Political Animal

How Mitch McConnell Is Making the Case For Ending the Filibuster

Over the weekend, Trump signed several memorandum (which he referred to as “bills” and others are calling “executive orders”) that are designed to signal that he actually cares about what is happening to Americans during this pandemic. I’ll let others discuss why they are not only unconstitutional, but ineffective, because I want to focus on what they tell us about the modern-day GOP.

Apparently Senate Majority Leader McConnell is fine with the president’s move to completely neuter congress. He issued a statement praising Trump’s memorandum, which is the opposite of what he said when Obama signed DACA.

“Look, as the president has said, democracy is hard,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said after Obama proposed executive action on immigration in 2014. “Imposing his will unilaterally may seem tempting. It may serve him politically in the short term. But he knows it will make an already broken system even more broken.”

Knowing McConnell’s history under a Democratic president, this statement in response to Trump’s actions is a complete reversal.

The President’s team worked hard to bridge differences on many of the policies that would rapidly help American families…But Democrats have continued to block all of it while holding out for non-COVID-related liberal demands…

Weeks ago, some predicted that Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Schumer might actually prefer if the American people received no further bipartisan aid before the election. Sadly, they have done nothing to suggest otherwise.

Just to be clear, a top priority for Democrats has been funding for state and local governments, whose budgets are being decimated by the pandemic. McConnell refers to such aid as a “non-COVID-related liberal demand.”

But beyond that, it is absolutely breath-taking to hear McConnell complain about the opposition party attempting to block legislation. For eight years we watched him obstruct anything Democrats tried to do—even stimulus funds in the midst of the Great Recession. The difference between then and now is that Pelosi and Schumer were at the table attempting to negotiate when Trump jumped the gun. All McConnell did in the past was to say “no,” without providing any alternatives.

There is also the fact that McConnell has already made it clear that if Biden wins the election in November, he will proceed to obstruct anything Democrats try to do.

“If I’m still the majority leader in the Senate think of me as the Grim Reaper. None of that stuff is going to pass,” McConnell said while speaking to community leaders in Owensboro, Ky…

“I guarantee you that if I’m the last man standing and I’m still the majority leader, it ain’t happening. I can promise you,” McConnell added.

So as McConnell praises Trump’s use of executive orders while Democrats attempt to negotiate, he accuses them of blocking legislation, even as he promises to be the Grim Reaper of obstruction if they win in November.

All of this reminds me of something Grover Norquist said back in 2003. While bragging about a “permanent Republican majority,” he was asked what the GOP would do if Democrats were elected. His response was to say that “We will make it so that a Democrat cannot govern as a Democrat.”

McConnell actually took that one step further. He seems intent on making it so that no one can actually govern. Not only does he attempt to obstruct anything Democrats want to do, he has been content to do nothing for the past four years as majority leader other than give rich people a tax break and stack the federal courts. Knowing that his party is heading for minority status, he’s made it clear that he wants the extremists he’s helped place on the federal courts for life to legislate from the bench.

The end result of McConnell’s efforts will be to completely neuter congress as a legislative body. The only way a president will be able to accomplish anything would be via executive order—which will go directly to the courts for judges to decide.

Given the undemocratic nature of the senate and our polarized political climate, it is very unlikely that either party will gain a supermajority in that body in the near future. If the only alternative is to allow McConnell to destroy the legislative process, it is probably time to end the filibuster and allow a simple majority to govern.

Trump’s Bizarre Obsession with Mount Rushmore

In Teddy Roosevelt’s 1913 autobiography Progressive Principles, he wrote about his father, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr.

“My father…was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness. He would not tolerate in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness, cowardice, or untruthfulness.”

In his 2013 book, Heir to the Empire City: New York and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt, Edward Kohn reports that Teddy Sr. sent Teddy Jr. off to Harvard with the following advice: “Take care of your morals first, your health next, and finally your studies.”

Fred Trump didn’t offer this type of guidance to his son, Donald. That’s the beginning point to understanding why the current president doesn’t belong on Mt. Rushmore. As a child, I had trouble understanding why Teddy Jr. was carved into that mountain rather than his distant cousin, Franklin. As an adult, I’ve come to wish that the monument had never been created at all, since it was carved on land that was supposed to be set aside in perpetuity for the Sioux.

I visited the place first back in 1982, on a trip I took before high school with one of my older brothers. I returned with my own family in 2017, right around the time of the troubles in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was there during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It’s an interesting place to visit for the bizarre little culture that has sprung up around the monument. The carving itself does not live up to the hype.

Any tribute to America’s greatest presidents should obviously include Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. We also have stand-alone monuments to them in our nation’s capital. Donald Trump would more fittingly be included in a tribute to our worst presidents, but according to Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, he thinks otherwise.

Since the first days after she was elected governor of South Dakota in 2018, Kristi Noem had been working to ensure that President Trump would come to Mount Rushmore for a fireworks-filled July 4 extravaganza.

After all, the president had told her in the Oval Office that he aspired to have his image etched on the monument. And last year, a White House aide reached out to the governor’s office with a question, according to a Republican official familiar with the conversation: What’s the process to add additional presidents to Mount Rushmore?

Donald Trump disputes that this conversation ever happened, but not that he belongs on Mt. Rushmore.

It’s not a very convincing denial, and apparently there’s physical evidence.

In private, the efforts to charm Mr. Trump were more pointed, according to a person familiar with the episode: Ms. Noem greeted him with a four-foot replica of Mount Rushmore that included a fifth presidential likeness: his.

Somewhere there’s a four-foot tall mockup of a five-president Mt. Rushmore that includes Trump’s mug. I hope one day the Smithsonian gets their hands on this thing, assuming that it hasn’t been inadvertently crushed by a dwarf. It would look good and get a few grim laughs in the National Museum of the American Indian.

Will It Ever Really Be the Year of the Woman?

The first two decades of this century held the promise of a steady—if slow—march toward greater gender equality. The Internet and social media gave a microphone to millions of formerly voiceless women all over the world. The #MeToo movement brought consequences to perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence. Nancy Pelosi won the Speaker’s chair and an unprecedented number of women are serving alongside her in Congress. The Democratic primary field had several qualified female contenders, and Joe Biden has promised to choose a woman as his vice president. Finally, and not insignificantly, Taylor Swift out-earned Kayne West last year by $35 million.

By all indicators, it seemed highly plausible that 2020 might be the long elusive Year of the Woman. Yet the kudzu-like grip of traditional expectations for women is so tightly wound round the neck of our culture that even the advances mentioned above will not kill the vine. Today, gender stereotypes are what Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman calls Zombie Ideas: “Ideas that should have been killed by contrary evidence, but instead keep shambling along, eating people’s brains.”

No wonder life is scary out there for women challenging the traditional stereotype of nurturing caregiver without professional ambition or creative inspiration of her own. Even after so much progress, women who behave outside the confines of expected gender roles, continue to be perceived and treated as deviant.

Take Elizabeth Warren for example. When she dropped out of the presidential race, she said issues of sexism and likeability were factors. In a New Hampshire poll, voters thought highly of her overall competence—67 percent—but her likability numbers were a dismal four percent. In other words, her competence was unattractive and off-putting, so she was pushed to the outside. Sadly, research and experience show that Elizabeth Warren is not alone.

2018 Ohio State study found that hiring managers preferred women of modest academic achievement to those who had top grades. That was because they thought the not-so-smart women would be nicer. Managers “not only gravitate toward women who are moderate achievers who are described as sociable and outgoing, but regard high-achieving women with much more skepticism,” the researchers said.

At the same time, a 2016 study in the Psychology of Women Quarterly discovered that gender stereotypes remained constant between 1983 and 2014, despite impressive gains for women over the past forty years. Women are still expected to be passive, suited more for caring roles than for leadership, and primarily concerned with the welfare of others. Shockingly, the survey found that expectations that women will behave in these narrow, constricted ways are actually growing stronger. Other research has more or less confirmed this. A 2018 global online research study by Harvard University of more than 200,000 participants came to similar conclusions.

Worse yet, the COVID-19 pandemic will most likely accelerate these trends. An ongoing study by researchers in the U.S. and Germany finds that the crisis is likely to make inequities worse, “as more women than men will be strongly affected by the rise in child-care needs.”

When a family with school-aged children faces the reality of closed schools, the mother is likely to assume the bulk of childcare because, as the data overwhelmingly shows, she most likely earns less than her husband. In many marriages, her paying job will be the expendable one. That will mean thousands of women losing potential earnings and disrupting their career progression; many will drop out of the labor force entirely.

So, why are these gender paradigms so strong? And why do they hold on so relentlessly?

As Time reports: “In almost every society, from Baltimore to Beijing, boys are told from a young age to go outside and have adventures, while young girls are encouraged to stay home and do chores.” These findings come from a 2017 six-year study of 10- to 14-year-olds and their parents in 15 countries.

Early adventures give boys a sense of freedom and power that they don’t associate with girls. In later years, this power can morph into male dominance in the workplace. That is the way it has been for decades now. And as we know, once a group has power, it rarely surrenders without a fight. Up until now, the fight has been on legal grounds, andwomen have won many anti-discrimination battles in society and the workplace. But we haven’t yet fully won the battle of breaking down the stereotypes that led to such discrimination in the first place.

In today’s world, young women are in a Catch-22. They are caught between the progressive voices urging them to live authentic lives, and the deeply entrenched forces determined to push them back to traditional roles. The “Please Others” imperative is a huge ball and chain dragging down the dreams of girls and women. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg sees this issue as the major force holding women back as they try to rise. She writes, “As a man gets more successful, he is better liked by men and women, and as a woman gets more successful, she is less liked by men and women.”

Many men are champions of women and support their advancement. Yet even those men sometimes inadvertently slide back into traditional mores. Malcolm Gladwell says they are in the grip of what behavioral scientists call “moral licensing.” As the author of Blink describes: “When a favored majority group performs an act of generosity toward an outsider, it doesn’t necessarily signal that more acts of generosity are coming. Sometimes it just gives them license to then go back to their old ways.”

How, then, can young women pursue their dreams without second guessing themselves? So far, our efforts to counter harmful gender stereotypes have been scattered, not given high priority and have not kept up with the newest research. We need a new approach, especially as the pandemic puts this issue on the back burner.  

First, we need to address the problem from the root. We need to break the strangle-hold of one-size fits all gender stereotypes for toddlers and young children. Then, we need to broadly recognize that traits are not all innate; most are learned and developed. As a society, we need to celebrate the girl who takes risks, dares to follow her interests, and takes her cues from her passions. Luckily, there are a set of policies we can embrace to help us with this task. They include:

  • Eliminating the “Gender Gap.” Women employed full-time had to work three months into 2020 to earn what men made in 2019. Women earn 82 cents for every dollar that men make. Black women have it worse, making only 62 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
  • Repairing the “Broken Rung.” Females often stall out in entry level jobs, whereas “men hold 62 percent of manager-level positions. Women hold just 38 percent of them.
  • Getting rid of the “Motherhood Penalty.” Mothers who work do less well financially than both non-mothers and men, the Harvard Business Review has reported.Mothers are perceived as “less committed to their jobs, less dependable, less authoritative, more emotional, and more irrational” than non-mothers. Disturbingly, men who have children get a substantial “Fatherhood Bonus” in wages because they are perceived as stable and committed to work.

But that’s not all. It will take a calibrated and well-coordinated effort among policymakers, activists, and scholars to think of ways we can reverse the gender stereotypes profoundly embedded into everyday American life.

If we want today’s young girls to take the Nancy Pelosis and Elizabeth Warrens of the world as real role models, we must stop treating high-achieving women as outliers. We must see them as they are—people who have realized their own potential. Otherwise, the so-called Year of the Woman will remain out of reach.

David Brooks Wants a Nicer, More Competent Form of Trumpism

One of the most pressing questions that will emerge if Trump loses in November will be, “what happens to the Republican Party?” We know that Stuart Stevens has answered that one by saying that it’s time to “burn the whole thing down and start over.” But start over with what?

David Brooks took a shot at answering with a column titled, “Where Do Republicans Go From Here?” He suggests that even if the party repudiates Donald Trump, his worldview will remain the paradigm on which the future of the GOP will be built.

The basic Trump worldview — on immigration, trade, foreign policy, etc. — will shape the G.O.P. for decades, the way the basic Reagan worldview did for decades. A thousand smarter conservatives will be building a new party after 2020, but one that builds from the framework Trump established.

The thing I found most fascinating about Brooks’ take on things is that he thinks it is past time to denounce the Reagan paradigm that has been the central driving force in the Republican Party since the 1980s.

For decades conservatives were happy to live in that paradigm. But as years went by many came to see its limits. It was so comprehensively anti-government that it had no way to use government to solve common problems. It was so focused on cultivating strong individuals that it had no language to cultivate a sense of community and belonging.

It was the Reagan paradigm that came to a head during the 2012 presidential election when Obama used the words “you didn’t build that” to explain that even successful individuals have benefited from collective efforts.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people…You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.

Mitt Romney and the Republican Party went nuts—going so far as to make “You built that” the theme of their 2012 convention.

Brooks says that it was Trump and Bannon who finally overturned the Reagan paradigm.

Bannon and Trump got the emotions right. They understood that Republican voters were no longer motivated by a sense of hope and opportunity; they were motivated by a sense of menace, resentment and fear. At base, many Republicans felt they were being purged from their own country — by the educated elite, by multiculturalism, by militant secularism.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump and Bannon discarded the Republican orthodox — entitlement reform, fiscal restraint, free trade, comprehensive immigration reform. They embraced a European-style blood-and-soil conservatism. Close off immigration. Close trade. We have nothing to offer the world and should protect ourselves from its dangers.

It would have been interesting if Trump had governed as a big-government populist. But he tossed Bannon out and handed power to Jared Kushner and a bunch of old men locked in the Reagan paradigm. We got bigotry, incompetence and tax cuts for the wealthy.

The point Brooks makes is that even though Trump didn’t govern as a populist, he opened the door for other Republicans to pick up the mantle based on these core assumptions:

  1. Everything is not okay. The free market is not working well.
  2. Economic libertarianism is not the answer. Free markets alone won’t solve our problems.
  3. The working class is the heart of the Republican Party.
  4. China changes everything.
  5. The managerial class betrays America.

The first two have been core beliefs of the Democratic Party for decades—which is where some liberals find common ground with the so-called “populist right.” But with numbers three and five, Brooks telegraphs what populism contributes to the Republican need to divide and conquer. It suggests that the working class should be mobilized to fight what he refers to as the “managerial class,” who are often simply referred to as “elites.” They are the ones who, according to Brooks, are making working class folks feel “a sense of menace, resentment and fear” with all of their multiculturalism and militant secularism. Finally, the inclusion of the item about China is a continuation of the Republican strategy of always identifying a foreign enemy to rally the troops against.

In short, what Brooks is suggesting is that the Republican Party of the future should become a nicer, more competent version of Trumpism than we’ve experienced over the last four years. The answer to the sense of alienation he referred to can be found by coming together with a common sense of fear and anger at those who are identified as enemies. Perhaps it now makes sense that he is looking to politicians like Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, and Ben Sasse as the ones who will pick up the mantle of creating a future for the Republican Party.

Despite all that Brooks gets wrong, however, it is important to give credit where it’s due. He nailed this:

[I]f Joe Biden defeats Trump and begins legislating, as seems more and more likely, there’s also the possibility that Republicans will abandon any positive vision and revert to being a simple anti-government party — a party of opposition to whatever Biden is doing.

That one wins the prize for the most likely scenario to carry the party forward over the next four years—which is a set-up for another round of Trumpism at the top of the ticket in 2024.