The Privilege of an Unexamined Life

When Christine Blasey Ford came forth with very credible allegations that when they were both in high school in 1982 a drunken Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party, the Supreme Court nominee had two possible ways to respond and keep his confirmation on track. One option was to deny the allegations outright setting up a process where Republicans would rally around Kavanaugh while Democrats would support Professor Ford. The other option was to admit that these events occurred and for Kavanaugh to present an apology for actions that he undertook years ago, citing youth, alcohol, poor judgment and decades of regret.

Kavanaugh, as well all know now, chose the former option. It is possible that he did this because he is innocent of these charges, but with each passing day this seems less likely, particularly given that during his confirmation Kavanaugh demonstrated a tenuous relationship with the truth. Ford’s story, on the other hand, is very believable; she has handled this in a very reasonable way; and it is consistent with much of what we know about Kavanaugh as a high school student. This does not mean that there is no doubt Kavanaugh assaulted Ford, but it certainly suggests her allegations should at the very least be taken very seriously.

The latter option was only a possibility if Kavanaugh had indeed assaulted Ford, but if he had crafting an apology that would satisfy 51 Republican Senators would not have been difficult. We can easily imagine that statement “Deeply regret…many years ago…no excuse…have learned from this experience…my own daughters…etc.” It would not have been sincere, but it would have more or less assured his confirmation.

Thus if Kavanaugh is genuinely being falsely accused, however unlikely that might be, he is right to defend himself. However, for those of us who believe his accuser, Kavanaugh is caught between two lies. He can either claim he didn’t do it or that he is genuinely remorseful. Understanding why Kavanaugh is choosing to deny this, even though it may lead to most Americans believing he is lying is an insight into how those born into privilege process that privilege.

Kavanaugh is a smart and very well educated man who has for several decades chosen to use his intellect and education to ensure that his class retains its wealth and privilege and that those born into less fortunate circumstances do not threaten that wealth or privilege. A smart man can only do that if he believes in his own righteousness and pushes out all ideas that threaten the assumptions of righteousness, and rightness, around which he has built his life and his ideology.

Accordingly, for Kavanaugh wrestling with the impact of something he did 35 years ago means wrestling with core assumptions about who he is. It means understanding that he is capable of doing hurtful things, not thinking of others and doing whatever is necessary to get what he wants. If Kavanaugh allows himself to go down that path as he rethinks that evening at a party 35 years ago, he might just find himself thinking about the impact of how he has spent his life and career. Since graduating from one of our country’s top law schools, Kavanaugh has been a loyal Republican operative and conservative jurist. His professional life has been dedicated to protecting the privilege of his class and background, but it has been done while veiled in notions of strict adherence to the constitution, an interest in the greater good and a belief that he is serving the public. This is all essentially nonsense, but it is nonsense that people like Kavanaugh tell themselves so much that the begin to believe it.

This may be an oversimplification, but it is not an inaccurate one. The modern Republican Party, which Kavanaugh has served so faithfully and would continue to serve on the Supreme Court, has waged class warfare on the side of the rich and stood in the way of every proposal to make America more equal for all of Kavanaugh’s adult life. For Kavanaugh to concede that he probably hurt Ford, as any thinking man in his shoes should be able to do, it is a very short step to thinking about the impact of his life’s work on the many who are less fortunate than him. That is something Kavanaugh cannot allow himself to do.

For Kavanaugh strong denial was ultimately the only option because the alternative would have been too threatening to his understanding of himself and the larger world. The Kavanaugh confirmation hearing will now come down to a question of who a handful of Republican Senators believe, Ford or Kavanaugh. If even two  or three of those Republican Senators believe the woman who by telling her story has brought a tremendous amount of stress and danger into her adult life, Kavanaugh will not be nominated. However, if the desire to protect privilege wins out, Kavanaugh will be on the Supreme Court for decades.

Photo: cc/ Phil Roeder

Republican Complicity in the Trump Cover Up Extends to the Supreme Court

When Brett Kavanaugh gets confirmed, which barring extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances will happen, and Donald Trump is given a get out of jail free card from the Supreme Court we should remember that it was Republican Senators, not Donald Trump, who voted to confirm him, shepherded Kavanaugh through a Senate hearing and withheld important documents about Kavanaugh from Senate Democrats and the American people. For anybody who has been paying attention during the last few months, years or decades this is not exactly a shock, but it is nonetheless significant. We now must recognize that there is no scenario where the GOP would act to rein in an erratic and dangerous President. The depths of their complicity grows with each passing week, but last week was a big one. 

Remember Manafort, Cohen and Last Month's Major Turning Point

If the last three years or so have taught us anything it is that there are no turning points, crossing of Rubicons, or other dividing lines in the unfolding of the Trumpian assault on our democracy. Manafort’s conviction has faded into the background, just as Woodward’s book will in a few weeks. However, the media, even the progressive media, cannot get away from this narrative. The fundamental problem with this approach is that if everything is a turning point, then nothing is a turning point. If everything is signal and not noise than ultimately everything is just noise. Because what we are experiencing is without precedent in American history, we keep grasping at straws that might bring us back to the familiar and less frightening terrain of more normal American politics. This is natural, but is also, at its core, denial about just how grave a threat the Trump administration, and the political party that now supports him, represent.

The Healthy Yankees

The Yankees have had their share of injuries this year as Greg Bird, Clint Frazier, Brandon Drury, Jordan Montgomery and others have spent time on the disabled list or recovering from injuries, but none of these injuries have been to a genuinely central player. Bird had won the first base job,but was the fourth best power bat on the team when spring training began. Montgomery is a valuable back of the rotation starter, but very far from being an ace, while Drury is an intriguing role player, but not much more. On balance, the Yankees have been lucky to have eluded major injury to one of their key players. Indeed that is one of the reasons they have the second best record in all of baseball.

Ivanishvili Returns After Never Really Leaving

Bidzina Ivanishvili’s decision to return to a formal role as Chair of the Georgian Dream (GD) is more interesting for its timing than for the action itself. Ivanishvili, despite his protestations to the contrary, has never fully removed himself from Georgian political life since stepping down as Prime Minister in November of 2013. Over the last four and a half years his role has diminished somewhat, but major Georgian Dream, and government, decisions are rarely made without his input.

The Fake Right Wing Outrage Machine

While Wolf’s comments may have been more offensive than any similar speech in the past, they are also a reminder that gatherings of the media political tribes, where animus can be put aside for an evening, like the White House Correspondents Dinner, no longer have a space in Donald Trump’s divided, hyperpartisan and mean spirited America. For those in conservative media who have always tried to keep one foot in mainstream respectability, Wolf’s speech is a reminder that is no longer possible. Spokespeople like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and more importantly media enablers of Trump’s viciousness and democratic rollback from previously respectable or semi-respectable media outlets and even those from more moderate media outlets who simply profit from the fight, will no longer be given a free pass. For the huge majority of Americans who were not at the dinner and who don’t make their living talking about Trump (I do it on a volunteer basis), this is very good news.


The Brandon Drury Non-Problem

Drury represents a different challenge. The Yankee brass remains relatively enthusiastic about him, but it is difficult to know how seriously that should be taken. Drury has established himself as a decent ballplayer with a solid glove and a career OPS+ of 96. Because he can play second third and the corner outfield positions reasonably well, he can bring value to the Yankees. He is also only 25, it is likely that if he stays healthy, he will improve as a hitter. It is, however, less likely that he will be as good a hitter and Andujar or Torres.

The Andujar and Torres Moment

Because of how the race has shaped up so far, the Yankees would be wise to give Andujar and Torres enough time to prove themselves this season, rather than cede playing time to Walker and Brandon Drury, once the latter gets healthy. Walker is not as bad as he has been so far in 2018. His OPS this year of .463 is .310 points below is career number. Given more time, Walker’s numbers would almost certainly go up. Similarly, when healthy Drury is a proven and useful player. However, if the Yankees are going to make up a 6.5 game deficit, that could continue to grow, and catch up with a very good Red Sox team, they need to do it not with solid, useful players, but with higher ceiling players. Torres and Andujar might both fail to hit over the course of the season, but they both have the potential to become impact players this year. The same cannot be said of Drury and Walker. If the Yankees were not already 6.5 games back, an argument could be made for being risk averse and sticking with the veterans, but that argument is not persuasive anymore. 

It's Still Early-For Now

The Yankees are a good team now and came within a game of the World Series because they, albeit very briefly, stepped off the win now treadmill that had mired them in being a good but never good enough team for all but one of the years from 2001-2015. Jumping back into that position too quickly by trading off prospects for veterans who are no longer very good or losing confidence in young players too quickly would be a big mistake, but it is not hard to see the Yankees going down that road. They spent the offseason raising expectations. If the next month looks like the last two weeks, things could get ugly in the Bronx pretty quickly.

The Big Blue Wave Is Necessary but Won’t Be Sufficient

A big Democratic win in November will slow down the decline of American democracy, but unless the broader questions of how to create a new narrative about our society and economy that does not perpetually pit us against each other, how to create political and electoral laws and institutions that are consistent with contemporary realities of democracy, how to reinvigorate news outlets that have a somewhat more than tenuous relationship to the truth and how to train a population that has been addled by Fox News, Twitter and hyper-partisanship to distinguish between fact and fantasy are addressed, the downward spiral of  American democracy will continue.

Lengthening the Yankee Lineup

The Yankees this year have some obvious and very impressive strengths. Their right-handed power is the best in the game. Sanchez, Judge and Stanton could conceivably combine for 120 or more home runs. The bullpen, despite Betances rough first outing, is also good enough to play well into October. The rotation, while not the best in the game, is nonetheless strong. All this makes it difficult to process the potential weaknesses of this team. This is exacerbated by a New York media climate the turns every journeyman traded to the Yankees, at least at first, into a potential star, and refuses to recognize a hot spring by a second tier prospect for what it really is.

Trump Can't Distract America from the Russia Scandal

In this context, occasional statements by the people like Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) that if the President fired Robert Mueller, it would be the beginning of the end of his presidency or by the office of the Speaker Ryan urging Trump to let Mueller finish his job, should not be taken at face value. These are not principled statements by patriotic Americans. Rather they are last ditch efforts by ethically broken politicians to salvage their reputations by words that, if the last two years teach us anything, are extremely unlikely to be backed up by meaningful action.

Aaron Boone's Infield Challenge

In the last two weeks, the Yankees have added two infielders, Neil Walker and Brandon Drury. Drury was acquired for two second-tier prospects while Walker was a free agent who signed a one year four million dollar contract. Neither of these qualifies as major acquisitions, but they could have a significant impact on the team. Drury and Walker are both respectable big leaguers who can help a contending team. The Yankees could win the pennant with either of them in the starting lineup, but it is less clear they could win with both of them as regulars.

President for Life Is Not a Joke for Donald Trump

Regardless of Donald Trump’s intentions, his comments, despite being made in an informal setting are an apt reflection of the state of American democracy. When the leader of a powerful authoritarian regime moved his country further away from democracy while consolidating his power, the American president used that not as an opportunity contrast our political system with China’s but to indicate his preference for authoritarianism. This should make it clear just how imperiled our democracy is.

What We Can Learn from the Stoneman Douglas Students

While seeing Kasky humiliate Marco Rubio by challenging him to stop taking NRA money or watching Emma Gonzalez similarly embarrass NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch is very encouraging for adults who support gun reform, there is much more to these young people’s message than that. In her most well-known speech, Gonzalez repeated the refrain “we call BS.” While most of that refrain was targeted at the gun lobby and their apologists, it was also aimed at pro-gun reform legislators who have not been aggressive, or successful, enough in their efforts to change American gun policy. Gonzalez, and her generation, are not just calling BS on the NRA, but on those who are cowed by arguments like the one that asserts that none of the proposed laws would have stopped the shooting.

Mickey Mantle's Last Season Reevaluated

In 1968, Mantle was one of the best hitters in the league who, while not the dominant player he once was, still was a valuable patience and power guy who was very valuable to the Yankees. None of this was evident at the time because front offices and management, although aware that it the game was dominated by pitching, did not fully understand its impact. Similarly, Mantle’ primary skill during his last two years was his ability to draw walks, something that was almost entirely unappreciated, even unrecognized, at the time. 

The Second Amendment Threatens American Democracy

Those who seek to craft policies to address the problem of easy and widespread access to extremely powerful firearms are confidently and dismissively told by legislators who receive generous support from the NRA that those efforts can never lead anywhere due the Second Amendment. This misinterpretation of the Second Amendment is wielded like some kind of magical trump card that can, and frequently does, end any conversation or debate about guns. In democracies, rational policy solutions must be discussed and debated not shouted down by a small minority of the American people hiding behind an extreme interpretation of a sentence written more than 200 years ago. Thus, for several decades now the Second Amendment has been wielded not as a way to guarantee individual freedom, but to make mass shootings easier and ultimately stifle democracy.

The Yankees Still Need Patience not Panic in 2018

It is also the case that the season could end differently and bring disappointment to Yankee fans. In addition to the questions marks at second, third and the back of the starting rotation, there are many other possible ways 2018 could go wrong for the Yankees. This is true of every team and is pretty much part of the game, but it is useful to think of what those stumbling blocks might be. Luis Severino or Aaron Judge might regress from their breakthrough years in 2017. Gary Sanchez might prove unable to field hold well enough to hold down the catching job full time. Greg Bird and Giancarlo Stanton, who both have struggled to stay healthy throughout their career could lose significant time to injuries. Additionally, other key contributors like Didi Gregorius or Masahiro Tanaka could suffer serious injuries. 

John Kelly's Security Lapse

Nobody is chanting “lock him up” about the White House Chief of Staff, but the case that Kelly mishandled national security information almost makes itself. In a White House that can be charitably described as dysfunctional, one of the few seemingly competent people, Rob Porter, lacked the security clearance needed for his job, which involved a lot of access to important documents that the President needed to see. Kelly, perhaps just in the name of expedience, decided that ignoring Porter’s lack of security clearance was okay. This would be a problem for any administration but is particularly galling given that Kelly serves a President who made accusations of mishandling of classified data by his opponent one of the pillars of his campaign.

#ReleasetheBots

In Trump’s America, this is the no longer out of the ordinary, but it reveals that the erosion of American political institutions and the American people’s confidence in those institutions is not a peripheral effect of the Trump presidency, but is indeed the goal of the Trump presidency. The Nunes memo was an effort to discredit the FBI, Robert Mueller and indeed the rule of law in America. This may be essential for the survival of the Trump administration, but the impact on American democracy, and the American state, will be profound.