Forty years ago today, Captain Spaulding went off on his own adventure to the great beyond. We miss you, Groucho.
Forty years ago today, Captain Spaulding went off on his own adventure to the great beyond. We miss you, Groucho.
From Inside the House — Josh Marshall.
The violence of the day appears to be coming to an end. But not before one woman died in the car attack on anti-racist counter-protestors which left many others wounded – some with injuries that appear life-threatening. The other drama unfolding through the day has been the reaction or lack of reaction from President Trump.
Over the course of the afternoon, President Trump has spoken or tweeted a number of generally bland statements condemning violence and hatred. But he has conspicuously refused to condemn the white supremacists and nazis who most Americans would easily recognize as the bad guys in this drama. In one particularly egregious example he condemned hatred and violence “on many sides” – in other words, explicitly equating the white nationalists and nazis with those who oppose them.
Over the course of the afternoon, a number of Republicans have condemned the marchers. Some actually condemned Trump for failing to do so. Late this afternoon, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee tweeted a generic but clear condemnation of the white supremacist protestors. It made me think, “Even Mike Huckabee, one of the awfullest people in public life, today can manage this.”
But that reminded me of the fact that the white supremacists and nazis have actually long been something of a gift to politicians who are if not racists themselves then entirely indifferent to racism as a political force in American society. By making themselves the public face of ‘racism’, these morons create an easy enemy to pivot off of. Those politicians get to pay lip service to the notional anti-racist public consensus by denouncing racism in its most avowed and buffoonish form. As I said, in political terms, it’s less an obligation than a gift, an out. After all, who can’t denounce jerks running around with swastikas on their arms or chanting “white power”?
Who can’t? Well, Donald Trump can’t.
Through today I’ve heard various politicians, journalists and public people asking Trump some version of, “Why can’t you denounce this?”
We’ve been here for … what? Almost two years? I understand the impulse. But at a certain point, we’re simply being chumps to keep asking. We know. If we don’t, we should. I’m tempted to say we have no excuse. There’s not. But there is some explanation. We have become as a people, or at least our establishment voices, like family members in the home of an abuser, unable to face the obvious reality of our situation because it is in the nature of living with an abuser that it warps your reality. As I wrote last October, “one of the greatest damages is that we’ve all come to see Trump’s chaotic emotions, violence and tirades as perhaps half normal. I had a hard time divining whether his angry bluster and transgressive antics in the debate would have any effect because we’ve all become so used to it. Like family members living in the home of an abuser our sense of what is normal starts to get blunted and deformed under the weight of abuse. The whole country is damaged in a way that won’t soon lift under the best of circumstances.”
Our sense of reality has been warped. People who refuse to condemn nazis and white supremacists even in the most clear-cut cases – again and again, month after month and year after year – do so because they support those people. This may sound extreme but it is obvious. We are like a woman who can’t admit her husband is an abuser. ‘I provoked him.’ ‘He’s got stress at work.’ ‘It was just one time.’ ‘He said he was sorry.’ You want to shake someone like this to open their eyes and see the reality of the situation. But living with someone with a damaged psyche has in turn damaged them. It is hard to emerge from.
Trump refuses to condemn these people because he recognizes them as supporters and he supports them. That’s the truth. Anything else is denial.
How can this even surprise us? His top advisor ran the publication that courted and popularized the beliefs and actions of these same people. It’s all out in the open. Don’t ask why he can’t condemn them. We know.
The calls are coming from inside the house.
The Bigotocracy — Michael Eric Dyson.
The late, great Gore Vidal said that we live in “The United States of Amnesia.” Our fatal forgetfulness flares when white bigots come out of their closets, emboldened by the tacit cover they’re given by our president. We cannot pretend that the ugly bigotry unleashed in the streets of Charlottesville, Va., this weekend has nothing to do with the election of Donald Trump.
In attendance was white separatist David Duke, who declared that the alt-right unity fiasco “fulfills the promises of Donald Trump.” In the meantime, Mr. Trump responded by offering false equivalencies between white bigots and their protesters. His soft denunciations of hate ring hollow when he has white nationalist advisers like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller whispering in his ear.
Such an ungainly assembly of white supremacists rides herd on political memory. Their resentment of the removal of public symbols of the Confederate past — the genesis of this weekend’s rally — is fueled by revisionist history. They fancy themselves the victims of the so-called politically correct assault on American democracy, a false narrative that helped propel Mr. Trump to victory. Each feeds on the same demented lies about race and justice that corrupt true democracy and erode real liberty. Together they constitute the repulsive resurgence of a virulent bigotocracy.
This bigotocracy overlooks fundamental facts about slavery in this country: that blacks were stolen from their African homeland to toil for no wages in American dirt. When black folk and others point that out, white bigots are aggrieved. They are especially offended when it is argued that slavery changed clothes during Reconstruction and got dressed up as freedom, only to keep menacing black folk as it did during Jim Crow. The bigotocracy is angry that slavery is seen as this nation’s original sin. And yet they remain depressingly and purposefully ignorant of what slavery was, how it happened, what it did to us, how it shaped race and the air and space between white and black folk, and the life and arc of white and black cultures.
They cling to a faded Southern aristocracy whose benefits — of alleged white superiority, and moral and intellectual supremacy — trickled down to ordinary whites. If they couldn’t drink from the cup of economic advantage that white elites tasted, at least they could sip what was left of a hateful ideology: at least they weren’t black. The renowned scholar W.E.B. Du Bois called this alleged sense of superiority the psychic wages of whiteness. President Lyndon Baines Johnson once argued, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
We have a bigoted billionaire-cum-president who has done precious little for the white working class whose resentment fueled his rise. They have emptied their ethical and economic pockets in support of him even though he turned his back on them the moment he entered the Oval Office. The only remnant of his leadership they have to hold on to is the folklore of white nationalist sentiment, and xenophobic passion, that offer them psychic comfort if little financial stability.
It is disheartening for black folk to see such a vile and despicable replay of history. Facing this unadorned hate tears open wounds from atrocities that we have confronted throughout our history. It is depressing to explain to our children that what we confronted as children may be the legacy they bequeath to their children as well.
It is more dispiriting still to realize that the government of our land, at least in the present administration, has shown little empathy toward victims of white bigotry, and indeed, has helped to spread the paralyzing virus of hatred, by turning a blind eye to what is done in their name.
Now is the time for every decent white American to prove he or she loves this country by actively speaking out against the scourge this bigotocracy represents. If such heinous behavior is met by white silence, it will only cement the perception that as long as most white folk are not immediately at risk, then all is relatively well. Yet nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing could more clearly declare the moral bankruptcy of our country.
Who Will Stop the Madness? — John Cassidy in The New Yorker.
In this mad Presidency, there have been many mad days, but Friday may have been the maddest yet. It began in the morning, with Donald Trump issuing yet another war threat on Twitter. “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely,” Trump wrote. “Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!” Later in the day, during a photo op at the President’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, a reporter asked Trump what his tweet meant. “Well, I think it is pretty obvious,” he replied. “We are looking at that very carefully, and I hope they are going to fully understand the gravity of what I said, and what I said is what I mean. Those words are very, very easy to understand.” The reporter asked if any progress was being made on the diplomatic front. Trump wouldn’t be drawn out, but he did say, “We’ll either be very, very successful quickly, or we’re going to be very, very successful in a different way, quickly.”
In the wake of Trump’s declaration, on Tuesday, that North Korea faced “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continued to threaten the United States, Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, and James Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, having been making efforts to clarify that what matters are North Korea’s actions, not its words. On Friday, Trump undid those efforts. “This man will not get away with what he is doing, believe me,” he said, referring to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. “And if he utters one threat, in the form of an overt threat—which, by the way, he has been uttering for years, and his family has been uttering for years—or if he does anything with respect to Guam, or any place else that’s an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it, and he will regret it fast.”
Trump wasn’t done. After a meeting with Tillerson; Nikki Haley, the Ambassador to the United Nations; and H. R. McMaster, the national-security adviser, he took more questions from the press. Once again, he stressed the dire consequences that North Korea would suffer if anything happened to Guam. He also insisted that he and Tillerson were “totally on the same page.” Tillerson, standing beside the President and playing the good soldier, nodded in agreement and said it would take “a combined message” to achieve a favorable solution. One reporter asked Trump what he could say to Americans who are on edge after all the threatening talk. “Nobody loves a peaceful solution better than President Trump,” he replied, referring to himself in the third person.
He appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself, and why not? The eyes of the world were upon him, and nobody had asked him about the Russian investigation. To the Narcissist-in-Chief, that is a twofer. Moreover, he had an adversary in his sights, and nothing makes him happier than that. When he was asked about a statement on North Korean state television that referred to the United States as “no more than a lump that we can beat to a jelly anytime,” Trump replied, “Let me hear others saying it, because when you say that I don’t know what you are referring to, and who is making the statement. But let me hear Kim Jong-un say it, O.K.? He’s not saying it. He hasn’t been saying much for the last three days.”
It is now clear that Trump has decided to turn a nuclear-weapons crisis that could conceivably lead to the death of hundreds of thousands of people into a personal feud of the sort he has carried out with Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, John McCain, Megyn Kelly, Hillary Clinton, and countless others. And Trump had some more warmongering left in him. A reporter asked about the U.S. reaction to the situation in Venezuela, where the regime of Nicolás Maduro is cracking down on opponents and redrafting the constitution to give itself more power. Rather than letting Tillerson or Haley, who was also standing alongside him, field this question, Trump said, “We have many options for Venezuela. And by the way, I am not going to rule out a military option. . . . We are all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering, and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.”
If you haven’t seen the looks on the faces of Tillerson and Haley, the country’s two top diplomats, as Trump made this statement, you simply have to watch the video. Somehow, they had steeled themselves to look supportive as Trump further ratcheted up his rhetoric toward Kim and North Korea. But nothing, surely, could have prepared them for their boss suggesting that he might be looking for a second military adventure, this one in Latin America.
So what did it all add up to? Some observers said it was just Trump being Trump. “Increasingly I think the equilibrium we’re all headed towards is everyone inside the US gov and outside just ignoring what POTUS says,” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tweeted.
It would be very comforting if we could all ignore Trump and treat his Presidency the same way he seems to treat it: as a personal odyssey or a reality-television show. Unfortunately, however, he is the Commander-in-Chief of the largest, most deadly military machine that the world has ever seen—it has close to two thousand deployed nuclear warheads—and many of the checks and balances that constrain him in other areas of government don’t apply to starting a war.
Appearing on CNN after Trump’s press conference, Leon Panetta, who has more experience in the top echelons of the U.S. government than practically anybody else in Washington, injected a much-needed dose of reality into the situation. “I understand that this is a President who comes out of the development industry in New York City, comes out of reality TV. I think he kind of prides himself that talking is kind of his business, and talking is the way he appeals to his base, and he’s been able to win election to President because of his ability to talk,” Panetta said. “But when you are President of the United States, and when you are Commander-in-Chief, this is not reality TV. This is a situation where you can’t just talk down to everybody in the world and expect that somehow you can bully them to do what you think is right. These are leaders in these countries. They worry about their countries, they worry about what is going to happen. And they take the President of the United States literally.”
We should never lose sight of the fact that Trump, before he entered the White House, had never held any position of public responsibility. Panetta, who went to Washington in 1977 as a Democratic congressman from California, has served as the Defense Secretary, the head of the C.I.A., the White House chief of staff, and the director of the Office of Management and Budget. “Words count,” he went on. “And I just think that the President needs to understand, and the people around the President need to make clear, that when we are facing the kind of crisis that we are facing now, this is not a time for loose talk. It is a time for serious strategizing as to what steps we have to take in order to make sure we find a peaceful solution, and not wind up in a nuclear war.”
There are some serious and responsible people around Trump. They include McMaster, Tillerson, Mattis, and John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff. But the evidence of this week strongly suggests that Trump is beyond being educated or managed or controlled. He is truly a rogue President.
In a better political world, the senior members of Trump’s Cabinet would be talking to each other and taking legal advice this weekend about the 25th Amendment, which provides for the removal of a President who is unable or unfit to carry out his duties—which in the modern day include the awesome responsibility of deciding whether to use nuclear weapons. “The president alone has the authority to launch nuclear weapons, the only restraint being the advice of senior advisers who might be present at the time of crisis, and Donald Trump has shown repeated contempt for informed and wise counsel,” Gordon Humphrey, a Republican former senator for New Hampshire, wrote this week in a letter to his current congressional representatives. “He is sick of mind, impetuous, arrogant, belligerent and dangerous.”
Since Trump’s Cabinet is highly unlikely to heed Humphrey’s warning, the responsibility to restrain Trump falls on Congress. Under the War Powers Act of 1973, it is Congress, not the President, who holds the power to declare war. If Washington were functioning properly, the House and Senate would have been recalled from their summer recesses this week to discuss and debate Trump’s repeated threats. So far, though, the leaders of both parties have remained ominously quiet as Trump’s rhetoric has intensified. Indeed, about the only reaction has come in the form of a letter signed by sixty-four liberal House Democrats, led by Michigan’s John Conyers, condemning Trump’s “fire and fury” threat.
As many commentators, myself included, have pointed out before, Trump’s Presidency represents an unprecedented challenge to the American system of government. Up until this point, some parts of the system—the courts, the federal civil service, the media, and other institutions of civil society—have withstood the challenge pretty well. But it was always likely that the biggest test would come in the area of national security, where the institutional constraints on the President are less effective. Now, it looks like the moment of truth is upon us, and so far the response has been alarmingly weak. Unless that changes, Trump might well drag the country into a catastrophic war.
Dump Them — Jennifer Wright in Harper’s Bazaar.
With every week, life under the Trump administration becomes more unnerving. The administration is trying to “phase out” the 15,000 trans people in the military, Trump is basically threatening nuclear war with North Korea and Mueller is tapping a Grand Jury to look into the Russia connection.
We live in interesting times, and by interesting, I mean on the very verge of the second dark ages. Or, at least, some people believe that. Other people believe everything is fine, somehow.
Don’t ask me how.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is starting to create a rift, not just between different parts of the country, but between couples. In Florida, a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader and the top prosecutor in Palm Beach County reportedly split, in part because the wife claimed that as “a staunch Republican and supporter of President Donald Trump… she felt increasingly isolated in the marriage.” Deidre Ball, who recently filed for divorce from Trump’s former communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, also reportedly did so in part because she was “not a fan of Trump.”
Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of articles with advice on topics like “How To Survive Being Married to A Trump Supporter.”
They offer advice like “We look deeper than the arguments. We look at each other… at the passionate, committed humans that we are and we find gratitude in being married to someone who cares so much. When the fire of the argument subsides and we are left with only the smoldering embers, we kiss.”
What if you find yourself… not wanting to kiss someone who believes that it is cool for the President to think women should be grabbed by the pussy?
The woman who is kissing her husband over the smoldering argument embers also remarks, “How could I explain how vulnerable I felt? I couldn’t. But I tried. And he tried to understand. And we went round and round in circles. Him, unable to see the human element of my arguments.”
God, that sounds exhausting.
I’m going to save you three years of therapy where you and your partner try to “agree to disagree.”
If your partner is a Trump supporter and you are not, just divorce them.You do not need to try to make it work with someone who thinks of people as “illegals.” Just divorce them. Those divorced couples made the right choice.
This may not always be possible. Some people may not have the financial or practical means available to get a divorce, but if you do have those means? DIVORCE THEM.
Because if one member of a couple believes the President should endorse police brutality and the other member believes that is balls-to-the-wallinsane, that is not a disagreement you’re going to find common ground on. You can use all the measured voices and positive words you want. It’s not a question of disagreement about the most effective way to load the dishwasher, or even whether trickle-down economics works. Those are opinions that might be altered by showing compelling factual evidence.
Supporting Trump at this point does not indicate a difference of opinions. It indicates a difference of values.
Values aren’t like hobbies or interests. They don’t change over time, and they more or less define who you are. Trump’s administration may have been, for some of us, a time when what we value has become much clearer to us.
So, while you may be able to convince your partner that there is a more efficient way to load the dishwasher, you will never be able to convince them that they need to care about people they are fundamentally uninterested in caring about.
Couples don’t need to agree on everything. Disagreement on some issues helps broaden our perspectives. But most successful couples do seem to have moral compasses that point in roughly the same direction. That’s because one of the best things about being in a relationship is having someone who helps you go out and live your values in the world.
If you saddle yourself with someone who fundamentally does not share your values—and at this point, it seems fair to say that people on different ends of the political spectrum have wildly different values—you’re going to be unbelievably, achingly lonely.
So, just skip it. Get a divorce. It’s clearly not ideal—no one goes into a marriage planning to get divorced—but people get divorced for a great many reasons. “My partner’s views are morally repulsive to me” is one of the best reasons I can think of.
And if anyone says that this demeans that sanctity of marriage, well, just remind them the President they love is on wife number three.
He’s Running — Andy Borowitz on Mike Pence’s plans.
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Vice-President Mike Pence is seriously considering running for President in 1820, various sources confirmed over the weekend.
According to several prominent Republican donors, Pence is already laying the groundwork for such a campaign, outlining what he believes are the most serious challenges facing 1820 America.
In a conference call with donors last week, Pence reportedly said that, as President, his No. 1 priority would be to repeal and replace the Bill of Rights.
He offered a sneak preview of a potential 1820 stump speech, in which he unleashed a brutal attack on the Bill of Rights’ author, James Madison, and called for the development of the telegraph key.
According to Harland Dorrinson, a donor who was on the conference call, “Mike believes he’s the right man to bring America into the nineteenth century, just like he did for Indiana.”
But minutes after the rumors were reported, the Vice-President pushed back, putting quill to parchment to call the reports “bunkum and balderdash.”
“America already has the perfect man to lead it in 1820, and that man is Donald J. Trump,” Pence wrote.
In Washington, some political insiders also threw cold water on the Pence-in-1820 talk, arguing that the timing was not right. “Pence’s best shot was 1620,” one said.
Doonesbury — Booking.con.
Why struggle with convfefe when we have the real crackercrocker?
On The Horizon — Kai Wright in The Nation on how Trumpism will be defeated.
In the summer of 2013, about a month after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, I sat in a small church in Baker County, Georgia. The county elections board had proposed closing four of its five polling places, and I listened as a couple dozen residents of the sprawling, rural county figured out how to stop the plan.
The board said its proposal was driven by a cost-benefit analysis; shutting the polling places would save money, a whopping $7,800. The residents of Baker also recognized the debate as one over value—the worth of black life. The county is nearly half black, and more than a third of its residents live in poverty; the board is majority white. This is a familiar dynamic in Baker County.
“You won’t find a railroad track going through the county, because they didn’t want it,” civil-rights icon Shirley Sherrod, who grew up in Baker, told me just before that church meeting. “They just didn’t want anything to be any different than the way it was. And when I say ‘they,’ I mean white people who were in power.”
Sherrod could have said the same about great swaths of southwest Georgia, and she could have spoken in the present tense.
Which is one reason Stacey Abrams’s expected entry in the Democratic primary for next year’s governor’s race is so notable. If elected, Abrams would be not just the only black woman to occupy the governor’s mansion in Georgia, she’d be the only in any US state. Ever. More than that, what’s notable for people like the black residents of Baker County is her strategy as the current House minority leader.
In recent elections, Abrams has made the sadly novel contention that rural, largely black districts like those in southwest Georgia—which Democrats long ago wrote off as dominated by old power structures that can’t be upturned—are, in fact, worth the fight. She says a driving question for her is, “How do you build a state that thinks about everyone and not just those who happen to live in the right place?” It ought to be a driving question for progressive politics everywhere.
Donald Trump’s presidency will end—likely hastened by the corruption that is gradually coming into full view. But Trumpism will not simply dissipate with his departure. The white suburbanites who gambled on his candidacy were driven by a real, if toxic, brew of fears and anxieties that will remain, perhaps even intensify as he implodes. So it’s one thing to resist Trump; it’s another, longer project to build a just and truly plural America out of the divisions he’s exploited. Abrams’s campaign offers insight for that work.
It necessarily begins with a useful assertion: We must not build our politics solely around the fears and anxieties of those suburban whites. As Steve Phillips noted in The Nation last week, some Democrats are already whispering that the Georgia party needs a white candidate who can appeal to white voters. Phillips to whispering Dems: Tell that to the 47 percent of Georgia voters who came out for Barack Obama in 2008. For her part, Abrams says she enters the race with “a very intentional awareness that you have to have everyone at the table—including people of color, who make up nearly half of your society.”
Abrams and Phillips are doing the math. But there’s a deeper point here. To counter Trumpism by centering his followers would be to chase shadows. Liberals have waited with indignation for the president’s supporters to realize they got a bum deal, that he’s not really a populist and doesn’t posses a time machine that can whisk them back to a manufacturing economy. But who actually voted for these fictions?
Trump was overwhelmingly a white-identity candidate. Coupled with flipping districts that had previously gone to Obama, Trump helped drive up his own white turnout to higher levels than many poll watchers thought was achievable. These were white people who had made it into the middle and upper middle classes without the trouble and cost of higher education, thanks to the racially exclusive social contract of the postwar 20th century. And they chose to believe the lie that they can reclaim the security that is slipping away by rejecting the realities that the 21st century forces upon them.
But refusing to center white suburbanites doesn’t mean ignoring them. Whatever else is true about Trump voters, the core complaint I’ve heard over and over as I’ve spoken with them is actually one many of us share: There exists a monstrous gap between the reality so many Americans face every day, and the political priorities of those who have power over us.
This gap divides both the Democratic and Republican parties from their bases. It exists in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street. We encounter it when we shop for homes, apply for jobs, and try to go vote. We’re even reminded of it when we try to book a flight and get dragged down the aisle because the airline wants its seat back. The impunity of the powerful is what binds the rest of us.
Abrams is an elected official and speaks the language of her work when pointing to the shared values she’s heard in talking to both white and black suburban moms—a desire for economic security, personal safety, a reasonable retirement. “Too often, our conversations are grounded in binary and reductive debates—that my success means your failure, or your success means my failure,” she argues. Agreed. But I’d say the widely shared value today is more Twisted Sister than Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: We’re not gonna take it, anymore. That’s true in Baker County, it’s true in the white suburbia, and it’s a starting point for taking on Trumpism.
Raus — Klaus Brinkbäumer in Der Spiegel on the need to oust Trump. (The Germans know something about dealing with a megalomaniacal leader.)
Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States. He does not possess the requisite intellect and does not understand the significance of the office he holds nor the tasks associated with it. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t bother to peruse important files and intelligence reports and knows little about the issues that he has identified as his priorities. His decisions are capricious and they are delivered in the form of tyrannical decrees.He is a man free of morals. As has been demonstrated hundreds of times, he is a liar, a racist and a cheat. I feel ashamed to use these words, as sharp and loud as they are. But if they apply to anyone, they apply to Trump. And one of the media’s tasks is to continue telling things as they are: Trump has to be removed from the White House. Quickly. He is a danger to the world.
Trump is a miserable politician. He fired the FBI director simply because he could. James Comey had gotten under his skin with his investigation into Trump’s confidants. Comey had also refused to swear loyalty and fealty to Trump and to abandon the investigation. He had to go.
Witnessing an American Tragedy
Trump is also a miserable boss. His people invent excuses for him and lie on his behalf because they have to, but then Trump wakes up and posts tweets that contradict what they have said. He doesn’t care that his spokesman, his secretary of state and his national security adviser had just denied that the president had handed Russia (of all countries) sensitive intelligence gleaned from Israel (of all countries). Trump tweeted: Yes, yes, I did, because I can. I’m president after all.
Nothing is as it should be in this White House. Everyone working there has been compromised multiple times and now they all despise each other – and everyone except for Trump despises Trump. Because of all that, after just 120 days of the Trump administration, we are witness to an American tragedy for which there are five theoretical solutions.The first is Trump’s resignation, which won’t happen. The second is that Republicans in the House and Senate support impeachment, which would be justified by the president’s proven obstruction of justice, but won’t happen because of the Republicans’ thirst for power, which they won’t willingly give up. The third possible solution is the invocation of the 25th Amendment, which would require the cabinet to declare Trump unfit to discharge the powers of the presidency. That isn’t particularly likely either. Fourth: The Democrats get ready to fight and win back majorities in the House and Senate in midterm elections, which are 18 months away, before they then pursue option two, impeachment. Fifth: the international community wakes up and finds a way to circumvent the White House and free itself of its dependence on the U.S. Unlike the preceding four options, the fifth doesn’t directly solve the Trump problem, but it is nevertheless necessary – and possible.
No Goals and No Strategy
Not quite two weeks ago, a number of experts and politicians focused on foreign policy met in Washington at the invitation of the Munich Security Conference. It wasn’t difficult to sense the atmosphere of chaos and agony that has descended upon the city.
The U.S. elected a laughing stock to the presidency and has now made itself dependent on a joke of a man. The country is, as David Brooks wrote recently in the New York Times, dependent on a child. The Trump administration has no foreign policy because Trump has consistently promised American withdrawal while invoking America’s strength. He has promised both no wars and more wars. He makes decisions according to his mood, with no strategic coherence or tactical logic. Moscow and Beijing are laughing at America. Elsewhere, people are worried.In the Pacific, warships – American and Chinese – circle each other in close proximity. The conflict with North Korea is escalating. Who can be certain that Donald Trump won’t risk nuclear war simply to save his own skin? Efforts to stop climate change are in trouble and many expect the U.S. to withdraw from the Paris Agreement because Trump is wary of legally binding measures. Crises, including those in Syria and Libya, are escalating, but no longer being discussed. And who should they be discussed with? Phone calls and emails to the U.S. State Department go unanswered. Nothing is regulated, nothing is stable and the trans-Atlantic relationship hardly exists anymore. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Norbert Röttgen fly back and forth, but Germany and the U.S. no longer understand each other. Hardly any real communication takes place, there are no joint foreign policy goals and there is no strategy.
In “Game of Thrones,” the Mad King was murdered (and the child that later took his place was no better). In real life, an immature boy sits on the throne of the most important country in the world. He could, at any time, issue a catastrophic order that would immediately be carried out. That is why the parents cannot afford to take their eyes off him even for a second. They cannot succumb to exhaustion because he is so taxing. They ultimately have to send him to his room – and return power to the grownups.
Eulogy For America — Megan Amram bids farewell.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to say our goodbyes to our dear friend America, who died recently after a brief, intense battle with fascism and a long, slow battle with carbs. Thank you all for coming out to help say farewell. It’s not easy. But at least America died doing what it loved most: deep-frying Halloween candy while white men tried to explain to women what jazz is.
America was sick for a really long time. In the early stages, I think we were all in denial. You could tell that America was unwell—public displays of brutality, deeply internalized prejudice, “Entourage”—but it seemed curable. Just a case of plain old electile dysfunction. We thought that we’d caught the fascism early, but, as we now know, it had metastasized. America was more Florida than country by the end.
America was born right here, in America, and lived here its entire life. America was always about family. It is survived by its similarly ill father, Britain, and its large brood of children: baseball, Google, fireworks, losing your fingers to fireworks, giving your Uber driver only four stars because he talked to you, thinking granola is healthy, Chicago (the place), “Chicago” (the musical), “Chicago” (the movie adaptation of the musical), Chicago (the band), “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Med,” “Chicago P.D.,” “Chicago Justice,” “Chicago ‘Chicago’ ” (a show about the Chicago production of the musical “Chicago,” coming to NBC this fall), and a bunch of wars.
I’d personally be nowhere without America. America was there when I was born, when I got married, when I saw Janet Jackson’s nipple at the Super Bowl. Remember that? After that happened, none of us slept for days, because we had never seen the pointy part of a boob on our TVs before, and it really upset us. America was really cool that way. It would always get mad when you’d see the pointy part of a boob on a TV. I’m gonna miss that.
However, we should not dwell on the loss of our dear country, friend, and place where all the Cheesecake Factories and Lids stores are. Today, let’s celebrate America’s life, and remember all of the remarkable things it accomplished and how many actors playing Spider-Man who keep getting cuter and younger were inside of it. America gave us so much. And, boy, did it look good for its age. America was two hundred and forty-one years old when it died, but it didn’t look a day over a hundred and sixty-four! It looked so young, it could’ve been the very same America that put its own citizens in internment camps!
America got a bunch of things really right. Mostly how to put food inside other food. Anyone can just eat a chicken. But in a duck?! In a turkey?! In a gun?! No one is going to forget the Turduckenun any time soon. America was so inventive that way. And, I mean, everyone does silly stuff when they’re young. America was beautiful, too. Sure, it was a little lumpy, and you could always see its Florida through its pants, but it just got hotter with age. So hot. It was so, so hot by the time it died. Almost too hot to live in.
If there’s anything we should take away from this tragedy, it’s that you should always check yourself for fascism, especially around your midsection. It’s easy enough to do in the shower. If you catch it early, it can be cleared up with a rigorous regimen of local elections and books and yoga. But America was cocky. Nothing bad had ever happened to it before! It assumed this fascism would pass, just like the Second World War and “Entourage” had.
What a shame. America was just the best damn country in the whole U.S.A. I’m sorry that I’m getting choked up. I get really emotional when I think of America, and also I took too big of a bite of Turduckenun and it got lodged in my windpipe. We will all miss America greatly. Every time I see an American flag or a gun, I’ll think of America. But we can all rest easy knowing America is in a better place now: Russia.
Doonesbury — To-Do List.
Performance Anxiety — McKay Coppins in The Atlantic on Trump’s obsession with this electial dysfunction.
As he approaches his hundredth day in office, Donald Trump appears to be suffering—once again—from an acute case of presidential status anxiety.In public, of course, he has labored to play it cool, strenuously insisting (and insisting, and insisting) that he does not care about the “first hundred days” metric that historians and pundits have used to evaluate the success of new administrations since FDR. Trump has called this milestone “ridiculous” and “artificial”—a meaningless media fixation. And yet, the less-than-laudatory press reviews seem to have left him seething. For evidence, look no further than the president’s pathos-drenched Twitter feed, where he recently took to vent, “No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!”
This explains why we are now witnessing the White House in mad-scramble mode—frantically reaching for last-minute “accomplishments” to placate the president, and pad his record. The closer Trump gets to the hundred-day marker, it seems, the more erratically he flings major legislative initiatives at the wall in hopes that something will stick.
Last week, Trump abruptly pledged to unveil a “massive” tax-cut plan in the coming days—an announcement that reportedly surprised even his own staff. To meet their boss’s deadline, they rushed out a single-page document—bullet-pointed, double-spaced, 229 words long—that resembled a homework assignment hastily completed in the stall during a bathroom break. Skeptics scoffed, Democrats balked, and even White House officials have struggled to articulate their “plan.”Meanwhile, with a government shutdown fast approaching, Trump threatened to blow up budget negotiations with an outlandish—and politically unviable—demand that the funding bill include money for a border wall. (He eventually had to back down.) And with just 48 hours left in his first hundred days, Trump embarked on a quixotic last-ditch bid to jam an Obamacare replacement bill through the House before the weekend—whip counts be damned. (Speaker Paul Ryan refused to bring it to a vote Thursday night.)
This flurry of ill-considered activity might seem needlessly volatile and self-defeating—but it’s part of a larger pattern of behavior. This is, after all, not the first time a major milestone in Trump’s career has sent him spiraling into resentment and recklessness.
As I’ve written before, Trump’s angriest outbursts often accompany his greatest moments of recognition or triumph. He won the Republican nomination, and spent the next week feuding with Gold Star parents and complaining that Hillary Clinton didn’t adequately congratulate him. He won the election, and spent the transition fighting with celebrities and championing a voter-fraud conspiracy theory. He was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, and spent the weekend fuming over the size of his inauguration crowd.
Trump is a Queens-born billionaire who has spent his life chasing validation from elites who hold him in disdain. With each new benchmark he reaches, he holds out hope that it will finally quiet his chorus of haters. And when he realizes they’re still laughing at him, he acts out. Consider, now, what Trump is likely seeing these days when he turns on his TV: presidential historians discussing the unparalleled failures of his first hundred days; polls showing an historically low approval rating; pundits depicting a presidency gripped by impotence. Given his recent history, an eruption was inevitable.Earlier this week, the White House made a foray into the presidential legacy-measuring contest with a press release titled, “President Trump’s 100 Days of Historic Accomplishments.” Trump, we learned, had accomplished more than any president since FDR, passed more legislation than anyone since Truman, and done more to “stop the government from interfering in the lives of Americans” than any other president in history. As my colleague Elaine Godfrey noted, some of the figures supporting these claims were (perhaps unsurprisingly) wrong, and the press release was widely mocked on the internet for its predictable bombast. But maybe for Trump, the comparisons are about more than chest-thumping and ego-pumping.
With a hundred days behind him, Trump seems increasingly like a man disillusioned with his job, and disoriented by his place in history. “I loved my previous life. I had so many thing going,” Trump told Reuters this week. “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”
Go Canada — Jonathan Blitzer in The New Yorker on the boom in Canadian immigration.
Canada by Choice is a small, family-run immigration consultancy in Windsor, Ontario. It gives legal advice to people who are interested in moving to Canada and helps them fill out the necessary paperwork to enter the country. Hussein Zarif has worked on marketing and outreach at the company for the past four years—it’s his job to find clients and connect them with the firm’s staff. The clientele come mostly from the Middle East, China, and India, and that’s where Zarif has always focussed his outreach budget, placing online ads that appear on Facebook and Google. That was before Donald Trump. Since November 8th, the firm has been flooded with calls from the U.S., and the Web site has crashed a few times because of heavy traffic. Zarif knew that Americans often threatened to move to Canada after a contentious election, but he hadn’t ever taken them seriously. “Maybe there is something behind all this,” he remembers thinking. “I’ll put some ads out and see what happens.” He used recent quotes from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a tagline for ads on Facebook and Google which ran in the U.S.: “Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.”
Zarif, who is twenty-four, and whose father runs the business, has become an unlikely expert in the anxiety currently plaguing immigrants in America. “I’m not a political person, and I don’t know the U.S. very well,” he said. He wasn’t looking to entice American citizens—in his experience, they tended to stay put. The idea, instead, was to find promising immigrants living in America who were anxious to leave. From his desk at the firm’s office, in a strip mall just across a bridge from Detroit, he started tinkering with the filters for his targeted digital ads—the ones that pop up when someone is using Facebook or Google—trying to insure that they reached the right people. His first attempts to target people based on age, language, and location brought uneven results—Americans looking to retire to Canada, immigrants with poor English-language skills. (Canada awards work visas using specific criteria, such as language skills, education, and professional experience.) Then he refined the terms further, to include anyone who had ever typed “how to immigrate to the U.S.” into Google. A few days later, he received a call from an Egyptian client in his mid-thirties, with a master’s degree, a long employment history, and a well-paying job in Detroit. He and his wife, who were raising a child, were ready to emigrate. “These weren’t the people I thought would be interested in coming to Canada,” he said. “They had status in the place where they lived. They made a hundred thousand dollars, had good jobs. These are the people who want to leave?” The man had an H-1B visa, a temporary U.S. work visa for specialty occupations in engineering, medicine, and tech. At the time, Zarif—who entrusts the legal side of the business to the firm’s experts—didn’t know what an H-1B visa was.
On the campaign trail, Trump had attacked the H-1B program, which admits eighty-five thousand people a year, claiming that companies were using it to undercut American workers. When Trump won, many expected him to take steps to curb the program. The Egyptian and his wife had decided that the uncertainty was too much. Zarif heard a similar story, a few days later, from a Pakistani living in the U.S., then from another man, who was Indian. “I started noticing a pattern,” Zarif said. “Each time, they had just the qualifications I was looking for. I thought, Wow, I can actually help them! And, each time, they told me they had this special visa called H-1B.” He went back to his ad filters and added “H-1B” to the search terms. As of this month, H-1B visa holders who live in the U.S. account for half of Canada by Choice’s clients seeking permanent residency and eighty per cent of the firm’s clients seeking a work visa—about seventy people altogether.
Foreign-exchange students, who also figure among Canada by Choice’s clients, have been reacting to Trump’s ascendancy, too. In a recent survey of two hundred and fifty American colleges and universities, forty per cent of the institutions reported a decline in applications from international students for the fall of 2017. Zarif has been fielding calls from Mexican and other Central American students who have told him they’d prefer to study in Canada because of the political climate in the U.S. Others are already in the U.S., finishing master’s-degree programs, and are newly concerned about their ability to secure jobs after graduation. The calls can get difficult. “I’m trying to be professional,” he said. “The person on the other end of the line is swearing at Donald Trump. I’m trying to keep politics out of the workplace. I try to calm them down. But I understand where they’re coming from.”
Canada by Choice is just one small shop, and it’s still too early to tell whether Trump’s Presidency will have a measurable effect on the population of legal immigrants living and working in the U.S. But the number of H-1B applications has already begun to dip. Canada, meanwhile, is becoming more attractive to high-skilled job seekers. The country is projected to create more than two hundred thousand new jobs in the tech sector by 2020, and Canadian firms have been aggressively recruiting foreigners. In the past, Canadian companies have struggled to match the salaries offered by their American counterparts, but now Canadian tech C.E.O.s are reporting an uptick in interest from immigrants who are uncomfortable staying in the U.S.
Marwan Zarif, Hussein’s father, has begun to hire more staff. Marwan, who was born in Lebanon and educated in the U.S., told me, “When I came in, the morning after the Inauguration, I couldn’t get my Web site to work. I went to the government of Canada’s Web site as well. It wasn’t working, either.” In late January, when Trump took office and was signing his first executive orders, traffic to Canada by Choice’s Web site increased from a few dozen daily visits to hundreds; it saw another spike in February. “I thought this was a temporary situation, that it would calm down in two or three weeks. But it’s constantly increasing,” Marwan said.
Last week, the Administration announced a new executive order, called “Buy American, Hire American,” which calls on government agencies to crack down on “fraud and abuse” in the H-1B visa program. On the day of the announcement, I texted Hussein Zarif, who’d seen the news earlier that morning. “It’s pretty vague,” he replied. “But it will play into the fears of the visa holders right now.” Already there’d been a fresh wave of calls, and the traffic to the Web site was spiking once again.
What You Missed By Missing the Not the White House Correspondents Dinner — Jesse Davis Fox reports on Samantha Bee’s counter-programming.
As anyone who watches Full Frontal would’ve expected, at Samantha Bee’s Not the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday, she and her writing staff brought it. Thanks to her rapid-fire style, the special was packed with good jokes, from jokes about CNN to jokes about past presidents to jokes about future presidents to jokes about the current president’s golden habits. Here are some of the best ones, delivered by Bee unless otherwise noted.
• “You are all gonna wanna make friends with our honored guests here at the front table. They are the Committee to Protect Journalists. These are the guys you call if you leave the hall tonight and discover your car has been keyed by Sean Spicer. [Shows image of keyed car.] Aww, buddy. Why’d you sign it with your own name?”
• “Your job has never been harder. The president is trying to undermine your legitimacy. He tells his fans not to trust you. You basically get paid to stand in a cage while a geriatric orangutan and his pet mob scream at you. It’s like a reverse zoo, but you carry on.”
• “Donald Trump is, of course, celebrating his 100th day in office by trying to win Pennsylvania with a swell rally that no one in this room was forced to cover. That assignment went to the reporter that must’ve fucked his boss’s wife.”
• “We are living in a Golden Age of journalism. Unfortunately, that’s partly due to a golden president who’s rumored to enjoy golden showers.”
• Clip of CNN chief Jeff Zucker: “You can call it entertainment. You can call it a reality show. But there was news in it almost every time.”
Samantha Bee: “Almost every time? CNN gives you news like your shitty boyfriend gives your orgasms. Either way, you wind up lying in the wet spot and he’s snoring.”
Clip of Zucker: I don’t think it’s our role or my role to have regrets.
Samantha Bee: “Says the guy who put Joey on the air.”
• [During a segment in which Samantha Bee imagines herself at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner during Ronald Reagan’s administration.] “The president says the most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ That’s funny. I thought they were: ‘You have AIDs and the government doesn’t care.’”
• Kumail Nanjiani: “Trump is like that weird high school friend of yours that shows up at the party but doesn’t bring any beer, drinks everyone’s liquor, is weird to all the girls, and on the way out doesn’t condemn hate crimes.”
• Carl Reiner: “I was in Ocean’s 11, a movie about a casino heist. Trump didn’t find the movie believable because it revolved around a casino that was actually making a profit.”
• Billy Eichner: “You ever notice Betsy DeVos and a duffel bag of orphans’ bones are never seen in the same room together? Makes you think.”
• On Bill O’Reilly: “Turns out it’s bad business to have your flagship show hosted by 400 pounds of sexual-harassment allegations in a 200-pound bag.”
• On Fox News: “What a triumph for women that career sexual predators are finally getting what they deserve: $65 million and age-appropriate retirement.”
• On Rupert Murdoch: “After 20 years setting the table for Trump, the Tasmanian Titan finally has what he’s always wanted: A BFF-slash-program-director in the White House, gumming his soggy cornflakes while enjoying a long-distance circle jerk.”
• [During a segment in which Samantha Bee imagines herself at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner during Bill Clinton’s administration.] “Bill’s been called America’s first black president! Don’t lean into that label too hard, Bill. You might throw yourself in prison.”
• [During a segment in which Samantha Bee imagines herself at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner during Mike Pence’s future administration.] “I think we all owe President Pence a debt of gratitude for bravely stepping into the role after Trump got his head stuck in that jar of honey. What a tragedy.”
“I didn’t think you’d make a good president at all, Mike Pence, but I’m coming around, so, in at least this case, the conversion therapy is working.”
“It’s nice that after a disastrous year of Trump, we can finally stop demonizing immigrants and minorities and focus on the real enemy: gay children.”
• [During a segment in which Samantha Bee imagines herself at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in an alternate reality where Hillary Clinton won.] “For a week after President Clinton won, we all heard this loud buzzing noise. I think it was the sound of the whizzing bullet we just dodged. Or it was Bill O’Reilly’s vibrator. No, Reddit, Bill O’Reilly wasn’t fired from Fox; he was murdered by Hillary Clinton for telling the truth about her presidency. You guys, I can verify that Bill O’Reilly is alive. He left me a long voice-mail last night. It sounded like he was mixing custard while walking up stairs or something. Anyway, he sounded very relaxed by the end of the call.”
“A hundred days. We’re just three menstrual cycles into this presidency, but Washington feels different. Over half the president’s cabinet are women. While testifying so often to the House Ethics committee, they gave her a parking spot that launched an investigation into how she got her own parking spot. [Clinton’s] under so many investigations, I’m starting to think that FBI really does stand for female body inspector.”
“I don’t want to say Republicans were hostile during Hillary’s address to Congress, but she’s the first president who had to walk up to the lectern with her keys between her knuckles. Remember the good ol’ days when Communist was the worst c-word people called the president?”
Doonesbury — Inspired.
What A Week — Charles P. Pierce.
The final dismal act in the perpetually dismal drama through which the late Antonin Scalia was replaced on the Supreme Court by Neil Gorsuch played out in a U.S. Senate in which everybody couldn’t wait for their super-secret afternoon briefing about the big boom-boom in Syria that, in the words of CNN’s eternal sucker, Fareed Zakaria, “made Donald Trump the President of the United States.”
So, with the old Senate rules on such matters having been shitcanned on Thursday afternoon, Gorsuch slid through with 55 votes. For some reason that is both sadly inevitable and completely unfathomable, after all that happened, Democrats Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, and Joe Donnelly all voted in favor of the nominee. And thus does poor, frozen, Alphonse Maddin, who committed the fireable offense of saving his own life, or so determined the latest associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, pass from history as someone who really doesn’t count anymore. He was political grist in a political battle that was foreordained.
“There should be no vacancy on the Supreme Court to fill,” said Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, stating the obvious for the last time in this sorry episode. “President Obama nominated Merrick Garland. Republicans engaged in unprecedented obstructionism that made it possible for this confirmation process to be conducted. It’s always important to remember that the only reason there was a vacancy to fill is the Republicans put in place a process that made it possible to steal this seat from Barack Obama, and they have now successfully delivered it to Donald Trump.”
Simply put, what happened to Merrick Garland has not happened to any other nominee to the Supreme Court, ever. Over the past few weeks, the word “unprecedented” has been thrown around in the debate over Gorsuch in ways that have clouded the meaning of the word. But, yes, presidents have nominated people during their final year in office who were confirmed. Justices have been filibustered for “partisan political reasons.”
(The opposition to Abe Fortas was really about his relatively liberal record on civil rights, not his ethics problems. That’s the reason Richard Russell pulled his support, along with his dissatisfaction with President Lyndon Johnson’s delay at filling a federal judgeship in Russell’s native Georgia, which certainly was political.)
None of those things were “unprecedented” which, if it means anything at all, means that something happens that never happened before. Merrick Garland’s inability to even get a cup of coffee with any Republican senator was truly unprecedented.
And, of course, it worked like a charm. It worked like a charm because there was no way for the strategy to fail. If Hillary Rodham Clinton had been elected, the Republican majority in the Senate would have Garlanded any nominee she put up. (I mean, Garland himself came recommended to President Obama by Orrin Hatch, who then spent the past two years saying what a bad idea his nomination was. This debate really sucked a great amount of pondwater.) But the president* squeaked through, so McConnell could finish the act of stealing the seat quickly.
The only way that McConnell could have been foiled would have been the election of a Democratic Senate majority in either 2014 or 2016. Considering those incoming classes included such stellar additions to the Senate as Deb Fischer of Nebraska and my new pal Joni Ernst from Iowa, McConnell got his way. Once you’ve done away with integrity, J.R. Ewing once cautioned us, the rest is a piece of cake.
Once McConnell committed himself to an unprecedented act of obstruction that actually was unprecedented, and once the great, indolent American electorate gifted him with a continuing, sheeplike Republican majority, it was an easy slide to what happened on Friday. He knew that the likes of John McCain could be relied upon to give him the mournful cover he needed to destroy the rules of the Senate in order to get Gorsuch confirmed. Any Republican who expresses sorrow at what happened to the filibuster in this process is either lying or terrified of a primary. There wasn’t a single defector, either on the vote to change the rules or on the confirmation vote. In fact, the pious murmuring over what “we” had done to the Senate was probably the most gorge-rising element of a fairly nauseating exercise.
So now, there is a full nine-person Supreme Court, and there is a reliably right-wing bloc consisting of Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Chief Justice John Roberts. Once again, Anthony Kennedy gets to be a Very Important Person on every important case. This is what everybody said they wanted—a “balanced Court,” a wish that mysteriously seems to materialize only when a Democratic president seeks to nominate someone. I still come back to Alphonse Maddin, the lost plaintiff, and the fellow whose plight prompted the most memorable moment in Gorsuch’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
As Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, says, summing up not only the case of Alphonse Maddin, but of the entire process by which Neil Gorsuch will sit on the Supreme Court until after I’m dead:
When using the Plain Meaning rule would lead to an absurd result. It is absurd to say that this company is within its rights to fire him because he made the choice of possibly dying from freezing to death, or by causing other people to die by driving an unsafe vehicle. That’s absurd. I had a career in identifying absurdity and I know it when I see it.
The plain meaning of “unprecedented” covers what happened to Merrick Garland, who disappears from history as surely as poor Alphonse Maddin. The absurdity exception was rendered null and void in this process long ago.
Don’t Fall For It, Liberals — Joan Walsh on the praise of bombing Syria.
It shouldn’t be surprising, but it is to me nonetheless: Plenty of liberals who’ve long criticized Donald Trump as unfit to be president are praising his strike on Syrian airfields.
On CNN’s New Day Thursday, global analyst Fareed Zakaria declared, “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States” last night. To his credit, Zakaria has previously called Trump a “bullshit artist” and said, “He has gotten the presidency by bullshitting.” But Zakaria apparently thinks firing missiles make one presidential. On MSNBC, Nicholas Kristof, an aggressive Trump critic, said he “did the right thing” by bombing Syria. Anchor Brian Williams, whose 11th Hour has regularly been critical of Trump, repeatedly called the missiles “beautiful,” to a noisy backlash on Twitter.
While The New York Times posted several skeptical, even critical stories, it gave us this piece of propaganda: an article initially titled “On Syria attack, Trump’s heart came first,” buying the president’s line that his opposition to anti-Assad military action was reversed by seeing the heartrending photos of children struggling to breathe after a chemical attack.
“Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack,” Trump declared. “No child of God should ever suffer such horror.” (No word how he felt about ugly babies.) The piece also failed to even mention that Trump is keeping refugees from the Syrian war, even children, out of the United States. Victims of chemical weapons are “beautiful babies”; children trying to flee such violence require “extreme vetting” and an indefinite refugee ban. After a public outcry, the Times changed the headline.
Even some Obama administration veterans praised Trump’s action. “President Donald J. Trump was right to strike at the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using a weapon of mass destruction, the nerve agent sarin, against its own people,” Antony Blinken, a deputy secretary of state under Obama, wrote in The New York Times. Blinken went on to say, correctly in theory, that what must come next is “smart diplomacy.” But he knows that Trump has shown himself incapable of doing anything smart, especially diplomacy.
Remember just last week, phantom Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Turkey: “I think the…longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.” The Kremlin-funded Russia Today described that as “a U-turn from Washington’s long-held policy” that Assad must go. Six days later, Tillerson was telling reporters, “There is no doubt in our minds, and the information we have supports, that the Syrian regime under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad are responsible for this attack. It is very important that the Russian government consider carefully their support for Bashar al-Assad,” because “steps are underway” to muster international support for a strike. Russia Today seemed disappointed that the United States believes Assad is behind the gassing of his people, arguing that the source is the international rescue group White Helmets, which RT shockingly calls “al-Qaida affiliated.”
Any liberal who praises these missile strikes has to account for what comes next. Obviously, Trump cares little about diplomacy, leaving Tillerson out of key meetings and slashing the State Department’s budget. On Wednesday night, the White House released a photo of his team receiving a briefing on the Syria attack. At the table were Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross; Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin; Goldman Sachs alum Dina Powell, deputy national-security adviser; along with Jared Kushner; Steve Bannon; and Bannon’s sidekick Steven Miller. Why are the Commerce and Treasury secretaries there? What explains why Tillerson, who was in Palm Beach with the president, was not?
The noisiest outrage against the Syrian attack isn’t coming from the left, but the right—particularly the alt-right. Trump’s noninterventionism and his friendliness to Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin were big selling points to white nationalists. Now that he seems to be challenging both men, his former acolytes are enraged. On Twitter, alt-right white supremacist Richard Spencer called it a “total betrayal”; the white nationalists at VDARE blamed it on the “boomercucks” in the administration. Ann Coulter went apoplectic:
Trump campaigned on not getting involved in Mideast. Said it always helps our enemies & creates more refugees. Then he saw a picture on TV.
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) April 7, 2017
It was disappointing to see Hillary Clinton say Wednesday afternoon that she thought air strikes on Syrian airfields were an appropriate response to the chemical-weapon attack. She was always more hawkish than I wished, and that shows it. But it’s wrong to insist she’d have done the “same thing” as Trump. Clinton’s secretary of state wouldn’t likely have told Assad we were no longer concerned about removing him; if she did fire missiles at Syrian airfields, she would have done so with a clearer notion of what comes next. Trump appears to be clueless.
Senator Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, didn’t quite oppose the Syrian strike, calling Assad a “war criminal” and lamenting his murder of civilians with chemical weapons. But noting that “it’s that it’s easier to get into a war than get out of one,” Sanders demanded that Trump “must explain to the American people exactly what this military escalation in Syria is intended to achieve, and how it fits into the broader goal of a political solution, which is the only way Syria’s devastating civil war ends.”Senator Kirsten Gillibrand sounded closer to Sanders than Clinton on the airstrikes, decrying Trump’s “unilateral military action by the US in a Middle East conflict” as well as “the absence of any long-term plan or strategy to address any consequences from such unilateral action.” Like Sanders, she demanded that Trump seek authorization of military force from Congress. By contrast, her New York colleague Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called Trump’s move “the right thing to do.” Schumer may find that many constituents think it was the wrong thing.There remains the possibility that some of this is theater. It should be said: Some observers, besides RT, say it’s unproven that the chemical weapons attack came from Assad; rebels could be behind it. There’s also the possibility of a kabuki performance from Trump, Putin, and Assad. We already know the United States warned Putin of the coming missiles, and that Putin warned Assad, whose military moved airplanes and other military equipment away from the intended target. Trump, plummeting in the polls, his domestic health-care and tax plans on the rocks, the investigation into Russian election meddling closing in on his team, really needed a boost; maybe they gave it to him. Trump’s sudden about-face on Syria makes it hard to judge.
However, according to Syrian state media, nine civilians, including four children, were killed in the air strikes. That is not kabuki. Trump has said nothing about those “beautiful babies,” nor will he. Liberals have to sober up and stop being besotted by beautiful missiles and presidential cruelty. Trump is the same Trump he was Tuesday, and that should scare all of us.
Mike Pence’s Other Rules — Ethan Kuperberg in The New Yorker.
In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife. —the Washington Post.
Two women who are not his wife
One woman who is not his wife, and one man who is short
Photographs containing women who are not his wife
Men who have the same name as his wife
Dictionary open to the page containing “wife,” “sex,” or “vagina”
The Temptations’ “Greatest Hits” album
Sofa with more than two pillows
Sofa with one long, buxom pillow
Peanut butter (smooth)
“Will & Grace” DVDs
Legislation that benefits women other than his wife
Paintings of ripe fruit
Garlic, a crucifix, direct sunlight, or a vampire hunter other than his wife
Windows with views of hills that, if you squint, look sort of like sideways breasts
Dogs that are not German shepherds
A blank white wall where an image of a woman other than his wife could be projected
Peanut butter (chunky)
An empty tissue box that he could stick his dick in
Doonesbury — Evil is as evil does.
The Two-Year Presidency — Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post.
Good news: In two years, we’ll have a new president. Bad news: If we make it that long.
My “good” prediction is based on the Law of the Pendulum. Enough Americans, including most independent voters, will be so ready to shed Donald Trump and his little shop of horrors that the 2018 midterm elections are all but certain to be a landslide — no, make that a mudslide — sweep of the House and Senate. If Republicans took both houses in a groundswell of the people’s rejection of Obamacare, Democrats will take them back in a tsunami of protest.
Once ensconced, it would take a Democratic majority approximately 30 seconds to begin impeachment proceedings selecting from an accumulating pile of lies, overreach and just plain sloppiness. That is, assuming Trump hasn’t already been shown the exit.
Or that he hasn’t declared martial law (all those anarchists, you know) and effectively silenced dissent. We’re already well on our way to the latter via Trump’s incessant attacks on the media — “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth” — and press secretary Sean Spicer’s rabid-chihuahua, daily press briefings. (Note to Sean: Whatever he’s promised you, it’s not worth becoming Melissa McCarthy’s punching bag. But really, don’t stop.)With luck, and Cabinet-level courage that is not much in evidence, there’s a chance we won’t have to wait two long years, during which, let’s face it, anything could happen. In anticipation of circumstances warranting a speedier presidential replacement, wiser minds added Section 4 to the 25th Amendment, which removes the president if a majority of the Cabinet and the vice president think it necessary, i.e., if the president is injured or falls too ill to serve. Or, by extension, by being so incompetent — or not-quite-right — that he or she poses a threat to the nation and must be removed immediately and replaced by the vice president.
Aren’t we there, yet?
Thus far, Trump and his henchmen have conducted a full frontal assault on civil liberties, open government and religious freedom, as well as instigating or condoning a cascade of ethics violations ranging from the serious (business conflicts of interest) to the absurd (attacking a department store for dropping his daughter’s fashion line). And, no, it’s not just a father defending his daughter. It’s the president of the United States bullying a particular business and, more generally, making a public case against free enterprise.
To an objective observer, it would seem impossible to defend the perilous absurdities emanating from the White House and from at least one executive agency, the Agriculture Department, which recently scrubbed animal abuse reports from its website, leaving puppies, kittens, horses and others to fend for themselves.
In a hopeful note, a few Republicans are speaking out, but the list is short.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz recently got a taste of what’s ahead for Republican incumbents. Facing an unruly crowd at a town hall meeting in Utah, the House Oversight Committee chairman was booed nearly every time he mentioned Trump. Even if many in the crowd were members of opposition groups, the evening provided a glimpse of the next two years. From 2010’s tea party to 2018’s resistance, the pendulum barely had time to pause before beginning its leftward trek.
While we wait for it to someday find the nation’s center, where so many wait impatiently, it seems clear that the president, who swore an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, has never read it. Nor, apparently, has he ever even watched a Hollywood rendering of the presidency. A single episode of “The West Wing” would have taught Trump more about his new job than he seems to know — or care.
Far more compelling than keeping his promise to act presidential is keeping campaign promises against reason, signing poorly conceived executive orders, bashing the judicial and legislative branches, and tweeting his spleen to a wondering and worrying world.
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.”
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.
Like it or not, Trump is going to become president at noon on Friday. Nothing is going to change that, even if the CIA or the FBI or the press comes up with absolute proof of misdeeds, misconduct, and mischief. No amount of petitions or calls to Congress will stop the clock from running down to the change of terms, and all those people marching the next day in Washington, Seattle, Miami, Denver, and Kansas City won’t stop him from assuming office. The government must go on. The Constitution says so.
But that doesn’t mean that we cannot do everything we can to limit the damage, to push back against the chaos that is already brewing here and abroad, and it doesn’t mean that the press should stop pushing back and digging in. Right now the current worry in the press corps is that the Trump White House might restrict their access or even throw them out of the briefing room at the White House. The relationship between the White House and the press has always been adversarial, which is the way it should be. So you do your reporting from the driveway.
It’s not news that Trump is a coward and a bully who has surrounded himself with sycophants and yes-people. Take it from someone who has dealt with bullies most of his life and learned a very valuable lesson: they have very thin skin and they are destroyed when they are mocked and laughed at. It is the ultimate form of defiance and it makes them flail, which provides even more fodder for mockery and defiance. Note how easily Trump is pissed off by Saturday Night Live’s portrayal of him by Alec Baldwin. A normal person would laugh it off or even offer to contribute to their own mockery, thereby deflating it. But Trump is providing endless hours of fun. He’s already improving the economy for actors and writers.
Yes, of course we should be concerned about what a Trump presidency will mean for the global economy and stability in the numerous hot spots around the world. Yes, he is more than likely on the hook to Vladimir Putin and the Russian oligarchs of oil (which is probably redundant). Yes, he has threatened basic civil rights of journalists and made outrageous promises that he couldn’t fulfill even if he wanted to. But the way he wins and gets his way is by his opponents being cowed and surrendering.
I’m not a politician or an elected official so there’s not much I can do about voting against his plans. Neither am I a journalist with the resources to dig into his dealings. But I am a writer, and until they pry the keyboard from my cold dead hands, I will continue to document the absurd and the dangerous, the cheap and the tacky, and to make America great again by using the one weapon that actually works against a bully: their inability to take a joke.
Or, to put it more succinctly, Trump needs a pie in the face.
The radio — and other iterations of that form of mass communication — is wafting out seasonal tunes: Christmas music both religious and secular. You don’t have to be a Christian or observant of the holiday to enjoy them. So, do you have a favorite one? Share your thoughts in the comments.
And yes, Quakers do have a sense of humor.
Clear and Present Danger — Ari Berman in The Nation on how voter suppression is just the start.
Donald Trump’s tweets yesterday about “the millions of people who voted illegally in 2016” and “serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California” cannot be dismissed as just another Twitter meltdown from the president-elect. (It goes without saying that Trump’s claims are categorically false.)
His conspiracy theories about rigged elections during the presidential race were meant to delegitimize the possibility of Hillary Clinton’s election. But now that he’s won the election we have to take his words far more seriously. He will appoint the next attorney general, at least one Supreme Court justice and thousands of positions in the federal government. His lies about the prevalence of voter fraud are a prelude to the massive voter suppression Trump and his allies in the GOP are about to unleash.
Unlike his Democratic and Republican predecessors, Trump has little respect for the institutions that preserve American democracy, whether it’s freedom of the press or the right to vote. As I wrote in The Nation recently:
Trump undermined the basic tenets of democracy in ways unseen by any previous presidential nominee. He said he might refuse to accept the outcome of the election if things didn’t go his way; his supporters explicitly called for “racial profiling” at the polls; and his campaign openly boasted that “we have three major voter-suppression operations under way” to reduce turnout among African Americans, young women, and liberals.
We can already glimpse how a Trump administration will undermine voting rights, based on the people he nominated to top positions, those he has advising him, and his own statements.
His pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, wrongly prosecuted black civil-rights activists for voter fraud in Alabama in the 1980s, called the Voting Rights Act “a piece of intrusive legislation,” and praised the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, saying that “if you go to Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, people aren’t being denied the vote because of the color of their skin.”
Trump’s Justice Department could limit voting rights in a number of critical ways, as I wrote in The New York Times last week:
It could choose not to vigorously enforce the Voting Rights Act, instead pressing states to take more aggressive action to combat alleged voter fraud. This could include purging voter rolls and starting investigations into voter-registration organizations.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a front-runner to head Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, has called for precisely this. During a meeting with Trump last week, Kobach brought a “strategic plan” for DHS that advocated purging voter rolls and drafting amendments to the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, presumably to require proof of citizenship, like a passport or birth certificate, to register to vote, which prevented tens of thousands of eligible voters from being able to register in Kansas. It’s chilling that a top Trump adviser like Kobach views voting rights as a threat to homeland security.
Trump’s chief adviser, Steve Bannon, has even more radical views. According toThe New York Times, he “once suggested to a colleague that perhaps only property owners should be allowed to vote.” A co-writer of his on a Reagan documentary told the paper:
“I said, ‘That would exclude a lot of African-Americans,’” Ms. Jones recalled. “He said, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.’ I said, ‘But what about Wendy?’” referring to Mr. Bannon’s executive assistant. “He said, ‘She’s different. She’s family.’”
Trump himself said, after courts struck down voter-ID laws in states like North Carolina, that “the voter-ID situation has turned out to be a very unfair development. We may have people vote 10 times.” Ironically, one of the only documented instances of voter fraud in 2016 was committed by a Trump supporter who voted twice in Iowa—and was caught in a state without a voter-ID law.
If you want a better idea of the lengths a Trump administration might go to suppress voting rights, take a look at what Republicans are doing in North Carolina right now. A month after the Supreme Court ruled that states with a long history of discrimination no longer had to approve their voting changes with the federal government, North Carolina Republicans passed a “monster” voter-suppression law that required strict photo ID, cut early voting, and eliminated same-day registration and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds.
Like in so many-GOP controlled states, Republicans in North Carolina justified the voting restrictions by spreading false claims about voter fraud. (Such fraud was in fact exceedingly rare: There were only two cases of voter impersonation in North Carolina from 2002 to 2012 out of 35 million votes cast.)
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that North Carolina’s law targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision.” But even after the court restored a week of early voting, GOP-controlled county election boards limited early voting hours and polling locations. The executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party called on Republicans to make “party line changes to early voting” that included opposing polling sites on college campuses and prohibiting early voting on Sundays, when black churches held “Souls to the Polls” voter-mobilization drives. The North Carolina GOP bragged before Election Day that “African American Early Voting is down 8.5% from this time in 2012. Caucasian voters early voting is up 22.5% from this time in 2012.”
Things got even crazier after the election. After Republican Pat McCrory lost the governor’s race to Democrat Roy Cooper by 9,000 votes, his campaign began filing bogus complaints about voter fraud in an attempt to overturn the election result or have the North Carolina legislature reinstall him as governor. Those challenged by the McCrory campaign include a 101-year-old World War II veteran in Greensboro wrongly accused of double voting.
That wasn’t all. After a black Democrat, Mike Morgan, won a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court, giving Democrats a 4-3 majority, Republicans have proposed expanding the size of the court by two justices, who could be appointed by McCrory in his last weeks in office, allowing Republicans to retain control. This would be an outrageous rebuke to the will of the voters and the rule of law, but you can’t put anything past the North Carolina GOP these days.
North Carolina is a case study for how Republicans have institutionalized voter suppression at every level of government and made it the new normal within the GOP. The same thing could soon happen in Washington when Trump takes power.
Hello, Taiwan — David A. Graham in The Atlantic on the background of our relationship with Taiwan.
It’s hardly remembered now, having been overshadowed a few months later on September 11, but the George W. Bush administration’s first foreign-policy crisis came in the South China Sea. On April 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy surveillance plane collided with a Chinese jet near Hainan Island. The pilot of the Chinese jet was killed, and the American plane was forced to land and its crew was held hostage for 11 days, until a diplomatic agreement was worked out. Sino-American relations remained tense for some time.Unlike Bush, Donald Trump didn’t need to wait to be inaugurated to set off a crisis in the relationship. He managed that on Friday, with a phone call to the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. It’s a sharp breach with protocol, but it’s also just the sort that underscores how weird and incomprehensible some important protocols are.
Trump’s call was first reported by the Financial Times, but the Trump campaign soon confirmed it and issued a readout of the conversation:
President-elect Trump spoke with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, who offered her congratulations. During the discussion, they noted the close economic, political, and security ties exists between Taiwan and the United States. President-elect Trump also congratulated President Tsai on becoming President of Taiwan earlier this year.
Why would Trump not speak with Tsai? Here’s where the strangeness starts. The U.S. maintains a strong “unofficial” relationship with Taiwan, including providing it with “defensive” weapons, while also refusing to recognize its independence and pressuring Taiwanese leaders not to upset a fragile but functional status quo. It’s the sort of fiction that is obvious to all involved, but on which diplomacy is built: All parties agree to believe in the fiction for the sake of getting along.
The roots of this particular fiction date to 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China was routed by Mao Zedong and the Communists, and Chiang fled to Taiwan. The U.S., in Cold War mode, continued to recognize the ROC in Taiwan as China’s rightful government, and so did the United Nations. But in 1971, the UN changed course, recognizing the People’s Republic of China—or as it was often called then, Red China—as the legitimate government. In 1979, the United States followed suit. Crucially, the communiqué proclaiming that recognition noted, “The Government of the United States of America acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.”Officially, this has also been the policy of Taiwan for almost a quarter century. Under the 1992 Consensus, another artful diplomatic fiction, both Taipei and Beijing agreed that there was only one China and agreed to disagree on which was legitimate, as well as maintaining two separate systems. During the Bush years, the U.S. said it would defend Taiwan in an attack, but Bush also pushed back on Taiwanese moves toward independence.
Despite recognizing the PRC, the U.S. has kept close ties with Taiwan since 1979. The State Department notes that “Taiwan is the United States’ ninth largest trading partner, and the United States is Taiwan’s second largest trading partner.” More importantly, the U.S. has sold some $46 billion in arms to Taiwan since 1990, which are intended as defensive. Last December, the Obama administration sold $1.8 billion in anti-tank missiles, warships, and other materiel to Taipei. Of course, the “defensive” purpose to all of this is against China, the most plausible aggressor against Taiwan. Naturally, the arms sales have consistently annoyed the Chinese. (Recently, China has been on a campaign of land-grabbing and saber-rattling across the South China Sea, trying to assert greater control and influence.)
Though the triangle between the U.S., China, and Taiwan sometimes flares up, the general goal of all three has been to maintain the fragile status quo. By speaking to President Tsai, and praising U.S. relations with Taiwan, Trump threatens to upset that delicate balance. Reaction to the call was immediate and, for the most part, aghast.
“The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions,” Evan Medeiros, former Asia director at the White House National Security Council, told the FT. “Regardless if it was deliberate or accidental, this phone call will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative. With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for U.S.-China relations.”Ari Fleischer, Bush’s first White House press secretary, noted that he wasn’t even allowed to refer to a Taiwanese government. My colleague James Fallows, not generally a man given to overreaction or caps-lock, was blunter: “WHAT THE HELL????” he tweeted.
As is typically the case with Trump, it’s hard to tell whether this blithe overturning of protocol is intentional or simply a result of not knowing, or caring, better.
There are various reasons Trump might be intentionally poking China. Trump spoke harshly about China throughout his presidential campaign, accusing Beijing of currency manipulation, land-grabbing, and taking advantage of the United States. He also showed a willingness, if not an eagerness, to slaughter nearly every sacred cow of American foreign policy.
Some Trump confidants have suggested existing policy on Taiwan should become one of them. John Bolton, who served as Bush’s ambassador to the UN, has been advising Trump, and Bolton has been a very public advocate of the U.S. cozying up to Taiwan in order to show strength against China.
Even if the provocation is intentional, that doesn’t mean Trump has acted wisely. “I would guess that President-elect Trump does not really comprehend how sensitive Beijing is about this issue,” Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Hill.Some observers suggested that the call fits with the pattern of Trump intertwining his business and political interests, pointing out that he’s currently seeking to open luxury hotels in Taiwan.
But it’s also possible that Trump just stumbled into the matter, Being There-style. Trump tweeted Friday evening that Tsai had called him, presenting himself as just the guy who picked up the handset. It’s unclear how studied the decision to take it was, or whether it was studied at all. Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, assailed Trump for not taking it seriously. “Foreign policy consistency is a means, not an end. It’s not sacred. Thus, it’s Trump’s right to shift policy, alliances, strategy,” Murphy said in a pair of tweets. “What has happened in the last 48 hours is not a shift. These are major pivots in foreign policy w/out any plan. That’s how wars start.”
It’s also hard to know how big a deal Trump’s call is. China did not immediately comment. A White House official told The New York Times that the administration was only informed of the call after the fact, and said the fallout could be significant. There were other questions. Wouldn’t Beijing see that what Trump did was a blunder, but not a major shift in policy? Isn’t the Chinese government sophisticated enough not to take Trump at face value?
Trump’s previous conversations might provide hints on whether foreign governments will take Trump seriously. As Uri Friedman wrote today, Trump’s conversation with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has already had repercussions. The Pakistani government put out a readout that read suspiciously like a near-verbatim transcript of Trump’s words, capturing the tone the president-elect uses. His promise to “play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems” might sound to an American who just observed the election as so much Trumpian space-filling, but it made headlines in Pakistan, where some interpreted it as a nod to Pakistan’s conflict with India in Kashmir. Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, told the Times it appeared Pakistani officials had taken Trump’s words too seriously.China is perhaps a more sophisticated foreign-policy player than Pakistan; it’s certainly a more important one. But as Fallows points out, a China that sees Trump as buffoon probably isn’t good for American interests either.
For the time being, the most important thing to watch is probably for Beijing’s announcement. That will be the first clue as to whether Trump’s phone call will set in motion a huge realignment of American policy and relationships with China and Taiwan—or if it will be another Hainan Island incident, barely remembered 15 years on.
NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—President-elect Donald J. Trump drew a line in the sand on Friday as he warned that U.S. companies planning to ship jobs overseas will be slapped with enormous bribes.
“If you think you’re going to get away with sending jobs out of the U.S., think again,” Trump said. “You are about to be bribed, big league.”
He raised the cautionary example of Carrier Corporation, which this week decided to keep a few hundred jobs in the U.S. in exchange for a seven-million-dollar government incentive. “I warned those boys at Carrier: we can do this the easy way, or the hard way, where you get seven million dollars,” he said. “They backed down so fast—it was terrific.”
The President-elect said that the Carrier story should strike fear into the hearts of all American businesses that might be contemplating shipping jobs overseas. “Do you really want to wind up like Carrier, with seven million dollars in your pockets?” he asked. “I don’t think so.”
In a parting shot, Trump warned companies that he was prepared to back up his tough rhetoric with even tougher action. “I will bribe you so hard, your grandchildren will get paid,” he threatened.
Doonesbury — Colorful language.
Conscientious Objector — Charles M. Blow in the New York Times.
Donald Trump schlepped across town on Tuesday to meet with the publisher of The New York Times and some editors, columnists and reporters at the paper.
As The Times reported, Trump actually seemed to soften some of his positions:
He seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t seek to prosecute Hillary Clinton. But he should never have said that he was going to do that in the first place.
He seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t encourage the military to use torture. But he should never have said that he would do that in the first place.
He said that he would have an “open mind” on climate change. But that should always have been his position.
You don’t get a pat on the back for ratcheting down from rabid after exploiting that very radicalism to your advantage. Unrepentant opportunism belies a staggering lack of character and caring that can’t simply be vanquished from memory. You did real harm to this country and many of its citizens, and I will never — never — forget that.
As I read the transcript and then listened to the audio, the slime factor was overwhelming.
After a campaign of bashing The Times relentlessly, in the face of the actual journalists, he tempered his whining with flattery.
At one point he said:
“I just appreciate the meeting and I have great respect for The New York Times. Tremendous respect. It’s very special. Always has been very special.”
He ended the meeting by saying:
“I will say, The Times is, it’s a great, great American jewel. A world jewel. And I hope we can all get along well.”
I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your “I hope we can all get along” plea: Never.
You are an aberration and abomination who is willing to do and say anything — no matter whom it aligns you with and whom it hurts — to satisfy your ambitions.
I don’t believe you care much at all about this country or your party or the American people. I believe that the only thing you care about is self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Your strongest allegiance is to your own cupidity.
I also believe that much of your campaign was an act of psychological projection, as we are now learning that many of the things you slammed Clinton for are things of which you may actually be guilty.
You slammed Clinton for destroying emails, then Newsweek reported last month that your companies “destroyed emails in defiance of court orders.” You slammed Clinton and the Clinton Foundation for paid speeches and conflicts of interest, then it turned out that, as BuzzFeed reported, the Trump Foundation received a $150,000 donation in exchange for your giving a 2015 speech made by video to a conference in Ukraine. You slammed Clinton about conflicts of interest while she was secretary of state, and now your possible conflicts of interest are popping up like mushrooms in a marsh.
You are a fraud and a charlatan. Yes, you will be president, but you will not get any breaks just because one branch of your forked tongue is silver.
I am not easily duped by dopes.
I have not only an ethical and professional duty to call out how obscene your very existence is at the top of American government; I have a moral obligation to do so.
I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, but rather to speak up for truth and honor and inclusion. This isn’t just about you, but also about the moral compass of those who see you for who and what you are, and know the darkness you herald is only held at bay by the lights of truth.
It’s not that I don’t believe that people can change and grow. They can. But real growth comes from the accepting of responsibility and repenting of culpability. Expedient reversal isn’t growth; it’s gross.
So let me say this on Thanksgiving: I’m thankful to have this platform because as long as there are ink and pixels, you will be the focus of my withering gaze.
I’m thankful that I have the endurance and can assume a posture that will never allow what you represent to ever be seen as everyday and ordinary.
No, Mr. Trump, we will not all just get along. For as long as a threat to the state is the head of state, all citizens of good faith and national fidelity — and certainly this columnist — have an absolute obligation to meet you and your agenda with resistance at every turn.
I know this in my bones, and for that I am thankful.
“Tu día llegó” — Jennine Capó Crucet on Miami’s reaction to the death of Fidel Castro.
The first time Fidel Castro died was around my birthday in 2006. I was in Miami when the announcement went out that Castro had had an operation and was temporarily ceding power to his brother. This being the first time Castro had voluntarily stepped away from his dictatorship, speculation ran wild. Miami Cubans took to the streets to celebrate the death of a tyrant, a symbol of death and loss for Cubans of all races and faiths.
This morning, my sister texted, “Fidel is dead… again,” one of 26 messages from friends and relatives sharing the news.
I’d already heard: around midnight, Cubans of every age again poured into the streets of Miami to celebrate the death of a dictator who’d had a profound effect on our lives — who was, in many ways, the reason we were all here in the first place. I was in Westchester, a south Miami neighborhood that’s arguably the heart of Miami’s Cuban community (and as a Hialeah native, I’d be the first one to argue).
On Bird Road, where the lane closest to the sidewalk had been blocked off to allow for overflowing crowds, police lights bathed people in swirls of blue and red light. A father had his arm around his adolescent daughter, who was draped in a Cuban flag, the two of them watching the celebration around them. A woman about my age, there with her girlfriend, wore a T-shirt she seemed to be saving for this day: it read, Tu dia llego (meaning, “your day has come,” though the accents were missing from both día and llegó). A crew of fraternity brothers, none of them Cuban, said they’d “come down from Broward to see this.” “Hialeah must be on fire right now,” one of them said.
I am always somehow back in Miami when something monumental happens in our community. Celia Cruz’s death. Obama’s 2015 visit to Cuba. Even the Elian Gonzalez chaos in 1999 and 2000 coincided with my college breaks. I turned that saga into a novel in order to write through the media’s inaccurate and incomplete portrayal of frenzied Cubans throwing themselves at the feet of a young boy-turned-symbol.
The news out of Miami today will show you loud Cubans parading through the streets. It will show us hitting pots and pans and making much noise and yelling and crying and honking horns. It will give you familiar, rehashed images of old men sipping café out of tiny cups outside Versailles, the famous Cuban restaurant in Miami. That’s all part of it, yes.
But what is more important, yet difficult to show, are other prevalent scenes: People just outside the camera frame, leaning against a restaurant wall, silent and stunned and worried about those still on the island; the tearful conversations happening this morning between generations, families sitting around café con leche and remembering those who Castro’s regime executed.
At a dinner with Miami-based Latino writers a couple nights after the Miami Book Fair last week, we joked that Castro would never die because he is protected by powerful santería — the joke being that the news would take such a statement from us as fact because of our heritage. We are already anticipating the inevitable question: Now that Castro is dead, will we visit Cuba? As if those visits would legitimize something about our identities as American-born Cubans, as if the choice to visit the island would be worth bragging about — as if our answer to that question is anyone’s business but our own.
Those conversations are more nuanced and don’t have the same dramatic effect as banging on pots and pans. They are complex and harder to fit into whatever you write within hours of learning that the dictator who has literally and symbolically represented oppression your entire life is finally gone: Tu día llegó – your day has come – and yes, the shirt fits, but each of us knows there is so much more behind those words that is impossible to distill.
Many of us out on the streets last night and this morning are here as witnesses, as bearers of memory, as symbols ourselves. Many of us are out because we have family that can’t be here — mothers, abuelos, cousins who died at the hands of the Castro regime. We are here to comfort each other and to honor the sacrifices these family members made. This morning in Miami, in the house in Westchester, we were calling each other around the city and the country and saying, “I am thinking of you.”
In one call, ten minutes into the play-by-play of where we all were when we heard the news, my partner’s grandfather, who was born in Cuba but now lives in Puerto Rico, asked us over speaker phone, “Now are you gonna get married?” I lifted a mug to my mouth and began chugging coffee with sudden intensity, and in the laughter around the moment, someone chimed in that we’d stick to the day’s plan of getting a Christmas tree. But his response is proof that there is hope and optimism and excitement at the base of many of these new conversations.
Today I awoke to stories we’d heard a thousand times, stories about the family left behind in Cuba, about survival and exile, about first weeks in the United States, stories honoring those who did not live to see this moment — all being told with more verve and energy than they’ve been told for a long time. I cannot speak for every Cuban and have never embraced the chance to do so. This was my immediate reaction to hearing about Fidel Castro’s death: That’s impossible, he will never die. Turns out even I’d fallen for the hype.
Broadway Recommendations for Mike Pence — Michael Schulman at The New Yorker has his picks.
Dear Vice-President-elect Pence,
Congratulations on scoring tickets for “Hamilton”! Not an easy task. Hopefully you enjoyed the title performance by Javier Muñoz, a gay, H.I.V.-positive Puerto Rican.
Here are some suggestions for other Broadway shows to check out—or avoid, for your own safety. As you know, the theatre is a “safe place,” except if you’re a virulent homophobe or texting in the presence of Patti LuPone.
So get on that TKTS line and remember: if you’re molested by a Times Square Elmo, you have Rudy Giuliani to thank.
A stage version of the Disney classic about an Arab street criminal who infiltrates the government under a false identity and employs black magic to bring down the wise Royal Vizir. Skip.
“The Book of Mormon”
An inspirational drama about two white Christians spreading God’s word to deepest, darkest Africa. The showstopper is about young men using religion to repress their homosexual thoughts. No wonder audiences are smiling!
“The Phantom of the Opera”
A psychopathic troll terrorizes the cosmopolitan élite. Donald Trump called it “great”!
A well-intentioned and intelligent woman is smeared with false accusations until the public is convinced that she’s a malevolent witch. A+
A musical about gay Jewish New Yorkers who have lesbian neighbors and sing songs like “Four Jews in a Room Bitching.” At the end, one of them gets AIDS and dies. AVOID.
An eye-opening portrait of crime and corruption in Barack Obama’s home city. The hero is the brilliant defense attorney Billy Flynn, who bamboozles the public with sensationalist lies and sings, “How can they hear the truth above the roar?” Bonus: jailed women.
A throwback to when America was truly great, 1942. Men were men, women were women, and barns were red. Includes the greatest song ever written by a Jew, “White Christmas.”
“Fiddler on the Roof”
A musical about members of a despised minority who are forced to leave their homes after being targeted by violent hate groups under a repressive czar. A heart-warmer!
“The Color Purple”
A wistful portrait of being a poor black woman in the Jim Crow South, a.k.a. the good old days.
“The Front Page”
An exposé of the corrupt mainstream media as it distorts the truth and undermines law and order. Needless to say, Nathan Lane is a hoot!
This portrait of working-class women in America’s heartland starts off O.K., when the title character chooses to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. But she winds up committing adultery and taking control of her own life choices. Recommendation: leave at intermission.
A black drag queen helps the white working class bring back manufacturing jobs by producing bedazzled red footwear. This musical must be stopped.
The Donald Trump of musicals: it’s tacky, it’s nonsensical, and it’s from the eighties. The cats live in the streets without a social safety net. And, since they’re competing for a chance at reincarnation, all the characters are potentially unborn. Go!
Doonesbury — It’s an honor.
Racial Epithet — Charles P. Pierce on going public with racism.
Out in the country, how’s that transition going? That well, eh, Medium? That’s quite a gallery you’ve got going there, and Shaun King on the electric Twitter machine is doing a good job collecting the True Horror Tales, too.
Look, I’m not sure how much good politically the mass marches that broke out in a number of cities on Wednesday night ultimately will do. A part of me—the pragmatic, cynical part—agrees that it will set deeper in concrete the hatred and dread common to those voters who lined up behind El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago and expressed their economic insecurity in such interesting ways. I mean, I get that argument, and I agree with its fundamental premises.
But what I think about it shouldn’t really matter a damn to those people in the streets. I’m not going to get harassed at a gas station. My kids aren’t going to be tormented on the playground. Nobody’s going to spray-paint a swastika on my garage or tell me to hustle my ass to the ovens. Nobody’s going to ship my abuela back to El Salvador. I can’t begin to plumb the depth of the fear that the targets of this unmoored ferocity must be feeling. I am sorry flags got burned and that property was damaged and that CNN found a marcher saying untoward things about civil war—the kind of loose talk, by the way, that was commonplace among supporters of the president-elect before the returns rolled in Tuesday night.
Which brings me to another point.
Ever since it became plain that Donald Trump was going to be the next president of the United States, there’s been an awful lot of chin-stroking about how the “coastal elites” had failed to articulate the economic anxiety of the white working class and/or the rural proletariat. (Somebody should tell me why the white working-class and the black working-class are different. Never mind. I think I figured it out.) This rather mystifies me since it seemed that the elite political media spent an awful lot of money sending people out to take the temperature of the people in the body shops and battered farms of the lost exurban paradises. Every other day, some member of that ol’ debbil media was out there, buying them all a cookie. These people were not ignored. They were as well-represented in the coverage of this election as any group was. Long ago, the indispensable Alec MacGillis determined that this was the story of the election and he’s spent a lot of times listening to the folks out there and bringing their stories back to us. Via ProPublica:
And yet St. Martin was leaning toward Trump. Her explanation for this was halting but vehement, spoken with pauses and in bursts. She was disappointed in Obama after having voted for him. “I don’t like the Obama persona, his public appearance and demeanor,” she said. “I wanted people like me to be cared about. People don’t realize there’s nothing without a blue-collar worker.” She regretted that she did not have a deeper grasp of public affairs. “No one that’s voting knows all the facts,” she said. “It’s a shame. They keep us so fucking busy and poor that we don’t have the time.” When she addressed Clinton herself, it was in a stream that seemed to refer to, but not explicitly name, several of the charges thrown against Clinton by that point in time, including her handling of the deadly 2012 attack by Islamic militants on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya; the potential conflicts of interest at the Clinton Foundation; and her use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State, mixing national security business with emails to her daughter, Chelsea. “To have lives be sacrificed because of corporate greed and warmongering, it’s too much for me — and I realize I don’t have all the facts — that there’s just too much sidestepping on her. I don’t trust her. I don’t think that — I know there’s casualties of war in conflict, I’m a big girl, I know that. But I lived my life with no secrets. There’s no shame in the truth. There’s mistakes made. We all grow. She’s a mature woman and she should know that. You don’t email your fucking daughter when you’re a leader. Leaders need to make decisions, they need to be focused. You don’t hide stuff. “That’s why I like Trump,” she continued. “He’s not perfect. He’s a human being. We all make mistakes. We can all change our mind. We get educated, but once you have the knowledge, you still have to go with your gut.”
I advise everyone who has lurched from one simple explanation for Trumpism (“Those people be stooopid.”) to another simple explanation (“Why won’t the Democrats reach out more?”) to read that passage carefully. There literally is no innovative political strategy, and there is no creative policy prescription, that would have convinced that woman to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is so deeply sunk in the mire of misinformation that she never will be pulled out again. Who is it, precisely, that doesn’t care about her, and how was that manifested in her daily life? How, precisely, would Donald Trump care about her? The piece is replete with these kind of moments. What should the Democrats do to meet halfway the guy who believes the nation is being “pussified”? What’s precisely the political outreach strategy that will bring back a guy who says this?
“If I say anything about that, I’m a racist,” he said. “I can’t stand that politically correct bullshit.” He had, he said, taken great solace in confiding recently in an older black man at a bar who had agreed with his musing on race and crime. “It was like a big burden lifted from me — here was this black man agreeing with me!”
And if, as has been suggested, HRC had switched her strategy from talking about Trump’s manifest unfitness to office to a pitch that she was on their side, would that have sold?
“They feel like this is a forgotten area that’s suffering, that has been forgotten by Columbus and Washington and then they hear someone say, we can turn this place around, they feel it viscerally.” And he feared that the national Democratic Party did not realize how little it could afford such a loss, or even realize how well it had those voters in the fold as recently as 2012. “I’m a believer in the Democratic coalition, but they’re writing off folks and it’s going to hurt them,” he said. “To write them off is reckless.”
Again, in what way had the Democratic coalition been “writing off” these people? It wasn’t the Democratic coalition who stymied actual stimulus spending in 2009. It wasn’t the Democratic coalition that hamstrung the Affordable Care Act so that Republican governors could refuse to take FREE MONEY! to implement it. I wish there was a political fix for these folks but the fact is that, more than anything else, they have been victimized by a stratagem through which people refused to allow government to work and then blamed it for being ineffective. Old dog, as the late Ms. Ivins used to say, still hunts.
And, of course, there is the Other Thing.
Jones, 30, who worked part-time at a pizza shop and delivering medicines to nursing homes, joked at first that his vote for Obama might have had to do with his having been doing a lot of drugs at the time. He grew serious when he talked about how much the Black Lives Matter protests against shootings by police officers grated on him. Chicago was experiencing soaring homicide rates, he said — why weren’t more people talking about that?
People were. Lots of people were. The quick retort to people (like me) who argue that nativist racism played a decisive role in the election generally point to counties that voted for Obama in 2008 (and, occasionally, in 2012, too) but flipped to Trump in 2016. This, they say, is proof that the vague sense of having been “written off” in those places was a more powerful motivator there than race. But I tend to agree with Jamelle Bouie, who wrote that a big part of the reason these places went for Obama was that neither John McCain nor Mitt Romney were racially inflammatory enough. That, in this painful area, they didn’t “tell it like it is.” Trump did. Via Slate:
There’s an easy rejoinder here: How can this be about race when Trump won some Obama voters? There’s an equally easy answer: John McCain indulged racial fears, and Mitt Romney played on racial resentment, but they refused to go further. To borrow from George Wallace, they refused to cry “nigger.” This is important. By rejecting the politics of explicit racism and white backlash, they moved the political battleground to nominally colorblind concerns. Race was still a part of these clashes—it’s unavoidable—but neither liberals nor conservatives would litigate the idea of a pluralistic, multiracial democracy. Looking back, I thought this meant we had a consensus. It appears, instead, that we had a detente. And Trump shattered it.
Those people who felt “forgotten” and “left behind”? Where do they stand on right-to-work laws? Where do they stand on voter suppression laws, which go out of their way to prevent a solid voting bloc of white and black working-class voters? Where do they really stand on trade, with Bernie Sanders or with the Wal-Mart to which they go every weekend?
I would like someone to convince me that economic populism without the accelerant of racial animosity would have changed the results materially on Tuesday. It never has before. The Jacksonian Democrats successfully rebelled against the effete establishment and the eastern speculators, and some of them even embraced the new white immigrants from Europe, but they did so while being stalwart defenders of the slave power and by conducting genocide by a number of means against the indigenous populations of North America. Under the Jackson administration, the Southerners took every opportunity to hijack lands that belonged to the Creek and Cherokee peoples and ol’ Andy, who got all up in John C. Calhoun’s grill when that worthy threatened nullification over the tariff, found his inner Tenther when it came to land grabs by the Georgia legislature. The reason he had the political space to do so was because Americans considered the Native peoples less than human. That was how populism worked back then.I would like someone to convince me that economic populism without the accelerant of racial animosity would have changed the results materially on Tuesday.
In the late 19th century, populism of all sorts flared in reaction to the excesses of the Gilded Age and the political consequences of the industrial money power. For a time, this reaction included millworkers and farmers, men and women, and even black and white citizens. In the early 1890s, a Georgia congressman named Tom Watson created what was called the Farmer’s Alliance which, eventually, got folded into a populist political party that splintered off from the Georgia Democratic Party. He supported African-American suffrage and, in 1892, Watson ran for re-election on a platform that included an anti-lynching law. He was beaten. And then he was beaten again in 1894. He entered a period of exile and emerged as a virulent racist and anti-Catholic. From the New Georgia Encyclopedia:
Through his Jeffersonian Publishing Company, Watson also produced a magazine and a weekly newspaper that achieved widespread circulation throughout the South and in New York. Watson’s Jeffersonian Magazine in particular became an outlet for lengthy editorials on anti-capitalistic political philosophies and for strong diatribes reflecting his increasing racial and religious bigotry. Although Watson had long supported black enfranchisement in Georgia and throughout the South, he changed his stance by 1904. Resentful of Democratic manipulation and exploitation of black voters and strongly opposed to the increased visibility and influence of such leaders as W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, Watson endorsed the disenfranchisement of African American voters, and no longer defined Populism in racially inclusive terms. Watson supported Hoke Smith in the 1906 Georgia’s governor’s race only on the condition that Smith support black disenfranchisement, and the inflammatory rhetoric that surrounded the issue was partially responsible for sparking the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906. Governor Smith later delivered on his promise to Watson by leading the successful adoption of a constitutional amendment that effectively disenfranchised black Georgia voters. During his 1908 presidential bid Watson ran as a white supremacist and launched vehement diatribes in his magazine and newspaper against blacks. Watson also launched an aggressive campaign against the Catholic Church. He took issue with the hierarchy of the church and railed against abuses by its leaders. He mistrusted the church’s foreign missions and its historic political activities. The Catholic Church responded by putting pressure on businesses that advertised in Watson’s publications, resulting in an effective boycott. In 1913, during the trial of Leo Frank, Watson’s strong attacks on Frank and on the pervasive influence of Jewish and northern interests in the state heavily influenced negative sentiment against Frank, who was lynched by a mob in 1915.
By 1922, Watson got himself elected to the United States Senate. He knew where the power was.
The tragedy of American populism—whether it’s in the previous Gilded Age or the current one—is that the country’s original sin makes populism’s success almost impossible without some sort of us-versus-them dynamic. Since the myth of the American Dream almost always makes a true class-based politics impossible, the search for that essential dynamic almost invariably becomes white-vs-black or native-vs-immigrant.
That’s happening again, with another “populist” champion and the people who now have followed him into whatever future they imagine he will bring them. I wish to god this weren’t the case, but it is.
The Assault on LGBTQ Rights Is Already Underway — Michelangelo Signorile in the Huffington Post.
I’m not going to sugar-coat this at all. We are in for a full-blown assault on LGBTQ rights the likes of which many, particularly younger LGBTQ people, have not seen. Progress will most certainly be halted completely, likely rolled back. And it’s already underway.
First, forget any of your thinking that Donald Trump is from New York City, probably has gay friends, sent Elton John a congratulatory note on his civil union in 2005, used the acronym “LGBTQ” (in pitting gays against Muslims at the Republican National Convention, when he vowed only to protect us from a “hateful foreign ideology”) or any other superficial things you may have read or heard.
Ronald Reagan was from Hollywood, and he, too, had many gay friends, including legendary actor Rock Hudson. Reagan even came out against an anti-gay state initiative while he was governor of California. But once Reagan made his pact with the religious right in his run for the presidency ― for him it was Jerry Falwell, Sr., for Trump it’s Jerry Falwell Jr.― he had to bow to them if he wanted to get re-elected. That meant letting thousands of gay men, transgender women, African-Americans and other affected groups die from AIDS (including his friend Hudson) without even saying the word “AIDS” until years into the plague, let alone take leadership on fighting the epidemic with government dollars and research.
That was then, and this is now: Earlier in the year, before Mike Pence was chosen as Donald Trump’s running mate, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, using Trump’s analogy of running a business to explain how he’d run the country, told HuffPost’s Howard Fineman that the vice president of the Trump administration would really be the “CEO” or “COO” ― or, the president of the company ― while Trump would be more like the “chairman of the board”:
“He needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn’t want to do. He seems himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO…There is a long list of who that person could be.”
That person turned out to be Pence, and, before and after the election, there’s been some analysis and commentary suggesting that Mike Pence could be “the most powerful vice president ever.” And now, just days after the election, his power has increased tenfold as he is replacing Chris Christie as chairman of Trump’s transition team, filling all the major positions in the incoming Trump administration.
Mike Pence is perhaps one of the most anti-LGBTQ political crusaders to serve in Congress and as governor of a state. Long before he signed the draconian anti-LGBTQ “religious liberty” law in Indiana last year, he supported “conversion therapy” as a member of Congress, and later, as a columnist and radio host, he gave a speech in which he said that marriage equality would lead to “societal collapse,” and called homosexuality “a choice.” Stopping gays from marrying wasn’t biased, he said, but was rather about compelling “God’s idea.”
Ben Carson, who compared homosexuality to pedophilia and incest, is a vice chairman of the transition team and so is Newt Gingrich, who has attacked what he called “gay fascism” and, in 2014, “the new fascism” around LGBTQ rights.
And right on cue, already appointed to lead domestic policy on the transition team is Ken Blackwell, formerly the Ohio secretary of state. Blackwell compared homosexuality to arson and kleptomania, which he called “compulsions.” In an interview with me at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2004, he explained:
“Well, the fact is, you can choose to restrain that compulsion. And so I think in fact you don’t have to give in to the compulsion to be homosexual. I think that’s been proven in case after case after case…I believe homosexuality is a compulsion that can be contained, repressed or changed…[T]hat is what I’m saying in the clearest of terms.”
Expect each of these individuals and more bigots to have prominent positions in the Trump administration.
As I‘ve written over and over again throughout the election campaign ― as the media had bizarrely and irresponsibly portrayed Trump as “more accepting on gay issues” ― Trump met with religious extremists, and made promises to them. He promised he would put justices on the Supreme Court who would overturn marriage equality (and the list of 20 candidates he has offered, certainly fit the bill), which he’s consistently opposed himself since 2000. He promised that he would sign the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), which would allow for discrimination against LGBT people by government employees and others.
It may or may not be difficult or unrealistic to overturn marriage equality over time, though the anti-equality National Organization for Marriage has sent Trump a plan. But by passing bills like FADA ― already introduced in the Republican-controlled Senate and House ― and others yet to come, gay marriage can be made into a kind of second-class marriage. Clerks like Kim Davis can be given exemptions from giving marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Federal employees would be able to decline interactions with gay and lesbian married couples. Businesses such as bakers and florists, who’ve become flash points in some states where they refused to serve gays, could be granted the ability to turn away gays under federal law, and all that could head to a much more conservative Supreme Court if challenged.
Trump has said he would overturn what he saw as President Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders, and those could include Obama’s orders on LGBTQ rights, such as banning employment discrimination among federal contractors.
Mike Pence, as Dominic Holden at Buzzfeed points out, has already said that he and Trump plan to withdraw federal guidance to the states issued by the Obama administration protecting transgender students:
“Donald Trump and I simply believe that all of these issues are best resolved at the state level,” he said in an October radio show with Focus on the Family’s James Dobson. “Washington has no business intruding on the operation of our local schools.”
No one should take solace in the fact that gay billionaire Peter Thiel, who spoke at the GOP convention, is on the transition team. Thiel has never been a champion of LGBTQ rights, and is now most noted for bankrolling a lawsuit against Gawker -– shutting it down ― in an act of revenge because the publication reported the widely-known fact that he is gay.
If Trump treats the presidency the same way he treated the GOP convention in Cleveland, he’ll make gestures ― like giving Thiel a role in his administration or using the acronym “LGBTQ”― that will feed the media notion that he is somewhat pro-LGBTQ, while giving the nuts and bolts of rolling back or halting LGBTQ rights to others. While Trump was onstage at the convention uttering the acronym “LGBTQ” (and had used Thiel’s speaking slot as a bit of window dressing too), the platform committee of the RNC had just hammered out the most anti-LGBTQ platform in history in the basement of the convention center. Tony Perkins, head of the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, told me at the RNC that he was “very happy” with the platform, which, as a member of the committee, he made sure included the promotion of “conversion therapy.”
Trump was hands-off on the platform when it came to queer issues (unlike on the issue of trade or, in what seemed like deference to Russia, on aid to Ukraine), letting people like Perkins push an extreme agenda, and knowing he needed to court them. He spoke at the FRC’s Values Voter Summit in September, promising to uphold “religious liberty,” and white evangelicals did turn out in huge numbers to vote for him on Tuesday ― comparable to, or greater than, every other GOP presidential candidate in recent years. He will need them if he wants to get re-elected, and that means he’ll have to give them some big things now. And evangelical leaders told The New York Times this week they expect him to deliver:
[W]ith Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, an evangelical with a record of legislating against abortion and same-sex marriage, as vice president, Christian leaders say they feel reassured they will have access to the White House and a seat at the table. “I am confident he will do as president what he said he would do as a candidate,” said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, who helped mobilize Christian voters for Mr. Trump.
If Trump is thus as hands-off on LGBTQ issues as president as he was at the RNC, letting people like Pence ― again, possibly the most powerful vice president ever ― get his way, along with people like Carson, Blackwell, Gingrich and likely many others, you can bet that the assault on LGBTQ rights is already underway. It’s only a matter of time before we know the full magnitude. And that’s why we must pull ourselves out of grief, get fired up, and begin the fight right now.
Trump Googles Obamacare — Humor from Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.
NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—Speaking to reporters late Friday night, President-elect Donald Trump revealed that he had Googled Obamacare for the first time earlier in the day.
“I Googled it, and, I must say, I was surprised,” he said. “There was a lot in it that really made sense, to be honest.”
He said that he regretted that the frenetic pace of the presidential campaign had prevented him from Googling Obamacare earlier. “You’re always running, running, running,” he said. “There were so many times that I made a mental note to Google Obamacare but I just never got around to it.”
Trump also told the reporters that, now that the campaign was over, he had finally found the time to Google Mexico.
“Really eye-opening,” he said. “A lot of the Mexicans are terrific. They do just terrific things.”
When asked if Googling Mexico had affected his position on building a wall, Trump said, “Quite frankly, it did make me wonder a bit about that. A lot of these terrific Mexicans could come in and make a real contribution to our country and, in exchange, I think they’d really benefit from Obamacare.”
The President-elect also said that he had put Mike Pence in charge of the transition team “to give me more time for my conversion to Islam.”
Doonesbury — Ladies man.
Wishful thinking from Andy Borowitz at The New Yorker:
WASHINGTON (News Satire from The Borowitz Report)—In an Oval Office ceremony on Wednesday morning, President Barack Obama signed an executive order requiring the loser of the 2016 Presidential election to leave the country forever.
“This will help the healing begin,” the President said.
The executive order calls for the loser of the November 8th election to depart the country on the morning of November 9th and never return.
“Whoever that turns out to be,” the President said.
Obama acknowledged that the executive order marked a departure from American electoral tradition, but added, “A lot of good will come of this.”
The two most recent losers of U.S. Presidential elections, John McCain and Mitt Romney, issued a joint statement in reaction to the executive order. “We’re O.K. with it,” the statement read.
And take all the folks waiting for the Rapture with them.
…to get the message. Right, Mom? Of course right.
An old vaudeville routine.
Sickly Sweet — David Singerman on the shady history of Big Sugar.
On Monday, an article in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists to publish a study blaming fat and cholesterol for coronary heart disease while largely exculpating sugar. This study, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, helped set the agenda for decades of public health policy designed to steer Americans into low-fat foods, which increased carbohydrate consumption and exacerbated our obesity epidemic.
This revelation rightly reminds us to view industry-funded nutrition science with skepticism and to continue to demand transparency in scientific research. But ending Big Sugar’s hold on the American diet will require a broader understanding of the various ways in which the industry, for 150 years, has shaped government policy in order to fuel our sugar addiction.
Today’s sugar industry is a product of the 19th century, when the key federal sugar policy was not a dietary guideline but a tariff on sugar imports. In the decades after the Civil War, Americans’ per capita consumption of sugar more than doubled, from 32 pounds in 1870 to 80 pounds in 1910. As a result, the government got hooked on sugar, too: By 1880, sugar accounted for a sixth of the federal budget.
To protect domestic refiners, then the largest manufacturing employer in Northern cities, the tariff distinguished between two kinds of sugar: “refined” and “raw.” Refined sugar that was meant for direct consumption paid a much higher rate than did raw sugar crystals intended for further refining and whitening. But by the late 1870s, new industrial sugar factories in the Caribbean began to jeopardize this protectionist structure. Technologically sophisticated, these factories could produce sugar that, while raw by the government’s standard, was consistently much closer to refined sugar than ever before (akin to sweeteners such as Sugar in the Raw today). The American industry now faced potential competition from abroad.
The country’s largest refiners mobilized on several fronts. They lobbied the United States Congress to adopt chemical instruments that could measure the percentage of sucrose in a sugar cargo, and to deem sugar refined when its sucrose content was sufficiently high. Previously, customs officers had judged the purpose of a sugar cargo by its color, smell, taste and texture, as people throughout the sugar trade had done for centuries. Now refiners argued that such sensory methods were ripe for abuse because they depended on a subjective appraisal. They demanded a scientific standard instead — one that would reveal some “raw” sugar to be nearly pure and thus subject to higher tariffs — and they prevailed.
Their plea for scientific objectivity may have sounded sensible, but it masked nefarious aims. Like the tobacco industry in the 1960s, these refiners knew that scientific questions were hard for outsiders to adjudicate, and thus easier to manipulate to an industry’s advantage. If refiners were to bribe a customs chemist to shade his results in their favor — as they were routinely accused of doing for decades, beginning in the 1870s — such corruption would be much harder for the government to detect than it had been when everyone could see and smell the same sugar.
In addition to their lobbying, refiners waged a public campaign to dissuade Americans from eating raw sugar. One of their common advertisements featured a disgusting insect that supposedly inhabited raw sugar and caused an ailment called “grocer’s itch” in those who handled it. Other pamphlets suggested that Cuban factories operated by slaves or Chinese indentured workers would “give the people sugar teeming with animals and Cuban dirt.”
The refiners’ real agenda, of course, was not Americans’ health; it was to maximize their profits from selling sugar. Thanks in part to their influence over both tariff policy and the new methods of customs collection, the big refiners were soon able to form the Sugar Trust, one of the most notorious and successful monopolies of the Gilded Age. By the early 20th century, belief in the health benefits of refined sugar was so widespread that increasing Americans’ consumption of it actually became a goal of federal policy.
Looking back at the industry’s transformation of sugar (an edible substance derived from a plant) into sucrose (a molecule), we also see the roots of “nutritionism” in United States policy. That’s the idea that what matters to human health is not food per se but rather a handful of isolable biochemical factors. As food critics like Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle have argued, nutritionism is better at helping processed-food companies market their products as healthy (“with Omega-3 added!”) than it is at promoting our well-being.
Today, the sugar industry remains politically powerful, with consequences for both public health and the environment. The Miami Herald reported this summer, for example, that the industry contributed $57 million to Florida elections in the last 22 years; meanwhile, state officials have resisted efforts to make sugar companies pay for their damage to the Everglades.
If we want to check the power of Big Sugar, we’d be well served to acknowledge the long record — past as well as present — of the industry’s machinations.
The Astringent Power of Edward Albee — Hilton Als in The New Yorker.
Writing that gets under your skin, in your bones, will play in your head and memory like nothing else. While painting, photography, and movies can come at you with a very particular force—an in-your-face power that, when done correctly, unearths hitherto unexamined or marginalized feelings—dramatic literature lives in your ear, and, when it’s truly great, shapes how you shape words yourself.
As a very young writer or, at any rate, as a young person who longed to write, I was especially taken by Edward Albee’s plays, the astringent power of all those speeches and curt one-liners that disinfected or seemed to scour a stage world lousy with illusions. He was a different kind of realist. As the youngest of the three artists who reshaped the architecture of the postwar American theatre—Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller completed the trinity, and were more than a decade older than their younger colleague—Albee didn’t make work that believed only in the story. That is, the playwright wasn’t entirely convinced that telling a story led to anything as trite as catharsis. While Williams and Miller believed their protagonists—and often identified with them—Albee was just as often skeptical if not down right distrustful of what his characters said, and how they said it.
Despite the violence of their words, Albee’s characters do not speak freely; they are always hedging their bets because life is disappointing, and who wants to have less of what they already have? The best that Albee’s characters manage to do is steel themselves or bulwark themselves against the fake, often within hollow conventions like marriage that his domineering women and seemingly passive men cling to and talk about wryly, and with more longing than their shared bitchiness would ever let on. Like many of us, Albee learned to cope—to build the defenses he felt were necessary to survive—while sitting on his mother’s knee. But he was rarely, if ever, coddled as a child. In an interview with Lillian Ross that appeared in this magazine in 1961, after three of his first short plays were performed in New York and abroad—1959’s “The Zoo Story”; and “The Death of Bessie Smith” and “The American Dream,” both from 1961—Albee told the reporter a bit about his background:
Born in Washington, D.C., on March 12, 1928, and came to New York when I was two weeks old . . . I have no idea who my natural parents were, although I’m sure my father wasn’t a President, or anything like that. I was adopted by my father, Reed A. Albee, who worked for his father, Edward Franklin Albee, who started a chain of theatres with B. F. Keith and then sold out to R.K.O. My father is retired now. My mother is a remarkable woman. An excellent horsewoman and saddle-horse judge. I was riding from the time I was able to walk. My parents had a stable of horses in Larchmont or Scarsdale or Rye, one of those places. I don’t ride anymore. Just sort of lost interest in it. My parents gave me a good home and a good education. . . . I went to Choate. . . . I was very happy there. I went on to Trinity College, in Hartford, for a year and a half. I didn’t have enough interest in it to stick it out for four years. . . . After a year and a half, the college suggested that I not come back, which was fine with me.
Memory has a way of trivializing the truth—and smoothing over the past—in a way that is misleading. Albee’s mother may have been an excellent horsewoman, but her skills did not extend to mothering. She treated her only child as something of an accessory, and lived for herself—for her idea of power. The best and most troublesome of Albee’s female characters are her. After Albee left home, he never saw his father again, and he had no real contact with his mother until seventeen years before her death. By then he had made a different kind of family—with like-minded gay men such as the poets Richard Howard and James Merrill, who had troubled relationships with their mothers, too, men who could go toe to toe with Albee in the Village bars they frequented, places where language was a performance in itself, and cruelty a badge of honor.
One gets the sense that, growing up and beyond, Albee was rather proud of his put-downs; he wanted to hurt the world he could never show had hurt him. For all the tension and confrontation in his plays, there’s a lot of avoidance. Mystery informs his best-known play, the 1962 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” While Pamela McKinnon’s superlative 2012 production brought out so much in the famous text—including the fact that the warring married couple, George and Martha, were very turned on by one another—it only increased our interest in why, for instance, Martha drank, lied, cheated. Unlike Williams and Miller, Albee did not believe in backstories—that the child was, artistically speaking, father to the man—and when his characters “share,” none of it is cozy. It’s as if, when he left home, Albee wanted to be a different person—a person who would not describe his past as the past was attached to other people.
But, of course, we are always attached to other people: our relationships to them are, to some extent, who we are. Albee learned cruelty at home—one could call his domestic dramas the living room of cruelty—and he wrote most exquisitely about how cruelty can, for some, make a home. As a young artist, he borrowed too heavily from Ionesco—an early and permanent influence, along with Beckett—who thought characters existed for the sole purpose of making theatre. Albee was attracted to that idea, but he was also an American, which meant that storytelling of one sort or another was in his blood. He erred on the side of theatre as theatre when he came out with “Tiny Alice,” in 1964. I am very fond of this piece, which purports to be about the richest woman in the world—the Alice of the title—but what it’s really about is unfathomable. (Sir John Gielgud, who starred in the original production, told Albee that he didn’t know what the play was about. Albee said he didn’t really, either.) To my mind, the play is about meta theater, and role-playing; it borrows quite a bit from Jean Genet’s 1957 masterpiece, “The Balcony,” especially when it zeroes in on organized religion, another form of theatre. Here’s how it opens:
Lawyer: Oomm, yoom, yoom, yoom, Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Um? You do-do-do-do-um?. . . .
The Cardinal enters
Cardinal: Saint Francis?
Lawyer: Your eminence!
Cardinal: Our dear Saint Francis, who wandered in the fields and forests, talked to all the . . .
Lawyer: Your eminence, we appreciate your kindness in making the time to see us; we know how heavy a schedule you . . .
Cardinal: We are pleased. . . . We are pleased to be your servant . . . if we can be your servant. We addressed you as Saint Francis . . .
Lawyer: Oh, but surely . . .
Cardinal: . . . as Saint Francis . . . who did talk to the birds so, did he not. And here we find you, who talk not only to the birds but to—you must forgive us—to cardinals we well . . . . To cardinals? As well?
Lawyer: We . . . we understood.
Cardinal: Did we.
Lawyer: We find it droll—if altogether appropriate in this setting—that there should be two cardinals . . . uh, together . . . in conversation, as it were.
Cardinal: Ah, well, they are a comfort to each other . . . companionship. And they have so much to say. They . . . understand each other so much better than they would . . . uh, other birds.
Given Albee’s interest in the stage as an arena for ideas, it seems strange that critics and audiences rejected important works such as “Box” and “Quotations From Mao Tse-Tung.” Those short plays are all about voice—indeed, “Box” is a monologue starring a woman we never see—and also the logical extension of an experimentalist who, throughout his life, worked within fairly conventional structures. Albee continued to work hard even as, inevitably, he began to lose favor with the critics. He knew theatre was as much subject to trends as anything. In his 1962 essay “Some Notes on Nonconformity,” he put out this warning: “One must always mistrust fashion, because it is, as often as not, arbitrary; and the assumption that one can become informed of, and participate in, the intellectual temper of our time through reliance on any breathlessly composed list of fashionable far outs is funny and sad—and, what is much worse, terribly conformist.”
Albee did like plot and ideas, and often in his work the idea was the story. Listen carefully to Agnes at the beginning of “A Delicate Balance,” from 1966. The drama is about her body—and her mind. In no uncertain terms, she lets Tobias, her husband of many years, know how much he disgusted her at one point, but not before she talks about a thought she has had: What would happen if she lost her mind? Agnes is sister to Nancy in Albee’s underrated and fantastic, in all senses of the word, “Seascape” (1975). There Nancy sits on a beach with another husband of many years, and it doesn’t take her long to goad him into talking about a past that he doesn’t want to share while she belittles him for taking more risks—risks she probably would have been averse to when she was younger. What Nancy is really talking about, though, is her life. And the bitterness of compromise that is part of life:
Charlie: Well, we’ve earned a little . . .
Nancy: . . . rest. We’ve earned a little rest. Well, why don’t we act like the old folks, why don’t we sell off, and take one bag apiece and go to California, or in the desert where they have the farms—the retirement farms, the old folks’ cities? Why don’t we settle in to waiting, like . . . like the camels that we saw in Egypt—groan down on all fours, sigh, and eat the grass, or whatever it is. Why don’t we go and wait the judgment with our peers? Take our teeth out, throw away our corset, give to the palsy . . . the purgatory before purgatory.
Life as a way station between the worse and the worst. Marriage and security as a holding pattern between many kinds of deaths. I don’t think Albee ever wrote an “out” gay play, though “The Zoo Story” and his 1966 adaptation of James Purdy’s “Malcolm” contain more than their share of homoerotic feeling. But, for me, the gayness was always there—the high-dudgeon witchery of a very smart queen who “read” the world. (One wonders what Albee made of gay marriage.)
Part of Albee’s genius was figuring out ways to bring his brilliant gay talk to an audience that, at the time, may not have known what informed his ice-cold torrent of words against coupling, against convention. But his gay fans knew what was going on. We unearthed Albee’s aesthetic by putting his words in our queer mouths and laughing. Once, long ago, on a trip to Amsterdam with my closest friend, we read aloud from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” over and over again. Calling ourselves George and Martha during the readings was, of course, part of the camp. The names didn’t matter. What did was Albee’s revenge against a world that said George and Martha, in all their awfulness and vindictiveness, were normal, while we weren’t.
Thank You — Andy Borowitz
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Calling this “the greatest day of my life,” a visibly moved Barack Obama held a news conference on Friday to thank Donald Trump for granting him U.S. citizenship.
“The issue of whether or not I was a U.S. citizen has been a dark cloud over my existence for as long as I can remember,” a tearful Obama told the press corps. “Only one man had the courage, wisdom, and doggedness to make that cloud go away: Donald J. Trump.”
The President, who had to halt several times during his remarks to compose himself, praised the Republican Presidential nominee for “never giving up” in his quest to prove that Obama was born in the U.S.
“A weaker man would have said, ‘I don’t need this in my life,’ but Donald Trump was always there for me,” the President said. “Over the past five years, barely a day went by when he didn’t call me and say, ‘Barack, I don’t care what a bunch of crackpots say. You were born here, and I’m going to prove it once and for all.’ “
The President said he planned to spend the day celebrating his U.S. citizenship with his family. “It’s great to be an American, at last,” he said.
When asked if he had any message for Trump, the President paused for a moment. “Just this: I love you,” he said, a tear trickling down his cheek.
Doonesbury — Welcome aboard Trump Airlines.