Wednesday, March 1, 2017

You Bought It, You Own It

Charles P. Pierce has no sympathy for those folks who are now regretting their vote for Trump.

Holy mother of god, I’m tired of reading quotes from people who live in places where the local economy went to hell or Mexico in 1979, and who have spent the intervening years swallowing whatever Jesus Juice was offered up by theocratic bunco artists of the Christocentric Right, and gulping down great flagons of barely disguised hatemongering against the targets of the day, all the while voting against their own best interests, now claiming that empowering Donald Trump as the man who will “shake things up” on their behalf was the only choice they had left. You had plenty of choices left.

In Kansas, you could have declined to re-elect Sam Brownback, who’d already turned your state into a dismal Randian basket case. In Wisconsin, you had three chances to turn out Scott Walker, and several chances to get the state legislature out of his clammy hands. And, now that the teeth of this new administration are becoming plain to see, it’s a good time to remind all of you that you didn’t have to hand the entire federal government over to Republican vandalism, and the presidency over to an abject loon on whom Russia may well hold the paper.

You all had the same choices we all had. You saddled the rest of us with misrule and disaster. Own it. I empathize, but I will not sympathize.

The only thing that will make it worse would be spineless Democrats who think they can either work with him — guess what — or who are too afraid of losing the next election to try to win it.

No, I Didn’t Watch It

But I’m pretty sure it sounded like this:

Blah, blah, yuge, gibberish, word salad, make murika grate again, believe me, fiddle faddle, diddle-dee-dee, yammer, yammer, natter, radical something, big beautiful wall, fake, unfair, sad!

Let me tell ya, froo-fra, flibberdegibbet, bullyrag, bazz-fazz, balls, bullshit, poppycock, balderdash, ramalamading-dong, oohee, oohaa, ting-tang, walla-walla-bing-bang, check out the bigly tits on her and that’s the truth.

What did I leave out?

By the way, wouldn’t that have been a good time to bring back “Designated Survivor”?  Just a thought.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

“A Little Embarrassed”?

Well, whaddaya know:

CLINTON, Iowa — Tom Godat, a union electrician who has always voted for Democrats, cast his ballot for Donald Trump last year as “the lesser of two evils” compared to Hillary Clinton.

He’s already a little embarrassed about it.

There’s a lot that Godat likes about President Trump, especially his pledge to make the country great again by ignoring lobbyists, challenging both political parties and increasing the number of good-paying jobs.

But Godat was surprised by the utter chaos that came with the president’s first month. He said it often felt like Trump and his staff were impulsively firing off executive orders instead of really thinking things through.

“I didn’t think he would come in blazing like he has,” said Godat, 39, who has three kids and works at the same aluminum rolling plant where his father worked. “It seems almost like a dictatorship at times. He’s got a lot of controversial stuff going on and rather than thinking it through, I’m afraid that he’s jumping into the frying pan with both feet.”

So, Tom, you were not around for the year or so leading up to the election when Trump said he was going to do exactly what he is doing now and now you’re shocked and “a little embarrassed”?  Jesus H. Christ in a birchbark canoe, what did you think would happen; that he would settle down and become “presidential”?  Are you kidding?  Whatever gave you that idea?

Monday, February 27, 2017

Making It Up As They Go

The Washington Post reports on the confusion and division in the White House over Obamacare.

A meeting Friday afternoon between President Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, his former rival in the GOP primaries, had no set agenda. But Kasich came armed with one anyway: his hope to blunt drastic changes to the nation’s health-care system envisioned by some conservatives in Washington.

Over the next 45 minutes, according to Kasich and others briefed on the session, the governor made his pitch while the president eagerly called in several top aides and then got Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on the phone. At one point, senior adviser Jared Kushner reminded his father-in-law that House Republicans are sketching out a different approach to providing access to coverage. “Well, I like this better,” Trump replied, according to a Kasich adviser.

[…]

While leaving most of the detail work to lawmakers, top White House aides are divided on how dramatic an overhaul effort the party should pursue. And the biggest wild card remains the president himself, who has devoted only a modest amount of time to the grinding task of mastering health-care policy but has repeatedly suggested that his sweeping new plan is nearly complete.

This conundrum will be on full display Monday, when Trump meets at the White House with some of the nation’s largest health insurers. The session, which will include top executives from Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Cigna and Humana, is not expected to produce a major policy announcement. But it will provide an opportunity for one more important constituency to lobby the nation’s leader on an issue he has said is at the top of his agenda.

Democrats and their allies are already mobilizing supporters to hammer lawmakers about the possible impact of rolling back the ACA, holding more than 100 rallies across the country Saturday. And a new analysis for the National Governors Association that modeled the effect of imposing a cap on Medicaid spending — a key component of House Republicans’ strategy — provided Democrats with fresh ammunition because of its finding that the number of insured Americans could fall significantly.

They have no idea what the hell they’re doing.  All they know is that they hate Obamacare because it’s Obamacare but they haven’t any clue as to what they’re going to do about it.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Praise And Shiny Objects

Via Politico, here’s how to keep Trump from blowing up the world with his thumbs.

The key to keeping Trump’s Twitter habit under control, according to six former campaign officials, is to ensure that his personal media consumption includes a steady stream of praise. And when no such praise was to be found, staff would turn to friendly outlets to drum some up — and make sure it made its way to Trump’s desk.

“If candidate Trump was upset about unfair coverage, it was productive to show him that he was getting fair coverage from outlets that were persuadable,” said former communications director Sam Nunberg. “The same media that our base digests and prefers is going to be the base for his support. I would assume the president would like to see positive and preferential treatment from those outlets and that would help the operation overall.”

Staff members had one advantage as they aimed to manage candidate Trump’s media diet: He rarely reads anything online, instead preferring print newspapers — especially his go-to, The New York Times — and reading material his staff brought to his desk. Indeed, his media consumption habits were on full display during his roller-coaster news conference this past Thursday, when he continually remarked on what the media would write “tomorrow,” even as print outlets’ websites already had posted stories about his remarks.

The White House did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Kind of reminds me of this:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

“What He Meant Was…”

Remember when the Republicans lost their collective minds over President Obama “apologizing” for America?

So this must be a variation on that.  Let’s call it “explaining.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, on the first visit by a senior Trump administration official to Iraq, worked on Monday to repair breaches of trust with Iraq’s leaders caused by his boss just as the two sides began a major offensive to oust the Islamic State from its last stronghold in the country.

Mr. Mattis found himself in nearly the same position he was in during his just-finished trip to Europe, where much of his time was spent reassuring wary allies that the United States was still committed to NATO after statements and actions by President Trump seemed to call old alliances into question.

Before arriving in Baghdad, Mr. Mattis was asked by reporters about Mr. Trump’s remarks during a visit to C.I.A. headquarters last month that the United States should have “kept” Iraq’s oil after the American-led invasion, and might still have a chance to do so.

“We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” Mr. Mattis said during a stop in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.

Don’t worry; you’re not going to hear any outrage from the right about this because, well, you’re just not, okay?

Teed Off

There are a lot more important things to be upset about than how Trump spends his leisure time, but since he made such a big deal about how much time President Obama spent playing golf, let’s take a look at what he’s doing on his time off.

Before Donald Trump became president, he sent several dozen tweets criticizing then-President Barack Obama for playing golf. “I just want to stay in [the] White House [and] work my ass off,” he told reporters in February 2016. That November, Trump acknowledged that he would play golf as president, but said he would “always play with leaders of countries and people who can help us.”

Since becoming president, Trump has played a lot of golf. Specifically, he has made six trips to the golf course in 30 days. This has caused some people to suggest Trump might be a hypocrite. The White House, which seems sensitive to those allegations, has responded by keeping the press and the public in the dark about Trump’s golfing ― sometimes literally, like on Feb. 11, when administration officials made an AP reporter wait in a room with black plastic over the windows while the president played golf.

Trump’s golfing this weekend was similarly secret. Late Sunday afternoon, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a top White House press aide, told reporters Trump had played “a couple of holes” Saturday and Sunday.

It was more than a couple, and it wasn’t all with world leaders: Trump played 18 holes on Sunday with pro golfer Rory McIlroy, who’s ranked third in the world; sports agent Nick Mullen; and Richard Levine, a Trump friend, donor and frequent golf partner, McIlroy told golf blog No Laying Up.

So why should anyone get worked up about what Trump does on the weekends?  Well, for one thing, he made a yuge deal about President Obama’s love of the links and now he’s just fine — if not a bit touchy — with it.  Which shows that old golf adage to be true: if someone will lie about their golf game, they’ll lie about anything.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunday Reading

His Greatest Weakness — John Stoehr in the Washington Monthly.

I teach a class at Yale on the classic books of presidential campaign reporting, books like Teddy White’s The Making of the President. As you can imagine, my students are exceedingly bright, highly informed, and savvy. But they don’t know much.

By that, I mean they don’t know much about how normal people think about politics. I know that I’m suggesting that my students aren’t normal. They are normal in the sense that they are smart young adults with all the concerns smart young adults have. But they aren’t normal in another sense. They are elite.

To get to Yale, they have gone through years of indoctrination making them suitable to Yale. I don’t mean brainwashing. I mean they know deep in their bones that they are required to make arguments based on facts and come to conclusions through reasoning. They must master and pledge allegiance to logic.

As you can imagine, my students find Trump supporters confounding. This is not an ideological reaction: I have liberal, libertarian, civic republican, and conservative students. They have been shocked by Trump’s election, because to them he is so transparently unfit to lead anything, much less the US government.

They know he’s unfit, because they know something about politics and policy, and knowing something about politics and policy means they know when the president is demonstrating some kind of allergy to falsifiable objective reality independent of his insecure ego.

My students, in other words, privilege knowledge, because to them, knowledge is how they will command and control their destinies.

What they don’t know is that most people don’t know much about politics, don’t know much about policy, don’t care to understand the details that make up the foundation any position, and don’t think they need to care about understanding those details, because knowledge is not what they trust most in the world.

What they trust is character.

Before I continue, let me say one more thing. After I strive mightily to get my students to understand how normal people perceive politics, they often come to an unfair conclusion—that the people who support Donald Trump are racist and stupid.

That’s probably true for a good number of the president’s supporters, but it’s certainly not true for a great many more. The reason is simple: politics is about conflict. Most people, whether normal or elite, really try to avoid conflict. It’s okay to not know much about politics, and not to care to know, because people just want to get along. No one should be faulted for that.

Besides, life is hard. There are so many things to worry about—jobs, kids, finances, health, so very many things—that Washington politics is the last thing most want to think about. I often tell my students that most people have something better to do.

The reason I’m going into the weeds like this is to get readers of the Washington Monthly and anyone who believes Donald Trump is a singular threat to democracy to understand how and why his supporters very much like what the president is doing, even though it makes no sense to the readers of the Washington Monthly and anyone who believes Donald Trump is a singular threat to democracy. In understanding how and why these people very much like what the president is doing, we can devise an effective strategy for the battles ahead.

There’s a reason why Donald Trump is reportedly fond of watching himself on TV with the sound turned off. It’s not only because he’s a narcissist, though narcissism surely plays a part. It’s also because he is trying to experience what most normal people experience when they watch the president on TV, and that means a majority of people since most still get their news about what’s happening in Washington from TV, despite the ubiquity of digital. Remember, they don’t know enough to know he’s lying. What they can see is Trump’s performance: the expressions of strength, the wit and charm (which are evident), and the braggadocio.

[Thursday]’s press conference was in fact a hot mess, but imagine watching it with the sound turned off so you don’t know what the president is saying. Imagine watching the president’s gestures, his expression, his sparring with the press. That’s probably a close approximation of what his supporters experience when they watch the president on TV. That’s the extent to which most people assess the president’s policy views. It is style’s mastery over substance.

Which brings me back to character. That is something people can judge, because they trust their ability to size up the president. That trust, of course, is misplaced, because Trump is in fact a serial liar, but remember, most people, especially Trump supporters, don’t know enough about politics or care enough to know much about politics, so they don’t know he’s lying.

What they can see is how he looks. And this is key.

I really want you to understand the connection between Trump’s appearance and the trust his supporters place in him. What the Democratic opposition needs to do is undermine that trust. Part of doing that is pointing out every time Trump lies. (The Washington press corps is doing that.) But the opposition must also attack the president where it really hurts him—by appealing to logic and reason, but not only logic and reason. The opposition must wound the president by focusing on his weakness.

Fact is, the president is weak. We saw that yesterday. When confronted with the fact that he did not win a bigger electoral victory than anyone since Reagan, he immediately backed down, spluttering something about how he had been given that information so it’s not his fault. Some have implied he will never accept the truth, so don’t bother. But that’s an argument of logic and reason. What happened in that brief exchange needs to happen a million times over in order to reveal that the president is weak and that in that weakness his supporters have misplaced their trust.

So, say it with me: The president is weak.

Say it again. Over and over. Then when the president really does demonstrate weakness, as he did when confronted by the reporter about his fake electoral landslide, the president will have substantiated the opposition’s charge of weakness.

That will hurt.

Trump ran on strength. Only he was strong enough to solve our problems. And people believed him. They still believe him. But if the opposition can establish an image of weakness, it will come close to breaking trust in him.

Who Watches the Watchers? — Linda Greenhouse in the New York Times.

Whom do federal immigration agents despise more: former President Barack Obama, or the immigrants whose lives are in their hands?

That uncomfortable question came to mind as I read articles over the past week of the growing numbers of raids, roundups, the knocks on the door, the flooding of “target-rich environments,” a phrase an anonymous immigration official used in speaking to The Washington Post. What’s a target-rich environment? “Big cities,” the official explained, “tend to have a lot of illegal immigrants.”

Clearly, with President Trump’s executive orders having expanded the category of immigrants deemed worth pursuing and deporting, the gloves are off. There’s been plenty of news coverage of this development, but few reminders of the context in which the pursuers have been freed from previous restraints.

So it’s worth noting that the union representing some 5,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents actually endorsed Mr. Trump in September, the first time the union endorsed a candidate for president. In an inflammatory statement posted on the Trump campaign’s website, Chris Crane, president of the union, the National ICE Council, complained that under President Obama, “our officers are prevented from enforcing the most basic immigration laws.” The statement went on to say that while Mr. Trump had pledged in a meeting to “support ICE officers, our nation’s laws and our members,” Hillary Clinton’s immigration plan was “total amnesty plus open borders.”

That everything in that statement except for the reference to Mr. Trump was untrue is not the point. (Far from failing to enforce the law, the Obama administration deported more than 400,000 unauthorized immigrants a year, and Mr. Trump’s Democratic rival endorsed neither total amnesty nor open borders.) Rather, the statement is evidence of how openly these law enforcement officers have been chafing at the bit to do their jobs as they please.

And chafing for a long time: back in 2012, Mr. Crane was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s deferral of deportation for immigrants brought to the United States as children. The claim was that the program put agents in a position of either failing to enforce immigration law as written or suffering reprisals at work for not adhering to the new policy. The plaintiffs were represented by Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state. An anti-immigration activist who joined the Trump transition team as an adviser on immigration, Mr. Kobach is an originator of the false “massive voter fraud” rationale for voter ID requirements and has exported anti-immigrant legislation to states around the country, most notably Arizona.

A federal district judge in Dallas dismissed Mr. Crane’s lawsuit against the deferral program. Mr. Crane also showed his disdain for President Obama by refusing to allow members to participate in a course aimed at training immigration agents in carrying out the Obama administration’s policy that gave priority to deporting high-risk offenders rather than immigrants with clean records and deep roots in the country. Last month, after President Trump issued his immigration orders, Mr. Crane’s union and the union representing Border Patrol officers issued a joint statement declaring that, in case anyone asked, “morale among our agents and officers has increased exponentially” as a result of the president’s promised actions.

Why does any of this matter — aside from the irony of these public employee unions having achieved pride of place in the conservative firmament, while Republican governors and legislatures are moving quickly to disable public employee unions they find troublesome?

It matters because along with entrusting our immigration enforcers to keep us safe, in the president’s often-tweeted phrase, we also entrust them with the responsibility of treating unauthorized immigrants not as prey but as human beings entitled to dignity, even if only minimally to due process.

Not everyone shares that view. I get that, and I’m reminded of it every time I write about immigration. Reader comments on articles about immigration, including the gripping one last week about Guadalupe García de Rayos, the Phoenix woman and mother of two American children who was abruptly deported when she dutifully showed up for her routine check-in at the local ICE office, run to “if she wasn’t illegal in the first place, she wouldn’t have been deported.”

Right. I’d like to think we’re better than that. A month ago, we were.

In what may be an early warning of what’s to come, last Friday immigration agents in Seattle took a 23-year-old Mexican into custody despite his paperwork proving that he had been granted work authorization under the deferred-deportation program, which for now remains in effect.

“It doesn’t matter, because you weren’t born in this country,” one of the immigration enforcement agents told the man, Daniel Ramírez Medina, according to a petition for habeas corpus filed on his behalf in Federal District Court in Seattle. Mr. Ramírez was brought to this country at age 7 and twice qualified for the deferral program, most recently with a renewal last May. On Tuesday, a federal magistrate judge gave the federal government until Thursday to explain the basis for the detention.

This column is usually about the Supreme Court, and this one is, too. Next Tuesday, the justices’ first day back from a monthlong recess, the court will hear an important case on whether a Border Patrol officer can be required to pay damages to the family of a Mexican boy he killed with a bullet fired across the dry bed of the Rio Grande, the international border that separated the two by only yards. The facts of the case, Hernández v. Mesa, sound highly unusual, but they aren’t; there have been 10 cross-border shootings in recent years in addition to several dozen others along the border.

This case raises important questions about the extraterritorial reach both of the Constitution and the damages remedy that is available to United States citizens whose constitutional rights are violated on American soil by a federal official. Sergio Hernández, the unarmed 15-year-old killed seven years ago by the Border Patrol agent, Jesus Mesa Jr., was not an American citizen, and the bullet reached him in Mexico. He and his friends had been playing in a dry culvert, daring each other to run up the opposite bank and touch the barbed-wire fence on the American side. The F.B.I. report initially claimed that the boys were throwing rocks at the agent, but cellphone videos showed Sergio hiding under a railroad trestle in the last minutes of his life. He was shot when he stuck his head out from his hiding place.

The Justice Department investigated but declined to prosecute Mr. Mesa. Mexico charged the agent with murder, but the United States refused to extradite him. Sergio’s parents sued for damages, but lost when the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that even if Sergio had constitutional rights that were violated by the shooting, the existence of any right was sufficiently unclear as to entitle Mr. Mesa to “qualified immunity,” a legal shield extended to official defendants when the relevant law is deemed uncertain. Because the case has never gone to trial, the eventual Supreme Court decision won’t resolve the conflicting accounts or establish the motive for the agent’s fatal shot. But presumably the law will be clear, one way or another, the next time such an incident occurs.

On the chaotic night last month when Mr. Trump fired the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, for refusing to defend his immigration order, he made another personnel change that got less attention. Without explanation, he replaced the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Daniel Ragsdale, with Thomas Homan, a career employee who had been serving in the agency’s top enforcement position. Last April, when Mr. Homan received the government’s highest Civil Service award, a profile in The Washington Post began: “Thomas Homan deports people. And he’s really good at it.”

In the Post profile, Mr. Homan declined to answer questions about policy, or whether he might be supporting Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. “Sorry, I can’t say what I think,” he told the reporter.

The Roman poet Juvenal asked: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guardians? We need to ask that question now, urgently. I fear the answer.

 Why Thornton Wilder Matters — Laura Collins Hughes on the revival of “The Skin of Our Teeth.”

Thornton Wilder

When Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth” had its Broadway premiere in 1942, directed by Elia Kazan and starring a dream cast led by Tallulah Bankhead and Fredric March, the critic Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times called it “one of the wisest and friskiest comedies written in a long time.” When it returned in 1955, with Helen Hayes and Mary Martin, Mr. Atkinson deemed it simply “perfect.”

After that, though, the play’s fortunes fell. On its third and most recent Broadway outing, José Quintero’s 1975 revival starring Elizabeth Ashley, the Times critic Mel Gussow dismissed it as “simplistic.” Boundary-breaking in its day, it has long been scarce on professional stages.

So Arin Arbus’s new Off Broadway production for Theater for a New Audience, in previews at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, is a rare chance for re-evaluation. With a cast of 35 (!) and original music by César Alvarez (“Futurity”), it follows the members of the Antrobus family of suburban New Jersey through the ice age in Act I (their pets are a mammoth and a dinosaur; freezing refugees clamor at the door) and into a great flood in Act II. The third act opens amid the ruins of a war. With each calamity, the Antrobuses have to figure out whether and how to survive.

Jeffrey Horowitz, the founding artistic director of Theater for a New Audience, said he didn’t choose the play with topicality in mind. But Wilder had his own suspicions about when it resounds most powerfully. As he explained in the 1950s, in a preface to his collection “Three Plays”: “It was written on the eve of our entrance into the war and under strong emotion, and I think it mostly comes alive under conditions of crisis.”

Several admirers of the play spoke recently about why “The Skin of Our Teeth” endures, what makes it problematic and why this could be a ripe time for its resurgence. Here are edited excerpts from those interviews.

Carey Perloff

The artistic director of American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco directed “The Skin of Our Teeth” at Classic Stage Company in New York in 1986 — a production that, according to Mr. Gussow’s review in The Times, included the refugees in Act I singing a chorus of “Tomorrow,” from “Annie.” Ms. Perloff laughed as she said she didn’t recall much about that long-ago detail, but she was very clear on the play’s current resonance.

All of us who are running theaters now are in this strange position of thinking: What is the appropriate response to the chaos and uncertainty of this moment, and how do you think about that theatrically? It was very prescient of Jeffrey to program this.

I think the reason this one keeps coming back is that it is an allegory, so it has those deep biblical roots and kind of archaeological references. It’s a very profound play to rehearse, because those epic questions come up as you work: Is humanity resilient? It’s a really dystopian look at the American experiment, and I think that’s what we’re all kind of waking up to. We assumed we would be inheritors of this great ideal, and now we realize how completely fragile it is.

There are great things in the play, and there are really frustrating things in the play. As with many great theatrical artifacts, you sort of wish you could take it apart and recombine it somehow. Sometimes I think we should give ourselves permission to do important plays even if they don’t really work.

Paula Vogel

“The Skin of Our Teeth” is the first play that the playwright (“Indecent”) ever saw, at her public high school in Maryland in the 1960s. A self-described “huge fanatic about Thornton Wilder,” she regards it as an example of near perfection and said it has been deeply influential on emerging writers over the past 40 years. Ms. Vogel, a Pulitzer Prize winner, considers the play — with its reverence for books and great thinkers, represented by Mr. Antrobus’s cherished personal library — a defense of Western humanism.

In my life, I’ve only seen two productions of it. One of the difficulties is that commercial and mainstream American drama has eschewed Wilder’s more global, abstract, philosophical voice for a kind of nitty-gritty naturalism, which doesn’t critique American society the same way that Wilder does. What I think happens is that there is a critical reprimand for choosing mythic elements and allegorical elements in American theater.

It’s an extraordinary time to be producing this play. We’re in this moment in time where we are thinking again very apocalyptically. A, we’re having extreme climate change; B, we’re having floods; C, we’re having refugees; and D, we’re actually facing the extinction of animals on our planet, and then hanging over us is the perpetual warfare. Everything in the play is pretty much upon us.

Obviously he’s writing on the brink of huge apocalypse, of World War II and Hitler, and he’s saying: “Let’s look at the resistance. Let’s look at the fact that we are going to get through this, and let’s look at what we need to get through it. What we need are our books.”

Arin Arbus

Ms. Arbus first encountered “The Skin of Our Teeth” in 2002, when the nation was still reeling from 9/11, and immediately wanted to direct it. “I thought, If I don’t do it soon, it just won’t be relevant anymore,” she said, and laughed with what sounded like ruefulness. She agrees with Wilder that the play comes alive in times of crisis, but she believes it is staged as rarely as it is partly because of its complex requirements, including a large cast and the need to balance multiple theatrical styles while leaving room for Wilder’s humor.

One of the challenges and the thrills of it is the slippery style of the play: We go kind of without transition from a Brechtian theater, in which the emotional climax of the scene is broken and commented upon, into absurdist drama with lines like “Have you milked the mammoth?” into this dark domestic family tragedy. Unlocking that is hard.

He was writing it as the world was descending into chaos. I think everybody was wondering: “Will we get through this? And if we do, what then? Will we learn anything? Will we grow or change or do it better the next time?” Although the characters do grow and they survive, they are not transformed. Evil — quote-unquote evil — remains within the nation and within the family and within the home.

Things keep falling apart, and these characters have to go through it over and over and over and over again. That’s what it’s about. The characters are continually hitting rock bottom and then finding a way — and it’s usually with the help of other people — to have the hope to move forward, despite the catastrophic situation that is facing them in that immediate moment.

Bartlett Sher

The Tony-winning director, whose “Oslo” opens on Broadway this spring, has immersed himself twice in the Wilder play: first as an assistant to the director Robert Woodruff on a Guthrie Theater production in Minneapolis in 1990, then on his own Intiman Theater staging in Seattle in 2007. He cast the deaf actor Howie Seago in the role of Mr. Antrobus — in part, Mr. Sher said, to add “another layer of Joycean logic” to the play. He has great affection for Wilder, for both his experimental nature and his capacious heart, but that didn’t make staging the play any easier.

It’s a hard, hard, hard, hard show. It’s all based on “Finnegans Wake.” He was reaching for a kind of narrative in the structure that he put together that’s incredibly interesting but which I’m not sure he was totally successful at accomplishing. It’s one of those things that everybody’s really drawn to, how much they can’t wait to do it, and then they find out how hard it’s going to be.

It has a comforting and profound view of time. It makes you think of time over a very long arc. Right now we’re all freaking out and exploding over the particular kind of time that 2017 appears to be. But if you cycle way back, you think: “Well, yes, we’re going through an incredibly bumpy period in the republic, but it’s not impossible that the institutions will survive and come out reinvigorated.”

The primary job of interpreting the classics — absolutely primary job — is to discover the immediate significance of the work in the time you’re doing it. It’s interesting that Arin is doing it now, because I tend to think these works come around when you need them. It may be one of those things where this particular time requires a good “Skin of Our Teeth” to help make sense of it.

Doonesbury — Kids these days.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Get The Hook

Josh Marshall on yesterday’s Trump presser:

This is that rare time when I think the cliched phrase is appropriate: That press conference speaks for itself. There’s very little I can think to add. It all amounts to a confirmation of what most of us already know. This man is not emotionally or characterologically equipped to serve as President. He lacks the focus, the ability to commit to even a passable amount of work without immediate emotional gratification. Thus his decision to hold a campaign rally in Florida on Saturday. (It’s literally a campaign event, put on by his 2020 reelection campaign). Trump lacks the emotional resilience or toughness to deal with what is the inevitable criticism and difficulties of being President, which – lets be clear – are great.

These different deficits all feed upon each other. He lacks the steadiness for the job.

There are credible reports of Richard Nixon being in this sort of state in the final weeks of his presidency. But Nixon, to give him his due, was at the center of the greatest political scandal in American history, bearing down on him for months and pushing him toward the greatest political disgrace and humiliation in his nation’s political history. He was overseeing the Vietnam War, witnessing various domestic civil disturbances, grappling with foreign policy blowups which neared superpower confrontations. There was a lot going on. Trump has been President for less than four weeks. Aside from domestic, media driven and other crises of his own making, virtually nothing has happened.

But the man who just appeared before the press for a free-ranging airing of grievances looked tired, sullen and half broken. His bracing insistence that everything is going perfectly in his White House sounded desperate and bizarre.

If it weren’t for the fact that lives — a lot of them — hang in the balance, it would have been fun to watch, like an old episode of Seinfeld.  But it’s not.

I don’t like to throw around words like “crazy” or “mentally ill” because that trivializes mental illness and those who suffer from them.  In addition, psychiatrists and psychologists have a taboo about diagnosing someone from afar.  But when you see events like this, you know you’re dealing with someone who either knows how to manipulate the crowd and knows exactly what kind of reaction he’s going to get from a base of True Believers, or you’re up against someone whose perceptions of reality are, shall we say, skewed.

While I’m not a psychiatrist or a medical professional, I am a doctor of theatre, specializing in dramatic criticism.  It’s perfectly within my area to review and analyze a performance from the audience and make an evaluation of what I’m seeing based on my years of study and performances.  I have to say that if Trump is acting and all of this is just a performance, he’s got it down well.  But it also requires a great deal of talent and energy to maintain that level of characterization and embodiment, and at some point the scene has to end, the lights have to come up, and the make-up comes off.  But if this is the real thing and it’s not an act, then get the hook.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

More Like A Gusher

From the New York Times:

As a candidate for president, Donald J. Trump embraced the hackers who had leaked Hillary Clinton’s emails to the press, declaring at a rally in Pennsylvania, “I love WikiLeaks!”

To the cheering throngs that night, Mr. Trump marveled that “nothing is secret today when you talk about the internet.” The leakers, he said, had performed a public service by revealing what he called a scandal with no rival in United States history.

Now, after less than four weeks in the Oval Office, President Trump has changed his mind.

At a news conference on Wednesday and in a series of Twitter postings earlier in the day, Mr. Trump angrily accused intelligence agencies of illegally leaking information about Michael T. Flynn, his former national security adviser, who resigned after reports that he had lied about conversations with the Russian ambassador.

“It’s a criminal action, criminal act,” Mr. Trump fumed at the White House. In a Twitter message, he asserted that “the real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!”

Most of the time, leaks are about power and controlling it.  Either the leakers are trying to undermine those who have it, or they’re trying to alert the public to nefarious goings-on.  It would be naive to think that all leakers have the nation’s best interest at heart — a lot of them are about sabotage, intrigue, and revenge — but in the case of Trump, we’re getting leaks from everywhere because a lot of people, including career politicians and people who may have supported Trump in the first place are seeing what’s going on now and are truly concerned about the fate of the country.  This is their way of putting the brakes on this careening train wreck.

Of course Trump is upset with leaks now.  And of course he’s raising a stink about them.  It’s called deflection: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”  To top it all off, this weekend he’s holding a campaign-style rally in Florida because that’s a lot more fun that being president.

Flynn Is The Victim Now

Via Fox News:

House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz told Fox News’ “The First 100 Days” Wednesday night that he would ask the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate leaks of classified information that led to the resignation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The Utah Republican told host Martha MacCallum that “no matter where you are on the political spectrum, you cannot have classified information migrating out into a non-classified setting.”

Chaffetz’s letter to Inspector General Michael Horowitz, which was also signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., described “serious concerns about the potential inadequate protection of classified information” and requested “that your office begin an immediate investigation into whether classified information was mishandled” in the Flynn case.

Flynn resigned Monday night after a series of media reports purportedly detailed his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. about sanctions levied against Moscow by the Obama administration. The reports indicated Flynn had given Vice President Mike Pence “incomplete information” about the calls, leading Pence to deny discussion of sanctions took place.

By this weekend they’re going to blame all of this on Hillary and open up an investigation into just how she betrayed that patriotic American.

HT to Balloon Juice.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What Were They Talking About?

Via the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.

The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.

But the intercepts alarmed American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Mr. Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. At one point last summer, Mr. Trump said at a campaign event that he hoped Russian intelligence services had stolen Hillary Clinton’s emails and would make them public.

So if there’s no evidence so far that they were colluding with Russia on the hacking, what were they talking about?  Borscht recipes?  Doping the Olympics?  Arranging dates?

How’s He Doing So Far?

Well, you can’t say he’s been resting on his laurels.

In record time, the 45th president has set off global outrage with a ban on travelers from Muslim-majority countries, fired his acting attorney general for refusing to defend the ban and watched as federal courts swiftly moved to block the policy, calling it an unconstitutional use of executive power.

The president angrily provoked the cancellation of a summit meeting with the Mexican president, hung up on Australia’s prime minister, authorized a commando raid that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL member, repeatedly lied about the existence of millions of fraudulent votes cast in the 2016 election and engaged in Twitter wars with senators, a sports team owner, a Hollywood actor and a major department store chain. His words and actions have generated almost daily protests around the country.

He told us he was coming to Washington to shake things up.  So far he’s got nothing to worry about in that department.

In another five days his presidency will have outlasted that of William Henry Harrison.  Care to bet on if he makes it as long as James A. Garfield?