Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Donald Trump

The Decline and Fall of Elizabeth Warren

There was a time when everyone on the left in the United States liked Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), when she seemed like the most left wing option available in a sea of swamp creatures. Warren gave the left the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2011, and in return she became its darling–the person everyone on the left wanted to see run for president, the person everyone on the left hoped could someday win. This is the story of how that changed. Read the rest of this entry »

The Kavanaugh Hearings Encapsulate the Rampant Emotionalism of American Politics

The British have a visceral hatred for Donald Trump. It’s not because of his positions on immigration or tax policy–there are plenty of European politicians who are at least as far right as Trump is, substantively. No, it’s because of the way Trump presents himself. He’s combative, he gets angry, he makes flippant, emotional remarks. When British politicians show emotion it exposes them as weak, out of control, and unstable. If a British politician shouts or cries in public–especially in a formal setting–it’s embarrassing. It’s not proper behaviour. Everyone in Britain knows, from an early age, that this is just not how politicians are supposed to behave. They like their leaders calm, stoic, controlled. This is less true than it used to be–for a time, Tony Blair got away with wearing his heart on his sleeve. But there were always those who made fun of it, who thought it “un-British”. Whenever a British politician makes an emotional display and gets away with it, there is a chunk of British people who write nervous columns about creeping Americanisation. Having spent some years in the UK, I can spot the kind of American politics they hate a mile off. And it has never been so blatant, so in-your-face, as this senate hearing for Brett Kavanaugh.

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The Republicans are Sticking with Kavanaugh for Purely Political Reasons

Remember when Antonin Scalia died and Barack Obama tried to replace him? I remember because on that occasion I wrote one of the most mistaken pieces I’ve ever published on this site: “How Obama Can Replace Scalia“. In that piece, I argued that because previous Supreme Court justices had been replaced in time periods much shorter than the remainder of Obama’s term, Obama would surely also be able to replace Scalia before leaving office. After all, if Republicans attempted to block him for almost a full year, the public would be furious with them for playing politics with the court, and would play a price at the 2016 election. I even had a nice chart:

Scalia Replacement

I was completely wrong about this because I underestimated the degree to which the Supreme Court has become transparently political, even in the eyes of ordinary Americans. Our political parties hardly even have to excuse politicising the court (though they try to do so anyway). We all know that some of the justices are conservative and some are liberal, even if they couch their political ideology behind legal theories like “originalism” and “textualism”. We recognise that there is no such thing as an apolitical judge, that when judges claim to be politically neutral they are being disingenuous. So we now treat Supreme Court nominations like any other political issue and fight tooth and nail to ensure that the next judge is someone we can ideologically live with. And we may have to live with their ideology a long time–between presidents picking younger judges and judges living longer, the average bench time for a Supreme Court justice has quietly increased by around a decade. Having learnt from my mistakes, I now look at the fight to replace Anthony Kennedy quite differently.

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Trump’s Crummy Coal Bargain

The Trump administration has decided to reverse Obama-era coal regulations, increasing carbon emissions by a factor of 12 over the next decade. We all know that the Trump administration doesn’t believe in climate change, but what’s remarkable about the administration’s decision is that it’s incredibly bad value for money even on its own terms.

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McCain, Cuomo, and Trump all Misunderstand American Greatness

At the late Senator John McCain’s funeral, daughter Meghan McCain went after President Trump, claiming that “America was always great”. She has largely drawn plaudits for this, while New York Governor Andrew Cuomo draws derision for his line–that America “was never that great”. But both of these responses to the “Make America Great Again” slogan are badly flawed because both make indefensible reductions about American greatness. By claiming that American greatness is always present or always absent, both McCain and Cuomo draw no distinction between the America that helped defeat Hitler and created Social Security and Medicare from the America which tolerated slavery and continues to tolerate homelessness, poverty, and exploitation even amid unprecedented national affluence. Both responses are self-evidently ridiculous. The “MAGA” slogan misleads, but its political strength comes from how difficult this is to quickly and decisively demonstrate.

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