We’re Still in Nixonland: 20 theses about the state of politics today

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Here’s my summary of these weeks that were.

Merrick Garland

1. President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland as the replacement to Antonin Scalia was accompanied by this tweet from the White House.

Last Sunday I said we were still in Reaganland. Now I think we’re still in Nixonland.

2. That tweet was no errant message. When it comes to the rights of criminal defendants, Garland is no judicial liberal:

The former prosecutor also has a relatively conservative record on criminal justice. A 2010 examination of his decisions by SCOTUSBlog’s Tom Goldstein determined that “Judge Garland rarely votes in favor of criminal defendants’ appeals of their convictions.” Goldstein “identified only eight such published rulings,” in addition to seven where “he voted to reverse the defendant’s sentence in whole or in part, or to permit the defendant to raise a argument relating to sentencing on remand,” during the 13 years Garland had then spent on the DC Circuit.

3. Speaking of Garland’s position on criminal rights, Daniel Denvir reports that 41% of Obama’s nominees to the federal bench have been prosecutors. That stat comes from this eye-opening report from the Alliance for Justice, which claims that 86% of Obama’s appointees to the bench have been corporate attorneys or prosecutors. Far fewer of his appointments have been public defenders, at the state or federal level, or lawyers for non-profits and related activities.

While Obama has done an admirable job of remaking the bench in terms of racial and gender diversity, the professional backgrounds and experiences of his appointees boil down to defending capital and the carceral state.

4. Apparently the White House never notified civil rights organizations of Obama’s decision to nominate Garland. Those organizations are now understandably concerned.

I read that discontent as a preview of what will happen if Clinton wins the nomination and is elected in November. As different groups who have not done particularly well under the neoliberal Democrats start regaining a sense of their own power and, as a result, start feeling, in a deep way, how little they’ve gotten from the Democratic Party these last several decades, the tension between those groups and the Party leadership will grow.

The contest between Clinton and Sanders has been extraordinarily productive for all groups, whether they support Clinton or not, because it’s given people a taste of what they can do and a clarifying sense of what they haven’t got.

We’re heading for a showdown; Sanders is just one of many signs of a growing discontent. This is why, no matter what happens in this campaign, I’m actually hopeful about the future.

5. There’s lots of speculation about Obama’s strategy with the Garland nomination. This one takes us into the realm of 11-, maybe 15-, dimensional chess.

There are two types of political people in this world. One types finds the games and strategies set out in the speculation above to be exhilarating and exciting. The other finds them enervating and exhausting. 

The first types includes all those people who, once upon a time, would whisper, excitedly, to each other about all the goings on at court: What did the king’s advisor do today? What did the queen’s lady say yesterday? Why was that duke wearing that robe? What did the Earl of Null mean when he said whatever nothing he said?

6. Speaking of the people who speak of strategy, Paul Waldman lays out, really well, a case I’ve been making for weeks.

If you want to understand the particular spirit of lawlessness, the contempt for rules and norms, that is Donald Trump, you have to go back to the illegitimacy of the 2000 election, the GOP turn to the filibuster-proof majority as the operating rule of congressional action, and now the Republicans’ declaration that they simply won’t vote on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, whoever it may be. (I’d add the Iraq War as part of this buildup toward lawlessness.)

The only conclusion that Waldman doesn’t draw is that Obama’s defenders and supporters are now playing into this game. Almost all of the discussion around the Garland nomination accepts as an uncontested, uncontroversial premise that the Republicans will not vote on this candidate. The only question up for grabs is whether Obama has outsmarted them, either forcing them to vote on Garland after November or perhaps then, after November, pulling the Garland nomination in anticipation of whoever the Democratic victor is, backing them into electoral defeats, and so on.

In all the analysis of the 8, 12, 20-dimensional chess, no one seems to have noticed that the first move—simply refusing, in defiance of all precedent and constitutional norms, to consider a nomination of a sitting president—has been instantiated as a legitimate mode of governance.

7. And speaking of strategy, what is with this strategy anyway? A lot of people think Obama is now trying to make the GOP look terrible so that all those Republican senators who are up for election in November will be made more vulnerable. 

Let’s set aside the obvious problems with this strategy: it will turn the entire nomination process into nothing but a pure procedural squabble (“The Constitution requires you to vote on the nominee! “No it doesn’t!” “Yes it does!”) sauced by a heavy dollop of horserace commentary (“This will be help the Democrats in November.” “No, it won’t.” “Yes, it will.”)

The bigger problem is: there doesn’t seem to be much precedent in American electoral history for a candidate to federal office being defeated b/c of how he or she voted (or didn’t vote) on a Supreme Court nomination. There is the precedent of the Anita Hill hearings, in which a number of women were elected to Congress because the men in the institution had demonstrated that they just didn’t get it. But that seems slightly different to me; it had little to do with how a specific legislator voted on Thomas’s nomination.

What To Do About Donald Trump?

8. The big question now on the table is how to stop Donald Trump. Last Friday, protesters in Chicago offered one way (this is the best reporting I’ve seen on that event). Which seems to have scandalized centrist commentators like Damon Linker.  

Hmm. If stopping Trump only feeds a fire that will grow bigger, are we supposed to…not stop Trump? Because that’ll stop him? I’ll admit that’s a turn or two of the dialectic that I hadn’t quite anticipated.

Ross Douthat and David Brooks—and a lot of other people in the media—have a different way: the Republican Party elders should deny or ignore the will of Republican Party voters at the convention and—Douthat is the most explicit about this—appoint someone else.

There you have it: Last Friday’s protesters in Chicago are a threat to democracy; Douthat’s and Brooks’s recommendation—the first larded with references to Coriolanus and Sullla, the second to Psalms—are an example of patrician wisdom and civic virtue.

Lesson for the Left: quote the classics more.

9. I have to admit, though, that I do love it when Douthat gets all juiced up like this, exciting himself with the notion of party elders and delegates gathering together and, out of their grave sense of duty, denying the nomination to the man who got the most votes .

After ginning himself up with an ancient draught—Coriolanus! Sulla!—Douthat says that fighting demagoguery is why we have anti-democratic institutions such as complex convention rules, party elders, and the like. What’s a Burkean elite for if not to take away from the masses their toys?

What makes it echt-Douthat is the longing, the aching: he so pines for a responsible, dutiful, do-the-hard-thing ruling class that he seriously allows himself to imagine an American political party, in 2016, in full view of the world, willfully defying the mandate of its own voters. He truly imagines the party of Mammon morphing into the party of Montesquieu.

And somehow coming out the better for it. As opposed to the more obvious result: being thoroughly repudiated by their own disgusted voters and tossed into the dustbin of history.

Sure, says Douthat, the Republicans might lose the election, sure, there will be a period of extended reflection and difficult soul-searching. But at the end of the day, the party will begin its “long hard climb back up to unity and health.”

It being America, there’s always a happy ending. Such are the fantasies of our responsible conservative pundits: one part Roman tragedy, four parts pure kitsch.

10. According to the New York Times:

Donald J. Trump warned of “riots” around the Republican National Convention should he fall slightly short of the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination and the party moves to select another candidate.

I’ve been pushing the 1972 election parallel, with Trump cast as McGovern. Now I’ll push the 1968 election parallel, with the RNC convention this summer a site of mass disorder and disruption—not between the left and the right but between the right and the right—not unlike the chaos you saw in Chicago in 1968 (though probably less violent).

And for people pining for a “responsible” Republican Party?

First, tell me who that would be? Ted Cruz? Mitt Romney? George W. Bush? You want a reprise of the Iraq War? The creation of trillion-dollar debt that the Democrats then reduce by making more cuts in programs? No thank you.

But, second: Why? This convention may be the best thing that ever happened. Let the Republican Party destroy itself. Let them cry, “The whole world is watching!” Because the whole world will be. And recoiling in horror.

11. It strikes me that one of the reasons Trump can be made to look so bad in all these protests against him—and should the Republican Party convention descend into chaos because of him—has to do with Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter seems to have had some positive effects on public opinion about the persistence of racism and the inability of African Americans to be treated fairly. And by putting such a relentless and unforgiving spotlight on police and para-police brutality, Black Lives Matter has effectively transferred the valence of violence and lawlessness to the traditional forces of law and order.

We got a premonition of this in New York two Decembers ago, when Patrick Lynch and the NYPBA tried to use the murder of two cops by a lone gunman in order to go after people protesting the acquittal of the cop in the Eric Garner murder. Despite my fears of a “Weimar vibe,” and that of many others, the police failed spectacularly to turn the event to their favor.

Perhaps Trump is seen by some, many, as the heir and ally of Darren Wilson, of the killers of Freddie Gray, of freelancers like George Zimmerman, and of all the dispensers—both in the state and among its subcontractors—of gratuitous violence and terror. Which makes parallels to the violence and disruption of the Sixties and Seventies relevant, but perhaps for the opposite reason that most people think: it will be Trump who is cast in the role of the dangerous and violent radical.

12. This video, prepared by a Republican PAC that wants to stop Trump, is just a tiny flavor of what’s coming at Donald Trump in a general election campaign. It features women reading out the horrible things Trump has said about women. It’s something that any Democratic candidate could use effectively against Trump in November.

No one should be complacent, but to think Trump’s brand of vile garbage can win in an electorate in which the majority of voters are women—women with sons, fathers, brothers, and male friends—is to imagine a world different from the one we have.

13. For all the fear and loathing of Donald Trump as some kind of impresario of power, captivating the mind of the Republican electorate, if not the American electorate as a whole, it’s important to remember that as of the mid-March moment in the 2012 GOP race, Mitt Romney had won 56% of the delegates. Trump, by contrast, has only won 44% of the delegates. And don’t forget, Romney was fighting in a four-person race, which began as a seven-person race.

There is a great deal of justifiable concern about Trump, but he seems to possess an extra frisson for commentators. His powers are inexplicably magnified by the notion that he somehow speaks for the deep dark id of The American People, all polls and votes to the contrary. The truth may be altogether less exciting: mediocre Mitt captured more Republican hearts and minds than the terrible Trump ever will.

14. There is a silent majority in this country. And it hates Trump. You heard it here first.

Democrats and the Election

15. Ryan Lizza had a solidly reported piece in The New Yorker about the divide between Bernie and Hillary voters. At the end, Lizza reports that a fair number of establishment Democrats are quietly concerned about all the investigations of Clinton, and what that could portend for the general election. “It is unusual for a presumptive nominee and some of her current and former aides to be under investigation by the F.B.I.,” he writes. Lizza reports that Sanders, interestingly enough, has pretty much refused to go after her on that count: in part because he realizes the long game here is not to win against Clinton on personal grounds (i.e., she’s untrustworthy) but to win against her on political grounds: she represents neoliberalism. Anyway, behind the scenes, there’s a lot of anxiety about Clinton the candidate among non-Sanders elites.

16. Seeking to appeal to a constituency that extends from Damon Linker to Damon Linker, Obama blamed both sides at the Trump rally in Chicago Friday night:

Mr. Obama did not mention Mr. Trump by name, but he criticized the protesters who have interrupted the candidate’s campaign events and the violent response from Mr. Trump’s supporters….Mr. Obama said the actions of both sides damaged American politics and the nation’s reputation around the world.”

17. In the course of telling wealthy donors in Texas that the Democratic Party should rally around Hillary Clinton, Obama apparently compared Bernie Sanders to George W. Bush.

Mr. Obama acknowledged that Mrs. Clinton was perceived to have weaknesses as a candidate, and that some Democrats did not view her as authentic.

But he played down the importance of authenticity, noting that President George W. Bush — whose record he ran aggressively against in 2008 — was once praised for his authenticity.

It’s comments like these that make me skeptical of people who say Obama would be so much more progressive—Sanders-like!—were it not for the Republicans in Congress.

A lot of people don’t realize just how deeply ingrained is the suspicion, among people like Obama, of any kind of politics that strays from a tightly defined centrist consensus.

The notion that Obama came in to office wanting big radical changes and then was contained by an obstructionist GOP overlooks just how aware he has been, from a fairly early moment in his career, of the power of the right in America. That awareness has so structured, so contained, his thinking—morally, politically, ideologically—that it makes little sense to try and differentiate what’s strategic from what’s substantive in his thought, what’s a tactical dodge from what is a deep commitment. All of his ideas grew, like a vine, around that thick trunk.

The ease with which he compares Sanders to George W. Bush reflects that seamless combination of strategy and substance: Sanders and Bush are dangerous, unthinking, disruptive, ideological, identical.

18. Doug Henwood has been telling me forever that mainstream liberals and Democrats love to have the likes of a Donald Trump around because it lends to their own limited vision a kind of moral and strategic grandeur: all their triangulation and sail-trimming and timidity get suddenly repackaged as The Thing That Stands Between You and Barbarism. (Now that I think about it, this is what I said about Montesquieu—the first liberal, according to Judith Shklar—in my book on fear. But I digress.) I’m beginning to think Doug’s right. (I know, I’m slow on these things.)

And that may be, in the end, the real reason Bernie Sanders unsettles so many in the Democratic establishment: not only does he threaten some hardcore material interests and long-standing assumptions, but he’s also forcing liberals and Democrats to learn how to play a different game. One in which they don’t have one but two enemies, one in which they can’t easily package themselves as the party of all that is good. That was the game, incidentally, that liberals first learned how to play—were forced to learn how to play—in early nineteenth-century France. If that history is any precedent, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

19. Richard Rorty—the little bit of him I could understand—said that when you keep finding yourself at the end of the same cul-de-sac, philosophically speaking, it’s time to get yourself a new philosophy, a new vocabulary. That was philosophical pragmatism. Maybe it’s time we applied that to the political realm.

20. As Bonnie Honig said of this video: “Why Bernie should stay in the race. Watch to the end.” Or till about the 40-second mark.


  1. Bill Michtom March 19, 2016 at 3:48 am | #

    “If you want to understand the particular spirit of lawlessness, the contempt for rules and norms, that is Donald Trump, you have to go back to the illegitimacy of the 2000 election.”

    Actually, you have to go back to the pardon of Richard Nixon by Gerald Ford. Read this excerpt from Glenn Greenwald’s With Liberty and Justice for Some: How Ford’s treatment of Nixon launched a new era of elite immunity — and pervasive, limitless corruption

  2. aab March 19, 2016 at 3:53 am | #

    I should understand this reference, but I don’t. Any way you can elaborate?

    “That was the game, incidentally, that liberals first learned how to play—were forced to learn how to play—in early nineteenth-century France. If that history is any precedent, we’re in for a bumpy ride.”

    Do you mean in opposition to Napoleon?

    • sufferinsuccotash, legitimate March 21, 2016 at 4:07 pm | #

      As I understand it, the reference is to the moderate juste milieu type of liberalism symbolized by Benjamin Constant which favored the French Revolution during its early “moderate” phase, up to the Reign of Terror. The heyday of this brand of bourgeois liberalism was during the Restoration and July monarchies (1815-1848), during which it could represent itself as the responsible alternative to Reaction (Charles X) and Radicalism (advocates of universal suffrage). The problem was that seemed to be liberal in 1815 was looking pretty conservative by 1848, with Guizot advising unenfranchised people to “get rich, then you can vote.”

  3. foppejan2 March 19, 2016 at 4:27 am | #

    Actually, I’m mostly watching with a pathological interest, though I’m grateful that others are doing the separating wheat & chaff for me. 🙂

    Having said that, this election keeps reminding me of something Graeber wrote in a short-ish essay written sort-of-apropos of Bush’s reelection, called Army of Altruists (printed in Revolutions in Reverse). Quoting at some length for context. (He of course wrote it with the Kerry/Bush distinction in mind, but it seems to me that it can fairly easily extended.)

    America, of course, continues to see itself as a land of opportunity, and certainly from the perspective of an immigrant from Haiti or Bangladesh it is. But America has always been a country built on the promise of unlimited upward mobility. The working-class condition has been traditionally seen as a way station, as something one’s family passes through on the road to something else. Abraham Lincoln used to stress that what made American democracy possible was the absence of a class of permanent wage laborers. In Lincoln’s day, the ideal was that wage laborers would eventually save up enough money to build a better life: if nothing else, to buy some land and become a homesteader on the frontier.

    The point is not how accurate this ideal was; the point is that most Americans have found the image plausible. Every time the road is perceived to be clogged, profound unrest ensues. The closing of the frontier led to bitter labor struggles, and over the course of the twentieth century, the steady and rapid expansion of the American university system could be seen as a kind of substitute. Particularly after World War II, huge resources were poured into expanding the higher education system, which grew extremely rapidly, and all this growth was promoted quite explicitly as a means of social mobility. This served during the Cold War as almost an implied social contract, not just offering a comfortable life to the working classes but holding out the chance that their children would not be working class themselves. The problem, of course, is that a higher education system cannot be expanded forever. At a certain point one ends up with a significant portion of the population unable to find work even remotely in line with their qualifications, who have every reason to be angry about their situation, and who also have access to the entire history of radical thought. By the late Sixties and early Seventies, the very point when the expansion of the university system hit a dead end, campuses were, predictably, exploding.
    What followed could be seen as a kind of settlement. Campus radicals were reabsorbed into the university but set to work largely at training children of the elite. As the cost of education has skyrocketed, financial aid has been cut back, and the prospect of social mobility through education–above all liberal arts education–has been rapidly diminished. The number of working-class students in major universities, which steadily grew until the Seventies, has now been declining for decades.

    Why do working-class Bush voters tend to resent intellectuals more than they do the rich? It seems to me that the answer is simple. They can imagine a scenario in which they might become rich but cannot possibly imagine one in which they, or any of their children, would become members of the intelligentsia. If you think about it, this is not an unreasonable assessment. A mechanic from Nebraska knows it is highly unlikely that his son or daughter will ever become an Enron executive. But it is possible. There is virtually no chance, however, that his child, no matter how talented, will ever become an international human-rights lawyer or a drama critic for the New York Times. Here we need to remember not just the changes in higher education but also the role of unpaid, or effectively unpaid, internships. It has become a fact of life in the United States that if one chooses a career for any reason other than the salary, for the first year or two one will not be paid. This is certainly true if one wishes to be involved in altruistic pursuits: say, to join the world of charities, or NGOs, or to become a political activist. But it is equally true if one wants to pursue values like Beauty or Truth: to become part of the world of books, or the art world, or an investigative reporter. The custom effectively seals off such a career for any poor student who actually does attain a liberal arts education. Such structures of exclusion had always existed, of course, especially at the top, but in recent decades fences have become fortresses.

    If that mechanic’s daughter wishes to pursue something higher, more noble, for a career, what options does she really have? Likely just two: She can seek employment at her local church, which is hard to get. Or she can join the army.

    This is, of course, the secret of nobility. To be noble is to be generous, high-minded, altruistic, to pursue higher forms of value. But it is also to be able to do so because one does not really have to think too much about money. This is precisely what our soldiers are doing when they give free dental examinations to villagers: they are being paid (modestly, but adequately) to do good in the world. Seen in this light, it is also easier to see what really happened at universities in the wake of the 1960s–the “settlement” I mentioned above. Campus radicals set out to create a new society that destroyed the distinction between egoism and altruism, value and values. It did not work out, but they were, effectively, offered a kind of compensation: the privilege to use the university system to create lives that did so, in their own little way, to be supported in one’s material needs while pursuing virtue, truth, and beauty, and, above all, to pass that privilege on to their own children. One cannot blame them for accepting the offer. But neither can one blame the rest of the country for hating them for it. Not because they reject the project: as I say, this is what America is all about. As I always tell activists engaged in the peace movement and counter-recruitment campaigns: why do working-class kids join the army anyway? Because, like any teenager, they want to escape the world of tedious work and meaningless consumerism, to live a life of adventure and camaraderie in which they believe they are doing something genuinely noble. They join the army because they want to be like you.

    • LFC March 19, 2016 at 4:25 pm | #

      I’ve seen parts of this Graeber passage quoted before. The idea that the son or daughter of a mechanic from the heartland has a better chance of becoming an Enron exec than a drama critic for the NYT is dubious. And the notion that one *must* go through one or two years of unpaid work to end up in a career such as drama critic of the NYT is even more dubious.

      Btw, google the current head of the Ford Foundation and look at his class & socioeconomic background. Then try to fit it into that Graeber passage.

  4. kaob March 19, 2016 at 6:22 am | #

    Re 9: given the gerrymandering tendencies of republicans when in political power, is not their likely post election reaction to the Trump phenomenon to ramp up gerrymandering also of the intraparty presidential nominee election processes?

  5. graccibros March 19, 2016 at 10:07 am | #

    Here was my post at the Daily Kos upon the nomination of Merrick Garland, whom I had never heard of…I did learn that 7-10 very conservative Republican Senators had supported him in the past…that was enough to worry me and you’ll see I came out pretty close to your views, Cory…:

    “After reading this recommendation at the Huffington Post by a legal scholar — http://www.huffingtonpost.com/… I was stunned. It’s too “cute” by half, or more, emphasizing that Senator Hatch of Utah liked him a lot. That’s enough to tip my balance scales against him.

    So this is where 16 years of President Clinton’s and Obama’s “triangulating” policies have led: trying to appease the Republican Right by picking the most moderate candidate they can find. I have grave doubts that Moderate Merrick would ever vote to overturn Citizen’s United, and I have the strong sense that he would continue the late Justice Scalia’s attempt to overturn the “scales of justice,” tilting them ever more away from the citizen’s hope for “Equal Justice Under Law” to the corporate wish that they have become our special citizens: too special, too needed to jail (“for only the private sector can create jobs”), too big to fail, and too powerful to regulate.

    Were you as shocked as I was at the reaction of the mainstream press to the death of Justice Scalia? Did the entire nation forget that “Equal Justice Under Law” was practically finished off under his long tenure on the court? I didn’t see a single reference in the coverage of his death (nor in the election debates, for that matter) to the shocking Harvard Law Review article from April of 2015, entitled “Policing and Profit,” ( http://harvardlawreview.org/2015/04/policing-and-profit/ ) which describes in detail the day-to-day world that has evolved in Ferguson, Missouri, where the police department was charged not with enforcing the law but with raising revenue, revenue that is no longer raised through taxes, but now through a blizzard of tickets issued disproportionately to blacks, who then become ensnared in a Matrix like system of fines and penalties, fees for their own incarceration for the inability to pay…or the poor white man in Georgia who stole a can of beer and then must pay a large fine which he has not money for, pay for his own alcohol monitoring bracelet, the fees going to the entirely privatized probation company. Here are my notes on his fate: “Tom Barrett declined to pay $80 for a court appointed attorney; he pled no contest, was fined $200 and placed on one year’s probation; he needed to rent the bracelet, $50 down, $39 dollars per month plus an additional $12 per day…his plight became so infamous it was taken up by Human Right’s Watch…”

    Citizens, if you do nothing else with your time read this Harvard Law Review article. The accounts are not in legalese and you will see why I shed no tears at the passing of Justice Scalia, and marveled at the liberal outpourings of praise over him.

    The moderate legal scholar Jeffrey Toobin, writing in the Feb. 29th, print edition of the New Yorker, gave Scalia a much more fitting “oration” when he wrote:

    “Antonin Scalia, who died this month, after nearly three decades on the Supreme court, devoted his professional life to making the United States a less fair, less tolerant, and less admirable democracy…Belligerent with his colleagues, dismissive of his critics, nostalgic for a world where outsiders knew their place and stayed there, Scalia represents a perfect model for everything that President Obama should avoid in a successor. The great Justices of the Supreme Court have always looked forward; their words both anticipated and helped shape the nation that the United States was becoming. Chief Justice John Marshall read the new Constitution to allow for a vibrant and progressive federal government. Louis Brandeis understood the need for that government to regulate an industrializing economy. Ear Warren saw that segregation was poison in the modern world. Scalia, in contrast, looked backward.”

    Sadly, I think today’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland continues the results of 30 years of trying to appease the Republican Right by Democratic Centrists: the result is that public policy keeps moving to the Right, and the HLR article “Policing and Profit” shows where the fruits of neoliberalism and austerity have led: loss of revenue, growing privatization, mass incarceration but no public jobs program…and the destruction of those words chiseled on the outside of the Supreme Court building: “Equal Justice Under Law.” No more. Not at the top, and certainly not at the bottom.

    Citizens, far better the President break the grim news to the public. Instead of continuing to seek accommodation with the Right’s determined intransigence on so many matters, he should nominate a genuine progressive and state the proper analogy: The Republican Right has adopted the tactics of the Fascist movements of the 1930’s in Germany and Italy, which regarded the legislative processes of democracy as a joke, a cruel hoax, and they did everything they could to mock and jam its workings. Today’s Republican Right does not openly mock the democratic process, whose inner core lies in compromise and deference to election results in the legislative processes, and allowing the victors their key nominations…instead they deliberately jam up the works and have made it very clear they are in effect… denying the legitimacy of President Obama’s two election victories and of the President himself.

    This is, in reality, another form of John C. Calhoun’s “Nullification” strategy, or if you prefer, a form of secession in place. We’re not so far, in fact, from the mood of the 1850’s.

    • Bill Michtom March 19, 2016 at 8:26 pm | #

      While I mostly agree with you, I think this characterization is a central flaw in the way so many look at the US’ political situation: “30 years of trying to appease the Republican Right by Democratic Centrists.”

      Democrats have been rightists, not centrists–corporatists, for sure, since the DLC. Bill Clinton made occasional verbal tilts toward civil and human rights, but he took time from his first presidential campaign to return to Arkansas to execute a man with severe brain damage, fought for NAFTA, instituted DOMA and DADT, passed the 1994 crime bill that led to mass incarceration and followed that two years later with the “end of welfare” bill that led to mass poverty.

      After the crash that Clinton’s destruction of Glass-Steagall led to, we get another DLC corporatist who refused to prosecute a single banker for the decimation of the world economy..

      I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call these people–or HRC–centrists.

      • graccibros March 20, 2016 at 11:16 am | #

        Yes Bill, you make an interesting point. On matters of political economy, I think you are correct, the Democratic “Centrists” are right of center, usually not as far Right as the Republican Right, although if you look at the vote years ago to confirm Obama’s trade rep, it was one of the few things Obama was able to get through, and by a resoundingly “bi-partisan vote.” That was Michael Froman, who won Senate confirmation 93-4 in the summer of 2013. And isn’t interesting that Mrs. Clinton has declared “no new middle class taxes,” anti-tax philosophy being one of the drivers of the Right and in destroying by neglect American infrastructure over the past 30 years. I should add “social” infrastructure as well.

        But when we consider other social questions, especially gender rights and feminist issues, that balances the equation and moves the Democrats overall to the center, if not left of center in that policy arena. Race is more difficult to summarize, but Bill Clinton set the tone, right of center on law and order…this has had large implications for undermining “Equal Justice Under Law,” such as it was in a society of growing inequality…

        • Bill Michtom March 20, 2016 at 5:22 pm | #

          I don’t evaluate political stances on a curve. I put communists at the left end and fascists at the right. Then I place whomever based on that spectrum.

          That’s why the Dems are rightists.

  6. Stephen Frug March 19, 2016 at 10:22 am | #

    “If stopping Trump only feeds a fire that will grow bigger, are we supposed to…not stop Trump? Because that’ll stop him? I’ll admit that’s a turn or two of the dialectic that I hadn’t quite anticipated.”

    While I like nearly all of this post, this particular point (which you were not the only one to make, IMS) seems to me a bit of rhetorical slight-of-hand relying on the dual meanings, in this context, of “stop”. Replace ‘stop’ with its two meanings — “keep him from speaking” and “keep him from getting elected” — and “not stop Trump because that’ll stop him”, or, more precisely, ‘not stop Trump because it’s counterproductive to the effort to stop him’ makes perfect sentence: don’t keep Trump from speaking because that’s counterproductive to the effort to keep Trump from being elected.

    I’m not sure this argument is right — I don’t know whether or not the events in Chicago helped or hurt Trump’s electoral prospects, either in the primary or the general. But I do think whether that’s a serious question, as far as Trump protests are concerned really the *only* serious question, and it deserves much better than a little wordplay around “stop”.

  7. graccibros March 19, 2016 at 11:03 am | #

    It seems to me that the decision of the students and anti-Trump protestors to take their disruption inside the rally site in the hundreds may not have been wise tactically, given the delight both Trump and his supporters have worked up showing how “tough” they can be. I thought it was obvious that it would be big trouble, violence and we were lucky is stayed where we saw it…not the worst…. That’s distinct from the legal right to be there; we don’t know what the anti-Trump people were planning in the event Trump arrived and spoke: silent protest? prolonged jeering? group walk-out? So we don’t have all the facts, or at least I don’t, but I did form a judgement that the tactic was premature and invited Trump to do the same to Sanders’ events, which he did verbalize very soon after Friday evening.

    I don’t have the same reservations about the protest rallies outside the forums, that’s pretty clear, legal and perhaps prudent to register the strong distaste with Trump and his directions.

    Maybe the left will have to go to the street and disruptions in a big way…but that is fateful decision, much more so if the intent is to disrupt rather than mass protest without physical interference. Weimar in the streets of America…? Let’s air this out folks…I say it is to early…and a fraught decision for democracy, such as it remains in the country…there is still a decent chance that Hillary Clinton does not survive the investigations, that Sanders will be the candidate…worth keeping that alive…and Noam Chomsky has recently reminded us that he doesn’t see signs of Sanders campaign building a movement infrastructure, nothing much different in tools than Obama had built…

    I’ve always been reluctant to pit the left against the right in a street battle…but reserve the right at some point to call for massive civil disobedience if events/dynamics warrant it…still not there and with better options….

  8. jonnybutter March 19, 2016 at 11:28 am | #

    today’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland continues the results of 30 years of trying to appease the Republican Right

    I don’t think these Dems are trying to appease the Right. I think they have been trying to *become* the moderate Right, and they have succeeded. The GOP moves right, the Dems move right with them. The fix continues to be in.

    t seems to me that the decision of the students and anti-Trump protestors to take their disruption inside the rally site in the hundreds may not have been wise tactically

    From what I understand, this is being misreported. The violence/disruption inside the hall started only after the announcement that der Trump had cancelled. Again, as I understand it, it was the Trumpistas who started the disruptions (and protesters fought back).

    • graccibros March 19, 2016 at 1:12 pm | #

      You could be right johnnybutter; I don’t know for sure who through the first punch but I’m pretty confident you could not bring hundreds of anti-trump people inside his events given the history of the dynamics with even tiny groups of protestors without inviting violence, whomever throws the first one. So the tactic is what needs to be aired out…it’s an escalation, and escalations invite responses in kind…so far we haven’t seen that a Sanders rallies…and may not as long as Mrs. Clinton is viewed still as the likely candidate.

  9. JAMES_SCAMINACI_III_PHD March 19, 2016 at 1:34 pm | #

    The only thing I would add to this excellent analysis is about Cleveland. However odious and dangerous Trump is, no left-wing protester should be evident in Cleveland. Not one sign. Not one silent witness. When your opponent is about to engage in a fratricidal, less-than-friendly fire incident at the strategic level of combat, do not bail them out by giving them all a common opponent to rally against. Let them fight. Let it come to physical blows. Let them scream at each other. Push each other. Vow not to support each other. Let them leave Cleveland divided and exhausted. Do not give them an excuse to rally together against a common enemy. Modern combat, fourth generation warfare, is fought at four levels, but only two of us concern us here: physical and moral. Trump excels at the physical combat. His supporters at rallies, having 1000:1 advantages in manpower, easily push out protesters. But, he loses at the moral level of combat. If you are going to defeat Trump in a fourth generation warfare contest, defeat him and his movement at the moral level of combat. Even if the physical level of combat is a draw, or you win, you still lose at the moral level. If the Left does not think of political warfare in terms of strategy and in terms of fourth generation warfare, you might be witnessing President Trump, all things being equal and Sanders not the nominee.

  10. RB March 19, 2016 at 2:23 pm | #

    “centrist commentators like Damon Linker”? The guy is a dyed-in-the-wool Straussian.

  11. Nell March 19, 2016 at 3:16 pm | #

    Re:#13 “even Romney more popular” as evidenced by bigger delegate totals at same point in primaries:
    It’s my impression that in 2012 more of the early Republican primaries were winner-take-all than is true in 2016. I’m not quite interested enough to do the research, but some reader may. [I do know that the remaining 2016 R primaries are mostly WTA.]

    Overall percentage of primary votes up to this point might support Thesis #13 more effectively, or it might weaken it further. Over to you, energetic reader?

  12. Thornton Hall March 19, 2016 at 5:12 pm | #

    As a former public defender, I can confidently say that you, Corey Robin, are an idiot.

    The question is: “Compared to what?”

    Nixon did not create the world where politically minded lawyers became prosecutors, evolution did.

    Can you even imagine a world where standing up for poor people guilty of crimes makes you A POPULAR leader of men? This wonderful land where someone who looks forward to multiple Senate Confirmation Hearings says, “I think I’ll walk out there and declare that child molesters are just as human as the children they molest!”

    Only someone who has literally no idea how horribly America treats its criminals, especially its poorest criminals, would ever harbor the fantasy that public defenders would be frequently appointed to the Federal Bench.

    • Corey Robin March 20, 2016 at 1:10 am | #

      Don’t call me an idiot. Unless you want never to be invited back here. It’s a simple rule. Follow it.

      • medgeek March 21, 2016 at 1:47 pm | #

        I don’t agree with his bad language and unnecessary roughness, but TH has a point about criminal defense attorneys being regarded as unfit for high federal office. Quoting from


        “Consider the U.S. Senate’s utterly pusillanimous and disgusting treatment of Debo Adegbile’s nomination to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. He was rejected by a vote of 52-47. Primary among the reasons for his rejection is that he had helped prepare a brief in defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist and former Black Panther convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer. Adegbile signed on to Mumia’s defense while working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

        Let me see if I understand this: Appearing as counsel for the accused, the convicted, the scorned and the damned renders a lawyer unfit for appointment to a federal office? I suppose that explains why former prosecutors are greeted with open arms. Why is the Senate so wary of those who make a living vindicating the presumption of innocence? Why the disregard of a man whose only apparent failing was that he refused to stop fighting for a client who still had the right to appear in court?”

  13. Jason Bowden March 19, 2016 at 6:56 pm | #

    “He who dares not offend cannot be honest.” — Thomas Paine

    • jonnybutter March 20, 2016 at 12:23 pm | #

      Note: Paine is not saying that deliberately causing offense is the same as being honest. He’s not even saying that it (deliberate assholeishness) is an essential component of honesty. On the contrary, he’s talking about non-deliberate offense: one must accept offensiveness as a possible by product of honesty, since honesty is (implicitly) the greater value.

      • Jason Bowden March 20, 2016 at 12:40 pm | #

        That’s not true — in the passage that’s quote is from, Paine is writing about having enough virtue to be angry. His critics called him furious; he accepts the mantle of anger.

        I think we share common ground on the larger principle though. Democrats shouldn’t be showing up to Republican rallies wearing KKK outfits. In the classroom, they’re worried about triggering people over pronouns, but seem completely unconcerned about triggering actual African-Americans in real life. Instead of tactics used to shutdown discussions, we should be starting conversations.

        • jonnybutter March 20, 2016 at 4:01 pm | #

          You lost me there. I was just reacting to the wisdom of the quote you provided, which I contend is not about offending for its own sake. Causing offense on purpose is another tactic, and one worth discussing, but that’s definitely not what *that quote* is advocating.

          I think it’s silly to wring hands so much about ends and means. Worry about being effective. If giving offence works, do it. If some other tactic works, do it.

          If the GOP is committing suicide, I say let them do it, and don’t distract them. But whatever works.

          Honestly, I thought your comment was about mister ‘I’m an idiot’ above, not that it matters.

  14. LFC March 19, 2016 at 7:07 pm | #

    I think the tweet from the White House twitter feed, reported in #1 of the OP, is sort of regrettable and unnecessary. His record, both on the bench and before he became a judge, doesn’t need this kind of gloss, which seems mostly aimed at conservatives many of whom wd never vote to confirm him anyway.

    That said, my hunch is that the tweet has a specific reference — namely, Garland’s work on the Oklahoma City bombing case. In introducing him in the Rose Garden, Obama mentioned that Garland insisted on crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s w.r.t. the procedures (subpoenas etc.) in the Oklahoma City case, b.c he didn’t want the defendants to be able to raise prosecutorial mistakes at trial or on appeal. That’s what I think the “technicality” reference in the tweet refers to. Possibly an inspection of the context of the twitter feed would show this to be the case.

  15. Frank Wilhoit March 19, 2016 at 7:42 pm | #

    “There is a silent majority in this country. And it hates Trump.”

    There are no majorities any longer in this country; there is no proposition, including e.g. the roundness of the Earth, commanding more than 50%-plus-epsilon support. There is doubtless a very sunstantial minority that hates Trump, but they are so silent that they mostly will not vote.

  16. Roqeuntin March 20, 2016 at 12:04 pm | #

    I kind of like to think of large scale political movements as something akin to weather patterns. If I may play meteorologist for a moment it goes like this. A society as unequal as our requires fantastic amounts of repression, both physically through violence and ideologically/mentally through the control and production of ideas. The social, political, and economic machinery necessary for maintaining this repressive apparatus is both very expensive and complex, which also means it takes a massive amount of resources and effort to maintain. Even though this is true domestically, it applies just as well to the international stage. The US has the largest military in the world by leaps and bounds for a reason.

    All of the above is just the buildup to saying were are starting to see cracks in the ability of the elites in this country to maintain that repressive apparatus. While using physical force, changing laws, or outright denying democracy (even in a degraded form) may provide temporary sustenance, it does massive amounts of damage to the ideological justifications for this repression. Furthermore, tough on crime and mass incarceration should be seen as an intensification of class war. There was a problem. In a society which offered many, primarily black and Latino kids, precious little economically or otherwise, they no longer were willing to play by the rules including those which said thou shalt not commit street crime and deal drugs. Getting tough on crime was really just another way of saying “Make them all disappear. Lock them up and throw away the key.” We have a prison system which, as I understand it, now contains more people than the Stalinist Gulag did at its peak and as everyone knows we are the world’s leading jailer both in absolute terms and on a per capita basis.

    Just as the Gulag was the handmaiden of the maintenance of Soviet power, the prison system here is the handmaiden of (neo)liberal capitalist democracy.

    I make no bones about it. The Sanders candidacy is the best thing to happen to US politics in my lifetime, bar none. Win, lose, or draw he has shown people that you don’t have to play their game, intentionally or not. He’s shown that the supposed rules of how elections go, that they repeat with such total certainty, aren’t really the case. That’s why he makes them scared. He represents a more authentic form of democracy, the kind which their corporate patronage simply will not allow, and everyone…and I mean everyone, knows it.

    • graccibros March 20, 2016 at 12:31 pm | #

      I like you comment here Roqeuntin. The Clinton response to the crime problem was shrewd national politics but tragic for black citizens, especially poor ones – and I think eventually tragic for the nation as a whole. Rather than moving left with implementing the very first right – to a job – in FDR’s second Bill of Rights (there were eight, including universal health care) the Dems made a pitch for white working class voters via their crime fighting – and then welfare reform.

      Now the fascinating thing to me – and I agree with your overall assessment of Sanders – is that he has not called for that Right to a job even though in his Nov. speech at Georgetown he called attention to the Second Bill of Rights as one of his main democratic socialist roots…Social Democratic would have been more accurate but he hasn’t wanted to explore the differences…

      The reason I call this strange stopping short – he does have a massive jobs program centered on infrastructure repair and creation – but as a questioner at a forum has noted, it would depend heavily on the racial attitudes inside the building trades union for fairness to young unemployed minorities…women included…

      Since Sanders has been attacked by the Black reparations movement (with a notable back tracking by Ta Nehesi Coates) – but many young white college students lack jobs as well as older citizens pushed out of corporate America after age 50 – and so many people have left the work force, isn’t this the very time when a “universal” jobs program makes sense, and flows logically out of the same reasoning as Sanders offers on universal health care – that it is a human right, not a “perk” for good behavior?

      Black America never got an urban “Marshall Plan” despite our cities needing one because the racial dynamics in the country – the Southernization of American politics, ruled out targeted programs for minorities, and the lack of a national jobs program after the collapse of CETA is tragic for everyone. (Of course we do have a jobs program of sorts: the military) A right to a civilian job via a massive CCC would seem to be the answer, and also binds the ecological left to the economic left…So why isn’t Sanders going there? The CCC also had an answer to too much federal power: the actual projects were proposed via local sources and needs, the funding was national and the proposals, like those of the WPA were vetted for viability and potential fraud…

  17. jschulman March 20, 2016 at 3:19 pm | #

    A truly superb piece of writing you’ve posted here, Corey. Honestly, it deserves some sort of award.

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