Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Sometimes analogies are the most interesting when they break down -- UPDATED II

[I wrote this a few days and then half-forgot about it until last night when TPM started running headlines like "What Did The President Know?" (a question that was quickly answered while others were raised). We can debate exactly where we are along the path, but it seems fairly likely that we will multiple impeachable offenses by the end of the year. If that happens, we shouldn't count on history as a guide.]

At the risk of taking the "look for the silver lining" approach to a pathological level, one of the positives of the Trump phenomenon has been the way it has made the subtle plain, the plain obvious, and the obvious undeniable. This has been even more true with journalism, particularly the pundit class.

For a long time now, it has been apparent that opinion writers and news analysts are simply terrible when it comes to the analogy heuristic suggested by PĆ³lya. Many writers apparently thought that an analogy was simply a collection of similarities ("Herman Cain was a businessman just like Trump. He had a big surge in the polls just like Trump. He..."). Still others treated analogies as some sort of path of destiny that could be extrapolated endlessly into the future. My favorite of these was the argument that the parallels between Trump and Goldwater meant that we would have a historic Republican loss followed by complete conservative dominance 12 to 20 years from now.

That is not how these things work. Analogous relationships can give us insights into situations and they are potentially useful for suggesting hypotheses and lines of inquiry. Ironically, this usefulness is sometimes greatest when the analogies break down.

There's already been lots of discussion about the Trump/Goldwater analogy and a fair amount, more recently, about the Trump/Nixon analogy. Both of these provide some interesting points to explore, but what strikes me is most important here is where the analogies fail. At the risk of oversimplifying, the extremism of Barry Goldwater and the corruption and abuse of power of the Nixon administration both qualified as comparable threats to the Republican Party. The GOP was able to weather these threats with no lasting damage in large part because it successfully distanced itself from both men.

That was, of course, a different Republican Party. Even as late as the 1980s, you could still find Republican leaders like Bob Dole pushing back against Reaganomics. Since then the party has changed radically. Absolute loyalty is demanded and party discipline is strictly enforced. The flow of information (and in the case of the base, misinformation) is carefully controlled. The displays of independence that allow party members to pull away from controversial candidates and officeholders is no longer possible.

Which pretty much leaves GOP office holders with the option of keeping their head down and hoping the storm will pass.


UPDATE: This Josh Marshall post from earlier today provides a perfect example of the Party's unwillingness and inability to distance itself from upcoming WH scandals.

But only three or four hours before Flynn resigned, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence), Devin Nunes, said there was no problem and it was just the President's enemies ("the swamp" in his words) making trouble. "It just seems like there's a lot of nothing here," Nunes told Bloomberg's Steven Dennis.

This is only a particularly embarrassing illustration of a larger problem. The Republican Congress has no interest in any oversight of the Trump administration. None. Sure, opposing parties usually scrutinize administrations more aggressively. But it's rare to have this level of complete refusal.


And from Jonathan Chait:

3. Leave Trump alooooone. Republicans insist they do not support any probe of Flynn’s actions or what Trump may have known. “It’s taking care of itself,” insists House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz.

What about House Speaker Paul Ryan? Ryan is known for his fanatical belief in informational security. The Speaker once held such strong views on classified information that he demanded Hillary Clinton be denied access to classified briefings during the campaign because she had shown, by using a private email server, she could not be trusted with the nation’s secrets. “The consequences for the safety of our nation are grave,” he wrote solemnly. “Clinton’s actions may have allowed our enemies to access intelligence vital to our national security.” Ryan has learned from that episode to be far less judgmental. And now today, even the prospect that Trump allowed intelligence to be exposed to a staffer whom he knew to be potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail strikes him as unworthy of investigation.

Today, Ryan said, “I’m not going to prejudge the circumstances surrounding this.” And since Ryan is not forcing an investigation, he won’t post-judge, either. No prejudging, no post-judging, no judging of any kind, just moving on.

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