Monday, April 22, 2019

The Importance of Being Earnest (About Impeachment)

Maybe I'm naive, but I think Democrats have gotten baited into the wrong set of questions regarding impeachment. The debate terms seem to be "Trump is awful, and it's imperative to remove him" on the one side, versus "Republicans control the Senate, and they'll never go for it" on the other.

It should go without saying that, in a functioning democratic system, these would not be the questions. On the one hand, impeachment is not a remedy for generically awful people, it's a remedy for high crimes and misdemeanors. It shouldn't be a tool for exacting political vengeance. On the other hand, precisely because impeachment should ideally be about rule of law, not political vengeance, it should be equally appalling the prejudged confidence by Republicans that of course they'd never impeach their own President. That's simply them closing ranks around a political compatriot -- it represents an obvious abdication of democratic duty.

So the right move, for Democrats, is not to promise impeachment. It's to be very earnest about impeachment. Impeachment is not about politics. It's about rule of law, wherever that takes us. The Mueller Report (among other sources) plausibly raises some very worrisome acts of misconduct by the President, which Congress should investigate. If that investigation leads to the discovery of an impeachable offense, then Congress should impeach. If it doesn't, then it shouldn't.

Any time a media figure tries to pivot the conversation back to "but Republicans in the Senate won't ever convict", be aghast -- not because they won't convict, but because they've prejudged the investigation. How could they say, in advance, that they won't convict the President unless they were admitting that partisan motives would take precedence over the outcome of the investigation?

The thing is -- this isn't just me being a starry-eyed idealist. This is a strategic thing, albeit strategic as a poor substitute for the ideal thing (where there was a chance in hell that Republicans cared about actual oversight).

If we learned anything from Benghazi and email-gate and all the rest, it's really that the outcome of the investigation doesn't matter. The constant, steady, drip-drip-drip of scandal is what matters. It helps if you've got something real to go on -- and in Trump's case, we clearly do -- and it really helps if it isn't seen as a mere political stunt (though, as Benghazi and email-gate also teach us, neither of those are really necessary either). Be earnest about impeachment -- not as a prejudged gambit in a political chess match, but as a procedural step in an investigative process. Then bleed the man dry.

From a strategic standpoint, it doesn't really matter whether the investigation ends in impeachment (let along conviction) or not. What matters is the cloud. And the longer it can be dragged out, the more consecutive days "Trump" and "corruption/obstruction/Russia" are in headlines next to each other, the better.

Drip-drip-drip.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Passover Primary

Greetings all!

I just returned from the Schraub family Passover in Florida. This is an annual gathering of my dad's side of the family, but one that I've missed for the past few years because getting to Florida from California is a bear of a trip. This year, it entailed a red eye flight Thursday night (which landed at noon Friday), a lot of random napping, and then a more reasonable flight back this morning. I can't even fathom what my body thinks its sleep schedule is right now.

While I would hate to make Passover political, politics did come up (as it is wont to do in 2019 when the holiday is centered primarily around the command "not to oppress the stranger, for you were a stranger in the land of Egypt). The extended Schraub family is pretty much all Democrats (with one #NeverTrump Republican thrown in for spice), ranging from "lifelong Democrat who became radicalized after Trump's election" (my mom) to "I have no philosophical objection to the GOP; it's genuinely unfortunate that the party is currently entirely controlled by lunatics" (my brother). Jill and I probably sit towards the leftward edge of the family.

I do not claim they are representative of Democrats or even Jews more broadly, but I thought their patterns might be of interest, since there was actually a fair amount of consistency in their likes and dislikes regarding the Democratic primary candidates. I'm also excluding myself and Jill from the pack.

Tier 1 (universal praise): Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg. Man, my family is pro-Joe. My dad was even one of the apparently 33 people who voted for him in '88. But it's not just generational: he was my younger brother's favorite as well. They weren't bothered by the handsiness for the most part -- viewing him as "of a time". In terms of the present time, people really had come away impressed by Buttigieg -- viewing him as a uniquely unifying figure. I was surprised how many people weren't worried about him being too green.

Tier 1.5: Kamala Harris. Also universally well-liked; the only difference between her and the tip-top set was that her name was less likely to come up unprompted. That is, the answer to the question "who do you like best" was usually "Biden or Buttigieg", it took asking "what do you think about Harris" to yield "oh, I like her too." Stacey Abrams also would fall into this category if she were running -- the one concern on her is that it was seen as dangerous to nominate anyone who lost their last election (even if it was in a red state).

Tier 2 (mixed-to-positive): Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar. Booker was mostly liked, though clearly being a bit overlooked. The "baby bond" idea got a split reception between those who thought it was a creative way to address inequality and those who thought handing 18 year olds a check for $50,000 on their birthday was a recipe for disaster. Klobuchar was also viewed generally positively -- the "monster boss" thing didn't seem to be a problem -- but didn't generate much enthusiasm.

Tier 3 (mixed-to-negative): Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren. Some thought Gillibrand was  phony, others were against her for her supposed role taking out Al Franken. Warren was generally viewed as Sanders-esque, and that apparently was not to her credit (see below).

Tier 4 (negative): Beto O'Rourke. They just think he's weird.

Tier 5 (loathed): Bernie Sanders. I was a bit surprised at just how intensely he was disliked across the board. I'm "fine" with Sanders, and that made me by far his biggest fan around the table. Most of the rest of the family viewed him as basically akin to pond scum.

Oh, and if Bibi Netanyahu was an American politician, he'd be down here too (obviously, Donald Trump is in whatever hell lies beneath this cellar).

Overall, it's pretty clear my family is pretty classic "establishment" Democrats. But even though they were broadly at least "okay" with the great majority of candidates, they were also convinced that the Democratic primary would be a bloodbath and that we were going to rip ourselves apart and blow our shot at 2020. It wasn't the most optimistic group.

So that's one holiday snapshot. What does it mean? Almost certainly nothing!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Jewish Republican Calls Jewish Constituent Judenrat

We need to have a conversation about conservative Jews using Nazi terminology to attack liberal Jews.

I'm of the general view that doing this is always antisemitic. Yes, always. That includes calling Stephen Miller a "Kapo". That includes the de rigueur Israel-Nazi comparisons. Always.

It's not just that it almost always is a form of Holocaust minimization -- the crimes the target is accused of committing, however heinous, are not that of mass industrial extermination. It's also that comparing Jews to Nazis, or using Nazi terminology to refer to Jews, is a form of leveraging antisemitic oppression -- in its most vicious form -- against us. That, to me, is what makes it unacceptable (and it is what distinguishes using Nazis analogies generally -- which I often find distasteful, but is not necessarily wrong -- and using them against Jews, which absent truly extraordinary circumstances I consider to be per se antisemitic).

But it also is becoming increasingly acceptable on the Jewish right. David Friedman, of course, represents a high profile case --  comparing J Street students to "kapos" before being appointed Ambassador to Israel. The organizational Jewish community was unforgivably silent on that, refusing to stand up for young Jewish students in a moment of great vulnerability. The ADL's Jonathan Greenblatt expressly declined to challenge Friedman on this, limply calling the comments "hardly diplomatic" before saying that he wouldn't engage in "partisan politics" by condemning them.

The other day, Florida State Rep. Randy Fine (R-FL) went even further than that -- he called a Jewish constituent "Judenrat" (a member of the Nazi-organized council of Jews who kept order in the Ghettos, though in English the false cognate where it sounds like "Jew rat" is probably not unwelcome).

Once again, one expects to see little consequence for Fine or those of his ilk in making comments like this. We've come to accept that this form of antisemitism emanating from within our community is permissible and acceptable. We don't take the hard line on it that we would if it came out of the left. That double-standard remains as operative as ever.

The bonus irony is that Fine was the lead sponsor of a bill, recently passed in the Florida House, expanding the protections against antisemitism in Florida schools. One of the actions deemed antisemitic in the legislation text? Israel-Nazi comparisons. Apparently, though, those comparisons are totally fine when applied to Jewish constituents you dislike.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

American Shonda Tournament: Final Four (and a Tie!)

High drama in the American Shonda tournament! One of the matches ended in ... a tie! A complete dead-heat! What will we do? Will the tournament go on (yes)? Read on to find out!

(1) Jared Kushner over (9) Lee Zeldin (80-20). I thought this might be a close match. It wasn't. While I continue to think Zeldin didn't get the love he deserved, now I have to wonder if Kushner has more staying power than I thought in this tournament as he starts to go up against some real heavy-hitters.

(2) Stephen Miller over (10) Dov Hikind (99-1). Yep, you read that right. Not that I was expecting this to be close, but this was by far the most lop-sided result we've ever had. Stephen Miller may well be unstoppable in this tournament.

(3) Sheldon Adelson over (11) Max Blumenthal (60-40). There will be no anti-Zionist representation in the Final Four. I suppose it is poetic, in its way, that Adelson ended up being the guy who took Blumenthal out -- though I guess I doubt if Max Blumenthal views Sheldon Adelson as materially worse than any other American Jew.

(12) Ben Shapiro TIES (13) Bernie Madoff (50-50). This was a tie. A precise, complete, absolute tie. Each got exactly 45 votes.

I confess I didn't know exactly what to do here. The rulebook didn't account for such a scenario. I was a bit at a loss.

But then I remember: since I make the Twitter polls, I don't get to vote in them. I've been relegated to a passive observer in my own tournament--able to report, but not to influence.

Now, finally, it's my turn. Now I get to cast the deciding vote. The man who will be moving on to the semifinals will be ...

BEN SHAPIRO!

It was close, but I think Shapiro is more of a current shonda. Madoff is, blessedly, being forgotten about in prison.

That sets up the Final Four matchups as follows:

(1) Jared Kushner vs. (12) Ben Shapiro
(2) Stephen Miller vs. (3) Sheldon Adelson

Vote in this thread.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

American Shonda: Day One Results

The American Shonda Tounrament has begun, and we've completed the play-ins and round one. The initial results are below, and click here to begin voting on Round Two!

(1) Jared Kushner over (16) Jill Stein (75-25): Art imitates life as Jill Stein helps the Kushner extended family advance.

(2) Stephen Miller over (15) Philip Weiss (90-10): A lot of people think Miller is the man to beat in this tournament, and his dominating round one performance certainly won't hurt. I'm honestly not sure who can take him down.

(3) Sheldon Adelson over (14) Shmuley Boteach (80-20): Boteach struggled in the play-in against David Horowitz, and was no match against uber-right billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

(13) Bernie Madoff over (4) Glenn Greenwald (59-41): Our first upset! Convicted criminal Bernie Madoff takes down a journalist. But he's got a brutal second round match-up coming up against...

(12) Ben Shapiro over (5) Mort Klein (52-48): This was our marquee match-up, and it spent much of the day exactly tied up. But in the end, youth beat experience as wunderkind Ben Shapiro advances to take on Madoff.

(11) Max Blumenthal over (6) Roseanne Barr (51-49): Did you know before she was a right-wing lunatic racist, Roseanne was a Gilad Atzon-spewing left-wing racist? Perhaps it was Max Blumenthal's consistency that gave him the edge, as he stands as the left's last best hope in this tournament.

(10) Dov Hikind over (7) Rebeccca Vilkomerson (52-48): A hard-fought upset victory for Hikind, but he faces the Stephen Miller buzzsaw in round two.

(9) Lee Zeldin over (8) Ivanka Trump (51-49): He took down one half of Javanka. Can he best the other? Don't sleep on Zeldin -- his profile is only rising after his role in the current Islamophobic Ilhan Omar pile-on, and a lot of this think Kushner is a soft one seed.

Round Two matches
(1) Jared Kushner vs. (9) Lee Zeldin
(2) Stephen Miller vs. (10) Dov Hikind
(3) Sheldon Adelson vs. (11) Max Blumenthal
(13) Bernie Madoff vs. (12) Ben Shapiro


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

American Shonda: The Tournament

March Madness is over, but my thirst for bracketology remains unquenched. So -- after the rousing success of the democratically-elected dictator tournament -- I propose a new tournament: American Shonda. Which American Jewish public figure is the greatest disgrace to the tribe?

The match-ups will be posted as Twitter polls on this thread. Here are the seeds (14 11 to 16 are getting play-in games):

  1. Jared Kushner
  2. Stephen Miller
  3. Sheldon Adelson
  4. Glenn Greenwald
  5. Mort Klein
  6. Roseanne Barr
  7. Rebecca Vilkomerson
  8. Ivanka Trump
  9. Lee Zeldin
  10. Dov Hikind
  11. Ariel Gold/Max Blumenthal
  12. Matt Brooks/Ben Shapiro
  13. Bernie Madoff/Dennis Prager
  14. David Horowitz/Shmuley Boteach
  15. Philip Weiss/Liel Leibovitz
  16. Jill Stein/Adam Milstein
Note that the judging criteria is who brings the greatest shame to the Jewish people as a whole -- not to your particular sub-branch (so tamp down on "as a leftist, I'm more embarrassed by fellow leftists" logic).

The opening round will be posted onto Twitter shortly. In the meantime, let's do a quick rundown of the play-in matches:

14. "Inside every progressive is a totalitarian screaming to get out." Few people have ever so fully lived out a life motto as former communist-turned-fascist David Horowitz. He goes up against "America's Roseanne's Rabbi" Shmuley Boteach, who periodically tries to arrest his fade into irrelevancy with full-page New York Times ads demonstrating why nobody cares what he thinks anymore.

15. Philip Weiss is the progenitor of Mondoweiss, an anti-Zionist Jewish website so on the nose it is literally funded by a White supremacist. He faces fellow "writer" Liel Leibovitz, who regularly vomits out gibberish disguised as erudition in a "toxic" contribution to the Jewish press.

16. Why vote for the lesser of two evils when you can vote for the middle of three? That was Jill Stein's 2016 campaign slogan (paraphrased), and it paid off -- for her and her grift, if not the country. Adam Milstein has historically been a much quieter billionaire than 3 seed Sheldon Adelson, but he's been making moves of late by insisting that Ilhan Omar is an actual terrorist. It takes a lot to have to withdraw from AIPAC 2019 for being too embarrassing, but it's enough for this bubble team to squeak his way onto the final bracket slot.

Update: Yes, there are always going to be some bubble times that don't make the cut. But I've been alerted to some truly inexcusable omissions. We can't have a Shonda bracket where Ben Shapiro isn't in the field. And so I feel like I have no choice but to expand the play-in brackets.

11. When she isn't shilling for Iran, Code Pink big wig Ariel Gold is gleefully photographing Neturei Karta activists in Rashida Tlaib's office. Gold's never met a dictatorship she doesn't like (save Saudi Arabia -- Iranian patronage comes with strings). But Max Blumenthal hasn't met a conspiracy theory he doesn't like. The man you call when James O'Keefe is in prison presents a formidable challenge and a marquee play-in game match-up.

12. Can a spineless weasel be your spirit animal? Matt Brooks and the RJC want to find out! Though I suppose it takes guts, in a sense, to spend an entire conference raking Ilhan Omar over alleged "dual loyalty" insinuations and then shrug and smile when President Trump tells a roomful of American Jews that Netanyahu is "your Prime Minister." He'll face leading, ahem, conservative "intellectual" Ben Shapiro. Shapiro is a very different animal from the alt-right, in that (a) the alt-right hates Shapiro, whereas Shapiro loves himself, and (b) there are no other material differences between Ben Shapiro and the alt-right.

13. Speaking of "intellectuals", Dennis Prager's "PragerU" is where you go if you want such academic gems like "the southern strategy doesn't exist" and "maybe Hitler would've been okay if he'd stayed in Germany." He was almost disqualified because he clearly would rather be Christian. His opponent is Bernie Madoff, who also almost didn't make the cut because arguably a "public figure" can't be in prison. Madoff -- the living embodiment of a deadly antisemitic stereotype -- certainly qualifies as an embarrassment, but has he spent too long out of the public eye to compete?

Sunday, April 07, 2019

What's The Story on Trump's Antisemitic RJC Speech

Here are some highlights from the recent Republican Jewish Coalition conference, featuring a major speech by President Donald Trump.

  • He asked the attendees "How did you support President Obama, how did you support the Democrats?"
  • He also told them to explain his allegedly successful tariff policy "your people" who "don’t like tariffs."
  • An RJC twitter account spoke of one speaker's "Jew heritage" -- apparently favorably.
But the big eyebrow raiser was when he told attendees -- all American Jews -- that Netanyahu was "your Prime Minister". He then said that a Democratic victory in 2020 would leave Israel "all by yourselves."


This is not even the first time that Trump has told American Jews that Israel -- not America -- is "your" country. And given that we just spent however many weeks obsessing over "allegiance" and "Benjamins" -- indeed, given that groups like the RJC have insisted that we obsess over "allegiance" and "Benjamins" -- this seems like a big deal.

And to be fair, Jewish groups have not been silent. The AJC, ADL, and Israel Policy Forum all issued statements criticizing the President. The AJC was one of the first off the blocks, saying "the Prime Minister of Israel is the leader of his (or her) country, not ours. Statements to the contrary, from staunch friends or harsh critics, feed bigotry."). ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt criticized Trump for language "that leads people to believe Jews aren’t loyal Americans." The Orthodox group Torah Trumps Hate blasted "this antisemitic trope spewed by the president."

Individual Jewish figures also took note. Yair Rosenberg accused Trump of going "full dual loyalty". Batya Ungar-Sargon said the President's comments were "straight up anti-Semitic." Abe Foxman called out Trump's "dual loyalty tropes". Rep. Eliot Engel wryly observed that "I somehow doubt the president would say 'your Taoiseach' to a roomful of Irish-Americans."

But there still remains the question -- is this going to become a story?

What I said yesterday, I stand behind today: it is absolutely clear that Jews care about antisemitism of this sort when it comes from Trump or other elected Republicans. We don't give it a pass, we don't shrug it off. My tweet attacking Trump for saying Israel, not America, is my country is a 3,000 likes and counting (possibly my most-liked tweet ever). 

Yesterday I said that the problem isn't that Jews don't care when Trump does antisemitic things. It's that nobody else does. We do express our concerns, but they're not amplified. The 1,000 microphones thrust in our face when Omar says "allegiance" disappear when Trump says "your Prime Minister".

Is that going to happen again? Some media sources have picked up on the antisemitism angle as something worth emphasizing. While JTA buried the lede (its current headline is "Trump gets hero’s welcome at Republican Jewish Coalition conference"; the "your country" bit is 9 paragraphs in and described as an "awkward moment"), others shone the spotlight where it belonged. 

Haaretz ran the same body text as JTA but reheadlined the story "'Your Prime Minister Netanyahu': Watch Trump's Very Awkward Speech to American Jews" (subtitle: "At Republican Jewish conference, U.S. president mocked refugees, asked crowd to push for tariffs with 'your people' and seemed to suggest all Jews voted Obama"). Allison Kaplan Sommer filed her own piece "Calling Out Omar and Democrats' 'anti-Semitism,' Trump Pulls Jewish Dual Loyalty Trope."

The Times of Israel's story was "Trump tells US Jews that Netanyahu is 'your prime minister' (subtitle: "President also says Democrats would leave Israel 'out there by yourselves' in comments to Republican Jewish group; asks how they could back Obama, apparently referring to all Jews").

Outside the Jewish press, Business Insider wrote "Trump spoke to an audience of American Jews and referred to Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu as 'your prime minister'", and Slate ran with the similar "In Speech to Republican Jews, Trump Refers to Netanyahu as 'Your Prime Minister'".

So that suggests these remarks are getting coverage, and are getting coverage as an antisemitism case. Which is good. Because it should.

But what we haven't seen yet is the sort of secondary reporting that truly defines something becoming a story. Nobody, for example, has pressed the RJC's Matt Brooks or other prominent GOP figures to comment on Trump's remarks, or ask them if they think that Bibi is "their" Prime Minister. There haven't been headlines or stories which take for granted that this is a controversy or a crisis for the GOP and RJC -- nothing has yet run of the form "Trump, RJC on defensive after comments suggesting Jewish 'dual loyalty' to Israel". Nobody is pressing groups like the ADL as to whether they're in contact with the RJC or Trump and if there has been satisfactory progress to walk back the antisemitic valences of what Trump said. Indeed, there isn't yet even the call for an apology, let alone the feverish meta-commentary about what it means that no apology is forthcoming.

That's the big difference between how left and right antisemitism is covered. It isn't that the latter is ignored. It's that Jewish criticisms of the latter aren't amplified; they don't yield the multi-day meta-coverage and the demands for apologies and the calls for comment that requires everyone to take a stand and get placed in awkward and uncomfortable positions.

Some of that is due to Trump's unique property -- he's got so many scandals swirling about him at any given time that no individual one ever seems to stick for more than a half-second.

But this is clearly more than just a Trump phenomenon. And I'm not sure how to fix it. The claim is often said that we, the Jewish people, can't "let" this sort of unequal coverage and treatment persist. And yes, it's probably true that the Jewish media could do more to keep these stories afloat -- to treat them as stories, not just one-off "awkward moments" that get a day's comment and are forgotten.

Yet the fact is that it strikes me as unlikely that such efforts, even if expended, would gain traction unless they were matched by interest from the non-Jewish press -- and that I very much doubt is forthcoming. 

For my part, a huge swath of the non-Jewish interest I've seen in this story centers almost exclusively around the "hypocrisy" charge -- Omar got raked over the coals for "allegiance" while Trump was supposedly met with "crickets." The problem is that (a) hypocrisy is a two-way street -- how many people in the former case were insisting that dual loyalty insinuations weren't a big deal or were just a big ol' smear? -- , (b) depending on the critic, hypocrisy can be an unfair charge insofar as it implies that Jews haven't been trying to call out Trump over this (see above to falsify that), and (c) the time spent on the meta-point of hypocrisy is energy taken away from the primary point of "Trump said something antisemitic,"  so it ends up diluting the narrative and ironically further entrenches the sense that Trump is taking less fire for a similar sin.

In any event, I may not have a solution, but I know what I want to see. I want to see journalists calling up Brooks and GOP congressmen and White House spokespersons (and the ADL and AJC, and Democratic officials and other liberal anti-racism and anti-antisemitism groups) and getting comment and keeping the story alive. I want headlines that are about the scandal and its continued fallout. I want pained discussions of the difficult position this is placing conservative figures, how they're struggling to grapple with how to forcefully denounce antisemitism while not cutting ties with a President still popular in his party, and what this signals for 2020. I want pieces about the huge blow the RJC conference struck against ongoing GOP efforts to attract Jewish voters -- what should have been a coming-out-party for Trump-supporting Republicans turned into a fiasco.

In short, I want journalists to treat Trump's antisemitism like a story.

We'll see if they do.