There’s an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine called “Progress,” the main plot of which is that Kira, a former terrorist/resistance fighter turned military official, has a hard time conducting a forced evacuation of an old man because the situation reminds her of the past injustices she fought, to the point of putting the mission and her career in jeopardy. I think this helps to explain why the Trump/Bannon operation is so inept. Bannon in particular made his career as an enforcer of ideological purity, resisting if you will. But now he’s using the same sorts of tactics to try to govern and it just doesn’t work. You can threaten to create a “shit list” as a Breitbart editor and have that be effective as your job is to pressure people to your line, but it doesn’t work now because even if you get burned by these guys on one bill, you can’t afford to alienate them because you may need them next time. This is especially true since Trump’s done no outreach at all to Democrats. With almost no Blue Dogs left to play against recalcitrant Republicans (as Dubya so often did) and opposition leaders with no reason to spot him one, intraparty rifts are especially treacherous for these dudes. But that seems to be what they’re aiming for, some great clarifying battle to cleanse the GOP of the non-Trumpians. If Trump/Bannon were even remotely aware of how political power works, they’d just forgive the saboteurs in their party and move on to the next thing, and then a year from now maybe a bridge or a medical research center in Mark Meadows’s district gets mysteriously deleted from the budget. After all, it’s just business, not personal, and they’re taking it very personally.

The Star Trek episode ends all right for Kira but I doubt the real life equivalent will. Trump/Bannon are little more than bombthrowers capable of causing a lot of agita out of office, but issuing unenforceable “orders” and making threats about seat losses that the people hearing know are bullshit just makes them look like idiots who don’t know what they’re doing, who don’t actually know what their members of Congress fear and thus don’t know how to manipulate that. Shocker, huh?

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If the House Freedom Caucus actually does kill TrumpCare, it will be because they are the superior con artists to Donald Trump.

Think about it. If they kill off the bill, sure, Republican leaders will be mad at them. But after spending eight years preaching purity above all else, those leaders will be in a terrible position to argue for the messy compromises with shitty people that governing is. Democrats didn’t like that eight years ago, but most accepted it. The Republican base won’t. It consists largely of rage babies who throw a tantrum when everything doesn’t go their way. Getting the GOP base to shift from “opposing everything” to “having a realistic view of governing” was not going to happen overnight. Parties can’t hide their true nature for long. To maximize partisan advantage purity was the watchword of the Obama Era. It can’t just be flushed away because it’s no longer convenient. Many lefties (myself included) figured it would be. But it hasn’t.

What’s more, the increased power of the Freedom Caucus should be mostly win for Democrats. Sure, there’s the possibility that they’ll decide to be more realistic about future fights, or that the House leadership will cater more to them and this will get much more horrible things passed. But frankly, they’ve not exactly seemed to be interested in being constructive parts of the process. Inconceivable as it might be, one wonders if they’ll balk at any tax numbers Ryan throws at them as being too low, oppose them and refuse to elaborate. And why not? If it’s not zero dollars in tax, it’s not pure enough. Didn’t they want to abolish the state? They’ll certainly find some sympathetic voices in conservative media. Most of the stuff they’d be killing is unpopular anyway, so they’d not face public backlash. And if Paul Ryan squawks they’ll hit him so bad he’ll shut up for good–maybe get him canned like Boehner. They’ve shown they can do it.

What’s genius about this con is its simplicity. The preferred policy agenda of the Freedom Caucus would not be popular. But there’s no reason to believe that Republicans care much about policy. By simply killing off insufficiently pure pieces of legislation, they could improve the power of hard right politics without having to actually implement it. The only real victims are Paul Ryan’s Randian dreams, and who else cares about those? George Orwell famously wrote about leftist parties being a con of sorts because if their agenda were fully implemented, they’d be obsolete. This is a mirror version of that. If their agenda were implemented, they’d be dead.

Ultimately, say what you like about them, they’re clever to operate while hedging their bets, and could well carry the entire agenda of the next two years on a stretcher while enhancing their own profile, exploiting the gaps of trust between the base and the party. If Donald Trump weren’t a fool, this is the sort of thing he’d be doing. He needs to learn from the masters.

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The GOP will not ever impeach Donald Trump, no matter what comes out or what he does. I seriously doubt they’ll pressure him to leave office under any circumstances. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to show their work and spin out a believable scenario under which Congressional Republicans like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell–both of whom poll quite a bit worse among Republicans than Trump–are able to win over a critical mass of the right wing to their position. Keep in mind that conservative media is going to keep up in a Trump-friendly direction, dismissing many unfavorable facts and stories as FAKE NEWS. They also need to explain why these guys would risk a party-shattering civil war over a Trump impeachment than just riding through and hoping it will be okay (their longtime strategy toward Trump).

Put it another way: why did many right-wingers support Nixon grudgingly until Watergate? Perhaps it was because Nixon’s Administration was taking the fight to Democrats in a way they approved of, but in a larger sense, it was because Watergate gave them the perfect lineup of enemies: they were fighting the mainstream media, liberal-moderate Republicans, Democrats, and just for the hell of it, the judicial system (Sirica wasn’t exactly a liberal judge as an Eisenhower appointee, but for their purposes he was close enough). Same thing with the Clinton impeachment: liberals didn’t much care for Clinton but they fought for him when the press, Republicans, asinine cable gabbers and conservative Democrats like Joe Lieberman were against him, lining up perfectly as a who’s who of liberal bogeymen. If Ryan/McConnell were to go through with this, they’d create another situation like this, only with themselves on the short end of the stick. Why take that chance when you could just hope that you bounce back? Given the GOP’s awful numbers among younger voters, you could argue that there aren’t many bounces left, but after last year I’m not about to say they’re out of them.

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I actually think that a major problem we have now is that people have too much trust in leaders (at least the ones in their own side). Too many Republicans are resistant to simply believing that Trump/Ryan want to kick them off their health insurance even though there’s no other remotely plausible explanation. Too many Democrats simply couldn’t believe that Barack Obama’s foreign policy was just endless war with a bit more legal nicety than Dubya, even though it remains virtually impossible to argue otherwise (Obama was much better as selling it as something else). But Fallows makes a solid point here. We used to be able to take for granted that even leaders we disagreed with could be trusted in crunch time, but that’s passed. Not that we should trust Trump, but combine this and that Republicans had zero trust in Obama even in emergencies (remember Jade Helm?), and I don’t see how the ultimate end of the Madisonian Era of Government isn’t one side* simply denying that a crisis confronted by the other side exists, and then things blowing up.

* Most likely Republicans, as you round up arsonists when arson happens, but you never know.

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So I recently found myself perusing a several months old Rolling Stone magazine that purported to list the 100 Greatest TV Shows Of All Time. Because I would rather write about literally anything besides politics right now, here are some thoughts on a four month old magazine article:

  1. They got number one right.
  2. I’m happy they didn’t Balkanize the list into top dramas, comedies, etc. Though it is apples and oranges to compare American Idol to Mad Men, just go the Ebert route of “did it accomplish what it wanted to” and leave it at that.
  3. I’m also happy that they included active shows. It probably hurt the AFI’s initial list that it had so few recent films (and, for some reason, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?, which always was awful and not very progressive, even for the times), but film has a longer history than TV and probably until two decades ago was by far the better-crafted, more deliberate, more arty medium, meaning that more of it stood the test of time. For a variety of reasons TV is always going to be more current, though by extension this list ten years from now is not going to have most of the current shows it has on it now. It will still have Larry Sanders and Deadwood though. I give Game Of Thrones 50-50 odds of making that list.
  4. I’m not a conspiracy theorist generally, but I do think something must be going on for so many people to pretend that the US House Of Cards is actually a good show. Smart people generally seemed to agree that Sons Of Anarchy was a cheesy, over-the-top guilty pleasure, but oddly many of them seem determined to make a case for an even sillier (and less well written) show as legitimately great. Not since Mystic River has the name of the person behind the project and relentless self-seriousness (well past the point of camp) so turned the heads of the smart set.
  5. The second season of Fargo is basically a high school homework novel. Sorry folks, it just is, and there are better ways to re-experience that.

Semi-relatedly, I oversaw someone in a Starbucks recently watching that Aaron Sorkin master class thing. I don’t really have much else to say other than that he has gone full Santorum (at least sartorially) and embraced the sweater vest:

Also, when you do an image search for Aaron Sorkin, a fair amount of Val Kilmer pictures pop up. I can’t imagine he’s happy about this. I wouldn’t be.

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A bigger story would be a Trump staffer is discovered to be not a fascist.

Maybe Mattis?

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Count me as being highly skeptical of the rapidly-prevalent theories that Donald Trump leaked his own (mostly innocuous) tax return, as well as the one that the American Health Care Act is some sort of ploy by Trump/Bannon to give Paul Ryan enough rope to hang himself with. Not so much because they’re impossible, but either would require a strategic suppleness that I have yet to see from this crew, and he’s made such a stand on the tax returns that releasing any now, even in secret, even strategically, would have be too humiliating to contemplate. Admittedly, Tony Soprano does wind up ratting at the end of The Sopranos when the danger got too big to handle, but this is just my guess.

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Could someone explain to me why Virginia Democrats have chosen to settle for a Bush-voting insider who almost left the party in 2009? Virginia is going to be the most consequential election this year. New Jersey is a lay-up given partisan lean, off-year turnout dynamics, and the hollowed-out remnants of Chris Christie’s career. Given Trump’s plans for the federal bureaucracy, there’s a chance for big gains to be had in Virginia legislatively, possibly even a flood if it’s bad enough to overpower the gerrymander. And the state has in recent years been one Democrats can rely on for (narrow) statewide wins, including 2006. I’m sure that Ralph Northam has made all the proper assurances and may well govern like an acceptable Democrat, but why take the risk? Someone who in recent times can’t make up their minds between the two parties is either an ignoramus or an opportunist. Period.

Tom Perriello has become almost a progressive unicorn, which is too much since he’s taken some problematic stances in his time (see aborted Syria bombing, support for). Nevertheless, I really don’t see a downside to supporting him. The party needs fresh faces and younger voices and it needs potential future leaders, both of which are in short supply. Northam, an AARP-eligible white guy who believes in nothing, isn’t that. Perriello is. Given Virginia’s proximity to a major media market, he could be a very visible face of the party, possibly performing the function that Chris Christie did for the GOP before, you know, the collapse. The stakes are a bit higher than simply filling the office with a (D), though I see no indication that Dem elites see it that way. What’s troubling here is that it seems that Democrats took none of the lessons of 2016 to heart. So far as I can tell, Northam is the guy b/c money and a deep desire to avoid a primary contest. But you know who didn’t have money and went through an almost comically bitter primary contest? Donald Trump. Elite Democrats place too much emphasis on this kind of thing. And Northam is the sort of uninspiring insider who Democrats have had a very difficult time selling to the public in recent years, particularly in terms of motivating marginal voters. Perhaps those voters will be energized anyway because of Trump, but if that’s to such an extent that anyone could win, what sort of prize is Northam? Honestly, the only other thing I can think of is that they’re impressed by his victory margin in 2013, which would be stupid considering his unusually incompetent opposition. Sandersistas can’t take over this party soon enough for me, but a nice step would be to kick in a couple dollars for Perriello.

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