Category Archives: Donald Trump

‘Trump plays tic-tac-toe with Jared, who lets Trump win…’

As you can see, the TV in my home office is an old SD model. But the resolution is usually better than THIS. Weird...

As you can see, the TV in my home office is an old SD model. But the resolution is usually better than THIS. Weird…

Lately, what with the weather, I’ve been doing more of my steps on the elliptical in my home office — indoors, with the A/C. And that means watching the Roku more.

So, of course, I’ve been rewatching “The West Wing” yet again. And of course, suffering the pangs of watching a show about a White House full of competent, decent, intelligent people who care deeply about serving their country — while I live (for the moment) in Trump World.

Anyway, the synopsis of this episode really jumped out at me. Boy, would that need rewriting to be current and relevant.

In case you can’t read it on that low-res screen, it says, “Bartlett engages both Sam and Toby in intricate chess matches that mirror the wily game of brinksmanship that Bartlett is playing with the Chinese.”

Today, we’d have to say something more like, “Trump plays tic-tac-toe with Jared, who lets Trump win to boost his confidence before he goes to the Chinese to beg them to help him get re-elected.”

Or maybe you can think of better words.

Oh, and before someone says “Aw, ‘The West Wing’ is fiction,” I’ll say that it’s fiction based on the reality that we knew, no matter which party held the White House, for all of our lives before 2016. I was reminded of that when I (re)watched a subsequent special episode in which presidents and their aides — from both parties — shared the kinds of observations about working in the West Wing in reality that the show worked so diligently, and brilliantly, to mirror…

Thanks, senator. It’s good to hear our votes count

text from Graham

Just got this text from Lindsey Graham’s campaign on my phone a few minutes ago.

I look forward to the day when he realizes that the support of those of us here on the blog — and millions of others who are just as disgusted by him for taking pride in attaching himself to Donald J. Trump — was what really mattered all along.

Maybe we can prove that to him in November.

Expect to see more about that in the coming months…

Finally, Mattis speaks up — powerfully

mattis atlantic

I made a passing reference to this in the last post, but I’m going to elevate the profile, because since then I’ve actually had the chance to read what the Warrior Monk, James Mattis, had to say today when he broke his long silence about the Trump administration in which he once served.

I urge you to read this piece in The Atlantic, which I think originally broke the story.

And now I’m going to give you the whole statement. Because not a word of what he said should be left out:

I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words “Equal Justice Under Law” are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.

When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.

We must reject any thinking of our cities as a “battlespace” that our uniformed military is called upon to “dominate.” At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict— between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part.

Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.

James Madison wrote in Federalist 14 that “America united with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.” We do not need to militarize our response to protests. We need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law.

Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that “The Nazi slogan for destroying us…was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.'” We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics.

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.

We can come through this trying time stronger, and with a renewed sense of purpose and respect for one another. The pandemic has shown us that it is not only our troops who are willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of the community. Americans in hospitals, grocery stores, post offices, and elsewhere have put their lives on the line in order to serve their fellow citizens and their country. We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s “better angels,” and listen to them, as we work to unite.

Only by adopting a new path—which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals—will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad.

Amen to all of that. Thank you, general.

The 2020 Rorschach Test

What the president of the United States did Monday was so horrific — having peaceful demonstrators attacked and swept away so that he could walk unimpeded across a park and stand awkwardly waving a Bible around in front of a boarded-up church for no discernible purpose — was so grossly inappropriate, so evocative of what a two-bit foreign autocrat would do in a country that didn’t give a damn about the ideals that animate this country, that, well, it shouldn’t have to be explained.

And yet, I’ve actually seen instances of his defenders, well, defending it. Some of it was pretty stunning.

Basically, this is obviously yet another national Rorschach Test in which you either recoil in horror, or don’t have a clue what is wrong. And the latter portion of our population is the one Trump is trying so clumsily to appeal to.

For those who get it, it doesn’t have to be explained. But I read a lot of stuff eloquently explaining it anyway.

In case you find it helpful, here are some of that, and related stuff:

I don’t know what else to say right now.

I’m just going to share this picture and hope I don’t get in Fair Use trouble. I was told to watch video of all this, but I haven’t yet. For now, the photo is enough:

bible

Magazine kills two pieces that criticized Dolan for flattering Trump

email promo

We live in a time when major institutions are failing us left and right. And as you know, with my communitarian leanings, that concerns me greatly.

But at the moment, I’m concerned about the Roman Catholic Church in America. I don’t write about that all that much for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t want to be misunderstood, and so much that I might comment on is apparently very difficult for nonCatholics to fully understand, for a lot of reasons. (And no, I’m not saying nonCatholics are dumb. I’m saying the way these things get framed by nonCatholic media make conversations difficult and often counterproductive.) So my concerns could be seen as meaning something they do not.

Secondly, I just don’t feel educated enough myself to comment coherently and intelligently. I just don’t know enough about the clash of ideas in and around the Church. I lack the expertise — or at least, the confidence — of, say, a Ross Douthat. I think I disagree with Douthat about a lot of things, but I don’t feel equal to contesting him. (His columns about Church matters start in a place where people who have read a lot of books I haven’t read dwell, and take off into real esoterica from that point.)

I think I agree far more often with my friend Steven Millies. I know Steven from having served with him for years on the committee that has run the Cardinal Joseph Bernardin lectureship at USC. We got to be friends, serving on some panels together, and usually sat together during the dinners the committee had on lecture nights, so we could catch up. Steven is an academic, and is now the director of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Anyway, awhile back Steven started writing regularly for U.S. Catholic. I signed up for the magazine’s regular email alerts, which caused me to read some of their content, although I was mostly looking for stuff by Steven. I never really formed a full impression of the journal itself, and I only learned in the last couple of days that it was published by the Claretians — something that means little to me, but might mean a good deal to Douthat and Steven.

This past week, Steven wrote a piece that National Catholic Reporter has since characterized as “critical of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s flattering comments about President Donald Trump.” I didn’t know about Dolan’s comments, so when I saw the link to the piece in an email from U.S. Catholic, and then saw it was by Steven, I read the column with particular interest.

I noticed that the magazine was also promoting a piece by another writer addressing the same comments by Dolan (and others), headlined, “President Trump cannot have the Catholic endorsement,” followed by the blurb, “Politics is the duty of the laity—not the clergy.” I didn’t read that, I now regret — just Steven’s piece, headlined “Cardinal Dolan’s public flattery of Trump forgets a few things.” An excerpt:

I wonder whether the U.S. Catholic bishops have crossed a sort of Rubicon recently.

When their Roman predecessor, the general Julius Caesar, brought his army illegally over the Rubicon River, he set in motion the events that ended the Republic and saw him presented with a crown. “The die is cast,” he is reputed to have said as he marched his army toward Rome: there was no going back. What he had done could not be undone and it would change the shape of history.

I do not think that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan is in any danger of being crowned emperor (or, anything else). But I do believe that his public flattery of President Donald Trump from the pulpit of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and on Fox News may prove to be a moment from which American Catholicism cannot turn back….

When I finished, I wrote to Steven to compliment the piece, but also (I confess as an unreconstructed editor) to quibble about something he said in passing about Caesar — something irrelevant to his point. But mostly, I wrote to praise him. As I told him at the time:

I had not heard about what Dolan did until I read this. It is highly disturbing. It really should not be this easy to buy the political influence of our church. Of course, Democrats have done all they can to help this happen. It’s a failure of all sorts of institutions. But of them all, I care about the failure in the Church most…

Steven acknowledged the minor Caesar problem. I looked later (in part checking to see how he had changed it), and… the piece was gone. I clicked on my original link, and all I got was what you see in the image below.

I checked with Steven, and that’s when I learned that his piece had been, as National Catholic Reporter would later say, “unpublished.” So had the other piece by political scientist Stephen Schneck.

At first, Steven asked me to hold off on writing about it, hoping that U.S. Catholic would simply change its mind. That didn’t happen, and when the story broke in National Catholic Reporter, he told me “the lid is off.” An excerpt from NCR:

U.S. Catholic magazine, a storied national outlet published by the Claretian Missionaries, has quietly unpublished from its website two recent articles that were critical of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s flattering comments about President Donald Trump.

Users who click the separate links to the articles, originally published around April 29 and April 30, are now greeted with a note that reads “You are not authorized to access this page.”…

Now, I should say this before someone else does: I’ve looked at what Dolan said publicly, and on its own, I don’t find it that shocking. What he said during Mass, with the president watching, was mostly relatively neutral. If you want to give the cardinal a break, you might say it was the usual thing you might offer an elected leader: Hey, we are encouraged to pray for our leaders, and we do, and that includes you, and we thank you for being with us.

You know, the kind of thing a smart religious leader might say when he’d like to see some stimulus money go to Catholic schools.

But it’s more cringe-inducing to see him schmoozing with “Fox and Friends” about his awesome interactions with the president, and to hear him tell them, “I’m in admiration of his leadership.”

It’s bad enough that Trump got as many Catholic votes as he did in 2016. The last thing we need is to see a cardinal even imply that Trump being elected was a good thing. We should expect more from our faith leaders than craftiness with regard to school funding. We have a right to expect something higher than Trumpian transactionalism.

Perhaps it’s too much to hope that our leaders will point to the obvious: That nominating certain judges does not make you pro-life — at least, not according to any definition that native Columbian Cardinal Bernardin would have recognized.

As Steven noted:

Dolan forgot other things, too. He forgot children separated from their parents at our border, being kept in cages and sleeping on cold, concrete floors. He forgot the physical and sexual abuse that many of those children have suffered because of the Administration’s disinterest in policing the foster care system they made necessary. He forgot the racist and xenophobic language that Trump deploys routinely to do the other thing that Dolan forgot: Trump’s main preoccupation is not to build up the political community toward the common good, but to divide us so he can conquer.

What’s regrettable is that those of us who attended the same Catholic schools that Dolan may have been trying to save do remember those things. And, we see why it is problematic for a Catholic bishop to forget them. Being formed in our faith, we see the ugly transaction at work here….

Yes, we do. And we have every reason to be disturbed when someone in a lofty position in our church admires that sort of leadership.

And it’s further disturbing to see anyone who points that out silenced — especially in a way that gives us no reasoning. If I had done something like that as editorial page editor, you’d have seen a public airing of all the issues involved. It would have been the subject of, at least, a column in the paper, and plenty of public discussion on my blog.

To see those pieces “disappeared” without explanation is very unsettling.

The good news is that NCR has not only reported on this, but published the two pieces. So everyone can read them and decide what they think about them. Here’s Steven’s, and here is the piece by Schneck.

That much I’m glad to see.

U.S. Catholic

Finally, it’s over: Bernie quits

Joe at 701

It’s taken a year, and we’ve finally gotten here. The place where we had to end up, if we’re serious about replacing the guy who’s so excited at the fantastic ratings his coronavirus briefings are getting.

It always had to be Joe. So we had to endure all those months of interminable “debates,” with this or that person being the hot new thing for a week or two, reminding me of the games the Republicans played back in 2012. (Seriously, remember when Herman Cain was the “front-runner?”)

Finally, on the last day of February, South Carolina gave the national Democratic electorate a good slap in the face, and it said “Thanks, I needed that,” and from then on has been giving Joe Biden overwhelming support. The other candidates started dropping out and giving their support to the one guy, out of the couple of dozen, who came into this thing with the qualifications for the job. (As I said last April, I was for any candidate who could be found in this picture.)

It was almost like they were all coming out of a trance and looking around them and saying, What were we thinking? It had to be Joe all along, from the moment he announced. Duh…

Except, of course, for Bernie Sanders.

Because Bernie was about Bernie. His campaign wasn’t about coming up with the most qualified nominee, or the one most likely to beat Trump. It was about Bernie, and Bernieism.

And so for a month we’ve had this Phony Campaign, sort of like the Phoney War of 1939-40, during which we pretended there was still a contested nomination. Or we would have, if we hadn’t been too busy staying alive.

But now that’s over, too. About time. Long past time, really.

So let’s all hunker down and stay safe and let this virus thing pass, and then get back on with the campaign to elect a normal, sane, qualified, decent human being as president of the United States….

Who would take coronavirus advice branded this way?

Trump card 1

Seriously, what use is this postcard I got in the snail mail the last couple of days (I forget which day now — probably Saturday or Monday)?

What is its practical purpose, other than as a campaign mailer? The point seems to be the “President Trump’s” part. Look! The Donald is looking out for you! You know, the guy with the great ratings!

Who, among those of us who are not suicidal, would turn to this quarter in a desperate bid for useful advice? This is the guy who, after this card was mailed, was assuring us we’d be back like gangbusters by Easter.

Yeah, I’ve got it. The idea of this card is entirely defensible, even laudable in the abstract. Any president has the duty to give out information that might protect someone from this national threat. And no doubt some folks, particularly among the most vulnerable, still turn to snail mail as a source of timely information.

But why does it have to be branded “President Trump’s…?” That’s almost like saying, look to almost any other source of information, not this one! If it said “Dr. Fauci’s…,” it might do some good.

This is dated March 16, but it feels like it must have been mailed sometime in February.

“IF YOU FEEL SICK, stay home. Do not go to work.” As of tomorrow, I will have been working from home for two weeks. You? (Admittedly, that was after the date on this card. But it feels like years ago.)

There was one bit of good news in this:

“Avoid eating or drinking at bars and restaurants — USE PICKUP OR DELIVERY OPTIONS.”

Bars deliver? Why has no one told me this? I could have used that information.

Anyway, perhaps the card was sincerely meant to help, even to reassure, making us think a benevolent entity had things well in hand.

Perhaps I’m just the wrong audience for it…

Look, the card recommends we go for more information to CORONAVIRUS.GOV. I recommend that, too. There’s probably good advice there, timely advice, advice that doesn’t bear the taint of “President Trump’s”…

Trump card 2

 

I couldn’t believe even Trump did this

Look at me! I have the most popular show on TV! Isn't this great? I'm a hit!

Look at me! I have the most popular show on TV! Isn’t this great? I’m a hit!

My wife showed me this last night, and I assumed it was a joke. It looked like a real Tweet, but I figured it was from The Onion or something like that, spoofing Trump’s obsession with his own popularity.

I thought it was carrying things a bit far, suggesting even as a joke that he would brag about his TV ratings when he’s giving national briefings about something that could kill 200,000 Americans.

But then I looked. And there it was, in his Twitter feed:

Even after I saw that, I figured something was missing that would explain it. I started looking around for news stories about it, and didn’t find any right away — although there was a lot of buzz about it on social.

This morning, I found some coverage, buried way down below other stuff. But basically, they treated it as routine.

This is how far we’ve fallen in normalizing his behavior. The president of the United States puts out something you would only expect from a profoundly maladjusted child, bragging about how everyone’s watching him while thousands of people are dying around him. In the world we knew before 2016, his aides would be trying to gently maneuver him into a padded room, and preparing to invoke the 25th Amendment…

Meanwhile, from the leader of our once-great country…

trump tweet1

For what it’s worth, he did send out a followup seven minutes later saying, “Federal Government is working very well with the Governors and State officials. Good things will happen! #KILLTHEVIRUS”

Maybe someone had a word with him. I don’t know who that would be, though, since pretty much all of the grownups have left his administration.

And yeah, I’m still using that plug-in on my Chrome browser that renders Trump’s tweets in a special typeface. They come in the regular old way on my phone and iPad. But somehow this seems to bring out their essence….

You know, there’s nothing new about this. But as many times as we’ve seen this kind of childishness, I still have to ask my self occasionally, What kind of person, in a leadership position, thinks that is something appropriate to publish for the world to see?

trump meeting

Et tu, Bernie? The Russian plot sickens

Well, boys, I reckon this is it - electoral combat toe to toe with the Roosskies.

Well, boys, I reckon this is it – electoral combat toe to toe with the Roosskies.

I hadn’t even had a chance to post about the Russians working to help elect Trump again, when we learned they were trying to help Bernie, too.

Which makes sense, of course. It fits their M.O., and their interests, in two ways:

  1. Their priority is helping Trump, because having Trump as president hurts America, sends us on a downward slide as a nation, and keeps us bitterly divided. And they feel quite sure, like many U.S. observers, that Bernie is the best possibly opponent for their boy.
  2. If they can’t have Trump, might as well elect the most divisive figure on the Democratic side as a backup. Because the point is weakening America, and having us all stirred up and angry is a great way to do that. (It’s working for them so far, after their successful efforts in 2016.)

Putin may be evil, but he’s not stupid.

All of that said, I want to give Bernie a big pat on the back for showing how a presidential candidate should react to such news:

“Let’s be clear, the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us up and, unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election,” Mr. Sanders said.

He also told reporters that he was briefed about a month ago.

“The intelligence community is telling us Russia is interfering in this campaign right now in 2020,” Mr. Sanders said on Friday in Bakersfield, Calif., where he was to hold a rally ahead of Saturday’s Nevada caucuses. “And what I say to Mr. Putin, ‘If I am elected president, trust me you will not be interfering in American elections.’”…

If only a certain other party would take a hint.

Basically, this is all part of a pattern that began in 2016. Then, workers at a Russian troll factory were told, “Use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest except for Sanders and Trump — we support them.”

Which brings me to the point I was going to post about all this before we learned about the Bernie wrinkle…

Remember that we learned several months ago that the key CIA asset who had let us know that the Russians were trying to elect Trump in 2016 had to be exfiltrated to save his life back in 2017? As the NYT reported at the time:

The move brought to an end the career of one of the C.I.A.’s most important sources. It also effectively blinded American intelligence officials to the view from inside Russia as they sought clues about Kremlin interference in the 2018 midterm elections and next year’s presidential contest….

OK, well… if this guy was so golden, so well-placed, so irreplaceable… how do we know they’re doing the same in 2020?

Obviously, we don’t know everything. Which is probably a good thing, if we’re still getting such good intel. Better that the new source not be compromised, too.

Or, is this one of those hyperclever inside-out deals where the idea of our key source being extracted was disinformation, which news media eagerly lapped up, meant to protect the real source?

If so, I hope these news revelations aren’t endangering him. Or her

Did our top asset really come in from the cold? Or is he, or she, still out there?

Did our top asset really come in from the cold? Or is he, or she, still out there?

State of the Union, 2020 — if you have something to say about it

tearing

I amazed myself last night by watching and/or listening to pretty much all of it. Missed the very beginning.

I don’t really have much to say about it overall, except that it was very Trump. No other president in my lifetime, and probably in our history, has engaged in such an extended bout of unabashed braggadocio in public. No one else would, it being so, you know, tacky. But that was to be expected.

Oh, there was one other thing. As I said in a Tweet, we’re used to the dramas of ordinary people being used as props in these speeches, and I think I grew tired of it the first time I saw it. But no one has ever pumped steroids into the device the way Trump did, with all those game show surprises and awarding of valuable prizes.

Anyway, here are my Tweets. I look forward to your observations:

Not up to Congress to decide Trump’s fate? What utter nonsense

Removing the president is not the job Congress? This guy would beg to differ.

Removing a president is not properly the job of Congress? This guy would beg to differ.

I’ve been meaning to comment on a Frank Bruni column from last week, headlined “Of All Trump’s Defenses, This Is the Lamest,” with the subhed, “Only the voters can send the president packing? That’s a joke.”

Actually, that subhed is probably the best part, but the rest is pretty good, too. An excerpt:

Once the Senate concludes its trial of President Trump, it should go into recess. Until next January. The House, too. Lawmakers shouldn’t pass legislation, consider nominations or make any important decisions whatsoever: This is an election year, and the voters will soon weigh in on the direction of America. The nation’s business should await that judgment, lest members of Congress contradict it.

A ludicrous proposal? Indeed. But it’s in line with — and an extrapolation of — a favorite argument against Trump’s conviction and removal from office. His Republican supporters say that lawmakers shouldn’t speak for voters on such a crucial issue. To pre-empt the verdict at the ballot box, they say, is to subvert the people’s will.

Nice try. Lawmakers are elected specifically to speak for voters on crucial issues. That’s the system. That’s their job….

Absolutely, it’s their job. And it’s no one else’s, including the vaunted electorate’s.

From the start, Republicans have complained that the impeachment process is somehow illegitimate — either because it seeks to undo the 2016 election, or pre-empt the one this year, or both.

But we have this Constitution, you see, and it was written by some very, very smart people (smarter than the average modern voter, dare I say), who wanted the voters to have input into who ran things, but not necessarily the final say. So they created a finely balanced tension between governmental elements that were each chosen by differently formed constituencies that should check each other:

  • The House would be elected the way far too many people today think the rest of the government should be elected — directly by the people, and extremely often. House members would represent equal-sized chunks of the population.
  • The Senate would represent states, and would be chosen by those states’ legislatures. It was an excellent idea, although we threw away half of it with the 17th Amendment. The only part we kept was that they still represent the people of entire states. And… they’re elected for six years to shield them from political passions of the moment.
  • The president would be chosen by the Electoral College, but we’ve pretty much altered that beyond recognition. But we kept enough of its anti-democratic essence to allow Donald Trump to be elected despite Hillary Clinton having the majority of votes. So yay, elitism, right, my Republican friends?
  • The president and the Senate would choose justices together.

But to hear certain people talk, everything should be decided by the people, acting directly through their smartphones.

(Shudder.)

I’ve gotten to where I can’t bear to listen to the Republicans when they speak during the impeachment proceedings, because despite all the pernicious nonsense I’ve been subjected to in covering politics over the last few decades, I’ve never had my intelligence insulted to this degree.

I forced myself to listen to one idiot the other day who was ranting about how the Democrats wanted to tear up every ballot cast in the country in 2016. Really. He said that, despite the fact that MOST ballots were for Hillary Clinton. Presumably, those nasty Dems wouldn’t want to tear those up, if they’re as single-minded in pursuing partisan advantage as he seemed to assume.

Anyway, the Senate needs to go on and conduct a trial and do its job — even if that means acquitting Trump, as it almost certainly will.

And in the meantime, hand me no lies about how this is NOT the job of Congress. It is, precisely. And it’s no one else’s.

There’s plenty of time to hear from the voters between now and November.

I’m counting on Lamar Alexander to do the right thing

Lamar shirt

I ran across the shirts you see above at Belk the other day. The one in the middle is a dead ringer for the one Lamar Alexander wore on his famous walk across Tennessee when he ran successfully for governor in 1978 — the first statewide political campaign I ever covered.

I’ve always had a lot of respect for Lamar, as I’ve mentioned here many times. And now, the fate of the impeachment trial may lie in his hands, assuming he does the right thing. An excerpt from an NYT story from the last few days:

WASHINGTON — The ghost of Howard H. Baker Jr., the Republican senator from Tennessee who turned against Richard M. Nixon during Watergate, is hovering over Senator Lamar Alexander.

Mr. Alexander, a third-term Republican from Tennessee who is retiring at the end of this year, has said that no one outside his family has had more influence on him than Mr. Baker, the former Senate majority leader who is remembered for the penetrating question he posed as Nixon stared down impeachment: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

Now Mr. Alexander may hold in his hands the fate of another Republican president who is facing removal from office. He is one of four Republican moderates who have expressed openness to bringing witnesses into President Trump’s impeachment trial. Of the four, he stands out because he is not running for re-election and arguably has nothing to lose….

The story goes on to say Lamar “does not appear ready for a Howard Baker moment.” They based this on the fact that he wanted to wait until the first phase of the trial was completed to decide. But I have two things to say about that:

  1. That seems a reasonable hesitation to me. He was keeping his options open until the point at which a decision would have to be made.
  2. That story was written before the revelation from Bolton’s upcoming book.

So I’m going to be optimistic, counting on Lamar to do what he generally did back when I covered him as governor: the right thing.

A shot I took of Lamar on the campaign trail in 1978.

A shot I took of Lamar on the campaign trail in 1978.

A Modest Proposal on Iran: We just have to play to Trump’s ego. It might even be worth it.

There’s a window of opportunity here, but it probably only stays open as long as the Iranians are content to have fired a few missiles without having hurt any Americans.

It won’t be easy. It will require a lot of people being in on the plan and sticking to it. And it will be distasteful, because it will involve flattering and kowtowing to Trump as though we were a bunch of Lindsey Grahams or something.

But it could definitely be worth it. Bear with me.

All of our allies would have to be in on it — the ones who have labored so to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump is assuring them is kaput. As for Israel — well, it will require some forbearance from them.

All the Democrats will have to play along. Nancy Pelosi’s role will be key. We’ll need the Republicans, too, but no sweat… this sort of toadyism is reflexive to them, so we don’t even have to ask for their help.

Here’s what we do: We all get together and communicate the following to Trump:

Oh, wow, you really showed those ayatollahs! You whacked their guy and after a bunch of bluster, they only had the guts to blow up some sand! You really had their number! You owned them, the way you always do with the libs! We can’t wait to see what you do next! Actually… we have a suggestion, not that it wouldn’t occur any moment to someone as brilliant as you…

You know that stupid Obama nuclear deal that only you saw needed to be scrapped? You know how the “allies” are all being so petulant about that? Well, let’s show them something. Let’s show them how it’s done by a real dealmaker! Negotiate a REAL deal, an America-First deal that makes everybody else they they got a great deal, too (the saps!)…

It won’t even be much trouble. Just take the stupid deal that Obama sweated over, work some of your magic on it to make it your own, and presto! The Trump Comprehensive Plan of Action will avert war, settle down the whole region, prevent nuclear proliferation and probably help with that global climate change thing that people keep yammering about!

It will be easy, for someone with a brain as brilliant and normal as yours! It would be just like what you did with NAFTA — knock it down, then replace it with something that is basically the same but less sad, a beautiful new thing with the glittering Trump brand on it — just chock full of real class! Something you can stand up and strut about…

As you see, we’ll probably have to work hard on the sincerity in doing this, but he’s so eager to be validated in his illusions about himself that he won’t examine it too closely. He’ll lap up the flattery, and next thing you know we’ll have a real breakthrough that would increase peace and security in the region and the world.

I mentioned Nancy Pelosi’s role. It’s essential, although fairly easy for her. She just needs to keep holding back the impeachment from the Senate. The hardest part for her will be that she’d have to say that she’s doing it because what our wonderful president is doing is so important that he must not be distracted!

We should be able to get all this done in a month or so — as I say, all the actual work got done in the Obama agreement — and then get on with impeachment, and the election.

What do you think? I’ll tell you what I think:

It. Could. WORK!

via GIPHY

‘Shame on Nikki Haley,’ says Frank Bruni

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And he has a point.

It seems our girl, so fresh from tarnishing her own fine record on the Confederate flag, has stepped in it again. Not sure why she keeps doing this. Does she feel she’s not in the limelight enough these days?

Anyway, Bruni said this in his latest email newsletter, under the headline “Don’t you dare question my patriotism:”

Shame on Nikki Haley.

In the aftermath of the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, she didn’t merely praise President Trump — a show of support that may well reflect her own, like-minded assessment of events and is absolutely her right.

She denigrated Americans who took a different view by disingenuously describing their reaction. “The only ones that are mourning the loss of Suleimani are our Democrat leadership and our Democrat presidential candidates,” she told Sean Hannity during an interview on Fox News. Of course he thrilled to that characterization…

Nikki’s point seems to have been the usual thing about partisanship stopping at the water’s edge. And there’s value in the usual thing, when we have a usual sort of president. Which we did, with the first 44.

But our situation now is as different as ones and zeroes from what we had before 2016.

As I said earlier, as we try to apply the usual standards for whether killing Soleimani was a good thing or a bad thing, we just can’t forget for a moment that this is Trump who decided to do this. And it is impossible to give him the benefit of the doubt, ever. This is a startlingly ignorant, narcissistic, unprincipled, impulsive, vindictive man who doesn’t know what truth is, who has no notion of the national interest, and is motivated entirely by what he sees as benefiting him personally, or stroking his pathetically fragile ego.

Not that he’ll never do what’s best for the country. He’ll do that if it is coincidentally the thing that he sees as benefiting him. He’s like a stopped clock that way.

To pretend we are living through a normal political era in which the usual maxims apply is to lie to yourself and to the American people.

And we get enough of that already from the White House.

Nikki Haley managed to extricate herself from the Trump administration with her image as Golden Girl of the GOP relatively untarnished. Now that she doesn’t work for him any more, she should keep her distance, if she’s serious about the future ambitions we keep hearing about.

She’s better off not trying to be Trump’s Yes Girl. Anyway, he’s got Kellyanne Conway for that

Deserve’s got nothing to do with it, and other thoughts on the killing of Soleimani

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Why have I gone so many days without commenting on the assassination of Qasem Soleimani by the United States?

Because I’m still not sure what to say. I don’t have enough information to say “this was a good thing” or “this was a bad thing.” And ever since I made the move from news to editorial in 1994, I’ve been disinclined to write about anything that I couldn’t offer some sort of judgment on.

What follows is a few of the thoughts that have been going through my head since this happened…

We can’t get around the fact that this is Trump doing this.

First, if this is a classic “wag the dog” move, Trump has miscalculated. Because this incident underlines more starkly than anything else that’s happened in the past three years why it is an extraordinarily bad idea to have such an ignorant and deeply flawed person in the role of commander-in-chief.

Yes, the natural impulse in such a situation is for the American people to close ranks with the president and give him the benefit of the doubt. But how can anyone, other than the blindest of his base, do that with this man? Most people in the country know that he only cares about his own self-interest. There could be a situation in which his interest and the country’s coincidentally line up — the stopped-clock principal — but we know that to him, the country’s interest is simply not an operative variable.

And he lies. About everything. He doesn’t misspeak and then backtrack when the untruth is exposed, the way other people in politics do. He lies with utter abandon, and when the lie is proved beyond any doubt, he doubles down on it.

In a situation like this, in which (I’m assuming here) the American people can’t be shown all the evidence without compromising intelligence sources, it is essential that we have some faith in the truthfulness and judgment of the president, whether we like him or not. That is utterly impossible in this situation. So instead of persuadable people going, “This is a dicey situation, so we’d better rally around the president,” they are more likely to go “Oh, my God, how soon can we get someone else — anyone else — into the White House?”

Forgive me for starting with the political calculation, but the fact that this guy is in this job affects all the other things I have to say.

This is a job for the Deep State.

I can’t trust anything Trump — or anyone who owes his or her job to him — says about the situation. I know I can’t trust Republican members of Congress, either, based on their completely surrender of their minds to Trump. Nor am I terribly interested in what the Democratic presidential candidates think about it. (Yes, their statements may help us choose between them, but their reaction isn’t helpful in assessing the immediate situation, which is what I’m talking about here.)

What I want, what I need, to know in order to form a judgment is what the Deep State thinks. I need the views of experts who have no political dog in the fight.

Is it the consensus of our intelligence community that there was an imminent threat that justified taking the extraordinary chance (given that we don’t know what Iran will do) of killing this guy? Oh, and while I’m asking, what do they think we should do next?

Often in these situations, within a few days after the story has initially broken, there will be a piece — probably in The New York Times — from a reporter with excellent intelligence sources who has interviewed them about the situation and gleaned some sort of consensus from those sources.

This would be a great time for such a story. I’m not asking for the moon — I don’t expect something as definite as, for instance, the fact that ALL of our intelligence agencies agree that Russian interfered in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf. I’m not greedy. I’d just like to know in general what people who know a LOT more about this than I do are thinking. That might help me decide what I think.

Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

When in doubt, quote a Clint Eastwood movie, right?

I don’t think anyone in this country, outside of people like this out-of-work football player, doubts for a moment that Soleimani had it coming.

But he’s had it coming for a long time, and we’ve had the ability to kill him before now, and we haven’t done so. The question isn’t, “Did he deserve it?” The question is, what changed that switched the calculus toward a decision to kill him now? And was that calculation sound?

In other words, someone might be a bad guy, but killing him may be a bad idea. (In fact, as an opponent of the death penalty, I would argue that it’s usually a bad idea to kill someone just for being a bad guy.)

And we just don’t have enough reliable information to know.

No one, but no one, thinks war with Iran is a good idea.

No matter how crazy and bloodthirsty you may think neocons are, I can’t think of anyone in that camp that has ever put forth outright war with Iran as a good idea. (Neo-cons don’t usually count John Bolton among their number.) I’ve never seen the case credibly made that it would be in anyone’s interest, except maybe people on the sidelines who don’t like us, such as Russia or China.

So, you know, we probably need to do what we can to avoid it from this point on… which brings us back to my fervent wish that a normal human being of any party was in the White House right now… Something I heard on the radio earlier today struck me as ironic in the extreme: A Republican member of Congress (I think; I didn’t catch the name) was making the point that the Iranians aren’t totally crazy; they don’t want war with the United States. How weird is that? We’re counting on the ayatollahs to be more rational and mature than the president of the United States

I could say much more, but I figure that’s enough to get a conversation going. Sorry to have taken so long, but as I say, I was hoping to know more….

Watch out, fellow elitists! It’s a trap!

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Mr. Smith accused me of being elitist today, and let’s face it: He had evidence on his side.

But something good came out of that scolding of yours truly. It reminded me of a piece I read back in October, and meant to share here, and forgot. But it occurs to me that today is the perfect day to share it and the warning it contains.

It was an oped piece in The Washington Post by Joel Stein, author of In Defense of Elitism: Why I’m Better Than You and You Are Better Than Someone Who Didn’t Buy This Book.

I actually probably should buy that book, if it’s anywhere near as funny as the column. An excerpt:

Impeachment is an elitist trap

As an elitist, I enjoy a good impeachment. Especially if followed by a trial in the Senate, overseen by the chief justice in a black robe with gold stripes. In fact, I wish there were an even more complicated way to kick out a president — one with a Latin name that centered on the opinions of Ivy League historians and presented as a nine-part documentary on PBS.

Correcting the electorate’s stupid mistake via an intricate legal process created by our Enlightenment-loving founders and enacted by entrenched experts in Congress is the elites’ version of “John Wick.”

I am assuming that “John Wick” is movie about a righteous, skilled underdog battling an incompetent, corrupt power. But I have no idea if that’s true, since elites have never seen any of the “John Wick” movies…

… and so forth. That passage made me feel very smug, since I have never seen a John Wick movie, either. (Are they particularly stupid? I need you to tell me, because I wouldn’t know!)

The piece is full of good bits that tempt me to push the envelope just a mite on Fair Use. Here’s another one:

Populism is the demand for pure democracy. Its enemy is the republic, which removes the dangerous edges of democracy by protecting human rights from the majority’s will. Our founders gave us a republic. If they had wanted a direct democracy, the Constitution would be one page. Majorities don’t like republics. Majorities were sold a democratic system where they get whatever they want, right away. When they don’t get what they want, they get frustrated and turn to tyranny, which gets things done faster. Plato predicted this in “The Republic.” It’s the job of the elitist to explain this to people without mentioning Plato’s “The Republic.”…

Anyway, the serious point in all this hilarity is that the best approach to getting rid of Trump is to beat him next year at the polls, “Especially if we do it with a big enough majority so that we don’t have to explain the electoral college.”

But read the whole thing. It’s fun. And when you’re living in such depressing times — when a president is about to get the impeachment he so richly deserves, and the Senate is waiting to reject that impeachment in the most insultingly dismissive way they can think of — it’s nice if we can, even for just a moment, laugh about it…

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Impeachment has been rushed, and it shouldn’t have been

This image has nothing to do with my topic, but I went looking for a picture of House leadership, and I thought this one very interesting on its own terms.

This image has nothing to do with my topic, but I went looking for a picture of House leadership, and I thought this one very interesting on its own terms.

I’ve actually meant to say that for a couple of months, but there’s never been a day when I felt I had enough time to explain all the reasons I think that. And I don’t have time to explain it all today, either. But I thought I should at least say it, before the whole thing is over with.

Oh, and I have another excuse: I haven’t always been sure I felt it was being rushed. But it’s a thought that has occurred to me, many times. And this time, I’ll go ahead and say it before I doubt it again. And if I’m wrong, y’all can tear it to shreds.

The Democrats have been hurrying this thing because they want it over well before the 2020 elections. And that makes a certain amount of sense as electoral strategy, except for this great, big flaw: Impeachment itself has NEVER been in the electoral interest of the Democrats — or the nation — since a conviction in the Senate was never in the cards, and it increases the chances of a Trump re-election.

But the thing is, they had to go ahead and do it. If you’re a sworn member of the House, and a president has done what this one has done, you have to impeach him. Just as the Republicans had to with Clinton 20 years ago. Clinton’s behavior was impeachable from the get-go, and so has Trump’s been.

So, good for the House Democrats for doing their duty, as the House Republicans did last time around. But they’ve tried to have their cake and eat it, too — to do this thing that honor requires, but try to minimize the political cost.

They should have insisted that the process wouldn’t end until, for instance, Mulvaney and Giuliani testified. At the very least, they should have continued to pursue that — through the courts as well as in the court of public opinion — for a few more weeks. At the very least, it would have made Trump’s obstruction more painfully clear, even if that didn’t move the Senate.

Now, the Senate is going to rush this through even faster and we’ll never hear from people we should have heard from.

And Trump will still be in office, and his base — which is immune to reason or facts — will still be ticked off about it, so you will have paid the political price without a concrete result.

All of this said, it’s better to impeach him than not to impeach him, even if you rushed it.

But I do think they’ve rushed it, and I’m not persuaded that was necessary or advisable.

Discuss…