Category Archives: Donald Trump

Pssst, media types: Ixnay on the Umptray ailurefays…

Mind you, I'm not saying we need to run pictures like this and report, "Look what Trump built!" Not exactly, anyway...

Mind you, I’m not saying we need to run pictures like this and report, “Look what Trump built!” Not exactly, anyway…

When I see headlines like this (in The New Yorker), it makes me a little nervous:

HOW TRUMP GAVE UP ON HIS BORDER WALL

It worries me because touting Trump’s failures walks all over his poor little ego, and it seems likely that such bruising would cause him to redouble his efforts. And we do not want that…

Look what happened with the Trumpcare failure. At first, he seemed content to let the whole repealing-Obamacare thing slide. But after about the billionth headline noting how he’d failed on this central (to his base) promise, he started pushing on Congress to try again.

And now, if everyone makes a big deal about him stepping away from the stupid wall thing, it’s liable to get his back up, and we’ll be wasting time talking about that again.

I’m not saying lie or mislead — I don’t want the media to actually start making a truth-teller out of Trump by reporting “fake news.” We don’t need to run pictures of the Great Wall of China on front pages and tout what a great job Trump did building it.

I’m just saying, you know, that maybe we could not rub in the failures as much. If he’s content to let his most spectacularly dumb ideas die a quiet death, maybe that’s a good thing.

I mean, report it, but don’t go on and on about it. Go easy on the poor guy; he’s having a rough year.

I’m saying, must Kathleen Parker write columns headlined, “Dealmaker in Chief? More like the Backdown President.“?

Sigh… I suppose she must…

Sneering at the masses, and how it helped lead to Trump

This guy's off the air now, but I think he did more than anyone to produce the phenomenon under discussion.

This guy’s off the air now, but I think he did more than anyone to produce the phenomenon under discussion.

Bryan, who is off somewhere in foreign parts today (California, I think), brings to my attention this piece from The Atlantic. Its headline is “How Late-Night Comedy Fueled the Rise of Trump,” with the subhed, “Sneering hosts have alienated conservatives and made liberals smug.”

Or at least, they were smug until Nov. 8.

The piece isn’t bad, although it gets sidetracked here and there, and reading it didn’t make me a whole lot smarter than I was after reading the hed and subhed — with which I agreed from the start.

Not that I didn’t learn anything new. For instance, I heard of this Samantha Bee person, and her salacious-sounding show “Full Frontal.” (Remember, folks, I don’t watch TV beyond Netflix, Amazon Prime and PBS.)

When I read the headline, I was picturing Jon Stewart — who, although he’s been replaced by Trevor Noah, still seems the perfect example to illustrate the point.

Here’s probably the best bit in the piece. It comes after the author has established, in fairness, that Donald J. Trump is any comedian’s dream, and richly deserves every bit of mockery aimed at him and more (which is obviously true):

So Trump has it coming, and so do the minions pouring out of his clown car, with their lies and their gleeful disregard for what Nick Carraway called “the fundamental decencies.” But somewhere along the way, the hosts of the late-night shows decided that they had carte blanche to insult not just the people within this administration, but also the ordinary citizens who support Trump, and even those who merely identify as conservatives. In March, Samantha Bee’s show issued a formal apology to a young man who had attended the Conservative Political Action Conference and whom the show had blasted for having “Nazi hair.” As it turned out, the young man was suffering from Stage 4 brain cancer—which a moment’s research on the producers’ part would have revealed: He had tweeted about his frightening diagnosis days before the conference. As part of its apology, the show contributed $1,000 to the GoFundMe campaign that is raising money for his medical expenses, so now we know the price of a cancer joke.

It was hardly the first time Full Frontal had gone, guns blazing, after the sick or the meek. During the campaign, Bee dispatched a correspondent to go shoot fish in a barrel at something called the Western Conservative Summit, which the reporter described as “an annual Denver gathering popular with hard-right Christian conservatives.” He interviewed an earnest young boy who talked about going to church on Sundays and Bible study on Wednesdays, and about his hope to start a group called Children for Trump. For this, the boy—who spoke with the unguarded openness of a child who has assumed goodwill on the part of an adult—was described as “Jerry Falwell in blond, larval form.” Trump and Bee are on different sides politically, but culturally they are drinking from the same cup, one filled with the poisonous nectar of reality TV and its baseless values, which have now moved to the very center of our national discourse. Trump and Bee share a penchant for verbal cruelty and a willingness to mock the defenseless. Both consider self-restraint, once the hallmark of the admirable, to be for chumps….

She returns to that incident at the end:

… I’ve also thought a good deal about the boy on Samantha Bee’s program. I thought about the moment her producer approached the child’s mother to sign a release so that the woman’s young son could be humiliated on television. Was it a satisfying moment, or was it accompanied by a small glint of recognition that embarrassing children is a crappy way to make a living? I thought about the boy waiting eagerly to see himself on television, feeling a surge of pride that he’d talked about church and Bible study. And I thought about the moment when he realized that it had all been a trick—that the grown-up who had seemed so nice had only wanted to hurt him.

My God, I thought. What have we become?

Indeed.

But there’s something to her thesis beyond citing pain inflicted upon victims with whom even the most indoctrinated liberals might sympathize. She touches on the broader point when she says “the tone of these shows [is] one imbued with the conviction that they and their fans are intellectually and morally superior to those who espouse any of the beliefs of the political right.”

And then she wonders whether that tone is largely responsible for Trump supporters’ dismissal of “the media,” by which she means in this context HBO, Comedy Central, TBS, ABC, CBS, and NBC — the very networks that present the comedy shows. The point being that folks who feel so insulted by the late-night comedy tend to associate it with the news programming on the same networks, and dismiss it all.

You say “media” to me, and I think of the news that I consume — from leading print outlets to NPR. Others don’t see it that way, I’ve long been forced to realize. They think of television, and sometimes — perhaps most of the time — they have trouble distinguishing between the “news” presented by celebrities one hour from the entertainment presented by other celebrities in a different time slot.

Which is understandable, if regrettable…

I'd say the King of the Sneerers now is probably this guy.

I’d say the King of the Sneerers now is probably this guy.

David Brooks on the Crisis of Western Civ

The_Parthenon_in_Athens

Before the weekend’s over, I want to call your attention to David Brooks’ excellent piece from Friday, headlined “The Crisis of Western Civ.”

It’s good not because it says anything particularly original, but because it says things I knew (and most of us should know), but which it wouldn’t have occurred to me to come out and explain.

Anyone steeped in the ideas that have shaped our civilization over the centuries knows:

This Western civ narrative came with certain values — about the importance of reasoned discourse, the importance of property rights, the need for a public square that was religiously informed but not theocratically dominated. It set a standard for what great statesmanship looked like. It gave diverse people a sense of shared mission and a common vocabulary, set a framework within which political argument could happen and most important provided a set of common goals…

But then two things happened.

First, the people who should be the guardians and propagators of these liberal values — academics — ceased to believe in them.

Then, when the barbarians attacked, there was no one ready to stand up and defend the foundations of our civilization:

The first consequence has been the rise of the illiberals, authoritarians who not only don’t believe in the democratic values of the Western civilization narrative, but don’t even pretend to believe in them, as former dictators did. Over the past few years especially, we have entered the age of strong men. We are leaving the age of Obama, Cameron and Merkel and entering the age of Putin, Erdogan, el­Sisi, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong­un and Donald Trump….

More and more governments, including the Trump administration, begin to look like premodern mafia states, run by family-­based commercial clans. Meanwhile, institutionalized, party­-based authoritarian regimes, like in China or Russia, are turning into premodern cults of personality/Maximum Leader regimes, which are far more unstable and dangerous….

He saves his last shot for the feckless guardians of our intellectual traditions, who have abandoned the citadel walls:

These days, the whole idea of Western civ is assumed to be reactionary and oppressive. All I can say is, if you think that was reactionary and oppressive, wait until you get a load of the world that comes after it.

Probably his best insight is that bit about how formerly liberal states “begin to look like premodern mafia states, run by family-­based commercial clans.” Because they’re run by people for whom the main purpose of power is to do something as staggeringly trivial as, for instance, promote one’s clothing line.

Speaking of mafias, did you ever read The Godfather? The book, I mean. Have you read anything else by Mario Puzo, something not as directly related to the Mafia, such as The Fourth K? If you have, you may have noticed that the theme that obsessed the writer was the conflict between the personal and the core principles of Western civilization, such as the choice of whether to look out for oneself and one’s family at the expense of larger things, such as the rule of law.

That’s what we’re seeing now. And the personal, the petty, the selfish approach is winning. The larger ideas we’ve been developing over the past centuries are being swept away…

This is what I mean about the degradation of the presidency

This was my initial reaction to the news about Donald Trump’s dinner party at the White House:

But then I thought, that’s not really fair to the Joker, et al. In their universe, they were the crème de la crème of Gotham criminal society, tops in their field, the elite.

These folks are anything but that. It’s more like Trump assembled this group in an attempt to look classy by comparison. And it almost worked.

The Batman analogy having failed, I’m at a loss. And I’m not going to let myself go down this road, no matter the temptation:

But folks, I will say that, for those of you who still don’t understand, this is the problem with Donald Trump being president — his desecration of the office. All other problems — the cluelessness, the lying, the utter disregard for ethics, the open hostility to wisdom and experience, the stunning carelessness with policy — spring from that source. It’s the shameful American love affair with anti-intellectualism made flesh.

A dinner table at the White House should have the wit of the Algonquin Round Table, tempered by the nobility of purpose of the original King Arthur version.

Instead, look what we’ve got. This is the level the presidency has sunk to.

Evenings at the White House should look like this:

Dinner for Nobel laureates, 29 April 1962.

Dinner for Nobel laureates, 29 April 1962.

Not like this:

21visitors-master768

What is the appeal of the Ivanka brand?

Ivanka

This is a follow on this previous post, in which I wrote about the bizarre personal-business hustling engaged in by the Trump family even as daughter and son-in-law are (even more bizarrely) engaged in high-level diplomacy and policymaking.

It leads me to this tangentially related thought:

You know what absolutely floors me? The fact that there’s a market for Ivanka Trump clothing, or whatever it is she sells. (Yep. Just checked. It’s clothing.)

What would motivate people to dig into their pockets and buy such things — and not other items that clothe one’s nakedness just as effectively? It’s a complete mystery to me. And yet they do. I heard on the radio this morning that her sales are up 166 percent since last year.

And I’m not really talking about Ivanka Trump in particular. What makes people want to buy, I don’t know, things branded with the names of Martha Stewart or whomever? What does the buyer think he (or, I suppose in these instances, more likely she) is getting by paying for that brand? What void is being filled by obtaining these products? How is one’s life made better?

Come on, it's Steve McQueen -- that's a special category.

Come on, it’s Steve McQueen!

I’ve tried to think of when I’ve bought or yearned for things for similar reasons, and I guess I have to go back to my childhood. I thought a toy sawed-off rifle like the one carried by Steve McQueen in “Wanted: Dead or Alive” was amazingly awesome, but come on — that was Steve McQueen. Anything associated with the King of Cool — such as the poster of him on a motorcycle from “The Great Escape” that adorned the wall of my room in my high school days — should be in a separate category.

In junior high, my friends and I were briefly interested in cheap plastic “spy” gadgets that bore the 007 logo were pretty great.

Also, I was attracted in part to my first set (half-set, actually) of golf clubs (also in high school) by the fact that they were Arnold Palmer brand. I liked Arnie. I wanted to play like Arnie (he always went straight at ’em).

But since then, I can’t think of anything along those lines. Which means that to the extent that I understand the impulse to buy celebrity brands, I regard it as a mark of the immature mind.

And perhaps it’s very young people who are buying the Ivanka stuff. But I have a feeling that that’s not entirely the case.

Taking it from the general to the specific, of course, I suppose the appeal of her stuff in particular is related to whatever the Trump appeal is, which also remains unfathomable to me. I suppose there’s a certain desperate, sad sort who sees the Trumps as glamorous rather than tacky.

But my question is broader than that…

In the '60s, the head of an Arnold Palmer driver was considered fairly large, which seems ridiculous now...

In the ’60s, the head of an Arnold Palmer driver was considered fairly large, which seems ridiculous now…

O’Reilly sounds slimy. I’m glad he’s gone. But he’s not POTUS…

Yes, slimey TV personalities who abuse women SHOULD get canned...

Yes, slimey TV personalities who abuse women SHOULD get canned…

The world we live in gets stranger every day. For the last two days, I’ve been traveling and a bit out of the loop. So I sit at my laptop to catch up on the news before ending my day, and I see that the lead story on most of the news sites I follow is about a TV personality losing his job.

This is probably one of these things like NCAA tournament games coming to Columbia two years from now — people who follow 24/7 cable TV “news” are likely to see it as a far bigger deal than I do.

From what I’ve read, it seems to me no wonder that he’s being shown the door. But maybe people didn’t think it would happen. Or didn’t think it would happen at Fox (despite what happened to Roger Ailes). Or something. I don’t know. I’m a bit color-blind in the TV “news” celebrity range.

To the extent I have an opinion about it, I say way to go, Fox. If the allegations are true, sounds like he’s a major slimeball. But I have to say I’m more concerned about the fact that we have a president who has boasted of similar behavior.

And other stuff.

Check out this Jennifer Rubin column, appropriately headlined “Trump’s ethical squalor is worse than you thought.”

From his abuse of his access to secret intelligence to smear the former administration to the unbelievably tawdry, petty, tacky personal financial dealings of the Donald and his kin, we are seeing behavior we have never, ever seen on the part of anyone with so much power over our country and the world. As the conservative columnist writes:

President Trump’s ethical sloth and financial conflicts of interest are unique in American history. (The Harding and Grant administrations were rife with corruption, but the presidents did not personally profit. Richard Nixon abused power but did not use his office to fatten his coffers or receive help from a hostile foreign power to get elected.) But it keeps getting worse….

You would think, reading of his doings and the business dealings of daughter Ivanka, that these were dirt-poor people who had for the first time in their lives set eyes on a chance to pick up a dollar, and were so desperate to seize the opportunity while it lasts that they would never pause for a second to consider the ethical considerations. What do I mean? Cheesy stuff like this, which Ms. Rubin cites from The Associated Press:

On April 6, Ivanka Trump’s company won provisional approval from the Chinese government for three new trademarks, giving it monopoly rights to sell Ivanka brand jewelry, bags and spa services in the world’s second-largest economy. That night, the first daughter and her husband, Jared Kushner, sat next to the president of China and his wife for a steak and Dover sole dinner at Mar-a-Lago, her father’s Florida resort….

And yes, this is part of a pattern:

This is hardly an isolated event for Ivanka Trump. Recall that as she was working on a clothing deal with a Japanese apparel giant — whose parent company’s largest shareholder is wholly owned by the Japanese government — she was sitting in a transition meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Even aside from this, Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, observes: “This raises serious questions that we should not have to be asking. The White House is not a side gig.”…

Yeah, I know — this stuff (and Trump’s ongoing refusal to disclose his tax returns or truly wall himself off from his businesses) is going on every day, and doesn’t seem as fresh as the nasty doings of some guy on TV.

But, as I keep saying, we can’t allow ourselves for a moment to regard any of this as normal…

Now even the Easter Bunny is normalizing Trump

The night infiltration course. See the earthen berm in the background? See that line of little bumps right below? Those are the soldiers, staying as low as possible under the MG fire. What I saw looked way sharper than this; it was hard to line up my camera lens with the night-vision device.

The night infiltration course. See the earthen berm in the background? See that line of little bumps right below? Those are the soldiers, staying as low as possible under the MG fire. What I saw looked way sharper than this; it was hard to line up my camera lens with the night-vision device.

Last Tuesday night, Bryan Caskey and I were observers at Fort Jackson when some recruits went through the night infiltration course.

It was fascinating, and we both appreciated the opportunity. Basically, here’s what happened: We were bused out to the course right after dark. The course consisted of 100 yards or so of soft sand. At one end is a trench and a tall earthen berm. At the other are two towers, with machine guns mounted atop them. At the appointed time, soldiers slithered up out of the trench and made their way on their bellies and elbows through the sand toward the towers. The machine guns fired over their heads, with tracers so we could track the rounds. We civilians (several dozen of us) stood 15 or 20 yards behind the towers with foam plugs in our ears and — here’s the cool part — watched through night vision goggles.

Earlier, before we boarded the buses, we received a briefing from Maj. Gen. “Pete” Johnson. He gave a great, highly informative talk that even civilians could understand. But after he was finished, Bryan turned to me and sought my reaction to one tiny, relatively insignificant part of the speech. He asked me whether it seemed weird to me to hear a serving United States Army general officer, in uniform, make a passing reference to “President Trump.”

Yes, I said, it did. The general, of course, has no more say in the matter than I do. But it is disturbing to reflect that we have this wonderful, professional army, with fine officers and brave recruits ready to sacrifice for their country, and the supreme commander who gets to tell them all what to do is You Know Who. There’s no way that gets to feeling normal. One hopes.

But over the weekend I experienced a bigger shock. It was one thing to see Henry McMaster, and other Republicans who should know better, stand next to Trump back during the campaign.

But to see the Easter Bunny himself, a revered mythical figure, standing next to the Trumps at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll — that just takes the weirdness to a whole other level.

That just makes it all a little too real…

That's the Bunny on the right -- the one with the shocked expression.

That’s the Bunny on the right — the one with the shocked expression.

Trump launches direct attack on Syria

OK, so… as someone said on Twitter a few moments ago, Donald Trump has enforced Barack Obama’s “red line” in Syria.

What do I think about that?

Well, it’s complicated.

As a response, this is both measured and forceful. This is out of the Bill Clinton playbook, not George W. Bush’s: Fire some cruise missiles at them, and call the job done. The fact that it was, we are told, the base from which the gas attack was launched smacks of justice. The fact that we have now directly attacked the forces of Russia’s client is a serious cause for concern.

Of course, the fact that this is Donald Trump, a man who until yesterday had Steve Bannon of Breitbart in the most sensitive of national security inner circles, is very, very worrying.

By Trump standards, his statement tonight was measured, said the right things. The word choices were as usual inelegant (and therefore authentic), but the messages he was trying to communicate were the right ones. Will that be the case tomorrow, and the next day?

There’s the rub.

What will he do when the Russians do whatever they do? Talk about a scary complication to a relationship that we already had a lot of cause to worry about, in ways that were entirely different from this. Nothing is normal here. Who can predict what will happen?

I think, I think, I would be OK with this response to Assad’s war crimes, if any previous president had taken this action. I’d be worried, but I wouldn’t be as uneasy as I am now. Especially if I knew his national security team had thoroughly thought it out and was behind the action.

But now…

It’s like…

Any of y’all familiar with “Band of Brothers,” by which I mean the TV series based on the book based on real life? Are you familiar enough to know that the seventh episode, titled “The Breaking Point,” was the best in the series?

Well, I’ve been thinking about that part of the story today. And my thoughts have run this way: There was nobody in Easy Company — at least no one among the original Toccoa men — who wasn’t ready to do his duty and take the village of Foy, as the 101st struck back in the last days of the Bulge.

There was just one thing that made them hesitant: The idea of rushing across that open field toward the town under the leadership of the feckless Lieutenant Norman Dike.

Anyway, I think I’d be ready to follow just about any previous president across this open field of uncertainty.

But I’m really, really worried about Lt. Dike.

Yeah, I realize this isn’t very accessible to non-fans of the series. It’s just the best analogy I could think of to try to explain my reaction. I’m going to go to bed now, and see if I’m any wiser in the morning…

But would you follow if it was Lt. Dike leading?

But would you follow if it was Lt. Dike leading?

It’s official, and here’s the portrait to prove it

Going by that window in the background, this looks like it was actually taken at the White House, so I guess she dropped by for a visit:

Apparently, this photo is generating a lot of buzz on social media. I’m not interested in that. What the photo says to me is, See? It’s official. This is the first lady. And you know what that means, in terms of who the president actually is…

So, you know, it’s time to start hyperventilating, if by some weird circumstance you have failed to do so yet…

Trump vs. ‘Freedom Caucus:’ Whom do you root for?

This had me shaking my head this morning:

President Trump effectively declared war Thursday on the House Freedom Caucus, the powerful group of hard-line conservative Republicans who blocked the health-care bill, vowing to “fight them” in the 2018 midterm elections.

In a morning tweet, Trump warned that the Freedom Caucus would “hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast.” He grouped its members, all of them Republican, with Democrats in calling for their political defeat — an extraordinary incitement of intraparty combat from a sitting president…

I just don’t feel like I’ve got a dog in that fight; do you? All I could think of to say was this:

Is this what American political discourse has become? A to-the-death battle between irrational fringe elements, with neither side having a clue how to run a government — or even any interest in doing so?

Look at what, thanks to gerrymandering, Republican primaries have become:

The ad battles are heating up in the 5th District special election, including one spot that calls out GOP lawmakers for “folding” on the Confederate flag.

Republican Sheri Few of Lugoff launched her first radio ad in the congressional race this week, attacking “weak Republicans” who voted to remove the Confederate flag at the S.C. State House in 2015 in the wake of the Charleston church massacre.

“I’m running for Congress to reject political correctness,” Few says in the ad, a 60-second spot airing in the Columbia market….

And for you aliens who are visiting our planet and trying to understand how our politics work, here’s the exlanation:

Few is competing for right-wing Republican voters in the May 2 primary, which is expected to have a low turnout…

Yep.

Any of y’all ever have an extended conversation with Sheri Few? It’s… an experience.

I suppose I should note that she’s running for a seat vacated by a member of the “Freedom Caucus…”

Sheri Few/2008 file photo

Sheri Few/2008 file photo

One thing should be deader than Trumpcare — the idea that you can (or should try to) run government like a business

By Michael Vadon via Flickr

By Michael Vadon via Flickr

Maybe Trumpcare — or Ryancare or, more accurately, Don’tcare — is dead. But I know of one thing that should be even deader: The absurd notion, which too many people cling to as an article of faith, that government can and should be “run like a business.”

And even deader than that (if, you know, you can be deader than something that’s deader than dead) should be the laughable idea that the best person to run a government is a businessman with zero experience in government — especially if that businessman is Donald J. Trump.

Remember all the silliness about how Trump was going to be so awesome because he’s such a great deal-maker (just ask him; he’ll tell you — over and over)?

Well, so much for that. The one deal he had to close to meet minimum expectations of the base — repeal that “awful” Obamacare — was so far beyond his abilities, it would be hard to find a better case study of how the skills involved in accumulating a bunch of money in real estate have nothing to do with the skills involved in corralling votes in Congress.

And yet… in spite of all the above… we read this this morning:

Trump taps Kushner to lead a SWAT team to fix government with business ideas

President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises — such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction — by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.

The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements….

Wow! He’s still spouting that stuff! You’d think that, after it was all proved to be nonsense on Friday, he’d give it a little time before repeating it!

But when you live in a fact-free universe, I guess this is how it goes…

‘Repeal Obamacare! Repeal Obamacare! Repeal Obamacare! Repeal Obamacare! Repea… oh, never mind…’

pulled it

One thing was for sure — fer danged sure — once Republicans were in charge, Obamacare was going to be toast, immediately if not sooner.

That’s before the GOP became the dog that caught the car.

So now it’s… um, never mind…

GOP health-care bill: House Republican leaders abruptly pull their rewrite of the nation’s health-care law

House Republican leaders abruptly pulled a rewrite of the nation’s health-care system from consideration on Friday, a dramatic acknowledgment that they are so far unable to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“We just pulled it,” President Trump told The Washington Post in a telephone interview.

In a news conference shortly after the decision, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) conceded that his party “came up short.”

The decision came a day after Trump delivered an ultimatum to lawmakers — and represented multiple failures for the new president and Ryan.

“I don’t blame Paul,” Trump said, referring to Ryan….

I especially liked this quote from Ryan: “Doing big things is hard.”

Awww… It’s just not like when the frat boys planned slashing Medicaid around the keg, is it? (I know he’s way younger than I am, but it’s like this guy went to college in a whole other universe…)

Defining the Presidency Down (what would Moynihan say?)

Yes, I realize this is likely to feel like déjà vu — this is about much the same point as this post yesterday.

But I was conversing via email with someone about that, and he shared this, so I’m going to share it with you.

Why return to the same topic? Because it’s an important one, making points that I think a lot of folks still haven’t absorbed.

Ever since Election Day — or maybe even since Trump captured the nomination — I’ve had this conversation over and over with some of you, and with others… Someone will say, “What are you so upset about? Why don’t you wait until Trump does something truly horrible, and react to that?” Which I answer with what seems to me excruciatingly obvious: He’s doing it already, every single day — with every crude lie he Tweets, with every embarrassing moment with a foreign leader, practically with every breath he takes. By being our president, he’s taking the greatest country on Earth and making it smaller, cruder, stupider, tackier — demeaning the treasure that our forebears bequeathed us.

It’s not something I can kick back and regard as normal. In fact, that would be inexcusable.

Anyway, like the one I cited yesterday, this piece captures that pretty well:

is probably too much to expect President Donald Trump to have read “Defining Deviancy Down,” the 1993 essay by the late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Much noted at the time, and remarkably prescient, Moynihan’s essay warned that Americans were seeing a decay in social behavior (for example, the rise in gun violence), and were becoming inured to it. To accept such deviant behavior as normal—to “normalize” it, to use a word lately in fashion—was bound to render America a less civilized society, Moynihan wrote.

Moynihan

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

He was, of course, correct: In the quarter century since, we have accustomed ourselves to the ongoing coarsening of our society, from small things like the vitriol of Americans writing on social media and in the comments sections of news articles, to big things like our increasingly ugly political debates.

Early on in the presidential primary season, Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart cited Moynihan in declaring that candidate Trump’s embrace of “nativist, racist, misogynistic slop” was defining deviancy down in the presidential campaign—mainstreaming coarse rhetoric and prejudicial views. Today, with President Trump continuing to exhibit deeply unpresidential behavior in the White House, he isn’t just defining deviancy down for political campaigns; whether intentionally or not, he is defining the presidency itself down.

Moynihan would have turned 90 this month. Decades ago, I had the honor of serving as one of his top aides. He was in many ways Trump’s polar opposite—a self-made statesman, sociologist, political scientist and lifelong student of history, someone who had seemingly read every book in the Library of Congress. The man had a core set of principles. He insisted on factual accuracy, believed that “governing requires knowledge,” and, famously, often said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.” He required his staff to double- and triple-check factual assertions, and was known to include footnoted citations in his speeches and sometimes even his letters….

I like that this one cites Moynihan. I always liked that guy. Not that I ever met him or anything.

In fact, I only saw him once in person. (Warning! Brad’s about to reminisce again!) It was that time in 1998 that I mentioned recently, when I went to Washington to check on Strom Thurmond and see if he was still functioning, and also visited Mike McCurry at the White House. Anyway, as long as I was there, McCurry arranged for me to attend a ceremony in the East Room marking the 50th anniversary of NATO.

That afforded me an extra opportunity to observe Strom, as it happened. After everyone else was seated, President Clinton walked in with Strom beside him holding onto his arm. Bill walked the nation’s senior senator to his front-row seat and got him situated before heading up to the podium to speak. (We Southern boys are brought up to act that way with our elders, and I thought better of Bill for it.)

Anyway, after the event was over and most of the media folks were headed back to the West Wing, I stepped out of the door that opens into the covered portico on the northern side of the House. I stood at the top of the steps for a moment deciding whether to continue to the press room or go back in and chat with folks, and watched as cars picked up the dignitaries, there at my feet.

I nodded to Strom as he came out, and watched him negotiate the steps pretty well. But there was a guy in front of him having all sorts of trouble hobbling down to his car.

It was Moynihan. He was only 69. Strom was 95 at the time.

It’s a shame Moynihan didn’t take better care of himself. If he had lived to be 100 like Strom, he’d still have 10 years to go now, and we’d have the benefit of his perspective as the nation so dramatically defines its self-respect downward…

ICYMI: This cracked me up over the weekend

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You’ve probably already seen this gag — other people I showed it to this morning had — but for those who missed it, here’s a funny for you.

And no, it’s not supposed to be serious commentary or anything; it’s just a funny picture that was suggested by Trump’s body language in the photo, combined with Angela Merkel’s expression, which looks like a teacher addressing a wayward pupil. So lighten up, Francis.

I don’t know who did it. It was brought to my attention by this Tweet, from someone who didn’t know who had originated it, either…

 

About this insanity of cutting State Dept. by almost 30 percent

Can’t let the day go buy without a post about Trump’s (and Mulvaney’s) insane proposal to cut the State Department by almost 30 percent:

The State Department faces cuts of nearly 29 percent, with $10 billion shaved off its core program funding under proposals to eliminate climate-change initiatives and to slash foreign aid, contributions to the United Nations and cultural exchanges.main-qimg-1e106bd58fc14b936332fa029ea62318

The basic budget for the State Department and USAID, which houses many U.S. development and economic aid programs around the world, will shrink from $36.7 billion to $25.6 billion. The Trump budget also calls for $1.5 billion for Treasury International Programs, a 35 percent reduction from the previous year, a figure the White House included in its discussion of State’s budget. The administration also proposes $12 billion for operations in war-torn areas such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, down from more than $20 billion this year. Overall, the budget would shrink from $52.8 billion to $37.6 billion.

The proposal reflects a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy to an “America First” focus on whether programs meet specific U.S. interests. Many of the spending cuts are in programs whose missions are deemed poorly managed or insufficient in advancing U.S. foreign policy goals….

I’ll also share this from U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s President and CEO Liz Schrayer:

“America First starts with protecting our national security and as our military leaders are the first to say: hard power alone will not keep America safe. The danger of cutting one-third of our civilian forces at a time of such extreme global threats, famines of historic proportions, and a refugee crisis not seen since World War II is unimaginable.

This debate between hard and soft power is a relic of the Cold War that ended after 9/11. Congress must recognize that we face complex 21st century threats from the rise of ISIS to the pandemics that can show up on our shores. Reject these dangerous cuts to diplomacy and development and invest in smart power – military and civilian tools alike. The stakes are just too high for America to retreat.”

Note the statements from religious, business, NGO and military leaders linked from that page.

Incidentally, the USGLC is the outfit that SC GOP Chair Matt Moore is leaving to go work for.

Here’s a statement on this stuff from Lindsey Graham:

“Historically, presidential budgets do not fare well with Congress.

“I appreciate that this budget increases defense spending, yet these increases in defense come at the expense of national security, soft power, and other priorities.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and President Trump to create a budget that is fiscally responsible, makes our country safer, and preserves wise investments in our future.”

Graham isn’t alone. Overall, his budget is not faring well with Republicans in Congress:

Defense hawks, rural conservatives and even some of Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters in Congress sharply criticized the president’s first budget proposal on Thursday, pushing back on the huge potential hike in defense spending as insufficient and decrying some other cuts to federal agencies and programs.

Capitol Hill Republicans, however, did not seem terribly worried about the prospect of such a budget being enacted, stating matter-of-factly that it is Congress, after all, that controls the purse strings.

“Presidents propose, Congress disposes,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) the former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “We’ve not had our chance yet.”

Rogers was one of several GOP lawmakers to dismiss Trump’s budget as a pie-in-the sky wishlist with little hope of surviving negotiations in Congress. Most Republicans gave passing support to Trump’s general goal of increasing defense spending while reducing costs elsewhere in the budget. But none would embrace the specific White House blueprint….

You notice something? All these people who know something about governing are on one side, and the new “outsider” president is on the other. You know why? Because he and his loyal retainers, who wouldn’t know a fact if it bit them on the… ankle…,  don’t have a clue.

Hawaii judge on why travel order is a Muslim Ban

Here’s a nice excerpt from the “sometime scathing” (according to The Guardian) order by federal district judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu striking down Donald Trump’s second attempt to bar travel from certain Muslim countries.

Basically, he’s calling “bull” on the alleged motives for the ban:

The Government appropriately cautions that, in determining purpose, courts should not look into the ‘veiled psyche’ and ‘secret motives’ of government decision-makers and may not undertake a ‘judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts’.

Judge Derrick Kahala Watson

Judge Derrick Kahala Watson

The Government need not fear. The remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry.

For instance, there is nothing ‘veiled’ about this press release: ‘Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.’

Nor is there anything ‘secret’ about the Executive’s motive specific to the issuance of the Executive Order:

Rudolph Giuliani explained on television how the Executive Order came to be. He said: “When [Mr. Trump] first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’”

I ask you, was Odoacer a real Roman? (Answer: No, and Trump’s not a real Republican)

Romulus Augustus resigns the Crown (from a 19th-century illustration).

Romulus Augustus resigns the Crown (from a 19th-century illustration).

Let’s elevate this discussion to the level of a separate post.

I regularly refer to “real Republicans,” a group to which Donald J. Trump — ideologically and otherwise — does not belong. This is an important distinction. To say he’s just another Republican — as plenty of Democrats and Republicans both would have it — is to normalize him.

A lot of Democrats insist that the thing that’s wrong with Trump is that he’s a Republican, end of story. This works for them because they demonize all Republicans, and it doesn’t matter how bad Trump is, he’s just another. Which means, they completely and utterly miss the unique threat that he poses to our system of government. They also miss the fact that unless Republican eventually rise up against him — something they’re unlikely to do soon, and even less likely if Democrats are calling him one of them, triggering the usual partisan defensive response — we’ll never be rid of him.

A lot of Republicans, including all the ones who know (or once knew) better, have dutifully lined up behind him, starting when he seized their presidential nomination. They’re now in they’re usual “R is always good” mode, any misgivings they may have had a year ago forgotten.

As usual, the two parties work together to support and reinforce each others’ partisan stances. The more Democrats push the line that Trump’s just another Republican, the more Republicans will embrace him and defend him. The more Republicans close ranks around him, the more certain Democrats are in seeing him as just another Republican.

And the more the rest of us see them falling into that pattern, the more disgusted we are with the mindlessness of parties. (Some of us, anyway. Many independents — the inattentive sorts whom both parties despise — are highly suggestible, and may lazily fall in with the usual binary formula that there are only two kinds of people in politics.)

In recent hours (and for some time before that), both Bud and Bill have been pushing the idea that my notions of what constitutes a “real Republican” are outdated and therefore wrong. Today, they say, Trump is a real Republican, and so is Tea Partier Mick Mulvaney.

Fellas, you seem to think I’m blind, but I’m not. I’ve watched as successive waves of barbarians (in the definition of the day) have washed over the GOP. I missed Goldwater because I was out of the country at the time, but no matter; he was a temporary phenomenon. Four years later Nixon had recaptured the party for the mainstream. But I remember when the Reaganites came in and took over for almost a generation, and the Bushes and the Doles got on board. Then, starting early in this century, things got crazy. There were so many bands of barbarians at the gate that it was hard to keep them straight. There was Mark Sanford and his Club for Growth hyperlibertarians, then the Tea Party with its snake flags, and Sarah Palin with whatever that was (probably just a subset of the Tea Party), and then Trump’s angry nativists.

And yes, the people I call “real Republicans” have been embattled, often seeming to fight a rear-guard action. And yes again, with all these elements pushing and pulling at the party, it has changed to where a Prescott Bush or a Robert A. Taft would not recognize it.

But let me pose a question to you: Was Odoacer a real Roman? After all, he inherited control of Italy after he seized it from the last emperor, Romulus Augustus, in 476.

Odovacar_Ravenna_477No, he was not. Not only was he a barbarian (apparently — note the mustache on his coin), but the Western Roman Empire is seen as having ended the moment he took over. He ruled as King of Italy, rather than emperor of anything.

Similarly, if Trump and his core followers are the Republican Party now, then it’s time to call it something else, rather than confusing it with the party of John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Lamar Alexander, Mitch McConnell, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, Richard Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower, Robert A. Taft, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

And perhaps that’s where we are. But let’s be clear: With Donald Trump — as much a barbarian as any political figure this nation has produced — in the White House, the nation faces a crisis that should not for a moment be diminished by portraying it as just more of the same games between Republicans and Democrats.

That will get us nowhere.

A place to comment on Trump’s Muslim Ban 2.0

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And yeah, that’s what it is. Clear away the nonsense and that’s what you’re left with. He said when he ran for president that that’s what he’d do, and this is his second attempt to get away with doing it.

All the whys and wherefores and details and adjustments are kind of irrelevant to me. What I see is that the entire effort — which he has made the top priority of his first days in office — is completely unnecessary. It’s an overwrought, complicated solution to a problem that does not exist. It is absurd every bit as much as it is offensive and unAmerican.

The administration keeps mouthing the ridiculous justification that this is needed to “keep America safe.” I won’t go into that except to note that Charles Krauthammer — who takes a backseat to no one in advocating for national security — dealt with that with the contempt that it deserved a month ago: “Not a single American has ever been killed in a terror attack in this country by a citizen from the notorious seven.” Which is now six, Trump having discovered that Iraq is an ally.

So, you say what you have to say about it. I’m done for the moment…

If GOP candidates are talking this way, it’s going to be a long time before things start getting better

connelly

I see that Rep. Jeff Duncan has given Chad Connelly a boost — at least, I assume it constitutes a boost — in his efforts to differentiate himself from the crowd seeking the GOP nomination for Mick Mulvaney’s seat.

But that endorsement isn’t what interests me. What interests me is this language that Duncan used in making the endorsement:

Duncan believes Connelly, a former chairman of the state GOP, would work with him and President Donald Trump to “drain the swamp, secure our borders, and limit government.”

There’s nothing terribly surprising that one Tea Party Class Republican would use those terms in speaking of another of his party.

I just think it’s worth noting that this is where we are now. Which means we’re a long, long way from the Trump nightmare being over.

It won’t be over, of course, until he is gone from office, and gone in a way that even his supporters are glad to see him go.

That won’t happen as long as Republicans are invoking his name and using his talking points to praise each other. (At least, the first two are Trumpisms. The third point, “limit government,” is just one of those things some Republicans say the way other people clear their throats.)

They won’t go immediately from this point to denouncing him, mind you. If and when things start to get better, the first sign will be simply tactfully neglecting to mention him. That will be promising. Then they will mildly demur. Then they will hesitantly denounce, and so forth.

The White House currently is a raging cauldron, a place that emits chaos the way a volcano emits lave. At any time, it is likely to generate the Tweet or other eruption that will be the beginning of the end.

But obviously, it’s going to be a long journey…

Congressman Jeff Duncan Endorses Chad Connelly from UTPL on Vimeo.