Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Trump is back in the news in a YUGE way

 Donald Trump is back in the news again in a big way. Two stories broke earlier this week that are likely to have a serious impact on his chances in the 2024 presidential race. Neither is likely to affect the Republican primary though.

In the first story, the New York Times (no paywall at this link) pointed out Trump is openly campaigning on a plan to centralize and augment presidential authority. In the Times’ words, Mr. Trump wants “to alter the balance of power by increasing the president’s authority over every part of the federal government that now operates, by either law or tradition, with any measure of independence from political interference by the White House.”

NOT an endorsement (Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash)

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The Trump campaign doesn’t seem to dispute the accusations. The article quotes John McEntee, a personal aide to Donald Trump until he was dismissed by John Kelly in 2018 due to gambling debts and an inability to obtain a security clearance, as saying, “The president’s plan should be to fundamentally reorient the federal government in a way that hasn’t been done since FDR’s New Deal.”

McEntee, who was rehired by Trump for the 2020 campaign, added, “Our current executive branch was conceived of by liberals for the purpose of promulgating liberal policies. There is no way to make the existing structure function in a conservative manner. It’s not enough to get the personnel right. What’s necessary is a complete system overhaul.”

How do the Trumpists want to overhaul the federal government? The Times cites four key areas that are being addressed by Trump and his allies in speeches, campaign documents, and websites. These include:

  • Bringing independent agencies like the Justice Department and FCC under direct presidential control

  • A return to “impounding” funds in which the president can refuse to spend money appropriated by Congress (sound familiar?)

  • Stripping civil service employees of job protections

  • Removing officials who are not loyal to Trump from the federal government

“What we’re trying to do is identify the pockets of independence and seize them,” said Russell Vought, head of the Office of Management and Budget from 2019 until the end of Trump’s term.

If that sounds horrifying to you, given what we know about Donald Trump’s penchant for abusing power, you’re not alone. Donald Trump is the last person who needs to be granted more executive authority.

Further, I have to ask myself, why would a political party want to give more power to the presidency when they believe that presidents of the other party are only a little short of being dictators already?

I can only think of three answers. One is that they are not thinking ahead. The second, more sinister and likely answer, given Mr. Trump’s history of attempting to throw out unfavorable election results, is that the MAGA Republicans don’t intend to relinquish power if they ever regain it. A third delusional possibility is that they think they will quickly become so beloved that voters will never fire them.

Some of the details of these plans are contained in a Heritage Foundation-inspired policy book called Project 2025, an attempt to prepare any eventual Republican nominee to govern in 2025. The Times also cites the Trump website and the Center for Renewing America, Russ Vought’s think tank that focuses on the issues of “Big Tech,” “Woke,” and “Election Integrity.”

Daily Signal article from April largely confirms the Times’ claims with a “four-point game plan for a conservative president to dismantle the deep state that undermined Trump.” This list somewhat overlaps with the Times article:

  • '“Streamline the firing process”

  • “Curb union power”

  • “Market-based pay and improving efficiency” which notes that “Congress did not approve the Trump administration’s proposed consolidations” of duplicated federal effort

  • “Schedule F”

Schedule F refers to Trump’s attempt to create a new category of federal employee by Executive Order. Schedule F, which was rescinded by President Biden, would have made it easier to fire or transfer career federal employees.

Bringing federal agencies under presidential control and enhancing the president’s ability to fire government workers would have the effect of politicizing many parts of the federal government that are ostensibly nonpartisan today. For example, the president might be able to fire an attorney general who refused to investigate political opponents or deny broadcasting licenses to outlets that were unfriendly to the Administration.

Government employees should not be loyal to the president. At least that should not be their primary loyalty. Government workers should be loyal to the Constitution, the law, and the country above and beyond their loyalty to the chief executive.

To be fair, Project 2025 is not aimed exclusively at a second Trump Administration and the danger of presidential power depends a lot on who exercises that power. But if the past few years have taught us anything, it should be that our checks and balances need to be established and maintained with the worst-case scenario in mind.

The explanation from the right is that the strategy is about curbing the federal bureaucracy and the “deep state” rather than being a political power grab.

“The overall principle of this project is, you know, we've got to reassert political control over the government, reassert presidential control over the executive branch,” Spencer Chretien, Project 2025’s associate director, told Semafor.

I have sympathy for reining in bureaucracy, but I also have a healthy distrust of Donald Trump and the new Republican Party that he heads. A great many of the conservative groups that are part of Project 2025 are groups that I know and used to respect, but a great many of them also sullied their reputations during the Trump years with their rationalizations and defenses (or even applause) of his abuses of power.

Whatever the problems that we have with the executive branch bureaucracies, giving Donald Trump more power is a vastly more serious threat to our republic. And with the recent history of the Republican Party and conservative groups in mind, I have approximately zero faith that they would stand in Trump’s way if he decided to abuse his newfound authority.

To me, aside from potentially empowering a lawless president, there are a couple of drawbacks to the plan. One is that it is fundamentally unconservative to concentrate more power within the hands of any one man. The very idea of a powerful executive flies in the face of the Founders who wrote the Constitution after having just fought a war to throw off a king’s yoke.

And Semafor notes that Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy have accused Trump of not going far enough to root out disloyal (i.e. liberal or nonMAGA) government employees. The plan seems tailor-made for power-hungry presidents to consolidate control over large swaths of the government, and there seems to be no shortage of would-be kings.

For most of my life, conservatives have decried the concentration of increasing amounts of power in the presidency at the expense of Congress. Now, suddenly, as the Republican Party becomes more like a personality cult, the focus is becoming one of putting more power into the hands of the president.

As Michael Scott succinctly put it, “No. Don’t like that.”

The other problem is that it isn’t clear how much of this agenda would have to go through Congress rather than being imposed by Executive Order. If we’re talking about the president signing Executive Orders to unilaterally increase his own power, that seems very undemocratic (with a small “d”).

Again, I don’t like that.

And if the courts slapped down Trump’s executive actions, who believes that he would accept the decision? I can easily see Trump making a statement akin to “John Roberts has made his decision, now let him enforce it.” Donald Trump is a walking, talking constitutional crisis, and expanding the presidency on his watch would exacerbate the problem.

Some of the Republican plans may have merit, but before any overhaul of the executive branch is considered, the Republican Party first needs to kick its Trump addiction and prove to the country that it can be trusted.

On Tuesday, Donald Trump announced that he had received a letter from the Justice Department informing him that he was the target of an investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Per the reports, the letter from Special Counsel Jack Smith was received on Sunday and could signal an impending second federal indictment.

While I do believe that Trump clearly fomented the January 6 insurrection and tried to steal the election, exactly what to charge him with is something of a question. Incitement is a possibility but carries a high legal standard. Fraud, conspiracy to disrupt a federal proceeding, and obstruction of Congress are other potential charges. Some of these have been used to great effect against hundreds of January 6 rioters.

Another indictment might disrupt Donald Trump’s campaign plans, but it won’t dissuade Republicans from nominating him. Nominating Trump would be a supremely foolish move for many reasons, but the contrarians in the GOP would almost certainly circle the wagons and rally around The Former Guy for no other reason than to say FU to the federal establishment.

Likewise, Trump’s power grab won’t frighten off his supporters, the same people who consider Joe Biden to be a dictator. In fact, many would welcome making The Former Guy president for life. I’ve seen at least one sign that literally made that suggestion and Trump himself seems open to the idea.

If the bad news is that Donald Trump is planning a power grab during his second term, the good news is that he is unlikely to ever get a second term. The scary Republican rhetoric and Trump’s legal troubles make an election victory a steeply uphill battle for the unpopular and disgraced former president.

The red flags are flying and the warning signs are being posted. Donald Trump needs to lose once again and trumpism needs to be vanquished. If America ignores the warnings and elects him again, we’ll deserve the chaos and trouble that he brings.

For the good of the country - for the future of the country - we need to dodge that bullet.

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SURGING STOCK MARKETS: The Dow set a 52-week high yesterday, closing at 34,951. While I don’t credit Bidenomics with the entire recovery of the stock market and the economy, I do give Biden credit for appointing Jerome Powell to the Fed and standing by his man. Powell’s tactic of raising interest rates to fight inflation was exactly the right prescription. The Trump supporters on my timeline talking about their 401(k)s are now strangely quiet.

The Dow’s record high is 36,952.65. That high-water mark also came during the Biden Administration on January 4, 2022.

MISSING ISRAELI ARTIFACTS: In yet another weird Trump story, Israel says that ancient artifacts sent to the US in 2019 that should have been returned after a brief exhibition somehow ended up at Mar-a-Lago. The items are reportedly still there, but it isn’t clear or if Trump has knowledge of the situation.

From the Racket News

An unforced error in a small town

 One of the latest kerfuffles to erupt regards Jason Aldean’s country song, “Try That In a Small Town.” The song itself is pretty forgettable but the setting for the music video has caused problems because of its connection to a lynching which does not pair well with the video’s depiction of scenes from the BLM protests.

Photo credit: YouTube screenshot (fair use)

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While the lyrics to the song talk about the seamier side of city life, they don’t explicitly mention race. Instead, Aldean recites a litany of crimes and offensive behavior of city folks:

Sucker punch somebody on a sidewalk
Carjack an old lady at a red light
Pull a gun on the owner of a liquor store
Ya think it's cool, well, act a fool if ya like

Cuss out a cop, spit in his face
Stomp on the flag and light it up
Yeah, ya think you're tough

Beyond the first couple of stanzas, the song is pretty much repetitive tough talk about what the “good ol' boys, raised up right” will do to city dwellers who try that stuff in their small towns. It’s a macho, chest-thumping message that isn’t for everyone, but okay.

The bigger problem that the setting for the video is the county courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee. This building in the county seat of Maury County was also the setting for an unfortunate event in 1927, and that’s where the controversy comes in.

As NBC News explains, in 1927, Henry Choate, an 18-year-old black man was accused of assaulting a 16-year-old white girl. Choate was jailed in Columbia, but a white mob broke him out of his cell, dragged him through town behind a car, and eventually lynched him in front of the same courthouse that provided Aldean’s backdrop. Taken together with the lyrics and pictures that allude to the BLM protests, many see a sinister side to the song.

In a tweet, Aldead defended the song and video, “These references are not only meritless but dangerous. There is not a single lyric in the song that references race or points to it- and there isn’t a single video clip that isn’t real news footage -and while I can try and respect others to have their own interpretation of a song with music- this one goes too far.”

Aldean goes on to say, “‘Try That In A Small Town,’ for me, refers to the feeling of a community that I had growing up, where we took care of our neighbors, regardless of differences of background or belief. Because they were our neighbors, and that was above any differences.”

I’m a small-town guy myself, but to me, it’s a bit troubling that Aldean’s view of small-town community involves taking the law into his hands to force violence on outsiders. This isn’t real community, but a parody of it.

Rather than being the “Andy Griffith Show,” Aldean’s song and video are more like “The Hills Have Eyes” or “Deliverance.” The image of angry, rifle-toting rednecks isn’t really an image that most small towns want to convey these days.

America isn’t about small towns fighting big cities. The most unity that I can remember in America was after September 11 when small towns and big cities pulled together to help the victims of the terror attacks. Small town firefighters traveled to Manhattan and around the country people donated blood and prayed for the survivors and the families of the victims. Since then, I’ve seen that pattern repeated as Americans rally to help their brothers and sisters who have experienced disasters. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, I saw Americans from towns of all of sizes load trucks with relief supplies and head to Houston. Now that is community.

As the artist formerly known as John Cougar Mellencamp sang in a much better ode to small towns, “Got nothing against a big town… But my bed is in a small town, and that's good enough for me.”

I don’t know whether Aldean was aware of Maury County’s sordid history when he filmed his video, but as much as I like small-town life, there can be a dark side to small towns.

Anyone who has ever moved into a small town from the outside knows how distrustful and cliquish small towns can be. If you aren’t from there, it can be really hard to become accepted. The cliques have the backs of their members but not necessarily everyone.

And yes, small towns can be violent and corrupt. Back when I wrote for The Resurgent, my wife was featured in one of my articles in which she detailed how a small-town police force seemed to have covered up her rape by a local basketball star. Sometimes, it isn’t that bad things don’t happen in small towns, but rather that they don’t get talked about.

All too often, as in Columbia, a lot of the violence that didn’t get talked about was violence against blacks. In many small towns, there was a lot of overlap between the local police and the Ku Klux Klan. They had each other’s backs but no one had the back of black men like Henry Choate.

When you combine those two factors, you find that small towns may not really be as safe and community-driven as Aldean’s lyrics would have us believe. In fact, statistics tell us that on a per capita basis (that is, when the data are adjusted for population size) small towns can be more violent than big cities.

Per a recent study by NeighborhoodScout that uses the most recent census and FBI crime data, the most violent town (of more than 25,000 people) in the country is Bessemer, Alabama. The suburb of Birmingham has just over 25,000 residents and has a violent crime rate of 33.1. This means that your odds of being a victim of a violent crime are about one in 30. New York and San Francisco don’t even make the top 100.

Sure, Bessemer’s eight murders seem like a lot less than the 462 reported in New York City, but when Bessemer’s smaller population is taken into account, Bessemer residents are much more likely to be directly affected by violent crime than a New Yorker.

And Bessemer isn’t an isolated example. Three of the top 10 most violent cities on the list are in Alabama and eight are in the South. Small towns have some serious problems.

Granted, these statistics are for towns with more than 25,000 people, but smaller towns can be violent as well. The small town where I grew up, population 4,500, has had at least three murders and a seemingly random shooting in the past couple of years. That small number of total crimes among a small number of people makes it a very violent place statistically speaking.

So Jason Aldean presents an idealized version of small-town unity to begin with, but that’s his right as an artist. On the other hand, CMT has the right to remove his video from their rotation. That’s their right as well. It’s not a First Amendment violation or censorship or cancel culture. It’s a private company’s decision on how to run their network.

I’m willing to give Aldean the benefit of the doubt on his song. His production company says that he didn’t pick the location and the people involved may not have even been aware of the location’s history of lynching. Whatever the truth, Aldean is benefitting greatly from the controversy with streams up 999 percent and the song debuting at number two.

And if Aldean’s fans want to post memes marking them “safe from being offended by a country song” while simultaneously being snowflakes about the Barbie movie or a Bud Light commercial or the fact that Snow White isn’t white in a new version of the old story, that’s their right as well.

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But that brings us to the unforced error. This didn’t have to become a political issue. Republicans are now rushing to defend Aldean, a man who doesn’t really need a defense. At worst, Aldean is racist whose song is a dog whistle. At best, it’s a mediocre song with an unfortunate connection to a racist incident. Either way, Aldean is profiting quite handsomely.

But what do Republicans hope to gain from the incident? Maybe it’s a rally-the-base issue, but at some point rallying the base can become counterproductive to winning over new voters. That seems to be the case when Republicans rush to defend people accused of racism without regard for facts and appearances.

And that seems to be what Republicans almost always do. I’m hard-pressed to think of a time when the party criticized racist behavior. It may be that the last time was in 2019 when they mostly abandoned Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican congressman infamous for his racist comments.

On the one hand, Republicans need and seem to want to do better with minorities. On the other hand, they reflexively jump to the aid of people accused, often credibly, of racism. That’s a problem for the party in that they are throwing up roadblocks that prevent minorities from supporting them.

In 2020, most Republicans couldn’t bring themselves to utter the words, “Black Lives Matter,” and even today most have trouble acknowledging that black Americans have legitimate and unique concerns. Tim Scott, one of the few black Republicans, is also one of the few Republicans to be overtly sympathetic to black concerns about police.

I’m going to give Republicans some free and unsolicited advice: If you want to win support from black and other minority voters, stop doing things that make you look racist.

Remember that politics is, to a great extent, about perception. You may have the greatest ideas in the world, but if people think that you hate them, they aren’t going to give you a chance. It’s difficult to convey how cringy it is when white Republicans start explaining to minorities that they shouldn’t be offended by something that seems racist. That also goes for pushing stories that allege black racism or decry encroachments on white territory. See the Fox News’ coverage of “Snow White” mentioned above for an example.

At the very least, Republicans should just stop to think about how they sound to people who aren’t part of the Fox News set. Of course, I do believe that for some (on both sides) being offensive is the point. And others are just too deeply into their bubbles to know they’re being offensive.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Republicans need to get out and march with BLM protesters, but not rushing to defend everyone accused of racism would be a good start. In many cases, as in this one, it’s possible and even advisable to simply say nothing. And as Steve Berman wrote yesterday, don’t defend slavery (the same advice applies to defending and quoting Hitler). Just don’t. This is really the low-hanging fruit of racial politics and Republicans are still mucking it up.

If Jason Aldean wants to defend a song and video that have racial overtones for many, he is free to do so. Republicans, on the other hand, have no obligation to further muddy their reputation by getting involved in the spat. If they can profess neutrality with respect to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they can be neutral in a fuss between a celebrity and the media. If they can remain silent about Donald Trump’s crimes, they can remain silent about a country music video.

And if they want to show their fealty to small-town life, they can sing the Mellencamp lyrics that describe a small-town utopia much better than Aldean’s combative words:

Educated in a small town
Taught to fear of Jesus in a small town
Used to daydream in that small town
Another boring romantic, that's me

This, not grabbing your gun to fight off city folks, is the idyllic picture of small town life.

From the Racket News