The Revenge Cycle, On Repeat

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Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire.

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81 Responses

  1. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    Perhaps there should exist a set of candidates for office who propose positive things, things which will benefit the American people overall, and make life more pleasant!

    Like, maybe, better pay for teachers!
    Or improvements to the Affordable Care Act!
    Or Infrastructure repair!
    Or a higher minimum wage!
    Or criminal justice reform!
    Or reform of the agricultural subsidies!
    Or consumer finance protection!

    Ahh, if only such candidates existed!Report

  2. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    I’m with you 100% on what the revenge cycle looks like and how shitty it is. But I think it’s a mistake to attribute our dismal voter participation to those dynamics. I blame two things: the Electoral College and our First-Past-the-Post, single-member districts.

    The first sets up a dynamic where in Presidential elections, for most voters in most states, it seems pointless to vote, given that the statewide outcome is pretty much pre-determined, at least by election day it is. The only exceptions being residents of “battleground” states as well as Nebraska and Maine that split their EC votes. The second structurally sets up a dynamic ensuring a two-party system* whereby many voters, likely a majority, look at the two candidates and don’t agree with either one, forcing a vote for the lesser of two evils or just staying home in disgust.

    A good example for me was the 2012 election. I’m a liberal and nominally a Democrat. When I filled out my ballot in NW Kansas, literally the only Democratic candidates on the whole thing were Obama/Biden. The partisan outcome was so predetermined that I literally had no one that I could see voting for for any other race. From County Commissioner all the way up to U.S. House it was unopposed Republicans aside from one Libertarian (who I voted for because wtf).

    *Duverger’s Law https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duverger%27s_lawReport

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Road Scholar says:

      See also WA. You get a few R’s out east, but since the bulk of the population is on the west coast, and predominantly D, the state as a whole swings D.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Road Scholar says:

      Serious question for the anti-Electoral College folks: If campaign strategies do not change, do any of you believe that removing the Electoral College will not lead to Democrats dominating the presidency?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Republicans would have to do a better job of appealing to the median voter. Isn’t that a good thing?Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          I specifically said, “If campaign strategies do not change…” Try again.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            Missed that.

            Sure, the GOP has won the popular vote once since 1992, and that was an incumbent reelected during a war.Report

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              @mikeschilling

              So again, this seems kind of blatantly partisan and designed to grab the WH through legislative fiat instead of, y’know, figuring out how to win elections.

              Mark Lilla contends that in 1968 Democrats changed their party rules and structure to take much of the power away from union leaders which then out it in the hands of academic elites. He argues that was when Democrats lost their ‘translators’ that acted helped those elites understand blue collar Americans. When that happened, those voters began their drift rightward. Now you want to put the power back in the hands of elites by changing the Constitution to suit your electoral goals…gross.

              Also, regarding the whole idea of being elected by a popular majority, I’m sure this has been shared but at the state level Trump won 30 out of 50 states. At the county level, Trump won 2,686 and Clinton won 487. Those are numbers that I believe actually reflect the will of the people and the intent of the Founding Fathers. Democrats want to pretend spatial and geographic fidelity isn’t a thing. They forget that most Americans identify with the state before their country. It’s the old Bedouin saying:

              Me against my brothers.
              Me and my brothers against our cousins.
              Me, my brothers and cousins against the village.
              My village against that village.
              Our villages against the tribe.
              Our tribe against that tribe.
              Our tribes against the invaders.

              Democrats believe urban dwellers in NYC and San Francisco are a tribe. I think most social scientists would disagree.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                Also, regarding the whole idea of being elected by a popular majority, I’m sure this has been shared but at the state level Trump won 30 out of 50 states. At the county level, Trump won 2,686 and Clinton won 487. Those are numbers that I believe actually reflect the will of the people and the intent of the Founding Fathers.

                I guess it’s the “will of the people” that Californian votes are worth less than Nebraskan votes, and that we should have the Presidency hinge on Ohio and Florida.

                Also, I mean if we want to talk “gross”, valuing the votes of people less just because they live in the wrong administrative district sounds pretty damn gross to me.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                @pillsy

                Why should California get a louder voice than Nebraska?Report

              • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                They shouldn’t. however, one person, one vote should be the principle. Not one acre, one vote, which seems to be the system you’re advocating above.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                “I guess it’s the “will of the people” that Californian votes are worth less than Nebraskan votes, and that we should have the Presidency hinge on Ohio and Florida”

                CA has 55 electoral votes. NE has 5. To say that Calfornia is worth less than Nebraska is highly suspect. And blindly partisan.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                @Mike:

                Why should California get a louder voice than Nebraska?

                Because there are 20 times as many people living there.

                @Aaron,

                To say that Calfornia is worth less than Nebraska is highly suspect.

                I didn’t say California as a whole was worth less than Nebraska, though.

                Individual Californian votes are worth just over half as much as individual Nebraskan votes, though.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                @pillsy

                Let’s imagine we both belong to the same PTA and there is a vote coming up on some very important issue affecting the school our children attend. Now imagine that you have two kids in the school and I have 5. Who should get more votes?

                The point of the EC is to acknowledge that our states function sort of like families that all belong to the same PTA. The bigger family should not get a louder voice just because they have more kids and the EC attempts to even that out. Honestly, if it was up to me I would just give every state 1 vote in the electoral college and it’s a simple majority.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                But our states aren’t just like big families…? Maybe they were once, but they’re so inflexible in terms of size, shape, and location that the argument falls apart.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                I think state’s are the closest things we have to families in a country of this many people. The unique laws of each state shape the culture of that state. Don’t believe me? Spend some time in New Hampshire and then compare the folks there to Massachusetts or Vermont. You can do that exercise all over the country.

                Also, federal monies and programs are often administered at the state level, so it seems like that should be the point where EC votes are determined.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                The variation between MA and RI, while it’s there, is much smaller than the variation between the LA metro and the Bay Area.

                And the same is true for the NJ/NY/PA area, where it’s not that uncommon for people to have lives spread out across all three states. NJ to Philly or NYC commutes are vastly more common than San Diego to Sacramento commutes, that’s for sure.

                So you’re left purely with the administrative argument.Report

              • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                @Mike Dwyer
                I think state’s are the closest things we have to families in a country of this many people.

                I’m just not feelin it, man. Maybe it’s my personal history — I’ve lived in eight different states and I’ve worked in the entirety of the lower 48 for the past 20 years — but to me a state is just the last two letters in an address. I see regional variations in culture but nothing that makes me feel anything like a foreigner in a strange land.

                You just seem to be placing undue importance on these imaginary lines on a map. Our political differences have very little to do with that kind of geography. The real relevant geography is urban vs. rural vs. suburban. And even then most places are a lot more purple than either red or blue.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                Road Scholar:

                Regions I think. It’s really NE versus SE, East versus West, even North versus South to an extent.

                Texas isn’t really that different from Ohio or Louisiana, but does differ more significantly from Tennessee or Georgia. Oregon, Washington, and California have a lot in common with each other — and also with the rest of the west end of the country.

                It’s not 48 states, not really — it’s like 5 regions, tops. You get more disparity in a state than between states — Houston and New Orleans are considerably more similar than Houston is to, oh, most of east Texas as a whole. Same with Austin and, honestly, San Francisco than Austin and large swathes of north Texas.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                Restoring the VRA would also help the D’s and hurt the R’s, as would reducing gerrymandering and ending voter suppression. It’s funny how partisan common decency is.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                I looked up some stats, if this link is accurate 59% of Americans live in the state where they were born. In the midwest 50% say they still live in the hometown where they were born. The highest percentages of geographic fidelity are in the Midwest and the South.

                So, yeah, people in the West and Northeast are more transient, but I would still argue states are the most logical voting group for the EC. And as I said, if it was up to me each state would get one vote. If there’s more people in California, looks like the candidates have more people to convince.

                https://www.quora.com/How-many-Americans-have-never-left-their-home-stateReport

            • Avatar George Turner in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              In the 18 elections since WW-II, Democrats won more than 50% of the vote only four times; in 1964 (Johnson 61.1%), 1976 (Carter 50.1%), 2008 (Obama 52.9%), and 2012 (Obama 51.1%).Report

            • @Morat,
              My regional split is the 13-state West, the 12-states-plus-DC NE urban corridor, and the Rest. The West plus NE account for about 45% of the US population, the Rest for 55%.

              From memory, but close, Clinton’s EC votes in 2016 were 104 from the NE, 98 from the West, and 30 from the Rest. In 2018, while the Dems made gains in all three regions, the gains in the West and NE were more than double the gains in the Rest; on a relative basis, the West-NE is bluer compared to the Rest than was the case before the elections.

              Granted I’m out on the lunatic fringe, but I think Mike Dwyer’s an optimist. I think some sort of break-up is more likely than the blue regions saying “We should adopt policy ideas from the Rest.” I would say “and vice-versa”, except that in the most recent example of a policy shift, the remaining Rest states are slowly but steadily adopting the ACA’s Medicaid expansion.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            I specifically said, “If campaign strategies do not change…” Try again.

            But they would change strategies. Obviously. Necessarily. Trump was 100% correct when he said he’d have run a different campaign if the Presidency was determined by popular vote. (He said that back when he still supported getting rid of the EC.)Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Probably. At least given the policy preferences of the two parties and how those policies poll with the public.

        Serious question: That would be a bad thing how exactly?

        Serious question 2: Is your question an admission that Republican opposition to removing the EC based purely on partisanship?Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Road Scholar says:

          I was going to ask you the same thing regarding partisanship.

          I think the Democratic opposition to the EC is fairly obvious in that they think a simple majority should be the basis for national elections. I would be inclined to point out how geographically and culturally naive that is, but that would imply they don’t know this is a partisan power grab.

          It also demonstrates Democratic obsession with the WH but that’s a whole other conversation.Report

          • Avatar pillsy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            The “naive” argument, when I’ve seen it in the past, has never really panned out in a consistent way.

            Sure, you can argue that people who live far from major urban population centers don’t want to be bound by the preferences of the people living in those centers even if a majority live there…

            …but why should the people who live in major metros be happy with the current arrangement?Report

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to pillsy says:

              @pillsy

              The people in cities don’t need to be happy about things but since 1980 Republicans have had the WH for 22 years and the Democrats have had 16. That’s actually a fairly balanced record. Pair that with Democrats controlling Congress for the majority of that time and they have arguably controlled our federal government for more time during the last 4 decades than Republicans. The only difference is, only one side wants to start monkeying around with the EC. It’s that continued obsession with the executive branch that plagues the Left.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                The only difference is, only one side wants to start monkeying around with the EC.

                Only one side had two Presidential elections go the other way because of the EC. We had it essentially not matter at all for over a century, and then it tipped against the popular vote, in favor of the same party, twice in less than 20 years.

                Of course Dems don’t like that. No one has articulated a reason why they should like it or should accept it. If you keep losing elections because a completely dumb rule, changing the dumb rule is a fine way to start winning elections again.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                @pillsy

                “No one has articulated a reason why they should like it or should accept it.”

                They should accept it because they understood the rules going in and weren’t able to win those elections. that was bad strategy, not proof of a bad rule.

                “If you keep losing elections because a completely dumb rule, changing the dumb rule is a fine way to start winning elections again.”

                From Mark Lilla:

                “Distrust of the legislative process and increased reliance on the courts to achieve their goals also detached liberal Democratic elites from a wider base. To pass legislation you need to persuade very different sorts of people that it makes sense, which might require compromise but also helps ensure that the law will not provoke a mass reaction that leaves you in a worse position than when you began. “

                Changing the rules because you don’t like the results of the game is something we usually teach kids not to do when they are pretty young. Did Democrats miss that lesson?Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                @Mike Dwyer I’m not all that big on the EC either way but the complaints about the EC are part of a bigger complaint about gerrymandering and vote suppression over the last several years. Gerrymandering, by R’s primarily, is a big issue on the left. As has been repeatedly reported in NC they just directly said they designed the districts to minimize D votes. In some places polling sites have been closed in cities or poor areas with primarily black voters. In Wisconsin in 2018, for their state assembly, D’s won 53% and got 36 seats. R’s won 44.5% and got 63 seats. Yes you read that right. The party that got a solid majority of votes got a very solid minority of seats.

                All these stories, and there are others i didn’t mention, lead to a strong case that R’s are working hard to prevent D’s from voting. That democratic majorities are being prevented from actually winning and that rules are being made to keep D’s out of power. There is a lot to this which R’s either ignore or are completely for. So in that light the EC just seems like another rule that keeps a majority out of power.

                Nothing is going to change about the EC so it’s mostly an issue that is taking up oxygen but isn’t going to lead anywhere. But D’s have reasonable complaints about the flawed nature of our democracy that conservatives are aggressively ignoring and that really ain’t helping. You “consent of the governed….” and all that.Report

              • It’s that continued obsession with the executive branch that plagues the Left.

                There’s some reason for that. 100+ years of Congress delegating the details of legislation to agencies in the executive branch makes a very different model than the Founders had in mind.

                Consider that over 2017-18, when the Republicans held the White House and both chambers of Congress, Congress accomplished essentially nothing beyond a large tax cut. At the same time, the executive made major policy changes on the environment, energy, health care, broadband communications, and public land use by writing new rules. The DOJ’s choices about which federal court cases to be involved in, and on which side, have made a significant difference.

                This past week, the White House reportedly ignored both their own Attorney General and the Senate majority leader while ordering the DOJ to support a recent District Court ruling that the PPACA is now unconstitutional.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                @greg

                I understand the complaints about gerrymandering and other tactics and I think in most cases something should be done to reverse that. As I have also mentioned, i would suggest Democrats also think about ways to encourage their constituents to not create conditions where they can be gerrymandered in the first place. That would also fix any number of other problems that go along with segregated populations.

                The problem with the EC challenge is that, as you say, it won’t go anywhere. So it just sounds like sour grapes, but unfortunately I think in general Democrats are really, really bad at understanding the electorate, so they don’t understand how bad this sounds to most people’s ears.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                @michaelcain

                Agreed that Congress has given far too much power to the executive.Report

              • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                The problem with the EC challenge is that, as you say, it won’t go anywhere.

                We could be rid of it as early as 2020. All that needs to happen is for Trump to lose re-election by a PV/EC split in the other direction. McConnell would have that bill on the Senate floor the day after the election, and arguing for it to be retro-active. Failing that, enough red states would join the Popular Vote Compact thingy to make it kick in.

                This issue is partisan af on both sides.Report

            • Avatar Morat20 in reply to pillsy says:

              Just to add some fun facts to the discussion: While the idea of a state compact first arose as a legally workable method (ie, pure theory) in 2001, the National Popular Vote Compact itself was first proposed in 2006, and it’s first adoption was in 2007.

              Note that this was six years after the last EC/PV split, and there had even been an intervening Presidential election. While it is seems more popular in blue states, it wasn’t exactly a knee-jerk response to the 2000 election. (In fact, proposals to abolish the EC college — via Constitutional amendment — have been brought up many times in Congress. Back in the late 60s, one came surprisingly close to passing.).

              Getting rid of the EC isn’t some new fad>It’s been debated quite awhile, and has generally been quite popular — just not 2/3rds vote in both chambers of Congress popular.Report

          • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            @Mike Dwyer, Point out where I stated that I was in favor of abolishing the EC.

            I’m waiting…

            Yeah, that’s right. I didn’t. I argued, and continue to maintain, that the EC is a contributing factor to low voter turnout for the reasons I cited. That’s all.

            The armchair psychoanalysis resulting in your conclusion that opposition to the EC is a partisan power grab on the part of Democrats is all on you. The historical fact is that there have only been four elections with a PV/EC split; 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016. I’m not sure what the deal was in 1876, but the election of 1888 was decided by one vote in the EC and ultimately hinged on the chosen method for allocating Representatives, which was a topic of some dispute back in the day.

            It’s true that opposition to the EC is lately a Demo cause celeb owing to getting fucked twice in recent memory, but efforts at reform go back quite a bit further. There was an effort back in the Nixon era to pass an amendment for a popular vote that passed the House but failed in the Senate. Note that there had been no split elections for 80 years at that point and plenty of Republicans won the WH during that period with a popular vote majority/plurality. Afraid you can’t do that anymore?Report

          • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            Adding… FWIW, I am in favor of reforming the EC process up to and including ditching it altogether. But that’s because I’m a technocrat with an engineering brain that’s looking at a broken machine.

            I think the Democratic opposition to the EC is fairly obvious in that they think a simple majority should be the basis for national elections.

            Yep. There’s only one (well, two, if you count Vice) national election because there’s only one (two) national-level elected office. Every other elected office in the country* is elected by… wait for it… a simple majority in the relevant polity. Governors, Senators, Representatives, etc. Given that fact, it seems to me that the supporters of the EC should have the burden of arguing why the Presidency should be different. Perhaps something more substantial than vague hand-waving toward “federalism”.

            I would be inclined to point out how geographically and culturally naive that is,

            And I would be inclined to point out that you’re being a condescending ass here, but that would imply that you don’t know that or intend it.

            And I think you assign altogether too much significance to “geography and culture” here. Proponents of federalism seem to believe that our states are the equivalent to the member states of the EU with distinct languages, cultures, and centuries of history. That’s just ridiculous. The original thirteen colonies had about ten years of existence as independent states prior to ratification of the Constitution subsequent to the WoI. The Kingdom of Hawaii was a thing in the 19th century but not so much immediately prior to statehood. California existed independently from Spain for all of 26 days. Vermont like to call itself a Republic; New York disagreed and claimed it for itself. The question was settled early on when it became the 14th state. Probably the best claim for true independence is had by (the Republic of) Texas. They even had ambassadors in Europe for a time. Apart from that, all of the remaining 33 states were just carved out of territory that was either purchased or stolen from the native population. Federalism in the U.S. mostly rests on mythology.

            …but that would imply they don’t know this is a partisan power grab.

            Man, you’re quite the little Republican today, aren’t you? Are you trying to channel your Sen. McConnell?
            In my mind, a “partisan power grab” implies the taking of some unfair advantage for partisan gain. Gerrymandering comes to mind as an example. You’re going to have to explain to me how preferring a simple majority vote to win an election fits into that definition.

            It also demonstrates Democratic obsession with the WH but that’s a whole other conversation.

            Yeah. It’s only the most powerful office in the nation, but who gives af, amirite? Again, pots and kettles.

            * I’ll stipulate it’s possible that some cities may do something weird. DKDC.Report

      • Avatar Jesse in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Yes, and Democrats will deserve to dominate the Presidency if the GOP refuses to shift their policy to something that will get majority support, just like the Democrat’s would’ve deserve to get dominated in the 90’s if they refused to learn the lessons of losing by popular vote landslides in 80, 84, and 88.Report

      • Avatar pillsy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        I think the Dems would win one or two elections (that they’d have a solid shot of winning anyway), the GOP would realize their old strategy and coalition wasn’t working, and then they’d change it up.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        For the record, I am actually ambivalent about the Electoral College.
        While the idea of majority vote seems appealing, it sounds a lot like the same issue liberals have with “at large” voting in cities and states, where a white majority can effectively shut out minority representation.
        In those cases, liberals support what is a form of EC, voting by district instead of at large.

        It’s not an exact comparison of course, but speaking from behind the Rawlsian veil, I can imagine how the original concerns of the Founders about large populations crushing out minority voices are still valid.

        But I’m open to being persuaded otherwise.Report

        • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          At large voting is a problem vis-a-vis minority representation when you’re voting for a slate of candidates to fill a multi-member body, say a city council. Example: you have four seats to fill and each voter selects four candidates to fill those seats. The electorate is split 55-45 and the result is that all the majority voters vote as a bloc for the same four candidates (along racial lines or whatever) and totally shuts out the minority, whereas an equitable split of those seats would be 2-2.

          Thats not the same as a majority vote to fill one seat.Report

          • Giving everyone four equal-weight votes seems… odd. Why would you not have each voter pick one candidate from the slate, and the top four vote-getters fill the slots? Or a rank-choice vote where you have to cast your four “votes” for four different candidates?Report

    • @road scholar:

      I’ll add another dynamic. In an election where a large number of people (say, more than 10,000?….I’m not married to the exact number) vote, one single vote will have almost never have a substantive effect on the outcome.

      That’s not to say the other things you mention are wrong. In Big City, there’s very little chance (but honestly, not no chance) of meaningful competition against Democrats, and some of the latter are the most socially conservative blue dog racists you’ve ever seen. (Some are just socially conservative and not racist. Some are actually socially liberal. Most are some variant of “fiscally conservative on some things and fiscally liberal on others.”)

      And of course the electoral college works that way. I voted for Hillary instead of a 3d party as a symbolic repudiation to Trump (who I assumed would lose), but I knew Trump was never going to win my state, and if he was, it wasn’t my vote that would put him over or under.Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to gabriel conroy says:

        That was the subject of a post by Jason K. a couple years back. Yeah, mathematically it’s indisputable that one vote is astronomically unlikely to sway any mass election, particularly the Presidency. But the health of our democracy, as a method for aggregating the preferences of the polity, does depend on the electorate acting as if their vote really does matter. And it does, in the collective.Report

  3. Avatar Aaron David says:

    I have said it before, and I will say it again; politics is a full contact sport, with long memories and longer knives.

    The number of people dropping out of the voting cycle is not really a factor of that though. It is more a factor of this having very little to do with their day-to-day lives. They aren’t in any meaningful way touched by it. It matters not the numbers of housing being built, the numbers of guns on the streets or any of the other hot button issues that consume the political class and its followers. They just want their lives to get better. Full Stop.

    Which party is irrelevant, because, for many people, they are the same.Report

  4. Avatar Stillwater says:

    I get confused by all the hot-takes on revenge especially since Obama was widely praised by the above-the-fray hot-takers for refraining from “looking backwards” to investigate and jail the criminals who brought us the Invasion of Iraq in jail. I can still hear the applause for his decision to rise above revenge politics ringing in my ears.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Stillwater says:

      The only way this message can hope to fly is if it is studiously even handed even though, in reality, the two sides have not and are not behaving equally badly. I feel ya. It grates.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 in reply to North says:

        if both sides aren’t the same, then you have to dig into history, make judgement calls, interject considered opinion, and god forbid might even have to change your mind.

        Better to stick to perfectly spherical cows, uncluttered by such distractions, you know?Report

  5. Avatar greginak says:

    I think you have a good point here but, since someone has to and will say it, the Mueller report/ Barr memo is a pretty crappy example. We don’t know what is actually in the Mueller report other than a very short summary from a political appointee who was already on record saying he didn’t think the entire investigation was appropriate. And the admin is trying to avoid releasing the report. Since the Barr memo admitted the russians actively messed with our election actually trying to prevent that happening again and knowing what happened seems reasonable and not vengeance.Report

    • Avatar pillsy in reply to greginak says:

      Yeah. I think the jump to saying we know what the report says, based only on the Barr letter, is super weird.

      I mean I suppose we can assume with some certainty that he isn’t straight-up fabricating quotes or directly lying, but anything short of that would be obviously lying.

      Then again, while I think the reluctance to release the report is fishy as hell, it’s not really proof of anything with an administration as shambolic and undisciplined as this one.Report

    • I am highly skeptical Barr, knowing the report is coming out one way or another eventually, is going to start too far off the facts in the initial summary. From what I’ve seen, the majority of opinions remain, and will forever, remain unchanged one way or the other regardless of how the Mueller report is litigated going forward. Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

        I don’t’ think he went to far from the facts. However re: obstruction, Barr as well as others think a prez can’t obstruct justice. Fair enough, i dont’ agree but i understand the argument. But the report might show a lot of evidence that Trump did intend to obstruct and there is only no criminal case since a prez can’t be indicted. Not every issue regarding this is about strictly criminal behavior. We should be able to know and judge if Trump intended to obstruct even if he can’t be indicted. It is a frickin epicly low bar for behavior to say that because a prez can’t be indicted then it’s all good. Same deal with the behavior regarding Russia and their interference. It doesn’t surprise me Mueller didn’t find enough to go for more criminal charges. But, as Barr quoted, that doesn’t exonerate Trump or his campaign. Especially given what we already know.

        My guess is Barr is spinning to favor Trump so there is likely a more neutral view out there. Let’s see what Mueller says, then we’ll have a clearer idea of what he found. He would, after all, know what he thought.

        Is there going to be large changes in public opinion? In the short term likely no though small changes are very possible. In the long term it is very much possible depending on what is in the report. But whether something is going to change opinion is irrelevant to whether we should see the report.Report

        • I’ve known and judged Trump long before he ran for president and found him wanting. A large swath of my country disagreed and elected him president anyway. Through no fault of Mueller’s, the way it was built up and deemed to be impeachment waiting to happen, unless there is a major bombshell – not circumstantial minutiae already publicly known – the report has been effectively neutered as far as being actionable going forward. Trump is an amoral, corrupt individual before, currently, and will be after he leaves office. But he is president, and if you want take successful congressional action against him, which is political not legal, you need a public mandate to do it. That mandate, baring something unforeseen, will not be coming due to the Mueller Report.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

            I don’t’ disagree with anything you say here. I never thought it was likely Trump would be impeached.

            Yeah people built up the report, but we live in the Hyperbolic Age. People build up everything. So what. We still need to see the report even if no ones mind is changed. Even if people hadn’t built the report up that wouldn’t have changed how people received it Trumpets would still hate it, etc. It’s not like Trump loyalists responded well to dry legal procedures or gulity pleas w/o any hyperbole attached. Crimes became process crimes. Flynn became a poor persecuted hero instead of the ginormously corrupt dude he is. Leave out the hyperbole and Trumpers were still defending the corruption and crimes.Report

            • One of the really just head shaking things of this whole affair is how predictable it is. Mueller didn’t really nab anyone we didn’t already know was dirty ahead of time. Manifort was known to be dirty from his Ukraine dealings among other things long before hooking onto the Trump campaign. Flynn was so questionable that the Obama administration, already having fired and ran the guy off, and who was certainly not looking to do the Trump people any favors went out of their way to tell the transition team “don’t let this guy back in the building.” Even if completely innocent of all the collusion and corruption allegations, it was monumentally stupid to have such people anywhere near your organization, and doing so rightfully brought attention and scrutiny.Report

      • Avatar pillsy in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

        Characterizing the Report in ways that are technically true but misleading in order to sway the swayable prior to the release of the report seems like a decent tactic.

        And even if it weren’t, it seems like the kind of thing the Trump WH would try.Report

        • There is certainly some pre-assuaging going on, but again, this is too big a thing for Barr to have gone completely rogue on in his summary. Trump is being obviously disingeuious with his “total acquital” line, so that falls into what you mention since the the summary clearly spelled out that wasn’t the case.Report

          • Avatar pillsy in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

            Yeah, Barr is by all accounts a smart guy, and by all accounts an expert at, ah, political scandal management. I’m sure there’s nothing that’s a damned lie or definitely any kind of lie at all.

            Then again, what they really need is to give wavering Republicans/leaners an excuse to stay onside. That, I think, gives a lot of latitude.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to pillsy says:

              If Barr is so smart, how come he doesn’t know what the word “summary” means?
              https://twitter.com/emptywheel/status/1111710723976118274/photo/1Report

            • Avatar Morat20 in reply to pillsy says:

              I mean the report certainly has an executive summary, written by Mueller himself. Every other report like this does.

              Such executive summaries are noted for deliberately excluding things that would normally be subject to redaction or privacy issues, entirely so the summary of findings can be distributed.

              So either Mueller decided to forgo the usual executive summary, or Barr for some reason felt it was better if he told it in his words rather than let the guy who wrote the whole report do it.

              Since the latter is by far the most likely, it makes you wonder exactly why Barr felt he needed to put his own spin on things. The few quotes from Mueller’s report in his letter are pretty clearly chopped apart (I recall one that starts mid-sentence).

              That doesn’t mean I think Barr lied, but he’s a lawyer and lawyers are very good at sticking to the technical truth while accidentally avoiding bits they don’t want to talk about, and leaving people to draw the wrong conclusions.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Morat20 says:

                The few quotes from Mueller’s report in his letter are pretty clearly chopped apart (I recall one that starts mid-sentence).

                Yeah. There are four quotes from Mueller, and literally none of them are complete sentences. They total a mere 101 words. One does indeed start in the middle of a sentence: [T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

                I suspect that sentence actually says: While the investigation and dozens of hours of audio and video recordings and journal entries in his own hand has allowed us to conclude that Donald Trump has killed and eaten six people, and we recommend impeachment and prosecution for that, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

                Note this would not, in any manner, make Barr’s incredibly narrow summary be a ‘lie’. He said nothing about murder and cannibalism.

                I’m kidding, of course, but that is a completely absurd sentence to quote the last half of. It could easily be structured like ‘While the investigation did find a bunch of criminal wrongdoing and here’s a big list, but the investigation didn’t find _the specific_ wrongdoing of conspiracy blah blah blah…” There, granted, other things it could be saying, but it just sorta sticks in your head once you look at it that way.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

        I am 100% sure, in the areas that Barr talked about something, he correctly described it.

        The thing is that Barr was _really narrow_ in what he talked about. For the most obvious example, he specifically went with talking about conspiracy with ‘the Russian government’, not ‘cutouts of the Russian government’…which is literally who every single interaction with the member Trump campaign we are aware of was with. If Donald Trump Jr. had agreed, outright, in that hotel room, to exchange election help for Trump removing sanctions when elected, that _would not be covered_ in what Barr said because people the Don Jr. was talking to were not, technically, members of the Russian government.

        And of course _Wikileaks_ isn’t the Russia government. Members of the administration could have been in direct contact with Wikileaks and said ‘Release the emails today to distract from the pussy tape’, and that wouldn’t be covered under Barr’s summary.

        His summary was an incredibly narrow weasel wording of the ‘conspiracy’ thing.

        Likewise, Barr failed to mention any conclusions about quid quo pro or bribery. At all.

        As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve actually found it dubious that Donald Trump would work with the Russians to ‘get elected’, because I don’t think Trump _wanted_ to get elected. Other people in his orbit wanted Trump to win, yes, but not him specifically.

        I think Trump was offered his Russian hotel moving forward if he would promise to try to get rid of sanctions for Russia. Which he assumed (As he planned to lose) meant some comments on it in his speeches and perhaps influencing the RNC platform. This is why, of course, he and everyone in his orbit kept lying his plans to build that hotel, a thing that…isn’t illegal. (And Trump not bragging about his ‘deals’ in progress is very uncharacteristic of him.)

        This is not conspiracy with Russia on the ‘election’, but could easily be in the Mueller report. Not covered by Barr’s summary.Report

        • I hear everything you are saying, and you may well be proven right. But this is an example of how hard it will be to use the Mueller report going forward; You walk through and very capably explain your reasoning, but you are now up against “No Collusion, no obstruction” soundbites. IF you are explaining you are losing, the old saying goes. Unless there is something in that report that can explain why those two soundbites are wrong in two sentences or less, this is what the narrative of the Mueller report will be going forward, and no minds will be changed.Report

          • Avatar pillsy in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

            Right. And this goes back to the Barr thing: if we’re trying to explain why his summary was really misleading despite being technically true, we’re also losing.

            (Of course now we know the report is coming out in some form, so.)Report

  6. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Congressional hearings are pointless.Report

    • Avatar pillsy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      The email thing with Hillary came out of one of the many rounds of Benghazi hearings.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to pillsy says:

        I still remember where I was the day I heard about Hilary using a private email server…Report

      • Avatar North in reply to pillsy says:

        I mean surely the Dems had it coming. Think of all the hearings they put Bush W through after it turned out he’d dragged the country into the biggest foreign policy debacle since ‘Nam and the way Obama just went hyper partisan right after being elected… … … Or maybe conservatives can just blame this all on the lefts’ treatment of Bork too?Report

        • Avatar pillsy in reply to North says:

          Oh it was ridiculous. But even ridiculous can still stick politically.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to pillsy says:

            And did. It’ll always be on her performance, of course, because she never should have let it get so close but in the end the emails, the media (literal proof that the Dems and the media are NOT hand in glove like Fox and the right are) and above all else Comey tipped it over to Trump.Report

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