Impeachment: The Court of Public Opinion

Dear Group,

I had a commentary on Ozzie Knezovich and “The Threats We Face” planned for today but I will publish that Friday. Instead, today I’m passing along last Monday’s (September 30th’s) Weekly Sift column by Doug Muder. In conversation with your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances this week and in the coming weeks you will encounter every argument Muder addresses. Arm yourself with words. If the pen [and words] are not mightier than the sword, our country is in deep trouble.

Answers to Impeachment Objections

by weeklysift

You might think there’s no role for us in the impeachment process. But our role may be the most important one. Here’s what you need to know to start doing your part.

So it’s on: There’s a serious impeachment inquiry, and in all likelihood it will lead to a vote in the House on articles of impeachment. Then it will be the Senate’s turn to look at the evidence and decide.

In a literal, constitutional sense, that’s where the important stuff will happen: in Congress. Witnesses will be called, subpoenas issued, questions asked and answered, votes held, and in the end the President either will or won’t continue in office.

To lesser extent, stuff will happen in the courts. What subpoenas are valid? What documents have to be produced? What witnesses have to testify? What privileges can they claim to avoid answering?

Put that way, it sounds like there is no role for the rest of us. But in fact there is a role, and collectively our role is the most important one. Because whatever the evidence says, Congress isn’t going to move without public support. So at every point, they’re going to wondering about us: Are we paying attention? Are engaged or bored? Angry with the President or with his accusers? Convinced by the case against him or befuddled?

So yes, it’s about witnesses, documents, and votes. But it’s also about TV ratings, public demonstrations, letters to the editor, and what’s trending on Twitter. While we’re watching Congress and the courts, they’re going to be watching us.

Yes, Congress will eventually make up its mind. But they will also be following us as we make up our minds. And that will happen not in televised hearings, but over coffee and in social media. We’ll think things out on our own, or discuss them one-on-one or in small gatherings. And what we decide will matter.

Trump’s supporters seem to understand this, so they have been out in force spreading — let’s be blunt about this — bullshit. Wild charges, baseless conspiracy theories, lies about evidence that has already come out, threats, pseudo-legal mumbo-jumbo, and anything else will throw sand in the gears of the public thought process. You can see this happening on the TV talk shows, where Trump defenders like Jim Jordan and Rudy Giuliani shout, talk over their interviewers, change their story from moment to moment, and refuse to answer questions — because they know that if the public has a rational conversation about evidence and law, Trump will lose. They can’t engage your mind, they have to overpower you.

The same thing is happening on the smaller scales as well. Trumpists distract, misdirect, make things up, repeat slogans, insult, spread conspiracy theories without worrying that they contradict each other, and in general create a fog rather than shining a light. Because if the American people just get confused, nothing will happen. And that’s what they want.

So it’s important that lots and lots of us refuse to be confused or distracted, and that (to the extent we can) we commit to be shapers of the opinions around us rather than wallflowers.

With that in mind, I have assembled a list of the most popular objections to impeachment that I have heard, and have tried to cut through the fog with sharp answers you can use in your own discussions.

What about the Bidens? This isn’t really a defense of Trump at all; it’s an attempt to distract attention from his wrongdoing and unfitness for office.

I discussed the general tactic of whataboutism back in August. Its purpose is to draw you into defending Biden against a ridiculous attack, which keeps the spotlight off of Trump and the reasons to remove him from office. The important thing to understand here is that a whataboutist can win by losing: Even if you shred all of his arguments, and impress all physical or social-media bystanders with the baselessness of his charges, all that time and energy has been diverted from the case against Trump. As I wrote in August:

Since the point of whataboutism is to derail a criticism rather than refute it, a false assertion often works even better than a true one, because the discussion then careens off into evidence that the assertion is false. Suddenly we’re rehashing the details of what Obama or Clinton did or didn’t do, while the original criticism of Trump scrolls off the page.

The opposite horn of the dilemma is to leave people with the general impression that there is something slimy about Biden, even if they can’t say exactly what it is. (To a large extent, this kind of shapeless smear is what sunk Hillary Clinton.)

What to do? Two things:

  • Call out the whataboutism for what it is: a confession that Trump’s actions can’t be defended on their own terms. All his defenders have is distraction: Look here! Look there! Look anyplace but at the criminal in the White House!
  • Don’t go through the details of defending Biden — that’s taking the whataboutist bait — but do have a detailed reference you can link to or point to. Say something like “This has been checked out in detail and it’s all bullshit.” (Or maybe substitute some more polite word for bullshit, depending on the forum.) This response has the advantage of being completely true.

I recommend two links: “The Swiftboating of Joe Biden” from the Just Security blog, and “I Wrote About the Bidens and Ukraine Years Ago. Then the Right-Wing Spin Machine Turned the Story Upside-Down” in The Intercept.

The whistleblower report is all hearsay. Lindsey Graham went wild with this talking point on Face the Nation Sunday, repeating “hearsay” 11 times. The kernel of truth is that the whistleblower complaintassembles information from unnamed “White House officials”, many of whom saw or heard things the whistleblower himself/herself did not witness.

But that kind of misses the point: The evidence that is really damning is the transcript of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president, which the White House released itself. That’s not hearsay. (It also matches the whistleblower’s description pretty well, which argues for his/her credibility.)

The whistleblower’s complaint is a roadmap for investigation, and not the substance of the case against Trump. By the time an impeachment vote is held, the House will have assembled more direct sources that either will or won’t corroborate what the complaint says. I expect the White House to try to stop those sources from testifying, because that’s what guilty people do.

There was no quid pro quo. This is just a lie, and a pretty obvious one at that. It’s impossible to read the transcript of the Ukraine call without immediately recognizing the quid (money for Ukraine’s defense against Russian invaders) and the quo (manufacturing dirt on Joe Biden).

It’s true that Don Trump never spells it out in so many words, but Don Corleone never did either. When the Godfather said, “I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse”, he never elaborated “because if you do, something bad will happen to you.” He didn’t have to.

Where’s the crime? As you read the Ukraine transcript or the whistleblower complaint, and then listen to legal analysts debate it, one striking thing is that the laws they discuss don’t really capture what’s wrong here. It’s sort of like extortion. It’s sort of like bribery. It’s definitely a campaign violation, but that seems like a comparatively minor charge.

What’s wrong is that the President is treating the powers of his office as if they were his private possessions, rather than as a trust he holds for the People. He is trading a public good — aid to defend Ukraine from a Russian invasion — for a personal advantage over a rival in the 2020 election. If that kind of thing is acceptable presidential behavior, then we can pretty much give up on having fair elections from now on. Foreign governments will try to curry favor with future presidents by doing things that would be illegal for the president to do himself — like hacking DNC emails the way the Russians did in 2016 — and expect to receive future favors like foreign aid or readmission to the G-7.

Trump wriggled out of that bit of cheating by claiming that he didn’t directly conspire with the Russians in their crimes. (That’s the “no collusion” part of the Mueller report: Mueller established that Trump was the beneficiary of Russia’s crimes, but was unable to prove Trump’s involvement in the criminal conspiracy.) But in the Ukraine case, Trump is personally involved in an attempt to strong-arm the Ukrainian president into helping him cheat in 2020.

If that’s OK from now on, then the Republic is sunk. Future elections will be meaningless.

Abuses of power that “subvert the Constitution, the integrity of government, or the rule of law” are precisely what the Founders had in mind when they put impeachment into the Constitution, and it doesn’t matter whether the details precisely match some criminal statute. Congress should not get lost in legalisms, but needs to focus on defending the integrity of our elections.

The Senate will never remove Trump from office, so what’s the point? Three things are wrong with this one:

  • Not impeaching Trump will be costly. First, it would back up Trump’s claim that all the Democratic talk about Trump’s crimes is just politics; if the charges were serious, Pelosi would have impeached him, wouldn’t she? And second, it is in Trump’s nature to keep pushing until he meets resistance. If pressuring foreign countries to manufacture dirt on his rivals is OK, what other ways will he find to cheat in the 2020 elections? If you want to beat Trump in 2020, you can’t just stand there and watch him cheat.
  • Impeachment puts Republican senators on the spot. When you don’t do your job because you assume the next guy won’t do his, you take the pressure off the next guy. “I would have done my job,” he can claim later, “but nobody asked me.” Republican senators, especially the ones vulnerable in 2020 like Susan Collins and Cory Gardner, will try to distance themselves from Trump’s crimes without doing anything to upset his base. (“Deeply troubling,” Mitt Romney says, and he’s the brave one.) Democrats should assemble the case against Trump as clearly as possible and make senators vote yes or no. Do you approve of this behavior or not?
  • You never know. The Nixon impeachment seemed absurd until suddenly it wasn’t. Trump’s support in the Senate is held together by fear, not by love or unity of purpose. Coalitions of fear sometimes dissolve suddenly, as in “The Emperor’s New Clothes“. If Trump starts going down, not many senators will want to go down with him.

Impeachment will make it impossible to accomplish anything else. Frank Brunimakes the argument like this:

Where’s the infrastructure plan that we’re — oh — a quarter-century late in implementing? Where are the fixes to a health care system whose problems go far beyond the tens of millions of Americans still uninsured? What about education?

This argument would be a lot more persuasive if Mitch McConnell’s Senate hadn’t bottled up everything before impeachment. Republicans in Congress may use impeachment as an excuse to do nothing; but they weren’t doing anything anyway.

The Democratic House has actually been quite busy passing legislation, which the Senate just ignores. Of course you wouldn’t expect a Republican Senate to simply rubber-stamp whatever comes out of a Democratic House. But nothing stops the Senate from passing its own version of, say, background checks or lowering drug prices or helping people save for retirement. Then there could be a House/Senate conference committee to work out the differences, the way Congress used to get things done.

As for Trump, it’s absurd to claim that impeachment prevents him from working with Democrats on infrastructure, or any other common purpose he claims he wants. Both Nixon and Clinton took some pride in being able to keep doing their jobs in spite of distractions. (Much of what Clinton did to balance the budget was happening while he was under investigation or being impeached.) Trump alone thinks it makes sense to take his ball and go home until Nancy treats him better.

Impeachment will rile up Trump’s base. I wish Democrats would stop thinking about Trump and his base the way some battered women think about their abusers: If dinner is on the table when he comes home and the house is ship-shape, maybe he won’t hit me tonight.

You know what? Trump’s base is going to be riled up from now on. Get used to it, because no matter what Democrats do, Trump will spin a story in which he is the most unfairly persecuted man in the history of politics. His idolaters will believe it, and they’ll be hopping mad. It’s already happening, and it’s going to get worse. The Trumpist minority can threaten violence and even civil war if we don’t do what they want. But if we’re letting ourselves be ruled by a violent minority, if we are terrorized out of doing what is right and what the country needs, then there’s already been a civil war and we lost.

Democrats should wait for the election. David Brooks makes this case, saying that impeachment is “elitist”.

Elections give millions and millions of Americans a voice in selecting the president. This [impeachment] process gives 100 mostly millionaire senators a voice in selecting the president.

It’s true that elections are the Constitution’s primary method for getting rid of bad presidents. But what makes the Ukraine scandal stand out as impeachment material is that it’s an attempt to cheat in the 2020 election. We can’t just wait for the election if in the meantime we’re doing nothing to stop Trump from cheating in that election.

So yes, Democrats should keep talking about healthcare and climate change and all the other important issues of America’s future. But at the same time we have to do our best to make sure that a fair election is held at all. The only way we have to do that is to call attention to Trump’s cheating and appeal to the American people’s sense of fair play. That’s what this whole process is about.

Wouldn’t Pence be harder to beat in 2020? Trump, from this view, is an unpopular, damaged candidate. But Pence, being more like a typical Republican presidential candidate, could win back the never-Trumpers and the professional-class suburbanites, reunite the Republican coalition, and be a more formidable candidate in 2020.

I don’t share this concern. If Trump is removed from office, or damaged to the point that he doesn’t seek re-election, Pence will face the same problems Gore did in 2000: Does he embrace Trump or distance himself? Does he let Trump speak at the convention? Does he campaign with Trump? Should his rhetoric inflame the resentments resulting from the impeachment or try to move on? If he stays too close to Trump, he won’t win back the people Trump alienated, and may risk being stained by whatever brought Trump down. But if he is too distant, Trump’s base will resent his disloyalty.

Gore at least could run on Clinton’s policies, which were fairly popular. (In The Onion, President-elect Bush assured America: “Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over.“) But Trump’s policies have never been popular: the border wallstanding with the NRAmaking climate change worserace baitinggutting ObamaCareshutting down immigrationpalling around with Putin, the farm-destroying trade war with China, and so on. In addition, the issue Pence is most identified with personally is bigotry against gays and lesbians, which is also not popular.

True, Pence would not have to answer for Trump’s long series of outrageous tweets. He could make his own version of Biden’s case that the adults were in charge again. But Trump’s base loves those tweets and doesn’t want adults to be in charge. They identify with Trump because he insults all the people they wish they had the courage to insult, and defies the experts who make them feel stupid. If Pence tries to be an adult, or (even worse) a gentleman, they won’t like him.

Picture 30,000 people showing up to hear Pence, hoping to be revved up the way Trump revved them up. Won’t they leave disappointed?

So no: If Trump is removed, Pence is not a formidable candidate.

weeklysift | September 30, 2019 at 9:24 am | Tags: impeachment | Categories: Articles | URL:



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Keep to the high ground,


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Open Letter to Spokane Voters

Lorna and I have known Breean Beggs for more than 30 years.
We met him when he was a student at Whitworth College.
Since then he has been a force for good in our community.
Director of The Center for Justice, attorney for Otto Zhem’s family, effective City Councilman.
Today Breean is standing for election to Spokane City Council President.
He’s absolutely the right man for the job.
But the Realtor’s Association would rather have Cindy Wendle have her way with the city. And they’ve backed her with an obscene amount of money.
We have supported Breean with cash and in-kind donations of video production.
On Sunday, we shot a response ad to Wendle’s dystopian view of Spokane (that features stock footage she bought of a homeless camp in Baltimore). Check it out:
Breean’s thoughtful reply demonstrates the sort of honest, positive attitude that he has brought to government.
Lorna and I believe that this is an important race that will have a profound impact on the future of our home town.
For that reason, we are maxing out to Breean’s campaign with cash to buy more airtime for the new TV spot.
And I’m asking you to consider doing the same.
Breean’s up against a well funded machine.
Mount the barricades with me.
Here’s how:
Please feel free to forward this email to right thinking people.

Don Hamilton
Director / DP / Photographer

T : (509) 327-9501
C : (509) 990-9821


Keep to the high ground,

In Which City Do You Wish to Live?

Dear Group,

Is your vision of a city a place in which you can choose to walk through tree-lined neighborhoods, where you can comfortably bike or walk to a park, where there are few neighborhood eateries and some basic shops, where, at least once in a while, you can see, wave at, and chat with your neighbors without making an appointment? Do you see value to a city with easily accessible shared natural areas like parts of Manito Park, Riverside Park, the trails on bluffs off the South Hill? Do you see value in a vibrant downtown with functional public transportation? 

Or do you prefer a city designed for the fastest flow of traffic, a city to get through, into and out of, as quickly as possible, a city of broad roads with high speed limits separating enclaves with with gates, surveillance, and prominent signs declaring “Private Road, No Trespassing,” communities whose structure forces walkers and bicyclists onto the speedy thoroughfares?

I live in the City of Spokane because I much prefer the first idea of a city. Here’s the crux: You don’t get a city like that without planning for it, without envisioning routes for public transportation, without planting trees and public works that deal with runoff, without functional public works. A city like the one we live in does not happen without a plan. We have a vibrant park system in Spokane because of the vision and civic-mindedness of members of our community who, many years ago, brought in the Olmsted Brothers (the designers of many, many parts systems in U.S. cities, including New York’s Central Park) to provide the vision and layout.

We are at a crossroads in Spokane in the upcoming municipal general election that closes November 5th. We can thank the out of area and out of town money of developers and real estate interests for illustrating what is at stake. Spokane has a plan and they want to break it.

I leave you today with some thoughts I’ve gathered over several emails from a good friend and long time Spokanite who is well acquainted with city government:

There’s a simple punchline here.  The Realtors want to reduce risk and build with a minimum of bottlenecks and regulations, and maximize profits. In order to do that, they want to push on the city and its taxpayers to increase infrastructure costs to the benefit of developers. In-fill is of no interest to the larger developers.  One great way to destroy an urbanization plan is to keep everyone afraid of the downtown.

The Complete Streets initiative has been around for awhile, but I just look at all the opportunities to skirt it that seem to crop up. So many people just want to get across town as fast as possible, and don’t give a damn about sidewalks, streetlights, bike lanes and traffic calming.  And no one wants to live and work next to an expressway.  Its how urban areas decay at the cost of meeting the needs of suburbanites.

Ben Stuckart (candidate for Mayor), Breean Beggs (candidate for City Council President), Lori Kinnear (incumbent candidate for District 2, South Hill, Councilperson), and Karen Stratton (incumbent candidate for District 3, NW Spokane Councilperson) understand the vision of the Spokane I want to live in. Their opponents, funded by developers and real estate people with roots elsewhere, have a different vision, a vision they mostly don’t want to talk about. Instead they want to instill and ride a wave of fear of downtown in pursuit of a vision I reject. Don’t let them get away with it.

Keep to the high ground,


Mike Leach and Whataboutism

Dear Group,

A headline in the online version of the Tuesday, September 17, Spokesman blares: “Mike Leach comments on California’s Pay for Play Act: ‘California has trouble keeping their streets clean … they ought to focus on that’

According to the article, the comments on California’s streets by Mike Leach, the head coach of the WSU Cougars football team, went viral on the internet before he even left the podium from which he spoke. The comments that went viral had nothing to do with the issue on which he was supposedly commenting, a recent bill passed by the California legislature that would allow “amateur athletes…to profit from their name and likeness effective beginning in 2023,” if it is signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The effects of the bill, if signed, are likely worth some serious discussion, but not here. Mike Leach, by riffing on what he might have seen in a video on Fox “News” the evening before, changed the subject from college athletes to California’s streets and elevated a current partisan political issue above the subject at hand. Consider for a moment the inanity of bringing up any mention of California’s streets in a discussion about the earnings of college athletes. 

The headline and Leach’s comments reminded me of Doug Muder’s essay on Whataboutism in the August 12 edition of The Weekly Sift, an email I receive each Monday that I highly recommend. Muder’s column is copied below.

Republican Whataboutism Gets More Desperate

by weeklysift

Trump has been promoting many of the same white-supremacist themes that are found in mass-shooter manifestos. That can’t be excused or explained, so his cultists need to divert your attention.

Whataboutism is the tactic of responding to criticism of a politician you like by asserting (often falsely [1]) some equivalent wrongdoing by someone on the other side. (Examples: responding to mention of one of Trump’s 10,000 lies with “What about when Obama said you could keep your health insurance?” or to Trump’s birtherism by claiming Hillary Clinton started it.) Whataboutism has long been a tactic favored by conservatives, but Trump has taken it to a new level: It’s hard to come up with an example of him addressing a criticism any other way. He never explains or apologizes, but instead launches some new accusation against someone else.

David Roberts points out the general moral immaturity of a whatabout response

One thing to note is the bizarre implicit assumption that if responsibility is equal on both sides, then … we’re fine. We’re even. Move on. In other words, it’s not the damage done, or the principle violated, that concerns [WaPo columnist Marc Thiessen], it’s *blame*. We need not strive to be good as long as we are no worse than the other side. It’s the moral reasoning of a [10-year-old], focused exclusively on avoiding responsibility or sanction.

Gonna be lots of right-wing whataboutism focused on antifa and environmental extremists in coming weeks. [Conservatives] need to head off the growing consensus that [right-wing] terrorism is a unique problem.

This week saw two prominent attempts at whataboutism, both aimed at diverting attention from Trump’s role in promoting the false claims that inspired the El Paso shooting and have inspired other acts of white-supremacist terrorism.

  • What about the liberal views of the Dayton shooter?
  • What about Rep. Joaquin Castro revealing the names of Trump donors in his district?

Dayton. Roberts was specifically responding to the Thiessen column “If Trump is Responsible for El Paso, Democrats are Responsible for Dayton“.

But if Democrats want to play politics with mass murder, it works both ways. Because the man who carried out another mass shooting 13 hours later in Dayton, Ohio, seems to have been a left-wing radical whose social media posts echoed Democrats’ hate-filled attacks on the president and U.S. immigration officials.

The difference between the two cases is pretty obvious: The El Paso shooter justified his rampage in a manifesto that used Trumpist rhetoric about the “invasion” of our southern border. [2] His massacre took place near that border, and targeted Hispanicsunder the assumption that they were the “invaders”. Similarly last October, the man who slaughtered 11 Jews at a synagogue in Pittsburgh believed Jews were organizing the immigrant “invasion” caravans that Trump had been making the focus of his midterm-election messaging, and the MAGA bomber targeted people he saw as Trump’s enemies.

A window of the MAGA bomber’s van.

But so far no one has found any connection between the Dayton shooter’s left-wing views and his crimes. If the Dayton shooter had shot at “the president and immigration officials”, that would be comparable. In future, if someone follows up his retweets of Elizabeth Warren statements by, say, shooting some of the bankers or drug company CEOs Warren criticizes, that also would parallel the El Paso shooting (and we could expect Warren to issue a statement telling her supporters not to be violent). But the Dayton shooter did nothing of the kind.

In the wake of the El Paso shooting, Hispanics might legitimately fear further attacks from copycat killers; but fear of a copycat Dayton shooting afflicts anybody who goes out in public rather than some group criticized by Democrats.

Picturing what a comparable liberal shooting would look like just emphasizes the Trump connection to El Paso.

“How do you stop these people? You can’t,” Trump lamented at a May rally in Panama City Beach, Fla. Someone in the crowd yelled back one idea: “Shoot them.” The audience of thousands cheered and Trump smiled. Shrugging off the suggestion, he quipped, “Only in the Panhandle can you get away with that statement.”

Trump wasn’t horrified by the suggestion that someone might shoot Mexican border-crossers, and did not say it would be wrong. Instead he talked about what his followers could “get away with”, as if it’s natural to want to shoot Hispanics, but politically incorrect to say so out loud. If the El Paso shooter was listening to that exchange, it’s fair to assume that he was not discouraged from his plans.

“Hate has no place in our country!”

You have to go back to 2017 to find any kind of legitimate liberal parallel: the shooting of Republican Congressman Steve Scalise by someone who once volunteered for Bernie Sanders. Unlike Trump, who denounced the El Paso shooting in general terms (in one of his read-from-the-teleprompter statements that look as insincere as a hostage video) without acknowledging any connection to it, Sanders did the responsible thing:

I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign. I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be: Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.

Trump, on the other hand, undercut even his general denunciation of the shooting by implying that the shooter might have had a point: Limiting immigration should be part of the response. It’s as if Sanders had proposed that Republicans respond to the Scalise shooting by ending their attempts to repeal ObamaCare.

Trump also undercut his anti-white-supremacy statement by reverting to the both-sides rhetoric he used after Charlottesville: He’s against not just white supremacy, but “any other kind of supremacy“. (Both Trevor Noah and Seth Myers wondered what “other kind of supremacy” Trump might have had in mind. The Bourne Supremacy?) He’s also against “any group of hate”, and singled out the amorphous anti-fascist group Antifa, as if hating fascism is similar to hating Hispanics or Jews, and as if the Antifa body count (0) bears any comparison to the many dozens killed recently by white supremacists. Matt Bors makes the point with a cartoon.

Shaming Trump donors. The second whataboutist controversy started with a tweet on Monday: San Antonio Congressman Joaquin Castro listed the names of 44 San Antonians who had given the maximum allowable personal donation to Trump’s re-election campaign, and commented

Their contributions are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as ‘invaders.’

He got the names from publicly available FEC records; you could have looked them up yourself had you been so inclined.  And he used those names for the purpose that the disclosure laws intended: So that the public knows who’s bankrolling a political campaign.

Castro was clearly trying to shame the people he listed, and you might imagine Castro’s Twitter followers, especially Hispanic ones, deciding not to do business with big Trump donors: If money I give these people might flow through to ads that threaten me, maybe I’ll deal with somebody else. (This logic is similar to why so many LGBTQ people are reluctant to eat at Chick-fil-A. It’s also why #CancelSoulCycle has been trending after word got out that owner Stephen Ross was hosting a multi-million-dollar Trump fundraiser in the Hamptons.)

But nothing in Castro’s tweet suggests violence against these donors, and in fact there is no established pattern of violence against Trump donors. But conservatives needed to divert public attention from the violence Trump incites by accusing some Democrat of inciting violence too — because, as David Roberts pointed out, that would make it all OK from their grade-school moral perspective — and Castro was what they had to work with.

So Donald Trump Jr. went on Fox & Friends to compare Castro’s list of Trump donors to a “hit list” that the Dayton shooter had kept in high school. (As far as I know, none of the people on that list were targeted in the Dayton shooting. So even if you buy the idea that there’s a comparison, we’re talking about a list of fantasy targets, not actual ones.) Ted Cruz accused Castro of “doxxing” his constituents. (Falsely. [3]) House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted:

Targeting and harassing Americans because of their political beliefs is shameful and dangerous.

And I suppose that is true if you assume that someone has been targeted and harassed, rather than just called out for sponsoring insults against their neighbors.

So the whatabout here is equating a direct connection to several real-world mass murders with a fantasy about what some Castro-follower might do, even though none of them have actually ever done such a thing, and there are no examples of similar crimes.

What does it mean? Whataboutism isn’t new, of course. (What about Hillary’s emails?) But new whatabouts point out where conservatives believe they’re vulnerable. And the less convincing the whatabouts are, the more desperate the need for them must be.

If you meet whataboutism in the wild — in face-to-face conversation or in social media — it’s important not to get distracted by it. [4] Call it out for what it is (that meme at the top of the page is kind of handy) and restate the point the whataboutist is trying to divert you from. In this case, that’s Trump’s role in promoting the rhetoric of white-supremacist terrorism.

[1] Since the point of whataboutism is to derail a criticism rather than refute it, a false assertion often works even better than a true one, because the discussion then careens off into evidence that the assertion is false. Suddenly we’re rehashing the details of what Obama or Clinton did or didn’t do, while the original criticism of Trump scrolls off the page.

The assumption behind refuting the false whataboutism is that the Trumpist will be embarrassed to be caught saying something untrue, and so will stop repeating the false statement. But the essence of Trumpism is that shame is for losers, so refutation is pointless.

[2] A wrinkle in this argument is that the El Paso shooter seems to have worried that his actions might reflect badly on Trump. So he made sure to state that his views predated Trump’s candidacy.

the media will probably call me a white supremacist anyway and blame Trump’s rhetoric. The media is infamous for fake news.

But his concern for Trump’s image belies his point, and whether or not his murderous rage against the Hispanic “invaders” predates Trump’s rhetoric is irrelevant. Nobody is saying that Trump invented white supremacy or anti-Hispanic racism. Rather, he (along with many, many conservative opinion-makers) has promoted and mainstreamed ideas that have been floating around in the white-supremacist and neo-Nazi underground for decades.

Trump’s rhetoric is a Nazi gateway drug. After you get used to the notions that Central American refugees are really “invaders”, that immigrants are spreading crime and disease, that white Christians are victims, that people of color who criticize America should “go back where they came from”, and that political correctness is a far more serious problem than racism — all core Trump points — then when you chase a link to the Daily Stormer or some other Nazi site, 90% of what you read sounds perfectly normal.

So, for example, if you marinate long enough in TrumpWorld, and then start to wonder how these illiterate Guatemalan peasants are organizing their invasion of the US, the neo-Nazi answer — Jews like George Soros are behind it all — jumps out at you like a revelation.

[3] True doxxing reveals personal contact information like a home address or personal phone number, and typically violates an assumed boundary (like when someone attaches a name, address, and phone number to someone else’s Twitter handle). But donors to political campaigns know that their names are being recorded for the public record. Suzanne Nossel explains:

It’s fair to question whether Mr. Castro’s tweet was prudent or decorous. But to refer to it as doxxing or online harassment is inaccurate, and sows confusion over what online abuse actually looks like.

CNN adds:

Richard Hasen, an expert on election law at the University of California at Irvine, said neither the boycott calls [against SoulCycle] nor Castro tweet appears to cross the line into the “unconstitutional harassment” of donors. “Being called a bad name on Twitter is not the kind of harassment the Supreme Court was talking about” in allowing exemptions [from disclosures] for people who face a real threat of harassment, he said.

Republicans can’t have it both ways here. They want to allow unlimited political donations because “money is speech”. But when you speak in the public square, people know who you are. At the very least, an ad whose donors you can’t track down should end with “The sponsors of this message have chosen to remain anonymous” so that we can assume the worst about them.

[4] Don’t do the kind of lengthy explanation I’ve done here; this was for educational purposes only. Having seen a couple of whataboutisms dissected in detail should make it easier for you to spot new ones.

Mike Leach, with the aid of Spokesman and the internet, demonstrates that Whataboutism is alive and well in the Inland Northwest. Don’t succumb to Whataboutist tactics. Don’t be dragged into the weeds to fight over a distraction from the topic at hand. Point it out and refuse to go there. That’s the higher ground.

Keep to the high ground,


Why Woodward and Wendle want it “Non-Partisan”

Dear Group,

I understand the voters of the City of Spokane rejected Cathy McMorris Rodgers by a 14 point margin in the 2018 General Election. (See P.S.) Considering those 14 points, having “Favors Republican Party” as a label on the ballot in the City of Spokane ought to be electoral poison.

This was no more evident than in the Spokesman article by Adam Shanks that appeared Sunday, September 22, with the online title, Gov. Jay Inslee endorses Ben Stuckart, while Nadine Woodward bolsters support among business, law enforcement groups. In the face of Inslee’s unprecedented endorsement of Stuckart (for a non-partisan municipal race), Ms. Woodward is quoted, ““I’m running as a nonpartisan, that race is nonpartisan, so I have not sought out the endorsement of partisan elected officials. My priority has been to seek out endorsements of people who are involved in the issues that are important to me.” Whose endorsement might she otherwise seek? McMorris Rodgers? Matt Shea? Donald Trump? No, better for her not to go there…

Meanwhile, Stuckart has the endorsements of State Sen. Andy Billig and State Reps. Marcus Riccelli and Timm Ormsby, all Democrats representing Legislative District 3 (which largely overlaps the City of Spokane), and, “U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell has not officially endorsed Stuckart, but she headlined a campaign fundraising event for him on Friday.”

Nadine Woodward is just the most prominent among the slate of Republican candidates that wealthy interests, many from outside the City of Spokane, want to install as our city government. Woodward wants us to vote for her as the trusted non-partisan talking head on the TV in our living rooms. Woodward and her handlers really, really don’t want her Republican credentials front and center. The folks representing the Spokane GOP at the Interstate Fair, standing among their WeBelieveWeVote placards, apparently didn’t get the memo. When asked if they had any Woodward signs, they were anxious to reassure me that Woodward was “one of us” but that she was trying to keep it quiet for the purposes of a “non-partisan” election.

Cindy Wendle’s story is much the same. My friend and former neighbor, the one who asserted to me that Trump was a great President because “he moved the Embassy to Jerusalem” is related to Ms. Wendle. When I asked her about Ms Wendle, the first thought from my former neighbor wasn’t something about Ms. Wendle’s values or expertise, but rather, “She’s non-partisan!” How odd, thought I at the time, that a non-partisan candidate like Ms. Wendle should have her campaign paraphernalia prominently displayed at the Spokane GOP’s booth at the Spokane Interstate Fair while a staunchly Evangelical extended family member offers “non-partisan” as the first thing to be considered. 

I want a City government that works in the best interests of the citizens of the City of Spokane, not a government stymied at every turn by Republican ideologues dressed up in “non-partisan” clothing whose elections have been bought by real estate special interests. 

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. This general blueness of the City of Spokane precincts is visible on this map at FiveThirtyEight, after you enter  “Spokane, WA” and click “Submit.” Seeing that blueness requires awareness of the boundaries of the City of Spokane, since the City is considerably bluer than its surround. The article, mostly based a study of the voting patterns within “Metropolitan Statistical Areas” (MSA) is also worth looking at more generally, but the text is a little confusing because it considers “Spokane” as the MSA rather than the municipal entity we are addressing here in this election.  FiveThirtyEight (the number of electors in the Electoral College) is a polling aggregation website run by Nate Silver.

Tonight’s Ozzie Town Hall–Plus

Dear Group,

FIRST: The Threats We Face Town Hall this evening with Ozzie Knezovich starts seating at 5:30. According to the email from the Republicans of Spokane County, an email I’ve copied at the bottom of this window, there are already 400 people signed up to attend. If you plan to attend and have not signed up I encourage you to try to do so here. If you read it is “sold out” please read the email I copied below for directions. 

SECOND (A good alternative to Ozzie this evening): If you attended the Climate Rally downtown last Friday you saw a cadre of “Anti-Vaxxers” pushing a conspiracy theory-laced agenda with prominent signs. To me their message was out of place.

Tonight, at the Downtown Library from 7-9PM there is a free showing of the film, A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children, a documentary of the life of Dr. Maurice Hilleman, the microbiologist from Montana responsible for the development of more vaccines and for saving more lives than any other medical scientist of the 20th century. HIlleman’s story needs telling–along with the stories of Gallo, Sabin, Salk, and of the pioneers of microbiology of the 19th century.

Rumor has it the Anti-Vax crowd plans to protest the film, on what grounds it is hard to imagine. Do they consider a biographical documentary fake news? I have seen them in action testifying at Spokane County Health meetings. Those I saw were led by Rev. Ed Pace, the right wing pastor and one time City of Spokane Valley Councilman. I see the anti-vaxx protests as rooted in an anti-science, dis-information laced, right wing religious agenda. 

Whether or not the protesters appear, the documentary should be well worth attending. Whichever event you attend it should be an interesting evening.

Keep to the high ground,



EVENTBRITE–update on the 6-8PM Town Hall on Tuesday, September 24, at Center Place Regional Event Center. Here’s the link to sign up:

A Message from Republicans of Spokane County:

Thank you for reserving your seats for The Threats We Face with Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.  We have had an incredible response with over 400 seats reserved.

This event is open seating so you might want to arrive a bit early but the doors will not open to the main event room until 5:30.  You must sign in to enter the main event room.  Tables with sign in sheets will be positioned at the entry doors.

If an attendee did NOT give their name and email at the time their seat was reserved there will be a separate table to sign in and ID may be required.

The event is scheduled for 2 hours, from 6-8, and there will be a Question and Answer session to follow as time allows. Press will be present.

If you have friends and family who would like to attend but seats are “sold out,” please let me know via email before Tuesday noon at  and I will manually enter them.  

Thank you again for your interest, this promises to be an exciting and informative event!

Beva Miles, Chair
Reoublicans of Spokane County

Trickle Down Housing

Dear Group,

The Washington Realtors Political Action Committee (WA RPAC) under the chairmanship of Tom Hormel (Spokane Valley resident and member of the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Spokane Realtors Association [SAR]) made a huge financial bet in the City of Spokane municipal primaries in August this year. Mr. Hormel guided $175,000 (a quarter of all the direct candidate money spent in those primaries), in “independent expenditures” to support his slate of candidates: Nadine Woodward, Cindy Wendle, Andrew Rathbun, and Michael Cathcart. 

Hormel’s explanation for directing this investment (two thirds of which was raised outside Spokane and Spokane Valley) toward propaganda (spent at a firm in Denver) to influence the Spokane elections? Here’s the official version of Hormel’s explanation found in the Spokesman [the bold is mine]:

The impetus behind the spike in campaign activity is addressing “a crisis with housing availability and affordability,” according to Tom Hormel, chair of the WA Realtors PAC and a member of the Spokane Association of Realtors’ government affairs committee.

“That’s why we’re playing big this year,” Hormel said. “We took an opportunity to change the face of the City Council to help get us out of this crisis.”

What altruism, right? Wait a minute. The Realtors (and builders) of Washington State are stepping in for the good of us all–and they’re going to make housing in Spokane more affordable??? Think about that. The WA Realtors PAC is a trade group dedicated to making the construction and sale of real estate maximally profitable for its members. If you have even a shred of doubt about the reasons for which WA RPAC exists and spends its money read the WA RPAC fundraising email I’ve copied to the bottom of this window.

Note the title of the “successful…campaign.” In that fundraising email touts:  “Unlock the Door for Affordable Housing” I urge you to paste that title [with the quotation marks] into your web browser. The first eight hits in my Google browser connect to links with Seattle connections. There are several with links referencing the “housing crisis.” 

The word “affordable” in Mr. Hormel’s quote is typical of Republican word-smithing. (See Don’t Think of an Elephant by George Layoff) The word “affordable” is meant to light up a frame in the mind of the listener that shines with the type of housing that might address the issue of homelessness, affordable apartments and small homes, a neat and tidy central city where everyone has a place to live. It is a lovely illusion. It’s what we all want, a comfortable, non-threatening city in which we can afford to live and raise our children. But is that the comfortable, in-filled, happy city the one most profitable for wealthy developers to build? Is it the one they will build if given unfettered control of city government?

WA RPAC’s “Affordable Housing” campaign theme has been around for a while, an advertising campaign likely hatched by consultants to NAR, the National Association of Realtors, a wealthy lobbying union representing developers and builders. It cannot be an accident that Nadine Woodward’s opening salvo in her campaign for mayor was to post the political video “Seattle is Dying” on her Facebook page, touting it to the local media with the paranoid fear that Spokane will come to look like the selected images in the video if she isn’t elected mayor. Ms. Woodward (as well as Wendle, Rathbun, and Cathcart, the developers slate of candidates) got an additional boost from a slickly produced local video,”Curing Spokane,” a video financed by local real estate developer, Larry Stone. Ms. Woodward immediately praised “Curing Spokane” and, no surprise, the video is featured on the Republicans of Spokane County website. Is this all a concerted effort to buy the Spokane election for the benefit of wealthy real estate interests?

WA RPAC interests want a Spokane City government that least regulates the building of maximally profitable tract housing with as much city-provided, sprawling infrastructure as possible, buildings that will house those who can afford it. The only nod to affordability will be an overall increase in supply on a sprawling landscape fed by congested freeways. We’re being asked to buy a concept that amounts to the housing version of trickle-down economics. (If you’re tempted by trickle down housing as a concept, ask yourself when the last time was you noticed landlords lowering rents because there were too many rentals and too few renters. Never?) 

And the folks the videos depict as a blight on downtown? The solution these candidates offer is that we need to build a bigger jail somewhere else.

Are you feeling used and manipulated yet? We have to give Tom Hormel and the Washington Realtors PAC some credit. The money he and his PAC are wielding in the Spokane elections cries out for explanation. Why are monied special interests clothing their effort in “affordability” while trying to purchase Spokane City government? Why would a trade group invest so much to supplant knowledgeable elected officials dutifully working on local issues, supplant it with a slate consisting of two telegenic political newcomers who downplay their Republican ideology (Wendle and Woodward), a wealthy landlord (Rathbun, who is substantially funding his own campaign), and a “Spokane Association of Realtors Community Partner of the Year, 2016” political operative (Cathcart).

Were it not for Tom Hormel’s WA RPAC propaganda buy, we might have missed seeing the overall strategy.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. If you can get past the bias of the headline, “Plan to redirect city funds from ‘Curing Spokane’ producer’s development project is ‘dead,’ Stuckart says,” by Adams Shanks in the September 17th Spokesman, I urge you to read it carefully. Larry Stone’s “Curing Spokane” video can hardly be anything but a plug for Woodward and company. Does Mr. Stone think that anyone who is paying attention believes his production of “Curing Spokane” is anything but political propaganda meant to influence the election in favor of candidates that will financially benefit Mr. Stone? 


The following is copied and pasted from a September 14th Washington Realtors Political Action Committee fundraising email with the subject line “Did You Answer the Call?” asking for members to upgrade their PAC contribution to $50 from $35 [the bold is mine]:

Did you see our successful “Unlock the Door for Affordable Housing” Campaign? This State wide Campaign led to Legislation that:


·    Decreased the Real Estate Excise Tax by 15% on all sales under $500,000- putting nearly $1,000 back in your seller’s pocket.

·    Exempted REALTORS® such as yourself from a 20% increase in the B&O Tax – what comes off the top your commissions. Putting $250-$500 on average back into your pocket every year.

·    Protected your Independent Contractor Status

·    Beat back a bill that would have required an- in house transactions to involve attorneys for both the seller and the buyer at every step of the transaction

·    Reformed Condo Liability Laws so that more affordable condominiums can be built

·    Passed a bill that encourages cities to allow more density- things like accessory dwelling units, duplexes and triplexes in single family zones and more.


Last year we fixed the Hirst Decision that affected rural water rights for many property owners in WA State – this was a huge win!