Friday, June 12, 2020

Something to Know - 12 June

Today - two for the price of one:

Paul Krugman
By Paul Krugman
Opinion Columnist
• June 11, 2020

What is Braxton Bragg to Donald Trump, or Trump to Braxton Bragg?

It was always strange (and outrageous) to have U.S. military bases named for traitors — for Confederate generals who rebelled against the Union to defend slavery. And military leaders seem willing to change those bases' names. But Trump says no.

Why would he take that position at a time when white Americans finally seem to be acknowledging the injustice African-Americans routinely face, leading to surging public support for Black Lives Matter? The smart thing, surely, would be to emulate much of corporate America: Make a few cheap gestures on behalf of social justice while changing nothing fundamental. I mean, even NASCAR has announced that it will ban the Confederate flag at events. And renaming military bases would be very cheap.

But Trump evidently can't bring himself to make even a symbolic show of sympathy. And trying to understand his incapacity helps explain what Trumpism — and, indeed, modern conservatism as a whole — is all about.

Trump himself says that it's about honoring "a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom." Really?

These bases honor men who stood for slavery, the opposite of freedom; and as it happens, two of the biggest bases are named for generals famed not for victories but for defeats. Bragg, whose army suffered an epic rout at Chattanooga, was one of the Civil War's worst-regarded generals. John Bell Hood squandered his men's lives in futile attacks at Atlanta and Franklin, then led what was left of his army to annihilation at Nashville.

Trump obviously doesn't know about any of that. But why should a guy who grew up in Queens care about Confederate tradition in the first place?

The answer is that Trump, and most of his party, are reactionaries. That is, as the political theorist Corey Robin puts it, they are motivated above all by "a desire to resist the liberation of marginal or powerless people." And Confederate iconography has become a symbol of reaction in America.

That's why some Republicans in Maine objected to making a song about the 20th Maine — the volunteer regiment whose heroic defense of Little Round Top played a crucial role in the battle of Gettysburg — the state ballad. It was offensive, they said, to "say that we're any better than the South was." Um, the South was defending slavery.

The reactionary impulse also explains, I believe, why some privileged white men, from the editor of the influential Journal of Political Economy to the (now former) C.E.O. of CrossFit, have been unable to control self-destructive outbursts attacking the Black Lives Matter protests.

After all, from a reactionary's point of view the past three weeks have been a nightmare. Not only are marginal people who are supposed to know their place standing up for justice, they're overwhelmingly winning the battle for public opinion. That's not how things are supposed to work!

One response to this reactionary's nightmare has been denial. Trump keeps tweeting "LAW & ORDER!" as if saying the magic phrase enough times will turn the clock back to 1968. The Trump campaign responded to an unfavorable CNN poll, not by reconsidering its message, but by demanding that the network retract the poll and apologize.

Another response has been wild conspiracy theorizing. On the right, it's a given that mass popular demonstrations have been orchestrated by antifa radicals, though there's not a shred of evidence to that effect. And Trump, famously, suggested that a 75-year-old man knocked over by the police — we've all seen the video of him bleeding out on the sidewalk — was an antifa provocateur who somehow engineered his own assault.

Most frightening, however, has been the palpable desire of powerful figures on the right — not just Trump — to find a way to meet Black Lives Matter protests with state violence.

On any rational assessment, it never made any sense to demand a military response to overwhelmingly peaceful protests marred by only a small amount of opportunistic looting. Do right-wingers believe their own claims that we're beset by "mobs of violent cretins"? I doubt it.

For reactionaries, however, the horror of the situation isn't the possibility that protests might turn violent. It's the fact that the protests are happening at all.

And that's why people like Trump and Tom Cotton have been so eager to send in the military. They aren't concerned about keeping the peace; if that mattered to them, they would have reacted harshly to the spectacle of armed right-wingers threatening Michigan's State Legislature. Instead, Trump tweeted his support.

No, America's reactionaries don't want law and order; they want an excuse to crush social justice protests with a mailed fist.

For the moment, at least, America's reactionaries aren't getting their wish. Governors, mayors and, not least, the military have made it clear that they want no part of a brutal crackdown.

But don't count the reactionaries out. They remain extremely dangerous and will become more dangerous if, as seems increasingly likely, Trump finds himself staring at the prospect of electoral defeat.

Considering that the stock market's Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 1,862 points today, and that General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly apologized for permitting himself to be used in Trump's photo-op last week, the story I'm going to start with tonight might seem an odd one to choose.

Today, the chair of the Republican National Committee Ronna McDaniel (who is a fervent Trump supporter despite the fact she is Utah Senator Mitt Romney's niece) announced that Trump will accept the Republican nomination not in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the Republican National Convention has been planned, but in Jacksonville, Florida.

I'm leading with this move because it is incredibly revealing. The public story is that Trump has changed the plan just 77 days before the convention because North Carolina's Democratic governor Roy Cooper refuses to guarantee that the convention center can operate at full capacity despite the coronavirus pandemic. But today the Trump campaign illustrated that it is not, in fact, immune to pandemic fears. In order to register for Trump's June 19 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where coronavirus infections are rising, attendees have to agree not to sue Trump's campaign or the venue, "or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers," if they contract Covid-19.

Moving Trump's speech to Florida might well not result in more attendees, but it should help him shore up support in the state, which has been faltering. He needs to win Florida to win the 2020 election.

Because the RNC signed a contract to meet in Charlotte, it has to hold at least some of the convention there. Today the executive committee agreed to slash all the official business of the party. One of the things it cut was writing a 2020 party platform, the document that explains to voters what the party will try to accomplish if it wins power. Trump will run on the exact same platform he ran on in 2016. It is so out of date it actually contains language attacking "the president," because in 2016, the president was President Barack Obama.

The abandonment of writing a party platform, which is, after all, the central purpose of a political convention, seems a remarkable admission that Republican leaders either can't manage or can't be bothered with the basics of our political system. There had been fights in the White House as senior officials, led by Jared Kushner, kicked around the idea of turning the 58-page platform into a single note card of bullet points. Now it appears leaders have simply given up on adjusting party policies to today's issues.

Instead of making an argument for policy, the Republicans are simply backing Trump. (RNC national press secretary Mandi Merritt blamed the lack of a platform on North Carolina Governor Cooper, whose refusal to guarantee a fully populated convention center "left our members with no choice.")

Trump will give his acceptance speech in Jacksonville on August 27. The date is the sixtieth anniversary of a brutal attack on Black Jacksonville residents by white mobs brandishing baseball bats and ax handles, an event known as "Ax Handle Saturday."

The abandonment of our democratic political process in deference to Trump was also on full display today when the administration announced it would refuse to provide transparency for $511 billion in tax-payer backed loans awarded to 4.5 million businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program in the CARES coronavirus relief bill. Back in March, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin negotiated a deal with Congress for congressional oversight of the spending in that bill, without which congressional Democrats would not agree to it.

There were supposed to be three bodies overseeing the $2 trillion law. The first was a Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery, the inelegantly named "SIGPR." The second was the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, made up of inspectors general from the agencies involved in the bill. It was placed under the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, which is sort of the oversight team of government inspectors general themselves. The third was a congressional oversight commission.

But once the deal was cut, the president issued a signing statement saying that the oversight provisions violated the separation of powers by intruding on the rights of the president.

Democrats cried foul. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote to Mnuchin insisting that he defend the deal. "Given the substantial amount of taxpayer funds provided to address the economic impact of the coronavirus, and the considerable discretion you asked for," they wrote, "Congress took special care" in creating oversight, and that oversight was "critical" to their support for the measure.

There is currently no SIGPR (I just had to work that horrible acronym in), although Trump did make a nomination that is currently before the Senate: he nominated Brian Miller, one of his own lawyers. Trump's removal of Glenn Fine as the acting Department of Defense IG meant that Fine, who had been selected as chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, had to step down. Fine, whose firing drew a rare rebuke from former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who called him "a public servant in the finest tradition of honest, competent governance," resigned from the DOD entirely on June 1.

So the weight of oversight has fallen to the congressional committee, and the government had indicated it would release detailed loan information to it. But today, Mnuchin said that information about the loans, which infamously went to large businesses and wealthy organizations at first (many later returned the loans) is "proprietary" and "confidential."

Steve Ellis, president of the nonpartisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense, told reporter Aaron Gregg of the Washington Post: "Clearly, this is meant to prevent some entities from being embarrassed, or being revealed…. Nobody forced them to take the money, and it was already set up so that they could return it with no questions asked. And they were told that this information would be made public when they applied for the loan."

The conflict between our governmental system and the president is becoming clearer every day. That clarity is solidifying popular opposition to the administration and thus putting Republican leaders into a tough spot. Today, Trump defended his administration's attacks on peaceful protesters over the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of a police officer, and announced he is finalizing an executive order to encourage police to use "force with compassion." Trump's handling of the protests is unpopular, and Republican lawmakers who don't want to alienate either pro-Trump or anti-Trump voters are keeping their heads down.

But today some Republican Senators began to distance themselves from him. In the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) offered an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill calling for the removal of names of Confederate leaders from all military assets-- bases, aircrafts, ships, and so on—within three years. The amendment passed the Republican-dominated committee with some Republicans joining the Democrats. Trump has publicly opposed the amendment to this important bill, but stripping it out at this point will be awkward for Republicans.

So who's going to blink first?






Shrinking platform:



signing statement:



executive order:


armed services:



Donald Trump is like a drunk driver careening down
the road of Dystopia while we should work to elect Joe Biden as our designated driver.

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