Well, it was inevitable, but nobody expected it just three weeks in. And for all the hype, when it finally happened, it wasn’t the least bit funny, meta, or entertaining.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Steve on the huge and very important distinction between lying about facts and lying about acts...
Well, it was inevitable, but nobody expected it just three weeks in. And for all the hype, when it finally happened, it wasn’t the least bit funny, meta, or entertaining.
Well, it was inevitable, but nobody expected it just three weeks in. And for all the hype, when it finally happened, it wasn’t the least bit funny, meta, or entertaining.
When Donald Trump dumped shortest-ever-tenured NSC Director Michael Flynn, he took pains to explain that the reason for the termination was because Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about discussing U.S. sanctions with the Russian Ambassador.
That is to say: Trump wanted it on the record that Flynn’s sin was not committing the criminal act of negotiating with a foreign nation as a private citizen. Not even the felony of lying in an FBI investigation. It was because he lied to Mike Pence about it. Message: whether you broke the law or not is secondary to whether you were loyal to the Trump cabal.
But getting fired for lying to Donald Trump? You can find that in Dante’s Ninth Circle of Irony.
Perhaps the President was pissed off that Flynn was trying to do Trump’s job (“I am in charge of lying around here, dammit!”). Or maybe Trump thought Flynn wasn’t good enough at lying. After all, you may not be cut out to be leader of the National Security Council if you can’t figure out that incoming calls from private citizens to the Russian Ambassador are likely to be monitored. I can just hear Trump berating Flynn behind closed doors: “You have humiliated us! Don’t you understand that on my team we only have the best, the most amazing, and the most awesome liars in our whole world?”
Let’s face it: getting fired by Donald Trump for lying is like a roadie getting fired by Willie Nelson for smoking dope, or some Assistant VP getting fired by Bernie Madoff for faking an expense report. I mean, the poor guy was just trying to measure up to the impossible standards of his boss.
Yes, the week started with the humiliation of Flynn, but then very suddenly veered into a Category Five Katrina-grade shit-storm. First, Secretary of Labor Nominee Andrew Puzder scored a rare disqualification trifecta when news of his employing an off-the-books undocumented immigrant and accusations of spousal abuse were piled on top of his record as a CEO who ran shamelessly sexually exploitive advertising to sell his cheesy burgers.
But Trump’s White House slid from merely being graded out for unprecedented incompetence to suddenly taking on whispers of impeachable offenses to the shock of a below-the-waterline iceberg impact when The New York Times reported that there had been frequent and ongoing contact between Trump’s team and Russian intelligence operators throughout the campaign. “GEEzuz!” rumbled the internet, “the possibility of full-on collusion with Russian intelligence during the election would be WORSE than WATERGATE!”
Thursday the Exacerbator-in-Chief decided that he needed to personally step to the mic to set the record straight. In a Queeg-like monologue, Trump slipped free of the surly bonds of reality and reported -- among other gossamer fantasies -- that the White House was “running like a well-oiled machine.” Of course, that phrase also applies to dumping a full bottle of Filippo Berio Extra Virgin into your toaster.
There he was, Donald being Donald, raising the art form of lying to supersonic cruising altitude. In a splendid exchange, the Donald claimed that his electoral victory was the “biggest electoral win since Ronald Reagan.” NBC’s Peter Alexander pointed out that Barack Obama had higher electoral vote totals in both of his elections, and Trump countered that his claim was relative to other Republican Presidents. Wrong again, Alexander retorted. George H.W. Bush had more.
The subject of lying was plastered all over the news yet again this week. The Toronto Star took pains to publish all of the 57 instances in which they could prove that Donald Trump had lied since he had been inaugurated. PolitiFact noted that 69% of Trump’s utterances were largely or wholly untrue, divided among “mostly false” (19%), “false” (33%), or their term reserved for the most brazen of lies, “pants on fire” (17%).
John Oliver focused his entire season opening show on Trump’s prodigious lying, and the New York Times reviewer actually admitted to feeling concerned that “two-thirds of the way into Sunday night’s show it seemed as if Mr. Oliver had nothing new to add.” Huh? The Times reviewer seemed to be setting new expectations: “Please, commentators! If you are not going to bring some new, different, and entertaining angle into your coverage of Trump’s lying, then move along."
So now we must bring something new to the discussion of Trump’s lying. Ok, I shall give it a go.
Let me begin by noting that we here at BTRTN have been on this particular case for some time. Back on March 23, 2016 we posted White Lies Matter, an essay devoted to the frequency, flagrancy, and even the structural variety of Donald Trump’s compulsive lying, much as if we were codifying varieties of seasonal flowering plants.
But that was different. That was about a candidate lying. Back then, the issue was simply that candidate Trump was an amoral bullshit howitzer who had come to realize that his audience could not discern truth from fiction and was generally far more entertained by the latter.
Today, it is about the President of the United States lying, and because he is now under that oath, everything changes.
Back in the fall, during election season, all you could do was say “buyer beware, this guy lies more often than a Sealy PosturePedic,” but now the seasons have changed. We now behold the Lyin’ in Winter.
Specifically, we must closely examine the very important distinction between lying about facts and lying about acts. A quick review of recent American history suggests that our citizens couldn’t care less about the former – lying about facts – but they are very concerned when there is an issue of lying about acts.
It is plain as day that Americans don’t seem upset by untruths about simple matters of historical accuracy, scientific discovery, and basic arithmetic. Donald Trump was elected President after systematically lying about matters of fact: the crime rate, the amount of violent crime perpetrated by blacks on whites, the state of the economy and unemployment, and the record and achievements of the Obama administration. Americans did not get particularly worked up over whether his facts were accurate or not; they were responding to his more emotional message of victimization and anger at institutional authority.
Now, consider Hillary Clinton’s trust issues through the same lens. Policy wonk Clinton was pristinely accurate about facts and figures, but she appeared to have been less than truthful about actions she had taken as high-ranking officer in the United States government, and she was excoriated for it. All Richard Comey had to do was re-kindle the issue days before the election, and Clinton was destroyed.
Indeed, in the past 150 years, lying about actions is the only thing that gets a President impeached. Richard Nixon was not threatened with impeachment for the Watergate break-in, but rather for the lies in told in trying to cover it up. Bill Clinton was not impeached for sexually predatory behavior with an intern, but for lying to cover it up. Lying about an action, thus far, is the only thing that has been demonstrable proven to be a “high crime or misdemeanor,” which is the full extent of vagary that the Constitution offers as justification for the impeachment of a President.
But we needn’t limit the discussion to the extreme of impeachment. The Gipper himself – arguably the most popular President in the past half-century – took a huge dent in his fender when he was caught wobbling on Iran Contra. George W. Bush has been excoriated by history for leading us into war in Iraq on the false pretense of have certain knowledge that Saddam possessed WMDs. LBJ was viewed to be misleading the country about the outlook for military victory in Vietnam.
When presidents lied about the actions they had taken, Americans noticed. They cared. They acted. They condemned, vilified, and usually threw the crook out, by hook or by crook… if not by impeachment, then by the nearest election.
The reason that Donald Trump was elected despite having regularly spewed erroneous information is that he was almost always lying about facts.
But now, Mr. Trump, it is time for you to get nervous. You are now the highest-ranking officer in the United States government, and you are now responsible for a wide array of actions … a number of which have already taken place. How you communicate about those actions will make or break your presidency.
Let’s go back for a moment to Flynn. Do we believe that Mr. Trump had absolutely no idea that Flynn was going to call the Russian Ambassador and convey a little wink to Vlad the Impervious that he needn’t bother respond to those eleventh hour Obama sanctions? If Trump had even the slightest involvement, knowledge, or inkling of the intent of that call, that is what we call an action. If Trump was in any way aware that Flynn was going to deliver that message, then a very specific legal term is applicable: unindicted co-conspirator. Particularly if Trump’s Justice Department is instructed not to pursue criminal charges against Flynn – who, in such a situation, might gladly strike a deal to avoid the slammer by fingering his Boss.
But the buzz around Flynn absolutely pales in comparison to the issues that are raised by the Times’ allegations that Trump’s campaign was in routine dialog with Russian intelligence operatives throughout the campaign. This has triggered the “worse than Watergate” trending, as the notion that a candidate actively coordinated with a hostile foreign government to influence the outcome of the election makes one realize that Watergate was a mere constitutional crisis as opposed to a full-on, no holds-barred coup.
Trump is already knee-deep in the Big Muddy.
If Trump takes the position that he knew nothing of this coordination, and he is proven to be untruthful, he is no longer lying about facts like the size of his Electoral College win or his, uh, hands. He would be lying about an action. He would be lying about whether he participated in collusion to subvert the electoral democracy in the United States of America. Something tells me that this is exactly what the founding fathers had in mind when they cooked up the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
A lawyer might take the position that the action happened before he was President, but it would not matter. The cover-up – the lie about his knowledge and/or involvement – may be unfolding as we speak, and as Donald Trump speaks as the highest ranking official in government.
As anyone who witnessed Donald Trump’s manic press conference on Thursday can attest, the man lies with a brazen and utterly unself-conscious flair that remains unruffled even in the face of being publicly and repeatedly corrected a pool reporter from NBC.
Trump has proven is that facts are so twentieth century. You’ve got yours? Well, I’ve got my alternative ones. And if facts were so damn important, Google would have built a fact-checker into Chrome and your upgrade to Amazon Prime would come with a truthometer.
Ah, but actions.
Actions lie louder than words.
I actually think Trump understands the danger he is in. There is an eerie desperation to his lunging attacks at the “fake news” and the “dishonest media.” He refuses to even address the issues raised by the New York Times. Nobody ever said this guy was stupid – perhaps he realizes that if is never quoted about Russia, then he cannot be caught lying.
Every week, in the face of Trump’s rapidly expanding turd museum, I make an effort to leave you all on an upbeat note. Some weeks it is harder than others.
But this week, I leave you with the most optimistic conclusion I can offer. Mark my words. The fact that the man’s default mechanism is set to “lie” is going to bring him down, as surely as it brought down Nixon and soiled the reputations of Clintons, Bushes, and even The Gipper himself.
Today, Trump will scream about fake news and disgusting reporters, but his Presidency is spinning wildly and chaotically, and things are happening – or have already happened – that he appears genuinely unaware of. His team’s knowledge of constitutional law is so wafer thin that they might break laws without even knowing it. Their respect for constitutional law is so tiny that might break laws willfully.
This is a man who cannot stand embarrassment and who will eagerly lie to avoid it. That is a formula for lying about actions and lying to cover up embarrassing truths.
And as we speak, there is a young Woodward, Bernstein, Bradlee, Cronkite, or some other rough beast slouching toward Washington, its hour come round at last.
“There's a masterpiece. He isn't flesh: he's a device. He's wheels and gears. And Johnny: Was his latest treason your idea? I've caught him lying, and I've said, 'he's young.' I've found him cheating, and I've said, 'he's just a boy.' I've watched him steal and whore and whip his servants, and he's not a child; he's the man we made him.”
--The Lion in Winter
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
A Call to Action: From Outrage to Activism: A Step-By-Step Guide to Forming a Political Action Group
Sarah Carvill holds a PhD in Environmental Studies and has worked as a policy analyst and legislative aid in the California State Senate. She currently teaches, writes, and resists Donald Trump in Berkeley, California.
For several days after the election, I had a hard time peeling myself off the carpet. I stopped cooking, washing my hair, and answering my phone. Listening to NPR inevitably reduced me to tears, and I couldn’t face any article of clothing that wasn’t made out of jersey. Part of my grief was for my own future, since my short-term career plans depended on my being able to buy affordable, high-quality insurance in the state marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act, but I knew what a Trump presidency would mean for communities of color, undocumented people, LGBT folks, and climate policy. And I remembered well how the shock and outrage that gripped the left in the wake of the 2004 election faded into depression and apathy. I was afraid the same thing would happen this time around.
Three months later, Donald Trump is performing the duties of the Presidency with even less care, sense, and compassion than I had imagined possible. My fears for my own future and for the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our country and the world have not abated, but in many ways I feel better than I did before the election. Why? People are outraged, people are organizing, people are resisting, and I am one of them.
Last week, I sat down and wrote to Tom and Wendy because I wanted to share the process I and my close friends initiated that has helped us, individually and collectively, plug in to the growing movement against Trump and what he stands for. Essentially, we've formed a "political support group," and we're getting things done because of it. I think this process is replicable, and could be of use to anyone who is concerned about the direction the country seems to be headed, but has limited time, money, and/or organizing or political experience. All you need is a few friends who are interested in sharing ideas for action and supporting one another.
There are five steps to our process: (1) Gather those people together in person; (2) decide what’s important to all of you; (3) share resources electronically; (4) as you digest these resources and develop ideas, take the time to write and share a personal activism commitment with your group; and (5) keep talking.
1. Gather your people.
If I was behaving like a bereaved person in the days after the election, my boyfriend Jae was the one making arrangements. We had intended to go away for the weekend, so he canceled our trip. He started calling our mutual friends in the area, looking for a time and place that we could all get together. Something that mattered to us all had died, so he planned a wake.
That’s sort of what it felt like on Saturday, November 12: There was a pile of take-out food on our friends’ dining room table, a palpable sense of shock and despair, and an understanding that no one was going anywhere for most of the day. Everyone agreed that we wanted to get together on Sunday, as well, so we did that, and we met again the next weekend.
Our group consisted of a handful of Jae's best friends from college, the partners of the two of them who are now married, and my best friend and her partner. Among us we have three PhDs, a medical doctor, two writers, a professional facilitator, a therapist, four educators, a former legislative aid, a federal agency employee, a social media expert, five environmental professionals, four people with at least one immigrant parent, and three people who grew up in red states. One of the things that struck me immediately was that together we had a tremendous and valuable diversity of education, work, and life experiences that could be leveraged to affect real social and political change.
The contrast to 2004 was evident, too: When George W. Bush was reelected, I was in college, and so were most of my friends. We had no income and very little education or work experience, so we waited for the real grown-ups to tell us what to do. And MoveOn.org told us to sign online petitions. No wonder the resistance fizzled.
Now and my friends are as equipped as anyone else to identify ways of resisting Trump strategically. We realized almost immediately that we couldn't just leave that work to other brains if we wanted to be sure of making the most of our investments (of both money and time) into resistance.
2. Decide what’s really important.
So what started out as an opportunity to process the outcome of the election together evolved into an effort to plan our response. This happened naturally: Anguished rhetorical questions like, “Why did people vote for this guy?” prompted real conversations about what data we had on who “they” actually are, whether it was possible to change their minds, and whether we even needed “them” to win back Congress and the Presidency. We didn’t try to steer the conversation too much; what we did do was make note of the major issues that came up in our discussion.
After a couple of get togethers, we mapped out what we perceived to be the key problems. While we did talk about specific policy issues (e.g., climate change, racial justice, healthcare, abortion rights), our conversation drifted toward the institutional and cultural factors that are giving conservatives a disproportionate voice in our government— things like voter suppression, gerrymandering, the primary system, reactionary white nationalism, industry change and economic stagnation in rural America, geographic segregation of conservatives and liberals, Republican willingness to break informal norms that promote bipartisan policymaking, and the Democratic Party's apparent failure to apprehend and adapt to the changing political landscape.
While many of us have strong personal commitments to other issues, we agreed that checking the power of the right (and, increasingly, the extreme right) was a common goal that would ultimately help advance all of our other causes.
3. Share the work of staying informed.
Some important steps happened outside of our meetings, as well. Once we knew one another’s concerns and developed the habit of bouncing emails to the group, we started sharing resources electronically. There was no formal division of labor, but our very different schedules, subscriptions, and professional and social networks gave us access to diverse ideas, emerging groups, research, and articles. Each of us filtered our own feeds for the best and most relevant resources.
In this fashion, we monitored the news; investigated new nonprofits and organizing vehicles like Indivisible, Sister Districts, and the Injustice Boycott; tried new action tools like Flippable and Wall of Us; and attended meetings in pairs and threes. We learned about the strategies that have worked for past activist movements, the tools at our disposal to influence Congress, the tools our members of Congress have to obstruct Trump, and the various organizations and platforms that are out there to support sustained activism and organizing on the left.
Importantly, however, no single one of us has had to do all that work him- or herself in addition to his or her job. My contributions came largely from things I would have done anyway, and the return was more good stuff than I could have found on my own— at least, not without totally abandoning my other responsibilities.
4. Make a personal activism commitment— and tell the group how it's going.
As we shared articles and ideas, several of us wrote to the whole group to describe personal "activism commitments". These came in a variety of forms. For example, my boyfriend set up monthly recurring contributions to a set of organizations he particularly liked, but he also blocked out an hour each Friday morning that he uses to call our Senators and take other political actions at the direction of a suite of the groups that have recently emerged to harness this type of energy. Not all of his activism since the election fits within this framework (he has also attended protests, joined two local Democratic groups, and started writing and performing political songs with his band) but his formal commitment ensures that whatever else is going on in his life, at minimum he gives money monthly and makes calls to members of Congress weekly.
Why tell the group? I'm not going to argue that announcing your commitments makes you more likely to keep them (social science research actually suggests that this is not true), but telling the group does force you to articulate your plan, and articulating your plan helps you work out the possible kinks in it. It also gives other group members ideas about how to formulate their plans, as well as advance feedback on what kinds of activities have and haven't worked well for their friends.
5. Keep it up.
Our group continues to meet, though not as frequently as we did in the first month after the election. Both in person and over email, we continue to share insights and progress related to our individual activism commitments and talk about work that we might eventually spearhead collectively. But we also talk about our own lives and feelings, and share the latest Saturday Night Live sketches mocking Trump, Conway, and Spicer.
This mix of serious strategizing and serious socializing ensures that our time together is always fun, but that’s not the only reason that I encourage people to establish a “political support group” among their own friends. Another reason is that it is much, much easier to share political resources with a group over email if you all have an in-person rapport and a sense of one another’s interests. I don’t agonize about whether or not to share something or reply-all to someone else’s message because our group has its own informal norms that I helped build.
Even more importantly, the fact that we are attached by friendship rather than professional affiliation or a strict mission means that the insights we bring to or crystalize in our meetings draw from and filter back into our diverse networks. To take just one example, after some of us attended a rocky initial meeting for one local Indivisible group and reported back, Jae was able to reach out to his Indivisible chapter before their first meeting and offer his suggestions about facilitation. That meeting went much more smoothly— in part because they knew what had gone wrong in the next county over. I regularly relay resources between our group and my Indivisible compatriots, or between our group and my mother and her business partner, who each have their own group of concerned friends who are becoming more politically active or changing the scope of their prior activism in the wake of the election.
Your friends may for the most part be activist newbies, but I can almost promise you that one of them knows someone who is not. You may not know the best place to get your news, but if you get eight friends together, one will have an online subscription to the New York Times, or show you how to subscribe to a good political analysis podcast like Pod Save America. If you decide to get on board with the Injustice Boycott and move your money out of a big bank, someone in your support group may know someone who did that during the Occupy years.
In all these cases, the person who provides insight or resources will likely feel as grateful for the opportunity to help as you are to receive it. Many of us are deeply troubled by what is happening in the country, but are struggling to find ways of resisting that fit within the constraints imposed by our commitments to our jobs and as caregivers, or by our finances. Not all of us can get arrested for what we believe in, but many of us can help someone else take an action that they might not feel empowered to take on their own. Getting connected is the first step. You may be surprised by where you go from there.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Steve's take on a tough week for the not-yet-ready-to-govern players...
In assessing the brilliant scholars and captains of industry assembled in John F. Kennedy’s cabinet, distinguished political scientist David Halberstam argued despite awesome IQs, resumes, and net worth, JFK’s “best and brightest” still managed to lead us into a heap of problems, most notably the deeply flawed “domino theory” that caused Lyndon Johnson to tragically misunderstand the Vietnam war.
Gosh, I miss the days when the critique was that our government leaders were too smart for their own good.
Donald Trump’s Not-Yet-Ready for Prime Time Players – led by the Apprentice-in-Chief himself -- have somehow managed to pack two full terms worth of gaffes, errors, and constitutional ignorance into roughly the same time span it takes Tom Brady to score 25 points.
Perhaps a new President should be cut slack, but an essential component of the sparse credentials that Trump offered the electorate was his alleged greatness as a corporate CEO and manager. He famously and repeatedly castigated the “stupidity of our leaders,” and bemoaned their woeful incompetence in negotiating deals with foreign governments on everything from trade to nuclear armament. His inaugural address brashly promised that change begins “right here and right now.” And thusly, he launched his reign of error.
In fairness, some of his more egregious lapses actually occurred before he was inaugurated, creating the illusion that he had managed to comprehensively mangle 70 years of post-war policy in three weeks. It has actually taken about twelve.
For example, his phone call to the President of Taiwan and subsequent public musing on his commitment to the “One China” policy actually happened back in December. This week, he learned that the actual leader of that real, one and only China was not going to bother talking to him on the phone unless he recanted his position and publicly endorsed the long-standing “One China” mantra. Meekly and obsequiously, Trump quickly caved in, leaving his buddy in Taiwan to conclude that The Donald was not a Taipai Personality after all.
Our readers have not the time and I not the stomach to provide a comprehensive compendium of the White House gaffe spree. Therefore I choose to focus on certain specific events that are on the one hand the most deeply troubling in their implications and most entertaining in illuminating the ignorance, incompetence, and lack of common sense rampant among the not-so-best and not-so-brightest now running our government.
The signature mess of Trump’s young presidency is the de facto Muslim ban. Badly conceived and yet still more incompetently executed, the ban created chaos largely because no one in Trump’s inner circle had contacted any of the organizations that would be required to communicate it, enforce it, and stand by it. The justification for the immediate implementation of this sweeping new policy was the concern that if warned, terrorists would pour into the country to beat the deadline. When the policy was challenged in court and indeed stopped cold by a temporary restraining order, Trump harshly blamed the “so-called judge” for the likelihood that terrorists would stream in during the delay, and he lustily tweeted that any blood shed as a result would be on the hands of the judiciary. As far as we can tell, if there are any such terrorists, they must be streaming into the country disguised as empty airplane seats.
But the highlight of Trump v. Pretty Much the Entire Judiciary Branch was a fascinating webcast of the oral arguments heard by the Ninth Circuit Appellate Court. The legal experts called in by MSNBC to comment on the proceedings were aghast by the lame arguments put forth by White House counsel in this episode of "Law and Order, Amateur Hour." Trump’s legal team asserted, in essence, that when the President of the United States makes a policy regarding immigration out of concern for national security, it – by definition – cannot be reviewed by the judicial branch. Apparently Trump’s team believes that the “separation of powers” means that they have power, and the judiciary does not.
Compounding this Olympian overreach, Trump’s lawyers offered a dazzling second rationale for why the ban must stand. Admittedly, I did not record their language verbatim, but it came off something like this:
“Hey, Judges! Over here in the executive branch, we know stuff – terrifying stuff! – stuff about terrorists that if you judges were only allowed to know, you’d like, totally, totally def agree with us and you would overrule that restraining order, like, now! But it is top secret stuff, so we can’t tell you what it is – you just have to trust the President. After all, almost a majority of the country elected him.”
It was with ill-concealed disdain that the Ninth Circuit judges educated the White House counsel that as a matter of routine, highly classified information is confidentially disclosed to the judiciary precisely to handle such situations.
Trump’s initial reaction to the Ninth Circuit’s decision to not overturn the restraining order was to tweet “SEE YOU IN COURT.” The latest breaking news, however, is that someone apparently explained to Trump that sending this ruling to the Supremes would in the very best case result in a four-four tie that would only serve to lock in the original Seattle decision. Others hypothesized that Chief Justice John Roberts would grow some and lead the Court to a full bipartisan 8-0 smack-down as a way of signaling to the new President that “so-called judges” are not going to let too much oxygen flow to a reality TV host with a weak grip on the Constitution.
At every turn and in every possible dimension, the travel ban has proven to be a richness of embarrassment for new administration. Trump has revealed a profound ignorance of, disregard for, and contempt toward the constitutional functions and role of the judicial branch of government which could have the ironic result of making the court far more combative with the so-called President than a 5-4 conservative court would ever have been.
And yet what is of still greater concern than the specifics of the travel ban – heinous as it is – is the message we are receiving about the institutional sloppiness and ignorance among those who have Trump’s ear. In attempting to implement the signature policy of his new administration, Trump is revealed to have assembled confederacy of dunces who view their roles as simply to figger’ out what da’ big boss wants and how to shove down America’s throat as quickly as possible.
It is these issues – the constitutional ignorance, blind loyalty to a person rather than the country, and simple organizational incompetence – about which we should worry most. When these characteristics are applied to immigration policy, the result so far is “only” a foolish executive order that inconveniences thousands of travelers and required the weight of our judicial system to thwart. However, should these same characteristics be operative when Trump seeks to undo the Iran nuclear deal, or battle some fresh, newly-opened front in Russia’s campaign of annexation plunder, or in responding to Kim Jong-un’s saber rattling, the potential carnage from such ignorance and incompetence is too terrifying to contemplate. And there will be no time for the Ninth Circuit to step in and say, “No, Mr. President, you can’t do that either.”
Would it be that the Trump team’s ignorance was limited to a bunch of legal flunkies trying to set public policy with the same intellectual rigor and scholarly discipline you find in the final exams in a “Rocks for Jocks” 101 survey course.
The New York Times reports that Steve Bannon told Trump that he should be appointed to the National Security Counsel without bothering to mention to Trump that it is wholly unprecedented and completed inappropriate for a political advisor to be given a seat on that committee. Trump apparently learned this from the blow back of news coverage against his decision. What President would put ultimate trust in an advisor who leaves him open to intense ridicule as the advisor blindly pursues his own self-aggrandizement?
Kelllyanne Conway imagined that there had been a terrorist incident in Bowling Green, and then offered the absence of coverage of her hallucination as evidence that the media purposefully under-reports terrorist incidents to undermine Donald Trump’s calls for greater security. The good news is that Conway was forced to back off and admit the error, thereby clarifying that a non-existent terror attack should not command the respect that should be accorded to her day-to-day “alternative facts.” It was not a good week for Conway, as the law against White House employees endorsing products is not a hallucination. Kellyanne breezily violated it by insipidly hawking Ivanka’s line of jewelry as if Drew Carey had asked her to tell the audience what is behind Door #3. As Rick Perry once so eloquently gushed in capturing the acute emotional trauma of egregious ignorance, “oops.”
If asked to cite one reason why our country ended up with a bloviating, serial-liar of a narcissist as its President, I’d offer the long term decay in our K-12 public education, creating a voting population that is ill-equipped to sort fact from fiction, ignorant of history, and therefore susceptible to demagoguery. Solution? Nominate Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education. DeVos is so unschooled on the major debates in public education that she could not answer Senator Al Franken’s request that she discuss the relative merits of measuring student progress by “proficiency” (attaining a score deemed to be adequate) or growth (improvement over time). This is sort of like asking a light beer drinker to weigh in on the eternal debate between “great taste” and “less filling,” and getting a blank stare. Ooops.
Micheal Flynn apparently had a nice chat with the Russian ambassador about the future of U.S. sanctions in a Trump administration. Unfortunately this happened before he was sworn in as National Security Advisor. For a private citizen to engage in such conversation with a foreign government is illegal. All rather bad on the merits, but if this allegation is true, then pile on the additional offense of lying to the new Vice-President of the United States about whether such a discussion took place. Ooops.
Ah, and there is Rick Perry himself, back in action, now in charge of one of the Federal agencies he vowed to eliminate, indeed, the very one whose name he famously forgot. Ooops.
Friends, it was a tough week, but worry not: I refuse to leave you high and dry on the downer.
There was good news in this past week, and I am not referring to the fact that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch secretly whispered to his new confidante Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal that he found Trump’s treatment of the Judiciary “demoralizing” and “disheartening.” No, that would have been good news if a Supreme Court nominee had the large size ‘nads to say it out loud for himself.
Actually, what was heartening this week is that Donald Trump may actually be losing ground in the far more important court case that is playing out on a daily basis, Popular Opinion of the United States vs. Donald J. Trump.
First, Rachel Maddow passed along the findings of a poll taken by Public Policy Polling that said that the citizenry of the United States was already evenly divided between whether or not to impeach Donald Trump:
“Just three weeks into his administration, voters are already evenly divided on the issue of impeaching Trump with 46% in favor and 46% opposed. Support for impeaching Trump has crept up from 35% 2 weeks ago, to 40% last week, to its 46% standing this week.”
On a scale of buyer’s remorse, this even tops when Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries divorced after only ten weeks of marriage.
Second: The New York Times reported this week that the ratings of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert have now pulled even with Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show. The reason: Colbert made a strategic decision three months ago to devote his every nightly monologue to a scorched-earth ravaging of the Trump Presidency. Fallon – who famously coddled and cuddled Trump in an election season interview – is paying the price, as America is rewarding Colbert for emerging as the loudest voice of protest in the entertainment industry.
Third: Budweiser’s Super Bowl commercial. The King of Beers ran a spot about how Mr. Anheuser and Mr. Busch met, making an unmistakable statement about the epic role immigration has played in shaping the America we know today. There’s a nuance in this story that has not received much coverage. A commercial of that complexity and high production value must have taken months to create, meaning that it was conceived long before Donald Trump announced his immigration ban. When the ban was announced days before the Super Bowl, there’s no question that some worried brand manager at Budweiser raised the question of whether they should shelve a spot that would undoubtedly be interpreted as a pointed statement about Trump’s ban.
But the leaders of Anheuser Busch stuck to their guns. Right there in the heart of the heartland, selling a brand that is the mother’s milk of blue collar America, risking the inevitable Trump-loyalist “Bud Boycott” that indeed materialized within hours, the management of Anheuser Busch ran the spot.
Hey, Anheuser Busch, this Bud’s for you. Welcome to the fight.
The winds of popular culture are blowing ferociously, and yes, the answer, my friends, is blowing in those winds. Donald Trump can huff and can puff, but only we can blow our house down. Judges can protect our rights, but only we can take our country back. This land was made for you and me.
So let’s all get on with the fight. History will tell us that this is a moment when the American people have to put forward our best, and when our commitment to justice, democracy, and our constitution must shine brightest.