• Trump Prepares Executive Order on Policing
• Fox News Has a Rough Week
• Trump's COVID-19 Gaslighting Is Operating at Full Steam
• Trump Makes a Mountain out of a Molehill
• Here Come the Books
• Today's Presidential Polls
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There's been a lot of attention paid recently to uprisings rooted in racial tensions. However, those aren't the only kind of uprisings that American history has witnessed. For example, just a shade over 50 years ago (June 28 - July 3, 1969), LGBTQ people in New York launched the Stonewall Rebellion, regarded as a turning point in the fight for LGBTQ equality. On Monday, one of the main aims of that fight was realized, as the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia that LGBTQ individuals are a protected class when it comes to discrimination in the workplace.
This ruling was a double poke in the eye for Donald Trump. Or maybe one poke in each eye. First, because his administration—acting entirely contrary to the President's campaign promises to be pro-LGBTQ—argued strongly in court for what proved to be the losing position. Second, because the majority opinion was written by Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch. "They've ruled and we live with the decision," said an obviously shellshocked Trump on Monday, after the decision came down.
It is not terribly surprising that two conservatives jumped ship to join with the liberals on this one; if anything, the surprise may be that more of them did not join the majority. First, because opposing discrimination against LGBTQ folks is in harmony with the libertarian streak that runs through the modern Republican Party. The first politician of national stature to speak forcefully in favor of gay equality was "Mr. Conservative" Barry Goldwater, who really should have been known as "Mr. Libertarian." He observed, way back in the 1980s, that "Everyone knows that gays have served honorably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar...You don't need to be 'straight' to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight."
Second, as Slate's legal writer Mark Joseph Stern points out, the five conservatives on the court all claim to be, to varying degrees, textualists. That is to say, the words on paper are what matters, not the intent of the authors. The textualist Gorsuch issued a textualist opinion, observing that the authors of specific law on which this case rests—Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—clearly did not envision its application to LGBTQ folks, but that does not matter, because LGBTQ people are clearly covered by the plain text of the statute. The allegedly textualist Samuel Alito, by contrast, wrote a scorching dissent with an argument based on the original intent of the law (as he perceives it), declaring that if members of Congress in 1964 weren't specifically thinking about LGBTQ people, then the law doesn't protect LGBTQ people. Sam is really doing his best to join Henry Billings Brown when it comes to how he is remembered by history.
In terms of what comes next, the only thing that is certain is that a torrent of cases similar to Bostock is going to be unleashed. 1954's Brown v. Board of Education only addressed one area of discrimination on the basis of race, namely education. It was rapidly followed by suits that asked the courts to consider other areas of discrimination, including housing, transportation, public accommodations, and employment, among others. Bostock, which again, covers only employment, will trigger a similar sequence. And it's hard to see how those cases will not produce a string of wins for the LGBTQ rights movement.
The political reaction that the case will trigger is much more of a mystery. Stern, in the piece linked above, proposes that the ruling will cause some conservatives to become disenchanted with Donald Trump, since he has now failed to deliver on his foremost "accomplishment," namely a reliably conservative Supreme Court. Maybe so, but maybe not. Couldn't this just as easily have the opposite effect, allowing Trump to argue that it's more important than ever to reelect him, since a 5-4 conservative majority isn't enough in all cases, and a more solid 6-3 majority is what's really needed? Generally speaking, conservatives are much more focused on SCOTUS than progressives, and many of them may be angry and determined to vote in November, no matter how they have to do it. On the other hand, progressives may feel more complacent, thinking "Maybe Chief John Roberts isn't so bad after all and Gorsuch isn't the horror we thought he was."
That could be the thinking, but that thinking could be wrong. Roberts could be playing the long game. He wants to be known as an umpire who is just calling balls and strikes. If he calls only strikes, he's not a very good umpire. What he clearly cares about are cases that enhance Republicans' political power, cases such as gerrymandering, voter suppression, photo ID laws, (ex-)felon voting, purging the voter rolls, and that sort of stuff. Letting the other side win a few cases on other topics (which he probably sees as unimportant), is a necessary evil to keep the Republicans in power. Also, by voting with the majority, he got to assign Gorsuch to write a more limited opinion than Ruth Ginsburg would have done had she gotten the chance. As to Gorsuch, at 52, he is the youngest member of the Court and young people have a more tolerant view of LGBTQ people than their elders. Also, he grew up initially in Colorado, a state where the Republicans tend to be more libertarian than conservative. His mother, who served in the Colorado House, was born in Wyoming, another libertarian-oriented state. So on issues of personal freedom, Gorsuch may follow a more libertarian path than some of the other justices.
Meanwhile, some politicians will undoubtedly try to use "the gays" as a wedge issue this year. However, with support for outlawing LGBTQ relationships down to just 26%, and support for outlawing LGBTQ marriage down to 31%, this is not going to work on the national level (say, for Trump), and it's not likely to work on the state level in any but the most red (and thus non-competitive) states.
The only legitimately competitive places where homophobia might still be effective as a strategy are congressional and legislative districts, where the demographics may be much more anti-LGBTQ than the nation as a whole. However, while this might win the Republicans a few seats in competitive, red-leaning districts, it could also cost them some seats. How? Well, first, because any sort of scapegoat-based messaging may be out of sync with the tenor of the times, given the national debate spurred by George Floyd's death. Second, the folks most likely to benefit from LGBTQ rights as a wedge issue are far-right-wing primary challengers like Bob Good, who just used homophobia to unseat Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-VA) in VA-05. Good is much less electable than Riggleman, and if the Party is saddled with a bunch of outspoken anti-LGBTQ candidates, running against moderate Democrats, they could lose some otherwise winnable districts.
In short, the long-term historical impact of this ruling is not in doubt: Despite having a president right now who does not much value equality, equality took a step forward on Monday nonetheless. The short-term political impact, however? If we said we knew, we'd be lying. (Z & V)
Donald Trump and his party have a lot of supporters who are themselves police, or who are friends and family of police officers, or who are just pro-police in general. On the other hand, the George Floyd incident, followed by the Martin Gugino incident, followed by the Rayshard Brooks incident (with a bunch of other incidents in between these), has persuaded the great majority of the American public (around 70%) that the United States has a police problem.
You don't win elections with 30% of the vote, Electoral College or no. And so, it is going to be politically necessary for Donald Trump to do something to show his "concern" on this issue. To that end, he will issue an executive order on police misconduct today. It reportedly has three main elements:
- Calling for the creation of a national database of police misconduct incidents
- Advocating more cooperation between police officers and social workers/mental health officials
- Encouraging better training for police in the areas of de-escalation and use of force
You will notice that none of the three verbs at the start of these three elements is "doing" or "enacting" or "imposing."
Indeed—and not at all surprising, given the President is trying to thread the needle between his base and the political milieu of the moment—this is a clear case of a little bit of bark and almost no bite. It's easy to point out broad issues like these; much harder is to figure out how to actually tackle them. It's like saying "I'd like our schools to do better" or "No American should go to bed hungry." Fine goals, but how do you plan to accomplish them? On top of that, the one thing that all three of these proposals will require is money, and Trump is offering none. Reportedly, the executive order will declare that's up to Congress, and that financing is beyond the President's control. The careful reader will notice that the administration has a very different view when money is needed for things like building border walls.
And so, as of this afternoon, the ball will be in Congress' court. Actually, since the House already has a bill ready and raring to go, it's really in the Senate's court, which means that all eyes are now on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). It's always possible that something meaningful could get through the upper chamber, particularly if the pressure remains intense. Don't count on it, though. Recall, for example, how often we've heard proposals very similar to these in the immediate aftermath of mass shootings. And yet, how much follow-through has there been from Team Mitch, once the original wave of anger and frustration passes? (Z)
As you may have heard, there is a protest "occupation" going on right now in Seattle. In brief, a large cadre of Black Lives Matters protesters have largely taken over a four-block area centered on Seattle's historically LGBTQ district (Capitol Hill; equivalent to San Francisco's Castro, or Los Angeles' West Hollywood, or New York's Christopher Street). This is being used as a base for protests, speeches, meetings, and the like.
To folks familiar with organized, mass protests, this is very close to a non-story. It is not uncommon for a sustained protest to have a "headquarters" that protesters occupy. This works to the benefit of the protesters, since it generally increases their visibility, makes it easier to organize, and heightens their First Amendment protections. Police and other authorities also tend to favor this arrangement, if there are going to be protests anyhow, as it generally maintains order and reduces the likelihood of violent conflict.
Still, there are folks on the right who would like their viewers to be angry and frightened about what is going on. After all "Black Lives Matter protesters have occupied a small part of Seattle" can pretty easily be massaged into "Black troublemakers/Antifa members have invaded the city of Seattle." Rush Limbaugh, for example, has gotten enough mileage out of it to travel to the moon and back. Fox News really wanted to jump in, too. And when they could not find compelling evidence to support their narrative of events, they just made some up.
That's right. Unable to find visual evidence of a city out of control and beset by violence, the folks at Fox News created their own visuals in Photoshop. In one, they used a shot from Minneapolis to suggest that a building in Seattle had been torched. In another, they cut and pasted a man armed with a semi-automatic rifle to make it appear as if the protesters are armed to the teeth. After being called out by the folks who took the pre-doctored photographs, Fox has removed them from their website without apology or correction.
And that is not the only protest-related trouble in Fox "paradise" in the last week. Tucker Carlson has been particularly outspoken in his response to the protests and to Black Lives Matter. Most obviously, he declared:
This may be a lot of things, this moment we're living through, but it is definitely not about black lives. Remember that when they come for you, and at this rate, they will.
It is hard to believe that someone can get to the point of having a nationally televised show with millions of viewers, and yet not realize that declaring, in effect, that "the black people are coming to get you!" is more than a tad racist. Actually, it's almost impossible to believe, if you know what we mean. Carlson has not backed off his remarks, but many of his advertisers have backed off his show. T-Mobile and Papa John's Pizza, among others, have announced they will no longer advertise on his program.
We, and our Sunday mailbag correspondents, have talked a number of times in the last month about the continued viability of the Fox News model. They are still doing great, with a daily average of 3.4 million prime time viewers in May, well ahead of MSNBC, which had 1.9 million and CNN, which had 1.7 million. The five top prime-time news shows on cable are Hannity, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The Five, The Ingraham Angle, and Special Report with Bret Baier, all on Fox News. Nevertheless, they are bleeding some right-leaning viewers to OANN and are losing some centrist viewers (and advertisers) thanks to fiascos like the ones in the last week. Meanwhile, their core audience grows older and older, and thus less desirable to advertisers. Can you cover the costs of an entire network with ads for MyPillow, Chick-fil-A, and Bass Pro Shops? We may find out. But for the moment, Fox's strategy is to take the money as long as it lasts. (Z)
Speaking of right-wing propaganda, Donald Trump is quite ready to move on from COVID-19, and so has declared the pandemic effectively over. On Monday, he said that any uptick in the COVID-19 numbers is simply due to increased testing. "If we stop testing right now, we'd have very few cases, if any," he declared.
It's not surprising that he turned the gaslighting level up to 11 (which is, after all, one more than 10) on Monday. First of all, the U.S. death total for COVID-19 has now surpassed 116,516, meaning that World War I is now in the rearview mirror. Further, and even more grim, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington announced Monday that their latest projections, based on relaxed prevention practices and the re-opening of much of the country, is that the number of dead Americans will surpass 200,000 by October 1.
Here is an updated version of the chart that we put together, and that we've run a few times:
Beyond the steadily rising death toll, you will notice that Trump has stopped bothering to update his own personal estimates for how many people will succumb to the disease. One can argue that "we are going to keep the death total below 20,000!" might be a selling point under just the right circumstances. But once the total hits six figures, and once it's left all but America's two bloodiest wars in the dust in just two months, there is simply no spin powerful enough to turn such bad news into a political victory. And so Trump has moved on to the only option available to him, namely the gaslighting. He is, and has been, trying to sell the American people that these dead people, and the disease that is killing them, is 95% fake news. Maybe 99%. Hence his wholly counterfactual declaration on Monday.
This is, of course, a recipe for disaster. Some sizable portion of the American people takes what the President says as gospel, and will behave accordingly, thus allowing the disease to wreak even more havoc. And the U.S. isn't the only place where this is happening. By virtually any measure, the nations that have had the worst outcomes with COVID-19 are the U.S., Russia, China, Brazil, and India. Those nations are all large and, as the columnist C.Y. Gopinath points out, they all just happen to be led by macho strongman types with a penchant for science denial. (Gopinath also argues that female-led countries have had the best outcomes, but that case is less solid, since most of the examples he raises also happen to be island nations.)
Like Vlad Putin, Xi Jinping, Jair Bolsonaro, and Narendra Modi, Trump doesn't actually believe what he's peddling. This is indicated by the fact that he's willing to move ahead with his rallies, but that attendees will be asked to sign a waiver that absolves the President and his campaign of all responsibility if the attendee becomes ill. If COVID-19 was fake news, that would not be necessary. Further, is there any way to read all of this other than to conclude that he's ok with putting people's health and lives and risk, but he's not willing to put his pocketbook or that of his campaign at risk?
In any event, the waivers are themselves a form of gaslighting, meant to trick ill-informed people into foregoing lawsuits. Legal experts agree they won't actually stand up in court, if challenged, because they aren't precise enough about what exactly is being waived. As one legal scholar observed, the Trump campaign "seems to have opted for the worst of both worlds: It wrote a waiver that's less than waterproof but still offensive enough to attract bad press." We will see what happens if and when someone actually gets sick at a Trump rally. Or 1,000 someones. (Z)
Well, it wasn't literally a molehill, it was a ramp with a fairly gentle slope. But the basic idea is still on target. We weren't actually certain we wanted to engage with this story, since it seemed a little bit like taking a cheap shot at Donald Trump. With 24 hours' reflection, however, we are persuaded that there's actually quite a bit of substance here.
For those who are not already aware, Trump delivered the commencement address at West Point this weekend (it wasn't especially well received), struggled to drink a glass of water while speaking, and then descended from the stage using a ramp that was about 20 feet long, and probably had a rise of about 10 degrees. His descent was very slow and halting, and he appeared to rely on the general accompanying him for some stability. Here's the video, which is now all over the place:
The online response was instantaneous, with people wondering about Trump's health and/or drawing contrasts by posting pictures of past presidents doing physically fit things like pushups, jogging, and bike riding. And especially ones of Trump's nemesis, Barack Obama, playing basketball, like this one:
Quite often, given the nature of the president's issue(s), these postings are being given the tag #watergait.
Anyhow, our initial response to the footage was based on Trump's explanation that the ramp was "slippery." Anyone who has ever worn men's dress shoes knows that's a real issue on some surfaces, particularly wet ones. So, we thought that actually sounded reasonable, and that maybe the response was a bit of an overreaction. However, on further examination, that explanation does not hold up all that well. It was clearly dry and sunny that day, as the video shows. Further, the general next to Trump was wearing dress shoes, and he didn't appear to be having any issues.
Meanwhile, as Politico's Jeff Greenfield points out, there are few things more damaging to a president (or would-be president) than the perception they are frail or clumsy. First, because the voters don't want to elect someone who might not be up to the task or who might die in office. Second, because "weak" and "clumsy" are the opposite of "strong," and so run contrary to the image that is expected from occupants of the Oval Office. Sometimes, such concerns are valid, as in the case of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's failing health in 1944, which gave him the closest result of his four presidential elections. Sometimes, they are less valid, as in Gerald Ford's stumble down the (wet) steps of Air Force One during a visit to Austria:
In any event, fair or not, there is no question that the perception of illness and/or frailty is a presidential liability. And in Trump's case, such questions are almost certainly on the "fair" side of the ledger, for three reasons. The first is that he has made a big issue of his opponents' physical condition, whether it's Hillary Clinton's alleged debilitating illness or Joe Biden's age and cognitive abilities. What is good for the goose is good for the gander, as they say.
The second is that Trump has kept the truth about his health almost completely shrouded in mystery. The information we have comes from sources that have already shown themselves to be unreliable (Harold Bornstein, Ronny Jackson) or from sources whose reliability is up in the air (Sean Conley). Meanwhile, Trump has never properly explained his mysterious visit to Walter Reed in November of last year.
Third, and finally, Trump is already the oldest president at the time of his inauguration. The other folks who began their presidency at 60+ and who lasted two terms (Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Andrew Jackson) all had major health problems by the time they left office (cognitive issues, heart issues, and pulmonary and heart issues, respectively). It was also bad luck for Trump that the ramp incident just so happened to take place on his 74th birthday, another reminder of the potential risks of giving him four more years in office. Of course, Trump could adopt the campaign slogan: "I may be old, but Biden's even older," but we doubt he will.
So, this is a legit news story, in part because the American people tend to vote based on such things, and in part because there are some real concerns this raises. It is also a news story because Trump made it into one. Showing his continued refusal to grasp the Streisand Effect, he insisted on responding to the news (as noted above) via Twitter, thus giving it oxygen. Maybe it would have died off quickly, after occupying part of one news cycle. But now, it's on its third news cycle and still going strong.
Trump, of course, makes so much news that is adverse to him that this may soon be forgotten. At least, it will be forgotten if there are no more incidents. But people (read: reporters) will be watching. And if he projects weakness or frailty again (which we would expect if there's actually something physically wrong), then this incident will be right back at the front of people's minds. And if the perception develops that Trump cannot physically handle the presidency, that will certainly do some damage. (Z)
Let us imagine that you are planning to write an adverse book about Donald Trump (or, for that matter, about Joe Biden). Right now is absolutely the prime time to release that book. First, people are more interested in presidential politics in the summer of a presidential election year than at any other time. Second, because of COVID-19, a lot of folks are at home and are looking for things to do to fill time. Third, because one of these two men will quickly become far less interesting on Nov. 4, give or take a couple of days. Or weeks. Or when Congress counts the electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021.
These things being the case, it comes as no surprise that several new volumes on the President are imminent. Well, two of them are imminent, while the third is somewhat up in the air. The first book to hit the shelves will be The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump, set for release today. This appears to be the most gossipy of the three new releases, and contains two revelations that are getting a lot of press. The first is that the First Lady's extended sojourn in New York City, reportedly undertaken to allow Barron Trump to complete the school year, was actually to give her more time to (successfully) renegotiate her prenuptial agreement. The second is that Ivanka Trump tried to rename the First Lady's office as the "Office of the First Family," and was stepped on hard by Melania Trump.
The second book, set for release on Aug. 11 (i.e., shortly before the Republican National Convention) looks to have more potential to do some actual damage to the President. It is written by his niece Mary Trump, and is titled Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man. The exact content of the book is not really clear at this point, but the publisher promises it will be "harrowing and salacious." Mary is clearly going to air some Trump family dirty laundry, and she also has a degree in psychology, so expect some observations from that vantage point. Oh, and she's also the one who sang to The New York Times about the President's tax shenanigans, so expect some of that, too. Finally, we learn who the nursery rhyme "Mary, Mary, quite contrary" was about.
And finally, there is the book that Trump truly fears, which is John Bolton's The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir. At the moment, the book is scheduled to be released next Tuesday. Reportedly, it says Ukraineyola was just the tip of the iceberg, and that the sort of stunts Trump pulled with Volodymyr Zelensky were a regular thing with the leaders of the world. It is very clear that the President is frightened about this one because he and his administration are doing everything they can to delay or cancel publication, including dragging out the approval process and threatening Bolton with lawsuits and/or prosecution. To hear Trump and AG Bill Barr tell it, the book won't be available anytime this year, or maybe ever.
Perhaps the White House will be successful in its efforts to embargo the book, but it's not looking too likely. To start, Bolton already has an interview about the book in the can, to be aired on ABC this weekend. So, some amount of truth will out, no matter what happens at this point. Further, if publisher Simon & Schuster was prepping for a June 23 release, that means there are already hundreds of thousands of copies of the book sitting on pallets at Amazon's HQ, and at various printing plants, and in other places. All it takes is for one copy to get out into the wild (something Simon & Schuster is sure to encourage, perhaps by mailing an anonymous copy or 10 to The New York Times) and all of the White House's censorship efforts will have been for naught. One way or another, we'll know in about a week. (Z)
Here is the presidential poll from Ann Selzer we thought was coming. She had Trump up by 10 right before COVID-19 hit; now he's up by 1. Clearly, Iowa is in play this year, and Trump and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) will rise and fall together. (Z)
|Iowa||43%||44%||Jun 07||Jun 10||Selzer|
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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