Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Last Act Of A Desperate Man

Via the Washington Post:

Trump unexpectedly capitulated Sunday night and signed the stimulus bill into law, releasing $900 billion in emergency relief funds into the economy and averting a Tuesday government shutdown.

White House officials didn’t explain why the president decided to suddenly back down and sign into law a bill he had held up for nearly a week and had referred to as a “disgrace” just days earlier.

Trump signed the bill while vacationing in Florida and on a weekend when he had allowed unemployment benefits for 14 million Americans to expire.

He had demanded changes to the stimulus and spending package for a week, suggesting he would refuse to sign it until these demands were met. This continued defiance caused lawmakers from both parties to panic over the weekend, worried about the implications of a government shutdown during a pandemic. It was unclear what prompted him to change his mind late Sunday, but he was under tremendous pressure from Republicans to acquiesce.

In a statement he issued after signing the law, Trump released a long list of false claims and grievances. He said he would be sending a “redlined” version of the bill back to Congress “insisting that those funds be removed from the bill.”

Trump has less than a month remaining in his presidency, and lawmakers are likely to ignore any such request.

This is probably the last piece of major legislation that he will sign — the Defense bill that he vetoed will most likely be overridden this week — and then that will, at long last, be it.

This whole kinderspiel is a fitting end to his ignominious regime: ranting, whining, tantrums, and then finally he caves and does the right thing only because he’s forced into it.

Word has it that Trump was pissed off by news coverage that made him out to be sidelined in the talks about what to put in the bill. That’s because he was spending all of his time either on the golf course or trying to convince the world that he really won the election. So this last-minute throwing of a turd into the punch bowl is his attempt to be a part of the discussion. That is basically his style of leadership in a nutshell.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Thick As Thieves

No one was surprised by this, were they?

Trump on Wednesday granted pardons or other clemency to another 29 people, including real estate developer Charles Kushner, his son-in-law’s father, and two former advisers who were convicted as part of the FBI’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election — once again using his executive power to benefit his allies and undermine an investigation that dogged his presidency.

With his time in office nearing its end, Trump pardoned former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted in 2018 of committing financial fraud and conspiring to obstruct the investigation of his crimes, and he upgraded to a full pardon the sentence commutation he provided earlier to longtime friend Roger Stone.

Trump also pardoned Kushner, the father of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who pleaded guilty in 2004 to having made false statements to the Federal Election Commission, and he subsequently pleaded guilty to witness tampering, and tax evasion stemming from $6 million in political contributions and gifts mischaracterized as business expenses.

The move came just a day after Trump granted commutations or pardons to 20 people, including three former Republican members of Congress and two others who were convicted of crimes as part of the investigation into Russia’s activities four years ago. The president also pardoned military contractors involved in the killing of unarmed civilians during the Iraq War. Routinely, Trump has avoided the normal Justice Department process for pardons, instead granting clemency to political allies and the well-connected.

Despite all this protests and railing to the contrary, this whole clustasrophe is an rather open admission on the part of Trump that he lost the election. He’s making his payoffs for silence and loyalty to his minions and co-conspirators before he gets hustled out of the White House on January 20. To wit, Charlie Pierce:

The pardons to people who worked for him, probably doled out to keep himself out of jail, don’t shock me. After all, this is the second Republican administration in which Bill Barr worked as attorney general that ended with pardons in order to protect the president*’s hindquarters. We all knew these were coming, just as we know a boatload of others are coming as well. But the Blackwater pardons are a different shade of equine. I am not afflicted with paranoid fantasies about militias coming to the president*’s defense as he chains himself to the Resolute desk, but doing business with Erik Prince is bad news, and currying favor with him by pardoning his war criminal employees is doing serious business with him.

Happy holidays, bitches.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Madness Continues

From the Washington Post:

Escalating his attack on democracy from within the White House, President Trump on Wednesday distributed an astonishing 46-minute video rant filled with baseless allegations of voter fraud and outright falsehoods in which he declared the nation’s election system “under coordinated assault and siege” and argued that it was “statistically impossible” for him to have lost to President-elect Joe Biden.

Standing behind the presidential lectern in the Diplomatic Reception Room and flanked by the flags of his office and of the country whose Constitution he swore an oath to uphold, Trump tried to leverage the power of the presidency to subvert the vote and overturn the election results.

The rambling and bellicose monologue — which Trump said “may be the most important speech I’ve ever made” and was delivered direct-to-camera with no audience — underscored his desperation to reverse the outcome of his election loss after a month of failed legal challenges and as some key states already have certified Biden’s victory.

The president’s latest salvo came a day after his attorney general, William P. Barr, said the Justice Department had found no evidence of voting fraud that could have changed the outcome of the election.

Trump delivered in person many of the claims he previously has advanced on social media or that his lawyers have brought on his behalf in courts, which have been debunked or summarily dismissed because there is no evidence to support them.

Trump claimed in Wednesday’s video, again without evidence, that “corrupt forces” had stuffed ballot boxes with fraudulent votes. He claimed the fraud was “massive” and “on a scale never seen before.” He called on the Supreme Court to “do what’s right for our country,” which he suggested entailed terminating hundreds of thousands of votes so that “I very easily win in all states.”

The only difference between him and the urine-soaked homeless guy living under the overpass of the MacArthur Causeway and Biscayne Boulevard is that Trump is indoors and not wearing a mask.

If this isn’t the grounds for the Twenty-fifth Amendment, if not the Baker Act once he gets to Mar-a-Lago, then what is?

Meanwhile, we hit the largest number of cases of Covid-19 infections and 2,777 deaths.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

His Biggest Fear

Everyone else knows it’s over.

Trump effectively surrendered his three-week protest of the election results Monday by submitting to the government’s official transition to the incoming Biden administration, bowing to a growing wave of public pressure yet still stopping short of conceding to President-elect Joe Biden.

Trump authorized the federal government to initiate the Biden transition late Monday, setting in motion a peaceful transfer of power by paving the way for the president-elect and his administration-in-waiting to tap public funds, receive security briefings and gain access to federal agencies.

Though procedural in nature, Trump’s acceptance of the General Services Administration starting the transition amounted to a dramatic capitulation and capped an extraordinary 16-day standoff since Biden was declared the winner on Nov. 7.

By continuing to subvert the vote and delay the transition, Trump risked becoming isolated within his own party as a growing chorus of Republican officials recognized Biden as president-elect following a succession of defeats in courts by the Trump campaign.

On Monday, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers certified Biden’s win there, while earlier in the day dozens of business leaders and Republican national security experts had urged Trump to accept the result because refusing to begin the transition was endangering the country’s security, economy and pandemic response.

And so Trump yielded, writing Monday night on Twitter that he had agreed to support the Biden transition “in the best interest of our country.”

Yet the president also vowed to continue his push to overturn the results, adding, “Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good … fight, and I believe we will prevail!”

A number of Republicans are telling Trump to give up and concede, but it’s a waste of time and energy. He’s locked in the bunker, staring at his thumbs, and railing about betrayal and how he’s going to launch a final assault that will stun his enemies as the bombs are falling.

I wouldn’t give too much credit to the Republicans for stating the obvious.  They’re out to save their own asses after their thundering silence during Trump’s most odious and anti-American tweets and actions over the last four years, and now that they’re figuring that it’s okay to boo from the cheap seats, they’re suddenly finding what is left of their spines and dignity.  They’re now moving on to planning how to make Joe Biden a one-term president, and Trump is becoming irrelevant.  Or so they’d like us to think.

The reason Trump is carrying on isn’t just because he’s lost the election and in his fevered mind he’s never lost anything.  It’s a combination of being rejected by the country, the realization that he’s fading into history as the worst president since James Buchanan, and the looming awareness that there are at least two District Attorneys lying in wait for him to lose the protection of the presidency before a number of statutes of limitation expire.  (There’s a school of thought that he sought the presidency for that reason alone, although I think it’s giving him too much credit for forethought.)  And under all of this is the devastating awareness that he couldn’t pull off the last act of his biggest con.  To quote Harold Hill, festooned in tar and feathers, he finally got his foot caught in the door.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Sunday Reading

November 22, 1963 — My recollection of a very bad day.

JFK 11-22-06I was in the sixth grade in Toledo, Ohio. I had to skip Phys Ed because I was just getting over bronchitis, so I was in a study hall when a classmate came up from the locker room in the school basement to say, “Kennedy’s dead.” We had a boy in our class named Matt Kennedy, and I wondered what had happened: an errant fatal blow with a dodgeball? A few minutes later, though, it was made clear to us at a hastily-summoned assembly, and we were soon put on the buses and sent home. Girls were crying.

There was a newspaper strike at The Blade, so the only papers we could get were either from Detroit or Cleveland. (The union at The Blade, realizing they were missing the story of the century, agreed to immediately resume publication and settle their differences in other ways.) Television, though, was the medium of choice, and I remember the black-and-white images of the arrival of Air Force One at Andrews, the casket being lowered, President Johnson speaking on the tarmac, and the events of the weekend – Oswald, Ruby, the long slow funeral parade, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” – merging into one long black-and-white flicker, finally closing on Monday night with the eternal flame guttering in the cold breeze.

I suspect that John F. Kennedy would be bitterly disappointed that the only thing remembered about his life was how he left it and how it colored everything he did leading up to it. The Bay of Pigs, the steel crisis, the Cuban missile crisis, the Test Ban Treaty, even the space program are dramatized by his death. They became the stuff of legend, not governing, and history should not be preserved as fable.

At the age of eleven, I never thought about being old enough to look back fifty-six years to that time. According to NPR, more than sixty percent of Americans alive today were not yet born on that day. Today the question is not do you remember JFK, but what did his brief time leave behind. Speculation is rife as to what he did or did not accomplish – would we have gone in deeper in Vietnam? Would he have pushed civil rights? Would the Cold War have lasted? We’ll never know, and frankly, pursuing such questions is a waste of time. Had JFK never been assassinated, chances are he would have been re-elected in 1964, crushing Barry Goldwater, but leading an administration that was more style than substance, battling with his own party as much as with the Republicans, much like Clinton did in the 1990’s. According to medical records, he would have been lucky to live into his sixties, dying from natural causes in the 1980’s, and he would have been remembered fondly for his charm and wit – and his beautiful wife – more than what he accomplished in eight years of an average presidency.

But it was those six seconds in Dealy Plaza that defined him. Each generation has one of those moments. For my parents it was Pearl Harbor in 1941 or the flash from Warm Springs in April 1945. Today it is Challenger in 1986, and of course September 11, 2001. And in all cases, it is what the moment means to us. It is the play, not the players. We see things as they were, contrast to how they are, and measure the differences, and by that, we measure ourselves.

The Clown-Car Coup — Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker.

In a way, we are ending the week where we began it: Donald Trump still did not win the 2020 Presidential election, and he is still, on Friday as he was on Monday, holed up in the White House, challenging Joe Biden’s victory. The coronavirus pandemic is still spreading at an alarming rate across all fifty states, and Congress and the White House are still doing nothing new about it. This is, in a horrible, stressful way, what passes for our current normal.

Except, of course, there’s nothing routine about any of this. We’ve been getting used to painful truths for so long that the awful enormity of the situation doesn’t hit us in the way it should when the predicted bad things happen, which is the story of the entire Trump Presidency. But history will not remember this as a slow news week, not at all. In fact, it has been a week of crisis—grave if slow-motion crisis—in which Trump’s effort to subvert the election results has been made explicit and unmistakably clear. He is no longer merely pursuing spurious lawsuits in state courts; in recent days, he and his lawyers have confirmed publicly that Trump now is trying to directly overturn the election results and the will of the American people by pressuring Republican state legislators to appoint electors who will vote for Trump in the Electoral College instead of Biden. The fact that Trump is almost certain not to succeed in actually remaining in office past January 20th does not in any way make this less alarming. There is simply no precedent for a President doing anything like what Trump is doing right now.

Meanwhile in America, this is the week that the U.S. passed the grim milestone of two hundred and fifty thousand deaths in the pandemic, many of them due to the Trump Administration’s botched response to the disease. This spring, such an outcome was all but unthinkable: when Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted that the U.S. could see a hundred thousand to two hundred and forty thousand COVID-19 deaths by this fall, few believed that this would come to pass. And yet here we are, living another Trump scandal of unfathomable magnitude.

Perhaps the one genuinely surprising thing about this culminating controversy of the Trump era is how publicly quiet the voluble President has become. Sure, he has still been tweeting out inflammatory and untrue statements. “We won!” he said, more than once. And: “Mortality rate is 85% down!” And: “Republicans must get tough!” But his public schedule has been almost entirely empty since the election, and he has appeared before the press just once, at a brief news conference, last week, to announce progress toward a vaccine; he took no questions. He has cancelled his Thanksgiving trip to Mar-a-Lago.

This is a stark contrast to the two weeks before the election, which were among the loudest of his short career in politics. With three, four, even five rallies a day, Trump held forth on everything from the perfidy of the Democrats to the awfulness of the weather. One theme was consistent wherever he appeared: the forthcoming “rigged” election, in which only one result—his own victory—could possibly be legitimate.

Since the end of this campaign, which did not result in that victory, Trump has engaged in what I’m increasingly certain history will record as one of the worst offenses of his Presidency: a systemic attack on the integrity of the election itself. This escalated dramatically this week, as his first wave of lawsuits began collapsing under the scrutiny of skeptical judges and nonexistent evidence. Rather than retreat, however, Trump has redoubled his efforts in key states, such as Georgia, Michigan, and Arizona, publicly pressuring local Republican officials not to certify the election results.

In Georgia, this ploy appears to have failed, with the Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, openly feuding with the President and denouncing Trump’s efforts to undermine the vote count. On Thursday night, after a hand recount, Georgia officials said that Biden had once again emerged as the winner in the state—the first Democrat to do so since 1992—and that Raffensperger will certify the results on Friday. In Michigan, however, Trump appears to have had more success. Two Republicans on the Wayne County board of canvassers initially refused to certify the Presidential election results for the county, which includes the heavily Democratic city of Detroit, before an outcry caused them to reverse their votes a few hours later. Trump himself then intervened, calling the two officials, who late on Wednesday said that they wanted to change their minds again.

It may have been too late to reverse the Wayne County action, but, on Monday, the Michigan board of canvassers is set to meet to certify the election results in the state, which Biden has won by more than a hundred and fifty thousand votes. However, the board is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans, and one of the Republicans said, on Thursday night, that he is inclined to audit and delay his vote to certify, citing the baseless fraud claims raised by Trump’s lawyers. If the board deadlocks and the results are not certified, Trump seems to hope that the Republican-controlled state legislature will just go ahead and appoint pro-Trump electors, voters be damned. In another unprecedented step, Trump summoned the Republican leaders of the Michigan legislature to a private meeting with him in the White House, on Friday.

This dubious, and remarkably brazen, strategy was on display in a not-to-be-believed-except-it-actually-happened press conference on Thursday, by Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Trump would have won Michigan, Giuliani insisted, if you just don’t count Wayne County and, in effect, Detroit. And that was only one of the bonkers things he said. With an unidentified brown liquid streaking down his face as he spoke, Giuliani quoted the legal wisdom of the movie “My Cousin Vinny”; insisted that he had “direct evidence” of vote fraud in cities like Detroit, Atlanta, and Philadelphia, while producing none; and claimed that there was a vast conspiracy with roots in Venezuela to somehow rig the entire U.S. election.

How bizarre was the performance? Christopher Krebs, the Trump-appointed director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency—whom Trump fired, on Tuesday, after the agency issued a statement saying that “there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised”—offered a succinct verdict. Giuliani’s press conference, Krebs tweeted, was “the most dangerous 1 hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest.”

The fact that Trump and Giuliani’s campaign is utterly crazy, however, does not mean that it’s not working. In fact, a Monmouth poll this week found that seventy-seven per cent of Republicans now believe the election was tainted by fraud and are not certain that Biden won. Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, have refused to denounce Trump’s increasingly unhinged and undemocratic actions, and, while privately conveying acknowledgements of Biden’s victory, have publicly remained silent. The G.O.P. leadership, which has tolerated so many abuses by Trump, is now openly complicit in his worst one yet.

A few individual Republicans have spoken up. “It is outrageous,” Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, said on CNN. “It is an assault on democracy,” he added. “It’s bad for the Republican Party.” Late on Thursday evening, Mitt Romney, the Utah senator who was the only Republican to vote to convict Trump in his impeachment trial, earlier this year, issued a statement that might well have been the toughest I have ever seen about a President from a member of his own Party. “Having failed to make even a plausible case of widespread fraud or conspiracy before any court of law, the President has now resorted to overt pressure on state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election,” Romney said. “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President.” By speaking out, Hogan and Romney underscored just how shocking it is that their fellow-Republicans had thus far failed to join them.

Last week, I wondered in this column about just what Trump was up to in challenging the results: Was it an attempted coup, or just another Trump con? The past few days have seemed to offer an answer, and not a reassuring one. The truth is that even if Trump’s would-be coup looks like a con, even if it seems to be a clown show that’s surely doomed to fail, it must still be taken seriously as long as it is happening. Look at how far Republicans have gone along with Trump’s folly after an election that was decisively won by Biden, a contest in which he beat Trump by more than five million votes and garnered three hundred and six electoral votes—exactly the electoral-college “landslide” that Trump secured in 2016. Republican excuses have grown increasingly pathetic: We’re just giving him time. We’re just letting the process play out. He’s entitled to pursue his claims in the courts. In explicitly demanding that Republican state officials disregard the will of the voters, Trump has, once again, made his Party’s leaders out as stooges and patsies.

The G.O.P. knows all too well that this is not the process by which American elections are decided, not now and not ever. What Trump is doing is not like the 2000 Florida recount. It is not like anything before in American history. Republican leaders can end this today by finally saying publicly what so far they have only had the courage to admit in private. But will they, at long last, tell Trump what the voters said loudly and clearly: It’s over, you lost, and Joe Biden won?

Doonesbury — Aging out.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Wrong Movie

Rudy Giuliani schvitzed like a race horse while saying that Trump actually won.

It’s very simple, according to Rudolph W. Giuliani and the rest of President Trump’s legal posse, but also very vast. China is in on it. Cuba is in on it. Antifa and George Soros are in on it. At least two presidents of Venezuela, one dead and one living, are in on it. Big Tech is in on it; a Web server from Germany is involved (there’s always a server involved). Multiple major U.S. cities are in on it, as are decent American citizens who volunteer at polling precincts. Argentina is in on it, too, sort of. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was in on it back in 1960, when, according to an unproved conspiracy theory, he stole the presidency for John F. Kennedy, thereby launching an ongoing pattern of corrupt cities stuffing or scrapping ballots. The “it” is a massive, premeditated scheme to steal the election from Donald Trump, according to Giuliani, and it also involved corralling poll watchers at great distances from the ballot counting.

Perhaps a cinematic example would help explain.

“Did you all watch ‘My Cousin Vinny?’ You know, the movie?” Giuliani asked Thursday. He was sweating at a lectern in the small lobby of the Republican National Committee headquarters on Capitol Hill. “It’s one of my favorite law movies, ’cause he comes from Brooklyn.”

About 100 journalists and hangers-on had crammed into this potential coronavirus incubator for a news conference on the perverse legal strategy of President Donald J. Trump’s failed reelection campaign, which Giuliani is trying to hustle toward a twist ending. As the former New York mayor digressed about votes that could’ve been cast by dead people and Mickey Mouse, Trump campaign officials were at their headquarters in nearby Rosslyn, Va., winding down operations and closing out the budget.

“How many finguhs do I got up?” Giuliani said at the lectern, doing a terrible Joe Pesci, from the scene where he cross-examines an elderly eyewitness with bad eyesight. Giuliani was trying to analogize the claims of Republican poll watchers, who say they were too far away from ballot counting to adequately observe it. Fifteen minutes later, as he was describing the election results as “a massive fraud,” black liquid began to slowly streak from each of his temples, down his cheeks. It might have been perspiration liquefying his hair dye, or sluicing the black polymer off his eyeglasses. One Manhattan stylist told the New York Times that it might’ve been running mascara; perhaps Giuliani had applied it to touch up the color of his sideburns.

One Trump campaign adviser texted a Washington Post journalist as the black streaks inched toward Rudy’s jowls: “Is he deteriorating in real time?”

It’s less “My Cousin Vinny” and more “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2020


We knew this was coming.

Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper on Monday, upending the military’s leadership at a time when Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede the election has created a rocky and potentially precarious transition.

Mr. Trump announced the decision on Twitter, writing in an abrupt post that Mr. Esper had been “terminated.”

The president wrote that he was appointing Christopher C. Miller, whom he described as the “highly respected” director of the National Counterterrorism Center, to be the acting defense secretary. Mr. Miller will be the fourth official to lead the Pentagon under Mr. Trump.

Two White House officials said later on Monday that Mr. Trump was not finished, and that Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, and Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director, could be next in line to be fired. Removing these senior officials — in effect decapitating the nation’s national security bureaucracy — would be without parallel by an outgoing president who has just lost re-election.

Democrats and national security veterans said it was a volatile move in the uncertain time between administrations, particularly by a president who has made clear that he does not want to give up power and that he would be reasserting his waning authority over the most powerful agencies of the government.

Meanwhile, the GOP on Capitol Hill are doing what they do best: cowering like the cowards that they have been for the last five years, sucking up to Trump even though there’s nothing he can do to them.

Leading Republicans rallied on Monday around President Trump’s refusal to concede the election, declining to challenge the false narrative that it was stolen from him or to recognize President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory even as party divisions burst into public view.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican in Congress, threw his support behind Mr. Trump in a sharply worded speech on the Senate floor. He declared that Mr. Trump was “100 percent within his rights” to turn to the legal system to challenge the outcome and hammered Democrats for expecting the president to concede.

And now the Republicans in Georgia are rallying themselves into a circular firing squad.

A rift among Georgia Republicans exploded into public view on Monday as the state’s incumbent senators, both locked in fierce runoff fights for their seats, lashed out at the Republican officials who oversaw last week’s election and leveled unfounded claims of a faulty process lacking in transparency.

The all-out intraparty war erupted as the vote count in Georgia on Monday continued to show President Trump narrowly trailing President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia took the extraordinary step of issuing a joint statement calling for the resignation of the Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, and condemning the election as an “embarrassment.”

“We believe when there are failures, they need to be called out — even when it’s in your own party,” the senators said in their statement, which did not offer any specific allegations or elaborate on how they believed Mr. Raffensperger had fallen short, except to accuse him of “mismanagement and lack of transparency.”

Even lawyers set to defend Trump in court are having second thoughts.

Doing business with Mr. Trump — with his history of inflammatory rhetoric, meritless lawsuits and refusal to pay what he owes — has long induced heartburn among lawyers, contractors, suppliers and lenders. But the concerns are taking on new urgency as the president seeks to raise doubts about the election results.

Some senior lawyers at Jones Day, one of the country’s largest law firms, are worried that it is advancing arguments that lack evidence and may be helping Mr. Trump and his allies undermine the integrity of American elections, according to interviews with nine partners and associates, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs.

In real news, more than 133,000 new cases of Covid-19 were reported yesterday with a total of 240,162 lives now lost to the pandemic. I can’t remember the last time the White House held a briefing on their efforts to combat the plague, but it doesn’t really matter since they’re not doing anything about it except reporting that more members of the White House staff and cabinet have tested positive for it.  The only person who is taking the lead on dealing with it is President-elect Biden.

Coronavirus cases surged to a new record on Monday, with the United States now averaging 111,000 cases each day for the past week, a grim milestone amid rising hospitalizations and deaths that cast a shadow on positive news about the effectiveness of a potential vaccine.

As the number of infected Americans passed 10 million and governors struggled to manage the pandemic, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. tried on Monday to use his bully pulpit — the only tool at his disposal until he replaces President Trump in 72 days — to plead for Americans to set aside the bitterness of the 2020 election and wear a mask.

“It doesn’t matter who you voted for, where you stood before Election Day,” Mr. Biden said in Delaware after announcing a Covid-19 advisory board charged with preparing for quick action once he is inaugurated. “It doesn’t matter your party, your point of view. We can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democratic or Republican lives — American lives.”

This would all be rather ridiculous and worthy of some sit-com were it not for the simple fact that lives are at stake every day, and not just from Covid-19. Disruption and disarray in the leadership of our defense forces, subject to the whims and tantrums of a child-like despot, reminiscent of a certain bunker scene in April 1945, can only lead to mischief from our enemies and mistrust from our remaining allies.

We’ve got 71 days.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Prince Of Arrogance

Jared Kushner gave Bob Woodward a piece of his wisdom. Via CNN:

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, boasted in mid-April about how the President had cut out the doctors and scientists advising him on the unfolding coronavirus pandemic, comments that came as more than 40,000 Americans already had died from the virus, which was ravaging New York City.

In a taped interview on April 18, Kushner told legendary journalist Bob Woodward that Trump was “getting the country back from the doctors” in what he called a “negotiated settlement.” Kushner also proclaimed that the US was moving swiftly through the “panic phase” and “pain phase” of the pandemic and that the country was at the “beginning of the comeback phase.”

“That doesn’t mean there’s not still a lot of pain and there won’t be pain for a while, but that basically was, we’ve now put out rules to get back to work,” Kushner said. “Trump’s now back in charge. It’s not the doctors.”

This was April. Now we’re at nearly a quarter-million deaths, and now Trump is telling us that Covid-19 is a thing of the past.

But wait, there’s more.

Kushner was also dismissive of party politics, calling the Republican Party, “a collection of a bunch of tribes” and describing the GOP platform as “a document meant to, like, piss people off, basically.” Kushner went on to tell Woodward that Trump did a “full hostile takeover” of the Republican Party when he became its presidential nominee.

He also told Woodward, “The most dangerous people around the President are over-confident idiots” and that Trump had replaced them with “more thoughtful people who kind of know their place.”

Yeah, about those “over-confident idiots.” Look in the mirror, you arrogant little prick.

I cannot wait for them to be gone, and I can’t wait to see him in an orange jumpsuit, his back to the wall, trying to convince the guy with the most cigarettes in GenPop that he’s not really a bottom.  He’s going to find out all about those “more thoughtful people who kind of know their place.”

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Sunday Reading

Remembering Trump — Roger Cohen in the New York Times.

After two weeks of battling Covid-19 — thank you, dear readers, for all the good wishes — I can report that the droning discomfort has passed, some energy has returned, I can taste again, and, for better or worse, I am recovering my personality from whoever hijacked it. I can also certify that the virus is a devilish addition to life on earth. Do not mess with it.

My memory is also returning, a mixed blessing as it turns to familiar obsessions, like Trump’s ego.

You know that ego could not resist 18 interviews with Bob Woodward, just as you know that he spent some of those interviews detailing his lies to the American people about the virus (he preferred “to always play it down”), just as you know that he said in 2018 that the Aisne-Marne American cemetery in France he declined to visit was “filled with losers,” just as you know that in 2017 he said Haitians “all have AIDS” and Nigerian immigrants wouldn’t ever “go back to their huts.”

You know because the president’s personality is consistent: a mix of coward, racist, liar, con artist, narcissist, grifter, and blowhard, with uncanny antennae for the worst instincts of humanity, and for how to use the media to channel insecurity and hatred into a mass political movement galvanized by his fiendish energy.

Yes, you just know with Trump. You know he insisted that Sean Spicer say his inauguration was “the largest audience to ever witness” the ceremony, and that the former senior White House counselor Kellyanne Conway used the Trump playbook when she said the statement was not false but “just alternative facts,” and that when Trump started insisting (falsely) that there had been voter fraud in the election he had won, he was laying the groundwork for real voter suppression in November 2020, and that downplaying the virus was about getting the Dow to 30,000 so he would not suffer an impossible defeat in the coming election.

Alternative facts have been the diet of Americans for 44 months now. No democracy, built on accountability and law, can survive such an onslaught indefinitely. That is why Joe Biden’s most effective slogan is a simple one: “You deserve a president who tells you the truth.”

Biden has a fight on his hands. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs. Militarized police confront angry mobs. Insecurity is rampant, as is racial tension. A plague stalks the land. These are near perfect conditions for a proto-fascist like Trump who seeks a disoriented populace.

You just know, and the knowledge is that cloying glob of sludge that can never quite be washed off in the Trump era, however hard you scrub. It permeates existence.

You know he doesn’t believe climate change is a threat, that he has done his best to eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency, that he does not believe in science, that he thought “disinfectant” might knock out the virus “in a minute,” that he has hobbled the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that he couldn’t care less about transgender people, that he loathes immigrants he has described as “animals,” and that he authorized the separation of thousands of immigrant children from their parents at the border. You know that in textbook totalitarian fashion, he calls a free press “the enemy of the American people.”

Yes, you know, and you also know that Trump wants you to know all this so well, and so relentlessly, that you don’t care. He has always gotten away with it. He has no reason to believe he will not continue to bat 1.000.

“The fact is, we’re here, and they’re not,” he taunted his opponents at the White House last month. It is a fact, alterable only through an immense summoning of American character and will.

You know Trump thought there were “very fine people on both sides” at the 2017 neo-Nazi Charlottesville rally, and that he thinks any Jew who votes for a Democrat shows “great disloyalty,” and that he winks daily at millions of Americans who believe he is their savior from a takeover by Black and brown people, Jewish finance, cosmopolitans, and leftist radicals. You know Trump is “very much behind” President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt because he has yet to meet a dictator he does not dream of emulating. You know Trump must be compromised with President Vladimir Putin to the point of ignoring Russian bounties on American troops in Afghanistan.

American deaths, as this year’s virus death toll has shown, are a matter of indifference to a president who believes empathy, like patriotic sacrifice, is for suckers.

It’s important not just to know, to be aware, but to remember. It’s hard to remember. It’s like looking for the way out of a labyrinth in the mist.

It’s important to remember that Trump believes he has done more for Black Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln and that he claims he will preserve coverage for pre-existing conditions even as he is asking the Supreme Court to destroy Obamacare. Because Trump is delusional and a world already on the brink of an armed Chinese-American confrontation may not survive a second Trump term without disaster. Nor will the oldest democracy on earth.

To Tell The Truth — Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker on how Bob Woodward did it.

President Donald Trump began the day on Wednesday engaged in a bout of self-promotion, dreaming of the Nobel Peace Prize he might soon win. Delighted with the news that a right-wing crank in the Norwegian parliament had nominated him for the honor, Trump had the White House press secretary put out an official statement that hailed the President’s “bold diplomacy and vision.” Before 10 A.M., Trump retweeted stories about the Nobel nomination—and congratulations to himself for it—nearly two dozen times. I would not be surprised if he took particular delight in the tweet he passed along from @RealMattCouch, a self-described journalist and patriot: “Can you imagine the riots and temper tantrums from the leftist mob when President Trump is re-elected and he wins the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year . . . This is going to be glorious :)”

But, of course, there will be no Nobel, nor will there be a Middle East peace deal to end all peace deals, with Trump’s name emblazoned on it in gold. Do his followers in the MAGA bubble know this? Does Trump? By lunchtime, the fantasy was forgotten, or at least temporarily set aside. Reality, in the form of the President’s own words, taped by the journalist Bob Woodward with Trump’s permission, had intruded. The coronavirus was “deadly,” he had told Woodward, on February 7th, “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.” As we now all know, Trump then spent the next month publicly downplaying the danger, telling Americans the exact opposite of what he had privately confided to Woodward. By March 19th, after finally being forced to confront the reality of the escalating pandemic inside the United States, and having declared a national emergency, Trump admitted to Woodward the scale of his wintry deception. “I wanted to always play it down,” he said, according to Woodward’s forthcoming new book, “Rage.” “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.” This, too, is on tape, and as of Wednesday afternoon it was playing on a loop on CNN—the President, in his own words, confirming his calculatedly cynical approach to a public-health catastrophe that sometime in the next few days will have claimed two hundred thousand American lives.

This is one of those brutal weeks in the Trump Presidency—and there have been many—when the facts revealed about the President are so painful that it is not just his supporters in the Senate, perennially dodging reporters’ questions on their way to lunch, who might prefer to look away. Among Democrats and the liberal commentariat, there was the usual Woodward bashing: Why had he waited so long to publish this damaging information? But there was also another question: Will any of this new information matter, what with Trump voters so locked into their support of the President that no outrage, no matter how deadly, will sway them? For Trump’s defenders, it was just another time to dodge and deflect. On Fox News, the host Tucker Carlson opened his prime-time show with a long attack on Senator Lindsey Graham, the Presidential confidant whom Carlson blamed for convincing Trump to coöperate with Woodward. Carlson noted that Graham had sat in on the first interview, but did not offer his viewers any explanation for why Trump conducted seventeen subsequent interviews with Woodward.

I found a certain emptiness to the exercise, to the partisan vaporings and performative outrage of the political class. Everyone is suiting up for a fight, and they all think they know its resolution: Trump will deny and dissemble, and then some other thing will happen and the news cycle will move on. The strategy from Trump and his partisans was quickly apparent; this is a play they have run many times before. If the President can pretend the virus that he had called “deadly” is, in fact, not so bad, then he certainly can pretend that he never said those things to Woodward; that the book, like all the other books, is just a “political hit job”; and that it’s irrelevant, anyway, because he is doing such a terrific job and his enemies are terrible.

Sure enough, by Thursday morning, Trump was back to demanding that Democrats reopen schools, the coronavirus be damned. He was tweeting about his good friend Kim Jong Un, planning to hold a campaign rally in Michigan, and complaining about the “phony Russia, Russia, Russia HOAX.” A day after implausibly reacting to the Woodward book by claiming that, in lying, he was just acting responsibly, to avoid panicking the American public, Trump returned to scaring it. “If I don’t win,” the President tweeted, “America’s Suburbs will be OVERRUN with Low Income Projects, Anarchists, Agitators, Looters and, of course, ‘Friendly Protesters’.”

Soon after that tweet, I heard a thwack at the front door. My copy of the Woodward book had arrived. Should I even bother to read it? In Trump’s nihilistic world, nothing matters. There is no point, no truth that is not partisan. The election is just under two months away. To Trump, that is all that counts. How will the book, or any other book, for that matter, change its outcome? I thought about all of that. I decided to start reading.

The reviewers at the Times and the Washington Post have already had their shots at Woodward’s book. His latest work has prompted as much fury on their part at the cowardly group of sycophants and enablers surrounding the President as at Trump himself. All of us already know that Trump is a charlatan, a con man, a fool. But isn’t it infuriating that these decorated generals and self-professed Christians have spoken privately with Woodward but have refused to level with the American people? Perhaps it’s “a tale not of character but of complicity,” as Jennifer Szalai wrote in the Times. “What makes the book noteworthy is Woodward’s sad and subtle documentation of the ego, cowardice and self-delusion that, over and over, lead intelligent people to remain silent in the face of Trumpian outrages,” Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University law professor, concluded, in a review for the Post.

It is hard to disagree with their assessment. At times, you may slam the book down in frustration as you read, yet again, about Trump’s enablers telling a journalist how paranoid and narcissistic, foul-mouthed and foolish, the President is. These are people who have worked closely with him, and who apparently believe that Trump is a mortal danger to the nation, but they never say anything about him to the public. Still, the problem is this: as enraging and perplexing as their self-imposed silences and self-serving leaks appear to be, Jim Mattis and Dan Coats and all the rest are not running for President. They are, in the end, not responsible for the follies of the Trump Presidency, any more than Bob Woodward is responsible for the outrageous things that Trump told him. Does anyone seriously believe that, had Woodward published an article based on his February phone call with the President, Trump would have chosen any different course of action toward the pandemic? At every step along the way, the President has been called on his public misstatements and untruths about the virus. It did not make one bit of difference. Trump is unrepentant, now and forever.

By late Thursday afternoon, the Woodward news cycle had made its inevitable way to a Trump press conference, the ritual moment wherein the President would denounce the book, deny wrongdoing, and say a whole lot of other words.

“Why did you lie to the American people?” the ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl asked, when Trump gave him the first question.

“There’s no lie,” Trump responded. “And the way you asked that question is very disgraceful.”

Perhaps even more to the point, Trump repeated, over and over, that what he told Woodward essentially does not matter. Because America’s response to the coronavirus has been right, terrific, amazing. Better than Europe. Better than anywhere. “I think we did a great job,” he told Karl. And also, “We’re rounding the final turn.” The pandemic, to hear Trump tell it, is practically over.

This is the same mix of fantasy and lies that Trump was spreading publicly in February, while privately telling Woodward the truth about the coronavirus’s deadliness. The difference is that nearly two hundred thousand Americans are dead now, and few of them had any inkling that their lives would soon be in danger because the President chose neither to tell the country the truth nor take actions that would empower the government to properly respond to a pandemic of this scale and lethality.

Will it make any difference in the election? I doubt it. But the awfulness of the latest Trump revelations is no less awful for having been both anticipated and completely consistent with what we already suspected. In fact, it might be even worse than a surprise bolt from nowhere. Through sheer repetition, Trump has defeated the idea of the game-changing disclosure. Just in the past few days, weeks, and months, we’ve learned that his former national-security adviser considered him “unfit” for office; that his first defense secretary called him “dangerous”; that his first director of National Intelligence thought Vladimir Putin must have had damaging kompromat on him; and that his own sister was secretly taped saying that he was a “cruel” man “with no principles.” None of these disclosures significantly altered the landscape of American politics in this election year. Why would it change anything to know how cynical Trump has been with American lives—to have the confirmation of what you already knew and believed? By now, that’s the thing about these disclosures: the awfulness is not only in the knowing but in the instantaneous awareness that the knowing probably doesn’t much matter. It just makes it a bit more awful.

Are We Ready for Football? — Jerry Brewer in the Washington Post.

An NFL season doesn’t usually slide into consciousness. You hear its thundering footsteps months in advance. But somehow, after what felt like the longest offseason, this 2020 debut managed to sneak up on us.

In a roundabout way, it’s a pleasant surprise the league is playing on schedule. When the novel coronavirus forced sports to go dark in March, many assumed six months would be plenty of time for football to resume. As the challenges to contain the pandemic continued deep into summer, pessimism took over. However, the NFL was undeterred, arrogant as usual and, most of all, sedulous in its planning.

It hasn’t just powered through the way the sport often does. It has shown great thought with its protocols and testing, an appreciation for the scientific challenges and the ability to learn from the successes and failures of other leagues. The work has led to a microscopic number of coronavirus cases; the NFL and its players’ association announced last week only eight positives out of 44,510 tests in the latest round of results. It leaves a sense the season is beginning as safely as possible.

It’s close to miraculous that the NFL figured out a way to start without interruption and without competing in a bubble environment that has worked so well for the NBA, WNBA and NHL. It didn’t seem as if any sport would be able to compete on its terms, not when the nation has struggled to avoid outbreaks and simply agree on an effective plan of action. Football did have to scrap its offseason program and preseason exhibitions, but we’re one game and 34 Kansas City Chiefs points into Week 1, and the country is free to obsess over a full slate of games Sunday.

Well, sort of.

Covid-19 still looms. Without a vaccine, the threat of another debilitating wave remains. An undisturbed NFL season should be considered wishful thinking, even as the players, coaches and staff teach a valuable lesson about discipline and teamwork. The initial success doesn’t minimize the long-term challenges. And there’s one other problem: How does the league recapture the attention of fans who have greater concerns this season?

The NFL once cowered before Trump. Now it has a chance to stand for something.

The NFL is used to announcing its arrival and watching every kind of fan — the die-hards, the casuals and the ones who have supposedly sworn off the game — come running. But before the defending champion Chiefs and Houston Texans kicked off the season Thursday night, the anticipation included an abnormal reaction appropriate for what people have been through: “Oh, for real?”

Sports aren’t an invincible distraction right now, and with so many athletes committed to social justice, they don’t want to be, either. But even if the players were adamant about only providing blind entertainment, it still wouldn’t be the same. The majority of major sports had to go away for four months. Children aren’t getting to compete as much. Adult beer leagues and regular pickup games have been canceled. Part of what makes athletics irresistible is their prevalence, dependability and timelessness. The games go on, always. They create more than a passion. They put you in an emotional trance, becoming intrinsic to your sense of community and need for human connection.

Disrupt this way of life for too long, and people learn to live another way. Some of that is happening here. For as desperate as people said they were for sports, the ratings and anecdotal evidence suggest they have yet to come back in full force. It’s more nuanced than blaming the stances that players are taking against systemic oppression. Since returning from hiatus, the audience hasn’t been there. This was true before people fully experienced this new wave of activism.

It’s a factor, sure, but it’s presumptuous to consider it the factor. Preliminary numbers for the NFL opener Thursday night indicate general sports fatigue or an abundance of competition more than some kind of public disgust. No one had any clarity on what the Chiefs and Texans were going to do before the game, so the notion of preemptive disillusionment makes little sense. I suppose you can argue the NFL is paying the price for other leagues failing to stick to sports, but that’s a thin assumption that ignores polling data suggesting the majority of fans are tolerant of athletes taking a stand.

There are other issues to consider. For one, these sports feel soulless right now, no matter how well the games are presented for television. There’s little atmosphere, nothing grand about the event. The quality of play has been impressive, and the athletes deserve immense credit for their mental and physical resolve. But compared with the normal spectacle, this version can be boring at times. And when there are thrills, something still seems off. Sports have become background noise. Watching them is something to do, not the premier thing to do. Struggling is what we all do, in some form, right now. There is no satisfying diversion from this pain.

In addition, the schedule is oversaturated currently, and everything is out of context. Everyone is used to the football season starting at this time, but it has had to compete with the NBA playoffs, the Stanley Cup playoffs, U.S. Open tennis and many other options. Everything is crammed into September, including the Kentucky Derby and Tour de France. Fans can be excited but also overwhelmed. They can be interested but also preoccupied with more important things. Signs of diminished enthusiasm magnify that fans are humans with healthy minds and broken hearts.

The NFL, the king of American sports, isn’t immune. The football-loving nation will appreciate its return, but it might not fixate on it.

So an anticipated return morphed into a sneak attack. The NFL is back in the game. This time, though, it doesn’t feel like the only game. There are more pressing matters, and this season, success depends on how well football blends into this fidgety new world.

Doonesbury — Survival of the twittest.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Friday, September 4, 2020

Speaking Of Losers

From Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic:

When President Donald Trump canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018, he blamed rain for the last-minute decision, saying that “the helicopter couldn’t fly” and that the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him there. Neither claim was true.

Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day. In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.


Trump’s understanding of concepts such as patriotism, service, and sacrifice has interested me since he expressed contempt for the war record of the late Senator John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said in 2015 while running for the Republican nomination for president. “I like people who weren’t captured.”

The panicked and furious response from the White House to the article tells me that there’s every likelihood that it’s true.

The White House released a sharply worded statement defending Trump — who has insulted POWs, traded barbs with grieving families of the dead and said before he was president that avoiding sexually transmitted diseases was his own “personal Vietnam” — against accusations that he doesn’t respect the military.

“This report is false. President Trump holds the military in the highest regard,” White House spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said of the Atlantic’s reporting. “He’s demonstrated his commitment to them at every turn: delivering on his promise to give our troops a much needed pay raise, increasing military spending, signing critical veterans reforms, and supporting military spouses. This has no basis in fact.”

Trump then spoke to reporters late Thursday after arriving back in Washington from a campaign trip to Pennsylvania. He angrily denied the article’s claims, calling it a “disgrace” and the sources “lowlifes.”

“I would be willing to swear on anything that I never said that about our fallen heroes,” he said. “There is nobody that respects them more. So, I just think it’s a horrible, horrible thing.”

It’s an inverse ratio that has been proved time and again with this White House: the fiercer the denial, the closer to reality it is, not unlike a child who heatedly denies stealing a cookie with crumbs spewing out of his mouth.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Family Business

It may sound strange coming from a playwright who has written a lot of family dramas (take your pick from among them here at Smith Scripts), but I don’t plan on reading or really caring about Mary Trump’s tell-all book about life in her family.  It reveals embarrassing things about her uncle and her relatives, and the only reason the stories are newsworthy is because her uncle is currently occupying government housing in Washington and his actions — and inactions — have an impact on the lives of people who are not related to her.

The fact that he was an abused child and has been craving attention and adulation ever since is not news either in real life or on stage; every family has that history.  The fact that we are feeling the aftershocks means that we have to deal with the present; we can’t go back and change how he and we got there.  If this was a play, it would have to be laid out very carefully so as not to deflect the audience’s attention from the rising action on stage.  And it would have to mean something later on in the story — Chekhov’s famous imprecation that if you show a gun in Act I, it must go off in Act III — which means that beyond being just a foundation element of the character, his childhood antics and grudges have to be a part of the dramatic climax, and most importantly, there would have to be a profound change in the lead character as a result.  That’s not going to happen here.

The only thing that the book seems to reveal is that the Trump family financial empire is built on fraud and malfeasance, something we’ve always suspected.  The Supreme Court is set to rule in some fashion on the lawsuit regarding Trump’s taxes this week; maybe as soon as today.  That may be the big reveal in Act III and the gun goes off.  But this isn’t a play.

More’s the pity.  If all of this was just a play, we’d get to the merciful end, the curtain would come down, and we could all go out into the night with our biggest concern being whether or not we can find a place for a late-night snack.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Happy Friday

A lot of good things to note this week.

  • The Supreme Court at long last ruled that discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community has been illegal since 1964.
  • John Bolton revealed what we basically knew all along: Trump is a sociopath who thinks only of himself.
  • The Supreme Court ruled that if the Trump regime wants to rescind DACA, there’s a right way and a wrong way, and they went the wrong way.

On a personal and shameless self-promoting note, five of my plays have been published by Smith Scripts.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Supreme Court Rules Against Trump Attempt To End DACA

Via the Washington Post:

The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to dismantle the program protecting undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, a reprieve for nearly 650,000 recipients known as “dreamers.”

The 5 to 4 decision was written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and joined by the court’s four liberals. It was the second, stunning defeat this week for the Trump administration, as the Supreme Court begins to unveil its decision in marquee cases.

It will likely elevate the issue of immigration in the presidential campaign, although public opinion polls have shown sympathy for those who were brought here as children and have lived their lives in this country. Congress repeatedly has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

President Trump responded to the decision by tweeting his displeasure and turning it into a call for his reelection, with a specific focus on gun-rights supporters: “These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives. We need more Justices or we will lose our 2nd. Amendment & everything else. Vote Trump 2020!”

It is important to note that the court did not rule on the merits of the DACA program. It said that the way that Trump, then-AG Sessions, and the Department of Homeland Security tried to end it was “arbitrary and capricious.” In other words, they didn’t follow the correct procedure to terminate it. That leaves open the possibility that Trump can still try. Then again, given this regime’s inability to follow the rules about anything, chances are that by the time they get around to doing it right (as if there is ever a right way to do a wrong thing), Trump will, one hopes, be out of office. As Lyndon Johnson once said about another incompetent, “he couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel.”

Hostile Witness

I take anything John Bolton says about anything with a large grain of salt, and I don’t need a book from him to tell me that he’s a fastidious and self-serving pain in the ass.  His multiple appearances on TV and throughout the last twenty years laid the pipeline for that.  So the revelations about the inside goings-on in the Trump White House may be breaking news on cable, but neither characters in this kinderspiel — Bolton and Trump — and the stories about them really surprise or shock.  They merely confirm a lot of things that a lot of people knew all along: Trump is a sociopath — if it doesn’t get him more money, more adulation, and pussy-grabbing, he’s not interested — and he’s willfully ignorant about the things that don’t matter to him, such as preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution.

No tell-all book is flattering, and I suspect that Mr. Bolton won’t be the last of the major players in Trump’s regime to write one.  Historians rarely pay heed to them when assessing the true history of an administration, concentrating more on the impact of a president on things that matter such as foreign policy and the list of priorities detailed in the preamble to the Constitution.  But since Mr. Bolton’s role was to advise Trump on national security, his reporting, as slanted and morally superior as it may be, does get our attention by revealing how bankrupt and reflexively immoral Trump is beyond all the gossip and dish that we’ve heard from other disgruntled and exasperated ex-Trump minions to the point that it endangers our national security.  Bill Clinton may have gotten a blowjob in the Oval Office, but at least he wasn’t in cahoots with a foreign dictator to boost his re-election or approve of building Chinese concentration camps.

As for the book itself, the Justice Department is apparently in league with the publisher, suing to stop the publication and thereby boosting the sales through the roof.  The review in the New York Times by Jennifer Szalai is devastatingly negative for its sloppy writing and self-serving puffery:

The book is bloated with self-importance, even though what it mostly recounts is Bolton not being able to accomplish very much. It toggles between two discordant registers: exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged.

Still, it’s maybe a fitting combination for a lavishly bewhiskered figure whose wonkishness and warmongering can make him seem like an unlikely hybrid of Ned Flanders and Yosemite Sam.

Despite the revelations, I doubt that this will have any impact on Trump’s base or his standings in the polls.   The people who support him to the death — literally and virally — think the same way he does: the ends justify the means, all I care about is what’s in it for me, and all those politically-correct Others get all the breaks and everybody’s against me and Jesus.  Trump has his 40%, and if his countless assaults on the American character, psyche, and fundamental human nature haven’t already turned them against him, this book won’t.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

And He Kidnapped The Lindbergh Baby

Via C&L: Trump Blames Obama For His Botched COVID-19 Response.

Nothing really surprises me any more.  Nothing he has ever done is his fault.  Ever.

What I find ironic to the degree that Shakespeare or Sophocles would love is that Trump, a pathological germophobe, is having to deal with a crisis brought on by germs and spread by close human contact.  Not only does he not know how to deal with it because he doesn’t know how to run a government, it’s the kind of crisis that isn’t wrought by terrorists or a bunch of plotting hackers.  It’s brought on by a sneeze and there’s no effective vaccine for it.  It must be driving him into full-tilt panic mode.

He also had to really reach to find some way to blame it on President Obama when it was his administration that has been cutting CDC funding for global health security, most likely on his theory that who cares what happens in shithole countries, anyway?  Let ’em die.

I’m waiting for him to blame the attack on Pearl Harbor on Obama.  After all, wasn’t he born in Hawaii?  Oh, wait…

Bonus Track: Trump’s little minion, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL sigh), goes full middle-school fool with a gas mask on the floor of the House.  Well, as one Twitter post noted, as long as he’s wearing the mask, he can’t talk.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sunday Reading

Trump Generating Hate — An extensive report in the Washington Post on how Trump’s rhetoric is infecting schools and kids.

Two kindergartners in Utah told a Latino boy that President Trump would send him back to Mexico, and teenagers in Maine sneered “Ban Muslims” at a classmate wearing a hijab. In Tennessee, a group of middle-schoolers linked arms, imitating the president’s proposed border wall as they refused to let nonwhite students pass. In Ohio, another group of middle-schoolers surrounded a mixed-race sixth-grader and, as she confided to her mother, told the girl: “This is Trump country.”

Since Trump’s rise to the nation’s highest office, his inflammatory language — often condemned as racist and xenophobic — has seeped into schools across America. Many bullies now target other children differently than they used to, with kids as young as 6 mimicking the president’s insults and the cruel way he delivers them.

Trump’s words, those chanted by his followers at campaign rallies and even his last name have been wielded by students and school staff members to harass children more than 300 times since the start of 2016, a Washington Post review of 28,000 news stories found. At least three-quarters of the attacks were directed at kids who are Hispanic, black or Muslim, according to the analysis. Students have also been victimized because they support the president — more than 45 times during the same period.

Although many hateful episodes garnered coverage just after the election, The Post found that Trump-connected persecution of children has never stopped. Even without the huge total from November 2016, an average of nearly two incidents per school week have been publicly reported over the past four years. Still, because so much of the bullying never appears in the news, The Post’s figure represents a small fraction of the actual total. It also doesn’t include the thousands of slurs, swastikas and racial epithets that aren’t directly linked to Trump but that the president’s detractors argue his behavior has exacerbated.

“It’s gotten way worse since Trump got elected,” said Ashanty Bonilla, 17, a Mexican American high school junior in Idaho who faced so much ridicule from classmates last year that she transferred. “They hear it. They think it’s okay. The president says it. . . . Why can’t they?”

Asked about Trump’s effect on student behavior, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham noted that first lady Melania Trump — whose “Be Best” campaign denounces online harassment — had encouraged kids worldwide to treat one another with respect.

“She knows that bullying is a universal problem for children that will be difficult to stop in its entirety,” Grisham wrote in an email, “but Mrs. Trump will continue her work on behalf of the next generation despite the media’s appetite to blame her for actions and situations outside of her control.”

Most schools don’t track the Trump bullying phenomenon, and researchers didn’t ask about it in a federal survey of 6,100 students in 2017, the most recent year with available data. One in five of those children, ages 12 to 18, reported being bullied at school, a rate unchanged since the previous count in 2015.

However, a 2016 online survey of over 10,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that more than 2,500 “described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric,” although the overwhelming majority never made the news. In 476 cases, offenders used the phrase “build the wall.” In 672, they mentioned deportation.

For Cielo Castor, who is Mexican American, the experience at Kamiakin High in Kennewick, Wash., was searing. The day after the election, a friend told Cielo, then a sophomore, that he was glad Trump won because Mexicans were stealing American jobs. A year later, when the president was mentioned during her American literature course, she said she didn’t support him and a classmate who did refused to sit next to her.

“‘I don’t want to be around her,’ ” Cielo recalled him announcing as he opted for the floor instead.

Then, on “America night” at a football game in October 2018 during Cielo’s senior year, schoolmates in the student section unfurled a “Make America Great Again” flag. Led by the boy who wouldn’t sit beside Cielo, the teenagers began to chant: “Build — the — wall!”

Horrified, she confronted the instigator.

“You can’t be doing that,” Cielo told him.

He ignored her, she recalled, and the teenagers around him booed her. A cheerleading coach was the lone adult who tried to make them stop.

After a photo of the teenagers with the flag appeared on social media, news about what had happened infuriated many of the school’s Latinos, who made up about a quarter of the 1,700-member student body. Cielo, then 17, hoped school officials would address the tension. When they didn’t, she attended that Wednesday’s school board meeting.

“I don’t feel cared for,” she told the members, crying.

A day later, the superintendent consoled her and the principal asked how he could help, recalled Cielo, now a college freshman. Afterward, school staff members addressed every class, but Hispanic students were still so angry that they organized a walkout.

Some students heckled the protesters, waving MAGA caps at them. At the end of the day, Cielo left the school with a white friend who’d attended the protest; they passed an underclassman she didn’t know.

“Look,” the boy said, “it’s one of those f—ing Mexicans.”

She heard that school administrators — who declined to be interviewed for this article — suspended the teenager who had led the chant, but she doubts he has changed.

Reached on Instagram, the teenager refused to talk about what happened, writing in a message that he didn’t want to discuss the incident “because it is in the past and everyone has moved on from it.” At the end, he added a sign-off: “Trump 2020.”

This is just an excerpt from the story; there’s many examples of how minority students who are singled out, and not just by other kids.  Teachers with pro-Trump sentiments are picking on kids.  Some are being fired or disciplined, but it still goes on.

Trump Unleashed — David Corn in Mother Jones.

Through the Trump Era, it’s been fashionable for some of his critics—especially on Twitter—to assail his actions as the coming of kleptocracy, autocracy, authoritarianism, and, yes, fascism to the United States. Recently, in an airport, an elderly women stopped me to say that she survived the Holocaust in a camp and now fears she is experiencing what her mother went through eighty-five years ago as the catastrophe approached in Germany. I tried to persuade her that as bad as things are now, there remains institutions, organizations, and millions of people who will not accept what is happening to the nation’s democratic institutions and who can oppose a complete power-grab from Trump and his cult (a.k.a. the Republican Party).

I still believe that. But Trump’s hostile take-over of the Justice Department this week is yet another sign that the task of countering Trump’s extremism is becoming both harder and more crucial.

By now, you know the basics: After the Justice Department requested a seven-to-nine years sentence for Roger Stone, a longtime Trump intimate who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness-tampering (to protect Trump in the Russia scandal), Trump tweet-whined that this sentence would be too harsh, and the DoJ dutifully rescinded it. Four federal prosecutors, apparently in protest, withdrew from the Stone case, with one quitting the department. Then Trump attacked the federal judge handling the case. Still on the rampage the next day, Trump—again in a tweet—threatened to withhold assistance for New York State if it did not smother investigations related to Trump.

On Thursday afternoon, Attorney General Bill Barr seemed to rebuke Trump by saying he would not “be bullied or influenced by anybody,” including the president. But Barr has already done so much of Trump’s bidding—undermining the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, opening investigations that appeared designed to unearth information that support Trump’s favorite conspiracy theories—his declaration of independence was too late, if not ludicrous.

With the impeachment behind him, Trump has been acting like Michael Corleone on steroids, intent on settling all the “family business.” He sacked impeachment witnesses Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Ambassador Gordon Sondland. Next he moved onto the Justice Department and the judiciary. At the same time, Barr set up a special “intake” channel at the department for Trump’s henchman Rudy Giuliani to feed rumors, dirt, and supposed leads about Trump’s rivals.

All this is crooked and horrific. Trump is rigging the justice system, trashing norms that have been in place for decades, and attacking the notion that the rule of law is essential for democratic governance. Early in his presidency, facing the Russia investigation being run by the FBI, Trump exclaimed, “Where is my Roy Cohn?” He was referring to the thuggish mob lawyer who had been red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy’s chief hatchet-man years before becoming a mentor and consigliere for the young Trump. Though Trump placed Barr, his own lapdog, in charge of the Justice Department last year, Trump has become his own Roy Cohn, consolidating power and seeking vengeance. And extracting revenge has long been one of Trump’s primary psychological motivations, as I first explained before he was elected president.

But this crusade of revenge does more than just feed Trump’s dark soul. It undermines the safeguards that are supposed to thwart despotic power. During the impeachment trial, Trump’s celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz essentially argued that Trump, as president, can get away with any act of corruption that is not a clear violation of federal criminal law. This view is far outside the mainstream of constitutional law, and under it, Trump could, say, pardon the Russian hackers who have been indicted for attacking the 2016 election (to help Trump), signal to them they should stage a repeat in 2020, and still be invulnerable to impeachment. With his unfounded contention, Dershowitz was establishing the theoretical foundation for Trumpism. With these outrageous actions since impeachment, Trump has aimed to fully implement it. The Justice Department, c’est moi. 

The Trumpficiation of this crucial part of the executive branch is a literally an abomination of justice in all these individual instances. But Trump’s war on the department and his long-running assault on the FBI (which is part of it) does more than effect the particular cases and matters he targets. It intimidates the whole system.

Imagine an FBI agent, or a Justice Department prosecutor, or an investigator at the Securities and Exchange Commission, or an IRS agent, or a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives official, or you-get-the-picture, who comes across possible wrongdoing that involves Trump, a Trump family member, a Trump company, a Trump business associate, a Trump donor, or a Trump political ally. How much guts would it take for someone in this position that to investigate the matter? How much courage would it take for that person’s supervisors to approve such an investigation? The investigators and the entire agency could face the wrath of a rage-filled president. He could start tweeting about the officers and officials involved. Maybe use their names.Put them in the spotlight. And Fox News, other rightwing media outlets, and an army of trolls would follow suit, digging up dirt on these government officials, looking not only to discredit them but to destroy them.

Who needs that shit? Who can survive it? Anyone in this position only need to think for a moment about FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page—or to consider the prosecutors in the Stone case. You devote time and energy to doing a tough job, and you end up at best overruled and at the worst pilloried on national television and placed in the line of fire. Your career could be at risk. Your reputation could be shredded. You could receive death threats. Just for doing your job.

As it happened, while I was inline to buy a sandwich for lunch today, two Treasury Department employees said hello to me. One was involved in an office that works with investigations. When I noted my concern that these extreme Trump moves could paralyze people in various federal agencies, one of them said, “Man, that’s the whole damn point. You think we all don’t get it?”

Look at the whistleblower who first raised questions about Trump’s attempt to pressure the Ukrainian president to initiate political investigations that benefit Trump. The president and his devotees in Congress and the media mounted a blitzkrieg against this CIA analyst who had followed appropriate procedure and privately reported his concerns to the intelligence community’s inspector general. The whistleblower was crucified by GOPers at the House impeachment hearings. During the impeachment trial, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), looking to suck up to Trump, displayed a poster with the supposed name of the whistleblower. Trump has repeatedly tweeted about the whistleblower. And the whistleblower and his lawyers have received death threats.

The message to other would-be whistleblowers who might reveal improbity or corruption within the Trump administration: If you say anything, your life could become hell. Hell, your life could be in peril.

This is the real danger. Trump is not merely interfering in a few incidents that directly interest him. He is creating an environment in which he and his cronies and associates are above and beyond the reach of the law. He has turned the Justice Department into a subsidiary of his political operation. Not only does this protect Trump, it makes it harder for the department to perform other necessary functions.

Barr has placed a welcome sign on his department’s door for foreign governments and intelligence services to intervene in US politics by shoving disinformation into the investigative system of the United States. It’s simple: Slip Giuliani a phony document or a compromised source; he hands that bad information to the Justice Department; and US officials have to spend time and resources chasing the false lead. And here’s the bonus: Someone at the department could leak to the media that it is examining a report that a Democratic candidate once took illegal funds from a Chinese source—whether or not that report has any legitimacy—and, presto, Fox News has an exclusive. Russia, if you’re listening….

These are difficult times. Disinformation is a threat to the fabric of American democracy. Trust in government is low. One party has traded checks and balances for tax cuts and judges. For some, the right to vote is under siege. Trump and his enablers have wrought a slow-burn crisis of democracy. They have perverted the basic foundation taught in every high school civics course: this is a government of laws, not of men and women. (Are there still civics courses?) For Trump, this is a government of Trump, for Trump, and by Trump. And his GOP handmaids and tens of millions of Americans are just fine with it.

Roger Stone is a political sleazebag who for decades has proudly engaged in dirty tricks and slime-ball actions to win elections. He is facing prison time for lying to cover up Trump misconduct in the Russia scandal. (Information produced during Stone’s trial suggested that Trump lied to Mueller, which could be a crime.) But Stone is small potatoes compared to Trump’s overall aim: The president seeks the total sublimation of the Justice Department and the whole US government to his will. If he pulls this off, it will be one more reason for that survivor I met, and anyone else who cares about preserving the rule of law and democratic values, to worry.

Doonesbury — What?

Friday, February 7, 2020

Around The Bend

Charlie Pierce on yesterday’s victory lap:

As you undoubtedly know by now, El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago’s wounded musk-ox bellowing at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning was only an undercard attraction on the bill of CrazySlam ’20. The main event came later, in the East Room of the White House, where the president* put on a performance that should have had copies of the 25th Amendment inscribed on tablets of gold falling from the sky around him.

His trolley went around the bend and off the tracks. His sanity had expired and met its maker. It has ceased to be. It was a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. It’s kicked the bucket, rung down the curtain, and joined the bleeding choir invisible. But, alas, this is not yet an ex-administration*, and it still derives its only energy from the incredibly toxic stew of vengeful rage and inflamed victimhood that is the only sign of sentient life in the brain of its president*. A sample follows:

And this is really not a news conference, it’s not a speech, it’s not anything, it’s just we’re sort of — it’s a celebration because we have something that just worked out. It worked out. We went through hell unfairly. Did nothing wrong. Did nothing wrong. I’ve done things wrong in my life, I will admit. Not purposely, but I’ve done things wrong. But this is what the end result is. We can take that home, honey, maybe we’ll frame it. It’s the only good headline I’ve had in the Washington Post. Every paper is the same, does anybody have them, because they’re all like that and I appreciate that. Some of the people here have been incredible warriors, they’re warriors. And there’s nothing from a legal standpoint. This is a political thing, and every time I say this is unfair, let’s go to court, they say, sir, you can’t go to court, this is politics. And we were treated unbelievably unfairly, and you have to understand we first went through Russia, Russia, Russia. It was all bullshit.

We had a rough campaign. It was nasty. It was one of the nastiest, they say. Andrew Jackson was the nastiest campaign but we topped it. It was nasty in both the primaries and the election. We thought after the election, it would stop, but it didn’t stop. It just started. Tremendous corruption. Tremendous corruption. So we had a campaign. Little did we know we were running against some very, very bad and evil people with fake dossiers, with all of these horrible, dirty cops that took these dossiers and did bad things. They knew all about it. The FISA courts should be ashamed of themselves. It’s a very tough thing.

So I always say they’re lousy politicians, but they do two things. They’re vicious and mean. Vicious. Adam Schiff is a vicious, horrible person. Nancy Pelosi is a horrible person. And she wanted to impeach a long time ago when she said, I pray for the president. She doesn’t pray. She may pray but she prays for the opposite. But I doubt she prays at all. These are vicious people.

And the Republicans, all of them, sitting there like brain-dead fish all schooled in one spot, applauding on cue, accepting the president*’s sourball compliments as though they were being blessed from Above. (There was one particularly weird passage when he congratulated Rep. Steve Scalise for surviving his gunshot wounds and then went into how lousy a second-baseman Scalise is and expressed amazement that Scalise’s wife was upset that Scalise had been shot. “He was not going to make it. I said, she loves you. Why? Because she was devastated. A lot of wives wouldn’t give a damn.” Ask the man who knows, I guess.)

I have resisted using the word “cult” to describe where the Republican party is at right now because I think it absolves too many of the people that made something like Trumpism inevitable. But, Lord above, we’re looking at a battalion of drill-thralls now, with no minds of their own and no souls to speak of.

Wow, if this is what he’s like when he wins, I can’t wait to see what he’s like when he loses.