Friday, February 03, 2017

Senate Democrats Should Not Block the Gorsuch Nomination!

President Donald Trump has nominated federal judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court spot vacated by the death of Antonin Scalia last year.

Trump shakes hands with Gorsuch

Progressive op-ed writers E.J. Dionne Jr. ("It’s time to make Republicans pay for their supreme hypocrisy") and Eugene Robinson ("Fighting Gorsuch is hopeless. Democrats should do it anyway") say Senate Democrats should block the Gorsuch nomination, just as Senate Republicans blocked President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the same seat.

To block the Gorsuch nomination, Senate Democrats would have to mount a filibuster when the nomination came to the full Senate for a vote. They don't have a majority in the Senate, the way the Republicans did when they blocked Garland by declining to hold a committee hearing on him, so simply refusing to hold a committee hearing on Gorsuch is not an option for them.

If the Democrats filibustered, Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) could exercise the "nuclear option" to terminate requiring 60 votes in the full Senate to approve any Supreme Court nomination. Then the 52 Republicans in that body could vote Gorsuch in over the votes of the 48 senators who caucus with the Democrats.

I think it would be hypocritical for Democrats who object to the Republicans' blocking of the Merrick Garland nomination to turn right around and do the same thing to Gorsuch. Both sides ought to seek to renew our customary norms political life, not add fuel to the fire that has been consuming it lately.

Mr. Dionne says, "The Garland case was only a particularly egregious example of what we have to fear even more of in the months to come. The road to the outrages we are seeing from Trump was paved by his party’s violation of long-standing norms." I say two wrongs don't make a right. If Democrats turn around and violate long-standing norms just because Republicans did so last year, it just adds one more nail to those august norms' coffin. We Democrats don't need to turn our political struggles into playground brawls. Especially when so doing will not (despite what Mr. Robinson seems to think) help us sway voters in red states, which is what we need to focus on now.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Post-Women's March Activism In Store

Millions marched in the Women's March on Washington in January, along with sister marches in various cities and towns, to advocate for various progressive causes and to rebuke newly-sworn-in President Donald Trump.

Will all that energy funnel into something significant in our political life? According to "United by post-inauguration marches, Democratic women plan to step up activism" in the February 2nd Washington Post, yes. A new poll finds that:

... 40 percent of Democratic women say they will become more involved in political causes this year, compared with 25 percent of Americans more broadly and 27 percent of Democratic men. Nearly half of liberal Democrats also say they will become more politically active, as do 43 percent of Democrats younger than 50.

This is good news!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Women's March and the Resistance

The Women's March on Washington (Facebook page here) that took place the day after Donald J. ("The Audacity of Grope") Trump's inauguration as president will be the beginning of the end for Trumpism. 500,000 marchers on the National Mall were augmented by sister demonstrations in cities and towns all over America and around the world. The total number of demonstrators in the U.S. came to at least 2,000,000. Around the world, up to 4.5 million.

New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks is wrong in his January 24 column, "After the Women’s March." He says the movement that the Women's March embodied will come to nothing because it lacks "the discipline of party politics." Movements, he says, sometimes lead to social change. The civil rights movement did so. But most movements "devolve into mere feeling, especially in our age of expressive individualism."

He's wrong about that. That isn't going to happen this time, simply because Trump is so odious. He represents such a threat to the marchers, their loved ones, and their various causes that they will organize anti-Trump resistance over the long haul and from the ground up. They will use social media and leverage their online presence, but they will also keep up the personal, face-to-face contacts that began at the marches and demonstrations. If they don't, the alternative is just too dire.

The reason David Brooks is wrong is that he is viewing all this from the point of view of the old paradigm, the one in which party politics was the royal road to change. That used to be so, but this is a new paradigm. The new paradigm began with Trump's campaign and election. Trump sidestepped the old paradigm entirely. He won, not the popular vote but the electoral vote. He's now living in the White House.

Meanwhile, there's real doubt about the future of the Democratic Party. Unless the spirit and symbolism of the Women's March can infuse itself into the Democrats, the party is doomed. I think that spirit will infuse itself into the party, as motivated marchers get involved in local and state politics. This is like what happened with the Tea Party and the Republicans early in the Obama administration — only it's much, much bigger.

Monday, January 23, 2017

"Pussy Power"

January 20, 2017: The new president, Donald Trump, gets sworn in at the National Mall. The crowd is sparse (about 160.000) compared with that for President Obama (about 1.8 million) in 2009:

Comparing Two Inauguration

January 21, 2017: The Women's March on Washington draws a much bigger crowd — at least 500,000 — to the National Mall:

The Turnout at the Women's March
on Washington

Most of the marchers are women and girls, but there are also men and boys. There are satellite women's marches in other U.S. cities and towns, and all around the world. The total number of marchers overall is in excess of 2 million. Many of the marchers wear knitted pink "pussyhats":

"Pussyhats" for "Pussy Power"

Symbolizing "pussy power," the hats are in response to candidate Trump's having bragged about groping women's genitals.


According to the Washington Post:

The size of the gathering proved challenging. The audio from sound system did not reach everyone in the massive crowd, and far more portable toilets were needed.

When the toilets behind the stage broke down, security instructed women to use cups and ushered them into a box truck for privacy.

“I’m afraid to shake anyone’s hand,” one woman joked.

Thus did a march for "pussy power" morph into a march for "potty power" as well.


Handshaking was key at the Women's March. Women from all over the country were meeting one another for the first time. They were organizing themselves into a permanent force in support of women's rights, LGBT rights, immigrants' rights, and more — and against the presidency of Donald Trump.

New York Times writer David Brooks' column of January 20 tells why the march's importance exceeded even that ambitious agenda:

Some on the left worry that we are seeing the rise of fascism, a new authoritarian age. That gets things exactly backward. The real fear in the Trump era should be that everything will become disorganized, chaotic, degenerate, clownish and incompetent.

The real fear should be that Trump is Captain Chaos, the ignorant dauphin of disorder. All the standard practices, norms, ways of speaking and interacting will be degraded and shredded. The political system and the economy will grind to a battered crawl. ...

If Trump’s opponents behave as clownishly as he does ... the whole government will get further delegitimized. But if people redouble their commitment to constitutional norms and practices, to substance and dignity, this thing is survivable.

Already you see the political system uniting to contain Trump.

The Women's March was an example of the political system organizing from the ground up to "build a wall" — specifically, a wall around Trump.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Coming Apart in America

Yesterday the members of the Electoral College met in the various state capitals and collectively affirmed that Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election over Hillary Clinton.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has recently been saying that the election was "hacked" by Russian intrusion into Hillary Clinton's campaign's emails. That was the source of items leaked by WikiLeaks that surely hurt Hillary's vote totals in crucial states. FBI Director James Comey didn't help when he sent a letter to Congress announcing that maybe, just maybe, new and incriminating emails that were on her private server when she was secretary of state had been found on a laptop of one of her main aides, Huma Abedin. Comey later backtracked and said no new or incriminating emails were found, but by then the damage was done to Hillary's electoral chances.

Mr. Krugman adds in another column that what's happening now in America resembles the lengthy run-up to the end of the ancient Roman Republic that culminated in the rise of a dictator named Julius Caesar.

I think Krugman is right, but I also think there were deeper reasons why Hillary lost the electoral vote even as she won the nationwide popular vote by some 2.8 million votes.

Each state has a number of electoral votes equal to its number of members of Congress: two U.S. senators plus the number of people it elects to the House of Representatives. For example, my state of Maryland has eight U.S. representatives, so its electoral votes total 2 + 8 = 10. (The District of Columbia has three electoral votes.)

All of each state's electoral votes are supposed to go to the presidential candidate who gets the most popular votes in that state. A few of the electors — the members of the Electoral College — yesterday violated that rule and voted for someone other than their state's popular-vote winner. But those few violations did not change the outcome which made Donald Trump officially the president-elect.

One of the many deeper reasons why the national top vote getter, Clinton, lost to Trump in the Electoral College is that her voters were for the most part tightly clustered into a few metropolitan areas in a relatively tiny number of states. Here's the 2016 electoral map:

Other than Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, and Illinois, her blue states were all on the East Coast or West Coast. (I'm counting all of New England, including Vermont, as coastal. Hawaii is, in a sense, also coastal.)

One feature of most of the blue states is that they have big cities that are ringed by populous metropolitan areas. Many of the residents of the cities are nonwhite, and nonwhites voted heavily for Hillary. Meanwhile, many of the white residents of the cities and the surrounding metropolitan areas are cosmopolitan and liberal, and also voted for Hillary.

But in and around many Rust Belt cities and in non-metropolitan parts of the country the populace is often white, working-class, and non-cosmopolitan. Their votes served to turn their states red.

Illinois was one of the few non-coastal blue states this year. It was blue largely because of Cook County in the northeast part of the state which contains Chicago:

The state of Virginia went for Clinton largely due to populous urban areas such as the counties in the northeast part of the state that are suburbs of Washington, DC:

(Green areas indicate partial results.)

Get the idea? The reddest areas in the country were mostly places where there is a uniformity of ethnicity and class: specifically, white working-class. Other places tended to go blue.

A huge problem is accordingly the fact that in recent decades there has been an ongoing trend — among white Americans specifically — of pulling apart geographically in such a way that ZIP codes that were once diverse in income and economic class have become much less diverse. This is the thesis of political scientist Charles Murray (decidedly a conservative) in his book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010National Review's "Essential Gift Guide 2016" said of the book:

In Coming Apart, Charles Murray explores the formation of American classes that are different in kind from anything we have ever known, focusing on whites as a way of driving home the fact that the trends he describes do not break along lines of race or ethnicity. 
Drawing on five decades of statistics and research, Coming Apart demonstrates that a new upper class and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship—divergence that has nothing to do with income inequality and that has grown during good economic times and bad. 
The top and bottom of white America increasingly live in different cultures, Murray argues, with the powerful upper class living in enclaves surrounded by their own kind, ignorant about life in mainstream America, and the lower class suffering from erosions of family and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness. That divergence puts the success of the American project at risk. 
The evidence in Coming Apart is about white America. Its message is about all of America. 

Though Mr. Murray examines just white America in his book, it's clear from this year's election results that all of America — that is, whites and nonwhites, of various social and economic classes — has indeed "come apart" politically. This is one strong reason why the popular vote and the electoral vote pointed in different directions this year, just as they did in 2000 when Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the presidential election to Republican George W. Bush.

If white America had as much mixing of economic classes, geographically speaking, as it did in 1960, there would be fewer solid-red ZIP codes, counties, and states. Whites of various political persuasions would rub shoulders with one another. Chances are the constant interaction would make all affected individuals feel more a part of a common socioeconomic whole. That would tend to make them more moderate than the extreme political attitudes white working-class voters demonstrated this year.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Echo Chambers on Campus

Nicholas Kristof, a liberal columnist, writes in a New York Times op-ed, "The Dangers of Echo Chambers on Campus," that campus liberals need to take a step back from their accustomed habit of "being inclusive of people who don’t look like us — so long as they think like us." Progressive academics are gung ho for diversity of all kinds — as long as said diversity doesn't include evangelical conservatives:

We champion tolerance, except for conservatives and evangelical Christians. We want to be inclusive of people who don’t look like us — so long as they think like us. ...
Half of academics in some fields said in a survey that they would discriminate in hiring decisions against an evangelical.
... the lack of ideological diversity on campuses is a disservice to the students and to liberalism itself, with liberalism collapsing on some campuses into self-parody.

When I was an undergraduate at Georgetown in the late 1960s, there was no protective ideological "bubble" in place yet. Professors and guest speakers offered a panoply of ideas from various spots on the ideological spectrum.

Yet there were few non-white students, as affirmative action and other pro-diversity initiatives were still in the future. There were lots of women on campus, but at least half were in the Nursing School and the rest were in "East Campus" schools: Foreign Service and Languages/Linguistics, preeminently. The College of Arts and Sciences (my school) was not yet co-ed.

I never heard anyone say anything at all about the need to protect students from disturbing ideas. That, too, was still in the future.

An early-2016 Washington Post op-ed from liberal columnist Catherine Rampell, "Liberal intolerance is on the rise on America’s college campuses," discusses the issue of campus "free speech." She says:

... while I support and admire students’ efforts to make the world a better place — I also kind of understand the right’s fear that student activism may be disparately used to muzzle conservative viewpoints.

Amen to that!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The "Bathroom Bill" and Transgender Rights

In this year's election last November, Republican North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory lost narrowly to Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper in a state that went for Donald Trump at the top of the GOP ticket. Pundits said there were multiple reasons, but Reason #1 was that McCrory had signed the controversial so-called "Bathroom Bill" that made it illegal for transgender people to use restrooms and locker rooms opposite to those that align with their birth-certificate gender.

The bill, after being signed into law by McCrory, drew the ire and scorn of a great many people and institutions. Bruce Springsteen cancelled his upcoming performance in North Carolina. Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam did likewise. The Atlantic Coast Conference's council of presidents voted to move all neutral-site sports championships during the 2016–17 year, including the ACC Football Championship Game, out of the state. The Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau said four events had been cancelled in the Raleigh area due to the legislation. So the state was losing millions tax revenues in the wake of the bill's signing, and this may be the main reason voters tossed McCrory out of office.

I have to admit, though, that I feel decidedly uneasy about letting people who appear to be of "the opposite sex" into public restrooms/locker rooms.

* * * * *

One problem I have is that I just cannot wrap my head around the transgender mind. I can imagine being gay/lesbian/bisexual, but not transgender. (The former are sexual orientations, the latter is about gender identity. I have read that "T" people — those who are transgender — may have any of the above sexual orientations. Sexual orientation and gender identity are two different things.)

I can accordingly empathize with people who are "L" or "G" or "B." They have a sexual preference, same as I, as a straight man, do. They don't choose their sexual preference, and neither do I. They decide what to do and not to do with their sexual preference, and so do I. We're all basically alike in that regard.

But "T" people — I just don't know what it's like for them. Taking as an example a transgender "woman" — someone born with the anatomy of a male but who nonetheless identifies as a woman — I can't imagine what it's like to have a penis and think it shouldn't be there. Same with a transgender "man"; what is it like to think a penis should be there?

So there's no basis in my personal psychology for empathy for "trans" individuals. I just don't get how the minds of "T" people operate.

* * * * *

Nor do I quite understand the undesirability, for transgender people, of using the restroom or locker facilities designated for their nominal, birth-certificate gender.

Maybe it's because I'm not transgender, but I would feel uncomfortable undressing in front of a group of women, and having them undress in front of me. I know my even being there would make them uncomfortable, even if I had a tattoo on my chest saying I'm transgender. It seems to me to be a question, first and foremost, of bodies undressing with matching bodies.

* * * * *

As for peeing and pooping, it seems to be the same sort of thing. I was once using a restroom in Spain, and in came a woman who was a maid — in Spanish, una criada — intent on cleaning the room. She was unfazed by my presence. I was certainly a bit shocked, but I had read in a travel guide that this was normal behavior in that country. So, okay ... I guess.

What would happen if I went in a women's restroom here in this country? That's not normal behavior here. Women might well be justified in being shocked.

* * * * *

Opponents of the "Bathroom Bill" objected to it as a license for sexual "predators." According to this article, "The predator argument is based on an assumption that men who prey on women will be inspired to dress as women and enter women’s spaces because they could falsely claim to be transgender and therefore allowed to stay." The nominal fear is that women will not only have their spaces inappropriately invaded, but the invasion would sometimes lead to actual sexual assaults.

The article maintains, however, that in other localities where transgender people have become able to choose which spaces they enter, there is no correlated increase in sexual assaults.

What about possible dangers to our children? This article says the anti-trans claim is that "Male perverts and pedophiles disguised as women (faux transgender people) will troll women's bathrooms and sexually assault our wives and daughters" (italics mine).

I can't really judge these anti-trans claims. There are a number of men who get sexual titillation out of witnessing women peeing. I know this because I'm one of them.

So maybe I would be a "predator" if I took advantage of transgender equality to hang out in women's restrooms. But I wouldn't do that, because my interest in urination-for-titillation is far outweighed by not wanting to shock other people and not wanting to violate societal norms.

Are such objections concerning "predation" a good reason to oppose transgender restroom equality? Those potential "predators" who'd hasten to shock other people, get titillation, violate norms, commit assaults, etc. probably already do. Accordingly, I don't think these are good reasons to oppose transgender restroom equality.

* * * * *

Leaving aside such questions of predatory behavior, though, I still think the exercise of transgender "rights" to use a restroom or locker room that matches one's non-birth-certificate gender identity may be too disturbing and too shocking to too many people.

The occasion of the exercise of such transgender rights is one in which an individual who appears to be of the "wrong" gender come inside a space designated for the "other" gender alone. The occupants of that space have no way of knowing whether the new arrival is or is not transgender. They may or may not even have the concept of transgender rights firmly implanted in their heads. Their first thought, rightly or wrongly, is apt to be, "Uh-oh! What is that new arrival intending to do here. Are we (or our children) safe? Anyway, isn't our privacy being violated?"

We humans insist on our right to privacy, after all. In the end, it's not about predation or sexual assault. It's all about privacy.

I wonder whether the transgender person who wants to use a restroom opposite to his or her birth gender isn't ultimately seeking to exercise his or her privacy rights: undressing or peeing in one's birth-certificate space feels like an act of exposing oneself, the polar opposite of privacy.

* * * * *

So maybe this really is a question of privacy rights. If a transgender man — someone who looks like a woman to me — "invades" my restroom while I'm at the urinal, my privacy right might feel threatened, if only very briefly.

But his privacy would be compromised his whole life through, if he had under law to stick to using women's facilities.

That may be the most important consideration here, and if so, then maybe I can wrap my head around transgender rights after all!