Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sunday Reading

The Eclipse of Reason — David Remnick in The New Yorker.

The shock of Donald Trump’s election, in November, 2016, obscured a tragedy of equal moment—the eclipse of reason, fact, and ethical judgment in the Republican Party.

Twenty-one years ago, during the impeachment of Bill Clinton, there were numerous Democratic lawmakers who lambasted him for his trespasses; five voted against him. Clinton, for his part, apologized to the American people before the House voted on his fate. “What I want the American people to know, what I want the Congress to know, is that I am profoundly sorry for all I have done wrong in words and deeds,” he said. “I never should have misled the country, the Congress, my friends or my family. Quite simply, I gave in to my shame.”

Clinton had lied about sex. That was the root of the accusations against him. Trump, with the help of Rudy Giuliani and others, attempted to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance to Ukraine, an ally under assault from Russia, as a way to extract a crude and distinctly personal political favor. Was this not a far graver offense? And yet everyone knew that there was never the remotest chance of hearing a word of contrition from Trump—and that from the Republican Party there would be no self-questioning, no doubt. Tribalism—and the demands of Trumpism—would not permit it.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Lindsey Graham recognized, and said publicly, that Trump was “unfit for office”—and when Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, and so many other Republicans in Congress recognized Trump for the moral vacuum that he is. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting chief of staff, once called Trump “a terrible human being.” Rick Perry, his Secretary of Energy, saw him as a “barking carnival act” and deemed his candidacy “a cancer on conservatism.” Ted Cruz called him a “pathological liar” and “utterly immoral.” They used to care. But things have changed.

At the same time, nearly every loyalist who leaves the Trump White House—James Mattis, Gary Cohn, H. R. McMaster, John Kelly, Rex Tillerson, et al.—comes clean, on or off the record, about despising Trump. They describe in detail the President’s countless acts of duplicity and incompetence. Only fearful, humiliated ex-Trumpers in need of campaign support, such as Jeff Sessions, who is again running for the Senate in Alabama, abase themselves and speak of his virtue. Nikki Haley, who seems intent on being Trump’s successor (or perhaps Mike Pence’s replacement on the ticket), refers to Trump as “great to work with” and “truthful”; in 2016, she said that he was “everything a governor doesn’t want in a President.”

In other words, when it comes to Trump, everyone knows. As the Republican caucus members fell into line on Wednesday, they revealed themselves. No one defended Trump on the merits, on the facts—not with any conviction or coherence. Who came to praise his character or values? No one. Instead, there were only counter-accusations, smoke-bomb diversions about procedure, ill will, and even talk of the President’s martyrdom. Barry Loudermilk, a Georgia Republican with a name fit for Mencken, was distinguished in his metaphors, yet hardly eccentric among his caucus, when he said, “Before you take this historic vote today, one week before Christmas, keep this in mind: when Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers. During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats have afforded this President in this process.” Democrats, in fact, had offered the President the chance to defend himself, but he had declined to do so. His “defense” was to hold back as much evidence and as many witnesses as he could.

No one marshalled any evidence to dispute that the President had dispatched Giuliani and others to assist him in manipulating and muscling the Ukrainian government into doing him a “favor.” No one denied with any conviction that Trump had asked for foreign help in 2016 (“Russia, if you’re listening…”) and was looking for it this time around, too. Not only had Trump not apologized or denied it, he doubled down. Hadn’t he asked the Chinese, in October, to carry out an investigation of the Bidens right there on the White House lawn?

Republican members may sincerely admire the judges whom the President has appointed, the tax cuts for the wealthy that he has supported, and the ad-libbed trade war that he has waged. But they also know that Trump is, as Adam Schiff put it in the most eloquent speech of the day, a cheat. On July 24th, Trump watched as the special counsel Robert Mueller testified, damningly but ineffectively, in Congress. On July 25th he called the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, and asked for his “favor.” On July 26th, he called his million-dollar campaign donor and Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, at a restaurant in Kyiv, to make sure that the Ukrainians were going to do it—that they were going to investigate the Bidens, on his behalf. He didn’t care about corruption in Ukraine, or the war Russia was waging against Ukraine. He cared only about “big stuff,” as Sondland put it. He cared about himself. And he was willing to extort an ally to get what he desired.

On Wednesday evening, the commentators on television solemnly invoked the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton, history. Everyone went full-on Jon Meacham.

But Trump made it plain that he would not nod to any sense of grace or occasion. During his impeachment crisis, President Andrew Johnson was quick to the bottle and revealed, in many speeches, a deep streak of self-pity. “Who has borne more than I?” he asked an audience in Cleveland, in 1866. Trump is certainly as thin-skinned as Johnson was. Consult his Twitter feed. And yet just around the moment when the House passed the first article of impeachment, Trump was trying his best to do a rhetorical devil-may-care act at a rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, asserting that real Air Force pilots were more handsome than the “Top Gun”-era Tom Cruise. He improvised. He did shtick. He threw out one random insult and Dada observation after another. He talked about Beto O’Rourke. (Remember Beto O’Rourke?) He talked about showers. He talked about sinks. He talked about many other things. He performed as if none of what was happening in Washington mattered. He was now impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, but he felt safe. He had his party. He had Fox News and his Twitter followers. He had his base. He could not be touched. “It’s impeachment lite,” he told the crowd. “I don’t know about you, but I’m having a good time.”

God Bless Us, Everyone! — Charles P. Pierce.

As you may have noticed, the shebeen has been disarranged for the past couple of weeks. The sudden intervention of an automobile into my affairs—and, it must be said, into my lower back—has kept me watching the considerable landfill of recent news from the sidelines—often, I must admit, severely hopped up on goofballs, as Joe Friday would have said. (I got a small glimpse of the opioid crisis from the inside and, let me tell you, the other day, the oxy was whispering to me the way Richard Pryor’s crack pipe used to talk to him. Motherfcker is strong, Jack.)

I am one lucky motherfcker, I’ll tell you that. If I had bounced another foot, I would have bounced into oncoming traffic, which would have complicated matters considerably. My head landed hard, but it landed in a snowbank, which not only cushioned the blow but slowed the bleeding. I was one lucky motherfcker because of the people who surrounded me while I was on the road. The first-aid worker who was first on the scene and called my wife. The nurse who had just come off an overnight shift and who apparently left all the fcks she had to give back in her work locker. Some idiot started honking his horn to get around the scene, and she took a bit of time out to yell, in a wicked pissah Boston accent, “Will you shut the fuck up, you arsehole!” at him. Nurses, man. They could take over the world in an hour.

I am one lucky motherfcker because of the people at The Brigham who worked on me. The ER doctors and nurses, many of whom I will never recognize again because I only saw them upside down. They kept me calm and comfortable while they inspected, detected, neglected, and rejected every part of me. Of course, my family, who went to DefCon 1 immediately. My wife and daughter beat me to the Brigham and, when I began to get agitated, as is my wont in any medical situation including reruns of MASH, my daughter booted up the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack on her phone and put it next to my ear. Worked as well as the Toradol did. (Hi again, Toradol!) I am one lucky motherfcker.

And then there were the ward nurses and the nurses aides and the various types of orderlies and technician. At one point or another, I was shuffled around the hospital hallways by a man from Ethiopia, two people from Haiti, and a woman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Americans all, dammit. Let me tell you about Myosha. Her parents brought her from Haiti when she was very small and now she’s in high school. She works six days a week hauling the likes of me around on gurneys, and she was taking me down to get yet another X-ray when I asked her what she wanted to do when she graduated. She wants to be a physician’s assistant, Myosha told me, and she wants to work in the ER Trauma unit. That’s tough work, I told her. I was just there. Yes, she told me, and that’s where people need help the most. She was disappointed because she’d learned that morning that she wouldn’t have to work on Christmas Day. “I wanted to work that day,” she told me. “with the old people in the hospital, because they have nobody with them and it is Christmas.” Honest to god, if she’d sprouted wings and flown me down the hall, I wouldn’t have been shocked at all.

I have heard from so many people, even some of them who have felt the kick of the shebeen’s poitin straight, no chaser. Joe Scarborough shouted me out on TV; that one had me wondering whether or not it was the goofballs, I admit. My direct-messages on the electric Twitter machine included old sportswriting pals and people I’d worked with at all my various stops. (One former colleague assured me that we could commit a federal narcotics crime and get away with it.) I heard from the longform brigade, one and all, and from athletes and coaches, pols and pundits and TV stars, and even from one presidential candidate, who shall remain anonymous. I heard from all corners of the blogosphere.

And, best of all, of course, I heard from the longtime denizens of the shebeen, many of whom are now paying a cover charge for the two-drink minimum, and I thank you all for that again. What I’m saying is that, along with a look into the opioid crisis, I got a deep vision of the simple fact that there is still a lot of good in this erratic, carbon-based lifeform that we are. Generally, at this time of year, I quote from A Christmas Carol the rebuttal that Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, throws back at the wretched, covetous old sinner in reply to the very first “Bah, Humbug” that the old man utters. (By the way, ACC was first published in London on this week in 1831. I learned this on the intertoobz because what in the hell else did I have to do.) But we’re going a little deeper into the text this year, I think, to our first visit to the home of the Cratchits. Scrooge and the Spirit of Christmas Present are invisible in the corner of the little hovel when Bob and Tim come back from church.

“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchit, when she had rallied Bob on his credulity, and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart’s content. “As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”

These are the some of the things I thought while I was lying alone, in the street and in the hospital. We are all lucky motherfckers, the lot of us, even if sometimes, we can’t quite see it. I hear the mail thump. Christmas cards!

Nope. Another inescapable milestone on the road to recovery.

Letters from personal-injury attorneys.

God bless us all, everyone.

Doonesbury — Holy smokes!

3 barks and woofs on “Sunday Reading

  1. Thank you for this. God how I miss them. My only source of print news is the staid, stuck-up NYT that won’t “lower” itself to allow the funny papers inside its hallowed SERIOUS pages.

    • You can find comics online but of course it’s much nicer to read them on paper somehow. Same thing for the Onion. Before the hurricane there were free Onion boxes on street corners in NYC. It was hilarious in print and not so much online.

      • In NYC the Daily News has the good comics (Doonesbury?) but who would otherwise bother buying it, although for a tabloid it isn’t the other one which is Fox News in print. The NYT doesn’t even have political cartoons for christ sake. I don’t get it. Then there’s the both siderism. Eff em. Although the reviews and weekend magazine etc. are excellent.

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