Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sunday Reading

Overwhelming the Hate — McKay Coppins in The Atlantic on how counter-protest shut down the Nazis in Boston.

WOBURN, Mass. — Kyle Chapman was sitting in a dimly lit Irish pub about 20 minutes outside of Boston, where Saturday afternoon’s so-called “Free Speech Rally” had just been shut down by tens of thousands of counter-protesters.“The white man is one of the most discriminated against people in this entire country right now,” he explained.

Chapman—a muscly right-wing organizer who went viral earlier this year after video footage showed him swinging a heavy wooden stick at liberal Berkley demonstrators—had been scheduled to speak at the rally on Boston Common. But organizers ended up pulling the plug early, he said, when the crowd of counter-protesters grew too large. After being escorted to safety by police, he and other attendees retired here to lick their (metaphorical) wounds.

“I was definitely concerned for my safety and the safety of the other attendees,” Chapman said. “The barricades [that police] set up were four-foot barricades and … there would have been no way to stop the alt-left domestic terrorists if they decided to attack us.”

There had, in fact, been a smattering of violent incidents in the midst of the sprawling protests outside the event—mostly egged on by the minority of “antifa” agitators in the crowd. Beyond that, police said the demonstrations were overwhelmingly peaceful: About 33 arrests had been made out of a crowd of 40,000. After last week’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia turned fatal, local police here had come prepared for the worst. But the scene in Boston was starkly different.People spread out blankets on the grass and munched on snacks, cheering on the upbeat counter-protesters—who, by some estimates, outnumbered the free speech rally-goers by more than a thousand to one—as they marched down Charles Street. Some dressed up for the occasion: A middle-aged guy with a man bun  sported a tank top with “Resistance” spelled out across his chest in glittery gold; a group of women wearing pointy black hats and matching veils silently roamed the Common carrying a sign announcing themselves as “Witches against white supremacy.” Protesters carried posters that read, “Not in my city,” and joined in periodic chants of, “Fuck the Nazis!”

As with most large political demonstrations, the scene took on an absurdist quality at times. At one point, Black Lives Matter activists lit a flag on fire, prompting a tattooed onlooker in a Red Sox cap to launch into a profanity-laced rant about the lack of patriotism on display. A heated argument followed between him and a few other bystanders, which went on for several minutes before someone pulled the tattooed ranter aside and asked, “You know that was a Confederate flag, right?”

“It was a Confederate?”“Yeah.”

He paused for a moment to process this information, and then smiled sheepishly. “Shhh,” he said, pressing a finger to his lips. He then returned to his argument.

Organizers were adamant in the days leading up to the Free Speech Rally that they were not supporting white nationalism, and disapproved of the beliefs that were showcased in Charlottesville. They said they would throw out anyone who showed up in neo-Nazi garb, or brought signs advocating for white supremacy.

At the same time, the small group that gathered on Boston Common clearly shared some ideological sympathies with the alt-right movement—a dynamic that could make it increasingly difficult to untangle the extremist racial elements from the broader American right.

Chapman, for example, told me he did not under any circumstances consider himself a white nationalist. “But I can tell you that there is a war against whites,” he said. “Whites are discriminated against en masse. I personally have been the victim of multiple hate crimes. As a people, we do have our own grievances, we do have our own story to tell.” Until it becomes safe to discuss that reality in mainstream political circles, he argued, victimized whites will continue to gravitate toward the alt-right.

Chapman says “free speech” is his primary concern, and added that it was the one reason libertarians like himself would come to the defense of Richard Spencer and his ilk. “I don’t really know them personally, and I don’t know if they’re bad people personally,” he said. But “they had the right to assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights in Charlottesville. And those rights were intentionally suppressed.”

Joe Biggs—a former InfoWars writer who was among the first proponents of the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that claimed a Clinton-linked pedophile ring was operating out of a Washington, D.C. pizzeria—was also among the scheduled speakers who didn’t get to deliver his remarks before the rally was shut down. He fumed that the mainstream media was to blame for perpetuating a false narrative that they were white supremacists. (“I think I’ve dated one white woman in my entire life,” he said in an attempt to demonstrate his lack of prejudice, noting noting that his wife is Guyanese.) But even if they were, he argued, the First Amendment would protect them. “Hate speech is allowed!” he said.

But Biggs’s free-speech zealotry wasn’t completely without limit. When I asked whether he considered Saturday’s massive gathering of counter-protesters a victory for free speech, he thought about it. He mused that if they were so offended by the rally, they could have just stayed away. And while he said he supported their right to stand outside and demonstrate their disapproval, the protesters had gone too far.

“When you sound like an angry, violent mob, you’ve lost the high ground,” he said, “and now you’re just scum.”

Saw It Coming — David Remnick in The New Yorker on Trump’s true allegiances.

Early last November, just before Election Day, Barack Obama was driven through the crisp late-night gloom of the outskirts of Charlotte, as he barnstormed North Carolina on behalf of Hillary Clinton. He was in no measure serene or confident. The polls, the “analytics,” remained in Clinton’s favor, yet Obama, with the unique vantage point of being the first African-American President, had watched as, night after night, immense crowds cheered and hooted for a demagogue who had launched a business career with blacks-need-not-apply housing developments in Queens and a political career with a racist conspiracy theory known as birtherism. During his speech in Charlotte that night, Obama warned that no one really changes in the Presidency; rather, the office “magnifies” who you already are. So if you “accept the support of Klan sympathizers before you’re President, or you’re kind of slow in disowning it, saying, ‘Well, I don’t know,’ then that’s how you’ll be as President.”

Donald Trump’s ascent was hardly the first sign that Americans had not uniformly regarded Obama’s election as an inspiring chapter in the country’s fitful progress toward equality. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, had branded him the “food-stamp President.” In the right-wing and white-nationalist media, Obama was, variously, a socialist, a Muslim, the Antichrist, a “liberal fascist,” who was assembling his own Hitler Youth. A high-speed train from Las Vegas to Anaheim that was part of the economic-stimulus package was a secret effort to connect the brothels of Nevada to the innocents at Disneyland. He was, by nature, suspect. “You just look at the body language, and there’s something going on,” Trump said, last summer. In the meantime, beginning on the day of Obama’s first inaugural, the Secret Service fielded an unprecedented number of threats against the President’s person.

And so, speeding toward yet another airport last November, Obama seemed like a weary man who harbored a burning seed of apprehension. “We’ve seen this coming,” he said. “Donald Trump is not an outlier; he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party for the past ten, fifteen, twenty years. What surprised me was the degree to which those tactics and rhetoric completely jumped the rails.”

For half a century, in fact, the leaders of the G.O.P. have fanned the lingering embers of racial resentment in the United States. Through shrewd political calculation and rhetoric, from Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” to the latest charges of voter fraud in majority-African-American districts, doing so has paid off at the ballot box. “There were no governing principles,” Obama said. “There was no one to say, ‘No, this is going too far, this isn’t what we stand for.’ ”

Last week, the world witnessed Obama’s successor in the White House, unbound and unhinged, acting more or less as Obama had predicted. In 2015, a week after Trump had declared his candidacy, he spoke in favor of removing the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s capitol: “Put it in the museum and let it go.” But, last week, abandoning the customary dog whistle of previous Republican culture warriors, President Trump made plain his indulgent sympathy for neo-Nazis, Klan members, and unaffiliated white supremacists, who marched with torches, assault rifles, clubs, and racist and anti-Semitic slogans through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. One participant even adopted an ISIS terror tactic, driving straight into a crowd of people peaceably demonstrating against the racists. Trump had declared an “America First” culture war in his Inaugural Address, and now—as his poll numbers dropped, as he lost again and again in the courts and in Congress, as the Mueller investigation delved into his miserable business history, as more and more aides leaked their dismay—he had cast his lot with the basest of his base. There were some “very fine people” among the white nationalists, he said, and their “culture” should not be threatened.

Who could have predicted it? Anyone, really. Two years ago, the Daily Stormer, the foremost neo-Nazi news site in the country, called on white men to “vote for the first time in our lives for the one man who actually represents our interests.” Trump never spurned this current of his support. He invited it, exploited it. With Stephen Bannon, white nationalism won prime real estate in the West Wing. Bannon wrote much of the inaugural speech, and was branded “The Great Manipulator” in a Time cover story that bruised the Presidential ego. But Bannon has been marginalized for months. Last Friday, in the wake of Charlottesville, Trump finally pushed him out. He is headed back to Breitbart News. But he was staff; his departure is hardly decisive. The culture of this White House was, and remains, Trump’s.

When Trump was elected, there were those who considered his history and insisted that this was a kind of national emergency, and that to normalize this Presidency was a dangerous illusion. At the same time, there were those who, in the spirit of patience and national comity, held that Trump was “our President,” and that “he must be given a chance.” Has he had enough of a chance yet? After his press conference in the lobby of Trump Tower last Tuesday, when he ignored the scripted attempts to regulate his impulses and revealed his true allegiances, there can be no doubt about who he is. This is the inescapable fact: on November 9th, the United States elected a dishonest, inept, unbalanced, and immoral human being as its President and Commander-in-Chief. Trump has daily proven unyielding to appeals of decency, unity, moderation, or fact. He is willing to imperil the civil peace and the social fabric of his country simply to satisfy his narcissism and to excite the worst inclinations of his core followers.

This latest outrage has disheartened Trump’s circle somewhat; business executives, generals and security officials, advisers, and even family members have semaphored their private despair. One of the more lasting images from Trump’s squalid appearance on Tuesday was that of his chief of staff, John Kelly, who stood listening to him with a hangdog look of shame. But Trump still retains the support of roughly a third of the country, and of the majority of the Republican electorate. The political figure Obama saw as a “logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party” has not yet come unmoored from the Party’s base.

The most important resistance to Trump has to come from civil society, from institutions, and from individuals who, despite their differences, believe in constitutional norms and have a fundamental respect for the values of honesty, equality, and justice. The imperative is to find ways to counteract and diminish his malignant influence not only in the overtly political realm but also in the social and cultural one. To fail in that would allow the death rattle of an old racist order to take hold as a deafening revival.

Not Enough — Charles P. Pierce on Bannon’s exit.

Apparently, the NYT got the word that Steve Bannon will be leaving the White House to spend more time with his fellow gargoyles at Breitbart’s Mausoleum For The Otherwise Unemployable. This being Camp Runamuck, of course, the White House is saying the president* gave him the heave-ho, while Bannon says he quit a few weeks ago, and nobody knows anything about anything.

The president and senior White House officials were debating when and how to dismiss Mr. Bannon. The two administration officials cautioned that Mr. Trump is known to be averse to confrontation within his inner circle, and could decide to keep on Mr. Bannon for some time. As of Friday morning, the two men were still discussing Mr. Bannon’s future, the officials said. A person close to Mr. Bannon insisted the parting of ways was his idea, and that he had submitted his resignation to the president on Aug. 7, to be announced at the start of this week, but the move was delayed after the racial unrest in Charlottesville, Va.

While this is all entertaining as hell, and it is, and while it’s even more entertaining to speculate what vengeance Bannon and his army of angry gnomes could wreak on this presidency*, I am not going to be turning handsprings along the Charles over this development. First, it’s eight months overdue and both Stephen Miller and the ridiculous Dr. Sebastian Gorka, Ph.D. are still there. Second, I decline at the moment to believe that Bannon will be blocked entirely on the president*’s cell phone. And third, given that this is a president* who would require his paper boy to sign a non-disclosure agreement, I think it’s reasonable to speculate that Bannon’s silence will be handsomely remunerated. But there’s one more general reason that I am not popping corks over this.

Whatever else he was, Bannon was one of the few people in that operation who still at least was making mouth noises about economic populism after inauguration day. I have to think that the various corporate sublets in the Republican congressional leadership—Paul Ryan, chief among them—are looking at Bannon’s departure as an opportunity to lead a president* who knows nothing about anything right down the trail of corporate oligarchy. I’m glad he’s gone, but there’s still enough left to concern us all.

Doonesbury — Reality for sale.

Monday, August 14, 2017

This Is Us

Trying to make sense of what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday is a fool’s errand because things like that don’t — or shouldn’t — make sense in the true meaning of the term.  The people who organized the march to “unite the right” knew they would provoke a strong reaction from other people; they were counting on it.  And they got it, and I’m probably not alone in thinking that the bloodier it got, the more they liked it.

The organizers called it a march to “Unite the Right,” but it’s not as if the right really wants to “unite.”  The right-wing Establishment controls all three branches of the federal government, but to the folks who paraded through the streets with Nazi and Confederate flag, they don’t think of themselves as the same kind of right wingers that have been elected to Congress and state houses.  The marchers consider the Establishment to be weak and ineffective, and the fact that Nazis and Confederates felt compelled to come up with this demonstration, aside from provoking the outrage, was to register their opinion that the Republicans who dog-whistled and winked and nudged their way into office by exploiting the far-right base have not delivered what the Nazis and gun nuts demanded.  They want to see the immigrants loaded onto boxcars, they want to see the gays and lesbians marginalized and Muslims terrorized; they want to see whatever it is they think will make America great again, and if it takes killing a few freaks and coloreds to do it, well, that’s how they do it.  The Establishment wants basically the same thing but without the violence and echoes of Nuremberg.

Despite a tweet or two to the contrary, the far right was probably just as disappointed in Trump’s limp statement of condemnation as the rest of us were.  They expected him to stand up for them — after all, what about all those rallies where he said he would? — and now he comes out with this P.C. line about “many sides”?  To them, a true patriot would have stood with them and given them the “fire and fury” support that they saw in the campaign.  This is the one who said to “knock the crap out of them,” and cheered when demonstrators got roughed up.  Where is he now? they wonder.

The shock and the horror will fade, but now comes the reckoning.  There will be investigations, there will be the funerals, there will be the TV interviews with the neighbors, and the delving into what drove the kid from Maumee, Ohio, to step on the gas.  But if past is any guide, it will be the same kind of short-term navel-gazing until the next distraction comes along, the same way we deal with mass shootings and similar fits of madness.

It’s common practice for pundits and TV shrinks to say things like “we are all to blame” for whatever is the incident of the moment, whether its a mass shooting or a bridge collapse.  It’s an easy way to get out of offending anyone and letting us move on.  But in this case, that’s not the case.

Every person who voted for Trump owns this.  It doesn’t matter why; whether they hated Hillary Clinton and her e-mails or her laugh or her wardrobe collection; whether they were an aggrieved white person who had harbored resentment against Barack Obama for being the first black president and who was able to pull off two terms without so much as a whisper of scandal and thereby disproving all of their crackpot theories about the inferiority of the African-American race; or if they just voted for Trump because that’s the way to show the rest of America that they too think the way to run the country is through tantrums and bullying.  In the end it doesn’t matter why; they just did.  And now they see what they have wrought.

We heard a lot of Republican elected officials express outrage and put forth a lot of “thoughts and prayers” for the victims, and they felt safe joining the chorus who said Trump’s Saturday statement was less than enough.  But they have been enabling him since the election — some of them long before — and now they’re shocked and saddened as if this was completely unexpected.  All that proves is that they are either too stupid to recognize what was going on or they were willfully ignorant of the shouts and banners that came along with the marchers who goose-stepped through Charlottesville.  They have been to these rallies before.  They have heard the chants.  They were there.  They did nothing.  Now they have to answer for it.

So what do we do?  First, we do not accept that there are two sides to this.  In their worst day of whatever demonstrations the left has held in the last forty years, they never came close to the vitriol and aggravated hatred that has been seen at the average Trump rally, let alone last weekend.  There is simply no comparison, and anyone who says there is is full of shit.  Second, we must stand up to this kind of bullying and hatred and not allow it to be bellowed unanswered.  There must be a firm stand against this kind of hatred and bigotry.  That they have the right to say it is not in dispute.  But that doesn’t give them the license to go unanswered or not be held responsible for the consequences.  If people get fired from their jobs for spouting hate, that’s not a violation of the First Amendment; it’s an enforcement of a code of civil and responsible behavior as a citizen.

Most importantly, we need to recognize that this is who we are.  There are people in this country who would do it harm by trying to remake it in a perverted interpretation of laws and genetics.  It’s not a matter of “both sides are equally responsible.”  It’s a matter of seeing those among us whose values and objectives are dangerous to the country we have become over the last 240 years and who believe the only way to get it to where they want it is through violence and tyranny.  There are more of us who believe in stable government, the rule of law, equality for all, and peace in our streets than those who don’t.  It is well beyond the time to stand up.  That is what we do.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

Short Takes

South Korea to North Korea: Let’s talk.

Flash flood kills swimmers in Arizona.

Gunfire at Venezuela protest vote kills one.

Iran jails U.S. national accused of spying.

R.I.P. Martin Landau, 89, star of “Mission: Impossible” and Oscar winner.

The Tigers got out of the cellar this week.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Short Takes

Italy may stop ship unloading migrants.

Forty arrested for protesting healthcare bill on Capitol Hill.

U.S. to hold off on further airline laptop bans.

Miami-Dade public schools achieve no “F” schools status.

Arkansas Ten Commandments monument run over.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

There’s Protest and Then There’s Protest

Via Booman:

In Arizona, the Senate just passed a bill that would “would open up protests to anti-racketeering legislation, targeting protesters with the same laws used to combat organized crime syndicates.”

The same bill would “allow police to seize the assets of anyone involved in a protest that at some point becomes violent.”

A Florida Republican introduced a bill that would make it easier to run over protesters with your car without being legally liable. North Dakota and Tennessee Republicans have done the same.

In Minnesota, Republicans are pushing a bill that would allow the police to charge protesters for the cost of policing their rallies and marches.

Not to be outdone, Mississippi Republicans want to make blocking traffic a crime punishable by a $10,000 fine and five years in prison.

There are also a bunch of bills coming out of states like South Dakota, Colorado, and Oklahoma aimed at greatly stiffening penalties for interfering in the operation of pipelines.

So far, none of these bill have become law, and most of them are unconstitutional. But they indicate a certain mood.

When the Tea Party was doing their rallies back in 2009 and 2010, the Republicans loved the unfettered exercise of FREEDOM!  Now they’re all worked up because these traitors are showing disrespect to their Dear Leader.

Or maybe it’s because the crowds of protestors are a whole lot bigger than what the Tea Party could muster and they don’t like that, either.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sunday Reading

Hard-Pressed — Evan Osnos in The New Yorker on Trump’s relationship with the media.

Even before the White House press corps was born—in 1896, when newspapers assigned reporters to a table outside the office of Grover Cleveland’s secretary—attentive reporters irritated occupants of the White House. To hide the fact that he had a tumor, Cleveland, in 1893, disappeared from Washington for four days to have surgery aboard a friend’s yacht. In 1913, Woodrow Wilson, who hated the press’s fascination with his three daughters, accused “certain evening newspapers” of quoting him on things he meant to stay off the record. He eventually all but abandoned news conferences. It was six years before Warren G. Harding, who had been a newspaper publisher, revived the tradition.

And, yet, over the years, almost every President has adopted a fruitful, if tense, mutual dependence with the press. Each needs something from the other, and both sides know it. Bruce Catton, a correspondent in the nineteen-forties, defined the constant business of leaking as information that officials were “either unwilling or unready” to reveal by name. Anonymity, ritually bemoaned and practiced by both sides, endures because it allows members of government, high and low, to speak more freely. Earlier this month, anonymity allowed the Washington Post to report, on the basis of nine sources, that Michael Flynn, the national-security adviser, had discussed Obama Administration sanctions with the Russian ambassador before Donald Trump took office, contrary to what Flynn told his colleagues. (Three days later, Flynn resigned.) Early Friday, CNN cited unnamed officials to report that the F.B.I. had rejected a White House request to dispute media reports that Trump’s campaign advisers were frequently in touch with Russian intelligence agents.

Anonymity, of course, is also a tool of the White House. On Thursday, one of Trump’s advisers e-mailed me a statement that began with the words “A WH official confirmed.” In Washington, anonymity, as Winston Churchill said of democracy, is a lousy solution, except for all the others.

But under Donald Trump, the dynamic between the press and the President has turned toxic. As a real-estate developer, Trump was, for many years, an energetic anonymous source (even pretending to be his own P.R. man to salt the local papers with news about himself), but Trump has bridled against the scrutiny applied to every President since Cleveland. On Friday morning, about an hour after his press secretary, Sean Spicer, and chief of staff, Reince Priebus, held an anonymous briefing for the press, Trump publicly excoriated the press’s use of anonymity. In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, he said, “I called the fake news ‘the enemy of the people’—and they are. They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources, they just make them up when there are none.” At one point, he posed changes that would effectively alter the First Amendment, saying, “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name.” He added, “We’re going to do something about it.”

And do something they did. Shortly after Trump’s speech, his press office narrowed the day’s briefing to what’s known as a “gaggle”—a smaller, off-camera format that is useful for impromptu or informal updates. It turned away CNN, the Times, BuzzFeed, Politico, and other outlets that have published tough stories about his Administration lately. It ushered in Breitbart, the Washington Times, and a conservative outlet called One America Network. When Zeke Miller, of Time magazine, and Julie Pace, of the Associated Press—both of whom are on the board of the White House Correspondents Association—realized that organizations were being excluded, they left in protest. Reporters who stayed later shared the contents of the briefing in full.

The White House defended its actions by saying that every White House holds handpicked, off-the-record sessions, but reporters noted that this was an on-the-record briefing. “In the six years I’ve been here, I’ve never been a party to a gaggle that was not on Air Force One or on the road,” Mark Landler, a senior White House correspondent at the Times, told me. “Handpicking the participants is totally new.”

By day’s end, news organizations still couldn’t decipher whether the change was temporary—a kind of press-office panic attack—or a more permanent turn. Davan Maharaj, the editor-in-chief and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, which was among the excluded, told me, “We don’t know what this means. We don’t know if Spicer is under pressure to show that he’s being tougher with the press. We don’t know if this is another effort at manipulation to shift the topic from whether the Administration inappropriately tried to influence the F.B.I. on the Russian investigation. What it does seem like is another effort to target the press as the disloyal opposition and an attack on what objective truth is.”

There was, of course, no shortage of reasons for the White House to shift the topic. In addition to contacting the F.B.I., according to the Washington Post, the White House also “enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates’ ties to Russia”—a development that drew comparisons to Richard Nixon’s attempts to stifle the Watergate investigation. In another blow, the White House was confronting an article in the Forward, headlined, “Senior Trump Aide Forged Key Ties to Anti-Semitic Groups in Hungary,” which focussed on Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to the President, who rose through the far-right edge of Hungarian politics.

“I think there are two things going on,” Maharaj said. “I think there is a clear effort to bring the press to heel, something that’s not going to happen to the people who are the purveyors of high-quality journalism in the press in the United States. There’s also a clear effort to delegitimize credible sources of information so when something happens, when we or the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post pop a story, that there’s a record of already discrediting the source.”

So far, news organizations have been galvanized by the pressure. The Washington Post has added a new motto to its front page: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” And the L.A. Times has printed up T-shirts, for staff and the public, with the phrase “We will not shut up” in thirteen languages. “Look, we all joined this business to hold officials accountable and to search for truth and to be vigorous in that search,” Maharaj said.

In the days to come, there will be questions to settle. Will the White House Correspondents Association, which said it was “protesting strongly” the exclusions, urge members to boycott the briefings? (For its part, The New Yorker will not attend White House briefings until the exclusions are ended, according to David Remnick, the editor of the magazine.) Will members of Congress see it as another sign of the President’s authoritarian turn? In a telling sign of displeasure, Representative Darrell Issa, the California Republican who had supported Trump in the campaign, called, on Friday, for a special prosecutor to manage the investigation into contacts between Trump associates and Russia.

The course of events will be shaped, above all, by the President himself. Barring a critical press is a step that Trump’s predecessors avoided even at the depths of scandal. During Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the Monica Lewinsky affair, they continued to engage the press because an open society is at the heart of the values that compelled them to seek the White House in the first place. As Spicer himself said in December, the Trump Administration never planned to ban a news outlet: “Conservative, liberal, or otherwise, I think that’s what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.”

Every President is tempted, at times, to cower, to bully, to flee—even to a friend’s yacht. For Trump, there is an added incentive. He has at his disposal, and is using to full effect, something previous Presidents didn’t have: social media and a direct method of communication that bypasses the press.

But, historically, most Presidents eventually calculate that it is a ruinous strategy that only intensifies an Administration’s isolation and deepens the public’s distrust. During Grover Cleveland’s first Presidential campaign, in 1884, news broke that he had fathered an illegitimate child. He told his political aides and allies, “Whatever you do, tell the truth.” It contributed to his reputation and ultimately helped him win the White House. But in Washington today, the White House has slipped into a fragile, frantic mode, lurching from crisis to crisis, and not yet able to demonstrate whether its animating value is the preservation of its personnel or its integrity.

The Hard Part — Tim Murphy in Mother Jones on the part for the DNC.

And to think, that was the easy part. Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez was elected as chair of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday, edging out Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison in the first competitive election for the job in decades. The 55-year-old Perez, the first Latino chair of the party, will now inherit the most thankless job in politics—rebuilding a party that is at its lowest point since the 1920s.

The race was often miscast as a proxy fight between supporters of Bernie Sanders and supporters of Hillary Clinton, a framing that was unfair to both Ellison and Perez, dynamic and progressive political operatives running for a job often reserved for staid political figures. In the end, Perez’s win was not a rejection of Ellison’s vision of the party; in key ways, his campaign was an affirmation of it.

Party chair is a position typically of interest only to political junkies. But with organizers still amped up from the presidential election, the race had the feel and structure of a competitive primary, with a half-dozen candidate forums across the country and an intensive push from rank-and-file voters that recalled previous courting of superdelegates. “I’ve been lobbied consistently by phone, by email, by Facebook, by Twitter for the last month,” said Melvin Poindexter, a DNC member from Massachusetts who was supporting Ellison.

Ellison, for his part, tried to tamp down the barrage of phone calls on his behalf, which one state party chair unfavorably described as “anarchy.” But aggressive lobbying proved critical. Kerman Maddox, a DNC member from California, explained that he’d chosen Perez in part because “Tom called me more than any of the other Democratic candidates”—a sentiment echoed by other voting members.

After the results were announced, a dozen Ellison supporters—including the congressman’s brother, Eric—chanted “party for the people, not big money” from the back of the Atlanta ballroom, with a few cries of “bullshit!” thrown in. While the formal final vote, sealed on the second ballot, was 235 to 200, in a show of unity, Perez was subsequently elected by acclamation. In his first move as chair, he announced that Ellison had agreed to serve as his deputy chair.

“If you’re wearing a ‘Keith’ t-shirt—or any t-shirt—I am asking you to give everything you’ve got to support chairman Perez,” Ellison told the room. Afterward, they switched campaign pins in a show of solidarity.

In the run up to the vote, some Ellison backers argued that there was no real case for a Perez chairmanship—that he was running as a check on Sanders’ influence and little more. But DNC members I spoke with seemed to understand Perez’s pitch quite clearly: he was a turnaround artist who had retooled complex bureaucracies toward progressive ends, first at the Maryland Department of Labor, then at the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and finally as President Barack Obama’s Labor Secretary. If progressives had forgotten what they liked about Perez, they needed to look no farther than the conservative Breitbart News, which once heralded Perez “the most radical cabinet secretary since Henry Wallace,” the New Dealer who eventually bolted the Democrats to mount a third party challenge in 1948.

The fights that Perez has waged over the course of his career track closely with those Ellison cut his teeth on in Minneapolis—housing discrimination, voter suppression, and living wages. Neo-liberal stooges still have a place in the Democratic party. But the DNC chair isn’t one of them.

Beyond their shared political priorities, Perez even offered a similar diagnosis as Ellison. The party had become top-heavy, focusing too much on the presidential race, and had neglected to compete on a county-by-county level. He advocated something resembling a restoration of former chair Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy, and proposed to spend more time knocking on doors in off-year elections. There was no talk of compromising with President Donald Trump; Perez dubbed him “the worst president in the history of the United States.”

Ellison sought to win the same way he always has, through a mastery of coalition politics. His backers included American Federation of Teachers, the AFL-CIO, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, Rep. John Lewis, and Sanders—many of whom found themselves on opposing sides during the president primary. The threat by OJ Simpson counsel and Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz< to leave the party if Ellison won did not appear to have a substantial effect on voters. (Maybe they were waiting to hear from F. Lee Bailey.) He ran not as Sanders 2.0, but as a restoration of an even older form of Democratic progressivism, one evoked by the spruce-green colors on his t-shirts and tote bags—the campaign colors of his political idol, the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone.

Just a few hours before the election, there was an indication Ellison might come up short when the committee members voted on a resolution that would reinstate the party’s ban on corporate donations. The ban, which was first implemented by president-elect Barack Obama in 2008, had been dropped last year by the previous party chair, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Ellison had supported the reinstatement of the ban and envisioned a party’s fundraising model in the mold of Sanders’ small-dollar campaign. Perez never committed to reinstating the contribution ban.

The resolution brought on the most contentious 10 minutes of a weekend that, up until then, had been a love-fest. Bob Mulholland of California, the leading critic of the ban, chided critics as naive. He cited corporate opposition to ousted North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory as proof that corporations aren’t all evil. Supporters of the ban, some of the new party leaders whom had been recently elected to their posts with the backing of Sanders’s supporters, implicitly tied the resolution to the senator’s one-time candidacy, warning that the party risked alienating voters who cared about money in politics. Jessica Sell Chambers, a Sanders backer and the newly minted national committeewoman from Wyoming, offered a succinct appraisal: “I belong to the party of the people and the last time I checked corporations aren’t people.”

Inside the Westin, where Democrats began assembling on Thursday, the notion that the chair candidates were engaged in a rancorous, existential fight seemed far-fetched. Perez, who was hoarse from two days of lobbying as he made a last-minute push Friday night, had taken to calling the event “Unity Saturday.” Even the most die-hard Ellison supporters were optimistic that the party would be in good hands win or lose. Each of the leading candidates devoted portions of their stump speech to a call for unity no matter who won.

“I really just want to like put at least four of them together,” said Dolly Strazar from Hawaii, a Sanders supporter who ended up backing Perez. Another voting member, Aleita Huguenin of California, predicted that the fight would quickly simmer down. “I’ve been through too many of them,” she said. “People are a little disappointed, they have two dinners, and will be back together.”

In reality, the contentious fight over the future of the party never really described the DNC race—but there is such a battle playing out across the country. Already, Sanders supporters, both organically and with the support of the Senator’s non-profit Our Revolution, have begun targeting the party’s apparatus at state, county, and local levels. They are poised to take over the California Democratic party in May, after winning a majority of delegates to the state convention in January. The Sanders wing is ascendant in Nebraska and Wyoming, and setting its sights on Florida and Michigan. Beyond party positions, re-energized Sanders supporters are talking openly about primary challenges to Democratic officeholders who support Donald Trump’s policies.

Less than a year after only 39 of 447 DNC members endorsed Sanders’ presidential campaign, his chosen candidate came about 15 votes short of taking over the whole thing. The numbers reflect Sanders’ forces growing strength in the party, a gradual upheaval that may only be sped along by Perez’s victory. DNC members from Wyoming—where the Vermont senator notched a huge caucus victory but due to party rules emerged with few delegates—who are not on board are feeling the heat. When Bruce Palmer, the party’s vice chair, told me he was supporting Tom Perez, he conceded that it may be to his own detriment. After all, he’s got an election next month.

Town Hall Advice — Former Rep. Steve Israel has some thoughts for his GOP colleagues facing their constituents.

Unruly crowds at town halls are taking members of Congress by surprise. Many are so intimidated that they are refusing to show up. President Trump recently tweeted, “The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!”

They are not sad, Mr. President, but mad. Not long ago, I was on the receiving end.

Until last month, I represented a fairly quiet district on Long Island. For the first nine years of my time in Congress, my town halls could barely fill a closet. We held them in firehouses and libraries. The events were civil and sleepy, and my interns usually outnumbered the constituents. I’d show up in my gleaming congressional lapel pin and requisite red tie, ready for that Rockwellian view of a citizenry’s public discourse with a national leader. Then, my heart would drop when I saw mostly empty metal folding chairs.

All of that changed when the Tea Party rolled in.

In 2009, my Democratic colleagues began reporting that their town meetings were being disrupted. Civil discourse was being replaced by brawls. In some cases, police officers were brought in to protect the politicians.

Not in my district, I thought. I couldn’t even bribe my constituents into coming with free bagels and coffee.

Then it began: an avalanche of calls demanding to know when and where I’d conduct a town hall. Some of the voices had decidedly Southern accents (and I don’t mean the South Shore of Long Island). My interns usually took callers’ names and addresses, but strangely, many of the people who said they needed to attend a town hall didn’t want to leave a phone number so we could tell them when and where they could satisfy that urge.

We set an evening and searched for a site big enough to accommodate the crowd, settling on the theater at a community college. When I arrived, I saw so many people that I thought the college had scheduled a sporting event at the same time. That’s when I realized that I was the sporting event.

People were tailgating. Yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flags were hoisted everywhere. The Suffolk County Police Department was out in force.

Perhaps the lowest point of the town hall was when one member of my staff was taunted as being a socialist. She happens to be an Army veteran who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. We had arranged for the League of Women Voters to moderate the meeting so I couldn’t be accused of selecting favorable questions. That worked out fine until someone in the audience accused the League of Women Voters of being socialists, too.

Almost immediately I noticed something unusual. Every couple of minutes, people at the end of every few rows of seats would spring to their feet, then turn to the rows immediately behind them and urge others to stand — like orchestrating a wave at a baseball game. It was the first time I’d witnessed syncopated booing.

For two hours, I was called more names and booed at more times than I thought possible. At the merciful end, my politician’s instincts took hold and I approached the edge of the stage to shake hands with a group that swelled against it. Then I felt a tug on my arm. It was a police officer, surrounded by three colleagues, who said: “We think it would be a good idea to leave. Now.”

Later I saw a memo by the Tea Party Patriots giving instructions to crowds like this across the nation. It was essentially a manual for what their strategy should be at a town-hall meeting: Scream loudly, be disruptive and make clear that a significant portion of the audience does not support the agenda.

The night of my town hall, I knew the crowd was effectively stage-managed and that many people there didn’t live in my district. But I didn’t make an issue of that, as President Trump does now. It was my obligation — my job — to listen to disagreement. The people there were Americans expressing their anger and anxiety; exercising a constitutional principle to petition their grievances to government. It wasn’t a pleasant night, but it was a patriotic one.

So my advice to those members of Congress who are hiding out or delaying is this: You can run for re-election, but you can’t hide from the American people.

The longer you wait, the louder it will get.

 Doonesbury — Just the guy for the job.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Monday, January 30, 2017

Fellow Travelers

No one who was paying any attention to the presidential campaign can say that they are surprised now that Trump is following through on his boasts and threats about what he would do when he became president.  The border wall, the Muslim ban, the reinstatement of the Keystone XL and DAPL pipelines, the backing out of TPP, the actions against Obamacare; it was all shouted from the rostrums across the country, and anyone who thought he would change his way of doing things — fast and without thinking about the consequences — just wasn’t paying attention.

He bragged that things would be different now, that he would shake things up so that even the rituals that every president goes through that require little thought, such as signing a proclamation for Holocaust Remembrance Day, were going to be done his way, not the old way.  So there was no mention of Jews dying in the camps because, as the White House noted, “everybody suffered.”

So it’s also no surprise that there has been a backlash to each of these actions and to the Trump regime in general.  We knew that it would spark dissent.  What we didn’t know and what seems to have caught the Trump minions by surprise is the volume, the mass, and the intensity of the rebellion and resistance.  The marches in the cities on the day after the inauguration were off the charts, and the immediate reaction by protestors at the airports when the ban on travelers from Muslim countries was announced was breathtaking in both scale and intensity.

One other thing that is not a surprise is the craven complicity of the Republican leadership.

Facing intense criticism and dramatic news coverage of chaos and protests at airports worldwide, several congressional Republicans on Saturday questioned President Trump’s order to halt admission to the United States by refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were not among them.

Ryan was among the first lawmakers on Friday to back Trump’s order, and his office reiterated his support on Saturday.

“This is not a religious test and it is not a ban on people of any religion,” said spokeswoman AshLee Strong.

No, it’s just a ban on people from countries with a lot of Muslims, which as everyone knows, isn’t really a religion like, say, Christianity, right?  (By the way, someone prominent in the Christian faith once said something about welcoming the stranger, but hey, that was a long time ago.)

It’s also no surprise that the Republicans would demonstrate such complicity towards these actions against immigrants; it’s not like they haven’t shown that hand at every opportunity, along with the rank hypocrisy of complaining about President Obama’s use of executive orders to save some wilderness acreage as “unconstitutional overreach” and stand by in silence as Trump basically stomps his way through the Bill of Rights.  But as long as they get their tax cuts and free rein on regulation reform, who cares about a bunch of brown non-Christians stuck at an airport in Europe.  It’s not like they matter, right?

It’s within living memory that the United States took such an attitude about refugees and immigrants from a continent where war was brewing and people were fleeing, trying to get to our shores and safety.  We shut them out then, sending many of them back to where they came from, their fates sealed.  Eighty years later we remember — at least some of us remember — what happened to them.  But today we have a White House that won’t even mention them by name.

Those who remained silent then were just as complicit in the destruction that followed, and those who remain silent today are no different.

Short Takes

Gunmen attack mosque in Quebec City, killing several people.

Trump stands firm over travel ban.

Protests erupt again nationwide over travel ban.

U.S. service member killed in Yemen commando raid on al-Qaeda.

Canada says refugees are welcome.

WTF: Propagandist Steve Bannon made full member of NSC.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Deciding On Our Own

David Brooks was so disappointed with the marches last Saturday:

Sometimes social change happens through grass-roots movements — the civil rights movement. But most of the time change happens through political parties: The New Deal, the Great Society, the Reagan Revolution. Change happens when people run for office, amass coalitions of interest groups, engage in the messy practice of politics.

Without the discipline of party politics, social movements devolve into mere feeling, especially in our age of expressive individualism. People march and feel good and think they have accomplished something. They have a social experience with a lot of people and fool themselves into thinking they are members of a coherent and demanding community. Such movements descend to the language of mass therapy.

So, ladies, the only way to get what you want is to turn it over to your local political party so you can go back to whatever it is you do while the menfolk are doing the real work.

It’s also apparent that he doesn’t like it when people talk about things he doesn’t want to talk about.  Reproductive rights?  Health care?  Climate change?  No, no, you have to march for important things like… well, I don’t know, but not about those things.  Those things are not your business.

As Aaron Sorkin once noted, the American people have a funny way of deciding on their own what is and what is not their business.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sunday Reading

The Women’s March on Washington as reported by Megan Garber in The Atlantic.

In the middle of the National Mall, on the same spot that had, the day before, hosted the revelers who had come out for the inauguration of Donald Trump, a crowd of people protesting the new presidency spontaneously formed themselves into a circle. They grasped hands. They invited others in. “Join our circle!” one woman shouted, merrily, to a small group of passersby. They obliged. The expanse—a small spot of emptiness in a space otherwise teeming with people—got steadily larger, until it spanned nearly 100 feet across. If you happened to be flying directly above the Mall during the early afternoon of January 21, as the Women’s March on Washington was in full swing, you would have seen a throng of people—about half a million of them, according to the most recent estimates—punctuated, in the middle, by an ad-hoc little bullseye.

“What is this circle about?” a woman asked one of the circle-standers.

“Nobody knows!” the circle-stander replied, cheerfully.

The space stayed empty for a moment, as people clasped hands and looked around at each other with grins and “what-now?” expressions. And then: A woman ran through the circle, dancing, waving a sign that read “FREE MELANIA.” The crowd nodded approvingly. Another woman did the same with her sign. A group of three teenage boys danced with their “BAD HOMBRE” placards. The crowd whooped. Soon, several people were using the space as a stage. A woman dressed as a plush vulva shimmied around the circle’s perimeter. The circle-standers laughed and clapped and cheered. They held their phones in their air, taking pictures and videos. They cheered some more.

The Women’s March on Washington began in a similarly ad-hoc manner. The protest sprang to life as an errant idea posted to Facebook, right after Trump won the presidency. The notion weathered controversy to evolve into something that, on Saturday, was funereal in purpose but decidedly celebratory in tone. The march, in pretty much every way including the most literal, opposed the inaugural ceremony that had taken place the day before. On the one hand, it protested President Trump. Its participants wore not designer clothes, but jeans and sneakers and—the unofficial uniform of the event—pink knit caps with ears meant to evoke, and synonymize, cats. It had, in place of somber ritual, a festival-like atmosphere. It featured, instead of pomp and circumstance, people spontaneously breaking into dance on a spontaneously formed dance floor.

And yet in many ways, the march was also extremely similar to the inauguration whose infrastructure it had co-opted, symbolically and otherwise, for its own purposes. The Women’s March on Washington shared a setting—the Capitol, the Mall, the erstwhile inaugural parade route—with the ceremonies of January 20. And, following an election in which the victor lost the popular vote, the protest seems to have bested the inauguration itself in terms of (physical) public turnout. During a time of extreme partisanship and division—a time in which the One America the now-former president once spoke of can seem an ever-more-distant possibility—the Women’s March played out as a kind of alternate-reality inauguration: not necessarily of Hillary Clinton, but of the ideas and ideals her candidacy represented. The Women’s March was an installation ceremony of a sort—not of a new president, but of the political resistance to him.

“I DO NOT ACCEPT THIS FILTHY ROTTEN SYSTEM,” read one sign, carried by Lauren Grace, 35, of Philadelphia. She got the quote from Dorothy Day. And she intended it, Grace explained to me, to protest “a system that sort of left me out.”

“We’re told that voting is a sacred right in this country,” Grace said. “But even though Hillary won the popular vote, she still lost. I feel pretty conflicted about a country where that could happen.”

The Women’s March was, to be sure, also a protest march in an extremely traditional vein: It featured leaders—celebrities, activists, celebrity activists—who gave speeches and offered performances on a stage with the Capitol in its background; its participants held signs, and chanted (“This-is-what-a-feminist-looks-like!,” “No-person-is-illegal!”), and commiserated. It was also traditional in that its participants were marching not for one specific thing, but for many related aspirations. Women’s reproductive rights. LGBTQ rights. Immigration rights. Feminism in general (“FEMALES ARE STRONG AS HELL,” one sign went, riffing off a famous feminist’s Netflix show). The environment (“CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL,” “MAKE THE PLANET GREAT AGAIN”). Science (“Y’ALL NEED SCIENCE”). Facts (“MAKE AMERICA FACT-CHECK AGAIN”). Some signs argued for socialism. Some argued against plutocracy. Some argued for Kindness. Some pled for Peace. Some simply argued that America is Already Great.

This was a big-tent protest, in other words—a messy, joyful coalescence of many different movements. The Women’s March deftly employed, in its rhetoric, the biggest of the big-tent tautologies: The point of this protest wasn’t so much the specific things being protested as it was the very bigness of the crowds who were doing the protesting. This was another way the protest alternate-realitied the presidential inauguration: Just as the official ceremony is meant to celebrate not only the person occupying the presidency, but the presidency itself, the Women’s March was a protest that celebrated protest.

In doing that, it took direct aim at the things the new president has a record of valuing so highly—crowd sizes, ratings, large-scale approval—and countered them. Trump, after all, since the beginning of his presidential candidacy, has made a point of emphasizing the size of the crowds he has been able to attract by way of celebrity’s gravitational pull. He has boasted about the throngs attending his rallies. He has taunted his opponents about the relatively few people who turned out for their events. And Trump’s ascendance to the presidency seems to have done nothing to assuage that impulse: On Friday evening, at the Armed Services Ball, Trump again talked about the large size of the crowd that had come to witness his inauguration. And on Saturday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer used his first official White House briefing to blast the media who had mentioned the size of Trump’s inauguration crowds as compared to those of past presidents, dismissing their assessment as attempts to “minimize the enormous support” that had gotten Trump elected. (Though crowd sizes are notoriously difficult to determine with precision, Trump’s crowds were in fact decidedly smaller than the ones that came out for Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.)

The new president, in his rhetoric, has emphasized the “pop” in “populism.” And so—counterpunch—the Women’s March has emphasized its own crowd size. The throngs on Saturday spilled over from the march’s stage, where celebrities (America Ferrera, Gloria Steinem, Janelle Monáe, Katy Perry, Ashley Judd, Alicia Keys, Madonna) and activists (Rise’s Amanda Nguyen, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Rhea Suh, Our Revolution’s Erika Andiola, and many others) spoke to the people watching them both in person and on TV; they marched down Independence Avenue, and milled down Pennsylvania Avenue; they piled onto the steps of the National Gallery of Art; they filled the Mall to capacity. They showed up to sister rallies around the country and the world—in Chicago, in Boston, in New York, in Los Angeles, in Barcelona, in Nairobi, in New Delhi. And according to the march’s organizers, CNN reported, “the crowds were exponentially larger than expected.”

According to organizers, too: That matters. If the Women’s March was trying to inaugurate a movement on January 21, 2017, the first thing it had to do was to prove that there was a movement to be inaugurated. As one sign read: “TRUMP, DO YOU REALLY WANT TO PISS OFF THIS MANY WOMEN?”

Or, as Raquel Willis, of the Transgender Law Center, told the audience before she began the rest of her speech on the march’s main stage: “I want us to take a second and look around. Look at all these people who are gathered here to take a stand. These are your partners in resistance and liberation.”

Monáe made a similar argument. “This is about all of us,” the actor and singer said, “fighting back against the abuse of power.”

“All of us.” “Us” is a tricky word in the America of 2017, the America that is coming off of an acrimonious campaign season—with all its offenses, on all sides, still fresh. But the Women’s March insisted that the “us” and the “we” are two other things to be reclaimed in the years ahead—two other things that will be at stake in every peaceful transition of power. As Ferrera told the crowd at the beginning of the protest, “The president is not America. His cabinet is not America. Congress is not America. We are America. And we are here to stay.”

Charles P. Pierce on the sales gimmick of the inauguration.

It was the very bizarre translation of the Beatitudes that threw me off for good. In the two-hole of the Inauguration Preachers batting order, a fellow named the Reverend Dr. Samuel Rodriguez went to the familiar and iconic fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, but the text he read sounded like an Aramaic-English Google Translation read by Yoda.

For example, here’s the majesty of the King James version:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

And here’s the Reverend Doctor Rodriguez’s version:

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. God blesses those who mourn for they will be comforted. God blesses those who are humble for they will inherit the earth. God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice for they will be satisfied. God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, the difference between the two renditions is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. The former is poetry, the latter is prose—and clumsy prose at that. The first resounds like a prayer; the second is something you’d see on a poster in somebody’s cubicle under the picture of a sunset, or a kitten hanging by its forepaws.

What was lacking from the second is what has brought the first version down through the years: majesty. And on the west front of the Capitol on Friday morning, during what we were relentlessly sold as the miracle of the Peaceful Transfer of Power—as though anyone really expected a storming of the barricades—there was no room for majesty. And while the Mormon Tabernacle Choir still has game, and the Marine Band can seriously play, majesty surrendered rather meekly to salesmanship, and branding, and the gilt-edged palaver of the midnight infomercial.

This was a sales gimmick, not an inauguration.

In theory, there’s something admirably American in taking the piss out of the system’s pretensions. When Jimmy Carter walked in his inauguration parade, it represented for the moment the final collapse of the imperial executive within which Richard Nixon had hidden his crimes for so long. Barack Obama’s embrace of popular culture let some of the stuffing out of the office as well. But this was different.

This was somebody selling something precious and important at a reduced rate of sloganeering. A pitchman’s ceremony, the inauguration of President* Donald Trump was a device for selling American democracy a hair-restoral nostrum, a cure for erectile dysfunction, and a full scholarship to his Potemkin University. This was an event in which even Scripture itself was sent through the gang down in marketing so as not to sound too “elitist” for its intended audience of marks and suckers.

This was somebody selling something precious and important at a reduced rate of sloganeering

The speech itself was as dark and forbidding. It was Huey Long translated by Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. (And, as Gizmodo‘s Gabrielle Bluestone pointed out, a famous Batman villain.) This is to say, it was Huey Long drained of his classical references, his summons to Scripture, and whatever was left of his authentic American economic populism. In 1934, for example, Long delivered his most famous speech. In it, he said:

It is necessary to save the government of the country, but is much more necessary to save the people of America. We love this country. We love this Government. It is a religion, I say. It is a kind of religion people have read of when women, in the name of religion, would take their infant babes and throw them into the burning flame, where they would be instantly devoured by the all-consuming fire, in days gone by; and there probably are some people of the world even today, who, in the name of religion, throw their own babes to destruction; but in the name of our good government, people today are seeing their own children hungry, tired, half-naked, lifting their tear-dimmed eyes into the sad faces of their fathers and mothers, who cannot give them food and clothing they both need, and which is necessary to sustain them, and that goes on day after day, and night after night, when day gets into darkness and blackness, knowing those children would arise in the morning without being fed, and probably go to bed at night without being fed.

If you take that passage and run it through the Trump Rosetta Stone program, you get:

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

There was a terrifying solipsism to Trump’s address, as there likely will be to his presidency. For all his protestations that he is merely the instrument of a great movement, he holds himself above that movement in the way he imagines all great leaders do. In every real sense, from his podium at the Capitol, he talked down to his audience sprawled over a good portion of the National Mall.

He talked to them about the blighted hellscape of a country that he inherited, the blighted hellscape that already existed in their own truncated imaginations. He coined their actual anxieties and displacement into one of the hoariest demagogue’s tropes: America First. And despite its dingy antecedents, Trump’s use of America First doesn’t necessarily mean what the anti-Semites of the 1930s meant when they said it. It’s more like one of those foam rubber fingers that fans wear at football games with “AMERICA” written in red across it.

For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished—but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered—but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes—starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.

That is what had them buzzing on the way out of the event Friday. He really told them, did our Donald Trump. He’s got balls, doesn’t he? “You see ’em up there? They had to listen to him,” said the guy in front of me, waiting to cross Constitution Avenue. “Yeah, there’s a new sheriff in town.”

As he said it, we were passing a big tree under which I had sat in January of 1981 to listen to Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address. It was a barrel of banality, too. (“Government isn’t the solution. Government is the problem.” Thirty-five years of political mischief have flowed from that one line.) But there was a brightness to what Reagan said, and he seemed at least to have some sense of the moment, which proves that there is a great distance between even a mediocre actor and a great con-man.

On the eve of our struggle for independence a man who might have been one of the greatest among the Founding Fathers, Dr. Joseph Warren, president of the Massachusetts Congress, said to his fellow Americans, “Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of . . . . On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important questions upon which rests the happiness and the liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.” Well, I believe we, the Americans of today, are ready to act worthy of ourselves, ready to do what must be done to ensure happiness and liberty for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children. And as we renew ourselves here in our own land, we will be seen as having greater strength throughout the world. We will again be the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom.

Act worthy of me, Trump’s speech said. Act worthy of what you bought from me.

In his speech, and in draining the event of his inauguration of its majesty, the president* managed to turn the west front of the Capitol into a college auditorium in Iowa, or an airplane hangar in New Hampshire, or a stage in Cleveland, Ohio. Already, this is being praised by the dim and the craven as admirable—that Trump deserves credit for declaring that he will be the same person as president as he was in the campaign. I would remind those people, and the new president*, of Henry Gondorff warning to Johnny Hooker: “You gotta keep his con even after you take his money. He can’t know you took him.”

There is a reckoning out there in the distant wind for everything and everybody who brought us to this day, when not even the Marine Corps Band and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir could neither elevate the inauguration of a president out of the language of mere commerce nor make of the event anything more than a banal transaction—a day on which even Jesus Christ on the Mount was warned to keep it simple, stupid.

Welcome to Trump U — Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.

In an astonishing comeback for the scandal-scarred educational institution, Trump University enrolled more than three hundred million new students at noon on Friday.

“Congratulations,” the President of Trump University told the new students. “For the next four years, you are all in Trump University.”

Some Americans who supported the President of Trump University in his long-shot bid to reopen the school made the journey to Washington, D.C., to hear his welcome address.

“He said we’re all going to be rich!” Harland Dorrinson, a new Trump University student, said. “I just know that this is going to end really well.”

But even as students like Dorrinson celebrated, there were complaints from other students, millions of whom said they had been enrolled in Trump University against their will.

“I never signed up for Trump University,” Carol Foyler, who is one of those students, said. “The President of this school is some kind of a con man. And why are so many members of the faculty Russian? The whole thing seems fishy.”

“Not my University,” she said.

While the original program offered by Trump University had a price tag as high as thirty-five thousand dollars, the next four years are expected to be far more costly, experts say.

Doonesbury — Feed that ego.