Category Archives: Donald Trump

Worshiping in the ‘church’ of Fox News?

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Molly Worthen can’t even spell her own name, but she writes a pretty fair think piece.

I read this one in the NYT last month, and kept forgetting to share it with you. Today, with Roy Moore possibly being elected to the U.S. Senate, seems a good day to rectify that.

The piece gets a little dry toward the end, but I want to share with you this good part at the beginning:

Over the course of the week, as Roy Moore, the Republican senatorial candidate in Alabama, faced more allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with young women and teenagers, many evangelicals leapt to his defense.

Molly Worthen

Molly Worthen

To Ms. Schiess, this is one more sign that a new ritual has superseded Sunday worship and weeknight Bible studies: a profane devotional practice, with immense power to shape evangelicals’ beliefs. This “liturgy” is the nightly consumption of conservative cable news. Liberals love to complain about conservatives’ steady diet of misinformation through partisan media, but Ms. Schiess’s complaint is more profound: Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson aren’t just purveyors of distorted news, but high priests of a false religion.

“The reason Fox News is so formative is that it’s this repetitive, almost ritualistic thing that people do every night,” Ms. Schiess told me. “It forms in them particular fears and desires, an idea of America. This is convincing on a less than logical level, and the church is not communicating to them in that same way.”

It’s no secret that humans — religious and secular alike — often act on “less than logical” impulses. Social scientists have documented our tendency to reject reliable evidence if it challenges our beliefs. Hours of tearful victims’ testimony will not deter evangelicals who see Roy Moore as the latest Christian martyr persecuted by the liberal establishment. “Their loyalties are much more strongly formed by conservative media than their churches,” Ms. Schiess said. “That’s the challenge for church leaders today, I think — rediscovering rather ancient ideas about how to form our ultimate loyalty to God and his kingdom.” …

I’ve never been much of one for badmouthing Fox News, mainly because I haven’t seen it or other cable TV news programs enough to be confident in making firm judgments.

But there is definitely something out there motivating “evangelicals” to vote for people who seem to have little to nothing to do with Christianity, and I can’t see it being church.

Something is taking the place of the gospel in these people’s thought processes. Or perhaps I should say in their guts, grabbing and holding them on a “less than logical level.”

And there’s something about that ritual of constantly watching TV, night after night, year after year, and getting hit with the same messages hundreds and thousands of times.

I’m reminded of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which people hear the same statements over and over in the night until they accept the truth of such statements without thinking. Indeed, they become incapable of considering the possibility that such statements might be untrue:

repetitions

(Never mind that “Idiots!” bit. Bernard had something of an inferiority complex, not being respected as much as an Alpha normally would be.)

These repetitions may be even more powerful in terms of engendering aversion, even revulsion. How else does one explain Republicans who knew better voting for Trump or a write-in, because they absolutely could not bring themselves to vote for the only person in a position to stop him?

Or how do you explain good people in Alabama who see the problem with Roy Moore, but — like Sen. Shelby — simply cannot bring themselves to vote for the Democrat (again, the only person who might stop Moore from disgracing Alabama, the Republican Party and the U.S. Senate)?

Anyway, I thought it was an intriguing line of thought: What good is an hour in church once a week compared to hours of indoctrination in another sort of faith, every night for years?

‘From Russia With Love’ Trump parody

As you know, I have my doubts about whether Robert Mueller can save the country from this predicament, no matter how well and thoroughly and honestly he pursues his duty.

So I don’t look at this video and think, “Yes! When this happens our country will be back on track!”

But I do enjoy it, simply because I tend to enjoy when people are clever with video. Personally, I lack the video-editing skills even to produce a “Downfall” parody, so stuff like this impresses me.

Of course, the editing is rough — the heads don’t fit as smoothly onto the bodies as perhaps they should — but that crudity seems almost like a stylistic statement by the editor. He’s not asking us to suspend disbelief; he just wants us to dig it.

I’m struck by the weirdness of having Flynn and some of the others talking constantly, as though muttering to themselves as they are being pursued. I don’t know whether that’s deliberate or the creator was too lazy to find non-talking video, but I kind of like it, without being able to explain why.

But then, neither Comey nor Trump is speaking, which is appropriate, although uncharacteristic in Trump’s case. I think maybe the editor is saying, “This would shut him up…”

Anyway, enjoy, for what it’s worth…

Flynn

Trump and Clinton were the two most-despised nominees ever. How do we avoid that in the future?

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The election that made Donald Trump president was an unmitigated disaster for America and for the world it has led since 1945. And it’s hard to see how the nation is going to extricate itself and recover.

But things would not have been a bed of roses had Hillary Clinton won the election as well as the popular vote. You think Congress has been feckless and obnoxious this year (it’s great achievement passing an unneeded, execrable tax bill)? In the event of a Clinton victory, Congress would have spent all its time launching attacks and investigations against the woman many of the GOP members have hated with every fiber of their beings almost (and with some you could leave off the “almost”) since they were children. The nasty partisanship of the Bush and Obama years would be looked back on fondly as a golden age of harmony.

It was a no-win proposition. Of course, a voter with judgment and a conscience had to vote for Clinton because Trump had to be stopped and she was the only person in a position to stop him. But still, things would have been pretty bad had she won — just not as bad.

The country couldn’t win in 2016, because Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were the two least-appealing nominees in the memory of pollsters. As FiveThirtyEight proclaimed in May 2016, “Americans’ Distaste For Both Trump And Clinton Is Record-Breaking.”

How did this happen? Of course, in part it can be explained as simply a function of our partisan polarization: The candidate who appeals most to one side is the most hated by the other. But it’s way more complicated than that. These people were little liked among us independents, either. And these candidates were unique. Never before has a party nominated someone who was in the White House 25 years earlier, and started being despised by a large portion of the electorate way back then. Nor has a party picked a famously sleazy businessman with zero relevant experience, knowledge, understanding, or principles. So no, it was not politics as usual.

This predicament was in no way inevitable. As recently as 2008, both parties had opted for their most broadly appealing candidates, leading to what I, as an independent who (like so many) liked them both, saw as a win-win proposition. I regretted that I couldn’t vote for both McCain and Obama.

So how do we avoid this in the future? Well, the dream option would be for both parties to fall apart and to have some better system of winnowing the field suddenly and magically replace them. Do you see that happening? I don’t. Or rather, I see the falling-apart part happening, but not the replacing-with-something-better part.

Another option would be for the parties to stick around, but clean up their act to where they can put forth candidates who appeal to someone outside their most-committed respective bases.

I’m not seeing this happening so far. I heard on the radio the other day (but for some reason am having trouble finding it now) that Democrats have been working on “reforming” (Democrats sometimes use “reform” loosely, the way Republicans do with regard to taxes) their nomination process. I can’t give you specifics since I can’t find it now, but it sounded to me like they wanted to make the process more democratic, so that party elites can’t stack things in favor of their preferred candidates. This to me sounds like the opposite of reform. The insurgencies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are the best argument I’ve ever seen for smoke-filled rooms. But then I have to acknowledge the inconvenient fact that Hillary Clinton was the choice of party elites this time. So what that tells me is that they need new elites.

(OK, I found something about the Democratic reform process. But it’s not what I was looking for.)

Meanwhile, the Republicans are cursed with power, and obviously haven’t a clue what to do with it. All of their pathological dysfunction has been nakedly on display this year, which is why the party has accomplished nothing but a tax bill that looks like a parody of everything the populists who voted for both Sanders and Trump despise about the GOP. Really, fellas? This is the big achievement that you think will save you? Basically, the GOP has spent the year staggering from disaster to embarrassment and back again. And hey, in a few days the Republicans in the Senate will likely be welcoming Roy Moore, the ugliest baby yet produced by the polygamous marriage of incompatible factions that is currently the Republican “big tent.”

I don’t have a magic wand or I’d be waving it like crazy to prevent 2020 from being like 2016, which would be more than either party seems to be doing so far.

Perhaps you have some ideas…

Hate to say it, but I don’t see this Trump thing ending well

It's not easy to keep a republic going. Ask the French -- they're on their Fifth, in less time than we've had one.

It’s not easy to keep a republic going. Ask the French — they’re on their Fifth, in less time than we’ve had one.

Some good people who place their faith in the rule of law may have gained encouragement from the guilty plea of Michael Flynn. After all, this is the case that Trump tried to get Comey to back off on, before firing the FBI director. Time to start up the impeachment apparatus!

Others will cite the continuing stream of evidence that the president is not right in the head, from making “Pocahontas” jokes when he’s supposed to be honoring the Navajo Code Talkers to telling people that he doubts that was him on the “Access Hollywood” tape — more than a year after admitting that it was. Obviously, a case for the 25th Amendment!

But setting aside the facts that a) Republicans would have to initiate and drive either of those processes for removing a grossly unfit president, and b) Republicans have shown us time and time again that they are too terrified of Trump’s supporters even to mutter a word against him, I don’t think it’s time to get optimistic that this madness will end soon.

Even if Republicans were ready, willing and able to take those steps, I’m pretty sure the original problem would remain: Trump’s fans would go ballistic.

The terrible truth that faces us is that no amount of evidence of Trump’s unfitness is likely to ever persuade these folks of the truth. They are inoculated against evidence. If the truth makes Trump look bad (and it most assuredly does), then to them it’s not the truth; it’s “fake news.” As unlikely as it would seem to most rational people, they actually seem to believe that. But whether they believe it or not, they act as though they do, which is what matters.

But so what? Most of the country can’t stand Trump, so those people can’t control what happens! Right?

Wrong, at least so far. Remember, most of the country held Trump in contempt at the time of the election, and yet here we are. More importantly, since the early 90s Republicans have been enormously successful at drawing electoral districts so that most of them are safe for Republicans. This, however, instead of empowering the people who drew those lines, has undermined them. It has caused them to walk in fear of someone running to the right of them in their next primary. Consequently, as a result both the election of a lot of those extremists and the fear of such occurrences on the part of more moderate Republicans, the party has moved farther and farther out onto its own fringe.

Even if the current GOP House got up the nerve to impeach Trump, it’s highly likely that what they fear would occur: They would be replaced by others who are more extreme than they are.

But forget the insidious effects of gerrymandering. The fact is that the nation can ill afford to have the Trump bloc, minority though it is, believing they were cheated out of having their guy in the White House. I’m not talking about armed insurrection here, although we can’t totally rule that out. I’m saying our system of government would have its greatest crisis of legitimacy it has ever faced. (At least, since 1860-65.)

Remember the snit fit Democrats had after Gore was found to be the loser in Florida (and he was the loser in Florida)? It went on for eight years, and many of them still believe the U.S. Supreme Court “stole” the election and “gave it” to Bush. And these were relatively sensible people, not a cult that worships at the altar of “alternative facts.” (In fact, there was one way you could have counted the votes so that Gore won — just not the way Gore had demanded they be counted. That way, and most ways, he lost.)

There is already ample evidence that the common vision of what America is all about has largely been lost, and not only among Trump voters who think “liberal democracy” means a democracy run by Nancy Pelosi. David Brooks had a good piece on that a couple of weeks ago.

As divided as we are, can you imagine what it would be like if some 30 percent of the electorate — a bloc utterly immune to contrary evidence — was convinced that it had been robbed?

How would we ever get back on an even keel? And even if the next occupant of the Oval Office is the best president we’ve had in 50 years, how would he or she lead us?

There was a thoughtful piece in The Washington Post today arguing that the only good way to get rid of Trump will be at the ballot box in 2020. But given the facts on the ground at this moment, can we even be confident that that would happen?

(Get back to me in a few days. I’m still reading Tom Holland’s Rubicon, and I’ve finally gotten up to the events of 49 B.C., and steeping oneself in that era is not a thing likely to inspire confidence in the staying power of republics…)

To cross or not to cross?

To cross or not to cross? Either way, the Republic’s pretty messed up…

‘Pay no attention to the lady who brought no doughnuts…’

A South Carolinian features prominently in probably the oddest story of the day out of Washington:

As a Republican congressman, Mick Mulvaney called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau a “joke” and said he wished it didn’t exist. On Monday, Mulvaney showed up at the agency’s D.C. offices with a bag of doughnuts and a new title: boss.

Mick Mulvaney

Mick Mulvaney

But after a frantic weekend of political and legal posturing, Mulvaney’s arrival represented a new escalation of tensions over who ultimately will lead the agency. A day earlier, Leandra English filed suit claiming she is the “rightful acting director.”

Leadership of the agency was thrown into doubt last Friday when Richard Cordray stepped down as CFPB director and said his chief of staff, English, would temporarily replace him. A few hours later, Trump named Mulvaney, the Office of Management and Budget director and a longtime critic of the CFPB, to the job….

Mulvaney and English even sent out dueling email messages to CFPB’s likely befuddled 1,600 employees. English said in her message, “I hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving. With Thanksgiving in mind, I wanted to take a moment to share my gratitude to all of you for your service.” English ended the note with her claimed title: “Acting Director.”

Shortly after, Mulvaney, already in the director’s office, according to photos taken by his staff, responded with his own email.

“It has come to my attention that Ms. English has reached out to many of you this morning via email in an attempt to exercise certain duties of the Acting Director. This is unfortunate but, in the atmosphere of the day, probably not unexpected,” he said.

“Please disregard any instructions you receive from Ms. English in her presumed capacity as acting director.”…

I hope the Post will forgive that long excerpt, but there was no one graf that fully expressed the absurdity of the situation.

Who’s right? I dunno. But hey, at least Mulvaney brought doughnuts. What’d you bring, Ms. English?…

‘Make Trump Eight Again’

This is so apropos, it’s kind of scary.

There’s a Chrome extension out there, called “Make Trump Eight Again,” that substitutes the font of Trump’s Tweets into a child’s crayon scrawl. It was brought to my attention by this Tweet.

For instance, it makes this Tweet look like this:

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Unfortunately, I’ve loaded and enabled the extension, but it’s not working for me yet.

Here’s hoping I didn’t willingly download and activate a Trojan Horse. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate malicious Russian hack?

Can Democrats bring themselves to reach out to those who are reachable?

I’ve been meaning to share some thoughts about this Ross Douthat column of Oct. 21, headlined “The Democrats in Their Labyrinth.”

Sure I think the headline was cool, although it provoked in me a twinge of guilt for never having finished that novel. (I had thought I would love it, because in 5th and 6th grades my history classes were in Spanish, and Bolívar and Sucre and O’Higgins and the rest were the heroes of the story we were told. Also, I felt that I should read some Márquez and it sounded more cheery than One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera. But it wasn’t.)

Anyway, I like the column for what followed the headline, so let’s get to that:

America has two political parties, but only one of them has a reasonably coherent political vision, a leadership that isn’t under the thumb of an erratic reality television star, and a worldview that implies a policy agenda rather than just a litany of grievances.Douthat

Unfortunately for the Democrats, their vision and leaders and agenda also sometimes leave the impression that they never want to win another tossup Senate seat, and that they would prefer Donald Trump be re-elected if the alternative requires wooing Americans who voted for him.

Consider recent developments in the state of Alabama, where the Republican Party has nominated a Senate candidate manifestly unfit for office, a bigot hostile to the rule of law and entranced with authoritarianism.

And who have the Democrats put up against him? An accomplished former prosecutor, the very model of a mainstream Democrat — and a man who told an interviewer after his nomination that he favors legal abortion, without restriction, right up until the baby emerges blue and flailing from the womb….

But just as this post wasn’t about Gabriel García Márquez, it’s not about abortion, either. That’s just an illustration of the way Democrats push away people in the middle who might vote for them occasionally if not for their rigid, prickly ideological orthodoxy — and the fact that they think people who don’t subscribe to their more extreme manifestations of dogma are barbarians, people they wouldn’t want voting for them anyway, because they’re not the right sort.

The point, in other words, is the assertion that Democrats “would prefer Donald Trump be re-elected if the alternative requires wooing Americans who voted for him.”

This is a problem for Democrats, and a problem for the country. Because, you know, Trumpism needed to end a year ago. And if we wait for Democrats to do anything to end it, we might have to wait the rest of our lives. (We could depend on principle Republicans, the ones who know better, but so far they only seem to want to stand up and speak truth when they’re headed for the exits. As for us independents — well, we lack organization.)

Douthat’s “point is that a party claiming to be standing alone against an existential threat to the republic should be willing to move somewhat, to compromise somehow, to bring a few of the voters who have lifted the G.O.P. to its largely undeserved political successes into the Democratic fold.”

But perhaps you won’t. And admittedly, for those of you who lean Democratic, perhaps a conservative Catholic such as Douthat isn’t the messenger you’re likely to heed — although I believe in that column he means you well.

How about Rahm Emanuel, then? Here’s what he was saying earlier this year:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has warned Democrats they need to “take a chill pill” and realize that they are not going to take back national power anytime soon.330px-Rahm_Emanuel,_official_photo_portrait_color

“It ain’t gonna happen in 2018,” Emanuel said Monday at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in California. “Take a chill pill, man. You gotta be in this for the long haul.”

As he did last month at an event in Washington, D.C., the mayor expanded on what he believes is the road map back to power for his party — putting moderate candidates such as veterans, football players, sheriffs and business people up in Republican districts, picking battles with Republicans, exploiting wedges within the GOP and fighting attempts to redistrict Congress on partisan grounds….

Remember how Emanuel did just that and won a majority in the U.S. House in 2006? Democrats don’t, near as I can tell.

The problem is, I have the feeling that too many Democrats are doing what the Republicans did after losing in 2008. Back then, egged on by ideological extremists such as our own Jim DeMint, the GOP leaped to the conclusion that they lost in 2008 because they weren’t extreme enough, because they had bet it all on relative moderate McCain. This led to the Tea Party and the Freedom Caucus and Steve Bannon and so forth, which led to our current national crisis.

If the Democrats want to be part of the solution to that crisis, they need to reach out beyond their “safe space” and engage with people who don’t entirely share their worldview. Because, ahem, most people don’t.

Yet there are a lot of people trying to pull the Democrats in the opposite direction. They take the DeMint approach, which goes: The Democrats lost in 2016 because they weren’t extreme enough. They needed more feeling the Bern and less Clintonian Third Way. Perhaps, as New York magazine wrote early this year, The Socialist Takeover of the Democratic Party Is Proceeding Nicely. If so, then the left will dominate the party. But they won’t be running the country, because they won’t be winning general elections.

Let me share one more thing with you, from The New York Times Magazine over the weekend. It begins with an anecdote about a conference call Nancy Pelosi made to House Democrats right after their disastrous defeat a year ago:

Several members on the call later told me they expected their leader to offer some show of contrition, an inventory of mistakes made or, at minimum, an acknowledgment that responsibility for the previous night’s disaster began at the top. Already, Trump’s sweep of what had for years been Democratic strongholds in the Rust Belt had led to a fast-congealing belief that the party had lost touch with white working-class voters.

But Pelosi sounded downright peppy on the call, noting a few vulnerable House seats that the Democrats had managed to hang onto. As for those working-class voters, “To say we don’t care about them is hard to believe,” Pelosi insisted, according to a transcript of the call I obtained. “I have to take issue and say I don’t think anybody was unaware of the anger.” The Democrats weren’t out of touch, she said. They just hadn’t made their case clearly enough to voters — or as she put it, “We have to get out there and say it in a different way.”

“It reminded me of that scene at the end of ‘Animal House,’ where Kevin Bacon is standing in the middle of all this chaos, screaming: ‘Remain calm! All is well!’ ” Scott Peters, a congressman from California who was on the call, told me. “After telling us before that we were going to pick up 20 seats, and we end up with six, underlaid with Clinton losing, I had no use for that kind of happy talk.” During and after Pelosi’s monologue, Democratic representatives who were listening texted and called one another incredulously, but Peters was one of the few who spoke up on the line. “I think we’re missing something,” he told Pelosi. “We’re just not hearing what’s on people’s minds.”…

Yeah, so what did they do? They held a quick leadership election, and stuck with the same crowd who had brought them to this low point. But before they did that, there was a brief moment of truth-telling:

In the end, her only opponent was Tim Ryan, a young congressman and former high school quarterback star from Ohio’s 13th District, the ailing industrial region surrounding Youngstown and Akron. Ryan offered a splash-of-cold-water speech just before the vote: “We got wiped out,” he said, according to a recording of his remarks. “We’re toxic in the Midwest, and we’re toxic in the South.”…

Jaime HarrisonThere are Democrats who acknowledge this — I think. This morning, The State reported that “Jaime Harrison knows how Democrats can win elections. Are Democrats listening?” The story, unfortunately, didn’t really explain what it is that Jaime knows. Perhaps I should give him a call and see if he’ll share the secret sauce.

Smith, if he goes about it right, has an opportunity to make a play for those of us in the middle. After all, the Republicans seem hell-bent on having the most extreme gubernatorial primary in living memory: Oh, yeah? Well I’ll see your imaginary sanctuary cities and raise you a Steve Bannon!

Can Smith, or anyone, reach out to the state’s sensible center and rescue us from Trumpism? I certainly hope so. Because we are in serious need saving. But they can only do it if they go after people who’ve fallen into the habit of voting the other way, and do it competently…

James Smith

Today’s explanation for Trump: Idolatry

Smart people keep struggling to figure out and explain why other people would do such a dumb thing as make Donald Trump president of the United States of America.

Here’s an excerpt from David Brooks’ effort today, headlined, “When Politics Becomes Your Idol:”

When politics is used as a cure for spiritual and social loneliness, it’s harder to win people over with policy or philosophical arguments. Everything is shaped on a deeper level, through the parables, fables and myths that our most fundamental groups use to define themselves.

For years, the meritocratic establishments in both parties told an implicit myth. The heroes of this myth were educated, morally enlightened global citizens who went to competitive colleges, got invited to things like the Clinton Global Initiative, and who have the brainpower to run society and who might just be a little better than other people, by virtue of their achievements.

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David Brooks

Donald Trump tells the opposite myth — about how those meritocrats are actually clueless idiots and full of drivel, and how virtue, wisdom and toughness is found in the regular people whom those folks look down upon.

Trump’s supporters follow him because he gets his facts wrong, but he gets his myths right. He tells the morality tale that works for them.

It should be said that people on the left and on the right who try to use politics to find their moral meaning are turning politics into an idol. Idolatry is what happens when people give ultimate allegiance to something that should be serving only an intermediate purpose, whether it is money, technology, alcohol, success or politics….

Yep. A lot of that going around.

Brooks ends with a thought or two from the perspective of us moderate communitarians:

To be a moderate is to be at war with idolatry. It’s to believe that we become free as we multiply and balance our attachments. It’s to believe that our politics probably can’t be fixed by political means. It needs repair of the deeper communal bonds that politics rest on, and which political conflict cannot heal.

 

Enough with Trump’s call to the widow, please!

KIAs

Today, NPR raises the question, “After Controversy Over Condolence Calls, Can Trump And The White House Refocus?

The answer to that, we’ve all learned, is probably “no.” Even if the White House does everything it should, and resolves to move forward and concentrate on other things, Trump will get up at 6 the next morning, if not earlier, and blow it all with a Tweet. We know this.

But yeah, it would be nice not to have to hear about any of this any more, at all.

For the widow, Myeshia Johnson, the pain must go on. I pray that God send his healing grace upon her and help her through this nightmare, but we know the loss will always be with her. She has received the call that my family dreaded the full year of my Dad’s tour in Vietnam, and her loss is real and profound and permanent.

The best we can do for her right now is honor her fallen husband, and stop intruding on her grief, and stop dragging it into politics.

This whole thing has been SO unseemly from the start.

And how did it start? With Donald Trump trying to do something that has rightly or wrongly become part of the job of president, something he is particularly ill-equipped to do. But at least he was trying.

And, because he is so ill-equipped on so many levels, it went badly. The widow says he made things worse.

It’s not necessarily that the words he said were so awful. In defending him, Chief of Staff John Kelly said that the friend and fellow general officer who consoled him when his son was killed used similar words, telling him that that the young man was doing exactly what he wanted to do, that he knew what he was getting into by joining the military in wartime and that he was surrounded when he died by the “best men on Earth.”

(Kelly having to tell this story is another of the awful things about this controversy. Up until then, he had extremely careful to keep his grief private and out of the political sphere.)

Of course, that plays one way when one Marine says it to another Marine, his good friend, who himself has sent men in harm’s way. That’s a conversation within the brotherhood. It plays differently when Mr. Bone-Spur Deferment says it to a grieving widow.

Then we had the whole business of the Democratic congresswoman (who surprisingly is not from Texas) having been with the widow during the phone call and backing the story that the president had said the wrong things, then Trump lashing out childishly with lies about Obama not having made condolence calls. (This is standard with Trump and his supporters — when criticized, they yell, “Hillary! Obama!” It matters not at all to them that it’s almost always a non sequitur.)

You had Trump stating he had called all families of those killed in action, and the press checking it out and finding he’d called about half of the ones reporters could reach.

And then, at one point, we had the sideshow — leading The Washington Post‘s website for a time — about a grieving father whom Trump called. This father griped to Trump about not receiving survivor’s benefits — they were going to his ex-wife, the mother — and Trump promised to write him a personal check for $25,000, but the Dad says he didn’t. (The White House later said the check is in the mail.) I just don’t even know how to count up how many ways that story is tawdry and cringe-inducing…

Before the week was out, there was also the business of John Kelly helping Trump lash out at the congresswoman, and saying something untrue and unfair to her in the process. Then there was the funeral over the weekend, and just this morning the widow appearing on “Good Morning America” to share what she thought of Trump…

It’s just all so awful, so disheartening. Whether you care about respecting the sacrifice of a soldier, or the dignity of the presidency, or just normal, everyday human decency, it’s been an unpleasant spectacle.

And even though I know whatever this president moves onto next will probably be just as unseemly, I for one am ready for the moving-on part…

How can Democrats save the country from Trump, if they’re running off to the left?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I read a column with an alarming headline this morning in The Washington Post:

Trump is on track to win reelection

More than half of Americans don’t think Donald Trump is fit to serve as president, yet he has a clear path to winning reelection. If Trump isn’t removed from office and doesn’t lead the country into some form of global catastrophe, he could secure a second term simply by maintaining his current level of support with his political base.

We have entered a new era in American politics. The 2016 election exposed how economic, social and cultural issues have splintered the country and increasingly divided voters by age, race, education and geography. This isn’t going to change….

Regarding that “splintering the country” part…

Just before reading that, I had seen this headline:

Shifting attitudes among Democrats have big implications for 2020

Partisan divisions are not new news in American politics, nor is the assertion that one cause of the deepening polarization has been a demonstrable rightward shift among Republicans. But a more recent leftward movement in attitudes among Democrats also is notable and has obvious implications as the party looks toward 2020.

Here is some context. In 2008, not one of the major candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination advocated legalizing same-sex marriage. By 2016, not one of those who sought the nomination opposed such unions, and not just because of the Supreme Court’s rulings. Changing attitudes among all voters, and especially Democratic voters, made support for same-sex marriage an article of faith for anyone seeking to lead the party.

Trade policy is another case study. Over many years, Democrats have been divided on the merits of multilateral free-trade agreements. In 1992, Bill Clinton strongly supported the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the face of stiff opposition from labor unions and others. He took his case into union halls, and while he didn’t convert his opponents, he prospered politically in the face of that opposition….

And so forth and so on.

So instead of trying to appeal to all of us people in the middle who are so appalled by Trump, and maybe try to win over some mainstream Republicans who feel the same but don’t have the guts to oppose him, the Democrats are careening off to a place where they will appeal only to the more extreme people in their own party.

What madness. What sheer, utter madness…

About this kneeling thing…

kneel

As reluctant as I am to write about anything that happens on football fields, here goes…

Obviously, we have a different situation than we did when Colin Kaepernick first refused to stand during the national anthem.

Actually, to be technical, we had a different situation when Kaepernick switched from sitting to kneeling, way back when he still had a job. Obviously, kneeling is by definition less disrespectful.

And of course now, it’s no longer about the anthem or the flag, but about Donald Trump making a fool of himself yet again, as he is wont to do. Which is why serious essays on the subject have headlines such as “What Will Taking the Knee Mean Now?

My problem with Kaepernick’s original action — the sitting — was first, that it was so upsetting to my friend Jack Van Loan. Secondarily, it arose from the problem I tend to have with nonverbal forms of protest. My attitude is, if you have a problem with something, use your words.

Words allow us to be very precise about what upsets us and why it does. They allow us to clearly advocate remedies for the problems to which we object.

But what does refusing to stand for the flag, or the National Anthem, say? Since the flag, and the anthem, represent the entire nation, it means your beef is with everything about the country. Your protest is entirely lacking in specificity. You’re saying you’re objecting to the entire country because some white cops committed acts of violence against some black citizens — or whatever legitimate locus of concern you started with.

You’re saying the whole country is as bad as the North Charleston cop who shot Walter Scott. Every bit of it, starting with the Founders and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. You’re dissing Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass along with Robert E. Lee (despite the fact Douglass has been doing such a terrific job lately). You’re lumping in Martin Luther King with George Wallace. They’re all part of America, so you blame them all.

This is not helpful, to your cause or to anything else.

You have a complaint — express it clearly and specifically. Use your words — preferably, quire a few more of them than you could fit on a bumper sticker.

Words aren’t perfect — I can certainly testify to that. Someone will always misunderstand. If you write “up,” you will surely be loudly castigated for saying “down.” But at least with words, there’s a chance of clear communication, and perhaps even agreement– perhaps even changing someone’s mind! (See what a Pollyanna I am?)

Anyway, all that is sort of beside the point now, since obviously the kneeling of the last few days has been about Donald J. Trump. He saw to that. He has managed to focus something that previous lacked focus.

Now, it’s about whether people have the right to kneel — and obviously, they do — and whether the president of the United States is empowered to order them not to. Which, of course, he isn’t.

He’s not too good with words himself, but Trump certainly has a talent for clarifying things…

Who can be as foolhardy and reckless as Trump? The Democrats…

900px-Flag_of_South_Korea.svg

Here’s an excellent example of why it won’t be the Democrats who save us from Trump.

At least, not these Democrats.

Possibly the most foolish thing Trump has done in the last few days (and yeah, I know there are a lot of exciting entries in a crowded field) is this, at the very moment we’re facing an increased threat from North Korea:

President Trump has instructed advisers to prepare to withdraw the United States from a free-trade agreement with South Korea, several people close to the process said, a move that would stoke economic tensions with the U.S. ally as both countries confront a crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Withdrawing from the trade deal would back up Trump’s promises to crack down on what he considers unfair trade competition from other countries, but his top national security and economic advisers are pushing him to abandon the plan, arguing it would hamper U.S. economic growth and strain ties with an important ally. Officials including national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn oppose withdrawal, said people familiar with the process who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.

Although it is still possible Trump could decide to stay in the agreement to renegotiate its terms, the internal preparations for terminating the deal are far along, and the formal withdrawal process could begin as soon as this week, the people said….

You know why those top aides don’t want him to do this, especially now? Because they have brains. They know that free-trade agreements bind nations closer together, aside from producing more wealth overall.

This is absolutely no time for slapping allies in the face in that part of the world — or anywhere, of course.

But fortunately, there’s a loyal opposition out there poised to the save the country from this nonsense, right?

Uhhhh… no (imagine I said that in a Butthead voice). This was in the Post the same day as the above:

 Democrats facing reelection next year in states President Trump won are seizing on trade at this early stage as a crucial issue and a Republican vulnerability.

But rather than jeer Trump’s protectionist positions, Democrats are echoing them and amplifying them, arguing that Trump has failed to fulfill his dramatic campaign promise to rip apart trade deals.

“When we say renegotiating NAFTA, we mean a transformation, something substantial, not just going through the motions,” Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) told union leaders recently, referring to the administration’s talks over the North American Free Trade Agreement.

For Democrats, Casey’s pitch signals a wholehearted revival of their labor roots and a sharp departure from the free-trade tilt of the past two Democratic presidents, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton….

So, according to these Dems, the trouble with Trump is that he’s not Trumpy enough.

Notice how eager they are to repudiate the views of the last two Democrats who won presidential elections?

Brilliant, just brilliant….

Graham’s enthusiastic response to Trump’s Afghan plan

Trump still

I missed Trump’s speech last night because I was writing that post about Jack Van Loan — and was surprised when I went back downstairs to find that it was over. I thought I’d catch at least some of it.

But I’m familiar with the gist. And since I got this response from Lindsey Graham today, I’ll use that as a device to get into the subject:

Graham: “Gloves Are Off Inside Of Afghanistan”

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) last night on Fox News reacted to President Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy.

Ø  GRAHAM: “I think there will be a lot of bipartisan support in Congress for this new proposal. I’m proud. I’m relieved. I’m proud of the fact that President Trump made a national security decision, not a political decision. I’m proud of the fact that he listened to the generals. I’m most proud of the fact that he shows the will to stand up to radical Islam.” https://youtu.be/2oZhfvbGd9c?t=9s

Ø  GRAHAM: “We’re going to make our decisions based on conditions on the ground, not on the arbitrary passing of time. So hats off to President Trump for not becoming General Trump. Because General Obama was a real lousy general, and that’s part of the mess we’re inheriting…” https://youtu.be/2oZhfvbGd9c?t=2m49s

First, let me say that while I, too, disagreed with him on Afghanistan, I would take President Obama — or either Bush, Clinton or Reagan — back in a skinny minute if it meant getting rid of Trump. And I could really do without the silly red-meat stuff about “gloves are off” and “the will to stand up to radical Islam.” It’s silly, and undermines serious people’s ability to take him seriously. He’s a smart man; he can express himself more intelligently, however much he wants to repair relations with what is euphemistically called “the base.”

Next, I’ll shift gears and express my great relief that for once, Trump seems to have allowed himself to learn from experts rather than going with his gut. That’s a big step. We’d be in a lot better shape if he’d learn to listen to ALL experts, and not just the generals — although listening to generals is a fine start.

Finally, I agree with Graham and Trump that setting deadlines to leave Afghanistan is the worst of ideas.

My rule of thumb is this: If we send troops into a situation with a departure date in mind, we shouldn’t send the troops in at all. Nor should we set dates for departure after we send them in. That makes it almost impossible to achieve military objectives, whatever the objective. (“Hey, enemy, just hunker down and wait until this date, and you can take over!”)

And that’s about it, except to say again that it’s a relief to see Trump listening to people who actually know what they’re talking about, for once. Wherever we go from here in Afghanistan, this is far better than a commander-in-chief calling the shots on the basis of grossly ill-informed whim.

But my relief isn’t so enormous that I’m going to gush about it the way Graham did…

Buh-bye, Bannon!

mtv9myvsmiupsc40opjc_400x400

Just thought I’d put up a place for folks to discuss this. I’ll try to join you later, but I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment:

Trump gets rid of Stephen Bannon, a top proponent of his nationalist agenda

President Trump on Friday dismissed his embattled chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, an architect of his 2016 general election victory, in a major White House shake-up that follows a week of racial unrest, according to multiple administration officials.

Trump had been under mounting pressure to dispense with Bannon, who many officials view as a political Svengali but who has drawn scorn as a leading internal force encouraging and amplifying the president’s most controversial nationalist impulses.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a Friday afternoon statement to reporters: “White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day. We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”

Some White House officials also said Friday they expect some of Bannon’s allies inside the administration to exit with him. Bannon works closely with a number of White House officials, including national security aide Sebastian Gorka and assistant Julia Hahn….

This raises a lot of questions for me, such as, “Does this mean we can try to resurrect TPP?” and “Will we stop giving the world the finger on the Paris accord?” And others. But I’ll let y’all get the ball rolling…

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Graham speaks to Trump as one does to a child

Another day, another statement from Lindsey Graham about Charlottesville. I was particularly struck by the wording of this one:

Graham Response on Charlottesville

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on Charlottesville.Graham mug

“Mr. President, like most I seek to move our nation, my state, and our party forward – toward the light – not back to the darkness. 

“Your tweet honoring Miss Heyer was very nice and appropriate.  Well done. 

 “However, because of the manner in which you have handled the Charlottesville tragedy you are now receiving praise from some of the most racist and hate-filled individuals and groups in our country.  For the sake of our Nation — as our President — please fix this.

 “History is watching us all.”

 #####

I think you know the part I mean:

“Your tweet honoring Miss Heyer was very nice and appropriate.  Well done.

What a big boy you are! Here’s a sucker, and a pat on the head… Now remember to act that way all the time, and we’ll all be so proud of you…

Of course, you can see how he might speak to him that way, three hours after these Tweets:

Joel Lourie: Time to invoke the 25th

Joel Lourie has retired from politics, but today he could not restrain himself. He sent this out as an email:

JLourieUnder the 25th amendment, if the President becomes unable to discharge the duties of the office or becomes incapacitated, he can be replaced by the vice-president. Regardless of what I may think of the vice-president’s politics, he strikes me as an honorable man and a stark contrast to Trump.

Time to invoke the 25th…

I don’t know if the 25th is the way to go or not, although some have made strong arguments in favor of it. What do y’all think?

Oh, by way of disclosure: Joel’s business is an ADCO client…

About what happened in Charlottesville…

Lee

Y’all, I’ve had quite a few thoughts about this, but they’re all pretty involved and would take me time to develop and I haven’t had the time. But for now, I’ll do what I should have done Saturday — put up a sort of Open Thread devoted to what happened at Charlottesville, so y’all can get a conversation rolling.

Some possible avenues of exploration:

  1. Trump’s statement — As I’ve said many times before, I don’t think the president’s job description should, normally speaking, include issuing statements in reaction to every traumatic thing that happens across the country. But if he’s going to say something, it should be something that, for starters, doesn’t make matters worse. Trump utterly failed to meet that standard. And it wasn’t just his usual complete lack of thoughtfulness or hamhandedness with the English language. We know why he responded the way he did: He does not share the fundamental values of most Americans. He actually values the rock-solid backing of white supremacists, and doesn’t want to say anything that erodes that support.
  2. How do we prevent such violence without violating the 1st Amendment? If the ACLU stood up for the “right” of Illinois Nazis to march through Skokie, surely it would sue to uphold that right with this latter-day group of racist yahoos. And who’s to say the ACLU would be wrong? Personally, I think they were wrong in the Skokie days — sure, the Hitler fan club had the right to say what it wanted, but letting them do it in Skokie is too much of an offense against human dignity to allow it. This case seems fuzzier. Again, yes, they have free speech rights. But they went out of their way to express themselves in a place guaranteed to create as much tension, and likely violence, as possible. Should that be allowed? Does the free-speech clause guarantee freedom of venue? Such as, say, a crowded theater?
  3. If there would to be such a rally in Columbia, would you attend? I mean to protest, or for any other reason. Would you see yourself as having an obligation to show up in public to register your disapproval, or would you dismiss it by staying away and not giving the Brownshirt types the attention they crave? I can see arguments both ways.
  4. What about that Robert E. Lee statue? I hesitate to mention this because I don’t want to dignify the supposed “issue” that motivated the demonstration. But I mention it only to say that I have no position on the “issue.” What the University of Virginia chooses to display or to take down is none of my business, and I think Charlottesville homeboy Thomas Jefferson would back me on that. I feel like we have enough going on here in South Carolina and don’t need to weigh in on what they do up there. I would argue that any of those white supremacists who were not from Virginia lack such standing as well…

Anyway, that’s for starters. Happy conversing…

Dr. Strangetweet or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Don

Nothing. I just wanted to use that headline.

What a week.

Do you remember in the movie, when Peter Sellers as the President has his phone conversation with the Soviet premier?

Hello? Hello, Dimitri? Listen, I can’t hear too well, do you suppose you could turn the music down just a little? Oh, that’s much better. Yes. Fine, I can hear you now, Dimitri. Clear and plain and coming through fine. I’m coming through fine too, eh? Good, then. Well then as you say we’re both coming through fine. Good. Well it’s good that you’re fine and I’m fine. I agree with you. It’s great to be fine. laughs Now then Dimitri. You know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the bomb. The bomb, Dimitri. The hydrogen bomb. Well now what happened is, one of our base commanders, he had a sort of, well he went a little funny in the head. You know. Just a little… funny. And uh, he went and did a silly thing. Well, I’ll tell you what he did, he ordered his planes… to attack your country. Well let me finish, Dimitri. Let me finish, Dimitri. Well, listen, how do you think I feel about it? Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dimitri? Why do you think I’m calling you? Just to say hello? Of course I like to speak to you. Of course I like to say hello. Not now, but any time, Dimitri. I’m just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened. It’s a friendly call. Of course it’s a friendly call. Listen, if it wasn’t friendly, … you probably wouldn’t have even got it.

The source of the comedy is that he is SO reasonable, so measured, so like a supremely patient elementary school teacher in his effort to calm the drunken Russian. Deferential. Diffident. Studiously unprovocative.

That doesn’t seem quite as funny now…

Dr-Strangelove-3-1

Keep him WAY down in the hole….

This morning while working out on my elliptical trainer, I rewatched an episode of the second season of “The Wire,” and rather than skimming through the opening credits — something a bit harder to do on the Roku and have it stop where I want it — I listened to the song.

Guess which part of the words grabbed my attention, in light of current news?

… He’s got the fire and the fury
at his command.
Well, you don’t have to worry
if you hold on to Jesus’ hand.
We’ll all be safe from Satan
when the thunder rolls;
just gotta help me keep the devil
way down in the hole.

Yikes. Suddenly lyrics I’d heard a hundred times grabbed me in a whole new way….

How would Bunk and McNulty deal with North Korea?

How would Bunk and McNulty deal with North Korea?