Dec 11, 2019

What the hell are Democrats doing?

What the hell are Democrats doing?

Plus, Jews get caught in a political firestorm.

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Democrats’ bizarre day, the big anti-Semitism controversy, and the content of Fox News.

President Trump and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu | Photo: The White House

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What D.C. is talking about.

Jews. Yesterday, The New York Times reported that President Trump would sign an executive order to combat anti-Semitism on college campuses. The order would cut off federal funds to schools that don’t curb discrimination against Jewish students. The order seemed aimed at the Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel movement (commonly known as BDS), a popular Palestinian-led boycott movement meant to put financial pressure on Israel to abide by international law. The BDS movement is extremely controversial, as many Jews on the left and right feel it’s thinly veiled anti-Semitism. Trump’s executive order would define discrimination against Jewish students as bias against their shared national identity (Israel) instead of simply religious discrimination, according to the Times. In other words, the order defines Judaism as a nationality, which allows the Education Department to open civil rights investigations into schools that are creating a contentious climate for Jews by allowing the BDS movement to thrive. But this morning, new reporting from Jewish Insider — including a draft of the executive order — makes no reference to defining Judaism as a “national origin.”

What the left is saying.

There was backlash immediately. The hard anti-Trump left started lobbing comparisons to Hitler, saying that Trump was defining Jewish nationality which was a first step toward deporting Jews. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, a popular figure on the left, tweeted “there are reasons why many Jews always have an updated passport and keep cash on hand. It’s not just inherited trauma.” Supporters of the BDS movement said this was a campaign to silence Palestinian rights activism by equating opposition to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with anti-Semitism. “Israeli apartheid is a very hard product to sell in America, especially in progressive spaces,” Yousef Munayyer, a supporter of the BDS movement, told The New York Times. “And realizing this, many Israeli apartheid apologists, Trump included, are looking to silence a debate they know they can’t win.” Others on the left said the story was being misconstrued by the Times and actually came to Trump’s defense, noting that the order did not define Jews as a nationality of another country but instead asked for more forceful enforcement of discrimination laws on campus.

What the right is saying.

You are all going insane. The decision by Trump was clearly in good faith, benign, and whether you think it’s controversial or not the comparisons to Hitler are just absurd. The left’s reaction is a classic case of Trump derangement syndrome, where everything he does is bad. Trump’s executive order was born out of a bipartisan bill and uses Obama-era nondiscrimination guidance, as Seth Mandel put it, and yet people on the left are comparing Trump to Hitler. Not only that, but there’s plenty of precedent for it. The Supreme Court allowed both Jews and Arabs to adopt the civil rights statute Trump is using for his executive order to define themselves as a race or nationality. He’s simply applying that guidance to campuses and trying to give colleges a legal pathway to stamp out the BDS movement. Which, again, is viewed as anti-Semitic by Jews on the left and right (though lots of Jews on the left support BDS). The White House actually reached out to Democrats and built up some bipartisan support for the order. Jonathan Greenblatt, a critic of Trump who runs the Anti-Defamation League, said he hopes the order will be enforced fairly “but the fact of the matter is we see Jewish students on college campuses and Jewish people all over being marginalized.”

My take.

I’ll start by saying this: As a Jew, the issue here strikes a personal note. I obviously have concerns about anti-Semitism on college campuses and across America, and I can tell you from experience it’s no myth. In the last few years, I’ve experienced more overt anti-Semitism than I ever had in the decades of my life before that. I live in Brooklyn, where attacks on Jew-presenting men and women (i.e. religious Jews who look Jewish) are happening almost every week. And I went to college and lived in Pittsburgh, PA, where someone shot up a synagogue down the street from my old apartment and where I frequently met people who had never met Jews and believed all sorts of bizarre things about us. All this is to say anti-Semitism is real, it’s scary, and I’m glad people are trying to address it.

Still, I thought the reaction from people on the left was pretty insane. Trump is not taking a step toward “deporting Jews” and this bill certainly isn’t about defining Jews as un-American. It’s obviously the brainchild of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, who is an orthodox Jew. I sincerely doubt Trump totally grasps or even cares about the BDS movement, as he has about three dozen policy issues that are more important to him (and yes, it’s also worth noting that Trump has made a number of comments that would be defined as anti-Semitic if they were ever made by a Muslim or a liberal). My real issue with the bill is that I think it’s a genuine free-speech issue. Despite my concerns about BDS, and despite the fact I think there is obvious anti-Semitism in the BDS ranks, I also think college students should be able to protest and boycott Israel however they like. It’s as simple as that. If the executive order comes out as Jewish Insider is reporting it will, by calling on colleges to prohibit forms of discrimination rooted in anti-Semitism, then there isn’t a big issue here. But if campuses begin using the order to silence legitimate boycott movements and protests against Israel, there is a reason to worry that students first amendment rights are being violated.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: You can ask a question, too. All you have to do is reply to this email and write in.

Q: I was wondering if you had any insight as to whether there was some sort of political strategy by announcing the articles of impeachment on the same day as the USMCA agreement. Was it just coincidence that both of these things happened at the same time? Or do the Democrats think there is some sort of advantage by doing so?

- Ben, San Diego, CA

Tangle: This is the question a lot of people have been asking themselves for the last 24 hours: “What the hell are Democrats doing?” For those of you who missed yesterday’s Tangle, one of the more interesting things that happened was this bizarre scene: just minutes after Democrats announced articles of impeachment against Trump, they also held a press conference to announce that they had struck a deal on the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA).

For many on the left, it was an absurd and frustrating spectacle. For months, Republicans have been accusing Democrats of a political stunt. They’ve said impeachment was a farce and Democrats had nothing serious on the president. And now, with impeachment bearing down on Trump, Democrats hand him perhaps the biggest policy win of his presidency and seem to be actively working with the president they’re trying to convince the country is unfit for office. Here were some reactions:

From their perspective, the optics of impeachment moving forward and this trade deal being passed are just absurd. It’s not going to stop there, either. Democrats are expected to announce the approval of a bipartisan defense bill this week, perhaps as soon as today, that will be the largest in the nation’s history. There’s also a good chance the House passes a bill on lowering the cost of prescription drugs, another major priority for President Trump.

The calculus here comes from Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the 79-year-old House speaker who is widely considered one of the most shrewd politicians in Congress. Part of it is just practical: this session of Congress is ending as the holidays approach, and Democrats needed to make a decision about whether they’d agree to the terms of the USMCA bill. Part of it is political: Pelosi’s bet is that by getting some of these deals done, and by addressing a few issues that middle-class Americans care about (manufacturing jobs, drug prices, military), she’ll prove that the “do-nothing Democrats” (as Trump has coined them) can actually do quite a bit. She is showing that they can “walk and chew gum at the same time,” a favorite expression of hers. The New York Times actually detailed her thinking in a front-page story today. It’s also important because many Democrats were elected in pro-Trump districts, and they need something to tell their constituents when they go home over the holiday break. The USMCA gives them a great piece of legislation to show they are working and not just obsessing over removing Trump.

As criticism erupted about this yesterday, I actually wrote a brief Twitter thread essentially landing where Pelosi did. I think that outside the Twitter bubble, most Democrats — and some moderate Republicans — will look favorably on a Congress that’s actually doing something, even if it mixes the messages a bit. Passing these bills now also reinforces that Trump needs the House Democrats to get things done. And, aside from politics and just on a practical level, Democrats are getting a lot of what they want. The USCMA has been on hold not because Pelosi was stopping it, but because Democrats were negotiating their parts of the deal — and they made significant changes before pushing it through. “We are so proud of the distance that we have come from where we started with the administration on this legislation,” Pelosi said of the new USMCA. “This victory for America’s workers is one we take great pride in advancing.”

Now, how this will all get through to voters is yet to be seen. After briefly giving Democrats some credit, Trump quickly changed his tune (I’m assuming some press strategists got to him). He went from saying the Democrat support was great for the country to claiming that Democrats only agreed to the USMCA because they were embarrassed by impeachment. House Minority Leader and Republican Kevin McCarthy took a similar tact, saying Pelosi held USMCA up for a year knowing it would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, only relenting because of how unpopular impeachment was.

This, of course, seems to vindicate a lot of the skepticism from the left. Republicans aren’t going to give Pelosi credit and will ignore the fact that much of what Democrats negotiated into the deal will be good for workers and the environment. But it should still damage the argument Democrats can’t get anything done. How it all gets through to voters is yet to be seen. For now, the entire bill is once again on hold after Mitch McConnell and the Republican-controlled Senate said they won’t be bringing it up for a vote until after the holidays.

A story that matters.

Last night, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson ran a segment on his show where he went to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s district in New York and filmed a bunch of trash on the street. After collecting the footage, he brought on a guest who said that AOC’s district was dirty because it is “one of the least American districts in the country… it is occupied by relatively few American citizens.” This comes a day after Carlson hosted Pete D’Abrosca on his show, a “politician” with overt and open ties to white nationalist groups.

I really try not to overreact to Fox News segments like this, as I know there is a ton of shrill, over the top “RACIST!” claims made every day about Fox hosts. But what Tucker did last night — and what he’s been doing on his show — is disgusting. AOC’s district is beautiful, I’ve been there. My fiance lived there (in Astoria). It’s one of the most diverse and cultured places in America, from Queens to the Bronx. It’s also home to 700,000 people. That’s about the size of Washington D.C. That’s more populated than Boston, Portland, Nashville and Las Vegas, among others. This segment would be like me going to Boston or Nashville, finding trash (which wouldn’t be hard to do!) and then blaming it on white people or Americans or Irish people or southerners. It’s really, frankly, disgusting. And it’s also embarrassing for Carlson. He works at the biggest news organization in the world, makes millions of dollars a year, and is one of the most-watched TV personalities in the world (which is why his show “matters”). And he is using his platform, with all those money and resources at his disposal, to do work like this. Unfortunately, it gets through to viewers.

TIME’s Person of the Year.

Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate change activist, was named TIME’s person of the year. You can read their cover story here, or see the cover below.


  • 858. The average number of story interactions (likes, comments, shares) on pieces having to do with Tulsi Gabbard, the most of any Democrat.
  • 852. The average number of story interactions (likes, comments, shares) on pieces having to do with Joe Biden, second-most of any Democrat.
  • 52%. The percentage of Democratic voters under the age of 35 who plan to vote for Bernie Sanders in the primary, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll.
  • 17%. The percentage of Democratic voters under the age of 35 who plan to vote for Elizabeth Warren in the primary, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll.
  • 11%. The percentage of Democratic voters under the age of 35 who plan to vote for Joe Biden in the primary, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll.
  • 23%. The percentage of Democratic caucus voters in Iowa who say they plan to vote for Joe Biden, best of any Democrat.
  • 22%. The percentage of Democratic caucus voters in Iowa who say they plan to vote for Bernie Sanders.

Have a nice day.

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