Let’s hear from the last real president this country had.
Tuesday, August 6, 2019
Sunday, September 9, 2018
Back In The Game — Charles P. Pierce on Barack Obama’s return to the arena.
“But over the past few decades, the politics of division and resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican party.”
That, right there. That is, I believe, the most purely partisan thing Barack Obama ever has said. It’s damned sure one of the harshest, and it’s plainly one of the most accurate. On Friday, Obama was at the University of Illinois to receive an ethics award named for Paul H. Douglas, a remarkable man who was once the senator from Illinois and whom Dr. King once called “the greatest of all senators” because of his unflinching support of civil rights.
How remarkable was Douglas? He went through Parris Island at the age of 50 and fought as a private soldier on Peleliu and on Okinawa, winning a Bronze Star along the way.
How unflinching was his support for the civil rights movement? In 1957, Douglas voted against his own party by voting against making racist Mississippi Democrat James O. Eastland the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, breaking all Senate customs and confounding (briefly) Lyndon Johnson.
Those were the footsteps in which Barack Obama walked on Friday, and he did not disappoint. He reckoned with the Democratic Party’s misbegotten racist past, even giving ol’ Everett Dirksen of Illinois a shout-out as a Republican who was down with civil rights. But then, he came to the heart of what he’d come to say.
But when there’s a vacuum in our democracy, when we don’t vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, when we turn away and stop paying attention and stop engaging and stop believing and look for the newest diversion, the electronic versions of bread and circuses, then other voices fill the void. A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment takes hold and demagogues promise simple fixes to complex problems. No, promise to fight for the little guy, even as they cater to the wealthiest and most powerful. No, promise to clean up corruption and then plunder away. They start undermining norms that ensure accountability and try to change the rules to entrench their power further. They appeal to racial nationalism that’s barely veiled, if veiled at all. Sound familiar?
Why, yes. Please continue, govern…er…Mr. President.
But over the past few decades, the politics of division and resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican party. This Congress has championed the unwinding of campaign finance laws to give billionaires outside influence over our politics. Systematically attacked voting rights to make it harder for young people and minorities and the poor to vote. Handed out tax cuts without regard to deficits. Slashed the safety net wherever it could, cast dozens of votes to take away health insurance from ordinary Americans, embraced wild conspiracy theories like those surrounding Benghazi or my birth certificate, rejected science, rejected facts on things like climate change, embraced a rising absolutism from a willingness to default on America’s debt by not paying our bills to a refusal to even meet much less consider a qualified nominee for the Supreme Court because he happened to be nominated by a Democratic president.
None of this is conservative. I don’t mean to pretend I’m channelling Abraham Lincoln now, but that’s not what he had in mind, I think, when he helped form the Republican Party. It’s not conservative. It sure isn’t normal. It’s radical. It’s a vision that says the protection of our power and those who back us is all that matters, even when it hurts the country. It’s a vision that says the few who can afford high-price lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions set the agenda, and over the past two years, this vision is now nearing its logical conclusion.
He has gone out of his way to diagnose the prion disease—when it started, its various manifestations, and how it now rages out of control, devouring the higher functions of the collective Republican conservative brain. He took hard, clean shots at alleged Never Trumpers both in and out of office, both well-known and anominush. (Hi, Ben Sasse!) He ridiculed the notion that unelected staffers are somehow saving the Republic by disobeying the orders of a crazy man.
We are Americans. We’re supposed to stand up to bullies. Not follow them. We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad?
Frankly, I never thought I’d see him address this as directly as he did on Friday. Yes, toward the end he got back into how there are people of good will on both sides who are drowned out by the noise of our politics. Low, high, you know the spiel.
I know there are conservatives who think there’s nothing compassionate about separating immigrant children from their mothers. I know there are Republicans who believe government should only perform a few minimal functions but that one of those functions should be making sure nearly 3,000 Americans don’t die in a hurricane and its aftermath. Common ground is out there. I see it every day. It’s just how people interact, how people treat each other. You see it on the ball field. You see it at work. You see it in places of worship.
He could say nothing else because that hope is his entire political raison d’être. This is the way it is with Barack Obama. He will throw red meat, but it will be good lean red meat that’s more healthy for you. It beats all hell out of waffles.
Doonesbury — Planning ahead.
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Trump hates Barack Obama to the point that he’s willing to risk stability and peace with a sworn adversary just to demolish any of his accomplishments.
Trump is expected to announce on Tuesday that he is withdrawing the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, European diplomats said after concluding that they had failed to convince him that reneging on America’s commitment to the pact could cast the West into new confrontation with Tehran.
If the diplomats are correct, the announcement will be the most consequential national security decision of Mr. Trump’s 15 months in office — though it could be eclipsed in coming weeks by his direct negotiation with North Korea’s leader over surrendering its nuclear arsenal.
Of course he’ll never say it because cowards cannot admit the truth, but the only reason he’s doing this is because the nuclear deal was signed by Barack Obama. That’s it. If it had been done by any other person — even another Democrat — he’d have been able to live with it. But not Obama. He hates him that much.
Why? Well, aside from the obvious reasons — Mr. Obama is smart, cool under pressure, charming, charismatic, and able to work with people who disagree with him — there’s the inner truth that Trump has never accepted the fact that America really did vote to elect a black man twice over white men. And now his racism, never very well kept hidden, is in full fetid flower. Like the corpse plant that blooms with the stench of rotting meat that draws flies and their maggots, Trump exudes the stench of jealousy and entitlement that appeals to the base of his party that has seethed with impotent hatred for the man who proved that the American dream isn’t just for white guys anymore.
So just to prove that point and to make the world safe for bigots and toads, we’re back on the road to nuclear build-up and distrust because Trump believes that any deal not signed by him — and by extension any white con man — is an affront to the dignity of white people everywhere. Especially him.
Thursday, November 9, 2017
Sunday, October 22, 2017
Speak Up — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker.
Donald Trump’s two immediate predecessors as President, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both gave speeches on Thursday that, if you filled in the blanks, could be heard as criticizing him. Neither one of them mentioned Trump’s name. They both had valuable, even strong things to say. Obama, for example, in a rally in Richmond, Virginia, for Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate for governor there, which had been billed as Obama’s return to the campaign trail, talked about wanting someone with “honesty, integrity,” to make decisions, and at one point asked, almost plaintively, “Why are we deliberately trying to misunderstand each other, and be cruel to each other, and put each other down?” Bush, at an event in New York sponsored by the George W. Bush Presidential Center, was less subtle. “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication,” he said—though there was no particular conspiracy theory or lie that he named, and no particular liar.
Each man could say, fairly enough, that former Presidents tend to avoid direct criticism of the sitting one, but this rule, in practice, would seem to be a recent one, and not indispensible. (Theodore Roosevelt attacked, belittled, and mounted a primary challenge against a successor whom he had handpicked.) Bush could say that his speech, at a forum on liberty sponsored by the George W. Bush Center, was not the appropriate forum—that it had more reflective goals than narrowly partisan ones. Obama could also have offered a parallel reservation—since the goal was to turn out the vote for Northam without spurring Trump supporters to show up—that his speech had more narrowly partisan goals than reflective ones. But then where and when is the right time and place for something more?
Northam, in his opening remarks, wasn’t shy about saying that his opponent, Ed Gillespie, who has worked as a lobbyist, would be “Donald Trump’s chief lobbyist,” and that he and Trump were “cut from the same cloth.” This is a useful issue, which the Democrats need to practice raising for the midterms next year: Republican leaders have been willing support Trump, whatever they think of him personally or of his tweets. Obama, referring to Gillespie only as “Ralph’s opponent,” said that the ads that Gillespie was running against Northam, who, before going into politics, worked as a doctor at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center while serving in the military, and then as a pediatric neurologist, were “phony and divisive.” One ad is a montage of images of the MS-13 drug cartel, juxtaposing its motto—“Kill, Rape, Control”—with Northam’s support for sanctuary cities. (One shot shows a wall with a mural—a street-style painting of Northam and an MS-13 graffiti tag.) “I don’t think that anybody really thinks that somebody who spent his life performing surgery on soldiers and children suddenly is cozying up to street gangs,” Obama said. “That strains credulity—that sounds like a fib!” True—but maybe it would be helpful to note who else it sounds like? If Obama wants to campaign for his party—and wants his party to present a coherent alternative to Trumpism—he may need to be more than allusive.
This may come at the cost of a certain post-Presidential glow. It is valuable to have someone above the fray, but Obama, whether he likes it or not, is in it. Trump, in his press conference on Monday, portrayed himself as being in an open fight against Obama’s legacy, and he derides and even smears his predecessor at almost every turn. (Obama’s most direct response to this week’s theme, his supposed inattentiveness to military families, came when he mentioned, in relation to Northam’s career, his own frequent visits to Walter Reed.) Obama was so committed, on Thursday, to conveying the message that politics could and should be a sunny place that he cited the aftermath of the violent far-right rallies in Charlottesville as a moment when “the decency and goodwill of the American people came out.” And they did; but President Trump’s affinity for bigotry came out, too.
The elder-statesman stage of life is an appealing one. Bush, in his speech, mentioned his painting hobby. But this is a time when each man’s party needs him, if in different ways: the Democrats to organize their despair and anger, the Republicans to articulate the nature of their doubt and compromises. And others have set the stage for them. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, who is retiring at the end of his current term, recently said that almost everyone in his caucus knows “the volatility we’re dealing with” when it come to Trump, even if they don’t say so. Senator Jeff Flake is one of the few others who have been willing to say so and, in response, he has been subject to attacks from the President, with too few Republicans coming to his defense. John McCain gave a powerful speech in which he talked about “half-baked, spurious nationalism.” That speech didn’t name Trump, either. But McCain, who is gravely ill, has a prerogative to speak beyond the current political moment while he can. McCain has also criticized Trump by name, and put his own name down in a key vote protecting health-care coverage, knowing that the President would lash out at him. Bush echoed McCain’s language, no doubt deliberately, when he said, “We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism—forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.” But both Bush and Obama have more room to maneuver; they can take up McCain’s challenge and carry it further, if they want to.
This is particularly urgent because of what the White House has said recently about who does and doesn’t have a right to criticize the President directly. In Trump’s efforts to suppress complaints about the ongoing disaster in Puerto Rico, he has suggested that a Puerto Rican politician who doesn’t appreciate the greatness of the job he is doing is a liar and should be shut out. This view was also on display in the press conference that Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, gave yesterday, in which he lashed out against what he saw as the presumption of a congresswoman who had conveyed a young military widow’s sense that Trump had been callous in a condolence call about the death of her husband. Kelly connected this complaint to the loss of the “sacred” in America, yet he ignored the voice of Johnson’s mother, who also said that she found Trump disrespectful. This suggests that the problem was less protocol than dissent. In Kelly’s litany of lost values, he included this puzzling line: “Gold Star families, I think that left in the Convention over the summer.” In fact, the most notable moment concerning Gold Star families in last year’s conventions came at the Democratic gathering, when Khizr Khan, whose son Humayun was killed in Iraq, spoke out against Trump. The next round of conventions is sooner than one might think. Obama and Bush—if he is invited—might have powerful things to say at them. They’ve at least made a start. But they, more than most, can make their voices heard, and shouldn’t wait until 2020 to use them.
The Darkness Reaching Out — Charles P. Pierce.
Mr. Kelly said that he was stunned to see the criticism, which came from a Democratic congresswoman, Representative Frederica S. Wilson of Florida, after Mr. Trump delivered a similar message to the widow of one of the soldiers killed in Niger. Mr. Kelly said afterward that he had to collect his thoughts by going to Arlington National Cemetery for more than an hour. In a remarkable, somber appearance in the White House briefing room, Mr. Kelly, a retired Marine general whose son Second Lt. Robert Kelly was slain in battle in 2010, said he had told the president what he was told when he got the news.
“He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed,” Mr. Kelly recalled. “He knew what he was getting into by joining that one percent. He knew what the possibilities were, because we were at war.” “I was stunned when I came to work yesterday, and brokenhearted, when I saw what a member of Congress was doing,” he said. “What she was saying, what she was doing on TV. The only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go walk among the finest men or women on this earth.”
That’s how he gets absolved. That’s how he always gets absolved. There’s always somebody willing to step up and push their soul to the middle of the table for him to gamble with and, when he loses, because he always loses at the game of being human, he reneges on the bet because that’s what he always does. Of all the “generals,” Kelly always was the one closest to being a true Trumpian; his tenure at Homeland Security overseeing ICE showed with the president*’s Id-driven hardbar approach to immigration.
And now, by deploying the memory of his son, he’s given his inexcusable boss that boss’s most recent alibi for that boss’s most recent offense against human decency and the dignity of his office. There’s a great sadness in that.
It’s True — Facts from Sarah Hutto.
IN “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD,” the “zombies” were in fact very much alive, as the studio chose not to go through the Zombie Actors Equity. In retaliation, union zombies went on to overtake local drinking establishments, playing fantasy football for hours, dominating the jukebox with college rock and tipping poorly.
STEPHEN KING WAS INSPIRED to write “Pet Sematary” when he found out one of his sons had been sacrificing small animals in the family barn. When Mr. King confronted him, his son transformed into a weird clown who had the power of bringing forth all of Mr. King’s most deeply held insecurities at any given moment, prompting Mr. King to drive off wildly into the Maine woods in his car, which he also believed to be possessed. Soon after, he retired to Florida to write inappropriate children’s books under a different name.
WHILE FILMING “THE NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET,” the director Wes Craven felt that Freddy Kruger’s original costume of just fingernail extensions and a striped sweater wasn’t scary enough, so he decided to permanently melt Robert Englund’s face at the last moment for effect. The actor claims to have been typecast ever since as a result, as well as generally inconvenienced by the whole melted face thing.
ALFRED HITCHCOCK RELEASED “The Birds” in 1963 only to die 17 years later. Though it did not involve birds in any way, his death at age 80 was felt by many to be more than just coincidence.
FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER WAS first cousins with the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.” They shared a congenital defect of stiff joints and were both prescribed an oil can. Only the Tin Man got to use his oil can on set, and as a result was able to go on to star in “The Iron Giant,” “RoboCop” and “Mad Max.” Frankenstein’s monster unfortunately succumbed to his defect as well as the rust caused by his ungalvanized neck bolt.
IMMEDIATELY AFTER FILMING “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” Snoopy was rushed into surgery for a buildup of urethral crystals. He survived the surgery and was put on a low-starch diet, but was never quite the same after.
THE “OCT” PART OF OCTOBER means “eight” in Latin, which is now a dead language because it went skinny dipping at dusk in the lake, unlike French and German, which chose to remain at the bonfire with the rest of the group.
THERE’S NO SUCH THING as ghosts, but there are bugs that crawl into your ear canal while you’re sleeping and emit negative subliminal messages, ever eating away at your sense of well-being.
MOST PEOPLE KNOW more about Jamie Lee Curtis’s bowel issues than they do about Nafta.
THE REAL COSTUMES are the ones we wear the other 364 days of the year.
YOU’RE TURNING into your mother. Or your father. Whichever one is worse, you’re turning into.
CLIMATE CHANGE is real.
PUMPKINS are a fruit.
Doonesbury — Flashback.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Obama’s Parting Words — George Packer in The New Yorker.
After eight years, few lines from Barack Obama’s Presidential speeches stay in mind. For all his literary and oratorical gifts, he didn’t coin the kinds of phrases that stick with repetition, as if his distaste for politics generally—the schmoozing, the fakery—extended to the fashioning of slogans. He rarely turned to figurative language, and he never stooped to “Read my lips,” or even “Ask not what your country can do for you.” His most memorable phrase, “Yes we can,” spoke to the audacious odds of his own run for the Presidency, not a clear political vision. He sought to persuade by explaining and reasoning, not by simplifying or dramatizing—a form of respect that the citizenry didn’t always deserve.
This aversion to rhetoric, like Obama’s aloofness from Congress, is a personal virtue that hurt him politically. It’s connected to his difficulty in sustaining public support for his program and his party. Even the President’s hero, Abraham Lincoln, was a master of the poetic sound bite.
Obama’s farewell address from Chicago last week was one of the very best speeches of his Presidency. He had one overriding message: that American democracy is threatened—by economic inequality, by racial division, and, above all, by the erosion of democratic habits and institutions. Its urgency gave the speech an unusual rhetorical punch: “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life”; “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves”; “We sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.” Lines like these might not prove deathless, but because of their bluntness, and because the times are desperate, they hit hard.
Politicians are always letting the public off the hook—it might be the most unforgivably dishonest thing they do. Obama was more candid than most, reminding Americans that the quality of our democracy depends on us—on our capacity to reason and to empathize, our attachment to facts, our willingness to get our hands dirty even when the political game seems sordid or futile. The key word of the speech was “citizen,” which Obama called “the most important office in a democracy,” one that he’ll embrace in his post-Presidency. His exhortations and implications of blame were nonpartisan: conservatives might have heard their denial of science called out, while liberals might have been stung by the allusion to fair-weather activism. Whites and non-whites alike were urged to imagine inhabiting a different person’s skin.
Perhaps there was a degree of self-blame, too. For all the achievements that Obama is able to claim—from bringing health insurance to twenty million Americans to building a framework for slowing climate change—he couldn’t deliver a healthy democracy. He didn’t have the political skill to advance his abiding vision of a United States of America. Maybe no leader could have, but Obama’s opponents made sure of his failure.
Most Presidential farewell addresses are quickly forgotten. Hardly anyone knows that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both gave one, as did Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Those which endure are memorable for their warnings. When the new republic was still taking shape, in 1796, George Washington cautioned against domestic factionalism and foreign entanglements. At the height of the Cold War, in 1961, Dwight Eisenhower described a new “military-industrial complex” and a “scientific-technological élite” that were taking over public policy. Obama’s warning in Chicago—owing to its context, ten days before the Inauguration of President Donald Trump—felt even more dire. He quoted from Washington’s address, but not its most obviously relevant passage, on the danger of partisan demagoguery: “It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.”
If the President had quoted these words, he would have come close to naming the greatest threat to American democracy: his successor. Obama mentioned Trump only once, in passing. His aim was broader than one man, and his respect for the office kept the President from making it personal. (His chief speechwriter, Cody Keenan, said, “If there’s one democratic norm that he can protect even as all others are shredded, it’s the peaceful transfer of power.”) Instead, the President-elect haunted the farewell address like a spirit too malevolent to be named.
The following day, Trump materialized in the flesh, in Trump Tower, for his first press conference in nearly six months. He was even looser and cockier than usual. He insulted media organizations by name. He reversed his avowed position on Russian interference in the American election, as casually and as brazenly as he had once reversed himself on President Obama’s citizenship. He relived the night of his victory, one more time. He revelled in his immunity from conflict-of-interest law. (“I didn’t know about that until three months ago, but it’s a nice thing to have.”) He disparaged his Vice-President, who was in attendance, for not being rich enough to benefit from the same immunity. He congratulated himself for turning down a two-billion-dollar deal, which looked like a cartoonish bribe, from an Emirati businessman. He pretended to disentangle himself from the prospect of non-stop corruption during his Presidency. He told his sons to take care of the family business while he’s away, or else.
All the while, a retinue of aides cheered and laughed like the nervous flunkies of a Mob capo. It was impossible not to feel that, for Trump, the Presidency means a supreme chance for payback, revenge for the humiliation that seems to be his constant fear.
This is the last week of the Obama Presidency. Historians will argue over its meaning and its merits. But, for democratic integrity, there’s no argument, no contest. Obama’s final speech wasn’t just a warning—it will stand as an emblem of what we have been and perhaps can be.
The Illegitimate President — Joan Walsh on John Lewis.
On the day more unconfirmed, and maybe unconfirmable, details came out about the intelligence community’s intensifying investigation into ties between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russian government, tensions in Washington, DC, spiked. Dozens of House Democrats poured out of a briefing by FBI director James Comey and other intelligence agency leaders obviously furious, though they couldn’t disclose what they heard in the classified briefing. Representative Maxine Waters of California walked out to reporters and spit fire: “It’s classified and I can’t tell you anything. But the FBI director has no credibility!”
A short time later, Chuck Todd of NBC’s Meet the Press released a remarkable clip of his recent interview with Representative John Lewis, which will air on his show Sunday. In his calm, thoughtful, deliberate way, Lewis channeled Waters’s rage—and opened a new front in the campaign against Trump.
Would Lewis look for ways to cooperate with Trump, Todd asked? “It’s going to be very difficult. I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president. I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” Lewis told Todd. “I don’t plan to attend the inauguration. It will be the first one that I miss since I’ve been in Congress. You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong, is not right.”
Todd seemed shocked. “That’s gonna send a big message to a lot of people in this country,” the Meet the Press moderator said.
“I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others,” Lewis replied calmly. “That’s not right. That’s not fair, that’s not the open Democratic process.”
I’m not in the habit of trusting US intelligence agencies. I am in the habit of trusting Lewis. Right now progressive Democrats, including Senator Bernie Sanders, are hearing things from the intelligence agencies they are overwhemingly inclined to doubt, and yet they are reacting by at least demanding a bipartisan investigation into Russian interference with the election—and at most, like only Lewis so far, to say that Trump is not the “legitimate president.”
Will others follow? Representative Barbara Lee, another progressive stalwart, told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that she agrees with Lewis. The sole opponent of the Afghanistan intervention, a stalwart foe of the Iraq war, Lee had already said she would boycott Trump’s inauguration, but she acknowledged that Lewis went beyond where she did. And then she went there.
One Democrat who stepped out to kneecap Lewis is President Obama’s former campaign manager David Axelrod. The CNN contributor told the network Friday night that “I’m not comfortable” with Lewis’s calling Trump “illegitimate,” adding, “The greatest triumph for Russia would be to legitimate their charges about our democracy. I worry about our institutions. I worry that we’re in this mad cycle of destruction. I understand the outrage. But where is this all going?”
Axelrod acknowledged that Trump was the number-one peddler of birtherism—but insisted that this bolstered his argument. “One of my great concerns about the president-elect is that I think sometimes he has disregard for our institutions and norms and that contributes to a weakening of our democracy,” he continued. “So, I just don’t want to see this constant churning that leads to kind of a reflexive reaction every time a president gets elected who we don’t like.”
Let me break this down for Axelrod, though he knows everything that I do about American politics, and then some. Republicans are the ones who have a “reflexive reaction” to Democratic presidents they don’t like: peddling birther garbage and obstructing Barack Obama, after obstructing, then impeaching, Bill Clinton. The last GOP president, George W. Bush, although he lost the popular vote (like Trump) and owed his presidency to the Supreme Court, nonetheless got Democratic backing for his education-reform push, his Medicare-drug legislation, his tax cuts, and even his Iraq War authorization. There was no “reflexive” attempt to undermine Bush. He brought greater opposition on himself, including GOP opposition, with his disastrous war of choice in Iraq, his bungling of the occupation, his shameful neglect of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and his passivity in the face of evidence that shady banking practices were going to crash the economy.
So I’m going to go with Lewis, Lee, and Waters over David Axelrod on this one. I don’t want to bring race into anything where it doesn’t matter, but I did happen to notice all three leaders are African-American. Maybe that’s a coincidence. Or maybe it means that people who’ve seen the worst of American injustice are trying to warn the rest of us when it’s coming for us again.
Well, they did it as quickly as their Senate colleagues did, but at least the House of Representatives drove in the coffin nails during the daylight hours. After a morning of debate that was little more than two sides talking out loud past each other, the House voted 227-198 in favor of the kabuki budget resolution shipped across the Capitol from the Senate, a document that exists primarily as a mechanism for killing the Affordable Care Act through the budget reconciliation process. They want what they want and have the votes to get what they want, and that’s the way it’s going to be down here for a while.
On Thursday night, Speaker Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin, appeared at a televised town hall with Jake Tapper, and Ryan gave us all a preview of the various mendacities and inadequacies out of which his “bridge” from what we have now to whatever the Republicans finally devise will be built. It’s been seven years, and the answers are still fantastical (buy insurance across state lines), implausible (health-savings accounts!), total fakeouts (high-risk pools) and downright cruel (block-granting Medicaid back to the states).
As to the first, welcome to the Visa-MasterCard model of health insurance. As to the second, you, there, 52-year old unemployed steelworker, hope you put 200K away for chemotherapy instead of, you know, buying a house or eating dinner for your entire adult life. As to the third, high-risk pools will effectively bring back the pre-existing conditions nightmare, because no Republican legislator is going to vote to fund them at anywhere near the level at which they’ll need to be funded. (h/t Harold Pollack for pointing out the Tumulty piece.) And as to the last, all that’s going to get the country is some lovely paved roads leading to some Texas legislator’s fishing cabin.
The only real highlight came when a cancer survivor told Ryan that the ACA had saved his life and Ryan responded as though the guy were a waiter who’d mixed up his wine order.
But the cause of unspooling not merely the ACA, but a good part of the overall American healthcare system, went rolling along. The debate in the House Friday afternoon was instructive: There seems little doubt that a lot of energy being thrown into demolishing the ACA is pure, unresolved spite aimed at the president who signed it. Republican after Republican came to the podium to rail against Obamacare.
The rookie Republicans by far were the most entertaining. Jodey Arrington of Texas began by calling the ACA “Soviet-style central planning of our healthcare system,” which is hilariously wrong, but which must dazzle ’em back in Lubbock. Meanwhile, Matt Gaetz from Florida began his one-minute oration with a Shakespearean flourish, which brought to the proceedings all the gravitas of the average middle-school book report.
“Mr. Speaker, I come to bury Obamacare, not to praise it. The evil that men do lives on after them…”
Oh, just shut up, Fenwick. Honest to god.
The debate broke down along some easily distinguishable lines, although noted bag of hammers, Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin, spent a lot of time talking about how the ACA was part of a plot against marriage. The Republicans threw around numbers and the Democrats told stories about people from their districts who’d been helped by the ACA. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, who was managing the floor for the Democrats, and whose amendment to repurpose the budget gimmick to pay for infrastructure improvements sank like a stone later in the afternoon, responded to the numbers by reading off how many people in the states represented by Republican speakers would lose their health care and their jobs, and how much money each state would lose over the next five years.
When the Republicans ventured onto the narrative turf of the Democrats, they mostly spoke about small businesses that they claimed had collapsed under the weight of the new law. But Lloyd Smucker, who represents a district in and around Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, had a different tale to tell.
Smucker talked about the case of two of his constituents, Tim and Phyllis Hollinger. Tim’s on Medicare. (Good luck, Tim! Paul Ryan’s got just the scam for you!) Meanwhile, Phyllis got her insurance through one of the exchanges. She makes, according to Smucker, $53,000 a year. Her policy costs more than $1000 a month and her deductible is $2700. Luckily, though, through the provisions of the ACA, Phyllis gets a subsidy that covers 35 percent of the cost. Good for you, Phyllis. That’s the way the law is supposed to work. That’s the Affordable part of the Affordable Care Act at work.
However, according to Congressman Smucker, the subsidy is the problem.
Phyllis receives a federal subsidy that covers 35% of that monthly cost. She takes pride in the fact that she’s never taken a government handout in her life. Now that she’s on Obamacare, the American taxpayers have to subsidize her healthcare. (Ed. Note: also yours, Congressman.) To Phyllis, that’s not right. To Phyllis, this is about her pride and she’s not asking for a lot. She’s simply asking that she have access to affordable healthcare that doesn’t require the American taxpayers to help her pay for it.
And that, not Meryl Streep, is how Donald Trump became president.
I have no idea whether or not Smucker is making this whole thing up, but I do know that, if and when the ACA is finally chloroformed, Phyllis’ pride better be convertible into gold or hard cash money because she’s going to need it. And, as an American taxpayer, I’d like to tell Phyllis not to worry. She’s good for it.
I mean, Jesus, who thinks like this—besides approximately 45 percent of American voters, that is? It’s one thing to make a political career out of calling people moochers, but it’s a vast distance from that to convincing people that they are somehow moochers themselves. You have to admit, the messaging against the ACA has had a remarkable market penetration among the people who need it the most. Let me get sick and die rather than have your help.
Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin watched how that messaging played out in the last campaign.
“They were very effective with a political message saying ‘We’re going to repeal and replace it.’ And then they won! They won the White House, the Supreme Court arguably, both chambers of the Congress, and now it appears to have been a fig leaf because now it looks like they’re going to unravel the whole health care system, not just the 20 million who benefitted directly from the Affordable Care Act, but those people with the private plans who are going to be facing lifetime caps, facing the pre-existing conditions. It’s confounding to me. They now have the message—we’re gonna repeal it and then we’ll replace it once you guys give us another kick at the can two years from now. They’re hoping the people are stupid.”
The project continues apace, however, and sometime in the next few months, Phyllis Hollinger and millions like her will be free of the guilt that comes from being healthy at the public expense. The cool breeze of freedom once again will blow across the fields and prairies, across the rivers and mountains, and through the doors of overcrowded emergency rooms. Feel the cool breeze.
Unless, of course, you have chronic asthma. Then you’re on your own, pal.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
The President spoke in Chicago last night. Here’s the video (auto-play) and transcript via the Los Angeles Times.
My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won’t stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my days that remain. For now, whether you’re young or young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your president – the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago.
I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.
I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written:
Yes We Can.
Yes We Did.
Yes We Can.
Thank you, Mr. President.
Monday, December 19, 2016
Michael D. Shear in the New York Times yesterday:
They are President-elect Donald J. Trump’s disrupters.
Seven men and one woman named by Mr. Trump to run vast government agencies share a common trait: once they are confirmed, their presence is meant to unnerve — and maybe even outright undermine — the bureaucracies they are about to lead.
Some of those chosen — 17 picks so far for federal agencies and five for the White House — are among the most radical selections in recent history. Other presidents’ nominees, even when controversial, were often veterans of the Washington bureaucracy and generally believed in it. But a number of Mr. Trump’s most important selections have no experience in federal government and a great drive to undo it.
Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma state attorney general who was picked to lead the E.P.A., rejects the established science of human-caused climate change and has built his career on fighting environmental regulations. At the Education Department, Betsy DeVos wants to steer government money away from traditional public schools. Rick Perry was picked to head the Energy Department — unless he eliminates it, as he once promised.
“Donald Trump ran to make the governing people uncomfortable,” said Andrew H. Card Jr., who served as chief of staff to former President George W. Bush and as transportation secretary for his father. “He clearly picked people to lead some of these departments who will be challenging to the insiders.”
Okay, so basically Trump is picking people with the sole intent of pissing off the establishment. He said he would do that, so yip yah. But then what?
He — and the Republicans in Congress — said they will repeal Obamacare. Then what? So far their suggestions for replacing it sound a lot like Obamacare.
He said he was going to “fix the budget” and he’s appointed a Tea Party balanced-budget amendment advocate to do it, but he also said he was going to cut taxes massively, and that will explode the deficit. Then what?
He said he was going to let oil and gas exploration run rampant over the nation and appointed Rick Perry, who couldn’t remember the name of the agency, to be Secretary of Energy so he could dismantle the department. Then what?
Once again we are staring into the vacant eyes of people who are fond of giving us ten-word answers but can’t come up with the next ten or the ten after that. All they seem interested in doing is tearing down anything with Obama’s name on it and standing victoriously on the pile of rubble they’ve created. But then what?
The objective seems to be to make the world and America forget that Barack Obama was ever the President of the United States. That the eight years between 2009 and 2017 were just a fevered dream of a bunch of liberals and multicultural PC police and anything accomplished was both temporary and invisible. The idea that a white man and his cronies were shut out of power for even one moment is totally unacceptable to them and like the moment in English history when the monarchy was abolished and Cromwell ruled the land, it was a just an aberration. It didn’t happen and any evidence of that alternate universe must be torn down.
Actually, they want to go further back than just the last eight years. They would love to tear down remnants of many previous administrations: Carter and the Energy Department, Nixon and the EPA, Johnson and Medicare, Franklin Roosevelt and Social Security, and even Theodore Roosevelt and his agenda against “malefactors of great wealth.”
Then what? That’s the question we should be asking ourselves because clearly Trump does not have the answers. We have to not only resist the demolition but strengthen what we believe in. We can’t curl up in a ball in the corner and wait for the next Barack Obama to come along or waste gallons of ink and hours of code debating “identity politics” (newsflash: all politics is “identity politics”). We stand in front of the wrecking ball or we fight them with every legal means possible. We use their weight against themselves. We pursue the truth relentlessly and stop accepting the status as quo. We elect progressives to the local school board and the county commission. We clean up the creek behind our house and make our streets safe for everyone. We engage our neighbors in finding the common goals of what we expect from each other, not what’s in it for me. Most importantly, we stop trying to exploit the nameless and abstract fears that breed paranoia and distrust that lead to the ten-word answers but no solution.
Maybe then we’ll be on the way to finding out what’s what.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
“My President Was Black” — An excerpt from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s thoughts on the legacy of Barack Obama.
Last spring, I went to the White House to meet the president for lunch. I arrived slightly early and sat in the waiting area. I was introduced to a deaf woman who worked as the president’s receptionist, a black woman who worked in the press office, a Muslim woman in a head scarf who worked on the National Security Council, and an Iranian American woman who worked as a personal aide to the president. This receiving party represented a healthy cross section of the people Donald Trump had been mocking, and would continue to spend his campaign mocking. At the time, the president seemed untroubled by Trump. When I told Obama that I thought Trump’s candidacy was an explicit reaction to the fact of a black president, he said he could see that, but then enumerated other explanations. When assessing Trump’s chances, he was direct: He couldn’t win.
This assessment was born out of the president’s innate optimism and unwavering faith in the ultimate wisdom of the American people—the same traits that had propelled his unlikely five-year ascent from Illinois state senator to U.S. senator to leader of the free world.* The speech that launched his rise, the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, emerged right from this logic. He addressed himself to his “fellow Americans, Democrats, Republicans, independents,” all of whom, he insisted, were more united than they had been led to believe. America was home to devout worshippers and Little League coaches in blue states, civil libertarians and “gay friends” in red states. The presumably white “counties around Chicago” did not want their taxes burned on welfare, but they didn’t want them wasted on a bloated Pentagon budget either. Inner-city black families, no matter their perils, understood “that government alone can’t teach our kids to learn … that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.”
Perceived differences were the work of “spinmasters and negative-ad peddlers who embrace the politics of ‘anything goes.’ ” Real America had no use for such categorizations. By Obama’s lights, there was no liberal America, no conservative America, no black America, no white America, no Latino America, no Asian America, only “the United States of America.” All these disparate strands of the American experience were bound together by a common hope:
It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a mill worker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.
This speech ran counter to the history of the people it sought to address. Some of those same immigrants had firebombed the homes of the children of those same slaves. That young naval lieutenant was an imperial agent for a failed, immoral war. American division was real. In 2004, John Kerry did not win a single southern state. But Obama appealed to a belief in innocence—in particular a white innocence—that ascribed the country’s historical errors more to misunderstanding and the work of a small cabal than to any deliberate malevolence or widespread racism. America was good. America was great.
Over the next 12 years, I came to regard Obama as a skilled politician, a deeply moral human being, and one of the greatest presidents in American history. He was phenomenal—the most agile interpreter and navigator of the color line I had ever seen. He had an ability to emote a deep and sincere connection to the hearts of black people, while never doubting the hearts of white people. This was the core of his 2004 keynote, and it marked his historic race speech during the 2008 campaign at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center—and blinded him to the appeal of Trump. (“As a general proposition, it’s hard to run for president by telling people how terrible things are,” Obama once said to me.)
But if the president’s inability to cement his legacy in the form of Hillary Clinton proved the limits of his optimism, it also revealed the exceptional nature of his presidential victories. For eight years Barack Obama walked on ice and never fell. Nothing in that time suggested that straight talk on the facts of racism in American life would have given him surer footing.
I had met the president a few times before. In his second term, I’d written articles criticizing him for his overriding trust in color-blind policy and his embrace of “personal responsibility” rhetoric when speaking to African Americans. I saw him as playing both sides. He would invoke his identity as a president of all people to decline to advocate for black policy—and then invoke his black identity to lecture black people for continuing to “make bad choices.” In response, Obama had invited me, along with other journalists, to the White House for off-the-record conversations. I attempted to press my points in these sessions. My efforts were laughable and ineffective. I was always inappropriately dressed, and inappropriately calibrated in tone: In one instance, I was too deferential; in another, too bellicose. I was discombobulated by fear—not by fear of the power of his office (though that is a fearsome and impressive thing) but by fear of his obvious brilliance. It is said that Obama speaks “professorially,” a fact that understates the quickness and agility of his mind. These were not like press conferences—the president would speak in depth and with great familiarity about a range of subjects. Once, I watched him effortlessly reply to queries covering everything from electoral politics to the American economy to environmental policy. And then he turned to me. I thought of George Foreman, who once booked an exhibition with multiple opponents in which he pounded five straight journeymen—and I suddenly had some idea of how it felt to be the last of them.
Last spring, we had a light lunch. We talked casually and candidly. He talked about the brilliance of LeBron James and Stephen Curry—not as basketball talents but as grounded individuals. I asked him whether he was angry at his father, who had abandoned him at a young age to move back to Kenya, and whether that motivated any of his rhetoric. He said it did not, and he credited the attitude of his mother and grandparents for this. Then it was my turn to be autobiographical. I told him that I had heard the kind of “straighten up” talk he had been giving to black youth, for instance in his 2013 Morehouse commencement address, all my life. I told him that I thought it was not sensitive to the inner turmoil that can be obscured by the hardness kids often evince. I told him I thought this because I had once been one of those kids. He seemed to concede this point, but I couldn’t tell whether it mattered to him. Nonetheless, he agreed to a series of more formal conversations on this and other topics.
The improbability of a black president had once been so strong that its most vivid representations were comedic. Witness Dave Chappelle’s profane Black Bush from the early 2000s (“This nigger very possibly has weapons of mass destruction! I can’t sleep on that!”) or Richard Pryor’s black president in the 1970s promising black astronauts and black quarterbacks (“Ever since the Rams got rid of James Harris, my jaw’s been uptight!”). In this model, so potent is the force of blackness that the presidency is forced to conform to it. But once the notion advanced out of comedy and into reality, the opposite proved to be true.
Obama’s DNC speech is the key. It does not belong to the literature of “the struggle”; it belongs to the literature of prospective presidents—men (as it turns out) who speak not to gravity and reality, but to aspirations and dreams. When Lincoln invoked the dream of a nation “conceived in liberty” and pledged to the ideal that “all men are created equal,” he erased the near-extermination of one people and the enslavement of another. When Roosevelt told the country that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he invoked the dream of American omnipotence and boundless capability. But black people, then living under a campaign of terror for more than half a century, had quite a bit to fear, and Roosevelt could not save them. The dream Ronald Reagan invoked in 1984—that “it’s morning again in America”—meant nothing to the inner cities, besieged as they were by decades of redlining policies, not to mention crack and Saturday-night specials. Likewise, Obama’s keynote address conflated the slave and the nation of immigrants who profited from him. To reinforce the majoritarian dream, the nightmare endured by the minority is erased. That is the tradition to which the “skinny kid with a funny name” who would be president belonged. It is also the only tradition in existence that could have possibly put a black person in the White House.
One of my best experiences traveling with the campaign was going to Sunday services at Mother Emanuel in Charleston, South Carolina, and not just because Bernie Sanders and I partook in a Baptist service at the same time in the same sacred place. (I imagined Bernie’s ancestors and my Papist forebears helping each other revolve under their respective sods.) It was a remarkable place from the time of its founding, and it is an even more remarkable place now, since it was baptized in the blood of its congregation on an awful night in June of 2015.
That’s why it became a stop on at least the Democratic side of the 2016 presidential campaign. It was why I was blessed to sit in the back row and pray with the ushers. Before the service, however, I went downstairs where the weekly Scripture study was being held. It was in that same basement that Dylann Roof had unleashed his arsenal six months earlier.
“When I think of repentance and forgiveness,” said one woman, her index finger marking a place in her Bible, “I think of the thief on the cross next to Jesus.” The lesson on many Sundays since last June 17 has been about repentance and forgiveness, both here in the church and out in the country.
On Thursday afternoon, to nobody’s real surprise, Roof was convicted on 33 counts, including nine counts of murder with a hate crime enhancement, for the killing he did in the basement of Mother Emanuel. Of course, the real test will come in January, when the same jury gathers to decide whether the federal government—which is to say, you and me and the President of the United States—should kill Dylann Roof as dead as he killed the nine people on that night in June. And that is not as easy as you might think.
From the start, as The New York Times reported in November, the families of the victims have been opposed to the imposition of the death penalty on the murderer of their husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters.
“My humanness is being broken, my humanness of wanting this man to be broken beyond punishment,” Ms. Risher said. “You can’t do that if you really say that you believe in the Bible and you believe in Jesus Christ. You can’t just waver.”
Don’t kill him in my name. (If the state of South Carolina wants to kill him in the name of its citizens, it will have that chance at a later date.) I worshipped with the people who have the best reasons of all to demand his blood, and they don’t want it. Neither do many of the South Carolinians who have good reasons to demand his blood, but better reasons to doubt the essential justice of the death penalty.
A University of South Carolina survey, conducted last spring, found that 55 percent of South Carolina residents supported a death sentence for Mr. Roof. But divisions among black and white residents were stark: The poll showed that only 31 percent of black residents wanted Mr. Roof to face execution, while some 64 percent of whites backed the use of capital punishment in the case.
My own opposition to the death penalty is beside the point here. This is coming from the day I spent in worship on what one night was a killing ground, and it’s coming from the indomitability of the people who still come there to pray for a better world. I remember what that woman at Scripture study said.
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
—Luke 23: 40-43.
Resistance — John Cassidy in The New Yorker on nine ways to oppose Trump.
Over the past few weeks, a number of anguished friends and acquaintances, and even some strangers, have got in touch with me to ask what they might do to oppose Donald Trump. Being a fellow sufferer from OATS—Obsessing About Trump Syndrome—my first instinct has been to tell people to get off social media and take a long walk. It won’t do anybody much good, except possibly Trump, if large numbers of people who voted against him send themselves mad by constantly reading about him, cursing him, and recirculating his latest outrages.
But, of course, taking a mental-health break is only a first step toward preserving the Republic. As a daily columnist, I see my role as trying to analyze and critique the Trump program, while also trying to understand some of the phenomena that allowed him to blag his way to the verge of the White House. But for those who want to take a more direct approach, here are some suggestions, starting with something you can do immediately:
1. Go to change.org and join the 4.9 million people who have signed a petition calling on members of the Electoral College to reject Trump. Then contact the electors for your state directly and tell them your concerns. On Monday, the five hundred and thirty eight electors will choose a new President. According to the Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, between twenty and thirty Republican electors are ready to vote against Trump. To deny him a majority, the number would need to reach thirty-seven. Most observers think that won’t happen, and, even if it did, the task of electing a President would pass to the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, which would almost certainly vote for Trump. But a big protest vote in the Electoral College could still have great deal of symbolic importance.
A central part of the self-serving Trump narrative is that he won an electoral landslide. That is nonsense, of course. He got about forty-six per cent of the vote, he carried several states by less than one per cent, and Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.7 million votes. But how to manifest these figures? There is no modern precedent for a large-scale revolt against a President-elect in the Electoral College. If one emerges this time, it will send a powerful message to the world that a majority of Americans don’t want Trump as their President.
2. Attend the Women’s March on Washington, which will take place on Saturday, January 21st. What better way to demonstrate the scale of the opposition to Trump than to stage a huge protest on his new doorstep the very day after his Inauguration? On Thursday, the Washington, D.C., police department confirmed that it has issued a permit for the march, which will start at Independence Avenue and Third Street Southwest, right in front of the Capitol. From there, the demonstrators will march west along Independence Avenue, which is on the southern edge of the National Mall. Despite the fact that the marchers won’t be allowed near the Lincoln Memorial, which the National Park Service has cordoned off at the request of the Trump Inauguration committee, they will be clearly visible from the White House.
On Thursday afternoon, a hundred and forty seven thousand people had indicated on Facebook that they intend to be there, but the actual numbers could be much larger. And, despite the name of the march, it is definitely not restricted to people with two X chromosomes. According to its organizers, “any person, regardless of gender or gender identity, who believes women’s rights are human rights” is welcome to attend. Effectively, the march is an opportunity for anybody who opposes Trump to get out there and be heard.
3.Contribute to organizations that will oppose Trump and the Republican agenda. In the wake of Trump’s victory on November 8th, a number of well-known liberal groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League, the Sierra Club, and Planned Parenthood, reported that they had seen a surge in donations and volunteers. That was encouraging news for opponents of Trump, but it was only a start. Given his illiberal instincts, the nature of his Cabinet picks, and the scale of the Republican Party’s ambitions in rolling back the welfare and regulatory state, the battle ahead is likely to be long and bitter, waged on local, regional, and national fronts.
In this contest of words and wills, all sorts of different groups will be in need of financial support, from national organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations to the political-action funds of the labor unions that will be targeted by Republican governors and their corporate allies to local groups of lawyers trying to help undocumented immigrants who could be targeted for deportation. You can find lists of organizations opposed to Trump here, here, and here.
4. Support independent journalism.Trump is clearly obsessed with the media, and for good reason. Like all skilled propagandists, he knows that journalists represent a potential threat to him and his shameless efforts to traduce the truth. With his popular social-media feeds, and the support of an upstart right-wing press, he has found a way to go around the mainstream media and, when he deems necessary, to confront it head on. But, for all the power of Twitter, fake news, and the social-media echo chamber, real news can still break through all the noise.
Witness the past week’s revelations in the Washington Post and the New York Times about Russian efforts to interfere in the American election. For once, Trump was put on the defensive. For months, he has claimed that nobody knows who carried out the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and other targets: at one point, he suggested it could have been a “four-hundred-pound guy” lying in bed. Last weekend, he called a C.I.A. assessment that Moscow had tried to help him win the election “ridiculous.”
But this week Trump was powerless to prevent leading Republicans, including John McCain and Mitch McConnell, from calling for congressional hearings on the extent and origins of the Russian cyberattacks. Many Presidents in the past have come to fear getting caught inside the Bermuda triangle of prying journalists, official leakers, and congressional committees. But for the oversight process to work there needs to be a thriving and independent press.
5. Get engaged on a personal level. Giving money is one thing, but making a donation to help someone else oppose Trump is no substitute for individual and collective mobilization. In any liberal democracy, the ultimate guardian of decency and civil liberties is an active civil society, which can push back against efforts to mislead the public, flout accepted norms, and centralize power. That’s why, usually, one of the first thing that would-be autocrats do when they take power is attack civil society.
But what is civil society? In addition to big national organizations, such as labor unions, the A.C.L.U., and the N.A.A.C.P., civil society comprises countless local groups, including charities, environmental activists, church groups, think tanks, reading groups, peace campaigners, parents’ associations, and youth groups. It encompasses any group that mediates between the individual, the government, and the market, and whose goal is promoting the common good. The thing to do is to pick an organization that reflects your personal interests or an issue that motivates you, get involved, and stick with it.
6. Contact your congressman and senator and tell them to stand up to Trump. For good or ill, the first line of defense against a Trumpian erosion of democracy will be the U.S. Capitol. As the Trump Administration moves forward with its reactionary agenda, it will be up to legislators in both parties not to cut deals that target the weak, encroach upon civil rights, or enrich the new first family. Thanks to the Internet and a growing number of apps, it is now very simple to find your elected representatives and let them know what you think.
Surprising as it may be to some skeptics, elected officials do listen to their constituents, especially when they get in touch with them personally in large numbers. I relearned this lesson when I was reporting on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, to which many powerful financial interests were staunchly opposed. Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who co-sponsored the legislation, told me that the only reason he and his allies managed to overcome Republican opposition, and Wall Street’s efforts to win over some Democrats, was that they managed to mobilize enough ordinary people to exert pressure on their elected representatives. In this case, the public will need to be vigilant and involved across a broad range of policy areas.
7. Support local initiatives to resist the Trump and Republican agenda. Last week, Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento, California, put forward a series of measures designed to protect undocumented immigrants in the state from deportation. “We are telling the next Administration and Congress: if you want to get to them, you have to go through us,” Anthony Rendon, the speaker of the State Assembly, said. And earlier this week Jerry Brown, California’s governor, vowed to fight any efforts by the incoming Administration to roll back efforts to tackle climate change. Reacting to a suggestion from one of Trump’s advisers that he could eliminate NASA‘s earth-science programs, which have done much to illuminate the advance of global warming, Brown said, “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers, and we’re ready to fight. . . . If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.”
Other Democrat-dominated states, such as Massachusetts and New York, are thinking along similar lines, particularly when it comes to mounting legal challenges to some of Trump’s program. And, ironically, they are taking a lead from Republican-run states, such as Oklahoma and Texas, which have challenged many of President Obama’s initiatives in court, such as his effort to use the Clean Air Act to reduce CO2 emissions. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
8. Support electoral reform. Ultimately, Trump’s win was enabled by America’s antiquated electoral system, which was designed to prevent each vote from counting equally. In still relying on the Electoral College and the rule that says each state has two seats in the U.S. Senate, we are beholden to the prejudices and interests of an eighteenth-century ruling class that was white, landed, and dedicated to preserving the prerogatives of individual states.
With the winner of the popular vote having lost two of the past five Presidential elections, you might think there would be a movement to change the system—and there is. It’s called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, and it’s an agreement among a group of states to award all of their votes in the Electoral College to the candidate who wins the popular vote. The beauty of this scheme is that it doesn’t require a constitutional amendment to insure a truly democratic outcome. But it does need the support of states with two hundred and seventy electoral votes among them, and so far only ten states, representing a hundred and sixty-five votes, have signed on.
I asked my friend and colleague Hendrik Hertzberg, who is a longtime advocate of reforming the electoral system at all levels of U.S. government, what people could do to promote the cause. He wrote back, “If you live in one of the forty states that have not yet signed on to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact write—better, call—your state legislators and ask them to get on with it. And send some love (and some bucks) to FairVote.org, which just helped Maine become the first state in the nation to adopt ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, for all its important offices, including its congressional delegation. Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight.”
9. Be smart: violence would only help Trump. Inevitably, there are going to be many more protests after the women’s march. That is as it should be. The right to protest is a fundamental tenet of democracy, and Trump isn’t just another President: he’s a shameless demagogue. But for now the onus is on the protest organizers and participants to try to keep things peaceful, even if they are provoked by counterdemonstrators or aggressive policing. Doing otherwise would be counterproductive.
History shows that violent political protests often produce a backlash from the public at large—a fact that Richard Nixon, among others, exploited with ruthless effectiveness. Trump, in his speech at the Republican National Convention, has already portrayed himself as Nixon’s heir, and, should things get ugly, he would revel in presenting himself as the upholder of law and order. Genuine authoritarians welcome disorder as an excuse to crack down on all forms of dissent. In many cases, they have fomented incidents of violence for this purpose.
At this stage, Trump is still a President in the making. Some of his critics view him as a would-be authoritarian despot; others think he’s more interested in lining his own pockets. (Of course, it is possible that his ambition is both of these things.) Yet others think he lacks the attention span to be a genuine menace, and that he will merely serve as the front man for Republican ideologues like Mike Pence and Paul Ryan. Before very long, we’ll find out. In the interim, there are lots of ways to get involved and retain your sanity.
Doonesbury — “News”
Sunday, November 20, 2016
If It Goosesteps… — Peter Dreier in the Huffington Post.
Donald Trump isn’t Hitler. The United States is not Weimar Germany. Our economic problems are nowhere as bad as those in Depression-era Germany. Nobody in the Trump administration (not even Steven Bannon) is calling for genocide (although saber-rattling with nuclear weapons could lead to global war if we’re not careful).
That said, it is useful for liberals, progressives and radicals to think and strategize as though we face that kind of situation. None of us in our lifetimes have confronted an American government led by someone like Trump in terms of his sociopathic, demagogic, impulsive, thin-skinned and vindictive personality (not even Nixon came close), his right-wing inner circle, his reactionary and dangerous policy agenda on foreign policy; the economy; the environment; health care; immigration; civil liberties; and poverty; his willingness to overtly invoke all the worst ethnic, religious, and racial hatreds in order to appeal to the most despicable elements of our society and unleash an upsurge of racism, anti-semitism, sexual assault, and nativism by the KKK and other hate groups; his lack of understanding about Constitutional principles and the rule of law; and his lack of experience with collaboration and compromise. All this while presiding over a federal government in which all three branches are controlled by right-wing corporate-funded Republicans. We may be lucky to discover that Trump might be an incompetent leader and unable to unite the Republicans, but we shouldn’t count on it.
In such a situation, progressive movements, journalists and Congressmembers face a dilemma and some strategic choices:
On the one hand:
- Treat Trump and his administration as “normal” politicians and government officials?
- Try to negotiate compromises to get the best deal to make life less desperate for vulnerable people?
- Encourage Trump to be “pragmatic,” as President Obama (trying to look sincere) did the other day, and, as some Democrats are suggesting, “give Trump a chance”?
- Allow Trump to use the media as a megaphone to announce his appointments and his policy ideas as though he was a “normal” President with a consistent ideology and a willingness to compromise?
- Cover Trump with the typical “he said/she said” journalistic formula — he makes an announcement and the press finds a Democrat or a liberal to provide the “other” perspective, as though they were equally valid (ie climate change is a “hoax” (Trump) versus climate change is real (99.9% of scientists)? (The current phrase for this misleading approach is “false equivalence”)
- Refuse to treat Trump as a “normal” politicians and refuse to legitimate his regime?
- Refuse to cover Trump in the media as though his ideas were legitimate, but rather assume that almost everything he says is a lie or a half-truth?
- Maintain an all-out effort to constantly remind the public of Trump’s ugly and outrageous views and his sociopathic and sexist behavior, including full coverage of all the criminal and civil lawsuits against him?
- Be prepared to take advantage of his character flaws that will likely lead to lots of outrageous and embarrassing comments?
- Refuse to compromise on legislation and instead make him and the GOP own his agenda so he takes the blame when people suffer?
- Develop and constantly promote a clear, easy-to-understand progressive policy agenda as an alternative to Trump’s agenda — a kind of shadow cabinet — to remind Americans that there IS a better way to run the country and win the support of many Americans who failed to vote or who voted for Trump?
- Spend the next two and four years mobilizing opposition to obstruct almost everything he seeks to do, while laying the groundwork to win a majority in the House in 2018 and win back the White House in 2020 by raising money and investing in organizing campaigns in key swing districts and states ASAP?
- Try, as best we can, to avoid the left’s proclivity to fragment and divide itself via issue silos, organizational turf battles, personality disputes, and constituency rivalries?
In the not-too-distant future, we can try to translate our progressive policy agenda into actual policies — adopting campaign finance reform, immigration reform, stronger environmental regulations, stricter rules on Wall Street, and greater investment in jobs and anti-poverty programs; turning Election Day into a national holiday, reforming our labor laws, protecting women’s right to choose, expanding LGBT rights, making our tax system more progressive, reforming our racist criminal justice system, investing more public dollars in job-creating infrastructure and clean energy projects; adopting paid family leave, and expanding health insurance to all and limiting the influence of the drug and insurance industry.
But, at the moment, our stance must be one of resistance and opposition.
The Trump presidency and Trumpism is a new phenomenon in our country’s history. Never before has such an authoritarian personality been president. We’ve had demagogues in the House and Senate, but never in the Oval Office. The best primer to understand what we’re facing is Philip Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, a counter-factual history in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt is defeated in the 1940 presidential election by the pro-Hitler, anti-Semitic aviator Charles Lindbergh.
It is not enough simply to proceed with caution. We must view Trump as a real threat to our institutions, to our democracy, and to our future.
The Morning After — David Remnick of The New Yorker rode along with President Obama during the last days of the campaign. Here’s a portion of the article.
My longest recent conversation with Obama came the day after he first met with President-elect Donald Trump, in the Oval Office. I arrived at the West Wing waiting area at around nine-thirty. There was a copy of USA Today on the table. The headline was “RISE IN RACIST ACTS FOLLOWS ELECTION.” It was accompanied by a photograph of a softball-field dugout in Wellsville, New York, spray-painted with a swastika and the words “Make America White Again.” The paper reported other such acts in Maple Grove, Minnesota, at the University of Vermont Hillel Organization, and at Texas State University, in San Marcos, where police were trying to determine who had distributed flyers reading “Now that our man Trump is elected and Republicans own both the Senate and the House—time to organize tar & feather VIGILANTE SQUADS and go arrest and torture those deviant university leaders spouting off all this diversity garbage.”
Below that story was an account of Obama’s encounter with Trump. Obama had steeled himself for the meeting, determined to act with high courtesy and without condescension. His task was to impress upon Trump the gravity of the office. He seemed to take pains not to offend the always-offendable Trump, lest he lose what influence he might still have on the political future of the country and the new Administration. Obama was also trying to engage the world in a willing suspension of disbelief, attempting to calm markets and minds, to reassure foreign leaders and, perhaps most of all, millions of Americans that Trump’s election did not necessarily spell the end of democracy, or the rise of an era of chaos and racial enmity, or the suspension of the Constitution. This is not the apocalypse.
And yet even in the West Wing few could put up the same front. That much was clear when, the morning after the election, Obama and Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, had met with groups of staffers. (The two acted “almost like grief counsellors,” one source said.) Obama told his staff not to lose their spirit, to keep their eyes on “the long game.” Soon after the election had been called for Trump, Obama told them, Ben Rhodes had e-mailed to say that sometimes history zigzags. Obama seized on that.
“A lot of you are young and this is your first rodeo,” Obama told the staffers in the Oval Office, a source recalled. “For some of you, all you’ve ever known is winning. But the older people here, we have known loss. And this stings. This hurts.” It’s easy to be hopeful when things are going well, he went on, but when you need to be hopeful is when things are at their worst. That line reminded one senior aide of Obama’s last speech to the U.N. General Assembly, a defense of the liberal order that was willfully optimistic at a moment when illiberal currents were coursing all over the world. Now, in his own home, Obama sought to buck his people up and get them into a professional frame of mind. He praised the Bush Administration, which he had criticized so sharply throughout the 2008 campaign, for the generosity and efficiency with which its people had assisted in the transition, and he told his people to do the same, to be “gracious hosts” of the most well-known address in the United States. He asked them to make sure that even their body language radiated a sense of pride and coöperation.
But there was little that could soften the blow, either inside the White House or in the great world beyond. Trump’s victory did not merely endanger Obama’s legacy of progressive legislation or international agreements. It unnerved countless women, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and L.G.B.T. people, as well as professionals in national security, the press, and many other institutions. (And this was before Trump appointed Stephen Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, as his senior counsellor.)
The outcome of the election was also a blow to those who anticipated major advances for the Democratic Party: it wrested over-all control of just one additional state legislature, and remains a minority in both houses of Congress, having gained only a handful of new seats in the House of Representatives, and only two in the Senate. Democrats saw a net loss of two governorships, leaving fewer than a third of the states with Democratic governors. The party of F.D.R. and Robert Kennedy was at its weakest point in decades and had been cast as heedless of the concerns of white working people.
Nor was there any secret why Vladimir Putin and the Russian political élite were so tickled by Trump’s ascent. Yes, Trump represents, to them, a “useful idiot,” a weak, discombobulated, history-less leader who will likely be content to leave Russia to its own devices, from Ukraine to the Baltic states. But Putin may also think of himself as the chief ideologist of the illiberal world, a counter to what he sees as the hypocritical and blundering West. He has always shown support for nativist leaders such as Marine Le Pen, in France; now he had a potential ally in the White House. Suddenly, Germany, led by Angela Merkel, was the lonely bulwark of Europe and Atlanticism. And even she faced a strong nativist challenge, for the sin of admitting thousands of Syrian refugees into the country.
The White House was, as one staffer told me, “like a funeral home.” You could see it all around: aides walking through the lobby, hunched, hushed, vacant-eyed. In a retrospective mood, staffers said that, as Obama told me, Clinton would have been an “excellent” President, but they also voiced some dismay with her campaign: dismay that she had seemed to stump so listlessly, if at all, in the Rust Belt; dismay that the Clinton family’s undeniable taste for money could not be erased by good works; dismay that she was such a middling retail politician. There was inevitable talk about Joe Biden, who might have done better precisely where Clinton came up short: in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio. And there was the fury at James Comey, who had clearly stalled Clinton’s late momentum, and at the evidence that Russia had altered the course of an American election through a cyber-espionage mission that was conducted in conjunction with Julian Assange and warmly received by the Republican candidate.
Three days after Trump’s victory, Obama was scheduled to go to Arlington National Cemetery and deliver the annual Veterans Day address to thousands of vets and their families. The President’s limousine, the Beast, and a long line of black vans and security vehicles were lined up and waiting on the south drive of the White House. It was hard not to see it, considering the mood of the previous few days, and the destination, as a kind of cortège.
The official line at the White House was that the hour-and-a-half meeting with Trump went well and that Trump was solicitous. Later, when I asked Obama how things had really gone, he smiled thinly and said, “I think I can’t characterize it without . . . ” Then he stopped himself and said that he would tell me, “at some point over a beer—off the record.”
I wasn’t counting on that beer anytime soon. But after the sitdown with Trump, Obama told staff members that he had talked Trump through the rudiments of forming a cabinet and policies, including the Iran nuclear deal, counter-terrorism policy, health care—and that the President-elect’s grasp of such matters was, as the debates had made plain, modest at best. Trump, despite his habitual bluster, seemed awed by what he was being told and about to encounter.
Denis McDonough strolled by with some friends and family. The day before, the person Trump sent to debrief him about how to staff and run a White House was his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. They had taken a walk on the South Lawn.
I asked McDonough how it was going, and he gave me a death-skull grin. “Everything’s great!” he said. He clenched his teeth and grinned harder in self-mockery. McDonough is the picture of rectitude: the ramrod posture, the trimmed white hair, the ashen mien of a bishop who has missed two meals in a row. “I guess if you keep repeating it, it’s like a mantra, and it will be O.K. ‘Everything will be O.K., everything will be O.K.’ ”
What Will You Sacrifice? — Zaineb Mohammed, a Muslim woman, asks her white Christian friends if they will stand up for her.
I keep reading these Facebook posts apologizing to Muslims, to queer people, to immigrants, to people of color for the election of Donald Trump. I know these posts are meant in solidarity, but right now they just make me feel like I am already being mourned: The worst has happened, the world is ending, and I will not save you—I will just lament the loss of your existence.
In two weeks, three months, a year, when these white allies who are outraged and appalled and disgusted realize that a Trump presidency will not significantly impact their day-to-day lives, are they going to abandon us?When these white allies who are outraged and appalled and disgusted realize that a Trump presidency will not significantly impact their day-to-day lives, are they going to abandon us?
Will they put their bodies between us and the deportations, the bans, the databases, the imprisonment, the torture, the threats to our existence? Or will they post an apology for what has happened, and what is yet to come?
I am so worried about the normalization and inevitable complacency that will set in. Already, it is happening. And yet, even as I worry about it, I understand.
I am an anxious person, and all I want in this moment is to be reassured. My desire for comfort has never been this intense. So when I read the headlines saying that Trump is reconsidering repealing Obamacare, and that it will be much harder for him to implement all of his campaign promises than he thinks, I feel a momentary sense of relief.
It is hard to worry about all of the things there are to worry about, to maintain a feeling of horror, and I look for signs that my life is not going to change. I have a job; I have financial security; I am Muslim but am not easily identifiable as a Muslim; I live in the Bay Area—I will be okay.
This is how it happens.
Comfort is an indulgence we can’t seek out now. Because, for so many people, there is no comfort. For many, there never has been.
A friend posted an article in which Trump said he would absolutely require Muslims to register and a couple of people responded clarifying that the article was actually from 2015. I felt reassured for a moment. But what has become of the world when we can be comforted that the president-elect’s demand for a religious group to register came a year ago and not yesterday?A Facebook friend suggested that if Trump actually calls for Muslims to register, everyone in the United States should do so as well to overwhelm the authorities. This is a beautiful sentiment. Would you do it?
Normalization is happening. Complacency is happening.
Another Facebook friend who posted that same article suggested that if Trump actually calls for Muslims to register, everyone in the United States should do so as well to overwhelm the authorities. This is a beautiful sentiment. Would you do it?
Too often, we let ourselves off the hook. How will we purposefully make ourselves uncomfortable when comfort is within reach?
I’m reminded of a self-defense class I took back in the summer, when a white woman mentioned feeling guilty about crossing the street when a black man is walking toward her. The instructor said racism is systemic, not something an individual can solve, and she shouldn’t feel bad for valuing her personal safety.
Racism is systemic. Racism is individual. We have to stop letting ourselves off the hook.
When your life is not on the line, and when what’s required is sacrificing so many of the comforts you are accustomed to, what will you give up for the rest of us? I am asking myself this too. If I am being honest, the answer so far is very little, if anything at all.
Protesting is important and donations are important and volunteering is important. But when you know that you can leave the protest whenever you want to return to a safe home and a warm bed and a hot shower, that is privilege, not sacrifice.
What will you sacrifice? What will you give up?
I hope the answer is a lot. Because we will need it.
Doonesbury — A hairy situation.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
President Obama went to Philadelphia yesterday to campaign for Hillary Clinton. He didn’t disappoint.
Thursday, July 28, 2016
Last night President Obama referred to his first nationally-televised speech at the Democratic convention in Boston in 2004. My mom was a Kerry delegate from Ohio and was there when he spoke. She kept a diary of the convention and here’s what she recorded twelve years ago last night.
By cell phone Dad and I decided to exit, the time being now 10:20 and we wanted to get back to our room so we could watch the coverage of Barack Obama. As it turned out we watched him on one of the TV monitors in the hallway near the concession stands at the arena. A crowd of people about 10 deep gathered around the set. His message was “E Pluribus Unum . . .we are ONE nation, not red and blue states or one religion or another or gay or straight.” There’s no doubt that he’s a star. Sadly, a black woman who was on the escalator toward the exit of the building at the same time we were, muttered, “He’s wonderful, but I hope they don’t destroy him…”
Not to worry. They tried, but he prevailed.
This was worth staying up late for.
I have heard a lot of speeches in my time but this one was everything you’d hope for. It wasn’t just political, it was consequential. The president acknowledged his mistakes, shared credit for his successes, and made the case for Hillary Clinton. And he basically dared the country to vote for Donald Trump, saying in essence, “After all I did for you, don’t go and throw it all away by giving in to your lizard brain and electing him.”
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
The full speech President Obama gave in Dallas yesterday.
Thursday, June 30, 2016
Wow, I’m going to miss him.
Monday, May 16, 2016
Sunday, May 8, 2016
Listen, People — An excerpt from President Obama’s commencement address at Howard University yesterday (HT John Cole at Balloon Juice).
And finally, change requires more than just speaking out — it requires listening, as well. In particular, it requires listening to those with whom you disagree, and being prepared to compromise. When I was a state senator, I helped pass Illinois’s first racial profiling law, and one of the first laws in the nation requiring the videotaping of confessions in capital cases. And we were successful because, early on, I engaged law enforcement. I didn’t say to them, oh, you guys are so racist, you need to do something. I understood, as many of you do, that the overwhelming majority of police officers are good, and honest, and courageous, and fair, and love the communities they serve.
And we knew there were some bad apples, and that even the good cops with the best of intentions — including, by the way, African American police officers — might have unconscious biases, as we all do. So we engaged and we listened, and we kept working until we built consensus. And because we took the time to listen, we crafted legislation that was good for the police — because it improved the trust and cooperation of the community — and it was good for the communities, who were less likely to be treated unfairly. And I can say this unequivocally: Without at least the acceptance of the police organizations in Illinois, I could never have gotten those bills passed. Very simple. They would have blocked them.
The point is, you need allies in a democracy. That’s just the way it is. It can be frustrating and it can be slow. But history teaches us that the alternative to democracy is always worse. That’s not just true in this country. It’s not a black or white thing. Go to any country where the give and take of democracy has been repealed by one-party rule, and I will show you a country that does not work.
And democracy requires compromise, even when you are 100 percent right. This is hard to explain sometimes. You can be completely right, and you still are going to have to engage folks who disagree with you. If you think that the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want. And if you don’t get what you want long enough, you will eventually think the whole system is rigged. And that will lead to more cynicism, and less participation, and a downward spiral of more injustice and more anger and more despair. And that’s never been the source of our progress. That’s how we cheat ourselves of progress.
We remember Dr. King’s soaring oratory, the power of his letter from a Birmingham jail, the marches he led. But he also sat down with President Johnson in the Oval Office to try and get a Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act passed. And those two seminal bills were not perfect — just like the Emancipation Proclamation was a war document as much as it was some clarion call for freedom. Those mileposts of our progress were not perfect. They did not make up for centuries of slavery or Jim Crow or eliminate racism or provide for 40 acres and a mule. But they made things better. And you know what, I will take better every time. I always tell my staff — better is good, because you consolidate your gains and then you move on to the next fight from a stronger position.
So that’s my advice. That’s how you change things. Change isn’t something that happens every four years or eight years; change is not placing your faith in any particular politician and then just putting your feet up and saying, okay, go. Change is the effort of committed citizens who hitch their wagons to something bigger than themselves and fight for it every single day.
That’s what Thurgood Marshall understood — a man who once walked this year, graduated from Howard Law; went home to Baltimore, started his own law practice. He and his mentor, Charles Hamilton Houston, rolled up their sleeves and they set out to overturn segregation. They worked through the NAACP. Filed dozens of lawsuits, fought dozens of cases. And after nearly 20 years of effort — 20 years — Thurgood Marshall ultimately succeeded in bringing his righteous cause before the Supreme Court, and securing the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that separate could never be equal. (Applause.) Twenty years.
Marshall, Houston — they knew it would not be easy. They knew it would not be quick. They knew all sorts of obstacles would stand in their way. They knew that even if they won, that would just be the beginning of a longer march to equality. But they had discipline. They had persistence. They had faith — and a sense of humor. And they made life better for all Americans.
Meet the Mom Who Helped Expose Flint’s Water Crisis — Julia Lurie reported in Mother Jones.
On a chilly evening last March in Flint, Michigan, LeeAnne Walters was getting ready for bed when she heard her daughter shriek from the bathroom of the family’s two-story clapboard house. She ran upstairs to find 18-year-old Kaylie standing in the shower, staring at a clump of long brown hair that had fallen from her head.
Walters, a 37-year-old mother of four, was alarmed but not surprised—the entire family was losing hair. There had been other strange maladies over the previous few months: The twins, three-year-old Gavin and Garrett, kept breaking out in rashes. Gavin had stopped growing. On several occasions, 14-year-old JD had suffered abdominal pains so severe that Walters took him to the hospital. At one point, all of LeeAnne’s own eyelashes fell out.
The family, as you have probably guessed, was suffering from the effects of lead in Flint’s water supply—contamination that will have long-term, irreversible neurological consequences on the city’s children. The exposure has quietly devastated Flint since April 2014, when, in an effort to cut costs, a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s water source from Detroit’s water system over to the Flint River.
Elected officials toasted the change with glasses of water, but some longtime residents were skeptical, particularly since Flint-based General Motors had once used the river as a dumping ground. “I thought it was one of those Onion articles,” said Rhonda Kelso, a 52-year-old Flint native. “We already knew the Flint River was toxic waste.”
The lead exposure persisted for 17 months, despite repeated complaints from residents of this majority-black city. It is in no small part thanks to Walters, a no-nonsense stay-at-home mom with a husband in the Navy, that the Flint situation is now a full-blown national scandal complete with a class-action lawsuit, a federal investigation, National Guard troops, and many people—including Bernie Sanders—calling for the resignation of Gov. Rick Snyder. “Without [Walters] we would be nowhere,” Mona Hanna-Attisha, the head of pediatrics at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center, told me. “She’s the crux of all of this.”
It was the summer of 2014 when Walters first realized something was very wrong: Each time she bathed the three-year-olds, they would break out in tiny red bumps. Sometimes, when Gavin had soaked in the tub for a while, scaly red skin would form across his chest at the water line. That November, after brown water started flowing from her taps, Walters decided it was time to stock up on bottled water.
The family developed a routine: For toothbrushing, a gallon of water was left by the bathroom sink. Crates of water for drinking and cooking crowded the kitchen. The adults and teenagers showered whenever possible at friends’ houses outside Flint; when they had to do it at home, they flushed out the taps first and limited showers to five minutes. Gavin and Garrett got weekly baths in bottled water and sponge baths with baby wipes on the other days. Slowly, the acute symptoms began to wane.
In January 2015, Flint officials sent out a notice declaring that the city’s water contained high levels of trihalomethanes, the byproduct of a disinfectant used to treat the water. Over time, these chemicals can cause liver, kidney, and nervous system problems. The advisory warned that sick and elderly people might be at an increased risk, but it said the water was otherwise safe to drink. “That was when I went to my first city council meeting,” Walters told me.
Role Reversal — Rebecca Solnit at The Nation speculates on what the race would be like if Donald Trump were a woman and Hillary Clinton were a man.
“Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the women’s card,” said Donald Trump last month. And then the Grumpy Witch of the Midwest came along in a twinkling of GMO corn showers and earnestness and handed a women’s card to Donald Trump, since Trump thought it was such a helpful thing to have. While she was at it, the brown-haired fairy in low-heeled shoes handed Hillary Clinton a man card. This is the ballad of Donaldina Trump, madcap heiress and train wreck, and the distinguished if problematic statesman Hillaire Rodham.
Hillaire Rodham, or Hill, as his friends called him, grew up in Ohio, did well in law school, professional life, toed the line as a senator and secretary of state. People supporting Bernadette Sanders, the elderly but charmingly fiery rival candidate, did make hay of the fact that Rodham had campaigned for Barry Goldwater when he was 16, but the mainstream media hurried to remind everyone that Rodham had then gone to college, had a political awakening, campaigned for the progressive candidates in 1968 and 1972, registered Latino voters in Texas with his then-girlfriend, the scandalous Southern belle Wilhelmina Clinton (whom Rodham divorced in 1983), and then helped purge the nation of Richard Nixon during his uneventful but respected service on the Watergate Committee. Neither the very early right-wing nor later left-wing campaigning apparently defined Rodham, a solidly status-quo candidate and a widely admired policy expert. He had much to be forgiven for by 2016, but unto those who are distinguished men, much is forgiven. Republicans felt very comfortable with this centrist candidate, despite his early civil-rights work and support for reproductive rights. On the rare occasions when people talked about his appearance, he was compared to Robert Redford, another weathered blonde with a confident demeanor and piercing blue eyes. This was thought to help him with the women’s vote.
When did the Grumpy Fairy hand Donaldina Trump the woman card? Say it came at birth, since fairies have retroactive cursing powers. Donaldina was never more than a dutiful redheaded daughter who got a dowry, a clutch of trophy husbands, expensive divorces, credit cards from all the major department stores, and some coverage in the society pages. She was not set up in business by her father and seized no real-estate business deals—since there were none for feckless young women to step into in the 1960s. She engaged in no branding of herself as some sort of Genghis Khan of commercial opportunity—since female Genghis Khans are not much admired. She was instead institutionalized and medicated for constant angry outbursts and megalomania. Narcissistic personality disorder with delusions of grandeur and poor self-control, her chart read.
The Strump, as tabloids nicknamed the publicly lecherous aging heiress, or Trumpestra, for her stridency and tantrums, was widely mocked. “It’s as though Paris Hilton ran for president,” Breitbart opined, for the two did have reality-TV careers and real-estate inheritances in common. The Donaldina’s odd looks and odder hand gestures received major media coverage, and The Washington Post ran a series of articles on whether her hair color was faded tangerine or washed-out carrot and whether she should have sued her hairdresser for the strange immobilized mass atop her puffy, pouchy, orange face that was forever bunching up into odd expressions that stand-up comics loved to imitate. Her appearance also begat an entire series in The New York Times on spray tans. Ann Coulter did reach out to her to offer beauty tips, but the two got into a fight about whether women should ever accuse anyone of being a rapist. The Donaldina had never held elected office and was treated as a sort of circus act when she announced her presidential candidacy. She did not get $2 billion of free publicity from the media, but she did get a lot of late-night standup jokes about her stocky, aging body, her face, her sexual boasting, her temper, and her tendency to say things so factually challenged that George Stephanopoulos quipped that Donaldina made Sarah Palin seem like Angela Merkel. She was forever being called hysterical, and all the men on the TV show Meet the Nation’s Men spent a Sunday morning advising her on how to talk into a microphone and what tone of voice befits a lady. Ladies should not be angry, any more than they should be orange. The Donaldina never polled above single digits. She blamed her woman card, but everyone mocked her self-pitying refusal to take responsibility. Mean girls finish last.
And thus did the charismatic progressive reformer Elbert Warren, senator from Massachusetts, become the 45th male president of the United States.
Doonesbury — Hope springs eternal.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
One Of The Greats — Jim Nelson in GQ on the legacy of Barack Obama.