America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation. It is our inheritance. And it belongs to us.
- Richard Spencer, "Long Live the Emperor!" (11-21-2016)
This week's featured post is "Should I Have White Pride?"
This week everybody was talking about more cabinet picks
This batch was discouraging in a new way. Last week's appointments were all from the Trump campaign's inner circle, suggesting that he was looking for loyalty rather than competence. They were also all white men. This week's appointments -- Nikki Haley as United Nations ambassador, Ben Carson at HUD (apparently; there's been no formal announcement yet), and Betsy DeVos as Education secretary -- included women and non-whites, but also suggested that knowledge and experience were not high values.
Not to dis Nikki Haley; she's the up-and-coming Republican governor of South Carolina who (like Reince Preibus) might have shown up somewhere in a Bush or Rubio administration. But not at the UN, because her complete lack of experience in foreign policy or diplomacy would have mattered to Jeb or Marco. I wouldn't have wanted Ben Carson as, say, Surgeon General, but at least it would have made some kind of sense, given that he's a doctor. But when Fox News' Neil Cavuto asked about his qualifications to lead the Housing and Urban Development Department, Carson could come up with nothing better than "I grew up in the inner city." (So did Kanye West; why wasn't he considered?)
To me, this process looks more like casting a TV show than staffing an administration: Let's put the black guy in charge of HUD and send the Indian woman to the UN. According to the NYT, Mitt Romney may benefit from the same factor:
Transition officials say the meeting with Mr. Romney, a moderate Republican who was the party’s nominee for president in 2012, may not have been simply for show. They say that Mr. Trump believes that Mr. Romney, with his patrician bearing, looks the part of a top diplomat right out of “central casting” — the same phrase Mr. Trump used to describe Mike Pence before choosing him as his running mate.
DeVos (the sister of Blackwater founder and major Trump donor Erik Prince) similarly has no experience in the educational system, either as a teacher or an administrator. Her degree is in business administration. She and her husband founded Windquest Group, which describes itself as "a Michigan-based, privately held enterprise and investment management firm". She has chaired the Michigan Republican Party.
But at least DeVos has shown an interest in education: She has been the leader of the political movement in Michigan to shift public funding of education away from public schools and towards vouchers that could be used in private schools. To imagine a comparable pick from the left, picture President Bernie Sanders naming the head of a disarmament group (who had never been in the military in any capacity, but clearly had studied military issues) as Defense Secretary.
DeVos is a fan of vouchers even for religious schools, which challenges the separation of church and state. Many Christians like religious-school vouchers, because they picture only Christian schools getting the money. The way to shut this down is to start Muslim schools, pagan schools, and so on. The fundamentalists are fine with tax dollars paying to promote Jesus, but paying to promote Allah or Buddha or Gaia is an abomination.
I predicted last week that Mitt Romney "won’t be appointed to anything without some serious public grovelling first." The argument among Trump's inner circle about whether to make him Secretary of State seems to be coming down to exactly how much groveling that is.
Trump staffers have been floating word for days that Trump will require Romney to publicly apologize if he wants to be Secretary of State - almost literally a ritual humiliation to enter the Trump inner circle.
If Mitt submits to this, he will have only himself to blame for all future humiliations.
My prediction last week that the Trump administration would not prosecute Hillary Clinton also panned out. Josh Marshall objects to the way Trump makes this sound like a personal favor he's doing the Clintons. "This is how dictators talk."
In truth, he never had the goods on Clinton, and his threat to prosecute was always just something he said for effect. He doesn't need that effect any more, so he can say something else instead.
Democrats got excited this week about a claim that the election might have been rigged, and that an audit in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania might still reverse the outcome. I'm skeptical, for the same reasons as Nate Silver. I think the close states Clinton lost show the same trends as the close states Clinton won: Virginia, for example. On Election Night, I knew we were in trouble when Virginia was so close. Losing Wisconsin didn't then seem like the kind of shock that requires an extraordinary explanation.
I've been searching online for a blue "Are We Great Again Yet?" hat. Still haven't found one. #AWGAY
German intelligence officials are worried that Russia plans to interfere in their elections the same way it did in America's.
and the media's inadequacy to the occasion
One of the most important articles about Trump -- and I'm going to keep linking to it until it's message catches on -- was written in September by Vox' David Roberts: "The question of what Donald Trump "really believes" has no answer".
The question presumes that Trump has beliefs, "views" that reflect his assessment of the facts, "positions" that remain stable over time, woven into some sort of coherent worldview. There is no evidence that Trump has such things. That is not how he uses language.
When he utters words, his primary intent is not to say something, to describe a set of facts in the world; his primary intent is to do something, i.e., to position himself in a social hierarchy. This essential distinction explains why Trump has so flummoxed the media and its fact-checkers; it’s as though they are critiquing the color choices of someone who is colorblind.
The media just doesn't know how to cover a man who uses language this way. We saw another example this week after Trump met with The New York Times staff on Tuesday. Asked about the Paris Climate Change agreement that Obama signed and Trump repeated promised to reject, he said "I have an open mind" about it. This pleased people in the room and committed him to nothing. But it got covered as if it marked a real policy change, or at least the possibility of one.
Meanwhile, a top Trump advisor on the subject referred to NASA's climate-change research as "highly politicized" and indicated that it will be discontinued. No substantive step Trump has taken should give any hope to environmentalists, but he got some nice headlines out of suggesting that he might be reasonable.
Similarly, when pressed by the NYT people about the Nazis who celebrated his victory with "Hail Trump!" (more about them in the featured post), he said: "I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group."
But Steve Bannon, who they look on as an ally, is still his chief strategist. Next week, Trump might be using the alt-Right's coded language again, or retweeting something from WhiteGenocideTM or some similar online source. Vox explains what the alt-Right wants from the Trump administration, and why they're not upset by his toothless disavowal.
Now Trump is claiming that he really won the popular vote -- which in the real world Clinton won by more than 2.2 million votes -- "if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally". He offers no evidence to back this claim, which is widely being reported as "false" rather than just a he-said/she-said claim.
Again, the factual content is not the point. He is not trying to say something, he's trying to do something. This requires a whole new kind of journalism. James Fallows outlines some small steps in that direction.
Last week I listed "profiteering" as one of the things I'd be watching for in the new Trump administration. I had no idea how fast examples would start mounting up. The New York Times listed half a dozen countries where Trump's business interests now compete with the national interest for his attention.
In Turkey, for example
officials including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a religiously conservative Muslim, demanded that Mr. Trump’s name be removed from Trump Towers in Istanbul after he called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. More recently, after Mr. Trump came to the defense of Mr. Erdogan — suggesting that he had the right to crack down harshly on dissidents after a failed coup — the calls for action against Trump Towers have stopped, fueling worries that Mr. Trump’s policies toward Turkey might be shaped by his commercial interests.
A Trump business partner in Manila has become the Philippines' special envoy to the United States. In a post-election meeting with United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, Trump urged UKIP to fight against wind farms like the one that he feels blights the neighborhood of his golf course in Scotland. In China, Trump just won a trademark dispute that had been raging for years -- not for the country, for himself. In several countries, Trump construction projects have seen regulatory barriers come down since his election. Is that the normal pace of bureaucracy, or an attempt to curry favor? How would we know?
Paul Krugman makes an astute observation: To the extent that such deals become outright bribery, they will tilt American foreign policy in favor of dictatorships:
What kind of regime can buy influence by enriching the president and his friends? The answer is, only a government that doesn’t adhere to the rule of law.
Think about it: Could Britain or Canada curry favor with the incoming administration by waiving regulations to promote Trump golf courses or directing business to Trump hotels? No — those nations have free presses, independent courts, and rules designed to prevent exactly that kind of improper behavior. On the other hand, someplace like Vladimir Putin’s Russia can easily funnel vast sums to the man at the top in return for, say, the withdrawal of security guarantees for the Baltic States.
That policy tilt will be far more important than the money Trump will manage to rake off while president.
E. J. Dionne attempts to shame Republicans in Congress by reminding them of their objections to the much less serious conflicts of interest involved in the Clinton Foundation. This is a test of my theory that Republicans are shameless.
In Scotland, Trump made a bunch of promises in exchange for local approval to build a golf course. Most of them haven't been fulfilled.
The question of whether Republican senators will get in line behind the Trump administration is one of the most interesting things we'll find out in the next few months. Nate Silver whipped up a model to predict who was most likely to give Trump trouble, and came up with Susan Collins, John McCain, Rand Paul, Rob Portman, and Lisa Murkowski.
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska wrote an article that appeared to protest against his low-likelihood-of-rebellion score, claiming that
Silver’s analysis starts with three basic factors that “will presumably correlate with support for [the President-Elect’s] agenda”: issue alignment, personal support, and electoral incentive. All three of these are about policy and politics. None of them are about the primary job of Senators — upholding an oath of office to defend our Constitutional system of limited government.
It all sounds very idealistic, but I'll believe it when I see it.
and the Dakota pipeline protest
The LA Times lists the competing claims of demonstrators and the police. I wish they would try to adjudicate who is telling the truth.
and you might also be interested in ...
James Fallows is reporting that China has become much more repressive in the last few years. This seems like a very important trend, and points to another way our media culture dis-serves us: Something that happens gradually over a period of years might not be "news" on any particular day.
Fidel Castro is dead.
Here's your annual dose of humility: The NYT's 100 Notable Books of 2016. I read four this year: Steven King's End of Watch and three non-fiction books. Two of them I read for a book review: Nancy Isenberg's White Trash and J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy. The final book, Arlie Russell Hochschild's Strangers in Their Own Land, was buyer's remorse for writing my book review before it came out. The other 96, I know nothing about.
The annual War on Christmas is about to flare up again.
Whenever I feel tempted to believe the claims that Christians face discrimination in America, I look into the details of a case and that cures me. Here's one: A New York science teacher covered her classroom walls with posters featuring Bible verses, and sued after the administration made her take them down.
Friendly Atheist makes the same comment I often make about the Christians who see religious discrimination in such cases: They "would go batshit crazy if a non-Christian teacher ever did anything remotely similar to what Silver did."
The abortion rate per woman in the 15-44 age group has dropped to half of its 1980 level, and is lower than at any time since Roe v Wade made abortion legal nationwide in 1973. Next year, expect this stat to get much more attention, and Trump to take credit for it. Just one more way America is becoming great again.
The world chess championship has come down to one game, without me even noticing until just now. We've come a long way from Fischer-Spassky.
Tim O'Reily of geek publishing house O'Reily Media has some good observations on how to spot fake news: mismatch between headline and content, lack of sources, mismatch between article text and the referenced source, unreliable sources, no independent accounts of the same events, misuse of data.
In general, I continue to be surprised by the number of people I think of as relatively intelligent who post fake news articles on Facebook. Still, we liberals seem to have higher standards than the other side. NPR tracked down a fake-news creator, who has learned to focus on fake-news that appeals to conservatives.
We've tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You'll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.
and let's close with something awe-inspiring
A massive flock of starlings, filmed by Jan van Ijken and presented by National Geographic.