Thursday, September 20, 2018

Rush To Judgeship

The Republicans are in an awful hurry to get Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court, pushing Prof. Ford with the “take-it-or-leave-it” deadline to testify on Monday.  It’s as if they know that if they can’t whoop him through next week, it’s all going to go sideways until after the election when perhaps the rising tide and gorge of voters see what they’re pulling off sweeps a bunch of Republicans out of office and their chances go a-glimmering.

Ironically, they were smugly content to keep the Scalia seat open on the court for over 400 days while Merrick Garland cooled his heels waiting for so much as a postcard from Mitch McConnell, and now all of a sudden it’s really important to get it done.  Kinda like there’s some political reason for it, huh?

A lot of us were hoping that they learned a lesson from the Anita Hill / Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991.  Unfortunately the lesson the Republicans learned and still practice is that you can vilify a witness and defend a predator and get your creepy guy onto the court, and that’s all that matters.  They’ve learned nothing from history, and to them the #MeToo movement is nothing but a bunch of shrill women with made-up stories and exaggerated claims because some dude brushed up against them in the elevator and didn’t fall over with apologies and a court settlement.  They got their guy on the Supreme Court and that’s all that matters.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Culture Of Victimhood

Only in Trump world would someone who stands accused of being a sexual predator be portrayed as a victim.

“I feel so badly for him that he’s going through this, to be honest with you,” Mr. Trump said of the judge. “I feel so badly for him. This is not a man that deserves this.”

Yeah, and Prof. Blasey Ford doesn’t deserve to get death threats and being forced to go into hiding because she spoke up.

In the letter to the Judiciary Committee, Dr. Blasey’s lawyers said that she has been the target of “vicious harassment and even death threats” since her name was made public on Sunday in an interview published in The Washington Post. Her email has been hacked, she has been impersonated online and she and her family have been forced to relocate out of their home, according to the lawyers, Ms. Banks and her partner, Debra S. Katz.

She has nothing to gain from coming forward except to save us from putting yet another creep on the Supreme Court.

But to the Republicans, playing the victim is always their backstop.  Oh, the burden of paying higher taxes just because we make so much money; pity us for having to press 1 for English when calling in to the bank; why is it that we, the oppressed and persecuted Christians, have to bear the immeasurable humiliation of being told “Happy Holidays”?  We’re the white guys; we’re supposed to be in charge.

President Obama made a good point in one of his speeches last week.

“Even the folks who won don’t seem happy. Have you noticed that?” Obama told the Cleveland crowd, decrying the country’s “broken” politics. Republicans won the presidency, House and Senate, he said, but “they’re still mad, which is interesting.”

It’s because they don’t understand the point of how to get along in an ostensibly free society.  No, you can’t go around and call people names or treat them like shit and get away with it.  No, you can’t just have your way without taking other people into consideration and listening to their ideas.  No, you can’t make a zillion dollars and not expect to pay for the things that support you, like police, utilities, and public education.  You can live in your gated community, but you have to pay for it above and beyond the monthly maintenance fee.  In short, you have to act like an adult, and if you’re going to be in charge — or just aspire to it — you have a duty to act like you understand that basic human concept.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sunday Reading

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.

And, finally:

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.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Status Quo Ante

CLW thinks the motive behind Anonymous and their op-ed isn’t to save the country so much as it is to save the GOP and get them back to where they were and maybe even pick up some yardage.

The “call from inside the house” is not some bold resistance fighter, not some valiant defender of the constitution. Not even someone pressing for a book deal.

No, it’s a member of the GOP old guard frustrated with the squandering of their ownership of the two — about to be three — branches of government. They love the tax cuts for the wealthy, the bolstering of our already ridiculously fat military-industrial complex, and the outright grift masquerading as “deregulation.” They have no problem with the fetid swamp.

They just fear the whirling dervish in the oval office will derail their roughshod ride through the Constitution and their historical opportunity to pillage the treasury. This clarion call was to say “hang in there, red base, we’ve got this, don’t abandon ship yet.”

This was a cry to salvage the mid-terms and to allow the old guard GOP (McConnell, Ryan, et al) to regain control. Be careful with your hopes and dreams based on this one, specious report from inside the house.

I think his point is well-taken; the old guard would have been perfectly happy to have Trump in the White House if he were disciplined and mature enough to, like Gov. William J. Le Petomane, just hold a pen and sign the bills that McConnell and Ryan whooped through Congress, then go back to his pussy-grabbing.  They knew they had a racist and xenophobic base, but they were held in check by promises of tax cuts and gay bashing, which seemed to be working.

But instead of a useful and easily-manipulated mannequin, they got the whirling dervish because they’d never paid attention to his antics on TV or looked into his background as a businessman and his history of corruption and bankruptcy.  It certainly never occurred to them that they couldn’t mold him into something “presidential” the way they had with their last outlier presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.  And they forget that they were unable to mold them to their will; they actually became like them.  Funny how that works.

The danger Trump poses to the GOP isn’t just that he’s poisoning the well and putting their majority at risk in the House and the Senate. It’s that he’s revealing the true core of the GOP establishment as a bunch of white heterosexual genially-racist Jesus-shouting rich guys who will say anything and sucker in anyone who will buy their load of capitalist jingoism as long as they don’t talk about it outside the gated community. But Trump went out on the nicely-manicured front lawn, dropped his pants, and drew in all the tacky trash that comes with an annual subscription to Infowars and the National Enquirer. And while the Republicans were always willing to take their votes and their money, they would never invite them into the house. That’s the real threat to the GOP, and they can’t live with that.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

“Fear” And Loathing

The leak of Bob Woodward’s new book “Fear” about the inner workings of the Trump White House revealed nothing that anyone who has been paying even marginal attention to how the country has been run for the last 18 months would find surprising in the least.

Woodward depicts Trump’s anger and paranoia about the Russia inquiry as unrelenting, at times paralyzing the West Wing for entire days. Learning of the appointment of Mueller in May 2017, Trump groused, “Everybody’s trying to get me”— part of a venting period that shellshocked aides compared to Richard Nixon’s final days as president.

The 448-page book was obtained by The Washington Post. Woodward, an associate editor at The Post, sought an interview with Trump through several intermediaries to no avail. The president called Woodward in early August, after the manuscript had been completed, to say he wanted to participate. The president complained that it would be a “bad book,” according to an audio recording of the conversation. Woodward replied that his work would be “tough” but factual and based on his reporting.

[…]

A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.

Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.

Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.

At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.

“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.

After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”

What, you were expecting Lincoln’s “team of rivals” or FDR’s calm and occasionally jovial sense of duty?  We’ve known all along that Trump has all the patience and insight of a sugared-up six-year-old with a full bladder.  (Speaking as a recovering teacher of sixth graders, Secretary Mattis’s claim is misplaced.  Most if not all of the sixth-graders I taught were capable of demonstrating far more maturity and dispassionate judgment than Trump.)

The most disturbing aspect of these revelations isn’t how he operates.  It’s that no one around him, either in the West Wing or on Capitol Hill, seems inclined to step up to rein this behavior and the ensuing clusterfuck of an administration in.  What is it going to take to get someone to put the day-to-day operation of the executive branch on a path of normal behavior before it truly runs into a disaster?  Aside from the fact that the business of running the country is being thrown for a loop and displaying an amazing lack of leadership, it’s revealing to the rest of the world, including a whole lot of people and nations who wish us ill, that our nominal leader is guided by the instincts and self-control mechanisms of an alligator.  (But this is what you get when you “drain the swamp.”)

Whether it’s the cabinet or Congress, someone with a backbone and a sense of national preservation needs to step up, invoke whatever kind of authority they can muster, and stop the madness.

Brett And Circuses

The first day of the Kavanaugh hearing devolved quickly to consternation and shouting matches.

Through most of the day, the nominee sat silently in the center of the room, alone at a table below the senators and in front of more than 100 reporters and nearly that many citizens who had waited for hours in line for their few minutes of inspirational democracy in Hart Senate Office Building Room 216.

All around him, democracy happened. It wasn’t pretty. The first seven hours of the Kavanaugh hearing broke down like this:

About three hours consisted of Democrats saying to their esteemed Republican colleagues that they did not provide the documents Democrats need to decide if Kavanaugh should get a lifetime appointment to the nation’s top court, with the Republicans responding to their friends across the aisle that yes, we actually did.

The debate in the greatest deliberative body in the world proceeded more or less as follows:

Did not.

Did so.

The Republicans and their pundit minions were shaking their heads and tut-tutting about the complete lack of decorum and class that the Democrats and protestors brought to the hearing, even though it came off as a tepid imitation of the warm-up acts for a Trump rally.  The shouters have nothing on the #MAGA crowds in airplane hangars and county fairs.

I think the most telling moment of the day was one that passed in silence, hardly even noticeable by the hundreds of reporters and flashbulbs.

It happened in the middle of a contentious meeting taking place in a country whose political divide seems to grow deeper by the day.

As the room broke for lunch during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a man approached the judge from behind and was able to get his attention. Kavanaugh turned to look at the man, who later identified himself on social media as Fred Guttenberg, the father of Jaime Guttenberg, one of the 17 people killed in the Parkland school shooting in February, as he stuck out his right hand. He appeared to say, “My daughter was murdered at Parkland.”

Kavanaugh gave the man a look but declined to shake his hand. It is not clear whether he heard Guttenberg’s introduction, though the two were standing within a few feet of each other. Another man, who a White House spokesman later said was a security guard, had come to Guttenberg’s side by that point.

(Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

The interaction was captured on camera — both in an arresting photograph shot by the Associated Press and multiple video cameras recording from different angles. And it quickly began to circulate on social media, an instant visual artifact trending as a stand-in for a politically complex and emotionally intense moment in American history.

As they say, a picture says a thousand words, so there you have it.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Foregoing All Pretense

Now that they have got an outright racist running for governor in Florida, the Trump regime is moving on to clear the border of people they suspect aren’t really ‘Murican because they’re Hispanic.

On paper, he’s a devoted U.S. citizen.

His official American birth certificate shows he was delivered by a midwife in Brownsville, at the southern tip of Texas. He spent his life wearing American uniforms: three years as a private in the Army, then as a cadet in the Border Patrol and now as a state prison guard.

But when Juan, 40, applied to renew his U.S. passport this year, the government’s response floored him. In a letter, the State Department said it didn’t believe he was an American citizen.

As he would later learn, Juan is one of a growing number of people whose official birth records show they were born in the United States but who are now being denied passports — their citizenship suddenly thrown into question. The Trump administration is accusing hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Hispanics along the border of using fraudulent birth certificates since they were babies, and it is undertaking a widespread crackdown.

Well, they’ve got to find a use for all those concentration camps now that they’ve been busted for separating parents from their children.

Hey, you — yeah, you — can you prove you’re a citizen?  Do you remember being born?  Where was it?  Where’s your birth certificate, and how do we know it wasn’t doctored up back when you were born to make it appear you were born here and not in Juarez or Kenya?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

That Was Fast

As I noted in the post this morning about the Florida gubernatorial race between Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis:

Andrew Gillum is African-American, setting up the possibility of being the first black governor of the state, and got backing from Bernie Sanders.  He came from behind to win in a field that included Gwen Graham, a one-term Congress-person and the daughter of former governor and senator, Bob Graham.  Ron DeSantis came out of the woodwork to beat Adam Putnam, who has been running for the office since he was in high school, thanks to a tweet by Trump.  He’s a Trumper all the way and this race is going to get really nasty really quickly; there are still parts of the state where whistling Dixie isn’t just an expression, and setting up an unapologetic liberal with a right-wing Trump-sucker will bring national focus, and that means lots of money for PAC ads and all sorts of shit.

Not even twelve hours into the general election and DeSantis comes up with this:

Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis urged Floridians not to “monkey this up” by voting for his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum. Gillum is the first African-American gubernatorial nominee in Florida’s history.

[…]

“It’s disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles,” the Florida Democratic Party chairwoman, Terrie Rizzo, said in a statement soon after the Fox News appearance.

Dog whistle?  That was about as subtle as a klaxon in an elevator.

Welcome to Florida.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Obsessed

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was a little too interested in the details of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Kavanaugh, as associate counsel in the office of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, wrote in the memo that he was “strongly opposed” to giving Clinton any “break” and suggested 10 questions, including: “If Monica Lewinsky says that you inserted a cigar into her vagina while you were in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?”

He also was hell-bent on punishing Mr. Clinton for his failings.

“After reflecting this evening, I am strongly opposed to giving the President any ‘break’ in the questioning regarding the details of the Lewinsky relationship” unless he “resigns” or “confesses perjury,” Kavanaugh wrote, continuing: “He has required the urgent attention of the courts and the Supreme Court for frivolous privilege claims — all to cover up his oral sex from an intern. He has lied to his aides. He has lied to the American people. He has tried to disgrace you and this Office with a sustained propaganda campaign that would make Nixon blush.”

Well, if that’s how he felt about Clinton’s straying from the truth, imagine how outraged he must be at Trump’s complete abandonment of any resemblance of veracity.  But apparently he had a change of heart, arguing later — after working for George W. Bush’s administration — that the president shouldn’t be distracted by petty lawsuits and the occasional lapses of truth-telling.  Gee, I wonder what it was that brought him around?  (*cough Cheney Rove Iraq war cough*).

This insight into Mr. Kavanaugh’s thinking reveals again the moralistic right-wing’s obsession with someone else’s sex life to the point that it borders on creepy.  I’m not defending Mr. Clinton’s behavior, but if Mr. Kavanaugh was so upset with it, why is he allowing himself to be nominated to the highest court in the land by a being who has overtly demonstrated and even bragged about behavior that makes the Lewinsky affair sound like a pat on the cheek?

Because he’s a flaming hypocrite and a bit of a perv, that’s why.

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Truth Is Out There

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, yesterday on “Meet the Press:”

“I am not going to be rushed into having him testify so that he gets trapped into perjury,” Giuliani said, repeating a frequently made point. “And when you tell me that, you know, he should testify because he is going to tell the truth and he shouldn’t worry, that’s so silly because it’s somebody’s version of the truth, not the truth.”

“Truth is truth,” [moderator Chuck] Todd responded, exasperated.

“No it isn’t truth! Truth isn’t truth!” Giuliani said, adding: “Donald Trump says I didn’t talk about Flynn with Comey. Comey says you did talk about. So tell me what the truth is!”

Some pills make you larger, and some pills make you small…

What’s remarkable about this exchange is not just the Orwellian peace-is-war / Lewis Carroll “Through the Looking Glass” framing of reality.  It’s that there will be any number of Republicans who, either because of fear or convenience or their own self-interest, will shrug it off and go on about their business because Trump is their leader and Republicans always follow their leader, even if it’s down the rabbit hole or over the cliff.

Paul Krugman:

The real news of the past few weeks isn’t that Trump is a wannabe Mussolini who can’t even make the trains run on time. It’s the absence of any meaningful pushback from Congressional Republicans. Indeed, not only are they acquiescing in Trump’s corruption, his incitements to violence, and his abuse of power, up to and including using the power of office to punish critics, they’re increasingly vocal in cheering him on.

Make no mistake: if Republicans hold both houses of Congress this November, Trump will go full authoritarian, abusing institutions like the I.R.S., trying to jail opponents and journalists on, er, trumped-up charges, and more — and he’ll do it with full support from his party.

[…]

The point is that once you’ve made excuses for and come to the aid of a bad leader, it gets ever harder to say no to the next outrage. Republicans who defended Trump over the Muslim ban, his early attacks on the press, the initial evidence of collusion with Russia, have in effect burned their bridges. It would be deeply embarrassing to admit that the elitist liberals they mocked were right when they were wrong; also, nobody who doesn’t support Trump will ever trust their judgment or patriotism again.

They are counting on two things: the short-term memory of both the news cycle and those who maintain it, and the rabidness of the base of the party that embraces the racism, the sexism, the anti-democratic instincts that lie within the heart of all hard-core cults of personality.  Both of those come together to make it perfectly plausible for Trump to stand up at an airport hangar rally in some mid-size city in the Midwest and say, to the adoring cheers and prompted jeers at the news media, that the truth about him is all lies and that the things that America stands for such as equal rights under the law and freedom of the press are the real threats to our way of life.  He’ll sell a million red hats with that emblazoned on it.  He will be able to count on the complicity and indifference of the Republican party because what they stand for is “keep us in power so we can make money and keep the nice things for ourselves.  As for the rest of you, well, you’re on your own.”

And that’s the truth.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Real Enemy Of The People

Editorial boards across the country and even overseas are joining the Boston Globe to speak out against Trump’s attacks on the media as, to quote Josef Stalin, “the enemy of the people.”  The Miami Herald, as a part of the McClatchy chain of papers, printed their thoughts.

No American president, or any city council member, for that matter, has ever unreservedly delighted in the way he or she was presented in the press. “I so appreciate the accuracy of their reporting on my perceived flaws!” said no official ever. “And good for them for holding me accountable.”

But President Donald Trump has veered into unfamiliar and perilous territory with his unceasing all-out assault on the free press and the First Amendment. Of course, the irony of Trump’s attacks on the “SICK!” and “very dishonest people” in “the fake media” he accuses of purveying, yes, “fake news” is that he himself is a product of the New York tabloids. He’s as savvy about manipulating his coverage as he is adept in undermining it.

But today the consequences of the president’s perpetual battle against journalists extend far beyond the Manhattan gossip pages. And the animus you see directed at CNN’s Jim Acosta isn’t just reserved for the White House press corps. Everywhere in the country, any matter that an official doesn’t want to talk about or that a reader doesn’t want to hear about is “fake news” now.

In our business, we know how much words matter. We know, too, that Trump’s references to us as the “enemy of the American People” are no less dangerous because they happen to be strategic. That is what Nazis called Jews. It’s how Joseph Stalin’s critics were marked for execution.

Every reporter who has ever covered a Trump rally knows the scratch of a threat that’s conveyed during that ritual moment when he aims the attention of the crowd to reporters, many of whom no longer stand in the press pen in the back for that reason.

And as real as the threat of physical violence is, especially after the murder of our colleagues in Annapolis, Maryland, Trump’s aggressive posture toward the First Amendment worries us even more.

That’s why nearly all of McClatchy’s 30 daily newspapers, which almost never speak with one voice, are doing so now. That’s why we’re joining with fellow journalists across the country in calling for an end to the president’s war of words against our free press.

It’s an affront to the U.S. Constitution when President Trump threatens to eliminate the First Amendment protections the Supreme Court has built into our nation’s libel laws — or when he suggests revoking the FCC licenses of broadcast news organizations whose reporting he doesn’t like.

The White House’s besmirching of journalists who are doing their jobs is dangerous to the public as well as to the press. It’s not just that we dislike being called “fake news.” That misnomer discredits facts and creates what Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway called “alternative facts,” making reasoned and informed debate basically impossible.

We all — as citizens — have a stake in this fight, and the battle lines seem pretty clear. If one first comes successfully for the press as an “enemy of the American People,” what stops someone for coming next for your friends? Your family? Or you?

Not even President Richard Nixon, whose original “enemies list” of the 20 private citizens he hoped to use his public office to “screw” included three journalists, tried to incite violence against reporters. While stewing privately about Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as “enemies … trying to stick the knife right in our groin,” not even Nixon tagged the lot of us, Soviet-style, as “enemies of the people.” Nor did even he dare to take on the idea that our free press is worth protecting.

Donald Trump swore on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible to uphold the Constitution. And the First Amendment’s guarantee that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” implies that no branch of government will do so.

That 44 percent of Republicans polled recently said Trump should have the autocrat’s power to shut down news outlets shows how successful his efforts have already been.

Like Nixon, Trump still pines for the kind of coverage his behavior makes impossible. But his place in history will be far less mixed than Nixon’s if he continues to menace James Madison’s best work.

Having worked, however briefly in the news business (nine months), I know all too well the pressure reporters are under to get the story, get it right, and make sure that it is reported as fairly and without bias as possible.  That’s all you can hope for, and there’s never time to sit back and try to spin it or slant it.  You ask questions, you do your research, and if someone tells you something, you check it out.  The people you report on may have an agenda, but the only one you have is to the truth as best you can find it.  In other words, it’s too hard to come up with “fake news;” getting the real news is hard enough, and anyone who voluntarily takes the low pay, the long hours, and the countless attempts to prove you wrong are truly dedicated to their mission.

Trump’s attacks on the press and the people who report the news stink of desperation and consciousness of guilt.  Granted, no one likes seeing their faults printed or being called out for falsehoods, but that’s human nature.  The true sign of maturity and of civilized society is the ability to either accept it, laugh it off, or make amends.

The real enemy of the people are those who would try to repress the true expression of the truth or the attempts to do so.

Purity Tests

One of the results of Tuesday’s primaries — and some others before — has been that the Republicans are being drawn in to nominating candidates who are true to the Trump brand and rejecting those who might have said an unkind word about him.

Case in point: former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s failed attempt to win the GOP nomination for his old job.  He lost, according to observers, because he had the nerve to criticize Trump for the Access Hollywood tape, calling him “unhinged and unfit.”  Apparently Minnesota Republicans are out to redefine “Minnesota nice” as smiling politely when they go to grab your genitalia.

Mr. Pawlenty isn’t the only one to find himself on the outs with the True Trumpers, and in several races around the country through the primary season we’ve seen Trump-endorsed candidates beat the more traditional faction.  Kansas could be on their way to having Kris Kobach, who never met an immigrant or a non-white voter he couldn’t demonize, and pick up a lucrative consulting fee in the process, elected governor, and the winds — at least in the tornado alley of GOP politics — are blowing from Trumpland.

A number of pundits are saying that this could be great news for the Democrats; the more Trumpistas the GOP runs the more the Blue Wave will become a tsunami and once and for all push those lemmings over the cliff and down onto the rocks of oblivion below.  And it could well happen; I’m pretty sure the good people of Virginia aren’t going to elect a white supremacist to the Senate, or any of the other alt-right candidates for Congress or local offices that have come slithering out from under their rocks now that we have a president who thinks home-grown Nazis can be very good people, too.  But I also remember the same assurances two years ago when a lot of people were sure that it would be a Democratic landslide and that Trump would be back to shilling his crap on QVC by January 2017.

There are a number of outside factors that on the surface have nothing whatsoever to do with the mid-terms: the outcome of the first Manafort trial, a report from the Mueller investigation, economic troubles from the tariff wars, and even more tell-alls from dismayed supporters.  But the fact that the GOP is handing the country some very clear choices in state and local elections will be the truest test of whether or not we’re going to be the ones to put an end to this calamity.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sunday Reading

This Is A Test — Elaina Plott in The Atlantic on gauging the GOP response to this weekend’s Nazi rallies.

This weekend, an untold number of white nationalists and their sympathizers will gather in Washington, D.C., to rally against, in their words, the “civil-rights abuses” they endured in Charlottesville, Virginia, exactly one year ago. The “Unite the Right” gathering will take place in Lafayette Park, just across from the White House. It will mark the anniversary of not only the group’s march through Charlottesville, tiki torches ablaze, but also the horrors that resulted from it, including the murder of 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

It also potentially marks a paradigmatic shift for the Republican Party. President Donald Trump responded in the dark aftermath of last year’s march not by emphatically denouncing the bigotry that sparked it, but by reminding Americans of the “very fine people on both sides.” Chief of Staff John Kelly may have hung his head as Trump delivered those remarks, but, like most officials in this administration, he never spoke out against them.

It is this fact and its consequences that bear considering throughout the demonstrations this weekend: whether, in today’s GOP, racism has been relegated to gaffe-like status—a political pitfall to navigate against, rather than a moral failing to wholly condemn.

I happened to be with an administration official this time last year, interviewing him for a story unrelated to Charlottesville. But the violent march naturally crept into our discussion, as both of our phones trilled with news of Trump’s press conference. I remember the official sighing deeply, shaking his head as he scanned the reports. Yet I’d learn moments later that this was not in opposition to the president’s comments themselves; rather, it was anxiety about how to contain the fallout. “Great, yet another distraction,” the official said. “The media will never let this one go.”

It was as though Trump had mistakenly defined his proposed corporate tax rate—not equivocated on the actions of white nationalists.

Republican leaders were careful to denounce the demonstrations in no uncertain terms. But they were also careful to avoid any mention of Trump, or avoid criticizing him directly. “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive,” House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted. “This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.” Echoed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy: “Saturday’s violence and tragic loss of life was a direct consequence of the hateful rhetoric & action from white supremacists demonstrating.”

“We have to unequivocally say that the KKK and the white supremacists were wrong,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel told ABC’s David Muir at the time. She tried to spin Trump’s words: “The president was saying that people brought violence from both sides.”

My conversation with the administration official, and the response from GOP leaders, brought Trump’s immunity from reproach into sharp relief. There’s been a lot of talk about “red lines” in the last two years, which is to say musings about what, if anything, could cause the GOP to turn on Trump. This weekend’s Unite the Right rally offers occasion to consider many things, about where this country is and where it is going. But crucially, it offers a potent reminder of Trump’s seeming infallibility in all corners of his party.

Depending on Trump’s reaction to the rally this weekend, should he have one at all, Republican leaders may have a chance to rewrite the script. At the very least, perhaps they will take issue with the group’s namesake, and make clear that white supremacy does not, in fact, fit into their definition of “the Right.” Or perhaps they will stay silent, and take comfort in the fact that, in the Trump era, political consequences seem to only last for so long.

What Really Happened — Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) has the straight poop on the meeting at Trump Tower.

Everybody wants to know what was said in that Trump Tower meeting with the Russians in June 2016. Well, other than the people in the room, I, Steven Yablonsky, alone know exactly what was said because I worked as a janitor in the building and was hiding in the closet recording all of it on my phone. As it happens, I was fired yesterday for not putting up the “wet floor” sign in the lobby, and a few people took a tumble, including Tiffany, so now I can finally reveal all.

Transcription:

Through a crack in the closet door, four Russians enter. They are Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin, Irakly Kaveladze and Anatoli Samochornov. Already present are Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Rob Goldstone. They all say hello and introductions are made.

Rinat: Where shall we sit?

Don Jr.: Anywhere you’d like.

Rinat: You want big chair?

Don Jr.: You can have the big chair.

Rinat: Ah, I feel a little funny.

Natalia: Take big chair. Don Jr. say O.K.

Rinat: (sits) I like this. It sinks in. Might fall asleep.

Irakly: (pointing) Look at nice spread.

Jared: Help yourself to anything on the table.

Irakly: Is that tuna fish or chicken salad? Very hard to tell difference.

Rob: And they taste the same. That I don’t get.

(They all mutter in agreement. Why is that? One’s chicken, one’s fish.)

Manafort: O.K., shall we begin?

Natalia: We have very good dirt, as you say, on Clinton. You win election with this.

Manafort: Hold it, hold it. Wait a second. First off, that would be illegal. That would be conspiring with an enemy to commit election fraud.

Rinat: I thought that was what meeting about.

Natalia: Me too.

Don Jr.: What? Who told you that?

Rinat: What did you think it was about?

Don Jr.: I thought it was about adoption!

Rinat: Adoption?!

Manafort: Yes, adoption. We want you to rescind the ban. It’s taking a tremendous toll.

The Russians: (in unison) Ohh … well, this is big misunderstanding …

Jared: I’ll say.

Don Jr.: Can I have a word with my colleagues?

(The four Americans huddle up right in front of the closet door.)

Don Jr.: I think we should call the F.B.I.

Goldstone: Right now?

Don Jr.: Right now!

Jared: No, that’s crazy.

Don Jr.: We’re breaking the law, Jared!

Jared: No, we’re not. … What’s that word that starts with a “c”?

Goldstone: Constitution?

Manafort: Coffers?

Don Jr.: Conspiracy?

Jared: No … collusion! That’s legal! Is that a beauty? We’re not calling the F.B.I.!

Don Jr.: O.K., but my dad still might get in a lot of trouble for this.

Goldstone: I’m getting an Arnold Palmer.

Don Jr.: I don’t think there’s any lemonade.

Goldstone: Seriously?

(They return to their seats.)

Manafort: Sorry about the misunderstanding, but you see, there are thousands of families in America who are suffering because they’re unable to have children of their own. One of my dearest friends has no children. It’s been heartbreaking to watch them trying to adopt and come up empty.

Don Jr.: Do you have kids, Anatoli?

Anatoli: Yes, two beautiful daughters. The government take them for gymnastics.

Don Jr.: So you know how empty life is without them. I know relations between our great countries have been frayed. But that shouldn’t be what this is about. This should be about hardworking families who want to experience the joys of parenthood. Can’t you put yourself in their shoes? Can’t you … (begins to break down)

Manafort: Does anyone have a tissue?

Anatoli: Natalia, you have tissue in purse?

Natalia: Here, yes, of course. Don’t cry, Don Jr. Don’t cry.

Don Jr.: (bawling) Thank you. … I wanted to adopt a child from Cambodia, but Vanessa said no. It broke us up. … I’m sorry.

Natalia: I see how much this means to you. I will call President Putin to discuss. I am on your side.

Rinat: Me too.

Don Jr.: Thank you. This means the world to me. And you know who will be really happy about this? Dad. In fact, this whole meeting was his idea.

Natalia: Nice.

Rinat: And you’re sure you don’t want our information on Clinton? Election in bag.

Manafort: Oh, God, no. Please don’t bring that up again. You see, Rinat, this is America. We’re a democracy. Our elections are sacred. And when it comes right down to it, I’d rather lose than win by cheating.

Natalia: Understood. Our apologies. We will be in touch.

(They say their goodbyes and head out. As the door closes …)

Don Jr: I still think we should call the F.B.I.

Doonesbury — Show some backbone.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Sunday Reading

Suckers — Rick Wilson in The Daily Beast.

Conspiracies are hard. They’re even harder when you’re stupid.

They are, however, deeply compelling. Some people need a single, grand unifying theory of why the world refuses to line up with their expectations. When difficult realities confront people without the intellectual horsepower to understand and accept the truth, some turn to conspiracy theories to paper over the holes in their worldview. No matter how absurd, baroque, and improbable, conspiracies grow on their own like mental kudzu where inconsistencies aren’t signs of illogical conclusions, but of another, deeper layer of some hidden truth, some skein of powerful forces holding the world in its grip.

After Donald Trump’s rally in Tampa this week, the notorious QAnon scam became America’s conspiracy of the moment. And why not? In the face of Trump’s daily meltdowns, mood swings, and unmedicated rage episodes in which he lashes out at every target in reach, his base is desperately looking for a version of reality that gives them some comfort and stability.

This Q conspiracy is filling the political bloodstream of the Trumpentariat and has been bubbling up inside the right for the last few months, and while Will Sommer and others have covered the story, there seemed to be a media shock moment after the Qbots showed up at Trump’s Tampa rally.

Conspiracies—this one in particular—give their devotees a sense of coherence that is lacking in everything Trump does. QAnon presents Trump as the character he plays on TV; bold, commanding, strategic, and brilliant…as opposed to the real Donald Trump, who displays the dignity, intelligence, and honesty of a strip-club tout with tertiary syphilis.

In Q’s world, Donald Trump is courageously leading an effort to round up and punish—I’m not exaggerating—tens of thousands of child predators who occupy the highest reaches of government.  Q and Don, side by side, doling out the secret knowledge to the new elite. Instead of getting a clearance, all you need to do is check out 4chan, Reddit, or YouTube.

Some even believe Q composes these messages for their eager consumption and interpretation at Trump’s direction, the amanuensis to an orange Nostradamus whose quatrains appear on the same image boards that feature bronie porn, hentai spank-bank material, and tween Neo-Nazi shitposter incels, instead of penned on parchment.

They’re desperate to believe “Q” is a senior official cleared at the highest levels (as one former NSA official jokingly called it, “TS/SCI NOSEBLEED”) who is busily leaking cryptic messages to them. Set aside that the Q clearance is a Department of Energy designation, and is for access to particular nuclear weapons matters, not the Bondian highest-reaches-of-government shenanigans to which Q claims access; this entire thing reeks of enough bullshit to fertilize Mars.

The claims of Q-Anon make Nostradamus look like Hemingway. Naturally, they’re elliptical, variable, and impossible to cross-check. Hundreds of YouTube videos, blog posts tweets, Facebook items, and speculation follow each post, a Confederacy of Dunces that ramifies this idiocy out into dumber and dumber dead ends. QAnon asks its believers to “follow the breadcrumbs” and fill in the blanks. Those blanks get filled with epic idiocy.

The glee with which the followers of this absurdity latch on to imaginary deportations of Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, and others to Gitmo is notable. Several times, Q has promised them that any moment now the rest of the Deep State will occupy the darkest holes of the American prison system. QAnon tells them that retribution is at hand, and they’re ravenous for more. Lurid and exciting for the rubes, but as of yet, Hillary Clinton walks free. If that even is Hillary Clinton, and not a shapeshifting reptilian overlord.

Those of us with the unfortunate awareness of the clownishly risible QAnon conspiracy cult have been reveling in the comedy gold, lavishly overwrought, dangerously stupid proclamations of Q for months. We’ve alternated between laughter and wide-eyed shock at how credulous Trump’s Army of Cletuses must be to fall for such an obvious, ludicrous con. Then again, Donald Trump put the “con” in “conspiracy” as far back as his embrace of birtherism.  If the puzzle surrounding QAnon is a fever dream wrapped in an enigma, coated with nougat, rolled in nuts and filled with a creamy center of delusional paranoia, Trump’s own role in fostering it is right out of the Lil Tots’ First Book of Authoritarian Strategy.

For actual authoritarians and the merely dictator-curious, building a separate, hermetic truth defined only by the Dear Leader is 101 stuff, and goes hand in hand with the relentless attacks on the free press an enemy of the people.

Of course, it’s just trolling. It’s just a prank by some chan-autists. It makes me shake my head to explain to people that the idea of a conspiracy this grand and elaborate has as much chance of working as Skeeter’s plan to cook meth in the WalMart bathroom.

Why has Q eaten the Trump-right’s minds? Why does it work on them when it’s so obviously, evidently a gigantic pyramid of digital horseshit?

It works because stupid people are stupid and because Donald Trump’s Administration loves what QAnon does to stoke the fires of paranoia, resentment, and division. QAnon works for Trump because people who are not knowledgeable about the world, politics, government, the intelligence community and reality more broadly are desperately looking for confirmation that they’re on the winning team. Q tells them that they’re on the right side of history and that for once in their dreary little lives they and only they possess the secret, hermetic knowledge from inside the esoteric cult.

Q represents where the former GOP has gone in the era of Trump; possessed the desire to have a private space that makes even Fox News look mild in comparison, grasping desperately for a different reality.

When even aggressive conspiracy-pusher faux-journalist loons and alt-lite thought leaders Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec find QAnon too crazy to promote, it should make you pause. Both men were aggressive promoters of the Pizzagate theory, in which a Washington D.C. restaurant was falsely alleged to be the center of a global child sex-trafficking, cannibalism and prostitution ring. Both were all-in on the cruel and false Seth Rich story, and a raft of other pro-Trump efforts to mainline fantasy conspiracies into the American body politics.

If it’s too crazy for those edge cases, it’s too crazy.

No, Trump fans, the storm isn’t coming. There is no Great Awakening. “Where we go one we go all” is a path to disappointment and madness, not to some brave new future where Donald Trump’s genius and his army of secret soldiers purge America of a vast, secret deep state of hostile insiders and pedophiles.

Q is a meta-hoax, a recursive scam in service of a scam called the Trump Presidency. The “drops” are meaningless claptrap, noise without real signal, and most certainly not the signs of the new reality its eager marks desire.

Doonesbury — Mission: Impossible.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Enemy Of The People

Until Trump came along, the only time most people had heard the term “enemy of the people” was in old newsreels about Stalin or in theatre history class discussing the play of the same name by Henrik Ibsen.  (By the way, it’s a really good play and a cautionary tale for our times.)  But now Trump is slandering the media with that tag, and it’s being thrown around by his minions, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders.  Yesterday she got into an exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta.

Notice that her complaints are all how the press has treated her. That’s all it really is; she’s the victim here and it’s SO unfair.  That seems to be why she is incapable of agreeing with Ivanka Trump that the press is not the enemy of the people.

First, if you’re going to be the White House press secretary, you’re going to get a lot of scrutiny and be held accountable for what you and the people you represent do and say.  (Oh, and if you’ve got a list of grievances about how those meanies in the media go after you, sit down with Hillary Clinton and hear what it’s like to have the press go after you for real.)

Second, and more importantly, the press’s job is not to be just an echo chamber for your balderdash and bullshit.  Their job is to ask the questions and get the answers and call out the bullshit when they see it.  (Ironically, not a lot of the press is actually doing that; most of the time they sit and watch.)  That’s what Sarah Huckabee Sanders objects to; that there are those in the press who call her and her boss out and wow does it hurt her fee-fees.

Hey, Ms. Sanders, you want to see the real enemy of the people?  Look in the mirror.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sunday Reading

Get Out and Vote — George Packer in The New Yorker.

In the haze of summer, with books still to be read, weeds pulled, kids retrieved from camp, it’s a little hard to fathom that, three months from now, American democracy will be on the line. The midterm elections in November are the last remaining obstacle to President Trump’s consolidation of power. None of the other forces that might have checked the rise of a corrupt homegrown oligarchy can stop or even slow it. The institutional clout that ended the Presidency of Richard Nixon no longer exists. The honest press, for all its success in exposing daily scandals, won’t persuade the unpersuadable or shame the shameless, while the dishonest press is Trump’s personal amplifier. The federal courts, including the Supreme Court, are rapidly becoming instruments of partisan advocacy, as reliably conservative as elected legislatures. It’s impossible to imagine the Roberts Court voting unanimously against the President, as the Burger Court, including five Republican appointees, did in forcing Nixon to turn over his tapes. (Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to succeed Anthony Kennedy, has even suggested that the decision was wrong.) Congress has readily submitted to the President’s will, as if legislation and oversight were burdens to be relinquished. And, when the independent counsel finally releases his report, it will have only the potency that the guardians of the law and the Constitution give it.

Behind these institutions lies public opinion, and we are quickly learning that it matters more than laws, more than the Constitution, more than the country’s supposedly inviolable founding principles. “If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it,” George Orwell wrote, in “Freedom of the Park.” “If public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.” During 1973, the year Watergate became a national scandal, facts changed the political views of millions of Americans, Nixon’s approval rating fell from sixty-seven per cent to less than thirty per cent, and his fate was sealed. In our time, large blocs of public opinion are barely movable: Trump’s performance in Helsinki—declaring himself on the side of Russia, against his own intelligence agencies and the integrity of American elections—received favorable reviews from eighty per cent of Republicans. Yet public opinion still plays a central role in safeguarding democracy, and it becomes decisive through voting. Demonstrations can capture attention and build solidarity, books can provide arguments, social media can organize resistance. But if the Republicans don’t suffer a serious defeat in November, Trump will go into 2020 with every structural advantage.

Democrats have a habit of forgetting to vote between Presidential elections. Republican turnout has exceeded or equalled Democratic turnout in every midterm since 1978, no matter which party held the Presidency, with an average margin of three per cent—more than enough to decide control of Congress in a closely divided election. The demographic groups that are least likely to vote—young people, Latinos, and those with a high-school education or less—tend to be Democratic constituencies. This tendency has been especially stark in the past two midterm cycles: in 2014, the turnout among eligible voters aged eighteen to twenty-nine was seventeen per cent—one in six. The disappearing Democratic voter also had an effect on the latest Presidential election, when, for example, African-American turnout dropped almost five per cent from 2012—a crucial difference in the three key states that gave Trump the Electoral College.

Republicans, for their part, don’t always entrust their hold on power to democratic methods. Since 2010, nearly half of the states have passed laws that make it harder to vote—from restrictions on early voting to I.D. requirements, mandatory proof of citizenship, and purges of voting rolls. The purpose of these laws is not to fight a mythical epidemic of fraud but to depress turnout of normally Democratic constituencies. They show incremental signs of success: a government study found that new laws reduced turnout in 2012 in Kansas and Tennessee by two or three per cent, notably among young and black voters. Other states have expanded the franchise, particularly to former felons, but Republican control of two-thirds of state legislatures and the shift of courts to the right give the momentum to efforts to curtail voting.

Gerrymandering is another effective tool for staying in power. The Brennan Center for Justice recently released a report on the effects of redistricting in states like Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas. Algorithmic mapping has grown so precise that Republican legislatures have created a sixteen-seat advantage in the House of Representatives that remains impervious to standard electoral pressures. In November, just to achieve a bare majority, Democrats will have to win the national congressional vote by nearly eleven per cent. (Other studies put the number at around seven per cent.) And legislatures elected this year will redraw state and federal districts after the 2020 census. There’s a thick seawall standing in the way of a blue wave.

But it’s self-defeating to exaggerate the external obstacles: in 2016, Democratic turnout declined in states with and without new voter restrictions. Gerrymandering is a time-honored practice of both parties—look at Maryland’s House delegation. Unfettered money in politics doesn’t always favor Republicans, let alone guarantee victory—Hillary Clinton raised twice as much as Trump did. The greatest obstacle to voting is the feeling that it won’t matter, and that feeling seems to be more prevalent among Democrats.

In some cases, that sense may be based on overconfidence and insularity—a presumption that the other party’s outrages will automatically disqualify it in voters’ eyes. More often, it comes from a belief that politics doesn’t change anything in people’s lives. For two generations, the Republican Party has been an expression of grassroots conservatism, most recently the fever that’s ceded the Party to Trump. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has grown less connected to its voters. It’s like a neglected building, perennially on the edge of collapse, which left-leaning Americans occasionally use for some purpose and then abandon.

This year, something seems to be changing. The new faces among Democratic candidates, the new energy behind them, suggest a party of members, not squatters. But, come November, they will have to vote. It’s the only thing left.

Pence Is Worse — Frank Bruni in the New York Times.

There are problems with impeaching Donald Trump. A big one is the holy terror waiting in the wings.

That would be Mike Pence, who mirrors the boss more than you realize. He’s also self-infatuated. Also a bigot. Also a liar. Also cruel.

To that brimming potpourri he adds two ingredients that Trump doesn’t genuinely possess: the conviction that he’s on a mission from God and a determination to mold the entire nation in the shape of his own faith, a regressive, repressive version of Christianity. Trade Trump for Pence and you go from kleptocracy to theocracy.

That’s the takeaway from a forthcoming book by the journalists Michael D’Antonio, who previously wrote “The Truth About Trump,” and Peter Eisner. It’s titled “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence,” it will be published on Aug. 28 and it’s the most thorough examination of the vice president’s background to date.

I got an advance look at it, along with a first interview about it with D’Antonio, and while it has a mostly measured tone, it presents an entirely damning portrait of Pence. You’ve seen his colors before, but not so vividly and in this detail.

The book persuasively illustrates what an ineffectual congressman he was, apart from cozying up to the Koch brothers, Betsy DeVos and other rich Republican donors; the clumsiness and vanity of his one term as governor of Indiana, for which he did something that predecessors hadn’t and “ordered up a collection of custom-embroidered clothes — dress shirts, polo shirts, and vests and jackets — decorated with his name and the words Governor of Indiana”; the strong possibility that he wouldn’t have won re-election; his luck in being spared that humiliation by the summons from Trump, who needed an outwardly bland, intensely religious character witness to muffle his madness and launder his sins; and the alacrity with which he says whatever Trump needs him to regardless of the truth.

In Pence’s view, any bite marks in his tongue are divinely ordained. Trump wouldn’t be president if God didn’t want that; Pence wouldn’t be vice president if he weren’t supposed to sanctify Trump. And his obsequiousness is his own best route to the Oval Office, which may very well be God’s grand plan.

“People don’t understand what Pence is,” D’Antonio told me. Which is? “A religious zealot.”

And D’Antonio said that Pence could end up in the White House sooner than you think. In addition to the prospect of Trump’s impeachment, there’s the chance that Trump just decides that he has had enough.

“I don’t think he’s as resilient, politically, as Bill Clinton was,” D’Antonio said. “He doesn’t relish a partisan fight in the same way. He loves to go to rallies where people adore him.”

There’s no deeply felt policy vision or sense of duty to sustain him through the investigations and accusations. “If the pain is great enough,” D’Antonio said, “I think he’d be disposed not to run again.”

So it’s time to look harder at Pence. “The Shadow President” does. It lays out his disregard for science, evident in his onetime insistence that smoking doesn’t cause cancer and a belief that alarms about climate change were “a secret effort to increase government control over people’s lives for some unstated diabolical purpose,” according to the book.

It suggests callousness at best toward African-Americans. As governor, Pence refused to pardon a black man who had spent almost a decade in prison for a crime that he clearly hadn’t committed. He also ignored a crisis — similar to the one in Flint, Mich. — in which people in a poor, largely black Indiana city were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead. D’Antonio told me: “I think he’s just as driven by prejudice as Trump is.”

During the vice-presidential debate with Tim Kaine, Pence repeated the laughable, ludicrous assertion that Trump would release his tax returns “when the audit is over” and falsely insisted that Trump hadn’t lavished praise on Vladimir Putin’s leadership — though the record proved otherwise.

The book says that in a high-level briefing about Russian interference in the 2016 election, Pence was told that intelligence officials hadn’t determined whether that interference had swayed the results. He then publicly claimed a finding of no effect.

At Trump’s urging and with taxpayer money, he and his wife, Karen, flew to a football game in Indianapolis just so he could make a big public gesture of leaving in protest when, predictably, some of the players took a knee during the national anthem.

And, following Trump’s lead, he rallied behind the unhinged former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. In a speech he called Arpaio a “tireless champion” of the “rule of law.” This was after Arpaio’s contempt-of-court conviction for ignoring a federal judge’s order to stop using illegal tactics to torment immigrants. The conservative columnist George Will seized on Pence’s speech to write that Pence had dethroned Trump as “America’s most repulsive public figure.”

You can thank Pence for DeVos. They are longtime allies, going back decades, who bonded over such shared passions as making it O.K. for students to use government money, in the form of vouchers, at religious schools. Pence cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate to confirm her as education secretary. It was the first time in history that a vice president had done that for a cabinet nominee.

Fiercely opposed to abortion, Pence once spoke positively on the House floor about historical figures who “actually placed it beyond doubt that the offense of abortion was a capital offense, punishable even by death.” He seemed to back federal funds for anti-gay conversion therapy. He promoted a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

“He is absolutely certain that his moral view should govern public policy,” D’Antonio told me.

D’Antonio then recounted two stories that he heard from college classmates of Pence’s after the book had gone to bed, so they’re not in there. One involved a woman in Pence’s weekly college prayer group. When she couldn’t describe a discrete “born again” experience, “he lectured her on her deficiencies as a Christian and said that she really wasn’t the sort of Christian that needed to be in this group,” D’Antonio said.

Another involved a college friend of Pence’s who later sought his counsel about coming out as gay. D’Antonio said that Pence told the friend: “You have to stay closeted, you have to get help, you’re sick and you’re not my friend anymore.”

According to D’Antonio’s book, Pence sees himself and fellow Christian warriors as a blessed but oppressed group, and his “hope for the future resided in his faith that, as chosen people, conservative evangelicals would eventually be served by a leader whom God would enable to defeat their enemies and create a Christian nation.”

I asked D’Antonio the nagging, obvious question: Is America worse off with Trump or Pence?

“I have to say that I prefer Donald Trump, because I think that Trump is more obvious in his intent,” he said, while Pence tends to “disguise his agenda.” D’Antonio then pointed out that if Pence assumed the presidency in the second half of Trump’s first term, he’d be eligible to run in 2020 and 2024 and potentially occupy the White House for up to 10 years.

Heaven help us.

Doonesbury — Get up and go.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Fever Pitch

David Brooks is convinced that by 2020 we’ll be so over Trump and MAGA and angry white supremacists so that we can go back to whatever it is passes for normal here in the good ol’ US of A.  So he, like James Comey and other “thoughtful Republicans” is giving Democrats advice on how to win so the fever breaks.

Maybe this year is different, but for 100 years, Democrats have tended to win with youthful optimism and not anger and indignation. The Democrats who have won nationally almost all ran on generational change — on tired old America versus the possibilities of new America: F.D.R.’s New Deal, J.F.K.’s New Frontier, Bill Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century and Obama’s hope and change.

If I had to advise on a Democratic narrative I’d start with three premises: First, by 2020 everybody will be exhausted by the climate of negativism and hostility. Second, the core long-term fear is American decline; are we losing our mojo? Third, communities and nations don’t come together when they talk about their problems; they come together when they do something on behalf of their children.

Well, that would be nice, wouldn’t it?  And I suppose there’s a part of me that wants to believe it.  But if the past is any predictor, it will not happen even if the Democrats do come up with a well-crafted and meaningful message and candidate that breaks through to the people who need to hear it.

When the change comes, and it could start as early as November, they’re not going down without a fight.  If Trump loses in 2020 and the Democrats regain control of both Congress and the White House, there will still be backlash, most certainly from Trump himself who will claim that the whole system was rigged and the election of anyone but him is illegitimate.  He’s already started to feed that line to his base.  (He even tried it out in 2016 when even he didn’t believe he could win.)

So whomever the Democrats come up with — a supermix of FDR, JFK, and Obama — and no matter what message they craft to unify the country for ourselves and each other, the resentment and push-back will still be there.  After all, FDR, JFK and certainly Obama all faced it, and all Trump did was exploit it.

I truly would like to live in David Brooks’ world of rainbows and unicorns, but for the foreseeable future, we’re going to have to live with thunderstorms and jackasses.

Friday, July 13, 2018

A Confederacy Of Dunces

If you turned on MSNBC yesterday, you probably saw the live testimony of Peter Strzok before the congressional committee made up of a majority of Trump lickspittles and GOP weirdos.  I saw some of it, but I leave it to Charles P. Pierce to wrap it up and deliver the verdict.

There’s no real point in recapping the highlights. The videos are going to be in regular rotation for quite a while now. It was, as it was called at various points in the hearing, a kangaroo court, a show trial, and a travesty of a sham of a mockery of a sham of two mockeries. But it was designed to be that. It was a performance piece. It was not a very well-cast one, and several of the lead actors fell into the orchestra pit, but it managed to run from curtain-up to curtain-down.

Have you ever seen those videos of fist-fights breaking out in parliaments of third-world countries where they really go at it with furniture and farm implements?  I wish we had that kind of decorum.

(HT to the memory of John Kennedy Toole.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Shoring Up His Base

The only reason I can think of for Trump to give clemency to the gang that occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016 (the gang that tried to send out for snacks in the middle of their rebellion) is because he’s got some idea that they still support him even after it dawns on them that the Trumpistas are using them and stealing their Doritos.

Either that or he’s counting on the fact that they’ll never wise up.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Too Late Now

I knew the moment I got up this morning to check my e-mail that I would be getting “BREAKING” and URGENT messages about the nomination of the next white Christian guy nominated to the Supreme Court, along with appeals to send money to defeat the nomination.

Not that I’m in favor of putting Brett Kavanaugh on the bench or that I don’t think that he won’t be the one to find a way to overturn Roe vs. Wade or uphold the corporation-as-person or find new ways to extend “religious liberty” into outright bigotry in terms of marriage equality or let the 2nd Amendment be the absolute law of the land, the time to have worked to keep him or any other like-minded 19th century-precedented jurist off the bench was in 2010, 2012, and 2016 when people who should care about those issues and keeping them safe from Mike Pence decided not to vote.

Thanks a lot, you lazy jerks or you purists who thought Jill Stein could make a “statement.”  Well, here’s a statement for you: my great-nephew George will be well into his forties before the seat becomes available again, and time and the actuarial tables don’t make it look good for those who stand against the onslaught of Jesus-shouters and corporate greed.  So you owe him and his generation and those to follow something more than, “Sorry, but I didn’t think it mattered.”