Aug 22, 2019

The 'biggest mistake' Democrats could make.

The 'biggest mistake' Democrats could make.

Also, reader questions about the 1619 project and Amazon fires.

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Did you notice?

There was a lot of Trump in yesterday’s newsletter. Lest you think I had a one-track mind, or couldn’t think of better things to write about, I’ll point you to this photo of The New York Times front page from yesterday (for what it’s worth, everyone of these stories — and more — were covered in yesterday’s Tangle):

Today’s read: 9 minutes.

We’re talking Mitch McConnell, the 1619 project and Amazon fires.

Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

What D.C. is talking about.

Mitch McConnell. The Senate majority leader and longtime Kentucky Senator has been in the news a lot the last two days. Last week, McConnell caught an ugly headline from The Washington Post about how his effort to lift Russian sanctions boosted a project in his home state of Kentucky. Then, Fox News went after McConnell to do something to secure our elections in the wake of “Russian attacks.” Finally, this morning, McConnell penned an op-ed in The New York Times urging Democrats not to abolish the Senate filibuster, which requires 60 votes (there are 100 Senators) to end a debate and move to a vote.

What Democrats are saying.

“Moscow Mitch” is as cynical as they come. He is the same majority leader who promised to make President Obama a one-term president, the same majority leader who broke precedent by refusing to vote on Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee, and the same majority leader who just rammed through a bunch of Trump judges by cutting the time for debating them from 30 hours to two. The Guardian recently published an editorial titled “Mitch McConnell is destroying the Senate — and American government.” In it, Robert Reich details how McConnell blocked 79 Obama nominees between 2009 and 2013. In the history of the Untied States before that, just 68 nominees had ever been blocked. One nominee for an ambassadorship famously died after waiting two years for McConnell to approve her nomination. Now he wants to lecture us on norms? No thanks. The Republican Senate has proved that it will do anything and everything to stop liberal policies from getting through, so by gaining a Senate majority and ending the Senate filibuster, Democrats think they can push through big legislation on climate change, gun control and more. Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bennet, John Delay, Bill de Blasio and Tim Ryan are all 2020 candidates for president who have entertained ending the filibuster.

What Republicans are saying.

You sure you want to do this again? In 2013, after McConnell spent Obama’s first term making that record number of stops against his nominations, Democrats moved to change longstanding Senate procedures to get his nominees through. As McConnell detailed in his op-ed: “First, since the nominees had proved unable to earn the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster, Democrats sought to change Senate rules so that ending debate on most nominations would require only a simple majority. Second, lacking the two-thirds supermajority needed to change the rules normally, Democrats decided to short-circuit standard procedure and muscle through the new rule with a simple majority as well — the first use of the infamous ‘nuclear option.’”

Just a year later, Republicans won the Senate back and used the new rules to shut down just about every left-wing initiative they could. A few short years later, Republicans were using those changes to hand President Donald Trump victory after victory. Trump has now appointed two Supreme Court justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, and 43 new federal judges who are serving lifetime appointments. That’s a record up to this point for any president. How’d those rule changes work out for you? Now, Democrats are being tempted by the far-left radical socialists in the party, and for what? What happens if you win the majority in 2020, change these rules and lose it again two years later? As McConnell noted, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester called his vote to change the rules “probably the biggest mistake I ever made.” This will end up the same way.

My take.

It’s tough to argue with McConnell. How could Democrats be seriously considering this after what they’ve gone through the last 10 years? To put it mildly, McConnell has run circles around Senate Democratic leaders, and dynamiting the rules of the chamber in a last ditch effort to get your legislation passed does not seem wise. Of course, it could be a total bluff — maybe Democrats are just using this to court votes and motivate their base? I can’t imagine a policy wonk like Elizabeth Warren really thinks it’s a wise move. Even far-left politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders are against the idea (in fact, it’s one of the major differences between Sanders and Warren, which I laid out here). I can see Democrats riling each other up about all the laws they think they could pass, but what about the risk? If you’re a liberal, think about how close Senate Republicans were to completely tearing apart Obamacare. Changing these rules would make something like that a lot easier. And if you succeeded, and a Trump-like candidate gets re-elected four years later, then what? Minority power is there for a reason, and it’s a good one: it gives Americans who aren’t as well represented in the Senate an opportunity to force compromise. Yes, that creates a slow, grinding legislative process that can be immensely frustrating, but there are better solutions to this than turning over nearly ubiquitous power to a slim majority.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Tangle is about answering reader questions and repairing the relationship between reporters and readers. You’re encouraged to ask questions and it’s really easy! Simple reply to this email and write in.

Q: When are you going to touch on the ridiculous 'backlash' to the 1619 project from the NYTimes? You had to have seen the project, it deserves every bit of amplification. Truly eye-opening works in that issue that help to reframe our nations founding. Proud to know that works from it are being put into the curriculum at my school system.

- James, New York, NY

Tangle: Thanks for writing in! I almost had the 1619 project as a top item in the newsletter earlier this week, but it’s been pushed around with all the craziness and I’m glad to address it now. If you’re not familiar, the 1619 project is a series of essays and reporting from The New York Times with this stated goal: “It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.” 1619 is the year the first African slaves arrived in Jamestown, Virginia.

As you can imagine, this has caused some predictable backlash. The Federalist, a conservative publication run by the husband of Megan McCain, published headlines in response like, “No, America Wasn’t Built On Slavery, But Faith That All Men Are Created Equal.” The writer, Joshua Lawson, says “viewing the centuries-old actions of men through a 21st-century lens will not solve our present social tensions” and argues slavery was not a central factor in America’s founding by any “objective analysis.”

Lawson puts the focus instead on the fact America began a crusade to end slavery that predated Europeans arriving on American shores. Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote the flagship essay of the project, which analyzes the disparity between “all men are created equal” and the fact slavery was so prominent at the time. She says “white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst.” Lawson responded that “she provides no evidence or examples for this sweeping assertion.” Of course, Hannah-Jones provides the most definitive evidence possible for this fact: she writes, in detailed fashion, of how the men who drafted those words owned and treated their black slaves. One would have a hard time conjuring a stronger piece of evidence than that, in my opinion.

Most of the backlash to the 1619 project has, similarly, seemed to rely on flimsy point scoring and a general uncomfortableness with not idolizing American history. That being said, I’d encourage anyone and everyone to read it with an open mind. At the very least, you should read Hannah-Jones’ essay that starts it off. It’s full of fascinating facts about slavery, interesting re-framing of our history, and detailed personal accounts from fantastic writers of color about how the legacy of slavery impacts them today. It is, obviously, a bit of a radical historical perspective shift. And, it’s central premise, which is that nobody has fought harder for and been more loyal to the ideals of freedom than slaves and their descendents, may make you uncomfortable. A lot of the ugly responses from the right were elevated, but plenty of conservatives responded to the project thoughtfully, critically, and with a great deal of insight. It’s not certainly perfect, but I learned a lot and found myself quite moved while reading it. Below is Philip Klein, a conservative writer from The Washington Examiner:

Q: Why don’t we hear about certain natural and humanitarian disasters? I’m thinking of the fires in the Amazon that are just now coming into the news, although I’m sure there are plenty of others. Why haven’t there been articles about it, its causes, and its impacts?

- Eli, Seattle, WA

Tangle: As a reporter, one of the most common pieces of feedback you get is “why aren’t you covering x, y or z?” Take a look at Facebook comments or reader feedback, and there is a constant cry of “how could you be covering this and not that?” The answer I always give, and one readers tend to hate, is this: because of you.

Most publications today are struggling to drive revenue and traffic. That’s why clickbait and “curiosity gaps” (when a headline gives away a little bit of info but entices you to click in) became so popular over the last ten years. On a similar note, it’s why Twitter controversy and Trump’s outlandish lies often drive more coverage than really important, really sad stories like the huge fires destroying the planet’s lungs right now. Again, this is all part of why I started this newsletter. There are some interesting studies about this cognitive dissonance; Americans who claim to want less depressing or trashy news will repeatedly opt to read and click on depressing and trashy news. It’s how so many tabloids and gossips websites have survived at a time when traditional newspapers are struggling. One of the great misnomers about the media world is that editors and newspapers decide what you read — it’s actually the opposite. Most newsrooms are catering their news and content to the reader, based on what those readers have showed an interest in previously. I know it’s a crappy answer, but it’s the truth. It’s also worth noting that news outlets are usually covering the story you want to read about (the Amazon story is being covered almost everywhere) but it’s just not on their homepage or being featured on social media because people aren’t that interested.

All that being said, what you’re asking about is a critical story. Yes, the Amazon is currently burning. Yes, the Amazon is basically the most important piece of land for humans. And yes, more newsrooms should be writing in-depth about it. I know he’s pretty far to the left, but Glenn Greenwald is one of my favorite follows on all things Brazil. He speaks the language, lives there, and brings a (liberal) American lens to a lot of issues. He tweeted out this Washington Post story that’s worth reading.

A story that matters.

Yesterday, President Trump instructed the Department of Veteran Affairs to “buy a lot” of a new drug meant to prevent suicide. The drug is made by Johnson & Johnson, which was started by Woody Johnson, who donated $1 million to Trump and has been tapped as the U.S. ambassador to the UK. A lot of reporters noticed the connection and it comes after The Center for Public Integrity published a story that raises red flags about the drug, how it was approved, it’s danger and whether it even works at all. You can read more about that here.

Hello and goodbye.

As I (and others) predicted, John Hickenlooper — who recently announced he’d drop out of the presidential race — is now running for Senate in Colorado. You can watch his ad campaign below.

Also, Jay Inslee, that guy who really loves the environment, announced he’d be dropping out of the presidential race today, too. He received a warm sendoff from the left for his effort to make climate change a central campaign issue.

Have a nice day.

Scientists in a Florida aquarium successfully reproduced coral native to the Atlantic ocean for the first time ever. The news is causing lots of optimism that environmentalists may be able to repopulate America’s Great Barrier Reef, the third largest coral reef in the world, which is off the coast of Florida and has been decimated by disease and climate change. You can read more here.


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