Monday, May 22, 2017

A HOLLYWOOD ELITIST SCRIPTED ROGER AILES'S EULOGY

Roger Ailes got quite a sendoff from his only child over the weekend:
Friends and family of former Fox News chairman and founding CEO Roger Ailes gathered together and mourned his death Saturday during an intimate service at the St. Edward Roman Catholic Church in Palm Beach, Florida....

“I loved my father,” Ailes’ 17-year-old son, Zachary, told LifeZette. “He considered how much certain people hated him as a measure of success.”

Zachary pledged to fight to clear his father’s name after a series of sexual harassment allegations led to his ultimate ouster from Fox News.

“I want all the people who betrayed my father to know that I’m coming after them,” Zachary Ailes said during a speech at the ceremony, “and hell is coming with me.”
Wow, that's a tough, take-no-prisoners line. Where did it come from? Did a famous soldier say it? Maybe a fearless member of law enforcement?

Nahh. It comes from evil Left Coast communist metrosexual Hollywood. As the right-wing site BizPac Review acknowledges, it's a line from the 1993 film Tombstone -- a threat made by Wyatt Earp (played by Ken Kurt Russell) to a member of an outlaw gang called the Cowboys:



On the one hand, we now see that the Ailes family regards the women who have accused Ailes of sexual harassment as the moral equivalent of a murdering Wild West gang. On the other hand ... Hollywood? I thought conservatives hated Hollywood. Never mind that their favorite president was a Hollywood actor and their second-favorite president, the current one, was a TV star. Never mind that Roger Ailes's longtime boss runs a Hollywood movie studio. Never mind that Ailes worked in TV and theater before becoming a right-wing hit man. Hollywood is supposed to be anathema to right-wingers -- and yet that's where Zachary Ailes, a rich, private-school-educated scion, gets his idea of courage.

Though I wonder if using the line was really Zachary's idea. We know that Roger Ailes, a lifelong hemophiliac, had long thought about his own death. As his biographer Gabriel Sherman reported, "A couple of weeks before his thirtieth birthday, [Ailes] told a reporter, 'Most people think I'll be dead before I'm 35.'"

We know that having a young son made Ailes focus even more on his own mortality:
Due in part to the large age gap between father and son – 60 years – Ailes had compiled a memory book so that his son could remember his life when he was gone, according to Vanity Fair.

Since Zac was four, Vanity Fair reported in an excerpt from Zac Chafets’ book, Roger Ailes: Off Camera, “Ailes has been putting things away for him in memory boxes; there are now nine, stuffed with mementos, personal notes, photos, and messages from Ailes to his son. They are meant to be opened when Ailes is gone.”

He showed the author one box, a plastic container “stuffed with what appeared to be a random assortment of memorabilia. There was a pocket-size copy of the U.S. Constitution in which Ailes had written, ‘The founders believed it and so should you'” and photos of Zac and Beth Ailes on vacations, according to the magazine.

In one note, Roger Ailes had written his son, “Avoid war if at all possible but never give up your freedom—or your honor. Always stand for what is right. If absolutely forced to fight, then fight with courage and win. Don’t try to win ... win! Love, Dad,” reported Chafets.
Did the elder Ailes ask his son to use that line in his eulogy? That's my guess. I can easily imagine Papa Roger in his last year telling young Zachary that he wanted him to threaten Dad's enemies at his funeral, in those carefully selected words.

Roger Ailes was never really a tough guy. He lived a life of fear. His had bombproof windows installed in his Fox News office, where he also kept two handguns. He maintained a bunker underneath his house with half a year's worth of supplies, in anticipation of a terrorist attack, and, as a neighbor recounted, he "was said to have ordered the removal of all trees around his house so that he … had a 360-degree view of any leftist assault teams preparing to rush the house." He hired private investigators to "discredit anyone perceived as a threat to the channel or Ailes himself," as The Hill noted. He order Fox public relations employees to create dummy accounts so that undetectable Ailes trolls could rebut Fox critics online, even at obscure blogs.

And he was a creature of the elite coastal media, regardless of his self-image. So of course the tough-guy words that saw him off were Hollywood-fake.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

"HE CHOKED!" REDUX

I'm amused by this story on the reaction to the president's Saudi Arabia speech:
... President Donald Trump is ... taking heat from his avid supporters....

His crime?

Calling Islam “one of the world’s great faiths.”

That double hit — ducking [the phrase] “[radical] Islamic terrorism” while praising the religion — was not received very well on Twitter....



....


I'm reminded of Joe Scarborough's reaction to Trump's meeting with Mexico's president back in September:
On "Morning Joe," the host said Trump's refusal to press [President Enrique] Peña Nieto in person about funding a border wall between the US and Mexico demonstrated Trump's lack of confidence as a leader.

"If that's the center of your campaign, how do you not get the job done when you're there?" Scarborough said.

He added: "He had the guy in front of him and he choked. He choked! I can't stand people who choke under pressure."



What happened to the tough guy all these Trump voters thought they were electing? The two-fisted, doesn't-back-down "blue-collar billionaire"?

But it occurs to me that one of the best-known songs about standing up to an adversary -- a classic to many people in Trump Country -- is actually about not having the nerve to stand up.



I'd give the shirt right off of my back
If I had the guts to say

Take this job and shove it
I ain't working here no more....
That's Trump -- he acts as if he's ready to tell his enemies where to get off and his fans don't even realize that as soon as they're face to face, he'll back down.

*****

UPDATE I cut the tweet from Vic Berger IV. I'm informed that he's an anti-Trump mocker.

DON'T BE SO SURE THAT SHERIFF DAVID CLARKE IS GOING DOWN

I can't deny that this looks bad for David Clarke, full-time loudmouth and -- in whatever time he has left between gun-nut speeches and Fox TV appearances -- sheriff of Milwaukee County:
Controversial Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who this week announced he will be joining Donald Trump's administration as assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security, plagiarized sections of his 2013 master's thesis on US security, a CNN KFile review has found.

Clarke, a visible surrogate for Trump during the campaign known for his incendiary rhetoric, earned a master's degree in security studies at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. In his thesis, "Making U.S. security and privacy rights compatible," Clarke failed to properly attribute his sources at least 47 times.

In all instances reviewed by CNN's KFile, Clarke lifts language from sources and credits them with a footnote, but does not indicate with quotation marks that he is taking the words verbatim.
Last night on Twitter, I questioned whether plagiarism would compel Clarke to withdraw. I was reminded of this:



Yes, but Crowley didn't lash out at her attackers. When she was accused of plagiarizing parts of her Ph.D. dissertations and parts of one of her books, she "declined to comment." She treated the revelations the way you'd treat them if you were the appointee of a normal president. She didn't understand that Donald Trump is not normal. He doesn't expect his underlings to maintain a dignified silence or issue carefully worded responses when facing accusations.

Trump likes people who fight back, however ill-advisedly. Immediately after Trump's inauguration, he put pressure on press secretary Sean Spicer to defend Trump's ridiculous assertion that he'd hard a larger inaugural crowd than Barack Obama in 2009. Later, Trump was angry when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself in matters pertaining to Russiagate.

So far, Clarke isn't making that mistake:









There's also a lot of higher-profile news happening now -- Trump's overseas trip, the series of wild news stories of the past couple of weeks. The Crowley revelations happened before the inaugural, when the major Trump-related stories were about personnel matters.

But the main reason Clarke might very well survive is that he spends his entire waking life in attack mode. Crowley, even though she's done her share of attacking as a Fox pundit and right-wing hack, isn't a rage generator by nature. Clarke does it as naturally as breathing. I'm betting Trump will have his back.

We already know that presiding over a court system jail where a prisoner died of dehydration after being denied water for a week hasn't prevented Clarke from being appointed. I think he could survive this, too.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

ROGER AILES AND CONSERVATISM'S PERMANENT WAR

Jon Klein, the former head of CNN's U.S. division, argues in The Washington Post that the Internet didn't divide the American media into warring tribal fiefdoms -- it was Roger Ailes:
When the network launched in 1996, few realized that Ailes had hatched the prototype news organization of the 21st century: information with attitude; facts yoked to a point of view, the more provocative the better; a tribal vibe, outsiders unwelcome and openly scorned. The Internet did not, as is so often alleged, usher in the siloed media environment in which we find ourselves today and likely forever. Ailes did that — by proving that there is money, influence and power to be found in serving well-defined interest groups instead of trying to please the widest possible audience.
I don't agree with Klein that the "siloing" is across the board -- Pew found in 2014 that liberals were getting their news from a number of sources, while conservatives loved Fox. What he's describing is happening to some extent on the left, but it's pervasive on the right.

Klein continues:
What’s more, by unreservedly infusing news with a right-of-center agenda, Ailes popularized the notion that all journalists are biased. “At least we’re honest about who is offering opinion, unlike CNN,” Ailes would often say.
I don't think that's correct. The message of Fox is: All journalists except ours are biased. Bret Stephens, in a New York Times op-ed, writes, "In moments of candor, Ailes would admit that his network’s real motto, as he saw it, was to be 'fair and balancing.'" But it's clear that his audience didn't believe that. Other news sources aren't skewed or biased -- they're lying, according to loyal Fox fans. Fox tells the whole truth (except when traitors like Megyn Kelly do the bidding of the Establishment).

Klein writes:
Of course, keeping an audience of millions on a footing of constant alert for many years has the effect of stoking anxiety on a national scale. Solutions are rarely forthcoming; problems are never solved; few officials or institutions can be trusted.
The Fox message is that victories generally aren't even victories, because what really matters is the war against conservatives' enemies, which is never-ending. Recall Fox in George W. Bush's first term -- even when he could be portrayed as a triumphant war president, Fox was still watching the horizon for signs of domestic dissent, and if it wasn't coming from Democrats, then it was time to turn Dan Rather or Barbra Streisand or some college professor into the enemy of the day.

And as Klein notes, that was Roger Ailes expressing his own sense of unrelieved -- and unrelievable -- grievance:
... [We were] at Michael’s, the restaurant of choice for Manhattan’s media elite....

We were at Roger’s table, No. 4 — the best one in the house, a corner with a commanding view of the entire room.... he was trotting out his standard case about the lack of respect he received in New York, despite his immense professional accomplishments. “They think I’m this rube from Ohio,” he said. “They all look down their noses at me.” Roger was having trouble making his point, though, because of the parade of well-wishers who kept interrupting to shake his hand, kibitz and flatter. Eventually, I couldn’t resist stating the obvious: “Kind of undermines your point, doesn’t it? Half this restaurant is kissing your ring.” “Yeah,” he replied without irony. “But they hate doing it.”
Ailes's audience eventually voted for a president who can never be satisfied with the amount of adulation he receives, and who's in a state of permanent war with his enemies. In that way, Trump is just like Ailes.

Bret Stephens, in his column on Ailes, blames Fox for harming conservatism:
What Fox is mainly in the business of doing is hating the left. In the manner of Ailes himself, its convictions stem from its resentments — and shift accordingly. It is sympathetic to military intervention when the left is against it (Iraq) and hostile when the left is for it (Libya); anti-Russia when President Obama was reaching out to Russia, pro-Russia when Obama started getting tough on the Kremlin.

More recently it has discovered the virtues of economic nationalism and the evils of “globalism” in the service of the Trump electorate.

All this makes for a terrific business model — a matter of being attuned to the changing tastes and inclinations of your core audience. But it also means that the network Ailes built was never a vehicle for conservative views.
I'm not going to get into an argument with Stephens about what is and isn't conservative. But I'd say that the attitude at Fox -- and now throughout the right -- is that the primary criterion for judging any political deed is: How much does this piss off liberals? That's true even when the goal seems to be the advancement of conservatism as Stephens would define it. Conservatism doesn't matter as much as winning the battle. (The war, alas, can never be won.)

For all their flag-waving and talk about making America great again, conservatives don't really care about America. They care about fighting with us. Fox helped teach them to think that way. And now they have a president with the same attitude.

Friday, May 19, 2017

JENNIFER RUBIN IS MUCH MORE CERTAIN OF A MASS GOP DIE-OFF THAN I AM

Jennifer Rubin, a right-winger who's always refused the Trump Kool-Aid, thinks the president's scandals are causing "the downfall of a generation of Washington Republicans":
Either during or at the end of his first term, Trump’s presidency will end, voluntarily or not.... When the party — or what remains of it — looks for leadership, where will it turn?

Not to the likes of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who opportunistically backed Trump after declaring his unfitness. Not to the likes of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who became Trump’s palace guard, vouching for Cabinet secretaries and refusing to denounce conflicts of interest and possible violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. Come to think of it, any Republican who failed in his or her constitutional duty of oversight, continuing to turn a blind eye toward wrongdoing and to rationalize Trump’s conduct, should be disqualified from high office, if not shunned by conservatives....

If the GOP is to survive at all after Trump, it most likely will need to turn to governors or ex-lawmakers who did not carry Trump’s water or attempt to defend the indefensible. I raise that now because it will reflect on the actions of Republicans on Capitol Hill for the next couple of years. Keep in mind how self-destructive their behavior is as you wince watching Capitol Hill Republicans flack for Trump.... As painful as it is to watch these performances, some satisfaction can be derived from knowing that these Republicans are doing incalculable damage to their ambition for future leadership in the party.
I don't see it that way at all.

As I said in the previous post, I believe Trump could well be brought down without ever becoming tarnished in the eyes of the 38% of Americans who support him now. Doing deals with the Russians? Hey, so what? He's a businessman -- deals are his specialty. Are we at war with Russia? And can't the president fire an FBI director? He's the president, right? And how do we know the evidence of Russian election interference is legit? What about Seth Rich's death? And what about Hillary's emails? And the Deep State? And Donna Brazile giving Hillary those debate questions? And and and and....

Maybe members of Trump's inner circle will be unelectable in the future, but Republicans outside the inner circle who defended Trump will be fine -- Tom Cotton and Paul Ryan will get do-overs. (We'll be told that Ryan, especially, experienced great pangs of guilt while backing Trump.) If anything, the many Trump diehards in the voter base will probably reject the Rubio and Cruz because they weren't supportive enough of Trump.

I'm certain that future GOP leaders will be those who stayed on Trump's good side but who aren't generally identified with him -- the political establishment will demand the latter, but deplorable voters will insist on the former. Ask yourself: Did Nixon's presidency lead to ""the downfall of a generation of Washington Republicans"? Hell, if Gerald Ford had received 50,000 more votes in Ohio and Wisconsin, he'd have won the Electoral College in 1976.

A former RedState editor, now at Glenn Beck's Blaze, tweeted this today on the subject of the conservative movement:



I responded with a point I've been making on this blog for years:



I was seconded:



That's the truth. It's never doomsday for the GOP.



DON'T DISMISS FEARS OF A PRESIDENT PENCE

I don't think we're going to be rid of President Trump anytime soon. The most promising investigation, that of special counsel Robert Mueller, will probably be slow and deliberate. If crimes are discovered, it's quite possible the culprits will be only the usual suspects -- Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone. Art of the Deal co-author Tony Schwartz may believe that Trump will resign if impeachment seems to be on the horizon, but we expected Trump to quit the presidential campaign on numerous occasions, and it never happened. And it's very hard to imagine Trump being convicted in a Republican-controlled Senate by a two-thirds majority after an impeachment, or having a 25th Amendment removal sustained by a two-thirds majority in both houses, after Trump inevitably exercises his right under the amendment to challenge removal. A two-thirds majority in the Senate means 19 Republicans have to vote against Trump -- can you think of 19 GOP senators who'd ever do that? Or nearly a hundred GOP House members if the 25th Amendment is invoked?

But okay, let's imagine that we do rid ourselves of Trump. Should we worry about Mike Pence as president?

The New Republic's Jeet Heer, acknowledges that Pence, "a creature of the religious right, would be a terrible president, although in ways different than Trump." But he thinks we shouldn't be afraid of a Pence presidency:
It’s possible Pence would enjoy a honeymoon after taking office, with most Democrats and many Republicans grateful to see Trump gone, but it would be only a honeymoon. President Gerald Ford’s brief period of grace after taking over for Richard Nixon in 1974 ended when he pardoned his predecessor. Once Pence tried to implement his agenda, Democrats would remember Pence’s complicity in helping Trump become president. Indeed, Democrats would have readymade 2020 ads showing Pence praising his now-disgraced former boss.
Yes, but a lot of Democratic/liberal energy, among the public and in Congress, is going to dissipate if Trump is ousted. The political Establishment, across the spectrum, will be desperate for a normalization of politics after Trump. The public, alas, will probably be ready to embrace Pence as a healing figure (he's regarded more favorably than unfavorably in every major poll taken since Election Day). And while Richard Nixon was widely regarded as a blight on America by the time of his resignation -- his approval rating was in the twenties -- it's quite possible that Trump's base will never acknowledge that he's done wrong. His approval rating may always remain at 38% or higher -- that seems to be his floor. So a significant percentage of Americans won't see Pence as the head of a party tainted by a reprehensible disgraced president, because they won't believe Trump was disgraced.

But will the GOP be too divided to govern? Heer thinks so:
Nor would there be widespread support for Pence among Republicans. Though he’s a more conventional Republican, he will inherit a party that is even more fractured than it is now. Trump has had a hard time governing not only because of his own ignorance and blundering, but because there’s nothing holding the Republican Party together other than hatred of the Democrats.
Um, that's like saying there was nothing holding Nazi Germany together other than hatred of non-Aryans. For the GOP, hatred of Democrats counts for a lot.

Heer continues:
There is no unity of purpose between the House Freedom Caucus, the House moderates, and GOP senators. As president, Pence will have much in common with mainstream Republicans but he will find, as Obama and Trump did before him, that a small number of far-right congressmen can sabotage legislation.
Um, Pence is a far-right Republican. And the unbridgeable GOP gap Heer is describing really might be limited to health care, because many non-Freedom Caucus Republicans now see the appeal of Obamacare reforms to their own voters. On tax cuts, budgeting, social issues, and defense, I don't think there's nearly as much disagreement.
Trump’s impeachment would indeed create a new faction in the party: the disaffected Trumpists. Consider the Obama-to-Trump voters who made a difference in the 2016 election: white working class people who normally distrust Republicans like Mitt Romney, but took a chance on Trump because of his populist message. How would they feel about a Republican Party that impeaches Trump and gives them Pence instead? They’d think, quite rightly, that they’ve been betrayed. It’s likely they’d sit out the next election or return to the Democrats.
I fear that Pence would be shrewd enough to signal to the Trump base that he's not abandoning the Trump agenda. He'll say he ran in 2016 to create jobs and make the country safe, and he still believes in those goals. He'll talk about securing the border -- maybe he'll still back the wall! -- and he'll talk about an economy that puts American jobs first. If he dog-whistles to Obama-then-Trump voters that he's carrying the flag of Trumpism, they might stick with him -- even as the rest of the political world expresses relief at his good manners, his ability to put together a functioning administration, and his lack of interest in Twitter.

I think he could be like first-term George W. Bush -- acceptable to swing voters (maybe soccer moms will like his marriage) even as he signals to Trump voters and the GOP base that he's their president specifically.

If you're wondering: No, I don't believe Pence will be brought down by Russiagate. The Establishment will want everything to be okay, so claims that he wasn't aware of inappropriate doings will be accepted at face value.

So, yes, be afraid of a possible Pence presidency -- although don't expect one in the near future.

TODAY IN "DONALD TRUMP IS A SLAVE TO HIS EMOTIONS"

I'm back. Thank you again, Yastreblyansky, Crank, and Tom -- great work again while I was away.

Today, as Donald Trump leaves on his first foreign trip as president, we learn from The New York Times that foreign governments consider him very easy to wrap around their fingers:
After four months of interactions between Mr. Trump and his counterparts, foreign officials and their Washington consultants say certain rules have emerged: Keep it short — no 30-minute monologue for a 30-second attention span. Do not assume he knows the history of the country or its major points of contention. Compliment him on his Electoral College victory. Contrast him favorably with President Barack Obama. Do not get hung up on whatever was said during the campaign. Stay in regular touch. Do not go in with a shopping list but bring some sort of deal he can call a victory.
In other words, assume he's an ignoramus. Assume he's extraordinarily susceptible to insincere flattery, and to anything that enables him to be flattered by others, particularly his electorate. Attack his enemies. Voila: president successfully manipulated.

Notice what's missing here? Any sense that these officials and consultants fear his expert negotiating skills. That's because he doesn't have those skills.

And:



Yeah, I'm wondering that, too.

In addition to that, we're reading this at the Daily Beast about Trump's relationship with ousted national security advisor Michael Flynn:
... Trump doesn’t just hope that Flynn will beat the rap. Several sources close to Flynn and to the administration tell The Daily Beast that Trump has expressed his hopes that a resolution of the FBI’s investigation in Flynn’s favor might allow Flynn to rejoin the White House in some capacity—a scenario some of Trump’s closest advisers in and outside the West Wing have assured him absolutely should not happen....

“Trump feels really, really, really bad about firing him, and he genuinely thinks if the investigation is over Flynn can come back,” said one White House official.

One former FBI official and a second government official said Trump thought he owed Flynn for how things ended up and was determined to clear Flynn’s name and bring him back to the White House.
Is this just because Trump worries that Flynn could bring him down? That's what a lot of people believe, but BuzzFeed's Ben Smith has an alternate explanation:
... an old book and a new movie hint at something else, that Flynn brought from the military and from Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s band of brothers a trait that Trump, a self-described “loyalty freak,” values above others: personal loyalty.

... [Flynn] rose through the [military] ranks on McChrystal’s coattails, and played a central role in another great public crisis: the 2010 downfall of McChrystal and his loyal men after they were quoted in Rolling Stone trashing their civilian masters.

The new movie War Machine, out on May 26 on Netflix, includes a thinly veiled portrait of Flynn as Gen. Greg Pulver, the top aide to Brad Pitt’s arrogant US general in Afghanistan. As played by Anthony Michael Hall, Pulver makes up for being somewhat dense with awe-inspiring, fierce personal devotion to his boss.

... The writer and director of War Machine, David Michôd, confirmed to me that he had McChrystal’s inner circle in mind in while he was writing the film.

“The loyalty felt like a hugely important part of that bunch of guys,” he said in an email. “A bunch of guys collectively propping up a delusion. And they do this with their unwavering loyalty and admiration for the General. And I know this to be true of these guys in the real world."

The most common mistake in American journalism these days is overthinking Donald Trump — imputing a strategy, or even a plan, to a cipher who operates on impulse and gut. He has always surrounded himself with a certain kind of man — die-hard loyalists, whose loyalty he mostly returns, sometimes after he fires them.

A friend of Flynn, Michael Isikoff reported today, described the general and the president as "brothers in a foxhole."

... Even after he'd forced Flynn out — and on the day he would have his fateful dinner with Comey — Trump was grumbling in public that his former aide-de-camp had been treated “very, very unfairly.”
If Smith is correct, it's not really that Flynn is using emotion in a cynical way to manipulate Trump. It's more that Trump can't put his own self-interest ahead of his desperate craving for loyal hangers-on -- just as he can't resist flattery and ego gratification from people outside his inner circle, and is very malleable when he gets those things.

Sad!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

More Excellent News for John McCain

From Eli Lake, we have The Special Counsel Who Just Might Save Trump's Presidency:
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein just did Donald Trump a favor.

It may not look like that from the perspective of the president. His Twitter feed is filled with eruptions about the fraudulence of the Russia investigation. But by appointing the former FBI director Robert Mueller to investigate the matter, Rosenstein has quieted a crisis that was consuming Trump's presidency....

[Long litany of horrible news for Trump over the last couple of weeks]

Now Rosenstein has offered the president a reset. Trump has a chance to try to focus on foreign and domestic policy. And in this respect the timing is fortunate.

Trump will travel to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy and Belgium on his first foreign trip as president, starting Friday. He plans to press Arab allies to form a new alliance against Iran. He hopes to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He has a chance to lock down greater spending commitments from NATO allies.

On the domestic front, Trump can now focus on getting his health-care legislation and tax cuts through the Senate.
The near-perfection of this asininity is marred only by the omission of the word 'pivot'. Hey, maybe Trump will Become President (again) in Saudi Arabia, or Israel, or the Vatican. Because it worked out so well all the other times he Became President.

Now, I don't think he'll actually be impeached--not before the midterms, anyway. But the appointment of a Special Counsel does guarantee that this will still be a story a year from now, or 18 months from now for that matter. Which I'm sure is Excellent News for Congressional Republicans.

(Incidentally, this is also Bad News for Hillary Clinton.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Crime and Coverup

A Watergate salad, involving, according to RealHousemoms, "sweet pineapple, creamy whipped topping, mini marshmallows, crunchy walnuts and green pistachio flavored pudding! I like to add maraschino cherries to mine too." Speaking of coverups that are crimes.

Can everybody please stop saying "The coverup is worse than the crime because Watergate was a third-rate burglary"?

That characterization, coined by the late Ron Ziegler (he died in 2003, just as the Iraq war was about to begin and Ari "Palm Beach County is a Pat Buchanan stronghold" Fleischer was ready to take over his old title as history's most mendacious press secretary, though he himself only survived in the job a few months after that), became "inoperative", as Ziegler put it, on April 17 1973, when Nixon informed the gasping world that he had personally investigated the Watergate burglary himself, or that poor John Dean had, and concluded that some White House officials might have been involved.

Mr. Ziegler told a puzzled press corps that this was now the ''operative statement,'' repeating the word operative six times. Finally, R. W. Apple Jr. of The New York Times asked, ''Would it be fair for us to infer, since what the president said today is now considered the operative statement, to quote you, that the other statement is no longer operative, that it is now inoperative?''
Eventually Mr. Ziegler replied: ''The president refers to the fact that there is new material; therefore, this is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.'
A third-rate burglary is when somebody breaks into your apartment through the front window and steals your cable box and the fucking Brooklyn cops who futilely dusted the house for fingerprints tell you weeks or months later that there is no such thing as a report you can give to Time Warner to account for the missing box, though it's obvious they're lying, and you end up having to pay the fucking cable company $300. As you can see I know my third-rate burglaries pretty well.

And the Watergate burglary wasn't one of them, however ineptly it may have been carried out.

Its precursor, the Ellsberg burglary of 1971, was an attempt to steal a file from a psychiatrist's office in the hope of obtaining kompromat material! Have you ever asked yourself what they thought they might find, and what use they hoped to make of it? "Do not listen to this so-called expert military analyst Ellsberg when he tells you our war policy is going to fail—we happen to know the man has unresolved Oedipal issues! And has a valium prescription!" The thing in itself was as weird as Dog Day Afternoon, and it was emanating from the executive seat of the most powerful government on earth! How many burglaries do you know of that are even a little bit like that? How is that third-rate, excuse me?

And then Watergate itself, in May 1972, an attempt to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the hope of discovering what kinds of malfeasance? Were they looking for evidence that McGovern had early access to debate questions or was mean to Henry Jackson or Hubert Humphrey, or did they simply genuinely believe that McGovern was a Communist in collusion with the Soviet Union and listening to Lawrence O'Brien's meetings and phone conversations would provide some evidence of that (O'Brien wasn't even working in Washington at the time, he was spending his time in Miami)? And why did they do such a terrible job of the bugging, for that matter? It was botched from beginning to end, whatever its purposes, and to add insult to injury, they got caught.

The Watergate burglary wasn't "the" crime, either. The White House was running a criminal gang including many members with CIA black ops training! They were found guilty of burglary, criminal wiretapping, using the IRS to harass enemies, accepting illegal campaign contributions, laundering money from campaign contributions into funding their activities, spying on and sabotaging the Democrats' political campaign, conspiracy. And the coverup activities of perjury and obstruction of justice as well, because the coverup was part of the crime! It wasn't "worse than the crime".

It was important, as the part of the crime that enabled investigators to put the whole thing together, but you have to understand it was covered up from the start, because that's what criminals do. And the Watergate burglary was important because it was the route through which the larger conspiracy was revealed, of Nixon and his Germans running a secret government within the government—not to run the government (which was mostly being done by the congressional Democrats at this point, not exceptionally well, though I don't fault them for rejecting Nixon's health insurance program, since, though it would have provided government-sponsored health insurance for people who were already reasonably secure, it was also dedicated to taking down Medicare and Medicaid), but to protect Nixon and his friends from the long list of Nixon enemies.

What does this have to do with the present emergency? Clearly the Russian invasion of the DNC computers was a much more successful burglary than when Nixon's plumbers tried to do the same thing with the DNC file folders. There's probably a lot more to say. I think the selection of a special prosecutor, and the particular selection of Robert Mueller, is a nice sign that something could be starting to move. For the time being, over to you.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

You can't make this stuff up

Or if you can, there could be serious money in it.

François Truffaut, via Cinémathèque Française.

Narratology isn't admissible evidence in a criminal court, but there's something in the report of the Comey memo that really makes me believe, the psychological realism of what the Emperor is said to have said, and its tone:
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
It's the sound of a very wealthy father talking to the boarding-school principal after the entitled, psychopathic son has burned down his bedroom knocking over the bong, or assaulted the chambermaid. Or a mafia boss addressing a policeman on behalf of a dumb henchman picked up for cutting somebody with a broken margarita glass in a bar fight. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go—he's a good kid." No, he's not, but that's not even the point.

And only a crude-minded screenwriter would have the father holding out an actual check; there's no need for that, the idea of bribery or extortion is already there. This is a world where Trump is perfectly comfortable and competent. He's done this before, "dealing". (His difficulty is just that he isn't in that world any more and he has no idea who's a crook and who isn't.) You don't say, "I could fire you," he knows that. And we know that, because when he didn't get his way with Comey he did fire him. This really happened.

Cross-posted in The Rectification of Names.

Trigger Warning: Some of the words in this post may have been written by Bret Stephens.

Bret Stephens of the New York Times addressing the graduating class at Hampden-Sydney College (and recycling the speech into a Wednesday column):

I’ve been thinking about safe spaces a lot lately. For those of you with the good fortune never to have heard the term, a “safe space” is not, as you may suppose, a concrete-reinforced room where you can ride out a tornado. It isn’t a bulletproof car, either.
Instead, a “safe space” denotes a place, usually on campus, where like-minded people — often sharing the same race, gender, sexual orientation or political outlook — can spend time together without having to encounter the expression of any ideas or opinions that they do not endorse.
Because the seniors at an all-male Presbyterian college in rural Virginia with an African American student population of 6.8% probably can't even imagine how horrible and soul-killing it is to be in the kind of situation you can wind up in at one of those schools like Brandeis or Wesleyan, voluntarily sequestered into a groupthink environment where like-minded people, often sharing the same race, gender, sexual orientation, or political outlook can spend time together without having to encounter the expression of any ideas or opinions that they do not endorse. Preach it, Brother Bret!

Actually they do have safe spaces at Hampden-Sydney. They just have different terms for them, like "fraternity", or "lacrosse team".

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Better than an insanity defense: a stupidity defense

From the New York Times:

In private, three administration officials conceded that they could not publicly articulate their most compelling — and honest — defense of the president for divulging classified intelligence to the Russians: that Mr. Trump, a hasty and indifferent reader of his briefing materials, simply did not possess the interest or the knowledge of the granular details of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods of intelligence gathering that would harm American allies.
Mr. McMaster all but said that publicly from the briefing room lectern.
In other words, your honor, my client is so lazy, so intellectually thick, so uneducated, so damn downright stupid, he could not possibly have committed the crimes he's charged with. The defense rests.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

GONE FOR A COUPLE OF DAYS

Something's come up that's going to keep me away from the blog for a couple of days -- but I think the relief crew will be here while I'm gone, so drop by. See you on Friday.

WHY ARE SO MANY PEOPLE UNFAIRLY CRITICAL OF OUR GENUINELY AWFUL PRESIDENT?

This is Erick Erickson writing about Blabbermouthgate:
I tend to take these stories about the President with a grain of salt. We have seen key details of a number of salacious stories retracted within 48 hours. The media hates the President so much that they’ll run a negative story about him without very much provocation. Anti-Trump sources embedded within the administration in the career civil service, etc. will leak to the press and confirmation bias sets in.
Yes, extreme hostility toward Trump on the part of the media and civil servants is really uncalled for!

This is also Erick Erickson, in the same post:
What sets this story apart for me, at least, is that I know one of the sources. And the source is solidly supportive of President Trump, or at least has been and was during Campaign 2016. But the President will not take any internal criticism, no matter how politely it is given. He does not want advice, cannot be corrected, and is too insecure to see any constructive feedback as anything other than an attack.

So some of the sources are left with no other option but to go to the media, leak the story, and hope that the intense blowback gives the President a swift kick in the butt. Perhaps then he will recognize he screwed up. The President cares vastly more about what the press says than what his advisers say. That is a real problem and one his advisers are having to recognize and use, even if it causes messy stories to get outside the White House perimeter.
Erickson continues:
I am told that what the President did is actually far worse than what is being reported. The President does not seem to realize or appreciate that his bragging can undermine relationships with our allies and with human intelligence sources. He also does not seem to appreciate that his loose lips can get valuable assets in the field killed.

You can call these sources disloyal, traitors, or whatever you want. But please ask yourself a question — if the President, through inexperience and ignorance, is jeopardizing our national security and will not take advice or corrective action, what other means are available to get the President to listen and recognize the error of his ways?
So, according to Erickson, the president of the United States
* "will not take any internal criticism"

* "does not want advice, cannot be corrected, and is too insecure to see any constructive feedback as anything other than an attack"

* "cares vastly more about what the press says than what his advisers say," which "is a real problem"

* did something that "is actually far worse than what is being reported" (which echoes the BuzzFeed source who said, “it’s far worse than what has already been reported”)

* "does not seem to appreciate that his loose lips can get valuable assets in the field killed."

* "is jeopardizing our national security and will not take advice or corrective action"
Gosh, I can't imagine why the press and career civil servants dislike Trump and traffic in negative stories about him on a regular basis. Must be liberal bias!

A BRAGGADOCIOUS YOUTH WHO DOESN'T EVEN KNOW THE RIGHT THINGS TO BRAG ABOUT

At The Atlantic, Eliot Cohen writes this about President Trump's disclosure of highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador:
He apparently divulged the information to show off, which not only shows a lack of self-discipline: It shows, yet again, how easy this man is to play, particularly by veteran manipulators like his two experienced, talented, and thuggish guests.
Do you think Trump was played? Do you think he was manipulated? I have serious doubts about that. Recall how The Washington Post described the revelation:
In his meeting with Lavrov, Trump seemed to be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” the president said, according to an official with knowledge of the exchange.

Trump went on to discuss aspects of the threat that the United States learned only through the espionage capabilities of a key partner.
It seems likely that he was just spontaneously trying to impress his important guests. For me, with Trump, it always comes back to what Mark Cuban said during the campaign:
“He’s like that guy who walks into the bar, and will say whatever it’ll take to get laid. Only in this case he’s not trying to fuck some girl. He’s trying to fuck the country,” he said to applause and laughter.
If I'm right, this was the same impulse in a non-sexual, non-electoral way: In Trump's mind, he was putting the moves on the Russians, and he knew something that would really impress them.

And this gets back to another preposterous thing about Trump: He's desperate to impress everyone, but his knowledge base is so deficient that he has no idea what's actually impressive. He gets amazing inside intelligence? Well, of course he does -- he's the president of the United States! But he seriously believes that top Russian officials won't realize that he's briefed on such details unless he tells them.

He's always like this. As his hundred-day milestone approached, distributed electoral maps to reporters -- as if they hadn't seen the map of his electoral college win. When the Trumpcare bill passed the House, he gathered House Republicans at the White House and told them, among other things,
"I’m president! Hey! I’m president! Can you believe it? Right?”
I don't have any grand thoughts about this, except that it's terrifying that a boy-man like this is president.

Monday, May 15, 2017

CRIES UNHEARD

Amateur hour at the White House again:
President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said that Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

The information Trump relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said that Trump’s decision to do so risks cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State....

“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”
I feel this is being leaked because the leakers want the public and -- especially -- members of Congress to understand how unthinkably risky it is for Trump to remain in the Oval Office. This is really a cry for help to majority Republicans in Congress, who have closed ranks to protect Trump.

It won't help. The congressional GOP will remain loyal. The Trump White House and the pro-Trump press will tell us that this is fake news, a lie told by the Deep State because the presence of the People's Champion in the White House is intolerable to elitists and globalists. If the story is accepted as accurate, we'll still be told there's nothing to see here that relects badly on Trump:



Yes, and the FBI ought to prioritize finding whoever leaked this story over finding out how our democracy was sabotaged by the Russians.

It's good that we know this happened. But it won't change anything.


JEFF JACOBY, HYPOCRITICAL HACK

Jeff Jacoby, a right-wing op-ed columnist for The Boston Globe is appalled by the language of Trumpcare opponents:
Listen to some what passes for political discourse these days.

“Donald Trump and Republicans just celebrated voting to let thousands of Americans die so that billionaires get tax breaks.” Those are the words of a prominent US senator.

“They” — Republican House members who voted for the AHCA — “should be lined up and shot. That’s not hyperbole; blood is on their hands.” So fumes a professor at the Art Institute of Washington.

“I hope every GOPer who voted for Trumpcare sees a family member get long-term condition, lose insurance, and die. I want the GOPers who support this to feel the pain in their own families. . . . I want them to be tortured.” Those sentiments are expressed via Twitter by a senior writer at Newsweek.

... this is what discussions of public policy sound like now — even when the issues in contention are about insurance subsidies and Medicaid waivers, not war and peace.
I don't approve of that professor's language, but the senator (Bernie Sanders) was telling the literal truth, and the Newsweek writer -- Kurt Eichenwald, a Trump critic and epileptic who has been the recipient of a seizure-inducing tweet from a Trump supporter -- also wrote in that tweetstorm, "Nobody tell me how to feel knowing if I lose my insurance, Im dead." He has the right to be upset.

You may recall that the anti-Obamacare movement was rather intemperate a few years back. Jacoby, to give him his due, acknowledges that:
It was a Republican, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who told senior citizens back in 2009 that if the Affordable Care Act passed, “you’re going to die soon.” It was Representative Michele Bachmann, another Republican, who railed on the House floor that Obamacare “literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.” It was Sarah Palin, a GOP governor and vice-presidential nominee, who warned that under the ACA, the sick and the elderly would “have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘Death Panel’” and have bureaucrats decide if they live or die.
But then Jacoby devises a moral test for his readers:
If, as a liberal, you were disgusted when Republicans resorted to such toxic arguments then, you should be horrified to hear your fellow liberals resort to them now. Conversely, if you’re a mainstream conservative sickened at the way Democrats now play the “death” card, did you have the same objection when the GOP was doing so during the Obama years?
That last question is a particularly good one. So let's see: Did Jeff Jacoby "have the same objection" when, say, Sarah Palin railed against Obamacare's nonexistent "death panel"?

The Palin Facebook post linked by Jacoby was written in August 2009. Eight months later, Jacoby began a column this way:
Sarah Palin and the tea party express will rally on the Boston Common this morning, and if everything you know about the tea partiers comes from talking heads on your TV screen or big-name pundits in the prestige press, you're probably cringing in expectation of an ugly invasion by hate-filled, out-of-control bigots.

It was only a couple of weeks ago, after all, that the New York Times's Frank Rich was informing his readers that Tea Party protesters opposing the Obama health-care bill were "goons," so inflamed by "homicidal rhetoric" — Rich cited the protesters' chant "Kill the bill!" as an example — that they had turned into latter-day SS troops engaged in a "small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht."

... To anyone who knows real Tea Party members or has attended a Tea Party event, these characterizations are so absurdly scurrilous that it's hard to imagine anyone could possibly believe them, let alone utter them in good faith. Yet some people will believe anything, especially when it suits their political prejudices.
Nope, not a word of criticism for Palin or anyone else connected to the Tea Party. In fact, the real villains, according to Jacoby, were liberals like Frank Rich, who slandered nice, patriotic Americans just for chanting "Kill the bill!"

In fact, that's a very unrepresentative example of what Rich found so alarming. Let me quote the Rich column linked by Jacoby at greater length:
There’s nothing entertaining about watching goons hurl venomous slurs at congressmen like the civil rights hero John Lewis and the openly gay Barney Frank. And as the week dragged on, and reports of death threats and vandalism stretched from Arizona to Kansas to upstate New York, the F.B.I. and the local police had to get into the act to protect members of Congress and their families.

How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.

... Yet it’s this bill that inspired G.O.P. congressmen on the House floor to egg on disruptive protesters even as they were being evicted from the gallery by the Capitol Police last Sunday. It’s this bill that prompted a congressman to shout “baby killer” at Bart Stupak, a staunch anti-abortion Democrat. It’s this bill that drove a demonstrator to spit on Emanuel Cleaver, a black representative from Missouri. And it’s this “middle-of-the-road” bill, as Obama accurately calls it, that has incited an unglued firestorm of homicidal rhetoric, from “Kill the bill!” to Sarah Palin’s cry for her followers to “reload.” At least four of the House members hit with death threats or vandalism are among the 20 political targets Palin marks with rifle crosshairs on a map on her Facebook page.
Not a peep of protest in real time from the hypocritical hack Jeff Jacoby.


ARE REPUBLICAN SENATORS REALLY "PULLING AWAY FROM TRUMP"?

Jennifer Steinhauer of The New York Times tells us that Republican senators are beginning to reject the president:
Senate Republicans, increasingly unnerved by President Trump’s volatility and unpopularity, are starting to show signs of breaking away from him as they try to forge a more traditional Republican agenda and protect their political fortunes.
Her evidence?
Several Republicans have openly questioned Mr. Trump’s decision to fire the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and even lawmakers who supported the move have complained privately that it was poorly timed and disruptive to their work. Many were dismayed when Mr. Trump seemed to then threaten Mr. Comey not to leak negative information about him.
Well, I don't see any of them joining with Chuck Schumer to say that the Senate shouldn't approve a new FBI director until a Russiagate special counsel is appointed. There's hand-wringing from the likes of Lindsey Graham about the possibility that Trump will choose a politician for the job, but if the past is any indication, Graham and other skeptics will fall in line no matter whom Trump chooses.

What else does Steinhauer have?
As they pursue their own agenda, Republican senators are drafting a health care bill with little White House input, seeking to avoid the public relations pitfalls that befell the House as it passed its own deeply unpopular version. Republicans are also pushing back on the president’s impending budget request — including, notably, a provision that would nearly eliminate funding for the national drug control office amid an opioid epidemic. And many high-ranking Republicans have said they will not support any move by Mr. Trump to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement.
They're "drafting a health care bill with little White House input" because it's been made abundantly clear that the White House has no interest in the actual contents of health care legislation, just as long as something -- anything -- gets passed. The White House hasn't paid much attention to budget specifics either.

As for NAFTA, "many high-ranking Republicans" were resistant to an overhaul months ago -- this isn't a reaction to recent chaos in the White House. Arizona senators John McCain and Jeff Flake were urging caution on NAFTA back in January. Texas senator John Cornyn was defending NAFTA more than two months ago.

What else?
Lawmakers are also bucking the president by pushing ahead with bipartisan measures on sanctions against Russia.
And yet The Washington Post told us this a couple of weeks ago:
Bipartisan legislation to impose sanctions on Russia over alleged meddling in Ukraine, Syria and the 2016 U.S. elections is indefinitely on hold, according to the Senate’s top voice on foreign policy, likely until the Senate Intelligence Committee completes its investigation into the Kremlin’s activities.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Monday that the Senate would wait “to get some facts” before moving ahead with the bill....

The measure has support from high-ranking Democrats and Republican hawks, but struggled to get support from Corker, who earlier had insisted on renegotiating the bill before allowing it to proceed to the floor.
There was a certain amount of GOP support for Russia sanctions even before Inauguration Day -- comprehensive sanctions legislation was introduced early in January by ten senators, including four Republicans (Graham, McCain, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Rob Portman of Ohio). This isn't a case of Senate Republicans dashing for the exits because of recent actions by Trump.

Steinhauer concedes this:
So far, Republicans have refrained from bucking the president en masse, in part to avoid undermining their intense push to put health care and tax bills on his desk this year. And the Republican leadership, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, remains behind Mr. Trump.
Oh, OK. So this story is a big nothingburger.

And as we're reminded by Nate Silver,



Look, there's good stuff in The New York Times -- for instance, if you don't know what's so awful about Kris Kobach, who's heading a commission on voting for Trump, this Times story will get you up to speed. But this Steinhauer story oversells the narrative of Senate Republicans saving us from Trump's excesses and incompetence. Take it with a few grains of salt.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

WILL TRUMP'S LAST WORD BE "ROSEBUD"?

I'll repeat something I said on Twitter yesterday: We've been trying to prepare ourselves to deal with the Trump presidency by reading 1984, The Handmaid's Tale, and On Tyranny, but maybe what we should be reading are biographies of recluses: Howard Hughes, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson. Maybe we should be watching the last reel of Citizen Kane.

Consider this CNN story:
... officials described to CNN a sense of dejection within the West Wing ranks, where most aides were caught off guard by Trump's decision [to fire FBI director Janmes Comey] and had little ability to develop a cogent response....

Through it all, Trump has remained largely out of sight, not leaving the White House once since he returned late Sunday night. He grew increasingly isolated and agitated, associates tell CNN, going a full week without hearing the applause and adulation that often brightens his mood.
At Axios, there's a piece titled "Trump's Inner Circle Is Getting Smaller":
President Trump's trust in his staff is weakening, particularly as the James Comey debacle continues to unfold, and he's relying more and more on his family and himself....

And then there were four: [Steve] Bannon has reportedly been pushed to the fringe on major decision-making. Instead, Trump's loyal and most trusted inner circle is Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Hope Hicks, and Keith Schiller (the man who delivered the letter to Comey).
A thirtysomething glitterati couple with no government experience, Trump's 28-year-old former campaign press secretary, and ... um, Trump's former bodyguard.

Elsewhere at Axios, there's this:
At the urging of longtime friends and outside advisers, most of whom he consults after dark, President Trump is considering a "huge reboot" that could take out everyone from Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon, to counsel Don McGahn and press secretary Sean Spicer, White House sources tell me.

Trump is also irritated with several Cabinet members, the sources said.

"He's frustrated, and angry at everyone," said one of the confidants....

If Trump follows through, his innermost White House circle would shrink from a loop to a straight line of mid-30s family members with scant governing experience: Jared and Ivanka.
Axios reports that Trump is thinking about bringing in new people -- but if he does, you know he'll turn against them too, as soon as he can blame them for some disaster that's actually his fault. After that, the inner circle will shrink again to Jared, Ivanka, and a few ego-stroking loyalists who can't be scapegoated because their jobs don't involve policy.

All these stories note that Trump is gradually emerging from his sulk -- he gave that commencement speech at Liberty University yesterday, and he'll begin a foreign trip next Friday -- but what if his mood swings continue? What if his retreats to the residence and the 60-inch TV happen more frequently and last longer?

I'm afraid he might survive that way, and even win a second term. Once they've become famous, we like recluses and eccentrics. They can retreat for years and we'll welcome them with open arms when they emerge -- think Michael Jackson or Dave Chappelle. We grade them on a curve -- did we care that Vegas-era Elvis was bloated and drugged out and not the hip-swinging sex god we remembered? And when they're not doing the thing we first loved them for, we cling to any sighting of famous recluses, however unsettling -- look, there's Michael Jackson dangling a baby out a hotel window while wearing a mask to hide his latest attempt to shrink his nose into nonexistence!

This, at least, could be the reaction of Trump fans. They'll stop expecting him to actually do anything as president -- instead, they'll wait for him to emerge, and just his emergence will make him seem heroic to them. And we in the anti-Trump community might lower our guard -- hey, the guy we thought was a potential Hitler can't even leave the house without a retinue to get him dressed!

This could be Trump's best career move yet: just staying home, watching TV, and emerging periodically to bask in admirers' adulation. That's all he really wants, right?

Saturday, May 13, 2017

IF YOU TALK BACK TO A CONGRESSMAN, YOU'RE A TERRORIST

Tom MacArthur, a Republican congressman from New Jersey, was heckled at a town hall event on Wednesday night, and the right is trying to turn the heckling into a multi-day story. Here's a Breitbart report that ran yesterday:
Town Hall Protesters Mock Death of GOP Lawmaker’s Special Needs Daughter

Liberal activists involved in a nationwide effort to disrupt town hall meetings being held by lawmakers for their constituents reached a new low on Wednesday night when Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) was mocked when he told the unruly crowd about how the death of his special needs daughter informed his decision to amend and vote for the American Health Care Act that was passed by the House earlier this month.

When MacArthur started to tell the story about Gracie, who died two decades ago at age 11, someone yelled “Shame!,” accusing the lawmaker of “using” his daughter’s death to promote his political agenda.

“I will say shame on you right now actually,” MacArthur said. “I’m going to tell you because this affects my perspective on this issue of health care.”
The author of an earlier Daily Wire story also expressed disgust at the behavior of attendees ("the over two-hour long town hall event ... featur[ed] belligerent leftists and Democrats demanding government welfare for their stated health care needs"). But the Daily Wire story notes that MacArthur was heckled when he returned to his daughter's story, which he'd already told.
“I wanna go back to my daughter, just for a moment,” said MacArthur, as he was interrupted.

“Shame!” scolded a woman, unseen by the camera. She accused MacArthur or cynically exploiting the death of his daughter for political advantage.

“I will say shame on you, right now. Don’t tell me what I’m using.”

“Shame on you! We’ve heard this story,” replied a woman in the crowd.
If you watch the following clip, you'll see that MacArthur, although interrupted, gets to speak at great length about his daughter, while the vast majority of attendees listen politely. Some attendees even heckle the hecklers on MacArthur's behalf.



John Hawkins' Right Wing News says that "a mob of liberals mocked" MacArthur. Do you see a "mob" in that clip? What you see is a mostly polite crowd and a number of attendees who've heard the story already and who want their own stories heard and opinions acknowledged.

There's no question that MacArthur and his family had an agonizing ordeal when his daughter died in the 1990s. But it's not clear that MacArthur understands how similar events affect other Americans. Obamacare has reduced the number of medical bankruptcies. MacArthur, for all his personal and perhaps financial suffering, hasn't carried around a millstone of debt. His daughter died in 1996. Three years later, he was named chairman and CEO of York Risk Services Group, Inc., positions he held until 2010. He's now the richest member of New Jersey's congressional delegation, with a net worth of $30.8 million. He was first elected to the House in 2014 in a race in which he spent $5 million of his own money.

I don't think it's unreasonable for some of his constituents to say that they're enduring similar trials, and that many of them might experience a much greater financial hit than he did.

****

But to the right, MacArthur's hecklers aren't just impolite. They're barely distinguishable from terrorists.

At The Federalist yesterday, John Daniel Davidson included a discussion of the MacArthur town hall in an essay titled "The American Left Is Talking Itself Into Violence." After recounting a number of legitimately disturbing incidents -- threats against a GOP congressman for Virginia, racist hate mail and a threat of violence against the Korean-American chair of the Minnesota Republican Party, even after she'd condemned a racist attack by a fellow Republican -- Davidson condemned the MacArthur hecklers, as if there's no effective difference between policy-based exasperation and threats to do physical harm.
Leftist Intolerance Invites A Breakdown Of Civility

... Conservatives are also combatting a growing level of hostility in public life. Since Trump’s election, much of it has come from the Left. At another town hall this week, Rep. Tom MacArthur, a New Jersey Republican, tried to explain his thinking on the GOP health care bill to angry constituents.... His daughter died of health complications when she was 11....

When he tried to talk about this, the crowd shouted “Shame!” When he said, “I put my head to my daughter’s chest and listened to her die,” they erupted. One person yelled, “Other babies will die without care, too!” Another jeered, “Did you have money for her care?” Someone suggested MacArthur, “Write a book.”

... How has it come to this? No doubt, leftist ideology invites a kind of intolerance that leads to violence, as we’ve seen. But this tendency is exacerbated by a breakdown of civility fueled by social media. Would we see the kind of brutal, cutthroat behavior that’s marked the crowds at these town halls if those people had not inured themselves somewhat to it?

... Just as the violence on campus gradually seeps out into the streets and town halls, so too does our violent and intolerant rhetoric online eventually manifest in the real world. That so much of it is now coming from the political left is not an accident.
Go back and watch the clip. Do you see "brutal, cutthroat behavior"? Do you see "intolerance that leads to violence"?

In arguing that violent threats are limited to liberals, Davidson has, of course, flushed recent history down the memory hole. Here's a news story from 2010:
Democratic lawmakers have received death threats and been the victims of vandalism because of their votes in favor of the health care bill, lawmakers and law enforcement officials said Wednesday....

At least two Congressional district offices were vandalized and Representative Louise M. Slaughter, a senior Democrat from New York, received a phone message threatening sniper attacks against lawmakers and their families.

Ms. Slaughter also reported that a brick was thrown through a window of her office in Niagara Falls, and Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona, said Monday that her Tucson office was vandalized after the vote.

The Associated Press reported that the authorities in Virginia were investigating a cut propane line to an outdoor grill at the home of a brother of Representative Tom Perriello of Virginia, after the address was mistakenly listed on a Tea Party Web site as the residence of the congressman. Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan and a central figure in the measure’s abortion provisions, reported receiving threatening phone calls.

Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest-ranking black lawmaker in the House, said he received an anonymous fax showing the image of a noose.
But there's a lot of amnesia on the right. Here was Rush Limbaugh earlier this week:
When Obama was president, I didn’t know anybody on our side who had this idea of mounting the official resistance that featured rocks and riots and bombs and fires and protests and bought-and-paid-for rioters. What we did was attempt to reach as many Americans as we could and argued to them that they have made a mistake in voting Obama. That’s the way we do it. You accept the authority of the Constitution. This is my point. These people on the left do not accept any authority but theirs.

The Constitution is not an authority.

The election results are not an authority.

They only respect the authority of themselves — and in their world, Trump is illegitimate because he won. Nothing more than that! They hate him for more reasons than that, but he’s illegitimate because he won, not just because they expected Hillary. I mean, literally because Trump won! They refuse to accept it. He was not supposed to win. Nobody on our side’s ever supposed to win ever again. So they mount this “resistance.” It has a specific purpose, two things: to intimidate the winners into halting the advance of their agenda, the implementation of their agenda — and forcing them out of office.
The Tea Party, I guess, never existed. Militias? Groups like the Oath Keepers? Never existed. Everyone on their side meekly acknowledged Obama's legitimacy. C'mon -- you remember that, right?

Friday, May 12, 2017

HEY, REPUBLICANS: CLEEK'S LAW MEANS YOU'RE STUCK WITH TRUMP

Dust off the world's smallest violin and play a sad song for Republicans on Capitol Hill. Jonathan Swan of Axios reports:
There is widespread concern among Congressional leadership about Trump's frame of mind in the wake of the Comey firing.

Senior Senate aide: "It has to stop ... never seen anything like this in my entire career."

House leadership source: "Lot of anxiety, don't know next shoe to drop."
Swan goes on to list several "concerns we've heard from senior congressional sources." Here are the first two:
1. Trump going after FBI director he just fired. Trump is supposed to be enacting an agenda, but is setting up a huge fight with someone who has nothing to lose.

2. White House is careening between crisis after crisis. "We need our asset out there every day barnstorming for tax reform, health care," the senate aide said.
Do you know what I love about #2? The phrase "our asset." Idiots! Trump is not your asset. Yes, on balance, he believes what you believe, more or less -- years of Fox News watching have seen to that -- but above all else he believes in looking out for himself, his bank account, his kids' bank accounts, and his tender, delicate, easily bruised ego. Defending all of those things is his top priority. Sorry if you're impatient to get around to those tax cuts.

Meanwhile, on the op-ed pages of The New York Times, right-wing Trump critic Charlie Sykes laments the state of conservatism:
If there was one principle that used to unite conservatives, it was respect for the rule of law. Not long ago, conservatives would have been horrified at wholesale violations of the norms and traditions of our political system, and would have been appalled by a president who showed overt contempt for the separation of powers.
(Now, now. Stop snickering.)
But this week, as if on cue, most of the conservative media fell into line, celebrating President Trump’s abrupt dismissal of the F.B.I. director, James Comey, and dismissing the fact that Mr. Comey was leading an investigation into the Trump campaign and its ties to Russia.

... much of the conservative news media is now less pro-Trump than it is anti-anti-Trump.

... the real heart of anti-anti-Trumpism is the delight in the frustration and anger of his opponents. Mr. Trump’s base is unlikely to hold him either to promises or tangible achievements, because conservative politics is now less about ideas or accomplishments than it is about making the right enemies cry out in anguish.

... What may have begun as a policy or a tactic in opposition has long since become a reflex. But there is an obvious price to be paid for essentially becoming a party devoted to trolling. In the long run, it’s hard to see how a party dedicated to liberal tears can remain a movement based on ideas or centered on principles.
Sorry, Charlie, but there are a lot of us who think that modern conservatism was never primarily about ideas or principles. Seven years ago, a blog commenter named Bob Cleek gave us Cleek's Law:
Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily.
The law might need an update. I'd propose this Revised Cleek's Law:
Today’s conservatism is whatever makes liberals furious today, updated daily.
Or maybe:
Today’s conservatism is whatever conservatives think will make liberals furious, updated daily.
In any case, conservatism hasn't primarily been about policy for a long time. It's been mostly about character attacks -- on Barack and Michelle Obama, on the Clintons, on Nancy Pelosi, on Dan Rather and the Dixie Chicks in the Bush years, on Shirley Sherrod and Planned Parenthood in the Obama years.

But Obama-era Republicans at least believed that a significant part of the mix should be policy ... of a sort. Republicans didn't have an Obamacare replacement, but they all knew that Obamacare is evil. They couldn't write a budget that bore serious scrutiny, but they were certain that taxes on the rich are evil.

That kept the faithful voting in non-presidential elections -- but it couldn't elect a president. The guy who finally won the presidency for them articulated some of their principles, but when they didn't work, he had others (like saving Social Security and making health care universal).

But, more important, he could make liberals furious without talking about policy at all. And the voters -- or 46% of them, which was enough -- loved it.

Sykes thinks conservatism is (or should be) about ideas and principles. But conservatives in the pre-Trump era made it about the builders of the Ground Zero mosque and the retailers whose December store displays said "Happy Holidays." When rage is your best-selling item, of course you're going to lose your party eventually to an anger-management problem made of human flesh. That's what the GOP base has wanted for years, Charlie. Trump provides it without all that icky conservative policy. For the base, that's like two scoops of ice cream, and why bother with dinner.