When Charles Dickens divorced his wife, her sister sided with him and even lived with him for several years to help him raise the children. The ex-Mrs. Dickens took this remarkably calmly, but when she died she left her sister one piece of jewelry: a ring shaped like a snake. I have long regarded this as the finest example of throwing shade from beyond the grave I have ever encountered.
Weird that yesterday felt very busy and full of news and yet this morning’s articles weren’t particularly interesting. Maybe everyone is, like me, processing last night’s The Americans.
- In the New Republic, Maya Wiley writes about how district attorneys can change criminal justice:
These are different campaigns, in different communities, but one thing they all have in common is a focus on how “prosecutorial discretion” can be used as a tool for reform.
It’s a relatively new idea. For decades, reformers focused on changing America’s criminal justice system through its legislatures, a process that is vital but necessarily slow. Entrenched, powerful constituencies, like police unions and DA associations, can often slow legislation or stop it altogether. The California legislature, for example, took almost two decades to amend the notorious 1994 “three strikes” law, which required a 25-years-to-life sentence for a third felony conviction. This was despite the fact that just two years after its enactment, black people were receiving three strikes at 13 times the rate of whites. Today, with more than two million people languishing in America’s prisons and jails, at a cost to taxpayers of $87 billion per year, waiting for a legislature to act is not acceptable. Families with members suffering abuse in jail, job loss, and separation simply can’t afford to wait.
The quintessential example of this, of course, is the high-profile Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, but according to Wiley, other cities — such as Albuquerque, Denver, Houston, Jacksonville, and Tampa — have also elected reforming prosecutors. It does make me wonder why it’s so hard to convince politicians to change the laws, since apparently these kinds of prosecutors are becoming more popular.
- In the Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last surprises me by offering up a solution for the kneeling-NFL-player conundrum that I can actually get behind, if for slightly different reasons than he suggests. Yesterday the NFL owners announced that players could remain in the locker room during the anthem, but would be fined if they knelt during it. Here’s Last’s alternative:
[T]he League understands the underlying point of your protests and we agree with you. The statistics on police use of deadly force are sobering. The statistics on police shootings of African-American men are sobering, too. And the specific cases of misconduct that America has seen over the last few years are simply awful. No matter which side of the culture war you’re on, a case like the murder of Walter Scott and the attempt of police to cover it up, ought to fill you with rage.
So instead of making a gesture by kneeling during the national anthem, we want to try to address the problem in a concrete way. The League is going to start funneling some of its charitable giving to local police departments to fund body cameras.
I . . . kind of agree with this? (This is very confusing for me.) My issue with the kneeling is not that I think it’s unpatriotic or an insult to the troops or any nonsense like that; the best way to honor the troops, in my opinion, is to take full advantage of the Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms they fought for. It makes no sense to me to elevate a symbol (the flag) over the substance (the Constitution). But why are liberal protestors ceding patriotism to the right anyway? If there’s anything that the last eighteen months has cemented in my mind, it’s that protestors are the real patriots. So protesting in a way that allows the Right to feel morally superior is not my favorite. But I do like the idea of the NFL owners ponying up some of their own cash to try to actually solve the problem, and of them stating on the record that police brutality is a real problem that deserves a solution.
My guess is that Last’s compromise wouldn’t work largely because a lot of the owners don’t think that police brutality is a real problem. They can’t even be convinced to take it seriously when their players are arrested for domestic violence!
- At Lawfare, Tamara Cofman Wittes writes about her experience observing the Lebanese elections. Her conclusion:
New movements in any democracy take time to see electoral gains—the more so in a system as clientelistic and fractured as Lebanon’s. While the United States has for years hoped to see alternative Shia movements to Hezbollah and Amal emerge in Lebanon, such efforts remain marginal and face relentless intimidation and harassment from Hezbollah. Still and all, the emergence of trans-confessional, independent politicians and the continued pressure for improved governance mean that there is hope for change in Lebanon. The United States currently provides $80 million in economic aid and $120 million in military aid to the country, with funds focused on the army, education, and governance. Developments over the nine years since the last parliamentary elections strongly suggest that change in Lebanese politics won’t come from above but rather from the grassroots. The lesson for American policy makers is to stay in the game.
- And Rosie Gray profiles Stormy Daniels’s colorful attorney, Michael Avenatti, for the Atlantic:
As far as media coverage, the Daniels story has started to resemble nothing so much as major spectacles like the Simpson trial did. It’s an all-encompassing vortex that has pulled all kinds of issues into its wake and become about much more than Trump’s alleged affair: Cohen’s selling of access to the president, his potential role in Russian efforts to help Trump, and what his role in Trump’s world says about how the whole thing works. None of these angles have gotten by without a boost from the smooth-headed Avenatti, who broke the news of the payment from a Russian oligarch to Cohen. “I’m the lawyer for Stormy Daniels in the first instance and I’m the lawyer for the truth in the second instance,” he said on MSNBC last week.
It’s kind of confusing to me how much people on the left seem to like Avenatti. I suppose it’s because (unlike Robert Mueller) he seems to be spilling information all over the place. But he’s just a lawyer: I believe that he wants to represent Stormy Daniels to the best of his ability but I’m much more skeptical that he’s a disinterested warrior in the battle for the Truth.
Yesterday was primary day! At least in Texas, Georgia, Kentucky, and my home state, Arkansas. I am relieved to report that the woman who made her gun range into a “Muslim Free Zone” did not win Arkansas’s Republican gubernatorial primary, nor even come close. You can find coverage of the most important and interesting races at Vox and FiveThirtyEight.
Also this morning:
- My favorite result of the night: Stacey Abrams won the Democratic gubernatorial primary in Georgia and could become the first Black woman to govern one of the United States. I love her, and I think she has a real shot in November, especially since the Republican primary is going to a runoff, which means that the two top Republican contenders will be fighting with each other instead of Abrams for the next two months. The Nation has complete coverage of the Abrams win from Joan Walsh and Steve Phillips. Here is what Phillips says about Abrams’s strategy:
Especially in light of the resistance to Trump, Democratic voter turnout is up in previously conservative-voting Congressional districts, and those re-energized progressive whites can help pick up crucial seats in Georgia, as well as help capture the governor’s mansion.
Smart investors look at trends, where things are going, not where they were. The plain truth of the matter is that every single day, America—and Georgia—get browner by the hour. Nationally, every single day, 7,000 more people of color are added to the population while the net growth of whites is just 1,000 people (that’s births minus deaths plus legal immigration (which shows why Trump is obsessed with immigration).
It will cost about $10 million to mobilize the 230,000 previously-uninspired voters of color required to close the gap in Georgia. The question and the challenge for the progressive movement is will they put their money where their mouth is?
I don’t think this strategy will work in every single state (I thought it would have been idiotic to try to primary Joe Manchin in West Virginia, for example). But I think Georgia might be a place where it will work, and I’m excited to see how this race goes in November.
- The other big news of the morning (other than the president tweeting nonsense again) is that the death of a major American novelist, Philip Roth. I never could quite warm up to Roth, partly because I couldn’t relate to a sensibility that seemed extremely and specifically male to me (I feel the same way about Saul Bellow, although I did like John Updike for some reason). I also never quite forgave Roth for a passage in his memoir, Patrimony, in which he describes his father having a vulnerable moment and asking Roth not to reveal it to anyone — and then Roth put it in a book. Still, Roth’s work meant a lot of many people and Jeet Heer’s appreciation in the New Republic is well worth reading:
What liberated Roth was popular culture. As a boy he had been an avid radio listener and as an adult he got to see the birth of modern stand-up comedy in Chicago, where Nichols and May, along with Lenny Bruce, were inventing a new form of stage humor based on the interplay of voices (cerebral, sex-obsessed, and often inflected with the language of therapy). It was Roth’s genius to realize that the language of stand-up comedy could reinvigorate literary fiction.
The 1960s were also the great age of pop art, with Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein bringing the stylistic tics of advertising and comic books to canvases. Roth did something similar to literature: He wrote pop novels, where voice (often wise-cracking, satirical, and self-critical) was central, Flaubertian coolness be damned.
- Dahlia Lithwick has a long piece in Slate about the moral dilemma some Republicans are finding themselves in: do they give up their positions in government in hopes of retaining personal dignity, or do they stick around in hopes of possibly mitigating the damage the president is doing to the country?
Moral courage in this setting is almost impossible to define. It’s, in one way, completely understandable and actually quite a relief that so many good people have stayed on at the highest levels of the Justice Department, the State Department, and other agencies, despite the fact that the commander in chief has no compunction about insulting them, their mission, and their leadership almost daily. We need good people to stay on to act as a bulwark against cruelty and instability. But we also need good people to leave, and to speak out, to signal that cruelty and immorality are wrong.
The question remains the same. At what point are Trump’s attacks on his own law enforcement and national security apparatus potentially damaging enough to warrant some kind of response from patriots in both parties? And are the momentary tweets and the occasional rousing speeches and the retirements and subsequent book tours truly the kind of moral and effective responses that are warranted in times that feel imperiled as they now do?
Lithwick doesn’t really come to any conclusion about the answers to her questions, other than yeah, some people need to leave but other people need to stay, and every serious Republican should be considering their options. If I were one of these conflicted GOPers, I don’t think this article would clarify anything for me! But it’s interesting and thoughtful nonetheless.
- And in Foreign Policy, Terence McNamee uses a novel lens to look at the North Korea problem (at least it’s not something I’d read about or considered before): maybe it’s really like South Africa:
North Korea’s failed promises to dismantle its arsenal in the past and its recent signaling — willing and pragmatic one day, intransigent the next — are obvious reasons to be wary. Yet we can’t assume Kim thinks North Korea can remain a pariah forever any more than de Klerk believed South Africa could. Nuclear weapons may be the only currency North Korea can leverage to rejoin the family of nations. South Africa’s experience offers a glimpse of what a verifiable drawdown of North Korea’s program might deliver internationally.
If we dare imagine that Kim Jong Un — the third-generation Kim to rule North Korea — is a closet reformer like de Klerk, he might also have an eye on what could be achieved domestically. De Klerk used nuclear rollback as a wedge to steamroll opponents of political reform, particularly in South Africa’s security establishment.
No one outside North Korea really knows whether a fundamental shift in the country’s nuclear posture would go smoothly or not. A congruence of interests across the constituencies affected — including the military, scientists, senior officials, and Kim himself — cannot be taken for granted. Indeed, the resistance de Klerk faced from recalcitrant generals could be feeble by comparison. Conversely, Kim could be the most hawkish of the bunch, unable to conceive of any foreign-policy alternative to nuclear brinkmanship.
Unfortunately, McNamee doesn’t offer any ideas about how we get Kim Jong Un to have the same epiphany that de Klerk seemed to have (I mean, sure, I guess he could be a secret human rights devotee who just happens to have tens of thousands of his own people in brutal prison camps), and now that the words “Libya model” have been uttered it’s hard to imagine how it could happen. An intriguing idea nonetheless.
Tomorrow is the royal wedding! I’m going to be totally honest here, I am 100% getting up at the crack of dawn so I can watch the guests arrive. I have no particular interest in Prince Harry or Meghan Markle but I do love a good fascinator.
Anyway, to this morning’s reading:
- Of course there are tons of articles this morning about the wedding and What It Means. For example, Helen Castor (who wrote a great book about English queens before Elizabeth I, She-Wolves) argues in the New York Times that Markle is simply following in the bland, toothless footsteps of such royal brides as Blanche of Lancaster (who married John of Gaunt in 1359, and later became the mother of Henry IV), destined to symbolize power but never wield it:
We’ve since made our peace with increasingly disempowered crowns resting on female heads: between them, Queens Victoria and Elizabeth II have sat on the British throne for 130 of the last 200 years. But, despite the embattled presence of Prime Minister Theresa May, a quick head count in the Houses of Parliament or the boardrooms of major corporations shows the problems we still have with the reality of women with actual power.
Our newest royal bride, meanwhile, has already shut down her blog and deleted her Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. From now on, even as her image becomes increasingly ubiquitous, her voice will be heard less and less. Like Blanche of Lancaster before her, Meghan Markle appears to know exactly what she’s letting herself in for, and all the indications are that she will do her job in the royal “Firm” with style and grace. We can wish her well and at the same time question the job description: the recent prominence of royal women might make for splendid pageantry, but when it comes to the story of gender and power, it’s the antithesis of real change.
There are many other pieces about the wedding this morning, of course, one or two per outlet, and they’re all (to my mind) overthinking it. Sometimes a tiara is just a tiara.
- In the Washington Post, David Ignatius frets about the relationship between the United States and Europe, given that the U.S. has elevated a dangerous, unstable autocrat to its highest government position.
Trump is so unpopular in Europe that defying him carries little political risk. On issues such as trade, climate change, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and global economic policy, the traditional centrist policy consensus has mostly held in Europe.
The transatlantic divide on culture and values, once the bedrock of the alliance, is striking. Trump, with his braggadocio and vulgarity, seems almost a caricature of a rough, violent United States that many Europeans dislike. A poll last year by the Pew Research Center found that only 11 percent of Germans, for example, trusted Trump to do the right thing, compared with 86 percent for his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Americans have taken European support for granted for so long that few analysts have examined what a real breach in the transatlantic alliance would look like. Maybe it’s time to consider the “what ifs.”
Similarly, in the New York Times, Roger Cohen traces the cracks in the alliance to a “moral rot” at the center of the presidency:
The deepest form of rot is the erosion of the distinction between truth and falsehood. Totalitarianism was one big lie perpetrated on human beings reduced to the often hopeless quest for survival in a fog.
A universe where morality ceases is the one Trump is most comfortable in. “Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?” Trump’s answer, on April 5: “No, no.” Except, as the president clarified in a recent financial disclosure, he did know.
This is Trump’s Ministry of Truth, the new American normal. It’s impossible to overstate the enormity of it. That’s why the Alliance is collapsing and Germany finds no basis for cooperation: Trump’s America stands for nothing. As Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state, told recent graduates in a speech, going wobbly on the truth means “we go wobbly on America.”
- More about Trump. (Sometimes it’s hard to remember that for several years I went for hours, days even, without thinking about what the president was doing.) David Graham has a really interesting piece in the Atlantic about how Trump’s experience in real estate negotiations is affecting the way he conducts foreign policy:
Were Kim Jong Un and Trump sitting down to try to hammer out a real-estate deal, the ramifications of a failure would likely be few. Trump could simply seek new opportunities elsewhere. That doesn’t work in diplomacy, though. It’s not as if the U.S. can simply move on to another rogue state and try to negotiate with them, since the North Korea problem would remain unsolved. A different mutation of the same dynamic has transpired with Iran. Trump has pulled out of the nuclear agreement with Tehran, but he continues to speak hopefully about striking a new and better deal, overlooking the damaging effects of a breach of trust on the first deal. One reason Kerry was so eager to strike an accord was his fear that failure would mean Iranian proliferation.
- And still more about Trump. In the New Republic, Sarah Jones takes down the Salena Zito/Brad Todd account of Trump’s 2016 campaign, The Great Revolt:
“In the short span of a generation, the face and focus of the Democratic Party nationally has shifted from a glorification of the working-class ethos to multiculturalist militancy pushed by the Far Left of the party,” they argue.
Considered against the Obama presidency in particular, the racial dimensions of their argument become clear: The Democratic Party got too black and brown, and abandoned white voters. It’s a familiar Trumpian dog whistle. As the party of minority rights, the Democrats have to accept they will lose some white voters. But they don’t need to lose these voters because they’ve fostered the perception that the party has gotten too rich—that it has become complicit in systemic inequalities. Still, the GOP has aligned itself completely with monied interests, and Trump embodies those interests.
So why vote for Trump over any Democrat? It comes back to resentment. When voters feel precarious, they become susceptible to demagoguery. So Trump invents the bad hombre, just as the GOP once invented the welfare queen. It’s a con job, and it works partly because the middle class does have cause for resentment. Something does block its upward trajectory. But poor immigrants aren’t blocking anyone’s path; that credit belongs to the wealthy, like Donald Trump and his cabinet.