Defeat by Forfeit

A major party presidential nomination is a terrible thing to waste. For the candidate, after an arduous year spent trudging through Iowa and New Hampshire, winning the nomination offers the opportunity to command the attention not just of a pancake breakfast in Davenport but of an entire nation. For the party, its presidential nomination is the one great prize it has to offer ambitious members to exact promises to support its collective interests and goals. The nomination is the steering wheel of the party apparatus, to be handed (ideally) to a sober-minded leader not only to guide the ship in the right direction but also to avoid a terrible crash that could obliterate its supporting parts. Even a losing major party standard-bearer holds considerable power both before and after the election. The nominee will forever gain a new national stature and holds the potential to sweep into office a new generation of party leaders on his coattails, or devastate the party’s ranks for years to come.

All of this is why the last two months of the Donald Trump campaign have been such a curious disaster. After his final Republican opponents withdrew from the race following the Indiana Primary on May 4th, Trump has been casually indifferent to even the most basic tasks of building a national campaign. At the same time, one month to go before this season’s very early party conventions, the GOP’s congressional leaders have been all too willing to forgo the presidency until 2020. Even as they acquiesced to Trump’s rise with their conspicuous silence, prominent GOP officials have made it fairly clear that they consider the presidency a lost cause and not a prize worth fighting for given their 2016 ringleader. While speculation runs wild about Trump’s motives and ideas, the larger story concerns the willingness of mainstream Republican leaders to forfeit the presidency. Continue reading

Dayenu

Donald Trump

Had Donald Trump only called Mexican-Americans rapists and drug traffickers, it would have been enough. (6/16/15)

Had Donald Trump only said that Mexico was sending its drugs, crime, and rapists to America and not hired paid actors to form his presidential announcement crowd, it would have been enough. (6/17/15)

Had Donald Trump only hired actors for his crowd and not sued the most influential Latino television network over its refusal to air his Miss Universe pageant, it would have been enough. (6/30/15)

Had Donald Trump only sued Univision and not rhetorically asked Don Lemon “who is doing the raping,” if not the Mexicans, it would have been enough. (7/2/15)

Had Donald Trump only accused Mexican immigrants of mass rape and not used the threat of a third-party bid as leverage over the GOP, it would have been enough. (7/8/15)

Had Donald Trump only threatened to run as a third-party candidate and not criticized prisoners of war for getting captured, it would have been enough. (7/18/15)

Had Donald Trump only attacked John McCain’s war record and not publicized Lindsey Graham’s cell phone number, it would have been enough. (7/21/15)

Had Donald Trump only released Sen. Graham’s number and not had his long-time lawyer and campaign surrogate state that one cannot rape their spouse, it would have been enough. (7/28/15)

Had Donald Trump only used a surrogate who condoned marital rape and not claimed he was the victim of tough questioning at a debate because the female moderator was menstruating, it would have been enough. (8/8/15)

Had Donald Trump only hurled misogynistic insults at Megyn Kelly and not advocated ending birthright citizenship due to the supposed threat of “anchor babies,” it would have been enough. (8/19/15) Continue reading

Fostering Injustice

Late last month the Supreme Court issued a decision that was unremarkable in its obviousness. A black defendant in a capital murder case was convicted by an all-white jury that had been molded by a prosecution hell-bent on preventing participation by any person of color. The Constitution (as interpreted by the Supreme Court) forbids racial discrimination in jury selection, rightly viewing the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” as protecting citizens’ rights of public service and defendants’ right to a trial free from racial gameplay. And so, in a 7-1 opinion written with unmistakable clarity and without equivocation, the Supreme Court vacated the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision upholding Foster’s conviction. Usually nothing is this simple when it comes to race and the death penalty at the high court. So it’s no surprise that many have applauded the ruling as the triumph of reason over knee-jerk ideology. Indeed, cases just as clear as this one sadly often come out differently, especially in the lower courts. But make no mistake, though every word composed within is true, the Supreme Court’s opinion does not rectify injustice. The methodical reasoning and incremental progression of our legal system and constitutional doctrine, although comforting to a lawyer’s sense of order, leaves Foster a hollow victory—a success in disposition, not reality. Continue reading

Bernie Sanders’s Alternate Reality

Former senator and two-time presidential aspirant John Edwards used to lament what he called the “two Americas” (later it turned out that there were two John Edwardses, as well). Edwards was talking about the divergent experiences between rich and poor in George W. Bush’s stagnant and then collapsing economy. While the gulf separating the wealthy and everyone else has only grown since the last Edwards campaign in 2008, his slogan fits perhaps even more snuggly to the growing rhetorical division between left and right. Or more accurately, to the widening chasm between conservative conspiracy-laden, myth-based false certainty and, you know, reality. It’s a phenomenon political scientist Norm Ornstein has formally identified as “asymmetrical polarization.” Even ignoring the Trump campaign as a bizarre piece of performance art, it’s hard not to feel the consequences of the two, disparate Americas just by flipping through news channels at night or browsing political blogs and online magazines.

These other two Americas have caused real harm to the likelihood of solving the chronic problems ailing our country. It’s what prevented real fixes and better scrutiny to President Obama’s health care proposals, and what required congressional Democrats to use inelastic legislative vehicles to ultimately pass the Affordable Care Act. It’s what subsequently misled millions of Americans into believing that the new healthcare law would create death panels for their parents and grandparents, deny them coverage, explode their premiums, and lose their jobs. It’s what led to the pervasive yet contradictory beliefs, espoused by a former Republican Vice-Presidential nominee, sitting Senators, and aspirants to the People’s House, that President Obama is both an incompetent, teleprompter-addicted product of affirmative action and a scheming, dangerous radical deliberately plotting to remake America into a post-colonial, socialist sinkhole. And it’s what has given rise to the unprincipled and unruly Tea Party, whose only real lasting legacy has been to prevent Republicans from governing responsibly (or often at all).

All of which is why Bernie Sanders’s more-than-mere-dalliances with fact-free notions are so troubling. His vision promises not to heal the two Americas, but to create a third. Continue reading