Pondering the Pundits

Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news media and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

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Paul Krugman: Trump Is Abusing His Tariff Power, Too

More contempt for the rule of law.So here’s the story: Donald Trump has abused the powers of his office to threaten a U.S. ally. His threat is probably illegal; his refusal to produce documents about his decision process is definitely illegal. And his claims about the motivation for his actions don’t pass the laugh test.

You probably think that I’m talking about Trump’s attempt to pressure Ukraine into producing political dirt on Joe Biden by withholding aid, and the subsequent cover-up — you know, the stuff for which he has been impeached (and that half the country believes should lead to his removal from office). But there’s another, somewhat similar story: his repeated threats to impose prohibitive tariffs on imports of automobiles from Europe.

Granted, the auto tariff story isn’t as vile as the Ukraine story, and it poses less of a direct threat to a fair election. But it’s recognizably part of the same syndrome: abuse of presidential power, contempt for the rule of law, and dishonesty about motivations.

Petra Costa: Bolsonaro’s War on Truth

Brazil is mired in an endless drama, while its government is bringing democracy to the brink.

SÃO PAULO, Brasil — On Jan. 13, a documentary film I directed, “The Edge of Democracy,” was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary feature. In the film, I intertwine the rise and fall of the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff presidencies and the election of Jair Bolsonaro with my own family story. I am the same age as Brazil’s democracy, and much of the country’s deep polarization mirrors my family divisions.

Following the nomination, my team was flooded with messages on social media congratulating us. But our government responded differently. [..]

There is no visible light at the end of the tunnel in this culture war that seeks to censor liberal and progressive values and the destruction of the truth to impose a tropical fascism. As I point out in “The Edge of Democracy,” the elite got tired of playing democracy. As the history of Nazism reminds us, the elites who were silent in the face of the advance of authoritarianism ultimately ended up swallowed by it. Extinction is the price of omission.

Ezra Klein: Why Democrats Still Have to Appeal to the Center, but Republicans Don’t

Polarization has changed the two parties — just not in the same way.

American politics has been dominated by the Democratic and Republican Parties since the Civil War. That gives us the illusion of stability — that today’s political divisions cut roughly the same lines as yesteryear.

But in recent decades, the two parties have been changing, and fast. Those changes are ideological — the Democratic Party has moved left, and the Republican Party has moved right. But more fundamentally, those changes are compositional: Democrats have become more diverse, urban, young and secular, and the Republican Party has turned itself into a vehicle for whiter, older, more Christian and more rural voters.

This is the root cause of intensifying polarization: our differences, both ideological and demographic, map onto our party divisions today in ways they didn’t in the past. But the changes have not affected the parties symmetrically.

Put simply, Democrats can’t win running the kinds of campaigns and deploying the kinds of tactics that succeed for Republicans. They can move to the left — and they are — but they can’t abandon the center or, given the geography of American politics, the center-right, and still hold power. Democrats are modestly, but importantly, restrained by diversity and democracy. Republicans are not.

Catherine Rampell: Trump’s Treasury secretary just admitted the tariff rationale is hogwash

Perhaps distracted by the beauty and billionaires of Davos, Switzerland, this week Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin let slip an embarrassing admission: President Trump’s justification for his trade wars is hogwash.

For two years, the administration has offered increasingly ludicrous explanations for its tariffs. Sometimes tariffs are designed to shield pet U.S. industries from unfair competition. (Those industries are still shuttering plants despite the tariffs, but no matter.) Sometimes, tariffs are instead intended to raise revenue from abroad. (That additional tax revenue is being paid by Americans, not foreigners, but whatever.)

Perhaps the most farcical rationale, however, has been that massive tariffs are necessary to safeguard America’s “national security.”

It’s true that Congress, in the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, authorized the president to impose tariffs when national security is at stake. Historically, presidents have invoked this authority regarding sensitive commodities, such as uranium and oil. The law’s language is pretty broad, though. That makes it ripe for mishandling by a president inclined to abuse it.

And this one certainly is.

Amanda Marcotte: How the anti-choice movement’s lies laid the foundation for Donald Trump’s big cover-up

It was anti-abortion fanatics who taught Republicans how to lie so shamelessly — and Donald Trump is grateful

In the midst of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, as Democrats continue to lay out a flawless case demonstrating the president’s guilt, Trump is turning to the anti-sex lady-hater brigade to bolster him. That’s right: On Friday, Trump will become the first president to show up in person at the annual March for Life. Other Republican presidents have just phoned in their remarks from a distance, since while they need the votes of anti-abortion fanatics, they have clearly found such people as pleasant to be around as the rest of us do.

But Trump is desperate to shore himself up with his almighty base, and that means maximum pandering to the people who have a fetish for forced childbirth. So he’s got to show up and talk directly to the fundamentalists and the squads of high school virgins they bus in, using them to fill out the ranks of marchers before those teens start having sex and drifting away from the anti-choice movement.

That Trump is turning to these people as a comfort blanket and a shield against the political damage of impeachment might seem strange at first: What does punishing women for having sex have to do with blackmailing Ukraine? But in truth, the whole situation makes a lot of sense if we unpack it a little.