Today's Edition (May 4, 2021)

A party in service of an ego.

          The Republican Party is convulsing with fear and loathing as it completes its metamorphosis from a self-styled “party of ideas” to a cult that exists to salve the ego of its defeated and sulking standard-bearer. Although Democrats may have momentarily lapsed into complacency, at least they are not eating their own. The GOP is preparing to complete the pogrom of its few remaining members who admit Trump lost the election in 2020. As Charles P. Pierce wrote on Monday, “The Republican Party has developed new rites of initiation: You must push the Big Lie.” A political “night of long knives” is awaiting Liz Cheney, Chair of the House Republican Conference, who adamantly refuses to promote the Big Lie. See The Guardian, “Liz Cheney says Trump’s ‘big lie’ poisons democracy as split with Republicans grows.” The only thing standing between Liz Cheney and political exile is the non-existent scruples of the raw ambition in a Brooks Brother’s suit also known as Kevin McCarthy. See Vanity Fair, “The GOP’s Liz Cheney Purge May Be Upon Us.” As noted in Vanity Fair, when Kevin McCarthy was recently asked whether Liz Cheney was a good “fit” for GOP leadership, McCarthy said, “That’s a question for the conference.” Let me translate McCarthy’s statement. What he is saying is, “As soon as I can find a convenient date to schedule a vote to oust Cheney, I will.”

          My rant yesterday about the low turnout in the Texas 6th District special election caused panic among some readers. That was not my intent. Just as we should be honest in evaluating our party’s strengths and weaknesses, we should likewise be realistic in evaluating those of our political opposition. The GOP is not a phalanx of Trump shock troopers marching in lockstep. The GOP is in a state of civil war between delusion and truth. Delusion is winning. While that phenomenon is unsettling (it should be), any group dedicated to the principle that there is no objective truth is built on a foundation of swamp gas. As Michael Gerson wrote in WaPo on Monday, “A founding lie is intended to remove followers from the messy world of facts and evidence. It is designed to replace critical judgment with personal loyalty.”

          The obsession with personal loyalty to Trump is a losing gamble for the GOP. Trump’s post-tenure popularity is slowly declining. See US News, “President Trump Losing Support From Republicans, Poll Finds.” Trump’s top favorability rating has dropped from 33% to 21%, while only 44% of Republicans say they are more loyal to Trump than the GOP. But Trump controls the loudest voices in the GOP—the “Stop the Steal” crowd who think nothing of embarrassing themselves by booing Senator Mitt Romney at the Utah GOP convention. See video clip of Romney asking convention attendees who were booing him lustily, “Aren’t you embarrassed?” The hecklers were not embarrassed—and told Romney so. (Hint to readers: If you are giving a speech and you are being heckled, don’t ask your hecklers rhetorical questions—a mistake Romney will not repeat in the future.)

          The self-immolation of the Republican Party is no reason to gloat. At the end of the day, America will end up with two political parties: One that seeks to govern by adhering to democratic norms and one that seeks to dismantle the framework of democracy for the petty purpose of soothing the injured ego of Donald Trump. That does not auger well for the health of our democracy. A dysfunctional and dissolving Republican Party is no reason for complacency; instead, it is a cause for urgency. That was my point in yesterday’s newsletter. We must fight every battle; we don’t have to win every battle, just enough of them to maintain control. We can do that.

The News Bubble.

To keep informed, I read the headlines (sometimes the stories) of about a dozen right-wing media outlets. Here’s my take: Boring. I mean, really boring. About 30% of the stories today are about the “Covid hoax” and “fascist lockdowns” by states. E.g., “Covid Crackdowns, as Predicted, Go Permanent in States,” and “The Covid Passport: Fascism is at Hand.” I wonder what readers of the latter publication think when they go the grocery store and no one says, “Show me your Covid Passport.” Another publication is claiming that a “leftist” internet company is trying to suppress news about a conference about “an experimental, unapproved gene therapy that triggers a genetic mutation in humans”—i.e., the coronavirus vaccine. And, of course, some stories attack Joe Biden: “100 Biden Failures in 100 Days.”

Biden continues to overperform.

          Contrary to the right-wing headlines, Biden continues to over-perform expectations. Though presidents rarely deserve the credit and blame they get for the economy, Biden’s strong response to the pandemic may have had an effect on the strong economic bounce-back in the first quarter of 2021. See CNN, “US economy soared in the first quarter, growing at a 6.4% rate.” Though the growth rate is distorted because of the pandemic contraction in 2020, it is a strong performance that could have been different under a president who viewed the coronavirus as a hoax. Biden continues to promote his legislative agenda on the road—which is exactly the right move. Indeed, we need more of it. So, as the GOP engages in a destructive civil war, Biden is moving forward with the business of governing America. Good!

McConnell Refuses to Negotiate on Infrastructure Bill

No one was surprised (except possibly Joe Manchin) when Mitch McConnell announced that “not a single Republican” would vote for Biden’s infrastructure bill and that GOP Senators would “do everything they can” to stop the bill. See WFPL News Louisville, “McConnell Opposes Biden Infrastructure Plan, Citing National Debt.” Of course, Biden has proposed to pay for the infrastructure bill by raising corporate taxes—a move also opposed by McConnell. McConnell has resorted to a version of “Catch 22”—“We can’t afford the infrastructure bill because I oppose efforts to pay for it.

          McConnell’s blanket opposition effectively puts Senator Manchin in the position of negotiating for Republicans. It’s a win-win for McConnell and an irritating turn of events for Democrats. Speaking of irritation and Senator Manchin, read on.

Senator Manchin Opposes D.C. Statehood.

Senator Manchin opposes granting statehood to D.C. through congressional legislation. Instead, he believes that a constitutional amendment is necessary. See Yahoo News, “Manchin Says D.C. Statehood Requires Constitutional Amendment, Not Senate Vote.” To be clear, Manchin isn’t saying D.C. shouldn’t be a state—just that it will take a constitutional amendment to make that happen. Proponents of D.C. statehood argue that other states have been admitted to the Union based solely on a legislative enactment by Congress, so the same process should apply to D.C.

          D.C. should be a state. But for those of you who are arguing in favor of statehood, I urge you to read the legal memorandum on which Senator Manchin bases his view that statehood requires a constitutional amendment. See DOJ Office of Legal Policy (4/3/87), “The Question of Statehood for the District of Columbia.” Although the memo was a result-oriented document drafted under the direction of disgraced former Attorney General Ed Meese, the legal and constitutional arguments in the memo are not frivolous. The District of Columbia isn’t like Hawaii or Alaska. The Constitution provides for the creation of a separate “seat of government” that is not part of any state—a consideration that does not apply to Hawaii or Alaska. The 23rd Amendment also complicates matters—to a degree that is beyond the space limitations of this newsletter. So, if you want to be an effective advocate for statehood, arm yourself with knowledge of your opponent’s arguments. They are contained in the memo cited, above.  Senator Manchin has read it; so should you.

Help the U.S. Reach Herd Immunity

          In a disappointing turn of events, U.S. public health officials are beginning to give up on the idea of reaching herd immunity against coronavirus through vaccination. See NYTimes, “Reaching ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Unlikely in the U.S., Experts Now Believe - The New York Times.” (“Widely circulating coronavirus variants and persistent hesitancy about vaccines will keep the goal out of reach.”) At a time when other countries are struggling with massive outbreaks and vaccine shortages, the notion that Americans won’t take the vaccine because of indifference or hesitancy is maddening to the rest of the world. The success of the Biden vaccine campaign will make a return to normalcy possible. But the absence of herd immunity will come at a high cost.

          I haven’t followed the pandemic as closely as I should have. So, I reached out to a reader (who also sends a regular newsletter), Whitney Tilson. He has followed the pandemic closely. I asked him for his view, and he responded as follows:

          The result, I fear, will be similar to the opioid crisis, in which rural, poor areas, with low vaccination rates, suffer an ongoing slow burn of the pandemic that hurts the local economies, drives away the most productive people (who can more easily relocate), and sickens hundreds of thousands (and kills tens of thousands) every year – all of which, like the opioid crisis, will further anger, alienate, and inflame the folks that live there.

          We can avoid the worst scenario by encouraging everyone we know to get vaccinated. I understand that you may not be able to overcome the objections of those opposed to vaccines, but there may be people in your life who are too busy or who feel invincible—or who just don’t care. Try to convince them to take the vaccine. For possible approaches in those discussions, see The Atlantic, “What Are No-Vaxxers Thinking?” Ever person who is vaccinated helps reduce the pool of potential Covid patients. It is also possible that a large population of vaccinated Americans might help slow the spread of variants—a scourge that is now afflicting India. Tell a friend.

Concluding Thoughts.

          My Managing Editor and I both received our second dose of the Moderna vaccine last week. Though we need to wait another ten days before we achieve the full immunity from the vaccines, we are already looking forward to spending time with our two new granddaughters (and their parents!) without masks. A year ago, Dr. Fauci was talking about a vaccine “in a year.” At the time, I thought his statement was wildly optimistic. Despite the immense tragedy of the pandemic, we are fortunate to be living during a time when pharmaceutical companies can develop, test, and distribute a vaccine in less than a year. We must do our part to realize the promise of that historic achievement.

          Talk to you tomorrow!