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.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Imagine Jerry Lewis As The Godfather

Via the Washington Post:

New materials released by House Democrats appear to show Ukraine’s top prosecutor offering an associate of President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, damaging information related to former vice president Joe Biden if the Trump administration recalled the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

The text messages and documents provided to Congress by former Giuliani associate Lev Parnas also show that before the ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, was removed from her post, a Parnas associate now running for Congress sent menacing text messages suggesting that he had Yovanovitch under surveillance in Ukraine. A lawyer for Yovanovitch said Tuesday that the episode should be investigated.

The cache of materials released by House investigators late Tuesday exposed a number of previously unknown details about efforts by Giuliani and his associates to obtain material in Ukraine that would undermine Trump’s Democratic opponents.

Their emergence on the eve of the Senate impeachment trial spurred Democrats to renew calls for the White House to turn over documents related to the Ukraine pressure campaign that it has refused to share with Congress.

Yeah, you read that right.  They were hatching a scheme to take out the ambassador.

This all sounds like a very bad mix of drunken spitballing at a writers’ room conference between the team at “Scooby-Doo,” rejections from Rocky and Bullwinkle, and going through the trash looking for the next blockbuster from David Spade or Tom Arnold.  No, this does not rise to the level of Monty Python or Mel Brooks.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Time for my annual recap and predictions for the coming year.  Let’s see how I did a year ago.

Barring natural causes or intervention from an outside force, Trump will still be in office on December 31, 2019. There is no way he will leave voluntarily and even with the House of Representatives in Democratic control and articles of impeachment being drafted they will not get to the Senate floor because the Republicans are either too afraid to rile up the base or they’re too enamored of their own grip on power to care about the government being headed by a poor imitation of a tin-pot banana republic authoritarian douche-canoe.

That was an easy A.  As of today, the articles of impeachment are still with the House as Speaker Pelosi holds on to them.

The Mueller Report will be released to Congress and even though it’s supposed to be classified it will be leaked with great fanfare and pundit predictions of the end of the Trump administration with calls for frog-marching him and his minions out of the West Wing. Despite that, see above.

I get a C on that.  There were no leaks and the Mueller report was too nuanced for the punditry to read it and spit out sound bites.  The unintended consequence, though, was that the day after Mr. Mueller testified before Congress, Trump picked up the phone and placed an overseas call to Ukraine.

There will be no wall. There never will be. Immigration will still be a triggering issue as even more refugees die in U.S. custody.

That was a gimme.

There will be no meaningful changes to gun laws even if the NRA goes broke. There will be more mass shootings, thoughts and prayers will be offered, and we’ll be told yet again that now is not the time to talk about it.

Another gimme, more’s the pity.

Obamacare will survive its latest challenge because the ruling by the judge in Texas declaring the entire law unconstitutional will be tossed and turned into a case study in law schools everywhere on the topic of exasperatingly stupid reasoning.

Roe vs. Wade will still stand.

With the Democrats in control of the House, the government will be in permanent gridlock even after they work out some sort of deal to end the current shutdown over the mythological wall.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the Willie Horton for the GOP base and blamed for everything from budget deficits to the toast falling butter-side down.

An A- on these three.  As of today, Obamacare is still in place but the Supreme Court is sniffing around the whack-ass lower court ruling, so see below, and the same goes for Roe v. Wade.  The House has passed over 250 bills and sent them on to the Senate, but Mitch McConnell has not touched them, and won’t.

We will have a pretty good idea who the Democratic front-runner will be in 2020. I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances are still good (she announced her exploratory committee as I was writing this), as are Sen. Kamala Harris’s, and don’t count out Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, but who knew that Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic loser in the Texas senate race, would raise a lot of hopes? That said, fifteen years ago when I started this blog, Howard Dean looked like the guy who was going to beat George W. Bush.

A big old red F on that one.

The economy will continue with its wild gyrations, pretty much following the gyrations of the mood of Trump and his thumb-driven Twitter-fed economic exhortations. The tax cuts and the tariffs will land on the backs of the people who provide the income to the government and the deficit will soon be out there beyond the Tesla in outer space. But unlike that Martian-bound convertible, the economy will come crashing back to Earth (probably about the time I retire in August) and Trump will blame everyone else.

That’s a C.  It hasn’t happened yet, but with the deficit doubling since Trump took office, something will have to give.  The question was — and remains — when will it?

There will be a natural event that will convince even skeptics that climate change and sea level rise is real and happening. Unfortunately, nothing will be done about it even if lots of lives are lost because [spoiler alert] nothing ever is done.

That’s an A.  It’s already happening.

I’m going out on a limb here with foreign affairs predictions, but I have a feeling that Brexit will end up in the dustbin of history.

Another big old red F, right up there with the Dolphins and the Lions ending up in the Superbowl in 2020.

Personally, this will be a transition year.  My retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools occurs officially on August 31, 2019, and I’m already actively looking for something both meaningful and income-producing to do after that.  (E-mail me for a copy of my resume; nothing ventured, nothing sprained.)  My play “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-week run on March 30, and I’m planning on returning to the William Inge Theatre Festival for the 28th time, either with a play or most assuredly with a scholarly paper.  I have my bid in for a variety of other theatre events and productions; I think I’m getting the hang of this playwriting thing.

Things went pretty much as planned this year.  I retired on August 31 and started my new part-time jobs the next week.  The run of “Can’t Live Without You” was great, and I had a very busy year in getting plays done and conferences attended and new friends made from Miami to Alaska.

On to the predictions:

  • Trump will survive impeachment.  The fix is in.  Revelations about his corruption will keep on coming, and yet the Republicans will cower with him.  It will be his big campaign rallying point.
  • I have no idea who the Democratic Party will nominate for president, and neither do you, but whoever it is will beat Trump in November despite the best efforts of the Kremlin.  I hope it is by such a margin that even Fox News will call it a blowout.  Trump will scream and carry on about it being rigged, but by this time in 2020, he’ll be doing everything he can to trash the place on the way out the door with pardons and lame-duck appointments of Nazi sympathizers and pedophiles.  (If I’m wrong on this and Trump is reelected, I’m moving to Montserrat.  It’s safer to live on an island with an active volcano.)
  • Obamacare will survive in the Supreme Court but by a 5-4 ruling.
  • There will be more restrictions placed on reproductive rights, but Roe v. Wade will not be struck down.
  • The Democrats will take back the Senate by one seat and all that bottled-up legislation will finally get through in time for the House, still under Nancy Pelosi, to pass them all again and get them signed by the new president.
  • The economic bubble will burst, the trade deals with China and Europe will screw over the American consumer, and it’s going to look like one of those 19,000 piece domino videos.  Trump and Fox will blame the Democrats for the monster deficit and carry on about how we need to cut more taxes and destroy Social Security and Medicare to save them.
  • Even with the Democrats taking over in 2020, they won’t be in office until January 2021, so I’ll save predictions for what they’ll come up with in terms of health care, gun safety, and climate change until this time next year, assuming my house in the suburbs of Miami at 10 feet above sea level is still on dry land.
  • As for me, my playwriting and productions thereof will continue.  I’m planning on my 29th trip to the Inge Festival in May and hope to be invited back to Alaska in June.  As I’m writing this, the novel that I started twenty-five years ago tomorrow is on the glide path to land by the time I go back to work next week.  I can predict that it will never be published because I never meant it to be.
  • As for hopes for the new year, I hope for continued good health and fortune for my friends and family.  I can’t ask for more than that.

Okay, your turn.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sunday Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope. Another inescapable milestone on the road to recovery.

Letters from personal-injury attorneys.

God bless us all, everyone.

Doonesbury — Holy smokes!

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Poor Baby

The other kids teased him behind his back so he flounced home.

Trump arrived in London Monday evening planning to tout a foreign policy accomplishment his presidential campaign wants him to run on: successfully pressuring allies to pay more toward the costs of running NATO.

Less than 48 hours later — after he was put on the defensive in front of the cameras and then was the subject of gossip at a private reception of world leaders, a moment caught in a viral video — Mr. Trump canceled a planned news conference before heading back to Washington earlier than planned.

The timing was not perfect. Mr. Trump had hoped the 70th anniversary celebration of NATO might provide a flattering stage and a triumphant narrative, even as Democrats on Capitol Hill on Wednesday trotted out sober legal scholars to testify at the House Judiciary Committee’s first public impeachment hearing.

But instead of creating a split screen, Mr. Trump failed to produce the statesmanlike narrative his campaign had hoped for. The result was he appeared boxed in both at home and abroad, ultimately overshadowed by diplomatic dynamics that put him on his back foot.

They laughed even more when he left.

But Trump got his revenge by taking it out on — of course — poor people.

The Trump administration, brushing aside tens of thousands of protest letters, gave final approval on Wednesday to a rule that will remove nearly 700,000 people from the federal food-stamp program by strictly enforcing federal work requirements.

The rule, which was proposed by the Agriculture Department in February, would press states to carry out work requirements for able-bodied adults without children that governors have routinely been allowed to waive, especially for areas in economic distress. The economy has improved under the Trump administration, the department argued, and assistance to unemployed, able-bodied adults was no longer necessary in a strong job market.

That’ll show those meanies in France and Canada.  So there.

HT to Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A Fine Judge Of Character

The White House had a little presser when they brought Conan the Army dog that was part of the raid that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  Check out the body language on Trump, Conan, and the First Lady.

Trump is notoriously anti-dog; Melania looks like she’s trying out for the part of Cruella De Vil on the road tour of “101 Dalmatians,” and Conan is desperately waiting to get the hell out of there.

Dogs are excellent judges of character.  They know instinctively and very quickly who likes them and who doesn’t, and once they’ve made up their mind, there’s not much you can do about it.

Good dog.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Military Imprecision

Everything I know about how justice works in the military comes from fiction (“The Caine Mutiny”) or watching TV (“NCIS” and the short-lived “The Code”).  So don’t expect me to unravel or explain what happened this weekend in the Navy with the resignation/firing of the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Richard Spencer by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.  For that, we have the expertise of Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice.

The story is too complicated to detail here — that’s why I linked to the piece — but suffice it to say that Trump’s pardoning of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher for his alleged war crimes and then going on Fox News and talking about it kicked over the trash can within the Pentagon and made the chain of command look like something out of a bad production of Gilbert and Sullivan.

I cannot express not only how irregular what I’ve just recounted is, but how BATSHIT FUCKING INSANE it is as well! Serving US military personnel, and to a lesser extent DOD and the Service civilians (civil servants) do not speak to and/or engage with the news media unless it has been approved by the Public Affairs Officer at their command. And they certainly don’t go on a cable news talk show program and publicly accuse their commanding officers of being derelict in their duty and insubordinate. If you were wondering if Gallagher was a disciplinary problem waiting to happen and a real impediment to good order and discipline, wonder no more. What he did this morning should dispel any doubt. And if you were Gallagher and trying to show the review board and the commanding admiral that you weren’t either or both of these things, going on Fox & Friends Weekend and making these statements is a really stupid way to demonstrate that you’re not a problem child and a shitbird.

And it’s only Monday.

Monday, November 18, 2019

In Perfect Health

The twitter machine was all abuzz on Saturday when Trump went to Walter Reed for what the White House is claiming was a “stage” of his annual physical and there’s nothing at all to report, and rumors that he had “chest pains” is a plot by Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi to undermine his god-given task of making America something something.

I’m a huge fan of the film “Dave” in which a president, who’s a philanderer and a shitty husband, is replaced by a look-alike good guy (Kevin Kline) who rights wrongs and treats the First Lady (Sigourney Weaver) like a lady.  While I don’t think this White House is capable of pulling off such a ruse (for one thing, they’d have to get Alec Baldwin to portray Trump, and they don’t pay scale), it would not surprise me in the least that Trump had a more serious issue than just a preliminary check-up for his annual physical, and I wouldn’t put it past this White House to try to emulate another Hollywood blockbuster: “Weekend at Bernie’s.”

Lowering The Barr

Via the New York Times:

Attorney General William P. Barr on Friday vigorously defended President Trump’s use of executive authority and suggested that House Democrats were subverting the will of voters by exploring whether to remove the president from office for abusing his power.

Mr. Trump campaigned on a vow to upend Washington, and voters were aware of his agenda when they elected him president, Mr. Barr said.

“While the president has certainly thrown out the traditional Beltway playbook and punctilio, he was up front about what he wanted to do and the people decided they wanted him to serve as president,” Mr. Barr said in a speech at a conference hosted by the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group influential in Republican politics.

Mr. Trump’s opponents “essentially see themselves as engaged in a war to cripple by any means necessary a duly elected government,” Mr. Barr added.

His forceful defense of the president came after some of Mr. Trump’s allies have in recent weeks accused Mr. Barr of failing to vociferously back the president. Mr. Trump was said to be frustrated that Mr. Barr urged him to release a reconstructed transcript of the July call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine at the center of the impeachment case. The president also wanted Mr. Barr to hold a news conference to say the president had violated no laws, only to have Mr. Barr rebuff the request. Mr. Trump has denied that account.

Speaking for an hour at the upscale Mayflower Hotel a few blocks from the White House, Mr. Barr hit back at the president’s critics on an array of fronts as he argued that Mr. Trump, in his capacity as president, has not overstepped his authority.

While Mr. Barr never uttered the word impeachment, he castigated those he sees as stalling Mr. Trump’s agenda. He defended the president’s right to set policies, steer the country’s diplomatic and military relations and keep executive branch conversations confidential from congressional oversight.

“In waging a scorched-earth, no-holds-barred war against this administration, it is the left that is engaged in shredding norms and undermining the rule of law,” Mr. Barr said.

He noted that opponents labeled themselves “the resistance” immediately after Mr. Trump was elected and accused them of “using every tool and maneuver to sabotage the functioning of the executive branch and his administration.

“Resistance is the language used to describe insurgency against rule imposed by an occupying military power,” Mr. Barr said. He added that it connotes that the government is not legitimate. “This is a very dangerous and indeed incendiary notion.”

This is both hilarious and troubling at the same time; a common reaction to most of the antics of the current administration.  While they reek of rank hypocrisy — carrying on about how “resistance” to Trump is somehow undemocratic while forgetting how they supported the Tea Party antics and right-wing nutsery against President Obama — Mr. Barr, who has been Attorney General before in comparatively normal times, seems to forget that the job of being Trump’s personal lawyer is already taken by Rudy Giuliani, and he’s doing a bang-up job at that.  Unless, of course, Trump is putting the squeeze on him to support him regardless of the fact that the Attorney General is supposed to work for us, not him.  That would explain, perhaps, why Mr. Barr delivered a speech that, as Charlie Pierce remarked, would have been “best delivered while wearing a uniform and mirrored shades, and while standing on a balcony.”

Thursday, October 31, 2019

“Who Says I’m Dumb?”

Trump says that if he wanted to commit impeachable offenses, he’s smart enough, by golly.

As Donald Trump gets dragged deeper, and deeper, and deeper into his Ukraine scandal and the impeachment inquiry accelerates toward a likely House vote before the year’s end, the president is increasingly insistent that, if he wanted to commit a crime, he wouldn’t be stupid enough to get caught.

At other times, Trump has privately avowed that if he wanted to commit the crimes or outrageous actions he’s accused of, he’d be smart enough to do it—and that people should stop saying he’s too dumb or incompetent to do crimes.

Last week, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal launched a novel defense of Trump, who Democratic lawmakers allege—as Capitol Hill testimony from senior administration officials suggests—attempted to force the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a top political rival of Trump’s, in exchange for military aid that was being held up. The newspaper’s esteemed board argued that any talk of impeaching Trump is silly, in large part, because this president is likely too bumbling to execute that kind of scandalous quid pro quo.

“Intriguingly, Mr. [Bill] Taylor says in his statement that many people in the administration opposed the [Rudy] Giuliani effort, including some in senior positions at the White House,” the editorial board wrote. “This matters because it may turn out that while Mr. Trump wanted a quid-pro-quo policy ultimatum toward Ukraine, he was too inept to execute it. Impeachment for incompetence would disqualify most of the government, and most presidents at some point or another in office.”

Trump, a routine morning reader and skimmer of several newspapers’ print editions, saw this editorial—which was obviously meant to defend him—last week. And the president promptly began complaining about it to some of those close to him.

“[The president] mentioned he had seen it and then he started saying things like, ‘What are they talking about, if I wanted to do quid pro quo, I would’ve done the damn quid pro quo,’ and… then defended his intelligence and then talked about how ‘perfect’ the call [with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] was,” said a source familiar with Trump’s reaction to the Journal editorial. Another person familiar with the president’s comments on the matter corroborated the account.

“He was clearly unhappy. He did not like the word ‘inept,’” the first source added.

Okay, then how about “thick”? “Doltish”? “Numbskull”? “Inadept”? “Unapt”? “Incompetent”? “Loser”?

Proving once again that stupid people don’t know they’re stupid because if they did know they were stupid they wouldn’t be stupid in the first place.