Political Animal

What Did African Americans Have to Lose With a Trump Presidency?

During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump’s attempt to appeal to African-American voters was to simply ask them, “What have you got to lose?” It was meant to suggest that previous administrations—particularly his predecessor—had done nothing for them. We see the same claims made in the endless stream of articles from right-wing media suggesting that Trump is going to win over a large share of African American voters in the 2020 election. Of course, to believe that is to live in an epistemic bubble where facts don’t intrude.

More than 8 in 10 black Americans say they believe Trump is a racist and that he has made racism a bigger problem in the country. Nine in 10 disapprove of his job performance overall.

Similarly, there are people on the left who, when confronted with the overwhelming support for Biden among African Americans, claim that the Obama-Biden administration did nothing for black people. Since that claim has surfaced on Twitter several times, perhaps it is time to remind everyone of some facts.

The first place to start would be to acknowledge that every item on the list of Obama’s top 50 accomplishments that was compiled by Paul Glastris and myself applied to African Americans. That would include things like saving the automobile industry and avoiding war with Iran by negotiating an end to their nuclear weapons program.

But many of the things that directly affected African Americans were accomplished via work done by Eric Holder at the Justice Department—particularly with regards to the Civil Rights Division, which was initially led by Tom Perez and later by Vanita Gupta. Many of those efforts went to the heart of the issues that are a major concern in the African-American community, such as investigating police abuse and negotiating consent agreements. Perez and Holder were able to defend disparate impact as the standard for investigating discrimination in a case that went before the Supreme Court.

Other federal departments worked with the Justice Department to accomplish things like:

  • ending the school to prison pipeline,
  • prosecuting cases of redlining, and
  • winning settlements from banks for reverse redlining with mortgages.

Those are just a few of the things that the Obama-Biden administration accomplished to address the concerns of African Americans. But this week we learned about another item we can add to the list. Here are some of the highlights of a study done by the Commonwealth Fund on the impact of Obamacare.

* The ACA’s coverage expansions have led to historic reductions in racial disparities in access to health care since 2013…

* The gap between black and white adult uninsured rates dropped by 4.1 percentage points…

* Five years after the ACA’s implementation, black adults living in states that expanded Medicaid report coverage rates and access to care measures as good as or better than what white adults in nonexpansion states report.

It is important to note that this study also found that, when it comes to the reduction in racial disparities, “progress has stalled and, in some cases, eroded since 2016.” As with everything else the previous administration accomplished, the gains are being reversed by this president. So obviously, African Americans had a lot to lose when it came to a Trump presidency.

One could make the case that the Obama-Biden administration should have done more to address the issues faced by African Americans. But the claim that they did nothing is simply preposterous.

Here’s Why Mitch McConnell Is Giving Us a Scam Trial

On Monday, after I saw Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposed rules for the impeachment trial, I sat with that information for about five hours. Then I wrote a piece for my subscribers called “Mitch McConnell is Weak and Stupid.” My basic point was that if McConnell was correct when he told Sean Hannity that there was “zero chance” that Donald Trump would be convicted and removed from office, then the real battle is over whether that outcome is accepted by the American public. From that perspective, it would make the most sense to bend over backward to make the process look fair.

But McConnell took the opposite approach. Either this is a dumb political decision, or McConnell is afraid that the evidence against the president is so strong that his caucus would find it very difficult to acquit him if it were presented at the trial.

But I should have thought about it for just a little bit longer. It may not be that McConnell is primarily worried that his caucus will defect and find the president guilty, but that the process would destroy his Senate majority. This would be for two reasons.

First, and most obviously, if the evidence is overwhelming and the president is still found not guilty, the Trump-supporting senators who are up for reelection in 2020 will be very vulnerable to defeat. This might include some folks who are considered very safe at the moment.

Second, the damage to Trump would be severe and present a huge problem for the party because they plan on renominating him and having him run at the top of their ticket. They need to sing his praises all year long, and you can imagine how painful it would be to hold the Republican National Convention in an environment where everyone is constantly being asked how they can be celebrating an obvious criminal who the American people want to be removed from office for abuse of power and contempt of Congress.

For McConnell, the best option is to limit the evidence even if the process is seen as illegitimate. He’s going to take a big hit either way, but protecting Trump from the truth is preferable to giving the impression that there was a full and fair trial.

I’m still not sure how solidly McConnell has this sewn up. He could wind up with the worst of both worlds if he can’t prevent witnesses, and yet the trial is still seen as a clear scam on the American people.

But I think people need to focus a bit more on the fact that this trial isn’t just about winning an acquittal for Trump, but also about keeping him minimally viable as the Republican presidential nominee.

How Negative Is Sanders Willing to Go?

Last week Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren became embroiled in a rift about whether or not he told her that a woman couldn’t win the presidency. Supporters on both sides claimed that the other side had lied about the exchange. We can all leave the resolution about that particular exchange aside, but Sanders affirmed his position when he went on to suggest that being a woman is a “negative.”

As a woman, that literally felt like a punch in the gut. To basically affirm that being a woman is a negative—in politics or any other endeavor—hits a sore spot that, for most of us, has been festering all of our lives. To hear it come from a liberal is both hurtful and enraging.

But I’d also like to focus on what Sanders said at the end of that clip. He talked about the importance of looking at the totality of a candidate’s record. That is actually good advice. It is too bad that he isn’t doing that in his recent attacks against Joe Biden.

For example, the Sanders campaign sent out an edited transcript of something Biden said about Social Security, claiming that he agreed with former Republican Speaker Paul Ryan. Politifact rated that statement false. Here is the part of the speech they left out.

Now, I don’t know a whole lot of people in the top one-tenth of 1 percent or the top 1 percent who are relying on Social Security when they retire. I don’t know a lot of them. Maybe you guys do. So we need a pro-growth, progressive tax code that treats workers as job creators, as well, not just investors; that gets rid of unprotective loopholes like stepped-up basis; and it raises enough revenue to make sure that the Social Security and Medicare can stay, it still needs adjustments, but can stay; and pay for the things we all acknowledge will grow the country.

Since the campaign got caught in that lie, Sanders supporters have attempted to claim that Biden has been advocating for cutting Social Security for 40 years. As is often the case with disinformation, that is based on a half-truth. To solve a budget impasse in 1995, Biden supported a freeze on all federal spending, including cost of living adjustments to Social Security. Then there was his support for an Obama proposal to change the way cost of living increases were calculated, including both the income tax tables and Social Security. But the Sanders campaign turned those positions into an accusation that Biden attempted to “slash Social Security.”

An honest look at the totality of Biden’s position on Social Security would come from listening to Jared Bernstein, a progressive economist who served as an advisor to the former vice president.

Bernstein linked to an article by Lorie Konish that outlines Biden’s current proposal to increase Social Security benefits.

In the end, Sanders could have honestly said that he disagreed with Biden’s positions in the past about how cost of living increases are calculated for Social Security. While that would have had the benefit of being true, it doesn’t have the same punch as accusing Biden of wanting to “slash Social Security.” So instead, he’s gone with the latter and a disinformation campaign.

Meanwhile, the Sanders campaign seems to be in a bit of disarray about how negative to go against Biden. They put out an email blast lauding an op-ed by a surrogate, Zephyr Teachout, titled. “‘Middle Class’ Joe Biden has a corruption problem—it makes him a weak candidate.” The email blast was written by Sanders’ speechwriter, David Sirota, who also tweeted the article.

The reaction was immediate and overwhelming.

By Monday night, Sanders had apologized.

Senator Bernie Sanders apologized to former Vice President Joe Biden on Monday for an op-ed written by one of his campaign surrogates that claimed Biden has a “big corruption problem.”

“It is absolutely not my view that Joe is corrupt in any way. And I’m sorry that that op-ed appeared,” Sanders told CBS News.

The senator is to be commended for being willing to apologize. But the issue wasn’t the op-ed by Teachout. It is common for a candidate to have to distance themselves from something one of their surrogates said. The issue is that a high level staff person in the Sanders campaign promoted the article, indicating that it had been endorsed by the candidate.

Some of us spoke up when Sanders hired David Sirota because his modus operandi was obvious to anyone who knew his history. Sirota has a reputation of being a ruthless attack dog. The campaign had to know that when they hired him. But now it seems that Sirota went too far with his attacks and his boss has been forced to apologize.

It is clear that the Sanders campaign will rely on attacks against his opponents. But this latest incident demonstrates that they are still struggling with where the boundaries are for those negative attacks. It is good to know that, at least for the candidate himself, accusing Biden of being corrupt is outside the boundary.

Parnas: Trump Became More Powerful When He Got William Barr

As Rudy Giuliani’s point man in the extortion scheme, Lev Parnas dealt with some pretty unsavory characters both in Ukraine and here in the United States. But in coming forward to tell his story, it is not those criminals that Parnas is afraid of. Here’s what he told Rachel Maddow.

Parnas made it clear that it is the U.S. Department of Justice that scares him. We can dismiss that as an explosive statement from a grifter facing prosecution, but it helps answer the question of why Parnas decided to publicly tell his story. Making that kind of claim against the people who are prosecuting your case wouldn’t make much sense otherwise.

In talking about why more Republicans haven’t broken with Trump, Parnas said something even more explosive. He suggested that Trump “wasn’t so powerful in ’16 and ’17. He became that powerful when he got William Barr. People are scared.”

Why would people be scared of William Barr? Perhaps it is because the attorney general is making it clear that he is willing to use the power of the Department of Justice to investigate Trump’s enemies. In noting that Barr has recently opened a new investigation into former FBI Director James Comey, Jonathan Chait identified the pattern.

The pattern of selective prosecution under Trump’s Department of Justice, and his fanatically partisan Attorney General William Barr, has become evident in a series of cases that all resemble this one. The connecting thread is that Trump’s enemies are scoured for any violation that can be found, and held to the strictest letter of the law, while his allies are given broad latitude.

In addition to Comey, Barr has now gone after former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and former CIA Director John Brennan. Meanwhile, Barr attempted to cover up the whistleblower complaint that eventually led to Trump’s impeachment, failed to investigate whether Marie Yavanovitch was being surveilled, and we still haven’t seen an investigation into reported anti-Clinton bias at the FBI that led Comey to announce an investigation into the former secretary of state in the days before the 2016 election. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, the attorney general has gone “rouge” and will not announce a special prosecutor to investigate the Parnas accusations because he is implicated.

All of that is a reminder about how Barr stumbled out of answering a very direct question from Senator Kamala Harris.

In identifying the pattern of Barr’s selective prosecution, Chait refers to an article written by Benjamin Wittes back in May 2016, when it was becoming clear that Trump would be the Republican nominee. Wittes was responding to the suggestion that it was presidential surveillance and war powers that should cause the most alarm about putting a would-be tyrant in the Oval Office.

Let me be blunt: The soft spot is not NSA and it’s not the drone program. The soft spot, the least tyrant-proof part of the government, is the U.S. Department of Justice and the larger law enforcement and regulatory apparatus of the United States government. The first reason you should fear a Donald Trump presidency is what he would do to the ordinary enforcement functions of the federal government, not the most extraordinary ones.

Wittes goes on to explain that, in our justice system, prosecutors have been given the discretion to decide which cases to investigate and prosecute. He then quotes Justice Robert Jackson, who served as attorney general under Franklin Roosevelt before becoming a Supreme Court Justice.

If the prosecutor is obliged to choose his case, it follows that he can choose his defendants. Therein is the most dangerous power of the prosecutor: that he will pick people that he thinks he should get, rather than cases that need to be prosecuted. With the law books filled with a great assortment of crimes, a prosecutor stands a fair chance of finding at least a technical violation of some act on the part of almost anyone. In such a case, it is not a question of discovering the commission of a crime and then looking for the man who has committed it, it is a question of picking the man and then searching the law books, or putting investigators to work, to pin some offense on him. It is in this realm—in which the prosecutor picks some person whom he dislikes or desires to embarrass, or selects some group of unpopular persons and then looks for an offense, that the greatest danger of abuse of prosecuting power lies. It is here that law enforcement becomes personal, and the real crime becomes that of being unpopular with the predominant or governing group, being attached to the wrong political views, or being personally obnoxious to or in the way of the prosecutor himself.

In order to obtain that kind of power, Trump understood that both Jeff Sessions and James Comey had to go. Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, leading to the appointment of a special prosecutor, and Comey refused to pledge loyalty to the president. Having gotten rid of them, Trump was then able to install his own Roy Cohn as attorney general.

With the power to ignore the president’s crimes and investigate his enemies, William Barr has put the Department of Justice at the disposal of the criminal cabal that has infected the federal government. If Parnas is correct, Barr’s efforts have effectively silenced opposition to the president within the Republican Party. That is precisely why the attorney general is the most dangerous member of Trump’s cabinet.