End of Day 4 Liveblogging: Up Ahead– The Day of The Grasshoppers

 

Cleveland

 

8:12: Been watching Reince Priebus really stir up the crowd. Literally the only time they got excited was when he implied that Hillary should go to prison and the crowd got to do their inane bloodchant. The whole speech has described a Republican Party that doesn’t exist, and hasn’t existed for at least 50 years. Donald Trump will bring peace, prosperity, and make sure that kids have new clothes on their back when they go to school.

8:14: The Trump countdown just hit 1:00. What a sickening feeling. The darkness is really here. The most unqualified person ever nominated is also the worst person ever nominated. Nixon would be sickened by him, both because Trump is deeply unserious and far too insecure.

More after the jump.

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Trump’s Foreign Policy: More Dumb Than Bad, But Also Bad

 

Map of Balkans

Pictured: The Baltic States, to Trump. 

 

Everyone who cares about foreign policy was stunned by David Sanger and Maggie Haberman’s NYTimes piece yesterday, in her interview with Donald Trump about foreign policy. The biggest revelation was that he wouldn’t automatically extend support to NATO allies if they were attacked, in particular the Baltics. And the only country that would attack them is Russia, unless Sweeden gets ornery.  This caused a lot of gasps, from right and left, because it undercuts the basis of security after WWII, not to mention being in line with Trump’s (and Manafort’s) love of Putin.

For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are among the more recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

He added, “If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.”

The Trump camp, led by Manafort, is disputing this and saying that she’s lying, but honestly, who do you believe? Even if the reporters didn’t have Haberman and Sanger’s reputation, is it possible to believe anything the Trump camp says?

While I was writing this, Haberman and David Sanger released the transcript:

“You can’t forget the bills,” Trump said. “They have an obligation to make payments. Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they’re supposed to make. That’s a big thing. You can’t say forget that.”

“My point here is, Can the members of NATO, including the new members in the Baltics, count on the United States to come to their military aid if they were attacked by Russia? And count on us fulfilling our obligations—” Sanger asked.

“Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes,” Trump said.

“And if not?” the Times’ Maggie Haberman asked.

“Well, I’m not saying if not,” Trump replied.

To me, this is even more damning, and more to the point. There’s actually a strong case to be made out NATO, and our role in interventions, and how much we pay. And Trump knows that, sort of. But only a little, and only on the surface. Only enough to say things like “you can’t forget the bills”. He can claim he didn’t say not, because “I’m not saying if not”, but that’s bullshit. It’ a dodge, but not one to try to soften the blow. It’s a dodge because he has no idea what he’s talking about

There’s a vague principle of “I’ll screw you over if you try to screw me over”, but it’s not the thinking of a man who has ever thought about foreign policy in any broad way, in any way that wasn’t part of his narrow worldview. He literally has no idea what he’s talking about. That’s the scary part. He knows absolutely nothing about the world, except for his “instincts”, which are invariably dumb and ill-considered.

Take this:

Mr. Trump said he was convinced that he could persuade Mr. Erdogan to put more effort into fighting the Islamic State. But the Obama administration has run up, daily, against the reality that the Kurds — among the most effective forces the United States is supporting against the Islamic State — are being attacked by Turkey, which fears they will create a breakaway nation.

Asked how he would solve that problem, Mr. Trump paused, then said: “Meetings.”

Or:

He talked of funding a major military buildup, starting with a modernization of America’s nuclear arsenal. “We have a lot of obsolete weapons,” he said. “We have nuclear that we don’t even know if it works.”

“We have nuclear” are the words of a man who was told something in passing and assumed he is an expert. It’s like Paul Ryan’s “well, there are fighting seasons in Afghanistan” line, except more shallow.

I mean, he isn’t disqualified because his policies are bad. Twitter was alive with his NATO nonsense as being “disqualifying”, as if someone would say “this line has finally been crossed.” That’s not the case. The statements are “disqualifying” because they reveal, again, how manifestly unqualified he is. The man knows literally nothing about foreign policy save for what he reads on the back of cereal boxes. You could fit his knowledge in a matchbox and still never have a want for matches. It’s a terrifying prospect.

But, at least, he cleared up that his “America First” slogan isn’t like Lindbergh’s.

“To me, ‘America First’ is a brand-new, modern term,” he said. “I never related it to the past.”

He paused a moment when asked what it meant to him.

“We are going to take care of this country first,” he said, “before we worry about everyone else in the world.”

Oh.

Cruz Starts The Great Hijacking Myth

22cruz-master675

“You’re mad now, but have I told you about my grades?”

So, I didn’t watch last night, but obviously caught up on Ted Cruz’s refusal to endorse, and the delicious chaos that followed. Cruz looks bad, and is hated, and his good buddies are turning their back on him. But this was peak Cruz. He knew what would happen, and still did so. Here’s why.

Cruz is betting on a huge Trump loss, and wants to position himself for 2020. That’s pretty obvious. But the way he’s doing it is to lay the groundwork for The Great Hijacking narrative that will be the Republican story after the loss. The nativists and racists in the party will claim betrayal by the elites, of course, and there will be opportunistic politicians who try to attract them, but what’s left of the Party (not much!) will try to rally around the idea that they were hijacked and bamboozled by a New York billionaire, and that conservative ideas weren’t represented.

Cruz is in a perfect position to do this. On immigration, on Muslims, and on the red-meat social issues, he’s no less and often more hideous than Trump. He can appeal to all sides of the party and its fractured remnants. So he takes the heat now, but then seems like the only person who had the sheer balls to stand up to Trump. So when the party is dazed after their drubbing (this is the theory; not a prediction), Cruz can be the one they turn to.

Paul Ryan is trying the same thing. But as much of a piece of work he is, he’s still slightly more responsible and party-oriented. For Cruz, the GOP has always just been the best avenue for his Messianic outlet. He’s a true believer, but only in himself. He’s willing to break the party if he thinks he can collect the shards into his own basket. I think that’s his plan here. He might be overplaying his hand; he is, as we’ve talked about, more clever than actually smart, more of a striker than a strategist. In four years (or two, really) the nativist wing might, in their anger and betrayal, suddenly remember that he’s a goddamn Mexican or whatever, and the what’s left of the Establishment might try to freeze him out.

But don’t count him out. He is still a good politician, and got hundreds of delegates despite being one of the most unlikable men in America. In it’s own way, it was more remarkable than what Trump did.

What’ll be interesting is when he’s up for reelection in 2018. Who knows if this will hurt him or not. But how can he possibly run and even pretend that he has any interest in serving as a Senator? He’ll be running for President the day his second term starts in 2019. He might not even stop in Washington on his way to Iowa. At least Rubio has two years to pretend to be a Senator. Cruz will run for President regardless of if Trump wins or loses. He’s not waiting another eight years. He’ll do what Reagan did to Ford and Teddy Kennedy did to Carter. That’s a prediction.

The last note is that Cruz did the impossible last night. For literally anyone else, not endorsing Donald Trump would be a sign of character and of decency, of principle and, if you are a Republican, of sacrifice. Only Ted Cruz can make doing the right thing self-serving and selfish. He’s a remarkable man.

Out of the Maw: Slahi Cleared For Release

America is a carceral state. There’s no disputing the statistics; we house nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoner, have the largest prison population in the world, and the second-highest rate per capita (behind Seychelles, which has a total prison population of 735). It’s one of the hallmarks of American history: we have a fierce desire to lock people up and throw away the key, and it has often been bipartisan, and always steeped heavily in race. Black lives have been fodder for free labor in prisons across the country, and more recently, as a way to pad the profits of private enterprises. It’s how we’ve dealt with the end of slavery and the expansion of civil rights; we’ve undercut those gains through prison.

And that desire for incarceration, that deference toward rough justice, is reflected by the fact that exonerating the wrongfully convicted, through programs like the Medill Justice Project, are seen as squishy and self-interested and grandstanding, instead of the backbone of true justice. We’d rather 50 innocent were convicted than a guilty person going free. It’s part of our national character.

After 9/11, that character became global. Our system of mass imprisonment swallowed the world, reaching into every country for anyone who might have done wrong. The people who were sucked up were tortured in black sites, tortured by their own governments, and tortured by the United States. They disappeared into obscure bases, and were locked up in Guantanamo Bay, cut off from the world.

It was part and parcel of our normal way of handling justice: wrap up anyone who might be guilty, or who might look like they are guilty (often because a disputatious neighbor dropped a dime), and never look back. To be sure, many people who were captured were dangerous terrorists. But not all. And that was the problem. It tooks years for many of them to be released, and after Obama took office, the whole idea of releasing them began to be seen as some sort of liberal weak-on-terror-weak-on-crime synthesis, and the wheels of justice slowed down again. Nativism, and our native tendencies, created an atmosphere where the dominant feeling was “if they aren’t guilty then why are they in jail?”

But some good news, finally, if you can describe “end of terrible” as being good. Mohamedou Ould Slahi, whose memoirs described in great detail the suffering and torture he went through, was yesterday cleared for release after a 13-year nightmare. His release has long been a cause celebre, as he was a symbol of everything that went wrong, but it was also a real cause for the dedicated and heroic lawyers of the ACLU.

You should read his book, Guantanamo Diary, (and the legal fight to have it released and see the light of day was equaly heroic), but in brief: he fought for al-Qaeda against the Afghan Communists, which we were cool with, went to Germany where he “crossed paths” with one of the 9/11 planners, and then went home to Mauritania. No evidence he was active, none that he was a plotter. But after 9/11, everyone who might be a baddie, or who was loosely connected to one, was swept up by countries who wanted to be on the good side of the US. Slahi was arrested in 2001, sent to Jordan for torture, and would up in Gitmo after a stop at Bagram, a bloody map of the worst excesses of the “war on terror”. As Hina Shamsi of the ACLU writes, talking about what happened in Guantanamo:

Slahi was one of two so-called “Special Projects” whose brutal treatment then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld personally approved. The abuse included beatings, extreme isolation, sleep deprivation, sexual molestation, frigid rooms, shackling in stress positions, and threats against both Slahi and his mother. In Slahi’s habeas challenge, the federal judge determined Slahi’s detention was unlawful and ordered him released in 2010. The U.S. government successfully appealed that decision, and the habeas case is still pending.

He’s no less guilty of anything today than he was 15 years ago. But today he finally gets to see the light of day, or at least the hope for it.

There are still 76 people in Guantanamo, 31 of whom have been cleared pending security conditions in their home countries. This isn’t for their safety; but to guarantee they can be monitored. Think about that: we’re telling these people we have no reason to hold you any longer, but we’re going to until we can be sure that your life is nearly as circumscribed as it is now.

The problem is that they aren’t seen as people. They are by the ones closest to them, even those in charge of the system, who actually have to interact with them. But there is no public pressure; if anything, it is appealing to say “keep em locked up!” That means there is no political will. Not shutting down Guantanamo became a rallying cry of the right as soon as Obama was sworn in, even though many had believed in it before, since it was common sense. But the Obama era mutated that, and now the prisoners are back to who they were: faceless terrorists, guilty by dint of being not-American.

This isn’t surprising. We have no problem locking away innocent Americans, because, they’re probably thugs anyway, right? That’s why this delayed justice for Slahi, who lost so much of his life, is bittersweet. The injustice hasn’t stopped. It’s part of who we are, whether it is in Lousiana or the Cook County Jail or around the world. We lock people up, and then assume the shadows of the bars are a tatoo reading guilty.