The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Thought-provoking analysis of our "four countries"

The Atlantic's current issue adapts veteran writer George Packer's latest book, in which he argues that the US has fractured into four distinct world views:

National narratives, like personal ones, are prone to sentimentality, grievance, pride, shame, self-blindness. There is never just one—they compete and constantly change. The most durable narratives are not the ones that stand up best to fact-checking. They’re the ones that address our deepest needs and desires. Americans know by now that democracy depends on a baseline of shared reality—when facts become fungible, we’re lost. But just as no one can live a happy and productive life in nonstop self-criticism, nations require more than facts—they need stories that convey a moral identity. The long gaze in the mirror has to end in self-respect or it will swallow us up.

The 1970s ended postwar, bipartisan, middle-class America, and with it the two relatively stable narratives of getting ahead and the fair shake. In their place, four rival narratives have emerged, four accounts of America’s moral identity. They have roots in history, but they are shaped by new ways of thinking and living. They reflect schisms on both sides of the divide that has made us two countries, extending and deepening the lines of fracture. Over the past four decades, the four narratives have taken turns exercising influence. They overlap, morph into one another, attract and repel one another. None can be understood apart from the others, because all four emerge from the same whole.

All four of the narratives I’ve described emerged from America’s failure to sustain and enlarge the middle-class democracy of the postwar years. They all respond to real problems. Each offers a value that the others need and lacks ones that the others have. Free America celebrates the energy of the unencumbered individual. Smart America respects intelligence and welcomes change. Real America commits itself to a place and has a sense of limits. Just America demands a confrontation with what the others want to avoid. They rise from a single society, and even in one as polarized as ours they continually shape, absorb, and morph into one another. But their tendency is also to divide us, pitting tribe against tribe. These divisions impoverish each narrative into a cramped and ever more extreme version of itself.

All four narratives are also driven by a competition for status that generates fierce anxiety and resentment. They all anoint winners and losers.

The essay really has me thinking about our country, and how to get it back on track. I'm tempted to buy the book. Of course, it'll be about 80th in line with my current reading stack...but what's summer for?

Gotta love the centrists

The Washington Post has three opinion pieces this morning that outline where the "centrists" in my party actually stand. The first, by US Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), argues in favor of letting 40 Senators, representing about 30% of the country, block legislation that the other 70% of the country want merely by threatening to block the legislation:

Once in a majority, it is tempting to believe you will stay in the majority. But a Democratic Senate minority used the 60-vote threshold just last year to filibuster a police reform proposal and a covid-relief bill that many Democrats viewed as inadequate. Those filibusters were mounted not as attempts to block progress, but to force continued negotiations toward better solutions.

And, sometimes, the filibuster, as it’s been used in previous Congresses, is needed to protect against attacks on women’s health, clean air and water, or aid to children and families in need.

My support for retaining the 60-vote threshold is not based on the importance of any particular policy. It is based on what is best for our democracy. The filibuster compels moderation and helps protect the country from wild swings between opposing policy poles.

To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to pass the For the People Act (voting-rights legislation I support and have co-sponsored), I would ask: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to see that legislation rescinded a few years from now and replaced by a nationwide voter-ID law or restrictions on voting by mail in federal elections, over the objections of the minority?

Well, yes, actually, writes Greg Sargent: "That truly is frightful. Imagine a world in which legislative majorities could pass voting restrictions over the objections of minorities!"

As one of the last Democratic holdouts against filibuster reform, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is making big news with an op-ed in The Post laying out her rationale. Some of its central pronouncements have already been debunked: Despite her claims otherwise, the filibuster does not facilitate moderation or bipartisan cooperation.

But there’s an even more fundamental flaw in Sinema’s argument: Defending democracy and the filibuster simultaneously, in the terms that Sinema herself employs, is simply incoherent to its core.

Sinema’s own treatment of these questions inadvertently serves to reveal that a choice must inevitably be made between the two — and that Sinema is choosing the filibuster over defending democracy.

Josh Marshall simply calls her "a preening clown," while New Republic's Matt Ford asks "how dumb does Kyrsten Sinema think we are?" But WaPo columnist Catherine Rampell argues that Manchin actually got Senate Republicans to admit to their lie that they only care about protecting the integrity of elections:

In a memo, Manchin proposed building upon parts of the For the People Act and a narrower bill, known as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, with a few amendments. His proposal would make Election Day a public holiday, require two weeks of early voting, automatically register voters through motor vehicle departments and eliminate partisan gerrymandering. It’s not everything Democrats want — and has some oversights — but it addresses most of the party’s goals for promoting free and fair elections.

Perhaps more important, from a political standpoint: Manchin’s compromise completely undercuts Republicans’ case for blocking reform.

It does this by including new requirements to safeguard election security, which is — or was — the top priority of Republicans concerned by “questions” the 2020 election supposedly raised.

Republicans, on the other hand, rejected the framework. Immediately, forcefully, unambiguously.

“It needs to be blocked,” remarked Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who a week earlier praised Manchin as “saving our country” by encouraging bipartisanship.

Let's not forget, simple demographics and the Constitution already give the Republican Party a disproportionate influence on legislation. And also remember, the Republican Party doesn't want to govern; they want to rule.

Welcome to Summer 2021

The northern hemisphere started meteorological summer at midnight local time today. Chicago's weather today couldn't have turned out better. Unfortunately, I go into the office on the first and last days of each week, so I only know about this from reading weather reports.

At my real job, we have a release tomorrow onto a completely new Azure subscription, so for only the second time in 37 sprints (I hope) I don't expect a boring deployment. Which kind of fits with all the decidedly-not-boring news that cropped up today:

  • The XPOTUS and his wackier supporters have a new conspiracy theory about him retaking office in a coup d'état this August. No, really.
  • In what could only 100% certainly no doubt how could you even imagine a coincidence, former White House counsel Don McGahn will testify before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow morning.
  • Also uncoincidentally, a group of 100 historians and political scientists who study this sort of thing have put out a statement warning of imminent democratic collapse in the US. “The playbook that the Republican Party is executing at the state and national levels is very much consistent with actions taken by illiberal, anti-democratic, anti-pluralist parties in other democracies that have slipped away from free and fair elections,” according to the Post.
  • Speaking of democratic backsliding, Josh Marshall takes the Israeli cognoscenti to task for still not getting how much the Israeli government aligning with an American political party has hurt them.
  • Here in Illinois, the state legislature adjourned after completing a number of tasks, including passing a $46 billion budget that no one got to read before they voted on it. (I'm doubly incensed about this because my own party did it. We really need to be better than the other guys. Seriously.)
  • For the first time since March 2020, Illinois has no states on its mandatory quarantine list. And we reported the fewest new Covid-19 cases (401) since we started reporting them.
  • The Northalsted Business Alliance wants to change the name of Chicago's Boystown neighborhood to...Northalsted. Residents across the LGBTQ spectrum say "just, no."

Finally, a Texas A&M business professor expects a "wave of resignations" as people go back to their offices.

Leaving on a jet plane

Now that I'm more than two weeks past my second Pfizer jab, I'm heading to O'Hare tomorrow for the first time since January 2020. I remember back in September 2018 when I finally broke my longest-ever drought from flying of 221 days. Tomorrow will mark 481 days grounded.

But that's tomorrow. Today, I'm interested in the following:

And finally, Chicago's endangered piping plovers Monty and Rose have laid three eggs. We should see baby piping plovers in about four weeks.

One step closer to the 51st State

House Democrats passed a bill granting statehood to the District of Columbia yesterday afternoon. It has a better chance of becoming law than the last one:

The bill, symbolically titled H.R. 51, now heads to the Senate, where proponents hope to break new ground — including a first-ever hearing in that chamber. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) pledged Tuesday that “we will try to work a path to get [statehood] done,” and the White House asked Congress in a policy statement to pass the legislation as swiftly as possible.

But the political odds remain formidable, with the Senate filibuster requiring the support of 60 senators to advance legislation. Republicans, who hold 50 seats, have branded the bill as a Democratic power grab because it would create two Senate seats for the deep-blue city. Not even all Senate Democrats have backed the bill as the clock ticks toward the 2022 midterm election.

H.R. 51 would shrink the federal district to a two-square-mile enclave, including federal buildings such as the Capitol and the White House. The city’s other residential and commercial areas would become the state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, to honor abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Of course, without filibuster reform, it won't get a vote in the Senate. So we may have to try again in 2023. But this one may squeak by, as it's really hard for Republicans to deny that keeping 750,000 people from representation in Congress looks bad, even for them.

Guilty

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is, officially, a felon and a murderer. The jury deliberated for longer than 9 minutes and 28 seconds, but not much longer.

Good luck in gen pop, you racist thug.

Some reactions:

  • Barack Obama: "[I]f we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that true justice is about much more than a single verdict in a single trial."
  • Jennifer Rubin: "Tuesday’s verdict, which is likely to be appealed, does not mean the overarching problem of racism in policing is resolved."
  • US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY): "That a family had to lose a son, brother and father; that a teenage girl had to film and post a murder, that millions across the country had to organize and march just for George Floyd to be seen and valued is not justice."
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY): "I'm thankful for George Floyd’s family that justice was served. America was forever changed by the video of Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd. However, a guilty verdict doesn’t mean the persistent problem of police misconduct is solved. We'll keep working for meaningful change"
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY): ""
  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): "George Floyd should be alive today. His family’s calls for justice for his murder were heard around the world. He did not die in vain. We must make sure other families don't suffer the same racism, violence & pain, and we must enact the George Floyd #JusticeInPolicing Act."
  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA): ""
  • Andy Borowitz: "Chauvin’s Defense Team Blames Guilty Verdict on Jury’s Ability To See"
  • The Onion: "‘This Is Strike One, Mr. Chauvin,’ Says Judge Reading Guilty Verdict Before Handing Gun, Badge Back"

We have a long way to go. But maybe, just maybe, this is a start, and not an aberration.

Reactionaries

Today's Republican Party has gone so far from an actual policy-making political entity that one wonders if they see their own self-owns. Right now, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said so many nonsensical things about President Biden's key proposals that I have trouble taking him seriously.

OK, I have more trouble lately.

As Paul Krugman pointed out this week, Republicans oppose Biden's proposals because they don't want him to succeed. But this strategy has run into the reality of 75% of their own voters supporting the recovery plan passed in January and the infrastructure bill proposed late last month.

And now they're all a-twitter about vaccine passports.

It's sad watching the Party of Lincoln implode. They could pull out of their death spiral, the way we did in the late 1980s, but right now I'm not optimistic. In the past, parties that have reinvented themselves have done so through popular policy initiatives: the Democrats with civil rights, the Republicans with anti-trust law. The parties that have died failed to say what they stood for, only what they stood against: the Federalists (against the expansion of civil rights in the 1790s), the Know-Nothings (against the expansion of civil rights in the 1850s), the Whigs (against the Know-Nothings in the 1850s, but apparently against themselves as well).

You can see this most clearly in the Republican Party's anger at corporations who have come out against Republican voting suppression laws. Republicans love corporate involvement in politics most of the time, because corporations love right-wing governments most of the time—but in this case, companies have realized the GOP are on the wrong side of history. Josh Marshall made a good argument (paywalled) that corporations take the future into account, and the future doesn't look like the modern GOP's imagined past. So they're making low-cost efforts to ensure the young people who will buy things for the next 60 years don't hate them. The old people who don't buy things now, let alone for the next 10 or 20 years, don't influence profits quite as much.

I want a real opposition party, one with real ideas, not this clown show of right-wing anti-populism that hasn't had a serious policy proposal in 30 years.

Joe's enormous package

President Biden just signed the largest relief bill in history:


Doug Mills/New York Times

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package into law Thursday, his first legislative achievement since taking office less than two months ago, a measure to infuse billions into the U.S. economy and bolster funding for vaccines, testing and school reopenings.

The package, which was unanimously opposed by Republicans in Congress, will also provide millions of Americans with $1,400 stimulus checks that are set to go out by the end of the month. The White House is planning a victory lap tomark the achievement with the president, First Lady Jill Biden, and Vice President Kamala Harris hitting the road next week.

The signing from the Oval Office comes just hours before Biden is set to mark one year of coronavirus pandemic shutdowns with his first prime-time address since taking office. The remarks are expected to both look back at the scale of loss over that time and peer ahead at a post-pandemic future.

The law provides immediate payments of $1,400 per person, including dependents, for individuals making less than $75,000 per year or families making less than $150,000; a $3,000 tax credit for every child under 18 ($3,600 under 6); subsidies for child-car costs; an expansion of the Affordable Care Act; and money for pensions, among many other provisions.

Remember when we thought Biden would be just, you know, OK? Or that the Democratic Party would once again cower in fear of the other guys yelling about bipartisanship and deficits?

Welcome to 2021.

Last weekday of the winter

I get to turn off and put away my work laptop in a little bit in preparation for heading back to the office on Monday morning. I can scarcely wait. 

Meanwhile, I've got a few things to read:

OK, one more work task this month, then...I've got some other stuff to do.

About time we learned something

As the night follows the day, now that Republicans have lost power they're once again all a-flutter about deficits. This time, Democrats aren't having it:

Twelve years ago, Barack Obama entered the White House amid somewhat similar circumstances: The economy was in a tailspin; stimulus and relief were desperately needed. His administration spent weeks watering down a bill that was more aimed at winning Republican support than adequately filling the yawning hole in the economy: The bill’s bottom-line figure was kept below $1 trillion so as not to spook the deficit hawks, and much of the relief it did include was engineered to flow into the gap with such subtlety that it was destined to be barely felt at all.

For all of Obama’s entreaties to his political opponents, Republicans rejected it anyway. They were rewarded for all that intransigence first with a big opinion swing against the stimulus and then by a wave election that took back control of the House of Representatives in 2010.

Despite all that has happened between January 2009 and February 2021, Republicans are running the same plays: fighting against economic relief in the hopes that they can use the immiseration that would follow for their political benefit.

But this is not 2009. The situation may be vaguely similar—an economic crash following catastrophic Republican governance—but the world has changed a great deal. The Black-Eyed Peas have faded toward irrelevance; most people now acknowledge that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was bad. And the attacks on Democratic spending have lost some of their spicy tang after another deficit-busting GOP administration.

The media also seems to have learned some lessons from the radicalization of the GOP. Once, a lack of opposition votes was a scandal in miniature. In 2009, McConnell was able to weaponize that idea, pushing the Obama administration to downgrade its asks without ever having to give anything up in return. McConnell got cover from media luminaries such as David Broder, who approvingly cited Obama’s bipartisan yearnings: “The president has told visitors that he would rather have 70 votes in the Senate for a bill that gives him 85 percent of what he wants rather than a 100 percent satisfactory bill that passes 52 to 48.” It’s taken a while—and a deadly pandemic—but many in the often fabulously naïve Beltway press have gotten smarter. Now the narrative is increasingly centered on McConnell’s intransigence, rather than some failure on the part of Democrats to persuade Republicans to vote for legislation that would have been bipartisan not that long ago.

Right. It only took a Republican administration's incompetence allowing mass death from a pandemic to finally—finally!—get people understand they have no interest in governing.

Might we soon enter a truly progressive era in American politics? It's about damn time if we do.