August 31, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Trump Exposed the Left’s Fault Lines
Leftist intellectuals are divided—over Russia, and more.
The Post’s Catherine Rampell asked Thursday how the hell did US Attorney Jeff Sessions, the first Republican to endorse candidate Donald Trump for president, find himself abandoned by the right and embraced by the left? She’s wrong.
Leftists never embraced Sessions. They despise everything he stands for.
But they would rather see him stay put for the sake of Robert Mueller’s investigation into the president’s ties to the Russian government, and for the pleasure of seeing Mueller expose the fraud, criminality and deceit that are the heart of Trumpland.
Rampell is right, however, in saying the political world is upside down. As someone who for years identified as a leftist (I still do), I have spent hours trying to understand what the hell happened to my fellow leftists. I’m not talking about the cranks and zealots. I’m talking about intellectuals whose writing I emulated, the traditional liberal-leftists of the kind found at The Nation and the American Prospect.
The Kremlin’s sabotage split us. Half feel such strong attachment to the idea of America that we’re scandalized by the sight of a president tripping over himself to kiss Vladimir Putin’s ring. The other half is deeply suspicious of America, so much so it believes the Mueller inquiry is distracting us from our history of cardinal sin. To this day, Stephen F. Cohen, a Russia scholar married to The Nation’s editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, dismissively refers to the Mueller investigation as “Russiagate.”
This split wouldn’t matter so much if the latter half didn’t overlook a growing body of empirical evidence suggesting strongly that yes, this president is dirty, and the Russians really did violate our sovereignty. To be sure, the US has violated the sovereignty of other nations, but that does not abrogate the fact that we were attacked. A victimizer can be a victim. Justice demands we do something about it.
But Russia isn’t the only fault line. So is gender.
Fact is, the old left (meaning baby boomers) really does not seem to understand why the new left (meaning Gen Xers, like me, and younger) is making such a fuss over the inequities of power having millstoned women over a millennia and more.
Case in point is Bob Kuttner. He’s an old-fashioned class warrior, founder of the Prospect and the Economic Policy Institute, author of numerous books on the political economy, someone I read with devotion after the 2008 collapse. I can’t explain how disappointed I was after he called Kirsten Gillibrand an “opportunist” for demanding Al Franken resign “before he even had a chance to seriously defend himself,” he wrote. “He remains a more noble and principled public figure than she is.”
Yes, he remains noble—for resigning. If he had refused, Franken would have forced his party to defend the viral photo of him mock-touching the breasts of a woman he did a few military shows with. The base of the party would not tolerate that in the midst of the #Metoo movement, and as the Democrats were trying to unite against the womanizing head of the Republican Party. (By the way, many Democrats, men and women, called for Franken’s head, but Kuttner only had eyes for Gillibrand.)
As I wrote for Newsweek at the time:
Amid this climate of sexual misconduct and accountability, the [Democratic Party] is signaling to every woman out there that the Democrats are for them. We got rid of our sexual predators, they are saying, while the Republicans sent theirs to the Senate*. Don’t vote for them in 2018. Vote for us.
At the heart of my disappointment was this: how could Kuttner not see what was clear to so many? I don’t know the answer (I suppose he’s an unreconstructed sexist), but my disappointment continued this week after reading a piece by Kuttner’s peer, Robert Reich. Reich also helped found the American Prospect. I was devoted to his writing, too. At Berkeley for years, he’s become the sage of liberal-leftist economics.
Reich argued that if Mueller proved Trump colluded with Russia, his presidency would not be “authorized under the United States Constitution.” Therefore, the Supreme Court, as it does using its power to strike down federal law, should “annul” Trump’s victory and “declare all legislation and executive actions of a presidency unauthorized by the Constitution to be null and void, as if Trump had never been elected.”
This is, um, crazy talk.
“Authorized” under the Constitution has no meaning. You can say he’s illegitimate. You can say he cheated. You can’t say he’s not “authorized.” Also meaningless is saying “the Constitution leads to the logical conclusion that annulment is the appropriate remedy for” an “unconstitutional presidency.” This is chapter-and-verse delusion.
By the way, a court of nine declaring “legislation and executive actions” null and void is something fascists would just love to do. I’m not even going to talk about the magical thinking going into demanding that a conservative-majority Supreme Court step into what is at root a political battle, not a constitutional one.
As Brendan Nyhan wrote:Reich should know better. Or maybe he doesn’t. After all, his career is rooted in the 1990s, a time when party politics was thought among politicos and journalists as more of a game, an amusing riddle, than an argument over substance. Reich and Kuttner worked against that trend but perhaps never truly escaped it.
Maybe the real fault line dividing leftists isn’t Donald Trump or gender, national pride or generational differences. Maybe it’s something far more fundamental.
Like taking politics seriously.
to the Senate*
I wrote that piece for Newsweek just before Doug Jones beat Roy Moore for one of Alabama’s senate seats. Moore had been accused of sexual misconduct.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.