Why It’s So Hard, Once You Get Started, To Stop Keeping The Cannoli

Michael Cohen looks pretty good in comparison to the hysterical and poorly prepared Congressional Republicans (and some Democrats). Relatively speaking, he’s cool, calm, and collected. Bottom line, takes a scumbag to know a scumbag; also, of course he’s not a terribly credible witness without receipts–but he does have some intriguing receipts, and seems to be holding some in reserve, probably on instructions from Mueller’s team.  He and Andrew McCabe presented Trump’s MO is very similar ways: he’s wily enough that he doesn’t directly say “you have to lie on my behalf,” but he coaches and grooms his subordinates (which means pretty much all Americans at this point, in the president’s mind) to parrot the bald lies that Trump feeds to them. Trump’s denials and Cohen’s testimony about the Stormy Daniels hush money may be the big headline for some lazy media outlets, but the more significant breadcrumbs left by Cohen, in my opinion, concern Weisselberg (Trump Org accountant) and Felix Sater and Trump’s possible advance knowledge via Roger Stone about the Wikileaks/GRU anti-Hillary data dump in August 2016

Cohen experienced the “‘intoxicating’ whiff of power” in Trump’s orbit, and is a vivid reminder to all of us tempted to give “Mr. Trump” the benefit of the doubt–don’t be gaslit! Step away from the cannoli! Of course it smells good, but step away.

Post-Truth? Actually It’s Past Time For Coverage Of The Post-Lying Presidency

For almost four years now, mainstream media coverage of Donald Trump has emphasized his many “factually incorrect” statements, and whether or not they ought to be called “lies.”  “Fact checking” has proliferated.  And the firehose of lies continues unabated.  While the president’s many many lies are bad, I believe that it’s time for media coverage to focus more on the bullsh–ing and a little less on the fact checking.  While journalists such as Daniel Dale have done heroic work informing us, and I hope he continues insofar as he can stand it, I hope that the 2020 election coverage is more about who benefits and who doesn’t from Trump’s worldview and corruption and biases and, yes, lies.  Put another way, Trump did not drain the swamp, he filled it up and then kept pouring on the poison and spewing the swamp gas.

With Trump, the signifying is even worse than the lying (for elaboration on this, see Charles H. Long, Significations, and Roger Abrahams, Afro-American Folktales).  And the signifying is aimed at keeping some people down and preserving the sweet deals of the 1% of the 1%.  With Trump, the entitled attitude and the utter lack of respect for the common good and the disrespect for non-privileged strivers is much worse than mere errors and factual misstatements.

Looking toward 2020, it’s not even Trump’s meanness that makes him unfit for the presidency.  We’ve had mean presidents before, but Trump is the first one whom I felt has no sense of loyalty to the people of the United States.  It’s not so much the straying from “truth” and “facts” or even the callousness per se.  It’s the callous disrespect toward anyone who doesn’t serve Trump’s immediate needs (which includes tens of millions of eligible voters who are unlikely to vote for Trump in 2020; but he doesn’t appear to think much of many of “his” voters either).  It’s not just the cruelty, it’s the hysterical self-pitying snowflake fake-victimhood that comes packaged with the cruelty.

The lying is bad enough, but if media criticism of Trump begins and ends with fact-checking, we’re letting him off way too easily and setting ourselves up for further erosion of our democratic republic.  This is not a “truth protected by a ‘bodyguard of lies’ situation.  This is a situation of “Trump bullsh—ing and distracting and yelling “squirrel” to feather his own nest and avoid prison while throwing the rest of us under the bus.

Have The North Carolinians Taken Off The Pictish Warpaint Yet?

Amidst all the other jaw-dropping stories of malfeasance today (and most days tbh) the news out of Raleigh, North Carolina that Mark Harris is now calling for a new election is holding its own in the Crazytown competition.  What made Harris, who had apparently won election to the US House of Representatives last November in the 9th NC district, change his position? Could it have been his own son’s testimony? His son, who is a US attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, seems to have undercut his dad’s professions of innocence and ignorance regarding the apparent election fraud conducted on his behalf by Pictish warrior lookalike McCrae Dowless.  The North Carolina Republican party had, along with Mark Harris, tried for months to wave off the fraud as immaterial to the outcome of the election.  Funny how some election frauds seem to be more equal than others. At last word the state elections board has declared that a new election will now be held.  I have no idea who will run, let alone win, this election, but I do hope there is agreement “on both sides” that North Carolina, and especially the 9th district, needs supervision by grown-up federal agents.  Sorry, Chief Justice Roberts, but it’s true, and your proclamations in the Shelby ruling were way out of line.

Is Presidential Power At Its Lowest Ebb Today?

The president is correct that there have been many national emergency declarations in recent decades (17 by Bill Clinton, 12 by George W. Bush, 13 by Barack Obama).  But none of them seized money appropriated by Congress for other purposes.  A Supreme Court case from the Korean War era shows why presidential power is at its “lowest ebb” today.  Reacting to the possibility of a labor strike at steel mills during that war, President Truman seized the output of mills, provoking the Youngstown Sheet and Tube case, decided in 1952.  The majority opinion rebuked Truman, but the words of the concurring opinion by Justice Robert Jackson (an FDR appointee and author of one of the most fascinating insider accounts of the FDR presidency, That Man) gave the most memorable explanation of the Court’s reasoning on balancing legislative against executive authority. Jackson wrote: The Constitution “enjoins upon its branches separateness but interdependence, autonomy but reciprocity….When the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate….When the President acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority…there is a zone of twilight….When the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb, for then he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter.”  There you have a blueprint for the Supreme Court.  I don’t have any sense of whether the Supreme Court, 67 years after Justice Robert Jackson’s Youngstown concurring opinion, will find a way to uphold the current president’s overreach–but Jackson laid out the way the Constitution ought to be interpreted.

Prime Minister Theresa May Promises “Jam Tomorrow”

Jam tomorrow! Sounds great! Oh, you think mouldy (or moldy) jam is best, Prime Minister? I think not. Please resign now.

I read in the NY Times that schools in England have begun to teach mindfulness. Perhaps after the UK Brexits, the Prime Minister, or ex-Prime Minister, will have some spare time to devote to mindfulness training so that she will think twice before sharing her views on mouldy jam.

Six weeks to go until a disorderly exit from the European Union, and Great Britain, especially the little England faction, seems deeply entrenched in silly season. Don’t these Tories know that wintertime is not silly season? Will they show any awareness at all that putting party over country, as they are still doing, has nothing to do at all with the “blitz spirit” they love to invoke?

Should Governor Ralph Northam Start His Reading Course By Studying The History Of White People?

In a word, yes.  Governor Ralph Northam is reportedly reading Alex Haley’s Roots, as well as Ta-Neheisi Coates.  That’s fine, but if the governor asked me I would suggest he take a look at Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People, Bernard Bailyn’s The Barbarous Years, subtitled The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675, Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed, William Freehling’s Road to Disunion (in two volumes, Secessionists At Bay, 1776-1854 and Secessionists Triumphant, 1854-1861), David Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War In American Memory, Rhys Isaac’s The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790, and maybe even the works of George Fitzhugh, defender of slavery for whites as well as blacks (Cannibals All and Sociology For The South).  If he can read these, or even any two of them, while performing the basic functions of governing, more power to him.  Then if he has the energy, he could certainly look at The Norton Anthology of African-American Literature, including Henry Louis Gates’s preface, “Talking Books.”

I do not need to see Governor Northam’s face on TV doing a “listening tour.”  May I suggest that he do a speaking tour, when he is ready to enlighten us on his journey to wokeness.  He need not impose any additional burdens on the inhabitants of Virginia or the rest of the United States.  We do not need to work to teach him anything.  He is term-limited as governor and is perhaps already a very lame duck, but he ought to think about studying and learning before he “listens” to anybody on camera. If he truly believes that his vocation as a doctor gives him a knack for healing, that’s the least he can do.  If he comes up with a policy agenda that promotes racial “equity,” that would be great too.

Here’s something that Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and probably Ralph Northam have in common: the Dunning thesis, which viewed Reconstruction as a disaster precisely because freedmen were unready for participation in American democracy.  W.E.B. DuBois, in his 1935 book, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880, described Dunning as “less dogmatic” and more “judicious” than some of his reactionary and white supremacist academic colleagues at Johns Hopkins and Columbia and elsewhere, but DuBois levelled sharp criticism of the “Columbia school” for its “endless sympathy with the white South…ridicule, contempt or silence for the Negro,” and its conclusion that the North did a “grievous wrong” by promoting black suffrage.  During the 2016 campaign, both Trump and Clinton showed that they had likely absorbed this version of Reconstruction in high school history and never questioned it.  I imagine the same might well be true of Northam.  And I think that while we could argue over whether Northam made a faux pas by speaking of “indentured servants” at Old Point Comfort, Virginia in 1619, the destructive effect of uncritical absorption of the Dunning thesis on Reconstruction is likely a worse trap.  The civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s was a Second Reconstruction, and we are on the cusp if not in the midst of a Third, with all of the accompanying conflicts and bad conscience and awkwardness.  Ralph Northam, whether he stays in his office or not, is just a small piece of the puzzle.


Is Donald Trump Sr. More Ignorant About American History Than Donald Jr.?

Those (such as Brit Hume) who are saying that the president could not have intended to refer to the Trail of Tears in his recent Twitter attack on Senator Elizabeth Warren now find themselves in a tricky position after Donald Jr. applauded his father’s comment as “savage,” meaning, presumably, “nobly savage.”  The president, in my opinion, is unburdened by much grasp of the details of United States history, but he does have a knack for seizing on tidbits that give support to his “reactionary white majoritarianism,” as Jamelle Bouie put it in a NY Times op-ed piece today.  Given that he made a grossly offensive reference to Wounded Knee just a week or two ago, I suspect he had heard of the Cherokee Trail of Tears when he tweeted the other day.  I do look forward to a Kevin Kruse-like tweet thread from the president in which he smacks down Trump Jr. (just for raising the possibility in some MAGA heads that Sr. could know less than Jr. about anything at all) and lays out just how he “fell in love” with Andrew Jackson and, of course, vice versa.

Our Crusading Days Are Not Over, Say Five Catholic Men On Supreme Court–As They Deny Religious Freedom To A Muslim Facing Execution

Alabama went ahead and executed a convicted murderer last night.  Whatever you think and however you feel about the death penalty, I cannot understand how or why the Supreme Court, specifically five Catholic males on the Court, denied the man on death row his right to a spiritual counselor as he faced execution.  Alabama allows a Christian chaplain to be present during executions, and a federal appeals court put a stay on this execution to look further into the likely violation of the prisoner’s First Amendment religious exercise rights.  If Alabama denied religious counseling of any kind in the death chamber, that would be wrong, vicious, uncivilized, and barbaric–but not religious discrimination.  That’s not the situation here.

Several conservative commentators, to their credit, objected to the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule the appeals court’s stay of execution.  But John Roberts, what were you thinking? Elena Kagan’s dissent called you out for your willful abandonment of the “clearest command of the Establishment Clause,” which is that “one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.”  And you other crusading justices, Alito, and Thomas, and Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh? Were you raised by wolves? Where are your manners? Are you utterly unaware of the history of anti-Catholic discrimination and bigotry in the United States? Not to mention the legal history of Great Britain? And the many high horses you yourselves have ridden re “religious liberty”?  Do you really want to go down in flames by claiming that the prisoner failed to make his request in a timely way? Really? His request to have his imam present–which was completely consistent with Alabama law allowing for a spiritual counselor of one’s choice–was denied on January 23, and he appealed on January 28.  Five days is barely enough for some of you to clear your throats, you whited sepulchral deniers of fairness and justice and religious freedom.  You should truly be ashamed and repent while you still have time.


Click to access 18A815-Dunn-v.-Ray-Order.pdf