Tag: Trump

On Eric Hobsbawm and other matters

I’m in The New Yorker this morning, writing about Richard Evans’s new biography of the historian Eric Hobsbawm, explaining how the failures of Evans the biographer reveal the greatness of Hobsbawm the historian: Hobsbawm’s biographer, Richard Evans, is one of Britain’s foremost historians and the author of a commanding trilogy on Nazi Germany. He knew Hobsbawm for many years, though “not intimately,” and was given unparalleled access to his public and private papers. It has not served either man well. More data dump than biography, “Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History” is overwhelmed by trivia, such as the itineraries of Hobsbawm’s travels, extending back to his teen-age years, narrated to every last detail. The book is also undermined by errors: […]

Neoliberal Catastrophism

According to The Washington Post: Former president Barack Obama gently warned a group of freshman House Democrats Monday evening about the costs associated with some liberal ideas popular in their ranks, encouraging members to look at price tags, according to people in the room. Obama didn’t name specific policies. And to be sure, he encouraged the lawmakers — about half-dozen of whom worked in his own administration — to continue to pursue “bold” ideas as they shaped legislation during their first year in the House. But some people in the room took his words as a cautionary note about Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal, two liberal ideas popularized by a few of the more famous House freshmen, including Rep. […]

Thoughts on Russiagate, Mueller, and Trump’s Prospects for Reelection

I find myself in a peculiar position with regard to the Mueller report (assuming—big assumption, I know—that we have a good enough sense at this point of what’s in it). On the one hand, I was part of the Russiagate skeptic circle. I didn’t doubt that Russia had attempted to influence the election, but I didn’t think that attempt had much if any consequence; those who did, I thought, were grasping at straws. Nor did I think there was a strong case for the claim that Trump actively colluded with that effort and had thus put himself and the United States in hock to Putin. The evidence of all the active anti-Russian measures on the part of the US since […]

What does Trump’s pending declaration of emergency mean about his power and the state of his presidency?

What does Trump’s pending declaration of a state of emergency, so that he can commandeer funds to pay for his wall, mean politically? What does it tell us about his power or powerlessness? I’ve talked on many occasions about Steve Skowronek’s theory of presidential power. In that account, presidential power is dependent on two factors: the strength and resilience of the existing regime, and the affiliation or orientation (supportive or opposed) of the president to that regime. The strongest presidents are those who come to power in opposition to an extraordinarily weak and tottering regime, who shatter that regime and construct a new one. Think Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan. The weakest presidents are those who are affiliated to a weak […]

The Question of Russia and the Left: A response to Ryan Cooper

For the past week, there’s been a lot of discussion on Russia, Putin, Trump, and how leftists are responding to the issue. I’ve been participating in these conversations on social media. This past weekend, the conversation got a little crazy, when Columbia Law lecturer and Harper’s contributor Scott Horton engaged in some wild and irresponsible speculation about how the Russians may be backing certain Democratic primary candidates in the current elections. This morning, Ryan Cooper weighed in on the issue at The Week. I disagree with where he comes out on the issue. I want to say at the outset that I consider Cooper an ally. I don’t know him personally, but I very much admire his work. We follow each other […]

Did Anthony Kennedy ever sniff glue? And other stories of nominations past

Last week, after Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, Donald Trump declared, “Outside of war and peace, of course, the most important decision you make is the selection of a Supreme Court judge.” As we await Trump’s announcement on Monday of this most important decision, let’s take a gander at the history of nominations past. 1. In 1990, when George H.W. Bush was casting about to replace retired Supreme Court justice William Brennan, the consensus candidate in the White House was Ken Starr. 2. Starr got nixed by Dick Thornburgh, who was Bush’s Attorney General. Thornburgh thought Starr was too much of a squish, not sufficiently hard-right, especially about presidential power. 3. Today, Thornburgh is one of […]

A Constitutional Crisis? Or Partisans Without Purpose?

You hear a lot of talk on Twitter these days about a constitutional crisis. The thing about previous moments of constitutional crisis in the US is that they were never strictly about institutions and narrowly political questions; they were always about something socially substantive, something larger than the specific issue itself. The crisis provoked by the election of Lincoln in 1860, which led to secession and then the Civil War, was, of course, about slavery. The crisis of FDR’s Court-packing scheme was about the New Deal and whether the American state could be used to bring American capitalism to heel. Watergate was about the Cold War and a murderous US foreign policy. What strikes me about the current crisis over […]

Trump’s power is shakier than American democracy

“As soon as Trump became a serious contender for the presidency, journalists and historians began analogizing him to Hitler. Even the formulator of Godwin’s Law, which was meant to put a check on the reductio ad Hitlerum, said: ‘Go ahead and refer to Hitler when you talk about Trump.’ After Trump’s election, the comparisons mounted, for understandable reasons. “But as we approach the end of Trump’s first year in power, the Hitler analogies seem murky and puzzling, less metaphor than mood…. “There’s little doubt that Trump’s regime is a cause for concern, on multiple grounds, as I and many others have written. But we should not mistake mood for moment. Even one that feels so profoundly alien as ours does now. For that, too, has a history in America. “During […]

Trump Everlasting

I’m glad I’m not a journalist. I don’t think I could handle the whiplash of the ever-changing story line, the way a grand historical narrative gets revised, day to day, the way it seems to change, week to week, often on a dime. Or a $1.5 trillion tax cut. In my Guardian digest this week, I deal with the media’s memory, taxes, the state of the GOP, judges, sexual harassment, and leave you at the end with my assessment of where we are. Here’s a preview: Last week, after the victory of Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama’s senatorial election, the media began reporting that the Republican party was facing an epic disaster. Citing insider talk of a “political earthquake” and a “party in turmoil,” the Washington Post anticipated a […]

“It’s Scalias All the Way Down”: Why the very thing that scholars think is the antidote to Trump is in fact the aide-de-Trump

Mike Allen is reporting this morning: Trump was upbeat and brought up a Kim Strassell column in The Wall Street Journal, “Scalias all the way down,” giving the president credit for “remaking the federal judiciary.”‘ I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. While political scientists warn against the norm erosion of the Trump presidency—and dwell on the importance of the courts, the Constitution, and the rule of law as antidotes—the most far-seeing leaders of the conservative movement and the Republican party understand that long after Trump has left the stage, long after the Republican Party has lost its hold over the political discourse and political apparatus, it will be Trump’s judiciary—interpreting the Constitution, applying the rule of law—that […]

What do the NFL and Trump’s Birth Control Mandate Have in Common? Fear, American Style

The Wall Street Journal reports that the NFL may adopt a policy to force football players to stand for the national anthem as a condition of employment. It’s worth recalling that as a matter of constitutional right, a six-year-old student in this country cannot be required to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or the national anthem. But a grown man or woman can be forced by their employer to do so. That should tell you something about the state of rights in the workplace. A state-run institution like the public school cannot stop you from sitting down during the pledge, but a private employer can. The one factor that may stop the NFL from forcing the players to stand up during […]

On the anniversary of 9/11

For me, 9/11 will always be a time of tremendous fear, stifling conformism, forced patriotism, and vicious nationalism. Which is why I’ve always found the claim that Trump represents a new authoritarianism, even fascism, to be so fanciful and false. There was a moment in the recent memory of this country when dissent really was stifled, when opposition really was suppressed, when the military and police were sanctified and sacralized, when the Constitution was called into question (not a suicide pact, you know), when the two-party system was turned into a one-party state, when the entire nation was aroused and compelled and coerced to rally behind the dear leader, when questioning the nation-state’s commitment to violence and war provoked the […]

Norm Erosion: The President Addresses the Nation about Afghanistan

Tonight, Trump gives an address about Afghanistan. The tone/style will be either trademark bombast (fire and fury) or “presidential” or both. Regardless of the style, it’ll entail a commitment, according to the latest reports, of roughly four thousand US troops, a fraction of the number of troops committed to Afghanistan under Obama, with no mention of private contractors. In the grand scheme of things, it’ll be a status quo operation packaged in high-octane rhetoric. Social media will focus entirely on the rhetoric. The theme of the commentary will be something like: Trump consolidating his shaky presidency with imperial violence abroad! Media falls for new Trump presidency grounded in imperial violence abroad! And then by Wednesday, it’ll all be forgotten. The […]

The very thing that liberals think is imperiled by Trump will be the most potent source of his long-term power and effects

John Harwood has a good piece about Trump’s downward spiral of weakness: Increasingly, federal officials are deciding to simply ignore President Donald Trump. As stunning as that sounds, fresh evidence arrives every day of the government treating the man elected to lead it as someone talking mostly to himself. … “What is most remarkable is the extent to which his senior officials act as if Trump were not the chief executive,” Jack Goldsmith, a top Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, wrote last weekend on lawfareblog.com. “Never has a president been so regularly ignored or contradicted by his own officials,” Goldsmith added. “The president is a figurehead who barks out positions and desires, but his senior subordinates carry on […]

We have the opportunity for a realignment. We don’t have a party to do it. Yet.

One of the interesting things about the great realignment elections—1860, 1932, 1980—is that the presidents who win them (Lincoln, FDR, Reagan) never run simply against the losing candidate. Nor do they run simply against the party of that candidate. They run against a decades-long regime, which is never simply a party or political regime, but always, also, a social regime. Lincoln ran against the slaveocracy, who had nested in the Democratic Party. FDR ran against the economic royalists, who had found their protectors and agents in the Republican Party. Reagan ran against a complex of “special interests” (civil rights organizations, unions, feminist groups, poverty programs) that had captured the Democratic Party. In repudiating Carter, Hoover, Breckinridge/Douglas—and the Democrats of 1980, […]

Trump: The Profit Unarmed

In the wake of the collapse yesterday of the Republicans’ effort to repeal Obamacare—let’s hope this really is the endgame of that effort—it’s time to re-up, first, this piece I did for the Times, just after the House Republicans’ effort to repeal Obamacare collapsed; and, second, this piece I did for n+1, arguing that Trump’s would be a spectacularly weak and ineffective presidency, along the lines of Jimmy Carter’s. It goes without saying that it’s too early to celebrate, and now that McConnell has declared his intention to pass a simple repeal (rather than repeal and replace), we need to stay on the phones. But there is some reason to think, as Brian Beutler argued yesterday, that even though the House GOP came back […]

Unlike Jimmy Carter, Trump has been remarkably weak. And that may turn out to be his salvation.

Using Steve Skowronek’s theory of the presidency, particularly his theory of disjunctive presidencies, I’ve been plugging the Trump-Carter comparison, as many of you know. It occurred to me this morning, however, on reading this quite astute piece from Matt Yglesias, that there may be an interesting flaw in that comparison. Yglesias points out, and I think he’s right in ways that few people have grappled with, that in many ways, Trump ran well to the center of the Republican Party during the primaries. Trump promised not to touch Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid; he seemed chill with gay marriage; at times he praised Planned Parenthood; he ran against free trade; and he was a sharp critic of the neocon adventurism of the Bush […]

Why does the GOP stick with Trump? It’s all about the judges.

Throughout Trump’s time in the White House, I’ve been wondering, like many others, what would it take for the GOP to break with Trump. I never thought for a moment that they’d break with him over a question of law or constitutional principle or democratic norms or political propriety. My working assumption, for most of this time, has been that if they felt like their tax cuts were in jeopardy, they might jump ship, tax cuts being the one thing that unites the party and that they know how to do. But things aren’t looking good for the tax cuts, and I see no signs of any break. So we’re left with the question: why is the GOP sticking with Trump? They’re […]

A wise psychoanalyst once told me (sort of): look at what Trump does, not what he says

A wise psychoanalyst once told me, “Stop looking at what you’re saying, look at what you’re doing.” I wish journalists applied a similar rule to Trump. Yesterday, Trump said some whatever about the “archaic” rules of Congress, and this is what Aaron Blake, a journalist at The Washington Post, has to say in response: Whether this is just him [Trump] blowing off steam or signaling what lies ahead, it’s significant. Because it suggests a president, yet again, who doesn’t agree with his own powers being limited or even questioned. Remember when senior policy adviser Stephen Miller declared “the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned?” This is more of that kind […]

Eichmann in Jerusalem is a better guide to Trump Time than is Origins of Totalitarianism

I’ve argued many times that I think Eichmann in Jerusalem is a much better guide to fascism—and, to whatever extent that mode of politics is relevant today, to our times as well—than is Origins of Totalitarianism. There are many reasons I believe this, but three stand out. First, Origins sees totalitarianism as essentially a mass phenomenon, by which Arendt means not only the rise of the mass but also the liquidation of all familiar institutions, established elites, and traditional hierarchies. Eichmann completely dispenses with that view, emphasizing instead how fascism is much more of an elite affair dependent upon long-standing social hierarchies. Second, Origins sees totalitarianism as the liquidation of the individual agent and individual action; even the regime’s leaders, Arendt argues […]