Monday, February 17, 2020
Today is Presidents Day, the federal holiday mashed together to honor Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday which used to be holidays on their own. This one generically honors all presidents and remembering the times when we had one, and it’s a mid-winter break for schools and a day off for those of us who work in them.
Things will be a little quiet around here.
Sunday, February 16, 2020
Trump Generating Hate — An extensive report in the Washington Post on how Trump’s rhetoric is infecting schools and kids.
Two kindergartners in Utah told a Latino boy that President Trump would send him back to Mexico, and teenagers in Maine sneered “Ban Muslims” at a classmate wearing a hijab. In Tennessee, a group of middle-schoolers linked arms, imitating the president’s proposed border wall as they refused to let nonwhite students pass. In Ohio, another group of middle-schoolers surrounded a mixed-race sixth-grader and, as she confided to her mother, told the girl: “This is Trump country.”
Since Trump’s rise to the nation’s highest office, his inflammatory language — often condemned as racist and xenophobic — has seeped into schools across America. Many bullies now target other children differently than they used to, with kids as young as 6 mimicking the president’s insults and the cruel way he delivers them.
Trump’s words, those chanted by his followers at campaign rallies and even his last name have been wielded by students and school staff members to harass children more than 300 times since the start of 2016, a Washington Post review of 28,000 news stories found. At least three-quarters of the attacks were directed at kids who are Hispanic, black or Muslim, according to the analysis. Students have also been victimized because they support the president — more than 45 times during the same period.
Although many hateful episodes garnered coverage just after the election, The Post found that Trump-connected persecution of children has never stopped. Even without the huge total from November 2016, an average of nearly two incidents per school week have been publicly reported over the past four years. Still, because so much of the bullying never appears in the news, The Post’s figure represents a small fraction of the actual total. It also doesn’t include the thousands of slurs, swastikas and racial epithets that aren’t directly linked to Trump but that the president’s detractors argue his behavior has exacerbated.
“It’s gotten way worse since Trump got elected,” said Ashanty Bonilla, 17, a Mexican American high school junior in Idaho who faced so much ridicule from classmates last year that she transferred. “They hear it. They think it’s okay. The president says it. . . . Why can’t they?”
Asked about Trump’s effect on student behavior, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham noted that first lady Melania Trump — whose “Be Best” campaign denounces online harassment — had encouraged kids worldwide to treat one another with respect.
“She knows that bullying is a universal problem for children that will be difficult to stop in its entirety,” Grisham wrote in an email, “but Mrs. Trump will continue her work on behalf of the next generation despite the media’s appetite to blame her for actions and situations outside of her control.”
Most schools don’t track the Trump bullying phenomenon, and researchers didn’t ask about it in a federal survey of 6,100 students in 2017, the most recent year with available data. One in five of those children, ages 12 to 18, reported being bullied at school, a rate unchanged since the previous count in 2015.
However, a 2016 online survey of over 10,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that more than 2,500 “described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric,” although the overwhelming majority never made the news. In 476 cases, offenders used the phrase “build the wall.” In 672, they mentioned deportation.
For Cielo Castor, who is Mexican American, the experience at Kamiakin High in Kennewick, Wash., was searing. The day after the election, a friend told Cielo, then a sophomore, that he was glad Trump won because Mexicans were stealing American jobs. A year later, when the president was mentioned during her American literature course, she said she didn’t support him and a classmate who did refused to sit next to her.
“‘I don’t want to be around her,’ ” Cielo recalled him announcing as he opted for the floor instead.
Then, on “America night” at a football game in October 2018 during Cielo’s senior year, schoolmates in the student section unfurled a “Make America Great Again” flag. Led by the boy who wouldn’t sit beside Cielo, the teenagers began to chant: “Build — the — wall!”
Horrified, she confronted the instigator.
“You can’t be doing that,” Cielo told him.
He ignored her, she recalled, and the teenagers around him booed her. A cheerleading coach was the lone adult who tried to make them stop.
After a photo of the teenagers with the flag appeared on social media, news about what had happened infuriated many of the school’s Latinos, who made up about a quarter of the 1,700-member student body. Cielo, then 17, hoped school officials would address the tension. When they didn’t, she attended that Wednesday’s school board meeting.
“I don’t feel cared for,” she told the members, crying.
A day later, the superintendent consoled her and the principal asked how he could help, recalled Cielo, now a college freshman. Afterward, school staff members addressed every class, but Hispanic students were still so angry that they organized a walkout.
Some students heckled the protesters, waving MAGA caps at them. At the end of the day, Cielo left the school with a white friend who’d attended the protest; they passed an underclassman she didn’t know.
“Look,” the boy said, “it’s one of those f—ing Mexicans.”
She heard that school administrators — who declined to be interviewed for this article — suspended the teenager who had led the chant, but she doubts he has changed.
Reached on Instagram, the teenager refused to talk about what happened, writing in a message that he didn’t want to discuss the incident “because it is in the past and everyone has moved on from it.” At the end, he added a sign-off: “Trump 2020.”
This is just an excerpt from the story; there’s many examples of how minority students who are singled out, and not just by other kids. Teachers with pro-Trump sentiments are picking on kids. Some are being fired or disciplined, but it still goes on.
Trump Unleashed — David Corn in Mother Jones.
Through the Trump Era, it’s been fashionable for some of his critics—especially on Twitter—to assail his actions as the coming of kleptocracy, autocracy, authoritarianism, and, yes, fascism to the United States. Recently, in an airport, an elderly women stopped me to say that she survived the Holocaust in a camp and now fears she is experiencing what her mother went through eighty-five years ago as the catastrophe approached in Germany. I tried to persuade her that as bad as things are now, there remains institutions, organizations, and millions of people who will not accept what is happening to the nation’s democratic institutions and who can oppose a complete power-grab from Trump and his cult (a.k.a. the Republican Party).
I still believe that. But Trump’s hostile take-over of the Justice Department this week is yet another sign that the task of countering Trump’s extremism is becoming both harder and more crucial.
By now, you know the basics: After the Justice Department requested a seven-to-nine years sentence for Roger Stone, a longtime Trump intimate who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness-tampering (to protect Trump in the Russia scandal), Trump tweet-whined that this sentence would be too harsh, and the DoJ dutifully rescinded it. Four federal prosecutors, apparently in protest, withdrew from the Stone case, with one quitting the department. Then Trump attacked the federal judge handling the case. Still on the rampage the next day, Trump—again in a tweet—threatened to withhold assistance for New York State if it did not smother investigations related to Trump.
On Thursday afternoon, Attorney General Bill Barr seemed to rebuke Trump by saying he would not “be bullied or influenced by anybody,” including the president. But Barr has already done so much of Trump’s bidding—undermining the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, opening investigations that appeared designed to unearth information that support Trump’s favorite conspiracy theories—his declaration of independence was too late, if not ludicrous.
With the impeachment behind him, Trump has been acting like Michael Corleone on steroids, intent on settling all the “family business.” He sacked impeachment witnesses Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Ambassador Gordon Sondland. Next he moved onto the Justice Department and the judiciary. At the same time, Barr set up a special “intake” channel at the department for Trump’s henchman Rudy Giuliani to feed rumors, dirt, and supposed leads about Trump’s rivals.
All this is crooked and horrific. Trump is rigging the justice system, trashing norms that have been in place for decades, and attacking the notion that the rule of law is essential for democratic governance. Early in his presidency, facing the Russia investigation being run by the FBI, Trump exclaimed, “Where is my Roy Cohn?” He was referring to the thuggish mob lawyer who had been red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy’s chief hatchet-man years before becoming a mentor and consigliere for the young Trump. Though Trump placed Barr, his own lapdog, in charge of the Justice Department last year, Trump has become his own Roy Cohn, consolidating power and seeking vengeance. And extracting revenge has long been one of Trump’s primary psychological motivations, as I first explained before he was elected president.
But this crusade of revenge does more than just feed Trump’s dark soul. It undermines the safeguards that are supposed to thwart despotic power. During the impeachment trial, Trump’s celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz essentially argued that Trump, as president, can get away with any act of corruption that is not a clear violation of federal criminal law. This view is far outside the mainstream of constitutional law, and under it, Trump could, say, pardon the Russian hackers who have been indicted for attacking the 2016 election (to help Trump), signal to them they should stage a repeat in 2020, and still be invulnerable to impeachment. With his unfounded contention, Dershowitz was establishing the theoretical foundation for Trumpism. With these outrageous actions since impeachment, Trump has aimed to fully implement it. The Justice Department, c’est moi.
The Trumpficiation of this crucial part of the executive branch is a literally an abomination of justice in all these individual instances. But Trump’s war on the department and his long-running assault on the FBI (which is part of it) does more than effect the particular cases and matters he targets. It intimidates the whole system.
Imagine an FBI agent, or a Justice Department prosecutor, or an investigator at the Securities and Exchange Commission, or an IRS agent, or a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives official, or you-get-the-picture, who comes across possible wrongdoing that involves Trump, a Trump family member, a Trump company, a Trump business associate, a Trump donor, or a Trump political ally. How much guts would it take for someone in this position that to investigate the matter? How much courage would it take for that person’s supervisors to approve such an investigation? The investigators and the entire agency could face the wrath of a rage-filled president. He could start tweeting about the officers and officials involved. Maybe use their names.Put them in the spotlight. And Fox News, other rightwing media outlets, and an army of trolls would follow suit, digging up dirt on these government officials, looking not only to discredit them but to destroy them.
Who needs that shit? Who can survive it? Anyone in this position only need to think for a moment about FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page—or to consider the prosecutors in the Stone case. You devote time and energy to doing a tough job, and you end up at best overruled and at the worst pilloried on national television and placed in the line of fire. Your career could be at risk. Your reputation could be shredded. You could receive death threats. Just for doing your job.
As it happened, while I was inline to buy a sandwich for lunch today, two Treasury Department employees said hello to me. One was involved in an office that works with investigations. When I noted my concern that these extreme Trump moves could paralyze people in various federal agencies, one of them said, “Man, that’s the whole damn point. You think we all don’t get it?”
Look at the whistleblower who first raised questions about Trump’s attempt to pressure the Ukrainian president to initiate political investigations that benefit Trump. The president and his devotees in Congress and the media mounted a blitzkrieg against this CIA analyst who had followed appropriate procedure and privately reported his concerns to the intelligence community’s inspector general. The whistleblower was crucified by GOPers at the House impeachment hearings. During the impeachment trial, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), looking to suck up to Trump, displayed a poster with the supposed name of the whistleblower. Trump has repeatedly tweeted about the whistleblower. And the whistleblower and his lawyers have received death threats.
The message to other would-be whistleblowers who might reveal improbity or corruption within the Trump administration: If you say anything, your life could become hell. Hell, your life could be in peril.
This is the real danger. Trump is not merely interfering in a few incidents that directly interest him. He is creating an environment in which he and his cronies and associates are above and beyond the reach of the law. He has turned the Justice Department into a subsidiary of his political operation. Not only does this protect Trump, it makes it harder for the department to perform other necessary functions.
Barr has placed a welcome sign on his department’s door for foreign governments and intelligence services to intervene in US politics by shoving disinformation into the investigative system of the United States. It’s simple: Slip Giuliani a phony document or a compromised source; he hands that bad information to the Justice Department; and US officials have to spend time and resources chasing the false lead. And here’s the bonus: Someone at the department could leak to the media that it is examining a report that a Democratic candidate once took illegal funds from a Chinese source—whether or not that report has any legitimacy—and, presto, Fox News has an exclusive. Russia, if you’re listening….
These are difficult times. Disinformation is a threat to the fabric of American democracy. Trust in government is low. One party has traded checks and balances for tax cuts and judges. For some, the right to vote is under siege. Trump and his enablers have wrought a slow-burn crisis of democracy. They have perverted the basic foundation taught in every high school civics course: this is a government of laws, not of men and women. (Are there still civics courses?) For Trump, this is a government of Trump, for Trump, and by Trump. And his GOP handmaids and tens of millions of Americans are just fine with it.
Roger Stone is a political sleazebag who for decades has proudly engaged in dirty tricks and slime-ball actions to win elections. He is facing prison time for lying to cover up Trump misconduct in the Russia scandal. (Information produced during Stone’s trial suggested that Trump lied to Mueller, which could be a crime.) But Stone is small potatoes compared to Trump’s overall aim: The president seeks the total sublimation of the Justice Department and the whole US government to his will. If he pulls this off, it will be one more reason for that survivor I met, and anyone else who cares about preserving the rule of law and democratic values, to worry.
Doonesbury — What?
Saturday, February 15, 2020
Bring back the Age of Aquarius, please.
They sure do talk funny over there.
Friday, February 14, 2020
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Apparently George Gershwin liked this better than Rhapsody in Blue.
From the Washington Post:
Trump is testing the rule of law one week after his acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial, seeking to bend the executive branch into an instrument for his personal and political vendetta against perceived enemies.
And Trump — simmering with rage, fixated on exacting revenge against those he feels betrayed him and insulated by a compliant Republican Party — is increasingly comfortable doing so to the point of feeling untouchable, according to the president’s advisers and allies.
In the span of 48 hours this week, the president has sought to protect his friends and punish his foes, even at the risk of compromising the Justice Department’s independence and integrity — a stance that his defenders see as entirely justified.
Trump complained publicly about federal prosecutors’ recommended prison sentence for one of his longtime friends and political advisers, Roger Stone. After senior Justice Department officials then overruled prosecutors to lighten Stone’s recommended sentence, the president congratulated Attorney General William P. Barr for “taking charge” with an extraordinary intervention.
This is what the House had in mind when they voted out an article of impeachment on abuse of power. Now it’s “hold my beer.”
He’s settling all the scores now. This is his way of moving on. But unlike Michael Corleone, he’s flapping his gums and tweeting his thumbs, daring the House and the Democrats to come after him again.
His allies and sycophants are fine with what he’s doing. Hey, if they do some shit, get arrested, go to trial, all they have to do is keep quiet and upon conviction know that Trump will call in his buddy Bill Barr and fix it, justice be damned because as we all know, justice has a liberal bias.
They also know that if they do anything that could be seen as weak or disloyal to him — forget what’s right or legal — he will come down on them and their family for seven generations.
If you think this is bad, just wait and see what happens if he gets re-elected.
Wednesday, February 12, 2020
The headlines about Bernie Sanders winning the New Hampshire primary make it sound like the next event will be the balloon drop at the convention for him. But for those of us who remember recent history, he won the New Hampshire primary in 2016 by double digits over Hillary Clinton. How’d that work out for him?
The headlines also proclaim that he is “staking claim to the Democrats’ left wing.” Again, not a news flash, but since he finished 1.5% ahead of Pete Buttigieg and ended up with the same number of delegates (9) as Mayor Pete and three more than Amy Klobuchar, it’s a rather thin claim.
I was slightly surprised to see how Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden did — or didn’t — do. Neither got a delegate out of New Hampshire. Sen. Warren is a next-door neighbor to the Granite State, as is Sen. Sanders, and former Vice President Biden has been on the ballot and campaigned there since the 1970’s, it seems. It’s a little much to read the tea leaves and foredoom both of them, but it’s pure punditry to say that a close finish in the first primary is solid evidence of Dems in Disarray. If anything, it’s clarifying that Andrew Yang and Sen. Michael Bennett dropped out (I had to be reminded that Bennett was even running); I’m gonna miss the $1,000 a month that Mr. Yang was promising me, and Colorado needs Mr. Bennett in the Senate just in case Trumper Corey Gardner wins re-election.
My hope from this point on is that the Democrats will stop their kids-in-the-wayback squabbling and concentrate on the matter at hand: bringing a swift and merciless end to the Trump regime. That’s it. I daresay most Democrats, be they Bernie Bros or Klobuchargers or Mayor Pete’s Brigade, want that too, and now it’s time to get on with it. It will be messy — when is it ever not? — but it’s certainly better than the alternative.
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Yesterday I talked about polls and the fact that they are moments and will soon disappear from memory. But one thing that they can create is an after-image that instills some kind of long-lasting fear of inevitability. That’s mainly due to the message of immediacy that the media wants to convey: “This just in!” and “BREAKING NEWS” with a headline of something we already knew an hour ago and before the commercial for erectile dysfunction.
We can’t let that overwhelm us, and as the wise ones tell us, look at the whole board, not the individual pieces, and look at the long game, not the next move. Remember that when the Democrats finally choose a candidate, they are running against an incumbent that in any other case they would beat at a walk. And while I still believe a poll today is sour milk next week, take some comfort in the fact that at the moment, any one of of the top Democratic candidates could beat Trump.
Bloomberg beats Trump 51-42
Sanders beats Trump 51-43
Biden beats Trump 50-43
Klobuchar beats Trump 49-43
Warren beats Trump 48-44
Buttigieg beats Trump 47-43
Mike Bloomberg isn’t on the ballot in the New Hampshire primary, but he got three write-in votes in Dixville Notch, the little town that votes first. That may be just New Hampshire contrariness, but it also suggests that they’re ready for a big change.
The pundits are telling us that Trump is a juggernaut, that he’s had the best week ever. We dispelled that yesterday, but they want a real race; a landslide that wipes him out doesn’t sell papers or time slots, and we’d be back to getting fascinating lessons in obscure history from Rachel Maddow. Knowing that any one of the six candidates could beat Trump in February means that we really need to make sure that we have one that will do it in November. It only takes one.
Monday, February 10, 2020
It’s February 10, 2020. It’s the 117th anniversary of my grandmother’s birth and nine months minus a week until the general election in November. So, what have the two got to do with each other? Or “Parasite” and the Detroit Tigers?
As far as the collective memory and speed of the media, the distance between the birth of Lola Ada Dunn in Bloomington, Illinois, in 1903 and the election in 2020 are about the same. What happens today will be as distant in our immediate past when the polls open, and I’m pretty sure that if you ask the average voter standing in line on November 3, 2020 what film won the Oscar for the Best Picture last night, they’ll draw a blank. That’s nothing against “Parasite,” but regardless of how important the event is to the average voter, if it didn’t impact them directly, the level of attention to the news of today (“Dems in Disarray! Buttigieg clashes with Klobuchar!” “Trump Triumphant in Impeachment!”) is about the same as what was handed out in Los Angeles last night, and when it will really matter is far, far away.
What that also means is that paying attention to polls today and seeing them as the true harbinger of what will come to pass is like betting on the Tigers to win the World Series based on their record in April. It’s fun and may start a long comment thread on Facebook, but it’s not going to really mean anything except provide distraction during a dreary winter. For instance, a poll came out last week saying Trump’s approval rating had hit 49% and the world freaked out that he might actually break through to 50%, and there were pundits who were actually paid for predicting that with such great numbers, he’d sweep 49 states in the election. Well, that kind of talk will certainly sell a lot of patent medicine during the commercial breaks on MSNBC, but real pollsters know that one poll doth not make an election and that a true scientific reading would include all polls put together in an aggregate. To make one poll the harbinger is like saying winning a four-game series against the Yankees means they’ll win it all.
For those of you who really need to know, though, Trump’s aggregate polling has him at 43% approval rating as of last Friday.
Notice that green line, which is his approval rating since his inauguration. He has been under water since the day he took office, and hasn’t gotten anywhere close to 50% since then. So that one poll that got all the attention last weekend and caused agita among all the Very Serious People was an outlier: one of those little green dots among the many. To make that the story of the week is about the same as giving the Cy Young award to a pitcher who closed out with a single win in April.
That doesn’t mean that everybody can breathe easily and start planning for the Democrats to sweep into power. We know that the GOP will do everything they can, be it legal or not, moral or not, to keep Trump in office and thereby assure their talon-like yet sclerotic grip on power. Democrats have to work especially hard to fight off the scourge of lies and paranoia within their own ranks and basically save both themselves and the rest of us from complacency and placing too much trust in the common sense of the American voter to reject the manipulations of Trump and his minions. We tried that before and it didn’t exactly pan out.
I take small comfort in Trump’s low approval rating other than the fact that even if he does have a base of rock-solid support at 43%, it hasn’t moved significantly since January 20, 2017, and even when he’s had “good” weeks, it hasn’t changed. I’ll wait to see what it’s like in a week or so to see if that clown show at the SOTU has any impact, but if history is any guide, that event has rarely budged a poll for any president, and by November, it will be as distant a memory as 1903.
Oh, and happy birthday, Grammie.
Congratulations to the winners.
Bong Joon Ho, “Parasite”
“Parasite” (South Korea)
“Ford v Ferrari”
Live Action Short
“The Neighbors’ Window”
“Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)”
“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from “Rocketman”
“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”
Makeup and Hairstyling
Sunday, February 9, 2020
Gonna watch the Oscars?
The Firing of Lt. Col. Vindman — Benjamin Wittes in The Atlantic.
In 2018, Donald Trump waited to move against Attorney General Jeff Sessions until the day after the midterm elections—but he didn’t wait a day longer than that. No sooner were the elections over than Trump dismissed Sessions, who had upset the president by recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Sessions, Trump believed, was “supposed to protect” him. The first senator to endorse Trump’s bid for the presidency never regained his favor.
Trump managed to wait two days after his Senate acquittal before taking care of family business, as Michael Corleone would put it, with respect to those who had upset him in the Ukraine affair.
Yesterday, he removed from the National Security Council staff Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman—along with Vindman’s twin brother, who served as an NSC attorney, for good measure. Lieutenant Colonel Vindman had had the temerity to object to Trump’s “perfect” phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and then committed the unforgivable sin of telling the truth about the matter when the House impeachment investigation sought his testimony. The brothers were, according to reports, escorted out of the White House complex.
Explaining himself this morning on Twitter, Trump, of course, went on the attack:
Fake News @CNN & MSDNC keep talking about “Lt. Col.” Vindman as though I should think only how wonderful he was. Actually, I don’t know him, never spoke to him, or met him (I don’t believe!) but, he was very insubordinate, reported contents of my ‘perfect’ calls incorrectly, & was given a horrendous report by his superior, the man he reported to, who publicly stated that Vindman had problems with judgement, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information. In other words, “OUT”.
Trump also fired Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, who had tried to play both sides—testifying in a fashion that upset Trump while being cagey at first and thus raising questions to House members about his candor. Sondland had managed to please nobody, and his presence on the scene at all was, in any event, a function of his large donation to the presidential inaugural committee. He had bought his way into service at the pleasure of the president and, having done so, proceeded to displease the president. Most eyes will, I suspect, remain dry as Sondland blusters his way back to the hotel business.
But Vindman is another story.
His was not a political position. He is an active military officer, rotating through the NSC on assignment. The president can put quotation marks around lieutenant colonel, as he did in today’s tweets, in an effort to demean Vindman’s service, but there is nothing to demean about his service, which has been in all respects honorable. The conduct for which his career has been attacked, what the president calls Vindman’s “insubordination,” was exceptionally brave truth-telling—both in real time and later when Congress sought to hear from him. When that happened, Vindman did not shrink from the obligation to say what had happened.
Unlike his boss, John Bolton, he did not withhold information from Congress, nor did he cite potential privileges that could be resolved only by court order or by book contract. Unlike Sondland, he didn’t waffle when called. Rather, along with a group of other public servants at the NSC, the State Department, and the Defense Department, he went up to Capitol Hill and told the truth.
And thus did Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman join a very special club—a motley crew of public officials who have drawn the public ire of a president of uncompromising vindictiveness for the crime of doing the right thing. It’s a club composed of former FBI officials, including two former directors of the bureau; American ambassadors; a former attorney general; some lawyers and investigators; even the former ambassador to the United States from the United Kingdom—anyone who has a line he or she won’t cross to serve Trump’s personal needs or who insists on doing his or her job by not hiding unpleasant realities.
Membership in this ever less exclusive club entitles Vindman to a number of, uh, benefits: unending, random attack by the most powerful man in the world using any of his available means of communication with the entire globe; mockery and derision by his associated media outlets, a category of abuse that in Vindman’s case includes anti-Semitic insinuations and frivolous allegations of inappropriate liaison with a foreign power; the security threats that inevitably come with such unwanted attention; damage to a distinguished career, a dramatic example of which happened yesterday; and, perhaps most unnerving of all for people who are used to anonymity, a kind of notoriety that leaves club members wondering if the person catching their eye on the street recognizes them with hatred or admiration or something else.
It is all part of a civil-liberties violation so profound that we don’t even have a name for it: the power of the president to suddenly point his finger at a random person and announce that this is the point in the story when that person’s life gets ruined.
Membership in this particular club has some genuine benefits, too. They are hokey things, such as honor and patriotism and duty. Because one thing all of the members of this particular club have in common is that—in very different ways—they all tried to do their jobs. They sought the truth. And they told the truth when called upon to do so.
In his congressional testimony, Alexander Vindman promised his father, “I will be fine for telling the truth.” It is the solemn obligation of the Pentagon and the military brass not to make a naïf of him for saying this. It is the job of the Washington policy community and the private sector to make sure that he is employable when he leaves military service—a role the community has not always played effectively with respect to members of this particular club.
And it is all of our jobs to make sure that Trump’s stigmatization does not work, to push back against his ability to turn public servants into nonpersons when honor and truth-telling displease him.
Thirteen (well, ten) Ways of Looking at an Impeachment — Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker.
(With apologies to Wallace Stevens, and in descending order of despair—though, perhaps, ascending order of importance.)
1. Impeachment was, despite it all, essential.
The purpose of impeachment was never political. It was never meant to be undertaken, and never should have been undertaken, with an eye to the Democrats being in a better political position after it was over. On those grounds it was, as Nancy Pelosi clearly felt, up to the very brink, a gamble not worth taking. The reasonable argument for why it had to be attempted was that to not impeach Donald Trump was not, well, reasonable. To allow obvious heedlessness to pass unchallenged was to collaborate in it. Impeachment was undertaken out of principle—the principle that the rule of law matters, and the corollary principle that political parties are not put in office to practice passivity. And it was, it must always be remembered, undertaken not at the political behest of a few radicals but in response to the collective and appropriate panic of national-security and intelligence professionals within the executive branch, who blew whistles and gave testimony because they believed that the President’s behavior was as wrong as wrong could be. Whether it was politically advantageous or not in the short run, it would have been politically disastrous in the long run to crawl away from such a conflict begun in such patriotic good faith. Right really should matter here.
2. Yes, but Trump won, and the consequences are terrifying.
As some people said at the time, the one good thing about an attempted impeachment was that at least the Republican senators, who all know exactly who and what Trump is, would at last be forced to own their bad consciences. What no one properly understood was that they had no consciences left to own—that their recognition of Trump’s obvious guilt would be overwhelmed by their fear of his opposition and that of his followers; exactly because they knew how bad he was, they would be compelled to redouble their irrational allegiance. They could not even look at any evidence, because they knew what it would show. Bad money always gets thrown in after good, as the gamble becomes ever more desperate. The trouble is that Trump is now left in firmer control of a party made passive by adherence to him, with his wounded narcissism leaving him more evidently deranged than before. His behavior during his post-impeachment appearances might have seemed extreme to Ludwig II of Bavaria, or caused Caligula to raise an eyebrow. Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr will protect Trump while allowing the Justice Department to be used as a weapon against his enemies. Of all the truly frightening moments of the process, the worst might have been the attempt at reassurance by Senator Lamar Alexander, who insisted that, though Trump might have been mistaken to ask a foreign President to investigate his political rivals, he will now know that the right thing to have done would have been to ask his Attorney General to start investigations. That this idea—in itself a betrayal of every imaginable American constitutional principle—was proposed as more appropriate is a true mark of the defeat of the rule of law. Nothing now stands between Trump’s id and Trump’s actions.
3. Actually, Trump won, but it’s trivial.
Trump is an inherently weak President—one with a narrow base of support and zero persuasion skills, and, as of now, one who is too chaotic to be much good at suppressing dissent. His acts and their intended consequences are further apart than our fears and his unhinged rages make us believe. Imagine if the plot had succeeded and the President of Ukraine actually announced investigations into the Bidens—would anyone have actually been fooled about the origins of those investigations, aside from those among Trump’s followers who live to be fooled by him? The true pattern of Trumpism—oafish chaos with self-defeating results, evil talk, and impotent action—will continue. Nothing has altered. The best efforts of Trump are horribly ugly but ultimately meaningless. All that has happened is that we are exactly where we were before, but with one side marginally less passive and the other marginally more enraged. Allowing Trump to have gotten away with his “perfect” phone call would seem to us now far worse as policy, while having exactly the same effect of creating an ever more unbounded Trump. A Trump not called to order would be no different than one who has been.
3. And you know what? Actually, Trump lost.
The idea of a “verdict of history” is an absurdity. But the verdict of verdicts is not. In this regard, Mitt Romney’s speech was, however impotent judicially, dispositive morally. Scoffing at the idea that Trump’s behavior was not impeachable, showing that it obviously was, Romney ended all ambiguity and spoke for the truth, and to history.
4. Adam Schiff’s eloquence will always be remembered.
Certainly, the most permanent moment of the entire impeachment lay in Schiff’s performance before the Senate as the lead House manager. Often speaking extemporaneously, with a sobriety and a carefully paced intelligence that one might have thought had vanished entirely from the American lectern, let alone American politics, he was, without exaggeration, Lincoln-like. Lincoln-like, that is, in a highly specific, formal way: he laid a careful, even tedious foundation of elaborate law and evidence, and then rose to moral exhortation only on that basis. He turned legal argument into moral practice. It may be too late for anyone to act on this truth, but, if the Democratic Party could vote its conscience and its honor right now, it would surely end, en masse, by nominating Schiff for President.
5. And so will Romney’s courage.
John F. Kennedy’s famous book “Profiles in Courage” would be better off called “Profiles in Collaboration,” since, as all now know, it was largely written by his doppelgänger, Theodore Sorensen, albeit from J.F.K.’s ideas, while the courage of many of Kennedy’s subjects, especially those who voted to acquit Andrew Johnson in his impeachment trial, now seems less conclusive than it once did. No matter—the central idea is that democratic politics, though designed to conform legislator to constituency, sometimes demand a legislator who refuses to conform. This idea, of nonconformity through principle, is essential to the difference between demagogic democracy and liberal democracy, and Mitt Romney, whatever his flaws and faults, defined it for his time. (It was made all the more moving by his being inspired by that most echt American of scriptures, the Book of Mormon.)
6. There was a truly shocking collapse of conscience.
The real story was not the complete collapse of conscience among the Senate Republicans. That was to be expected—after all, the first vote for impeachment ever offered by a senator of the same political party as the President was Romney’s. The real collapse was among the higher-ranking politically appointed military and national-security professionals who had been part of Trump’s inner circle before departing it, voluntarily or not. John Bolton’s behavior, in particular, was inexplicable. Clearly filled with contempt for Trump’s manifest unfitness, he refused to speak openly against him, apparently out of some bizarre mix of distaste for the Democratic Congress and a will to sell books in the fall. The passivity of the Republicans was to be expected; that of Bolton was not. Nor was that of other high-ranking former officials, including respected retired generals like James Mattis—and H. R. McMaster and John F. Kelly, who spoke softly, but not sharply. Though they weren’t in the White House at the time of the Ukraine phone call, they know the character of the President. Yet they remained largely silent, seemingly out of a misplaced sense of professionalism and discretion. (Misplaced because of the unique gravity and urgency of the circumstance. Though it’s good for soldiers to be discreet, there are moments when their duties as citizens are more important than their habits as officers.)
7. It’s over, and Trump will win.
An overwhelming number of vectors now point toward Trump’s reëlection this year: the state of the economy, the disarray of the Democrats, and the general truth that incumbent Presidents win. How the Constitution will survive in the face of a second victory, given the speed with which Trump is demolishing it now, is hard to imagine.
8. It’s not over, and Trump will lose.
Trump’s disadvantages remain enormous. No incumbent President before him has done so little to win over even a small part of the opposition. The Democrats just need to nominate someone capable of understanding and acting on the basic truth of all liberal-democratic politics—that what is needed is the broadest possible coalition, the biggest imaginable tent in which to gather the forces against the autocrat. It should not really be as hard as it is threatening to be.
9. History has its eyes on you.
This quote from “Hamilton,” and the very fact that, not long ago, that work, with its image of glorious diversity, was the one great American entertainment, should remind us of how rapidly and suddenly political waves can crest and take over. The contingencies and chances that come with political life are far greater than its destinies and certainties. Any attempt to trace our current crisis to some inexorable pattern laid down in 1964 or 1980 or even 2007 is absurd. It was not very long ago when the natural culmination of the cycles of history seemed to be the Presidency of Barack Obama—a Presidency that had seemed to many impossible to imagine, and that, as hard as it is for progressives to accept, was sufficiently radical to inspire the wild reaction that we are living through now. History is made by lost regiments, late-arriving cavalry, or, in this case, by tens of thousands of votes hived off here and there in Midwestern states. Nothing is written, or fated, or certain, and, as momentous as this election will be, no one knows its outcome, which will depend as much on the tiny fractals of chance as on some inexorable plot in history.
10. History is happening.
One last quote from “Hamilton,” again, to coax us all out of the sudden, enforced numbness that many feel. There has been, perhaps, in the past three years, an undue lack of passion in the opposition to Trump’s degradation of democracy into Putin–Orbán-style autocracy. Too much trust, perhaps, was placed in the workings of constructional processes, culminating in the impeachment and acquittal. During Trump’s term, there has been no march on Washington as large as the first Women’s March, right after the Inauguration, no turn to mass protest as the fundamental anti-democratic nature of the Administration deepens. History will forgive us our failures; it will never forgive us our passivity. The coming months are fateful for our democracy; everyone will be tested, and every vote will count if all these American ambiguities are, somehow, to be resolved.
Doonesbury — Surf you must.