Time is not on Brett Kavanaugh’s side

The FBI’s renewed investigation into multiple allegations of sexual misconduct by Brett Kavanaugh is not good news for him, or for Donald Trump.

The foremost danger for them, of course, is that FBI agents will quickly and easily find evidence that supports the allegations — or that confirms Kavanaugh’s alter ego as a lying, abusive drunk, hints of which we saw when he lost control in front of a Senate panel on Thursday.

But even if the investigation has been so neutered by the White House counsel as to foreordain a coverup, it gives those who see Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court as an affront to core American values a great gift: Time.

Looking at the multitude of ways in which the Trump presidency is profoundly not normal, a consistent factor is how quickly we lurch from drama to drama, without a moment’s peace. The public and the press can barely keep track of the crises, not to mention process them, react to them, prevent them, or think about how to repair them.

That’s the pace we were going at again on Friday — until Senator Jeff Flake was finally persuaded to call for a few days’ delay.

If Trump is effectively programming the ultimate reality TV series, Thursday’s cliffhanger was supposed to resolve over the weekend, allowing for a new arc to start today.

Instead, the focus is staying on Kavanaugh, utterly overwhelming any interest in Trump’s actually quite startling trade announcement, and turning the ensuing question-and-answer session into yet another occasion for Trump to free-associate, smirkily mocking Democratic senators, falsely asserting that Kavanaugh acknowledges ever had a drinking problem, and offhandedly calling the press corps of being “a part of the Democrat party.”

E.J. Dionne, Jr. noted the upside of the delay in his Washington Post opinion column:

The good news is that the investigation offers time for one important reality to sink in: It is simply not true, as was so often claimed, that both witnesses were equally “believable.”

I strongly endorse his suggested reading, by the way:

Every undecided senator should read Philip Bump’s extensive fact checkin The Post flagging answers Kavanaugh gave that “stretched or misrepresented the truth.” Then, the senators should turn to the New York Times’ equally comprehensive analysis describing responses Kavanaugh gave that were “misleading, disputed or off point.”

And they can examine a very helpful graph created by Alvin Chang at Vox. It uses bright colors to chart the comparative responsiveness of the two witnesses. Where they answered directly, the graph showed blue; where they dodged a question or refused to answer, it showed magenta. Ford’s chart is a sea of blue; Kavanaugh’s is replete with evasive magenta.

But there’s another, maybe even more important reality that should and could sink in with a little more time: how Kavanaugh’s red-faced, venomous partisan outburst on Thursday – calling the allegations “a calculated and orchestrated political hit…  on behalf of the Clintons” – renders him unfit for a leading role in a judicial branch that is supposed to be beyond partisan politics.

Now, obviously the Supreme Court is riven with politics, with four of its members already representing extremist right-wing views of the Constitution and social justice. But its members collegially avoid declaring their party loyalties, rather than get spitting mad about them. The appearance of a judicial system that is blind to bias is imperative for our democracy, even if the reality falls a bit short.

And don’t underestimate the value of a blistering, hysterically funny Saturday Night Live sketch (11 million views and counting on YouTube alone) in affecting popular discourse. Normally, Trump outrages have come and gone before SNL is able to mock them.

Finally, although the Kavanaugh nomination initially brought together almost everyone under the conservative tent including the never-Trumpers, the next few days will give that coalition more time to fray, and might give the tiny handful of allegedly non-Trump-lickspittle Republican senators a chance to find some way to vote no.

Because it’s no longer just a matter of Trump putting a lasting conservative imprint on the Supreme Court.

It’s now a matter of putting a Trump imprint on the Supreme Court – the imprint of misogyny, rage, white-male victimization, loss of control, and manifest unfitness for the job. And that imprint, placed by the Republican Party that has many elections in its future, would last a lifetime.

With a new NAFTA, Trump’s norm-shattering favors labor for once

Trump announces new trade agreement.
Trump announces new trade agreement.

Donald Trump has smashed presidential precedents left and right -– almost exclusively to the benefit of the right.

The uppermost current example, of course, is his backing of an unhinged apparent sexual predator who would use a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court to fight for white patriarchy and unlimited executive power.

But the trade agreement Trump announced today includes some concessions to the labor movement that Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — reflecting the globalist consensus long embraced by the bipartisan elite in Washington – saw as utterly anachronistic.

It also reflects a rejection of the deeply held view among previous presidents from both parties that the unfettered flow of capital and goods serves U.S. interests – despite the ample evidence that it favors giant multinational corporations and investors over American workers.

“Without tariffs, we wouldn’t be standing here,” Trump said Monday morning. And although he doesn’t seem to understand how tariffs actually work, he was probably right.

It’s too early to conclude anything with great certainty – the final text is only now being closely examined by third parties, and it’s likely there are all sorts of pro-corporate surprises to come, especially when it comes to patents and intellectual property.

But starting in 2020, the new deal would require “a car or truck must have 75 percent of its components manufactured in Canada, Mexico or the United States, a substantial boost from the current 62.5 percent requirement,” the Washington Post reports. “There’s also a new rule that a significant percentage of the work done on the car must be completed by workers earning at least $16 an hour, or about three times what the typical Mexican autoworker makes.”

Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen’s Trade Watch, and the dean of the anti-globalization/anti-free-trade activists, issued a statement that I’m pretty sure was more favorable than any she’s issued in my lifetime. “The new deal includes some important improvements for which we have long advocated, some new terms we oppose and more work required to stop NAFTA’s ongoing job outsourcing, downward pressure on our wages and environmental damage,” she said.

She called out “important progress… with the removal of investment terms that help outsource jobs and a dramatic reining-in of NAFTA’s outrageous corporate Investor State Dispute Settlement tribunals under which corporations have grabbed hundreds of millions from taxpayers after attacks on environmental and health policies.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s new strategy “seeks to win over labor unions long opposed to free-trade pacts, while maintaining support from business groups that have generally supported them.”

And Teamsters leader Jim Hoffa said in a statement that the union was “pleased” by the new agreement, noting “with approval the considerable progress on workers’ rights.” He said new labor requirements “contain obligations and protections that are superior to the original NAFTA, and also to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

The New York Times didn’t know what to make of Trump’s press conference; the Washington Post did

Faced with how to write up what it called Trump’s “rambling” press conference on Wednesday, the New York Times offered its readers a grab-bag of observations. Its main story was literally headlined: “5 Takeaways From Trump’s News Conference at the United Nations” (although in the print edition, where it ran on page A16, the headline was possibly even more anodyne: “United Nations, Accusations and More: Trump in 83 Minutes.”)

The Times covered the Trump press conference as if he were a normal president, trying to tease out the biggest news and report it dutifully, stenographically, and without much context or editorializing.

The New York Times may be thriving, but here it failed.

By contrast, some subset of the Washington Post staff appears to have listened intently to the press conference and realized that there was an incredibly significant story to tell about what Trump said, and that it was almost entirely about the context. This was not a story that could be told with stenography.

And although that story did not lead the print edition — there was a bland rehash under the headline “On hearing’s eve, Trump stands by Kavanaugh” — the Post’s website led through the night and into the morning with the much more important article by Philip Rucker, Robert Costa, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker, headlined “Defending Kavanaugh, Trump laments #MeToo as ‘very dangerous’ for powerful men”.

And here are its memorable first two paragraphs:

President Trump on Wednesday placed himself at the center of the anguished national debate over sexual assault, suggesting in his defense of embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh that the #MeToo movement was “very dangerous” and unfairly threatened an entire class of powerful men.

Trump’s expansive argument cast doubt on the credibility not only of the three women who have accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, but also on scores of other women who have claimed sexual abuse by prominent men, including the president himself.

Reporters at major news organizations often hold back, knowing that making strong conclusions or — even worse —  taking sides could subject them to criticism from their editors, and their editors’ editors. And even the Post story didn’t go as far as I did last night, calling Trump’s comments clearly and overtly misogynistic.

But editors of both papers should ask themselves this morning: Whose readers were served better? And the answer is clear.

Was it this?

Or was it this?

The big news from Trump’s press conference is that he hates women

Typically, faced with a wide-ranging news conference, reporters try to figure out what was the biggest news, and to lead with that.

And yes, Trump said some individually astonishing things. He acknowledged that he “fights back” in a way some people apparently misinterpret as obstruction of justice. He asserted that Barack Obama came close to launching a nuclear war against North Korea. He accused China, without evidence, of trying to interfere in the midterm elections. And he insisted that the assembled leaders at the United Nations weren’t laughing at him on Tuesday, they were laughing with him.

But the big “news” is that taken as a whole, Trump showed possibly more clearly than ever before that he lives in a fantasy world where reality bends to whatever he wants to believe is true.

And even more importantly, taken as a whole, it was an extraordinary display of misogyny, both in how he answered some questions and how he refused to answer others. He has never treated women so clearly as the “other”, and as suspect, and as a threat to men.

He had no empathy for women as victims of sexual assault. Quite the contrary: He acknowledged that that he sympathizes with people who’ve been accused of sexual assault because he has, too. And he ended with a particularly dire warning about how “it’s a very dangerous period in our country” because women are accusing famous people of sexual assault.

I’m going to focus on Trump’s comments about women, because I don’t think he has ever spoken more honestly about his feelings toward them. They are threatening. They are not to be trusted. They love him (but they don’t.)

Read moreThe big news from Trump’s press conference is that he hates women