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2022 has not been a good year for British PMs. Or for high-profile members of the British government named Elizabeth. So, if you're a PM named Elizabeth, you don't need a crystal ball to figure out that trouble might be ahead. And indeed, trouble definitely found PM Liz Truss yesterday. After a disastrous tenure marked by some of the most ill-advised policy initiatives England has ever seen (right up there with appeasement and the Stamp Act), Truss fell on her sword and announced that she will resign the premiership.
Although we are a U.S. politics site, we've given a lot of coverage to what is going in Britain these days. As we've noted many times, the U.K. is a very important ally, in terms of the international order in general, and the Ukraine War in particular. The U.S. and U.K. economies are also linked at the hip in many ways, with the result that turmoil on one side of the pond generally produces turmoil on the other side.
More broadly, it's pretty clear that people across the globe are grappling with some of the changes wrought by increasing globalization. Whether that means joining alliances (e.g., Finland entering NATO) or leaving alliances behind (e.g., Brexit) or embracing right-wing populists (e.g., Viktor Orbán, Jair Bolsonaro) or tossing such populists overboard (e.g., Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Truss), it all appears to be part of the same big, unfolding story. A story that is in many ways similar to what happened in the early decades of the 20th century.
One other thing. Truss went all-in on a trickle-down "solution" to Britain's economic woes. Just announcing that plan sent the British economy into a tailspin and led to the collapse of Truss' government. This left us wondering if trickle-down, which has failed time and again, has received the final dagger in its heart. There's no way to know yet, but what we can say is we're not the only ones asking that question.
Now that we've given a few of our thoughts, we'll turn it over to the readers. To start, we've run numerous reports from three of our British readers in the last few weeks. All three were kind enough to send in some thoughts on the fall of the Truss ministry. So, we'll start with that trio:
- A.B. in Lichfield, England, UK: Fu**ing hell.
I'm sorry for the language, but nothing else really seems to summon up the spirit of the absurdist situation comedy that we now find ourselves living in. By noon Thursday it was clear a Truss resignation was on the cards, but I'm still stunned by the speed and political savagery of recent events.
The U.K. defines the "Great Offices of State" as the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, and Home Secretary (quaint local terminology aside, I'm assuming most readers can work out responsibilities). These are the most senior and prestigious cabinet posts. The last two months have given us, in sequence, the following historical records:
The two shortest-serving Chancellors of the Exchequer not to have died in office.
The shortest-serving Home Secretary
The shortest-serving Prime Minister in history.
And Liz Truss isn't even close to the second-shortest-serving PM, regardless of whether we're using Canning's total of 119 days in office, or Rockingham's 97 days for his second term. When she steps down next week, she'll have mustered no more than 53 days in post. But that doesn't really tell the whole story, since 18 of those days will have been taken up by a combination of the 10 days mourning for the Queen and the week it will take to replace the PM. In practice, Truss crashed and burned her premiership in just 35 days of political activity. Apologies if any of this seems repetitive, but it seems necessary to stress the extent of the unprecedented political turmoil we're going through.
Most analysis focuses on the immediate causes, but I want to take a moment to—as quickly and concisely as possible—look at some of the deeper underlying causes. What we're arguably seeing is the final stages of a 30-year Conservative Party internal struggle over Europe. In the 17th century, a similar struggle likely would have manifested itself as a literal civil war, so I suppose we should be grateful that modern representative democracy has spared us that much. But it's possible to draw a straight line between John Major's 1993 use of a vote of confidence in his government to pass the Maastricht Treaty over the objections of Conservative Eurosceptics, to David Cameron holding (and losing) the 2016 Brexit referendum at least in part to try and end the endless party infighting over Europe, to the rise of Boris Johnson's "get Brexit done" populism. Yes, the Brexiteers ultimately won, but at the cost of purging many of the Conservative Party's more moderate and experienced voices; and as Robespierre and Trotsky would have been able to tell us, winning the revolution and civil war is no guarantee of either political stability or personal safety. Truss's collapse is merely the endgame where the revolution's children eat their own.
I can't help thinking that where 1956 and the Suez Canal Crisis marked the end of Britain's status as a major global military power, 2022 and the Truss Crisis will be seen to mark the end of Britain's status as a major global economic power. Post-Brexit, we are clearly poorer, more isolated, and less influential as a nation; and we're now reaping the political and economic consequences of that monumental act of national self-harm.
But most of all, it's all just desperately, desperately sad.
- S.T. in Worcestershire, England, UK: I feel somewhat embarrassed about sending in yet a
further contribution about the demolition derby which currently masquerades as the U.K. government but, as A.B. points out
above, these are indeed extraordinary times.
J.S. of Basingstoke gave a concise summary yesterday of the events on Tuesday, principally new Chancellor Hunt ripping up the infamous "Fiscal Event," and Wednesday, when the chaos just went off the scale. Thursday morning started quiet but the alarm bells were ringing as soon Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee which organizes leadership contests, was seen entering 10 Downing Street by the rear door. He was soon joined by PM Truss's closest confidant, the deputy PM Therese Coffey, and Jake Berry, the party chairman. As usual, we will have to wait till the memoirs are published to know the full story, but it would seem likely that Sir Graham had been deluged with letters of no confidence from MPs and told Liz Truss the time had come to make a dignified exit.
So just after 1:00 p.m., the lectern appeared outside 10 Downing Street for the fourth time in just over 6 years for a Conservative Prime Minister to announce their pending departure. Truss's speech was short and mercifully less self-pitying than Boris Johnson's effort, but as ever mainly blamed "international instability" and was unwilling to address her and her government's responsibility in exacerbating the current economic crisis.
Sir Graham wants a new leader in place by October 28. To achieve this, the 1922 Committee has rewritten the rules to run the contest and now requires any candidate to have 100 nominations from Conservative MPs to stand. With about 360 MP's currently eligible, this is far more challenging than any recent leadership contest. If only one candidate gets over 100 nominations, he or she will automatically become leader, with no involvement by party members.
As for the runner and riders, Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt, who came second and third in the last contest, are almost certain to try to run. The right of the party will attempt to field a candidate, possibly Suella Braverman, whose resignation as Home Secretary on Thursday seems to have been in anticipation of an imminent contest, or Kemi Badenoch, another culture warrior. Either may struggle to reach 100. A number of MPs have suggested a return of the King over the Water (well, he is on yet another holiday, this time in the Caribbean), Boris Johnson, but given the level of support required to stand , the great comeback may have to be put on hold.
Of more interest, perhaps, is where does this leave the Conservative government? With a majority of 70 they should be able to remain in office, regardless of the calls from every opposition party for an immediate general election. But the party is so split, so tribalized, so riven with personal animosities that it is very difficult to see how it can govern effectively. Particularly instructive is the view of the Right to the Truss premiership. Their viewpoint, as expressed in Braverman's resignation letter, was that it is only Truss's personal shortcomings which caused the policies she promoted to fail. If the next leader dares to deviate from this ideological stance, they proved during the attempt to arrive at a Brexit agreement, that they are cohesive and large enough to cause no end of trouble and obstruction if they chose to.
In truth the party is in acute danger of ceasing to be conservative and morphing into a English nationalist/libertarian party, not unlike the sections of the Republican party. But that way lies political annihilation. This approach is a minority view within the U.K. electorate and there is no chance of gerrymandering or packing the judiciary with political supporters to offset this disadvantage, as happens in the U.S.
The next leader must try to re-engage U.K. electorate which, given the economic outlook, will be extremely difficult. Failing that his or her task is to try to find a way of minimizing the length of opposition which the party faces the other side of the next general election. The Prime Minister can call an election at any date up to January 2025, at which point an election becomes mandatory.
- G.S. in Basingstoke, England, UK: It's actually a bit difficult to write a follow-up after
the events of Thursday, as the state of politics here is simply so embarrassing now. As your readership will now be aware,
Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned after a lengthy meeting with Sir Graham Brady (the powerful leader of
the 1922 committee), the deputy Prime Minister and the Conservative party chairman. Presumably they told her that
support for her within the party had cratered far beyond the 14 or so MPs that had publicly called for her to go;
whatever the event, Truss' insistence that "she is a fighter, not a quitter" was for the birds.
What happens now? Well, as for Truss herself, she'll be out of office in just over a week, as the decision has been taken not to allow another protracted Tory leadership contest. She'll go down in history as having the shortest tenure in office of any U.K. PM, reversing her only major policy decisions after crashing the economy and having the second shortest Chancellor and shortest Home Secretary tenures in history. I'd think it unlikely any serious meaningful return to front bench politics is unlikely, but see below.
Labour and the opposition parties are calling for an election, of course, but it seems hugely unlikely they will get one—this is the prerogative of the PM/Parliament, and no Tory MP is going to rebel when Labour are 30+ points ahead in the polls, as it would mean certain electoral annihilation. The question, then, is who becomes the next leader of the Tory party and hence the next PM. It has been announced that any contestants for the leadership will have to secure the backing of at least 100 MPs, meaning only those with really serious backing will make the cut. Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove have already confirmed they are out. Rishi Sunak, whom Truss defeated in the first contest, is surely in. Ditto Penny Mordaunt, who came third and has won praise for her punchy performances defending her (former) boss recently.
Suella Braverman, who resigned yesterday, is a potential from the right wing of the party. However, the surprise contestant, according to the punditry, might be... Boris Johnson. Yes, that Boris Johnson, the one who was hounded out of office 6 weeks ago after 60 members of his government, including the then-Chancellor and then-Home Secretary, resigned in disgust at the latest scandal to rear its head. At the moment Truss quit, incidentally, Johnson was in the same place he spent his last six weeks in office—on holiday. To again borrow one of your phrases, you might hope the Conservative party membership is not that stupid, but with them, you never know. Quite why anyone would want the job, though, with the economy reeling, inflation rampant, mortgage rates soaring, a restive Scottish independence movement, seemingly irreconcilable difficulties at the Irish border and much more besides, is beyond me.
The British, of course, have exercised their usual humour at the situation. There are many memes I could send through, but the most viral today has been this tweet:
My son has lived through four chancellors, three home secretaries, two prime ministers and two monarchs.— Alan McGuinness (@Alan_McGuinness) October 19, 2022
He's four months old.
Comments from a few other denizens of the British Isles:
- M.M. in Belfast, Northern Ireland: I live in Northern Ireland which is part of the
Disunited Kingdom, despite being on the island of Ireland.
A protocol to the U.K.'s Brexit treaty leaves Northern Ireland in the European Union single market for goods. This is designed to maintain an open border with the rest of the island of Ireland, which remains fully within the E.U. Both Boris Johnson (a.k.a. the British Trump) and Liz Truss (a.k.a. the British Ron DeSantis) wanted to unilaterally repudiate this aspect of the Brexit treaty.
The key issue for Ireland and Northern Ireland is whether the next British prime minister will go through with this, igniting a trade war with the E.U. and the renewal of political violence in Northern Ireland. From a U.S. viewpoint, western disunity would be unwelcome in the middle of Putin's war.
- P.H. in London, England, UK: Liz Truss' demise is good news. The political and economic situation
in the U.K. has deteriorated steadily, and of late precipitously, since the disastrous 2016 Brexit referendum. The latter
triggered not only substantial economic damage, but crashed the U.K.'s global reputation, unleashed dangerous division in
the country, and a political culture of lying, denial and delusion. Everything was falling apart, but the politicians
kept speaking of "world-beating Britain." It is this refusal to deal with reality that is the root cause of the Truss
collapse and the U.K.'s perilous situation, and is traceable directly to the Brexit referendum.
The demise of Truss' short but calamitous Premiership should mean that pernicious libertarian ideology is comprehensively discredited in the U.K., and hopefully elsewhere as well, and should mark the start of a return to more normal politics and some sort of rapprochement with the E.U. The Tories will still lose the next election badly, in my view—they have screwed up to badly for too long, and too many people are hurting—but they will have enough left to rebuild gradually in opposition and bring their more extreme right-wing faction under control. The alternative is some kind of deranged resurrection of Boris Johnson, a full-blown psychopath in my view who is "taking soundings" about standing (as we say here, as opposed to "running"). That would prolong the U.K.'s agony and result in the near obliteration of the Conservative party at the next general election (probably in 2024), but there would be further, probably irreparable, damage to our economy and politics and bring the U.K. well into "failed state" territory.
Yours from a deeply worried, almost despairing Brit who clings somehow to a tiny flicker of hope this evening
- R.O. in Manchester, England, UK: I mean, it's quite hard to know what to say, aside from
being profoundly embarrassed to be British. There's literally countries undergoing military coups where the Prime
Minister lasts longer.
Liz Truss has resigned 45 days into her tenure as Prime Minister, leaving her in the unique position of holding the job for less time than it took to hold the contest to appoint her (54 days). She is, by some margin, the shortest holder of the office in modern history. Placeholder administrations from the 17th century lasted longer. Her Chancellor was dumped last Friday, making him the shortest-serving Chancellor since the Second World War; her Home Secretary was compelled to resign Thursday, making her the shortest holder of that office since 1834. All three of them will be receiving a generous 3-month salary golden parachute, incidentally, making them the best-paid holders of their offices per-hour in history. Truss will also receive a £115k Prime Ministerial pension for the rest of her life—the equivalent of £2,500 a year for each day she spent in office, for the rest of her life. Nice work if you can get it (and profoundly mess it up so rapidly you get fired in 6 weeks).
The staggering level of stupidity the precipitated this—the absurdly long leadership contest across the summer as crisis after crisis mounted; the rapid decision to abandon televised debates between the candidates because the more people saw them, the more they hated both of them; the suicidal budget by Kwasi Kwarteng; the profound political mismanagement by Truss at essentially every level; the simple incompetence in basic party management that led to chaotic scenes in the U.K. parliament the night before her resignation—would take longer to explain that the Prime Minister spent in office. Truss's managerial competence can safely be said to be below that required to run the post office in a sleepy farming village; what's truly astonishing is that she has been a minister 10 ten years. She's somehow flown under the radar, screwing up every department she's come into contact with, for an entire decade without her party noticing, which is an appalling indictment of, well, basically the entire Tory Party.
The worst part is that, even as I'm writing this, Boris Johnson, the corrupt clown she replaced, is making noises about trying to stand as her replacement. He's actively under ethics investigation and has spent most of the time since his own party forced him to resign in disgrace going on expensive holidays paid for by other people—in fact, he's literally in the Caribbean at the moment, on someone else's dime. The rest of the field appears to be every other person who stood over the summer and managed to lose to Truss. The increasingly deranged right of the Tory party are all-in on getting Johnson back in. Most of the (substantial) centrist One Nation group are likely to line up behind Rishi Sunak (who is also very right-wing, but not actively insane). Neither side's favored candidate is remotely acceptable to the other and if either of them win they will not be capable of running the government either, since there will be mass defections and constant back-bench rebellions on every vote of consequence.
Given the 9 months of chaos preceding Johnson's previous eviction, the 2 months wasted on a ludicrously self-indulgent leadership election, the further 2 weeks of national mourning for the Queen, and the following 6 weeks of self-inflicted political paralysis, the U.K. has now not really had a government for about a year. Some three-quarters of the country now want an immediate General Election, but the current polls indicate that Labour would win somewhere in the region of 500 seats (of a chamber with 650 total), and His Majesty's Loyal Opposition would be the Scottish National Party—a party which is actively attempting to break up the U.K. The Conservative party—which is a bit obsessed with its claim to be "the most electorally successful party in the history of the world"—would be reduced to around 30 seats, potentially making them the fourth-largest party. Since under our constitution, only the governing party is permitted to call a general election, the Tories are effectively holding us hostage for another 2 years of this madness.
- J.B. in London, England, UK: At least Liz #1 went with a degree of dignity after 70 years
on the throne...
As an ardent Labour Party activist, I wanted Liz Truss to stay, and so, I suspect, did the rest of my Party. She made rabbits in headlights look like one of JFK's Profiles in Courage. She was (and still is) so pathetic, she could never have recovered from the 30%+ poll deficit she racked up in just three weeks.
The damage to the U.K. economy remains done, of course, whatever the Tory government tries to do to make things better; but the new Chancellor's "back to austerity" measures will never do that; it was bad enough last time round (2010-2019) but now, with 10%+ inflation, it is inviting riots in the streets and the collapse of what remains of our public realm.
Only a total reset will do, that can only be achieved through an immediate General Election and a Labour government, but how many Tory MPs will be turkeys voting for an early Christmas (or should it be Thanksgiving?). Labour Leader Keir Starmer may say that we in the Party are ready, but since in most parts of the country, local parties haven't even started their candidate selection process, I'm not so sure. So maybe Starmer's call for an election should be "soon please, but not quite yet..."
But that gives whoever the Tory MPs decide to crown as their fifth leader in 6 years some time to recover. So back to Damn, damn, damn.
- M.H. in Cornwall, England, UK: I'm pretty sure Thursday's post went live only minutes
after Truss resigned. I honestly thought she'd last at least 6 months, not 6 weeks, but that's what happens when
someone is put in charge of an entire nation who very obviously is not capable. It throws Boris Johnson into sharp
relief. He was and is incompetent on many levels, but not the basic, fundamental one of being able to hold a Government
together for at least 2 years. Truss is incompetent almost at an atomic level, and always was, and the Conservative
Party appointed her anyway—albeit mostly the grassroots members who've never actually been involved in politics above
the Parish Council level. The actual Parliamentarians didn't vote for her.
The worst thing about it all is that we've still got 2 more years of this. There should be a new Prime Minister by November—Truss herself saying in her resignation statement that it should only take a week (unlike the interminable contest that resulted in her, which turned out longer than her premiership) suggests to me that it's all been arranged by the 1922s (the parliamentary inner circle of the Tory Party): There'll be a "contest" with just one candidate. Probably Ben Wallace or Rishi Sunak. I reckon the former, as a unity candidate—Sunak's still quite divisive, not to mention brown. Whoever it is, they'll last as long as they last. With a bit of luck they might even still be PM at the next election, which is set for December 2024 and which I can't see arriving a nanosecond earlier, given the polling and the fact that the only mechanism for calling it is either the PM's whim or a no-confidence vote. In other words, the Tories would have to effectively commit electoral suicide. So we're stuck with this absolute madhouse for 2 years. Short of open revolution, anyway.
And a few thoughts from readers who do not reside in the U.K.:
- S.B. in Los Angeles, CA: I know you were asking for reactions from British and Irish
readers but as a lover of democracy on both sides of the pond, I have to share my initial reflections once the initial
shock wore off about Truss' resignation. I studied history at college with particular interest in the early 20th
century, the lead-up to World War II and the war itself. My grandfather was killed in action fighting the Nazis at the
Battle of the Bulge.
As I recall, one of the key factors that allowed the fascists in Germany and Italy to come to power was the actual or perceived ineptitude of the democratic governments in place at the time. In Germany, the Weimar Republic was unable to provide effective leadership amid the economic problems with hyperinflation, the political turmoil left over from the end of World War I and political conflict between multiple factions. In Italy, Mussolini's National Fascist Party was able to take advantage of the weakness of the "Kingdom of Italy" democratic government combined with their ultra-nationalism to usurp more and more power until they took over.
The chaos and now resignation of Truss seems to be the latest misstep, reminiscent of those failed democratic governments of the 1930s. When taken in light of the events confronting democracies here and in Europe combined with the rising fascist movements in those same polities, it appears we are stumbling down a pernicious path towards authoritarianism. I hope I'm wrong. We must all stay vigilant.
- M.C. in Taguig, NCR, Philippines: The U.K. has suffered a dearth of inspiring leaders. We
lost better MPs like Rory Stewart after Boris Johnson gained the premiership on the basis of Brexit and, with people
like Priti Patel as Home Secretary and Liz Truss as Foreign Secretary, I already despaired. Admittedly, we had appeared
to hate immigrants ever since Teresa May was Home Secretary but, with an immigrant family background, one must work
doubly hard to burnish ones credentials. Then, Truss' ascendancy brought even lower dregs upward into the Cabinet.
The Opposition has been little better: Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership on the basis of disappointingly bland competition, his successor Keir Starmer seems to have brought Labour back far enough the other way to make me wonder if it's now to the right of the Liberal Democrats, and I can't see many swing voters enthusiastically rallying behind a combination of him and Angela Rayner; I take the polling as being more anti-Conservative. I am one of the few who even knows who Ed Davey is but I can't say when I last heard anything of him.
In short, I am fascinated by the dysfunction of a political system that brings such people to the heights of national politics because I certainly can't perceive what makes them attractive as leaders. Then again, at one time, David Cameron looked fresh-faced, full of inspiration and energy, and look what happened there.
Truss' fixation on trickle-down economics betrayed considerable ignorance, confirmed by her conspicuous failure to specify why such growth would follow. Margaret Thatcher had the political benefit of there still being public goods left to privatize (even Keir Starmer seems fine with private provision of NHS services) and, like Reagan, she could also somewhat still ride the productivity boost afforded by the technology revolution, together with some deregulation. Now we have challenging demographic trends, and have seen tax cuts fail to deliver growth for several others, not least of which being Sam Brownback of Kansas.
In short, Liz Truss seemed to me to be the result of scraping the bottom of the barrel, and her poorly justified economic ideology simply made a bad situation worse. The dull lining of her resignation is, who is to succeed her as prime minister, soon, and after the next general election? The field of contenders does not give me hope. Competence would be nice but, despite being somewhat to the right of many of my friends, what I actually want is for more social inclusion, kindness and compassion, action on climate change, and for public services to be truly valued and resourced accordingly. I shan't be holding my breath.
- D.S. in Half Moon Bay, CA: Truss is gone, things did indeed move fast. Seems she was
merely incompetent—unlike TFG, who had many more character failings, and still influences our politics daily, though
not in a good way. Funny, in the U.K., when someone screws up, they admit it, and step aside. Here, not the case.
- M.P. in Waldorf, MD: I guess Liz Truss couldn't hold up the British Government.
Let us finish with a reminder that the Brits may sometimes have trouble coming up with a stable government, but they are second to no one when it comes to satire and their sense of the absurd. The Daily Star sent a staffer to a local store to buy, for the very reasonable price of 60 pence, a head of lettuce. The paper then set up a webcam, aimed at the (unrefrigerated) head of lettuce, wondering which would last longer—the lettuce, or the PM.
The lettuce won, of course. And now, you can get a personalized video message from the head of lettuce, via Cameo, for just $15. One wonders if Liz Truss would be able to command that high a fee, at this point. (Z)
Yesterday, we wrote about the rather farfetched challenge that a couple of right-wing activist groups in Wisconsin filed, trying to get the Supreme Court to pause Joe Biden's student-loan-forgiveness program. We observed that "there is just no way that this filing can prevail." It did not take long for us to be proven correct. Wisconsin falls under the purview of Amy Coney Barrett, and it took her less than 24 hours to reject the request for an injunction. That means that it won't even reach the full Supreme Court, where it would have needed four votes just to get a hearing.
Consequently, those hoping for legal intervention were left with the case filed by the AGs of Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and South Carolina. As we pointed out in the item yesterday, the big problem with these cases is establishing standing. In order to push back against the Biden plan, one has to prove that the Biden plan has done the plaintiff(s) some specific harm. The AGs of the six states tried to address that by arguing that those states administer some student loans at the state level (true), and that the Biden program could serve to cause people to shift from state-backed loans to federally backed loans (very possible), thus depriving those states of an important repository for state pension fund investments (maybe, but tough luck, we would say).
Not long after Barrett announced that she was not buying what the Wisconsin lawyers were selling, Judge Henry Edward Autrey, a George W. Bush appointee, announced that he is not buying what the AGs are selling. In his decision, Autrey said that he was not even going to consider the legality of the student loan program because he does not believe that the plaintiffs have actually established that they have standing to sue. So, he dismissed the case.
The AGs will presumably appeal; their political goals are served by fighting the fight; winning is just a little bit of icing on the cake. And the AGs will probably lose again, and again. We are thus left with the same conclusion as we reached in yesterday's item: The Biden initiative, more and more, is looking bulletproof. (Z)
In December of 2020, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made what certainly seems to be a very unwise choice, getting involved in efforts to turn the screws on Georgia election officials in order to flip the state to Donald Trump. Honestly, we can't figure out what he was thinking. Did he really believe that the Georgians might say "13,000 more Trump votes? Coming right up, Senator!"? And did he really think that would get the ball rolling, and would cause several other states that Biden won narrowly to do the same? And did he imagine that, no matter how things turned out, this would all be forgotten once Inauguration Day rolled around?
In any event, Graham foolishly made his bed, and now he has to lie in it. Fulton County DA Fani Willis wants to have a chat with the Senator, and has issued a subpoena to that effect. Graham would prefer not to have that conversation, since it will force him to do at least one of these things: (1) plead the Fifth, which makes him look guilty; (2) betray Donald Trump, (3) commit perjury and/or (4) admit he broke the law. So, Graham has been trying to get out of the subpoena, arguing that he was acting in his capacity as a legislator, and therefore that he cannot be held to account.
Graham already lost this case once, when U.S. District Court Judge Leigh Martin May told him he had to show up and talk to Willis. And yesterday, he lost again. A three-judge panel from the Eleventh Circuit, made up of two Trump appointees and one Clinton appointee, issued a 6-page order in which they found, in so many words, that Graham is full of it. The judges said that he has to appear, and that while he is free to assert that some questions may be out of bounds due to his duties as a legislator, they are somewhat skeptical that [the] "phone calls with Georgia election officials were legislative investigations at all."
The Senator has previously warned that, if he did not get the ruling he wanted from the Eleventh Circuit, he would appeal to the Supreme Court. He will presumably make good on that threat, though the odds are that they will reject the appeal. Even if they hear it, they are not likely to rule in his favor. So really, he's just killing time. And given the speed with which SCOTUS is rejecting such appeals these days (see above), he may be killing very little time, indeed. (Z)
When it comes to the two major political parties, there is one very attractive thing about billionaire donors: one-stop shopping. If DNC Chair Jaime Harrison, or RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, or any of the other pooh-bahs responsible for fundraising can persuade a billionaire to get out their checkbook, they can accomplish in a few hours (or a few minutes) what otherwise might take weeks or months of fundraising to do. On top of that, when it comes to modern fundraising, you often have to spend money to raise money. But with a billionaire, there's very little of that—maybe some nice sushi for the pitch meeting, and a handsome elephant- or donkey-shaped toilet paper cozy as a thank you gift, but that's about it.
On the other hand, there are also some problems with billionaire donors. They tend to think that writing a check gives them the right to dictate to the party or the politician they are donating to. Of course, they are usually right about that, and every politico knows that part of the devil's bargain you make when you cash a check from the Kochs or the Uihleins or George Soros is that when they say "jump," the only acceptable answer is "How high?"
There are some other problems, too, that have been on particular display this cycle. Billionaires tend to be fickle, and what they say today may not be what they think tomorrow (see Musk, Elon and the purchase of Twitter). They also tend to really love money—you don't generally become a billionaire unless you're somewhat obsessive on that score. The implication of these two things, when taken together, is that the parties often plan their strategy around funds they think are coming down the pike, only to see those dollars go "poof" faster than your average British prime minister.
The most notable recent example, perhaps, is Miriam Adelson. Her husband Sheldon, of course, used to dispatch Brink's trucks full of cash to the Republican Party on a regular basis. Miriam's political outlook is quite similar to Sheldon's, particularly when it comes to being anti-labor and pro-Israel. So, the GOP assumed the Brink's trucks would just keep coming. Not so much, as it turns out. Adelson has donated less than $10 million this cycle, and has made clear that she is largely uninterested in underwriting the Republican Party.
And then there is Peter Thiel. The Silicon Valley tycoon has a very particular worldview, though his core issue is isolationism and anti-globalization. This cycle, he picked about a dozen pet candidates to support with his bucks. Most obviously, Thiel almost single-handedly propelled Republican U.S. Senate nominees Blake Masters (Arizona) and J.D. Vance (Ohio) to victory over crowded primary fields.
Party muckety mucks have no problem with an arrangement like this. McDaniel, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) largely don't care who gets elected, as long as they have an (R) next to their names. And if those victories can be secured on someone else's credit card, leaving the Party to send their precious dollars to other right races? That's a win-win. But the Faustian nature of the bargain reared its ugly head in Thiel's case when the billionaire suddenly became uninterested in seeing the races through to the end. By getting his guys nominated, Thiel felt he'd done enough. McConnell disagreed. Unfortunately for the Kentuckian, only one of these two men has access to Thiel's bank account, and it ain't the Minority Leader. So, the Republican Party has been left to make up the difference, which is no small thing, given that Ohio and Arizona are both pretty expensive places to campaign, and that Masters and Vance (especially Vance) are mediocre fundraisers.
The Democrats are having their own issues along these lines. The Party has been working desperately to cultivate replacements for Soros, Warren Buffett and other mega-donors who are likely to be crossing the rainbow bridge sooner rather than later. They thought they had struck gold (or, maybe Ethereum) with cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried. Bankman-Fried is only 30 and he's got a net worth of $15 billion. So Harrison, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) were absolutely drooling as they got out their actuarial tables and figured out that they should be able to shake Bankman-Fried down for at least a half a century. And, in contrast to Miriam Adelson, who never promised that she would become a megadonor, Bankman-Fried encouraged this line of thinking. He predicted that he would spend "at least $100 million" this cycle, and said that a total outlay of $1 billion was within the realm of possibility.
Not so much, as it turns out. As with Thiel, Bankman-Fried got a bunch of his candidates through the primaries, and then promptly shut his wallet. Last week, he talked to Politico, and described his previous promise as "a dumb quote." Bankman-Fried also said that he views primaries as more important than general elections. That's a fair point. Just ask President Kerry, Sen. Cunningham (D-NC), and Gov. Whitman (R-CA) about how the important thing is to win primary elections.
Neither Thiel nor Bankman-Fried has given all that much of an explanation for their changes of course. However, one has to imagine that the upheavals in the economy are a part of the equation (that may also be playing a role in Miriam Adelson's reticence, since all her money comes from tourism). In particular, crypto has been an absolute roller coaster in the last 6 months or so. Bankman-Fried can't exactly announce that he's implemented austerity measures because the crypto market has become unreliable—that alone, coming from him, could cost him tens of millions of dollars if it makes crypto investors more skittish. Plus, his wealth is almost entirely theoretical, and it's surely not easy for him to cash out if he needs nine or ten figures in cold, hard cash.
Ultimately, the benefits from climbing into bed with billionaires are so great that the parties will keep doing it. But the risk is very clear: Dance with the devil, and you may just get burned. (Z)
Most folks in the tech sector would not be caught dead working for a right-wing social media platform. The first issue is their own personal politics; the people in tech skew heavily young, educated and liberal. The second issue is the politics of those who run tech. If you apply for a job at Google or Facebook or Yahoo, and your résumé includes a stint at Gab, Parler, Truth Social, Gettr, etc., you are all-but-certain to be passed up in favor of some other candidate.
This means that the right-wing platforms have access to a limited pool of talent—certainly much less talent than is actually needed to run a site effectively. So, it stands to reason that the people running the show at a Gab or a Gettr or a Truth Social are living embodiments of the Peter Principle—they've been promoted a level (or two, or ten) above their true competence.
Someone at Parler provided some evidence for this assumption this week. The people who run that platform are very excited that it is being acquired by Kanye West (probably because that is going to save Parler from going under). And the Parler pooh-bahs wanted their VIP users to know about the exciting news, so they sent an e-mail to said VIPs. However—and we thank the dozen or so readers who sent the story in—the addresses of the VIPs were put into the cc: field rather than the bcc: field. That means that, as everyone knows, everyone's e-mail address was visible to everyone else who got the message. And now, those e-mail addresses are also known to people who laid hands on a copy of the message (like, say, members of the media).
Consequently, among the folks outed as denizens of this particular cesspool are conspiracist and perennial candidate Laura Loomer, YouTuber Tim Pool, Daily Wire podcaster and admitted fascist Matt Walsh, Trump in-law Lara Trump, Trump attorney Lin Wood, and a bunch of other upstanding citizens. Because it's not always clear who owns a particular e-mail address, unless one uses one's actual name, there are others who are suspected but not yet verified, including Ivanka Trump and Dan Scavino.
Given that the far right is ultimately kind of incestuous, most of these folks probably had contact info for most of the other folks. And it's not exactly a secret that someone like Loomer or Walsh or Wood has some pretty unpleasant ideas. Still, it's embarrassing for Parler to make such an elementary screw-up, and it's embarrassing for the people who were doxxed to be all over the news for this particular reason. Further, there will surely be some enterprising young activist who takes advantage of the now-public e-mail addresses, and signs Loomer up for e-mails from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or Walsh up for e-mails from The Advocate. So, there is certainly plenty of schadenfreude here. (Z)
The United States, in its history, has done some pretty terrible things to Black people. And it's done some pretty terrible things to Native American people. And it's done some pretty terrible things to Latino people. The lowlights of these stories are fairly well known to people today, with the result that there is some substantial basis for a "make it right" impulse. Something like reparations for Black Americans is not likely to happen, of course, but there is at least some effort to acknowledge some of the mistakes of the past, and to try to honor Black, Latino, and Native American contributions to American culture. To take but one example, there is now a Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a Cesar Chavez Day and an Indigenous Peoples' Day, in addition to the newest federal holiday, Juneteenth.
Asians have also been the subject of some pretty shoddy treatment in the past. The Chinese folks who came to the U.S. during the gold rush were forced out of the mining business, targeted for acts of violence, slurred with all manner of vile language and forcibly segregated into Chinatowns. Demagogues thundered "The Chinese must go!," and while that specific policy was not implemented, Chinese immigrants were denied the right to come to the U.S. after 1882. They were largely replaced by Japanese immigrants, who were likewise targeted for violence, slurs, segregation and the like, laying the groundwork for internment during World War II.
There has, as a general rule, been less effort put into acknowledging the wrongs the U.S. has committed against Asians. Yes, there were payments made to Japanese internees back in the 1980s, and the terrible verdict in the case of Korematsu v. United States was overturned in high-profile fashion in 1988. But there is no Asian-inspired national holiday (unless you want to count Christmas, since Jesus, as a resident of Nazareth, was technically an Asian). There are few statues commemorating Asian Americans or their experience, few historical sites that recall the wrongs done to Asian people, and few stamps, coins, or other ephemera that honor prominent Asian Americans.
This week, however, the U.S. mint announced some important news on that latter point. Beginning Monday, it will begin circulating quarters—as previously announced—bearing the likeness of actress Anna May Wong. Here's what the coins look like:
Wong becomes the first Asian American to be featured on U.S. currency.
If you are not familiar with the career of Wong, you might find it of interest to read a little bit about her (Wong's Wikipedia article is a good place to start). Born in 1905, she was determined to make it in Hollywood. This despite the fact that there were relatively few Asian roles, and those that did exist were often played by white actors who were made to look Asian (for example, Warner Oland, a Swede who played the Chinese detective Charlie Chan in 16 movies). Overcoming these substantial obstacles, Wong carved out a 40-year career that included more than 60 screen credits. Along the way, she became the first Asian performer to play the lead in an American TV show (The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong), and, in 1960, the first Asian person to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In many of her appearances, Wong played roles that were rooted in ethnic stereotypes. She was particularly known for playing "dragon lady" type characters, though she also sometimes played demure and submissive wallflowers, as well. On many occasions, when showing clips from films like Gone with the Wind to students, (Z) has been asked why a minority actor would agree to take on such a stereotypical role. And the answer has two parts: (1) Because those were the only roles available, and (2) There was at least some possibility of pushing back at the stereotypes, if done in some subtle way. Wong was particularly good at giving her performances a subtext that pushed back against Asian stereotypes. If you'd like to see her in action, consider a viewing of Daughter of Shanghai (1937), which is one of her best, and still shows up on cable from time to time.
In any event, the release of the new quarter will bring attention to a trailblazing actor of Hollywood's golden age. And that's a good thing. (Z)
We don't really believe Pennsylvania is tied. Still, it's clear that Mehmet Oz's weaponization of John Fetterman's stroke is working. That's too bad, because it will encourage other candidates to do the same, thus opening up a new front in the nastiness that is modern American politics. (Z)
|Catherine Cortez Masto*
* Denotes incumbent
Today's post is already pretty long and kinda late, and already has a lot of content from readers
in the Truss item. So, we'll have answers to the question about historical TV shows on Monday.
For now, however, we will have a slight follow-up to yesterday's item, at the suggestion of reader T.P. in Cleveland. The original question from in F.S. in Cologne, which we edited, asked for the top 10 entrepreneurs in American history. So, let's put it to a vote. You can choose up to three.
Have a good weekend, everyone!
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