapped between them a vast middle who just want – to use a favorite term of Schultz’s – “sensible” government.
Oh, please. There isn’t a horse on earth that would own up to producing that grade of manure.
In normal times, I’d react very differently. In normal times, when it comes to governance, I love “sensible” the way Abelard loved Heloise. I’m a common-ground, half-a-loaf-is-better-than-none, sounds-great-but-how-much-is-this-going-to-cost kind of gal. In normal times, I reject the idea that Democrats are, by definition and default, superior to Republicans for the steaming pile of garbage that such an idea normally is.
These are not normal times.
If the crucial line of distinction were ideological, as it is often mistaken to be, I would argue that the Democrats have not gone nearly as far left as the Republicans have gone right; at least not yet – and that if Schultz were really concerned about the party tilting too far left, he’d do much more to counter that by exerting his gazillion-dollar force from within, a la Bloomberg. But the crucial line of distinction is not ideological.
For decades, Republicans have gotten away with depicting themselves as the party of fiscal restraint while running up vertiginous levels of public debt. Now and with equal gusto, they are ridiculing Democrats for being delusional while merrily severing strand after strand of their own connection to reality.
No question, as currently formulated, such proposals as the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, a 70 per cent tax rate on the richest Americans, and tuition-free college may all be fantasy solutions. But at least they address real problems.
The GOP, by contrast, has dedicated itself to going hammer-and-tongs after fake ones. Especially with – but even without – Trump, it has become a phony-issue factory. Sometimes drawing raw material from actual challenges, other times working with thin air, the party of Lincoln has become scarily efficient at churning out crises that don’t exist but do resonate.
Clearly, there are real debates that need to be had in connection with every issue I am about to list, as well as many others. But as long as the Republicans keep going as they are, those debates cannot possibly be had, because their starting position on each rests upon some self-generated, ferociously-guarded fiction. Such as:
The fiction that that there is a crisis-level number of central Americans (not to mention Arabs), streaming across the southern border to terrorize Americans and steal their jobs.
That snow and ice constitute evidence against global warming.
That in the absence of an absolute ban on late-term abortions, it’s open season on newborns.
That no woman is safe in a public restroom unless transgender people are kicked out of the military and, ideally, existence.
One could go on.
It’s as if, delighted at the traction they were able to get by selling a “war on Christmas” even as the Yuletide season grew to encompass Labor Day through New Year’s, they’ve decided to try their luck at turning every issue upside down while screaming that it’s right side up.
There are constitutional fictions too, in connection with which Mitch McConnell deserves more Oscars than Meryl. Having acted as if Democratic presidents in the last year of their terms are not allowed to have their Supreme Court nominees voted up or down, McConnell more recently played – no, he truly inhabited the role of – a Senate Majority Leader convinced that he couldn’t possibly help shut down the shutdown because the legislature he runs is not allowed to pass a measure unless the president has already agreed to sign it.
And of course, the most darkly dazzling make-believe of all: that said president may have a few quirks for the liberal media to exaggerate, but nothing about him, in word or deed, need really worry anyone.
None of this is remotely true. One party has staked its life on pretending that it is, and the other party, though far from perfect, recognizes that it is not.
Who needs Russia? This time, just a semi-objective grasp of a few basic facts on the ground ought to be enough for the most “sensible” among us to go with the Democrats.
Expert though he is in all matters of coffee, Howard Schultz displays a highly questionable belief in America’s current desire to come together and try the decaf. In order for a third-party candidate to win in 2020, the national mood would have to be monumentally less partisan than it was when John Anderson, Ross Perot, Ralph Nader and Jill Stein tried the same thing. Not to mention, as the great Charlie Cook recently pointed out, the Electoral College would have to disappear like a cube of raw cane into a double-shot of espresso.
In 2020, then, the presidency will either go to Donald Trump or to the Democratic nominee. If Schultz runs, he will obviously and greatly enhance the hopes of the former. But he doesn’t even have to run to do real damage to the latter.
Over and over again on CNN, Schultz insisted that he would not do anything to re-elect Trump.
By daring to equate the party of reality with the party of reality television, he already is.
Considering the closeness of the race and the bizarrely-permissible tasking of her opponent with presiding over its results, Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is all too well advised to do exactly what she is doing: forestall concession to recusal-resistant Secretary of State Brian Kemp until every last vote is counted. While she’s at it, though, there is something more that Abrams should do, and she owes it to herself and to Georgia to do it now.
Abrams should stand up, throw her head and shoulders back, and pull herself up like a great wall of rectitude. And in the strongest, clearest-possible voice she should declaim: “I call for a full investigation of the allegations recently made by Secretary Kemp that the Democratic Party had hacked into our state voter-registration system. I do not believe that there is any substance to these allegations. But the integrity of our elections is too important to leave to any one person or party. If there is a legitimate shadow to be cast on my own side of the aisle, let it be cast, so the system itself can shine clean and bright for all Georgians to see and believe.”
With that statement, Abrams would come across as – and, in fact, be – a champion of voting rights for all; more mindful of the sacred electoral process than of her own prospects in it; just as disturbed by any possible tampering with Kemp’s votes as by tampering with her own. More deliciously, she would also present Kemp with the problem of what to do with whatever conclusion such an investigation came to: Either he chose to ball up serious but unfounded allegations and throw them at Abrams for his own gain. Or – I'm guessing not, but who knows? -- the voter-registration system was indeed hacked, meaning that the system was hackable….on his watch.
Granted, none of this would do a thing to bring Kemp’s total below the 50-per-cent-plus-one threshold required to avoid a runoff. But on the off chance that such a runoff were to take place, it would make it a whole lot more interesting.
Does victory lie in an eleventh-hour strategy of nagging apathetic neighbors, relatives, Uber drivers and grocery-cart helpers-with; stress-eating entire Alps of Halloween candy, and ceaselessly toggling between taking heart in encouraging poll numbers and slapping oneself with the reminder of what a heinous howling horrendous mistake that was in 2016?
If so, I have wrought the blue wave all by myself.
If not, listen up children: Mommy is going to be someone to avoid tomorrow.
It’s literally sickening, how much is at stake in this election: not just control of the Congress and many powerful offices across the country, but, I'd give anything not to feel, the country itself. As of November 2016, it may have been (just about) possible to pretend, if you stood on one foot, squinted, and tilted your head just so, that Donald Trump would not govern as the crazy, bigoted ignoramus he ran as, or at least that responsible Republicans would check him if he tried. Today, no such delusions are possible. Long, long before today, in fact, it had become plain not only that Trump is precisely as he seemed, but that almost all of his party and a solid third of the nation wish only that there were more just like him.
Twelve hours from now, it will be much more clear than it is as I type whether America wants to stem this nativist, nihilist tide or ride it to God knows what end.
So very much hinges on the result, it seems crazy to focus on the things that don’t. But I’m going to focus on them anyway, because whether tomorrow finds people like me jumping for joy or curling ourselves into balls of woe, these things will be true, and they will matter.
Actually, maybe it’s more the things that have revealed themselves to be so absolutely untrue. In the past two years, so many political myths have been slain, they’re lying dead all over the place, like dragons after a run-in with St. George.
My top three:
Progressives aren’t patriots. For decades now – probably since Vietnam -- Republicans have depicted themselves as guardians of the American warrior, and Democrats as flag-burning traitors to the troops. This has always been absurd (see: Bob Kerrey, John Kerry, Jim Webb, Tammy Duckworth…) But with the help of meh Democratic messaging, the GOP had done a remarkable job of making it stick, to the point where their adored draft dodger draws lusty cheers for impugning the Americanism of kneeling football players, veterans or not. Back in March, it was nothing new when Pennsylvania special-election congressional candidate Rick Saccone blasted his Democratic opponent, Conor Lamb USMC, as someone who hated America. The twist was that Lamb trounced him. This was definitely the start of a trend; the question is, how large? Win or lose, though, Amy McGrath, Mikie Sherrill, M.J. Hegar, Jason Crow and so many more have served the nation yet again by destroying the notion of “liberalism” and “love of country” as a contradiction in terms.
Government is the work of Satan. It remains to be seen whether Republicans will succeed in pretending that they supported the super-popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act which they tried to gut. But Democrats should take pride in the pretending itself. This is truly a case of hypocrisy becoming a high form of flattery. Republicans realize that disaster lies in vowing to allow the private insurance market to do what it will with pre-existing conditions, let alone demonizing the idea that government has a role to play in such matters. That’s a major battle in the war of ideas, and no matter how their candidates do today, Democrats have won it.
Who cares about Harvard and Hollywood? Real people love Trump. Republicans have long used the existence of “limousine liberals” to deny the existence of liberals without limousines. Even Hillary Clinton’s decisive victory in the popular vote was disdained on the grounds that she had merely run up huge totals among the sushi hounds of New York and California, while losing the authentic, saturated-fat folk of the Rust Belt.
Today, it is anything but clear that America’s heartland belongs to Trump.
Look at the Senate, rightfully seen as the Democrats’ longest shot. As of 2016, Republicans were salivating over the possibility of taking Democratic-held Senate seats in Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Not anymore. Odds are looking at-least even that Democrats will hang on in West Virginia and Indiana.
Step back for a minute from the panting over whether Beto O’Rourke can pull off a stunning upset in Texas. Assuming he doesn’t, will anyone be able to deny that millions of Texans wanted him to? Missouri might or might not re-elect Claire McCaskill. But if she loses, it won’t be by much.
In fact, at high noon on election day, “flyover country” seems replete with places where Democrats were dead three years ago but now have real game. It’s not just that very un-Bannon candidates may rock out in Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. It’s that they’re in close contention for two out of four Congressional seats and the governorship of Kansas; within three points of catching the Republican running for governor of Oklahoma.
Wait, wait, all that is based on polls, and after 2016 (slap!) I don’t believe any polling numbers, ever. But unless all the polls – and the fundraising, and the floods of volunteers, and what people in the streets are telling reporters, and the yard signs – are off by an absolute ton, left-of-center (or at least anti-Trump) Americans can be found in large numbers all over this country. And they are at least as “real” as anyone in a MAGA hat.
Whatever happens today, don't forget: that will be true tomorrow.
If, tomorrow morning, Almighty God came down and whispered in my ear that Brett Kavanaugh had never come within a hundred miles of committing sexual assault, I would still believe that he has no business coming within a hundred miles of the Supreme Court.
This is not, I could swear to that same Almighty God on a stack of Bibles, because I am a liberal (which I am) out to avenge the Clintons (which I am not) in accordance with my hatred for white males (like my dad, my brothers, my husband, my son, and many of my friends). And it is only tangentially because of the foul mood and manners Kavanaugh displayed before the Senate Judiciary committee – no matter how patently obvious it may be that if any female nominee threw half that hissy-fit, she’d be chopped right up for fire wood.
As a matter of fact, I started out this scandal-cycle more than prepared to side with Kavanaugh.
In spite – no, because – of my default loathing of Trump, mourning of Garland, crediting of sexual-assault complaints, and dreading of an even further-right turn by the Supreme Court, I greeted the emergence of sexual-assault allegations with an instinctively cold shoulder. It wasn’t any assumption on my part that Christine Blasey Ford was lying. It was an acutely self-scrutinizing awareness of what was in it for me if she wasn’t.
It was a certain measure of deference, too, to the smooth velvet approval that Kavanaugh came cloaked in: the number of times he’d been vetted before; the glowing reviews he’d garnered from judicial sages, some of whom disagreed sharply with his politics.
Taking those cues, I’d already spent the weeks since Kavanaugh’s nomination shooting down my own objections with “true, but” bullets.
He’s sooo conservative…true, but who is this president going to pick that isn’t?
He’s a son of such privilege…True, but anyone who counts that a demerit had better be ready to disavow FDR and the Kennedys.
He’s claiming a second seat for the far right when the last one should have gone to an Obama moderate…. really, really true, but with zero Republican senators losing a wink of sleep over it, sadly irrelevant.
Once Blasey Ford arrived on the scene, I felt the usual disgust at the usual characterizations of the accuser as some sort of liar-lunatic-conspirator mongrel. At the same time, however, I just couldn’t get into the baying for Kavanaugh’s blood. It isn’t often that I find myself nodding in agreement with Kellyanne Conway, but the line she was soon taking –that with all due regard for the pent-up anger of the #MeToo movement, it could be wrong to unleash it on this one man -- struck me as valid. Especially for liberals, traditionally so consumed with the rights of the accused, the current imperative to “believe the women” instantly, completely and permanently ought to be a problematic one. That is not to question the fact that sexual assault happens to women seismically more often than false accusation happens to men. But fairness demands an allowance that in any given case, it can happen.
And Democrats, it must be said, did not seem the slightest bit concerned that it might be happening here. Days before the hearing, the cameras found Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, sparkling with certainty like a guillotine in the sun: “I believe Dr. Ford because she is telling the truth!” she declaimed.
“Really, senator?” I snapped at the T.V.. “Will you be turning your decoder ring to the weather and Wall Street, too?”
Meanwhile, back in the weeds of the matter in question, there lay the apparent impossibility of proving anything one way or the other. So, while continuing to find Kavanaugh ideologically distressing, I felt myself coming down on the side of giving him a moral and intellectual pass.
It was as I watched the nominee on Fox News that I felt my apprehensions stir and start to shift. Gradually, beginning with that interview, I began to feel less disturbed by Democratic hints of Robespierre, and more disturbed by the degree to which Team Kavanaugh had gone full Gertrude. Talk about “doth protest too much.”
Not content with categorical denial that their Brett committed the egregious acts in question, his defenders – himself chief among them -- leapt to the position that he had never done anything wrong, ever. Certainly nothing in the shitfaced-misogyny department!
This gave me a real, creeping, gut-level sense that there was something rotten in Bethesda: Kavanaugh’s desperation to depict himself – and his coterie’s desperation to depict him -- as having sprung into the world fully and perfectly formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus. If, in the highly sympathetic setting of that Fox interview, Kavanaugh had taken the opportunity to draw any sort of picture of how he had matured through making mistakes, I would have likely found it human, reflective, the very opposite of disqualifying. But he sprinted the other way. By his lights, he had never done anything worse than "on occasion" drink a little too much legally-obtained-in-Maryland-at-the-time beer! He had always treated women with dignity and respect! He had a letter signed by 65 female friends from high school, for Chrissakes!
Now think about that for a second: Do you know 65 people who could truly attest to the content of your character? I don’t. Cut out one entire gender and anyone I met after high school, and I really don’t.
Maybe I am just a fool for flawed people. But even before Blasey Ford waded carefully and credibly through her testimony and Kavanaugh wigged out during his, that insistence that there were not, nor had their every been, any chinks in his armor bothered me. Then I realized he’d been a year ahead of me at Yale, where he belonged to two of its most notoriously, um, louche ‘n’ liquid brotherhoods, and I thought “he’s lying.”
Then, just before falling into the rush of general opprobrium, I caught myself on the twig of ‘probably’: “He’s probably lying. But you never know: it could come out in the next couple of days that Brett was always the designated driver or the guy who really liked his frat brothers, but sat out, even tried to steer them away from, their uglier antics. There are those kids, too.” But then came one very convincingly-told tale after another that portrayed this particular DKE as your basic Eli booze hound, and that twig snapped.
To be clear: Short of an actual crime, I could not give a rat’s boola boola if Brett Kavanaugh spent the first 25 years of his life boozing, boofing, barfing and devil’s-triangulating to his frat-boy heart’s content, provided he spent the next 25 doing better things. But that is not Kavanaugh’s account of himself. Kavanaugh’s account of himself is one of ceaseless rectitude with a touch of thirst, and it differs wildly from many others’ first-hand accounts of him. Thus, the current fixation on the follies of his younger days is not, as widely fretted, an ominous example of extreme vetting gone wild. It is an acceptance of Kavanaugh’s own, unfathomably ill-advised invitation to hold the reality of his younger self against the image he has chosen to wave at America much more purposefully than he could possibly have waved his genitalia in the face of Deborah Ramirez. It is as if he has flung open the door of his old dorm room and defied everyone not to pronounce it immaculate. It’s not our fault if, now that we’re here, the rest of us can’t help but notice the empty beer cans under the bed and the stolen-bra flag over it.
Oh, those beer cans, and kegs, and pitchers, and steins. Once the time came for him finally to speak for himself before the Senate judiciary committee, Kavanaugh didn’t speak so much as sneer, shriek and snort with derision at Democratic senators’ attempts to quantify just how much ‘ski he was wont to swill. Oddly for such an eminent jurist, he failed to grasp – or pretended that he failed to grasp – that this issue goes straight to the heart of the quandary at hand. It offers at least something of a plausible basis for the sense, which many Republicans professed to have, that neither he nor his main accuser was lying. Before and after his testimony, Kavanaugh has been plausibly described as a frequent drunk, a belligerent drunk, a stumbling drunk – but he was never, ever, his champions proclaim without possibly knowing, a blackout drunk.
Of course, I have no idea whether Kavanaugh is any kind of alcoholic. But in his testimony, there is no delicate way to say, he certainly acted like one. I know that seems like a cheap shot to take, not just at Kavanaugh but at anyone with alcoholism -- but think about it: He depicted beer as nectar, and also as the essence of bonding. He distinguished between passing out and “falling asleep” from drinking. He seemed absolutely gobsmacked that Sheldon Whitehouse did not know how to play quarters. When challenged by others – senators! In a hearing! to determine his personal fitness to serve! – about his drinking, he challenged them right back about what and how much they drank. Honest to God, after a few of those exchanges, I wanted Grassley and Feinstein to stage an intervention.
Then again, when you think of Churchill the lush and Trump the teetotaler, you remember the limits of abstemiousness as a mark of civic virtue. But regardless of his own habits, Kavanaugh displayed a shockingly backward conception of the chemical dependency that, in one form or another, has so many Americans in its grip, including at least one of his best high-school buddies. If he had said “look, I realize that the nature of addiction is such that my denying it and my friends’ denying it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but what else can I do?” I’d have ceded him that point. What got me is, this guy really, really seemed to regard “I was the captain of the varsity basketball team!” as proof that he couldn’t possibly have had a substance-abuse problem.
Even if Kavanaugh never did anything sodden or lewd his life, I found this whole "I-couldn't-have-been-a-drunk-I-was-a-star!" business troubling. He kept equating sterling credentials with sterling character; kept stressing that he couldn’t have done these awful things, because he just wasn’t that kind of guy.
Now, critics retort that he was precisely that kind of guy, to which defenders retort "nuh-uh, he remembers everything, and it was almost all studying, lifting weights and going to church!" and so goes the shouting match that can’t be won. But isn’t it clear by now that Kavanaugh most likely is, or has been, both kinds of guy? A choirboy and a carouser? An overachiever with an underbelly? In the current New Yorker, a Yale suitemate describes college Brett as someone who was, at times, “quiet, studious” and at other times, when drunk, mean and aggressive. Based on everything out there, that sounds right to me. But even if Kavanaugh does not have more than one side to him, the world is full of people who do. Since he is a judge and will probably be a justice, let's hope he was only pretending not to know this.
In any event, Kavanaugh clearly feels rage and resentment at any notion that anything he might have done as a young man should affect his chances now, and that reminded me of another two-sided split, this one in society. For all practical – and most certainly legal -- purposes, there are certain youths for whom rule-breaking is a rite of passage, and other kinds of youths for whom it is a fall through a trap door.
Republicans from Mitch McConnell on down have been having a grand old time ridiculing, for example, the unearthing of an old police report revealing that an undergraduate Kavanaugh, somehow involved in a barfight in New Haven, threw ice in someone’s face.
OK, I get it: college guys drink, college guys say and do dumb things, (most) college guys (supposedly) grow out of it. But amid all the joshing and towel-snapping, I could not – cannot -- help but think of the countless American kids who aren’t captain of this or anywhere near the top ten of that, who screw up to the same level in their milieux that Kavanaugh did in his. But they’ll never find themselves fighting to get from the almost-top of the American ladder to the tippy-tippy-top, as Kavanaugh is, let alone feel free to throw a tantrum if they feel unfairly held down. For their sins, those kids fall into society’s basement, and had best act grateful for any chance they get to climb out.
Kavanaugh could also use a little brushing-up on his conspiracy theory.
I refer, of course, to what is perhaps the most self-damning passage of his testimony, which -- incredibly -- was included in his prepared statement:
"This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups."
Many have correctly cited these remarks as evidence that Kavanaugh is far too vituperatively partisan to serve on the Supreme Court. When it came to the revenge stuff, he also sounded…dumb.
At this point, how can any sentient person be under the impression that there is any significant cohort of the Democratic Party vowing to avenge the Clintons? These days, of course, one is much more likely to find Democrats disavowing them, whether it’s the Bernie folks who approach Trumpian levels of hatred for Hillary, the armchair strategists who are still grousing about how little time she spent in Wisconsin or whatever, and most crucially in terms of the Kavanaugh fight, the #MeToo movers and shakers – Gillibrand, for instance – for whom Bill has become a total albatross. It is true that many still do wish that Hillary had been elected -- and given Trump, who can blame them? But to the degree that vengeance is motivating anti-Kavanaugh Democrats, it's vengeance on behalf of Merrick Garland -- a factor omitted from Kavanaugh's screed, presumably because he knows it reeks.
It’s Republicans who are obsessed with the Clintons, and no Republican more so than the one in the White House. Once it was clear, from early in his testimony, that Kavanaugh was going all-out wingnut, I found myself asking the same question about him that I am always asking about Trump: is he really a crazy person, or is he just playing one on T.V.?
"Does Kavanaugh really consider himself the victim of a purposeful partisan hit job which he truly believes that he can fight only by telling all these obvious, stupid, unnecessary lies?" I asked myself. "Or is he choosing to portray himself that way, so as to appeal to the one viewer who could pull the plug on his nomination but who, precisely because of this ranting and raving, won’t?"
And I came to the same conclusion for the judge as I do for the president: Either way, it’s catastrophic.
For very different reasons, Republicans and Democrats have both taken to observing that the Kavanaugh-Blasey Ford hearings failed to yield much in the way of new information. Not so. Remember back in the halcyon days of this confirmation fight, when even the most politically-neutral analysts wondered whether Kavanaugh’s expansive view of the power of the executive might hint at an over-willingness to dance to the tune called by this executive? Now we know.
Here's what else I know:
I know that in the unlikely event that Kavanaugh is withdrawn or voted down, another, perhaps even more conservative, figure will make it to the Supreme Court. I know that that scenario could very well do Democrats more harm than good in the mid-terms. And I know that notwithstanding those concerns, the question to answer is the question at hand.
Is Brett Kavanaugh fit to serve on the United States Supreme Court?
In counterintuitive honor of Labor Day, I am taking it easy and just cutting and pasting myself out of New York magazine...
The first, last and best reason to fight tooth and nail against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is that it is not rightly President Trump’s nomination to make.
Yes, Kavanaugh is very conservative and no, I don’t like that. Staring down the barrel of the next several decades under a Roberts-Thomas-Alito-Gorsuch-Kavanaugh court, I am just as likely as the next liberal to lose my cruelty-free lunch. But under normal circumstances, them’s the breaks: a president who holds very right-wing views (or who is beholden to those who do) gets to nominate judges who hold very right-wing views. The same, of course, goes for the left and whatever may remain of the center. Absurd and alarming though it may seem – and always does seem to the out-of-power party -- the ultimate law of our land is literally a function of who happens to die or retire when. Under normal circumstances, absent a manifest lack of qualifications or evidence of some serious personal failing, the Senate is, in my view, constitutionally bound to voice its concerns (advise), then pretty much swallow them with a vote to confirm (consent.)
Have you noticed? These are not normal circumstances, and for once, Donald Trump is not the main reason why. These are distinctly Mitch-McConnell-made circumstances; in other words, circumstances sewn solely out of one lamentably-powerful man’s impulse not merely to put party over country, but to put party leader (himself) over country. When Antonin Scalia had the temerity to leave this life well before Barack Obama left office, McConnell simply invented a constitutional loophole whereby the Senate need not vote on a Supreme Court nomination made by a president in the final year of office. He did this presumably because Merrick Garland, the nominee set forth by Obama, was so unassailable on the merits, at least some Republicans would end up voting for him. Then, of course, came the presidential election of the last man on earth who would put the outrageousness of McConnell’s action together with his own loss of the popular vote and conclude that a true compromise pick, if not Garland himself, was in order. Nope, Trump proceeded to pick Neil Gorsuch off a list of judges thrilling to his base and his base alone. And now, far from figuring that he has kept his promise to his pet third of the country and now maybe ought to think about some other people, he’s trying to do it again.
No. No. No no no no no no no no no no no.
Bear in mind, I count myself among the last of the civility Mohicans. Even – no, especially -- in the face of the verbal, physical and moral repugnancy that the President of the United States has seen fit to personify and promote, I just can’t wrap my mind around the proposition that the real trouble in this country today is insufficient personal nastiness. No matter how much Twitter may taunt me, I am just not going to applaud language or behavior in adults – whatever their politics -- that I would punish in my child. So, much as I might share the impulse, I hope that Democrats won’t bring their dogs to dump on Mitch McConnell’s lawn. But I absolutely insist that Democrats drain the sewage in which the Majority leader has submerged the Senate. This can only be done by reclaiming one, and only one, Supreme Court nomination from the right.
Thus, at its core, the fight against Brett Kavanaugh must not be about Brett Kavanaugh.
Nor, God forbid, must it be about adapting McConnell's constitutional contortions to Democratic purposes. Let's please, please forget these budding arguments to the effect that Trump should not be able to nominate in a congressional-election year, which lends retrospective credence to the completely credibility-free notion that Obama should not have been able to nominate in a presidential-election year. No! Back to the constitution before McConnell mangled it: Office holders can and must carry out their constitutionally prescribed duties until they leave their jobs, or at least until they've already been voted out of of their jobs. By that definition, Democrats were cheated of one Supreme Court nominee, by dint of which they deserve more leverage over the next Supreme Court nominee and hell will rightly rain on Republicans until they get it.
Look, I'm not wishing for Washington furies to unleash themselves on Kavanaugh. I have no doubt he is intellectually brilliant, personally nice and ideologically appealing to the people who should have the right to drive this decision. I also don’t care. The people who should have the right to drive this decision do not have it, because in 2016, they forfeited it. Having crumpled up, spat upon, and tossed the constitutional prerogative of one president straight out the window, they have vastly expanded the grounds upon which all Americans should feel compelled to scream like stuck pigs at their attempt to defend the constitutional prerogative of the next president. Thanks to ole Mitch, all bets, all norms, all gloves, are off. The president either chooses someone acceptable to both parties, or the opposition party must do everything possible to block his choice, whoever it is.
Now, will “everything possible” include successfully keeping Kavanaugh from being confirmed? I am guessing not. I am guessing that Kavanaugh’s past statements deeming Roe v. Wade to be “binding precedent” will probably give Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski the cover they need to vote “yes”. It further seems likely that some, if not all, of the embattled Democratic incumbents from South Dakota, West Virginia, Indiana and Missouri will end up doing the same. So, barring a miracle, “Associate Justice Kavanaugh” does seem to be a phrase soon to enter the lexicon.
Nonetheless, some miracles are worth making, and this is one. It is worth calling, marching, organizing, funding, fighting on every front to defend the principle that the ruling party in Congress does not get to flip off a signal power accorded a president it happens to dislike. It is worth being hit with supremely hypocritical charges of “playing dirty” – for it will be nothing of the kind.
Unless and until the Garland wrong is made right, fighting a Republican Supreme Court nominee for the sake of fighting a Republican Supreme Court nominee will be the very opposite of playing dirty. It will be scrubbing a shamefully soiled process clean.
Thank God it’s Friday.
This weekend, let’s all take a nice, refreshing break from seeing the North Korea summit as a disturbing victory for Kim Jong-un and reflect upon it as an arguably-even-more-disturbing victory for Xi Jinping.
Having long sought a suspension of U.S.-South Korea military exercises that President Trump has now opted to suspend, China has gotten exactly what it wants out of the summit.
Then again, by now, China must be used to getting exactly what it wants from the Trump administration.
The bitter ironies of the Trump era are like a bowl of potato chips: you can’t stop at just one. So I’m not sure where this ranks on the list of screeching, two-wheel U-turns made by the administration even as it is screaming “pedal to the metal, straight ahead!” But it’s got to be in the top five:
Having run in large part as a candidate who would halt the rise of demon China, Trump has done nothing but fuel it.
Just a few Crayola-clear examples:
Trump rejected the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was designed to check the economic power of China by organizing its neighbors into a counterweight.
Yes, Bernie Sanders opposed TPP, and in the end Hillary Clinton pretended she did too – but even had a Trump opponent taken the same tack as Trump on this one item, he or she would not have done so in disastrously China-boosting combination with so many other things.
Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accord – and governs, of course, at the behest of a group that would love to pull the U.S. out of the whole climate-change kit and caboodle.
Talk about irony. This has allowed China, a country infamous for the black skies of Beijing, to seize the lead on environmental issues. Wholly apart from the environment – and even from the growing economic activity generated by environmental concerns – this spells real geopolitical trouble. The Chinese regime perpetually strives for two aims: total authoritarian control at home, and prestige abroad. This has traditionally been a difficult balance for the Chinese to strike, but Team Trump has made it a whole lot easier. By ceding climate change, the U.S. has handed the Chinese the perfect opportunity to gain international status and influence without ceding a drop of domestic control.
Nor is environmental science the only science that matters here – not by a very long shot. For reasons too irrational to be called “reasons,” the U.S. has decided to treat brain drain as a national goal. Perpetually underfunding higher education; constantly placing long-term research at the mercy of short-term politics; hassling and harassing foreign-born scientists who want to study or work in the U.S. and thus hampering any collaborations they may undertake with their U.S. counterparts; demonizing intellectual elites as enemies of the average American rather than as catalysts for the employment of millions of average Americans…this country, as enthusiastically embodied by this administration, has chosen to make itself more and more hostile to science and scientists alike. Meanwhile, China is making itself more and more welcoming. Back in February, the National Science Board predicted that Chinese investment in research and development would overtake U.S. investment by the end of 2018. On June 3, the Washington Post ran an article entitled “China Increasingly Challenges American Dominance of Science,” in which a Spanish-born, Yale-trained researcher gave a simple explanation for why he is currently Beijing-based: “Right now, China is the best place in the world to start your own laboratory.” Meanwhile, the White House has yet to so much as hire a science advisor, though one shudders to imagine whom they’d get.
Resource-poor China didn’t need Trump to push it toward resource-rich Africa, where it has been building commercial and political relationships for years. But the president’s signature blend of racism and isolationism do not exactly point that continent toward an American alternative. In the 1980's, the U.S. treated South Africa as a key ally, to the point of treating apartheid far too leniently for far too long. Today, China is the number one trading partner of South Africa, toward which the Trump administration has recently taken two actions: slapped it with tariffs and threatened to cut aid.
Meanwhile, the greatest Sinophile on earth could not object to an American president who brought all the aggregate strength of this nation and its allies to bear against such Chinese practices as dumping, intellectual piracy, and unfair labor practices. Instead, this American president has turned his ire on Canada and the E.U.
With all this, why bother mentioning Ivanka’s patents or the bizarre coddling of ZTE?
I don’t know if there is such a thing as a Chinese jig. But I do know that these days, Xi Jinping is doing it.
Recently, the Columbia Journalism Review was kind enough to ask what had become of me. Here's my answer:
Enough about Samantha Bee. It’s Sally Field I want to scream at.
Bee, of course, called Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt” on her t.v. show and the world exploded. She apologized, and unlike Roseanne Barr, she has made no move toward taking the apology back. Thus, unless you’re in the limitless-laceration-of-liberals club, the great Samantha sturm und drang should be well over.
Field’s offense is much worse, yet it is not being treated as an offense at all. Field did not make a mistake by way of uttering a blindingly inappropriate aside in the course of a blisteringly accurate critique, as Bee did when slating Trump for posting a photo of herself coddling her own child as her father ordered asylum-seeking mothers to surrender theirs.
It was solely in relation to that slur and the outrage it had generated that Field deliberately chose to tweet the following:
I like Samantha Bee a lot, but she is flat wrong to call Ivanka a cunt. Cunts are powerful, beautiful, nurturing and honest.
Sickeningly, well over a quarter of a million people liked this remark on twitter.
In a week when the President of the United States is ignoring devastated Puerto Ricans, tariff-trashing baffled allies, and declaring himself king, it may seem ridiculously petty to bother calling out a tweet made by a celebrity with whose opinion of all things Trump I probably agree. But unless you share the right-wing dismissal of racial and sexual slander as plain old people-talk with which only politically-correct crybabies take issue, it’s anything but. One either regards the language of human degradation as a signal poison in our politics, or one doesn’t.
I can’t believe I have to spell this out, but I will spell it out – and just this once, with queasy regret, I will do so without the customary hyphenates and symbol-strings -- %&$*?! -- which serve to make eye-batting little whimsies of concepts that are brutally, boundlessly ugly:
Countries are not shitholes. Human beings are not animals. African-Americans are not apes. Kneeling football players are not SOB’s. Women are not cunts. And for crying out loud, no woman is too contemptible to be called a cunt.
Bee did not call Ivanka Trump a vagina or a uterus or a womb or something else that might be considered both a little anatomical for genteel discussion and “powerful, beautiful, nurturing and honest.” She called her a cunt, a term that exists purely to debase and dehumanize women. Sure, there are some academics who want to “reclaim” the word. Leaving aside the small matter that women have never claimed that word in the first place, I am perfectly prepared to let those academics go off and debate whether women gain power by speaking the language of misogyny. (Quick answer: They don’t. But there’s a seminar for everything.) I am also aware that there must be a place in the realms of art, entertainment and constitutionally-protected speech for every last word, including this one.
But if and as such academic and artistic expressions cross into the political conversation, which requires at least a basic level of respect for the dignity of all involved, they do become toxic.
So, for purposes of that political discussion, let’s just keep “cunt” locked in a little taboo-box, shall we?
Let’s at least consider the full implications of letting it out.
I do not have time left in this life to count the ways in which I object to the philosophies of Ben Carson and Clarence Thomas. Is it now all right, in the course of expressing those objections, to call them “niggers?" Or, to follow Field's logic, to assert that they are not even good enough be called niggers?
God, I hope not.
Given the degree to which the Trump administration is willing to throw LGBT people under every bus that passes by, I am appalled to read that Peter Thiel’s support for the president has simply turned to a “souring” that is “rumored,” rather than a disavowal that is deafening. Yet, would it not constitute a slur against all gay people to refer to him as a “faggot?”
God, I hope so.
No mother takes her prepubescent daughter aside and says, “now, honey, this may feel embarrassing for you to talk about right now, but it’s actually a source of pride: you have breasts, you have ovaries, and you have a cunt. Nurture it well.”
Certainly, no woman I can imagine enjoys being told that she is a cunt, as if that is a wondrous thing to be called.
And the noun is just the half of it. The verb is offensive too – something that ought to be painfully well understood by a woman who has kept on keepin’ on from Gidget to Sybil to Norma Rae to Mary Todd Lincoln, with the Flying Nun thrown in for good measure. Surely no one can know better than this feminist survivor of decades in Hollywood how hard it has been -- and how hard it remains-- for women to get the distinction through the thick skull of society: Women have breasts and legs and rear ends and reproductive organs. We are people.
This leaves us with the middle-schooler line of defense: Trump fanatics do it.
Yes, the reasoning goes, people whom we regard as hateful, destructive, ignorant and crazy tweet and post and cheer at rallies for and adorn their caps, tee-shirts, cars and coffee mugs with every vile, vicious, racist, sexist, homophobic slur imaginable and unimaginable. So we can do it, too.
Stop. Just stop. That is not beating Donald Trump. It is becoming him.
Don’t get me wrong. In my very strong opinion, Ivanka Trump is a complicit, craven, cowardly, probably-criminal creature of catastrophically cataclysmic corruption. But she is not a cunt, let alone some female life-form unworthy of the term.
No one is.
Hell seems to be making a habit of freezing over in Ireland.
On May 25, still fairly fresh from becoming, in 2015, the first country to legalize gay marriage by referendum, the overwhelmingly-Catholic nation voted roughly two-to-one to repeal the Eighth Amendment, the 1983 constitutional provision which bans abortion.
If that lopsided result came as a surprise, the reactions to it have not. Reproductive-rights activists are rejoicing. Anti-abortion activists are mourning. And, as usual when it comes to this issue, I am weaving back and forth between the two. I am willing to bet that many of those who voted in Ireland – where I lived from 2007 to 2015 – have been doing the same. Landslide or not, I doubt that the Irish people have suddenly fallen in love with abortion. Rather, they’ve come to know and loathe the consequences of outlawing it.
In this, they are treading a morality-reality line that, I think, millions of Americans are treading too, and that American activists on both sides need to consider if the U.S. is ever to achieve any measure of peace with this issue.
As it happens, it was through living in Ireland that I achieved some measure of peace with it myself.
Emotionally, morally, culturally, and instinctively, I have always been pro-life. Yet, had I voted in Ireland, I would absolutely have voted “yes” to repealing that ban. There is nothing like living in a foreign country that forbids abortion to make a fence-sitter come down on the side of permitting it back home.
This is not because I have come to believe that abortion is a health care issue like any other. With all due respect to my many pro-choice friends who consider this whole issue a no-brainer, I will never come around to seeing abortion as the moral equivalent of a mammogram or colonoscopy.
Nor can I manage the easy, “you-say-potato-I-say-potahto” sort of division between personal belief and public policy position that seems to come so easily to many others. To believe that human fetuses are human beings is to find it impossible to be A-OK with the notion that their moms have the absolute right to kill them. That’s not idiocy or misogyny. It’s rationality.
This, of course, leads to the question of how to allow for the fact that any pluralistic society is going to feature a variety of views as to when human life begins – a question that I am going to lay aside, and not just because there is no good answer to it. For me – and, I am willing to bet, for plenty of Irish “yes” voters – the issue of legalizing abortion or not comes down to a much simpler formulation:
If abortion kills people, banning abortion kills more people.
Many analysts have taken the Irish referendum as a sign that the power of Catholic church is on the decline in Irish society, while the power of women is on the rise. Both are undoubtedly true. But don’t forget a third, more prosaic factor: unlike their American cousins, the Irish have not been imagining, praying over, or speculating about this ban. They have been living with it. They have seen for themselves that it has been a disaster.
For decades now, the pro-choice movement has set forth two basic arguments: One, regarding abortion and everything else, women have the ultimate right to determine what they do with “their own bodies.” And two, as a strictly practical matter, the outlawing of abortion not only fails to curtail the practice, but both causes and correlates with all kinds of other problems.
No matter how one feels about the first proposition, Ireland has turned out to be Exhibit A that Team Choice is absolutely right about the second.
First, when abortion is illegal, women can and do die for no other reason than that abortion is illegal. This is not a pro-choice scare tactic. It is the truth – and not only in terms of those women who may feel driven to "back-alley" terminations. The case of Salvita Halappanavar seared the soul of Ireland, and it bloody well should roil the conscience of the world.
Halappanavar was a 31-year-old Indian-born dentist who had emigrated to Galway with her husband and small child. In 2012, some four months into her second pregnancy, she felt horrible back pain and sought help at University Hospital Galway, where she was told that she was in the process of having a miscarriage. She was also told that even though the pregnancy was hopeless, it could not be terminated so long as a fetal heartbeat could be detected. Her family begged for an abortion, but to no avail: the well-trained, well-meaning medical personnel, working in a modern, Western hospital, were not willing to risk jail to save her. Seven days later, Halappanavar died of an utterly preventable blood infection – strictly and solely because it was illegal to prioritize her life over that of a child who had no chance of being born.
This case was singularly appalling. Equally compelling, in the aggregate, were the numerous real stories told by real people of the real danger into which this ban had placed real women: the legal and logistical hurdles that women have had to jump through in order to end once-welcomed pregnancies that had turned on them. Contrary to pro-life lore, these were not people who were looking for some easy way out of some fetal unpleasantness. They were wanted-to-be parents searching for the safest, least-dreadful resolution to one tragic revelation or another, and being obliged to wait for the lawyers to weigh in on if, when and how that resolution could be effectuated.
Clearly, whenever that scenario played out in Ireland, it was awful. If it were to play out in the U.S. it would also be ironic. It is, after all, the GOP that champions the pro-life cause. And it is a GOP article of faith that government interference automatically equals catastrophe. Whether the context is the smallest business or the biggest idea, Republicans reflexively (and sometimes accurately) equate government involvement with sloth, delay, ineptitude, illogic. Yet, when it comes to pregnant women who may find themselves in dire straits, these same folks seem to have total faith that the government is suddenly going to become the soul of humane efficiency. Isn’t that odd?
Second, even embracing the perspective that abortion is a pure, straight-up evil, the fact remains that banning abortion does not, in many cases, extinguish that evil. It offshores it. The Irish people are well acquainted with the fact that should one of their countrywomen face a pregnancy that is merely unwanted, as opposed to traumatic, she does not say “oh, that’s illegal, I guess I need to have the child and then either learn to love my little boo-boo or arrange an adoption.” She hops over to the U.K.
Likewise, in the U.S., should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade and thus strip abortion of its constitutionally-protected status, unhappily-pregnant women would travel to the states that still allowed abortion, and failing that, to Mexico, Canada, and any number of other countries. Thus, banning abortion would not end the slaughter of innocents, as my pro-life friends and family might put it. It would simply ensure that the slaughter occurred someplace else.
Of course, one can argue that shooing murder abroad is better than tolerating it at home. But it doesn’t sound quite so heroic, does it?
Any abortion ban effectively applies only to those women who lack the wherewithal to skirt it: namely, the poor and those whose particular circumstances, from physical infirmity to abusive partners, might otherwise preclude them from traveling. In other words, the less able the woman to cope with the arrival of an unwanted child, the greater the odds that she would be forced to do just that.
Now, in theory, a pro-life person could and would argue that it is worth saving the lives of any unborn children, whatever the circumstances of their availability to be saved; and that it is an especial disgrace to tolerate the killing of children on the grounds that they would be economically inconvenient or socially undesirable.
If remotely serious about ushering that theory into practice, however, one would have to establish – or at the very least advocate for -- a society replete with caring, costly and sophisticated supports for such children and their parents.
Here, the cases of Ireland and the U.S. diverge.
Ireland is by no means a utopia for struggling mothers and children. But there is a general consensus in favor of providing for them. By bizarre contrast, the American pro-life movement has tethered itself to an ideology that prides itself on providing for nobody.
I’m not accusing Republicans of cruelty, but simply citing their philosophy: the less government, the fewer social programs, and above all, the lower taxes, the better. That’s a perfectly valid world view – until it is twinned with a policy of obliging over half a million women annually to bear children they do not want but for whom they will be left to fend, at which point it becomes too weird for words.
Just last year, in the original version of their tax bill, the Republicans in Congress actually tried to cut the tax credit for adoption. How can anyone possibly believe that, if their pro-life dreams come true, they are going to find additional billions for the fetuses (and indeed zygotes, and fertilized-but-yet-to-be-implanted eggs) they have required to become children?
Now customarily comes the cry that it isn’t the cold, hard government that would be called upon to care for such children. It’s warm, cuddly families and churches and charities….all of which would require even more massive government funding and tax-empting than they receive now.
Let me emphasize: I certainly know pro-life people who really walk their talk; who don’t just work against abortion, but for life. These people are heroes and angels and workhorses rolled into one. They don’t merely donate diapers and cribs, but truly help pregnant women in crisis, sometimes to the point of fostering or adopting their children, who might well be drug addicted or developmentally challenged. The question isn’t whether such people exist. It’s where to find hundreds of thousands more of them every single year.
Given all of the above, it is impossible to square a genuinely pro-life moral position with any existent political option. Here’s the closest I can get:
I will never believe in abortion.
In part for that very reason, I believe in widely-accessible birth control and full, frank sex education from an appropriate age, which these days is about four.
For that matter, I believe in plain old education. After years of spouting statistics that show the clear connection between higher levels of education and lower rates of poverty, mother-and-child mortality and all kinds of other horrors around the globe, I now find it sadly urgent to reassert that connection at home.
I believe in publicly funded health care, day care, pre-k, and all that Scandinavian-socialist-sounding stuff that conservatives equate with tyranny, but that struggling families often equate with the difference between doing OK and drowning.
The current crop of Republicans believe in none of this.
Understand, I say “current crop” because I know that there are some moderates, feminists, libertarians and pragmatists still standing in the GOP, and the last thing I want to do is knock them down. But as for the right-wing ideologues who now control the party: their "plan" is to guarantee an increase in the number of unwanted pregnancies and then require that those pregnancies result in children, whom they will later vilify for failing to pull themselves up by bootstraps that these same jokers are working hard to abolish.
Sometimes, I put all that together, and it makes me want to call the current crop of Republicans a lot of things.
“Pro-life” is not one of them.