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Hi there, here’s what you need to know for the week of June 3, 2022, in 9 minutes.

THIS WEEK INSIDE THE BIG TENT:


① Republicans are constantly drenched in scandal, but tend to escape consequences because Democrats wield their accountability powers slowly, if at all

② Giving Republicans a 10 day grace period after the massacre in Uvalde is of a piece with that pattern—the missing ingredient is nimbleness and a taste for the jugular

③ Halting accountability allowed Trump apparatchik John Durham to spread lies and try an innocent man; it allowed coup plotters not just to roam free but create semi-permanent election-theft infrastructure for the GOP; and if response times remain slow going forward, they will arrive too late

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BLAME DRIFTING

Here’s a general theory of American politics in the year 2022 that I reverse engineered to fit the motley news of the past two weeks, but that I also think is true:

  • Because their conduct is extreme, heedless of laws and basic decency, Republicans frequently find themselves at risk of catastrophic brand damage. But the Trump years have taught them they’re insulated enough from accountability that they can almost always weather even egregious abuses, failures, and other liabilities, simply by hunkering down and waiting for the news media and the opposition party to move on. Like a possum playing dead, if the possum also had rabies and had already bitten everyone.
     
  • This was the more-or-less explicit thinking the Trump White House used in deciding everything from firing James Comey to lying about COVID-19, but it has outlasted the Trump administration and persists in large part because Donald Trump still controls the party. 
     
  • But if their political viability depends on faith that impunity will always materialize out of rough waters, it seems obvious that the key to undermining their whole noxious politics is through the imposition of immediate consequences—no waiting for focus groups or swing-state polls, because they make it impossible to create an expectation that Republican outrages will be responded to in real time, in an almost mechanical way.

That ingredient, that kind of nimbleness, has been missing for the entire Trump era, and its absence is particularly heartfelt today.

① GUN AND DONE

It became pretty clear within about 24 hours of the school massacre in Uvalde, TX, that we’d simply relive the demoralizing ritual we’ve run after every mass shooting since Columbine. 

I suppose I should leave myself some wiggle room in the unlikely event that This Time Is Different, but generally what happens after these tragedies is that outrage gives way to negotiations over various legislative remedies, which Republicans use as a bridge between when the public is engaged and the public has moved on so that they can kill any reforms outside of the spotlight. By my count we’re a bit past halfway through that cycle now.

It began when Democrats agreed to give Republicans 10 days to agree to vote for something…

...and we’ve reached the phase where Mitch McConnell says any legislative response to mass shootings can’t actually be about guns. 

My heart sank a bit when I saw Democrats had agreed to give the GOP this 10 day grace period. It took me back to the immediate aftermath of the insurrection when Democrats recessed Congress instead of acting in the breach, and thus gave Republicans—who were in the moment shaken and wrong-footed—several days to regroup and form a new party line. 

There are obviously important differences between then and now; On January 7, Democratic leaders adjourned the Congress out of cowardice, taking the path of greatest avoidance. Chris Murphy, by contrast, is one of the best senators. He cares about this issue a lot, his brand identity for lack of a better term is tied up in the idea that he’ll never skip an opportunity, no matter how stacked the odds, to work with anyone on meaningful gun legislation.

But I think the effect is much the same—to allow the moment to inflict maximum political damage on the GOP to pass. 

Political damage is the key in both cases, because we can’t naively assume 10 Republicans would’ve voted for a good gun-control bill last week, even if Democrats had brought it to the floor while the bodies were still warm. We need to be real with ourselves about both the moral odiousness of the GOP and the bad actors in this Democratic Senate and the constraints they impose on Democrats to do better than offer 10 days of breathing room after 19 children get slaughtered with an assault rifle. 

We’re the only anglophone country that’s failed to substantially change gun laws after mass killings, and that’s not going to change this time; moreover, any bipartisan legislation that manages to survive a GOP filibuster will almost certainly have little impact on the prevalence of mass shootings in America, because Republican politics are the propulsive force of those massacres, and their politics won’t change until they’re soundly, repeatedly defeated. The alternative to giving the GOP 10 days wasn’t to pass a sweeping partisan gun-control law. It was to make the connection between Republicans and gun massacres a lasting liability for them. To make them vote, in the spotlight, blood on their hands, against legislation to ban the sale and manufacture of assault rifles.

② THE UVALDE COP-OUT

The nice thing about this approach is it wouldn’t have foreclosed doing bipartisan negotiations afterward (at least insofar as Republicans didn’t pretend they were too offended to participate). Shocking police failures and an ongoing coverup in Uvalde will seemingly focus public attention on this mass killing for more than 10 days, and that’s one perverse source of hope that this time really will be different. 

But it may also be that the disgraceful police conduct in Uvalde makes it easier for Republicans to scapegoat those specific officers, pin it on them as unusually bad apples, in order to shield guns from culpability. And that’s yet another reason it would've been wise to underscore the unique horrors of assault rifles, and the GOP’s absolute fidelity to them, before Republicans were able to flood the zone with shit about single-door schools and these aberrant cops. 

Whether the cops in Uvalde had done the best they could or their cowardly worst, we’d still have an epidemic of mass slaughter with specific types of guns to contend with. We can’t go town to town trying to figure out who the brave cops and who the cowardly cops are, and thus where the body counts are likely to be lower if a mass murderer starts shooting. If there’s widespread uncertainty about whether cops will be willing to confront murderers carrying certain kinds of guns, those guns can’t be legal, and if they're legal, schools and hospitals and grocery stores will become war zones on a regular basis.

Let Republicans be the sole owners of that American carnage. 

③ TKTK

To his credit, President Biden endorsed a revival of the assault-weapons ban in a speech to the nation Thursday night. To her credit, Nancy Pelosi said the House will begin considering just such a bill next week. But we can already measure the effect of inertia. We can’t know how many votes an assault-weapons ban would have had last week, but in the immediate aftermath of Uvalde, it seems fair to guess that every Democrat (except maybe Henry Cuellar) would have voted for it. Now, Democrats are making it pretty clear that they’re losing votes within their own caucus. The political balance has already shifted most of the way back to where it was before Uvalde.

Nothing happens instantaneously, but some things can happen very fast. The House and even the Senate can vote on legislation very fast, particularly bills about guns that have been sitting on shelves for years. The House can write up articles of impeachment for insurrection in a few hours and vote on them a few hours after that. 

The best days of Joe Biden’s presidency were the earliest ones when he and his administration appeared to be moving vigorously on many fronts. That obviously wasn’t a sustainable pace and wasn’t meant to be, but in these doldrum months of the Biden years we can see pretty clearly where Democrats dithered and what it has cost them.

This week Trump-loyalist Special Counsel John Durham saw his propaganda prosecution of Michael Sussman laughed out of court. If you aren’t already familiar with the details of the Sussman case, I won’t bore you with them now. Charlie Savage has a great rundown here, which you should read when you have a chance. 

It’s obviously good that Durham’s abuse of power failed so embarrassingly, but many liberals have talked themselves into the idea that it was wise of Attorney General Merrick Garland to let Durham continue his sham investigation for the past year and a half, or at least that he had no choice

This is the antipode of the idea that swift, unsparing action is key to accountability for bad Republican deeds, and it's wrong. For one thing, it’s a mistake to imagine that propaganda manufacturers like Durham, Barr, and Trump play any kind of useful role as foils, or that the inevitable exposure of their lies will undo all the damage those lies cause in the meantime. Durham lost his case, but served the corrupt purpose he was appointed to serve very well. Bill Barr is proud of him. It’s no better that he tried an innocent man to mislead the public and lost than that Trump and his allies lied about the election in front of 60 judges, even if the truth prevailed in the narrow confines of those courtrooms. 

We’d be better off today, in terms of both raw justice and public understanding, if Garland had done a quick review of Barr’s appointment and fired Durham a few days after his confirmation, naming both men as a stain on the DOJ. We’d be better off today if the lawyers who used the legal system to perpetuate the Big Lie had been quickly disbarred or worse. We’d be better off if DOJ had made the obvious organizers of the attempted coup primary targets of its investigations. Instead they have been free to create a semi-permanent infrastructure for trying to steal elections. One such effort, to make elections inadministrable in Democratic polling places, or even recruit corrupt district attorneys to halt vote counting in those same precincts, looks a lot like a nationwide criminal conspiracy to me, and we’d be better off if DOJ began an investigation of it now, rather than after Republicans manage to spoil or cast shadows over tens of thousands of votes in Detroit.  

Republicans increasingly use coercive arms of the state for the purposes of generating right-wing propaganda, often at the expense of obscure government officials or political operatives or even just lowly voters whom they’ve deemed enemies and thus fair game for harassment. We shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking it’s savvy to indulge them, but not indulging them means anticipating and reacting quickly to their bad deeds, and the bad deeds for which they bear moral responsibility.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson thinks we need crime-scene photographs of mass shootings to become public. I agree and have thought so for a long time now

Merrick Garland says democracy is under threat, and I can’t help but thinking it would be great if someone like that were attorney general.

This is a good read about how Republicans sand off their rough edges when appealing to swing voters in their home districts, and pretend they aren’t all about stealing elections and cutting rich people’s taxes. (Free idea for Dems should do movie nights and Easter egg hunts where they pretend they’re Republicans, and then when people arrive, talk to them about how great it’ll be when they can steal enough elections to repeal Medicare and social security and tax the poor. Then when Republicans pretend to believe it’s the greatest outrage since  Benghazi, Dems will get a nice round of earned media about how they tried some shady business to inform voters about real GOP plans to steal elections, abolish Medicare, tax the poor, etc.)

Trump-endorsed nominees in Georgia running on the Big Lie failed spectacularly, and it may be part of a downward trend in his influence. Per the New York Times, “Mr. Trump has gone from raising an average of $324,633 per day in September 2021 on WinRed, the Republican donation-processing portal, to $202,185 in March 2022—even as he has ramped up his political activities and profile.”

Views about immigration in the U.K. don’t track on-the-ground realities of immigration in the U.K. at all anymore, but track tabloid coverage of immigration perfectly. There are important lessons here for American political practitioners, which I’ll leave to you to sort out.

The early 2000s were incredible

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