Saturday, June 16, 2018

Spoiler Alert: The GOP Was Already A Cult BEFORE Trump Took Over

You've been hearing the word "cult" a lot lately. Pundits have been throwing it around like it's the flavor of the month at Baskin-Robbins. The latest example came courtesy of last Tuesday's South Carolina Republican primary, in which Mark Sanford got his lunch handed it to him after Donald Trump attacked him on Twitter. Sanford's crime? He had the temerity of being critical of the current occupant of the Oval Office, and in today's GOP that's a virtual death sentence.

In fact, if you look at the political landscape, the vast majority of Republicans are either fully supportive of Trump or they've decided to "retire." The former have sold their souls to preserve what's left of their tattered careers, while the latter have suddenly found the "courage" to speak out. Of course, it would've been far more courageous to stay and fight, but I'll get to that later on.

You see, here's the thing. As tempting as it might be to say that the Republican Party has become a cult and that Trump is to blame, I'm just not buying it. Oh, there's no doubt that he's employing every bullying tactic he utilized in his business life. Ask anyone who's ever crossed Trump and they'll tell you he never forgets or forgives a slight. Once you get on his shit list, there's no getting off it. He'll destroy you. That's why he loves men like Kim and Putin. They know how to deal with their opponents; though in Trump's case, there's this little thing called a system of justice that prevents him from actually burying his. But give the man time; I'm sure he'll try to come up with a fix for that road block too.

Sadly, the Republican Party has been a cult for quite some time. Remember, this was the party that gave us Ted Cruz and Louie Gohmert. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. To trace the origins of the current GOP we have to go all the way back to early 2009. That was the first year of the Obama Administration and it was also the year the Tea Party was born. It is no coincidence that they became a political force to be reckoned with right about the time the nation was swearing in its first black man as president.

The rhetoric heard at Tea Party rallies back then was no less offensive than what we heard at Trump's rallies throughout the 2016 campaign. We all recoiled at Trump calling Mexicans rapists, but how quickly we forget that it was Steve King of Iowa who back in 2013 referred to them as drug smugglers with calves the size of cantaloupes. A party that tolerates the former invites the latter.

After the 2010 midterms, which saw Republicans take over the House, the Tea Party moved swiftly to consolidate their grip over the GOP. One by one, the RINOs, as they became known, were challenged and defeated in primary after primary. Dick Lugar, who had been a part of Indiana politics since 1967 and had served as one of its senators since 1977, was upended by Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdoch in 2012, who then went onto lose to Democrat Joe Donnelly in the general. Lugar's crime was that he would occasionally reach across the aisle and seek bi-partisan compromises. The Tea Party was having none of that. Anyone caught "compromising" had to be purged from the ranks.

Prominent Republicans ike Olympia Snowe of Maine decided to retire rather than be a party to such nonsense. How ludicrous was this purge? It even claimed none other than Eric Cantor. Cantor, you'll recall, was the majority leader who screwed Speaker John Boehner to prevent him from signing the "Grand Bargain" with Obama. Apparently, Benedict Arnold wasn't conservative enough for the wing nuts on the right.

One by one, the "moderates" of the party were replaced by zealots who's loyalty was to a warped interpretation of a Constitution most of them had never read. Compromise was a four-letter word. Twice they almost defaulted on the nation's debt. Thanks to the aforementioned Cruz, they actually forced a shutdown of the government. Who can forget Ted's riveting rendition of Green Eggs and Ham on the floor of the Senate? It's a moment I'll cherish as long as I live.

All kidding aside, the GOP's insipid fall was shocking to behold. A full year before Trump even announced his run for the presidency, House Republicans had voted for the 48th time to repeal a healthcare law they had no replacement for, knowing full well that such a repeal would never see the light of day. If that isn't the definition of insanity, I don't know what is.

But it wasn't just the incessant pandering to its base that was the problem, it was the constant belittling and demeaning of government institutions that for generations had served the nation well. It was Ronald Reagan who famously coined the phrase "Government IS the problem." And he rode that theme all the way to the White House in 1980. Yet even Reagan was careful enough not to cross the line from critic to executioner. He knew he needed those very same government institutions to function properly if he was going to pass his agenda.

The Tea Party had no such qualms. To them, those institutions had become the enemy. They weren't interested in reforming government; they wanted to dismantle it, or "drown it in a bathtub," as Grover Norquist put it so "eloquently." From privatizing Social Security and Medicare to disenfranchising millions of African American voters to gerrymandering districts in swing states, the GOP had one goal in mind: to grab hold of the levers of government in such a way that no one or nothing could stand in their way.

And they were brilliant in their execution. In less than eight years they went from being on the verge of becoming a modern-day Whig Party to controlling both houses of Congress, the White House and almost two-thirds of the state legislatures and state houses. Not even Houdini was that good.

But now the party that bedded down with the devil is discovering what every first-year seminary student knows all too well: there's no bargaining with Satan. Once he has your soul, the game is over. The result is that a political party that was once home to liberal stalwarts like Jacob Javitz is now nothing more than a front for the most extremist, nativist elements in the country. It was no accident that they found a home in the GOP; and it was no accident that Trump, once he decided to toss his hat into the ring, picked the Republican Party as the vehicle for his populist "America first" message.

The Brexit vote in Britain foretold what would eventually happen here. Except nobody paid any attention; or if they did, they dismissed it as a one-off. Certainly Americans could never fall for such nonsense, we conned ourselves into believing. Turns out they not only fell for it, they jumped in with both feet. If you look at the breakdown of the vote totals in Britain they practically mirror those of the United States. The urban areas with more diverse populations supported a progressive agenda, while the more rural areas with predominantly white populations rejected that agenda.

Fear drives the Republican Party these days as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Trump has completed the job the Tea Party started in '09. Yes, he's considerably more dangerous than the likes of a Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin, because unlike those dim bulbs, Trump actually knows a thing or two about marketing. He can manipulate with the best of them and he has cashed in on the opening afforded him by a political establishment too corrupt to care and too lazy to stop him.

Yes, there are a few brave souls still left in the GOP, and for the time being they can make some noise. The problem is that they won't be around much longer. Both Bob Corker and Jeff Flake's decision to not run for reelection, along with a dozen or more congressmen, means that Trump's coup will be complete in 2019. Had these people chosen to stay and fight they could've made a difference. Perhaps they would've been defeated in a primary; or perhaps they could've run as independents and paved the way for a Democratic wave that would've stopped Trump dead in his tracks. But the sad fact is they not only didn't stay and fight, they voted for Trump's agenda almost every time. Far from being courageous, they simply had enough political instincts to know it was time to call it a night.

And lastly, we come to the conservative pundits: the never Trumpers of the press corps, like Jennifer Rubin, David Frum, Bret Stephens, George Will, et al. It's been somewhat refreshing to read these people's various op-ed columns in the New York Times, Washington Post and Atlantic. And I can't imagine what it must be like seeing the party that you once looked up to being systematically destroyed from within like this. Will thinks they're more afraid than they are part of a cult. He may have a point, or he may simply be guilty of wishful thinking.

But whether Republicans are afraid or simply witting participants, the reality is this: not one of these never Trumpers took a stand against the GOP's outlandish conduct before il Duce became president. I remember reading Rubin's pieces during the Obama years and I invite you to go back and read them for yourself. She could've been a stand in on Mark Levin's radio program. The same goes for Will, who back in 2014 wrote an op-ed piece in which he challenged rape statistics and claimed that the reports of sexual assault on college campuses made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges." Yes, he wrote that and, yes, he's still employed at that same newspaper.

I'll give the benefit of the doubt to Frum, who at least had the courage to go after Rush Limbaugh and the far-right extremists who were gradually taking over the party. He also challenged the GOP's strategy over Obamacare, calling it a debacle. For his efforts, Frum was fired from the American Enterprise Institute. Hey Republicans, this is what battle scars look like.

If there is any hope at all it is that a good percentage of the candidates who are running on the Trump agenda, and with his full blessing mind you, are no better than the nincompoops who ran and lost in elections past. In fact, they're considerably worse. No matter what you may think of Todd Akin or Sharon Engle, they are nowhere near as deplorable as Corey Stewart. That's the problem with cults: the longer they're around, the sicker they become.

Yes, the GOP is a cult, and, yes, it is also the party of Trump. There's no denying that. But he wasn't the one who turned it into a cult. Like those hideous buildings that bear his name, all he did was buy the branding rights. And as with everything Trump, it's all about branding.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Trump Gets Owned By Kim, Again

Look, I'm all for anything that prevents World War III from happening. Nothing keeps me up nights like the sinking feeling the human race might one day be blown out of existence with the flick of a switch. And unlike many of my fellow progressives, I was hoping Monty Hall might strike some kind of substantive deal with Kim Jong Un. But based on what actually transpired, the whole meeting was a colossal waste of time.

In fact it was worse than a waste of time. Not only didn't Trump get any concessions from the North Korean dictator, he agreed to end joint military exercises with South Korea next year without so much as an FYI to the South Koreans. He also pledged not to impose any additional sanctions on North Korea. Yes, the great deal maker, who bragged that he didn't need to prepare before his meeting, got his clocked cleaned. Again!

And to add insult to injury, Trump heaped nothing but praise on Kim throughout the entire visit, at one point calling him "very talented" and insisting that he loved his people. Just to be straight here, Kim's major talent appears to be making his opponents disappear. And as for the love he feels for his people, if terrorizing an entire population counts as love, then Kim is fucking Santa Claus. My God, it was humiliating watching President Shitzenstein practically dry-hump this tyrant with the entire world watching.

But if you thought Trump was Kim's bitch in Singapore, back home, the GOP went one step further. They practically fell over backwards complimenting Trump on his negotiating prowess. To hear some of them, you'd have thought it was FDR, Churchill and Stalin at Yalta all over again. These were the same people, mind you, who went apoplectic when Obama signed the Iran nuclear deal, which was a verifiable agreement that led to the elimination of 98 percent of that country's uranium stockpile.

Can you imagine what would've happened if Obama had agreed to a sit-down meeting with a dictator like Kim? And then, while at that meeting, he made concession after concession without getting anything in return, all while praising him? It would've been viewed as the biggest disaster to befall Washington since the Canadians burned down the White House in 1812. I mean, Sean Hannity would've had a stroke. Just look at the guy's neck. He's practically one Bayer aspirin away from keeling over in his chair as it is.

Jesus, do these people have any pride at all? I've heard of loyalty to your president, but this isn't loyalty; it's a sick form of idolatry. This is no longer the party of Lincoln. Hell, it's not even the party of Reagan. It is now the party of Trump. Anybody who doesn't worship at the alter of his highness is ostracized. Just look at what happened to Mark - Appalachian Trail - Sanford. He was critical of Trump and was subsequently defeated in a primary. Not even the Gipper at the height of his popularity wielded this kind of power.

If you weren't afraid before One Dum Fuc went to Singapore, you should be now. Not only does this prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that Trump sucks at negotiating - which as a salesman I've been saying for well over a year - it also confirms that no matter what he says or does he can count on blind allegiance from his own party.

Meaning if Trump decides to remove U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula tomorrow to appease his new BFF - sorry, Ivanka, you're out. That's what you get for undressing Justin Trudeau with your eyes - the lives of 30 million South Koreans won't be worth the price of a used Hyundai.

Sorry, I meant preowned Hyundai.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

America, You Elected A Toddler

As I have stated on several occasions, my wife and I are not parents. We've never had the pleasure of watching our child grow up to be a fine young man or woman. But we've also never had the misfortune of watching that same child throw a temper tantrum which necessitated a trip to his or her room for a well-deserved timeout.

Well, if you're like me and you've never experienced that for yourself, you're in luck. Because, this weekend, 330 million Americans had a front- row seat to watch a 71 year-old man do his best impersonation of a spoiled brat desperately in need of a timeout. Donald Trump ostensibly threw a temper tantrum while attending the G-7 summit in Canada.

My God, it's embarrassing enough when he behaves like this at home, but when he does it on a world stage in front of other heads of state, it's doubly embarrassing. It's not unlike the humiliation a parent experiences when their precious little tike acts up at a restaurant or shopping mall and everyone is staring. There just isn't a hole big enough to crawl into.

It's time to admit a painful truth, America: You elected a toddler. And not just any toddler, mind you, but the brat of all brats. I mean next to this president, Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka looks like Mary Magdalene. And, no, I'm not exaggerating.

Just once I'd like to see this man child behave like an adult; to have enough impulse control to get through a conference or summit without bringing shame onto his own country. First he shows up late, then he insults Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by calling him weak. If you think that was bad, only a few days earlier, Trump claimed that it was Canada, and not Britain, which was responsible for burning down the White House in 1812. My God, even a toddler would be better informed on American history.

And now he's off to Singapore to meet with Kim Jong Un, the brutal dictator of North Korea. Trump says he'll know in about one minute whether Kim is serious about a deal. One minute? He hasn't spent that much time preparing for the damn meeting. He says he'll use his gut instincts negotiating a deal with Kim. If those are the same instincts that led to his six bankruptcies, I expect we'll be a Defcon 1 by this time next week.

I just have one question to ask the people who voted for this man. What is it that you continue to see in him that leads you to believe he's a genius? It certainly can't be his business acumen. He has none. As for his temperament, six year olds have more manners. Face it, he's what Freud would refer to as a walking, talking Id. Not only is he ignorant of the most rudimentary facts, he shows an utter contempt for even learning about them. He's like that old joke that goes, "What's the difference between ignorance and apathy? I don't know and I don't care." Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Donald J. Trump, master of ignorance and apathy.

This would be hysterical if it weren't so deadly serious. Face it, we have a moron in the White House who thinks he's the second coming of Albert Einstein. And he has surrounded himself with people who not only enable his delusions of grandeur, but go to great lengths to stroke his already massive ego. Really, it's one thing to deny the emperor has no clothes; it's quite another to parade him around in front of his subjects wearing nothing but a crown and a dumb grin.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Suicide Isn't Painless

As I was pulling into the parking lot of my job Friday morning, I got a news alert on my phone. Given the political climate, I get quite a few of them. What could it be about? Trump's visit to the G7 summit? Another indictment from Robert Mueller?

When I looked down at the phone, I could scarcely believe what I was reading. Anthony Bourdain, host of CNN's Parts Unknown, had taken his own life. The news hit me right where I live, and not because I know Bourdain personally or that I was a huge fan of his show. Frankly, I think I've watched maybe five or six episodes over the five years it was on the air.

You see, I know a thing or two about depression and what it can do to a person. I suffer from seasonal depression and have in the past taken medication to combat it. I've also suffered personal losses in my life - two pets and several relatives including my father - over the last few years. It's hard enough having to deal with such tragedies on an even keel, but when you suffer from depression, it can feel like you're carrying around a ball and chain. The analogy that comes to mind is a hitter stepping up to the batter's box with the count already 0 and 1.

I don't know what it was that drove Bourdain to commit suicide, but I can tell you this, it was likely years in the making. No one just up and decides to depart this earth. In fact, the very notion of saying goodbye to life is such a violent concept that no reasonable person can conceive of it. Unless, however, you're the person hanging on by a thread. For that person, suicide isn't the problem; it's the solution. In fact, it's the final act of desperation that comes only after every other option has failed.

Once in my life I was at the point that Bourdain found himself in. In 1989, I was this close to cashing it in. At the last minute I reached out to God for help and moments later I suddenly found the will to live. Two years of sessions with a trained therapist helped me sort out the issues that were plaguing me. I got sober and began to put my life in order. Three years later I found the woman who would become my wife.

I was one of the lucky ones. Many aren't nearly as fortunate. For them, the exit ramp could be pills, a gun or, as was the case with Bourdain, the end of a rope. In recovery, we have a saying: There, but for the grace of God, go I. There was no grace from God in those final moments of Anthony Bourdain's life. We'll never know what demons drove him to suicide. All we have left is a series of clues that, sadly, didn't sound the alarm bells.

But then that's the problem, isn't it? We look for the overt signs, but there just aren't any. No one who suffers from depression is likely to announce it to the world. Even in today's day and age, the stigma is simply too great. So we hide it out of fear that we will be judged as crazy or nuts. Instead of confiding in a friend, a colleague or loved one, we hold it in, thinking we can tough it out; as if somehow it was a cut or a bruise. We con ourselves into thinking that eventually it will heal on its own.

Only it doesn't. Just the opposite, in fact. And the longer we deny the obvious, the stronger it gets and the weaker our defenses become. Then, finally, when the pain is too great to bare, we succumb to the unthinkable. I remember thinking that night, twenty-nine years ago, that I really didn't want to die, I just wanted the pain to go away. It was a cross I could no longer carry. Thankfully, for me, God took that cross away.

After the suicide of Robin Williams, I remember asking myself, why do some people make it while others don't? To tell you the truth, I don't know. But that is the question of the age. Of all the organs in the human body, the one we least understand is the brain. Our lives are complicated and messy. Relationships are tough to enter into and even tougher to maintain. But the toughest relationship of all is the one we have with ourselves. And that's the one where we get the least amount of counseling. I remember the greatest challenge my therapist had was getting me to believe I was worth being loved. Imagine having to convince someone of that. How far does a person have to fall to think he or she is unloveable?

Today the thought of being unlovable never enters my mind. I have been married for nearly 24 years and my wife and I love each other very much. More importantly, we express our love to one another. If there's something that is bothering one of us we tell the other immediately. A problem shared is a problem halved, goes the saying.

Easy words to say, but hard to practice. In The Wizard of Oz, the Wizard tells the Tin Man that a heart is not measured by how much you love but by how much you are loved by others. By all accounts Anthony Bourdain was a man who was loved and admired by many people, but somehow that love never penetrated the wall he had constructed around his soul. And in the end that wall killed him.

All of us know people like Anthony Bourdain who display certain personality traits that on the surface seem unusual, such as a curious detachment or perhaps an overly withdrawn personality. On occasion they may even have accidentally let something slip out that caught our attention, but we dismissed it out of concern we might be intruding or that it wasn't any of our business. I'm sure right now there a few people in Bourdain's life who wish they hadn't been so, shall we say, polite. I bet they'd give almost anything to turn back the clock and have a second bite at that apple.

It's too late for them but not for us. We can still make a difference for the next lost soul whose is dying on the inside. They don't have to be famous celebrities; they could be members of our family; or neighbors we've known for years; or friends we hang out with; or fellow employees sitting in the adjacent cubicle; or former students we went to high school or college with. They all have one thing in common: they need our courage, not our timidity.

Do not worry about being a pest; be a pest. You may feel you're imposing; impose anyway. You might get told off; get told off anyway. Do NOT confuse silence for mental stability. Not everyone has a sign stamped on their forehead. If someone does have the courage to tell you've they've had thoughts of suicide, take them at their word. That's as close to a cry for help as you will ever receive. Call the police or, better still, drive them to the hospital yourself. Remember, it's not your responsibility to change their minds; all you have to do is to keep them from harming themselves for another twenty-four hours. And twenty-four hours can mean the difference between life and death.

I learned a long time ago that people don't care how much you know till they know how much you care. Anthony Bourdain could've used some of that caring the day he took his life.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Bobby Kennedy: 50 Years Later

We will never know for certain what might have been had Bobby Kennedy not died on June 6, 1968. There are those who say he would've won the Democratic nomination. Indeed, he had just won the California primary the night before and, in his own words, he was "off to Chicago to win there too." Moments later he was gone, felled by an assassin's bullet in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

History was irrevocably changed that day, and not just for a nation that was already reeling from the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Democratic Party was in the midst of a civil war unlike anything it had experienced since the Reconstruction Era. Lyndon Johnson, long a champion of the Left, was viewed by progressives as a sellout because he escalated the war in Vietnam. His decision not to seek reelection that Spring, coupled with Kennedy's assassination, left the Party leaderless and directionless. The anarchy which gripped the Democratic Convention eventually led to the nomination being stolen from Eugene McCarthy and given to Hubert Humphrey. Progressives were furious and took their frustration out by staying home in November, thus helping to pave the way for the election of Richard Nixon.

It's been fifty years since that fateful day in June and still the Democratic Party is reeling. It has had its moments for sure - Barack Obama in '08 - but as a whole, the Party has never gotten over the "what might've beens." What kind of president would Bobby Kennedy have made? Would he have been the next FDR, or would he, like his brother before him and Obama later, have succumb to the realities of governing. It's a political axiom that it's a lot easier running for president than actually being one. Many an idealist on the campaign trail has been forced to worship at the alter of pragmatism once in office.

My guess is that Bobby Kennedy, had he lived and won the election, would've been just as frustrated by the constraints of being president as Obama was during his two terms. If you recall, it wasn't that long before the bloom came off his rose and progressives started whining that he wasn't living up to his end of the bargain. The Affordable Care Act to this day is despised by the Left who see it as a sellout to the insurance industry. Imagine what would've happened to Bobby if, for instance, he hadn't been able to end the Vietnam War like he promised. LBJ at least had the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts on his resume. All Bobby had going for him was his last name and good looks. J. Edgar Hoover despised him, as did much of the establishment. It wouldn't have taken much for the seeds of discontent to have taken root and undermined his presidency.

If you think that's a somewhat cynical view, consider this: Kennedy was hardly a fan of the Great Society. In a speech he gave in 1966, he was critical of the anti-poverty programs of both the Johnson and Roosevelt Administrations, maintaining that despite their good intentions, poverty had gone up not down. I suspect that Kennedy would've been far more amenable to what he called "different ideas" than most of his contemporaries, and those ideas might very well have been met with stiff resistance from his base and even among Democrats in general.

The problem with being an outsider is that once you're inside, the very same forces that you ran against eventually gang up and tear at you until you either give in to them or run for the hills. LBJ chose the latter; Bobby likely would've opted for the former, believing as his brother and Obama did, that being an insider - even a compromised one - was the only effective way to shape policy. If Winston Churchill was right, that history is indeed written by the victors, Bobby would've made damn sure he was in the race.

Far from being the darling of the Left, though, a Bobby Kennedy administration would've likely been filled with people from both ends of the political spectrum. Socially he would've been a progressive, but on issues that pertained to the disenfranchised, his out of the box thinking might very well have ushered in a new form of politics; one in which the Center took hold in the country. Had he managed to get results without the massive growth of the federal bureaucracy, he might very well have preempted the rise of the far Right that brought us the age of Reagan.

Then again, he might very well have been in over his head. The world of 1968 was tumultuous to say the least. There were riots in the cities as well as on college campuses. In Vietnam, the Tet Offensive launched by the North was seen by an already skeptical American public that the war was not going as advertised. Like the proverbial man whose eyes were too big for his stomach, Bobby might've bitten off more than he could chew. Jimmy Carter found that out the hard way. The moral of his presidency can best be summed up with these words: the best of intentions can often lead to the worst of consequences. Translation, if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

What the last two hundred years have taught us is that there's more to the presidency than the mere pomp and circumstance surrounding it. Men like Washington and Lincoln have graced the office; others like Nixon and Trump have disgraced it; while still others like Carter have been swallowed up by the enormity of it.

Fifty years have come and gone and we are still no closer to being able to answer what kind of president Bobby Kennedy would've made. It seems all we have left is a legacy that lives on and a dream that refuses to die. Given who the country elected that year, I'd say most of us would agree it would've been a dream worth living out.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Executive Power Play

Thanks to The New York Times, we now have a copy of the "confidential" letter Donald Trump's legal team wrote and hand delivered to Robert Mueller. It was 20 pages long and, setting aside the obvious smears against the FBI and his own Justice Department; the outright lies, such as denying Russia was the reason for firing James Comey when Trump admitted as much in an interview with Lester Holt; and the admission that Trump did indeed dictate the statement regarding his son's meeting with Russian officials at Trump Tower after denying it for months, there was one paragraph in particular that stood out as deeply troubling and should be of grave concern to anyone who cares about the future of this Republic.

It remains our position that the President’s actions here, by virtue of his position as the chief law enforcement officer, could neither constitutionally nor legally constitute obstruction because that would amount to him obstructing himself, and that he could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired.

Translation, he couldn't have obstructed justice because he is justice personified; but if he did, it still doesn't matter because he can't be touched; and if anyone tries to come after him, he can fire that person, kill the investigation and pardon anyone he feels like, up to and even including himself.

Everybody got that? Good, because what you just read amounts to nothing less than a middle finger to the very core of our system of justice. Some have said that the letter is more a political stunt than a legal maneuvering. I think it's both. On the one hand, it serves up the requisite red meat for his base - as if watching Rudy Giuliani and Sean Hannity humiliate themselves on Fox News weren't enough of an aphrodisiac for these people. On the other hand, however, I think from a legal perspective, it's setting the stage for what is likely to be a showdown in the very near future. 

It's clear Trump's lawyers expect Mueller to issue a subpoena to force him to testify and this letter serves as a notice that if that happens Trump will take executive action to ostensibly end the investigation. Wow, not even Nixon had this kind of chutzpah.

The legal argument that Trump and his lawyers are making basically comes down to this: the President of the United States is above the law. The brazenness of such an assertion is unprecedented in American history, and while legal scholars disagree on the merits of such an argument, there is little doubt that we are on the precipice of a Constitutional crisis.

After reading most of the arguments for and against, I honestly don't know how this will end up. It's clear this Congress will do nothing to stop Trump, so impeachment is off the table; and even if Democrats take the House, they won't have the 67 votes necessary in the Senate to convict him.

It's obvious Trump's lawyers know what Mueller knows. This letter also makes obvious that they are willing to use any and all legal means available to them to ensure this president survives, regardless of what it might do to the country.

The Founders might have envisioned someone like a Donald Trump becoming president, but they never envisioned that the system of checks and balances on his authority would be so impotent. It would be the ultimate irony that in a country whose criminal justice system would rather let ten guilty people go free than incarcerate a single innocent one, a would-be tyrant might very well get away with murdering a democracy in order to become its first dictator. 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Will Republicans Pay the Price for Trump's Trade War?

While all of us were being distracted by the antics of Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee, something far more impactful was happening: Donald Trump went ahead and imposed tariffs on the European Union, Canada and Mexico. The amounts of the tariffs are enormous and unprecedented: 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. Trump had threatened he would move forward with them back in March; as of this past Thursday the threat became a reality.

Economists are already scrambling to determine the impact this trade war will have on the American economy. The Trade Partnership estimates that for very job that will be saved by the tariffs, as many as five will be lost. Hardest hit will be the trade and distribution, as well as the construction industries. And most of those lost jobs will be in the areas of the country that delivered Trump the presidency.

The real question, however, is whether Republicans will pay a price at the polls for Trump's twisted brand of nationalism. Some have their doubts. Dana Milbank in The Washington Post pointed out that "the main predictor of support for Trump is racial anxiety — far more than economic anxiety." The election results of 2016 seem to back him up. The whiter the population, the better Trump fared.

New York state was a case in point. While Hillary Clinton won it going away in 2016, there were areas that Trump carried like Richmond (Staten Island) and Suffolk counties. To the best of my knowledge neither of those counties are currently under any economic duress, unless you think rush hour traffic on the Staten Island and Long Island Expressways somehow qualifies as economic stress; to which I would say try driving on the BQE or the Major Deegan sometime. If that doesn't subtract two years from your life nothing will.

No, what both these counties have in common is their large white populations. Like upstate New York, they were susceptible to Trump's nativist rhetoric. Dozens of rallies during the campaign ginning up decades of repressed white resentment over the gains of minorities eventually took their toll. It was the same across the country: the further you got from the urban areas, the redder the election returns were.

But while I agree with Milbank's general assessment regarding racial anxiety being a primary motive for most Trump voters, I'm not prepared to dismiss outright the role that economic anxiety might've played. Let's not forget that many of the votes Trump received in the Rust Belt states were from people who for the last couple of decades have been living paycheck to paycheck. They'd been reliable Democratic voters since the Clinton years and many of them felt betrayed by the two-party system. The very people Trump courted were also the same people Bernie Sanders went after. Disaffected voters looking for a sign of hope; the perfect target for a carpet bagger like Trump.

Let's also not forget that the margins Trump won both Wisconsin and Michigan by were razor thin. In fact, when you combine the results of those two states with those of Pennsylvania, Trump won the 2016 election by just over 80 thousand votes. Even a 1 to 2 percent swing in the electorate could mean the difference between a one-term presidency or a two-term presidency. Translation, he can't afford to piss off any of those voters, and starting a trade war which could lead to higher prices and cripple the U.S. economy is a pretty damn good way of doing just that.

Don't kid yourself. Yes, Trump rode the wave of American exceptionalism into the White House, but there are limits as to what consumers will give up for a slogan. Back in April of 2016, a poll taken by the AP said that while 75 percent of consumers would prefer to buy American-made products, only 30 percent said they would actually pay more for them. When given a specific choice between two pairs of pants, one made in the U.S. that cost more and the other made elsewhere that were cheaper, 67 percent said they'd buy the cheaper import.

It seems patriotism has its limits and they begin and end at the cash register. That's why Republicans are rightly terrified at the prospect of Lord Fauntleroy fucking things up for them just in time for the midterms. They were already looking at potentially huge losses in the House; this kind of stunt could put their slim Senate majority in jeopardy.

So, to answer the 64 thousand dollar question from above, I do believe Republicans will pay a price at the polls for this ridiculous trade war that Trump has started and for which Europe, Canada and Mexico will almost certainly retaliate. But only if Democrats can seize upon the opportunity that fate has given them. They must make it clear to the voters that a domestic policy based on protectionism can have profound consequences for our economy. Not only won’t it bring back the jobs that were lost due to automation and cheaper imports, it will damage our ability to export goods and services abroad, which will only lead to further job losses across the board.

Of course, assuming Democrats can make this or anything clear is always a big risk. We are after all talking about people who could turn a sentence into a novel. Expecting them to explain to voters the connection between tariffs and higher consumer prices without sounding like a college professor at Harvard the day before a midterm is akin to asking your local mechanic to perform a kidney transplant in his shop.

Which probably means the GOP should relax and go get a Fresca.