Magna Carta Article 40 states: “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.” That affirmation continues to be part of English law almost 800 years later. One might expect true “conservatives” in the U.S. Congress to respect this ancient shout-out on behalf of liberty, but no. Congressman Chris Collins, Republican, uttered the GOP’s bottom line today when he said, “my donors are basically saying, “Get it done or don’t ever call me again.” So much for Paul Ryan’s slick subterfuges. Anyone who can read the plain meaning of words knows where the Republicans are coming from now.
Senator McConnell, as always, is correct when he says there is no “foolproof” solution for massacres like the one in Texas yesterday. But he is old enough to know that legislation is not an exact science. His commentary is true as far as it goes, but that’s not far at all. Fox News is emphasizing the message that “there are no answers, only lots of questions.” Is that really the kind of attitude that made our country as great as it is? Such a no-can-do-spirit.
President Trump says this was a mental health issue, “not a gun situation.” Could have fooled me. Sure the shooter was very disturbed and troubled. But are Americans really ten times or fifty times crazier that citizens of other countries? No, though some days it might seem that way. We are making choices. None foolproof, but some choices are more self-destructive than others.
Donald “L’Etat C’est Moi” Trump has now let us know just how frustrated he is by the separation of powers. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by unfaithfulness to any promise he has ever made, so why would the oath of office be any different? He would really like to be executioner as well as executive. That’s his idea of strong leadership. He has no feel at all for the checks and balances that have helped keep the United States of America a functioning republic. He has a sickeningly sensitive feeling for the best ways to rub salt in social and cultural and economic wounds, but no visible desire at all to promote social unity or healing.
Donald Trump is reported to have required non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements from his employees. At his inauguration as president, he uttered an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. He promised to become a public servant, that is. Now he tells us, openly, that he chafes at the restrictions. Non-disparagement clauses are apparently only for the little people, not for Trump. Since he has admitted that he really, really, wants to seize illegitimate and unconstitutional powers, we are face-to-face with the reality that protecting and defending the separation of powers is everybody’s business in this era of Trump. Most of us used to be reasonably confident that on a given day, we didn’t need to worry about our country sliding into banana republic status. But here we are.
Republican cowardice and petty feuding by Democrats are part of the landscape, sadly. Arguments over the size and shape and priorities of government will and must continue. But defending our Constitution against Trump’s assaults has to be the nonnegotiable top priority for all citizens, the priority from which all distractions are a clear and present danger. If Trump manages to fire Mueller, some say there would be a constitutional crisis. I would say it’s only a crisis if Congress and the courts fail to check Trump by reinstating Mueller in a truly independent position. We can still rely on the Constitution to defend against Trump, but the Constitution is no longer, if it ever was, a machine that runs by itself–it’s going to take people acting firmly, fairly, and consistently to restrain evildoers like him. There’s no need for and no use in panic, instead we need firm, fair, and consistently principled pushback.
Anyone who deserves to call themselves conservative cannot happy hearing a president stomp all over the separation of powers. If a president grasps at judicial power as well as executive power, and “conservatives” are silent, we are in trouble. We are in trouble.
There is nothing conservative about an American president calling for the death penalty against someone not yet convicted of a crime. If the legislative branch, out of a mix of cowardice, an overwhelming desire to please donors, and felt need to kowtow to a rabid base, does nothing to safeguard the “least dangerous” judicial branch, our constitutional republic will be badly wounded. If the president is allowed to derail Mueller’s investigation we do not have separation of powers anymore (of course I know Mueller is operating under Justice Department regulations, but there is no real separation, no check, no balance left, if he is removed and Congress doesn’t immediately restore him as independent counsel or equivalent). If we don’t have three branches of government we have lost the constitutional republic that “conservatives” claim to defend. If we do not preserve, protect, and defend our constitutional republic, it’s gone and not easily restored. There won’t be a gated community with gates strong enough to keep anybody safe.
Maybe Mr. Trump has a point–maybe our justice system is a travesty. If our justice system worked, maybe Donald J. Trump would not be walking free around the White House grounds and his golf courses. Maybe he would have been confined in a narrower space many years ago. Same goes for Paul Manafort and perhaps Tony Podesta too. Quite a few “society offenders,” as Gilbert & Sullivan put it, could well deserve to be confined or sent underground, but are not. (Also, the news out of Guantanamo is not funny, but is operatic.)
Does President Trump believe that our Constitution is a suicide pact? After September 11, 2001, “the Constitution is not a suicide pact” became a way of stressing that we wish to be an open society but not a defenseless one, and thus that some restrictions on our liberties are justified–exactly which ones was and is a subject of debate. Now Trump says we must be much tougher–but on what? on whom? He may be right that vetting should become more extreme, and refugee admission quotas reconsidered, but he failed to put Uzbekistan on any of his own travel ban lists. What’s up with that? When will he ever begin to accept accountability for any of the continuing American carnage? (Hannity and Lewandowski’s slips referring to President Hillary Clinton are revealing, no?) A month after 50 people dead and 500 shot in Las Vegas, is it too soon to draw conclusions and become “much tougher” on bump stocks at a minimum? Was that mass killing “terrorism”? Are we without any remedies against continued carnage like Las Vegas? Was the 2008 DC v. Heller Supreme Court ruling (which for the very first time individualized the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms and crossed out the “well-regulated militia” part) a joke, Mr. President? Was it soft on gun crime? Must the Constitution and the Bill of Rights be read as a suicide pact, Mr. Trump? The issues are complicated, for sure. And the consequences of sloppy word choices and ill-thought-out laws are far more deadly than in the day when “bear arms” meant muskets.
Greg Sargent is right that the whole point of what Trump and now John Kelly say about Mueller and the Confederate statues and black Congresswomen is the power to define truth aside from or over against any and all verifiable fact or reality.
Trump says he cannot be tied down to “political correctness” because he is on a mission to MAGA. But sometimes, just sometimes, there’s no daylight between political correctness and simple politeness and decency.
If I said lack of compromise is what caused the Irish potato famine, John Kelly might (rightly take) offense. He might feel I was disrespecting his ancestors and making apologies for the genocidal actions of powerful English overlords. He would probably be right. But Kelly shows little understanding of or care for how or why his assaults on historical reality vis-a-vis the Civil War might outrage anybody who matters. (BTW Mr. Kelly there were more than “two sides,” there were also freed slaves–did you forget about them?) Kelly did not display much conservative virtue on Fox TV last night. Neither is he the adult in the Oval Office, unfortunately. Conservatism in the USA, real conservatism worthy of the name, is about protecting liberty and keeping government within limits, not about enabling authoritarianism. Real conservatives are suspicious of sweeping change, but not addicted to sentimentalizing past injustices. (Kelly made apologies last night for Chinese authoritarian rule, too.) John Kelly is not a conservative in my book, he is just an abusive reactionary.
Really, sir, no collusion? I believe you don’t recall much at all about it, last year was busy busy for all of us, but did you read the charging document for flippin’ Papadopoulos? And how about “the Professor?” (Nice touch of classiness there, bet he might have gone to an Ivy League college too, even if Russian).
It’s all very complicated, of course. Am hoping Putin will make bail for Manafort and Gates, and then explain everything to us with a press conference right quick. Or if he would just tell us what his Twitter bot number really is, I would be satisfied with that. Teeny tiny collusion, believe me.
The mighty rightwing Wurlitzer is cranked up on high. Presidential twitter is even more snowflake/hysterical than usual. Hillary needs to be locked up; the only debate on Fox is how punishment should be administered.
I do not know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Hillary Clinton is innocent of every crime in the U.S. Code. I do know that Donald Trump and his associates are panicking. I do know that when a president tweets “DO SOMETHING!” on a weekend morning he is trying to incite civil unrest. Whether or not we the people elected a president who combines the worst traits of crime family head and mean girl–OK, it’s not “not,” that is what we did–now what?
We might need more investigations. Some Democrats, maybe some Hollywood wrongdoers too, may need to suffer some consequences. But Hillary’s not our real problem because she doesn’t have the nuclear codes. She has no power to pardon people to cover her tracks and obstruct justice. That is, she’s not president, in spite of Corey Lewandowski’s critique of the “Clinton administration.”
We do not need fewer investigators. Of course Trump and his goodfellas would love to see Robert Mueller out of the picture. It’s probably going to be up to the Republican Congress and maybe the federal courts to restrain Trump. If they don’t, it will be up to the people to repel threats to our constitutional republic.
P.S. Alexander Hamilton wrote in 1792: “the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their prejudices and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion.” In 2017 the enablers of the president are in danger of becoming what Hamilton called “Artificers of monarchy.” (H/T to Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare)
A president, even a very unpopular one like #45, always possesses a great deal of power to initiate events. He is already trying hard to distract us from the indictments coming his way. Trump is not cool, calm, and collected; nor does he have any respect for our constitutional republic, or for liberty, or for limited government, or for checks and balances. He may have the complicity of Republican politicians and big-money donors, and I am not counting on Trump to show any restraint this week as he reacts to Mueller. But his power of initiative should not and won’t go unanswered. I do expect protests in the streets of Washington if he starts firing people in the Justice Department to get at Mueller. Protests need to remain pro-, not just anti-, and that can happen if we all remember what is worth defending: the freedoms promised by the Bill of Rights. They need defending again. That’s pro-liberty. Liberty has been a big talking point of the political and religious right wing, but it needs to be the focus of those who cannot abide what this government is doing now. Facts and science matter; freedom is the precondition that matters even more. The fight against what many now see as Trump’s thuggish agitprop is a fight for liberty and freedom. There are many non-liberal, non-progressive people who are offended by Trump and who may be willing to protest for freedom and liberty. This is not the time for progressive, liberal-minded people to pick fights with them unless there is a compelling reason. I am not expecting to see Jeff Sessions or Mitt Romney or Chris Christie marching against the president, but let’s keep the door open for people like them, take a positive approach, and persuade people with positive arguments.
Julian Assange blames US deep state for delay. Of course he would say that. Ted Cruz’s father is no longer with us, unfortunately. Trump is the master of distraction. Some people say King Xi of China pulling strings. Putin called Xi “odin boyets,” i.e. “lone warrior.” Is Trump really going to Asia next week? Many people say he is going to settle up with whoever is holding his markers–who could that possibly be? Is Russia in Asia? Meanwhile don’t sign any mandatory arbitration clauses for anything no matter how much the sales people bamboozle you. Obamacare is not dead yet, it’s just pining for the fjords.
I feel so very ignorant and trifling. Little did I realize that people who went to Ivy League schools (even U. of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Finance? Is that Ivy League really and truly?) are automatically not-flaming-jackasses. I must have misunderstood and misunderestimated the many such flaming individuals I encountered in eastern and western Massachusetts over the last forty-some years. Silly me.
So Trump says he did not “specifically authorize” the mission in Niger in which four U.S. soldiers were recently killed.
That’s swell. Our dear leader will not be questioned, or blamed, for anything. He will receive a standing ovation, and a perfect 10 out of 10. In case something goes wrong, in case of SNAFU, the buck stops somewhere else. Our new situation normal not normal at all.
And as a civilian U.S. citizen, I do not have a commander-in-chief. I do not have a commanding general. I retain the right–so far–and have the duty to question and evaluate and criticize or praise what they say and do.
Sherrilyn Ifill nailed what Senate Republicans voted for yesterday: “blocking class actions disaggregates the demands of the marginalized & smothers the ability to challenge inequality.” By a vote of 51-50, including yes votes from McCain, Flake, Corker, Collins, and Murkowski, they voted to overturn a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule that would have prevented Wells Fargo and Equifax, among other corporations who are not my friends, from imposing mandatory arbitration clauses on us. We, the actual people, have been forgotten by the parliament of whores who just made it almost impossible to get justice when we are scammed and screwed by banks, credit card issuers, credit report companies, among other evildoers. Some companies are willing to provide good service, reliable value, and negotiate in good faith with customers who have legitimate complaints. Others are not. But in the real world, how many of us, acting one by one, are going to spend the time, energy, and money to go after corporate wrongdoers? We are going to make do and try to move on. Senator Flake and Senator Corker may have uttered noble sentiments recently, but what have they done lately to help the forgotten men and women deal with Equifax and Wells Fargo? Worse than nothing. As Charlie Pierce says about Flake and Corker, faith without works is dead faith.
The “pee tape” is back in the news. I’m being asked to believe that opposition research against Trump is a scandal? Opposition research first paid for by Republicans? Not sure why CNN and MSNBC and the NYT think it’s big news that Democrats would pay for opposition research targeting Donald Trump last year. Trump and Breitbart and Fox are counting on their audience’s confirmation bias to gin up outrage once again. But David Corn of Mother Jones reported the basic facts of the Steele dossier-Fusion GPS story twelve months ago, around Halloween 2016, and the FBI found Christopher Steele believable enough to follow up on his leads (if Trump has evidence that the FBI paid Steele, a) bring it forth–Trump is head of the executive branch of the U.S. government; he oversees and is responsible for the FBI, and b) so what? Steele was not acting as the agent of a foreign government, let alone a hostile or adversarial foreign government). Fusion GPS has apparently worked for both political parties, and may have Kremlin connections too. I wonder which wealthy GOP donor or candidate first employed Fusion to do opposition research on Trump.
If Trump really wants us to look into the “fake dossier,” I’m with him. It’s available online. https://themoscowproject.org/
Meanwhile, what’s this about Trump’s data people trying to collude with Julian Assange? That’s one more piece of evidence, along with Manafort’s ties to Russian oligarchs and the eagerness of Trump Jr. to meet with Russians, that Donald Trump’s campaign was more than willing to accept any help it could get from Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Trump himself, on live TV in the summer of 2016, begged Putin to release stolen emails.
I don’t know how much of the Steele dossier is real news, and how much is fake. I hope Robert Mueller and the Congress are willing and able to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, because our constitutional republic seems to me to be hanging in the balance.
John Kelly called Congresswoman Frederica Wilson an “empty barrel” and I was almost willing to believe that his memory of 2015 was accurate even as I rejected much of what he said as bitter nostalgia for a golden age of “sacredness” that excluded women and black and brown people from equal opportunity in pursuit of America’s bounty. We now have video of Congresswoman Wilson at the ribbon-cutting event in 2015. And who is the emptiest barrel now? The Congresswoman may wear flashy flamboyant hats, but her memory looks more truthful than Kelly’s. I am waiting for Kelly himself to come forward, man up, and apologize for his mistaken accusation. (I am not expecting Sarah Sanders to apologize for envisioning the United States as a banana republic in which public questioning of the generals is verboten.) I am not saying Kelly lied intentionally, but he is a grown man, responsible for his misstatements. This is a separate issue from whether Trump was respectful or disrespectful toward La David Johnson’s widow and family. That I don’t know for sure one way or the other and don’t need to know. This is about John Kelly, White House Chief of Staff, retired general, and his pseudo-Spartan attitude. He served, his son died, and now he is a civilian and a political appointee of a civilian president. All of us have a right and a duty to ask questions of Kelly and of Trump, and if we ask them sincerely we deserve respectful answers. No member of the press–whose job is represent citizens by asking questions that hold government accountable–should accept Kelly’s dangerous limit on who can question him. The press cannot control Kelly’s behavior much less Trump’s, but they might skip the “semper fi” shout-out when Kelly refuses to take questions from anyone not personally connected with Gold Star families. Kelly did nothing to bridge the very real gap between the military’s world and the civilian’s world. He served, honorably so far as I know, but the last thing our country needs is any White House employee playing fake Spartacus in order to avoid answering questions. A real Spartacus would not play such a dishonest game.
Mr. Kelly, if you want to keep the sacrifices of American soldiers “sacred,” you could reflect on who first made a public spectacle out of your own son’s death. It wasn’t a Democratic Congresswoman listening to a speakerphone, it was our president and your boss. He wasn’t counterpunching, he made this into a contentious issue all by himself. Others, including media and politicians, may have all kinds of motives, and maybe some people are “empty barrels,” but if you think Trump was not gratuitously trashing President Obama to deflect blame from himself, you are deluding yourself. If you think Trump ever allows the buck to stop with him, you are not paying close attention, and the country needs you to pay closer attention if you are going to stay in your job. If the mother of Sgt. Johnson backed up Congresswoman Wilson’s account, which she did, what exactly stunned you? She was traveling with the Johnson family when the call came; that’s between them, none of your concern. If it is the violation of sacred sacrifices that stuns or offends you (and you do have a real point there, sadly) that ship sailed when Trump chose of his own free will to make an issue of Presidents Obama and Bush and how they responded to soldiers’ deaths. Not to forget Trump’s unpardonable attack on John McCain for getting himself captured in Vietnam.
Soldiers on active duty may or may not the finest 1% of our country, but you are no longer among them. You are a retired general, and you are now serving your country in a political role. I cannot as a citizen let myself be swayed by deference to your past military service, because everything you do affects politics and policy. Precisely because you are a civilian, it is vulgar and vicious of you to pull rank on the rest of us by claiming that non-military just don’t get what soldiers go through. There are all kinds of ways to suffer, and you ought to know that at your age (which is about the same as mine). You said today “there’s no reason to enlist.” I’m not sure what you meant, unless it’s that there’s no draft and military service is entirely voluntary. If you have such bitterness about the way our society is organized, and believe that there should be a military draft or some compulsory service, go on and say so. Don’t be brittle, be constructive. You lament the loss of sacredness: women aren’t held sacred anymore, you say, nor is religion. Is that so? The Constitution does not mention the word “God.” That was not an accident or oversight by the Founders, and I do not need to hear you, a civil servant, tell me and my fellow citizens how or what or how much we should believe or practice our faith or not. As for women, they know better than I the cost in lost opportunity of being held “sacred,” and have you watched any tapes of your boss talking about Megyn Kelly, or beauty pageants, or–really, sir, you might give the critiques of our culture’s coarseness a rest so long as you serve Trump.
I appeal to you as “Mr. Kelly” because you in 2017 are a political appointee of a (relentlessly political) president. That president is not my commander-in-chief, not because of his own shirking of service, but because I am a civilian. I have a president, I have representatives in Congress, I live in the midst of police officers and firefighters, but I do not live under the authority of any military commanders. Your military identity is clearly central to you, and you showed today how grieved you are that the sacrifices of soldiers are not, in your eyes, held sacred. You are on to something very real. I would feel you were keeping perspective if you also acknowledged the dangerous ways that we have also become a society in which (as Rosa Brooks writes) “everything is war and the military is everything.” You showed so much grievance and bitterness today that I wonder if you can even remember that you are serving in a political role in the White House–and it is not cool, not kosher at all for you in your current job to pull rank on and disparage civilian American life. You are a civilian too now, and along with every other American, I have the right and in fact duty to exercise my best political judgment about you and your boss without being obstructed by the bad faith of your Spartanism. I mean a bad faith that draws sharp lines between civilian and military when it suits one purpose but blurs the lines when that suits another purpose. When you said today you would take questions only from those who are personally connected to a Gold Star family you lost touch with the greatness of our free press tradition. Does your personal suffering insulate you from questioning from those you deem unworthy? It takes all kinds to ask and to answer questions in a democratic nation, Mr. Kelly, and you head down a dangerous path when you forget that.
Finally, you chose to not answer the question, “what are doing in Niger anyway?” You are not the only one to evade that question lately, but if our public officials can’t or won’t explain what our “warfighters” are fighting for, what kind of democratic constitutional republic do we have left? I am sad to hear of American military deaths anywhere, but I also wonder, what the heck is going on?
Trump and the Republicans, bless their hearts, have not passed a single law repealing or replacing or even modifying Obamacare, that is the Affordable Care Act (for anyone who still has been tricked into believing there’s daylight between the two). And yet President Trump today said: Obamacare is dead; It’s an ex-health care law; I stomped all over it, I may have even peed on it, you’ll know the details in a very short period of time, believe me.
I am counting on the law still applying two weeks from now when the signup period starts. It’s much shorter than last year, unless you live in one of twelve or so states that run their own state exchanges. Even so, I do not believe the Affordable Care Act is dead. I do not even believe I will need to go to court, even small claims court, to ensure that I get covered.
But I do not expect President Trump to tell me any of that. I would like to respect the “office of the Presidency,” but I cannot afford to fool around with my health care insurance, so I am just going to have to reconcile myself to the huge credibility gap between what my president says and what the law says. Hat tip to Monty Python, they could have and kinda sorta did predict it all. Pining for the fjords, indeed.
Our president falsely claimed today that his predecessor Barack Obama “and other presidents” failed to call the families of U.S. soldiers killed in action. Trump has apparently not yet called family members of the Green Berets killed in Niger. Perhaps that is why he deflected and lied. By the way, I don’t believe he has a record of military service that I could thank him for, does he? So maybe he ought to lay low when it comes to who might or might not have shown disrespect for the military. It takes some kind of nerve for him to claim that football players are disrespecting the flag when they protest against patterns of police violence against blacks by kneeling peacefully–and then make jokes about the flag and about prayer (according to reports about the so-called Values Voters Summit this past weekend, and a New Yorker article by Jane Mayer about Pence). I’m not quite sure what it means when Jerry Jones takes a knee, or what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s message is, or what exactly the motives of Colin Kaepernick or other football players really are, but I do know that Trump is up to no good and is mainly rubbing salt on wounds to get people spun up and distracted from the damage he is doing to our whole health care system, not just the folks on Obamacare (which I believe is not dead, nor is it just “resting,” nor is it “pining for the fjords,” but I digress).
Trump has an acute feel for wounds and sore points in American memory. He says that he wants nothing so much as American unity, but the catch is that the unity must involve subservience to and glorification of Trump. He summons Americans to remember the past in a way that he says will make America great again, but he says little about “freedom” or “liberty,” and that’s no accident. He has a sharp feeling for what divides us, and an acute sense for when and how to stir up feelings of grievance and victimhood. But he has little feel for how to bind up wounds, how to encourage pluralism and a healthy diversity of opinion, and how to promote real social and political and economic reconciliation.
Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005), World War II POW, philosopher in France and at the University of Chicago, wrote in Memory, History, Forgetting how memories can be manipulated, blocked, and abused, as well as how commemoration is used by political elites to impose a particular version of collective memory so as to consolidate their power. Trump’s version of “memory abusively summoned” (p. 57 in Ricoeur, MHF) is not new (and certainly not new for him!), but it is too insidious and pernicious to let pass. Trump has low approval ratings and very low trust ratings right now, but even so it seems to take much effort of will for many in the media to report what is right in front of them: Trump is lying about Obama when he accuses Obama of disrespectful amnesia about dead soldiers. Trump is summoning a First Amendment-free zone of anti-consitutional patriotism when he attacks football players and others who question police shootings. Trump is summoning a false unity based on his authoritarian claim that “I alone,” (Trump the “charismatic chief sent from above,” in Max Weber’s terms) can solve America’s problems. We as a country have a chance to put Trump in the rear-view mirror, so long as we don’t let him suppress our memories of what really made America as good and great as it is. Every day with Trump is a day that will live in infamy, the infamy of memory manipulated and abused in service of one man’s narrowly bounded desires, not our country’s needs.
From Paul Ricoeur, Memory, History, Forgetting, Chicago, 2004: “the abuses of natural memory….will be divided into three levels: on the pathological, therapeutic level, the disturbances of blocked memory will emerge; on the properly practical level, those of manipulated memory; and on the ethico-political level, those of a memory abusively summoned, where commemoration rhymes with rememoration. These multiple forms of abuse expose the fundamental vulnerability of memory (57)….What we celebrate under the title of founding events are, essentially, acts of violence legitimated after the fact by a precarious state of right. What was glory for some was humiliation for others….In this way, symbolic wounds calling for healing are stored in the archives of the collective memory (79)….It is…the selective function of the narrative that opens to manipulation the opportunity and the means of a clever strategy, consisting from the outset in a strategy of forgetting as much as in a strategy of remembering….where ideology operates as a discourse justifying power [and] domination…the resources of manipulation provided by narrative are mobilized….Even the tyrant needs a rhetorician, a sophist, to broadcast his enterprise of seduction and intimidation in the form of words….stories of founding events, of glory and humiliation, feed the discourse of flattery or of fear….imposed memory is armed with a history that is itself ‘authorized,’ the official history, the history publicly learned and celebrated….The circumscription of the narrative is thus placed in the service of the circumscription of the identity defining the community….To this forced memorization are added the customary commemorations. A formidable pact is concluded in this way between remembrance, memorization, and commemoration (85)….It is useful, as it was in the time of the Greeks and the Romans, to reaffirm national unity by a liturgy of language, extended by the ceremonies of hymns and public celebrations. But is it not a defect in this imaginary unity that it erases from the official memory the examples of crimes likely to protect the future from the errors of the past and, by depriving public opinion of the benefits of dissensus, of condemning competing memories to an unhealthy underground existence? (455).”
Even if we are in pretty good health and have some money saved up, Trump acts as if he can take our friends, cousins, and our children hostage to his whims, and then we’ll give him what he wants. What he wants is always the same: we bow down to his royal self and praise his wisdom and benevolence.
We really can’t afford to do what he wants, or treat him as if he is a serious person, let alone an honorable and authoritative figure. I don’t expect him to be an expert on health care policy, but is it too much to ask that a president not act first and foremost out of obvious malice? I don’t expect him to know that there is no president of the Virgin Islands other than him, but it would be great if he didn’t treat American citizens as disposable losers less than a month after they got flattened by two hurricanes. But it looks like anything that gets in the way of Trump indulging himself in the pleasures of the thug life is going to fall by the wayside.
U must be kidding, Mr. President! The “disgusting” First Amendment is a problem, you say. Yeah, it’s inconvenient sometimes. Your tooting and huffing and puffing–not the answer.
“Moron” isn’t the first word I would use to describe Trump. It’s the vindictive, destructive, sociopathic, me-first, divide-to-conquer, scorched-earth narcissism that gets me. I read that Trump is capable of listening to and in fact encourages diverse viewpoints and opinions. (In other words, maybe Trump would win an IQ face-off with Tillerson; Corker’s critique of Trump are closer to the mark.) He has acute sensitivity to the sore spots in our culture. It’s what he does with his acuity that really worries me.
Senator Bob Corker spoke obvious but taboo (for most Republican politicians) truths yesterday about President Trump. If Trump is not a clear and present danger to our country and the world, I don’t know who or what would be. This is not the time for progressives or liberals or “leftists” to dwell on Corker’s past sins, which I believe are multiple. But all of us are, as Martin Luther said almost five hundred years ago, simultaneously sinners and justified. I am not a Lutheran, but I have to agree that Luther’s formula captures a reality about people, even if I don’t want to accept the Smalcald Articles, or the Synod of Dort, or other confessions and creeds. Corker did the United States a service by saying what he did, and it is up to the Republican majority in Congress, and the Cabinet secretaries, and the rest of us, to do what we can to preserve and protect our constitutional republic and make our country as great as it can possibly be. Corker, for the moment, has done his part.
According to reports today, Eric Shanks says “the standard procedure is not to show [the national anthem being sung] because of the way the commercial format works and the timing of the anthem to get to the kickoff.” Translation: who cares about the national anthem, it’s all about the football and the thrill of the bone-cracking and the brain trauma and the amazing athleticism etc. Shanks said the Fox Sports Network planned to revert to the usual practice of selling the anthem time to advertisers, except for the Thursday night game and the Super Bowl.
So is Eric Shanks being ungrateful-while-white and unpatriotic to boot? Maybe, but if we want to look at the real enemy, we should just look in the mirror. We the American sports-watching public have been disrespecting the flag. If we really respected the flag and the anthem as much as the President keeps tweeting that we should, Fox would televise the anthem all the time. We prefer ads, or we put up with them. Have we been protesting against Fox for depriving us of televised anthems? I don’t think so. So let’s ease up on blaming the colored people for being uppity and ungrateful.
I am still hearing and reading that so-and-so has “defied” President Donald Trump, and I am tired of it. Wake up media people: it doesn’t make much sense anymore to speak of “defiance” unless you are convinced that Trump has moral authority to defy. Do you really believe that? Even if there are many fine arguments of both sides of the issue (i.e. whether Trump possesses any moral authority), the principles of objective journalism demand that a less biased formula be found. Or that there be a disclaimer, such as “some people say that our president still has some moral authority left to defy, while others maintain that he lacks all moral authority.” I don’t want to hear any ungrateful uppity defiant backtalk from anybody about this.
Really, Mr. Attorney General? You give a speech about free speech, in Georgetown, D.C., and you shut out students who signed up to see you speak? That is disrespectful of the republic, and very disrespectful of the principles for which the flag stands.
When I call Donald J. Trump uppity, it hasn’t got anything at all to do with race. Did I say Trump is a disgrace to the Scottish people, or the German people, or the people of Queens, New York? Did I call him ungrateful for the sacrifices others made instead of him when he got his bone spur deferments fifty years ago? Did I say he disgraced our best heritage way back when he insulted all military veterans by saying McCain wasn’t a hero because he got captured? If I did, it wouldn’t have a single thing to do with his race.
Is “ungrateful” the new “uppity”? Of course it is (h/t Jelani Cobb).
The President has every right to say what he likes, even and maybe especially when he defaults to the false and nasty binary choices he loves to use so he can pretend to be a uniter instead of what and who he really is.
And of course it’s not at all about race and the president, of course, has said nothing about race. And I have such a bad case of historical amnesia that I can barely tell that he’s BSing us when he isn’t flat-out lying. I can barely tell that it’s really all about the dog whistles.
First, I defend President Trump’s First Amendment right to say whatever sick, twisted, ugly ideas pop into his head. Maybe our country will ultimately turn out better off for having to deal with his wretched, heathen, malicious words and actions. I also support the right of Colin Kaepernick, Tim Tebow, LeBron James, and all other athletes and non-athletes to express their political and social opinions, in any setting they choose. I also reserve the right to turn off the TV, unplug the device, block (or try to) the targeted ads, and go out for a walk while the sun shines.
Maybe pro athletes would be better off “staying in their own lane,” but that is a trivial debate compared with the problem of Trump staying in his own proper sphere. Of course he isn’t really up to it, which explains the unending sideshows. He is doing very few of us any good by refusing to pay attention to actually improving people’s lives. If President Trump would stay in his own governance lane (which should not be “playing the fool” but here we are) and focus on improving the opportunities open to the American people, he might achieve some actual success. He could focus on the help people in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands need. He could focus on rebuilding our worn-out infrastructure. He could admit that his cabinet secretaries have abused their position to rip off taxpayers by taking private jets for no good reason, and fire them.
All that might be harder work than deflecting and distracting us, and I am not at all sure he is up to studying the actual details of, say, a health care proposal for more than 30 seconds. He promised all kinds of great improvements to the supposedly abominable Affordable Care Act, yet he has harmed millions of his own supporters by sabotaging the law that is still “on the books,” while denying that any bad outcomes could ever be his fault–as if the glory of being president brings no corresponding accountability. If he would pay any attention at all to specifics he would know that the latest Graham-Cassidy plan falls way short of his promises. His fellow Republicans have given up pretending that they have a plan that will cover everybody, or even the same number of people now covered. Paul Ryan and other Republicans have attacked the idea that healthy people should have to pay for sick people getting care–that’s the way most insurance works, guys. We all hope we stay well and our cars don’t get rear-ended and our homes don’t get hit by an asteroid. In the meantime, we pay for insurance. We will be better off the sooner we get to a universal risk pool. Attention definitely needs to be paid to free-rider problems and to setting incentives and nudges and limits, but we can do all that and move much nearer to universal coverage.
For immediate release: Apple Inc., despite apparent failure of Face ID in iPhone X demo, announces its intention to go full 1984. Visitors to Town Centers will be subject to compliance with all OS Human Interface Guidelines, 2017 Edition, according to which any negative thoughts regarding the new introductory price points and inadequacies of RAM storage will be punished subliminally via deep-techstate thought control. Don’t even think about having any suboptimally negative cognitive episodes inside a Town Center. Suboptimal thinkers will be assigned to retraining at sub-genius bars staffed by former Apple employees now serving as volunteer reeducation camp interns. If Highland Clearances don’t get rid of bad thoughts, Lowland Clearances will ensue.
Any and all references to dystopian fiction or horror movies strictly coincidental. But the 1984 Super Bowl commercial will be shown to negative-thinking visitors on endless infinite loop until they repent by preordering at least $477 of Apple Inc. profit-margin in goods and services.
Steve Bannon, in his interview with Charlie Rose of CBS, claimed that the Access Hollywood (“grab them”) tape had no lasting impact on last year’s campaign “yet, if you see the mainstream media that day, it was, literally, he was falling into Dante’s inferno.” Let’s fact-check that statement.
The first circle of hell isn’t really hell proper but limbo, for virtuous pagans, and Trump does not qualify because he is a baptized Christian, sorry bad luck Mr. President, better luck in some other universe. The second circle of Dante’s hell is reserved for the lustful. Enough said. Circle #3 is for gluttons, little doubt there (two scoops!). Circle four is for the greedy, whom Trump literally tried to shove out of his way in a futile effort to get back to circle 2, but he fell back downward instead and encountered a few more of his fellow hoarders and spendthrifts (did I mention that Trump Dubai is using a Chinese-government-owned contractor, contrary to one of Trump’s campaign promises?) before descending to the lowest circle of upper hell, the one occupied by the wrathful (“lock her up”; “I’m the fucking president”).
And now unbar the gates of Dis and welcome to Nether Hell. The River Styx will soon be the happiest memory you have left, Donald, as we cross from passive sin to active sin, starting with heresy and idolatry. Trump might at first seem innocent of heretical ideas, but if we scratch just a little we remember his denial that ever needs to repent for anything. If that is not heresy and idolatry, what is? Trump is guilty of obdurate refusal to ever acknowledge humbleness. And this is not yet the worst of the active sins. Next is the seventh circle of Dante’s inferno, home to the violent: the war-makers, tyrants, plunderers, blasphemers, sodomites, the violent against art, and usurers. Perhaps Mr. Trump has not yet committed all of these horrible sins, but we haven’t seen all the tapes yet either, have we?
Over the waterfall we go, over the great cliff, down to the eighth circle, where we are met by Geryon, the Monster of Fraud. A truly Trumpian circle, containing the malicious, the panderers, the seducers, the flatterers, the falsifiers, the sowers of discord, the grafters, the barrators (think “emoluments clause”!), and the simoniacs (not sure about this, but Mueller ought to look into it too IMHO). And finally, the ninth circle of hell, in which the traitors dwell. Not that I feel any great sympathy for Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, but do you think in their hearts they harbor any doubt at all that Donald J. Trump belongs right here? Anyone think they would lend him a hand or a rope? Let’s leave Mr. Trump here where he belongs, bearing in mind of course that Dante wrote two more books. And that Trump himself admitted that becoming president was probably his last best shot at getting into heaven–yes, he did really say that!
To the best of my knowledge I have never promised Facebook anything or accepted any of Facebook’s Terms of Service or acknowledged Facebook’s “Rights and Responsibilities.” But just because I have been uninterested in belonging to Facebook doesn’t mean Facebook has been uninterested in subsuming me (and all other humans on our planet) in its grand social project. (See Pericles of Athens: “just because you are not interested in politics does not mean politics is not interested in you.”)
Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, posted an “update on information operations on Facebook” yesterday. Stamos acknowledges that Russian interference in last year’s election included about $100,000 worth of Facebook ads (which I assume is the tip of the iceberg). He also acknowledges that “we know we have to stay vigilant to keep ahead of people who try to misuse our platform,” but he does not yield the high ground, asserting that “we believe in protecting the integrity of civic discourse, and require advertisers on our platform to follow both our policies and all applicable laws.” OK, Mr. Stamos, let’s back it up a bit. You “require”? I think you didn’t. I think you and Mark Zuckerberg did not make that “requirement” a high enough priority. I am glad to hear that Facebook is “exploring several new improvement to [y]our systems for keeping inauthentic accounts and activity off” Facebook. If you are serious about spending some real money to keep Russian troll farms away from our next election, that’s great. I suspect that you and Mr. Zuckerberg did not do enough to protect our election last year because of a particular blind spot: you feel overregulated. You are mistaken. We can and should debate how to implement net neutrality and how to keep the internet and social media from becoming even more dystopian than current trends portend. But the bias of Silicon Valley that “we are a whole lot smarter than government, let alone the masses, and the world is best off when we pay minimal taxes because we will choose philanthropic projects that are far better than what government would come up with.” Maybe that’s partly true, but Silicon Valley’s success in evading regulations (and Congressional paralysis and tech illiteracy, to be fair) led to a disastrous outcome last year. I am not referring to the victory of Trump so much as the grossly suboptimal investment in real time in technologies and human-engineer-power that could have kept trolls, bots, and other “inauthentic” activity at bay. Does your “suboptimalness” bother you yet, Mr. Zuckerberg? Do you have the “bandwidth” to deal with the serious problem on your hands? Are you willing, despite continuing underregulation of your remarkably profitable enterprise, to look at a picture that is possibly even bigger than the glorious philanthropic initiatives you have doubtless planned? Do you actually have enough social imagination to lead Facebook where it needs to go?
I would love to associate myself with Donald Trump’s totally true remark today that “there are a lot of good reasons” to eliminate the debt ceiling. Convenient? Of course. Hypocritical? Hmm, let’s take a look: 2011 Trump said “the debt limit cannot be raised until Obama spending is contained.” “TIME TO CUT, CAP, AND BALANCE.” “There is no revenue problem.” 2012 Trump: “the Republicans once again hold all the cards with the debt ceiling. They can get everything they want. Focus!”
Donald Trump has zero reason to regret or retract anything, ever. Chuck and Nancy will confirm that if you ask them.
In his recent Charlie Rose interview, Steve Bannon criticized Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York and other U.S. Catholic bishops for their opposition to President Trump’s decision to rescind DACA protections for “Dreamers.” Bannon said that “as much as I respect Cardinal Dolan and the bishops on doctrine, this is not doctrine. This is not doctrine at all. I totally respect the pope and I totally respect the Catholic bishops and cardinals on doctrine. This is not about doctrine. This is about the sovereignty of a nation. And in that regard, they’re just another guy with an opinion.”
Bannon does not want American Catholics to follow the bishops and cardinals on the immigration issue. He wants Catholic voters, as well as evangelical Protestants and others, to follow his own nativist opinions. But he is misleading or mendacious or untutored (or a combination) about what is and isn’t doctrine. Christian doctrine is Christian teaching. Whether it is sound or unsound doctrine depends first on how faithful it is to the Christian scriptures. Sound Christian teaching also needs to be congruent (especially for Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians, but also, in sometimes complicated and conflictual ways, for Protestant Christians) with church traditions, as expressed, for example, in creeds, confessions, encyclicals, and other teaching statements. If Bannon had said “dogma” instead of doctrine he might have been somewhat less wrong, but even putatively infallible Catholic dogmas [which are few] are statements of Christian teaching to build up faith and practice, not primarily metaphysical speculations. Of course there is a distinction between “doctrine” and “life,” but a separation would be unscriptural, untraditional, and unfaithful.
Sound doctrine rooted in Scripture can certainly rely on the many Biblical injunctions to “welcome the stranger” going back to the book of Exodus. If Steve Bannon believes that Christian doctrine has no pertinence to governmental restrictions on immigration and no claim on his attention when it is employed to criticize his nativist anti-immigrant viewpoint, he is really saying that Christian doctrine has nothing to do with any actual issue. Bannon has plenty of company if that’s what he believes, but not good company, and he has effectively renounced his claim to grasp Catholic Christian tradition. Bannon is not wrong to associate the immigration issue with “the sovereignty of a nation” (but leaves Catholicity behind when he separates nation-sovereignty completely from sovereignty of God). And the U.S. Catholic bishops are certainly capable of misconstruing Scripture and Catholic tradition in this or that way. But when Bannon calls the cardinals and bishops “just another guy with an opinion” regarding welcoming or deporting immigrants, he has defined “doctrine” as conveniently irrelevant to all real-life controversies and left Catholic and Christian tradition in the dust.
P.S. Don’t trust me? Let me quote from a guy with an opinion, St. Augustine, Book One, section 30 of his De Doctrina Christiana: after quoting Matthew 22:37-40 on love of God and neighbor, Augustine tells us that “it is clear that we should understand by our neighbor the person to whom an act of compassion is due if he needs it or would be due if he needed it. It follows from this that a person from whom an act of compassion is due to us in our turn is also our neighbor. For the word ‘neighbor’ implies a relationship…who can fail to see that there is no exception to this, nobody to whom compassion is not due?” Is Augustine Catholic enough? Does Augustine know what doctrine is about? Does not even Thomas Aquinas say (Summa Theologica, first part, first question, articles 1, 4, and 5) that sacred doctrine is not just philosophical and speculative but also practical–and thus nobler than other “sciences”? And if Mr. Bannon wishes to delve into doctrine in a serious way, I suggest he study the First Part of the Second Part of the Summa T., treatise on the virtues, q. 56, article 4: “Whether the irascible and concupiscible powers are the subject of virtue,” or not.
Putin said today that Trump “is not my bride, and I am not his groom.” Of course not. In this new day, the etiquette of gay marriage permits both parties to be the groom, should “they” so desire.
Regarding the “denials” and “affirmations” of the recent “Nashville Statement” on “Biblical sexuality” from the self-styled Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, I hereby deny the following: that the signers have any special idea what cards God is holding.
After Hurricane Katrina, Mike Pence, then an Indiana Congressman, said on the House floor that “as we begin to rebuild…let’s figure out how we’re going to pay for it. Congress must ensure that a catastrophe of nature does not become a catastrophe of debt for our children and grandchildren.” That was then. Today Pence said in Rockport, Texas, that Houston is going to be rebuilt “bigger and better.” Pious hypocrisy at the expense of poor people and non-Republican people comes naturally to the Vice President. But Pence leaped beyond hypocrisy today into heathenism.
If Pence actually cared about not creating a catastrophe of future debt, rebuilding Houston even bigger is wrong and stupid. Paving over what’s left of the prairies that used to soak up rainwater, and loosening lax building codes even further, is not going to reduce future government debt unless the federal government treats Texans as if they had truly seceded and excludes them from disaster relief. President Trump signed an executive order just ten days before Hurricane Harvey hit that revoked prudent regulations set in 2015 but not yet put into force. The Obama-era rules, according to Business Insider, “would have required the federal government to take into account the risk of flooding and sea-level rise as a result of climate change when constructing new infrastructure and rebuilding after disasters.” That kind of basic stewardship of resources and that kind of cautiousness are apparently foreign to the Trump-Pence administration. In fact, Pence’s “bigger and better” promise today goes beyond hypocrisy and amounts to false piety. How so? What Pence’s embrace of Osteen-style prosperity gospel doesn’t get about Christian faith is something John Calvin grasped quite clearly: the doctrine of God’s providence does not authorize or empower us to stop paying prudential attention to the “secondary causes” we find in the visible world. Believing in God’s providence does not allow, much less require, us to rebuild “bigger” in a subtropical coastal plain that has become a toxic swamp of hazardous and explosive chemicals. Faithful Christian stewardship (and Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or pagan stewardship, for that matter) of our only planet is a far cry from the heathenish YOLO attitude we hear from Trump and Pence whenever it suits their political purposes.
Paul Ryan, by the way, has attacked Obamacare because it crushes “freedom” and forces healthy people to pay for sick people. How does Speaker Ryan feel about forcing dry people to pay for flooded people? That is how risk pools work, Paul. I do feel that if the federal government makes sensible regulatory restrictions on rebuilding after disasters difficult or impossible, we are in for an even faster race to the bottom, and an ugly future in which an universal American risk pool for health care or disaster relief recedes onto an even more distant horizon.
It’s really not only Americans who insist on trying absolutely everything else before doing the right thing, as Winston Churchill (or maybe Abba Eban) is supposed to have said. Tens of thousands of people were killed by the waters of the Thames River in the 19th century before London managed to build an effective sewer system and river embankments to stop the spread of cholera. Why did it take over fifteen years after the cause of cholera was pinpointed by physician John Snow before the city completed construction of the Victoria Embankment and the sewers that intercepted effluent and dumped it downstream of urban London? Jerry White, who has written three fine books on London in the twentieth, nineteenth, and eighteenth centuries (their order of publication reversed the temporal flow) pointed to the “querulousness, doubts, vacillation, personality clashes and petty jealousies, the almost endless timewasting” before the Metropolitan Board of Works finished work on the two projects (and as White notes, the achievement was “equivocal” in that heavy rains continued to overload the sewage system until at least the 1880s and in parts of London until the late twentieth century).
Does any of this have anything to do with Hurricane Harvey? I suspect that our American way of not doing the right things will not mirror the Londoners’ way of “querulousness” and “vacillation.” Our way seems to be more explosively obstinate. We have a president who scoffs at climate change (let alone “global warming”) because he says it is not nearly as big a problem as nuclear conflict, and maybe he is right. But couldn’t I expect our political leaders to pay close attention to both? Walk and chew gum: too much to ask? Sad to say they may be reflecting the muddled self-serving wishes of us, the constituents, to be “free” and “left alone” but also to count on government as our backstop. As Jerry White sums up how London coped or didn’t with mass deaths from cholera, “a mean-spirited reluctance ever to put enough capital into public works tarnished the very greatest of London’s civic achievements of the nineteenth century.” With floods made worse, if not caused in every instance, by global warming, in the end there is no such thing as a gated community–but you couldn’t tell that from our president’s speech today calling for cutting taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
Is Senator Ted Cruz just your everyday hypocrite, or a full-fledged casuist? He supports federal aid to Texas pronto in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. That’s his job, really, since he represents the people of Texas. He did not see his way clear to voting in favor of federal aid after Hurricane Sandy, though. And he denies that his motivation then differs in any way from his motivation now. An unlikely story. Senator Cruz claims that “two-thirds” of federal aid after Sandy was unrelated pork. His claim has been debunked (see Glenn Kessler in today’s Washington Post, who explains that almost all of the aid bill passed in January 2013 did go to repair storm damage). Cruz is not likely to admit that he has abandoned the moral high ground as well as common decency here, but he has. He is, happily, a transparently poor excuse for a casuist. Like the president he met in Corpus Christi today, Cruz has little evident use for a social contract that extends beyond his loyalists–but then we are not left with a social contract at all, are we? When Ronald Reagan said that the nine most terrifying words in the English language were “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,” the viciousness of his attack on the social contract was hidden by his smooth TV actor presentation. Reagan was a good enough politician, if not human being, to avoid saying “I don’t like people who get trapped in hurricanes.” For the sake of our country’s future, I hope this president blurts out something enough like that that we finally say “enough.”
Update: Chris Christie has called Ted Cruz “disgusting” and accused him of spreading “reprehensible lies.” So that’s that.
Immanuel Kant, writing less than a decade after the U.S. Constitution gave our president an almost unlimited power to grant pardons, wrote that “of all the rights of a sovereign, the right to grant clemency to a criminal…is the slipperiest one for him to exercise; for it must be exercised in such a way as to show the splendor of his majesty, although he is thereby doing injustice in the highest degree–with regard to crimes of subjects against one another it is absolutely not for him to exercise it; for here failure to punish is the greatest wrong against his subjects. He can make use of it, therefore, only in case of a wrong done to himself…This right is the only one that deserves to be called the right of majesty” (Metaphysics of Morals, Doctrine of Right, Part II, #49).
Our current president has just exercised his pardon prerogative for the first time by commanding amnesty for former Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt earlier this summer for ignoring a federal court order to cease arrests based on racial profiling. Arpaio had not yet been sentenced, so the pardon short-circuited both the juridical process and the work of the Justice Department pardon attorney. The pardon is irreversible from a legal point of view, but our First Amendment also permits me to give my opinion that the president’s action was the opposite of majestic and has irreversibly dimmed the splendor that could have belonged to him. Instead of displaying the splendor of his majesty, he slipped and fell into an underworld of shadows. He confirmed the fears of the founders who feared during the debates of 1787 and 1788 that the executive pardon power could be abused in just the way we saw yesterday.
From Kant’s ethically rigorous vantage point, Trump’s pardon of a political ally was utterly knavish, not at all kingly (or “very presidential”). The concerns of founders (some of whom were antifederalists) such as “Centinel” (Samuel Bryan of Pennsylvania) and Luther Martin of Maryland regarding the pardon power were rigorous in a different sense. Their rigorous thoughts were in the domain of prudential politics. They were worried about the dangers to civil society of unchecked presidential pardon power. “Centinel” proposed in the Philadelphia Freeman’s Journal of October 24, 1787, a “small council” without which the “chief magistrate could abuse his authority, “for as it is placed [solely in the president] he may shelter the traitors whom he himself or his coadjutors…have excited to plot against the liberties of the nation.” Is it hyperbolic to worry that our president might “shelter traitors” he himself has riled up in order to weaken our constitutional liberties? How many of us are unwilling to give our president yet another benefit of the doubt, when he seems to enjoy unchecked powers a whole lot more than working with anyone in Congress on actual nitty-gritty and possibly unpopular details of any issue at all? Here’s what Luther Martin worried about in “The Genuine Information” (Not Fake News, that is), published in the Maryland Gazette, January 29, 1788: “the power given to the president of granting reprieves and pardons, was also thought extremely dangerous, and as such opposed–The president thereby has the power of pardoning those who are guilty of treason…it was said that no treason was so likely to take place as that in which the president himself might be engaged–the attempt to assume to himself powers not given by the constitution, and establish himself in regal authority–in which attempt a provision is made for him to secure from punishment the creatures of his ambition, the associates and abettors of his treasonable practices, by granting them pardons should they be defeated in their attempts to subvert the constitution.” Did Luther Martin foresee what happened in last year’s election? Did he know the names of Paul Manafort and Felix Sater and Kislyak and Putin? Of course not–but I can imagine he knew people like them. The Arpaio pardon, legal but knavish, is not the big problem; the big problem is what might come next.
Federalist par excellence Alexander Hamilton saw (Federalist paper #74) reasons for and against the exclusively presidential pardon power. For: “it is not to be doubted that a single man of prudence and good sense, is better fitted, in delicate conjunctures, to balance the motives, which may plead for and against the remission of the punishment, than any numerous body whatever.” But also against: “the supposition of the connivance of the Chief Magistrate [in crimes of treason] ought not to be entirely excluded.” Hamilton in his wisdom is telling us, I think, that no formula or text or even “norm” is guaranteed to give us good outcomes or to protect us against a corrupt executive devoid of conscience. Are we there yet?
“To ruminate upon evils, to make critical notes upon injuries, and to be too acute in their apprehensions, is to add unto our own tortures, to feather the arrows of our enemies, to lash ourselves with the scorpions of our foes, and to resolve to sleep no more.” Thomas Browne wrote that in the 17th century, but it does seem to explain some of the wee wee hours tweets. I thought that eight years of President Obama was probably enough, but does #45 realize that if he eclipsed Obama that that makes Trump the moon and Obama will re-emerge as the sun does after eclipses? Is Trump playing some extradimensional chess invisible to me? I hope not.
Hat tip to Charles P. Pierce for his comment the other day that while he doesn’t want to sanitize history, he would like to fumigate it. Our Sanitizer-in-Chief, in spite of himself, may help us fumigate our history and reconsider our memories. He said today it is “sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson–who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! The beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”
The President is not a trained professional historian and should not be judged as such. He has, however, insisted that he comprehends very well and he is right in this case. He displayed considerable familiarity with the talking points of 21st-century white nationalism and neo-Confederate ideology. For example, he repeated their assertion of the moral equivalence of Washington with Lee and Stonewall Jackson at least in part to deflect attention from his indefensible comments Tuesday excusing the neo-Nazi torchbearing marchers. Trump (perhaps guided by a poll-reading Bannon) attacked those who propose removing monuments to Confederate war heroes. “Where does it stop?” asks Trump. I would say that “it” doesn’t stop, if “it” is the struggle over how to remember, venerate, honor, or dishonor leading figures from our past. Washington, Jefferson, and several other Founders were born into slaveowning societies; some of them eventually freed some of their slaves, while others did not. Other Founders were not slaveholders, but for the sake of ratifying a national Constitution accommodated the slaveholding societies of the Southern states (not forgetting Northern profiteering off the slave trade, as well as slaveholding in the North itself; Connecticut did not abolish slavery until 1848). Perhaps all the Founders were hypocrites in La Rochefoucauld’s sense of vice paying tribute to virtue. We do not, however, have monuments to national traitors such as Benedict Arnold. Trump equated nation-builders with would-be nation-destroyers. Maybe Trump’s “where does it stop?” Is an aggressive way of letting his “forgotten men” and “deplorables” know that the respectable elites can’t handle the whole sordid truth, and that if he (Trump) is going down he will take all his complacent enemies with him.
When monuments to Confederate generals were put up, usually by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, decades after the Civil War the intent may well have been, in part, to celebrate Southern “heritage” and history. But many if not most such memorials, as well as many of the reunions decades after the Civil War between Grey and Blue, were done with the intent of solidifying white supremacy and the same-as-it-ever-was subjugation of black Americans, thereby erasing the abomination of Reconstruction. Historian Eric Foner described the post-Civil War collision between two ways of remembering that war: the “reconciliationist” memory that “emphasized what the two sides shared in common, particularly the valor of individual soldiers, and suppressed thoughts of the war’s causes and the unfinished legacy of emancipation,” versus the “emancipationist” vision of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, with its “new birth of freedom.” Within a dozen years after the Civil War, “reconciliation” between North and South meant the end of Reconstruction and the end of restraints on white supremacist terrorism in the South. Slavery was no longer legal, but the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal citizenship for all had become a dead letter and the Fifteenth Amendment guarantee of the voting rights was ignored in the former Confederate States. The emancipationist vision waited almost a hundred years for a Second Reconstruction. Ken Burns’s Civil War TV series, which has become the canonical story for many millions of us in the early 21st century, does not suppress either of these ways of remembering. (For example, at risk of oversimplifying their views, the final “Was It Not Real” segment includes Barbara Fields as well as Shelby Foote.) But there was, I feel, a reconciliationist gauziness in the way the reunions of aged Civil War veterans brought the curtain down on the show. For white Americans north and south in the days of Donald Trump’s–and Hillary Clinton’s–youth, the reconciliationist version of remembering the Civil War dominated. Some rememberings were gauzier than others and some were indifferent toward black Americans while others were actively hostile. And in last fall’s presidential campaign, Trump was unfortunately not the only candidate to buy into a version of Reconstruction in which black Southern political participation after the War was marred by “barbarous” freedmen and the end of Northern efforts to impose on white Southerners was thus a blessing (See Ta-Neheisi Coates’s article in The Atlantic, January 26, 2016 on Hillary Clinton and the Dunning School).
So when Donald Trump says “you can’t change history,” he is right in a narrow sense, but he is perhaps clever enough to know or feel that that is not really what is at stake. It’s not just a matter of what the traces in archives will disclose to conscientious researchers. It’s a question of what we the people want and need to remember and memorialize and venerate. And of whose memories and feelings get to count, and whether we have the gumption to undergo the process of “truth and reconciliation,” as the post-apartheid commission in South Africa put it. I wonder if President Trump could acknowledge that what he is really saying could be “I am not happy that my childhood prejudices and presumptions are being challenged. Never mind that I am 71 years old, I demand to hold on to what I learned was true in 1953 or 1954.” And what Trump, and many of us who get the benefit of the doubt while others don’t, really want to hold onto is the comfort and privilege of willful blindness to the claims of people who have suffered subjugation.
Trump senses the power of monuments and memorials, which are liable to activate our nostalgia and freeze out any critical reassessment of our past. British historian John Lukacs wrote that the “remembered past is a much larger category than the recorded past.” We are about to experience a total eclipse next week all across the United States, from Oregon to South Carolina. I hope that we are also in for an experience (that lasts longer than two minutes) of reckoning with the light and shadow of memory and forgetting that does not end in forced amnesia, but with a thorough airing out of our history and culture, We need to consider changing and enlarging the scope of some of our memories.
President Trump did raise a very important question today: where does it stop? Who and what should be remembered and memorialized and commemorated? The statues of Confederate leaders, as a rule, did not go up right after the Civil War. Robert E. Lee himself was opposed to putting up monuments to Confederate generals. The monuments went up as living memory faded away in the early twentieth century, and especially in the post-World War I backlash against black people, spurred by their fighting and dying in that war and by the unforgivable presumption of surviving black veterans that they ought to get some respect. Nothing doing, said conventional white American wisdom. The peak of Confederate commemoration was the heyday of the Klan, the 1920s, and not only in the South. (As Malcolm X said, if you are south of the Canadian border you are in the South.)
Donald Trump challenged those who, he said, want to “change history” and “change culture.” I thought he wanted to be a great president. Doesn’t he want to have a crack at changing history and culture? Yes, truth and reconciliation are complicated. No time like the present to get started. By the way, I accept that the only empirically verifiable doctrine of Christian faith, as Reinhold Niebuhr said, is original sin (and I do not feel any need, in spite of that, to subscribe to the the whole scheme of vicarious atonement). Because of that, I do not feel any need to prove the moral purity or righteousness of the people who counter-protested against the neo-Nazis, white nationalists, white supremacists, and neo-Confederates. Proving or disproving their moral perfection is beside the point. The family history of the accused murderer in Charlottesville sounds heartbreaking, but that is finally beside the point too. The point is who do we honor, and where do we want to go next. If our president does not want to be considered a despicable racist, fine. Show us a way forward. Show us who and why and what should be considered memorable and venerable.
BTW Mr. Trump I doubt Rupert Murdoch wants to go down in flames with you. Watch yourself.
After the CEO of Merck criticized the president’s response to Charlottesville and resigned yesterday from Trump’s Manufacturing Council, our snowflake-in-chief wasted less than an hour before attacking. “Now…Ken Frazier…will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”
I’m as eager as anyone to see drug prices come down. But I can’t help thinking that instead of responding like the petulant snowflake he usually presents himself as, our president could do something constructive to help out millions of Americans by taking a couple of steps that would actually lower drug prices. The head of Merck is in business to make money. (By the way Frazier, unlike Trump, is not bound by the emoluments clause, which Trump is violating every day. The Constitution forbids presidents from charging ripoff prices for hotels, restaurants, golf courses, etc. because the Founders feared a corrupt ruler, like Trump, putting the interests of foreigners (such as Russians or Turks, among others) above the interests of U.S. citizens.) Merck is in no position to lower their prices unilaterally because that would put their shareholders’ investment at risk. But the American president can do at least two things today that could lower drug prices: 1) tell Congress to revise the Medicare drug benefit law passed in the George W. Bush years, and insist that the federal government have power to negotiate drug prices, which current law forbids. Current law is a big fat giveaway to drug companies. The law practically begs drug companies to charge ripoff prices. Memo to Trump: stop being such a snowflake, pay some attention to details, and become a real hero; 2) use your presidential authority to direct HHS and Healthcare.gov to stabilize the Obamacare exchanges. Rebrand the exchanges as Trumpcare if that makes you feel better. Then push for a public option, or a Medicare buy-in for people aged 55 or 60, or even lay out how a single-payer system could lower drug prices. Get a grip on the oath you took, which was to serve the American people.
Babyface Kim seems to have long-term strategic goals. Babyface Trump, well, “long-term” isn’t a word I would associate with him but I hope I’m wrong about that. In fairness to Babyface #2, he did inherit a problem. North Korea has been working to become a nuclear-armed state since the 1950s, and tested a nuclear weapon over ten years ago (2006). Babyface #2 is acting as if Babyface Kim is the one with more to lose. Does Babyface #1 recognize this as bluster and bluff? When you have to hope that the leader of North Korea has a better sense of humor than the American president does and a clearer sense of the real incentives in the “game” being played than Trump does, it’s not a happy day.
Newt Gingrich, bless his heart, defended Mitch McConnell vis-a-vis Trump by observing that the president is a player on the field, who ought to be playing with the Republican team, not acting as if he is the owner in a skybox. Trump will do his very best to stay in the skybox and avoid blame for anything and everything that happens on the field. Not a great approach if you actually wish to achieve political and domestic policy goals, even misguided and harsh ones. I think it’s an even worse strategy to climb down out of the “leader of the free world” foreign affairs skybox and recklessly intensifying a mudwrestling match with a truly world-class piglet. He seems likely to enjoy it more than we will. Hope I am wrong about that, and that Babyface #2 is making the best of a very tricky situation.
P.S. Maybe a North Korean missile will misfire, come down in Manchurian countryside, and China will decide to put an end to Kim’s regime?
According to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the President, of course, “weighed in” on a public statement that misled (that’s polite language) the public about his son Donald Jr.’s meeting with Russian and Russian-American operatives (spies, perhaps). Trump Sr., reports say, dictated a very inaccurate statement, “as any father would.”
So, to retrace, 1) no collusion; 2) uh, maybe we talked about adoptions; 3) oh, OK, we tried to collude but so what because we failed; 4) who among us would not collude! #MAGA!
Points for consistency, though: it’s all in the Family, which liberal snowflakes don’t understand, and quibbling about obstruction of justice is disloyal and ungodly. How dare anybody question the legitimacy of #45? The big issue for August, so far, seems to me to be whether the Senate will go into official recess and thus let the president fire and replace his loyal but not bada-beep loyal enough Attorney General.
The first part, i.e. “uninterested,” hardly needs elaboration: President Trump shows so little interest in learning the details that his tweets on Obamacare make little sense. Could he explain to us what his beautiful Trumpcare would look like? No. He can threaten, but his threats have become self-contradictory.
Regarding the second part: Why would I accuse our 45th president of being way too little disinterested? “Disinterested” means impartial; it means not having an axe to grind, not calculating to seek personal advantage. Disinterestedness is thus good because a government of “laws, not men” (as they used to say) won’t work well at all without it. The structure of the Constitution accounts for interests and factions and strives to control and limit them. But if the executive acts like a thug, and the other branches don’t act decisively to repudiate the bad actors, we are in trouble. I am not expecting the 71-year-old man to change or learn. Actually truth be told I am worried that if he did learn any new tricks we would be in even more of a fix.
Note: I am interested in upholding the distinction between “disinterested” as unbiased and impartial, i.e. not moved by consideration of personal advantage, and “uninterested,” which means “not interested” or “unmoved.” I realize that usages change, but maintaining the distinction with a difference serves a good purpose here.
The United Kingdom has had a Corporate Manslaughter Act for ten years. Isn’t it time we got up to speed on this in the United States? But instead we have bosses who want capitalism for themselves and feudalism for their workers (h/t Washington Post Wonkblog).
Well, I am very concerned. It is a distraction. The President would probably be well advised to refrain from shooting frogs. At least in daylight. But at the end of the day, it is what it is, and it’s just Trump being Trump. Plus the President said many people told him Pepe was transgender, so there’s that. And what about the time Obama and Hillary fecklessly…
Donald Trump Sr. was never a Boy Scout, though his son Donald Jr. was. It looks as if Sr. paid the seven dollar enrollment fee not out of his own pocket but with money from his nonprofit Trump Foundation. Seven dollars. Most of us have money problems sometime or other. But Donald J. Trump is not just impoverished, he is destitute.
Franz von Papen, through dithering and denial. allowed Hitler to seize power in 1933. Von Papen did not foresee that norms would be no protection against a tyrant determined to seize all the levers of power. Does McConnell realize that if he lets the Senate recess, giving Trump the chance to appoint a new attorney general without Senate confirmation, he will have allowed Trump to shut down the rule of law? And that he, Mitch McConnell, in spite of mainstream media both-sidesism and what=aboutism, will not be remembered as anything but an enabler of dictatorship? I bet he does have an inkling of all this, but is still pretending to himself that he can somehow “drop Trump like a hot rock,” as he promised his Senate colleagues not too long ago. Good luck, Mitch. You will be remembered, one way or the other.
BTW if McConnell really wanted a “robust debate” on our healthcare system, he might try starting with public hearings, a Senate committee process, and “regular order” instead of the extreme secrecy (that Democrats have also used but never on an issue nearly this big). That is if Sen. McConnell actually cared about a robust debate.
Could not have happened to a more deserving, or innocent, victim, depending on your POV. Just as soon as Attorney General Sessions announced his plan to reinstate civil asset forfeitures on the grand scale he has been dreaming of since he was an Eagle Scout, President Trump turned the tables on Jefferson Beauregard Sessions by seizing his dignity.
It’s nice that Sen. Lindsay Graham has tweeted a persuasive defense of Attorney General Sessions. But if Sen. McConnell allows the Senate to go into recess, enabling Trump to make a recess appointment who will fire Mueller, McConnell will be remembered for that cowardly act as much or more than anything else in his long Senate career. And it’s nice that Rush Limbaugh finds the way Trump is treating Sessions to be “discomforting” and “unseemly.” But Rush, is that all you got? Are you really “sending your best” against Trump’s attack on our constitutional republic? Rush, why not man up and call out Trump for the unpresidential and un-American tyrant he is? Trump is no friend of principled, limited-government conservatism. Wake up and smell the tyranny, Rush, before it’s too late. When Trump comes for you, will you have any legs to stand on? By the way, if this were just about warfare between Democrats and Republicans, enabling Trump would be less odious and cowardly. But Trump could care less about loyalty to a political party or a governing philosophy or an ideology. It’s all about him and his money and his glory and his vengeful self. Enabling a person like that has little upside, to say the least.
Jared Kushner says he did not “rely” on Russian money. Likewise, I do not “rely” on hops to enjoy drinking beer. I “rely” on delicious pure water.
Remember the Indemnity and Oblivion Act of 1660, aka “An Act of Free and General Pardon, Indemnity, and Oblivion”? Well, let’s dig it out. You want “beleaguered”? They had it in spades. Just watch yourself and don’t commit murder, piracy, buggery, rape, or witchcraft, or else you might not be granted oblivion after all. Our presidential hemming and hawing over pardon is so weak and low energy compared to what the English Parliament did after their Civil War.
Speaking of spades, I am waiting for Jared Kushner to come up with a more poetic defense of himself than the tedious boilerplate we got today. Let Jared take a page from Flann O’Brien’s Third Policeman. Page 1, in particular: in sum, sure I killed old Phillip Mathers by smashing his jaw with a spade, but it was Divney’s fault. He knocked Mathers down first with a bicycle pump. And Divney was “personally responsible for the whole idea in the first place. It was he who told me to bring my spade.” I never bothered to read the subject line in his emails. Or words to that effect.
The president has declared that he has “complete power to pardon,” which may be almost true in a narrow legal sense (asserting power to judge his own case is dubious). He may yet pardon his son, son-in-law, and who knows who else. He may be able to remove Robert Mueller, and that would be a major crisis if Congress did not respond forcefully. But the larger issue for a democratic republic in which consent of the governed is inalienable is this: what’s our next move as citizens? We who are citizens and voters have the final power to grant reprieves and pardons in the larger sense. Some of us, perhaps clinging to a confirmation bias, believe the president is trying to make things better, if only it weren’t for the swamp-dweller lobbyists/Democrats/leftists/snowflake slackers/deep state. Some of us, that is, are not yet ready to let go of our pleasant fantasy of victimhood, even when our political party controls the presidency, the House and Senate, and the highest court. Others of us, suffering from unpacified forgetting, are still fighting over the 2016 Democratic primaries. My hope is that most of us, who are hoping above all that the government will be focused on serving, protecting, and increasing opportunities for as many Americans as possible, will bother to let our representatives know how we feel, and then vote at every opportunity to renew and refresh our government, showing no reprieve and no pardon for those who have unrepentantly abused the public trust.
Am I disappointed that Anthony Scaramucci is not letting us know anything at all, in his first White House briefing, about what stocks to buy. Sad, and low energy. President Trump, on the other hand, is getting brighter, cleaner, and more articulate every week. His interpretation of the Napoleonic wars, for example. Long story short, “Napoleon ended up a little bit bad,” or words to that effect, per his New York Times interview this week. Trump is way too articulate, bright, and clean to end up like Napoleon. No freezing Russian tundra for him, no way. Trump will never end up stuck to the seat of a frozen Siberian toilet. Believe me. The system works. Only the very shiniest golden toilet.
If President Trump ever paid hypocritical tribute to checks and balances or any other virtues of our constitutional republic, he gave them up today. At lunch, he insulted Senators, which he is welcome to do, since they are a separate branch. But when he attacked the independence of the Department of Justice, and the integrity of Robert Mueller, Rod Rosenstein, Jeff Sessions, and James Comey, he stomped all over the checks and balances that keep tyranny at bay.
Donald Trump tweeted this morning that “the Senate must go to a 51 vote majority instead of current 60 votes. Even parts of full Repeal need 60. 8 Dems control Senate. Crazy!”
He may be right that our system of checks and balances, and our tradition of separation of powers, is crazy. It is certainly inconvenient right this minute for a Republican president and a Republican House and a Republican Senate. The Republicans control the Supreme Court too. But their control is apparently not yet solid enough to erase “Obamacare.” (Their control over the hearts and minds of Americans is also apparently not solid enough for them to take a real stand against foreign hostile powers such as Russia hacking our next election.) So Mr. Trump in effect calls George Washington a loser and a fool. Really, you may say. Yes, really: according to Moncure Conway, writing in 1872, “there is a tradition that Jefferson, coming home from France (after the Constitution had been drafted), called Washington to account at the breakfast table for having agreed to a second, and, as Jefferson thought, unnecessary legislative chamber. ‘Why,’ asked Washington, ‘did you just now pour that coffee into your saucer, before drinking?’ ‘To cool it,’ answered Jefferson, ‘my throat is not made of brass.’ ‘Even so,’ rejoined Washington, ‘we pour our legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.'”
The Senate was not designed to achieve the rapid resolution of conflicts possible in a parliamentary system. Our second legislative chamber’s “cooling saucer” has blockaded and obstructed plenty of social progress (civil rights being Exhibit A) but it has also slowed or stalled plenty of horrible ideas, as 2017 (so far) shows.
If the president is fed up with all the obstacles to absolute rule, and wants to toss the Resolute desk over and go home to Manhattan, I say let him go . If, however, he can overcome his snowflake personality and offer any ideas whatsoever that would improve upon the many flaws in the delivery of health care in this country, let him speak now. Let him spell out in detail just how he proposes to reshape the American healthcare system, or else be judged as the shallow and vindictive blowhard he now appears to be. George Washington is watching him–and the rest of us too.
P.S. Donald Trump on Twitter, September 26, 2012: “Obama’s complaints about Republicans stopping his agenda are BS since he had full control for two years. He can never take responsibility.”
Getting tired of the McConnell-as-turtle memes? Me too. Did you see the story about hagfish, aka slime eels, overturned on a highway in Oregon? Me too. Did you read the link to a blog explaining that slime eels are, shockingly, not invertebrates but rather “degenerate vertebrates”? Did you think, what a perfect way of describing the people who now hold power in the U.S. Congress? Especially the Senate Majority Leader? And perhaps even more so the so-called “Republican moderates” who are waiting for somebody, anybody other than them to kill off the new, even harsher version of the Senate tax-cut/healthcare bill.
Maybe we will never be able to stop health care mooching and scamming. But if Mitch McConnell really wanted to cut down on the unfair way millions of Americans are getting over and leaving their fellow Americans in the dust, they could get rid of one of the biggest breaks of all. That is the writeoff, which benefits wealthy elites the most, of employer-subsidized health insurance. That’s right, people who get employer-provided health plans get a $300 billion a year (more or less) tax break. In itself it’s not as big an annual benefit, or cost, as Medicare or Medicaid. But those who get Medicare, and many who get Medicaid (especially nursing home care) have paid taxes for decades before they receive any benefit. But the subsidy, or tax expenditure, that excludes health insurance from taxable income is immediate gratification. And this immediate gratification is greater the closer you get to being part of the privileged 1%. Who’s winning the class warfare? Is Mitch McConnell looking out for you as he scrounges for something he and Trump can call a victory? They seem to think anything they can pass and sign is a “win”–but maybe not for you.
By the way I do think there is just one good idea in what I’ve heard from McConnell: replacing the mandate with a “nudge” in which you don’t have to buy anything, but do have to wait several months to get re-enrolled if you can afford it but are pretending to yourself that you don’t need health insurance.
Like many people I do not have time to watch TV. But I do try to read sometimes. I did not hear Donald Jr. say “no, I did not tell my dad about that meeting.” I heard him say “why would I have?” and so forth. I do not understand why some news organizations, mainstream or not, are so eager to jump to conclusions not actually based on careful sifting of evidence.
Also, Mike Pence’s spokesman, speaking today, did not deny that the Vice President may have met with Russians.
Finally, I do not need any more smoking guns. It’s a political process, not a strictly legal process. The president, if not an agent of a foreign adversary, is giving us a pretty good imitation of somebody who’s been turned. Do we really need more than that–assuming we are putting country first, that is.
Senator McConnell spoke a few moments ago on the Senate floor. He wants to promote a more “responsive health care market.” That might be good news for some corporate persons, and even some actual persons who stand to profit from health insurance company profits. But a more responsive health care market may or may not mean more responsive health care. Health for actual human beings does not and cannot function as a perfectly efficient “free market” in which an “invisible hand” guides us to “optimal” outcomes. Yes, incentives can and should be set in better or worse ways. But Senator McConnell’s and Paul Ryan’s vision of “responsiveness” and “freedom” does not take into account that actual health care is care for us, and we are all more or less “used cars.” A more responsive bazaar for used cars is not reassuring. Something like a buy-in to Medicare for all to cut down on overhead and middleman profiteering is looking more and more appealing to actual persons–will our representatives take note and be responsive to that?
If the president of the United States is about to go down, I hope that we, the people, do not lose track of our role in enabling him. The English and New English Puritans may have overdone the hair shirt sometimes, but this is a moment when the Puritan custom of days of fasting, prayer, and humiliation might well be good for us. Some of us might wish to skip straight to the Day of Rejoicing over the downfall of Trump, but today should not yet be that day.
Maybe a few of us are not to blame for the low-rent mobster government that is now in place. But many if not most of us did too little to protect American democracy and our constitutional republic. That goes especially for the Republican Party, which suffered a hostile takeover and an astonishing loss of dignity. But the Democratic Party and the apathetic nonvoters and the many millions of political independents–can we really say we are not at least partly to blame for the Wrestlemania presidency? Are we embarrassed? Do we want to look away? Yes, but we also need, for our own sake, to reckon with our own failure to do enough to promote and defend civilization and culture and decency.
P.S. I am not saying that those who voted for Trump are necessarily more blameworthy than those who voted for Clinton or someone else or no one at all. Trump was garish and bombastic and offensive to many Trump voters, who nevertheless believed him the lesser evil. That was then, Hillary is not the issue anymore. She is not next in line if and when Trump goes down. That would be Pence. I only hope he turns out to be no worse than a conventional rightist meathead. And some victims of Trump’s seduction may not yet or ever be penitent. But we as a people (or we as an electoral college) might all do well to consider ourselves penitent victims of seduction, as we try to rehabilitate our democratic constitutional republic.
There used to be homes for penitent victims of seduction. The whole United States is, or probably will soon be, such a home–for just about all of us. I am not sure what the true story behind Trump’s utter loss of dignity vis-a-vis Vladimir Putin really is. I do know that Mr. Putin is openly laughing at Trump. H.R. McMaster, Gary Cohn, and Steve Mnuchin did not deny Putin’s claim that Trump accepted Putin’s denials of election hacking. Of course Putin is happy to pocket his victories and move on without “relitigating the past,” as Russian award-winner and U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson put it. And of course no one wants needless confrontation much less war with Russia. But when the president of Russia treats the president of the USA the same way Trump treats his own “lickspittle toadies” (as Josh Marshall writes) it is not a happy day for any American. At least not any American not getting lots of Russian cash.
What if President Ronald Reagan had gone to Berlin and said “we’re moving forward” instead of “tear down this wall”? “Not a lot of relitigating of the past,” reports Rex Tillerson about today’s meeting between the leaders of Russia and the United States. It’s hard to be at all sure about what happened today, but President Trump’s idea of how to represent America (and Western civilization?) is very different from that of Reagan and every other president in my lifetime. Is our president an accessory after the fact (or worse) to Russian espionage and subversion of our constitutional republic? Matt Yglesias has thoughts on that:
Meanwhile the best leader of the free world we have, Angela Merkel, rolls her eyes at Putin and Trump.
“We write symphonies,” said President Trump today in Poland. Some headlines said he was “defending Western values.” He began his “defense” of Western values by saying he was proud that so many Polish-Americans have enriched the United States and voted for him in 2016. He named “radical Islamic terrorism” as a threat, as well as the “destabilizing activities” of Russia in Ukraine and elsewhere (is he afraid to just come out and say the Russians invaded Ukraine? why not have the courage to call things by their right names, Mr. Trump?). He noted the “new forms of aggression, including propaganda, financial crimes, and cyberwarfare.” All true enough, and one can only hope Trump has paid attention to his aides when they tried to prepare him for his meeting with Putin. The survival of Western civilization certainly depends partly on willpower, as Trump asserted, but maybe as much or more on the hard work of planning, the diligence it takes to study one’s adversaries as well as understand and promote values broader and deeper than one’s own advantage. Western values, contra Trump, are not just the values of Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic.
According to Mr. Trump, “Americans, Poles, and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty.” That might sound like boilerplate, but if you think about it for a few seconds there is an unresolved puzzle–what is in between individual freedom and sovereignty? In classical terms, there is a “one and many” problem that I fear Trump, in his innermost tyrannical being, doesn’t really get. Western values and Western civilization have an uncertain future, for sure; and they have a complicated history. How do the “few” (our representatives) mediate between the one (monarch or executive) and the many (“the people”)? Tough questions! Back to Trump’s speech: “If we don’t forget who we are, we just can’t be beaten. Americans will never forget…. We are the fastest and the greatest community. There is nothing like our community of nations. The world has never known anything like our community of nations. We write symphonies…We celebrate our ancient heroes…We reward brilliance…We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success…And we debate everything. We challenge everything.”
He may be onto something. In fact I would be happier if Mr. Trump would devote himself to writing a symphony. I would very strongly consider paying to download his first, second, and third symphonies, which will almost certainly take lots of time and undivided attention to write. Mr. Trump, you possess the brilliance to write the greatest symphonies ever, symphonies that will defend Western civilization more than anything else you could possibly do. I really mean that, believe me. Do not let any Russian tricks and maskirovka fool you into doing anything else for the next three and a half years. The time is gonna fly by.
The president may have a point, asking if Western civilization possesses the will to survive. But Hobby Lobby reportedly has the will to loot the artifacts appertaining thereto and pass them off as “tile samples.” So much maskirovka, as the Russians might put it. This could be a two-Tum day.
Some people still see a true babyface wrestler when they see President Donald Trump on TV. Many others see a heel. But let’s assume for the moment that Trump is still a good guy, that is a “babyface.” How will he get along with Kim Jong-Un, a true babyface. Trump would like a script in which after some brief preliminary hype and posturing, somebody else (Xi Jinping, for example) does the hard work of negotiating with the young North Korean leader. Then Babyface Trump gets all the glory, with little to no risk. But Babyface Trump is not in a great position to leverage the Trump brand in this game the way he did in his previous lives in real estate, reality TV, and pro wrestling. The kayfabe, the cheap heat, the dusty finish–are we Americans confident that Trump’s undeniable talents as BS artist and ratings machine are going to keep us safe from a North Korean missile? In fairness, the past several presidents, from both political parties, failed to disarm North Korea. Maybe Trump will succeed where others have failed. But he is the first president I have seen actively provoke and insult the North Korean leader, as if it’s all a sporting match in which the outcome has been rigged in Trump’s favor. I am concerned that Kim Jong-un has even more of a devil-may-care “sucks to be you” attitude than Chris Christie, and that we the people are in a more precarious position because Trump does not seem to realize that his life skills may not have prepared him very well for North Korea.
So Republicans believe in “sovereign states.” Right. Unless Donnie and Kris and Hans want to poke their bloody noses into states’ voting records. So they can “attaint” and target everybody who is not yet loyal to His Excellency Mr. Trump? And only 24 states have flipped off the Voter Suppression Commission so far? Shame on you, states who have not stood up for your voters yet. If Mississippi can tell Trump and Company to go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, so can you! If Kris Kobach qua Kansas Secretary of State can flip off Kris Kobach qua Vote-Suppresser-in-Chief, there is still hope.
Would it be too much to ask to look at the president’s 2017 tax returns? Got something to hide, guy?
Update July 5: over 40 states have now said “hell yes, we have something to hide from the feds.” President Trump has not yet threatened them with intracontinental ballistic missiles.
There are several ways the Trump presidency may end, and not one of them is likely to be remotely normal. How citizens should deal with a problem like him without becoming dragged down into his mess is a challenge. Impeachment seems to me much too good for the 45th president. Beyond that it gets complicated.
Some people of good will (but who may not be paying close attention, perhaps because they have lives to live and problems to solve) may still say, give him a chance. Yeah, I did that. It has not gone well. With his low-class tweets about the Morning Joe hosts, he may or may not have been trying to distract us from his voter suppression commission and the apparent flameout of the Senate tax-cut/repeal of Obamacare bill. Or maybe he had no four-dimensional plan, and just flew into a rage at another rebellious, uppity woman on TV. Whatever was in the president’s mind, it is hard to imagine that he is anywhere near prepared to represent the United States of America properly next week when he is scheduled to meet with Vladimir Putin at a G20 summit in Germany. Trump seems far more interested in being a king or a czar than in serving the sovereign people of our country as the head of an executive branch constrained by checks and balances in our constitutional republic. Whose interests is he going to be serving next week? Has he any clue that he is standing up for values and traditions any different than, for examples, those of the Russian or Ottoman Empires, or is just going to act naturally and channel Caligula or Elagabulus?
Corruption of blood was outlawed by the United States Constitution over 200 years ago. Bills of attainder were specifically forbidden. We have a president who swore an oath to preserve, protect, and defend our Constitution. But he seems to inhabit a mental world where corruption of blood is more real than any fluffed-up enlightened notion of liberty and equality before the law. Trump’s defenders, when he goes way off the deep end, resort to saying that he is a “counterpuncher” who “fights fire with fire.” Maybe Trump should be given a taste of his own preferred medicine. That is, maybe we should bring back the bill of attainder to restrain and neutralize the damage he has been doing. Trump’s stance toward people in his way who are US citizens but whose ancestors were darker than his skin is often to attack them with attaint of otherness. He has little to no feel for the spirit of the 14th Amendment, which granted equal citizenship rights to all persons born or naturalized in the United States. Trump’s voter suppression commission looks to me much like a backdoor weapon to “attaint” voters who were disloyal and disobedient to the “I alone can fix it” man now occupying the presidency. Why not resist his attainder with a “people’s attainder”? How else can we restrain the entire Trump family from continuing to violate the clear words of the Emoluments Clause of the US Constitution? Fancy word, emoluments, but to break it down, it means corruption. If you violate it over and over it means you are not a public servant but no better than a gangster and a thug. In Blackstone’s Commentaries On The Laws Of England, we read (Chapter 7, Of The King’s Prerogative, section 241) that “in the king also can be no stain or corruption of blood; for if the heir to the crown were attained of treason or felony, and afterwards the crown should descend to him, this would purge the attainder ipso facto. And therefore when Henry VII, who as Earl of Richmond stood attainted, came to the crown, it was not thought necessary to pass an act of parliament to reverse this attainder.” Can we agree that our 45th president came to the presidency deeply attainted, and that he seems to have expected that ascending to the presidency should absolve him and purge him and make him clean; but that to many of us who live here the presidency feels horribly tainted and polluted? Also that a minority of Americans, though many millions, feel that the president hasn’t been given a fair shot? (May they take a closer look at what he is doing against much that has made America as great as it is?) And by the way, Blackstone also comments (7:241) that “the law determines that in the king can be no negligence….Nullum tempus occurrit regi [no time runs against the king] is the standing maxim upon all occasions; for the law intends that the king is always busied for the good.” If only! If only we could recognize in Mr. Trump even a little fragment of this idealized picture of the monarch.
Is President Donald Trump guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors? That is a political question more than a strictly legal question. Should he be removed under the 25th Amendment? That is also primarily a political question, though medical, psychological, and psychiatric expertise could be brought to bear. I am ready to cry uncle and say I am ready for President Pence, rightwing meathead though he may be. But first, why not ask the question, is our president guilty of misprision of treason if not treason itself? I agree there is no conclusive proof of this now, but there are tantalizing hints and clues and circumstantial evidence all over the place. Again, this is not a strictly legal question. And we are not, thank goodness, at war with Russia today (though the climate is worse in several ways than during the Cold War). But if misprision of treason is on the table as a live possibility, as I think it should be, no effort should be spared to purify our country of the taint of corruption.
I seem to have woken up from a bad dream. Was I really thinking that bringing back “bills of attainder” makes any sense at all? Could bringing back accusations of “corruption of blood” serve any good purpose? Confiscate President Trump’s property without judicial trial, and leave his wife, children, and grandchildren without any inheritance? Seems crazy. But crazier than a Trump-sponsored “voter fraud” commission getting states to hand over private information about 200 million voters? Crazier than casual suggestions that if 22 million people can’t be tossed off their healthcare plans, why not strip 33 million of health insurance?
This thought experiment is not meant to draw any firm conclusions. It is a snapshot of just how ominous the political situation in Washington seems to be today.
President Donald Trump is quite willing to praise us and even offer us a measure of freedom–so long as we profess loyalty to him. And his sexism, benevolent or hostile, is repulsive but predictable. Trump does not, as some of his servants claim, treat men and women equally. He is not, as Kellyanne Conway just claimed, just a “counterpuncher” who does not normally draw first blood. If that were true, it would be, to give just one example, Carly Fiorina’s fault that she had the face she had. Or perhaps it’s just that any woman who, while doing her job, finds herself in the path of what Donald wants is automatically asking for trouble in the form of shaming insults.
Scholars, playgoers, and readers have long puzzled over what Hamlet meant in Act IV, Scene II when he responded to Rosencrantz’s request (“my Lord, you must tell us where the body [of Polonius] is and go with us to the king”) by saying “the body is with the king, but the king is not with the body.” Is Hamlet once again just speaking gibberish on purpose to feign madness, as G.L. Kittredge thought? Or throwing out a riddle to distract us? From what? The very next lines, though, give a good clue: Hamlet: “the king is a thing– Guildenstern: A thing, my Lord? Hamlet: Of nothing.” As Psalm 144 puts it, “man is like a thing of naught; his time passeth away like a shadow.” Our president and would-be king, especially when he attacks women for their supposed physical frailties and bloodiness, seems to be calculating that he thereby wins approval from his most fanatical base, or that he thereby settles scores with the impenitent and seditious women, or–and perhaps most important–he puts out of mind for a little while his very own perishability. Trump may believe that, having achieved kingship, he has become imperishable. But the medieval theory of the “king’s two bodies” (one body as corruptible and transitory as that of every other person, but one body divine, unchanging, and incorruptible) applies to Trump just as well as it did to any of the Plantagenets or Tudors or Holy Roman Emperors, and with a twist most unflattering to Trump: his preferred forms of communication show him at his truest and most transient. His tweets and campaign rallies are at best written in water, more often written in truly impure blood. And if we turn to his potential policy achievements, Trump’s resemblance to the dead Polonius is almost literal: our president has been hiding his decaying self offstage, trying to avoid blame while Senator McConnell battles Schumer and the Democrats, not to mention recalcitrant Republicans. Seems like a low-energy strategy at best, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Prince McConnell (though no Hamlet, to be fair) decided to stab whoever is lurking in the curtains, pity if it turns out to be the president.
President Trump’s denial of his own decrepitude and decay is even more worrisome in that he could take those of us fortunate enough to be younger and fairer and less obviously corruptible with him if he is still president when he feels himself truly falling apart. I hope and believe our president is fast approaching his (political) sell-by date. His attacks on anyone not subservient to him seem designed to ward off his consciousness of what seems close at hand: the country’s cancellation of his show. Then and only then will Hamlet’s words make sense as: the body of the king, the external appearance of the monarch, belonged to “Donald J. Trump,” but the true and lawful kingship resided elsewhere, and has passed on to someone who will seek to restore the body politic of the United States to better health.
H/T Ernst Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies; Jerah Johnson, “The Concept of the ‘King’s Two Bodies’ in Hamlet‘”
Off to gay Paree for Bastille Day, that’s our Trump! Seduced by that firm shaker of hands Macron, eh? No shame in leaving the swamp behind for the salons of the City of Light, Mr. President. You claimed you were the leader of the Country Party, and that you would stomp all over the swamp-dwelling Court Partiers. But so far it has not worked out so well, has it? Bon voyage, and please, don’t hurry back, enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells at a really, really leisurely pace. Go to Versailles, where they actually knew how to set up a royal court and do absolutism properly. Believe me, you’ll be sorry when you come back.
Clever Senator Mitch has front-loaded “all the sweet stuff and delay[ed] all the painful stuff,” says Nicholas Begley in the Washington Post (quoted by Greg Sargent, Plum Line blog). Tax cuts happen right away, even retroactively, while the deep cuts to Medicaid don’t begin until 2021. Thanks, Mitch, for all the “Better Care.” You are piling up debts no honest man could ever pay off. Whether the harsh Medicaid cuts ever fully go into effect or not, the tax cuts for the rich are designed to be permanent. You have just made our glaring inequalities even worse. Do you really believe this bill increases liberty and freedom–of course you don’t. You know full well from seeing Obamacare work in your own state of Kentucky that, as Josh Marshall summarizes, the ACA “took a pot of money and plugged it into the system to provide secure coverage for a large number of Americans who were neither destitute nor solidly in middle class or who had medical statuses which made it onerous or impossible” to get coverage. “Take away the money and those people all lose their care.” Your version of freedom–or the version you cynically pretend to believe, more likely–is a truly sickening fantasy. Compared with “other” advanced and civilized countries, our taxes are not crushing. The real snowflakes: your greedy donor class.
And against all kinds of evidence, many people still say “give Trump a chance.” I get that trolling “snowflakes” and “elites” is a thrill, but if this bill means Trump is delivering for them, our Country is devolving even faster than I thought, and not in a good way. Trump will not abide blame for any of the carnage and premature death that follows. I do hope that enough people will be hurt or embarrassed or shocked by GOP rapaciousness to bother to vote next year, when everybody, not just the folks in Georgia or Montana or South Carolina, gets a chance to express buyer’s remorse over our sorry bunch of legislators.
Shall we skip all the fake news and go straight to the Senate healthcare–and-by-the-way-big-tax-cut–bill? Will Trump sign this bill, even though it is probably just as “mean” as Paul Ryan’s House bill? Trump managed to appeal in 2016 to both the pro-oligarchy voters and the pro-ochlocracy (endless demands from the plebes) voters. Now he will have to choose. Master brander that he is, he will try to distract and evade blame no matter what, but the McConnellCare bill guts Medicaid in the name of freedom. The struggling Trump voters, and even relatively well-off Trump voters, who think Medicaid only benefits THOSE people are in for a surprise. Maybe not right away, McConnell is figuring not on his watch, but sooner than many voters think, they are going to find their parents kicked out of nursing homes and into their spare rooms, or worse. Will Trump realize before he signs a bill that presidents do get blamed for the consequences of their actions? (Not to mention stuff that they really shouldn’t get blamed for.)
Republicans have persuaded millions of fairly prosperous but more-insecure-than-they-may-know voters that the real governmental problem is “ochlocracy,” or never-ending-demands from the masses of “other” and undeserving people. In fact, the US stands alone among advanced economies in its stingy-and-inefficient-at-the-same-time healthcare system. A universal risk pool could really cut down on overhead costs, but we just aren’t ready to go there yet. Obamacare took several right-of-center (Heritage Foundation before Jim DeMint) ideas and some technocratic ideas and made giant steps toward access to health care, but did not create a robust public option, let alone move toward a Medicare-for-all system. Now the Republicans are on the verge of a huge cutback of healthcare access, and at the same time a huge tax cut for the wealthy.
If you believe we do not have enough inequality of wealth and opportunity, McConnell and Ryan are your guys. If you thought Trump would usher in a golden age of terrific healthcare for everybody, you may be out of luck. Ciao ciao sayonara ochlocracy, hello even-more-rock-solid oligarchy. And Mr. Trump, will he be blamed? I thought he was toast when he disrespected POW John McCain, so what do I know? Prince Harry may say nobody wants to be king, but he doesn’t know our Trump.
I believe John Dowd, 76-year-old lawyer and ex-Marine, when he says in a Reuters interview that he is not a snowflake.
And yet, he is representing a world-class snowflake, our president. How do you feel about that, Mr. Dowd? When snowflake Trump yells at you and blames you and tells you to get off his lawn, will you go quietly like the tough guy you say you are? Good, because I don’t want to hear you or any other servants of Trump whining about how badly he treats you. And I sure don’t want to hear you covering for Trump when his snowflakeness goes even further over the top than it has already. You may not think you are a snowflake, but you lie down with one and you are not going to escape waking up covered with icy white Trump poop.
Of course Attorney General Sessions, while obfuscating, didn’t invoke executive privilege while testifying today before the Senate Intelligence Committee, because of course President Trump (whose name it is an honor and blessing simply to be allowed to mention, as we all learned yesterday) did not and will not invoke executive privilege. That is because Trump is no mere ordinary U.S. President. His grandiloquent eminence precludes any stooping to invocation of privilege. More to the point, Trump already knows all the details, all the Russian connections. No need to inquire or investigate as far as he cares. David Simon’s June 8 Twitter thread lays out the case for Trump’s guilt as well as anything I have read or heard. When an innocent person would look toward the door in expectation, Trump looks only at his nails, never at the door…
So Jeremy Corbyn walks into a pub and sees three politicians standing together at the bar: Ruth Davidson, Nicola Sturgeion, and Arlene Foster. He senses the opportunity to form a government. He approaches the three and starts to high-five Ruth Davidson…
For an all-expenses paid scholarship at Oxford University’s PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics) program, finish the sentence above; state who the Prime Minister will be in three months time; finally, compare and contrast the manifestoes of Lord Buckethead and that imminent PM.
Our U.S. President showed again this week that he refuses to stump up for anything or anyone. Every problem is someone else’s fault. His problem isn’t really James Comey. His problem is that he never acknowledges he owes anybody anything. That is a big part of why he had, according to some reports, to turn to Russian banks to fund his schemes and/or bail him out–because, reportedly, American banks got tired of his repeated refusals to stump up. No, we don’t know all, or most, of the details yet. Maybe we never will. But we do have the big picture, if we are willing to face up to it. We have a legitimate but apparently deeply compromised president. Better to admit that than to wish it away. Exactly how Trump is going to get rumped up is quite unclear, but best to prepare as best we can by defending the checks and balances that Trump fails to respect–but that have made the US as great as it is. You want a smoking gun? Really? If you cannot smell all the smoke already you might need some nose work. Furthermore, impeachment is too good for our 45th president. At this point the 25th Amendment (incapacity) seems more poetically just, no?
hint re rump up: try “rump up cheshire”
Popes come and go but Trump is forever. Of course the imperial visitation on May 24 is all about the great infrastructure project that will be announced upon the return of Air Force Numero Uno.
As you may not know, because very few people know this, the Roman baths were not just waterparks, they had bookstores, barbershops, brothels, nail salons, and lots more. America will really become great just as soon as Trump the master builder creates millions of great jobs building our very own American “House of Trump” bathhouses. As a bonus, due to the benevolence of our President, there will be religious freedom around the baths. Anyone opposed to the construction of these bathhouses on moral or Biblical grounds, and who has not yet been enslaved due to unpaid medical bills, will be humored with meaningless executive orders. Circus Trumpus Maximus, here we come!
Our president has signed an executive order, fatuous and largely redundant (because current law already protects what Trump asserts needs new protection), claiming to support religious liberty. Setting aside the obvious absurdity of such an unrepentant heathen dilating on this topic–whoa, whoa, God can make use of even the worst abusers, OK, and I should know (please sit back down, Mr. President)….
Freedom, to be sure, is not a gift from government; at least if by freedom we are speaking of spiritual freedom. And, furthermore, ordained and other religiously motivated persons may well have much of value to say about politics and even about school bond issues and tax assessors. Speaking of whom, however, if churches want to keep the assessor away from their door, and maintain their status as tax-exempt entities, they should think several times before expecting political dominion to come cheap. To their souls, if not their tax-averse selves.
How’s this new healthcare deal gonna work, now? I thought that we were gonna get back the $500 billion that China was stealing from us every year, and Mexico was gonna pay, and yeah, maybe he was fluffing it a little, but now you tell me I might lose my Affordable Care Act coverage. You mean I turned out to be one of those people? Didn’t see that coming.
Hat tip to Nancy Pelosi for naming the fate of Republicans who voted to trash, not repair, Obamacare today. Now it is up to friends of actual affordable healthcare for Americans to reject rightwing “framing” and “narratives” and tell the American people plainly what just happened. Republicans voted for this bill without any clear idea of its cost, without any budget estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, but when those numbers are released the ugly realities will become clearer. “Framing” or no framing the nasty impact of this bill, if it becomes law, will hit many millions of citizens who have benefited from coverage through the Affordable Care Act, and many more millions of their family and friends.
Regarding the “freedom” Paul Ryan and his fellow zombies say we are about to enjoy, I would ask them to let go of their childish libertarian dreams and acknowledge that they are leaders of a government that got involved in the provision of health insurance because the human toll of destitution and premature death became unacceptable.
Of course there are sometimes tradeoffs between security and liberty. In the case of health, however, most people experience health, security, and freedom as mutually reinforcing. There is a loss of freedom, perhaps, if you are forced to acknowledge that you are part of a giant risk pool when you feel fine, or that you may face a day when, if you opt out of acknowledging your membership in that risk pool otherwise known as “society,” you are going to need healthcare at any price right now, and you might not have $150,000 on hand. Oh, well, that’ll surely never happen.
Healthcare is not a “good” that can be subjected to simple free-market logic without causing massive unnecessary suffering, partly because the market for healthcare does not and cannot operate with the benefit of an essential precondition of efficient Pareto-optimal “perfect competition,” which is “perfect information.” Perfect information is sometimes almost the opposite of how the healthcare market works. Think of the market for used cars. Think of all the very imperfect information, not to say unrepentant lying, that occur during the sale of a used car. Now think of yourself as a used car and of trying to “sell” yourself to an insurance company. You tell them that you have very low mileage, excellent maintenance record, and all kinds of fibs. They squint at you and want you to pay more than you can afford. Depressing scenario, isn’t it? But it gives some idea of what the rightwing framers and narrative-spinners are going to be up against and why the majority of Americans, if polls be believed, are feeling warmer and warmer about Obamacare as they realize their safety net or plan B, or maybe just plan C, could actually be taken away.
Now it is time for Democrats and others sickened by the new regime to make those who voted to mess with the Affordable Care Act pay the price and glow in the dark next year.
In his Loyalty Day proclamation for 2017, the president claimed that “the United States stands as the world’s leader in upholding the ideals of freedom, equality, and justice.” In other news today, Trump suggested in a radio interview that Andrew Jackson could have cut a deal to prevent the Civil War.
Before I say anything, let me say I feel like the dumbfounded Aflac duck, or goose, or whatever. The CEO of the Hermitage Museum suggested that he, Trump that is, might have been referring to Jackson’s “disunion is treason” remark during the nullification crisis of the 1830s. I don’t think so–and even if so the Tenth Amendment fundamentalists must be having a conniption fit at the equation of disunion with treason. Let me not be either too loyal or too disloyal to Trump here. He went to Tennessee recently to relive his election victory, and he apparently thinks that he learned something worth sharing. I can sympathize, but let’s not fall for the idea that Jackson might have been the “tough but fair” big man with big heart who could have cut a great deal almost as great as the ones Donald Trump would have cut had he been there. To be fair to the president, he did use the locution “had he been” very beautifully and correctly in the interview, at least as it was transcribed. Also, to be really really fair, the causes of the American Civil War are complex. But for an American president to claim in 2017 that Andrew Jackson, slaveowner–and enthusiastic, unapologetic slaveowner–could have been an honest broker in the conflict between slave states and free states is way off-base and reflects willful ignorance. Trump’s Loyalty Day proclamation reminds us how important freedom, justice, and equality are. Loyalty to those values sometimes mean repudiating and rejecting, sad to say, the utter BS pouring out of the White House.
Contrary to our president’s assertion in a Sirius XM/Washington Examiner interview, Andrew Jackson was not “really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said, ‘There’s no reason for this.'” And Frederick Douglass, who really is becoming better and better recognized, explained this to the president in a previously secret briefing, just search for it and you’ll surely find it under “causes of U.S. Civil War, real,” as opposed to “theories of the Civil War, fake and gratuitously offensive.” Jackson died 16 years before the war began.
As day 100 nears, I am doubting the president can maintain the “kayfabe” much longer (h/t to Nick Rogers in NYT). His affirmations are seeming half-hearted, perfunctory; the “100 percent, believe me” suddenly lacks verisimilitude. He is also slipping into the “uncanny valley,” that is, we are starting to be able to see him as the almost-but-not-quite-human he really is, and it is an awful shock. He was, for some of us, just a hideous cartoon villain; then he became, unthinkably, president–still pretty cartoonish, but sometimes seemingly capable of learning. Now, to me, his appearance is appallingly and sickeningly nearly-human, but even more truly that of a robotic puppet (whether Putin’s puppet or not, I am still not quite sure, which is part of the sickening feeling). In fairness, it must be very hard work for him, at his age, to keep pretending that he has one fig to give about policy, conservative principles, our constitutional republic, our democratic traditions, in short what actually makes us as great as we are, however great that is. The strain is showing. Our job as citizens is to stay watchful, and not let ourselves be gaslit. That, at least, seems easier than it was in January, as Trump, unwilling to discipline himself, breaks kayfabe more often. No “march for science” can really touch Trump’s appeal to his base, but if he can’t or won’t work hard enough to keep the kayfabe going, he’s most likely going down. It is up to the opposition, or resistance, or whatever you want to call it, to take advantage by showing us–especially the persuadable swing voters–the small but scary imperfections in that are making President Trump ever more repulsive.
Hey Trump, why all the farting and cursing? Why didn’t you just cut to the chase on day one? Made us wait almost 99 and one half days before you dropped the big one on Canada. I coulda told you years ago how rough they are on Americans. The least you can do, because you made us wait so long, is give your loyal base the “thumbs up, thumbs down” thrill of deciding whether to let Canada survive or not. After the bears and lions (I mean the milk inspectors and the softwood inspectors) tear them up a little, that is.
BTW do the Canadians have nukes or not? I think the French do, but not real sure. Better ask Xi Jinping for the true historical history before you make any sudden moves.
General Sessions says nobody has a sense of humor any more. Not true. Says folks oughta give him a break. Also not true. If he would lay off the sativa, which apparently riles people up, and tried some mellow indica, he might settle down and quit disrespecting places and preferences that make him say “ick.” Some of us laugh and also say “ick” the minute we see Jeff Sessions’ face, but do we make a big fuss about it and try to lock him up?
As President Trump rightly noted, “the first 100 days” is a ridiculous standard. Nobody with any sense could possibly expect somebody like Trump to measure up to FDR. I don’t feel any fake urgency for Trump to notch “successes” that might blow up my world or make my health insurance unmanageable. Stay strong, Trump, don’t let anybody gaslight you into reaching for transient “wins” that will boomerang on your sorry rump come next election day–unless you think you can suppress 24.1 million votes. So relax, you will burn in hell soon enough, don’t rush it. You did say that the only way you could ever possibly make it to heaven was to become president. What exactly is your plan now? Because you seem to have forgotten about getting into heaven. Keep your eyes on the prize, or suffer the fate of slobbering for eternity in the lowest circle. Maybe if you joined your good buddy Bill-O in Rome it would help you FOCUS.
You would think that a little dude from Baja Alabama who became Attorney General of the whole dang United States would have just a little bit of inkling that in our beautiful constitutional republic we have judicial review of executive and legislative actions. You are maybe not ready for the new world of 2017 in which some states and some federal circuit courts are more equal than others. Would federal judicial review be less surprising if it came from a big ol’ judge in Texas? Or Alaska? Would that be big enough?
Update: Not gonna give you a break, Mr. Pepe Beauregard Dingleberry Sessions. Lost my sense of humor a while back. How about you? Sativa got you all riled up, little dude? Try some mellow indica next time.
Antonio Tajani, head of the EU Parliament, said today, yes you little Englanders can turn back and we would all jump up and down with pleasure if you do turn back from leaving. Prime Minister Theresa May was quite terribly tempted to toss him in the Clink–had the Clink not been repurposed into a frou-frou hostel, so I am told. Throw ‘im into the Tower then!
Why do so many little Englanders seem to believe both 1) life stinks because we are being taken advantage of by millions of horrid unruly Europeans from places far away that we have never heard of, and also 2) we will surely be able to continue going on holiday to southern Spain and Portugal and Slovakia and the Croatian coast without any fuss or bother, but they are not going to be allowed in to take our jobs and pollute our beautiful land. Somehow it is not going to work out. Twenty-seven European countries are not about to agree unanimously to set a precedent making it painless for any one of them to opt out of the bothersome parts but keep the freebies, especially free trade and movement.
Even if plenty of the English–the Scots and Welsh are plenty pro-EU already–wake up to the need for loss aversion pronto, what and whom would they want to vote for? (This was, sadly, a big problem last fall in the US.) Jeremy Corbyn has had the luxury for decades of seeing the EU as a club for capitalists, but now it’s for real, and I have no idea what he wants to do should he find himself empowered. Maybe Nicola Sturgeon could emerge as the leader of a coalition bloc, and seize the Prime Ministership! Then we have a new script for saboteur-crushing, would we not? Prorogation could take a surprising turn; new prerogatives could emerge. There could indeed be back-turning and turning back, 500 years after Luther said that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
The U.S.S. No-Ship No-Armada may be headed toward No. Korea, or not. But our president is most definitely no-madman, he just sits on his golden chair in his no-chamber and, whenever he feels like it, wanders from no-room to no-room, presciently knowing where the no-applause is loudest. No I have never read any science fiction, this is real news.
Trump’s apparent use of “madman theory” logic to get his way (whatever that is on any given day) on healthcare probably won’t intimidate Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer. Will Trump-as-madman succeed any better on the Korean peninsula? Are we the people ready for an American president who can actually out-crazy Kim Jong-un? We elected him. We knew that no-drama-Obama was getting old. We wanted a little excitement. How much excitement? That’s what China is wondering! Their foreign minister just put our president on the same level as Kim by urging “all parties” to stop “provoking” each other. Should we blush with embarrassment? Trump, who says he comprehends very well, listened to Xi Jinping explain thousands of years of Korean history in ten minutes (or less, believe me) and now grasps very very well how to put America first by using the craziest words and threatening to use the biggest bombs. And why worry that Kim might be even more unpredictable than our president? North Korea has an excellent system of checks and balances, many people say. Their National Security Council is far more fully staffed than ours, so I hear. Their family dynasty, as Mr. Xi no doubt explained to his U.S. counterpart, is much more experienced than ours. So they will surely do the right thing. Oh right, we still have to worry about Trump–oops.
For example, let us consider the unplanned non-obsolescence of NATO. In the same breath, the president reminded us that he had said NATO was obsolete and informed us that NATO was no longer obsolete. Don’t even get me started on trying to figure out where the United States as such stands on Russia, let alone Syria, China, North Korea… I believe I grasp that the important point to remember is this: my president is the big strong man who tells me what is true and what is fake, and when he decides that there is a new, different, and probably opposite truth it is on me to avoid whiplash.
Renowned philosopher of history Donald J. Trump enunciated his cardinal principle today in a press conference with the King of Jordan. “The world is a mess; I inherited a mess.” This all-purpose hermeneutical key to interpreting Mr. Trump’s non-accountability for all subsequent events was delivered with a straight face. Yet one cannot help wonder why the man bothers to continue waking up in the morning and being president for yet another day. If all his predecessors made such a hash, missed so many opportunities, and in general FAILED, and Mr. Trump consequently cannot possibly be responsible for today’s disasters, what exactly is his job description? Breaking Update: Trump: “I do change. I am flexible… I now have responsibility…it is now my responsibility.” How about that. We should probably get ready for the Obliviate Memory Charm. P.S. Obama did also say “I inherited a mess,” but those who can recall the financial crisis of 2008 know that he did in fact inherit a big mess.
Among the many insulting labels Germans attach to the British is “island monkeys,” according to today’s London Times. Donald Trump, despite being half-German, might perhaps have in him just a touch of the island monkey . Fresh off his exuberant welcome of Egyptian tyrant al-Sisi yesterday in the Oval Office, President Donald J. “Island Monkey” Trump heads to Mar-a-Lago to jaw-jaw with Xi Jinping. Does Trump believe he needs anyone other than Jared Kushner to brief him on the issues? I don’t wish to misunderestimate Mr. Trump’s brain at all. And maybe he is listening in private to some people with actual up-to-date and historically informed knowledge of our economic and military relationship with China and East Asia. I don’t care if he doesn’t even read the one-page memos, so long as he listens and adapts. In an interview with the Financial Times published last weekend, Trump said that with respect to China, “our country hasn’t had a clue…. the past administration hasn’t had and many administrations–I don’t want to say only Obama; this has gone on for many years–they haven’t had a clue. But I do.” Hope Trump’s hubris works out better than I expect. Trump may be quite right that some previous presidents did not make the most of our leverage vis-a-vis China. But nostalgia for the glory days of America’s imperial zenith (which just happen to coincide with Trump’s own youth) is unlikely to be the winning formula for cutting great-for-America deals with China.
President Trump says give General Mikhail “Misha” Flynn immunity. Witness-tampering by a sitting president? Does that even count as “breaking news” anymore? And Flynn, poor little fellow, though in fairness he did say way back in 2016 that anybody who gets immunity is guilty. What of deviance–has it been defined down so much we can’t even feel it anymore? And wouldn’t a witness be given immunity if and only if they are going to implicate somebody higher up? Who is the only person higher up than National Security Adviser?
Could the Almighty have such a refined sense of irony that poor white Trump voters were punished this week by G-d leaving their health benefits intact? Maybe G-d does not really believe in karma? It was real problematic for a lot of folks to have to take healthcare entitlements and handouts from a skinny black dude. But times change, and now we have a really rich, old, large, obnoxious white man in the White House. It would be awful if everybody who needed to get low-cost care got cut off now. Thank goodness the Freedom Caucus understood all this and preserved our Obamacare just when we were starting to think of it as the Affordable Care Act (surprise!). Just hoping the
Answer: yes, it is wrong to give the president and the Speaker of the House the benefit of the soft bigotry of low expectations for failing to enact the agenda they have promised lo these last seven years. I urge them to stop blaming one another. Personal responsibility is a virtue. Without virtue where are we as a constitutional republic. This is no time for spin. This is the time to accept accountability. Rather than whining that “who knew x, y, or z was so complicated,” why not take as a starting point, “my previous career as a con artist was supposed to be a transferable skill, but the rules sure are different down here in the swamp. They actually like to read the fine print. Every goddamn last one of them is a lawyer and a future lobbyist. And they might be even more mendacious than me.”
Does Donald J. Trump realize that he is president? Is he saying he is going to actively sabotage the Affordable Care Act so that we the people will be reduced to begging for relief? Does he realize that one of the men standing next to him today, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, has plenty of regulatory discretion over the health exchanges. Price can undermine the health of Americans in many ways. Or help make things easier for people trying to get health care via sensible and flexible administrative rules and regulations. Trump is never willing to be blamed, for anything, but from today forward controlling the “narrative” and deflecting accountability is going to get harder.
“Circumstantial evidence” is in the news today. As I heard it, Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, says he has evidence, not just circumstantial, of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians. Henry David Thoreau wrote that “some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.” I would say where we are right now re Trump/Russia is that we have seen the trout in the milk. Some people are anxious or eager for even more evidence. I imagine Schiff is sitting on evidence even stronger than trout in the milk. Not sure if it will impress or convince everybody who needs to be convinced and impressed, but there is already more than enough smoky milky trout for me.