Bloom Briefing 29: Obamacare Remains; Russia Sanctions; Trump's Vile Rhetoric
Welcome to the twenty-ninth edition of The Bloom Briefing: Notes from the Resistance. This was a week that had good things happen! The good stuff that happened seemed to compel Trump to lash out, and it’s worth pausing on the uptick in extremity of his rhetoric. As always, there are great things to read linked down at the bottom.
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Senate Republicans failed to pass any of three varieties of Obamacare repeal. This was a massive failure for the Republican Party. After spending the better part of the last seven years saying that the first thing they would do when gaining power was repeal Obamacare, Republicans couldn’t find any workable alternative that all of their own party could agree on.
The defeat of the various repeal options was also a major blow to Mitch McConnell (links here, here, and here). That last link, by Andrew Prokop at Vox, makes the astute point that not only was McConnell’s a legislative failure, it was a PR failure as well. Senate Republicans will now be left open to powerful attack ads for an unpopular piece of legislation that they voted for but failed to pass. Dean Heller (NV, ‘18), Corey Gardner (CO, ‘20), Rob Portman (OH, ‘22), Ron Johnson (WI, ‘22), Marco Rubio (FL, ‘22), Pat Toomey (PA, ‘22), and potentially even Ted Cruz (TX, ’18) and Jeff Flake (AZ, ’18) could all become victims of their dogmatic support for taking away people’s health insurance.
The current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue took the opportunity of the bill’s failure to 1) threaten Congressmen, 2) reveal that he has absolutely no idea about what’s going on by implying that the 60-vote threshold was the reason it didn’t pass, and 3) and fire Reince Priebus (maybe via Tweet).
In a rebuke to Trump, Congress passed significant additional sanctions on Russia in response to the country’s meddling in the American election and, notably, also for its annexation of Crimea. The Senate voted 98-2 (Sanders and Paul against), and the House voted (419-3), so even if Trump were to veto the legislation, the veto could clearly be overridden.
This was also a week where the vile, toxic, nature of the President and his Administration was on full display. Perhaps fueled by a sense that the game is up – that everyone now views his administration as nothing more than a charade – Trump upped the ante on his already vile rhetoric.
Boy Scout Speech
First, there was the speech to the Boy Scouts, which was very not normal. Trump got tens of thousands of boys to boo his predecessor. He alluded to sex on a yacht. And he talked to a bunch of Boy Scouts about the world of New York finance. As John McLaughlin put it in an op-ed for the Washington Post, there was…
“Then the jarring spectacle of the kids cheering and applauding as Trump blasted through a speech full of derision toward others, self-obsession, political spin, and incoherent rambling about cocktail society and high finance in New York City. I suspect it was the excitement of the occasion that spurred the applause rather than actual endorsement of what Trump said. Still, it evoked the sort of cheering for obvious nonsense — or worse — that we’ve witnessed in dictatorships around the world.
Kudos, I suppose, to McLaughlin for not going full-on Hitler Youth with the metaphor, although he lets you get there on your own. The point broadly, is Trump’s utter lack of morality. He has none. Grace, dignity, honor, magnanimity, humility – moral qualities one might expect from a president addressing the youth of his nation in abundance – were not merely deficient, they were absent entirely.
Dehumanizing Immigrants in Youngstown
But it wasn’t just the speech to the Boy Scouts that included this rhetorical turn towards the extreme. Trump then gave a speech at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio that included the following passage about a Central American gang:
They don’t want to use guns, because it’s too fast and it’s not painful enough. So they’ll take a young, beautiful girl—16, 15, and others—and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die. And these are the animals that we’ve been protecting for so long. Well, they’re not being protected anymore, folks.
That is very explicit language. It’s graphic, violent, and dehumanizing. Notice the subtle elision between the abstract ‘they’/’them’ of the earlier lines and the ‘animals we’ve been protecting’ further down. While the reference to animals is explicitly dehumanizing, notice the change in who is being characterized. It’s no longer just the gang members, but all the undocumented workers who are in the country. This is how you lay the groundwork for doing terrible things to a large group of people: you make everyone else believe that said group is not human.
Jamelle Bouie wrote an excellent piece about Trump’s rhetoric in which he articulated a view:
“The Youngstown riff was different. It was especially detailed and graphic. And while the racial content of this kind of rhetoric has always been clear—the immigrants are always nonwhite, the victims are typically white—this was unusually explicit. Trump wasn’t just connecting immigrants with violent crime. He was using an outright racist trope: that of the violent, sadistic black or brown criminal, preying on innocent (usually white) women. Even considering his 1989 jeremiad against the Central Park Five—where he demanded the death penalty for the five black and Latino teenagers wrongly convicted of raping a white woman—the Youngstown rhetoric was sensational and excessive.”
“Politically, what President Trump was doing in Ohio has a clear antecedent in the racial demagoguery common in the Jim Crow South. Rather than campaign on what they would do for voters, Southern politicians fanned flames of race hatred… Trump is aware that he’s flailing, and to rebuild support—to re-establish that bond with his voters—he’s turning to an old, crude, and dangerous rhetorical well.”
Calling for Police Brutality on Long Island
In his piece, Bouie alluded to an upcoming event in Long Island where he thought Trump would be even more explicit, and, to an extent, Bouie was right. In that speech, Trump called (again, explicitly) for police to commit more acts of violence against those they arrest:
“Unshackle [the police] from the constant chant of ‘police brutality,’ which every petty criminal hurls immediately at an officer who has just risked his or her life to save another’s.”
“When you see these thugs being throw into the back of a paddy wagon… you just seem ‘em thrown in… rough. I said, please don’t be too nice. Like when you guys put somebody in the car, and you’re protecting their head… the way you put the hand over the head… like, don’t hit their head… that just killed somebody, don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay?”
[cheering and applause]
First of all, this is an explicit condoning of police violence. Trump wants more not less, police violence. That’s messed up. But second, and more important, is the fact that the police officers in attendance cheered. They clapped and hooted and hollered, not hesitatingly, not begrudgingly, as though they had been compelled, but heartily, thoroughly supportive of this brutal attitude that they, police officers dedicated to keeping the citizenry safe, should be able to subject those being arrested (not even convicted) to violence. As the president of the United States told them to commit acts of barbarity against the people they are legally obliged to protect, they cheered.
Now, the next day, a number of police organizations came out with official statements denouncing Trump’s remarks, but that only reveals the disconnect between the immediate emotional response – “yeah, I want to hurt some thugs” – with what they know they have to say to the public – “violence is wrong.” Seeing police cheer such remarks should have been an eye-opening moment for us all about the perils of an overly empowered and hyper-militarized police force.
Transgender Military Ban
Also this week, Trump announced, via Twitter, a ban on transgender people serving in the military… because of the cost of the medical procedures. It won’t surprise to learn that the medical procedures barely cost anything (an entire cottage industry emerged comparing what the DOD spends on medical procedures for transgender people compared to other Trumpians things).
As it turns out, the president can Tweet all he wants, but Tweeting doesn’t bring about policy change. In fact, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs wrote a letter stating just that. The White House has to send new rules to the Department of Defense and the Secretary of Defense issues new guidelines.
All of the above – from riling up a bunch of boy scouts to Tweeting about banning transgender people from the military – was superficial. None of it was real. This isn’t to say it doesn’t matter. I’ve just devoted 1,000 words to it. Of course it matters. The megaphone the president has is the largest in the world. So when he encourages the police to be violent, or when he tells us to be afraid of immigrants, or when he stigmatizes people just for their gender, it carries weight. But this amounted to nothing new policy-wise.
There was, however, one major point of policy (and a significant one) which might have slipped under your radar this week. The Department of Justice filed a shocking brief in a federal case in New York stating that it doesn’t believe Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sex, or national origin, applies to sexual orientation. The DOJ wants your employer to be able to fire you if you’re gay.
It should be noted that this would be a major reversal of Obama-era policy. Obama’s Equal Employment Opportunity Coalition made the move to include sexual orientation as one of its protected characteristics.
One must admit, that even by Trump’s own very high standards of pissing people off, alienating the queer community, the Latino community, the black community, the Boy Scout community, and a lot of senators in his own party is an impressive week.
The strangest story of the week is no doubt that of new White House Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci calling New Yorker columnist Ryan Lizza and unleashing a profane rant about what is to come during his tenure… And then following that up by calling into CNN while Lizza was on-air to discuss the subject with him even more. Lizza, of course, has documented the series of events here. This link is R-rated. If you can laugh at the absurdity of all of this, I highly recommend this piece.
If you’re feeling out of the loop on the Trump-Russia scandal, there’s more Ryan Lizza for you. He’s written about the significance of Kushner in getting the Russians access to the Trump campaign.
At the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne has written about the collapse of democratic norms.
At Esquire, Charles Pierce has written about the importance of activism to the defeat of the Obamacare repeal bills.
At Politico, Tim Alberta has written about the Trump White House’s slow untethering from the Republican Parry.
For the urban planning junkies among you, also at Politico, Colin Woodard has written about Denver’s success with investing in a new transit system.
If you read one thing this week, a veritable army of reporters at BuzzFeed News has written about the Russian hit on Mikhail Lesin at the Dupont Circle Hotel. They earlier reported, and I recommended you read if you haven't already, a profile of unsolved murders (also probably Russian hits) on British soil.