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A weekly review of the rogues and scoundrels of American politics

The Beltway Media Is Spreading Debt Limit Misinformation

The political press bears a share of the blame for the fact we are once again on the precipice of default.

Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters.

Having watched Capitol Hill fall into chaotic convulsions over the debt ceiling a million times before, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to properly negotiate your way through a debt ceiling crisis is to not negotiate at all. But it would seem, for the moment, that President Biden is going to dip a toe in those waters and fashion some sort of compromise. A deal may not be possible; it won’t take but a handful of House Republicans to scuttle any sort of bipartisan offering. So it may be too early to say that Biden is breaking his vow not to repeat the mistakes his former boss made in 2011.

But this might be a good occasion to point out the other big mistakes that have brought us to this point. Namely, those of the political media, who can rightly be said to have spent the last decade botching their coverage of the debt ceiling, mainly by failing to speak one plain truth: We keep getting dragged to the brink of default because the GOP has become a gang of extremists. This is villainy—their villainy—and the media has let them off the hook by treating this psychosis as all part of the natural order.

Over at New York, Jonathan Chait (not for the first time) runs down the most recent spate of examples that indicate we’ve already slid down a slippery slope: Here’s an unchallenged contention in The New York Times categorizing the debt ceiling standoff as “the ordinary stuff of politics”; there’s Jake Sherman blithely declaring that in “modern times, the debt ceiling is raised with negotiations.” (The American Prospect’s David Dayen has a deeper dive into Sherman’s particular brand of malpractice in this regard.) This is misinformation—or at the very least, it omits the most critical fact of all. As Chait writes: “These arguments conflate negotiation, which is historically common in debt-ceiling bills, with extortion, which isn’t.”

That the media cannot keep what is and what isn’t a “norm” straight in their head is the venial sin embedded within their debt ceiling coverage. The mortal sin is that the media has essentially conferred on the Republican Party the right to regularly stage these extortions. Imagine what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot—that a Democratic-controlled House majority was threatening to push the country into default unless a Republican president consented to a massive increase of the welfare state. It’s hard to imagine journalists referring to liberal hostage-taking as merely “the ordinary stuff of politics.”

This is another big lesson of the Obama era: The burden of bipartisanship, and the compromises that the media covets to a fetishistic extent, must be entirely shouldered by Democrats. (Marvel at the double standard: David Broder once made the insane insistence that the Obama-era Democrats needed to earn 70 Senate votes for any law they passed to be considered legitimate.) Throughout his tenure, Obama was regularly filleted for failing to reach a compromise with a Republican Party that had vowed to make him a one-term president by denying him a bipartisan win on anything. Pundits contorted themselves into pretzels in an attempt to ignore the fact that Obama and his fellow Democrats were the only party willing to stand in the ideological middle to make deals, a move that The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent referred to as “the centrist dodge.”

Obama spent an inordinate amount of time trying to play this game and please the naysayers. He allowed bipartisan “gangs” to build out their own health care reform ideas alongside the Affordable Care Act. He stumped for the votes of people like Olympia Snowe and Charles Grassley. He signed the Budget Control Act into law, unleashing the doomed “super committee” and the brutal sequestration budget cuts. And as soon as Obama was out of office, the moronic pundit drumbeat demanding more and bigger compromises fell silent. Donald Trump was never burdened by any such demands. The media’s bipartisanship fetishists essentially took four years off.

Now, with Biden back in office, we’ve returned to the Obama-era status quo where it’s up to him to make a series of painful choices in order to stave off economic collapse. There is never a demand that Republicans sacrifice anything, and you can see this in the coverage: You are probably aware that the White House is mulling across-the-board cuts to social spending and adding new and onerous work requirements to various aid programs. What are Republicans offering in return? As Politico reported on Wednesday, “House Republicans maintain that their job is done. They passed a bill. And now they are waiting for Biden to make a move toward agreeing to the spending restrictions outlined in their bill.” This reporting is included, without critique, in an article that repeatedly insists that “negotiations” are ongoing.

The Beltway media consensus conceives of the GOP as the party that’s allowed to exert maximal power to govern, while the Democrats are forced into the role of helpmate, permitted to step up occasionally to buffer the GOP’s excesses but not to exert maximal power themselves to advance their agenda. Any ambitious bit of liberal governance is usually confronted in the Beltway press with the question, “But how will you pay for it?” We may have become inured to this, but it is journalistic malpractice all the same. How have we paid for it? Quite dearly.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

Why Is Biden Scared of the Most Logical Solution to Debt Ceiling Insanity?

To avoid a default crisis, the president should combine the power of the Constitution with a touch of Dark Brandon.

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Here we go again: sliding headlong into yet another round of brinkmanship over the debt ceiling, with GOP extremists tempting an economy-crippling default. In recent years, this has become a regular occurrence in Washington, a ritual of learned helplessness among our elected leaders. It’s getting to the point where each iteration of this manufactured crisis has its own vintage, with a unique set of tasting notes. As TNR’s Grace Segers reported this week, the 2023 version is highly redolent of the 2011, Obama-era bottling, with a similar scent of failure and flop sweat on the nose, only this time with an especially apocalyptic mouthfeel.

But maybe we don’t have to choke down wine from this poisoned chalice. This week, the Biden administration has started to sound a little more serious about a solution involving the Fourteenth Amendment that would shut down this nonsense—perhaps for good. But according to reports, Biden’s still wavering on the edge, so let’s give him a push.

Every article about the debt ceiling requires a primer to cut through Republicans’ bullshit rhetoric about it. First, “raising” the ceiling has nothing to do with Congress incurring new debts, it merely reaffirms Congress’s commitment to pay the bills it’s already agreed to pay. Second, no other nation on earth except for Denmark has a “debt ceiling,” and the Danes have set their ceiling so high as to be impossible to breach—a good idea, which we should steal. Finally, as TNR contributor Tom Geoghegan has explained at length, the Founders would have rejected the modern-day notion of a “debt ceiling” outright, so anything that defuses or abolishes it is on safe grounds.

But the biggest thing you need to know about the debt ceiling is that it’s fake. It’s not an actual thing. It didn’t exist until 1917, when it was created specifically for the purpose of funding America’s involvement in World War I. It was extended to government debt broadly in 1939, and thus became a political football. For decades, members of Congress have marked the occasion of raising the ceiling with grandstanding speeches about the other side’s spending priorities.

These were fake debates, fake votes, with fake stakes. So anyone who tells you that debt ceiling “debates” are some kind of “norm” is lying to you. As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently pointed out, the debt ceiling has been cleanly raised 78 times since 1960. That’s the “norm.” Even here, “raising the debt ceiling” is more akin to an eldritch incantation than a legislative act.

Two things changed to bring us to the point of crisis. First, President Obama made the fateful decision to use a debt ceiling deadline to invite bipartisan budget negotiations. This coincided with the Republican Party’s shift from a loyal opposition party to a gang of rabid extremists who will treat every debt ceiling deadline under a Democratic president as an opportunity to take hostages. This time around, the GOP’s demands are nonstarters: Either Biden must either tear down his legislative accomplishments and impose painful austerity on the American people, or Republicans will take the country into default.

As I’ve said before, the only way to win at “Debt Ceiling Crisis” is to refuse to play, and in recent days the Biden administration is said to be flirting with an elegant solution to the problem. Namely, invoking the Fourteenth Amendment’s language that the public debt “shall not be questioned” as a permission slip to ignore the fiasco entirely and continue making payments over the objections of the legislative branch. As Vox’s Ian Millhiser notes, the legal arguments backing this play are strong, but they suffer from having never been tested. So it’s not hard to see why Biden, having warmed to the idea, isn’t quite there yet. The president has reportedly expressed concerns that this is not a “viable short-term solution” and that it would invite “litigation” from the GOP and, perhaps, end up at the Supreme Court.

But as TNR contributor Jess Coleman noted on Twitter, this is precisely the wrong way to think about the Fourteenth Amendment solution. “This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the law works,” he tweeted. “The onus is on those challenging a government action to change the status quo. Biden can blow past the debt ceiling and … nothing would happen. It would be on the courts to stop him. He doesn’t need permission!”

My preferred way of dealing with the debt ceiling is to treat it like the absurdity that it is, ideally with Biden in “Dark Brandon” mode. But the worst possible idea is to have a “debt ceiling debate,” because the debt ceiling is fake and to pretend otherwise is madness. Biden is correct that invoking the Fourteenth Amendment’s passing mention of the public debt leaves open the door to further litigation. But the move would deprive Republicans of the political safe harbor that comes with pretending to be negotiating. If Republicans or their allies in the Supreme Court super-legislature want to take the steps necessary to reimpose the threat of default, they’d have to step forward and do it on their own. It would no longer be on Biden or the Democrats.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

King Charles Should Abolish Himself

The best thing the newly-minted monarch could do is bring an end to the monarchy.

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

This Saturday will bring the coronation of King Charles III, and the stateside media is, as always, in rapture over the royals. CNN, per habit, will be dedicating itself to a special day of live coverage of people standing around on streets waiting for things to happen. Here in Washington, D.C., The Washington Post has decided to cover it from every angle possible, from a guide on where to watch the festivities (which kick off in the early morning hours), to an upgraded recipe for “coronation quiche,” to an article from the paper’s own living tribute to patrimonial inertia, Sally Quinn—who argues that Charles might be the one figure who can get the world to take the climate calamity seriously. It is to be hoped that she’s wrong.

I’ve always found the weird hold the Royals have on the citizens of the United States to be fascinating. But what’s more keenly important is the weird hold that the Royals have on the United Kingdom—a hold that is starting to slip. According to a poll released last week by the National Centre for Social Research, “public support for the monarchy has fallen to a historic low,” with 45 percent of respondents saying “it should be abolished, was not at all important or not very important.” Still, that leaves a majority in favor of continuing the monarchy. What will it take to turn this around? Perhaps it’s up to Charles, who wants to be thought of as a transformational leader, to be the King that shuts down the kingdom.

Naturally, I shouldn’t expect our cousins across the pond to take advice from someone who lives in a gun-crazy dystopia that’s soon to have a third consecutive election to decide, by razor-thin margins, whether we’ll continue our experiment in democracy or hand the reins over to a caudillo. But there’s a long tradition at TNR of urging the abolition of the monarchy—and even advising Charles to be the one to do the deed. “If Charles I gave the British regicide, and Charles II gave it restoration, why shouldn’t you, at the moment of coronation, give it at long last a republic?” advised Thomas Mallon on these pages back in 2013, urging Charles to set the crown “aside, a simple and grand refusal” that might “smash the strongest pillar of his people’s magical thinking and subconscious self-hatred.”

But the best reason to dismantle the monarchy isn’t because it might bring about some vibe shift in a nation’s sense of self-worth. It’s because the monarchy is a huge scam. The royal family is staggeringly wealthy, with a net worth in the vicinity of $28 billion. This, on its own, TNR’s Tim Noah writes, is a fitting test of Thomas Piketty’s “r > g” hypothesis, in which the rate of return on capital is unsustainably outrunning the rate of return on labor, leading to a vicious cycle of ever-increasing income inequality. Piketty would probably appreciate Meghan Markle’s coping strategy: She may have married into a den of vipers, but in Piketty’s view, the way the economy has devolved into this “r > g” argy-bargy means that one of the few ways to play the game of capitalism and win is to marry into money. It’s getting harder and harder to accumulate wealth by simply earning an honest living.

And as Noah points out, an honest living is something that the Royals cannot claim to be making. Charles won’t be paying a cent of tax on the estate he’s about to inherit. What’s more, a significant chunk of his wealth is stashed in offshore accounts in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, where they’re kept safe from the taxman’s clutches. Buckingham Palace has, naturally, disputed that they derive a substantial tax break by offshoring their wealth; there is no way to know for sure. But their noses are hardly clean, because they also play a substantial role in keeping the larger world of global tax dodgers spinning.

As TNR contributor Kojo Koram reported last September, a study from the Tax Justice Network found that “the world’s three most corrosive corporate tax havens are all British Overseas Territories”—the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands. “These tax havens are often presented in the media as strange foreign hideouts for dirty money,” writes Koram, “but they are all ruled by a British governor who represents the crown, carries the final say on the law and, every year leads the celebration of the queen’s birthday in a manner that resurrects the era of the old British West Indies.” It is precisely this royal sheen that allows these tax havens to “present themselves as part of the long history of English financial and legal expertise, not simply grubby secret money dens.”

The bottom line, Noah writes, is that while the monarchy might be a “ridiculous anachronism” as a governing institution, “as a form of capitalism, it’s the cutting edge,” largely because the royal family “accumulates wealth the same way it governs—by not doing anything.” And even beyond all that money sitting in secret accounts, earning money on top of itself, the royals take in another annual haul of boodle in the form of the taxpayer-funded Sovereign Grant, which in 2022 exceeded $107 million.

And though he may have the funds, I’m not sure that Charles truly has the charisma to be a transformational leader or Sally Quinn’s hoped-for climate savior. Julie Burchill, writing for TNR in 1993, described Charles as “a horrible hybrid of American psychobabbling self-pity, German pomposity and Scandinavian introspection. Knowing full well that he is not possessed of anything like a first-class mind, he settled into a sort of permanent whining restlessness that dumb people consider makes them seem ‘deep.’ But being dissatisfied and being deep are not the same thing.”

Three decades later, from this side of the pond, it’s not clear that Charles should be described any differently—except that he is vastly richer. He can hardly expect to harness his celebrity for positive change in the world while simultaneously serving as the central figure in a massive plutocratic con job. The best thing he can do with his reign is cash out, close up shop, give the lucre back to the people, and free all of us from the weird psychological fascination with the Crown.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

Trump’s 2024 Republican Opponents Are Caught in His Trap

Do they even realize the contradiction at the heart of their candidacies?

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When it comes to moments that define the Republican Party, one in particular has kept ringing in my mind for the past few years. A week after the 2020 presidential election, with Trump making loud noises about contesting the results, an anonymous “senior Republican official” offered this shrug to a reporter from The Washington Post: “What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? … He went golfing this weekend. It’s not like he’s plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20.”

It didn’t take long for this quote to age poorly; certainly by the time the sun set on January 6, 2021, it had gone fully rancid. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that there’s no one member of the Republican Party that cocked this up. That quote appeared in a story headlined “Top Republicans back Trump’s efforts to challenge election results,” which described precisely that: the party’s elite going all in on a campaign to support Trump’s plan to overturn the election. The notion that Trump was the deserved winner has remained a canonical belief among Republicans—the first purity test any member of the party must pass. But now it’s hanging over the Republican  presidential race like a dark shadow.

As Alex Shephard recently noted, the race has barely begun and yet feels like it’s already over. Trump is blasting ahead in the polls. His presumed main-stage combatant, Ron DeSantis, is looking and acting like a spent force. The rest of the field seems destined for single-digit polling and an asterisk on Ballotpedia’s recap of the election year. All in all, it’s a strange repeat of the last open Republican primary—following the “First as tragedy, then as farce” maxim.

In some cases, the historical repetition is literal, not metaphoric. In recent weeks, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie somehow got some political reporters to listen to the sounds emanating from his mouth, and they recorded noises that sounded awfully like an intention to jump into the race. Along the way, Christie elucidated what he thought was the necessary skill set to beat Trump, which amounted to trenchant stuff like “Be fearless” and “Have guts.”   

In fairness to Christie, I do not think he’s that far off the mark. In 2016, the Republicans in the field allowed Trump to seize a surfeit of unearned alpha mystique by largely failing to retaliate—not with equal force, anyway—when he landed his crude and sometimes shocking blows. They treated him on the debate stage like an interloper with poor manners, and begged whatever referee happened to be standing by to please enforce the Marquess of Queensbury rules tout de suite, like a gang of gilded fops from some forgotten Molière comedy. 

But I’d take Christie more seriously if he had actually deployed these secret weapons when he had a chance. Instead, Christie ended up a supplicant, slaving for Trump’s transition team before finally getting murked by a Jared Kushner bent on settling family business. Such was the fate of Ted Cruz too. At the 2016 convention, Cruz asked delegates to “vote their conscience,” but by the fall was urging Republicans to vote Trump. This week, we learned just how much his own conscience had withered: He had a leading role in a collaborative effort with Fox News to overturn the election for Trump. Within the current GOP, it’s submission all the way down.

And this might be the reason that Trump—who’s not done much campaigning, doesn’t have a market-moving social media presence anymore, and demonstrated little kingmaking ability during the midterm elections—is somehow cleaning everyone’s clocks in the shadow primary. There’s hardly anyone left in the GOP willing to speak some plain truths: Trump lost the 2020 election; his attempt to hijack democracy makes him unfit to serve. This party is filled, stem to stern, with people who believe Trump is the rightful president. They have allowed a defeated president to take on the sheen of an incumbent, and the base—so far—is following these cues.

In Thank You for Your Servitude, which for my money is the only truly interesting book about the Trump presidency, author Mark Leibovich goes into harrowing detail about how the modern GOP readily turned itself into a gaggle of mendicants to serve Trump on bended knee. It’s a sumptuous and unsparing read about a party that hitched their wagon to a walking disaster and lost their spines in the exchange. But Leibovich didn’t get to write the next chapter, about how the GOP would behave in the 2024 presidential primary. 

Well, we’re getting a look now, and the scene is grim. Instead of capitalizing on Trump’s indictment by going in for the kill, Trump’s competitors are defending him. The only person in the field with the gumption to tell Trump to his face that he lost the 2020 election fair and square is Asa Hutchinson, a guy no one who’s not a blood relative or on his payroll remembers is even running. None of the rest of the field look like they’ll successfully reconcile their support for Trump’s stolen-election claims with their desire to supplant him. And so the most likely person to defeat Trump will, once again, be a Democrat.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

The Republicans Would Have Booted Dianne Feinstein by Now

President Biden’s agenda will be imperiled unless Democrats summon the courage to end this madness.

Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

This week an astute Twitter user reminded me of an interesting fact from our recent political history. In early January 2018, Democrat Doug Jones, the winner of a special election in Alabama some weeks prior, joined the U.S. Senate. This took the then Republican majority to a tight 51–49 margin—a majority that was all the more fragile by dint of the fact that one of their own, Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran, was in extremely poor health. An October 2017 article from Politico described the lawmaker as “frail and disoriented” and recounted one incident in which the senator got lost on the way to the Senate chamber and another in which he voted the wrong way. It also reported that the senator was determined to stay in office. “Don’t believe everything you hear,” Cochran quipped when asked about retirement rumors. Nevertheless, by April Fools’ Day of 2018, he’d been shown the door.

The Democrats find themselves in a similar jam today: clinging to a razor-thin majority, with one member in poor health yet refusing to retire from her position (one that, extant reports suggest, she only sporadically remembers that she even holds). But in the case of California Senator Dianne Feinstein, while calls for her retirement are coming from inside the House (of Representatives), Democratic leaders in the Senate do not yet seem to have the stomach to force her out. Their timidity is putting President Joe Biden’s agenda at risk.

They are also risking their credibility. On April 12, Politico reported that while Democrats were growing increasingly concerned that Feinstein’s bout with shingles might be severe enough to close off any possibility of her return to action, the California senator floated the idea of having a temporary replacement fill her seat on the powerful committees on which she sits (most importantly, the Judiciary Committee). It was a request that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer appeared to have accepted with a stunning amount of sanguinity, in the wide-eyed belief that this was a realistic and actionable resolution.

It fell to TNR’s Grace Segers to point out that there wasn’t much of a precedent for temporarily replacing someone on a committee and that Republicans were absolutely going to put the kibosh on any attempt at such a move. But Schumer, with the same determination to march off to certain defeat that Faramir demonstrated in his hopeless effort to retake the city of Osgiliath in Return of the King, got the upper House to vote on this doomed plan and took a wholly unnecessary L at the hands of Senate Republicans. The entire episode ended up emphasizing two things: Schumer’s naïveté when it comes to the modern Republican Party and the Democrats’ lack of nerve in the face of an (easily resolvable) problem.  

Now Democrats in increasing numbers are calling for Feinstein to resign so that California Governor Gavin Newsom can name a replacement and return the Senate to its normal order. But it remains to be seen whether Democratic leaders—who seem inclined to simply accommodate Feinstein’s lengthy absence—will do the right thing and speed this matter to its resolution. And Feinstein still has some defenders who characterize the demand that she quit as sexist. “I’ve never seen them go after a man in the Senate in that way,” said former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (I will refer her to the first paragraph of this story for some much-needed edification.)

While Democrats dither on the horns of this eminently solvable dilemma, they incur no small cost to their agenda. Without a majority, the Senate Judiciary Committee cannot continue to do the necessary work of confirming Biden’s judicial nominees, the one material way that Democrats can quickly and effectively respond to Donald Trump’s wholesale makeover of the federal judiciary. Moreover, the Democratic members of the committee are unable to respond as robustly to the numerous unfolding stories of Justice Clarence Thomas’s evident corruption because they need a majority to issue a subpoena. This is a lot of critical work that voters asked Democrats to do that won’t get done as we wait for Feinstein to either return or not return.

In the face of Senate Democrats’ determined march toward self-abnegation, it’s hard not to look back at the events of 2018 in admiration of the GOP. Faced with a similar dilemma, the Republicans found the will to make the quick decisions they needed to make in order to wield power in a maximal fashion. It’s a model of determined governance. So is, believe it or not, Representative George Santos’s continued presence in the House. He may be a full-spectrum embarrassment as a human being, but he’s an important facilitator of Republican power in the lower chamber, and so he remains a member of the GOP caucus—if not in good standing, then in “good enough” standing. Last week, he announced he’ll be seeking reelection, and why not? Two years of doing his duty will forgive a great many sins—up until the point he’s either mentally or physically infirm, that is.

Meanwhile, the Democrats faff about, allowing an octogenarian multimillionaire with badly diminished faculties to continue to freeze their agenda because too many of them believe it is somehow cruel and demeaning to ask a lawmaker who’s no longer capable of doing her work to step aside and spend her last years on earth reclining on a mountain of money.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

It’s Really Quite Simple: Republicans Hate Young People

For all its grousing about “liberal indoctrination,” the GOP has no one to blame but itself for alienating the youth of America.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

A liberal victory in Wisconsin’s recent high-stakes state Supreme Court election has left former Governor Scott Walker in a foot-stamping, multiplatform fume that targeted the young voters who swung behind the victorious Janet Protasiewicz. “Younger voters may be the behind [sic] the stinging loss for conservatives in WI this week,” he tweeted. “We have to undo years of liberal indoctrination.”

Not content to just tweet, Walker took his complaints to Fox News in an attempt to expand his brief against the “indoctrination” of youth. In his telling, the younger generations have been too exposed to “radical ideas,” such as “climate change and defunding the police … abortion, and all these sorts of other issues.” What’s more, “they have never heard the opposing viewpoint. And so, if that’s all they hear in college and high school and social media and culture, you can see why they’ve gone so lockstep in that regard. We’ve got to turn that around.”

Walker’s theory of the Wisconsin election might be more convincing if there wasn’t a far less convoluted explanation at the ready, which is simply that young voters did hear the opposing view and found it both substantially objectionable and antithetical to their interests.

Perhaps the largest matter at stake in that election was abortion. Everywhere you look, Republicans are finding it very difficult to actually run on the post-Roe dystopia they’ve engineered—so much so that they’re now trying to get people to just stop talking about it. But the fact that young voters back both reproductive rights and the Democrats who support them, by wide margins, is very well known. Republicans have had ample opportunities to account for this reality and moderate their position. They’ve failed to do so, and, wouldn’t you know it, young people have noticed.

So while Walker may believe that some level of “indoctrination” is behind the way the youth vote disproportionately tilts toward Democrats, perhaps there’s something to the theory that young voters are simply noticing what’s going on in the world around them and responding in kind to this abundance of observable information. For example, it could be that young Wisconsinites remember Walker, their would-be liberator from the chains of indoctrination, as the governor whose economic numbers lagged those of Democrat-run neighbor Minnesota, or the guy whose key achievement was saddling the state with his doomed FoxConn factory boondoggle.

Looking further afield, maybe young voters are similarly observing that Republicans seem to just not like them very much! They are probably reading about how conservatives are banning books and drag shows, demonizing gay and trans people, and thwarting progress on climate mitigation—an issue pretty dear to their hearts since they, along with their own children, will be greatly impacted by the environmental calamities to come. It could be that young voters actually have heard the “opposing view” very clearly and they find it to be out of touch and off-putting.

The GOP has had plenty of chances to avoid alienating young voters. Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson has been sounding the alarm about this for several years now: In 2017, she warned that not only were young voters breaking toward Democrats “by massive margins,” they also weren’t “moving rightward” as they approached middle age. “Like the Gen Xers ahead of them,” she wrote, “they’re instead more and more likely to decide ‘liberal’ suits them just fine as a label.” This all came home to roost in 2018, when the highest youth turnout in the history of midterm elections swept Democrats into office. Four years later, the youth vote hit slightly smaller heights—but young voters got the lion’s share of the credit for breaking the “red wave” that was supposed to be on the way.

Naturally, nothing is promised to Democrats. In recent weeks, President Joe Biden has given young voters cause for consternation by backing a TikTok ban and landing in the squishy middle on the rights of trans athletes. And he’s historically had struggles keeping the affections of young voters—in 2021, his approvals with this cohort took a worrying drop that made headlines. Fortunately for Biden, this support rebounded by Election Day in 2022, perhaps because these voters were able to discern the difference between a Democratic Party filled with normal human beings who were sincerely interested in crafting policy and a Republican Party filled with antisocial weirdos.

After taking a licking in 2022, Republicans once again failed to respond with soul-searching about losing the youth vote. Instead, they packed the postelection discourse with complaints about voters they’d already so badly alienated, grousing about how the voting age was too low. In recent weeks, a concerted effort has begun to suppress the youth vote in Texas by banning polling places on college campuses; similar measures are likely on the way across the country. And so all of this pathetic caviling about youth indoctrination rings false against the clear evidence that what Republicans actually want is simply to crush the political power of the young.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

A Mammoth Meatball of Plutocratic Failure

This is how modern life became one big trash pile—and what it will take to extricate ourselves from the rubbish.

Fairfax Media/Getty Images

This week, there’s some good news for everyone who likes to see our titans of innovation doing what they do best: working at the remotest possible margins of the problems that currently assail the world. A “cultivated meat company” named Vow has created a meatball manufactured from the resurrected flesh of the woolly mammoth. Why, for God’s sake? Vow’s goal, as CEO George Peppou put it, is to “transition a few billion meat eaters away” from eating conventional meat, so they’re going to reinvent it: “We chose the woolly mammoth because it’s a symbol of diversity loss and a symbol of climate change.” I guess someone should let the doomsayers at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change know that we’re well on the way to fixing the world, one plate of woolly mammoth bolognese at a time.

It’s hard to find a more incisive bit of entrepreneurial whimsy to highlight in a week where we’re all a little less certain about where all our money went and to what purpose it’s being put. The trains are still derailing, our health care system is still a nightmare, and mass shootings are still as regular as rain, so we can all safely assume that our nation’s considerable wealth isn’t being funneled toward ameliorating these problems. I hate to be cynical, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe our free market isn’t quite matching capital to need with the ruthless efficiency we’ve been promised.

As everyone knows by now, the avatar of this profligate era, Elon Musk, has used $44 billion to break Twitter, essentially taking the median lifetime earnings of more than 25,000 ordinary Americans and setting it on fire, for thrills. (Musk now says Twitter is worth less than half what he paid.) Another heaping pile of cash was recently given to Silicon Valley Bank to repair the damage caused by several of Musk’s fellow travelers, who somehow managed to summon a bank run into existence over a group chat, after which they used Twitter’s desiccated remains to bully the Federal Reserve into providing a bailout.

For the rest of us, navigating the world well beneath these plutocratic aeries, everything seems to be descending into newer and ever more elaborate levels of what Cory Doctorow refers to as “enshittification”—the process by which a platform first treats its users well, then abuses them for the benefit of its business customers, then finally abuses those customers in order to “claw back all the value for themselves”—at which point only a cruddy, zombified version of the original product remains. If it doesn’t sound familiar to you, try buying something from Amazon or take Google for a spin.

In a recent newsletter, writer and P.R. professional Ed Zitron gave voice to everyone who’s simply in the mood to just burn it all down:

The problem is that it’s been a minute since we’ve seen anything new from tech that has truly improved most people’s existence. People have been able to justify the opulence and societal hero complex of the Valley because of the vague promise that life would improve as a result of giving them that space. Except the last decade of tech has been filled with broken promises: the average person was not enriched by cryptocurrency, virtual reality remains … broken, and autonomous cars have mostly resulted in a dangerous open-air beta test on the world’s roads.

While it may feel good to contemplate digging some ditches for the oligarchs of Big Tech, it’s important to remember that they hardly accomplished all of this rack and ruin on their own. This malformed world has been shaped, principally, through public policy—and bad public policy at that. As The New Republic’s Tim Noah reported in September 2020, a study from the Rand Corporation laid out in no uncertain terms that a substantial amount of wealth owed to ordinary Americans was stolen, thanks to a half-century of unjust and inequitable economic policymaking. Over the course of decades, hundreds of wrong decisions have been made about whom to tax and what to regulate, who should get punished and what should get bailed out, and which finger should go on what scale. It is those decisions that have put us here: knee-deep in the Great Enshittening.

Here’s a campaign platform, if anyone wants it: Things should work. Trains should not derail. Rich nations should not struggle to provide pandemic relief. Concert ticket receipts should not look like epic poems. The internet should not be a wilderness of junk. And hey, just spitballing here, but maybe the next big pile of money should actually go to, say, the millions of college students who played by the rules and are now shackled with a lodestone of debt rather than going to the same old band of rich narcissists who put us in this hole. These are the kinds of political choices that we can and should make: Let’s bench this cabal of ungrateful plutocrats and put some fresh starters on the field. It took one set of policies to create this mammoth meatball of shit and failure we’ve all been asked to eat; it will take another set of policies to set a new table for the future.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

What the Right Got Wrong About “Woke” Banks

Conservatives raced to push a weird myth that the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank was a result of its diverse workforce. Next time: Google.

Andrea Ronchini/Getty Images

The story of Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse isn’t terribly complicated. A bipartisan push for bank deregulation paved the way for incredibly risky behavior at SVB. As Bloomberg’s Matt Levine explained, the bank was funded by deposits from Silicon Valley firms and venture capitalists that exceeded the $250,000 U.S. deposit insurance cap and were “disproportionately” invested in “U.S. Treasuries and agency mortgage-backed securities” without much protection in place to guard against the possibility of an interest rate hike. “But then,” Levine notes, “rates went up a lot, pretty fast,” causing the “market value of SVB’s bonds to decline by some $15 billion, to the point … its losses on the bonds were enough to wipe out almost all of its equity capital and leave it with assets, at market value, worth only very slightly more than its liabilities.”

Moreover, the depositors were—as Adam Tooze explained—“in no regular sense, depositors” but, rather, “badly run and ill-advised businesses that for obscure reasons parked huge cash balances in a highly vulnerable bank.” These depositors were also “extremely prone” to the “influence exerted by a small group of VC advisors.” Max Read convincingly argues that those V.C. advisers essentially group-chatted the bank run into existence and touched off a stampede of depositors racing to get their money out of the bank’s coffers.

The plain and simple truth of what happened to SVP has, in some corners, inspired a constructive debate about sane policy solutions to prevent similar bank disasters. But inside the right-wing fever swamp, whose denizens are so deeply invested in tying everything of importance back to the weird notions that they are constantly entertaining, there’s a different story being told about SVB: It failed because it was “woke.”

The timing, for the purposes of this newsletter, could not have been better. Last week, I wrote about how the GOP has nearly completed its shift from a party that once diligently advanced conservative policy ideas to one that’s principally concerned with trying to invent a factual basis for its alternate reality. A prime example would be Tucker Carlson’s laborious attempt to backfill evidence for his claim that the January 6 rioters were peaceful sightseers. Then, right on schedule, came an incredible example of this phenomenon in the right’s reaction to SVB’s collapse.

As TNR’s Tori Otten reported,  a slew of conservatives—from Donald Trump Jr. and Stephen Miller, presidential aspirants Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy, to myriad Fox News luminaries—responded to the news by making the case that wokeness was somehow to blame. This idea eventually made it to the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages, where columnist Andy Kessler mused, “In its proxy statement, SVB notes that besides 91% of their board being independent and 45% women, they also have ‘1 Black,’ ‘1 LGBTQ+’ and ‘2 Veterans.’ I’m not saying 12 white men would have avoided this mess, but the company may have been distracted by diversity demands.” I didn’t realize the right was disparaging veterans like this now.

It’s often the case that the constantly shifting definition of “woke” among right-wing thought leaders—or their hilarious struggle to define it altogether—makes it hard to get a fix on what they’re actually talking about, but in this telling it appears that these critics are mostly using “woke” as a byword for “having a diverse staff.” Unfortunately for everyone making the claim that diversity is the proximate cause of SVB’s failure, the merits of having a diverse workforce at financial sector institutions, as well as other firms, is something that has been relentlessly studied—and the consensus is that diversity is a much more profitable path.

For example, there’s a 2015 McKinsey study that found “diverse companies … are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making,” which “leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns.” The firm’s 2019 follow-up study found that “top-quartile companies for racial and ethnic inclusion outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 36% in profitability.” A 2018 study of venture capital firms from Harvard Business Review found that diversity “significantly improves financial performance on measures such as profitable investments at the individual portfolio-company level and overall fund returns.” In 2023, Morgan Stanley Research examined 1,875 companies and found that those who scored better on the firm’s proprietary gender-inclusion algorithm outperformed less diverse firmsThe findingsacross multiple fieldsare remarkably consistent.

The speed by which this omnidirectionally incorrect take about SVB failing on account of its wokeness spread was nevertheless impressive—as was the depth of its penetration: The Journal’s opinion editors have long been on a crusade to completely undermine both the specific work of its journalists and a free society in general, but it’s still remarkable to see them set fire to the paper’s reputation as the premier journal of the investor class by offering such compellingly wrong information about what practices are more profitable than others. It just goes to show that you should never doubt the extent to which the right are willing to over-leverage their reputations to make a bank run on reality itself.

Republicans Are Scrambling to Invent Facts for Their Alternate Reality

The GOP’s big project isn’t creating jobs or beating inflation, it’s trying to make their weird and ever expanding canon of lore and grievances make sense.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan

Representative Jim Jordan rarely makes a public appearance in which he does not look psychically frustrated on some deep level, but he has been having—for his standards—a rough time of late. You see, the Ohio Republican is currently pulling double duty as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and heading up his other brainchild: the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, a weird star chamber in which the many tangled strands of the Fox News Extended Universe are expected to get a congressional hearing now that the GOP controls the House.

But as The New York Times recently reported, things have not been going well for Jordan. His first slew of ostensibly blockbuster whistleblowers have, according to Democrats on the panel, “offered little firsthand knowledge of any wrongdoing or violation of the law.” The Times reporters concur, describing the motley crew that Jordan has summoned as “people who do not meet the definition of a whistle-blower and who have engaged in partisan conduct that calls into question their credibility. Furthermore, it raises questions about whether Republicans will be able to deliver on their ambitious plans to uncover misdeeds at the highest levels.”

In fairness, these are the subcommittee’s early days. But what’s coming down the pike doesn’t look too promising. It plans to delve into a quickly scuttled plan to build a disinformation bureau at the Department of Homeland Security. It’ll be making hay over school board protests, a matter that Democrats on the panel seem well positioned to counter. And then there will be a fuller airing of the so-called “Twitter files,” Elon Musk’s seriocomic demonstration of the law of diminishing returns that now only occupies the imagination of a handful of people with Substack newsletters.

It doesn’t sound like a recipe for turning things around. And as Axios recently reported, Jordan’s penchant for overpromising and under-delivering has earned him a sizable share of friendly fire on the right. “This is doomed to fail,” tweeted former Chuck Grassley aide Mike Davis. Fox News’s Jesse Watters has expressed similar worries on his show: “Make me feel better, guys. Tell me this is going somewhere. Can I throw someone in prison? Can someone go to jail? Can someone get fined?” Jordan has mustered little to counter these charges besides bragging about how his panel has sent out more subpoenas and letters than any other committee. It’s an old Beltway song and dance: pretending that activity constitutes achievement.

Ah, but who could have predicted this, besides everyone who’s been paying attention? The Republican Party, having abandoned the diligent work of governing, rarely attempts to make policy anymore. What little it’s cobbled together on that front is a mix of the unpopular and the unviable. Without any substantive project to which the GOP might anchor itself, the party has instead become the party of off-putting weirdness. Instead of writing laws, they write lore—a constantly updating canon of bewildering grievances and spectral enemies.

It can be hard to keep up. With each passing day, some new piece of culture-war detritus ends up receiving the full force of the conservative movement’s ire. One week, they’re angry because a cartoon depiction of a candy isn’t sexually desirable enough. The next, they’ve dreamt up some weird “woke” collaboration between Wall Street and climate activists, to explain away the simple fact that investors are, for good reason, not bullish on the future of coal. And then there are the big hits: The 2020 election was stolen, the “deep state” is conspiring against Republicans, the January 6 rioters are actually political prisoners.

Jordan’s weaponization committee has been likened, by far-too-charitable people, to a reprise of the 1975 Church Committee that investigated abuses by intelligence agencies. But as Joshua Zeitz explained in Politico, the comparison doesn’t hold up. Where the Church Committee was a wide-ranging bipartisan effort that brought real wrongdoing to light, Jordan’s been tasked with backfilling some kind of factual basis for the conservative movement’s canon of anti-reality lore.

Naturally, Jordan is hardly alone in this mad mission to find some sort of meat to stuff in these nothingburgers. This week, Tucker Carlson has been spinning far-right myths with his reels of footage from the January 6 riots—to the apparent dismay of many Fox News staffers as well as several senior Republicans, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said, “It was a mistake, in my view, for Fox News to depict this in a way that’s completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here at the Capitol thinks.”

As my colleague Alex Shephard noted, Carlson’s attempt at revising history is all the more ironic given what’s been disclosed during Fox News’s long-running lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems. Thanks to a voluminous cache of text messages from Fox News personalities, the world now has a pretty clear view that the network’s stars—Carlson included—never believed the central claims of a stolen election that sparked the January 6 insurrection.

But what’s all the more extraordinary is that what Carlson actually believes is a bunch of utterly normal stuff about Donald Trump. “I hate him passionately,” he texted, adding that he “truly [couldn’t] wait” for the chance to “ignore Trump most nights.” His assessment of Trump’s presidency was dire: “We’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it’s been is too tough to digest. But come on. There really isn’t an upside to Trump.”

This is the galling thing about the GOP’s entanglement with Trump. There were moments when the party could have rejected his destructive influence, but they demurred. Now, as Jordan and Carlson weave twisted fairy tales from their respective perches, I wonder if anyone will finally realize that it would have all been so much easier to simply tell the truth.

The Deficit Hawks Are Circling the Biden Administration

It’s been a season of solid economic ideas from the White House. But some bad ideas are starting to bubble up from Washington’s sordid corners.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

As the nation begins to ease into the presidential shadow primary, President Joe Biden seems to be on slightly firmer footing. His approval ratings are up, in conjunction with his recent State of the Union address, which was well received by the public. That his speech, a bold statement of intent for the next two years, was so widely admired should put wind in the president’s sails. As TNR’s editor Michael Tomasky noted, it was strewn with good notions on how to build an economy that works for working people—decent grist for a reelection campaign.

Good notions seem to be having a heyday. Democrats, having made a lot of noise about the high cost of insulin, got to watch Eli Lilly respond to the pressure and slash the price of this lifesaving medication. Democrats also recently bullied would-be Republican policy czar Rick Scott into backing down from the plan to sunset Social Security and Medicare that he’d so proudly stuffed into his policy manifesto. Now there’s even some bipartisan movement on a bill to help prevent rail disasters like the one that has endangered the town of East Palestine, Ohio. There’s still plenty of rancor and fury in Washington as the two parties battle for power. Still, it feels like we’ve fallen, for now, into a sweet spot where good ideas seem to have momentum.

Alas, in the midst of life, we are in death. For all this good news, the conditions remain ripe for bad ideas to flower. And there’s something eerily familiar about where we are right now: There’s a divided government, a Democratic president who hasn’t entirely lost his penchant for compromise, a looming debt ceiling fight, and a town full of deficit hawks forever circling their next kill. Biden’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, faced more or less the same conditions during his tenure, and he wasn’t always successful. Biden has vowed not to repeat the same mistakes, but it’s hard not to feel a little bit spooked.

If you’re sensing the stirrings of an ill wind, you’re not alone. As Politico’s Adam Cancryn reported this week, Biden’s been contemplating taking on “a new economic persona,” and unfortunately, that persona is “deficit hawk.” According to this report, the president is looking to make “fiscal restraint” one of his administration’s watchwords, with deficit reduction an “increasingly central focus of his agenda.” As you might imagine, this isn’t being greeted with universal approval—some Democrats are worried that “it could undermine the case for future crisis aid—or backfire on Biden himself if the U.S. sinks into a recession that results in greater government spending and fewer tax receipts, driving the deficit higher.”

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing in another corner of Washington, D.C., where it is said that a bipartisan group of senators are looking at raising the retirement age to 70. Now it should be said that the word “bipartisan” is doing a lot of work in this telling: The proposal is the brainchild of a bunch of Republican senators and Maine’s often squirrelly independent, Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats. Raising the retirement age is a deficit-hack dream, but it would represent a substantial cut in benefits, hurt Black and working-class workers in particular, and redistribute a disproportionate share of the proceeds to high earners, who tend to live longer but don’t need the benefits as badly.

Naturally, there are better ideas at hand, chief among them being the raising or elimination of the income cap that currently allows the wealthiest among us to dodge paying their fair share into the Social Security fund. The status quo has resulted in a record share of earnings that aren’t subject to Social Security taxes; Tuesday, February 28, marked the last day this year that those earning a million dollars or more had to contribute to Social Security.

But there’s a big movement to finally change this, and Democrats have contributed two pieces of legislation that would soak the rich and save Social Security—the Social Security Expansion Act and Social Security 2100—which they, alongside Biden, can tout on the campaign trail. These policies are wildly popular. So much so that even Joe Manchin has rejected the idea of raising the retirement age and has backed lifting the taxable wage cap.

It says a lot about how much ground has been covered between the Obama administration and Biden’s tenure that you can count on Manchin’s support for this plan. It only underscores how this is the worst possible time to allow the deficit hawks and the austerity pimps a chance to return to prominence. They have no constituency beyond a few cable news green rooms and newspaper editorial boards. And they consistently back the wrong economic plays. Rather than fret over the government’s deficits, Biden would be well served to focus his attention on the household debts of ordinary Americans, go to war against the nickel-and-dimers of the GOP-backed Junk Fee Empire, take on the small town–destroying freight rail plutocrats, and fight to preserve these vital benefit programs that have fueled the Good Life in America.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.