Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.
There’s a school of thought which holds that Donald Trump’s unhinged rhetoric about women, immigrants and people of color is simply an escalation of the grievance politics that have animated the conservative movement since the civil rights era, and that in the long run, it may not be a bad to get this nasty stuff out in the open, for all to see. It’s clarifying, and there’s reason to believe it turns off younger voters in a big way.
The counterargument is that by eschewing subtler dog-whistles, Trump has given bigots license to express their true feelings toward marginalized groups in hostile and sometimes violent ways. The Center for Investigative reporting compiled a database of 150 reports of incidents in the first 18 months after the 2016 election in which an attacker explicitly cited Trump. “Sometimes the perpetrators quoted the president’s words nearly verbatim,” wrote Will Carless. “Other times, they signaled that as far as they’re concerned, the country has changed in their favor now that Trump is in charge.” It’s safe to say that many similar incidents have gone unreported.
As we approach these crucial midterms, it’s pretty clear that that rot, along with Trump’s reckless disregard for anything even resembling factual accuracy, has spread throughout the GOP. “Attack ads,” wrote Politico’s Rachel Bade, “have always been a staple of campaign season. But Republicans have twisted facts in some ads to an extraordinary degree as they fight to save their House majority.” This week, HuffPo’s Julia Craven compiled a roundup of wildly racist attacks against Democratic candidates of color. And at The Daily Beast, Lachlan Markay reported that a group of defense lobbyists are “accusing a Democratic congressional candidate—a Christian of Mexican and Palestinian descent—of family ties to Islamic terrorism” in order to save Rep. Duncan Hunter, “a California Republican accused of illegally using campaign funds to enrich himself, who, until his indictment, chaired a powerful committee with major influence over U.S. military and defense policy.”
Before Barack Obama’s election in 2008, there was something approaching a consensus among political scientists that politicians had to tread cautiously when appealing to white racial grievances. If they were too obvious about it, voters had a tendency to punish them — they were likely to be rejected as “too divisive.” That effect appears to have weakened with Obama’s election, and Trump’s rise to power upended this bit of conventional wisdom. Now, if it turns out that conservatives can turn out their base with hyper-charged appeals to racial grievance without paying a price, we can expect Trump-like demagoguery to become a fixture of Republican messaging. If, on the other hand, those kinds of candidates face a demonstrable backlash, the calculus will be very different.
There may be a similar dynamic at play with the more egregious attempts to suppress Democratic turnout. Keep an eye on minority turnout in Georgia, where Secretary of State Brian Kemp is pulling out all the stops to rig his gubernatorial race in his favor.
until it drew attention today, #GAgov nominee Brian Kemp’s official Secretary of State website featured an early voting explainer video in which a little white boy casts his ballot, while a black girl gets rebuffed for lacking ID.https://t.co/3KoR4v4VyQ pic.twitter.com/ik1ZUisnDi
— Jesse Lehrich (@JesseLehrich) October 18, 2018
Regardless of how irrational they may seem at times, politicians are rational actors. They respond to incentives. Keep that in mind when you go to the polls in 17 days.
Will our institutions hold? Perhaps.
This week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who replaced ousted EPA chief Scott Pruitt as the most investigated member of Trump’s Cabinet, appears to have overstepped when he tried to replace his agency’s independent inspector general with a political appointee from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. After the move sparked outrage, the appointee in question, Suzanne Israel Tufts, resigned from the government outright.
Speaking of Zinke, Politico’s Ben Lefebre ran down all of the reasons why his plan to turn West Coast military installations into export depots for coal and natural gas in order to get around environmental regulations is a totally “harebrained scheme.”
ProPublica reported an important story this week that shouldn’t get lost in the chaos. While the Trump Organization has gleaned a reputation as a business that primarily licenses the family name, ProPublica’s investigation found that the Trump family repeatedly “helped mislead investors and buyers — and they profited handsomely from it.” In a nutshell, they lied about the viability of various projects and “often made money even when projects failed. And when they tanked, the Trumps simply ignored their prior claims of close involvement, denied any responsibility and walked away.”
Law and Crime’s Column Kalmbacher spoke to several experts who said that if the details in the report are accurate, First Daughter Ivanka Trump, who played a central role in several of these “pump and dump” deals, could be charged with felony fraud.
And in Florida news, this happened…
I’m old enough to remember when such an account of massive, prima facie corruption would immediately destroy ANY political career and produce federal indictments. Now, Rick Scott can not only dream of re-election, he’s qualified to be the President of the United States. https://t.co/DleEw7C6Kg
— David Simon (@AoDespair) October 18, 2018
From the ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ file, James Osborne reports for The Houston Chronicle that the Trump regime “is examining whether to adjust decades-old federal clean water regulations to allow [oil] drillers to discharge wastewater directly into rivers and streams from which communities draw their water supplies.”
This also appears to be happening…
The Trump Administration wants to pull out of the Universal Postal Union(!)
This is one of the oldest international institutions, been around since 1874.
It’s why we can reliably send mail around the world. pic.twitter.com/Z55pEIidOa
— Mark Leon Goldberg (@MarkLGoldberg) October 17, 2018
A few related stories on the legalized discrimination religious liberty front.
The regime “is considering whether to grant a South Carolina request that would effectively allow faith-based foster care agencies in the state the ability to deny Jewish parents from fostering children in its network,” according to Akela Lacey at The Intercept.
They like to talk about our “Judeo-Christian values” when it’s convenient.
“The Trump administration is pushing forward with its efforts to allow more employers to deny reproductive health coverage to their employees on the basis of their religious beliefs,” reported Alison Durkee for Mic. Durkee notes that this is the second attempt by the Trump regime “to curtail birth control coverage. The administration previously issued a similar rule in 2017, which was ultimately blocked by the courts after multiple legal challenges.”
And Dominic Holden reported for Buzzfeed News this week that the White House is planning to issue a rule that would allow federal contractors to fire employees based on their “religious beliefs.” Holden added that “it is unclear if the regulation will limit its scope to strictly religious corporations — for instance, a Jewish charity with a federal contract. The directive refers to the Supreme Court’s decisions in Hobby Lobby and Masterpiece Cakeshop, which concerned closely held, for-profit businesses with religious owners, not religious corporations.”
This brings us to our positive story for the week. Fred Barbash wrote for The WaPo about Trump’s “crazy losing streak in the courts.”
If losing lawsuits becomes a pattern, especially when you’re the government, which is supposed to win, you have to start wondering: Is it you?
The Trump administration is on a staggering litigation losing streak, with restraining orders littering the legal battlefield from coast to coast. To be sure, some of these fights are not over. Most of the rulings have found plausible cases of constitutional or statutory violations, with trials and possible appeals yet to come. But getting that far against the government used to be a big hurdle. Now, not so much.
And in many instances, it’s not just one judge ruling on one issue. It’s a pile-on, in which multiple judges arrive at the same conclusion about the same issue.
For a bit of relief from the everyday stress of the Trump era, read the whole thing here.