David Mislin: How do we think this ends? In other words, where is the country going? Are we doomed? Do Democrats rally in 2018 and we all laugh and say “US politics is cyclical, nothing ever lasts”? Do we stay polarized? Are things like this tax bill so bad that they trigger a new progressive moment?
Chris Bouton: In other words, let’s do a little bit of historical futurcasting.
Erin Bartram: This is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’ve tried to emphasize to my students this semester that we need to think of the 1787 Constitution as a failure, in some senses, because it provides no political solution to fundamental issues in the country. There’s a military solution where no political solution could be found.
David: Right. I guess an additional option I didn’t include but it sort of falls under “we’re doomed,” is whether or not there’s some functional equivalent of a military coup, which is something I increasingly worry about.
Erin: I am not saying this is the 1850s, but when I think realistically about how things proceed, the ways of fixing everything to make the system more equitable are not tweaks. They are massive overhauls. Or things don’t get fixed. People in Wyoming can only shout “It’s a republic not a democracy” so much before the fundamental inequities of the system won’t be tolerated.
And unlike something like black voting rights, the political oppression in this case isn’t specific to a demographic group, but to geographic locations.
Chris: I’ll play the optimist here and suggest that the republic is not doomed.
Erin: Thank you for that
Chris: In regards to the Democrats chances in 2018, I’d say based on what I read from political wonk types, that recent elections and the generic Congressional ballot suggest a swing back towards the Democrats. Historically, the president’s party does poorly in midterm elections. And I don’t subscribe to the theory that the election of Trump broke all the “rules” of politics.
Erin: Do you think the elections will be free and fair?
Chris: How much of a swing? Who knows? The country is pretty heavily gerrymandered.
Erin: That’s the thing that I think matters long term. Obviously the SC is going to weigh in on this relatively soon, but as I think Sotomayor said in the Wisconsin argument, if we’re saying partisan gerrymandering is limitless, aren’t we effectively saying voting doesn’t matter?
Chris: I’d question to the extent of which our elections have ever been wholly free or fair, so if we want to talk about that issue we’d have to discuss degrees of free and fair.
David: I think they will be mostly free and fair. I suspect what will impede them will be stuff we already know about; higher bars to voting with IDs, prohibitions on those convicted of felonies; limited voting hours, etc. Gerrymandering as Chris mentioned. I don’t think there’s going to be a massive suppression campaign.
Erin: True enough.
David: That’s exactly right, Chris. Maybe worse by degree but not in kind.
Chris: And something like the Wisconsin case will have a huge impact, making the upcoming elections especially important for something like ensuring freer and more open elections.
Erin: I don’t know enough about whether the reversal of net neutrality could get hung up in the courts, but I do worry about the effect of that on the elections of 2018. I think the ultimate question is whether we are more committed to federalism than to equal representation.
Chris: I’d like to reframe David’s question this way, how does the Trump era end and what are its consequences? I think Trump himself will fade from view pretty quickly. I’m under no illusions that he’ll be impeached. I don’t think it’s going to happen. What I imagine is that the back half of his first term will be consumed by the Mueller investigation with charges and trials against people like Flynn, Kushner, Manafort, Junior etc. And Trump himself will be implicated in financial dealings with Russians.
As for the rest of it, the increased polarization, the attacks on voting rights, the resurgence of white identity politics, those are here to stay, and they were here before, and have been magnified in recent years.
David: I think that’s right. And, I have to say, while I’ve been quite skeptical about discussions about his being removed for being unfit, I’m starting to wonder if that might actually be in the realm of possibility.
Chris: David, it’s certainly something that I’ve seen discussed more and that’s a good thing. Because let’s face it, the man is not temperamentally suited to hold the office. He’s a simpleton, easily manipulated, and full of rage. That’s a bad combination.
Erin: The reason why I’m thinking about long term structural inequities is that Trump’s only success, largely guided by McConnell, has been the court system. Trump can be gone, but the courts are already permanently reshaped to a degree that I don’t think any of us even understand yet. Trump can also be gone but the depression this tax bill will create could reshape the rest of our economic lives.
David: I’m actually not as worried about the tax bill as some people are. Which might be willful avoidance of reality on my part. But I think Democrats retaking Congress is quite possible, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s some effort to fix this bill. Everyone seems to acknowledge it’s bad. Republicans are just desperate for the win right now.
Erin: Chris, to your point: Colin McEnroe, one of our local NPR show hosts in CT, said something last week that resonated. He said his whole life, he never thought he could be president, and that was something that made him feel safe. Now he honestly thinks he not only could be a better president, but would, and would gladly take the spot from Trump tomorrow because he thinks he could be better.
Chris: There’s also something I take comfort in, which may sound strange, is that human beings are really bad at predicting the future. So for as gloomy as we think the future is now, there’s plenty of other things that could emerge that will change the path we think we’re on. Maybe organizations like Indivisible and Run For Something do trigger some kind of new progressive moment.
David: Right. I always use the example of the months after the 2004 election, when Bush was going on about his political capital, Democrats had done worse than expected in House and Senate races, and there was talk of a permanent GOP Senate majority. Two years later, Democrats controlled both chambers and Bush floundered through his term.
Chris: Right, I’m very skeptical of anything from either side that says “This is the new status quo.” After 2008, it was the Democrats had the new permanent majority.
Erin: I guess I’m skeptical of people who think it can’t get worse. There’s so much faith in the American system of democracy that people forget THEY are the system.
David: I guess I think it can get worse, but I don’t think it can get as worse as the doomsayers predict.
Erin: The same way I don’t think this is a turning point for gender or sexual harassment either.
David: Which I realize is an incredibly comfortable, non-committal position to take.
Chris: We tend to overemphasize the impact of events right when they occur. Things will generally revert to a status quo in the aftermath.
David: But I think our earlier discussion of fair elections is emblematic of my views. I think voting rights will become more restricted and there will be higher bars to voting for some. That will certainly have consequences (and I don’t mean to minimize the significance of those consequences). But I do think we’ll continue to have reasonably free and fair elections. Likewise I think government corruption is likely to get worse in the short- and medium-term. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to become a full-blown kleptocracy
Erin: I saw that FL is on its way to having a ballot initiative to restore felon voting rights, and I wonder if that issue will pick up steam.
Chris: But Kellyanne Conway is going to fix the opioid crisis!
Erin: I mean, I think the thing that I can’t get away from is when people say “not much has happened yet.” The situation in Puerto Rico alone should be enough. Let alone the gutting of State, what’s happened at the EPA, and Education. I finally saw some commentators yesterday say “Hey, maybe Kelly wasn’t trying to rein him in. He seems to think the same as Trump on immigration.”::slow clap::
Chris: These are under the radar issues that get glossed over because they’re not part of the immediate news cycle.
Erin: They also affect poor people, non-white people, people with disabilities, and non-citizens.
Chris: And that speaks to the continued failures of many of news media institutions, who continue to push their narrative based reporting on Trump’s Tweets or whatever else.
Erin: If the Times covered these issues, they’d have to do fewer profiles on “Nazi sympathizers” or the same diner full of white “working-class” men of East Rustbelt, Pennsylvania.
Erin: Instead of the tax bill, the lead story on the Washington Post is another “will Tillerson get canned?” story.
Chris: That piece exemplified the Times’ inability to learn from its past mistakes while still engaging in those voyeuristic veneration of working class whites in the Rustbelt.
David: And also its need to bring back the public editor position.
Chris: I mean who thought giving the soft-focus treatment to a Nazi was a good idea? I really want to know.
David: I do think, unexpectedly, the sexual harassment/assault stuff going on is forcing a larger media reckoning on other issues. Thinking about how Lauer treated Trump vs. Clinton in the debate, for example.
Chris: I hope so.
Erin: I wonder if we’ll see the emergence of new/alternative media outlets as a result.
David: Or even just a different kind of news reporting with women taking higher positions?
Erin: Yeah, and while I think hell will freeze over before the Times owns up to its issues, perhaps the fact that the Washington Post is sort of killing it reputation-wise will have some long-term effects.
Chris: The Post is putting the Times to shame.
And the issue is news organizations and other organizations in general making sure they promote women into positions of power. They’ve been working hard to get women into entry level spots, but moving them up the ladder is a whole other issue.
Erin: Wasn’t the last editor in chief of the Times a woman and forced out in some dodgy circumstances?
David: Yeah, I think so.
Erin: (The parallel being that lots of women are in academia but most of the tenured spots are held by men)
David: And, of course, Ann Curry, who is also back in the news.
Erin: What if some female-run VC (which we know tend to get better returns) just funded a new news outlet with Curry and Jemele Hill and Melissa Harris-Perry.
Chris: There was a great discussion on a recent 538 podcast about sexual harassment about how news organizations promote men based on potential and women based on experience.
Erin: I think that holds true in a lot of fields, Chris, and helps explain lots of second/third/fiftieth chances for men. I’m thinking of that Buzzfeed piece last weekend on why we keep trying to make Armie Hammer happen.
Chris: Hollywood is a great example. How many terrible movies starring Jai Courtney will get in the next year before people figure out he can’t act?
Erin: As I’ve been researching Unitarians for the past 10 years, I’ve gradually seen my searches for members of the Channing family result more and more in results about Channing Tatum.
Chris: Or fill in whatever generic male actor here, while someone like Alison Tollman from the first season of Fargo can only land a sitcom lead where she starred opposite a dog.
Erin: For all that people have said “oh, man, I’m agreeing with Bill Kristol!” and things like that, I’ve been much more compelled by former Republican/conservative women in the news sphere.
David: Ana Navarro!
Erin: The only MSNBC show I regularly catch up on is Nicolle Wallace’s afternoon show.
Chris: To go back to the academic example for a moment, I wonder when the sexual harassment stuff hits academia. Because if Catherine Clinton’s recent SHA address made clear, there are some real creeps in academia (and well everywhere).
There was that horrifying Derrida letter that resurfaced recently where he threatened UC-Irvine over allegations made against one of his favorite colleagues.
Erin: That was so disgusting. And much as we are considering the effects of having a bunch of creeps shape the media coverage of Trump v. Clinton, and whether we enjoy the art of convicted rapists In retrospect, I think we’ll not only have to consider how the views of women held by certain academics shaped their scholarship, but the lengths so many went to to say that that scholarship was “objective”
Chris: The Matt Lauer videos coming out yesterday were really disturbing.
David: Right, it’s the whole in-plain-sight thing that we’ve seen with Lauer.
Erin: And it only is able to be “hidden” because people think about these things as individual choices not as social structures You’re only a racist if you say the n-word and you can’t be a racist if you work with black people. Or my dad’s firm belief that our fire department at home will stop being as sexist because there are lots of women in it. There have always been women in the world. That hasn’t fixed things.
Chris: My wife and I were talking about the Lauer stuff yesterday, and Casey cut right to the core of it, “Who allowed him to have a button to lock his door from the inside?”
David: I mean, I don’t want to sound like I don’t take this seriously, but that’s like the stuff of a cartoon villain!
Erin: That’s sort of the thing, though. So much of what happens is so extreme and gross and mustache-twirly that it becomes the reason the claims are discounted.
Roy Moore assaulting that 16 year old and then saying “you’re a kid and i’m the assistant DA. no one will believe you.”
Chris: To go back to Erin’s point about women always been there, I’ve been really disappointed by the Democrats reaction to the allegations against Conyers and Franken. You either find this behavior appalling or you don’t.
Erin: Have you seen the developments of the morning?
David: Well right, I guess I meant that in a different way. Along the lines of Chris’s “who thought it was a good idea to have a door-locking button on the desk.”
Chris: You don’t get to pick and choose who is morally reprehensible
Developments on Moore?
Erin: Pelosi this morning said “step down.” Conyers just scheduled a press conference in an hour.
Chris: She should have said that last week
Erin: As ham-fisted as it was, Pelosi’s awful MTP appearance was clearly an attempt to allow Conyers to take a more graceful way out.
She should know better that no man will do that. Moore won’t, Trump won’t, Franken won’t.
To quote Lori Ginzberg quoting someone in the 19th century: moral suasion is moral balderdash
David: And what about Garrison Keillor…that was a new one, issuing a preemptive statement?
Chris: And playing the “poor me” card the whole time.
Erin: Did you see how the Washington Post had to add an “update” to his piece defending Franken? Like “since we posted this, the author has been fired for sexual harassment.”
Chris: Yeah, that’s the ultimate “update” I think the Democratic Party had a chance to seize the moral high ground and then bungled it horribly. I can’t say I’m surprised, just disappointed.
Erin: Everyone likes to say the Democrats bungle everything, and I think they’re often stupid, but it’s also gone unnoticed that they’ve won a lot of local pickups in places they “shouldn’t.”
David: I think it’s the national party that bungles things. I wonder a lot if Democrats could have picked up GA6 if it had stayed under the radar.
Chris: I think that’s the lesson they’re trying to follow with the Alabama Senate race.
And they’ve left the local parties to wither, the Virginia state elections were a reminder that if you run people all over the place you have a better chance of winning.
Erin: But then when you don’t win in places, there are some people that will say it’s because you didn’t put enough money in or do enough. But nationalizing races isn’t always productive.
I think Virginia showed that all politics is local but also national and that no one really knows which will motivate which voters.
David: Yeah. that.
Chris: My favorite example of that was the transwoman, Danica Roem, who beat Virginia’s “chief homophobe” and all she talked about was fixing the roads. While the homophobe referred to her as “him” and refused to debate.
Erin: You put that alongside formerly red suburban counties voting Democratic, though, and you realize that it’s always going to be both. A lot of CT republicans felt great about their chances in the gubernatorial race next year but got much quieter after this year’s elections.
Chris: Malloy’s term limited isn’t he?
Erin: I don’t actually know. He’s not running, anyway.
And I hope that he just takes the gloves off in his last year anyway. He’s a jerk in many ways, but both parties in the assembly have been using him to avoid dealing with long-term issues themselves.
I noticed when my students were reading Carter’s crisis of confidence speech, they were tying it to really long-term historical things, which is good. But I also had to remind them that people mostly don’t think that way, which is why we get the idea that in one term, a governor should be able to “fix” everything. Same with a president.
To bring it around to our opening question, I think the legacy of the Trump era will be much longer and deeper than most people want to admit.
David: Yeah, that definitely seems right. And it ultimately won’t be so much about Trump, as Chris said earlier.
Chris: I think he’ll fade away, but the issues that he has championed and brought to the fore aren’t going away.
Erin: I think he’s made many people aware of how much some of their countrymen and women don’t believe in the values of democracy and the common good.
What we do about that is still an open question.