The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The Missouri Compromise and the 2020 election

Jamelle Bouie thinks 1820 offers a better view of today's politics than 1850 or 1968:

There is no one-to-one comparison from the past to current events; there never is. But drawing on the Missouri controversy, I do have an observation to make about our present situation. Once again, under the guise of ordinary political conflict, Americans are fighting a meta-legal battle over the meaning of both the Union and the Constitution.

A fight over the fate of the Supreme Court is weighty enough, but beneath the surface of this conflict is an even fiercer struggle about what the Constitution means, one taking place in the context of minority rule and incipient democratic failure.

Many democratic political systems allow for minority-led governments, although they often force parties to build majority coalitions to achieve them. That’s because minority government becomes an unacceptably bitter pill when the winning party rejects compromise and consensus in favor of factionalism and unilateral action. The problem comes when a political system allows for minority winners but doesn’t require coalition government. Stability is possible, but it depends on forbearance and good faith from all sides. You can play political and constitutional hardball, but it might bring conflict out into the open that you can’t ultimately control, and it will raise questions about your mandate to govern.

Trump, McConnell and the Republican Party have embraced a kind of political total war. Democrats and their liberal allies say this violates the democratic principles against which we judge the fairness of our institutions. In response, Republicans say the Constitution is what counts. Whether or not an action violates some abstract principle, if it’s in the rules, it’s in the rules.

The Missouri controversy was, of course, settled with a compromise. Missouri would enter the Union as a slave state, and Maine would enter as a free state, but Congress would prohibit slavery in all land of the Louisiana Purchase north of the 36° 30’ parallel. This defused the fight over the territory, but could not resolve the conflict over the Union. This was legislation, a good faith agreement between two irreconcilable sides, not a permanent addition to the constitutional framework.

The Republican Party has created a situation where no compromise is possible. Biden winning in five weeks won't change that. But at least a clear win, and taking the Senate back, will allow us to repair some of the damage that four years of Republican rule has inflicted.

Shakespeare was right

Andrew Sullivan takes a step back and explains, carefully and quietly, the tyrant's mindset:

[T]yranny is not, in its essence, about the authoritarian and administrative skills required to run a country effectively for a long time. Tyrants, after all, are often terrible at this. It is rather about a mindset, as the ancient philosophers understood, with obvious political consequences. It’s a pathology. It requires no expertise in anything other than itself.

You need competence if you want to run an effective government, or plan a regular campaign, or master policy with a view to persuading people, or hold power for the sake of something else. You need competence to create and sustain something. But you do not need much competence to destroy things. You just need the will. And this is what tyrants do: they destroy things.

This is Trump’s threat. Not the construction of a viable one-party state, but the destruction of practices, norms, civility, laws, customs and procedures that constitute liberal democracy’s non-zero-sum genius. He doesn’t need to be competent to destroy our system of government. He merely needs to be himself: an out-of-control, trust-free, malignant narcissist, with inexhaustible resources of psychic compulsion, in a pluralist system designed for the opposite. All you need is an insatiable pathological drive to avoid any constraint on your own behavior, and the demagogic genius to carry a critical mass of people with you, and our system, designed as the antidote to tyranny, is soon unspooling into incoherence, deadlock, and collapse.

In every Shakespeare play about tyranny — from Richard III to Coriolanus to Macbeth — the tyrant loses in the end, and often quite quickly. They’re not that competent at governing, or even interested in it. The forces they unleash come back to wipe them from the stage, sooner or later. They flame out. Richard III lasted a mere couple of years on the throne.

But in every case, they leave a wrecked and reeling society in their wake. Look around you now and see the damage already done.

He then goes into the normal panic of everyone watching this election unfold, but until that point, he's absolutely correct. The president has no genius other than his own self-preservation; and if I seem angry, it's because this fact is obvious to anyone who has studied history.

Misinformation about the Breanna Taylor case

Radley Balko has reported on criminal justice for over a decade, and I would argue he's the most-informed journalist on the subject in the United States. I therefore trust his analysis of Breanna Taylor's death more than most. In today's Washington Post, he lays out the facts about Kentucky law and about the case as far as he knows, and corrects some misinformation currently swirling around social media:

Wednesday’s announcement from Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron about criminal charges in the Breonna Taylor case set off a frenzy of misinformation on social media. Based on what we do know — which I’ve culled from my own reporting, reporting from the New York Times and the Louisville Courier-Journal, as well as from conversations with the lawyers for Taylor’s family — the decision to charge Detective Brett Hankison with wanton endangerment was probably correct, as was the decision not to charge the other officers involved in the shooting. If ballistics had conclusively shown that one of the bullets from Hankison’s gun killed Taylor, he could be charged with reckless homicide, but according to Cameron, the bullets that struck Taylor could not be matched to Hankison’s gun. There’s the problem that the police who conducted the raid were relying on a warrant procured by another officer, which was then signed by a judge. There were many flaws and abrogations in that process, but it would be unfair and not legal to hold them accountable for any of that.

But “not illegal” should not mean “immune from criticism.” Part of the problem was Cameron himself, who was selective in what information he released to the point of misleading the public about key facts in the case. (This raises real questions about whether the grand jury was also misled. That’s why an attorney for Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who fired at the police during the raid, is demanding that Cameron release the evidence that was presented to the grand jury.)

Furthermore, Taylor’s death was not, as Cameron suggested, simply a tragedy for which no one is to blame. The police work in this case was sloppy, and the warrant service was reckless. Taylor is dead because of a cascade of errors, bad judgment and dereliction of duty.

To simply blow this off as a tragedy for which no one is to blame is an insult to the life and legacy of Taylor, but also to the dozens of innocent people who have been gunned down in their own homes before her. And the effort by Cameron and others to make all of this go away by feeding the public half-truths that blame the victims in this story — Taylor and Walker — for Taylor’s death is inexcusable.

We could prevent the next Breonna Taylor. We could ban forced entry raids to serve drug warrants. We could hold judges accountable for signing warrants that don’t pass constitutional muster. We could demand that police officers wear body cameras during these raids to hold them accountable, and that they be adequately punished when they fail to activate them. We could do a lot to make sure there are no more Breonna Taylors. The question is whether we want to.

Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop is on my to-be-read shelf.

Why is anyone listening to this clown?

In an interview yesterday, the president refused to say that he would allow a peaceful transfer of power if he lost the election. Understandably, people are upset that a sitting president would hint at doing anything else. But as Josh Marshall points out, this guy lies more easily than most people breathe, so maybe we don't need to freak out as much as we are:

No one needs to tell us these threats and bogus claims are wrong. But it is still necessary to step back and realize that there’s no chaos. We are on the cusp of what should be an entirely orderly election process. There’s zero evidence there has been or will be any election fraud of any sort. Not only is there no evidence any of this is happening we have abundant, really incontrovertible evidence that organized election fraud is all but unknown in modern American electoral history. It simply doesn’t happen. Period. There’s zero reason to believe the Supreme Court or any Court will be required to decide the outcome of the election or make decisions which significantly affect the outcome.

That doesn’t mean everything is fine. This false drama and lying is all meant to set the stage for things that are very real. Certainly not to justify – but even for those of us who are gripping on to the sinews of our democracy with every strength, it creates a sense of forward motion, inevitability, disorder. But the reality check is still helpful, critical, necessary. Because none of it is really. It’s a storm of drama, completely fictive, to set the stage for an unpopular President to reject the results of an election that ends his presidency.

Even Mitch McConnell knows the president is more full of shit than a trainload of fertilizer. If the president or the GOP really had the power to steal this election, they wouldn't have to talk about it so much.

So, my fellow members of the Democratic Party, can we please just stop hyperventilating and get on with kicking this guy out of office through good old-fashioned voting? Everyone knows he's losing, including him and all of his cronies. That's why they're grabbing every bit of power they can with both hands while they still have time. That's why they're trying to jam through a nominee to the Supreme Court in an unprecedented time and manner.

Holy shit, folks. Let's start acting like the winners we are and get the Republican Party out of power until they can behave like grown-ups.

The return of Allie Brosh

The cartoonist and author behind Hyperbole and a Half has returned with a new book, which I should receive tomorrow. This news offsets pretty much all the other news from today:

I'm sure there's more, but I'm done for the day.

Actions must have consequences

Yesterday evening I wrote that the only appropriate response to the Republican Senate putting another Federalist Society pretty boy on the Supreme Court (or, really, anyone other than Merrick Garland) would be to revisit 28 USC §1i.e., passing a simple statute to increase the size of the court and thereby dilute its right-wing majority. This was also Josh Marshall's first thought:

We are here because of the Republican party’s increasing unwillingness to accept limits on political action. To up the ante on that tendency, to meet it, is itself a grave threat to democratic governance. But an even graver threat is to remove any mechanism of consequences or accountability. Then there is truly no limit or disincentive to corruption, law breaking and bad action. That reality is precisely the one in which we currently find ourselves.

In war or in sports or really any kind of contest you never let the other side hold all the initiative. You can say that McConnell and Trump shouldn’t take this step, that the American people should get to decide. Because the reality is they can take this step. So what will you do when they do that? The answer is you take the clearest and most economical step to undo the corrupt act. Adding new Justices is the way to do that.

Make this new corruption a centerpiece of the campaign, hold it over the heads of embattled Republican senators, try in every way to get a just result, which is to put this in the hands of the next President and Congress. But make clear that if it happens Democrats will undo it next year if the people give them to power to do so.

The Washington Post's Jill Filipovic makes the same points:

Democrats have only one play here: If Trump and McConnell jam an appointee through, it is not enough for Democrats to raise hell about the hypocrisy, the duplicity and the Republican refusal to play by McConnell’s own rules. It is not enough to target every Republican senator who goes along. It is not enough to have voters bombard their Republican senator’s office with phone calls and protests. Because those things have been happening for four years, and none of them have persuaded the GOP to put the stability of the country or the obligations of office ahead of that party’s thirst for power.

So Democrats should threaten to pack the court. And, if McConnell pushes through a new justice and then Joe Biden wins, they should follow through.

Our party has to hold the line here. Another ultra-right-wing Associate Justice will cement the power of the right wing for another 30 years, prevent us—the clear majority—from passing any meaningful legislation when we do re-take power in January, and contribute to the loss of faith in the institutions of government. All three of these outcomes are exactly what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has worked his whole career to accomplish. Even if Amy McGrath takes his seat, he will have won.

Except for this one little thing: Article 1 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to set the Supreme Court's size and jurisdiction. We can counter all these things with simple legislation requiring only a majority in Congress.

The Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader need to get out in front, now, and rhetorically pump that shotgun. Sure, go ahead and put one of Brett Kavanaugh's frat bros on the Court. President Biden will have Merrick Garland and three other liberals in the four new seats Congress will create before the end of March.

I've sent notes to Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) making these points.

(Note: I have contributed money to both Joe Biden's and Amy McGrath's campaigns.)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 1933-2020

The Notorious RBG died at her home earlier today:

The cause was complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer, the Supreme Court said.

Justice Ginsburg’s pointed and powerful dissenting opinions, usually speaking for all four, attracted growing attention as the court turned further to the right. A law student, Shana Knizhnik, anointed her the Notorious R.B.G., a play on the name of the Notorious B.I.G., a famous rapper who was Brooklyn-born, like the justice. Soon the name, and Justice Ginsburg’s image — her expression serene yet severe, a frilly lace collar adorning her black judicial robe, her eyes framed by oversize glasses and a gold crown perched at a rakish angle on her head — became an internet sensation.

[President] Clinton, making his first nomination to the court, conducted an almost painfully public search among judges and political figures, with contenders including Mario Cuomo, then the governor of New York, who turned him down, and Bruce Babbitt, the incumbent secretary of the interior.

As the search wound down, it appeared the president had chosen Stephen G. Breyer, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, who had come to Washington at the president’s invitation for an interview. Judge Breyer was in pain from broken ribs suffered in a recent bicycle accident, and the interview did not go well. Martin Ginsburg, meanwhile, had been urging New York’s senior senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to press his wife’s case with the president. Mr. Clinton was at first reluctant, grumbling to Mr. Moynihan that “the women are against her.” But after a 90-minute private meeting with Judge Ginsburg on Sunday, June 13, the president made up his mind. He called her at 11:33 that night to tell her that she was his choice.

Surprising absolutely no one, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wasted no time in repudiating the "McConnell Rule" against nominating a new justice during an election year:

There’s nothing in the Constitution that prevents a Supreme Court vacancy from being filled, regardless of how close to an election it opens up.

Precedent in such a situation is different. Until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked President Obama’s 2016 pick nine months before the election, this hadn’t been done very often, says Russell Wheeler, an expert on Supreme Court history with the Brookings Institution.

McConnell can’t say he is flip-flopping on his 2016 position about election-year court vacancies because doing so benefits him politically now. So he has offered some logic that does little to disguise its political convenience: This time is different because the Senate and the presidency are held by the same party, which wasn’t the case when there was a vacancy in the last year of Obama’s presidency.

And in 2016, McConnell actually argued against the Senate considering a lame-duck president’s nomination. “President Obama has every right to nominate someone on his way out the door,” McConnell said at the time. “The Senate has every right to hold its consent.”

It’s a lot to consider. But McConnell has the chance to thrust the Supreme Court in a more conservative direction for perhaps generations. It’s a remarkable legacy for McConnell that he doesn’t seem to want to pass up, no matter the risk for him or the Senate majority.

To that I would remind the gentleman from Kentucky that 28 USC §1 is just a statute, which the next Congress could easily change.

Bingey

Working from home with a gigabit Internet connection has at least one major perk: TV on in the background. I've gone through a lot of it in the last six months. The ExpanseTales from the LoopWyonna EarpWarrior NunUpload, and The Umbrella Academy were all worth watching. Some of them even have new seasons coming out soon.

On the "return to the office full-time" front, we probably have another six months to wait. The New York Times has a rundown of the 92 Covid-19 vaccines currently under development. But despite the president's lies, none of them will be available before the election. And getting 7 (or 14) billion doses manufactured and distributed will take time as well.

So, we work from home, wash our hands, wear our masks outside, and have lots of TV on in the background. Yay us.

Better Know a Ballot

Talk-show host Stephen Colbert has set up a website called Better Know a Ballot where you can check on the voting requirements for your state. He's producing videos for each state (starting with North Carolina) to explain the rules.

That's the bright spot of joy for you today. Here are other...spots...of something:

OK, one more bit of good news: The Economist reported this week that the southern hemisphere had almost no flu cases this winter, because pandemic response measures work on influenza just as they work on Covid-19.

The Reagan Test

Author John Scalzi asks the question Reagan asked 40 years ago, and concludes he's worse off than he was in 2016:

In 1980, which is now — Jesus — 40 years ago, Ronald Reagan asked a question of the American people: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Reagan asked this question because he was running for president against Jimmy Carter, and it was in his interest to make the election a referendum on the incumbent. And while it would be inaccurate to say the question won Reagan the White House, it is accurate to say the question was a particularly useful framing device for Reagan: It took the election campaign and set it on personal terms for every voter, in a way they could easily quantify and apply to their own lives.

Now it’s 2020, and Donald Trump is president and running for re-election, and aside from any over-arching political issues with, or my own personal opinion of, the man, I think it will be interesting and useful to apply Reagan’s question to my own personal life: am I, in fact, better off today than I was four years ago?

My income has been stable for the last four years, thanks mainly to contracts signed more than four years ago. Like the economy at large (until the coronavirus struck, at least), my generally robust economic condition was a continuation of Obama-era practices and strategies, rather than new conditions.

Four years ago, I could leave my house without wearing a mask (I mean, I guess I could leave the house without one, if I was an asshole who didn’t care about the health and safety of others as well as myself, but I’m not, so I wear a mask).

Four years ago I could go to a restaurant or see a movie or go to a party or get on a plane without worrying about possibly contracting a disease that could put me on a respirator, kill me or give me serious, chronic, long-term health issues.

Four years ago I didn’t worry whether my access to the services and function of the federal government, in an emergency or at all other times, would be contingent upon whether the president had decided someone in my state state was his friend or his foe, or had flattered him enough that he felt inclined to do the job that he was in fact required to do, by law and by the Constitution.

If one of the most successful writers in America is worse off today, how are you doing?