Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sunday Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was a Confederate?”“Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doonesbury — Reality for sale.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Mythed Again

No, General Pershing did not dip 50 bullets in pig’s blood and shoot 49 Muslims and let the 50th go to spread the word to his cohorts.  It’s one of those internet myths spread by the likes of your crazy uncle who also believes that jet contrails are evil and that they faked the moon landing.  But Trump keeps telling the story as if it was true.

It would be a lot better if he was the myth; the scary story we tell around the campfire or the internet meme we spread to warn the nation about what could happen if we let a dangerous egomaniac loose upon the land.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Okay, GOP, Now What?

Now that we have Trump basically siding with the racists, white supremacists, anti-Semites, and the rest of the raggle-taggle collection of knuckle-draggers who long for the days of really being losers at Appomattox and Berlin, what about the rest of the party he’s the titular head of?

So far no major party figure has stood next to him to support him, but neither have they stood up and called him out other than to make the easy call that Nazis are bad people.  As Charlie Pierce notes:

The problem is that the only way all that works is if Republican officeholders en masse run away from the man as fast as these CEOs have. So far, we haven’t seen anywhere near enough of them doing that. There is a lot of bold talk deploring white supremacy, and the Klan, and white supremacy. That and six bucks will get you a latte.

[…]

Say his goddamn name. Don’t tell me how much you deplore racism in the abstract. That does not make me feel good as a citizen. Tell me you deplore racism in the specific human being who’s now president* of the United States. For anyone whose moral compass still points true north, that’s the proper response. Otherwise, shut up.

There are a couple of reasons why the party leaders won’t call him out.  First, the obvious: they don’t want to be the subject of a 3 A.M. tweetstorm and lose their seat on the couch at “Fox and Friends.”  While being the target of Trump’s wrath isn’t the shaming that it used to be, it’s still something you’d rather not have to put up with on your Facebook page.

But the second reason is that the Republicans still think they can rescue themselves and maintain their majority in the House and Senate going into the 2018 midterms.  No, really; somewhere they’re gaming it out that if they make a token condemnation of Trump and move on to the issues they think really matter such as wiping the record clean of anything Barack Obama said or did and rigging the districts so that every last white Christian male has a two-to-one advantage over the majority of minorities, they’ll stay in office and that clown down the street in the White House will be the target, not them.

So the GOP will now go about its business of dismantling the last eighty-plus years of progress in providing for the general welfare of the people, disenfranchising all but the nice white landowners and as a bonus giving them even more tax loopholes to jump through, all the while letting their whirling dervish spin himself into oblivion and possibly taking the rest of us with him.  It shows a complete lack of moral character to do it, which is why it comes so easy to them.

So, General Kelly, How’s It Going?

Via the Washington Post:

The uproar — which has consumed not only the White House but the Republican Party — left Kelly deeply frustrated and dismayed just over two weeks into his job, said people familiar with his thinking. The episode also underscored the difficult challenges that even a four-star general faces in instilling a sense of order around Trump, whose first instinct when cornered is to lash out, even self-destructively.

I have the feeling that Chief of Staff John Kelly is wondering if he could get back to the good old days of dodging bullets in a war zone.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Off The Rails

When I got home last night, Bob called and asked me if I’d seen Trump’s press conference.  No, I was driving home, but I heard the BBC News relay the story of a “bad-tempered press conference” and their network’s analyst say about Trump’s comments about the inflammatory situation in Charlottesville: “He poured kerosene on the fire and danced around it.”  (Leave it to the BBC to be both serious and seriously droll.)

I did get to see the press conference in full thanks to MSNBC re-running it.  Stunned, yes.  Surprised, not at all.  After watching Monday’s hostage video, I could tell that this was what was really in him and all it took was a question from a reporter at a photo op about infrastructure to blow the lid off.

If you didn’t know that this was what truly is what he is, then let me say welcome back from the Delta Quadrant; there’s a lot that’s been going on while you’ve been away.  We’ve got a Nazi sympathizer in the White House.  And I don’t mean a guy who secretly sneaks a peek at “Triumph of the Will” or has a collection of back-issues of Völkischer Beobachter.  I’m talking about a person who thinks there were “nice people” marching with tiki torches to rally to chants of “Blood and Soil,” a popular tune from the heady days of Nuremberg in 1938.  His attempt to equate both sides and blame them equally is roughly equivalent to saying the Americans were the aggressors when they came ashore on D-Day.  And his contempt for both the truth and the people who believe in reality is just the cherry on top of the nutbar sundae.

Charlie, over to you.

All the hinges are gone now. The rails are far behind. The trolley is missing and presumed lost. The president* came down to the lobby of his Manhattan tower, ostensibly to sign an executive order on “infrastructure.” He then took questions and we all went on a magic carpet ride through what he really thinks about the events in Charlottesville last weekend. For three days, whatever sensible people remain at Camp Runamuck have been trying to find some way to run damage control on the president*’s initial, ridiculous non-response to those events, whereupon, on Tuesday, the president* stepped up to the mic and blew all that work into tiny bits. Quite simply, the only president* we have lost his shit so badly on live TV that he’ll never be able to find it again.

It’s been said so many times it’s become like a subliminal hum from under the house: this has got to be the last straw.  It was said after his insult of John McCain as a POW; it was said after he went after the Khans at the Democratic Convention; it was said after the pussy-grabbing tape; it was said after the Russian connection blew open; it was said after he fired James Comey, and on and on.  But when he normalized Nazis rioting on the streets of America, this may be the time the wheels really ran off the rails.  One could only hope, because how much worse could it get?  Do you really want to find out?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Too Little, Too Late

Trump finally said something.

“Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists,and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” Trump said in unscheduled remarks at the White House, where he arrived Monday on a day trip as part of his two-week “working vacation.”

He said “anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence” would be “held fully accountable.”

Well, whaddayaknow, racism is evil.  Who knew?  I’m so glad he cleared that up.

Watching the video, I’ve seen that same look on the face of hostages reading the propaganda of their captors, except they’re far more convincing.  (Funny Or Die’s take is here.)

Later he complained that the “fake media” wasn’t satisfied with his too-little-too-late statement of the glaringly obvious.  “Truly bad people!”  Which apparently means that his statement was bogus in the first place and he was pissed that everybody watching it knew it and called him out on it.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday Reading

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.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Shooting From The Lip

There seems to be some mystery about whether or not Trump planned to launch a verbal carpet bomb on North Korea on Tuesday.  He was supposed to be talking about the opioid addiction problem (and punt on it), but instead we got “fire and fury,” which, depending on who you listen to, he cribbed from Harry Truman in 1945 or Ming the Merciless.

The president’s language, which aides say he had used in private, escalated the long-running dispute with North Korea to a new level and left members of the Trump administration scrambling on Wednesday to explain what he meant.

But the process, or lack of one, that led to the ad-libbed comments embodied Mr. Trump’s overall approach to foreign policy, an improvisational style that often leaves his national security team in the dark about what he is going to say or do, according to several people with direct knowledge of how the episode unfolded.

I thought that this kind of incident was what Gen. John Kelly, the newly-minted Chief of Staff, was hired to prevent: to get control of the messages coming out of the West Wing, to keep order and discipline, and stop the diarrhea of blunders and mixed metaphors from hitting the fan.  But if this is an example of his abilities, he’s already up the creek.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Feeding The Ego

This is where we are now.

Twice a day since the beginning of the Trump administration, a special folder is prepared for the president. The first document is prepared around 9:30 a.m. and the follow-up, around 4:30 p.m. Former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former Press Secretary Sean Spicer both wanted the privilege of delivering the 20-to-25-page packet to President Trump personally, White House sources say.

These sensitive papers, described to VICE News by three current and former White House officials, don’t contain top-secret intelligence or updates on legislative initiatives. Instead, the folders are filled with screenshots of positive cable news chyrons (those lower-third headlines and crawls), admiring tweets, transcripts of fawning TV interviews, praise-filled news stories, and sometimes just pictures of Trump on TV looking powerful.

One White House official said the only feedback the White House communications shop, which prepares the folder, has ever gotten in all these months is: “It needs to be more fucking positive.” That’s why some in the White House ruefully refer to the packet as “the propaganda document.”

And if he’s been a good boy he gets hot coco and num-nums and a beddie-bye story.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Outside In

There’s a reason a lot of politicians and presidential hopefuls campaign as Washington “outsiders” who, if elected, will “shake things up” and thereby make everything better: it sounds good.  Washington is broken, corrupt, stagnant, mired in the swamp and it takes guts to go in and try to fix it, so give the outsider a chance.

And it does have a certain populist appeal.  But there are two big obstacles to accomplishing that.  First, you have to win.  And second, you have to get the people you’re trying to shake up to go along with you, because one person railing against the establishment only works in Frank Capra and “Karate Kid” movies.  Even then, the outsider was charming and likeable.

Trump campaigned as an outsider and won.  But now he’s got to deliver, and he can’t.  It’s not because all of the forces he railed against are plotting against him.  It’s because he hasn’t got the competence or the people skills to make good on them.

Throughout our history we’ve had presidents who have campaigned as outsiders vowing to clean up the mess.  Within living memory they’ve ranged from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan.  They were very different from each other and were diametrically opposed on many issues, but one thing they learned pretty quickly was that they had to hire good insider people and build coalitions with a fair amount of quid pro quo in order to get anything done.  They also had the benefit of being governors in states where they too were outliers — Carter a liberal Democrat from Georgia (well, liberal for Georgia) and Reagan a hard-core conservative from California — and therefore knew something about working with people who didn’t necessarily have their agenda at heart.

But Trump, with no governing experience and the attitude that compromise and coalitions is for losers, came in determined to make it done His Way.  That might work if you’re charming and competent and have the wisdom to accept the occasional defeat.  But he lacks those capacities on breathtaking levels.  So instead of being a Frank Capra hero, he’s more like the scary dude outside the convenience store who yells at the clouds, which is why they keep him outside.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sunday Reading

Slow Learner — Robin Wright in The New Yorker on Trump’s dangerous cluelessness.

Max Boot, a lifelong conservative who advised three Republican Presidential candidates on foreign policy, keeps a folder labelled “Trump Stupidity File” on his computer. It’s next to his “Trump Lies” file. “Not sure which is larger at this point,” he told me this week. “It’s neck-and-neck.”

Six months into the Trump era, foreign-policy officials from eight past Administrations told me they are aghast that the President is still so witless about the world. “He seems as clueless today as he was on January 20th,” Boot, who is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said. Trump’s painful public gaffes, they warn, indicate that he’s not reading, retaining, or listening to his Presidential briefings. And the newbie excuse no longer flies.

“Trump has an appalling ignorance of the current world, of history, of previous American engagement, of what former Presidents thought and did,” Geoffrey Kemp, who worked at the Pentagon during the Ford Administration and at the National Security Council during the Reagan Administration, reflected. “He has an almost studious rejection of the type of in-depth knowledge that virtually all of his predecessors eventually gained or had views on.”

Criticism of Donald Trump among Democrats who served in senior national-security positions is predictable and rife. But Republicans—who are historically ambitious on foreign policy—are particularly pained by the President’s missteps and misstatements. So are former senior intelligence officials who have avoided publicly criticizing Presidents until now.

“The President has little understanding of the context”—of what’s happening in the world—“and even less interest in hearing the people who want to deliver it,” Michael Hayden, a retired four-star general and former director of both the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency, told me. “He’s impatient, decision-oriented, and prone to action. It’s all about the present tense. When he asks, ‘What the hell’s going on in Iraq?’ people around him have learned not to say, ‘Well, in 632 . . . ’ ” (That was the year when the Prophet Muhammad died, prompting the beginning of the Sunni-Shiite split.*)

“He just doesn’t have an interest in the world,” Hayden said.

I asked top Republican and intelligence officials from eight Administrations what they thought was the one thing the President needs to grasp to succeed on the world stage. Their various replies: embrace the fact that the Russians are not America’s friends. Don’t further alienate the Europeans, who are our friends. Encourage human rights—a founding principle of American identity—and don’t make priority visits to governments that curtail them, such as Poland and Saudi Arabia. Understand that North Korea’s nuclear program can’t be outsourced to China, which can’t or won’t singlehandedly fix the problem anyway, and realize that military options are limited. Pulling out of innovative trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will boost China’s economy and secure its global influence—to America’s disadvantage. Stop bullying his counterparts. And put the Russia case behind him by coöperating with the investigation rather than trying to discredit it.

Trump’s latest blunder was made during an appearance in the Rose Garden with Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, on July 25th. “Lebanon is on the front lines in the fight against ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Hezbollah,” Trump pronounced. He got the basics really wrong. Hezbollah is actually part of the Lebanese government—and has been for a quarter century—with seats in parliament and Cabinet posts. Lebanon’s Christian President, Michel Aoun, has been allied with Hezbollah for a decade. As Trump spoke, Hezbollah’s militia and the Lebanese Army were fighting ISIS and an Al Qaeda affiliate occupying a chunk of eastern Lebanon along its border with Syria. They won.

The list of other Trump blunders is long. In March, he charged that Germany owed “vast sums” to the United States for NATO. It doesn’t. No NATO member pays the United States—and never has—so none is in arrears. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, in April, Trump claimed that Korea “actually used to be part of China.” Not true. After he arrived in Israel from Saudi Arabia, in May, Trump said that he had just come from the Middle East. (Did he even look at a map?) During his trip to France, in July, the President confused Napoleon Bonaparte, the diminutive emperor who invaded Russia and Egypt, with Napoleon III, who was France’s first popularly elected President, oversaw the design of modern Paris, and is still the longest-serving head of state since the French Revolution (albeit partly as an emperor, too). And that’s before delving into his demeaning tweets about other world leaders and flashpoints.

“The sheer scale of his lack of knowledge is what has astounded me—and I had low expectations to begin with,” David Gordon, the director of the State Department’s policy-planning staff under Condoleezza Rice, during the Bush Administration, told me.

Trump’s White House has also flubbed basics. It misspelled the name of Britain’s Prime Minister three times in its official schedule of her January visit. After it dropped the “H” in Theresa May, several British papers noted that Teresa May is a soft-porn actress best known for her films “Leather Lust” and “Whitehouse: The Sex Video.” In a statement last month, the White House called Xi Jinping the President of the “Republic of China”—which is the island of Taiwan—rather than the leader of the People’s Republic, the Communist mainland. The two nations have been epic rivals in Asia for more than half a century. The White House also misidentified Shinzo Abe as the President of Japan—he’s the Prime Minister—and called the Prime Minister of Canada “Joe” instead of Justin Trudeau.

Trump’s policy mistakes, large and small, are taking a toll. “American leadership in the world—how do I phrase this, it’s so obvious, but apparently not to him—is critical to our success, and it depends eighty per cent on the credibility of the President’s word,” John McLaughlin, who worked at the C.I.A. under seven Presidents, from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, and ended up as the intelligence agency’s acting director, told me. “Trump thinks having a piece of chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago bought him a relationship with Xi Jinping. He came in as the least prepared President we’ve had on foreign policy,” McLaughlin added. “Our leadership in the world is slipping away. It’s slipping through our hands.”

And a world in dramatic flux compounds the stakes. Hayden cited the meltdown in the world order that has prevailed since the Second World War; the changing nature of the state and its power; China’s growing military and economic power; and rogue nations seeking nuclear weapons, among others. “Yet the most disruptive force in the world today is the United States of America,” the former C.I.A. director said.

The closest similarity to the Trump era was the brief Warren G. Harding Administration, in the nineteen-twenties, Philip Zelikow, who worked for the Reagan and two Bush Administrations, and who was the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, told me. Harding, who died, of a heart attack, after twenty-eight months in office, was praised because he stood aside and let his Secretary of State, Charles Evans Hughes, lead the way. Hughes had already been governor of New York, a Supreme Court Justice, and the Republican Presidential nominee in 1916, losing narrowly to Woodrow Wilson, who preceded Harding.

Under Trump, the White House has seized control of key foreign-policy issues. The President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a real-estate developer, has been charged with brokering Middle East peace, navigating U.S.-China relations, and the Mexico portfolio. In April, Kushner travelled to Iraq to help chart policy against ISIS. Washington scuttlebutt is consumed with tales of how Trump has stymied his own Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, the former C.E.O. of ExxonMobil.

“The national-security system of the United States has been tested over a period of seventy years,” John Negroponte, the first director of national security and a former U.N. Ambassador, told me. “President Trump disregards the system at his peril.”

Trump’s contempt for the U.S. intelligence community has also sparked alarm. “I wish the President would rely more on, and trust more, the intelligence agencies and the work that is produced, sometimes at great risk to individuals around the world, to inform the Commander-in-Chief,” Mitchell Reiss, who was chief of the State Department’s policy-planning team under Secretary of State Colin Powell, told me.

Republican critics are divided on whether Trump can grow into the job. “Trump is completely irredeemable,” Eliot A. Cohen, who was counselor to Condoleezza Rice at the State Department, told me. “He has a feral instinct for self-survival, but he’s unteachable. The ban on Muslims coming into the country and building a wall, and having the Mexicans pay for it, that was all you needed to know about this guy on foreign affairs. This is a man who is idiotic and bigoted and ignorant of the law.” Cohen was a ringleader of an open letter warning, during the campaign, that Trump’s foreign policy was “wildly inconsistent and unmoored.”

But other Republicans from earlier Administrations still hold out hope. “Whenever Trump begins to learn about an issue—the Middle East conflict or North Korea—he expresses such surprise that it could be so complicated, after saying it wasn’t that difficult,” Gordon, from the Bush Administration, said. “The good news, when he says that, is it means he has a little bit of knowledge.” So far, however, the learning curve has been pitifully—and dangerously—slow.

*This post has been updated to clarify the contextual significance of the year 632.

Pope Francis vs. The Religious Right — Charles P. Pierce on the smackdown from the Vatican.

I was intrigued by the story in The New York Times the other day concerning the warning shot fired by Papa Francesco and his allies in the press across the bow of politicized conservative Catholics who have spent the last decades or so making common ground with politicized Protestant Bible-bangers who no longer referred to any pope as The Whore of Babylon.

Once, long ago, on the night before Ronald Reagan became president, I sat in a Capitol Hill bar with a representative of the Irish embassy who was drinking heavily because some backwater Southern congressman had invited the Reverend Ian Paisley as one of his official inauguration guests. (At the time, Paisley was still the world’s most virulent anti-Catholic and had not yet signed aboard the peace process with Martin McGuinness.) Paisleys were heavily involved in, among other Religious Right institutions, Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. My friend spent a lot of time that night with his head in his hands.

However, as the years went by, a certain strain of American Catholicism looked over at the success the Religious Right was having in American politics and asked the profound theological question, “Me Some Too, Yes?” They’d been restive for decades about the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and now conservatism was on the march and they didn’t want to get left behind. They were encouraged in this by the theological reactionaries in the Vatican, including Pope John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger, who later would become pope himself. At a previous gig, I wrote about this political counter-reformation at the moment it was being wrong-footed by the massive international conspiracy to obstruct justice undertaken by the institutional Church over the crimes of the hierarchical clergy. This was a bad time for the K Street Catholics in Washington.

Now, it seems as though Papa Francesco is taking a long pastoral look at what these people, and their allies in the hierarchy, have been up to. From the Times:

The authors, writing in a Vatican-vetted journal, singled out Stephen K.Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, as a “supporter of an apocalyptic geopolitics” that has stymied action against climate change and exploited fears of migrants and Muslims with calls for “walls and purifying deportations.” The article warns that conservative American Catholics have strayed dangerously into the deepening political polarization in the United States. The writers even declare that the worldview of American evangelical and hard-line Catholics, which is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, is “not too far apart” from jihadists.

A mark, that will surely leave.

American Catholicism, he argued, echoing the article’s thesis, “has become different than mainstream European Catholicism and mainstream Latin American Catholicism,” and has fallen “into the hands of the religious right.” The authors of the article argue that American evangelical and ultraconservative Catholics risk corrupting the Roman Catholic faith with an ideology intended to inject “religious influence in the political sphere.” They suggest that so-called values voters are using the banners of religious liberty and opposition to abortion to try to supplant secularism with a “theocratic type of state.”

All of this puts Callista Gingrich, our new ambassador to the Vatican, and the third wife of N. Leroy Gingrich, Definer of civilization’s rules and Leader (perhaps) of the civilizing forces, in something of a nutcracker. N. Leroy converted to Catholicism after marrying Callista. You can puzzle out the timeline of Gingrich’s personal history at your leisure. As someone told NPR:

But his conversion doesn’t erase his past. After all, Gingrich has a history of marital infidelity. He cheated on his first wife, and his relationship with Callista, his third wife, began six years before the end of his second marriage. She was a staffer 23 years his junior; he was a Republican congressman who had yet to become speaker of the House. “Without a doubt,” says Rozell, “many people will find it rather strange, ironic, whatever, that his religious journey that led him to convert to Catholicism began with an affair he had with a young woman while he was still married to his second wife.”

The Gingrichs are K Street Catholics all the way, devotees of the late Pope John Paul II and of his successor, the former Cardinal Ratzinger. From The New York Times:

Mr. Gingrich is a culture wars Catholic for whom the church seems a logical home for conservative Republicans. Generations removed from the Kennedy years when Catholics predictably voted Democratic, this is a new era in which conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants have joined forces in what they see as a defining struggle against abortion, same-sex marriage and secularism.

This would appear to be the era out of which Papa Francesco is trying to muscle the Church. (This week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops slammed the Trump Administration for its proposed new policy on legal immigrants.) This will make Papa Francesco and our new ambassador and her husband a fascinating interface. God works in mysterious ways, but N. Leroy Gingrich is a doozy. Of course, the Vatican has needed new gargoyles for a while now.

Way Off Broadway — John Leland on Sam Shepard in New York.

Sam Shepard, who died last week at 73, used to say that he was lucky to have landed in New York at just the right time. Rents were cheap, rock ’n’ roll was blooming, sex and drugs were easy, and adventurous no-budget theaters were opening in makeshift spaces downtown. For a 19-year-old arriving from California in 1963, handsome and unpolished, the city was a charmed playground.

His first great theatrical creation was himself, an image that still resonates with the people who knew him then.

“He knew how to invent himself as a character,” said Jean-Claude van Itallie, who was playwright in residence at the Open Theater, which formed in a warehouse earlier that year. “That whole persona of Sam as a cowboy — he was as middle-class as all of us. We were all tremendously ambitious, but we didn’t easily admit it.”

Mr. Shepard reached New York after a cross-country tour with a Christian theater group. Acting had been an escape from his father, a World War II bomber pilot who had brought the scars of war home.

In New York he looked up a high school friend, Charles Mingus Jr., son of the jazz great, who got him a job at the Village Gate nightclub, “cleaning up dishes and bringing Nina Simone ice,” as Mr. Shepard once described it. The two friends shared a cold-water apartment on Avenue C and Ninth Street, paying $60 a month in rent.

Mr. Mingus knew him first as Sam Rogers or Steve Rogers, the family surname. Even then, Mr. Mingus said in an interview this week, “He could walk into a room with a typewriter and not leave until he finished a play. No revisions, just typing.”

When Ralph Cook, a waiter at the Village Gate, started the Theater Genesis at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery in 1964, he gave Mr. Shepard his first break — a pair of experimental one-acts that used disjointed dialogue to “change the audience’s cognition,” Mr. Mingus said.

The Village Voice loved it, and Mr. Shepard was off. In the next six years, he had 18 plays produced — including six that won Obie awards. And then he left the city, only sporadically to return.

“He was blessed with good fortune, always in the right place at the right time,” said Peter Stampfel, who met Mr. Shepard in a pawnshop in the East Village where Mr. Stampfel was retrieving a violin he had pawned to buy amphetamines.

Off Off Broadway in the mid-1960s was wide open. An actor in one theater might be designing costumes in a second, then rushing to see a new play in a third. Audiences typically did not pay, and sometimes did not show up.

“It was an incredibly exciting time,” said Tony Barsha, a playwright and director who worked with Mr. Shepard at Theater Genesis. “Creativity was just flowing all over the place.’’

“We thumbed our noses at Broadway and Off Broadway because they were so slick and commercial, and what we were doing was just off the wall stuff,’’ he added. “Nobody was thinking of art for the ages. Sam was just dashing this stuff off. His early work was just what came out of his head. It had nothing to do with dramatic construction or form or history. I think he was using a lot of drugs at the time, speed mainly. I did the same thing.”

The budget to stage a play at the Judson Poets Theater on Washington Square was $37.50, said Albert Poland, who produced some of Mr. Shepard’s early plays. The budget at Theater Genesis, where Mr. Shepard became a regular, was possibly lower.

“That was the dangerous place,” Mr. Poland said, longingly.

Theater Genesis, said the playwright Murray Mednick, was the most macho of the Off Off Broadway spots, “very interested in street language. There was a lot of turmoil, and out of that came this hard-bitten kind of writing, and Sam was a part of that. But he had a sense of America, of being an American, that translated on the stage.”

When Mr. Shepard took one of his plays to Ellen Stewart, a former clothing designer who started La MaMa Experimental Theater Club in 1962, she didn’t even look at the script: “‘We’re gonna do it, baby,’’’ he recalled her saying.

Mr. Stampfel invited him to play drums in his band, the Holy Modal Rounders, a psychedelic folk group that went on to open for the Velvet Underground, Ike and Tina Turner, Pink Floyd and others. The two shared a taste for drugs and a preference for energy over musical finesse, Mr. Stampfel said this week.

“When we started, he never mentioned writing plays or that he got a grant,’’ Mr. Stampfel said. “We’d mention his name to other people and they’d say, you mean the guy who writes plays?”

With the war raging in Vietnam, and F.B.I. agents storming the apartment on Avenue C looking for subversives, Mr. Shepard avoided the draft by feigning a heroin habit.

When Mr. Shepard married O-Lan Johnson, an actress who appeared in some of his plays, in 1969, Mr. Stampfel and the other Rounders performed and handed purple hits of LSD to guests as they entered.

A year later, shortly after the couple had their first child, Mr. Shepard was playing drums with the band on Bleecker Street, when a journalist came backstage to interview them. The journalist was Patti Smith. “She went straight to Sam, and they went straight to the Chelsea,” Mr. Stampfel said.

“Some people are one-woman men,” Mr. Mingus said. “And some people never figure out which one woman to be with.”

Their public affair, loosely echoed in a play they wrote together, “Cowboy Mouth,” lasted until Mr. Shepard and his wife reconciled and before long left New York for London and Nova Scotia.

By then, the East Village was changing, and Off Off Broadway with it. Mr. van Itallie, Mr. Shepard, Lanford Wilson, John Guare and other downtown writers who started at La MaMa or Caffe Cino found bigger audiences further uptown.

But downtown still had a last bit of theater for Mr. Shepard. In the spring of 1970, he had plays opening at Lincoln Center and in the Village, at the Astor Place Theater. It was a major accomplishment, and most of the downtown crowd celebrated Mr. Shepard’s rise, Mr. van Itallie said.

Joey Skaggs, a street artist and prankster, thought Mr. Shepard needed to be saved. “He was making it,” Mr. Skaggs said.

So for an opening-night prank, he planned to “kidnap” Mr. Shepard and put him on a bus out of town. It was a conceptual joke between friends, Mr. Skaggs said. But when six characters in gangster suits rushed toward Mr. Shepard, he started punching. The joke fell apart. The reviews for both shows were bad.

Mr. Shepard, of course, went on to movie stardom and success as a major American dramatist. His plays became more formal and polished. Caffe Cino, the Open Theater and Theater Genesis folded; La MaMa lives on as a cultural institution. None of the four theaters’ founders survives.

Last October, Mr. Stampfel said, Mr. Shepard called him out of the blue to wish him a happy birthday. The two had largely fallen out of contact.

“I knew he was saying goodbye,” Mr. Stampfel said.

Doonesbury — Insurance junkies.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Thick As A Brick

The Washington Post released the transcripts of a couple of phone calls Trump made the first week in office.  Jonathan Chait at New York magazine went through the one with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and it’s fun — as well as scary — to read where Mr. Turnbull figures out that he’s talking to an idiot.

Australia has a policy of refusing to accept refugees who arrive by boat. The reason, as Turnbull patiently attempts to explain several times, is that it believes giving refuge to people who arrive by boat would encourage smuggling and create unsafe passage with a high risk of deaths at sea. But it had a large number of refugees who had arrived by sea, living in difficult conditions, whom Australia would not resettle (for fear of encouraging more boat trafficking) but whom it did not want to deport, either. The United States government agreed under President Obama to vet 1,250 of these refugees and accept as many of them as it deemed safe.

In the transcript, Trump is unable to absorb any of these facts. He calls the refugees “prisoners,” and repeatedly brings up the Cuban boatlift (in which Castro dumped criminals onto Florida). He is unable to absorb Turnbull’s explanation that they are economic refugees, not from conflict zones, and that the United States has the ability to turn away any of them it deems dangerous.

[…]

After Turnbull has told Trump several times that the refugees have been detained because they arrived by boat, and only for that reason, Trump’s question is, “But they are arrived on a boat?”

Soon after, Turnbull again reiterates that Australia’s policy is to detain any refugee who arrives by boat:

Turnbull: The only people that we do not take are people who come by boa[t]. So we would rather take a not very attractive guy that help you out then to take a Noble [sic] Peace Prize winner that comes by boat. That is the point.”

Trump: What is the thing with boats? Why do you discriminate against boats? No, I know, they come from certain regions. I get it.

No, you don’t get it at all! It’s not that they come from certain regions! It’s that they come by boat!

So Turnbull very patiently tries to explain again that the policy has nothing to do with what region the refugees come from:

Turnbull: No, let me explain why. The problem with the boats it that you are basically outsourcing your immigration program to people smugglers and also you get thousands of people drowning at sea.

At this point, Trump gives up asking about the policy and just starts venting about the terribleness of deals in general:

I do not know what he got out of it. We never get anything out of it — START Treaty, the Iran deal. I do not know where they find these people to make these stupid deals. I am going to get killed on this thing.

Shortly afterward, the call ends in brusque fashion, and Turnbull presumably begins drinking heavily.

And it’s back to work for the West Wing.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Getting Crowded Under The Bus

Poor Jay Sekulow.  Stands by his man and gets undermined anyway.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday said President Donald Trump did “as any father would” when he worked on a statement brushing off his eldest son’s June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer as insignificant.

“The President weighed in as any father would, based on the limited information that he had,” Sanders said during her daily briefing.

The Washington Post on Monday night reported that Trump dictated his son Donald Trump Jr.’s initial statement about his meeting with a Russian lawyer. Trump Jr. attended the meeting after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign, but characterized it as a discussion about Russian adoption in his initial response.

Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump’s outside legal team, repeatedly denied in July that President Trump had anything to do with his son’s statement.

When this is all over, the tell-all books from all the former Trump folks will be all over the remainder tables at the last Barnes & Noble in America.

How Long Will This Last?

Gen. Kelly takes charge.

Raised voices could be heard through the thick door to the Oval Office as John Kelly – then secretary of Homeland Security – offered some tough talk to President Donald Trump.

Kelly, a whip-cracking retired general who was sworn in as White House chief of staff on Monday, had demanded to speak to the president alone after Trump complained loudly that the U.S. was admitting travelers from countries he viewed as high risk.

Kelly first tried to explain to Trump that the admissions were standard – some people had legitimate reasons to visit the country – but the president insisted that it was making him look bad, according to an administration official familiar with the exchange about a month ago.

Kelly then demanded that other advisers leave the room so he could speak to the president frankly. Trump refused at first, but agreed when Kelly insisted.

It was an early indication that Kelly, a decorated retired Marine general who served three tours in Iraq, is not afraid to stand up to his commander-in-chief.

This will last until Kelly tries to take away his Twitter account.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Garbled Message

Charlie Pierce:

Frankly, I don’t want this president* to project competence in office. The only thing slowing our slide toward an authoritarian government is the fact that the president* is so bad at it. I don’t want the message to be coherent if the policy is destructive and retrograde. If the president* starts performing the role of The President without throwing himself into the orchestra pit three times a show, then the theater-critic wing of America’s punditocracy may decide that Kelly has made a silk purse out of this particular sow’s ear. It will not be true, but it might be something you can sell.

And too many people are willing to buy it.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Mooch Show Closes Out Of Town

Via the New York Times:

President Trump has decided to remove Anthony Scaramucci from his position as communications director, three people close to the decision said Monday, relieving him just days after Mr. Scaramucci unloaded a crude verbal tirade against other senior members of the president’s senior staff.

Mr. Scaramucci’s abrupt removal came just 10 days after the wealthy New York financier was brought on to the West Wing staff, a move that convulsed an already chaotic White House and led to the departures of Sean Spicer, the former press secretary, and Reince Priebus, the president’s first chief of staff.

The decision to remove Mr. Scaramucci, who had boasted about reporting directly to the president, not the chief of staff, John F. Kelly, came at Mr. Kelly’s request, the people said. Mr. Kelly made clear to members of the White House staff at a meeting Monday morning that he is in charge.

It was not clear whether Mr. Scaramucci will remain employed at the White House in another position or will leave altogether.

He wasn’t supposed to take over the job until sometime in August, so in theatre terms, the show closed out of town before making it to Broadway.

If Only

Steven Pearlstein last Friday in the Washington Post:

Remember this day, July 28, 2017: The day Donald Trump became a lame duck president. More significantly, the day the tea party revolution ended and Washington began the return to “regular order.”

As much as I and a lot of normal Americans — and normal people around the world whose fate is tied to America — would like that to be so, it’s not going to come true.  The defeat of the repeal of Obamacare will energize the hater-base and result in the GOP finding and nominating more Trump-clones out in congressional districts where the last of the moderate GOP representatives reside and primarying them to oblivion.  While that could open the door to some Democratic wins, it won’t be enough to sway the party off its lemming-like run.  So many districts have been gerrymandered into Republican enclaves it would take a seismic shift of Watergate proportions to do in the GOP majority in the House.  So far, that doesn’t appear to be on the radar.

The other element is that the Trump base seems to get their rocks off on having Trump and his minions under siege.  The more the elites in Washington and New York and Miami and San Francisco rail against him, the more sure they are that they voted for the right guy; the one who will piss off the pointy-headed latte-sipping Volvo-driving Russian-loving (oh wait) snobs who mock Trump’s glitz and glamor.  Any move to impeach Trump will be seen as a conspiracy against the God-chosen One, and even if Trump is somehow removed from office, he won’t go quietly, and neither will they.

So we have a bit of a dilemma.  Attempts to remove Trump from office by legal means, be it the impeachment process or Amendment XXV, will only make things worse even if they succeed because there will always be the vocal base who claim it was a coup d’etat and they’ll try for their own.  But the longer he remains in control the worse things get both politically and practically.  As noted below, nothing can be done in Congress as long as they’re forming their own death squads.

One of my favorite movies is Dave, where the president is incapacitated by a stroke and his body double (both roles played by the incomparable Kevin Kline) takes over and starts undoing all the disastrous policies the real president had implemented, and even repairs his marriage.  It’s a fantasy, but if only…

Random Thought

I really don’t think it matters who Trump has as his chief of staff.  In the current administration, it’s an impossible job because it doesn’t matter if you have complete iron-fist control over the people who report to you or the president.  The current occupant of the Oval Office is the one who is out of control and not only causing the chaos but actually encouraging it.

I’ll be surprised if Gen. Kelly makes it to Christmas.