SOTU Ends Pretense of Normalcy

The State of the Union is petulant.

In recent years, I have watched fewer and fewer Presidential addresses to the nation, finding them tedious exercises in self-aggrandizement filled with promises that wouldn’t be kept. That has especially been the case in this Administration, with a President who doesn’t feel compelled to even pretend to be bound by reality. Thus, I didn’t watch last night’s address.

It was, alas, worse than even my exceedingly low expectations. By all accounts, it was filled with bizarre half-truths, snipes at potential Democratic opponents, and oddly mean-spirited.

Moreover, neither the Speaker nor the President—nor most of the assembled Members of Congress—even bothered to pretend to follow the rules of decorum.

WaPo (“With chants, walkouts and a ripped-up speech, bitter partisanship dominates Trump’s State of the Union“):

He didn’t hurl insults, lead “Lock her up!” chants or stride onto the dais to the opening thrums of “God Bless the U.S.A.” blaring from speakers. But President Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night amounted to a more subdued version of one of his raucous campaign rallies.

He boasted that his accomplishments were like nothing ever seen before, promoted divisive policies — even prompting audible boos at points — and added reality-show flourishes to the speech he delivered in the historic House chamber.

He goaded the Democrats, began the evening with an apparent snub of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and offered a boastful accounting of the previous three years that could easily double as the campaign promises he plans to deploy in the coming one.

And if Trump at least made a listless effort to channel some of the presidency’s soaring rhetorical rhythms, the lawmakers in the ornate chamber didn’t even pretend to try to rise above the bitter partisanship that has riven the presidency, Congress and the nation.

Republicans cheered divisive lines, some Democrats walked out while Trump spoke, and Pelosi punctuated the night by tearing up the president’s speech while standing over his left shoulder as he wrapped up his remarks.

“This is a big night, a cleaved down the middle night with no one trying to hide the divide,” tweeted Peggy Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist. “No ameliorating courtesy, no enacting of formal regard. Just the great divide, unbidden and out there for all the world to see.”

The president entered the House chamber to Republican cheers of “Four more years,” his party helping to set the tone for an address largely delivered as written, from the teleprompter, that nonetheless managed to strike slightly more restrained notes of his usual “Make America Great Again” rallying cry

NYT (“Trump and Pelosi Exchange Snubs at the State of the Union Address“):

For President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday night, the State of the Union was hostile.

The mutual snubbing began the moment Mr. Trump walked into the House chamber and continued until he finished speaking, when Ms. Pelosi stood, an expression of vague disgust on her face, and tore up her printed copy of his speech — in full view of the television cameras, while Mr. Trump had his back turned.

On Tuesday night, the sour dynamic was on display from the start. When Mr. Trump stepped up to the rostrum in the House of Representatives and handed her his speech, Ms. Pelosi rose and extended her hand to shake his. Mr. Trump turned his back, and the speaker quickly withdrew her hand, appearing to shrug slightly and raise her eyebrows as if to say, “Well, I tried.”

Then Ms. Pelosi dealt Mr. Trump a slight of her own by omitting the customary laudatory words in her introduction of the president. Normally, she would have said, “I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the president of the United States.”
Instead, she said simply, “Members of Congress, the president of the United States.”

This is a national embarrassment.

Obviously, the pretense of civility has been slipping for quite some time. But Bill Clinton managed to give a State of the Union address in the immediate aftermath of the Monica Lewinski scandal breaking and another in between being impeached by the House and tried by the Senate. As hostile as the relationship between Clinton and the Newt Gingrich-led Republicans was, it never degenerated to this.

One hopes the next SOTU will be given by a more normal President. But I fear that this new low will become precedent rather than a one-off.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Joe says:

    I don’t think “denigrated” is an intransitive verb, just BTW (this is me continuing to keep my fingers in my ears regarding the SOTU).

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  2. HelloWorld! says:

    I am worried about the state of the union. I used to think the SOTU was not a partisan event, but a celebration of success in the nation. Why couldn’t the president say “our 10 year recovery continues thanks pivoting of my administration (or whatever)” instead he turns the state of the economy into a lie. Why can’t he just say “As we continue our fight to repeal and replace ACA, protections for per-existing conditions will continue.” I could provide other examples, but my point is everything is a partisan lie. He steals from past success and makes it his own. And his followers eat it right up. It’s not good for the soul of the country.

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  3. An Interested Party says:

    This is a national embarrassment.

    …that has been going on since he came down that escalator…

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  4. MarkedMan says:

    It seems that the Sensible Republican position is now that we can’t expect elected officials (okay, Republicans) to honor their oath of office and hold a rogue Republican president to account . Which means there certainly is no reason why Democrats should pretend this lying sack of sh*t or the ball-less toadies in his party are worthy of anything more than the utmost contempt. The Republican Senators made a mockery of the presidency and their own institution. There is a limit beyond which you can’t expect Democrats to observe the norms. Put another way, the reaction of Sensible Republicans to the impeachment guarantees this breach of norms. It is the fault of Republicans of every stripe and demeanor, whether they support the president or not.

    And now for the inevitable Sensible Republican refrain: “But booth sides are to blame”….

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  5. Guarneri says:

    Go over to Schuler’s place and read his observation on TSOU for a sensible view. This place is just emitting petty garbage

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  6. KM says:

    Moreover, neither the Speaker nor the President—nor most of the assembled Members of Congress—even bothered to pretend to follow the rules of decorum.

    Familiarity breeds contempt. Respect is earned. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

    Trite but true none the less. I’m sick and tired of being expected as a liberal to adhere to norms and manners while essentially being mooned at by this joke of an Administration and Senate. Even an old-school Southern Belle would have slapped this cad silly and been consider correct to do so. They clearly don’t care anymore so why the hell should we? We should we be forced to sit there with Stepford smiles while Trump belittles, insults and straight-up gaslights us? It’s a form of abuse – making one side conform to rigid standards and expect them to silently tolerate unsavory behavior from the other.

    Everyone whining about Nancy’s artful stealing of the spotlight (god, that’s got to piss him off!) missed the boat by decade. Screaming “You lie!” and nothing officially being done about it set a new norm – disrespect of a President you disagree with during the SOTU is acceptable. Trump also has set precedence for making a scene in social media with boorish behavior when he wants to “make a point”. In that sense, the Speaker was merely following an established tradition of expressing her displeasure in the most meme-worthy way possible. Other then IOKIYAR, there’s really no way to get around the fact that they’ve established a new norm over the last few decades that’s theoretically just as valid as all the other ones. We used to beat people on the floor, you know – Charles Sumner would have preferred a sarcastic hand clap or ripped paper to what he got.

    Dems are starting to wake up and realize IOKIYAR is BS and a norm that needs breaking. Emboldened by Trump’s trailblazing, they are not putting up with this crap anymore and are starting to push back. In this case, “both sides doing it” is a *good* thing because it means they’re understanding the new norm – can’t change what you can’t grasp!

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  7. Scott says:

    I did not watch the SOTU. I have stopped watching TV news. Just cannot stand the dissonance between what we see and hear coming from various sources to what is real. I find that direct stimuli is aggravating so I now avoid it.

    I wonder how many others are slowly withdrawing in this day and age to save some personal space for themselves .

    As for Trump, he has demonstrated that he doesn’t believe he is President of the whole country, just those who are useful to him. As I’ve said many times, even before his election. Trump is a classless pig. Always has been. Always will be.

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  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Pretense of normalcy? There hasn’t been any normalcy since trump was inaugurated because one party embraced the abnormal. All I can say is it’s about damned time we dropped the pretense and call the GOP what it now is: A racketeer influenced and corrupt organization.

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  9. I did not watch the speech (my practice of largely not watching the SOTU dates back well before Trump), but will easily catch up from various sources.

    I will say this: I wish Pelosi hadn’t ripped up the speech. I am not sure what it accomplishes (even if I understand the impulse).

    What is sad, though, is that on FNC there will be more outrage over that act than Trump’s solicitation of campaign help from Ukraine.

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  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Guarneri:
    Dave Schuler has chosen to recuse himself from considerations of morality and common decency that interested him prior to 2016. His views are of no interest for me, personally. I can find convenient hypocrisy anywhere, it’s not in short supply, particularly among older white men. It’s a good place for you, Drew, I can understand why you’re a fan.

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  11. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Indeed. When Pelosi ripped up the speech, it occurred to me in a flash that we had reached some sort of tipping point, or crossed a boundary that can’t be re-crossed.

    I understand why she did it. But I wish she hadn’t.

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  12. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    I am reminded of Joe Wilson (R-SC) yelling out; “You lie!”
    If Democrats had the collective spine to do the same, they would have ended the evening hoarse from straining their vocal cords at the inordinate mendacity of last nights SOTU speech.
    From Health Care to Immigration to the Military and Terrorism to the Economy.
    Lies. A sprinkle of half-truth here and there. In his best moments, facts so lacking in context as to amount to lies.
    Giving Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom epitomizes everything about this Dumpster Fire of a Presidency; an Institution rendered meaningless by bestowing it upon a racist, misogynist, divisive immoral, narcissistic, sociopath, who is a pathological liar.

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  13. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    @CSK:
    Fuq the pearl-clutching. I have one word for you. Merrick Garland.

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  14. @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    It isn’t pearl clutching. And while I realize there is a heightened amount of tension these days I don’t see the need to direct your frustration at me.

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  15. James Joyner says:

    @Joe: I somehow substituted “denigrated” for “degenerated.”

    @Steven L. Taylor: @CSK: I think that’s where I am. I get Pelosi’s frustration. But, like it or not, stooping to his level of childishness doesn’t elevate her; it normalizes him.

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: The Medal of Freedom has become rather whimsical. I can see why a Republican President would bestow it on Limbaugh, especially in light of his ongoing health crisis. But not at the freaking SOTU.

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  16. @James Joyner:

    But, like it or not, stooping to his level of childishness doesn’t elevate her; it normalizes him.

    Exactly.

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  17. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Apologies…no disrespect…it wasn’t intended directly at you, but at everyone taking that same stand this morning.
    Pelosi played Trump’s game; in one gesture she took the spotlight off that fat mendacious pile of orange shit. Even Trump, himself, can’t stop Tweeting about it this am.
    Politics ain’t beanbag. If Democrats are to beat Trump they are going to have be prepared to do a lot more than tear up a copy of a vacuous speech.

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  18. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @James Joyner:
    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Kerry tried it your way…not stooping to their level…staying above the fray…and got his ass Swiftboated.
    Good on Pelosi. She sent a message, and it had power.
    This Republic is not going to be saved by playing tiddly-winks. No…you want to save America…some tea is going to have to get tossed in the god-damned harbor.

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  19. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I will say this: I wish Pelosi hadn’t ripped up the speech. I am not sure what it accomplishes (even if I understand the impulse).

    Oh come on, people: it was a joke! Pelosi was trying to build bridges. She wanted to lighten the mood in the way Republicans often do.

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  20. An Interested Party says:

    When you have two sides and one of them wins by being ruthless and shameless, how do you expect the other side to ever prevail? “When they go low, we go high” is a recipe for failure…

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  21. reid says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I understand, though it’s quite frustrating for Democrats to have to be perfect in order to not give the right anything to get outraged over. They’re going to find something to be outraged about, even if they have to make it up. It’s all very tiresome.

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  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    From what I’ve read, trump’s speech to the nation was a lie fest, one after another after another after another after another…. To me, tearing it up seems like a model of restraint. Let somebody else save their copy for the National Archives so future generations can see just how low we sank.

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  23. R. Dave says:

    I agree that Dems need to realize that the old norms of bipartisan civility and parliamentary protocol no longer apply and adjust their tactics accordingly. MAD only works if both sides believe the other will actually hit back. However, petty slights like this aren’t the smart way of doing that. It’s McConnell’s procedural hardball, not Trump’s personal antics that Dem’s should mimic.

    If Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic House Majority really wants to make a point about how uniquely illegitimate Trump’s actions as President have been, don’t rip up his speech at the SOTU, decline to invite him to give the speech in the first place. It takes a joint resolution of Congress to invite the President to speak to a joint session, so just don’t agree to the resolution. Sure, Republicans can still probably have him come address the Senate or something, but deny him the pretense of a true SOTU and all the legitimacy, normalization, and pageantry it entails. Plus, Dems could plausibly use some high-minded talking points about the ways in which the normal SOTU inappropriately elevates the Presidency and how Trump’s demagoguery has really demonstrated the dangers of that.

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  24. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @R. Dave:

    decline to invite him to give the speech in the first place.

    Agreed.

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  25. Kathy says:

    Mexico’s equivalent, Informe de Gobierno (loosely, Government Report), went from a solemn, boring occasion of presidential showy gravitas and party loyalty, to a three-ring circus of protest chants, protest banners, and the rare en masse walkouts by one party or another.

    This happened in the last years of president Salinas and the first of his successor, Ernesto Zedillo.

    It bears noting the authoritarian tradition that surrounded this event for a long time. I was always given on Sept. 1st., which was a mandatory day off. It was also broadcast in all TV channels and all radio stations nationwide, and this included cable channels.

    It’s still on Sept. 1st, but it’s no longer a day off, nor is it broadcast in cable channels.

    One reason these protests diminished and stopped, is that more parties gained seats in both chambers, but also in local and state governments. that was largely due to Zedillo’s low-key reforms, which were overshadowed by the massive financial crisis of 1994-96.

    So once the Mexican congress stopped being the president’s cheering squad, and became a real bicameral legislative body, everything became far more civilized.

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  26. Moosebreath says:

    @reid:

    “They’re going to find something to be outraged about, even if they have to make it up. It’s all very tiresome.”

    This x 1000. If it’s not ripping up speeches, it’s putting one’s feet up on the Oval Office desk, or wearing a beige suit, or wearing white dresses to the SOTU, or …

    It’s a variant of Murc’s Law — only Democrats’ conduct which leads to claims of outrage by Republicans matters. Republicans’ conduct (including awarding Limbaugh a Medal of Freedom, at the SOTU, when he belongs in the top tier of people who have created the current divisiveness) never does.

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  27. Mike in Arlington says:

    Isn’t at least part of the problem that we don’t see much bipartisanship when it comes to legislation any more? This was McConnell’s entire strategy during Obama’s 2 terms in office, to hold the republican caucus in line and refuse to work with the administration on any legislative priority or try to compromise on anything to get legislation through. Without any buy in by the republican party, there’s no chance of a sense of joint accomplishment, turning the SOTU into a more partisan affair. I remember Clinton’s speeches, when he would list off that the democrats supported, but then turned and said something to the effect of, “now for some things that the republicans might appreciate” and listed off some of his work with the republicans, making the speech a lot more agreeable to more people.

    Now, the republicans kept that from happening under Obama, and Trump has made next to zero attempts to lobby democrats for any of his priorities (and in the few cases that he did, he then wrecked any chance of joint accomplishment soon after). Now the well is so poisoned, that I don’t think the democrats would even bother if he did try to work on something with them.

    Are the Democrats completely innocent here? probably not, but if you were trying to account for both parties’ culpability, it seems to be heavily weighted towards republicans.

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  28. Kurtz says:

    @Guarneri:

    Is there a line of criticism that you wouldn’t consider petty or an indication of TDS?

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  29. Kurtz says:

    @Guarneri:

    Is there a line of criticism of Trump that you wouldnt consider petty or an indicator of TDS?

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  30. Kurtz says:

    @Guarneri:

    Is there a line of criticism directed at Trump that you wouldn’t consider petty or deranged?

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  31. An Interested Party says:
  32. Scott says:

    @R. Dave: Other hardball: Don’t shrink from investigations and subpoenas. Don’t fund agencies that don’t cooperate with Committees.

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  33. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    “…the inordinate mendacity of last nights SOTU speech”

    According to the WaPo fact check…over 30 lies in Trump’s last night.
    And Pelosi ripped up some paper.

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  34. KM says:

    @R. Dave:

    However, petty slights like this aren’t the smart way of doing that.

    To be fair, she was just responding in kind. He deliberately ignored her outstretched hand, a standard petty slight one does when one is being an ass. Her response is actually within the bounds of propriety and decorum when viewed in that context. He established the tone as one of hostility and disrespect and she was following suit.

    I love how the GOP is either ignoring this man’s blatant sign of disrespect to an Office since he did it first or thinking it’s well-deserved and not hypocritical at all. Most folks won’t have someone rip up their professional work but a ton of us have had someone refuse to shake hands or acknowledge a greeting. It’s a standard way to make someone feel small. I’d wager that’s the slight that would hit home more with the MAGAts and that’s why he did it – it’s petty, mean and small-minded aka perfect for showing up that elite bitch who thinks she’s better then him. So how *dare* she respond in kind! He was treating her like she deserved to be treated (what with the evil impeaching of an innocent and all) and now here she goes having the *nerve* to rip up his perfect speech?! It’s like she doesn’t understand MAGAts can look down on coastal elites but not vice versa!!

    Maybe it wasn’t smart in a traditional PR sense but when the President gets away with ignoring the outstretched hand of the Speaker and some serious RBF, we have to acknowledge PR has changed. Repubs are going to be outraged no matter *what* she did and it seems people are loving the fact that she’s not taking his crap anymore. Dems are starting to question the point of ignoring this double-standard on behavior to only focus on “hardball” – Nancy’s proven she can toss shade and fight back legislatively just fine.

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  35. @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Kerry tried it your way…not stooping to their level…staying above the fray…and got his ass Swiftboated.
    Good on Pelosi. She sent a message, and it had power.
    This Republic is not going to be saved by playing tiddly-winks. No…you want to save America…some tea is going to have to get tossed in the god-damned harbor.

    I need to think about a more comprehensive response, but if one’s position is that the Dems have to play by Trump’s rules, then that means Trump has fundamentally reshaped our politics.

    It also means that Dems are saying that the ends justify the means, which is basically what almost all the regulars here have been decrying about Reps since 2016.

    If one is going to argue from that position, and it is a position that has some weight, oen has to acknowledge that Reps supporting Trump aren’t doing so because they are in a cult, or beacuse they are bad people (constant refrains around here), no: they are getting the ends they want (judges, tax cuts, deeply pro-Israel policies, and a host of other things) and so the means are justifiable.

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  36. Michael Reynolds says:

    It was the least Pelosi could do. She should have led the entire Democratic caucus in a walk-out.

    Today’s hero is Senator Doug Jones who is burning down his political career to do the right thing. God, Republicans must hate him. No one hates courage more than a coward.

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  37. And, no (before someone goes here), I am not saying that tearing up a speech is equivalent to things Trump has done. I am reacting to the general tone that Dems need to be more Trumpian.

    I simply don’t support that.

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  38. @Michael Reynolds: I think Doug Jones is a man of conviction and I expected this is how he would vote.

    I will say, however, national speculation aside about how hard this choice would be for him: he was not going to save his seat by voting to acquit. I honestly see no way how he holds the seat in a presidential year. This state is too red for him to stay in office.

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  39. drj says:

    @James Joyner:

    But, like it or not, stooping to his level of childishness doesn’t elevate her; it normalizes him.

    I completely disagree. Not tearing up this abomination of a speech normalizes Trump.

    Trump and his amoral enablers are not normal; and Democrats should not waste a single opportunity to point this out.

    As KM wrote above:

    We should we be forced to sit there with Stepford smiles while Trump belittles, insults and straight-up gaslights us? It’s a form of abuse – making one side conform to rigid standards and expect them to silently tolerate unsavory behavior from the other.

    Exactly. Pelosi is showing that Democrats don’t have to take this shit.

    Because what Trump and the GOP are, in fact, doing is running the country like a criminal conspiracy.

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  40. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I need to think about a more comprehensive response, but if one’s position is that the Dems have to play by Trump’s rules, then that means Trump has fundamentally reshaped our politics.

    I don’t think Dems need to play by Trumps rules…but neither do they need to be cowed by him. There has to be push-back. You cannot let someone come into your House and lie to you, and take credit for your hard work, and taunt you, and not respond in some way.
    I’m not a fan of Bloomberg’s but he seems to moving in a way that I think might be effective against Trump. Talking about real issues that matter, and also taking the occasional well-targeted jab; making fun of his fraudulence. I’ve said for some time the way to beat Trump is to show what a fraud he really is. That the Emperor has no clothes.
    On your other, related, points…
    Don’t kid yourself; Trump HAS re-shaped our politics. I hope it is short-lived and not a fundamental re-structuring.
    Republicans do behave like cultists; they have bought into a belief system, largely mythical, and I doubt they will be able to let go of it anytime soon.

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  41. @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Trump HAS re-shaped our politics. I hope it is short-lived and not a fundamental re-structuring.

    I agree. My point remains that how the Democrats act will determine how fundamental the change is, not the Reps.

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  42. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “I need to think about a more comprehensive response, but if one’s position is that the Dems have to play by Trump’s rules, then that means Trump has fundamentally reshaped our politics.”

    Since this was a response to how Kerry was treated in 2004 (when Trump was still nominally a Democrat), you may want to rethink whether this is playing by Trump’s rules, or the GOP’s rules.

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  43. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    then that means Trump has fundamentally reshaped our politics.

    Not quite. Republicans have fundamentally reshaped our politics. Our system could withstand a Trump, but our system can not withstand a Republican Party that has abdicated all responsibility.

    This began long before Trump showed up, at least since Republican Reps elected Gingrich as their leader. The norms are gone. The Republicans and the Republicans alone destroyed them. It could have been the Dems that went into this destructive spiral but as it happens it wasn’t.

    So, yes, it is pearl clutching to quibble over how Pelosi let people know what she thought of the lies, partisanship and racism the fricking President of the US spewed for an hour and a half. She was absolutely correct to let the world know in that moment what she and her fellow Democrats thought of this farce. Waiting to be interviewed so a sound bite could be talked over by a bunch of ninnies is not effective. Ripping up his speech in plain view leaves no doubt.

    The days when people listened respectfully to a presidential speech are now gone. All the old norms are gone, and while the Dems shouldn’t mimic the morally bankrupt Republicans, they should devise effective new norms. Just as there are norms in court for dealing with a hostile witness, the Dems must develop new norms in dealing with this Republican Party.

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  44. EddieInCA says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I need to think about a more comprehensive response, but if one’s position is that the Dems have to play by Trump’s rules, then that means Trump has fundamentally reshaped our politics.

    Dr. Taylor, I respect you. I think you’re a smart, decent human being. But, goddamnit, that sentence above shows a lack of town-deafness that I do not understand. Trump (with help from the GOP) HAS ALREADY reshaped our politics. It’s now okay to ignore congressional oversight. It’s now okay to blatantly lie to the American people. It’s now okay to enrich yourself personally through the office of the President. It’s now okay to belittle allies and cozy up to autocrats.

    Trump HAS reshaped our politics in a way that MANY of us predicted long before now.

    And the Democrats are doing everything they can to make sure it’s 1972 all over again.

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  45. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    But, like it or not, stooping to his level of childishness doesn’t elevate her; it normalizes him.

    Treating the speech as normal is what would normalize him. And the Democrats have been treating him like normal for far too long.

    Tearing up the speech was too subtle. Turning her back to him during the speech would have been better.

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  46. Jay L Gischer says:

    Honestly, what this piece made me think is that there’s nothing that Trump can’t corrupt. No civic good that he can’t turn to his personal advantage. There is no concept of stewardship in him, of trusteeship, of taking action for the benefit of someone else. This is what I’ve thought of him from early on, and now we see it in the SOTU.

    It’s also true that I would like the SOTU to be boring and bipartisan. I would like to not have to pay much attention to it.

    Those aren’t the times we live in. Many look to have their feelings about politics validated by the actions of politicians in high places. Those politicians who do this well, do well on election day, and this goes for AOC as much as for Devin Nunes.

    No, I don’t like it. I think that the voting public is being silly and childish, but they are also expressing a desire for someone to care about how they feel. In no small part, this seems the legacy of the Great Recession, where the turn this country made to austerity was to many the government and the powerful turning their back to them.

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  47. @EddieInCA:

    But, goddamnit, that sentence above shows a lack of town-deafness that I do not understand.

    I suppose I often rely on a broader body of my own words on this site to support things I say in a given comment as I really don’t have time at the moment for a full discourse.

    There are multiple issues here:

    1. The general constitutional/institutional order and all its flaws and difficulties.
    2. Problems within the GOP not linked to Trump (or that pre-date him)
    3. Trump’s own particular kind of politics that grew out of 1 and 2 but that also make 1 and 2 worse while being a new thing by itself. For example, a President Crux or President Pence would still be part of 1 and 2 but not 3.

    I am discussing here #3 specifically (which will make 1 and 2 ever worse).

    If the Democrats try to play the trumpian game specifically (setting aside whether tearing up the speech qualifies) then they are validating trumpian politics.

    I am not being tone-deaf (although I know full well all of this needs further elucidation).

    Tit-for-tat has consequences.

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  48. @EddieInCA:

    Trump (with help from the GOP) HAS ALREADY reshaped our politics.

    To be clear: I know he has. But what I fear is the adoption of trumpian behavior across the board, by both Dem and Rep. At that point he will truly have changed our politics in an irrevocable way.

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  49. @Jay L Gischer:

    It’s also true that I would like the SOTU to be boring and bipartisan

    To this (and it was mentioned above): the SOTU has never been bipartisan. It has always been partisan, at least in the mass media era.

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  50. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am reacting to the general tone that Dems need to be more Trumpian.

    If you think that calmly tearing up a speech is Trumpian, then I have no idea what you have been watching since Trump came down that escalator.

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  51. reid says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: As others have said, this is only partially about Trump. Trump is a huge problem, yes, but he’s more of a metastasis. McConnell is also a huge problem. Right-wing media is a huge problem. The entire Senate and House being in lock-step in defending their corrupt leader is a huge problem. Outright denial of truth and reality by one side and their base believing it? Yes, a huge problem. What do the Democrats do in the face of all of this? Go high, go low, does it matter?

    ETA: I see you’ve already addressed this a bit. I will add, though, that I don’t see the Democrats sinking anywhere near the level of Trump at this point. Even tearing up a speech.

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  52. @Gustopher:

    If you think that calmly tearing up a speech is Trumpian, then I have no idea what you have been watching since Trump came down that escalator.

    You all do read this blog, right?

    Hi, I am Steven Taylor, a frequent contributor and the guy who frequently writes about the maladies of our democracy.

    Pleased to meet you all.

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  53. (I have no problem with the pushback, but I think I deserve a bit more credit than I am getting here).

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  54. gVOR08 says:

    I think Dr. Joyner’s title says all that needs to be said,

    SOTU Ends Pretense of Normalcy

    Pelosi and the Democrats aren’t ending any real civility or decorum, they are reducing the pretense of civility and decorum.

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  55. Scott says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: It’s equivalent to being frustrated about something and snapping at your wife or kids. It’s not you; it’s the situation.

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  56. Scott says:

    @Scott:

    I wonder how many others are slowly withdrawing in this day and age to save some personal space for themselves .

    A little tacky to quote yourself but is this happening to others?

    This third SOTU from the 45th president of the United States of America is currently down 26% in Big-4 broadcast viewers from his second.

    https://www.thewrap.com/donald-trump-state-of-the-union-2020-ratings/

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  57. Kurtz says:

    @Scott:

    Writing and posting isn’t exactly the same. Snapping at the wife and kids is usually an over-reaction to a minor annoyance that causes previously bottled emotions to manifest.

    Writing ought to give one the chance to take a breath and consider whether expressing frustration is a good way to persuade people.

    If catharsis is the goal, write but don’t post. If persuasion is the goal, manifest frustration probably won’t do it.

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  58. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I think you are conflating Trumpism with any disruption of comity and norms.

    Trumpism (which predates Trump, but which he exemplifies) is much more targeted than that, it’s the undermining and destruction of comity and norms to exploit every ounce of power, and to paint the political opposition as the enemy.

    It might have been inappropriate for Pelosi to refuse to invite Trump to give the SOTU (I supported delaying it when the government was shut down, what feels like 30 years ago). But, it’s also inappropriate to accept a litany of lies and treat that like normal.

    She was very reserved, more than I believe she should have been.

    You seem to want Democrats to be respectful of lies and hate, just to preserve the appearance of normal.

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  59. Teve says:

    Last night a friend of mine on Facebook said, paraphrasing, “Nancy ripped the speech up to steal the spotlight from him, and he’s going to go insane on Twitter tomorrow. And then everybody will be discussing her, not what Trump said, and that’s going to make him even crazier.”

    And do I need to point out that there is a long history of Pelosi doing something, and people saying well I like her but she did the wrong thing there, and then it turns out later it wasn’t the wrong thing?

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  60. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    (I have no problem with the pushback, but I think I deserve a bit more credit than I am getting here).

    (1) I agree with this point.
    (2) I agree with just about all your broader points.
    (3) This back and forth should be a reminder that, for as much as people say they want thoughtful and politely presented alternative opinions, we are often not always as prepared as we might think to consider them when they are presented.

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  61. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “Tit-for-tat has consequences.”

    Correct. Often it is very effective in getting the other side to return to norms.

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  62. inhumans99 says:

    @Teve:

    Exactly this, she knew her actions would cause people to focus on her and hopefully forget some of what was said during his SOTU address. She knows he is a narcissist so anything that takes the spotlight off of him will drive him nuts.

    She has a skin that is as thick as alligators and rhinoceroses combined so she can handle any insults/criticisms that are hurled at her because her feelings will not be hurt. She knew exactly what she was doing. I get the point Steven is trying to make but this is like that GOP dude who yelled You Lie! and guess what the world kept spinning after that interruption.

    This is a President that has no problems making crud up to get his base all up in arms against Pelosi so if it was not her ripping up the speech any other made up excuse to get the base mad at her would have sufficed so she ripped the speech understanding that living in President Trump’s world the GOP will see her as always dammed if she does and dammed if she does not.

    The earth did not spin off its axis and hurl into the sun because Pelosi ripped up a speech so yes, the pearl clutchers really do need to chillax.

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  63. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    This is a national embarrassment.

    And somewhere in this once “best of all nations on God’s green earth [h/t: Michael Medved], some guy in a red cap is shouting “Four more years! Four more years! KAG! KAG!”
    Nations get the government they deserve.

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  64. Barry says:

    @CSK: “Indeed. When Pelosi ripped up the speech, it occurred to me in a flash that we had reached some sort of tipping point, or crossed a boundary that can’t be re-crossed.

    I understand why she did it. But I wish she hadn’t.”

    The turning point wasn’t anything done by the GOP, please note.

    It was a Democratic politician replying at the 1/10,000 level to what the GOP had done, did and is doing.

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  65. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Tit-for-tat has consequences.

    So does ignoring the “tat”. Is there ANY evidence that the Democrats respecting the “previous” norms while the R’s trample over them has helped restore those norms? I’m not aware of any. Bullies don’t stop pushing because you don’t respond. They stop when someone pushes back. Pelosi should own it: “I’ll be respectful of the President I am in opposition to, when he starts being respectful of his opponents. We’ve held back on returning his rude and spiteful behavior for years but no longer. If he can’t be bothered to shake a hand and maintain a pretense of civility, why should I?”

    Also worth noting that for Trump, it’s all about dominating the news cycle, frequently with outrageous behavior and this redirected the cycle from the SOTU to the pissing match. Bloomberg and Pelosi and the rest should take a TON of shots because it drives him bananas and diverts the news cycle from whatever he really wants to talk about.

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  66. Barry says:

    @James Joyner:
    “But, like it or not, stooping to his level of childishness doesn’t elevate her; it normalizes him.”

    First, she has stooped to a teeeny fraction of his childishness, and nothing of his evil.

    Second, he *has been* normalized:

    1) By the press, who mostly plays ‘both sides do it’ in the face of a historically terrible president.
    2) By every pearl-clutching commentator.
    3) By the entire GOP, who pull out the thinnest of excuses to do nothing.
    4) By his supporters, who like it.

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  67. Just nutha ignint crackerd says:

    @Guarneri: So Schuler’s become another partisan hack. Is this supposed to be news or something?

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  68. MarkedMan says:

    Buried in this thread somewhere is a useful discussion trying to emerge, one about what the new rules of the game are. Using baseball as an example, however much I think the designated hitter rule is an abomination, once it hit the rule books you gotta use it. In much the same way, while I agree with James and Stephen that it would be nice if we still lived in a pre-Gingrich world, that ship has sailed. Dems should not continue to try to play by the old rules, but they also should not merely emulate the Republicans in their dance with decadence. They need to come up with new norms, ones that Republicans don’t already have a fix for. What should they be?

    Here’s the question: “What is a norm that would allow a decent person to bypass the both-siderism and pearl-clutching shallowness that make up so much of our media?” Well, I suggest visual actions that are almost instantaneous, so it couldn’t be excerpted as a sound bite and then have a bunch of commentators give “both sides”, i.e. whatever pops in their head to call attention to themselves. Those visual actions should be clear, leaving no doubt at their meaning. They should be deployed so as not to let a lie go uncalled, or a racist diatribe to go unchallenged, but they should be done for those reasons and not to get even or to merely be crude or malicious. They should not be a lie themselves, nor be vicious for the sake of it.

    In fact the more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that Pelosi’s tearing up Trump’s speech right over his shoulder fills this new norm perfectly. It was effective. It told him that she would no longer let his garbage spill unchallenged into her home. And the American people can judge her reaction and decide what it means, good or bad, before they are told what to believe by a punch of political commentators.

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  69. Barry says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “I need to think about a more comprehensive response, but if one’s position is that the Dems have to play by Trump’s rules, then that means Trump has fundamentally reshaped our politics.”

    Yes, he has. Along a number of other very evil people, one of whom got the Presidential Medal of whatchamacallit recently.

    Our choice is to either pretend he did not, or to accept it and fight back.

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  70. Barry says:

    (testing)

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  71. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “Her response is actually within the bounds of propriety and decorum when viewed in that context.”
    No, it’s not, but it also doesn’t really matter because the horse in question jumped the fence long ago. The Trumpies will be outraged, and the anti-Trumpies can rejoice that somebody’s finally willing to “kick the orange [fill in your favorite slur]’s ass” (if only figuratively).
    And the rest of you can just shake your heads and facepalm if you wish.

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  72. @MarkedMan:

    Dems should not continue to try to play by the old rules, but they also should not merely emulate the Republicans in their dance with decadence. They need to come up with new norms, ones that Republicans don’t already have a fix for.

    This. I am not saying that the Dems should stick to old rules. But they shouldn’t just adopt the Trump playbook.

    (And I am not, at this point, talking about the speech-ripping).

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  73. KM says:

    @MarkedMan :

    And the American people can judge her reaction and decide what it means, good or bad, before they are told what to believe by a punch of political commentators.

    Precisely. You saw it happen and you instantly had an opinion. Funnily enough, most of my pro-Trump relatives loved that she did that…. at first. It struck home as a very honest, visceral reaction to BS and was a particularly female one. It was something they could see themselves doing to, say an offending letter or child’s attempt being “clever” (“Look at this ma, I don’t have to take PE anymore!!”). It was only when the conservative bubble started it’s outrage machine that opinions switched from “I can respect that” to “my goodness, how rude!!”

    Trump benefits greatly from instant reactions – his whole schtick is to get people to gutfeel from the id instead of using their brains. This gesture did exactly that for Nancy and it’s why everyone’s talking about. A disappointed woman, older and pissed off, glares down at an offender and tears up what was just handed to them. Teacher ripping up substandard homework clearly written in crayon? Mother destroying child’s fake note from principal saying there’s no homework for the rest of the year? Hits a visceral button in most people. Conservatives have to spin it as “rudeness” and “norm-breaking” because otherwise people see it for what it is: “I’m so done with your sh^t, Donnie. Knock it off.”

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  74. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @mattbernius:

    …for as much as people say they want thoughtful and politely presented alternative opinions, we are often not always as prepared as we might think to consider them when they are presented.

    Just as seems to be true in education reform (and probably election and many other reforms, too), people want to want thoughtful and politely presented alternative opinions, but don’t really want to have them anywhere near as much.

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  75. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: 100% agree.

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  76. Mike in Arlington says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: What tactics or rules could the democrats adopt that would be effective against trump and republicans?

    I’m not saying that the lawless/norm-shattering strategy is the way to go, I’ve just been wondering what are the democrats’ options.

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  77. restless says:

    @Moosebreath:

    This reminded me of an article I read once, that I can’t now find, which said that the “best” game strategy is to start with trust, then respond in kind – “tit for tat”

    Wikipedia

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  78. Kurtz says:

    @Mike in Arlington:

    What tactics or rules could the democrats adopt that would be effective against trump and republicans?

    I’m not saying that the lawless/norm-shattering strategy is the way to go, I’ve just been wondering what are the democrats’ options.

    I was formulating a similar, but slightly differently framed comment/question.

    My question is, if a person is shamelessly exploiting a system and a population, what counter-action within the norms of a system exists?

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  79. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Things torn up in the last few years:
    The TPP
    Nafta
    The Paris Accord
    The JPCOA
    The Smart Treaty
    Families at the Southern Border
    Trump’s SOTU Speach
    Which one are we upset about???

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  80. @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Sadly, HRC was talking anti-TPP

    Luckily, the USMCA is pretty much NAFTA 1.2

    I am especially upset about JCPOA (as I have written about on numerous occasions) and the families at the border (which I should write more about).

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  81. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am not saying that the Dems should stick to old rules. But they shouldn’t just adopt the Trump playbook.

    (And I am not, at this point, talking about the speech-ripping).

    Then what are you talking about?

    I don’t mean that nearly as snide and nasty as it comes off, and several attempts at rewriting it just came out worse… but, do you have examples of Democrats adopting the Trump play book? And, what exactly do you mean by the Trump play book?

    I’ve seen a lot of glee that Rush Limbaugh has cancer, but not from elected officials, and I would argue that Rush is a special case — he is a cancer on this country. (There will also be delight when Alex Jones announces a horrible illness as well.)

    But I haven’t seen a post-truth, nihilistic, spiteful, race-baiting wing of the Democratic Party. Or even the BernieBros (say what you will about BernieBros being a personality cult, they care about truth on major economic issues).

    There’s been a trend to start thinking of some Republicans as enemies of America, but Steven Miller really is an enemy of America, and a better administration wouldn’t welcome him in.

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  82. MarkedMan says:

    @Gustopher:

    but Steven Miller really is an enemy of America,

    Put another way, does Godwin’s law still apply when there is an actual Nazi in the administration?

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  83. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Yeah, the SOTU has never been bipartisan as such, but the President never refused to shake the Speaker’s hand, and there were lots of places where everyone in the chamber applauded, not just the President’s party. So there was a kind of dialectic in place – we’re all in this together, we disagree on this, we’re all in this together, etc. That is gone. Those people are wrong about everything in every detail.

    That’s what I’m getting at.

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  84. @Gustopher:

    My initial reaction was being told I was pearl-clutching by even suggesting that I would have preferred Pelosi not ripped up the speech.

    There was a point at which I agreed with James that engaging in Trumpian childishness only makes such childishness normal.

    I later tried to make a point about ends and means.

    Mostly, what I am finding frustrating, as I did the other day in another conversation, is that it seems that at least some of the participants in the conversation are letting their frustration out on me because I am not engaging in the exact same level of outrage that they are feeling.

    I understand not agreeing with me. Telling me I am pearl-clutching or tone-dead strikes me as unfair, especially since I have a lengthy written record.

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  85. Jay L Gischer says:

    This is language I would not use on my own accord, but it’s the term used, and I quote.

    For years, Josh Marshall and others have talked about the “bitch slap” theory of politics. In a campaign especially, candidates (often Republican) would seek to offer an insult in the hope that it would be ignored because that would make their opponent look weak. And if they responded strongly, they would be characterized as “off the rails” and as “they lost it”.

    Trump’s refusal to shake hands with Pelosi was, make no mistake, a bitch slap of this kind. If she hadn’t torn up his speech, RW media would be all over how much he “owned” her because of that.

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  86. MarkedMan says:

    So here are some tactics I think the Dems should use. They are tough, but not Trumpian.

    1) When on a talking head show, challenge the interviewer about why they let the Republicans come on and spew falsehoods without correction. Isn’t the goal of a news organization to inform the public? Doesn’t the difference between truth and lies matter? Why do you mislead your viewers into believing these factual things cannot be known?

    2) When a Republican spouts nonsense, call it nonsense, call it misleading the people. Hit them again and again – if what they stand for is so good for America, why must they continually lie about it. Don’t let them bog you down with details or counter challenges. Unless they acknowledge the lie, don’t let them change the subject. If they won’t (and they won’t) switch tactics. Bring the moderator into it. Why don’t they give as much airtime to a denunciation of the Republican lie as they give to the Republican telling a lie? Ignore the Republican and focus on the moderator

    3) If an administration official is on the same panel, regardless of what is it about, ask again and again why the administration has an actual Nazi working for it. Don’t let it go. If the show had an administration official on recently but not at the moment, challenge the moderator: “There is an actual Nazi working in the White House, Stephen Miller. Why did you let Kellyann Conway come on and tell all kinds of lies and never hold her feet to the fire on this?” Don’t let them make excuses. Having a Nazi in the White House is a huge deal and we shouldn’t make vague hand pats and then move on.

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  87. Kit says:

    Talk of new norms is akin to talking of instant traditions: both take time to become established, and only flourish in times of stability.

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  88. Kathy says:

    Next SOTU, if there is one, democrats ought to interrupt loudly, by any means necessary, but only when King Donald the Moron is lying.

    Oh, wait.

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  89. mattbernius says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Just as seems to be true in education reform (and probably election and many other reforms, too), people want to want thoughtful and politely presented alternative opinions, but don’t really want to have them anywhere near as much.

    Yup. Also things like integrated housing/schools/etc… everyone wants it — just not for their neighborhood or kid’s schools.

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  90. KM says:

    @Kit:
    Considering the commonly-agreed upon benchmark of Gingrich and the Moral Majority, this sort of behavior is 30+ years old. Hardly “instant” as it’s the political lifetime of two generations of voters now. Yes, recent escalations of intensity are extreme but that comes from conservatives adapting troll culture which is around 30 years old itself (from the birth of the internet, folks).

    Like it or not, this has been the norm for *decades* for sectors of the political spectrum. Since those parts are now in power for the second time this century (12 of the first 20 years of 2000s), they bring their norms with them and those norms are now mainstream. That’s what happens when you elect loons, cranks and nuts – their grievances and angry lashing out get popularized. The only thing that’s really “instant” or “new” is everyone that was willfully ignorant waking to realize just how bad it’s gotten.

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  91. Mike in Arlington says:

    @Kathy: Hopefully before the next SOTU, we will have elected a Democratic president and there won’t be a next time.

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  92. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha ignint crackerd:

    So Schuler’s become another partisan hack. Is this supposed to be news or something?

    While I’m somewhat surprised that Dave has been as even-keeled on Trump as he has, he’s neither partisan nor a hack. He’s never been a Republican. Indeed, he used to (and still may) describe himself as a “Scoop Jackson Democrat.” Which puts him in the position I was in a decade or so ago when I started describing myself as things like “Phil Gramm Republican” or “Jon Huntsman Republican”—wherein the adjective all but eliminated the noun.

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  93. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I understand not agreeing with me. Telling me I am pearl-clutching or tone-dead strikes me as unfair, especially since I have a lengthy written record.

    Fair enough — although you do seem uncharacteristically pearl-clutching these days… Tired, grumpy and defensive because people pounce on you perhaps?

    (And most people here are on edge with impeachment drama…)

    I think you have something you want to say about Trumpism, decorum, a coarsening of American politics, norms and normalizing, hopefully along with what you think the right response to it is, but I don’t think it’s crystallized for you quite yet. Or the words haven’t anyway. I suspect that post-impeachment-drama it will gel and people will be more open to listening.

    Unless Trump gets impeached for something else next week.

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  94. Kurtz says:

    @James Joyner:

    This is my frustration around here as well. My views are way out of the mainstream–the politicians with views similar to mine would be Sanders or someone like AOC. If anyone would have a reason to show angry frustration, it would be I. Directing anger at you guys is not only silly, it is likely counter-productive.

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  95. al Ameda says:

    That 2016 campaign exhortation: “When they go low, we go high,” seems to be (let’s say) somewhat ineffective when dealing with a president for whom, there is low floor or bottom.

    Frankly, I thought Pelosi was very restrained and somewhat ‘high road’ oriented in manifesting her well-placed disgust for this incredibly disrespectful impeached president. If she had taken the ‘low road’ she might have thrown the shredded speech at his back and walked out.

    And let’s keep it real, no minds were changed along the way. There are virtually no ‘independents’ to he had. How many people out there are thinking: ‘gee, Trump is a low life greaseball but Nancy was so disrespectful that I think I’ll change my plans to vote Democratic, and I’ll support Trump’ ? That’s not happening.

    It seems to me that the media has normalized and expects Republican bad behavior, yet feigns ‘concern’ when Democrats actually bring guns to a gunfight.

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  96. Kurtz says:

    @Gustopher:

    If Steven or James try to explain the behavior of politicians, people around here act as if that explanation is an endorsement. It isn’t. I posted this at the end of an exchange with @Moosebreath, but I will post it here as well:

    No, the logic is sound. And I agree with you. But I was asking an honest question, more to see if you thought that your logic is the only possible legitimate way to parse events.

    But that’s the thing about partisanship–it often manifests in overt, predictable ways. However, like any of other form of bias, sometimes it is more subtle. It’s not so much that it makes people believe illogical things as it results in a logically sound view that excludes the possibility of other reasonable interpretations. The latter is the more pernicious form of bias

    It’s worth reiterating here that I was making an honest, good-faith inquiry. But, like your logic about the politics of impeachment, I often agree with criticisms of “bothsiderism” in media that get voiced here. But I dont always agree that the authors here are engaging in it.

    This is why one of my comments included this:

    No matter what, people want to draw a line of scrimmage, and a neutral observer appears to be across the thin line from each person.

    Because there is a difference between analyzing how and why a person behaves the way they do and endorsing that behavior. Merely explaining a politician’s calculus isn’t a form of apologetics–it’s the only way to properly diagnose systemic problems.

    This is the second time I have had to point this out in the comments in defense of our hosts. Their approach is often mistaken as something else. And that is a hallmark of pernicious partisanship.

    We can make it three times now. Let me be clear: I agree with all of you regarding Trump’s behavior. Lashing out at Steven and James in frustration is not the answer.

    I made a comment earlier that got eaten by the system as spam. I don’t know if it showed up yet, but this was the gist:

    If writing in anger or frustration is cathartic, then write but don’t post it.

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  97. Kurtz says:

    @Guarneri:

    My question for you:

    Is there any line of criticism toward Trump that you would not consider petty or indicative with a bad case of TDS?

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  98. Kathy says:

    Remember this line from the movie “The Untouchables”?

    “Here’s how you get him. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue!”

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  99. An Interested Party says:

    Tearing up the speech was too subtle. Turning her back to him during the speech would have been better.

    Perhaps she should have pulled out a red Sharpie while he was speaking and crossed out anything in the speech that isn’t true…granted, she would of needed quite a few Sharpies…

    In no small part, this seems the legacy of the Great Recession, where the turn this country made to austerity was to many the government and the powerful turning their back to them.

    And the worst part of that is the fact that so many people who need help continue to vote for people who actively want the government and the powerful to turn their back to these same people in need…

    For years, Josh Marshall and others have talked about the “bitch slap” theory of politics. In a campaign especially, candidates (often Republican) would seek to offer an insult in the hope that it would be ignored because that would make their opponent look weak. And if they responded strongly, they would be characterized as “off the rails” and as “they lost it”.

    In other words, Republicans/conservatives act like total assholes, and when some retaliation comes their way, they become the biggest victims in the whole world…

    Is there any line of criticism toward Trump that you would not consider petty or indicative with a bad case of TDS?

    And further still, is there anything that Trump could do that would cause lickspittles like Guarneri to turn against him…

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  100. Kurtz says:

    @Kathy: @An Interested Party:

    I don’t know what to do. A shameless person (Trump, McConnell) cannot be shamed into a change in behavior. A person who benefits from that shamelessness (from what I can glean from his posts, Guarneri) will never admit that people like us are right about the former group. His self-conception depends on it.

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  101. An Interested Party says:

    How times change

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  102. Kurtz says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Yeah. It’s funny. I think an argument could be made that a sizable chunk of GOP voters turned against Bush not because of the poor decisions made by his administration, but because the campaign rhetoric used post-Goldwater did its job too well.

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  103. @Gustopher:

    Fair enough — although you do seem uncharacteristically pearl-clutching these days… Tired, grumpy and defensive because people pounce on you perhaps?

    I will cop to being a bit grumpy. I really, truly, find “pearl-clutching” to be innacurate.

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  104. An Interested Party says:

    I will cop to being a bit grumpy.

    How could a political scientist not be with politics these days being so decadent and diseased…

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  105. All,

    Let me try and wrap this up as follows:

    1. I did say above that the speech-ripping struck me as counter-productive, although I am persuadable it served some purpose (though I remain dubious).

    2. My overarching point is that I do have a real concern that we (the country) are moving in the direction of more trumpian politics by both parties. This strikes me as Trump becoming normalized. I find that normatively disturbing and undesirable.

    3. I also tried but did not fully elucidate, that those who are calling for bitch slapping, etc. are really doing exactly what GOPers are doing at the moment: using the ends to justify the means. This requires far more elaboration, but I will just leave that here for the moment.

    4. I do get frustrated when people seem to ignore a large body of work to get worked up over a sentence or two in the comment section.

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  106. @An Interested Party: Indeed and indeed.

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  107. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    My overarching point is that I do have a real concern that we (the country) are moving in the direction of more trumpian politics by both parties.

    I do wonder what you mean by “trumpian politics”, but I’ll drop it for now. I suspect you may have a broader definition than I would.

    I also wonder how one unilaterally maintains norms without normalizing the person who doesn’t.

    If the candidate for the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party had won the presidency, and was dressed as a leopard and was eating people’s faces, I would not expect Nancy Pelosi to also eat people’s faces, but I would also not expect the House Democrats to calmly seek an injunction against the eating of people’s faces, fight in court forever to get the justice department’s legal justifications for executive branch face eating, and to continue business as usual while waiting for things to make it through the courts. Even if fencing masks are prohibited in the halls of congress, they would seem like a reasonable precaution when inviting the president to give the State of the Union.

    When presented with someone who is destroying norms of governance, you have to violate the norms the minimal amount necessary to demonstrate that this isn’t normal, and to avoid normalizing the situation.

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  108. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    2. My overarching point is that I do have a real concern that we (the country) are moving in the direction of more trumpian politics by both parties. This strikes me as Trump becoming normalized. I find that normatively disturbing and undesirable.

    Got it. And some of us are saying that you are very late in your concern, because Trump has already been 100% normalized and the question is now what to do about it.

    Screw Godwin’s Law. Hitler has just been made chancellor. What, exactly, do you suggest the opposition should do? You’re the expert here.

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  109. Gustopher says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Screw Godwin’s Law. Hitler has just been made chancellor. What, exactly, do you suggest the opposition should do?

    Oooh, oooh, I got this answer!

    If you actually believe that Trump is literally as bad as Hitler, you need to assassinate him. It’s the baby Hitler time travel thing, but without the risk to all reality.

    I don’t think he’s Hitler. I think he’s bad, but old, fat, addled and lazy, and his own worst enemy and will never manage to live up to his worst impulses. But, I’m also comfortable and fat and lazy so it might be in my interest to decide he’s not as bad as Hitler so I don’t have to do anything.

    But you do you.

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  110. @DrDaveT:

    And some of us are saying that you are very late in your concern, because Trump has already been 100% normalized and the question is now what to do about it.

    Because, of course, I have been an advocate for the Trump administration?

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  111. @Steven L. Taylor: I mean, I have no idea why I am frustrated by these interchanges.

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  112. kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor

    This is not a criticism, but you have been a bit testy judging by your past standards. Perhaps you are trying too hard to pick up the slack that Doug’s (temporary, I hope) absence has created.

    2. My overarching point is that I do have a real concern that we (the country) are moving in the direction of more trumpian politics by both parties. This strikes me as Trump becoming normalized. I find that normatively disturbing and undesirable.

    Many of us disagree. I think it would help by expanding your thoughts and stating what you expect Democrats to do, why that would help, why their current actions are undesirable, and where you feel these actions will lead. Many people around here have been pushed to the point where they no longer wish to play by the old rules. Given that I see zero signs of today’s Right starting to hit a high-water mark, I myself have reached the point where I’m just barely persuadable that Democrats should keep to their own standards and wait for the fever to break. For 25 years I’ve refused to act like the other side. I think this past year has changed me. Ideals are great, but they mean little without power.

    3. I also tried but did not fully elucidate, that those who are calling for bitch slapping, etc. are really doing exactly what GOPers are doing at the moment: using the ends to justify the means. This requires far more elaboration, but I will just leave that here for the moment.

    I really hate the expression the ends justify the means. Of course the ends justify the means! What else could justify an action? The question must always be: does an end have sufficient value compared to the means used to obtain it? Breaking eggs as a means to bake a cake is worth it. Breaking eggs for yucks is perverse. Sacrificing a child to bake a cake is not worth it. Is bitch slapping Trump worth it to save the Republic? Of course it is. The only question is: is bitch slapping Trump an effective means of ending his presidency? But please stop saying that D’s cannot use R tactics because those means are absolutely proscribed (shades of the recent deontological discussions). If means are not absolutely forbidden, they can be understood with regards to effectiveness or with regards to cost. Personally, I doubt you can tie in your talk about means with your other ideas on politics, power and personal interest. I’ll go a bit further and speculate that this is due to your general reluctance to advocate for positive steps rather than simply analyse how structural causes lead to our current situation. But I’m very interested in hearing you address these issues over the coming months and years.

    4. I do get frustrated when people seem to ignore a large body of work to get worked up over a sentence or two in the comment section.

    On this score, I do not think that you have always made the same effort in turn. Less a criticism and more an observation. We all wish others to read between the lines we write, while insisting that they themselves write such that no misunderstandings are possible. I’m sure we all get frustrated at this, but it’s sort of baked in to the nature of the medium.

    I hope this does not come off as overly negative. I read every word you write on this blog, and feel that I’ve really learned about politics and political theory.

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  113. Kit says:

    I’d like to add that the person who consistently gets the least sympathetic reading is James. Time after time he writes about an issue that interests him, from the angle that interests him. And then he needs to furiously fill in the blanks in subsequent comments. Yes, he can be maddeningly tone deaf in gliding over some atrocity, the elephant in the room, but his point is elsewhere, and all the regulars here know where he stands. If everyone here needed to dot every i and cross every t, OTB would be a ghost town.

    Come to think of it, Doug was excellent at framing issues such that people stayed on topic. I guess that’s part of what makes for a good lawyer.

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  114. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: You’re correct that the SOTU has never been bipartisan (except for a few fleeting moments). Trump has taken it to the next level down with chants of “Four more years!” as he entered the House chamber. That sounds more like a Parteitag than a State of the Union address.

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  115. Barry says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: ” My overarching point is that I do have a real concern that we (the country) are moving in the direction of more trumpian politics by both parties. This strikes me as Trump becoming normalized. I find that normatively disturbing and undesirable.”

    Steven, if you are seeing this then you seriously need to talk with your colleagues. This is ‘bothsiderism’, a syndrome usually observed in journalists, who job is frequently to deny the truth, lest advertisers are unhappy.

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  116. @kit:

    I hope this does not come off as overly negative. I read every word you write on this blog, and feel that I’ve really learned about politics and political theory.

    A very kind and thoughtful response, and not overly negative. I appreciate you taking the time.

    I’ll go a bit further and speculate that this is due to your general reluctance to advocate for positive steps rather than simply analyse how structural causes lead to our current situation.

    BTW: I think this gets to the heart of some of the mutual frustration. I am more an analyst than an advocate.

    There are a number of points worthy of a response, but I don’t have time to do them justice.

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  117. @Kit:

    I’d like to add that the person who consistently gets the least sympathetic reading is James.

    I think this is absolutely true. Folks are often downright unkind to James, which strikes me as unnecessary.

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  118. @SC_Birdflyte: Don’t get me wrong: there is plenty to complain about in regards to Trump’s SOTU and it was one, big campaign speech.

    I just was counseling against too much romanticization of the past.

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  119. @Barry: Being concerned that Trump’s style of politics could become the norm in American party politics (the lying, the norm-breaking, the reality show populism) is decidedly not “bothsiderism.”

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  120. To put a button on all of this: I have been grumpy, testy, and more than a little impatient. So, for that, I apologize.

    As usual, the discussion has given me things to think about.

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  121. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Because, of course, I have been an advocate for the Trump administration?

    Where the heck did that come from? Nothing I have said can plausibly be interpreted as suggesting that. At all.

    No, because you have explicitly said that what the Democrats have done so far is the wrong thing, and that acting like Republicans would be the wrong thing, and that doing nothing would be the wrong thing. I’m hoping you will stop enumerating wrong things and start suggesting some right things — perhaps in a post, rather than in the comments.

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  122. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    BTW: I think this gets to the heart of some of the mutual frustration. I am more an analyst than an advocate.

    This bears repeating. And I think its a challenge in communication that people who have been through PhD training often have (myself included). Part of the professionalization of being a scholar is the move from analyst to advocate (even in soft/social sciences that often have a advocacy component, like Anthropology).

    From a reader’s perspective the line between the two sometimes feels blurry — especially when so much writing with the political space is so far weighted to advocacy.

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  123. @mattbernius: It really is the crux of a lot of this.

    I think even more specifically: the degree to which my analysis leads to advocacy is more in terms of the system and the health of US democracy, not in terms of being a strategist for the Democrats.

    And, ultimately, analysis of politics can indict both Rs and Ds. (And in a “bothsiderism” kind of way, but in a “they are all human beings (and to study politics is to study human behavior)” kind of way).

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  124. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think even more specifically: the degree to which my analysis leads to advocacy is more in terms of the system and the health of US democracy, not in terms of being a strategist for the Democrats.

    I have always appreciated that about you. And I agree with your advocacy of making institutions stronger and more *small d* democratic.

    The problem is that some people cannot conceive of that impulse not being transactional. But again, that says more about the frame/bias of analysis they bring than the content of what you and others write.

    On the other hand, for those of us who were trained to work to be reflexive about our own biases, that lack of personal insight is incredibly frustrating to read.

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  125. Barry says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “I agree. My point remains that how the Democrats act will determine how fundamental the change is, not the Reps.”

    I disagree in the sense which I think that you meant that.

    If the Dems take the high road and lose, then that means the GOP (not just Trump) will continue, because it works.
    Not only that, but they will accelerate (as Trump has), because with each step taken it’s harder to fight back.

    Note that Trump has successfully instituted a 100% blocking policy towards the House’s requests for information. That is normalization successfully done.

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  126. @Barry:

    That is normalization successfully done.

    Actually, it is a clearly successful power play. But we won’t know if it is normalized until we see the practice undertaken repeatedly and successfully over time.

    Normalizing is not whether a given actor successfully gets away with something. It is whether that action becomes routinized practice.

    This may be part of the problem with much of this conversation.

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  127. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Let me try and wrap this up as follows:

    1. I did say above that the speech-ripping struck me as counter-productive, although I am persuadable it served some purpose (though I remain dubious).

    2. My overarching point is that I do have a real concern that we (the country) are moving in the direction of more trumpian politics by both parties. This strikes me as Trump becoming normalized. I find that normatively disturbing and undesirable.

    3. I also tried but did not fully elucidate, that those who are calling for bitch slapping, etc. are really doing exactly what GOPers are doing at the moment: using the ends to justify the means. This requires far more elaboration, but I will just leave that here for the moment.

    4. I do get frustrated when people seem to ignore a large body of work to get worked up over a sentence or two in the comment section.

    I’m late to this party, but I agree with all of that. It’s why I decided not to jump into this thread at the beginning, as it was pretty clear what the zeitgeist would be.

    I think there is a long-standing problem in these debates where people confuse analysis with advocacy and get upset because they don’t meet some arbitrary level of outrage and don’t sufficiently distinguish between the “good” and “bad” guys.

    And I think it’s really unfair for people to criticize you for being testy considering you are easily the most even-keeled person here and one who consistently avoids being douchey (Although James is also excellent in this regard). You don’t engage in impugning the motives of others nor do you make uncharitable assumptions and interpretations, which is all too common.

    I think commenters here aught to cut you some slack, and you shouldn’t need to apologize for getting cranky every once in a while. Rather I think those here who’ve been uncharitable are the ones that owe you an apology.

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  128. @Andy: Thanks for the note and the kind words.

    And, yup:

    I think there is a long-standing problem in these debates where people confuse analysis with advocacy and get upset because they don’t meet some arbitrary level of outrage and don’t sufficiently distinguish between the “good” and “bad” guys.

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  129. mattbernius says:

    @Andy:

    get upset because they don’t meet some arbitrary level of outrage and don’t sufficiently distinguish between the “good” and “bad” guys

    Important build on the discussion. Well noted!

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  130. dmichael says:

    I am also “late to the party” but feel that there is a much larger issue to these discussions. I read this blog because I feel that the posts (by Doug, James and Steven) are worth reading. I frequently don’t agree with all of what is written but that is expected and okay. While I fully understand the difficulties in writing multiple essays during a week, I have felt that in the last several weeks, a number of posts have been “dashed off.” When the author was challenged, the author became defensive and frequently used some form of “you just don’t understand.” I have failed to understand many things but generally not those essays that were clearly written. This post starts with the assertion that all involved, including the Speaker hadn’t “even bothered to pretend to follow the rules of decorum.” The essence of “both sides do it” and judgments by the “civility police.” Steven apparently agreed but then when challenged, sought to explain and then began complaining about the criticism. If the post had originally stated that Pelosi’s actions in ripping up the speech was counterproductive (doubtful from what I have seen) it would have been more defensible. It wasn’t about that and the critical comments were justified.

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  131. Barry says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: ” Being concerned that Trump’s style of politics could become the norm in American party politics (the lying, the norm-breaking, the reality show populism) is decidedly not “bothsiderism.””

    Except that on a scale of 0 (Mythical Bidenesque comeradery) to 100 (Trump), the Democratic Party is what? 20? 15? 10?

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  132. Barry says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “Actually, it is a clearly successful power play. But we won’t know if it is normalized until we see the practice undertaken repeatedly and successfully over time.”

    Technically true, but how do you expect to see the next GOP president treat requests from a Democratic Party?

    My guess is that the starting position will be Trump’s, and everything below it will be from Democratic hard ball.

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  133. Barry says:

    @Barry: There’s a viewpoint difference here:

    I expect that the next GOP President will *start* with Trump’s pattern. It’s been very, very well proven to work, and that’s *if* Trump loses in 2020 (if he wins, *this* will be the Good Old Days).

    It will also contaminate the next Democratic President. Less so, IMHO, because the parties are different, and the media will treat him/her more like an ordinary politician.

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  134. Barry says:

    @Barry: A Democratic House, rather.

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