The Cult Leader went to Helsinki

There was an immediate result of the summit last Monday in Finland: both sides of the aisle, for once, agreed that President Trump’s choice to side with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin was contrary to the interests of the United States of America.

The administration spent the rest of the week shuffling the Three-card Monte, hoping to trick the public into accepting the original statement.

But that was always going to be the result. It was the result the last time they met and on every other occasion that Mister Trump has spoken of the illegal Russian Federation’s interference in America’s elections.

The same week, we learned of the arrest and indictment of Mariia Butina, a Russian Federation national that is charged with using the National Rifle Association as a vehicle to illegally peddle Russian Federation interests and influence.

It was the perfect choice, a perfect vehicle. Take something that conservatives love (guns), add some fur trimmings and some random Cyrillic letters, and Vlad’s your uncle. Suddenly Republicans want to stand in line for bread. It also delineates the NRA as a particular vulnerability for the Republicans. There does not seem to be anything comparable for the Democrats.

But the main question of the day is whether the summit could have gone otherwise. Or could the NRA have decided not to accept infiltration. The question is whether the conservative movement cares so much about victory that they no longer care about anything (including victory).

Earlier examples of this phenomena include McConnell’s refusal to entertain the Garland nomination, the Republican refusal to work with Democrats in creating the Affordable Care Act, and the complete lack of congressional action by Republicans on cyber defenses following the 2016 attacks.

The modern Republican Party does not care about winning. They care about believing they won. The difference is real, and is another brick in the wall of rejecting reality. There are historical records of cult behaviors, and the bulk of Republican voters seem to suffer from the disease of cultism. The politicians, apparently and behind closed doors, acknowledge reality. But they feel powerless over their cultified constituents.

The only real answer to a cult is let the shock of reality wash over the members that don’t drink enough of the Flavor Aid, don’t catch a ride on Hale-Bopp, who are willing to feel the truth of the Great Disappointment. Many who will vote in November hope to deliver a cold splash of water to the cultists. But we must remain aware that we could as easily become enamored with a siren’s song of perpetual correctness and righteous delusions of infallibility. Cultism happened to strike these voters for reasons that psychologists will hopefully tease out before it happens again, but it will strike others from time to time.

Some Supreme Court Term Stats

  1. Gorsuch recently surpassed James F. Byrnes’ tenure of 452 days on the court, but has a ways to go before he catches up with John Rutledge’s 563 days (26 October 2018).
  2. Thomas will become the longest sitting justice after Kennedy retires (effective end of July 2018). To score the all-time sittingest justice (held by William Douglas) he would have to remain for another ~3600 days (20 May 2028).
  3. We can call the court “old” or “young” based on whether a majority of justices have sat longer than the median (5740 days) justice sat. The court is currently “young,” and will become slightly younger with Kennedy being replaced.
  4. Assuming no other changes to the court, it will become “old” on 20 October 2021, when Alito will have sat longer than the median.
  5. The current court has three sets of “twin justices”—justices who joined the court within about a year of one another: Ginsburg and Breyer (1993, 1994); Robert and Alito (2005, 2006); and Sotomayor and Kagan (2009, 2010). (Thomas was a twin with Souter, but the latter has left the court.)
  6. Looking at “twins” from 1950 on, the average difference between their departures is around 20 years. It’s likely either Gorsuch or Kennedy’s replacement will leave the court at least a decade before the other.
  7. Since 1950, the longest stretch without a seating was 4075 days (1994-2005). That drought was the second longest (longest was 1812-1823, 4228 days). To break the record would put the next seating sometime in 2030.

Kennedy’s replacement will likely shift the direction of the court. The new court could imperil long-standing and important matters including voting rights, women’s rights, healthcare, immigration, and even the ability of the government to fight public corruption.

But a shift in power tends to be balanced in other ways. As the court moves right (as seems likely), it will begin to face cases on new laws drafted by an increasingly liberal legislature. It will also face briefs that employ its old rulings in new ways.

In short, the Republican dream of a far-right activist court will cost them seats in Congress and will ultimately cause the people to push for legislative and constitutional remedies to any bad decisions that come forth.

A White House that Practices Harm Production

We recognize the harms and risks in the world. Whether it’s the dangers of automobiles or pollution or living in flood plains, the general goal is to manage risk. To reduce it, to hedge against it.

But this administration does the opposite. It orders child-separation and full intolerance policies. It welcomes trade wars and healthcare premium hikes. It invites worry and doubt among allies while praising the brutal.

Repeatedly, the administration has lied without compunction. Baldly lied to allies and to the public alike. Has made indefensible and unmerited statements. Even some before the courts.

Abuse. The administration has made statements that serve absolutely no other purpose beyond petty abuse of public employees, of political foes and allies, of public figures.

This administration has failed to act on crises. From Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, to opioids, to the mental health of farmers, to protecting the country against the Russian Federation’s interference, this presidency has been asleep at the switch.

There has been an utter joke on ethics practices. Scandal after scandal in cabinet-level positions. Repeated refiling of financial disclosures from the president’s own advisors. The president himself double-dipping like it’s the early 18th century, paying his inaugural largesse to friends and God knows whom. Making the Secret Service rent his golf carts. Having foreign countries stay at his hotels to ingratiate themselves.

Immigration, which needs to be made orderly and regular by changes to the law, has become even more chaotic thanks to poor planning and lack of any attempt to compromise or improve on the status quo. The White House’s rhetoric only serves to inflame and to whip into a frenzy those who believe immigration is a sin.


Leadership means guiding the nation forward, avoiding or minimizing risks in the process. Instead, this failure of a leader sends the nation toward folly on a number of fronts simultaneously. And no attempt is made to explain. No questions are taken at his rallies. The questions taken from the press are regarded with scorn.

Good government means reducing harm, not accruing it. Whatever the intentions of this president may be, he is making the nation worse.

18-ish Weeks Until the 2018 Midterms

https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote

Handicapping the 2018 Midterms comes down to Mr. Trump, not messaging. The president who makes everything about himself inevitably makes the 2018 elections a referendum on his policies and his abuses.

That’s a bad sign for Republicans. Depending on how the announcement of a replacement for Justice Kennedy goes, and whether confirmation proceeds apace, the wind may be entirely let out of the Muralist voters’ sails. Nobody expects another justice beyond Kennedy to retire, so that’s one fewer reason for Muralists to turn out in 18 weeks.

The party in power does better in midterm elections when voters feel like they’re making an adjustment to their representation rather than having to weigh the overall direction of the country. People don’t like to make weighty decisions, and so when they feel like they’re forced to do, they tend to be irritated that the incumbents have put them in the position.

Mr. Trump has spent his entire time in office sticking his thumb in the eye of over half the voters, including his own. The notion that they’ll reward him for it is a bad misreading of America. And the voters will not reward all of the Republicans who have failed in their duty to conduct oversight of the tyrannical instincts of not just Mr. Trump but his cabinet as well.

Add to that the fact that there are so many Democratic women running, which can fuel female turnout (and to a lesser extent youth turnout). You have whatever spoils the hard work of things like the March for Our Lives and March for Science may offer. There will be people turning out to support public schools and health care.

Democrats also have a message: good governance. Social programs that work. Environmental policies, labor policies, and financial policies that build the middle class.


The man is an abuser. He abuses his office, his employees, his rivals, his friends, his family, his foundation and company, his country. America has no quarter for abuse. We split from an abuser before, and we will split from this one.

But just as there were Loyalists then, there are those who do not see the abuse for what it is. There are evangelicals, by some bad combination of drugs, who support Mr. Trump. Others, Republicans coddled by tax cuts, fetch him Diet Cokes (Mr. Nunes famously took a ride share under cover of night to deliver one to him). They lie for him. They hawk his cheap resorts and cheaper merch. They iron his clothes while he wears them. They arrange backchannels to hostile foreign governments on his behalf.

For that lot, there will be no second act. They will exeunt from public life. We will only be reminded they exist when future documentaries pan across their picture while recounting how foolish humans can be when they don’t bother to self-reflect.

For those worrying over who will wear black robes in the years to come, the only decision you directly have is to vote. Vote, raise your voice. For even though courts can undermine unions, harm women’s rights, and all the other things, they cannot fix the problems they create. The legislators alone can fix the messes left by bad judges. Your voice is more important at the midterms than it is at the general. On average your vote is worth 1.7 votes in the general election (to account for those who don’t vote). It’s worth 2.5 votes in the midterms. That’s nearly a whole other citizen that a midterm voter is counting for.

https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote

Employment Immigration Needs

The bulk of unauthorized immigration is for work. The immigration laws allow for lots of family to come in, either family of permanent residents or of citizens. There are allowances for diversity and asylum and refugees. There are slots for employer preference, but only on some categories.

Unauthorized immigrant employment:

  • 1/3 Service
  • 1/6 Construction
  • 1/6 Production
  • 1/8 Sales, Support
  • 1/8 Professional, Management
  • 1/12 Transportation
  • 1/24 Farming, fishing

The fact of their employment shows the need for these workers. Employers don’t hire people unless they need them. Thus, the immigration law needs to be changed to recognize these workers.

One of the principles of immigration and border security is that an orderly system is preferable to one that criminalizes labor. We are more secure when we recognize the economic fact of workers and don’t lie to ourselves about how they broke the law to:

  • Cook food
  • Build a house
  • Make a table

Those are the sorts of service, construction, and production jobs that about two-thirds of unauthorized immigrants do.

Are unauthorized workers more attractive to employers because they are unauthorized? In some cases. But to be clear, these employers must break the law and undertake other steps to employ these workers, so there is a logical middle-ground to making them authorized workers.

The question of amnesty comes up. But the law failing to contemplate workers it knew would exist is unpunished negligence. The law that was broken was a broken law. But from an economic standpoint, the immutable laws of demand held firm and overcame the obvious fault of the law.

So, sure. Give amnesty. But fix the law. Recognize that the table, the house, and the meal were all made of valuable labor. That the law should have recognized that labor all along.