Fake Spartacus John Kelly Ends Up In Same Empty Barrel As Trump

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.

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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?

“Memory Abusively Summoned” Once Again By President

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).”

 

http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/M/bo3613761.html

 

Americans To Thug President Trump: Drop Dead, We Don’t Negotiate With Terrorists Like You

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.

I Can Handle A Moron President, It’s The Psychopathic Vengeance Part That Gets Me “Concerned”

“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.

Could We Agree That Senator Corker Is “Simul Justus Et Peccator”: Justified And Sinner At The Same Time

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.

I Defend The President’s First Amendment Right To Speak In Favor Of The False And Vicious Binary Choices He Loves So Much

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.

New Lane Change Departure Warning Systems Not Yet Good Enough To Control President Trump

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.

Steve Bannon Denies Trump “Literally” Belongs In Ninth Circle Of Dante’s Hell (Hint: 8th)

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!

 

An Update On Disinformation Operations On Facebook

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?

 

An Update On Information Operations On Facebook

VP Pence Turns Heathen: This Catastrophe Of Nature Must Be Made Into A Catastrophe Of Future Debt

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.

The Sovereign Prerogative Of Pardon Can And Should Be Majestic

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?

Thomas Browne Wants A Word With Our President

“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.

“You Can’t Change History”? Really? What About Airing It Out A Little Bit?

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.

Where Does It Stop? Good Question, Trump–Who Knew Truth And Reconciliation Could Be So Complicated?

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.

President Snowflake J. Trump Turning Blue In Face Waiting For Merck To Lower “Ripoff Drug Prices”

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.

Choose Your Babyface

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?

 

https://imgur.com/lIuLT0z

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…

Will McConnell Be Remembered As The American Version Of Franz Von Papen?

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.

Trump Deploys New Justice Department Forfeiture Policy To Seize Jeff Sessions’ Dignity

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.

Is Trump Articulate Bright And Clean Enough Yet?

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.

Why Did President Trump Just Declare That President George Washington Was A Crazy Loser?

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.”

Too Soon For A National Day Of Fasting And Humiliation?

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.

Video Of Putin Laughing At Trump Is Not Fun To Watch, But How Else Are We Going To Become Penitent Victims Of Trump’s Seduction

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.

June 1987: “Tear Down This Wall”; July 2017: “We’re Moving Forward”

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:

http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/7/6/15928782/trump-accessory-after-the-fact

 

Meanwhile the best leader of the free world we have, Angela Merkel, rolls her eyes at Putin and Trump.

 

 

 

Does Western Civilization Have The Will To Suppress The Freedom To Loot Artifacts (Or Tile Samples)?

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.

Babyface Trump, Meet Babyface Kim

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.

What Does The Federal Government Need To Know So Badly About States’ Voter Rolls?

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.

Trump Seduced By Youthful Frenchman

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.

Move Over, Mr. President! Meet Mitch McConnell, The New King Of Debt

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.

You May Not Be A Snowflake, John Dowd, But How Do You Like Representing One?

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.

Since Trump Won’t Stump Up He’s Sure To Get Rumped Up

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”

The Real Reason Trump Is Visiting Rome–It’s All About The Baths

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!

Nobody Knew It Would Be So Hard To Keep Trump Out Of The Uncanny Valley

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.

Blame Canada! But What Took The President So Long?

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.

Is 1000 Times No-President Overseeing No-Ship No-Armada From His No-Room?

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.

Out-Crazying Kim Jong-Un–What Could Go Wrong?

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.

Unquiet Flow The Policies Of The Don

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.

New, Improved Philosophy of History: “I Inherited A Mess,” And Good Luck Holding Me Accountable For Anything

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.

General Michael (aka “Mikhail,” “General Misha”) Flynn: Guilty Rightwing Snowflake? Or Victim of Witch-Hunt?

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 Meals On Wheels Make Any Good Use Out Of Mick Mulvaney, Paul Ryan, or Steve Bannon?

Other than cooking up a very pale and thin bone broth, that is (hat tip Jordan Weissmann of Slate)?  Mick Mulvaney channelled Lord John Russell’s laissez-faire ideology (hat tip to Charlie Pierce’s Esquire blog) during the Irish potato famine, on the day before St. Patrick’s Day!  He did not actually say that the poor should be boiled into bone broth.  Paul Ryan did not say that his legislative agenda owes even more to Lord Russell than to latecomer Ayn Rand.  Mulvaney, Ryan, and Bannon did not say that they are white and that that makes all the difference as far as immigration goes.  God apparently has not yet taught these sons of Ireland enough of a lesson about their history.  But until then their Anglo-Teutonic overlord Trump is making good use of them.

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.

If A Performance Artist Complains That The Job Is Too Complicated Does That Make Him A Snowflake?

Just wondering–and BTW in this case the “performance artist” in question is a “he”–if the artist complains the art is too complicated, could it be he didn’t put in the ten thousand hours of practice practicing to do the actual job?

Could the performance artist walk away now without his snowflakes leaving a trace?  If only.  Are the original intentions of the Framers, including the Framers of the 25th Amendment, enough to cope with our situation?  If a tyrannical soul announces in advance that he cannot possibly be blamed for any outcomes, is the “laugh test” still apropos?  The SMFH test, perhaps?

Trump Tries And Fails To Make Us Think Health Care Is Complicated

Trump, Trump, Trump, why are you trying to fool us with your fake story that health care is complicated.  It is so easy to understand that anybody who pays any attention at all to details figured it out a long time ago.  Lemme break it down for you, in little pieces you oughta be able to chew:

  1. Your body is a lot like a broken-down used car.  Not a fine-tuned mass-produced brand-new car.
  2. The market for health care is like the market for repairs of broken-down used cars, and not much like the market for new cars.
  3. For “free markets” to work “perfectly” everybody buying and selling has gotta have “perfect” information about the product being bought and sold.
  4. Thus a “free market” system to provide health care is not gonna be perfect.  This is called “market failure.”  Sometimes government regulation does not make everything perfect, but it is often worth a try.
  5. You, as President, have all kinds of power (via the administrative state your strategist says he wants to deconstruct) to negotiate good prices on drugs and the delivery of health care services–on behalf of all 320 million Americans.
  6. The word for your power is “monopsony.”  Look it up, and then use it.  You can become the greatest monopsonist ever!

trump switches to lower case: sorry we won’t see you in court, or recognize taiwan either

settle down mr. president.  a lot of the indivisible folks are even older than you, and you seem super energetic now, but pace yourself.  i hope you read the financial times article by david allen green today that explained why “see you in court” made lots of sense in your old world of commercial litigation in which your “aggressive shout of ‘see you in court’ would…be a standard prelude to cutting some sort of a deal….the problem with this approach is that public law litigation–legal disputes over whether a public body has the power to do a thing or not–is not like commercial litigation.  going to court is the very point of public law litigation….only a court can hold an act or a decision…to be lawful or not….public law litigation is about decision-making, not deal-making.”

likewise with china.  the one china policy, as paul haenle, a former national security council china specialist, explained, “is not a card on the bargaining table–it is the table itself.”  you reversed your previous position, which some say you never do.  but china is special.  with special prices on all the cheap stuff with which we like to fill our homes.  time to move on to the next distraction.

going to all lower case does not come naturally to you, mr. president, but maybe a golfing weekend with the japanese prime minister will help you settle yourself.  if not, maybe he will explain to you a very amazing and noble and beautiful japanese exit strategy you can achieve all by yourself, with no court or congress or anybody getting in your way.

Could Trump Deport All The Second And Third Cousins Of McVeigh And Roof?

I believe it would be wrong and illegal and unconstitutional to deport all the cousins of Timothy McVeigh and Dylann Roof and the Unabomber.  But if President Trump decided that taking that tack would be “just common sense,” and that anybody who disagreed with him is to blame for any ensuing acts of terror, where would we be?  Would any Republicans begin to dissent from such an unconstrained claim of executive authority?

Should President Trump Have “Unconstrained Discretion” To Blame Everyone But Himself?

Constrained discretion vs. unconstrained discretion: that is the issue in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today re the “ban” or whatever alternative term you like.  Presidents have “wide authority,” the media tell us, and they are not lying about that.  (However, few if any TV heads have emphasized that there is already extended vetting before foreigners are allowed into the U.S. from the countries in question.  Newswatchers could easily get the impression that there was little if any filtering during the Obama administration.)  But unconstrained presidential discretion is another matter.  Giving any president,  even Mr. Trump, unconstrained discretion over anything has big league downsides.  The only possible upside would be that Trump’s blame-shifting, which is already unconstrained by common sense or facts or shame, would be even less believable.  But the price is far too high.  If Trump manages to fool courts as well as Congress that his whims are unreviewable and that any oversight is unpatriotic and dangerous–game over.

Will the KGB/FSB Administer the 2018 Midterm Elections Fairly And Impartially?

Will any Congressional Republicans pull themselves away from celebrating the nomination of Neil Gorsuch and take note of President Trump’s easing/”I am not easing” of sanctions on Russian intelligence agencies?

If somebody offered me 19 or 19.5 percent of the Russian petrostate and sent it to a Cayman Islands shell company, I might be tempted to do something nice for them.  Is that what is happening here?  Did President Trump acknowledge it by speaking of finding a “pretext” for lifting sanctions?  Hard to be at all sure, but it’s not a question I expected to need to ask.

“Risk Aversion Builds As Trump Trade Fades,” That Is, Run For The New Zealand Hills!

“Risk Aversion Builds” was a headline in today’s Financial Times.  I had just enough to feel Hillary was the risk-averse or loss-averse choice last November.  I am still not completely sure that the American people, via the Electoral College, made a bad choice last year or any year in my lifetime, but the people who said last fall “oh, don’t take Trump literally” were not worth betting on then or now.

Even though I believe Trump is entitled to his choice of advisors, and was within his rights to replace the acting attorney general, and that progressives ought to focus less on process issues and 99% on holding Trump responsible for what helps or hurts the “forgotten men and women” who voted for him after, in many cases, voting for Obama at least once–despite all that, I do think the malicious, vindictive, and incompetent administration taking shape is bad news for our economy, security, democracy, and constitutional republic.  Bad news for people who have anything to lose.  Republican elected officials who are pining to deregulate and cut taxes are not likely to be remembered well ten or twenty years from now.  Progressives who seek only the moral high ground and don’t acknowledge that many people voted for Trump out of real grievance and frustration and desperation are not going to be remembered well either.  If we are going to have a country to remember and enjoy at all, we all need to imagine and uphold a country focused on liberty and security and fairness and dignity.  Running for the New Zealand hills is not an option available to very many of us, appealing though it might be.

More Deletions At Whitehouse.gov

No Spanish language version any more.  404 hasta la vista baby.

No judicial branch.  Seriously, the section was deleted.  Replaced with Constitution.  Which is apparently so transparent and self-interpreting it doesn’t require any mediators or interpreters, just enforcers.  Of course that was the original intent, all you freedom-obsessed haters and losers.

No need for climate change section, let alone “warming.”  Sea levels now falling.  That’s the alternative fact, don’t let the horrible dishonest media fool you.

Talking Points About John Lewis and Donald Trump

  1. Congressman John Lewis’s biography gives him great moral and civic stature, but no special authority to say who is or is not a legitimate president.  The issue is, does his accusation against Trump have merit and substance.
  2. Trump responded to John Lewis with misdirection and non sequiturs.  Trump did not challenge the substance of Lewis’s charge that Russia’s efforts to elect Trump damage Trump’s legitimacy.  Lewis did not deny that Trump won 300+ electoral votes.  He did question the legitimacy of a victory won in part with Russian cyberattacks, hacking, disinformation, and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign.  Trump maligned Lewis and his district (crime infested? really, Trump? no crime problems in your own backyard?) but did not address what John Lewis actually said.
  3. Lewis hit on one of the main reasons Trump could be perceived as illegitimate, and this past week revealed more about others: e.g. James Comey’s thumb on the scale.  Something in his classified briefing yesterday enraged congressional Democrats.
  4. Michael Flynn’s reported five phone calls with the Russian ambassador while President Obama was announcing the expulsion of 35 Russian spies/diplomats (not to mention contacts between Russians and Paul Manafort and Carter Page and, perhaps, Michael Cohen) look suspicious if not illegal if not traitorous.
  5. If President Obama had good reasons to not go public in a strong and decisive way about all this during the campaign, that is between him and the co-authors of his memoirs.  I do not know enough to condemn or approve of Obama’s silences.
  6. Trump, weighing all the evidence as best I can, is susceptible to Russian (and perhaps Chinese or Iranian?) blackmail as long as he is president.  His best defense is that we elected him knowing full well who he is.   He was elected despite openly inviting Russia last summer to commit espionage against his political opponent.  And that is a big problem.

Defiant Wall Street Journal Misses The Point, Which Is Not Whether Trump Is “Lying”

WSJ editor Gerald Baker is welcome to be “careful” about “using the word ‘lie.'”  But really, Gerard, many of us are past that point.  Has Donald J. Trump really not bellowed sickening racist lie after disgusting sexist lie long enough for you to realize that you need not throw caution to the winds when you call Trump a lying liar?  Hideous indeed the sight when you finally snap and scream that Trump is a “lying bastard lying to” you, Gerard Baker of the Wall Street Journal?  When Kellyanne Conway asserts yet again that we cannot judge Mr. Trump on what comes out of his mouth, but must instead look to what she claims is in his heart, you do realize that you and your ilk have been tossed aside.  Your cautious “standards” mean–what, exactly?

Reset button: why not refer to the President-to-be as Unreliable Trump for short, or, to give his full formal title, POTUS and Unreliable Narrator Donald Trump.  I certainly can’t keep up with the veracity of lying liarness of Trump’s tales, but I do feel certain that he is not reliable.  Anyone who says otherwise at this point has a high burden of proof.  Unreliable does not, however, necessarily mean all bad.  “Unreliable narrators” include many fascinating if not charming characters–think Humbert Humbert; think the Wife of Bath; think the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart.”  You could even exercise your overabundant caution, Gerard, quibbling whether Trump is a dissonant or consonant self-narrator (hat tip to Dorrit Cohn, Transparent Minds).  

Live a little, Gerard.  And relax.  It’s not the beating of Trump’s hideous heart that you can’t get out of your ears, is it?  Is it not the hideous drumbeat of unreliable narration?

 

Unreliable narration update re Meryl Streep vs. Trump: Hollywood is surely vilified by some, but living in Malibu is not victimhood; meanwhile, do I trust my own lying eyes when I rewatch the video of him mocking a disabled reporter, or has he successfully anchored and gaslit me so that I can no longer perceive his abusive lying?

Re Monica Crowley: do you, Gerard Baker, plan to cover the story of alleged plagiarism of your own newspaper’s stories?  Does plagiarism of your own newspaper count as lying?

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.

Gotta Admire The Guy Sitting In The Middle Of The Swamp On His Gold-Plated Toilet

Who among us does not aspire to sit on a gold-encrusted toilette, surveying the swamp that one has just filled with…but let me not descend into unseemly details.  Details about exactly how the next bubble will be inflated.  The right wing has whined and quibbled and moaned about the supposed monetary manipulations that have kept asset prices bubbling these last few years.  Will they object to the humongous deficit-spiking stimulus on tap in 2017?  Insufflate me?  No, insufflate you!

David Runciman addresses the hypocrisy to come: “the heart of {Silicon Valley investor Peter} Thiel’s case for Trump is that the generation of Americans represented by the Clintons–the baby-boomers–had inflated one bubble after another in their desperate desire to avoid facing hard truths and continue their own soft existence.  There hadn’t just been equity bubbles and housing bubbles: there were humanitarian bubbles and political correctness bubbles–anything to keep the wolf of how-things-really-are from the door.  Yet the idea that Trump, who…has been as cosseted as anyone, offers something different is laughable.  The Trump bubble is likely to be the biggest of all” (London Review of Books, 1 Dec. 2016).

If the Trump bubble bursts soon, he might be able to blame Obama, but I think it’s more likely that we will see an ugly spectacle of blame and retribution, especially if another financial crisis is accompanied by millions getting shut out of health care by insurance market chaos caused by the uncertainty of “repeal and delay.”  (And watch out too for when the “Putin Hearts Trump” bubble bursts.)  Remember when Republicans beat Obama over the head over the business “uncertainty” he supposedly caused?  Isn’t the new Trump uncertainty exhilirating?  Maybe not, if you were discounting some of what Trump said as innocuous boasting or joking, particularly if it was directed at others, but took him very literally when he promised something that would benefit you.  

How to play (or just survive) the Trump bubble?  That’s a question to take seriously and literally.

Is Trump Drilling The Swamp Because He Was Hypnotized By The KGB?

It could just be accidental, all this drilling of the swamp.  Maybe it’s not the result of KGB hypnosis administered years ago, maybe decades ago.  Right–and Rick Perry might possibly remember the name of the federal department he is nominated to lead.  As Jennifer Rubin points out in her Right Turn column in the Washington Post, if Trump had in fact been turned by Russian intelligence, what would he be doing differently than he is in fact doing?

Of Course I Love The Beautiful Tenth Amendment

There’s a headline in today’s National Review Online: “Trump: An Opportunity For Federalism,” and let me say, have I ever “mocked anyone who invokes the Tenth Amendment”?  Of course not.  Have I ever even thought to myself that “any discussion of federalism [was] code for Jim Crow or even slavery”?  Hmm, maybe, possibly, I may have thought that.  But no matter.  Have I mentioned lately how the Tenth Amendment is a great amendment?  It is the last but not least of the first beautiful ten amendments otherwise known as the Bill of Rights.  We are going to need every single one of those ten amendments real quick.  Subsidiarity, great Catholic and catholic principle.  It doesn’t just apply, as National Review author points out mockingly, just to “stinky cheeses, raw milk, microbrews, and weed.”  He is right.  Let a hundred flowers of progressive federalism bloom, along with the reactionary Keynesianism I expect from the new administration.

Snowflake-Elect Trump Demands Politically Correct Apologetics. Here Goes.

Dear Mr. Snowflake-In-Chief-Elect Trump:

The cast of “Hamilton” broke the fourth wall last night in the presence of Vice President-elect Pence. You demand an apology. Let’s recap what Aaron Burr/Brandon Dixon said: “We have a message for you, sir…We are the diverse America…alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not…uphold our inalienable rights. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.” Before reading his statement, Dixon asked the audience to stop booing Pence: “there’s nothing to boo, ladies and gentlemen. We’re all here sharing stories of love.”

You say “the Theater must always be a safe and special place.” How, my poor snowflake-elect, are you going to get through your term as president of 320-plus Americans?  Mr. Dixon, on behalf of the cast, said to Mr. Pence “we are scared of you (based in part, Dixon might have said, on your history of active hostility toward LGBTQ Americans) but we hope you do right in your new position representing the whole country. How you, Trump, can say that Mr. Dixon, by owning his own alarm and anxiety, is guilty of harassing Pence is beyond me. You might try something that your detractors are supposed to be unable to do in response to you: that is, take Mr. Dixon “seriously but not literally.”  Doing so might give you some good ideas about making the USA an even more safe and special place than it is right now.

So far you, soon-to-be Snowflake-in-Chief, have communicated some signals of generosity and some of score-settling. My advice is to take the high road whenever you can, or you will consume yourself–which would be just your problem if you were not about to become president of the whole United States.

Snowflake-In-Chief Donald J. Trump

You say you woulda coulda won the popular vote and bigly?  Maybe you will–next time.  The campaign is over, dude, and you have a lot of actual work to do if you really want to drain the swamp.

And taking the easy way out of keeping the two most popular parts of Obamacare and skipping away from the unpopular mandates and penalties–that’s a real snowflake move that will make the whole system crash.  Reality bites.

Nigel And Kellyanne Work The Refs; Merkel Flips The Script Big League On National Stereotypes

Nigel Farage says it’s up to British politicians to “mend fences” and Kellyanne Conway says Obama and Clinton are obliged to talk protesters down. Don’t be gaslit: they are just working the refs. Obama and Clinton already acknowledge Trump as a legitimately elected president, while Trump all but promised disruption if he had lost.  And Trump has said plenty about what he feels are the shortcomings of political leaders in Europe and elsewhere. Those leaders are now obliged, on behalf of their citizens, to deal with Trump. But Angela Merkel and Nicola Sturgeon, among others, felt the need to lay down markers. It was stunning to read this from Chancellor Merkel: “Germany and America are bound by common values–democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every person, regardless of their origin, skin color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views. It is based on these values that I wish to offer close cooperation, both with me personally and between our countries’ governments.” That is flipping the script big league on national stereotypes.

I say Trump should be watched very closely, given the chance to pivot away from his own nastiness, and encouraged to make choices on behalf of everyone he represents–which, for better or worse, is all Americans. We the people always need to be vigilant toward our political representatives. With Trump, just as with a young person, we need especially to be firm, fair, and consistent.  Melania knows as well as anyone that we are likely to hear quite a bit of “boy talk”; keeping a watchful grownup eye on our Elagabulus-like boy-emperor is shaping up to be a challenge

Eager-To-Please Warlord Trump Abolishes Limited Liability Laws

How long will President-elect Donald J. Trump last before he breaks down and admits he was all about the hunt and the chase, but that actually becoming the president is his worst nightmare? Some advice to Mr. Trump: announce that on day one, before you even eat your inaugural lunch, your first executive order will, in honor of  risk-loving entrepreneurial capitalists everywhere, nullify all of our limited liability laws. All these anti-competitive, soul-killing limited liability regulations do anyway is protect weak, corrupt corporations from the forgotten men and women they rip off day in and day out. The forgotten men and women sure don’t have much “limited liability” any more, do they?

And then watch and see how long this new president lasts.

Plenty Of The Truly “Forgotten Men And Women” Hope Trump Just Leaves Them Alone

If Donald Trump acts like a president of all the people, more power to him. If he acts like a vindictive tyrant, I only hope Americans cross divides, put country first, and resist.  His first public words as President-elect seemed nonthreatening and positive. I think he showed some self-awareness of his past by suggesting a while back that becoming president and succeeding was the only way he could make it into heaven. But he has also said, “I’m all about the hunt and the chase…then I lose interest.” If he is able to concentrate on American “forgotten men and women” in a much more inclusive sense (think FDR rather than William G. Sumner) than I expect, maybe he will make it to heaven. As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama said today, gotta give him his chance. That’s in spite of James Comey, Wikileaks, Russian interference, and Hillary’s lead in the national popular vote, bitter pills all.

P.S. Hat tip to Beverly Gage’s piece in the NYT, “Just Who Is the ‘Forgotten Man,'” in which she contrasts William Graham Sumner’s 1880s essay, “What the Social Classes Owe Each Other” (not much of anything) with FDR’s 1932 evocation of the “forgotten man” as “a reason to rebuild the economy from the bottom up.” Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Moore, and others have already put Trump on notice that their cooperation can be his if he truly wants to rebuild the U.S. economy on a more equitable basis than neoliberal technocrats and the big banks are expecting.

Why Was Alter Kocker Jeff Zucker Such A Trump Sucker?

Short answer: short-term amoral bottom-line mindset. Zucker was a Trump sucker this election, along with Les Moonves among others, because they did not put journalism first or even second.

If anything can be said in their defense, it’s that their sloth may have been an even bigger factor than their cynicism. Trump learned the rules of reality TV so well that he did almost all the work of framing for them.  The broadcast and cable shows hardly had to invest any resources in actual journalism. Giving Trump the amount of unfiltered air time they did was resistable, but only if media elites possessed more sense of civic obligation than they actually do.

I Used To Be Too Poor To Vote Republican; Now I Hope Loss Aversion Will Save Hillary

For a long while I used to feel I didn’t have enough money that voting Republican could possibly make any sense. Now, though not much wealthier or poorer, I feel I have just enough to lose that the very idea of voting Republican makes zero sense. Is that sensible? I sure hope that enough voters feel they have enough to lose that we can keep a choleric, petulant, hormonal man like Trump off Air Force One.

An economy with slow and unequal growth is not fun for people whose futures feel stagnant or precarious. Thus Trump has tried to make loss aversion work for him by claiming only he can set things right, “drain the swamp,” and restore the glory days. It’s no accident that Trump has tried to demoralize African-Americans by yelling at them that they have nothing to lose, implying at the same time to white voters that old hierarchies will be put back in place.

Despite the perhaps uncharismatic and uninspiring alternative to Trump, do we really feel safe taking what we have for granted? Do we really have so little to lose, are we so oblivious to risk, and so unable to value our own freedom that we would let ourselves be ruled by a guy who combines in himself the worst of Biff Tannen, Gordon Gekko,  Captain King Kong, and Stalin’s “useful idiot”?  Did I mention Alcibiades and Elagabulus?  Quite a ruler, that Elagabulus!  Think you have little to lose–search for Elagabulus and imagine President Donald E for Elagabulus Trump.  (Hat tip to Ross Cardinal Douthat of the NYT)

President Obama: I Came As A Mandarin, I Leave As A Mandarin

In a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi today, President Obama replied to a question about Middle Eastern refugees in Europe by speaking of the “distorting effects” on European politics of the crisis. He came as a mandarin and he leaves as a mandarin. By that I mean that Obama’s mindset is to posit a normative non-messy world. As head man of the men of the sacred bone, Obama has interpreted his mandate as maintenance and restoration of propriety and order.  Not an easy job in the midst of so many unruly Americans.

Our next president may or may not share the mandarin/yangban mindset. Hillary Clinton’s actual starting point on foreign policy, as well as domestic policy, is still pretty much a black box to me. Maybe I am just not paying close enough attention, or maybe she is staying vague on purpose–and why not? She is non-Trump, in any case. Can anyone imagine Trump even thinking, let alone saying, what Obama said today? Trump speaking about the “distorting effects” of any messy situation anywhere in the world is impossible to conceive. If you think I am starting to make a pro-Trump argument here, well, no. Trump’s MO seems worse than that of Mayor Daley’s Chicago police; that is, Trump creates and preserves disorder.  We survived eight years of mandarin rule, and we will, I hope, make it through the next four or eight, with or without a mandarin ruler. The risk-averse choice, though, is clearly the youngest woman ever, not the oldest and crybaby-est man ever.

P.S. President Obama’s reported plan to focus on the National Democratic Redistricting Committee to overcome Republican gerrymandering sounds like a potentially worthy act of political penance.

Hey Pence, Trump May Have Found Jesus, But I Still Believe He Would Be A Terrible Cyrus And An Awful Magistrate

Pence may be sincere but if so he is nowhere near the mark as far as Presidential fitness. I have never expected political leaders to be faultless or saintly. Plenty of saints were irascible and possibly a few were as colicky as Trump. I vote based on the shortest odds that a candidate will protect and serve the people. Trump is no way nohow a smart bet. He may or may not be infused with supernatural grace, or be born again, or become an observant Jew or Muslim. I wish him well on his pilgrimage.

Trump Announces His Spiritual Rebirth: “The Shackles Have Been Taken Off Me”; But His Sickness Unto Death Abides

Trump actually seems more shackled than ever to his own self. But what is Trump’s self? Is it, as Kierkegaard wrote in the first paragraph of Sickness Unto Death, “a relation that relates itself to itself”? If so, have the shackles really been “taken off” Trump? If Trump really is a self, that is “a synthesis of the finite and the infinite…of freedom and necessity,” must we not acknowledge that so understood, Trump does not yet appear to be a self.

At least not a self seemingly inclined in any way toward spiritual renewal or repentance or rebirth, though I should never say never about anyone, including Donald Trump. But if he believes that he has just now been “unshackled,” implying that his ego and superego have until now been firmly in charge of his id  and that his “apology” video was really just a hostage tape made against his free will, one has to wonder what worms are now going to come out of his mouth.

Trump May Skip Debate For Snout Crawl

Sources extremely close to Donald Trump indicate that he is lukewarm on debating tonight but red hot for snouts. As the afternoon wears on and Trump rides back and forth between Smoki O’s and Big Mama’s BBQ, it is becoming less and less likely that he will express humility and contrition tonight, or in fact bother to show up at all.

Update: Snoots, not snouts. I apologize. I promise to be a better person in the future, not the immature jackass I was a couple of weeks ago when I was still 59 years old.

Don’t Be Gaslit By That Fake Trump Apology Video

Obviously that Trump apology video put out last night is fake. He is so clearly a hostage. And so obviously subjected to repeated electric shocks. Don’t let yourself be a victim of gaslighting yet again.

Did I really even see Trump apologize? Is that even possible? Maybe he said “I apologized,” and since his previous “apology” was so insincere, maybe it’s all not really happening.

Mormons Dump Trump, “Christians” And Pagans Still Hesitating, Heathens Still All In

A bunch of Mormon Republicans freed themselves from captivity to Donald Trump yesterday. They may or may not be disgusted with Trump, but they showed no particular political courage, since Mormon voters were already lukewarm at best. So no disrespect intended to Mike Lee or Mitt Romney or Jason Chaffetz, but their disavowals are all in the way of business.

How about self-identified “Christian” politicians? John McCain said of Trump’s predatory video, “he alone will bear the consequences.” Probably wishful thinking, and certainly not a profile in courage from McCain. McConnell and Ryan are still struggling to send nuanced smoke signals, tut-tutting without actually lifting themselves out of their particular circle of purgatory. Come to think of it, the togas on McConnell and Ryan are becoming more visible. They have now made themselves into classic pagans, for whom repentance is a category mistake.

Finally, the heathens. In very late-breaking news, they seem to be wavering, possibly because Trump made the mistake of apologizing–though in Trump’s defense, the “apology” was followed immediately by deflections, projections, and threats. And the actual words “I…apologize” were uttered as Trump appeared to twitch, some say caused by electric shocks.

Update October 8 pm: Tic Tac piles on, denouncing Trump.

Update #2: To McCain’s credit, when he finally withdrew his endorsement of Trump Saturday afternoon (10/8), he did mention Trump’s “outrageous statements about the innocent men in the Central Park Five”–which few if any other Republican officeholders bothered to mention as they sought to escape Trump’s toxic effect on the votes of (mainly) white married women.

So, 50-64 Year Olds, You Like A Big Side Order Of Anarchy With Your Tyranny?

Today’s Quinnipiac national poll shows Clinton way ahead with 18-34 and 35-49 cohorts; even with Trump among 65+ voters, but Trump ahead by 5 with 50-64 year olds.

Please accept my apology, millennials–just keep eating your fruits and vegetables and thinking what you’re thinking.  And good morning,  my fellow 50-64 year olds! What kind of boneheads are we?  Of course in a better world we would have better choices this year. But grow up! Trump showed that he was a clear and present danger the minute he disrespected John McCain last year. Yeah, four years of Hillary on our TVs or VR headsets or whatever may not be inspiring, but how are we going to explain the damage Trump does to our grandchildren and our assisted-living neighbors? Do you think Trump will improve your retirement account? Really? You think a jackass reality-TV guy with zero attention span is going to reassure investors around the world that the U.S. dollar is a safe haven reserve currency? You think Trump is going to get rid of the estate tax when he needs your tax dollars to buy more gold-plated toilets in the White House?  And get real, you are not going to win the Powerball and have to pay estate tax, anyway.  Try betting the short odds for a change!  Do you realize the downside of living in a giant banana republic with thousands of nuclear warheads a fingersnap away from psychologically damaged goods like Trump?

Ammon Bundy, who probably has a bright political future after he gets out of federal prison, finished testifying yesterday in Oregon. He said at one point that “the only thing worse than tyranny is anarchy. We want to be in the middle.” And that’s where we would be with President Trump: a big side order of anarchy to go along with the main course of tyranny.

Update: Since this post, Danielle Allen published a piece in the Washington Post on Trump as a classic tyrannical soul.

Regression To The Trump Resumes

Give up, Megyn Kelly! Forget about it, false-equivalence fetishists!  Trump is gonna regress to his very own mean, no matter how many times you tell him to stop talking smack about women and stay within the bounds of normal political behavior. This morning, between 5:14 and 5:30, Trump seems to have found his own bottom–and then topped himself, as it were, by complaining that “some people say…many people say” is unfair and wrong! Ya don’t say.

So much so that “regression to the Trump” could become a new scientific term, sorta kinda like “regression to the mean” but sloppier and meaner.

Radical Stochastic Terrorism

“Using language and other forms of communication ‘to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.” That is “stochastic terrorism” (see David S. Cohen at RollingStone.com yesterday) and it is not just Trump doing it. ISIS and Al Qaeda got there before Trump, and the Israeli right wing before that (with vicious verbal slurs that inspired Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin).   Many reasonable people have said Fox News makes a specialty of more or less deniable stochastic terroristic rhetoric.  American politics ain’t beanbag, and plausibly deniable racist dog whistles are nothing new, but Trump’s race to and beneath the bottom is startling and truly unsettling.  There is little plausibility to denying that Trump is responsible for what people hear him saying, as former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden said yesterday.

Speaking of the “deep state,” I think it is a positive development that so many of its mandarins, unlike the older couple behind Trump at the Wilmington rally, are not at all amused by his thinly veiled threats.  The deep state may be helpful in a pinch, heaven forbid.   More decisively, the voting public in swing states seems up to the challenge of holding its collective nose and voting defensively. If voters act in a truly conservative way, Trump is political toast and will only utterly delegitimize himself when he refuses to concede defeat.

Will Mitch McConnell Write The Foreword To The 2017 Reissue Of Franz Von Papen’s Memoirs?

Senator Mitch McConnell does seem to be channelling the chancellor of Germany circa 1932, Franz von Papen. Von Papen was confident that Hitler could be contained and manipulated. Hindenburg and von Papen gave Hitler’s Nazi party control over only three ministries, so how much could go wrong? McConnell has looked down his nose at Trump, and fidgeted a bit over a few of the more openly bigoted outbursts and retweets, but has spent more effort excusing and minimizing.  Fritz Stern, who lived through “Five Germanies,” condemned von Papen as “the frivolous gravedigger of what was left of German democracy” in the early 1930s.  Does McConnell want to be judged as a 21st-century American von Papen?

McConnell made light a couple of days ago of Trump’s remarks to the NYT undercutting NATO.  A “rookie mistake,” said the senator, who went on to say that Trump was not unfit to be commander-in-chief because his implicit invitation to Putin to expand Russia’s hybrid warfare into NATO territory would be contrary to the views of “anybody he might make secretary of state or secretary of defense” (source: Greg Sargent, Washington Post Plum Line, July 21). Sargent comments: “We’ve reached a new level of absurdity. Now we are basically being told that the check against the threat Trump poses will come from his own cabinet officials.” Richard J. Evans wrote in The Coming of the Third Reich that “the complacent belief of Franz von Papen and his friends that they had Hitler where they wanted him did not last long” (p. 316). I wonder if Mitch McConnell is as complacent as von Papen? Maybe not, but he is so far nowhere near dropping Trump “like a hot rock,” as he is reported to have promised his Republican Senate colleagues earlier this year. If and when McConnell does take a look at Franz von Papen’s Memoirs, I hope that he can do so without the impediment of a President Trump whose Minister of Propaganda has “opened up the libel laws.”

Why I Am Not Going To Worry About Totalitarianism For The Next Few Days

Yes it is OK to take a break from totalitarianism-angst. It will still be there on Friday. Polling has been quite stable. Hillary still doesn’t have a compelling theme but I am not waiting to exhale about it. Reminder to self: reading Hannah Arendt or Plato’s Republic or a biography of Mussolini or Richard J. Evans on The Third Reich in Memory and History does not count as a break from worrying.