Political Animal

How Ignorance Feeds the Politics of Resentment

At his campaign-style rally in Iowa last night, Trump repeated the kind of performance we’ve come to expect from him. He lied prodigiously and his supporters ate it up. The folks at Morning Joe did a good job of chronicling the lies.

But one of the items they included wasn’t so much a lie as it was yet another example of this president (and his speechwriters) putting his ignorance on display. Trump said:

The time has come for new immigration rules which say that those seeking admission into our country must be able to support themselves financially and should not use welfare for a period of at least five years. We’ll be putting in legislation to that effect very shortly.

Apparently that line received a rapturous standing ovation.

Here’s the problem with that: the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 says that an immigrant is “not eligible for any Federal means-tested public benefit” for 5 years, which starts on the date the immigrant enters the country. So a law has already existed for over 20 years that does what the president promised to do.

Beyond demonstrating the president’s ignorance, that statement and the response it got from the audience tells us a lot about how right wingers have been attempting to inflame xenophobia about immigrants. This isn’t Trump’s usual tirade about “illegal immigrants” crossing our Southern border in hordes and committing crimes. Notice that this one is about “new immigration rules.” Now we’re talking about legal immigrants. The suggestion is that they are consuming government resources on welfare—which is a lie, because they are already barred from doing so for 5 years.

This is exactly the kind of message you would expect from the white nationalist duo in the White House of Bannon and Miller, as Joshua Green noted a few months ago.

“The media tends to cover immigration issues through the frame of how it impacts everybody but actual citizens of the United States,” Miller complains…

Miller and Bannon want Trump to undertake a radical recasting of U.S. policies, from immigration to trade to taxation, that would invert this frame by making the interests of [white] U.S. citizens (or what Miller and Bannon perceive to be their interests) predominant, almost to the point of exclusivity.

Last night the president was telling that crowd in Iowa that they have a reason to resent (brown) immigrants because they are using programs supported by your federal tax dollars. He vowed to put a stop to that.

I doubt that Trump, Bannon or Miller care that the whole frame was based on ignorance. They got their message across to people who aren’t likely to see the fact check. The only thing that continues to prop up this president’s support is the politics of resentment that is primarily based on ignorance.

What Parnell Did in South Carolina to Make it a Close Race

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned about the two special elections on Tuesday is that they both happened in states that are the heart of the Southern Confederacy. Perhaps that’s because they took place in districts that had been gerrymandered to maximize the white vote. But as Jason Johnson points out, that doesn’t mean that racial dynamics weren’t involved.

In the South—even the “educated” suburban South of a teeming multicultural metropolis like Atlanta—racial dynamics and party dynamics overlap in inescapable ways. White people generally don’t vote for the Democratic Party in Georgia, or any other Southern state. The idea that a coalition of educated suburban whites would actually team up with black voters to send a message to Donald Trump from Georgia was a fantasy created by the blue screen and CGI of outside Democratic analysts who want a happy ending to the Trump narrative in eight months.

In Georgia’s 6th District, African Americans are only about 13 percent of the population. But in South Carolina’s 5th District, they make up almost 30 percent. Not many media outlets reported on what happened in that race until Archie Parnell beat the odds against Ralph Norman and lost by only 3 percent. Here’s what made it unique:

Much of the commentary on the left about this race has involved the kinds of dualities that have consumed those still caught up in the Clinton/Sanders primary. While some have attempted to propose various reasons why Parnell did so much better than expected, they have mostly ignored what Democrats and the candidate actually set out to do.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the biggest outside contributor to the race, has spent $275,000 to test a host of messages aimed at driving black voters to the polls. The results, officials say, will inform Democratic turnout efforts in African-American communities in the 2018 elections.

“We’re aiming to try to get out 40,000 voters from the African-American community, and with that we’d be in a good place to win,” Mr. Parnell said. “No one knows how many people are going to vote. Whether we’ll be successful, time will tell.”

Mr. Parnell has spent his 15-week campaign in black churches, barber shops and community events arguing that Mr. Trump is reversing the legacy of President Barack Obama. He speaks regularly about the Affordable Care Act’s protections for diabetes and heart disease, ailments that disproportionately affect the black community, and the high incarceration rate of black South Carolinians.

“There is more excitement and more activity regarding this election than we’ve had in a long time,” said Melvin Poole, a former president of the NAACP chapter in Rock Hill, S.C.

Here’s the results of that strategy:

Ruthven went on to tweet that, “Archie Parnell increased black votes and made inroads with whites, that’s why it was close. That’s the Southern Democrat Holy Grail.”

While it is discouraging that Parnell lost, this is exactly what Democrats need to be doing in districts like South Carolina’s 5th. One size does not fit all and it probably wouldn’t have helped much in Georgia’s 6th. But I hope that the lessons learned from Parnell’s race are chronicled and then implemented again in 2018 in places where African American turnout can make the difference. Simply assuming that without Barack Obama at the top of the ticket means that Democrats have to look elsewhere for votes doesn’t cut it.

Democrats Should Do to McConnell What the GOP Does to Pelosi

The three leaders of the Republican Party right now (Trump, McConnell and Ryan) pose very different threats. The threat Trump poses as president is on obvious display for everyone but his most ardent supporters. His lies are blatant and his attacks are vicious, but childish. In many ways Trump would be forgettable in any public office other than the one he now holds. As the executive in charge of the entire federal bureaucracy and the leader of America’s foreign policy, we’re seeing how dangerous it is to have someone as mentally unbalanced as Trump in that role.

Ryan is the only real ideologue of the group. His philosophy is rooted in the survival of the fittest as espoused by people like Ayn Rand. While that is a challenge, it is his youthful-looking sincerity as he obfuscates and lies that poses the real threat. That worked so well that most of the media even bought into the idea that he’s some kind of policy wonk with his power point nonsense.

Mitch McConnell is no ideologue. He rose to power in the Republican ranks by raising money and defending the right to do so by any means necessary. Jordan Weismann has a pretty good run-down on the way in which McConnell poses a threat.

Over the years he has masterfully twisted the rules of Senate procedure to the GOP’s advantage by breaking Washington norms that voters fundamentally don’t think or care much about, in part because they make for dry copy and soporific television. Our national aversion to process stories helped the Kentuckian gum up President Obama’s political agenda and deny him a Supreme Court appointment. And now it may allow him to pass a health care bill by stealth.

Given how we’ve seen the Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare unfold, I think it is safe to say that McConnell poses a bigger threat to our democracy than Ryan. With the latter, his ideologically-based approach appeals to those who already agree with him. When he lies and obfuscates, it is possible to call him out. As a result, the American public was pretty energized in fighting back when the AHCA was making its way through the House.

As Weismann suggests, McConnell’s approach relies on complicity from the public in order to be successful. Neither voters nor the media are willing to engage on the minutia of congressional processes to hold him accountable. That is what Mike Lofgren was on to way back in 2011. He walked through the strategy as well as why it works with both the public and the media.

A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn (“Government is the problem,” declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).

The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable “hard news” segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the “respectable” media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias.

The media is never going to tackle this threat because their only tools are to lay out the process in a technical way and readers just aren’t interested. Democrats tend to either craft ideological arguments against each position or critique the process is a technical way. Neither of those ever get the public engaged in the root of the problem.

In the wake of the special election in Georgia yesterday, there is some talk about how Karen Handel ran endless ads linking Jon Ossoff to Nancy Pelosi. As Kevin Drum pointed out so effectively, Handel wasn’t making a direct connection to the policy positions of Pelosi. What Republicans have done over the years is make the minority leader the symbol of the threat Democrats pose to conservative values.

That made me realize that McConnell poses a threat to “people who genuinely value the tenets of democracy, meaning no more than the passionate desire to settle differences by debate and argument, rather than by power and cruelty and clan.”

My suggestion is that Democrats should start making that argument against McConnell (which, unlike the attacks against Pelosi, has the benefit of being true). Then in 2018, every Democratic candidate for Senate could make the case that a vote for their opponent is a vote for McConnell and against our values in a democracy. This is one time when I don’t mind taking a page out of the Republican playbook.

Quick Takes: AHCA is Getting Even More Unpopular

* From Politico:

Opposition to the Republican health bill is growing, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.

As the GOP-led Senate prepares to take up the measure, only 35 percent of voters surveyed approve of the bill passed by the House last month. Nearly half of voters, 49 percent, disapprove of the bill. The other 16 percent don’t know or don’t have an opinion, the poll shows.

POLITICO/Morning Consult polling indicates the bill has become less popular since the House advanced it in early May. Immediately after the bill passed, slightly more voters approved of the bill, 38 percent. Opposition to the bill was lower, too, immediately after the House passed it: 44 percent.

It is always prudent to be skeptical of one poll. Who knows whether that disapproval number is 20, 30 or 35 percent? But a trend line like this coming from the same polling firm is a rock solid indicator. Whatever the disapproval number actually is, it’s going down.

* This is a perfect example of how Democrats fail. In the Georgia special election, Karen Handel ran endless ads linking Jon Ossoff to Nancy Pelosi. Kevin Drum does a good job of explaining how the propaganda works. But apparently it doesn’t just work for Republicans. Some Democrats are now going all wobble-kneed about Pelosi.

There is no challenge to Pelosi’s leadership, and none is going to happen at this point, said numerous Democrats. But it’s clear frustration is growing with the longtime Democratic leader following the extensive losses Democrats have suffered over the past half-decade.

And the fact that Republicans spent millions of dollars on TV ads tying Democratic hopeful Jon Ossoff to Pelosi — and the brand of progressive policies she represents — shows that she will once again be an issue for Democratic challengers in the very districts that the party needs to win to make her speaker again…

“I think you’d have to be an idiot to think we could win the House with Pelosi at the top,” said Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas), who supported Pelosi in her last leadership race. “Nancy Pelosi is not the only reason that Ossoff lost. But she certainly is one of the reasons.”

Any Democrat who thinks that another leader wouldn’t get the exact same treatment from Republicans is the idiot.

* This is something we knew was going to happen.

Undocumented immigrants make up about half the workforce in U.S. agriculture, according to various estimates. But that pool of labor is shrinking, which could spell trouble for farms, feedlots, dairies, and meatpacking plants—particularly in a state such as Kansas, where unemployment in many counties is barely half the already tight national rate. “Two weeks ago, my boss told me, ‘I need more Mexicans like you,’” says a 25-year-old immigrant employed at a farm in the southwest part of the state, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’s trying to get his paperwork in order. “I said, ‘Well, they’re kind of hard to find.’”

Arrests of suspected undocumented workers have jumped 38 percent since President Donald Trump signed a pair of executive orders targeting immigration in January.

When you see food prices going up, blame Trump.

* This literally breaks my heart. I still believe that a majority of Americans care and would support common sense policies to keep it from happening so often.

Thousands of children are shot each year in the United States, and many of them die of their injuries, according to a comprehensive new study of gun violence published in the journal Pediatrics.

The study, conducted by statisticians at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Texas, found that roughly 7,100 children under the age of 18 were shot each year from 2012 to 2014. An average of 1,300 died of their injuries in a typical year.

That works out to 19 children shot every single day in the course of a year — or 3.5 children killed by guns every single day.

* Here is some interesting news from the latest Pew poll.

* Finally, I was just introduced to Jason Isbell yesterday. It’s a total coincidence that it happened the same day he appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. All I can say is that this song rocked my world.