A W A K E N

Abbreviated pundit roundup: Bush’s legacy; Trump’s silent tantrum; Democrats’ climate talk

At The Washngton Post, Dana Milbank writes—George H.W. Bush’s funeral was a powerful renunciation of Trump:

George Herbert Walker Bush, before his death, said he wanted President Trump to attend his funeral, a generous gesture that forgave the cavalcade of insults that Trump has rained on the Bush family.

It was a final show of the sound judgment Bush exercised in life.

Trump’s name was mentioned not once by the four eulogists at Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday. But their words were an implicit rebuke of everything Trump is. They spoke of what made Bush a great leader, which are the very traits that, by their absence, make Trump so woefully inadequate.

During his eulogy, Bush biographer Jon Meacham identified Bush’s “thousand points of light” — a phrase Trump has ridiculed — as a “companion verse” to Abraham Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature,” because “Lincoln and Bush both called on us to choose the right over the convenient, to hope rather than to fear, and to heed not our worst impulses, but our best instincts.”

At In These Times, Rachel Johnson writes—George H.W. Bush Was an Enemy of the Working Class:

Bush was one of just five presidents in the 20th century to lose a re-election campaign. In 1994, he lost to Bill Clinton, the upstart governor from Arkansas, in the midst of a recession that swept the nation during the early 1990s. Bush had failed to recognize the simple truism of Clinton’s campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

But setting aside his relative inaction during the recession, Bush’s long record of supporting policies that benefit the wealthy at the expense of average Americans cemented his legacy. He was no patrician statesman whose example can lead us out of our current dark times. Rather, he was a foot soldier for the ruling class who played a substantial role in bringing us to where we are today. His role as a chief architect of U.S. neoliberal trade policy through ushering in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) helped to exacerbate global inequality and fuel the loss of over one million manufacturing jobs in the United States and Canada.

The epitome of privilege, the elder Bush descended from a lineage of businessmen who made their fortunes in the defense and banking industries. His father, Prescott Bush, was director of Union Banking Corporation, which financed and profited from the Nazi regime prior to the American entry into World War Two. George H.W., for his part, struck it rich in the Texas oil fields before turning to politics.

From the beginning of his presidency, Bush built on the legislative victories of the Reagan Revolution, spearheading wealth redistribution programs benefiting the corporate class—and his own family. In 1989, Bush bailed out the heavily deregulated Savings and Loan industry, to the tune of about $124.6 billion in taxpayer funded money. The New York Times later published a report detailing how Bush’s son Jeb had personally benefited from the bailout, noting that the federal government paid “more than $4 million to make good” on a loan Jeb had used to buy a Miami office building.

At Other Words, Domenica Ghanem writes—Is Bush’s Legacy So Different from Trump’s? Some may mourn Bush’s more “respectable” presidency. But looking back, one sees the very same race-baiting and cruelty.

As the federal government closed shop for a day of national mourning for the late President George H.W. Bush, an image of came to my mind.

It’s an ad by his supporters claiming presidential candidate Michael Dukakis “allows first degree murderers to have weekend passes,” as an image of an African American man, Willie Horton, flashes across the screen. More photos of Horton are shown, along with the words “stabbing, kidnapping, raping.”

I wasn’t even born when this ad aired in 1988. I know it because I studied it in my media classes as a classic example of how politicians stoked racist fears to link black people to crime and further a mass incarceration agenda.

Just last month, President Donald Trump’s political team ran an ad inspired by the same race-baiting tactic. An ad so obviously racist even Fox News stopped running it. It depicts Mexican immigrant Luis Bracamontes saying he would “kill more cops,” and claims “Democrats let him into our country. Democrats let him stay.” (These claims were false.)

The ad was designed to link Central American immigrants to crime just as a caravan of asylum seekers from Honduras was headed to the U.S.-Mexico border.

As I recall H. W. Bush’s legacy, the similarities keep coming. […]

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At The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer writes—The Democratic Party Wants to Make Climate Policy Exciting. After years of infighting, the Democrats may finally have found an environmental consensus in the Green New Deal:

I have no idea whether the Green New Deal will result in a federal climate law two or five or 10 years from now. The proposal clearly has momentum on the left. Since early November, I’ve seen the Green New Deal talked about as a story of Democrats in disarray, or as another example of the party’s turn toward socialism. Both analyses miss the mark. The Green New Deal is one of the most interesting—and strategic—left-wing policy interventions from the Democratic Party in years.

As I wrote last year, the Democrats have a problem: They are the only major political party that cares about climate change, but they don’t have a national strategy to address it. Party elites know that they want to fight climate change, of course, but after that the specifics get hazy, and almost no one agrees on what new laws should get passed.

For the past two years, this lack of agenda hasn’t really hampered them, because they could unite around blocking Donald Trump’s deregulation extravaganza. But as Democrats consider the possibility of controlling Congress and the White House in 2020, they will feel more pressure to zero in on a strategy.

For the first time in more than a decade, Democrats can approach climate policy with a sense of imagination. They can also approach it with a sense of humility, because their last two strategies didn’t work particularly well. 

The Editorial Board of The New York Times offers a remarkably unenlightening summary of Wednesday’s filing on Michael Flynn, Witness for the Prosecution, within which, since it’s an editorial, there ought to be an opinion somewhere. But alas:

Mr. Flynn found himself in further legal jeopardy when he hid from the Justice Department the true extent of his lobbying work for Turkey, for which he acted as a foreign agent during the campaign and in support of which he wrote an op-ed published on Election Day 2016. That Mr. Mueller didn’t charge Mr. Flynn for this violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act was part of the sentencing deal — and a reason Mr. Flynn may have felt compelled to tell the special counsel everything he knows.

And what he knows, apparently, is quite a lot, as Mr. Mueller’s filing to the judge who will be sentencing Mr. Flynn indicates, with heavy redactions detailing nonpublic aspects of the Russia investigation plus a continuing criminal probe that seems unrelated to the larger inquiry. We won’t know until we know, but it is undeniable that Mr. Flynn was useful to the special counsel.

And lest we forget: Mr. Flynn himself is the reason there is a special counsel. Had it not been for Mr. Trump’s desire to interfere with the F.B.I.’s pursuit of the man who led chants of “lock her up” at the Republican National Convention — and the subsequent firing of James Comey over his refusal to let go of the broader counterintelligence investigation — Mr. Mueller would not have been appointed.

Mr. Flynn always played a central role in this sprawling saga, and his own Russia connections never ceased to be problematic. His coming sentencing after a year of valuable cooperation with prosecutors brings us a step closer to learning why Mr. Trump was so invested in him.

At The Guardian, Thomas E. Ricks writes—What ads in the New Yorker magazine tell us about the American oligarchy

Last night as I paged through the new issue of the New Yorker, dated 26 November, I felt like I was reading a dispatch from the one-percenters who run the American economy, take far more than their fair share of American income, and lately have ruined American politics.

Let me state first that I love the magazine. I have been reading it for more than 55 years, since I learned to read partly by looking at its cartoons with my grandmother in her garden. My beginning as a writer was reading the articles of John McPhee when I was teenager. I’ve subscribed to the magazine for decades, and once tried to get a lifetime subscription. My heart still lifts when I find each week’s edition in my mailbox.

Today I consider its reporting one of the four essential things to read to understand the state of the nation, the other three being the Atlantic, the New York Times and the Washington Post. The New Yorker especially has set the agenda in certain areas, with Jane Mayer’s reporting first on official US torture after 9/11 and then, more recently, on the role of rightwing money in American politics. Ronan Farrow’s revelations about sexual assaults by powerful men have also brought about the beginnings of a change in our culture.

But as I paged through the magazine I saw something else. Every few pages there was a contradiction, a message from another America. Those were the advertisements. Reading them is like receiving dispatches from the oligarchy. They are prettied up, to be sure – they are not the oligarchy as it is, but as it would like to see itself. But they describe the state of our culture all too well. Future historians may do well to pay more attention to them than to the news columns of the magazine.

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At The Washington Post, Elizabeth Bruenig writes—Why this progressive Texan can’t get excited about Beto O’Rourke:

For some well-positioned Democrats, O’Rourke — usually mononymously styled as Beto — is already heir apparent to Barack Obama’s empty throne. Tall and reedy with an affable air, O’Rourke does seem fit to take up Obama’s mantle. But I can’t get excited about O’Rourke, though I am from Texas and had hoped as much as anyone for Cruz’s defeat. I’m not sure we need another Obama, or another of any Democrat we’ve had recently: I think the times both call for and allow for a left-populist candidate with uncompromising progressive principles. I don’t see that in O’Rourke.

There’s no denying that what O’Rourke’s campaign accomplished was genuinely impressive. With the help of veteran Bernie Sanders organizers, O’Rourke’s team built a grass-roots army that put democracy — talking to constituents, listening to their points of view, inviting them to participate in the process not by mass mail but by name — first. People were genuinely inspired by that, and by the very notion that perhaps they could revive a dream that sometimes seems to have died with Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards: turning the Lone Star State blue. And — maybe, someday.

In the meantime, though, we have the national election to think about, and when it comes to national politics, O’Rourke is plainly uninspiring. As Zaid Jilani pointed out at Current Affairs, O’Rourke’s congressional voting record signals skepticism about progressive priorities. “While the Democratic base is coalescing around single-payer health care and free college, O’Rourke sponsored neither House bill,” Jilani wrote, “During his time in Congress, he never joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus.” Instead, O’Rourke is a member of the New Democrat Coalition, a centrist caucus with Clintonian views on health care, education and trade.

At The New York Times, Gail Collins writes—Trump Gets It All Wrong Beware of busloads of voters with phony mustaches:

“In many places, like California, the same person votes many times … Millions and millions of people,” said Donald Trump. He’s been running on this theme since he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. We will not even bother to envision what Election Day would look like if millions and millions of extra voters were standing in line.

There’s also Trump’s more recent argument that voters should have to have special IDs because “if you go out and you want to buy groceries you need a picture on a card. You need an ID.” 

People, where do you think this came from?

A) Traumatic childhood experience in which he treated his class to ice cream at the ballpark and told the vendor to “just send the bill to my Dad.”

B) Atlantic City incident when he tried to buy a bag of Doritos with a promissory note.

C) A bad dream in which he had to shop on his own in a store full of badly dressed people.

Beats me. Anyway, Trump appears to believe the only reason he has ever lost an election was phony voters. 

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At The Guardian, D.D. Guttenplan writes—Across Trump’s America, the grassroots are growing radical:

The paradox of US politics is that whenever Americans are asked whether they support universal healthcare, guaranteed paid leave for carers, free education at public colleges, higher taxes on the rich, or any number of items from the Bernie Sanders campaign platform, a majority are always strongly in favour. The passage of ballot measures raising the minimum wage in Arkansas and Missouri, expanding Medicaid coverage in Nebraska and Idaho, and legalising medical marijuana in Utah suggests that even where voters don’t vote for Democratic candidates, they still favour progressive policies.

Even ideas long deemed too radical to be taken seriously by mainstream media – having the government produce inexpensive generic drugs or guarantee employment for anyone genuinely unable to find work, or treating the internet as a public utility, with publicly owned providers replacing private corporations – turn out to be favoured by a majority of Americans. Yet here we are with Trump in the White House, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch on the supreme court, and Mitch McConnell in command of the Senate.

So how do we, as they say in New England, “get there from here?” Over the past two years I have interviewed dozens of activists in different parts of the US and profiled seven of them at length. These are people you have probably never heard of but whose efforts are laying the groundwork not just to take back the White House and the Senate in 2020 (when the electoral map will be far more favourable to Democrats) but also to take back the country, by assembling a new radical majority committed to fighting for the things Americans have long wanted but which a broken political system has kept off the agenda. […]

Until recently most of the left, and all of the Democratic party, concentrated almost all of their resources on mobilising, or “turnout”. Beto O’Rourke’s surprisingly strong challenge in Texas, and a host of unheralded victories across Texas, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan are the fruits of a new effort by a generation of young organisers committed to building political power from the grassroots: organisers such as Waleed Shahid and Corbin Trent of Justice Democrats, a group calling for “a Democratic party that fights for its voters, not just its corporate donors”.

At The New York Review Daily, Bernard E. Harcourt writes—How Trump Fuels the Fascist Right:

President Trump makes constant use of the language and logic of the “new right,” a toxic blend of antebellum white supremacy, twentieth-century fascism, European far-right movements of the 1970s, and today’s self-identified “alt-right.” And his words and deeds have empowered and enabled an upsurge of white nationalists and extremist organizations—from Atomwaffen to the Proud Boys to the Rise Above Movement—that threatens to push the country into violent social conflict. Amplified by social media, this new right rhetoric is inciting unstable men to violence through pipe-bomb mailings and temple shootings. It is crucial for the American people to identify and oppose this radicalization, in order to steer the country back to a steadier path.

Everything about Trump’s discourse—the words he uses, the things he is willing to say, when he says them, where, how, how many times—is deliberate and intended for consumption by the new right. When Trump repeatedly accuses a reporter of “racism” for questioning him about his embrace of the term “nationalist,” he is deliberately drawing from the toxic well of white supremacist discourse and directly addressing that base. Trump’s increasing use of the term “globalist” in interviews and press conferences—including to describe Jewish advisers such as Gary Cohn or Republican opponents like the Koch brothers—is a knowing use of an anti-Semitic slur, in the words of the Anti-Defamation League, “a code word for Jews.” Trump’s self-identification as a “nationalist,” especially in contrast to “globalists” like George Soros, extends a hand to white nationalists across the country. His pointed use of the term “politically correct,” especially in the context of the Muslim ban, speaks directly to followers of far-right figures such as William Lind, author of “What is ‘Political Correctness’?

Trump is methodically engaging in verbal assaults that throw fuel on his political program of closed borders, nativism, social exclusion, and punitive excess. Even his cultivated silences and failures to condemn right-wing violence, in the fatal aftermath of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, for instance, or regarding the pipe-bombing suspect Cesar Sayoc, communicate directly to extremists. We are watching, in real time, a new right discourse come to define the American presidency. The term “alt-right” is too innocuous when the new political formation we face is, in truth, neo-fascist, white-supremacist, ultranationalist, and counterrevolutionary. Too few Americans appear to recognize how extreme President Trump has become—in part because it is so disturbing to encounter the arguments of the American and European new right. But we must—and we must call Trump out for deploying them to gain power.

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At The Washington Monthly, Martin Longman writes—Good Riddance to the Weekly Standard:

Billionaire Philip Anschutz’s D.C. Media is a parent to both the Trump-critical Weekly Standard and the pro-Trump Washington Examiner. It’s not surprising that they’re looking to expand the Examiner and shutter the Standard.

As Jim Antle, editor of The American Conservative, told Politico’s Jason Schwartz, “I think, in general, people don’t visit conservative websites and read conservative magazines to read that the president is terrible. So what do you do when your writers and editors have concluded the president is terrible?” […]

I won’t miss the Weekly Standard even a little bit, as I have never considered it an honest enterprise. I do understand the longing some leftists have for interlocutors on the right. But God help them if they ever thought Stephen Hayes and Bill Kristol fit the bill.

It’d be nice if someone would pay right-leaning journalists to do honest work, but I’ve seen no evidence that this ever occurs. Since it doesn’t, there is no such thing as an honest debate on the issues between the left and right. If the Standard dies, nothing of real value will be lost. We could actually be grateful that they won’t be able to use their opposition to Trump as cover to advocate the things that neo-conservatives really care about, like permawar in the Middle East.

At The Intercept, David Dayen writes—Barbara Lee Named to Key Leadership Position that Could Help Progressives Build Power in the House:

BARBARA LEE SUFFERED a narrow loss to Hakeem Jeffries in the leadership race for Democratic Caucus chair last week, but the campaign to get her elected bore fruit regardless. Late last Friday, Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi made room for Lee on a key committee that has a primary role in building progressive power in the House.

Lee’s ascension to the leadership position is a window into how deciding to fight for power can yield benefits even if the immediate goal is lost. For progressives in the House, unaccustomed to wielding power, it could prove a galvanizing victory. Lee lost her caucus chair race by just 10 votes amid controversy.

And it could have its own follow-on effects. After a one-on-one meeting, Pelosi named Lee as a third co-chair on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. (Technically, Pelosi recommended Lee for the position, but the Steering and Policy Committee votes on the recommendations, and Pelosi herself is the chair, so this is in the bag.) Pelosi added a co-chair to make room for Lee; current co-chairs Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., will stay on as well. Lee, DeLauro, and Swalwell are all close Pelosi allies.

Not only does this create a spot for a woman of color in the House Democratic leadership, but it will also have lasting implications for progressives, even though the power will largely play out behind the scenes.

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