Kelly Said “I Appeal To America”; I Appeal To Chief Of Staff John Kelly

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?


What Excuses Will They Make When Trump Shoots Pepe The Frog On Pennsylvania Avenue?

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…

If Trump Wants To Be As Popular As Obama And Obamacare, He Has A Way Forward

Well-known philosopher Donald J. Trump, who is a master of comprehending life and human nature, may have found a path to popular acclaim.  Mr. Trump, let’s be real: you crave popular approval, and former president Obama’s approval ratings have clearly gotten under your thin skin.  Also Obamacare’s approval ratings have shot up.  Human nature, as you say–we are already missing our water.  As you yourself said today: “the press is making Obamacare look so good suddenly.  I’m watching the news.  It looks so good.  It’s a little bit like President Obama.  When he left, people liked him.  When he was here, people didn’t like him so much.  That’s the way life goes.  That’s human nature.”

There is a way out of your low popularity, sir.  It is simple: the way out is the exit door, which for your convenience is marked “EXIT.”  I for one am totally prepared to miss you, and even to speak fondly of the many great things you could have accomplished, had you only stuck it out, and matured, and experienced a radical conversion, all of which was possible, if wildly improbable.  But no need to hesitate over hypotheticals.  Sky-high approval numbers are yours for the taking, Mr. Trump.

Good Or Bad?–That Trump Does Not Know We Are Not Yet Ruled By Personal Dictatorship

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp {sic} my phones during the very sacred election process,” tweeted the President today.  “Bad…sick…McCarthyism…is it legal” and so forth.

President Trump does not seem afraid to up the ante.  Is he ready for a discovery process involving an independent counsel with subpoena power?  (Yes the independent counsel law expired, but all things are possible–including presidential declassification of anything or everything involving Russian interference in the 2016 election.)

President Trump appears to think that presidents act by fiat, via personal dictatorship, not constrained by other independent and coequal branches of government.  Presidents do not themselves order wiretaps.  We have executive branch lawyers who seek warrants via judges–last I heard.

Does President Trump have a problem with McCarthyism?  If so, how exactly does he object to Senator Joe McCarthy’s playbook, which included guilt-by-association tactics and anonymously-sourced smears?  Does President Trump accuses President Obama of acting like “Nixon/Watergate” but does not elaborate or provide any evidence.  What exactly about Richard Nixon or Watergate does President Trump condemn?

Could President Trump have a point, in the midst of his unsupported allegations, that the United States has a problem with “deep state” subversion of our “very sacred election process”?  Maybe so–all the more reason to get going on a truly independent investigation.  A partisan, politicized, ostrich-like, paralyzed Congress does not seem up to the task.  Jeff Sessions’ deputy is unlikely to be credible and authoritative.  That leaves an independent counsel (possible downside that non-criminal but horrible actions could end up being bypassed) or an independent commission (typically very slow-moving).  Maybe there are other, better options.

Hey GOP, Don’t Let Trump Bully You Into Making Political Correctness Great Again

Should I be grateful that the President-elect is trying so hard to make political correctness great again by urging Republicans–twice in one day–to “be careful.”  Being careful has been so not-Trump-brand, but that was then.  Now is all Trumpcare, all the time.  Thus does caution–and what is political correctness, after all is said and done, but prudence and caution–weasel its way into the calculations of the manly and strong new sheriff in town.  Not necessarily sad, but true.  Parenthetically, the Democrats’ signage needs work: “Make America Sick Again” needs “DON’T LET TRUMP” in big red letters before “make,” for starters.  But that is a sideshow.  Everybody knows that Trump owns American health care and the American economy and the American military in two weeks.  Setting aside GOP hype and cherry-picking and distortion, most people know full well that Trump is not inheriting anything like the kind of crisis Obama did eight years ago.  So Trump and McConnell and Ryan have a luxury Obama didn’t: they can repeal and nullify a whole lot of Obama’s horrible/feckless/foreign/takers over makers/pro-linecutters/failed/not-Trumpy-great legacy, or they can wise up and slow walk the hard stuff.  Many people will say that that kind of squishiness would give the last laugh to political correctness.  As Trump might say, “that’s called life.”

But if Trump says “be careful” twice in a row, the good news may be that he might not blow us all up for a while.

It’s Not Like This Is 1937, Yet–So Choose Battles Wisely

Of course Trump is “not normal.”  Not even close.  But progressives and liberals will do well to turn away now, for the most part, from process issues and focus on the pain that most Americans, including many if not most Trump voters, are about to feel.  That’s assuming that China and Russia do not take immediate advantage of chaos in the changeover, throwing us into foreign policy confrontation that distracts from all domestic issues and even perhaps serves as pretext for extraordinary executive powers.

Trump made a lot of promises to the “forgotten men and women” he invoked over and over, and those forgotten persons, whether “poorly educated” or not, are likely to take Trump’s promises seriously and literally.  Trump may (as he did in the Carrier case) act surprised, and even actually be surprised, at such literalness.  That is likely to be one of his biggest weak spots.  His “truthful hyperbole” is not likely to wear well among those who voted for him if he goes along with Speaker Ryan’s agenda of shredding the safety net.

Protests against Trump and Trumpism are least effective when they implicate Trump voters as fools or worse.  That way leads toward a nightmare of mutual treachery (as in Stalin’s 1937 purges–no, we are not there yet, neither is Russia today, but…).  Any vote for a president is an educated guess about the future, and we would not have elected either Trump or Obama if Americans were not prepared, maybe too prepared, to take a flying leap into the unknown.  Thinking that our Constitution and our “system” will save us from bad consequences may or may not turn out very well this time, and hope isn’t enough of a plan and never was.  In any case, best to keep some powder dry for the day, coming soon, when Trump gores the ox of actual regular Americans (some but not all of whom will be black or Muslim or Mexican or gay).  Trump will provide spectacle and circus; if he provides enough bread and does not use his presidential power to sow hate, that would be wonderful.  But more likely, there will be ample opportunity and need for protest and assembly and nonviolent resistance before long.  As talented as Trump is as exploiting our biases (see Michael Lewis’s Undoing Project and the work of Kahneman and Tversky; also Robert Cialdini’s Pre-suasion) he did not succeed in gaslighting all of us or even a majority of us.  Staying woke in 2017 will be a challenge–but it’s always a challenge.  Fake news is not new–Thucydides wrote in his History of the Peleponnesian War (Book 1: 20) that “most people expend very little effort on the search for truth and prefer to rely on ready-made answers.”  Resisting Trumpism will require punchy, compelling, clever storytelling as well as tenacious focus on the real-world harms his regime is imposing on real people, including but not limited to us.

“Undecided” Suburban Whites Cry Tears Of Joy That Trump Is Officially No Longer Racist “Birther”…oops, oops, there he goes again!

Purportedly undecided suburban white registered voters were able to cry unashamed tears of joy for a brief while today that they could now officially vote for an officially nonracist Trump, after Trump officially ended all race-based doubts about President Barack Obama’s birthplace by making it crystal clear that Obama was in fact a natural-born American citizen. Trump’s false claim that Hillary started it and that “I know you are but what am I?” do not count as racist lies for the simple reason that Hillary Clinton is a white woman. Trump’s boastful claim that he, High Sheriff Donald J. Trump, “ended it” is also not a racist lie because we are all obligated to move on now to making America strong and great again. Any quibblers? … oopsie, hold up, he seems to have lost his teleprompter script again… A retired “birther” lieutenant general introducing him (wink) today?  And now Hillary was the founder of birtherism?  Really?  And, again, her Secret Service detail should let her and themselves get shot at?

Who’s More Naive About Putin–Immanuel Kant Or The Captains Of German Industry?

My vote is that Kant was much less naive than the head of Siemens, for example, about the implications of Putinism for Europe’s future.  Sure Kant lived in the 18th century–details, details.  Lately there has been much commentary about the contrast between Putin’s Hobbesian vision of the world vs. the European Union’s supposedly naive Kantian cosmopolitanism.  There is some truth in that contrast, but I would say it is unfair to Immanuel Kant.  For example, in his essay, “On the common saying: That may be correct in theory, but it is of no use in practice,”  Kant is quite aware that “nowhere does human nature appear less lovable than in the relations of entire peoples to one another.”  And his short treatise, “Toward Perpetual Peace,” opens with the worldly comment that “It may be left undecided whether this satirical inscription on a certain Dutch innkeeper’s signboard picturing a graveyard was to hold for human beings in general, or for heads of state in particular, who can never get enough of war, or only for philosophers, who dream that sweet dream.”  And Kant recognized that “no treaty of peace shall be held to be such if it is made with a secret reservation of material for a future war.”  He could hardly have anticipated more concisely the Russian attitude toward last week’s “agreement” between the U.S., Russia, Ukraine, and the EU.

Meanwhile Angela Merkel is having a very hard time keeping her business elite from bowing down to Putin (the head of Shell Oil–Dutch-owned–literally bowed before Putin last week, hat tip to Bill Browder Twitter feed) in their quest for business as usual.  If the CEO of German conglomerate Siemens goes to pay a friendly visit Putin in Moscow, while German-trained Russian special forces pursue their soft invasion of eastern Ukraine (see Josh Rogin, “Germany Helped Prep Russia For War,” Daily Beast, 4/22/14) how is Chancellor Merkel supposed to conduct a foreign policy that serves the interests of all Germans, and by extension the EU as a whole?  And who then looks more naive, Immanuel Kant or the masters of the German universe who are pretending that business continues as usual?

P.S. It is a tricky business, trying to muster the immense economic power of a group of countries accustomed to neo-Kantian “win-win” cosmopolitanism (under unanimous consent EU rules that are not necessarily helpful in crises) against a bad actor who decides to play by “Hobbesian” win-lose rules and redraw national borders.  It behooves the leaders of Europe–Merkel and Cameron and Hollande–as well as Obama, to up their game, which would involve, at a minimum, preparing their constituents and their own oligarchs for some inconveniences.

Clueless NY Times Misinterprets Harold And The Purple Crayon

“Certainly children’s tales like ‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ offer few lessons for dealing with Tea Party congressmen,” according to an NYT story today by Peter Baker, “In Obama’s Book List, Glimpses of His Journey.”  Since I have not seen an official Times correction yet, allow me to suggest one: “The Times regrets that a recent article misstated the facts.  Due to an editing error, the “White House Memo” of 12/5/13 failed to note that when Harold drew a frightening dragon under the tree to guard the apples, and then was himself frightened by the dragon he had drawn, and almost drowned in the ocean drawn by his shaking right hand, but then saved himself by drawing a boat, the obvious parallels with how President Obama might best deal with Tea Party congressmen via unilateral executive orders were ignorantly and triflingly marginalized.  The Times is deeply mortified.”

The Times, of course, has still failed to note the eerie parallel between the nine pies served at the White House Thanksgiving dinner and Harold’s “simple picnic lunch” consisting of his nine most favorite pies, and nothing but.

Obama Fecklessly Denies Conducting Surveillance On Newly-Discovered Vegetarian Piranha

In a desperate effort to change the narrative and thus win the day, President Obama is reported to have denied today that the NSA is surveilling or will ever be surveilling the Amazonian vegetarian piranha.

Angela Merkel is said to be developing a state-of-the-art liverwurst to tempt the piranhas. Francois Hollande remarked ironically that if Americans possessed more acute theoretical faculties we would perceive that Obama had said nothing, nothing to exclude U.S. surveillance of vegan piranhas. Hollande denied rumors of a French plot even more insidious than Chancellor Merkel’s: to introduce the vegan/vegetarian piranhas to appellation controlled Roquefort.

Livin’ The Insane Gangsta Pretend-Libertarian Thug Vida Loca

In fairness to the insane gangsta thug pseudo-libertarians in Congress, President Obama did give them reason to believe two years ago that they ought to keep doing what they are doing. So it is up to Obama to explain early and often why he is doing what he is doing. And I thought he did a good job of that both at the Clinton Global Initiative the other day and then at a speech in Largo, Maryland. I do not believe, though, that it is the President’s fault if we the people prefer the narcotic of Breaking Bad to the more serious work of paying just a little more attention to basic details of the health care law and of the non-equivalent stances of the parties in Washington. The substantial point spread between approval of the “Affordable Care Act” and that of “Obamacare” is testament enough to our slothfulness.

Still Not Very Advanced

President Obama, speaking at a memorial for the Navy Yard shooting victims, said “no other advanced nation endures this kind of violence. None.” Of course other countries, such as England and Japan, have endured terroristic attacks. But he was right, I think, in that no other “First World” country sees mass killing after mass killing without doing what it takes to drastically reduce their future likelihood. Wayne LaPierre of the NRA said today that “all the outrage…ought to be placed on an unprotected naval base.” If Wayne LaPierre has enough influence that a more rigorous system of background checks still cannot pass Congress, just as it couldn’t after the Newtown, Connecticut slaughter, I have to wonder about part of what President Obama said. How advanced a nation are we?

I Have No Patience For Presidents Who Deny That They Have Any Interest In Anything Other Than Protecting Us

President Obama, you said last week that you have “no patience” for countries that make life hard for gays and lesbians. Great. I am glad Joe Biden had even less patience than you did during your reelection campaign. He got over his skis, it was all a little willy-nilly, but you were fairly good-humored in public about the disorderliness of Biden–maybe because what choice did you have? And real change is sometimes a little disorderly, you know that.

I must say, though, you lost me when you also said that “the main thing I want to emphasize is, I don’t have an interest and the people of the NSA don’t have an interest in doing anything other than making sure that…we can prevent a terrorist attack…that we’re able to carry out that critical task. We do not have an interest in doing anything other than that.” I have no patience for ridiculousness like that. How did that kind of banal self-serving propaganda get into your head? From your mother? Maybe she was idealistic and naive in some ways, according to your own memoir, but that naive? It is hardly believable. From your grandparents? Not likely. From your professors or colleagues? Maybe. Not from Reverend Wright or any preacher with any sense. And you are not running for reelection, as you have pointed out more than once, so maybe you actually are so deep “inside the government,” as you say, that Keith Alexander has hypnotized you. I am not quite sure how you got to the point where you could say the silly things you did. Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic debunks your “no interest” claim: “(President Obama) has all sorts of interests besides preventing terrorist attacks–political interests, ideological interests, legacy interests, ego interests. The folks at the NSA want to stop terrorist attacks. But they have other interests too….they want to perpetuate and expand their agency…and some, like Snowden, have totally unexpected interests, like transparency. It caused him to flee with all sorts of sensitive information. Am I to believe that no employee or contractor would possibly abscond for less noble reasons?”

I am not expecting or asking you to become a radical leftist or even reliably progressive, or to let go of your petulance over Snowden’s role. But could we just get real about how government works and could you get enough outsider perspective to imagine that people who are angry and upset are not necessarily infantile, naive, or misguided. That too much to ask? One press conference that was the intellectual version of Mission Accomplished was enough, can we agree? You might take a look, or another look, at the works of the late great interdisclipinary social scientist Albert O. Hirschman–recently eulogized in the New York Review of Books by Cass Sunstein, your former Head Man in Charge of the Hermeneutics of Regulation (and that’s a good thing to have). Hirschman’s The Passions And The Interests is a study of 18th-century ideas and a plea for a richer conception of “interests” than we now possess; and his The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy is a wonderfully acidic takedown of a mindset you have had to confront again and again to the point of understandable exasperation.