Friday, August 16, 2019

Another Shiny Object

From the New York Times, in all seriousness:

Trump has been urging aides to explore a way to buy Greenland from Denmark, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

His interest in Greenland began last year. At a meeting that spring in the Oval Office, he joked about buying Greenland for its resources, according to a person who was in attendance.

In the year since, the president has repeatedly returned to the topic, asking aides if they can pursue a purchase of Greenland, a semiautonomous territory that Mr. Trump has been taken with in part because of its natural resources, like coal and uranium.

Privately, Mr. Trump’s advisers are highly skeptical that such a move could ever happen. But instead of telling him they do not think it is possible, the advisers have agreed to investigate the matter, according to the people briefed on the discussions.

Yes, just humor him until they can get him to find something else to play with.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sunday Reading

David Remnick in The New Yorker on what Toni Morrison understood about hate.

In December, 1993, Toni Morrison flew to Stockholm to deliver the lecture required of those awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her subject was the power of language. Words, she said, have the capacity to liberate, empower, imagine, and heal, but, cruelly employed, they can “render the suffering of millions mute.” Morrison was unsparing in her depiction of people who would use language to evil ends. Pointing to “infantile heads of state” who speak only “to those who obey, or in order to force obedience,” she warned of the virulence of the demagogue. “Oppressive language does more than represent violence,” she said. “It is violence.”

Morrison died on August 5th, at the age of eighty-eight. Her novels and essays, exploring black communities with intimacy and imagination, took in the legacy of slavery, the rejection of Reconstruction, the brutalities of Jim Crow––the whole of American history. Even in her final years, her political sense remained unerring. Just days after the 2016 election, writing in this magazine, she sensed the arrival of a troubling era, one centered on a callous and cunning confidence man:

So scary are the consequences of a collapse of white privilege that many Americans have flocked to a political platform that supports and translates violence against the defenseless as strength. These people are not so much angry as terrified, with the kind of terror that makes knees tremble.

On Election Day, how eagerly so many white voters—both the poorly educated and the well educated—embraced the shame and fear sowed by Donald Trump. The candidate whose company has been sued by the Justice Department for not renting apartments to black people. The candidate who questioned whether Barack Obama was born in the United States, and who seemed to condone the beating of a Black Lives Matter protester at a campaign rally. The candidate who kept black workers off the floors of his casinos. The candidate who is beloved by David Duke and endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.

Donald Trump is far from the first President to express rank prejudice. Thomas Jefferson, in “Notes on the State of Virginia,” maintained that black men and women had a “very strong and disagreeable odor.” Woodrow Wilson screened the Klan-glorifying film “The Birth of a Nation” at the White House. As we learned recently, Ronald Reagan, in a telephone conversation with Richard Nixon, referred to Africans as “monkeys.” And so on.

But what is unique about Trump, at least in modern times, is the extent to which bigotry is his principal means of rousing support. Trump backers who aren’t drawn to his bigotry choose to tolerate it. Ours is a country that could elect a black President preaching unity; it is also a country where tens of millions of Americans continue to say that they will vote for a man whose platform is nativism and division.

There is calculation behind the bigotry. Trump recognized that Obama’s ascent to the White House, in 2008, was met by a powerful racist reaction. Hate crimes and white-supremacist groups proliferated, as did threats against the President’s person. And so Trump began his political career deploying the language of conspiracy theory. First as a candidate and then as President, he spoke of Mexican “rapists,” of “caravans” filled with encroaching “aliens”; he directed invective at African-Americans, Muslims, women, and immigrants, and at legislators of color. Drawing on a long and toxic tradition, he has put forward a form of white identity politics in which violent language gives license to violent acts.

Such language is hardly a matter of thoughtless improvisation. Recently, the Times reported that the Trump campaign has seized on the imagery of “invasion”––one of the President’s favorite descriptions of immigration––as a theme for its Facebook ads. Such language is in synch with that of the mass shooter in El Paso, who, before killing twenty-two people and wounding many more in a Walmart, appears to have issued a manifesto warning that “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” And, as the civil-rights leader Bryan Stevenson says, the insistence on unfettered gun ownership is a core tenet of white identity politics.

Although the solidity of the President’s base should not be underestimated, a sense of alarm is growing. The clerical leaders of the Washington National Cathedral, where the funerals of Presidents Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan, and Bush took place, gave voice to that alarm last week. “When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human ‘infestation’ in America,” they wrote, in an official statement. “Violent words lead to violent actions.” And they asked, “When does silence become complicity? What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president’s sense of decency, but of ours.”

After the recent massacres in El Paso and in Dayton, White House aides evidently decided that Trump needed to dial back his rhetoric. In a brief speech, he denounced white supremacy, but with the vacant affect of a hostage reading for the camera. Liberated from this chore, he soon regained his usual temper; visiting the bereaved in Texas and Ohio, he found the time to lambaste local officials, along with “Sleepy” Joe Biden, “the LameStream media,” and other customary targets.

In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt characterized the Presidency as “preëminently a place of moral leadership.” Trump, by contrast, once told his circle of advisers that they should “think of each Presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals.” In the Trump show, which will soon be up for renewal, immigrants, Muslims, and people of color are regularly cast as the villains.

Toni Morrison approached the enduring phenomenon of American bigotry and nativism from many angles. But she had a clear sense that the critical function of racism was distraction. Racism “keeps you from doing your work,” she said. “It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms, and you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

WTF? — Jake Cline in The Atlantic on how internet slang makes people better writers.

These are tough times for grammar snobs, those would-be avatars of flawless spelling and proper syntax who need look no further than a high-school friend’s Facebook posts or a family member’s text messages to find their treasured language being misused and neglected. Of course, split infinitives, dangling modifiers, and subject-verb disagreements have always appeared wherever words are uttered or keys are stroked. But on the internet, and particularly on social media, defenders of formal writing and the rules of language may feel as if they’ve become stuck in some linguistic hellscape littered with discarded stylebooks, the ashes of dictionaries, and a new species of abbreviations that’s tougher to crack than Linear B.

To these “grumbling” grammarians, the Montreal-based linguist Gretchen McCulloch says: Lighten up lol. In her new book, Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, McCulloch challenges the idea that the rise of informal writing signals a trend toward global idiocy. Instead, she marks it as an inevitable and necessary “disruption” in the way human beings communicate. “We no longer accept that writing must be lifeless, that it can only convey our tone of voice roughly and imprecisely, or that nuanced writing is the exclusive domain of professionals,” McCulloch argues. “We’re creating new rules for typographical tone of voice. Not the kind of rules that are imposed from on high, but the kind of rules that emerge from the collective practice of a couple billion social monkeys — rules that enliven our social interactions.”

Of course, the old rules of language were broken long before people went online, and McCulloch offers that the internet concludes a process “that had begun with medieval scribes and modernist poets.” She also notes how “well-documented features” of regional and cultural dialects—such as southern American English and African American English—have influenced the language of the internet, most obviously on Twitter. But in contrast to the pre-internet age, she argues, now we are all “writers as well as readers” of informal English.

Drawing from her research and that of other linguists,McCulloch shows how creative respellings, expressive punctuation, emoji, memes, and other hallmarks of informal communication online demonstrate asophisticationthat can rival even the most elegant writing. Understanding the difference between ending a sentence with one exclamation point or two, recognizing what a person is conveying when they write “dumbbb” or “sameee,” and knowing when or when not to be upset after receiving an all-caps text, McCulloch writes, “requires subtly tuned awareness of the full spectrum of the language.”

The prevalence of emoji, meanwhile, does not indicate verbal indolence or a pandemic of cuteness (though adorability is certainly part of it). Instead, McCulloch writes, emoji represent a “demand that our writing … be capable of fully expressing what we want to say and, most crucially, how we’re saying it.” She even implies that William Shakespeare, whose work in part depends on the gesticulating of actors, would have been fine with the “digital embodiment” of mental states and intentions in emoji.

All this informality may also be making people smarter, McCulloch suggests. In any case, it doesn’t appear to be making anyone dumber. “Several studies show that people who use a lot of internet abbreviations perform, at worst, just as well on spelling tests, formal essays, and other measures of literacy as people who never use abbreviations — and sometimes even better,” the author writes.

Twitter has been especially good at sharpening its users’ communication skills, McCulloch finds. Because Twitter users are more likely to interact with people they don’t know outside the internet (versus Facebook, where exchanges take place largely among friends and family), linguistic innovations—hashtags, @mentions, new words, and abbreviations — are more abundant on the site. McCulloch credits improvements in her own writing style to Twitter’s 280-character limit and the way it forces users “to structure their thoughts into concise, pithy statements.”

McCulloch doesn’t spend much time on how these innovations have been used to sow division and to spread hate speech, though she does acknowledge how memes were employed to make “abhorrent beliefs look appealingly ironic” during the 2016 election campaign. Given her profession, McCulloch is much more interested in the positives that have come from the popularization of informal writing. “As a linguist,” she writes, “what compels me are the parts of language that we don’t even know we’re so good at, the patterns that emerge spontaneously, when we aren’t really thinking about them.”

As for those dug-in, intransigent standard-bearers of formal writing who still flinch every time they encounter a face-palm emoji or the sarcasm tilde (~), McCulloch extends sympathy and an olive branch. She also suggests that those fluent in internet English should go easy on themselves and try to exorcise “the ghosts of misguided grammarians” who left “us with a vague sense of unease at the whole prospect of the written word.”

With Because Internet, McCulloch is offering “a snapshot of a particular moment in time and how we got that way, not a claim to correctness or immortality.” And she calls for humility from those who are fluent in internet language and culture. “We don’t create truly successful communication by ‘winning’ at conversational norms,” she writes, “whether that’s by convincing someone to omit all periods in text messages for fear of being taken as angry, or to answer all landline telephones after precisely two rings. We create successful communication when all parties help each other win.”

After all, as McCulloch points out, “the only languages that stay unchanging are the dead ones.”

Doonesbury — Hey, he noticed.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

How To Heal A Nation

It takes a special kind of douchebaggery to turn what any normal person would consider to be a condolence call into bitterness, rancor, and self-delusion.

On a day when President Trump vowed to tone down his rhetoric and help the country heal following two mass slayings, he did the opposite — lacing his visits Wednesday to El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, with a flurry of attacks on local leaders and memorializing his trips with grinning thumbs-up photos.

A traditional role for presidents has been to offer comfort and solace to all Americans at times of national tragedy, but the day provided a fresh testament to Trump’s limitations in striking notes of unity and empathy.

When Trump swooped into the grieving border city of El Paso to offer condolences following the massacre of Latinos allegedly by a white supremacist, some of the city’s elected leaders and thousands of its citizens declared the president unwelcome.

In his only public remarks during the trip, Trump lashed out at Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, both Democrats, over their characterization of his visit with hospital patients in Dayton.

To quote Alvie Singer, “What I wouldn’t give for a large sock with horse manure in it! “

For a president — any president — to make a trip like this, it requires delicacy and tact, two things this current occupant wouldn’t know if they knocked him down.  In the first place, just having the president show up requires all the security and advance teams which in a place that is recovering from a disaster, be it a mass shooting or a tornado, is a huge imposition.  Second, the occupant has to realize that politics is going to be a part of the event no matter what, and it has to be dealt with on a level that this narcissist cannot fathom.  And finally, they must be capable of discerning the situation, reading the crowd, and knowing just exactly what to say, or more importantly, what not to say.

We’ve had presidents who were clumsy at it but you grudgingly have to give them credit for at least trying; think George W. Bush finally showing up in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina after realizing that his fly-by in Air Force One was seen as careless.  But most of them get it.  Bill Clinton certainly did after the Oklahoma City bombing.  But perhaps the best at it was President Obama after the church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, at the funeral for Clementa Pinckney.

That is how you heal.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Civics Class For Dummies

From the Washington Post’s The Fix:

Trump believes the Constitution gives him a wide breadth of power. That’s the message he delivered ― not for the first time — on Tuesday while addressing a crowd of teenagers and young adults at the Turning Point USA Teen Student Action Summit in Washington.

There are numerous viral video clips from Trump’s 80-minute speech at the conference, but one of the most controversial moments came as he discussed Article II of the Constitution, which describes the powers of the president.

Trump lamented the duration and cost of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which he has repeatedly said found “no collusion, no obstruction.”

“Then, I have an Article II, where I have to the right to do whatever I want as president,” he said. “But I don’t even talk about that.”

No, it doesn’t, and no, you can’t.

Article II grants the president “executive power.” It does not indicate the president has total power. Article II is the same part of the Constitution that describes some of Congress’s oversight responsibilities, including over the office of the presidency. It also details how the president may be removed from office via impeachment.

In short, Article II basically owns your ass if you’re president.

I really think that one of the basic qualifications for being president besides being over 35 and born in the U.S. is a Grade 8 civics test.  No multiple choice, and no pictures.  This gasbag would have never make it past the primaries.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sunday Reading

Advice For Immigrants — The ACLU has guidance should ICE show up at your door today, or any day.

How to stay reduce risk to yourself

  • Stay calm and keep the door closed. Opening the door does not give them permission to come inside, but it is safer to speak to ICE through the door.

Your rights

  • You have the right to remain silent, even if officer has a warrant.
  • You do not have to let police or immigration agents into your home unless they have certain kinds of warrants.
  • If police have an arrest warrant, they are legally allowed to enter the home of the person on the warrant if they believe that person is inside. But a warrant of removal/deportation (Form I-205) does not allow officers to enter a home without consent.

What to do when the police or ICE arrive  

  • Ask if they are immigration agents and what they are there for.
  • Ask the agent or officer to show you a badge or identification through the window or peephole.
  • Ask if they have a warrant signed by a judge. If they say they do, ask them to slide it under the door or hold it up to a window so you can inspect it.
  • Don’t lie or produce any false documents. Don’t sign anything without speaking with a lawyer first.
  • Do not open your door unless ICE shows you a judicial search or arrest warrant naming a person in your residence and/or areas to be searched at your address. If they don’t produce a warrant, keep the door closed. State: “I do not consent to your entry.”
  • If agents force their way in, do not resist. If you wish to exercise your rights, state: “I do not consent to your entry or to your search of these premises. I am exercising my right to remain silent. I wish to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.”
  • If you are on probation with a search condition, law enforcement is allowed to enter your home.

Additional resources

Learning To Write, Doggy Style — Ann Patchett on her most influential inspiration.

I first found Snoopy in Paradise, Calif., the tiny town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada that was erased by fire last fall. As a child in the late 1960s, my sister and I spent our summers there with our grandparents. We found the place to be perfectly named.

“We’re on our way to Paradise,” we would say, and “We’ve been in Paradise all summer.”

The sharp detail with which I can remember my grandparents’ house is overwhelming to me now — the room where my grandparents slept in twin beds, the room where I shared a bed with my sister. I remember the cherry trees, the line of quail that crossed the back lawn in the morning to the ground-level birdbath my grandmother kept full for them, “Family Affair” on television. Everything about those summer days is tattooed on my brain. I was an introverted kid and not a strong reader. My grandmother had a stock of mass-market “Peanuts” books she’d bought off a drugstore spinner. Titles like “You’ve Had It, Charlie Brown” and “All This and Snoopy, Too” were exactly my speed. I memorized those books. I found Snoopy in Paradise the way another kid might have found God.

Influence is a combination of circumstance and luck: what we are shown and what we stumble upon in those brief years when the heart and mind are fully open. I imagine that for Henry James, for example, the extended European tour of his youth led him to write about American expatriates.

I, instead, was in Northern California being imprinted by a beagle. When the morning newspaper came, my sister and I read the funnies together, always “Peanuts” first. Even when I was old enough to know better, I was more inclined toward “To the Doghouse” than “To the Lighthouse.” I was more beagle than Woolf. I did the happy dance, and it has served me well.

My formative years were spent in a Snoopy T-shirt, sleeping on Snoopy sheets with a stuffed Snoopy in my arms. I was not a cool kid, and Snoopy was a very cool dog. I hoped the association would rub off on me.

Which is pretty much the whole point of Charlie Brown’s relationship with Snoopy: The awkward kid’s social value is raised by his glorious pet. Anyone could see what Charlie Brown got out of Snoopy, even when Snoopy was blowing him off — he raised Charlie Brown’s social stock. But what did Snoopy get out of it? I’m guessing it was the loyalty, the dog-like consistency, which of course makes Charlie Brown the dog in that relationship. I had no problem with this. I would have been thrilled to be Snoopy’s dog.

Not only was Snoopy a famous World War I flying ace who battled the Red Baron and quaffed root beer in the existential loneliness of the French countryside, he was also Joe Cool on campus. He pinched Charlie Brown’s white handkerchief to become a soldier in the French Foreign Legion and was a leader of the Beagle Scouts, a motley crew of little yellow birds. He was a figure skater and hockey player in equal measure, an astronaut, a tennis star, a skateboarder, a boxer and a suburban pet whose doghouse contained a Van Gogh. This wasn’t just a dog who knew how to dream, this was a dog who so fully inhabited his realities that everyone around him saw them, too. Snoopy heard the roar of the approving crowd as clearly as he heard the bullets whizzing past his Sopwith Camel. Having ventured fearlessly into the world, he could come back to the roof of his doghouse and sit straight-backed in front of his typewriter, to tap out the words that began so many of his stories: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Wait, am I seriously discussing Snoopy, a cartoon dog, as a writer?

Am I believing in him as he was drawn to believe in himself? Did I want to be a novelist because he was a novelist?

I am. I do. I did.

Snoopy worked hard up there on the roof of the doghouse. He saw his own flaws. He typed: “Those years in Paris were to be among the finest of her life. Looking back, she once remarked, ‘Those years in Paris were among the finest of my life.’ That was what she said when she looked back upon those years in Paris . . . where she spent some of the finest years of her life.” Which was followed by the thought bubble, “I think this is going to need a little editing . . .”

Snoopy didn’t just write novels, he sent them out. In those dark days before electronic submissions, he taught me what it would mean to stand in front of a mailbox, waiting to hear from an editor. Snoopy got far more rejection letters than he ever got acceptances, and the rejections ranged (as they will) from impersonal to flippant to cruel.

Later, I could see we’d been building up to this. It wasn’t as if he’d won all those tennis matches he played in. The Sopwith Camel was regularly riddled with bullet holes. But he kept on going. He was willing to lose, even in the stories he imagined for himself. He lost, and he continued to be cool, which is to say, he was still himself in the face of both failure and success.

Linus rings Charlie Brown’s doorbell and says, “Ask your dog to come out and play ‘chase the stick.’ ”

Snoopy comes out and hands him a note: “Thank you for your offer to come out and play .. We are busy at this time, however, and cannot accept your offer .. We hope you will be successful elsewhere.”

I would be hurt and I would get over it. That’s what the strip taught me. Snoopy walked me through the publishing process: ignoring reviews, being thrilled and then realizing the thrill doesn’t last:

“It’s from your publisher,” Charlie Brown tells Snoopy. “They printed one copy of your novel .. It says they haven’t been able to sell it .. They say they’re sorry .. Your book is now out of print ..”

It was painful, yes, but Snoopy loved his job.

“Joe Ceremony was very short,” Snoopy types. “When he entered a room, everyone had to be warned not to stand on Ceremony.” At which point Snoopy falls off his doghouse backward, cracking himself up, only to climb up again and look at his typewriter lovingly. “I’m a great admirer of my own writing.”

Oh, beagle, isn’t it the truth? That moment when you write a single, perfect sentence is worth more than an entire box of biscuits.

I probably would have been a writer without Snoopy. I know without a doubt I would have loved dogs, though my love for writing and dogs might not have been so intertwined. Of all the “Peanuts” koans I live by, the one that contains the deepest wisdom may well be “Happiness is a warm puppy.” Thanks to Snoopy, I have ascribed an inner life to all the dogs I’ve known, and they’ve proved me right. I have lived with many dogs who were my equals, and a couple I knew to be my betters, but I’ve never been able to name a dog Snoopy. It’s a recipe for failure, because no matter how great your dog is, his ears will never turn him into a helicopter. I did, however, name the dog I have now for Charles Schulz, whose nickname was Sparky.

Sparky is a small gray-and-white rescue who comes with me to the bookstore I co-own in Nashville and stands straight up on his back legs to greet customers. Surely he has the talent and the patience to write a novel of his own; I’m just glad he’s never wanted to. I’ve accepted the fact that my dog is cooler than I am, but it would be hard to deal with if he were also the better writer. And anyway, it would take too much time away from our relationship.

Life could have been different. I could have cut my teeth on “The Portrait of a Lady” — but then again, I could have been stuck reading “Archie” comics. Fate and circumstances stacked the deck in my favor, leaving me to be influenced by a cartoon beagle. It turned out to be exactly the guidance I needed.

Doonesbury — Getting the cue.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

“Terrific Guy. Hardly Know Him.”

Sounds familiar.

The rejoinder fit a familiar pattern for Trump, who is quick to minimize ties with people who criticize him or who find themselves facing an onslaught of negative attention that reflects poorly on the president.

Among those who have gotten the “I barely know the guy” treatment: Former acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker, conservative commentator Ann Coulter, former lawyer Michael Cohen, fired FBI director James B. Comey, former senior White House aide Stephen K. Bannon, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former State Department official Brett McGurk, longtime adviser Roger Stone, former White House aide Cliff Sims, former campaign aide George Papadopoulos and even the rapper Lil Jon, who starred on Trump’s reality TV show “Celebrity Apprentice.”

The people change, but the comments are eerily similar — and are something of a joke among some Trump advisers.

Yeah, somewhat of a joke until he’s under oath.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sunday Reading

“Inoffensive” — Masha Gessen in The New Yorker on Trump’s assault on reality.

Donald Trump’s Fourth of July address was most remarkable for the things it did not contain. Immediately afterward, commentators noted that Trump didn’t use the opportunity to attack the Democratic Party, to issue explicit campaign slogans, or, it would appear, make any impromptu additions (with the possible exception of the claim that American troops commandeered enemy airports during the Revolutionary War). The President was so disciplined on the occasion of the republic’s two hundred and forty-third birthday that Vox called his speech “inoffensive.” Slate gave the speech credit for being “not a complete authoritarian nightmare.” The Times noted that Trump called for unity, in a gesture uncharacteristic of his “divisive presidency.” The word “tame” popped up in different outlets, including Talking Points Memo, which concluded that, thanks to the President not going off script, “the whole thing was pretty standard.”

Campaign slogans and glaring Trumpisms were not the only things absent from the speech. Immigrants were missing. Trump’s most recent predecessors presided over Fourth of July naturalization ceremonies. A rhetorical link between the holiday and immigration has long seemed unbreakable. During his last Independence Day as President, Bill Clinton chose to speak in New York Harbor, against the backdrop of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. “Perhaps more than any other nation in all history, we have drawn our strength and spirit from people from other lands,” he said. “On this Fourth of July, standing in the shadow of Lady Liberty, we must resolve never to close the golden door behind us, and always not only to welcome people to our borders, but to welcome people into our hearts.” In a much-criticized series of Independence Day events in 1986, President Reagan lit the torch of the Statue of Liberty and noted the swearing in of twenty-seven thousand new citizens across the country. He also referred to the “immigrant story” of his then new Supreme Court nominee, Antonin Scalia.

That immigrant story is, of course, the story the Trump Administration has demonstratively abandoned. Last year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services dropped the phrase “nation of immigrants” from its mission statement. That phrase, like most foundational myths and more than some, obscures much of the country’s history: the first immigrants would more accurately be described as settler colonialists, who brought Africans here as slaves. But this was not why the Trump Administration deleted the phrase. Trump has retired the myth of America as a nation of immigrants because he staked his election campaign and his legitimacy as president on the demonization of immigrants—and on mobilizing Americans for a war against immigrants.

Trump’s American story is the story of struggle, “the epic tale of a great nation whose people have risked everything for what they know is right,” as he said in the address. Over the course of forty-seven minutes, Trump enumerated American military conquests and the branches of the U.S. armed forces. A quick listing of civilian achievement—medical discoveries, cultural accomplishments, civil-rights advancements, and space exploration—was thrown in at the beginning of the speech, but the master narrative Trump proposed was one of wars and victories, punctuated by the roar of airplane engines for flyovers and the songs of each armed-forces branch.

The narrative was also one of fear. Trump spoke like the leader of a country under siege. The President and the people who joined him onstage were in a fortress of their own, a clear protective enclosure that, streaked with rain, made for an incongruously melancholy sight, as though we were watching them through a veil of tears.

Trump extolled the strength and battle-readiness of American troops but named no current threat. He promised only to strike fear into the hearts of America’s enemies. But his audience knows who the enemy is. North Korea or China may go from enemy to partner to friend on a whim, but there is one enemy whom Trump has consistently, obsessively described as an existential threat: the immigrant.

Two days before the July 4th celebration, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General issued an urgent report on the conditions in migrant detention facilities in the Rio Grande Valley. Photographs in the report showed children and adults in crowded cages. Other pictures showed people in extremely crowded holding rooms raising up signs in windows, apparently attempting to attract the attention of government inspectors. The document reported “serious overcrowding” and prolonged detention that violated federal guidelines. Children had no access to showers and hadn’t been provided with hot meals. At one facility, the report said, adults were held in standing-room-only conditions. “Most single adults had not had a shower . . . despite several being held for as long as a month,” the report said. A diet of bologna sandwiches had made some of the detainees sick. The report left no doubt that “concentration camps” was an accurate term for the facilities it described. On the eve of Independence Day, the media reported the story, which looked obscene among other stories. How could we read, write, or talk about anything else?

The President responded in a series of tweets in which he blamed the Democrats and the immigrants themselves. “If Illegal Immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!” he tweeted. Most of Trump’s tweeting day, though, was spent on other issues: railing against the Supreme Court’s decision not to allow a citizenship question on the census, for example, and hyping expectations for his Fourth of July extravaganza. In the Trumpian universe, immigrants pose a superhuman threat but are themselves of subhuman significance. Through his tweets, his attacks on the media, and his lying, Trump has been waging a battle to define reality to the exclusion of documented facts. In Trump’s reality, it’s not just that the Administration refuses to be held accountable for running concentration camps—it’s that the camps, and the suffering in them, do not exist.

The July 4th celebration, inspired by Trump’s visit to France during Bastille Day festivities in 2017 and informed by his affinity for the sabre-rattling tyrants of the world, was a high point in the President’s battle to command reality. With the possible exception of rain streaks, the pictures from the rally are his image of himself and the country. Following his speech, Trump kept retweeting images of his own limo leaving the White House, of fighter jets flying, of the red stage and a strange cross-like formation of red elevated platforms, and of himself speaking. In these pictures, Trump is the supreme ruler of the mightiest military empire in the history of the world and his people are with him in the public square. Nothing else exists.

A common maxim of the Trump era has it that two Americas exist, each with its own media and consequently limited view of the world. In fact, though, in one America there is only Trump, his tanks and planes and ships. In the America that a majority of us inhabit, however, there are concentration camps—and Trump with his flyovers. In this America, it is increasingly clear that concentration camps and the public spectacle of mobilization are not in contradiction: one is, in fact, a consequence of the other. It is also clear that the omissions of Trump’s speech are not accidental. In addition to not mentioning immigrants, Trump didn’t mention the complexity of the American project. Until two and a half years ago, Republican and Democratic Presidents regularly reminded the American public that this country’s democracy is a work in progress, that its guiding principles are a set of abstract ideals that continue to be reinterpreted.

“This union of corrected wrongs and expanded rights has brought the blessings of liberty to the two hundred and fifteen million Americans, but the struggle for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is never truly won,” President Gerald Ford said on July 4, 1976. “Each generation of Americans, indeed of all humanity, must strive to achieve these aspirations anew. Liberty is a living flame to be fed, not dead ashes to be revered, even in a Bicentennial Year. It is fitting that we ask ourselves hard questions even on a glorious day like today. Are the institutions under which we live working the way they should? Are the foundations laid in 1776 and 1789 still strong enough and sound enough to resist the tremors of our times? Are our God-given rights secure, our hard-won liberties protected?”

Forty years later, in a much more casual celebration on the White House lawn, President Barack Obama said, “On a day like this, we celebrate, we have fun, we marvel at everything that’s been done before, but we also have to recommit ourselves to making sure that everybody in this country is free; that everybody has opportunity; that everybody gets a fair shot; that we look after all of our veterans when they come home; that we look after our military families and give them a fair shake; that every child has a good education.”

In less than three years, as our senses were dulled by the crudeness of the tweets, the speed of the news cycle, the blatant quality of the lies, and the brutality of official rhetoric, Trump has reframed America, stripping it of its ideals, dumbing it down, and reducing it to a nation at war against people who want to join it. These days, that is what passes for “inoffensive,” “tame,” and “standard.”

No Thanks, David — Jeet Heer in The Nation on dumping the never-Trumpers.

David Brooks wants your pity. As a New York Times columnist and best-selling author, Brooks has all the worldly success anyone could want, and yet he feels increasingly alienated from American politics, a self-described moderate rendered homeless by the polarization of the Trump era. The Republican Party has been captured by a belligerent oaf, while the Democrats, thanks to the leadership of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are moving to the left.

“I could never in a million years vote for Donald Trump,” Brooks wrote in a recent New York Times column. “So my question to Democrats is: Will there be a candidate I can vote for?” Alas for Brooks, he’s not sure that the Democrats will give him the moderate candidate he wants, since so many of the contenders are aping Sanders and Warren by talking about the need for universal health care and making a broader critique of the power of big business.

“Democrats have caught the catastrophizing virus that inflicts the Trumpian right,” Brooks complains. “They take a good point—that capitalism needs to be reformed to reduce inequality—and they radicalize it so one gets the impression they want to undermine capitalism altogether.”

Instead of capitalism, Brooks believes Democrats should be talking about civility. “Trump is a disrupter,” Brooks states. “He rips to shreds the codes of politeness, decency, honesty and fidelity, and so renders society a savage world of dog eat dog. Democrats spend very little time making this case because defending tradition, manners and civility sometimes cuts against the modern progressive temper.”

One could object that Brooks is overdrawing the lesson. After all, there is only one Democratic candidate, Sanders, who calls himself a socialist; even Warren insists she’s a capitalist, albeit one that feels the system needs a serious overhaul.

The best thing about Brooks’s column is his frank use of the first person singular. Although he makes gestures to other hypothetical moderate voters, he is candid that the question is whether the Democrats will nominate someone “I can vote for.” This “I” is honest, since Brooks is speaking for a tiny faction, Never Trump conservatives, who twice demonstrated in 2016 that they were a powerless rump minority in the real world of politics. Never Trump conservatives failed to stop Donald Trump from getting the Republican nomination. They then failed to mobilize a sufficient number of voters to support Hillary Clinton and keep Trump from his Electoral College victory. Yet the humiliation of these defeats has done nothing to hamper their self-confidence in offering political advice.

Although minuscule in numbers, Never Trump conservatives have an enormously outsize voice in the American mainstream media. They beloved by mainstream outlets that want to present a balanced editorial voice, but are also horror stricken by Trump’s vulgarity and corruption. Besides Brooks, the New York Times op-ed page has two other conservatives who are mortified by Trump, if not always Trumpism: Bret Stephens and Ross Douthat.

Stephens himself wrote a very similar column, although unlike Brooks he pretended to be the voice of a hypothetical average voter who was turned off by the alleged extreme leftism of the Democrats.

The Democrats, Stephens claimed, are “a party that makes too many Americans feel like strangers in their own country. A party that puts more of its faith, and invests most of its efforts, in them instead of us.” He added, “They speak Spanish. We don’t.” This was an allusion to the admittedly faltering efforts of Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker to say a few words en español (and the marginally better fluency of Julian Castro).

As often with faux populism, there’s an element of playacting in these pronouncements. Stephens himself was born in Mexico and speaks Spanish fluently. Moreover, he didn’t object in 2015 when Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio spoke Spanish during the Republican debates. Would the hypothetical nativist Republican who is so offended by the Spanish of Democratic candidates ever switch parties?

The Never Trump theory that they are the crucial swing voters who will decide presidential elections was already tried and tested in 2016. It failed miserably.

During that election, Hillary Clinton made an ardent effort to win Republican voters, especially foreign policy hawks worried about Trump’s alleged isolationism. She praised her friend Henry Kissinger; she used neoconservative dog whistles like “American exceptionalism”; and she even attacked Trump on occasion from the right, indicating he was a little too evenhanded on Israel-Palestine and not tough enough to confront Russian and Chinese leaders. Moreover, just as Brooks recommends in his column, Clinton highlighted Trump’s assault on civility, his personal crudeness.

Clinton’s pursuit of moderate suburban Republicans, what we might call the Brooks vote, paid some small dividends. She actually did better than Barack Obama with this class. But this victory came at an enormous price: It demobilized many traditional Democrats, especially working-class voters of all sorts (both white and African American).

As Princeton University history professor Matt Karp noted in a compelling post-mortem written right after the election, “In pursuit of professional-class Republicans, the Clinton campaign made a conscious decision to elevate questions of tone, temperament, and decorum at the expense of bread-and-butter issues like health care or the minimum wage. This wasn’t just a tactical move away from some culturally distinct group of ‘white working-class’ voters. It was a strategic retreat from the working class as a whole.”

Karp cites Clinton’s final ad: “Clinton’s final TV commercial exemplified the spirit of her campaign. Planted sedately behind a desk in a comfortable, well-furnished room, the Democrat condemned ‘darkness’ and ‘division’ as the camera slowly zoomed inward. Her gold necklace and bracelet twinkling in the softened light, she spoke for two full minutes about work ethic and core values without ever uttering the words ‘jobs,’ ‘wages,’ or ‘health care.’”

Clinton ran a David Brooks campaign in 2016 and tore apart the Obama coalition. She suffered the worst Democratic Electoral College results since 1988. Fortunately for the Democrats, Trump has governed as a far-right Republican, sidelining most of the economic populism he ran on, which allowed him to shave off some Obama voters. As a result, Democrats were able in 2018 to regain many of those lost voters (doing much better than Clinton in rural areas) while also holding on to the suburban voters Clinton had brought to the party. The 2018 victory was also fueled by the party’s decision to focus on a genuine economic issue, health care, rather than bemoan Trump’s personal grossness.

Never Trump conservatives like David Brooks are an interesting intellectual curiosity and often worth reading for their critiques of the Republican Party. But as political advisers they’ve had their day. Democrats don’t need their votes—and should work on motivating and energizing the base they already have.

Doonesbury — It is what it isn’t.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Diversions

From the Washington Post:

The National Park Service is diverting nearly $2.5 million in entrance and recreation fees primarily intended to improve parks across the country to cover costs associated with President Trump’s Independence Day celebration Thursday on the Mall, according to two individuals familiar with the arrangement.

Trump administration officials have consistently refused to say how much taxpayers will have to pay for the expanded celebration on the Mall this year, which the president has dubbed the “Salute to America.” The two individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, confirmed the transfer of the Park Service funds Tuesday.

The diverted park fees represent just a fraction of the extra costs the government faces as a result of the event, which will include displays of military hardware, flyovers by an array of jets including Air Force One, the deployment of tanks on the Mall and an extended pyrotechnics show. By comparison, according to former Park Service deputy director Denis P. Galvin, the entire Fourth of July celebration on the Mall typically costs the agency about $2 million.

For Trump’s planned speech at the Lincoln Memorial, the White House is distributing VIP tickets to Republican donors and political appointees, prompting objections from Democratic lawmakers who argue that the president has turned the annual celebration into a campaign-like event.

The Republican National Committee and Trump’s reelection campaign confirmed Tuesday that they had received passes they were handing out for the event.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the interior, environment and related agencies, said in a phone interview. “No ticketed political event should be paid for with taxpayer dollars.”

The White House referred questions about the celebration to the Interior Department, which declined to comment.

The pundits are saying that Trump got this idea for this ego-fest from watching the Bastille Day celebration in France.  I’m thinking it’s more along the lines of what his BFF Kim Jong-un has when he celebrates something, like scoring a big win in Donkey Kong.

Meanwhile, the city of Washington, D.C. is going to be stuck with a monster repair bill after the tanks tear up the streets.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Withdrawal Symptoms

To be perfectly clear, I am very glad that the U.S. did not strike Iran for shooting down a drone or have ICE conduct sweeping raids of undocumented immigrants this weekend.  But we got very close to doing both only to have Trump pull back at the last minute.

Not being privy to the internal workings of this administration — as if that would actually clarify things — it appears to the casual observer that on both occasions Trump’s lizard brain acted out only to be pulled back when either cooler heads prevailed or someone — Ivanka? — said it would make him look bad.

To be fair, neither of those qualifiers have ever made any difference in the past for some of his knee-jerk responses, but those have usually been events that didn’t involve heavy artillery and body counts.  And while the images of ICE sweeping through major cities, including Miami, reminiscent of those from central Europe 80 years ago would have given his base something to cheer about, it would have swept away all the indignation his minions have been fomenting about whether or not to refer to the immigrants’ involuntary destination as “detention centers” vs. “concentration camps.”

Of course he and his chorus of sycophants will proclaim that his wisdom prevailed against himself and they were all prepped and ready to go with defenses of the actions had they taken place, speaking over images of smoldering ruins of an Iranian radar facility and parades of immigrants behind chain-link fences.

To quote the immortal digby, “Trump fucked up.”  Again.  He simply cannot do the job that is required of him, which is to evaluate the situation, listen to all the arguments for and against an action, determine the safest course while knowing the risks, and then make a commitment that takes it all into account, including the long-term consequences.  That’s what he’s supposed to do.

But he can’t.  He doesn’t have the requisite judgment to do any of it.  And while it may sound simple, it’s extremely hard and it’s been something that has challenged and daunted many presidents before him.  In my lifetime every president has had to make these kinds of decisions.  Some have succeeded; the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, and some have been truly screwed up, either by their own miscalculation or just fate.  Two come to mind: the Bay of Pigs under Kennedy in 1961 and the Iranian hostage rescue attempt under Carter in 1980.

The difference between those times and now is that those presidents were willing to publicly admit failure and take the blame.  That will never happen with the current occupant, and I truly believe the reason he stopped mid-stream on both Iran and ICE is because something told him that he’d have to take responsibility in the face of possible failure.  So while he may have career people advising him wisely on the options and consequences, he cannot bear the possibility of being seen as anything other than the smartest man in the room.  To him, nothing is more important.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Back To Reality

It’s especially harsh to come back from nearly two weeks of not really paying attention to the news and land with a thud: Trump holding yet again a rally in Florida (although Karma sent in torrential rain to prove that his supporters are not smart enough to know when to come in out of it) and touting the various and sundry stupidities and cruelties foisted upon us by this cretinous vulgarian.  Living on the shore of a fjord in Alaska with no internet connection and eating reindeer pizza suddenly doesn’t sound so nutty.

Of course, I didn’t watch any of this kinderspiel in Orlando, and apparently those who did heard nothing new so they didn’t bother to broadcast it (except Fox News, which has announced that it will soon sell time to broadcast his potty-time).  But reports are that he spent most of the time re-running his 2016 campaign themes: attacking a retired grandmother from Chappaqua, New York, for imagined crimes that his own children have committed, and giving evidence out loud that will be used in some future hearing on mental competency (“I’m going to read you a series of numbers and I want you to repeat them back to me…”).  But as Dana Milbank pointed out, it’s all he’s got since he can’t run on his own record of incompetence, fraudulence, criminality, vulgarity, isolationism, greed, racism, and buffoonery.

On top of that, the regime is on the verge of announcing plans for immigration arrests and deportation.  You don’t need to be a historian to see that this reeks of another regime’s method of dealing with their political scapegoat; you can download “Schindler’s List” from Netflix.

It’s no wonder that two dozen Democrats want to run against him in 2020.  I’m surprised there aren’t more; this should be an easy target for them.  Yes, of course I know that Democrats could lose an ice-skating race to a snake, but if the polls are anywhere near accurate this far out and with this short-term memory-challenged electorate, Trump would lose to any one of the top ten Democrats.  And judging by Trump’s reaction to the reality of his falling numbers, he’s killing off the messengers who are delivering the news.  (Meanwhile, he’s got more people working in “acting” positions in his administration than the cattle-call audition for a revival of “Cats.”)

Today will be my first full day back at work, back to reading what’s going on, and wondering why I came back to this harsh dose of reality when there are otters to watch frolicking in Prince William Sound and reindeer pizza to be ordered in.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Basic Education

Someone — presumably certified in early education — needs to sit down with Trump and explain how things like courts and the Constitution work.

“I don’t see how they can because they’re possibly allowed, although I can’t imagine the courts allowing it. I’ve never gone into it. I never thought that would even be possible to be using that word. To me, it’s a dirty word — the word impeach. It’s a dirty, filthy, disgusting word.”

Circling back to whether he thought he would be impeached, he told reporters, “I don’t think so, because there was no crime.”

He returned to a flawed argument he and his backers have long put forth to dismiss the threat of Trump’s impeachment.

“You know, it’s high crimes and, not with — or — it’s high crimes and misdemeanors,” he said. “There was no high crime and there was no misdemeanor. So how do you impeach based on that?”

I’ve had more cogent arguments with a four-year-old.

  • The courts — Supreme or otherwise — have nothing to do with impeachment.  It’s solely up to Congress.
  • He needs to read the Constitution on what it says about impeachment.  And taking reading interpretation instructions from him is like getting ice skating instructions from a snake.
  • His fixation on “dirty, filthy, disgusting” goes back to his germophobia, which is something that’s better left to a Freudian.

Where is “Schoolhouse Rock” when you need it?

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sunday Reading

Charles P. Pierce — Paranoia Strikes Deep.

Something about Speaker Nancy Pelosi sets all the bats flying in his belfry. On Thursday, the president* and his administration* surrendered to the bats entirely. The belfry is too crowded with bats for anyone of them to think clearly and every damn one of them at this point is in some way barking mad. I warned you about the prion disease that was eating the higher functions of the conservative brain ever since Ronald Reagan first fed them the monkey-brains in 1980. They are the living dead now, and they are running the country.

First, there was this insane press availability—the second insane press availability in as many days, if you’re keeping score while fleeing the country—in which El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago dragooned his minions into public assertions that he had been, in his own words, “an extremely stable genius” during his brief meeting with Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the one that he ended with a badly rehearsed tantrum. From Politico:

In a remarkable scene, the president proceeded to name-check senior White House staff and advisers in the Roosevelt Room whom he said had attended Wednesday’s session on infrastructure initiatives with top congressional Democrats — which Trump abandoned after declaring that the lawmakers could not simultaneously negotiate legislation while investigating and threatening to impeach him. “Kellyanne, what was my temperament yesterday?” Trump asked White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. “Very calm. No tamper tantrum,” she replied before criticizing journalists’ coverage of the meeting, which Trump has complained portrayed him with a “rage narrative.”

It was a reporter’s question at the White House about Pelosi’s “intervention” remark — which Trump dubbed “a nasty-type statement” — that put the president on the defensive Thursday. He began turning to aides such as Mercedes Schlapp, the White House director of strategic communications, and pressing them for first-hand accounts of his scuttled meeting with Democrats. “You were very calm and you were very direct, and you sent a very firm message to the speaker and to the Democrats,” Schlapp said.

Next up was Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, who said the president’s conversation with Democrats was “much calmer than some of our trade meetings,” followed by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who described the president’s demeanor as “very calm and straightforward and clear.”

But the greatest praise for the commander in chief came from Trump himself, who told the assembled members of the media during one non-sequitur: “I’m an extremely stable genius. OK?”

Highly respected Intertoobz weisenheimers were split over whether the president* was re-enacting this famous movie scene, or this famous television skit.

Later on, after this brief comic interlude, the president* got down to some serious paranoia, and things stopped being funny very quickly.

He reiterated Thursday that he believes he is the victim of a long-running effort that meant to stop him from winning in 2016, delegitimize his presidency and remove him from office either through impeachment or by Democrats damaging him enough with investigations that he can’t be re-elected. He has charged that some of his adversaries are guilty of treason, and he was asked Thursday to provide the names of people who should be held accountable for a crime punishable by death. Trump answered with a list of names: McCabe, Comey, former FBI agent Peter Strzok and former Justice Department official Lisa Page. Strzok and Page exchanged text messages during the 2016 campaign — when the FBI was investigating Trump’s operation — that disparaged him, and Trump says attempted to prevent him from winning.

He answered with a list of names. Of people he thinks should be tried as traitors and subject to the only crime defined in the Constitution and one that is punishable by death. Think about that.

And, later on Thursday, he put the power of his office behind this angry fantastical snipe hunt of his. From the AP:

The move marked an escalation in Trump’s efforts to “investigate the investigators,” as he continues to try to undermine the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe amid mounting Democratic calls to bring impeachment proceedings against Trump. Press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Trump is delegating to Barr the “full and complete authority” to declassify documents relating to the probe, which would ease his efforts to review the sensitive intelligence underpinnings of the investigation. Such an action could create fresh tensions within the FBI and other intelligence agencies, which have historically resisted such demands.

Trump is giving Barr a new tool in his investigation, empowering his attorney general to unilaterally unseal documents that the Justice Department has historically regarded as among its most highly secret. Warrants obtained from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, for instance, are not made public — not even to the person on whom the surveillance was authorized. Trump explicitly delegated Barr with declassification power — noting it would not automatically extend to another attorney general — and only for use in the review of the Russia investigation. Before using the new authority, Barr should consult with intelligence officials “to the extent he deems it practicable,” Trump wrote in a memo formalizing the matter.

If you’re an FBI agent, and you’ve been chasing down, say, something about where Deutsche Bank got some of its money, and you hear this news, you’re not sleeping well tonight, I guarantee you. And that’s the point.

And the last signifying event on Thursday was the superseding indictment filed by the Department of Justice against Julian Assange, who now stands accused not of helping Chelsea Manning hack a government server, but of 17 violations of the Espionage Act in sharing the fruits of Manning’s hacking with various news organizations. This move runs headlong into both the First Amendment and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Pentagon Papers case. But with the very real possibility that Assange may never see the inside of a U.S. courtroom, it’s incumbent on us to look for another motive for this overreaching indictment. From The New York Times:

For the purposes of press freedoms, what matters is not who counts as a journalist, but whether journalistic activities — whether performed by a “journalist” or anyone else — can be crimes in America. The Trump administration’s move could establish a precedent used to criminalize future acts of national-security journalism, said Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “The charges rely almost entirely on conduct that investigative journalists engage in every day,” he said. “The indictment should be understood as a frontal attack on press freedom.”

If you’re an investigative reporter, and you get a tip about, say, where Deutsche Bank got some of its money, and you hear this news, you’re not sleeping well tonight, I guarantee you. And that’s the point. With the active connivance of his pet attorney general, William Barr, the president* is putting his own law enforcement apparatus and the free press on notice—do what I want or I will make your lives hell. The only saving grace in the whole situation is that Nancy Pelosi is driving him so far up the wall that he probably can’t concentrate long enough to be the dictator he wants to be. That’s a helluva thing to hang your republic on, but here we are.

Carl Hiaasen — Ghost Stories

The ghost of Richard Nixon sat down in his favorite armchair in front of the television. He still didn’t know how to work the remote, so the ghost of H.R. “Bob” Haldeman turned on the TV and handed the former president a glass of red wine.

“What channel?” Haldeman’s ghost asked.

“Anything but Dan Rather.”

The ghost of Haldeman got tired of reminding his former boss that the pesky Rather had been gone from CBS for years. He put on the Fox News network, which was broadcasting live from the Rose Garden at the White House.

“I never liked those outdoor press things,” the ghost of Nixon remarked sourly. “You’d always hear those damn hippies raising hell across the street in Lafayette Park. The anti-war crowd, you know. Did we ever find out who was paying them?”

Haldeman’s ghost said, “Still working on that, Mr. President.”

Just then, on television, the current non-ghost president entered the Rose Garden and announced that he’d just walked out of a meeting with Congressional Democrats because they were all out to get him.

“Welcome to the club,” muttered Nixon’s ghost, and took a loud sip of wine.

On TV, the mortal president began to fulminate, veering from one random topic to another —investigations, infrastructure, the Mueller report, his unfairly persecuted son Don Jr. On it went.

Fascinated, the ghost of Nixon edged forward in his chair.

“Didn’t his staff give him a list of talking points?” he asked.

“He pays no attention to his staff,” Haldeman’s ghost explained. “He likes to wing it.”

“Is he insane, or is this just an act?” Nixon’s ghost signaled for more wine. “They said I was nuts for talking to the White House portraits in the middle of the night, but I was drunk as a skunk at the time. What’s this guy’s excuse?”

Haldeman’s ghost shrugged. “Trump doesn’t drink. We’ve had this discussion before.”

The Rose Garden tirade went on for 12 full minutes. The ghost of Nixon watched transfixed, his expression pinched and brooding. Afterward, when the Fox commentators began chattering, he told Haldeman’s ghost to mute the volume.

“Bob, that was the most unconvincing, half-assed denial of a cover-up I’ve heard,” the ghost of Nixon said. “Mine were so much better.”

“Absolutely, Mr. President. Your denials were rock-solid. The gold standard.”

“Well, until the day I resigned.”

“This fellow won’t ever do that,” said Haldeman’s ghost.

“You think they’ll actually impeach him? That’s what he seems to want.” The ghost of Nixon gazed out the window, his mood sinking as it often did. “Maybe I should’ve gone the impeachment route instead of quitting. Made those bastards drag me from the Oval Office kicking and fighting.”

The ghost of Haldeman was accustomed to such maudlin talk. “Mr. President, they don’t have the votes in the Senate to convict Trump. That wasn’t your situation during Watergate. You did the honorable thing by sparing the nation a long, divisive trial.”

“That’s right — and the damn liberal media, they claimed I did it just for the pardon!”

“History will judge you kindly,” said the ghost of Haldeman, a line he used no less than 10 times a day to placate his old friend.

But the face of Nixon’s ghost was a familiar mask of bitter intensity.

“Bob, I could be spiteful, paranoid and anti-Semitic, but I never paid hush money to a porn star! I never hid my IRS returns from the public! I never grabbed women’s privates and bragged about it! I never got campaign dirt from the Russians, even in the McGovern race! And I never ordered anyone working for me to defy a Congressional subpoena. I might’ve asked them to tidy up their testimony a little, but —”

“Mr. President, all you ever did was lie about a third-rate burglary.”

“Exactly! Compared to this guy, I was a model commander-in-chief. My face ought to be up on Mount Rushmore next to Lincoln and FDR!”

It wasn’t unusual for the ghost of Nixon to mix up his Roosevelts after a few drinks. Haldeman’s ghost said nothing.

“Bob, answer me this. Trump tells more lies before lunch every day than I told in all six years I was there. How on Earth is he still sitting in that office? And don’t get me started on his hair! Did he steal that stupid wig from Carol Channing?”

“Time for your nap, Mr. President,” Haldeman’s ghost said gently. “Don’t worry. I’ll wake you up for ‘Jeopardy!’”

“That kid with the name I can’t pronounce — he’s still winning?”

“Yes, he is.”

Hmmm,” said Nixon’s ghost, rising. “I guess that’s all right.”

Doonesbury — Act now!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Daddy Issues

Paul Waldman in the Washington Post on Trump and his fear of revealing his tax returns:

There are two explanations for what Trump is trying to conceal. The first is that there are scandalous or even criminal activities that he has engaged in — partnerships with shady characters, cases of money laundering — and the returns would point the way to discover them.

To understand why, you have to remember that the Trump Organization is not an ordinary corporation in the way you might think of it. In fact, it is an amalgam of approximately 500 separate partnerships and pass-through companies (which is why Trump almost certainly reaped millions of dollars in tax benefits from the 2017 tax law, which included a 20 percent deduction for pass-throughs). If we had Trump’s returns, each of those arrangements could be investigated, and no one who has reported on Trump’s business activities would say there aren’t shocking things to discover.

The second explanation for Trump’s determination not to allow the returns to become public is in some ways more innocent: that as so many have speculated, he’s not nearly as rich as he always says. Is it possible that Trump’s motives are only the most petty, shallow and vain ones? After all, we’re talking about Donald Trump.

Of course, both things could be true. Trump’s returns could show him to be less wealthy than he says, and also reveal instances of scandalous or criminal behavior. If I had to hazard a guess I’d say that’s what’s most likely.

I think the biggest reason is that Trump has spent the last fifty years or so trying to get his father to like him.

No, I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist.  But I am a theatre scholar and I spend a lot of time analyzing plays that deal with family, and this Trump story has daddy issues written all over it.

Think about it: the failed marriages, the serial lying and boasting, even the obsession with his appearance; he’s trying to win approval and be seen as a success to the one person who could make him feel fulfilled and gain acceptance.  This sort of pathology is the root of drama going all the way from Oedipus and Shakespeare and through modern drama — Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Robert Anderson (“I Never Sang For My Father”) — and on and on.  Even the bible is rife with characters seeking their father’s approval, including the big one: the New Testament.

It’s not like he’s the first president trying to win paternal blessing.  Our history has a lot of men who played out their family dynamics on the national stage as well as around the kitchen table.  But with Trump this particular drama seems to be on a tragic arc that not only drags the audience along with it but the whole world.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Bad For Business

The New York Times dug into the clues available on Trump’s business dealings in the 1980’s and 90’s and found out to no one’s surprise whatsoever that he is really lousy at it.

By the time his master-of-the-universe memoir “Trump: The Art of the Deal” hit bookstores in 1987, Donald J. Trump was already in deep financial distress, losing tens of millions of dollars on troubled business deals, according to previously unrevealed figures from his federal income tax returns.

Mr. Trump was propelled to the presidency, in part, by a self-spun narrative of business success and of setbacks triumphantly overcome. He has attributed his first run of reversals and bankruptcies to the recession that took hold in 1990. But 10 years of tax information obtained by The New York Times paints a different, and far bleaker, picture of his deal-making abilities and financial condition.

The data — printouts from Mr. Trump’s official Internal Revenue Service tax transcripts, with the figures from his federal tax form, the 1040, for the years 1985 to 1994 — represents the fullest and most detailed look to date at the president’s taxes, information he has kept from public view. Though the information does not cover the tax years at the center of an escalating battle between the Trump administration and Congress, it traces the most tumultuous chapter in a long business career — an era of fevered acquisition and spectacular collapse.

The numbers show that in 1985, Mr. Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his core businesses — largely casinos, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings. They continued to lose money every year, totaling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade.

In fact, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer, The Times found when it compared his results with detailed information the I.R.S. compiles on an annual sampling of high-income earners. His core business losses in 1990 and 1991 — more than $250 million each year — were more than double those of the nearest taxpayers in the I.R.S. information for those years.

Over all, Mr. Trump lost so much money that he was able to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years. It is not known whether the I.R.S. later required changes after audits.

Since the 2016 presidential campaign, journalists at The Times and elsewhere have been trying to piece together Mr. Trump’s complex and concealed finances. While The Times did not obtain the president’s actual tax returns, it received the information contained in the returns from someone who had legal access to it. The Times was then able to find matching results in the I.R.S. information on top earners — a publicly available database that each year comprises a one-third sampling of those taxpayers, with identifying details removed. It also confirmed significant findings using other public documents, along with confidential Trump family tax and financial records from the newspaper’s 2018 investigation into the origin of the president’s wealth.

The bottom line is that he’s a fraud and always has been; no different than that guy on late-night TV who sells you all-natural boner pills and prostate cures or foam-filled pillows for $100 a pop.  He made his millions and lost them twice over because he sucks at actually working but makes up for it with bluster and bullshit.  That’s the one thing he is good at.  Thirty years ago it only mattered to the bankers or the poor schmucks who bet on him — and the tenants in his properties — but now he’s in the White House and running the same con.

Ain’t that America.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

One Way Or Another

Trump trolled the twitterverse with his approval of Jerry Falwell Jr’s idea that somehow Trump deserves either reparations or another two years to make up for the years “stolen from him” because of the Mueller investigation.  It’s nothing more than a stupid attempt at getting a rise out of the usual suspects, and it to some degree it worked in that some columnists and cable chatterers thought it was worth discussing.

It’s not.  Even though Trump has made noises about contesting a close election in the past, he’s all bluster and bullshit and when his time is up he’ll go.  Not quietly, and it may take a couple of well-muscled federal marshals and the Secret Service, but he’ll be escorted out of the White House.

The only downside is that there won’t be a tumbrel to take him away.

Consensus

It’s nearly impossible to get 450 lawyers to agree on anything.  But there’s this.

More than 450 former federal prosecutors who worked in Republican and Democratic administrations have signed on to a statement asserting special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s findings would have produced obstruction charges against President Trump — if not for the office he holds.

The statement — signed by myriad former career government employees as well as high-profile political appointees — offers a rebuttal to Attorney General William P. Barr’s determination that the evidence Mueller uncovered was “not sufficient” to establish that Trump committed a crime.

Mueller had declined to say one way or the other whether Trump should have been charged, citing a Justice Department legal opinion that sitting presidents cannot be indicted, as well as concerns about the fairness of accusing someone for whom there can be no court proceeding.

“Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice,” the former federal prosecutors wrote.

“We emphasize that these are not matters of close professional judgment,” they added. “Of course, there are potential defenses or arguments that could be raised in response to an indictment of the nature we describe here. . . . But, to look at these facts and say that a prosecutor could not probably sustain a conviction for obstruction of justice — the standard set out in Principles of Federal Prosecution — runs counter to logic and our experience.”

No wonder the dude wants to stay in office as long as he can.  It’s the only way he can evade prosecution.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Sunday Reading

Where Will They Go? — Susan Glasser in The New Yorker on how Trump is destroying reputations.

In the first year of the Trump Presidency, White House advisers often promised reporters that this would be the week when they would unveil Trump’s plans for a massive investment in American infrastructure. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump had vowed to spend a trillion dollars rebuilding roads, bridges, and airports. He said that he would work with Democrats to do it. For a time, it seemed to be the only bipartisan project that might actually go somewhere. But, of course, Infrastructure Week never happened. There was always some distraction, some P.R. disaster that overwhelmed it—a chief of staff to be fired, an errant tweet upending foreign policy. Infrastructure Week lived on as an Internet meme, a Twitter hashtag, a joke; it became shorthand for the Administration’s inability to stay on message or organize itself to promote a legislative agenda it claimed to support.

Trump never fully gave up on the infrastructure idea, though, and this week he resurrected it in a rare meeting with congressional Democratic leaders, who emerged from the White House on Tuesday morning, smiling and apparently excited. The President, they explained, had decided to double the price tag of his proposal, from a trillion to two trillion dollars, because it sounded more impressive. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to whom the President reportedly offered Tic Tacs at the meeting in a friendly gesture, praised his vision for a “big and bold” plan. The meeting, Senator Chuck Schumer added, had been a “very, very good start.”

But it was all just a form of Washington performance art. There are no Republican votes for such an expensive package, as the Democrats well knew, and there is no way that the President’s allies on Capitol Hill, nor his own penny-pinching White House chief of staff, would agree to such a budget-busting deal. Trump’s “extreme and aspirational” idea, as Senator Kevin Cramer, of North Dakota, put it, had Republicans “rolling their eyes,” Politico reported. The ranking member of the House committee that would have to approve any measure had offered a simple answer to the question of whether Trump’s idea could ever be passed. “No,” he said. It would not be Infrastructure Week, or even Infrastructure Day. The new era of bipartisan dealmaking was over before it began.

By late Tuesday, the news cycle had moved on. Trump’s Attorney General, William Barr, was refusing to testify before the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee and would not turn over the unredacted Mueller report or its underlying evidence. The Administration, in fact, was refusing to comply with more or less any congressional demands for information and testimony on an array of investigations of the President, from his business-related conflicts of interest to his family-separation policy at the border. Then came more news: Barr had a behind-the-scenes dispute with the special counsel about his characterization of the report. Robert Mueller, it turned out, had sent a letter to Barr (who later called the missive “snitty”) weeks earlier, but it was only now being revealed. In the letter, Mueller suggested that Barr had minimized and deflected the serious questions about the President that Mueller’s investigation had turned up. The next day, the whole mess was fought over in excruciating detail when Barr appeared before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee to testify for the first time since the release of the Mueller report.

By Thursday, House Democrats were holding a hearing, with an empty chair where Barr would have been seated, had he shown up, and threatening to take the Attorney General to court. One of the Democrats had brought fried chicken, which some of his fellow-representatives ate during the hearing, to mock Barr—he’s a chicken, get it? It was all a “stunt,” a “circus,” and a “travesty,” Representative Doug Collins, the panel’s top Republican, complained. But Representative Jerry Nadler, the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic chairman, said that nothing less than the “integrity of this chamber,” the Constitution, and the American system of “not having a President as a dictator” was at stake in Barr’s refusal to comply with the Judiciary Committee’s subpoena. “There is no way forward for this country that does not include a reckoning with this clear and present danger to our constitutional order,” Nadler added. Soon after, Pelosi, at a press conference, told reporters that the Administration’s refusal to coöperate with Congress on so many matters was itself obstruction. As for Barr, she said, he had lied under oath to Congress about his dealings with Mueller and “disgraced” his office. “We are in a very, very, very challenging place,” she said. So much for Infrastructure Week. The constitutional crisis was back on.

The Trump Presidency has been a great wrecker of reputations. In his short time in politics, Trump has managed to shred the careers, professional integrity, and dignity of many of those who worked for him. Rex Tillerson had been an American corporate superstar, the C.E.O. of ExxonMobil, one of the wealthiest oil companies in the world. He became Trump’s Secretary of State and, according to the account given to reporters at an off-the-record session by Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly, learned that he was being fired while sitting on the toilet, an indignity followed up with a Presidential tweet announcing his exit. Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, was just leaving Air Force One, oblivious, when Trump tweeted the news of his firing. On Thursday, Trump did it again, with Stephen Moore, his controversial choice for the Federal Reserve, tweeting that he was out of contention soon after Moore told Bloomberg News that the President was his “biggest ally.” In the interview, Moore said, of the President, “He’s full speed ahead.” The Trump tweet abandoning him came at 12:29 P.M., which was apparently little more than half an hour after Moore told a Bloomberg writer that the President was still all in. “Moore got Priebus-ed,” the writer tweeted.

Just as striking as Trump’s own crude efforts to humiliate, however, are the numerous examples of those who seem to abase or degrade themselves in their efforts to curry favor with the President. Such behavior, of course, has long been a bipartisan feature of life in Washington, where access to power can do bad things to the character of those who seek it. The Trump Presidency has produced more than its share of examples, however, given that getting and staying in this President’s good graces appears to require an extra helping of public obsequiousness, grovelling, flip-floppery, and over-the-top televised pronouncements.

This unseemly aspect of the Trump era was on full display at Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, where both the committee chairman, Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Attorney General Barr went out of their way to appeal to the President, at the expense of their own credibility. Graham, who ran against Trump, in 2016, and called the future President a “kook” who was “unfit” to hold the office, opened the hearing by reading aloud text messages exchanged, in 2016, between two F.B.I. agents, who expressed the same fears about Trump that Graham had at the time. Graham then announced that he had not actually read the whole Mueller report, the contents of which he proceeded to dismiss.

For his part, Barr, once again, acted more as the President’s defense lawyer than as his Attorney General. Taking a maximalist position on Presidential power, Barr argued that Trump would be well within his rights to shut down any investigation of himself if he believed it to be unfair. Surely, that statement will go down as one of the most extraordinary claims of executive authority since Richard Nixon said that “when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Throughout his appearance, Barr continued to assert that Trump had been cleared of all wrongdoing by the Mueller investigation, while admitting, under questioning by Senator Kamala Harris, that he and his deputy had not actually looked at the underlying evidence of Presidential obstruction assembled by Mueller before determining that it was not sufficient to warrant charges. Barr also said that Trump directing his then White House counsel to fire the special counsel—a key incident in the Mueller report—was not a big deal because Trump was actually ordering that Mueller be replaced, which, Barr contended, is not the same thing as ordering him fired. His client, not surprisingly, was pleased. “A source familiar with Trump’s thinking said the President thought Barr was great and did an excellent job,” Axios reported.

Barr’s whole performance, in fact, was so over the top, so Trumpian, that it immediately led to an array of tweets and op-eds wondering why Barr, a once-respected figure in conservative legal circles and a relatively uncontroversial Attorney General during the Presidency of George H. W. Bush, would choose to end a distinguished career in such a fashion. After all, Barr, like Graham, hadn’t even liked or supported Trump when he ran for President.

The most scathing take of all came from the former F.B.I. director James Comey, whose firing by Trump led to Mueller’s appointment. Writing in the Times, in a piece titled “How Trump Co-opts Leaders Like Bill Barr,” Comey posited that Barr’s conduct and that of others around Trump was a consequence of their having chosen to serve the President. “Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them,” Comey wrote. “Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from.” It doesn’t happen right away but over time, Comey wrote, in a series of compromises along the way. “Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.”

So Washington enters May as it ended April, with a constitutional crisis in the making and no Infrastructure Week. But will the constitutional clash between the Democratic House and the Republican President be any less performance art than the nonexistent infrastructure deal they claimed to be making? After Wednesday’s contentious Senate hearing, Lindsey Graham, whatever you think of his credibility, spoke what appeared to be a genuine political truth. He said that, as far as he and his Republican-controlled committee are concerned, there will be no more discussion of the Mueller report, no more testimony, and no impeachment. “It’s over,” he said, and he may well be right.

Scamonomics — Paul Krugman on the GOP’s plot to rig the economy against the Democrats.

Do you remember the great inflation scare of 2010-2011? The U.S. economy remained deeply depressed from the aftereffects of the burst housing bubble and the 2008 financial crisis. Unemployment was still above 9 percent; wage growth had slowed to a crawl, and measures of underlying inflation were well below the Federal Reserve’s targets. So the Fed was doing what it could to boost the economy — keeping short-term interest rates as low as possible, and buying long-term bonds in the hope of getting some extra traction.

But Republicans were up in arms, warning that the Fed’s policies would lead to runaway inflation. A Congressman named Mike Pence introduced a bill that would prohibit the Fed from even considering the state of the labor market in its actions. A who’s who of Republicans signed an open letter to Ben Bernanke demanding that he stop his monetary efforts, which they claimed would “risk currency debasement and inflation.”

And supposedly respectable Republicans engaged in conspiracy theorizing, suggesting that the Fed was secretly in league with the Obama administration. Paul Ryan and the economist John Taylor declared that the Fed’s policy “looks an awful lot like an attempt to bail out fiscal policy, and such attempts call the Fed’s independence into question.”

Of course, all these warnings were totally wrong. Inflation never took off. Although almost none of the people who waxed hysterical over inflation have so much as acknowledged having been wrong, Bernanke, Fed economists, and Keynesians in general were proved right: printing money isn’t inflationary in a depressed economy.

But what lay behind all these dire warnings about inflation? Well, they came at the same time that Republicans were warning about the terrible, horrible, no-good consequences of deficit spending.

And it was obvious even at the time that G.O.P. deficit posturing was hypocritical – obvious, that it, to everyone except the entire Beltway establishment. All you had to do was look at what was actually in Ryan’s budget proposals to realize that he wasn’t sincere, that he was using deficits as an excuse to bash social programs and hobble Obama. It was utterly predictable that Republicans would decide that deficits don’t matter as soon as they recaptured the White House.

But I thought that monetary policy was a bit different. Republicans have been the party of fiscal irresponsibility since Reagan, and there was no reason to believe that they had changed. But goldbuggery, hatred of fiat money, and abhorrence for the printing press did seem to be long-standing attitudes on the right. I imagined that Ryan, who once asserted that he had learned all he needed to know about monetary policy from Atlas Shrugged, might actually believe what he was saying about the Fed.

In light of recent events, however, it appears that I was wrong. Republican posturing on monetary policy was as insincere as the party’s posturing on fiscal policy. We now have to see the party’s 2010-2011 demands for tight monetary policy, like its demands for tight fiscal policy, as reflecting not economic principles, but rather a desire to sabotage Barack Obama.

You see, Donald Trump’s attempt to install Stephen Moore at the Fed failed for the wrong reason. Moore fell short because he turns out to be a loathsome individual. But he should have been rejected out of hand simply on the basis of his economic views. Not only was he wrong, again and again, during the financial crisis and its aftermath; not only did he refuse to admit error, or learn anything from his mistakes; but he turned on a dime as soon as Trump was in office, showing himself to be a purely political animal. He demanded higher interest rates when unemployment was above 9 percent; now he’s demanding lower rates with unemployment below 4 percent.

But as I said, that’s not why Moore fell short — because his whole party has followed the same path. Mike Pence, who demanded higher rates in the deeply depressed economy of 2010, wants lower rates now. No Republicans in Congress seem to have criticized Moore for his policy views, as opposed to his misogyny. Aside from Harvard’s Greg Mankiw, not one prominent Republican economist stepped up to oppose Moore, even though he clearly was engaged precisely in the kind of politicization of monetary policy Taylor and Ryan claimed to see in 2010.

I made a little chart to summarize the evolution of Republican positioning on monetary policy. It shows the employment rate of prime-age adults, widely seen as a better indicator of the state of the labor market than the unemployment rate, and the rate at which wages are increasing. Both measures hit low points in 2010-2011, making a strong case for expansionary monetary policy. That’s precisely when the G.O.P. was pressuring the Fed to stop trying to help the economy. Both measures are at post-crisis highs now, and sure enough, Republicans are advocating now the policies they opposed when they were most needed.

As Matt O’Brien points out, you don’t see the same thing on the Democratic side: center-left economists who have argued for years that the Fed was being too conservative are still saying the same thing with Trump in office.

What all this tells us is that Republican positioning on economic policy has been in bad faith all these years. They didn’t really believe that a debt crisis and hyperinflation were looming. They were just against anything that might help the economy while a Democrat was president.

Doonesbury — Up in smoke.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

It Never Stops

This is just amazing.

It took President Trump 601 days to top 5,000 false and misleading claims in The Fact Checker’s database, an average of eight claims a day.

But on April 26, just 226 days later, the president crossed the 10,000 mark — an average of nearly 23 claims a day in this seven-month period, which included the many rallies he held before the midterm elections, the partial government shutdown over his promised border wall and the release of the special counsel’s report on Russian interference in the presidential election.

This milestone appeared unlikely when The Fact Checker first started this project during his first 100 days. In the first 100 days, Trump averaged less than five claims a day, which would have added up to about 7,000 claims in a four-year presidential term. But the tsunami of untruths just keeps looming larger and larger.

As of April 27, including the president’s rally in Green Bay, Wis., the tally in our database stands at 10,111 claims in 828 days.

In recent days, the president demonstrated why he so quickly has piled up the claims. There was a 45-minute telephone interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News on April 25: 45 claims. There was an eight-minute gaggle with reporters the morning of April 26: eight claims. There was a speech to the National Rifle Association: 24 claims. There was 19-minute interview with radio host Mark Levin: 17 claims. And, finally, there was the campaign rally on April 27: 61 claims.

The president’s constant Twitter barrage also adds to his totals. All told, the president racked up 171 false or misleading claims in just three days, April 25-27. That’s more than he made in any single month in the first five months of his presidency.

About one-fifth of the president’s claims are about immigration issues, a percentage that has grown since the government shutdown over funding for his promised border wall. In fact, his most repeated claim — 160 times — is that his border wall is being built. Congress balked at funding the concrete wall he envisioned, and so he has tried to pitch bollard fencing and repairs of existing barriers as “a wall.”

Trump’s penchant for repeating false claims is demonstrated by the fact that The Fact Checker database has recorded nearly 300 instances when the president has repeated a variation of the same claim at least three times. He also now has earned 21 “Bottomless Pinocchios,” claims that have earned Three or Four Pinocchios and which have been repeated at least 20 times.

I take that back.  It’s not amazing.  It’s worse.  It’s the new normal.

As Digby reminds us, when Bill Clinton lied on TV about not having sexual relations with that woman, we got speech after high-dudgeoned speech from the Republicans about how character counts and how can we explain this to the children and he must be impeached.  So here we are twenty years later and not only are those same people (hi, Lindsey Graham) shrugging it off, they’re actually defending the lies and the perpetrator of them.

Friday, April 26, 2019

America Does Not Negotiate With Terrorists

We just pay them the ransom they demand.

North Korea issued a $2 million bill for the hospital care of comatose American Otto Warmbier, insisting that a U.S. official sign a pledge to pay it before being allowed to fly the University of Virginia student home from Pyongyang in 2017.

The presentation of the invoice — not previously disclosed by U.S. or North Korean officials — was extraordinarily brazen even for a regime known for its aggressive tactics.

But the main U.S. envoy sent to retrieve Warmbier signed an agreement to pay the medical bill on instructions passed down from President Trump, according to two people familiar with the situation. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The bill went to the Treasury Department, where it remained — unpaid — throughout 2017, the people said. However, it is unclear whether the Trump administration later paid the bill, or whether it came up during preparations for Trump’s two summits with Kim Jong Un.

The White House declined to comment. “We do not comment on hostage negotiations, which is why they have been so successful during this administration,” White House press secretary ­Sarah Sanders wrote in an email.

If Barack Obama had done something even close to that, the right-wing and Fox News would have had him impeached by sundown.  But apparently this is how the Art of the Deal works: send us a bill and we’ll talk.

I wonder how much money we’ve paid to the widows of Nigerian princes.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Twitter Tantrum

Via C&L:

True narcissists can never stop bragging about themselves.

Trump lives on Twitter and brags about his Twitter success, yet now he’s complaining that the social networking platform is targeting him and his followers.

He’s losing followers.  It happens when you come across as borderline insane; people slowly walk away from you like they do when they hear someone muttering about the voices in their head while standing on the subway platform.  So he blames it on some vast conspiracy by the folks at Twitter to silence him to the point that he calls in the CEO of Twitter to complain.

Yesterday morning in the same time frame that the only people up are insomniac cat burglars and blogger, he tweeted over 50 rants about everything from Mueller to taunting Joe Scarborough to why doesn’t Gene Shalit comb his hair.  (Okay, I made that last one up, but you get the idea.)

In all, Trump tweeted or retweeted more than 50 times in a 24-hour period.

The media was the primary target of Trump’s ire Tuesday morning, as he complained that he is subject to an unprecedented level of press scrutiny and lashed out at outlets from The New York Times to morning cable news shows while also taking shots at individual personalities.

In normal times with normal people and normal people keeping an eye on things, this would be the time to call the doctor and prescribe a nice vacation in a place where nice people will take care of you and you can watch TV in the day room and play cards under the watchful eye of Nurse Ratched.

But as we all know, these are not normal times.