Saturday, June 30, 2018

It's Not About Civility; It's About Winning


An old friend of mine once told me he had two rules for living. Rule number one, people are assholes. Rule number two, you can't do anything about rule number one. I didn't quite understand what he meant, until I became a salesman.

On one particular day, a customer came into the store and was, shall we say, not in a good mood. Nothing seemed to please him, not my price or the selection of merchandise we had. I decided to get my manager involved. I walked into his office and said, "Rob, I need your help. There's this customer outside who behaving like an asshole."

My manager went out and introduced himself to the customer, asking how he could help him. Twenty minutes later, my manager took over $4000 of that asshole's money and turned him into a satisfied customer. He sold him a Mitsubishi big screen TV and a Bose Lifestyle audio system. He even got the customer to take a five year warranty on the TV.

After the customer left the store, my manager took me into his office and read me out. He told me that "asshole" was a customer and he deserved to be treated with respect. "Every one who walks into this store is a potential customer. Your job is to close them, not call them names. If the only people who came in here were easy customers, I wouldn't need you. I could hire a clerk. While you were bitching about him, I closed him. Closers close, bitchers bitch. Figure out which one you want to be."

Over the twenty plus years that have come and gone since that incident, I have encountered many such "assholes" and, guess what? I closed almost all of them. What I learned was that if I didn't lose my cool and sink to their level, I was able to maintain control of the transaction. I also found something else out: that most people, even the most difficult, are human beings with fears and frustrations just like me. Today in my capacity as a corporate account manager, I service customers from all across the country, many of whom hold political views that are the polar opposite of mine. And, heeding the advice my manager gave me, I continue to take their money.

The reason I tell this story is not to toot my own horn. Lord knows I don't need any help doing that. I tell it because this country is on the brink of a civil war and if we don't snap out of this madness that we're in, things will progress beyond the point where reasonable people will be able to step in and take charge.

I have seen posts on Facebook that have quite frankly alarmed me. People I consider friends are suggesting incredibly foolish things. The word civility has become a punching bag for an aggrieved segment of the population. To paraphrase that famous line from the movie Network, "They're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore."

Well I'm mad too; I'm also embarrassed and deeply saddened that this nation, which has known hard times before, is on the brink of a social meltdown the likes of which hasn't been seen since the late 1960s. The tribalism that has infected the body politic is now so thoroughly imbedded, friendships and families have been fractured. I am not an historian, per se, but the parallels to ancient Rome are undeniable.

And the source of this tribalism is none other than Donald Trump. His presidency has been a cancer on this nation from the time he took office, and of that there can be no rational doubt. The animus that people have in their hearts towards him and those who serve in his administration is real and justified. The latest mass shooting that killed five people at a local newspaper in Maryland is directly attributable to the rhetoric that he has consistently employed since he launched his campaign; and that rhetoric has, no doubt, inspired the very worst elements of our society. You don't call the media the enemy of the people and then have the gall to offer up faint prayers when some maniac actually follows through and kills some of them.

Many people have called Trump stupid. In my opinion, that is not an accurate assessment. Yes, he is ignorant and suffers from, among other things, a staggering lack of intellectual curiosity that has not served him well in the Oval Office. But stupid he is not. In fact, politically speaking, he is nothing short of a genius; a mad and cruel genius to be sure, but a genius all the same.

From the moment he descended down that escalator in Trump Tower, he was on to something that no politician could figure out. You see, Trump knew where all our buttons were and he had absolutely no compunction about pushing them. He tapped into 200 years of white rage like a pro. Like the good snake oil salesman he was, he told those people who were in pain that he, and only he, had the cure for what ailed them.

Yes, many of his followers were, and still are, racists, but not all of them. Some were disgruntled blue-collar workers who had been abandoned by the Democratic Party. Some were conservative fundamentalists who were concerned about the Supreme Court. Trump played both those groups like a great violinist plays a Stradivarius. Indeed, the one constant theme of his presidency has been the way he has pandered to all three groups: the incarcerations at the border, the tariffs on foreign manufacturers and his nominations to both the Supreme Court and lower courts, are deliberately designed to keep these voters mollified. From a strictly political perspective, Trump has kept more promises than any president in modern times.

But the chaos and turmoil that has defined his presidency has plunged the country into a morass like nothing we have ever seen. This is not an accident; it is deliberate. David Graham in The Atlantic thinks he knows why. For lack of a better explanation, Trump needs crises to keep his supporters in line. Without them, he is just another president. In short, it is the crises and controversies that allow Trump to get on his soap box and proclaim himself the victim of a deep state out to remove him from power. It is the sort of mindset sociopaths often employ to justify their heinous crimes, but for Trump, it's just another day at the office.

That's why he can accuse the media of being fake news one day and then the very next express remorse that members of that same Fourth Estate could be murdered in broad daylight; and it's why he can blame his predecessors for a policy he put in place, then sign an executive order lifting that very same policy, all while claiming credit for the solution to a problem he created. I've worked with salesmen who consider themselves quite accomplished that would give their eye teeth to be able to pull off just once what Trump seems to get away with on a daily basis. If he were a bank robber, the money would be in the Cayman Islands before anyone knew it had been stolen. Houdini had nothing on this president.

But it isn't just his slight of hand that is the secret to his success. Part of playing the role of the victim is knowing that if you can drag your opponent down to your level you can ostensibly eliminate his advantage. Bullies do this all the time. If you've ever watched a hockey game or two, like I have, you'll know that invariably it's the player who retaliates that gets penalized. The Philadelphia Flyers bullied their way to two consecutive Stanley Cup championships in the mid 1970s by instigating fights or skirmishes with better skilled players. When the ref called a penalty on the player who retaliated, the Flyers would score a power play goal. It wasn't until they faced the Montreal Canadiens in '76 that the Flyers finally met their match. The Canadiens resisted the urge to retaliate and instead stuck to their game plan, which was to skate as fast as they could past a much slower Flyers team. They swept the series 4 games to none.

Trump is the political equivalent of the Broadstreet Bullies, as they were known in their day. He has often said he doesn't initiate; that he waits for someone to come after him, then he hits back "ten times harder." Part of that is true, but make no mistake about it, Trump is the Dave Shultz of his era. He sucker punches his opponents, then waits to see if they will retaliate. Look at the list of inflammatory statements he has made over the last three years; all of them, without exception, have been designed to provoke a response. He wants people to react; in fact, his success depends on it.

Just look at the twisted relationship he has with the press. He ridicules the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN for their "fake" news coverage, yet, without that coverage, he would be nothing. That is the paradox of Trump's rise to prominence. It was built on the very shoulders of the people he despises the most. Think about it: if the media had cut him off in 2015 he might not have won the Republican nomination, much less the presidency.

Leveling the playing field is the method to Trump's madness. One look at the 2016 campaign is all you need to verify that claim. The personal attacks levied against him by Marco Rubio didn't hurt Trump; if anything they helped him, because Rubio had taken the bait and sunk to his level. I have seen enough sporting events in my life to know that if you're playing your opponent's game, you're probably losing. Without exception, every political opponent who employed Trump's tactics against him failed. When you go gutter against someone who's lived his whole life in the gutter, you end up on the short end of the stick.

And that's why the Left's strategy to harass Trump and his officials is a fool's errand. It is doomed to failure. Not because there isn't some justification behind it. What these people have done should be rightly called out. But throwing someone out of a restaurant is not the way to do it, anymore than shouting someone down in public is. If anything such conduct will ironically end up helping Trump. In hockey terms, it is the equivalent of throwing a retaliatory punch. Only instead of getting five minutes for fighting, the cost is a drop in the polls.

Let's not forget that Trump won the presidency with a 46 percent approval rating. According to the RCP average, he currently sits at 43.5 percent. That means he's two and a half points away from the number that allowed him to capture the White House. The last thing any of us should want is to allow him to manufacture a phony scandal in which he is the victim of OUR actions. What Maxine Waters said may have resonated with a lot of progressives, but to a good percentage of the country it was interpreted as a threat. It would not surprise me one bit if Trump's poll numbers didn't go up a point next week as a result of this and other ill-conceived attacks.

Last night I watched Bill Maher and I was deeply concerned over the rhetoric I heard coming out of the mouths of some of the guests. However, there was one guest, Jennifer Rubin, who offered up a constructive suggestion; one that I hope progressives will take to heart. To sum up, what Democrats need to do is harness that energy and vote this November. Marching on Washington won't solve anything; pulling a lever for a Democrat will.

To circle back on that experience I had in my early days as salesman, the goal is to take an asshole's money, not get into a shouting match with him. It seems the best way to beat Trump is to bite our lips and bide our time. Leave him alone and he implodes all by himself. Indeed, if you look at the periods of his presidency when his approval numbers were at their lowest, it was when he was his own worst enemy with no one to torment him. Despite all the smoke and mirrors, the simple truth is that Trump is like a raging fire that needs oxygen to sustain itself. Deprive him of that oxygen and the flame flickers out. Give him what he wants, which is a mud-wrestling match on his terms, and the inferno consumes everything in its path.

My friends, we cannot beat this man using his tactics. To do so would be suicide, both politically and morally. If we take the bait, if we give in to our darkest fears and our deepest resentments, we will not only lose the 2018 midterms, but the 2020 presidential election, as well. And if that happens, Heaven help us all.

Remember, the biggest challenge those of us who hold the moral high ground have is not ceding it. I know it is difficult path to travel, but the words of Robert Frost from his poem "The Road Not Taken" should comfort us.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

RED ALERT!


I was all set to write a piece on Maxine Waters' irresponsible call to harass Trump officials. Suffice to say, it was about the dumbest thing I've heard come out of the mouth of a member of Congress since the last time Louie Gohmert and Steve King were seen in the same room together.

Then I thought about writing a piece on the announcement that Harley Davidson was moving some of its production to Europe to avoid paying punitive tariffs due to Trump's ridiculous trade war. Before this president is done, I was going to write, the cost to the economy will likely be half a million jobs and a full point in GDP growth. That would make for a great bumper sticker for Democrats, I thought: "Trade Wars Equal Job Losses!" Kinda catchy, don't you think?

And then this news flash hit my phone:

Justice Anthony Kennedy to retire from Supreme Court at end of July.

After I finished throwing up in my mouth, I thought this changes everything. Screw Waters, screw the owner of that stupid restaurant and, yes, screw even Harley Davidson. I don't even ride motorcycles, so what do I care? This trumps everything, no pun intended. As they say in the Navy, "All hands on decks!" Or as I'm sure they said on the Titanic, "Every man for himself."

This shit just got real. How real? I can't think of a bigger or more important issue this year. The tax law, healthcare, trade, even the Russia investigation all pale in comparison. I won't mince words here: if Trump is allowed to appoint a replacement for Kennedy, every bit of jurisprudence from Brown v. Board of Education to Roe v. Wade to Obergefell v. Hodges is in jeopardy. What's left of Obamacare is gone for sure. I'm not being hyperbolic.

Yes, I'm aware that Kennedy is a "swing" vote on the Court the way I'm a basketball player. I can shoot the ball at the hoop and occasionally make a basket, but I can't dribble worth a damn. In other words, in 9 out of 10 cases Kennedy sides with the other four conservatives on the bench. But he is nowhere near as conservative as a Samuel Alito or an Antonin Scalia. Can you imagine either of those two writing a decision like the one Kennedy authored in Obergefell? Neither can I. Whoever replaces him will likely serve 30 years or more, so this is as big as it gets.

And now comes the point in the piece where I get to say, "I told you so." In March of 2017, I wrote that Democrats shouldn't waste their efforts filibustering the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Doing so would force Mitch McConnell to employ the nuclear option and do away with the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees. Well guess what happened? Democratic leadership went ahead anyway and filibustered Gorsuch and McConnell went nuclear.

It was one of the most futile gestures I've ever seen Chuck Schumer attempt, especially since he had to have known it was going to fail. How in the world Democrats and, more importantly, progressives could've thought that Republicans wouldn't go to the mat to protect a seat held by the most conservative jurist since the founding of the Republic was beyond me.

Not only was Gorsuch confirmed, albeit by a simple majority, Dems lost the opportunity - as I predicted they would - of thwarting any future justices from being appointed to the Court. And now with Kennedy's retirement at hand and legislative roadblocks severally limited, what are the options available to Democrats?

Well, for starters, leadership should take heed of what happened last night in the New York 14th. Joe Crowley, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, not only lost to a 28-year old who never held elected office, he got his ass kicked. There's no other way to put this: the progressive wing of the party isn't just energized, it's cruising at Warp 9. Any attempt to soft pedal the process and acquiesce to the "political realities" of the Senate could have disastrous consequences for Dems this November.

I'm serious. Contrary to some of my earlier writings, it now appears as though the only hope that the party has of wielding power again may come from its left flank. If that is the case, Schumer had better be prepared to go all out to block his counterpart from appointing Kennedy's replacement. Whatever procedural maneuvers he has available to him, short of defaulting on the debt, he had better be prepared to use, even if it means shutting down the government.

But even with every trick up his sleeve, Schumer will still not be able to prevent McConnell from getting Kennedy's replacement across the finish line. That's because he only needs 50 yes votes and you can expect Red-State Democratic senators like Joe Manchin and Jon Tester to vote yes. So the next step will come down to mobilizing the base.

It's time to admit the obvious: progressives never took the Scalia vacancy seriously in 2016. While Republicans were able to rile up their base, Democrats seemed unwilling or unable to do the same with theirs. Some of that may have been the fault of then President Obama. His choice of Merrick Garland, a moderate conservative, was seen by many as an olive branch for the GOP. McConnell, however, was not impressed and he stuck that branch right up Obama's ass.

As I wrote last year, whatever else you might've thought about Garland, he was no Thurgood Marshall. If you're a progressive, it's hard getting worked up for someone who is just a micron to the left of Anthony Kennedy. Had Obama nominated a true progressive, who knows what would've happened. Maybe the base would've taken the vacancy more seriously, and when McConnell blocked the nomination, that would've given them the impetus needed to show up at the polls that November. Given that Trump's election hinged on roughly eighty thousand votes over three states, even a modest uptick in turnout could've made all the difference.

This time around the base has no excuse. Merrick Garland will not be the nominee. Trump will pick someone who is to the right of Kennedy. Did you like those 5-4 decisions that sometimes went your way, Libs? Kiss them goodbye. Every single progressive in the country now has a reason to vote this November that they may not have had 24 hours earlier. They may be motivated to impeach Trump, but, trust me, the immediate threat here is front and center and it couldn't be more urgent.

Presidencies are won and lost. Political parties rise and fall. Regulations are written, repealed and then rewritten. The damage to both the State and Justice Departments can be repaired, given time. But judicial appointments, including those to the Supreme Court, are for life. At the rate Trump and McConnell are filling vacancies on the lower courts, it won't be long before the entire country gets transformed. A failure at the ballot box this November will have profound repercussions for generations to come.

Elections have consequences, people. And we are seeing them play out in front of our very eyes.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Tit For Tat Isn't the Answer


Over the last few days several Trump Administration officials have discovered first hand just how unpopular their president is. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Sith Lord Stephen Miller were heckled while they were dining, while Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn't even get the chance to sit down to eat; she was shown the door by the owner of the restaurant.

Look, I don't for a moment feel sorry for these people, nor for the other woebegone souls whose love lives have gone down the drain, because apparently working for a racist in a town that only 4 percent of the population voted for tends to put people off. Who coulda known? You know what they say: you do the crime, you do the time.

But here's the thing: while it may bring a sort of perverse delight in knowing that all three had their meals ruined [and FYI, for future reference, going to a Mexican restaurant to eat when your boss is currently demonizing Mexicans is pretty tone deaf if you ask me] in the end this is not the way to respond. No matter how deplorable their conduct - and, trust me, it is deplorable - tit for tat isn't the answer.

Think about it. Why on earth would progressives want to give anyone from the Trump Administration the moral high ground? Just including Stephen Miller in any sentence with the word moral is the very definition of an oxymoron, not to mention an obscenity. The guy's a racist pig. Don't give him the satisfaction of also being a victim.

I know what you're saying, and I totally get it. This is payback for the Supreme Court decision that affirmed the right of a baker to not be forced to bake a cake for that gay couple. It was a bullshit decision that no matter how narrowly construed will inevitably open the door for other religious zealots to likewise discriminate against other gay people. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, right?

Wrong!

Sorry, but in the Bible I read, there's this passage that says, "Do not repay evil with evil. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing." Much as I detest Trump and all that he stands for, trying to one up him will only give him the excuse he and his supporters need to justify his policies. His whole game is based on dragging people down to his level, and he did it brilliantly throughout the 2016 campaign.

And I also know the counter argument: if we don't confront these people, aren't we condoning their actions? And if that's the case, won't they get away with it? Believe me, Sarah Huckabee Sanders isn't getting away with anything. You don't lie that consistently at that many press briefings without suffering some kind of collateral damage. A former pastor of mine once said that sin makes us stupid. If that's the case, then Huckabee Sanders is the class dunce.

Allowing her and the others to sit down to a meal is hardly an act of condoning. It's simply doing the right thing. You don't confront evil by imitating it; you confront it by righteously calling it out. And the best way to do that is by legitimate means: through good journalism and exercising the right to vote. The former is currently being done as we speak by the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Post. Their outstanding investigative reporting is uncovering one scandal after another in this administration.

As for the latter, the sad truth is that if every eligible voter had done their patriotic duty back in November of 2016, this threat to our Democracy would not be in the position he's in today. We all have to remember that both this November and again in 2020. If we want to make our voices heard loud and clear the best way to do that is by pulling a lever in a voting booth, not screaming at the top of our lungs at people who will never hear what we have to say nor understand the depths of their own depravity. We might as well spit in the wind for all the good it'll do.

Chew on this the next time you hear of a Trump official being verbally accosted at a restaurant. Are we really that petty? Is chasing someone out of a restaurant equal payment for separating children from their mothers? Or is it the sort of thing a spoiled brat would do to get back at his parents for making him eat his broccoli? Isn't one spoiled brat impersonating a president enough? Does he really need any company?

One thing I've learned in my 57 years on this planet. There is no shortage of ignorant or evil people who will test the patience of a saint or the bounds of a society. And though what Trump is doing to this country is the very essence of evil, we know as Christians that evil does not ultimately triumph. Just the opposite, in fact. To paraphrase a line from the movie Ben Hur, what he is doing will have its way with him sooner or later. Given the mountain of evidence that Robert Mueller is assembling against him, I'd say it'll be sooner rather than later.

It may pain some of us to admit it but Michelle Obama was right. When they go low, we go high. The reason that didn't work in 2016 was because too many high-browed progressives didn't like what was on the menu (pun intended). We need to stop being so picky.  This is war, and wars on won on the battlefield by soldiers who actually show up to fight.

Hurling obscenities in a restaurant isn't going to exorcise this demonic presence from the White House. Getting up off our asses and voting will.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Have You No Shame?


I realize that's a rhetorical question. To have shame a man must first feel remorseful. And we both know you're incapable of that. Your mentor, Roy Cohn, taught you well. Never apologize for anything and never let sentiment get in the way of your ambitions.

Throughout your depraved life, you've screwed countless people, told one lie after another and created something of a legend as a man who would rationalize the most deplorable conduct to get what he wanted. The consummate transactional businessman devoid of even a semblance of a moral compass.

The only thing worse than your racist-filled campaign has been your racist-filled administration. You have surrounded yourself with the most disgraceful demagogues ever assembled in one cabinet, from Steve Bannon to Stephen Miller. If Joseph Goebbels were alive today, he'd be blushing.

From your Muslim ban to your use of the term shit-hole to describe certain countries with predominantly black or Hispanic populations to the way you practically ignored the suffering of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and the environmental catastrophe that continues to plague the city of Flint, Michigan, it's clear who butters your bread. It was not by accident that you stoked 200 years of white rage. Only a person of your ilk could have the balls to defend white nationalists as "fine people." Well done, sir. You are the hero of every Ku Klux Klan dragon and neo-Nazi in the country. A regular Stonewall Jackson.

But getting back to your business acumen, if you can call it that, how many successful business people do you know of who file for bankruptcy, not once, not twice, but six times? You owned a casino that went belly-up. Who does that? Admit it, everything you touch turns to shit, from your airline to your scam university. You're running the country the same way you ran your business, which is to say right into the ground.

And then there's the Russia investigation. You must be shitting your pants over this. Level with me, if that's even possible, you don't give a rat's ass about whether Mueller finds evidence of collusion. A man with no conscious or scruples could scarcely be concerned about whether he or his associates committed treason with a foreign power. As for obstruction of justice, you've already said you have the power to pardon yourself or anyone else for that matter. Your consigliere, Rudy Giuliani, has already admitted this whole thing will be "cleaned up" once the investigation is over.

You and I both know why you're so paranoid these days. Mueller knows where you get your income from and he's going to tell the world when he issues his report. All that Russian money being "funneled" through your corporation. Admit it, no American bank would loan you a wooden nickel, not with your history of defaulting on them. The only people who would give you the time of day are pals with Putin, which means you're knee deep. And here's the thing about money laundering, as I'm sure your attorneys have told you, you can be prosecuted at the state level, and no presidential pardon can prevent that.

Face it, Donnie, you're going away for a very long time - you and your whole rotten crime family - once you leave office. And make no mistake about it: even if you manage to win a second term, you will still leave office one day. You may think you're an emperor or dictator, but you're really not. That's because the founders of this country knew what they we're doing when they drafted its constitution. You can attack its institutions all you want - from your own justice department and FBI to the press and media - in the end they may be scarred, but they will survive you.

But now you've outdone even yourself. Your administration's decision to separate children from their mothers at the border makes your Muslim ban look like a walk in the park by comparison. I didn't think it was possible for you to sink any lower, but you surprised even me. Racism, corruption, contempt for the rule of law, those were just your basic standard operating procedures as far as you were concerned. But ripping kids right out of the arms of their mothers? You just took the term depraved indifference to a whole new level.

By God, man, you're a father. Well at least you impregnated all three of your wives. That technically makes you a biological father as far as the law is concerned. But I would've thought even someone as loathsome as you would never dream of committing such a heinous crime as damaging these precious young lives. And mark my words, you have. The trauma your policy has brought upon these kids will take years to recover from.

And it is your policy. Don't even think about blaming Democrats for this fiasco. You can parade your sycophants on Fox News all you want; it doesn't change the facts one bit. Your party controls both houses of Congress and you are the fucking president. For once in your detestable life, have the balls to own what you've done, you diseased maggot. I'm sure Roy Cohn will give you a Mulligan this one time. And while you're at it, tell Jeff Sessions to stop misquoting scripture to justify your ungodly policy. If it's a Biblical passage you're after, try Matthew 25:40. "Whatever you do for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you do for me."

Holding children hostage - which you most certainly did in a tweet - to secure money for your insipid wall is beneath even you, and that's saying something. The United Nations just called what you're doing "government-sanctioned child abuse." Once again, you've embarrassed this country on the world stage. Congratulations, Skippy. You're batting a thousand. Even some of your docile Republican stooges are calling you out.

You could stop this if you wanted to. Right now, in fact. All you have to do is issue one of your many executive orders, you know the very same executive orders you accused your predecessor of using too much, and direct the Department of Health and Human Services to cease and desist separating children from their mothers. Then you can do something constructive: work with Congress on real reform that can fix our broken immigration system. There are people in both parties who are eager to work with you to pass legislation that you can sign into law.

But then who am I kidding? You don't want immigration reform. If you ever signed a real reform bill into law your base would abandon you like rats on a sinking ship. The only way you got elected was by appealing to every bottom-feeding ignoramus hiding under every rock in the country. You would no more betray them than a drunk would pass up a drink.

You're a piece of work; a man for whom decency and civility are but words in the dictionary. You wouldn't know a genuine selfless act of kindness if it came up and groped you in the genitals. I would say I feel sorry for you but, sadly, the gesture would be a waste of time. If there is one word that can best sum up your miserable existence it would be vacant. Vacant of love, vacant of principles, vacant of mercy, vacant of empathy, vacant of hope. I would add vacant of intelligence, but then you haven't been the first idiot to occupy the Oval Office.

They say the pathway to hell is paved with good intentions. Let's just say for the sake of argument you've decided to skip the good intentions part.

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 Won 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.