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On this week's poofy-shirt-free weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips adjusts the light bulb at Li'l Trumpy's request; Red Meat investigates weird noises coming from the closet; This Modern World looks yet again at Life in the Stupidverse; This Modern World imagines the next 12 months of Trump lunacy; and Jen Sorensen ponders some honest questions for the Democratic presidential-primary debates.

Published in Comics

On this week's Sharpie-ink-stained weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles finds a way to make female presidential candidates more palatable to sexists; This Modern World ponders what would happen today if an asteroid came sorta-close-but-not-really to Earth; Jen Sorensen looks at the threat to Western Civilization posed by yoga pants; Red Meat checks in on a frightened child; and Apoca Clips listens to Li'l Trumpy blather about all of the crazy news of the week.

Published in Comics

I suppose I can’t not write about Sharpie-gate, as much as I’d rather not. After all, of the myriad episodes that have defined the Trump administration’s idiocracy, few have reached this peak of stupidity.

On Saturday, Aug. 31, with Hurricane Dorian bearing down on the U.S., President Trump warned that it posed a serious risk to Alabama, though forecasters had days earlier said Alabama was out of danger. The next day, after receiving calls from worried residents, the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service tweeted that Alabama would “NOT see any impacts from the hurricane.”

For reasons best left to a psychologist, Trump refused to let it go. He spent the next week obsessing over it, insisting that he was right and the NWS experts (and the media that covered them) were wrong and fake. By Wednesday, he was in the Oval Office with a hurricane forecast from Aug. 29, altered by a hand-drawn Sharpie to include Alabama in the storm’s projected path. By Friday night—after the storm had left the North Carolina coast, and we were still talking about this—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a statement “correcting” the NWS tweet from a week earlier and backing the president. (The justification: One model showed a tiny chance of tropical-storm-force winds in a sliver of Alabama.)

By Saturday, Sept. 7, The Washington Post had reported that, the day after Trump’s Alabama flub, the NOAA sent a directive to NWS meteorologists ordering them not to contradict the president, even though he was wrong, and they were right, and part of their job is to correct misinformation. NOAA sent a similar directive after the Sharpie display.

“I have never been so embarrassed,” the head of the NWS union tweeted Friday.

So say we all, pal.

Under different circumstances—say, if he were hosting a reality TV show—the president’s pathetically pathological need to be right and his lackeys’ compulsion to assuage his fragile ego might be amusing. But this is real life, where undermining the credibility of the government’s information during a disaster puts lives at risk.

This is part of a larger problem, of course. On Friday, Sept. 6, Business Insider reported that “aides and confidants are concerned about his mental state after days of erratic behavior and wild outbursts.” According to one former White House official: “His mood changes from one minute to the next based on some headline or tweet, and the next thing you know, his entire schedule gets tossed out the window because he’s losing his shit.”

In the UK, when Trump-lite Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to go around Parliament to facilitate a disastrous no-deal Brexit, defections within his own party blocked him and then prevented him from calling snap elections. Country was more important than party. Here, administration officials have shown no such spine, even on matters as banal as Sharpie-gate. The higher the stakes—and the more unhinged Trump becomes—the more dangerous that gets.

Plenty of ink has been spilled explaining how we got here—how, since the civil rights movement, the Republican Party’s embrace of white racial grievance and the cultivation of authoritarianism in its pursuit of power have destroyed liberal democracy’s guardrails, allowing a pernicious oaf like Trump into the Oval Office. But we shouldn’t overlook the behind-the-scenes roles played by men like Thomas Hofeller, who made the radicalization of the GOP possible.

Hofeller, who died last year, was a Republican redistricting consultant, a number-cruncher who helped gerrymander congressional and legislative districts all over the country, most famously in North Carolina, where his work has been subject to numerous lawsuits. The districts he helped draw in 2011 were struck down as racial gerrymanders. The congressional districts he helped draw to replace them were then struck down as partisan gerrymanders, though earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering was constitutional.

But last week, a state court struck down the redrawn legislative districts, ruling that extreme partisan gerrymandering violated the state Constitution. This followed a lawsuit Common Cause filed in 2018, after North Carolina Democrats won more votes for state House and Senate, but Republicans emerged with strong majorities. Facing a Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court, Republican lawmakers declined an appeal, meaning North Carolina could see its first fair election in a decade next year.

This is where it gets fun: Much to Republicans’ chagrin, Hofeller’s daughter had turned over thousands of his files to Common Cause. On Friday, Sept. 6, The New Yorker reported their contents. As you’d expect, they showed that Hofeller compiled “intensely detailed” data on race, as well as things like whether college students were likely to have the state-required ID to vote. 

He got particularly deep in the weeds at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, the nation’s largest historically black college. Hofeller used dorm-level data to draw congressional districts that literally bisected the campus, ensuring that Greensboro would have two Republican representatives. This, Republicans argued, was about partisan advantage, not race.

The files show that Hofeller was involved in Republican gerrymandering efforts in Arizona, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, Texas and Florida, and that “he was part of a Republican effort to add a citizenship question to the Census … which Hofeller believed would make it easier to pack Democrats and minorities into fewer districts, giving an advantage to Republicans.” Trump, you’ll recall, championed this cause—even after the Supreme Court turned rejected the question because the administration couldn’t be bothered to hide its political motives.

Hofeller and the Republicans who employed him contorted democracy to their own ends. But by creating ruby-red districts in which Republicans could only lose in primaries, they fostered an incentive structured that pulled the GOP further and further right, the kind of asymmetric polarization that, in short order, gave us a president who draws hurricane projections with a Sharpie and a party that whistles in democracy’s graveyard.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

On this week's sold-out, standing-room-only weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World features thoughts from a bedbug; Jen Sorensen looks at generational entitlement; (Th)ink pays tribute to Toni Morrison; Apoca Clips listens to Li'l Trumpy's hurricane musings; and Red Meat talks to Earl about his new gig at the pharmacy.

Published in Comics

The maxim that we’re not to speak ill of the dead is generally good advice, though it’s complicated by the death of men like David Koch, the oilman and right-wing financier who died on Aug. 23 at the age of 79.

There’s a ghoulish quality to gloating about the demise of one’s ideological adversaries before the bodies are in the ground—as HBO’s Bill Maher did on his show Friday night—especially at a time when politics has become a factionalized blood sport. And any polemic about David Koch’s decades of funding the far right is likely to draw a two-dimensional caricature of the man, eliding his truly remarkable philanthropy, as well as his forward thinking on immigration and criminal-justice reform—which, truth be told, was well ahead of many modern progressives. (In 1980, for instance, as a vice presidential candidate on the libertarian ticket, Koch supported open borders.)

But any fair analysis of the world David Koch leaves behind can’t help but speak ill of his legacy: Few Americans in the postwar era have been more destructive than David and his older brother, Charles Koch, who survives him. Through the untold millions they lavished on conservative political networks and organizations—founding the Cato Institute; bankrolling the Heritage Foundation; establishing the anti-regulation Mercatus Center at George Mason University and similar centers at Florida State University and Utah State University; creating the Americans for Prosperity Foundation; and funding all manner of anti-union efforts—the Kochs fundamentally reformed American conservatism and, in the process, American democracy.

The end result is the party we see now—beholden to the wealthy, with a theology that believes tax cuts are the panacea to whatever ails us, that is stalwart in its opposition to any and all environmental and labor regulations, and embarrassingly resistant to the climate science that the rest of the world long accepted.

In particular, Americans for Prosperity—David Koch’s baby—mobilized the tea party, an astroturf movement aroused in reaction to Barack Obama’s presidency.

As Sarah Jones wrote in New York this weekend: “The id they unleashed—the naked white nationalism, the anti–big government hysteria, all those conspiracy theories—helped seed the ground for Donald Trump.”

There’s some irony in that, considering that the Koch brothers were never enthusiastic about Trump, especially his trade wars and harsh immigration tactics. They never donated to him, and earlier this year, AFP indicated that it was open to supporting Democrats, so long as those Democrats were the kind that would keep the party from going in the direction of Elizabeth Warren and the Green New Deal. But in the pursuit of their own interests—in serving their own greed—they’d created a Frankenstein’s monster they couldn’t control.

They’d grown Koch Industries, a company they’d inherited from their father—an original member of the John Birch Society who admired Benito Mussolini and thought the civil rights movement was a communist plot—into the second-largest privately owned business in the country, with oil refineries in Alaska, Texas and Minnesota, more than 4,000 miles of pipeline, and ownership of products ranging from Brawny paper towels to Stainmaster carpet, as The New Yorker’s Jane Meyer reported in her definitive 2010 profile. And they wanted the government out of their way. They’ve fought health-care reform, labor regulations, and anything else that got between them and a buck.

“The Kochs,” Meyer wrote, “are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests.”

The Kochs were one of the top air polluters in the country, according to a 2010 University of Massachusetts at Amherst study. More important, perhaps, they were the biggest funder of climate-change denial, surpassing even ExxonMobil.

For decades, Koch-funded groups like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation have tried to pour cold water on the consensus that the world is dangerously warming, and humans are to blame. With the Kochs’ millions behind them, these organizations fostered skepticism about scientists involved in climate research, claimed that the science is inconclusive, and—as David Koch told Meyer in 2010—argued that even if the planet is getting hotter, it will ultimately be beneficial.

This was simple avarice dressed up as ideology, of course—regardless of whether David Koch ever admitted that to himself. Accepting the reality of anthropomorphic climate change and its destructive consequences would mean weaning ourselves off fossil fuels, which would make the Kochs’ oil empire less profitable.  

The last full month David Koch lived to see, July 2019, was the hottest ever recorded on Earth. The day he died, the Amazon rainforest was burning at an unprecedented rate, as the right-wing Brazilian government allowed loggers, farmers and cattle interests to slash and burn a region that produces 20 percent of the planet’s oxygen and is vital to combating climate change. Three days after he died, the president he inadvertently helped install skipped a meeting of world leaders on climate change at the G7 summit in Paris. Three decades after he died, experts have warned, 55 percent of the global population could live in areas that experience more than 20 days of lethal heat a year; 1 billion people will have been displaced from their homes; 2 billion people will lack access to water; and droughts and severe flooding will have become the norm.

David Koch was worth $42.4 billion.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

On this week's keto-friendly, gluten-free, semi-vegan weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World looks at the latest exploits of Donald J. Trump, Detective-in-Chief; Jen Sorensen ponders how the right turns reason into treason; (Th)ink examines an incident at a recent Trump rally; Apoca Clips quizzes Li'l Trumpy on Antifa and right-wing terror groups; and Red Meat wants to borrow some fertilizer.

Published in Comics

President Donald Trump published controversial new rules earlier this week making it harder for legal immigrants to get green cards if they use—or are likely to use—Medicaid, food stamps and other social safety net programs.

California has reacted with anticipated outrage.

“This is a reckless policy that targets the health and well-being of immigrant families and communities of color,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a press release.

Added Attorney General Xavier Becerra: “We will not stand idly by while this administration targets programs that children and families across our state rely upon. We are ready to take legal action to protect the rights of all Californians.”

The expansion of the so-called “public charge” rule was long-anticipated—as was the response in California, home to a disproportionate number of the nation’s immigrants and headquarters of the anti-Trump resistance.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, has said the proposed new rules are intended to deny green cards to immigrants seeking U.S. benefits and to “promote the self-sufficiency of aliens within the United States.”

Here are six things to know about the latest immigration battle between the Trump administration and California.


What Would This Rule Actually Do?

Under the new regulation, legal immigrants into the United States could be denied permanent residency if immigration authorities deem them “likely at any time to” enroll in any number of public benefits for more than a year. The list of benefits includes food stamps, federal housing assistance and health insurance through Medicaid.

It’s an idea that the Trump administration has been kicking around since the very beginning of his presidency. Following multiple leaks to the press of versions of the rule, the Department of Homeland Security finally published a proposed draft last October. Earlier this week, the administration published the finalized rule, which will go into effect 60 days from Wednesday.

The new rule would also discourage immigration officers from granting visas to those making less than 250 percent of the federal poverty line, those receiving healthcare subsidies through the Affordable Care Act, and any applicant “likely to require extensive medical treatment or institutionalization.” The regulation also includes certain exceptions for immigrants serving the military, children, pregnant women and some students.

It’s one in a series of Trump administration initiatives that would curtail government benefits for low-income people and immigrants, including a proposal posted in late July that would cut food stamps to 3.1 million Americans.


Why the Concern?

Since 1882, the federal government has given immigration authorities broad authority to keep people out of the country if they’re deemed likely to become “public charges” of the state. Though the term “public charge” is never actually defined, since 1999, immigration officials have applied it only to people likely to be “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence” through cash welfare programs or publicly funded institutional care.

The new rule dramatically expands that definition to include “people who may have the occasion to one time use that type of benefit,” said Deep Gulasekaram, a professor of immigration and constitutional law at Santa Clara University.

“That is unprecedented,” he said. “And that is what truly makes this really a scary proposition for a lot of people.”

The new visa standards would—for now—only be used to approve or deny applications. But the Trump administration is also reportedly considering whether participation in these programs by otherwise legal immigrants could also be used as grounds for deportation.


Who in California Would Be Directly Affected?

Across the country, roughly 382,000 people applying for green cards would be reviewed to determine whether they are—or are likely to become—public charges under the new definition, according to the government. Given that nearly one in five people who received a green card between 2015 and 2017 lived in California, according to federal data, the rule will likely have an outsized impact on California green card applicants.

Advocates expect the impact to reach even further. Many mixed-status families are expected to unenroll from public benefits due to a fear that the public charge rule would impact their or family members’ chances of adjusting their status in the future.

According to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, as many as 765,000 people across the state may lose access to Medi-Cal and food stamps due to fear alone.

The UCLA researchers project that the rule could have a particularly strong collateral impact on low-income children in California, where one in two children are part of an immigrant family. Nearly seven in 10 Californians predicted to lose benefits would be children, according to the study.

The federal government offered up a much smaller estimate of the impact, predicting that fewer than 400,000 individuals across the country would forego applying or disenroll.


Has Talk of the New Rule Had a Chilling Effect Already?

Yes. As different versions of the rule have been leaked and then proposed over the past two years, California service providers and advocates have reported immigrant families opting out of public benefits in large numbers.

Elizabeth Ambriz, a CalFresh outreach worker for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, says this is the main reason that people have given for not applying for food stamps in the past eight months she’s been on the job.

“There are a lot of people who are working on becoming permanent residents, and their lawyers tell them, ‘Do not get CalFresh, because that will make you not be eligible to get your green card,’” Ambriz said in early August while tabling for CalFresh at a local health clinic.

Coupled with a decreasing unemployment rate, the looming new rule has been viewed by anti-poverty workers as a primary driver of a substantial decrease in enrollment in public benefits over the past two years.

One sign that immigrant families are already spooked in California is the drop in the number of households in which only children are eligible and enrolled in food stamps, usually because the parents are undocumented. These households declined by more than 40,000 in the state—including more than 85,000 children—between January 2018 and January 2019, according to an LAist analysis.

Meanwhile, a national poll by the Urban Institute of nearly 2,000 adults in immigrant families found that one in seven reported that someone in their family had declined a public benefit in 2018 because they didn’t want to risk a future green card. The effect was stronger among low-income families, Hispanic families and families with children.


Will California Be Suing?

Will the president will be tweeting? When the Trump administration announced a preliminary version of the rule late last year, Becerra fired off a 51-page letter, in which he called the rule “not supported by evidence, logic, or Congressional action,” “an arbitrary and capricious attack with no legal justification” and, in short, “unlawful.”

As a preview of the state’s legal argument, the letter suggests Becerra may once again argue that the Trump administration failed to follow the rules that govern how new regulations must be introduced. 

For anyone who has watched California take on the Trump administration again and again, it’s a familiar argument. The state has struck down or successfully delayed a number of new regulations by persuading a judge that the administration didn’t explain why a new rule was necessary, didn’t provide enough compelling evidence to support the justification, or simply didn’t give the public enough time to weigh in on the change—all in violation of the federal Administrative Procedure Act.

But that argument may be harder to make in this case, said Gulasekaram. 

“As a formal matter of changing the administrative rules, they complied with what is required,” he said, adding that courts give “a lot of deference” to agencies when deciding how to interpret a vaguely written law, particularly in immigration law.

Given the California Justice Department’s propensity for taking the Trump administration to court, state prosecutors could be typing up a complaint as you read this. Asked about a possible lawsuit, the press office for the Office of the Attorney General provided a short written response: “Stay tuned!”


Why Does This Remind Me of California in the 1990s?

According to reporting from Politico, Stephen Miller, one of President Trump’s most loyal and truculent policy advisers, has been the driving, hectoring force within the White House for this regulatory shift.

The Santa Monica-born 33-year-old was only 9 in 1994, when a majority of Californians passed Proposition 187, denying most public services to undocumented immigrants. The proposed constitutional amendment was later thrown out by the California Supreme Court. But Miller seems to be channeling the spirit of Prop 187 anyway, said Mike Madrid, a GOP consultant and frequent critic of his own party and President Trump.

Alongside more aggressive immigration crackdowns, the administration’s family separation policy and ceaselessly hostile immigration rhetoric, Madrid sees this latest regulation as yet another bid to “stoke the fire” and keep the party’s base energized for 2020.

“Will it work? It might for another two years,” said Madrid. “But if history is a guide, those two-year gains will lead to a generation of evisceration (for the Republican Party) at the national level.”

Despite winning the overwhelming support of California’s electorate, many experts say that Prop 187 turned an entire generation of Latino voters away from the California Republican Party. Many political commentators have drawn parallels to that moment in California history and the current political climate nationally. 

“The textbook has been written,” said Madrid. “The history is not old. It’s in the last decade or so.”

Today, proposals to extend legal protections and social services to immigrants who have entered the country illegally enjoy broad support in California, and any policy that could be characterized as an attack on legal immigrants isn’t likely to be well-received.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Local Issues

The week after Donald Trump launched his racist attack on U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, which came on the heels of his racist attacks on four nonwhite Democratic members of Congress, my hometown paper gave its resident MAGA apologist, J. Peder Zane, ink to argue that the president and his Republican Party are not, in fact, racist, but rather the victims of a “false narrative” painted by Democrats, who are the real racists.

While Trump may have been “insensitive” in calling a mostly black congressional district with a median income above the national average “a disgusting rat- and rodent-infested mess,” Zane tells us, a “fair-minded person, while hoping that the president would be more precise, should see that he is not a racist.”

Four days later, a Trump-loving white-nationalist murdered 22 people in an El Paso Walmart after posting a manifesto explaining—in language that uncannily mirrored Trump’s immigration rhetoric—he was fighting an ”invasion.”

Funny how the racists think Trump is one of them.

Lots of papers have hacks like Zane, men (always men) who crib their sophomoric understanding of U.S. history from low-rent hucksters like Dinesh D’Souza and regurgitate the outrage du jour from the Fox News/talk-radio set. These columns tend to land somewhere between intellectually vapid and irresponsibly dishonest; papers publish them as a fig leaf to the MAGA crowd, an effort to assure them that they’re not part of the Liberal Media.

Like most, Zane is rarely worth rebutting. Here, however, he’s recycling an argument common among Trump acolytes, which in light of El Paso warrants scrutiny. His point is this: Republicans should ignore Democrats/liberals/the media when they say Trump is racist, because Democrats/liberals/the media always say Republicans are racist.

As Zane puts it: “Before Trump, Democrats leveled the same despicable smear against Mitt Romney—Vice President Joe Biden warned African-Americans that Romney ‘would put y’all back in chains!’” (Not to be pedantic, but Biden said Romney’s policies would allow big banks to do so.) Before that, Zane continues, they called John McCain racist, and George W. Bush racist, “and so it goes with most every Republican back to Richard Nixon.”

Quick history: Whatever Nixon’s personal feelings were (he really didn’t like Jews, FYI), beginning with his 1968 campaign, racial appeals became central to GOP politics. See, for instance, Republican operative Lee Atwater’s infamous quote: “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968, you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.’”

Ronald Reagan denounced mythical welfare queens. George H.W. Bush ran the Willie Horton ad. George W. Bush’s campaign smeared John McCain with rumors about his adopted black child. McCain elevated Sarah Palin to the national stage, where she accused the first black major-party presidential nominee of “pallin’ around with terrorists.” Romney kissed Donald Trump’s ring while Trump was pushing the racist birther effort. Trump launched his presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and pledging to ban Muslims.

What Zane doesn’t consider is that GOP leaders have been accused of racism because they’ve employed racism to win votes. Trump has been accused of racism more frequently because he says and does overtly racist things more frequently.

Indeed, Trump’s entire political career has been built on racial demagoguery—and studies suggest that he owes his victory in 2016 in part to his voters’ racial attitudes. But for his supporters to admit that would mean admitting an uncomfortable truth about themselves. So instead, they define the R-word so narrowly as to render it meaningless.

Truth be told, however, I’m less interested in what the J. Peder Zanes of the world tell themselves about Donald Trump’s racism than in the effects their denial has on the rest of us. It’s no surprise, for instance, that Republicans don’t want to talk about guns after El Paso. More unnerving has been their widespread reluctance to acknowledge the crisis of the increasingly violent white-supremacist movement in the Trump era.

As a former FBI supervisor who oversaw terrorism cases told The Washington Post: “I think in many ways, the FBI is hamstrung in trying to investigate the white-supremacist movement like the old FBI would. There’s some reluctance among agents to bring forth an investigation that targets what the president perceives as his base.”

If we can’t even address white terrorism with offending Trump’s supporters, how can we possibly begin to address complex, systemic issues of racial and social justice: wealth gaps, education gaps, opportunity gaps, affordability crises, etc.?

The thing about Trump is that he says the quiet parts loud—often through a megaphone. He’s fundamentally incapable of hiding who he is. And that makes the choice ahead of us crystal clear: Between now and Election Day, we as a country will have to confront a lot of uncomfortable truths about who we are—and who we’re going to be.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

On this week's depressing "been there, done that" weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips helps Li'l Trumpy with a tweet; Red Meat asks God for advice; This Modern World looks at the conservative view on our health-care system; Jen Sorensen examines a shooter's manifesto; and The K Chronicles asks white people to step up their figurative game.

Published in Comics

Editor’s Note: Informed Dissent is a column, by alternative newsmedia veteran Jeffrey C. Billman, that explores the age of Trump, mixing political and historical insights with biting, unapologetic commentary. It will appear a couple of times per month at CVIndependent.com.

By my count, Robert Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees last Wednesday, July 24, produced six significant headlines.

He confirmed that he had not exonerated President Trump. He said that Trump asked his staff to falsify records. He suggested there were “currently” FBI investigations into whether people in Trump’s orbit were compromised. He agreed that Trump’s written answers to his questions were not “always truthful.” He admitted (more or less) that Trump had met the three elements of obstruction of justice. And, though he tried to walk it back, he let it slip that, had Department of Justice policy not prohibited him from doing so, he would have indicted Donald Trump.

But this being Washington, D.C., those six headlines were muddled in the kind of second-rate political theater only Congress can deliver: backbenchers desperate for a moment in the spotlight; Democrats eager for the kill; Republicans slobbering for the president’s affection; and, most significantly, a halting, underwhelming and reluctant star witness.

The Beltway media mainly judged it on those terms—the spectacle. For a prime example of the genre, see NBC’s Chuck Todd, who offered this trenchant analysis on Twitter: “On substance, Democrats got what they wanted: that Mueller didn’t charge Pres. Trump because of the (DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel) guidance, that he could be indicted after he leaves office, among other things. But on optics, this was a disaster.”

It says a lot about this moment—about the failures of the media, about the perils of polarization, about the frailty of our democratic norms—that a special counsel could tell Congress under oath that the president had committed crimes, but, because of the 74-year-old’s lack of verve, this is considered a win for the president. But it also speaks to how thoroughly Democrats have botched this whole affair.

This spectacle, after all, was unnecessary. Mueller had already said what he needed to say. He’d laid out a report—448 pages—that all but begged Congress to do what he could not: Hold Donald Trump accountable.

After the Mueller report became public, House Democrats should have started impeachment hearings, even though there was no chance the Senate would convict Trump, and even though such a course could prove politically treacherous. It was their constitutional obligation.

They’ve obviously not done so. Speaker Nancy Pelosi—though she talks of “crimes that were committed against our Constitution” and Trump’s “existential threat to our democracy”—wants to go slow, waiting until they have the “strongest possible hand.” She’s deemed impeachment too risky, especially for her caucus’ freshmen, many of whom come from moderate suburban districts. She’s also worried that voters don’t understand how impeachment works, and that the base will ultimately be disappointed when the Senate shrugs aside the House’s indictment, and Trump declares vindication.

These aren’t unreasonable arguments. But they miss the point.

It’s the same point missed by those who caution against focusing on Trump’s racism. Talking about his attacks on U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, or his border concentration camps, or his embrace of white nationalists, they say, could detract from “kitchen table” issues that matter to voters—health care, the environment, education, jobs.

To the degree it matters, Democrats should, of course, offer an agenda. But the dirty secret of American elections is that big policy proposals don’t matter all that much. In our polarized electorate, people are more motivated to vote against the other side than for their own. The 2018 blue wave, for instance, didn’t happen because suburbanites fell in love with Democrats’ plans; rather, they were fed up with Trump’s antics, pissed off that the GOP tried to gut the Affordable Care Act, and desiring some adult supervision in Washington.

Another thing: If you’re closely attuned to policy decisions, you probably see an administration that stumbles between dangerously inept and actively malevolent on most issues. If you’re not, however—and most people aren’t—you see an economy doing pretty well. And for any other president, absent a recession in the next year, that would probably be enough to win re-election.

But Donald Trump isn’t any other president. He’s not a normal president. And treating him like one could prove self-defeating.

Consider this: On the one hand, Democrats are telling Americans that Trump is, in Pelosi’s words, an “existential threat to our democracy”—a corrupt, racist liar who has obstructed justice, violated campaign finance laws and welcomed foreign interference into elections. He’s defying congressional subpoenas. And he might be a sexual predator.

On the other hand, they’re not going to do anything about it—at least not yet. Eventually, perhaps.

How does that not signal that this is all a game? This is the worst kind of mixed messaging, the kind that muddies any sense of moral clarity. And it’s the kind that could give Trump a second term.

Of course, Donald Trump shouldn’t be impeached because it’s good politics. Donald Trump should be impeached because he is uniquely unfit to be president; because he’s a criminal; because impeaching him is the right thing to do.

If Trump truly poses a threat to our democracy, should we be talking about anything else?

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

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