The Political Bargain Behind Trump’s Cabinet of Lamentables

John Cassidy, writing for The New Yorker:

What is going on here?

Some of Trump’s supporters may have believed they were electing a pragmatic businessman who wouldn’t be restricted by obligations to either party or other powerful interest groups. But he is putting together a cabinet that looks almost exactly like the modern Republican Party: older, white, anti-government, and extremely conservative on virtually every issue. It could have been constructed by the Heritage Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, or one of the other corporate-funded institutes that have helped drag the G.O.P. so far to the right on issues ranging from taxation to environmental regulation to charter schools.

A couple-three takeaways from this piece:

1. Trump is the GOP and the GOP is Trump, as I’ve been saying all along.

2. These revelations re: Russia and the election are sexy and infuriating and exciting to follow along with, but Occam’s Razor tells us to believe what Cassidy is preaching here. I think it is time to stop treating Trump as an out-of-his-depth idiot, and recognize that he really did just want to win, and now he will be content to let the GOP do their thing, making him an incredibly dangerous useful idiot.

3. If your vote for Trump was cast as a shake-up-Washington, anti-establishment vote—you got suckered.


Trump’s Secretary of Labor Pick: What’s the Story?

Noam Schreiber, writing for The New York Times:

President-elect Donald J. Trump on Thursday chose Andrew F. Puzder, chief executive of the company that franchises the fast-food outlets Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. and an outspoken critic of the worker protections enacted by the Obama administration, to be secretary of labor.

Ah, yes. The tits-and-burgers guy. But is that the story? Maybe to Trump and to his supporters, sure. But, no, that’s not the story. So what else? Ah—he’s also an outspoken opponent of raising the minimum wage. So is that the story? Again, maybe to Trump, maybe to his supporters—although less likely. But no, no, that’s not the story either. So what is the story?

Dara Lind, writing for Vox:

As an executive in a low-wage industry dominated by “low-skilled” workers (many of them immigrants, and often unauthorized immigrants), Puzder has been an outspoken supporter of low-skilled immigration to the US — and of immigration reform that would legalize unauthorized immigrants who are already here.

*Tim Curry in Home Alone 2 smile*

I know—I’m deluding myself here. The odds that you voted for Trump—even more so if you voted for him with reservations, but out of a desperate economic moonshot—and you give even one shit about what The New York Times or Vox has to say about this issue are slim to none.

But my goodness—did you ever get suckered.


Bob Dole Worked Behind the Scenes on Trump-Taiwan Call

Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Eric Lipton, writing for The New York Times:

Former Senator Bob Dole, acting as a foreign agent for the government of Taiwan, worked behind the scenes over the past six months to establish high-level contact between Taiwanese officials and President-elect Donald J. Trump’s staff, an outreach effort that culminated last week in an unorthodox telephone call between Mr. Trump and Taiwan’s president.

Mr. Dole, a lobbyist with the Washington law firm Alston & Bird, coordinated with Mr. Trump’s campaign and the transition team to set up a series of meetings between Mr. Trump’s advisers and officials in Taiwan, according to disclosure documents filed last week with the Justice Department. Mr. Dole also assisted in successful efforts by Taiwan to include language favorable to it in the Republican Party platform, according to the documents.

Mr. Dole’s firm received $140,000 from May to October for the work, the forms said.

It’s weird—I’ve never really drained anything beyond a bathtub before, but I guess maybe when you drain a swamp, first you have to like, fill it up even more and make it even more swampy before the actual draining begins?


Studio Tour: Oliver Jeffers

If you have a child, chances are you have or will eventually read them a book written by and/or illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. He’s become a real favorite of mine (If you’re a writer, Once Upon an Alphabet is a must-have for your kids.) and I literally squealed with delight when I saw this article in my RSS feed. Spoiler: Oliver Jeffers’ studio is exactly what you’ve been imagining all this time. Also—pay close attention to the stuff in the pictures he has hand-labeled. You’ll recognize the typeface.


The Ex-Con Scholars of Berkeley

Larissa MacFarquhar, writing for The New Yorker:

Murillo and Czifra wanted U.S.I. to be a place where former inmates could talk and help one another, but, more than that, they wanted to figure out a way to recruit more people from prison. The idea of going to college had sounded ridiculous to them, but now they knew that, even if you had dropped out of elementary school, you could still make it. They modelled themselves on a San Francisco organization, Project Rebound, that had been started, in 1967, by a man named John Irwin, who, in his twenties, did time in Soledad for armed robbery. Irwin had gone on to become a professor at San Francisco State, and Project Rebound got former inmates into San Francisco State, where California residents were guaranteed entry if they had a G.P.A. of 2.0 in high school or community college.

But Murillo and Czifra knew that a lot of people in prison could aim higher and get into the U.C. system—you just had to know what to do. Tuition was free for any California resident whose household income was less than eighty thousand dollars a year, but you had to know about financial aid and when to apply for it. You had to know the right courses to take in community college—real academic ones, not the business-certificate classes that sounded practical but were actually useless. You had to do extra stuff that might seem pointless, like joining clubs and going to office hours. You had to write a scintillating personal statement. Yet all that became relevant only after you’d decided to go to college. Getting to that point in the first place—that was harder.

This is an amazing, multi-faceted story about redemption, education, the criminal justice system, and the realities and complexities of human interaction and decency. Send it to anyone who tells you that the world is a terrible place. But don’t think it’s all peaches and cream—the final two paragraphs will disabuse you of that notion real quick.


Why Blue States Are the Real ‘Tea Party'

Steven Johnson, writing for The New York Times:

Recall the line from “Cabinet Battle #1” from the musical “Hamilton”:

“If New York’s in debt —

Why should Virginia bear it? Our debts are paid, I’m afraid

Don’t tax the South cuz we got it made in the shade”

There’s a straight line that connects that caricature of more urban Northern states living beyond their means in the late 1700s to Ronald Reagan’s welfare queens in the 1980s: the prevailing sense that the big cities are dependent on government bailouts and benefits, while the less dense regions live responsibly. That sketch might have been accurate two centuries ago (at least if you took slavery out of the equation) but it bears no resemblance to the current economic map of the United States, where the major cities are now overwhelmingly the engines of economic growth and wealth creation — and also tax revenue.

This is an interesting piece, and anecdotally, I’d be willing to admit that there might be something there—I don’t remember this many liberal friends being this openly angry about politics. Honestly, I feel like there are more people expressing their feelings post election than before. But in breaking down his analysis by state, Johnson is missing a piece of the puzzle: counties. There has been a lot of misinformation spread on the internet lately (sometimes by Trump’s Chief Strategist’s website) about how many counties Hillary Clinton won or did not win. But, as is the case with most good propaganda, there is a kernel of truth. Take just New York for example. There are 62 counties in New York—Hillary Clinton won 16 of them. New York is a blue “state” because of New York City and a couple of surrounding counties. I would assume that if you broke Johnson’s math down on a county-by-county basis, it would still hold up, but you can’t kid yourself—there’s a divide here. We either bridge the divide, or radically change the system, but trying to simply get back to the result we want by doing different math is never going to work.


Simmons vs. Gladwell: The Future of Football

Bill Simmons, writing for The Ringer:

Forty years from now, we won’t remember a specific concussion that transformed the way we watched football. I remember joking about Troy Aikman’s Concussion Face in columns as recently as the early 2000s (and only because I didn’t know any better). I remember my feelings slowly shifting after that unforgettably violent Steelers-Ravens playoff game in 2009, a night plagued by multiple knockouts and a 30-second span when we thought Willis McGahee was dead. Not hurt — DEAD. I remember Jamaal Charles getting rocked in the 2013 Colts-Chiefs wild-card game, then being examined on the sideline and realizing, “Holy shit, it’s the playoffs and he’s still not coming back.” I remember Julian Edelman getting belted late in Super Bowl XLIX, right after his season-saving third-down catch over the middle, and talking myself into Edelman NOT being concussed … but only because of the stakes.

These dicey moments have changed how we watch football, that’s for sure. Twenty years ago, I would have written a joke about the Luke Kuechly Concussion Face and moved on to the next riff. Now I’m a little haunted by it. We have too much information about head injuries. I feel like an accomplice. Everyone wondered why the NFL’s ratings slipped for those first nine weeks, but Malcolm, maybe it starts there?

Is there a better combination of brains than Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell to discuss sports and pop culture in a slightly wordy, nerdy way that feels relatable while also academic? Maybe when Bill teams up with Chuck Klosterman? Imagine if the three of them just sat around watching TV all day? It could be its own channel.


Lessons from My Mother

James Wood, writing for The New Yorker:

In the hospital room, grief conspired with natural curiosity: so this is how a body near death functions; this is how most of us will go. . . . Six or seven seconds passed between deep breaths; each was likely to be the last, and the renewal of breath, when it came, seemed almost like a strange, teasing physiological game—no, not yet, not quite. In the days before she died, a sentence from “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” kept coming to my mind. Peter Ivanovich is looking at Ivan Ilyich’s corpse: “The expression on the face said that what was necessary had been accomplished, and accomplished rightly.” Those words sustained me. A long life, a fulfilling career as a schoolteacher, a merciful end (relatively speaking), three children and a devoted husband: what was necessary had been accomplished, and accomplished rightly.

This was the first non-Trump and/or politics piece I’ve read since August that I felt compelled to post here. Beautiful writing and an honorable story, I was moved to tears as I read it, sitting next to my daughter as she watched The Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s one of the great cruelties of art—that so often the people who inspire the most moving tributes aren’t around to witness them, and even more so, that their absence is what inspired the creation.


Potential Conflicts Around the Globe for Trump, the Businessman President

The New York Times:

“It is uncharted territory, really in the history of the republic, as we have never had a president with such an empire both in the United States and overseas,” said Michael J. Green, who served on the National Security Council in the administration of George W. Bush, and before that at the Defense Department.

The globe is dotted with such potential conflicts. Mr. Trump’s companies have business operations in at least 20 countries, with a particular focus on the developing world, including outposts in nations like India, Indonesia and Uruguay, according to a New York Times analysis of his presidential campaign financial disclosures. What’s more, the true extent of Mr. Trump’s global financial entanglements is unclear, since he has refused to release his tax returns and has not made public a list of his lenders.

In an interview with The Times on Tuesday, Mr. Trump boasted again about the global reach of his business — and his family’s ability to keep it running after he takes office.

“I’ve built a very great company and it’s a big company and it’s all over the world,” Mr. Trump said, adding later: “I don’t care about my company. It doesn’t matter. My kids run it.”

There has been a lot of hand-wringing and attention devoted to trying to suss-out what Donald Trump will do in the future. And that’s understandable—he made a lot of grandiose statements, some of which will potentially impact the lives of millions of people. But this conflict of interest stuff regarding his business interests and the Trump brand? I’m going on record here, today, as saying that, if there is a fall from grace for President-Elect Donald J. Trump, it will be because of what is uncovered, or even more likely, because of what is covered-up, regarding where or who he received money from in a business transaction.

Al Capone didn’t go to prison because of the murders, or the booze smuggling, or the racketeering, or the prostitutes. He went to prison because he didn’t pay his taxes.


Obama Reckons with a Trump Presidency

David Remnick, writing for The New Yorker:

And Obama related the Party’s losses this year to previous setbacks—and recoveries. “Some of my staff are really young, so they don’t remember this,” Obama said. “They remember my speech from the Boston Convention, in 2004, because they uploaded it on YouTube or something, but they might have been fifteen when it happened. Well, that’s the election that John Kerry lost. George Bush was reëlected. Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader in the Senate, was defeated. The Senate went Republican. The House was Republican. Me and Ken Salazar, of Colorado, were the only two Democrats nationally who won. It was a very similar period to where we are right now. Two years later, Democrats had won back the Senate; I think they had won back the House. And four years later I was the President of the United States.

“So this notion somehow that these irreversible tides have been unleashed, I think, surrenders our agency. It’s easier than us saying, Huh, we missed that, we messed that up, we’ve got to do better in how we organize. We have to stop relying on a narrow targeting of our base turnout strategy if we want to govern. . . . Setting aside the results of this election, Democrats are well positioned to keep winning Presidential elections just by appealing to the base. And, each year, the demographic improves.”

To put it more bluntly than Obama did, the nonwhite percentage of the population will continue to increase. “But we’ll keep on getting gridlock just because of population distribution in this country,” he went on. “As long as California and Wyoming have the same number of senators, there’s going to be a problem—unless we’re able to have a broader conversation and move people who right now aren’t voting for progressive policies and candidates. . . . All of this requires vigilance in protecting gains we’ve made, but a sense, yes, of equanimity, a sense of purposeful calm and optimism, and a sense of humor—sometimes gallows humor after results like the ones we just had. That’s how ultimately the race is won.”

It’s going to take you 45 minutes to read this piece—I saved it specifically for today, Sunday, so that I knew I would have the time—but reading it is the best I’ve felt post-election.