Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sunday Reading

Speak Up — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker.

Donald Trump’s two immediate predecessors as President, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both gave speeches on Thursday that, if you filled in the blanks, could be heard as criticizing him. Neither one of them mentioned Trump’s name. They both had valuable, even strong things to say. Obama, for example, in a rally in Richmond, Virginia, for Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate for governor there, which had been billed as Obama’s return to the campaign trail, talked about wanting someone with “honesty, integrity,” to make decisions, and at one point asked, almost plaintively, “Why are we deliberately trying to misunderstand each other, and be cruel to each other, and put each other down?” Bush, at an event in New York sponsored by the George W. Bush Presidential Center, was less subtle. “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication,” he said—though there was no particular conspiracy theory or lie that he named, and no particular liar.

Each man could say, fairly enough, that former Presidents tend to avoid direct criticism of the sitting one, but this rule, in practice, would seem to be a recent one, and not indispensible. (Theodore Roosevelt attacked, belittled, and mounted a primary challenge against a successor whom he had handpicked.) Bush could say that his speech, at a forum on liberty sponsored by the George W. Bush Center, was not the appropriate forum—that it had more reflective goals than narrowly partisan ones. Obama could also have offered a parallel reservation—since the goal was to turn out the vote for Northam without spurring Trump supporters to show up—that his speech had more narrowly partisan goals than reflective ones. But then where and when is the right time and place for something more?

Northam, in his opening remarks, wasn’t shy about saying that his opponent, Ed Gillespie, who has worked as a lobbyist, would be “Donald Trump’s chief lobbyist,” and that he and Trump were “cut from the same cloth.” This is a useful issue, which the Democrats need to practice raising for the midterms next year: Republican leaders have been willing support Trump, whatever they think of him personally or of his tweets. Obama, referring to Gillespie only as “Ralph’s opponent,” said that the ads that Gillespie was running against Northam, who, before going into politics, worked as a doctor at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center while serving in the military, and then as a pediatric neurologist, were “phony and divisive.” One ad is a montage of images of the MS-13 drug cartel, juxtaposing its motto—“Kill, Rape, Control”—with Northam’s support for sanctuary cities. (One shot shows a wall with a mural—a street-style painting of Northam and an MS-13 graffiti tag.) “I don’t think that anybody really thinks that somebody who spent his life performing surgery on soldiers and children suddenly is cozying up to street gangs,” Obama said. “That strains credulity—that sounds like a fib!” True—but maybe it would be helpful to note who else it sounds like? If Obama wants to campaign for his party—and wants his party to present a coherent alternative to Trumpism—he may need to be more than allusive.

This may come at the cost of a certain post-Presidential glow. It is valuable to have someone above the fray, but Obama, whether he likes it or not, is in it. Trump, in his press conference on Monday, portrayed himself as being in an open fight against Obama’s legacy, and he derides and even smears his predecessor at almost every turn. (Obama’s most direct response to this week’s theme, his supposed inattentiveness to military families, came when he mentioned, in relation to Northam’s career, his own frequent visits to Walter Reed.) Obama was so committed, on Thursday, to conveying the message that politics could and should be a sunny place that he cited the aftermath of the violent far-right rallies in Charlottesville as a moment when “the decency and goodwill of the American people came out.” And they did; but President Trump’s affinity for bigotry came out, too.

The elder-statesman stage of life is an appealing one. Bush, in his speech, mentioned his painting hobby. But this is a time when each man’s party needs him, if in different ways: the Democrats to organize their despair and anger, the Republicans to articulate the nature of their doubt and compromises. And others have set the stage for them. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, who is retiring at the end of his current term, recently said that almost everyone in his caucus knows “the volatility we’re dealing with” when it come to Trump, even if they don’t say so. Senator Jeff Flake is one of the few others who have been willing to say so and, in response, he has been subject to attacks from the President, with too few Republicans coming to his defense. John McCain gave a powerful speech in which he talked about “half-baked, spurious nationalism.” That speech didn’t name Trump, either. But McCain, who is gravely ill, has a prerogative to speak beyond the current political moment while he can. McCain has also criticized Trump by name, and put his own name down in a key vote protecting health-care coverage, knowing that the President would lash out at him. Bush echoed McCain’s language, no doubt deliberately, when he said, “We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism—forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.” But both Bush and Obama have more room to maneuver; they can take up McCain’s challenge and carry it further, if they want to.

This is particularly urgent because of what the White House has said recently about who does and doesn’t have a right to criticize the President directly. In Trump’s efforts to suppress complaints about the ongoing disaster in Puerto Rico, he has suggested that a Puerto Rican politician who doesn’t appreciate the greatness of the job he is doing is a liar and should be shut out. This view was also on display in the press conference that Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, gave yesterday, in which he lashed out against what he saw as the presumption of a congresswoman who had conveyed a young military widow’s sense that Trump had been callous in a condolence call about the death of her husband. Kelly connected this complaint to the loss of the “sacred” in America, yet he ignored the voice of Johnson’s mother, who also said that she found Trump disrespectful. This suggests that the problem was less protocol than dissent. In Kelly’s litany of lost values, he included this puzzling line: “Gold Star families, I think that left in the Convention over the summer.” In fact, the most notable moment concerning Gold Star families in last year’s conventions came at the Democratic gathering, when Khizr Khan, whose son Humayun was killed in Iraq, spoke out against Trump. The next round of conventions is sooner than one might think. Obama and Bush—if he is invited—might have powerful things to say at them. They’ve at least made a start. But they, more than most, can make their voices heard, and shouldn’t wait until 2020 to use them.

The Darkness Reaching Out — Charles P. Pierce.

This strikes me as a terribly sad moment. Everything and everybody this president* touches goes bad from the inside out. And it doesn’t matter to me whether people volunteered to work for him or not. In Oliver Stone’s Nixon, there’s a great scene on the Key Bridge at night where Ed Harris’s Howard Hunt warns a very tremulous John Dean, played by David Hyde-Pierce. Nixon, Hunt tells Dean, “is the darkness reaching out for the darkness in everyone.” That was true, but this is what we know now: in this, Nixon was a rank amateur. From The New York Times:

Mr. Kelly said that he was stunned to see the criticism, which came from a Democratic congresswoman, Representative Frederica S. Wilson of Florida, after Mr. Trump delivered a similar message to the widow of one of the soldiers killed in Niger. Mr. Kelly said afterward that he had to collect his thoughts by going to Arlington National Cemetery for more than an hour. In a remarkable, somber appearance in the White House briefing room, Mr. Kelly, a retired Marine general whose son Second Lt. Robert Kelly was slain in battle in 2010, said he had told the president what he was told when he got the news.

“He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed,” Mr. Kelly recalled. “He knew what he was getting into by joining that one percent. He knew what the possibilities were, because we were at war.” “I was stunned when I came to work yesterday, and brokenhearted, when I saw what a member of Congress was doing,” he said. “What she was saying, what she was doing on TV. The only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go walk among the finest men or women on this earth.”

That’s how he gets absolved. That’s how he always gets absolved. There’s always somebody willing to step up and push their soul to the middle of the table for him to gamble with and, when he loses, because he always loses at the game of being human, he reneges on the bet because that’s what he always does. Of all the “generals,” Kelly always was the one closest to being a true Trumpian; his tenure at Homeland Security overseeing ICE showed that Kelly at least was sympatico with the president*’s Id-driven hardbar approach to immigration.

And now, by deploying the memory of his son, he’s given his inexcusable boss that boss’s most recent alibi for that boss’s most recent offense against human decency and the dignity of his office. There’s a great sadness in that.

It’s True — Facts from Sarah Hutto.

IN “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD,” the “zombies” were in fact very much alive, as the studio chose not to go through the Zombie Actors Equity. In retaliation, union zombies went on to overtake local drinking establishments, playing fantasy football for hours, dominating the jukebox with college rock and tipping poorly.

STEPHEN KING WAS INSPIRED to write “Pet Sematary” when he found out one of his sons had been sacrificing small animals in the family barn. When Mr. King confronted him, his son transformed into a weird clown who had the power of bringing forth all of Mr. King’s most deeply held insecurities at any given moment, prompting Mr. King to drive off wildly into the Maine woods in his car, which he also believed to be possessed. Soon after, he retired to Florida to write inappropriate children’s books under a different name.

WHILE FILMING “THE NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET,” the director Wes Craven felt that Freddy Kruger’s original costume of just fingernail extensions and a striped sweater wasn’t scary enough, so he decided to permanently melt Robert Englund’s face at the last moment for effect. The actor claims to have been typecast ever since as a result, as well as generally inconvenienced by the whole melted face thing.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK RELEASED “The Birds” in 1963 only to die 17 years later. Though it did not involve birds in any way, his death at age 80 was felt by many to be more than just coincidence.

FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER WAS first cousins with the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.” They shared a congenital defect of stiff joints and were both prescribed an oil can. Only the Tin Man got to use his oil can on set, and as a result was able to go on to star in “The Iron Giant,” “RoboCop” and “Mad Max.” Frankenstein’s monster unfortunately succumbed to his defect as well as the rust caused by his ungalvanized neck bolt.

IMMEDIATELY AFTER FILMING “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” Snoopy was rushed into surgery for a buildup of urethral crystals. He survived the surgery and was put on a low-starch diet, but was never quite the same after.

THE “OCT” PART OF OCTOBER means “eight” in Latin, which is now a dead language because it went skinny dipping at dusk in the lake, unlike French and German, which chose to remain at the bonfire with the rest of the group.

THERE’S NO SUCH THING as ghosts, but there are bugs that crawl into your ear canal while you’re sleeping and emit negative subliminal messages, ever eating away at your sense of well-being.

MOST PEOPLE KNOW more about Jamie Lee Curtis’s bowel issues than they do about Nafta.

THE REAL COSTUMES are the ones we wear the other 364 days of the year.

YOU’RE TURNING into your mother. Or your father. Whichever one is worse, you’re turning into.

CLIMATE CHANGE is real.

PUMPKINS are a fruit.

Doonesbury — Flashback.

One bark on “Sunday Reading

  1. Amazing that W seems statesmanlike now. He should tread lightly when it comes to talking about outright fabrications, though.

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