What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. We’re back to masks full time in the office. Yes, it’s annoying, but not debilitatingly so. The hardest part, as ever, is to remember to take the damned thing off before I try to drink my coffee. Anything that gets in the way of my hot bean water pretty rapidly climbs the list. Still, in the back of my mind I can’t help but think we’re stuck in these masks to “protect other people.” People who have had every chance in the world over the last six months to protect themselves but who have opted not to. At some point, I have to believe we’ve got to collectively just accept that people have made their own dumbass decisions and they’re going to have to accept whatever natural consequences follow.

2. Marjorie Taylor Greene. I’m utterly and completely embarrassed to be a member of the same political party that sees Marjorie Taylor Greene as a rising star. She’s the poster girl for everything that’s wrong with contemporary conservatism while lacking the dignity and seriousness of purpose embodied in her Republican forbearers. Twitter shouldn’t need to mute her. We Republicans should already be shouting her down.

3. Hella Mega. I’ve had tickets for the Hella Mega tour stop in Hershey since the day they went on sale two years ago. It was the perfect chance to see two bands I’d have given my eye teeth to see twenty years ago. Sitting here a day before the show, looking at a projected heat index of 105 with bonus evening rain and thunderstorms it feels decidedly less enticing. It’s safe to say that my days of wanting to do concerts in anything other than relative comfort seem to be well past. Throw in a healthy dose of my standard aggravation at being surrounded by people and top it with a healthy dollop of the Great Plague and my go/no go decision is a lot less clear than it was two years ago. All indications point towards making a snap call sometime tomorrow. 

Why I’m not leaving the Republican Party…

Arizona censured three fairly middle of the road Republicans for not supporting Trump’s attempted sedition. The Oregon Republican Party declared the siege of the Capitol a “false flag” operation. Hawaii’s state GOP sent out tweets in praise of QAnon.

It’s hard to imagine Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, or even Dick Nixon signing off on that level of absolute fuckery… and if you’re too tied up in conspiracies and chasing down enemies for Nixon, you really need to ask yourself how far from the flock you really have strayed.

The easiest thing in the world to do would be pack my bags and decamp from the Republican Party. What happens after that is a bit problematic. I certainly can’t register as a member of the Democratic Party. The number of issues I fundamentally disagree with them on is just too long. The Libertarians are OK, I guess, though they don’t seem likely to ever get enough of their members to agree on any one thing to be effective players. Going independent has a charm of its own, though it basically locks you out of the primary process in Maryland.

It’s that last one that, for the moment, is keeping me in the Republican Party. To have any voice at all in how the party shapes itself in the future, you’ve got to be there for the primaries – for the elections no one really cares much about – for the county commission races and the state delegates. Being a vote cast in opposition to batshit crazy and for elemental conservative values is the only way to exert any influence at all in who ends up being tapped for the main events in 2022 and 2024.

For the time being, it feels like a better use of whatever limited talents I have to be inside the party shouting dissent rather than on the outside throwing rocks.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. But the rioters! Look, no one called out the rioters more than I did over the summer. Rioting is bad. Burning cities is bad. I don’t have any sympathy or offer any support for anyone who engaged in those activities. Bad as those things are, though, attempting to subvert the lawful transfer of executive power by engaging in a seditious attempt to overthrow the Congress is worse. Far worse. I have no idea how that’s so very hard for some people to understand. Believe me when I tell you it’s entirely possible to loath the actions of both rioters and seditionists without excusing one or the other in any way.

2. They were mean first! My Facebook timeline is filled with posts saying something like “Well, Democrats said mean stuff about Trump so I’m saying mean stuff about Biden.” Ok. That’s a fine argument if you’re either five years old or know nothing about American political history.  Republicans definitely didn’t talk shit about Obama. And Democrats absolutely didn’t talk shit about George W. Bush before him. Way the hell back in 1800, partisans in favor of Jefferson labeled Adams a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman,” while those who support Adams railed that Jefferson was “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” That’s what happens in the heat and battle of a campaign… but you’ve got to be an unbridled idiot to think that’s the way anyone can be expected to actually govern. 

 
3. Fight them on everything! My Republican friends seem to want to double down on their electoral loss. The reality is, the Democrats now hold the presidency have the majority in both houses of Congress. That just the mathematical fact of it. We Republicans can either work with them in an effort to moderate some of their more extreme notions, or we can stand on the sidelines and stomp our feet for at least the next two years. If you’re not a wild eyed partisan who can’t imagine a world in which you don’t always get your own way, this is the time for working out the best deals we can to protect Republican priorities. Failing to play ball isn’t a show of strength. It’s a concession that we’re afraid our ideas can’t compete – and one that will allow the Democratic majority to run the table without so much as consultation with the opposition party. But hey, if you want to spend the next two years watching a Democratic Congress jamming through everything they want, with precisely the language they want, on a strict party line vote, feel free to keep being obstinate for no good reason.

Capital and lower-case…

Internet pundits have been quick to point out that what we saw yesterday wasn’t a coup because it didn’t involve the military. Pedantry aside, what we witnessed was a violent insurrection carried out at the behest of the President of the United States in order to undermine Constitution, government, and the lawful, peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next. The fact that this president still occupies the Oval Office more than 24 hours since attempting to overthrow the government is a mark of moral cowardice on every Executive Branch official who has the power to do something about it and has failed to act decisively. At a minimum, each and every cabinet secretary should have, by now, called on the president to resign to his everlasting disgrace.

I have even less use for these right wing insurrectionists than I did for the lefties who burned and rioted their way through the summer. I hold them to a higher standard because when and where I come from, “conservative” implies rational, thoughtful decision-making of the head rather than zooming off in whatever direction the heart demands. Republicans very recently claimed to be the party that supported the police – the party of law and order. It’s hard to give credit for “backing the blue” when you’re in the streets and in the halls of Congress swinging on them.

I’m a Republican (capital “R”) and a republican (lower-case “r”). I believe in the virtue of small government and lower taxes, of free people and free markets. I am never going to get next to this strain of contemporary MAGA-ism that rejects science (because they don’t understand it) or rejects election results (because they don’t like who won). I’m never going to get next to the idea that we should be embarrassed by being in some way intellectual. I’m never going to get behind the idea of twisting the Constitution with wild contortionistic abandon, throwing over 232 years of precedent, to suit the aims of a single man. I’m never going to understand a group of people who want to buy whole cloth into whatever blatant lies and wild-ass conspiracy theory the internet spits out, because believing the patently unbelievable is more comforting than dealing with hard realities of the actual world.

More importantly, I will never stand with those who seek to subvert the Constitution by force or otherwise. These insurrectionists, with the President of the United States as their leader, and with the support of sitting senators and members of the House of Representatives, betrayed of not just our history and our laws, but also the spirit of America. Those who participated in, agitated for, support, condone, or in any way provide aid and comfort to them are treasonous bastards who deserve all the scorn and derision we can heap upon them and to should prosecuted to the fullest possible extent of the law.

Endangered species…

I’m almost universally indifferent to rules, regulations, and policies about people. Mostly I’ve grown up with and still believe that in the absence of special situations or circumstances, most grown adults should be able to tend to their own needs. It’s one of the defining characteristics of being a fully fledged adult across all the vast animal kingdom. Put another way, when bad things happen to people, you’ll rarely find me batting an eye.

There are easy ways to gin up my ire, though. This morning, the Department of the Interior managed it in spades when announcing rollbacks of key provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

Taking a hatchet to the regulations emplaned to protect our most threatened species and their habitat is one of those issues that will get my attention every time. It should get yours too. It should be hard to delist a species. It should be hard to encroach into protected areas. Determining what species and geography are protected and to what degree that protection extends should be an act of science, not an administrative policy decision carried out with little oversight and even less understanding of its consequences. As a professional bureaucrat, I can tell you from hard experience letting the scientists have a say is going to be better.

I want to say this one time, loud and clear, so there is absolutely no doubt about my position: If you are making decisions based on “left” policy dreams or “right” policy desires, you’re a bloody idiot. Make the decisions based on the best science we have available… and when, somewhere down the road, we have a better scientific understanding of the world, change again.

The cattle industry supports this deregulation effort. There are ways to protect critical habitat that won’t undermine the beef industry. The oil industry also supports reducing the effect of the Endangered Species Act. Here too there are ways to regulate that allows the United States to reap the benefit of it’s underground treasure without relegating species to museum pieces. I don’t oppose all regulation on spec, but I do oppose stupid, one size fits all regulation – just as much as a oppose stupid, once size fits none deregulation.

The best approaches are almost never an all or nothing proposition. Pretending that we can’t protect the environment and grow this economy makes you sound like a damned fool. Arguing that we can’t build another house for fear of killing every animal alive makes you sound like a hippy lunatic. There’s a middle way and we can find it.

My credentials as a meat eating, 4×4 driving, gun toting, flag waving Republican are beyond reproach. It’s why I have no compunction about splitting with the party on individual issues. My pro choice stance already makes me anathema in some fair number of Conservative circles, so standing apart on one more issue is hardly a deal breaker for me

I’ll fully endorse any legislative effort to “tighten” up the language of the Endangered Species Act to roll back these new policy changes and to make such changes harder to publish in the future… though I don’t hold out much hope of the current dysfunctional collection of representatives to get that job done any time soon.

Stupid hillbilly…

As a fiscal conservative with mostly libertarian social leanings, I’m regularly amused/annoyed by the classic liberal argument that runs along the lines of “conservatives are stupid hillbillies who have never picked up a book.” I can only assume when I hear that that what they really mean is “Mine is the only opinion that matters and if you disagree with me you are Satan/Hitler and I’m going to put my fingers in my ears so I’m not forced to listen to or attempt to comprehend dissenting opinions so I can go on trying to make myself look big by making others look small.”

Yes, I am a moderately conservative American raised in Appalachia. I suppose that, in and of itself, earns me the “stupid hillbilly” title in some eyes. You should know, thought, that I’ve also read Plato, Locke, and Rousseau. I’ve read the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. I’ve read Aurelius’ Meditations and St. Augustine’s Confessions. I’ve read Atlas Shrugged, too, and the Bible, and more biographies of great leaders of the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries than I want to list. My economics shelf covers everything from Smith’s Wealth of Nations to Marx’s Capital. History? Yeah, those shelves are groaning under the weight of volumes ranged from ancient Greece and Rome, the religious wars of Europe, to the space race that I’ve read and synthesized to help inform my view of the world. I won’t bother to deep dive the fiction that’s passed through my hands over the years. Suffice to say that Dickens, Twain, and a couple hundred others are on the list.

I say all that to say this: If you want to have a frank discussion on policy or the proper role of government, I’m usually all in. If you come at me with some version on “All Republicans are…”, well you should feel free to immediately go fuck yourself. I have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in the social media shitposting that would inevitably follow. It’s enough for me to know that by insisting in dealing in absolutes and arguments that rely on painting “all” of one group or another with a particular brush, you are far bigger part of the problem with the social discourse in this country than this stupid hillbilly could ever be.

AMA: On POTUS and Russia…

I’ve been staying away from the POTUS/Russia topic not so much because it feels unimportant as because it feels a lot like whole choruses of “yes he did” and “no he didn’t.” I don’t follow the daily news as closely as some people think – much beyond checking the traffic and weather while making my morning coffee. Beyond the sound bites, I haven’t taken much time to separate fact from fiction and am operating on the assumption that the truth lies somewhere between the extremes of a President who claims to never have talked to a Russian and a opposition party taking to the airwaves accusing the President of being the most effective deep cover agent in the world’s long history of espionage.

My best guess is what we have is a President who spent his entire adult life not studying global geopolitics, but operating in the morally and ethically gray space of construction and real estate development. By way of contrast Vladimir Putin *has* spent his life studying geopolitics. global finance, international intelligence gathering, and has built a historically unprecedented criminal enterprise disguised as a sovereign country. Given the discrepancy of experience, I can only speculate that it would have been relatively easy for a figure like Putin to find both the ways and means to exert influence, if not directly on the candidate then potentially on those around him. The Russian government would certainly have that capability.

The kicker here, of course, is that nothing that’s being reported in the media constitutes actual evidence of conspiracy, or collusion, or whatever crime of the day is being exhorted. The shrill dog whistles from both the liberal and conservative media make it particularly challenging to determine fact from fiction. Evidence isn’t what’s reported in the media. In it’s most legalistic definition evidence is facts and information laid before the court – or in limited cases laid by the House of Representatives before the Senate sitting in judgement.

For me, today, the simple fact is I’m just not following that closely because while a whole universe of things may be true, no one has demonstrated that truth outside of the media circus that has become what passes for political discourse in this country. Once we’re talking about actual evidence that’s not being presented through the filter of shouting pundits, I’ll probably give it a little more consideration. Until then, well, the Trump presidency hasn’t really been bad for me on the all important personal level – I’ve got more cash in my pocket due to the tax cut, my retirement accounts are plumping up nicely, my employer’s budget hasn’t been slashed, and a host of political issues that are a priority to me are effectively being left alone or marginally improved upon. For now, he’s the devil I know.

Note: This post was written by request as part of my ill fated July ask-me-anything. Thanks, Mike for making me think about something I probably should have been paying more attention to long before now. If anyone has a question or topic you’d like to see given the treatment, fire away and I’ll do my best.

The hundred days…

Dear America,

Donald Trump has been president now for (almost) 100 days. Civilization has not collapsed. We’ve not all been forced to start speaking Russian. There are still 50 states. And as far as I can tell, not one left-leaning celebrity has actually carried through with their promise to leave the country.

From my vantage point, the country isn’t all that much different than it was at 11:59AM on January 20th. The Democrats in Congress are fighting a long war of attrition hoping to gain ground during the mid-terms. The Republicans in Congress are at war with themselves. No major legislation has been passed and we’re racing towards another impending government shutdown at the end of the month. Abortion is still legal. Everyone can still get married. And states still don’t have to recognize the 2nd Amendment.

The 25% of the population who think’s President Trump can do no wrong are the same 25% of the population who thought President Obama could do no right. The 25% of Americans who think President Trump can do no right are the same ones who though President Obama could do no wrong. The 50% of us in the middle are still utterly perplexed by the extremists on both flanks.

Our politics is brutal and ugly, but the market keeps ticking along flirting with Dow 21,000. Home sales are brisk. Unemployment continues to trend down through the statistical area known as “full employment.”

FDR, with the help of a willing Congress, set a ridiculous standard for the first hundred days of a new presidency. In contrast, Lincoln saw seven states leave the Union before he was even sworn in to start a hundred day countdown. All I’m saying is that the first 2400 hours of an administration may not be the single best tool by which we measure where we are and how it’s going.

My suspicion is there have been far better and far worse times to be both alive and American simultaneously… but that it’s neither as bad nor as good as some of us think it is in the moment.

Best regards,

Jeff

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. You’re a racist. Can someone explain to me, perhaps using small and easy to understand words, why I’m a racist because I believe it’s a responsibility of the federal government to have functioning boarders for my country. My travels have carried me to England, France, Germany, Italy, and Mexico and I entered those countries using their established processes and in accordance with their laws. It doesn’t feel like much of a stretch to expect the same of people who want to come to the United States.

2. Oh my God the traffic! In the absence of anything even remotely newsworthy to cover, news outlets across America have spent a fair amount of time over the last 36 hours commenting on the high volume of Thanksgiving holiday traffic on the roads. The fact that large numbers of Americans take to the roads as part of their holiday tradition probably hasn’t been news since sometime immediately after World War II. Hyping it as “the worst traffic we’ve seen since… last Thanksgiving,” is just lame and not worth the time it took to script the story. Maybe we could use the free air time and column inches to report on something going on somewhere else in the world. I mean you do know that other places aren’t stuffing their faces with turkey and pie today, right?

3. Selective memory. My liberal friends are howling because of the conservatives President-elect Trump is appointing to fill his Cabinet and White House staff positions. In a grand fit of selective memory, they seem to have forgotten the howl that went up when President Obama selected his cabinet and counselors and surrounded himself with leading lights from the left. Sorry folks, that’s what happens when the party running the Executive Branch changes. It means the heroes of the opposition party have to go away for at least four years. Expecting a liberal president to appoint a deep bench of conservative advisors is stupid… and so is expecting a conservative president to surround himself with liberal lions.

A fractured coalition…

From my vantage point I’ve always thought the conservative coalition that makes up the Republican Party in America consisted of three mostly aligned legs – the religio-social, the economic, and the defense oriented elements of the Grand Old Party. For the last fifty-odd years their interests have more or less aligned and policy differences have been manageable. What I’m looking at now in the wake of a caucus and two primaries, though, seems to show a coalition that’s fragmenting further each day. I suspect the primary results we’re seeing are the first deep clefts in a political party that’s in the process of shredding itself.

There’s no constitutional ordination that requires there be but two political parties in America, though for most of our history there has been a two party system. It’s a system that has mostly given a helpful shorthand for people deciding between differing opinions on large blocks of issues. In Great Britain there are currently 13 parties represented in the House of Commons. In other parliamentary democracies that number can be much higher. If you think politics in a two-party system are challenging, you wouldn’t believe the circus that leading a real coalition government can bring along with it.

I’m not saying the two party American system is an artifact of an earlier age, just that other options exist and are practiced. I am saying, however, that there’s a very real chance that in our lifetimes we might expect to see the Republican Party fractured into a handful elephant.fail.JPGor more of its constituent parts. It’s not as if the evangelicals, budget hawks, libertarians, tea partiers, and defense hawks even have all that much in common any more. Most of us on this side of the aisle stand in one or more of those camps, but damned few of us stand in all of them. It’s harder still when each group cries that they are the only “true” conservative voice.

For better or worse, America is changing. We can seek to manage that change in appropriate and productive ways or we can collectively decide to pretend it’s not happening at all. Conservatives led this country through the fat years of prosperity in the 1950s, the opening of relations with China, and the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union. We could be that party again, but it’s going to mean giving up the bullshit of having some kind of purity test. It means being a little less fanatical and a little more tolerant of new ideas and different solutions. It means we have to talk not just to ourselves, but also to the Democrats, the moderates, the unaligned, and to anyone who’s willing to listen to our best-reasoned alternatives rather than to our inflamed rhetoric.

By way of alternative we can stay the course and let the party descend into factional squabbling and ensure that a conservative doesn’t sit in the Oval Office again for twenty years. The choices are ours – and so are the consequences.