Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Cheer Up Libs, This SCOTUS Pick Isn't the End of the World

I know that a lot of liberals out there are beside themselves at the news that Neil Gorsuch has been nominated by Donald Trump to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. To a man and woman you feel as though that vacancy should've been filled last year by Merrick Garland, who was nominated by Barack Obama eleven months ago and yet never received the decency of an up or down vote in the Senate. I share your disgust over that disgrace.

And yet I'm not nearly as pessimistic over this pick as some may be. For one thing, Gorsuch is replacing Antonin Scalia, not Ruth Bader Ginsburg, so in essence the balance of the Court hasn't changed at all. There are still four liberal justices on the bench, along with two right-of-center justices, who have on occasion voted against the conservatives on the bench, much to the chagrin of the Far Right.

It was this Court that twice rejected challenges to the Affordable Care Act and gave us the Obergefell decision that to this day has stuck in the craw of conservative evangelicals throughout the country. And while it also struck down a vital part of the Voting Rights Act, on balance it was not as ideologically conservative as many think; at least not to actual conservatives.

The real challenge will come with the next vacancy. If it turns out to be a liberal seat - and it may well be - then we could be talking about a sea change of epic proportions. Forget gay rights, we could be looking at sixty years of jurisprudence out the window, starting with Brown v. Board of Education. I shit you not. This is where the Far Right wants to take this country: back to separate but equal and a woman's place is in the home.

They've made no bones about it. This is why the religious Right bedded down with this narcissistic asshole. They knew he was nuts, but they ignored all that because of the Supreme Court. In a way, Scalia's death motivated them far more than it did progressives, who should've seen the urgency, but for some strange reason didn't.

Conservatives have long held that the only way to return the country back to its "roots" as they say is through the courts; and what better way to do that then through the highest court in the land? Now they have their chance, courtesy of the most unstable man ever to occupy the Oval Office. But, for now, all they have achieved is the status quo.

Does that mean that Democrats should lay down and vote for this justice? Fuck no. They should do to Trump's nominee what the GOP did to Obama's; filibuster the shit out of it. And if Mitch McConnell decides to go nuclear then so be it. He runs the risk of having the same tactic applied to him if the Dems take back the Senate, which they might in two or four years. What goes around comes around in Washington.

In the meantime, cheer up Libs. This isn't the end of the world. In fact, given the way this would-be dictator is behaving, we could be looking at the shortest presidency since William Henry Harrison, assuming of course that Trump doesn't destroy the planet first.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Beginning of the End

One week into this administration and it is all too clear that not only are we in unchartered waters, we could be witnessing the beginning of the destruction of the Republic. Bill Maher is correct: this is a right-wing coup.

Let's put aside for the moment the ridiculous press briefings and talk-show appearances of Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway concerning Donald Trump's "alternative" facts regarding the size of his inaugural crowd or his absurd assertion that 3 to 5 million fraudulent votes were cast in the election. Let's also put aside his pissing contest on twitter with Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto over who's going to pay for the wall that resulted in Nieto cancelling his meeting with Trump. And, finally, let's put aside his childish rants at the media over how "unfair" they've been to him since he took office. It's a given that we now have a president who is delusional, stupid and incredibly thin-skinned. Any one of these character traits on their own would be enough to raise eyebrows, but collectively they are deeply disturbing.

And yet, as strange as it might seem, I wasn't all that surprised by the above. Let's face it, if you were paying attention at all over the last 19 months, none of this should've surprised you either. He's behaved like a spoiled brat his whole life. Why should he change now? If you're waiting for him to grow up and behave like an adult, I have some advice for you: don't hold your breath. What we have here is a textbook case of the consummate narcissist in all his splendor, and barring an impeachment, we're going to have a front-row seat for this clown show for the next four years.

No, the thing that should concern all of us is the manner in which, slowly but surely, this administration is transforming the country into its own image. The executive orders are just the beginning. Did you happen to catch what Trump did with the National Security Council? He "removed" the Director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and inserted his buddy, Steve Bannon, to help run it along with retired lieutenant general Mike Flynn. That's right, a white supremacist and a conspiracy theory nut job are now in charge of the agency tasked with providing for the security of this nation.

I'll wait a few minutes while you change your underwear.

By the way, did you also catch what happened over at the State Department? The entire senior management "resigned." I inserted the quotation marks because nobody really knows for certain whether the exodus was voluntary or not. We've seen cases of officials resigning from government positions that really weren't resignations. These days, it's a polite way of saying "Your services will no longer be needed. Enjoy your retirement." But still, ALL of the senior management? That just doesn't happen. This was nothing less than a purge.

Then we have the fiasco over at the Environmental Protection Agency. In the event you missed it because you were paying too much attention to one of Trump's temper tantrums, the administration issued a gag order on the agency. Employees are forbidden from going on twitter or any other social media website to discuss climate science, which as far as Republicans are concerned is akin to believing in the Easter Bunny. Phil Plait is right: this is "no media blackout. It's censorship."

And what about that wink and a nod from the Justice Department over Trump's decision to hire his son-in-law as a senior advisor that came exactly one day after the inauguration? If you didn't see that one coming, you're in a coma. I guess if you can get away with being the leader of the free world while still owning billions of dollars of real estate - half of which is in foreign countries - what's a little nepotism anyway?

From his threat to impose a twenty percent tariff on Mexican imports, to his antagonism of our European allies, to his executive order to ban Muslims from entering the country - which was partially stayed by a federal judge - this president is taking this country down a dark path that could further damage its already tarnished reputation and will undoubtedly destabilize a world already on the precipice.

And while all this is going on, the media has become the "opposition party," according to Trump. Steve Bannon has said the press should "shut up." Kellyanne Conway, in an interview on Fox News, wonders why "people haven't been fired." The sheer arrogance of both statements underscores the real problem and the very grave threat.

This is a scary time for this nation. The lone bright spot is, once again, the pushback by the American people who for the second weekend in a row took to the streets to protest this president; this time over his Muslim ban. It was very reassuring that even as America's institutions are facing their toughest challenge since the McCarthy era, its citizens are determined to not let democracy die.

If only Democrats had such a spine. But then we're talking about a party that still hasn't fully come to terms with what happened last November; indeed what has been happening for the last seven years. Since the 2008 election that won them the White House and overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate, the Democratic Party has lost the Congress, the majority of state houses across the country and now the White House. And yet, so far as the leadership of the party is concerned, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, so what's the big deal?

The same thing happened in 1912 when the Titanic sank. The White Star Line tried to rationalize the tragedy by saying it was a once in a lifetime event; that all the elements conspired against them that night. Finally, the truth set in and they were left with one inescapable conclusion: that it was their own arrogance that led to the sinking; the elements were superfluous.

Until and unless Democrats come to a similar epiphany, they will continue to lose at the ballot box, and this country will remain in the hands of a fascist regime.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Why We Should Be Afraid, But Why We Should Be Hopeful

Let me be clear here. That was no mere transfer of power that took place Friday afternoon. Mitt Romney wasn't taking the oath of office up there. Nor was John McCain, or George W. Bush, or George H.W. Bush, or Ronald Reagan or even Richard Nixon. What we witnessed Friday was not only dark in its tone but ominous in its repercussions. Donald Trump stood in front of the nation and delivered what can only described as the most dystopian inaugural address ever given by a head of state.

If you weren't afraid before that speech, you no doubt are now, or at least you should be. I, for my part, am terrified. This is not an emotionally stable man; indeed, he may well be the most unhinged president ever to occupy the Oval Office, and that's saying a lot given that we endured six years of Nixon. In fact, the parallels between Nixon and Trump are staggering. Both men were thin skinned and both were consumed with power and contemptuous of anyone or anything that challenged their authority.

Witness the scene in the White House briefing room in which press secretary Sean Spicer attacked the "dishonest" media for reporting on the size of the crowd at Trump's inaugural compared to Barack Obama's in 2009. Forget for a moment that Spicer pulled his "alternative facts" literally out of his ass, or that there were millions of people around the world that very same day who were protesting against this president, your first press conference and you turn it into a Spanish Inquisition? Two days in and you come out guns ablazing? At least Nixon waited a few months before he began his assault on the media, which if I'm not mistaken was one of the things that helped bring him down; that and, oh yes, his own party. But back then Republicans had a spine.

This president is already in violation of the very Constitution he swore to uphold during his oath of office, and he has served notice to the nation and the world that he is clearly in charge and that things will be run his way. There was no hope anywhere in the speech, no outreach, no come together moment, no "shining city upon a hill." Just carnage and destruction. He painted himself as the deliver of the country the way all despots do; the way Hitler did in Germany.

Yes, I'm going there; you bet your ass I'm going there. Why? Because we should go there, before it's too damn late. To quote Edmund Burke, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." In this context, I would add "and be complacent." Because sometimes complacency is worse than doing nothing. The person who does nothing may still have given the matter some thought. A complacent person is one who is too smug to give a shit about a pending danger or threat to them. One wonders how many complacent voters decided to stay home on November 8.

His nominees look more like a retreat for wayward billionaires than a cabinet. And despite their reassurances that they will stand up to him, the fact is that, like his reality TV show Celebrity Apprentice, Trump will simply fire anyone who doesn't toe the line. In other words, we are in unchartered waters. We have a president who doesn't care what his advisers say, suffers from a Napoleonic complex and thinks he has a mandate to do whatever the hell he feels like.

This maniac has the nuclear codes. Let me say that again: THIS MANIAC HAS THE NUCLEAR CODES! How dangerous is that? If a Saturday Night Live skit can set him off, imagine what could happen if a real crisis were to arise. If you think I'm being hyperbolic, consider this: during the Cuban missile crisis, what saved the planet from a nuclear holocaust was the cool and clear-headedness of JFK, who rejected the advice of his generals and worked out a deal with Khrushchev that allowed the Soviet Union to save face while still protecting American security. Tell me with a straight face you can see Trump pulling that off. The sad truth is that if history were to repeat itself - and it very well might given the situation in North Korea - we're fucking toast.

But while things may seem bleak, all is not lost. There are a couple of hopeful signs that we can hang our hats on, and both occurred on Saturday. The first was the incredible turnout of countless demonstrations that took place throughout the world. Millions of people in city after city came out to voice their disapproval of Trump and his policies. The irony was that more people turned out in Washington D.C. to protest Trump on Saturday than showed up for his inaugural a day earlier. I wonder how Spicer will spin that, assuming Trump even lets him.

The second happened immediately after Spicer's dress down in the White House briefing room. The press and the media finally woke up and pushed back on the lies. On the Sunday morning talkshows, the moderators on Meet the Press, Face the Nation and Fox News Sunday called out the White House on their bullshit. Chuck Todd, usually a lackey for GOP propaganda, actually went after Kellyanne Conway when she tried to justify Spicer's lies as "alternative facts." "Alternative facts are not facts," he said, "they're falsehoods." It was refreshing seeing journalists practice actual journalism.

Only time will tell if the media's new-found resolve will hold or if this will just be a passing fancy. If it's the former, all I can say is it's about fucking time. They gave this con artist over a trillion dollars worth of free advertising throughout the campaign and, with a few notable exceptions, gave him a pass while dragging Hillary Clinton through the gutter. True, Clinton was a flawed candidate, but next to Trump she was Mother Teresa.

Let's be optimistic and say that the media is finally done being spineless; that they're now prepared to hold this president accountable for his lies. Couple that with the growing groundswell of countless people in this country and abroad, and what you have is the beginning of a resistance movement that might not remove this president from office, but will most definitely hobble him and his party.

If his poll numbers continue to plummet - he entered office with a 32 percent approval rating, the lowest of any new president in memory - you can bet Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are going to start sweating.  If they lose the House and Senate in the midterms, both of them know the Democrats are going to go after Trump big time.

I know I'm getting a head of myself. Expecting the media to do its job is asking a lot given their track record. And while Saturday's protests were inspiring, it was after all just one day. We still have 1457 days left in Trump's first term, more than enough time for him to shred the U.S. Constitution or destroy the planet, whichever comes first.

Look, I've never been much of an optimist.  In fact, I've often been called jaded. It's just that in this precarious time for our country, I'm looking for any reason to be hopeful and this is as good as it's likely to get.

Ironically, progressives have been looking for a cause to rally around for years. Donald Trump appears to have given it to them.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Good President, A Better Man

Michael Tomasky has a piece in The Daily Beast on the Obama years that is a good take on the highlights and, yes, low points of his two terms in office. I won't rehash it here; you can read it for yourself.

What I wanted to do is take a few minutes and share some thoughts on the man who I believe when historians look back on this period in time will be regarded as one of the most effective and successful presidents of his generation.

When I think of Barack Obama, what will stand out most is his dignity and composure. In the face of some of the most vile and disgusting rhetoric ever spewed at a sitting president, he let it all roll off his back. Not once did he sink to the level of his opponents. Not even Joe Wilson calling him a liar during a joint session of Congress could provoke him. He was, as I've said many times, the Jackie Robinson of politics. A man who knew he was making history and was determined to make sure he didn't screw it up.

And he was by far the most mature adult in the room. Despite a fierce and coordinated opposition that was determined to block him at every turn, Obama always made an effort to reach out and seek some measure of bipartisanship. He was the consummate optimist and, like his favorite president, Abraham Lincoln, he sought out the better angels of those around him, perhaps not quite realizing that it was their worst demons who, more often than not, got in the way.

Maybe that's the reason that Obama, for all his virtues and attributes, was taken to the cleaners so many times by his rivals. The man worshipped Lincoln, but I suspect he never really understood him. Yes, Lincoln freed the slaves; yes, he went to war to prevent the South from seceding from the Union. But Lincoln was also the president who suspended Habeas Corpus and made every deal imaginable to get the Emancipation Proclamation passed. I suspect that had the Brooklyn Bridge been built, he might very well have auctioned it off to garner some votes. In a way Lincoln was the Lyndon Johnson of his era. Perhaps more refined, but hardly angelic.

Obama never quite got that fact. If he had, I suspect we might've seen a far more feisty and cunning president. Not cunning in the same manner as Nixon, or the soon to be occupant of the Oval Office. One needn't be a megalomaniac or pathological to posses a penchant for successful deal making.

As a salesman, one of the things that irked me most about Obama's negotiating style was his inability to play hardball when it mattered most. He always seemed more concerned about being fair-minded and arriving at an equitable solution, not quite realizing - or perhaps accepting - that his opponents often took advantage of his largesse.

Whether it was his healthcare law, which now appears all but certain to be repealed, or the stimulus, that many on the Left warned him would be insufficient to jump-start the economy, Obama's desire to seek a consensus when none was available became his undoing. Indeed, it plagued him throughout his presidency and was at least partly to blame for the midterm disasters of both 2010 and 2014 that cost Democrats both houses of Congress and a substantial portion of state governorships throughout the country.

But I keep coming back to that dignity and composure. Given what he had to contend with, it was nothing short of miraculous that the man didn't lose it on several occasions. Personally, I wouldn't have lasted a month before I went off. Thankfully, Obama was made of stronger stuff. He was a gentleman as well as a gentle man, a loving husband and a good father. As a family, the Obamas graced the White House in a way not seen in over a generation. Not one scandal plagued this administration - NOT ONE! He was, and is, by any and all accounts one of the most decent human beings ever to set foot in the Oval Office. A far cry from what we are about to see Friday.

I will miss him terribly when he's gone. I cried tears of joy the night of his election; and when he departs the White House for that last time tomorrow morning, I suspect I will shed a tear of sorrow for what the nation has lost, but even more so, for what the nation settled on as his replacement.