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A historically-minded look at the news and events of the day.
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Moral Witness in the Trump Era

These kids are going to save lives. Maybe they'll change everything.

 These kids are going to save lives. Maybe they'll change everything.

These kids are going to save lives. Maybe they'll change everything.

Glance at the history of this country, and you’ll notice that humiliation and shame have long been potent weapons of racial oppression, social alienation and disenfranchisement. Many of the important liberal advances in our history are stories of transcending shame and stigmatization, from the civil rights movement to the feminist and LGBT movements.

But there are also moments, scattered throughout the history of modern progressivism, in which shame became a weapon of liberation, justice and equality. Moments in which it was invoked specifically to confront those who oppressed others for their own ends, and then lied about it. In these moments, shame became a call to conscience, and a call to arms.

In 1829, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison publicly rebuked a New England merchant named Francis Todd for profiting off the transportation of slaves. Todd sued Garrison for libel and had him jailed. But Garrison had found both his calling and his method. While sitting in a Baltimore jail pending the adjudication of his case, he penned a defiant defense of his actions, including the following:

So long as a good Providence gives me strength and intellect, I will not cease to declare, that the existence of slavery in this country is a foul reproach to the American name; nor will I hesitate to problem the guilt of kidnappers, slave abettors, or slave owners, wheresoever they may reside, or however high they may be exalted. I am only in the alphabet of my task; time shall perfect a useful work.

Garrison became one of the most vocal and strident opponents of slavery before its abolition in 1865, and a savage critic of its defenders. His unrelenting advocacy in the face of the death threats, jailings, and the bounty placed on his head by the state of Georgia only added to his celebrity, and thus to the power of his cause.

In 1892, Ida B. Wells documented the complicity of the South’s “leading citizens” in the practice of lynching, and punctured the myth that lynching was anything other than white terrorism in the service of racial subordination.

In 1902, Ida Tarbell’s straightforward prose thoroughly exposed the unfair business practices of John D. Rockefeller, leading to the forced disintegration of his Standard Oil monopoly.

In 1955, after a Chicago teenager named Emmett Till was tortured and murdered in Mississippi, his mother Mamie Till-Mobley buried her son’s mutilated body in a glass-topped casket, forcing the nation to confront the brutality that underpinned Jim Crow. Till’s murderers never saw justice for their crimes, but his memory galvanized a movement.

Eight years later, the black children of Birmingham marched against segregation, and transformed public safety commissioner Bull Connor, along with his dogs and firehoses, into potent symbols of the country’s failure to guarantee the rights of citizenship for people of color.

There are so many more exemplars of this kind of love and courage, some recorded, but many lost to history.

In the Trump era, it’s hard to imagine what it would take to shame the Republicans into making more just and inclusive policy.. There's not much that progressives can do to discredit Trump and his party that they haven't already done to discredit themselves. Like all authoritarian movements, the underlying goal of Trumpism (i.e. modern conservatism) is to acquire and wield a kind of power that, like its namesake, can neither be embarrassed nor constrained.

But it’s worth noting that not all of the acts of moral witness listed above achieved immediate change. Nor did they do much to sway the minds of the oppressors themselves. That wasn’t their aim. The reason these moments of moral courage matter, and that we remember them today, is because of the purpose, energy and determination they inspired in other like minded people.

Earlier this month, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, scene of the deadliest high school shooting in American history, traveled to the Tallahassee to implore the radically pro-gun Florida legislature to ban the sale of semi-automatic rifles with high-capacity magazines. That such a reasonable demand seems radical is a testament to how far to the right we are on guns.

For that, they have already become targets of online harassment and death threats. They’ve been dismissed as “crisis actors” by the far-right fringe. The mainstream media assures them that nothing will persuade Congressional Republicans to take meaningful action on gun control. Which is probably true—the modern Republican Party is largely impervious to shame and deeply entangled with the gun industry.

But even though the students are meeting with elected officials, they're really talking to the rest of us. Their moral witness injects momentum and urgency into the flagging effort for sane gun laws. Those who agree with them (the majority) will come out to the polls in force during the upcoming election. Perhaps more importantly, the students’ assumption of responsibility for preventing future massacres is a powerful counterexample to the sociopathically self-centered and short-sighted politics of Trumpism.

The student activists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are not afraid, and they don't have time for our stupidity when it comes to guns. They’ve set an example that will reverberate for a long time to come. 


What Sayest Thou, Ulysses?

One wonders what an observer as keen as Ulysses Grant would say about our present moment. Probably not "lol, nothing matters." 


I’m reading Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs (h/t Josh Marshall). It is, in its unpretentious way, a brilliant piece of prose and a remarkable historical document.

I am particularly struck by how well Grant captures the sense of excitement and consumable drama that accompanied the run-up to the Civil War. The Union’s final unraveling took place in an environment of wall-to-wall propaganda, disinformation and hysteria. Southerners consumed a steady news diet fetishizing abstractions like state sovereignty, slavery and aristocracy, and purporting to unmask Northern conspiracies behind every proverbial corner. Popular anger over the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act fed a rising tide of resentment against slavery in the North. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin sold 300,000 copies in its first year. Which was a lot, relatively speaking.

There were rallies and parades. At meeting halls and taverns, Americans marinated in the latest outrages perpetrated by the Other Side, and thrilled to the stem-winding speeches of local orators and broadsides in partisan newspapers. Voter turnout in the 1860 election approached 84%. Each startling political development seemed to follow on the heels of the one before it, whipping up a dizzying atmosphere of political theatricality. Regardless where one’s sympathies lay, in other words, the dysfunctional politics of sectionalism was entertaining as hell.

Against such a backdrop, it must have been hard to muster much concern for the threat of war. There was (with the exception of the Kansas territory) no fighting in the streets. There was no mass exodus to other countries so as to spare husbands, sons and brothers from the looming cataclysm. America’s most recent war—the invasion of Mexico in 1846—had been a romp. Few believed that half of the white men from many Southern towns and hamlets would be dead within four years. Few imagined that they might themselves perish in battle, near obscure creeks and villages whose names would be sanctified by their blood.

There is little doubt in my mind,” Grant wrote,” that the prevailing sentiment of the South would have been opposed to secession in 1860 and 1861, if there had been a fair and calm expression of opinion, unbiased by threats, and if the ballot of one legal voter had counted for as much as any other. But there was no calm discussion of the question. Demagogues…declaimed vehemently and unceasingly against the North; against its aggressions upon the South… They denounced the Northerners as cowards, poltroons, negro-worshippers; claimed that one Southern man was equal to five Northern men in battle; that if the South would stand up for its rights the North would back down.”

The traditions of truthfulness, political restraint and forbearance—traditions that underpinned the American federal system—needed to be destroyed almost as a precondition for secession. To that end, Southern extremists used the threat of secession as a political cudgel, seizing on various pretexts to provoke constitutional crises and extract economic and political concessions. As the Southern slavocracy set about undermining the union, they were actually helped by the unexpected entertainment value of their efforts. The more extreme their tactics and rhetoric, the more riled up everyone got, the weaker the federal government became, and the nearer they came to their goal of separatist confederacy. The road to disunion was paved with bullshit.

And in that sense at least, it’s hard not to see some parallels between the politics of the late antebellum and the present day. A deeply racist and corrupt party representing a factional white minority controls all levers of federal power. Like the Fire Eaters of old, today’s Republicans seem to view the destruction of comity and forbearance in federal politics almost as a goal unto itself. Trump is giving James Buchanan a run for his money as the worst president in American history. Republicans now deal heavily in conspiracy theories, and thrive on distrust in government. The American public, meanwhile, lives in siloed and polarized informational environments, and we are well down the road toward self-segregation on the basis of political affiliation. Our politics might be a car wreck, but we are all imbricated, and it’s hard to look away.

There is, of course, no direct comparison to be drawn between the sectionalism of the 1850s and contemporary politics. Nor is there any domestic issue that remotely approaches the import and sensitivity of the “slave question.” There is, however, a sort of gleeful and destructive recklessness to our present political moment that echoes the late antebellum era, when politicians scoffed at the notion that there could ever be a war between the states, and thus saw little harm in trying to start one.

Like the 1850s, it feels as though we live in an age of suspended consequence. Surely, there must be some limit to the Republicans’ ability to dissemble their way into power. Surely, there must be some terrible, world-altering price to pay for the damage being done to our union, and our ability to self-govern. In the late antebellum era, the costs of that recklessness utterly exceeded the grasp of the American imagination. Is this an "ante-something" era too? If so, what? And how bad will it get?

One wonders what an observer as keen as Ulysses Grant would say about our present moment. Probably not "lol, nothing matters."


Of Mass Shootings and Disenfranchised Grief

The loved ones of the victims of mass shootings have earned the right to mourn. 

All I’ve done is have a child murdered and I’m trying to create something positive out of that. And for someone to attack me for that — I just can’t understand that mentality at all.

—Nicole Hockley, Managing Director of Sandy Hook Promise and mother of Dylan Hockley, one of 20 first-graders murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

After 4-year old Colin Holst drowned in an Austin swimming pool in 2008, his parents channeled their grief into advocacy by founding Colin’s Hope. The charity’s mission is to prevent the kinds of all-too-common water accidents that took young Colin’s life. In 2016, Colin’s Hope claims to have raised $80,000, engaged the services of more than 2,500 volunteers, given swim lessons to more than 600 Austin-area preschoolers, and donated 150 life jackets to loaner stations at area lakes. Colin’s Hope is at once a community resource, a vehicle of mourning, and a memorial to a little boy’s life.

Colin’s Hope is an uncommonly successful example of a certain genre of philanthropy: advocacy organizations originating from the experience of parental bereavement. The performance of philanthropy is a healthy and often-necessary form of grieving, allowing parents to honor, remember, or atone. By imparting meaning to otherwise inexplicable loss, it can even become a means of emotional survival. From a community standpoint, organizations like Colin’s Hope marshal the moral authority of bereaved parents to save, educate, and heal. The impulse to extract grace from tragedy—to spare others from similar pain— is a definitionally human, and humane, trait.

Perhaps for that reason—in the public sphere at least—parental bereavement was once generally held as sacrosanct; beyond question even when it came into contact with politics. But in December of 2012, the murder of 20 children and 6 teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School pitted the custom of deference to parental grief directly against America’s maniacal fixation with firearms. The shocking viciousness by which the latter triumphed over the former compounded the nation’s collective trauma in Sandy Hook's aftermath. 

Within days of the shooting, conspiracy theorists were skulking around the grounds of the now-shuttered elementary school with video cameras, trying to prove that the massacre was a hoax. Blog posts claimed that it had been a “false flag” operation staged by the federal government to promote gun safety laws. YouTube videos, questioning whether the victims had ever existed, rocketed to millions of views. By early January, 9/11 “truther” and Infowars founder Alex Jones had turned his website into a clearinghouse for all manner of Sandy Hook conspiracy theories, including a post alleging that Sandy Hook Elementary had been a recruiting center for the Church of Satan.

The families of the slain began receiving anonymous calls and emails questioning the reality of the massacre; threatening them with reprisal for being related to the murdered children. They were doxxed, and their addresses, phone numbers and other personal information became public information. This happened to many people, regardless whether or not they became involved in groups like Sandy Hook Promise which, much like Colin’s Hope, sought to mitigate the tragedy by training students and teachers to identify the behavioral warning signs of potential gun violence.

For two years, the Newtown was besieged by outsiders hoping to blow the cover off the supposed conspiracy behind the most deadly attack (so far) to take place in an American elementary school. Sightings of conspiracy theorists—their cameras creepily trained on Newtown children—became so common that a group of local fathers organized themselves to keep tabs on the interlopers.

The National Rifle Association did not question the fact of the shooting. Instead, Wayne LaPierre tacitly blamed the school’s administrators—some of whom died protecting students—for inadequately preparing their schools for armed combat. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he famously intoned. LaPierre’s non-sequitur became a mirthless punchline in the mainstream press. But second amendment absolutists adopted it as a motto, and the NRA quickly turned it into a branding opportunity. For $19, LaPierre's organization will gladly sell you a t-shirt with his words, an image of a handgun, and the NRA logo emblazoned on front and back.

The immediate effect of this twin-pronged attack on the Newtown victims and their families was to stymie the handful of Sandy Hook-inspired gun reforms in congress, including proposed universal background checks. But the long term impact was arguably more damaging still. The intimidation campaign against Newtown effectively narrowed the boundaries of safe discourse in the aftermath of subsequent mass shootings, particularly for those most directly affected. It represented the social disenfranchisement of parental and community grief (h/t Kenneth Doka).

After Sandy Hook, victims and surviving relatives of gun massacres know that their experiences of violence and trauma no longer confer authority or privilege. They know that the only universally acceptable way to mourn their losses is in the dissembling vernacular of “tragedy,” which distorts gun violence into something inscrutable and inevitable, and negates all agency or responsibility for stopping it. Now is not the time to talk about how or why they died, our president’s press secretary presumes to tell them. Thoughts and prayers must suffice.

They know now that if they pursue healing through advocacy—particularly if they dare to suggest that gun violence is preventable—they will face savage emotional abuse. They will be slandered, gaslighted, projected upon, and intimidated. They know that few will rise to their defense, because after all, they are the ones “politicizing the tragedy.”  Even if they say nothing at all, the mere fact of their victimhood is an implicit reproach to American gun culture, which renders them suspicious until they prove otherwise. After Sandy Hook, families of mass shooting victims are increasingly expected to actively abet the fiction that their loved ones died of something incomprehensible, instead of just another angry man with a gun.

The rest of us have apparently largely accepted the emotional disenfranchisement of mass shooting survivors and their families as a natural feature of our political discourse. The results of the post-Sandy Hook campaign of intimidation are visible in the muted reactions to the ever-more spectacular acts of gun violence that have taken place in the years since. In the wake of the October Las Vegas shooting that left 58 people dead, media bully and abuser Alex Jones gets high-profile TV treatments, even as he insists that it—like Sandy Hook—was "as phony as Obama's birth certificate."  Meanwhile, one pro-gun control commentator helplessly concludes that the gun debate has become so toxic that it's pointless to discuss it further.

But denying the voices of mass shooting victims and their families because you don’t think their words are politically productive is cowardice. Failing to confront people like Alex Jones because you are afraid of conflict with them only serves to sanction their emotional disenfranchisement of the already-bereaved. We have allowed these people to marginalize an increasingly common manner of death in America because it might infringe on their hobby. We have surrendered the terms of our public discourse to the vilest among us.  

As long as American children continue to be killed by guns, their families will seek to spare others from similar pain by trying to stem the spread of deadly weapons. To trample on this humane impulse, as the Sandy Hook hoaxers have done, is cruel and depraved. Even if you don't believe in gun control, stand up for the right of the victims of gun violence to disagree with you. Stand up for their right to mourn.


I Know...Let's Give Texas Another Block Grant!

Among its other ruinous effects, Graham-Cassidy would turn Medicaid into a slush fund for state governments. We know this because it's happened before. 


The Graham-Cassidy bill is the Republicans’ latest effort to “repeal” Obamacare. Named for its two Republican Senate sponsors, the bill doesn’t just end the exchanges, subsidies and mandate that make the ACA work. It bundles all federal expenditures for both Obamacare and Medicaid into block grants, and disburses that money to state governments to use basically as they see fit. It will let states waive the ACA provision that prohibits insurers from gouging people with preexisting conditions, or selling junk plans that don’t cover basic and essential services.

As it currently exists, Medicaid is administered through state governments. But it relies on guaranteed federal funding, which adjusts as need levels rise and fall in individual states. Block grants would instead disburse federal Medicaid funding according to a preset allotment formula. That formula purposely underfunds Medicaid so that it does not keep pace with inflation over time. Eventually, the entire program will collapse.

And that’s the point. Put aside all of the insultingly disingenuous rhetoric from Republicans about states being in a better position to administer healthcare for their citizens. They want to murder Obamacare and Medicaid. They always have. Block grants are just the means by which they intend to do it.

But in the near term, the Graham-Cassidy bill—if it passes—will send a large chunk of grant money to the states. Beginning in 2021, much of it will be redistributed to states that refused to accept additional federal funding to expand Medicaid for their citizens in 2015. One of the biggest beneficiaries of this redistribution will be Texas, whose governor made much fanfare of his decision to reject expanded Medicaid funding for low-income Texans two years ago.

There are a lot of great pieces explaining why Graham-Cassidy is such a terrible policy proposal on the merits. Senate Republicans themselves can’t articulate a single compelling reason to pass it, aside from the fact that it gets rid of Obamacare and placates their donors. They know that their bill will kill people if it becomes law, and they’re probably aware that it makes universal health care more likely in the long term. But abstractions like "other people" and "the future" have never given these folks much pause.

Hopefully, this bill will go the way of previous repeal attempts. But let’s just imagine for a moment what the next five years will look like if Graham-Cassidy actually passes. Specifically, let’s imagine what it will look like in Texas, where I happen to live. If Graham-Cassidy passes, my state will receive a significant (if temporary) windfall with almost no strings attached.

Texas, whose legislature only meets every other year, and routinely fudges numbers with reckless abandon in order to pass its budgets. Texas, whose Senate passes the most transcendently reactionary bills in the country, and whose House membership includes this jackass. A state run by people so hostile to the very idea of public health assistance that they’ve already turned down billions of free federal dollars for exactly that purpose.

If Graham-Cassidy passes, these are the people who will decide what happens to Medicaid in Texas. These are the people who will control the money that currently sustains Texas’ dwindling number of rural hospitals, and provides health coverage to hundreds of thousands of poor children, parents, pregnant women, seniors, and people with disabilities. These are the people who are supposed to craft health care solutions that keep people insured, and prevent insurers and hospitals from ripping people off. They are the people whom Graham-Cassidy entrusts with keeping vulnerable Texans from dying for no good reason.

The best way to predict how that would turn out is to look at how Texas has (mis)used block grants in the past. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant program replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program as part of a major welfare reform effort in 1996. (Seriously, thanks again, Bill.) TANF block grants were supposed to be used by individual states to support poor families with children as parents looked for work.

But that’s not what Texas used its TANF money for. In fact, Texas ranks dead last among states for the share of TANF funds it spends on “core” program activities. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

In 2015, for every 100 poor families with children in Texas, only 5 received TANF cash assistance, down from 24 in 2001. During that time, Texas slashed its spending on basic assistance and eliminated spending on child care, even as the number of families with children below 50 percent of the poverty line increased.

What did Texas do with the TANF block grants instead? It plugged budget holes, and redirected TANF money to unrelated state programs, such as its failing child protective services. In other words, Texas used its TANF grant money as a slush fund. As a result, the number of families with poor children in Texas has risen substantially over the past ten years, while the cash assistance caseload has dropped by almost half.

Past is prologue, and anyone who thinks that the Texas state government will do even an adequate job of administering federal Medicaid dollars is crazy or lying. My state’s example gives the lie to the Republican canard that state governments are better positioned to “provide solutions” when it comes to healthcare. The fact that Texas will get more money out of Graham-Cassidy than any other state just adds bitter insult to terrible injury.


It's 2017, and George W. Bush Is Still a Terrible President

Donald Trump isn’t the worst president in American history. He’s not even the worst president of this century.



There are many ways to measure a president. C-Span’s 2017 Presidential Historians Survey ranks every American president up to Obama based on such hard-to-quantify categories as “public persuasion,” “moral authority,” “international relations, and “performance within the context of his times.” Historians are generally loathe to compare subjects from different eras based on a single, simplistic set of metrics, so it’s always a bit surprising to me that C-Span gets so many well-regarded historians to weigh in every year. Maybe the ranking is intended to remind current office-holders of their accountability to future generations. Maybe it’s just clickbait.

Anyway, having thus problematized the C-Span survey, I will now use it to argue a point. Most of the worst presidents on that list have earned their places by dint of political and policy decisions that would subsequently fetch foreseeably terrible consequences. The bottom spots are largely reserved for the procession of presidents who failed to prevent and/or accelerated the country’s slow and predictable slide into civil war during the mid-19th century. That’s where you’ll find Franklin Pierce, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore and, at the very bottom, James Buchanan, who presided over the South’s secession and the near-dissolution of the Union.

It’s far too early to speculate about how far down that list Donald Trump’s name will eventually appear. Early returns obviously aren’t promising. Stylistically, Trump is probably the worst president in modern memory—placing his bundle of unbridled pathologies on full display almost every morning on Twitter. He has yet to demonstrate the capacity to empathize, emote, focus, or reason in real time. He doesn't, in both his own words and those of his critics, “act presidential.”

Presidential symbolism is another weak point; Trump’s recent refusal to condemn American Nazism in the wake of the Charlottesville riots is the kind of thing that can seriously mar a presidency from a historical perspective—particularly if right wing extremists are emboldened by his non-response to foment further violence. His firing of James Comey, unwillingness to release his tax returns, and the ongoing mystery of his ties to Russia also undermine and degrade the symbolic power of his office. Trump’s threat to leave the Paris Climate Accord could also turn out to be one of the defining symbolic acts of his presidency. Symbolic, because it remains an open question at this point a), whether the US will indeed withdraw, and b), how much impact a US withdrawal would actually have on the global effort to combat climate change.

There are a few substantive things Trump could do right away to reserve his place at the bottom of C-Span’s list. A “preventive war” against North Korea would certainly fall into this category. A preemptive strike by the US would almost certainly lead to an entirely avoidable nuclear exchange, and millions of casualties.

But thankfully, President Trump also counts laziness and irresolution among his many character flaws. So despite the number of preposterously terrible proposals being floated by his administration, Trump hasn’t followed through on much of anything yet. If “bad” presidents are primarily measured in terms of the severity of the real-world consequences of their decisions, the current president simply hasn’t put in enough work to be considered truly, historically “bad.” Not yet.

In fact, to judge by the consequences of his decisions thus far, Mr. Trump is not even as bad as the last Republican president. In 2002 and 2003, over the vocal protests of a large portion of the western world and his own citizens, George W. Bush and his administration ginned up fake intelligence to prosecute an aggressive war to topple Saddam Hussein, without a viable or realistic plan for stabilizing and rebuilding that country’s civil society in the aftermath. Experts within his own administration warned that by pulling military resources away from Afghanistan, from which the September 11th attacks originated, the United States risked losing Osama bin Laden, and getting bogged down in a protracted stalemate, in order to attack a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. (Tonight, as it happens, sixteen years after the US began fighting there, Donald Trump will address the nation on raising troop levels once again in Afghanistan, further prolonging what is already by far the longest war in American history.)

Predictably, the relatively easy deposition of Saddam Hussein opened an ideological and political power vacuum, in which an insurgency comprised of disgruntled ex-Baathists and radical Sunni militants like Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi (leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq) triggered a post-invasion civil war that ripped the country apart. From 2004-2011, the United States military fought aimlessly against multiple sides in Iraq’s civil war, including AQI and various Shia militias, in pursuit of a political solution that could only be achieved by Iraqis themselves.

The consequences were hardly limited to Iraq. Sunni factions that had both radicalized and operationalized in post-invasion Iraq poured across the border into Syria beginning in 2011. Their presence helped turn what began as a democratic uprising against the Assad regime into a grinding and endless civil war with no moral legitimacy on either side, while also creating an easy pretext for Russia to assert its malign influence in the region. The effects of the Iraq war allowed President Recep Erdogan to tighten his grip on power in Turkey by starting his own war against the Kurds of northern Iraq. And, with Iraq no longer serving as a check upon the regional ambitions of Iran, the United States began expending far more money and energy to do so—further degrading the combat readiness of an American military, and bringing us into potentially direct conflict with the Chinese, who are quickly becoming Iran's go-to allies.

The bitter fruits of the Iraq War are very much still with us. Through their involvement in neighboring Syria’s civil war, remnants of AQI and the Baath Party eventually transmogrified into ISIL, the Islamic State. So although the United States withdrew completely from Iraq in 2011, we were back by 2014 to respond to ISIL’s conquest of a large chunk of northern Iraq. We’re still there now, fighting to contain the monster unleashed by our initial invasion. Saudi Arabia, our “allies” in the region, are currently using American weapons to commit war crimes in Yemen, which US policy-makers have apparently accepted as a reasonable trade-off for victory in a proxy war against Iran.

Those are just some of the more obvious strategic costs. Add to them the terrible human and financial costs. The American invasion of Iraq resulted in an estimated 650,000 Iraqi deaths in the first three years of the war. Hundreds of thousands more have died since—everywhere from Syria to Turkey, Yemen to Palestine, France, Spain, England, and California—thanks at least in part to the rise of ISIL—itself an unintended consequence of the the US invasion. As of the end of June of this year, 4,424 Americans have died in Iraq since 2003. The war is estimated to have cost American taxpayers more than $2 trillion—the interest of which will grow to $6 trillion over the next four decades. Our great-grandchildren will still be paying for it.

The Iraq War was arguably the most foolish and costly single decision by a president in American history. And yet, it was only the most prominent of a long series of stupid, high-consequence policy choices by Bush the Younger. He also squandered Clinton’s budget surplus and cemented much of the Wall Street deregulation that led to the Great Recession. He repeatedly disregarded the intelligence that could've prevented the 9/11 attacks. He signed the USA Patriot Act, tortured terrorists in violation of the Geneva Convention, and spied on American citizens. He placed a disgraced former commissioner from the International Arabian Horse Association in charge of FEMA, gutted the agency’s budget, and sat idly by as New Orleans drowned. He passed Medicare Part D, under which the federal government is not permitted to negotiate prices with drug companies, as do federal agencies in other programs. He nearly succeeded in privatizing Social Security.

When Bush left office in 2008, global financial markets were in freefall, bin Laden remained at large, the United States was fighting two losing wars, and its international reputation was in the toilet. Not for nothing, Bush’s name is near the bottom of the C-SPAN list as well. Those whom Trump has convinced to recall the Bush era with nostalgia may have forgotten how awful he actually was.

All of which goes to show that it takes genuine conviction and hard work to screw up badly enough to rank among the very worst American presidents. Luckily, Donald Trump appears capable of neither. And as disturbing as the Trump presidency has been thus far, it is a small comfort that the neoconservatives responsible for the Iraq war regard him with such distaste.

None of this is to say that Donald Trump can’t rocket right to the bottom of the rankings with a few dire choices. If millions die on the Korean Peninsula, or Neo-Nazis become a driving policy force, or it is proven that Trump was a willing accomplice of the Russians during the election, he’ll give ol’ James Buchanan a run for his money.

But insisting that Trump is already the worst president ever is essentially rewarding him with superlatives that—as usual—the man hasn’t actually earned. Let’s just hope it stays that way.

Toxic Politics Fatigue

Last year, Donald Trump ran for president. Now I'm a different person. If nothing else, the last year and a half have been a humbling lesson on how some events, although utterly beyond my control, can alter my day-to-day existence. Can force me to adapt. Can change me, irrespective of my will. I paused today, just to notice the change. I tried to measure it. Which in turn prompted me to think back to the version of...

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