Democrats need to stand for something, as well as against Trump

Gary Younge writes:

For quite some time during the primary season for the 2016 presidential race, Democratic party leaders were delighted that Donald Trump was leading the Republican pack. They assumed the brash reality TV star would expose the bigotry of the Republican base before flaming out and leaving a more plausible candidate beholden to an energised mob, and consequently unelectable. After Trump insulted Heidi Cruz (a Goldman Sachs executive and wife of fellow Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz) for her looks, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Deborah Wasserman Schultz, said: “I want Donald Trump to talk every single day for the rest of this election.” He did. And he won.

More than two years later, Trump is still talking. Last week he branded journalists “horrible, horrendous people” to a large crowd in Pennsylvania, who chanted, “Lock her up!”, referring to Hillary Clinton. “We’re building [the wall],” he told them. “And we’re going to start getting very nasty about it … It’s our country, so get the hell out.”

The question is: who is still listening? And do the Democrats have anything more convincing to say this time? A slew of election results earlier this week gave some indication as to the impact two years of Trump’s presidency are having on the electoral and political landscape.

The first and probably most important development is that the Republicans are consistently down. Way down. In a congressional byelection in Ohio, the Republicans appear to have eked out a narrow victory with just a one percentage-point margin (postal votes have yet to be counted). Trump, of course, claimed this as a triumph. But this was in a white, mostly suburban district that Republicans have held since 1982. Trump won it by 11 percentage points in 2016; the previous Republican incumbent enjoyed margins three times as great. It shouldn’t have been close. But the Republicans threw everything at it, including visits from the president and vice president. The Democrats need to win 23 House seats in order to win control – according to the Cook Political Report there are 68 Republican-held seats as, or more, vulnerable in the lower chamber. Strong Democratic showings in three congressional primaries in Washington state, some in districts where Republicans were thought to be quite safe, further illustrated that this was no one-off.

But while they are down they are by no means out. Trump’s approval ratings are only marginally lower than Barack Obama’s were at this stage in his presidency, and trending up. The proportion of Americans who think the country is moving in the right direction is also growing, and is at a considerably higher level than at this point during Obama’s first term. [Continue reading…]

Are you still sure there’s no need to worry?

Anne Applebaum writes:

“Don’t worry, the institutions will stop him.” Or: “Don’t worry, he hasn’t done any real damage yet, the institutions have stopped him.” How many times have you heard some version of this analysis since the election of President Trump? Sometimes, the speaker is an optimist, someone with faith in the U.S. Constitution. Sometimes, the speaker is a skeptic, someone who dislikes the alleged “hysteria” of those who think Trump’s corrupt habits, autocratic language and authoritarian behavior are doing lasting damage. Either way, they are reassured, and reassuring: Congress will stop him. The judiciary will stop him. The FBI, the Republican Party, the Constitution will stop him. Don’t worry.

But America’s federal institutions are not the only ones designed to prevent someone like Trump from undermining the Constitution. We have other kinds of institutions, too — legal organs, regulatory bodies, banks — that are supposed to prevent men like Trump from staying in business, let alone acquiring political power. The truth is that many of these equally important American institutions failed a long time ago. Trump is not the cause of their failure. He is the result.

Some of that institutional failure is on display at the trial of Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman. Here is a man who is alleged to have declared income as “loans,” concealed foreign bank accounts and lied about money that Ukrainian oligarchs were paying him via shell companies in Cyprus. For decades, in other words, U.S. law enforcement institutions were unable to spot the money-laundering, tax evasion and fraud that his partner Rick Gates spent several hours describing, even when carried out by a prominent person. As long ago as 1985, Manafort’s name featured in Jacob Weisberg’s still-famous New Republic cover story about Roger Stone, then his consulting partner. The headline: “The State-of-the-Art Washington Sleazeball.”

For decades, Manafort’s “political consultancy” has helped crooks and autocrats retain power. But even leaving aside the question of morality: Why wasn’t Manafort put out of business for suspected fraud years ago? Did the police not have the resources? The motivation? Whatever the reason, here, for the optimists and skeptics, is a clear institutional failure: A society allegedly obsessed with “law and order,” so much so that it has the highest incarceration rates in the world, couldn’t be bothered to investigate a famously sleazy man who was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on antique rugs and men’s suits in Northern Virginia. [Continue reading…]

How the Trump era gave us Congress’s first Muslim woman

Eugene Scott writes:

Rashida Tlaib beat a crowded Democratic primary field on Tuesday in Michigan’s 13th District, putting her on a clear path to becoming the first Muslim woman elected to Congress.

That is certainly groundbreaking, but it is not that surprising, given the current political climate. The Trump era gave us this moment.

Tlaib is one of several Muslims seeking high-profile political offices, including Minnesota congressional candidate Ilhan Omar and Michigan’s Fayrouz Saad, who lost the crowded 11th District Democratic primary on Tuesday. Abdul El-Sayed unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor in Michigan.

Tlaib’s journey from a first-generation college student from a Muslim household to the precipice of Congress — she won’t face a Republican opponent in November — may have been hard for many Americans to imagine just two years ago. In the wake of President Trump’s election, minority groups have found themselves battling words and ideas about their communities that they never foresaw becoming mainstream.

Muslim Americans, in particular, found themselves politicized like never before after a presidential campaign that produced what critics called some of the most anti-Muslim language in history. After years of peddling rumors about Barack Obama’s birthplace that seemed rooted in Islamophobia, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on” in December 2015, a few months after launching his White House bid.

The following year, Tlaib joined a protest when Trump spoke at the Detroit Economic Club. In a Detroit Free Press op-ed, she wrote about the thoughts she had while Trump was speaking: “The titles that ran through my mind were: American, parent, Muslim, Arab-American, and woman. As I thought about my identities, I felt more and more that confronting Trump was the most patriotic and courageous act I could pursue.” [Continue reading…]

More than 100 seats that backed Brexit now want to stay in EU

The Observer reports:

More than 100 Westminster constituencies that voted to leave the EU have now switched their support to Remain, according to a stark new analysis seen by the Observer.

In findings that could have a significant impact on the parliamentary battle of Brexit later this year, the study concludes that most seats in Britain now contain a majority of voters who want to stay in the EU.

The analysis, one of the most comprehensive assessments of Brexit sentiment since the referendum, suggests the shift has been driven by doubts among Labour voters who backed Leave.

As a result, the trend is starkest in the north of England and Wales – Labour heartlands in which Brexit sentiment appears to be changing. The development will heap further pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to soften the party’s opposition to reconsidering Britain’s EU departure. [Continue reading…]

Michio Kaku: Why there are higher dimensions

 

Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz interviewed by UN’s human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

 

Court orders Trump EPA to ban harmful pesticide

The Hill reports:

A federal appeals court has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which former Administrator Scott Pruitt refused to do last year.

The decision is a major win for environmentalists and health advocates. The EPA’s own research, as recently as 2016, linked chlorpyrifos to developmental and neurological disorders, especially in children and infants.

The Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the federal law governing pesticides, requires the EPA to ban the allowance of a pesticide on food if it finds any harm from exposure to it.

Since the EPA’s research found such harm, the Trump administration violated the law when Pruitt didn’t act to revoke “tolerances” of chlorpyrifos, the regulatory term for amounts of pesticide residue allowed on food.

“There was no justification for the EPA’s decision in its 2017 order to maintain a tolerance for chlorpyrifos in the face of scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children,” Judge Jed Rakoff wrote in the 2-1 opinion in the case, titled League of United Latin American Citizens v. Andrew Wheeler. [Continue reading…]

Melania Trump’s parents become U.S. citizens, using so-called ‘chain migration’ Trump hates

The New York Times reports:

President Trump has repeatedly and vehemently denounced what he calls “chain migration,” in which adult American citizens can obtain residency for their relatives.

On Thursday, his Slovenian in-laws, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, became United States citizens in a private ceremony in Manhattan by taking advantage of that very program.

Asked if the Knavses had obtained citizenship through “chain migration,” their lawyer, Michael Wildes, said, “I suppose.”

He said chain migration is a “dirtier” way of characterizing what he called “a bedrock of our immigration process when it comes to family reunification.” The process is more commonly known as family-based immigration.

Melania Trump had sponsored her parents for their green cards, Mr. Wildes said in describing the process by which the Knavses had become United States citizens. “Once they had the green card, they then applied for citizenship when they were eligible,” he said.

Even as his in-laws were going through the process, Mr. Trump was denouncing it. In November, he tweeted, “CHAIN MIGRATION must end now! Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE!” [Continue reading…]

Audiences love the anger: Alex Jones, or someone like him, will be back

By Michael J. Socolow, University of Maine

Confrontational characters spouting conspiracy theories and promoting fringe ideas have been with us since the invention of American broadcasting. First on radio, then on television, the American audience has consistently proven eager to consume the rants of angry and bitter men.

Before Alex Jones and InfoWars, there was Glenn Beck.

A decade ago, Beck was hawking his conspiracy theories on HLN and Fox News. Beck eventually left HLN and lost the Fox News job, just as the inflammatory Morton Downey Jr. lost his lucrative syndicated broadcast decades earlier.

And before Morton Downey Jr., there was Joe Pyne, the war hero who eventually ended up railing against “hippies, homosexuals and feminists” on the airwaves in the 1960s.

Before Pyne, there was Father Coughlin, “the radio priest.” Coughlin was eased off CBS in the 1930s when he refused to allow the network to vet his inflammatory commentary.

You get the idea. Alex Jones is not unique. Nor do I believe, as a historian of American media, that he will be the last of his kind.

[Read more…]

The lifesaving power of gratitude (or, why you should write that thank you note)

File 20180727 106496 6ge8b2.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
An attitude of gratitude may relieve stress, which in turn may lead to better health.
michaelhelm/Shutterstock.com

By Richard Gunderman, Indiana University

Gratitude may be more beneficial than we commonly suppose. One recent study asked subjects to write a note of thanks to someone and then estimate how surprised and happy the recipient would feel – an impact that they consistently underestimated. Another study assessed the health benefits of writing thank you notes. The researchers found that writing as few as three weekly thank you notes over the course of three weeks improved life satisfaction, increased happy feelings and reduced symptoms of depression.

While this research into gratitude is relatively new, the principles involved are anything but. Students of mine in a political philosophy course at Indiana University are reading Daniel Defoe’s 300-year-old “Robinson Crusoe,” often regarded as the first novel published in English. Marooned alone on an unknown island with no apparent prospect of rescue or escape, Crusoe has much to lament. But instead of giving in to despair, he makes a list of things for which he is grateful, including the fact that he is the shipwreck’s sole survivor and has been able to salvage many useful items from the wreckage.

Defoe’s masterpiece, which is often ranked as one of the world’s greatest novels, provides a portrait of gratitude in action that is as timely and relevant today as it has ever been. It is also one with which contemporary psychology and medicine are just beginning to catch up. Simply put, for most of us, it is far more helpful to focus on the things in life for which we can express gratitude than those that incline us toward resentment and lamentation.

[Read more…]