Tag Archives: Donald Trump

It’s Only Tuesday

Wouldn’t it be great if journalists and editors understood that we’ve already seen his orange face and clown hair more than enough to last several lifetimes?

Meanwhile, Michelle Goldberg reviews where we are today in “The Plot Against America”:

Despite Trump’s hysterical denials and attempts at diversion, the question is no longer whether there was cooperation between Trump’s campaign and Russia, but how extensive it was.

In truth, that’s been clear for a while. If it’s sometimes hard to grasp the Trump campaign’s conspiracy against our democracy, it’s due less to lack of proof than to the impudent improbability of its B-movie plot line. Monday’s indictments offer evidence of things that Washington already knows but pretends to forget. Trump, more gangster than entrepreneur, has long surrounded himself with bottom-feeding scum, and for all his nationalist bluster, his campaign was a vehicle for Russian subversion….

Trump put Manafort, an accused money-launderer and unregistered foreign agent, in charge of his campaign. Under Manafort’s watch, the campaign made at least two attempts to get compromising information about Clinton from Russia. Russia, in turn, provided hacked Democratic emails to WikiLeaks.

Russia also ran a giant disinformation campaign against Clinton on social media and attempted to hack voting systems in at least 21 states. In response to Russia’s election meddling, Barack Obama’s administration imposed sanctions. Upon taking office, Trump reportedly made secret efforts to lift them. He fired the F.B.I. director James Comey to stop his investigation into “this Russia thing,” as he told Lester Holt. The day after the firing, he met with Russia’s foreign minister and its ambassador to America, and told them: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

… Trump clawed out his minority victory only with the aid of a foreign intelligence service. On Monday we finally got indictments, but it’s been obvious for a year that this presidency is a crime.

Greg Sargent argues that all the nonsense about the dossier and uranium isn’t merely a diversion. It’s “Trump and His Allies Laying the Groundwork for a Saturday Night Massacre”:

President Trump and his media allies are currently creating a vast, multi-tentacled, largely-fictional alternate media reality that casts large swaths of our government as irredeemably corrupt — with the explicitly declared purpose of laying the rationale for Trump to pardon his close associates or shut down the Russia probe, should he deem either necessary.

We often hear that Trump and his allies are trying to “distract” from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s intensifying investigation. That’s true, but this characterization inadequately casts this in terms ordinarily applied to conventional politics….

It’s important to reckon with the scope of what Trump and his allies are alleging. The idea is that Mueller — who was originally appointed to head the FBI by George W. Bush, and who became special counsel because of Trump’s own firing of his FBI director over the Russia probe — originally participated in a hallucinatory conspiracy to cover up Clinton collusion with Russia. Now Mueller is using the current investigation to distract from it. In this alternate universe, all of that is the crisis … we face, and the only way to address it is for Trump to close all of it down. Dem strategist Simon Rosenberg is right to point out that Trump’s trafficking in all of this — his endorsement of the idea of preposterous levels of corruption and conspiracy theories unfurling at many levels throughout the government — itself raises questions about Trump’s fitness to serve. We need to confront the insanity and depravity of all this forthrightly, and convey it accurately.

Oh, and Trump’s neo-fascist Chief of Staff, John Kelly (who supports the wall and the Muslim ban and loves to deport children) refused to apologize to a black congresswoman for telling a lie about her. He simultaneously suggested that the Civil War could have been avoided if only the North had agreed to let slavery expand into more of America.

The Nonsense, the Abyss & a Call to Action

I’ve been slowly writing a post about whether to avoid the news. I might never finish it. The news keeps intruding.

We are finding out what it’s like to live in a country ruled by its worst people (that’s called a “kakistocracy”). There are too many problems and offenses to monitor or understand.

Regarding just two of them, Paul Waldman of The Washington Post does a great job with “GOP spin about the new ‘Steele Dossier’ story is disingenuous nonsense” and “The GOP strategy on the Russia scandal: ‘No puppet. You’re the puppet.’” Read these two articles and you’ll be totally inoculated against the toxic bullshit soon to rain down on us from the Republican “Let’s Invent a Clinton Scandal” machine and the relatively respectable journalists who should know better by now.

The other thing I wanted to share today is Andrew Sullivan’s insightful summary of the current situation in New York Magazine: “This Is What the Trump Abyss Looks Like”. If reading it gets too depressing, you can jump to the last paragraph, where he issues a call to action:

The past week was another watershed, it seems to me, in the rising power of Donald Trump. Flake is quitting; Corker is retiring; McCain is mortal…. A new slew of Bannonite candidates is emerging from under various rocks and crannies to take their places. The Trump propaganda machine was given a chance to turn the Russia story into a Clinton scandal – lowering even further the possibility of impeachment – and gleefully took it. The FBI is the next target for a barrage of hostile propaganda, since it might expose the Supreme Leader. Mueller is being daily savaged in the right wing press. Outside Washington, Trump’s targets are faltering. [A] Gold Star widow is attacked; Obamacare is at risk of being sabotaged to death; the EPA is castrated….

The Congress is paralyzed, reduced entirely to staffing the judiciary with the far right; it can pass no significant legislation and reach no compromise on anything without Trump undermining it. The bureaucracy is shell-shocked and demoralized; the State Department is a wasteland; the press has sunk even further into public disdain. The police are increasingly seen either as incapable of error or morally suspect. The essential civilian control of the military has been weakened, with an embittered general’s honor now deployed as a way to play political defense in front of the press corps. “My generals”, as the president calls them, as if they swear loyalty to him and not to the Constitution. The Republican candidate for the Senate from Alabama, Roy Moore, believes that there should be a religious test for public office. As Ben Sasse blurted out yesterday: “It feels like this party I’m a member of has gone post-Constitutional.”

The discourse has been coarsened to sub-tabloid levels; the courts’ authority has been weakened by their own over-reach and Trump’s refusal to follow core Constitutional norms. The neutral institutions that might be capable of bringing the president to heel, such as the FBI, are now being trashed by their ultimate boss. The possibility of a shared truth, about which we can have differing opinions, has evaporated in a blizzard of web-fueled distraction and misdirection, aided and abetted by a president for whom reality is whatever he wants it to be at any given moment, and always susceptible to change. It turns out that Mark Zuckerberg’s real achievement will be the collapse of a rational public dialogue….

Almost all our liberal democratic norms and institutions are much weaker today than they were a year ago. Trump has not assaulted the Constitution directly. He has not refused a court order, so far. But he has obstructed justice in his firing of James Comey, and abused the spirit of the pardon power by using it for a public official who violated citizens’ Constitutional rights, before he was even sentenced. In the most worrying case so far, he has refused to enforce the sanctions against Russia that were passed by a veto-proof margin by the Congress. I fear this is because his psyche cannot actually follow the instructions of anyone but himself. This is also why, after failing to repeal, replace or amend Obamacare, he has not faithfully executed the law, but actively sabotaged it. If he does not have his way, he will either sulk and refuse to do his constitutional duty, or he will simply smash whatever institution or law that obstructs his will. At some point, we may come to a more profound test of his ability to operate as just one of three equal branches of government. I think he’ll fail it.

Yes, the forms of the Constitution remain largely intact after nine months. But the norms that make the Constitution work are crumbling. The structure looks the same, but Trump has relentlessly attacked their foundations….

And we know something after a year of this. It will go on. This is not a function of strategy or what we might ordinarily describe as will. It is because this president is so psychologically disordered he cannot behave in any other way. His emotions control his mind; his narcissism overwhelms even basic self-interest, let alone the interest of the country as a whole. He cannot unite the country, even if, somewhere in his fathomless vanity, he wants to. And he cannot stop this manic defense of ego because if he did, his very self would collapse. This is why he lies and why he cannot admit a single one of them. He is psychologically incapable of accepting that he could be wrong and someone else could be right. His impulse – which he cannot control – is simply to assault the person who points out the error, or blame someone else for it….And do not underestimate the stamina of the psychologically unwell. They will exhaust you long before they will ever exhaust themselves.

But by far the most important development in all this, the single essential rampart, is how, through all this, Trump has tightened his grip on 35 percent of the country. He has done this when he has succeeded but also critically when he has failed, because he has brilliantly turned his incapacity to be president into an asset with his base. No wall? Congress’ fault. Obamacare in place? The GOP’s fault. No tax cut? Ditto. The only way forward? A deeper and deeper trust in him. Only he can fix the Congress by purging it. Only he can fix the Courts through nominees who will never stand up to him.

And this base support is unshakable. It is not susceptible to reason. No scandal, however great, will dislodge it – because he has invaded his followers’ minds and psyches as profoundly as he has the rest of ours. He is fused with them more deeply now, a single raging id, a force that helps us understand better how civilized countries can descend so quickly into barbarism. In a country led by a swirling void, all sorts of inhibitions slowly slip away. Nativism, racism, nationalism: these are very potent catalysts of human darkness. Usually it is the president who takes responsibility when these demons appear to emerge, and attempts to refute, or discredit or calm them. But this one amps them up….

He is the total master of an enormous mob that, so far, has completely overcome the elites. He achieves this mastery through incendiary oratory, hourly provocations, and relentless propaganda. His rallies are events of mass hysteria and rage. His propaganda machines – Fox News, Limbaugh, Breitbart, Drudge – rarely crack. And there is no one in our political life capable of matching this power. Name one, if you can. And when you look at the Democratic field of 2020, no one seems up to it at all. Among the few responsible Republicans left, what we see is either utter cowardice in the face of an enraged base, or the kind of courage that manifests itself too late to make a difference, which is to say no real courage at all….

What could change this? Maybe a recession – although Trump would probably blame that on the Fed or some other target. Maybe a catastrophe, such as a nuclear conflict in Korea. Maybe, such a massive and impregnable revelation from the Mueller investigation it shakes even the base out of its trance. But the only reliable and sane solution is a massive mobilization of the anti-Trump majority at the polls next year. The huge Democratic fundraising advantage is encouraging; as are the new grass roots organizations that are going in strength. Maybe an unexpected leader from the left or center might emerge. Maybe a strong Democratic message that can somehow keep its minority edge and simultaneously re-engage the white Obama-Trump voters in the Midwest. The key is to sustain a sense of the urgency of the moment, a resolute refusal to accept this descent into an illiberal authoritarianism, and a decision to put all our differences aside for a year in order to mobilize a turnout next year that eclipses Obama’s. We have to turn the mid-terms into a presidential election. Sane Republicans need to vote for the Democrat. Leftists have to put aside their divisive identity politics. Liberals need to coalesce around a simple strategy – not impeaching but checking Trump decisively.

We have close to 60 percent of the country with us. We have to mobilize every single one. Or the abyss will open wider.

What Republican Senators Are Thinking

Cracks may be developing in Congress’s support for the president. Fred Kaplan of Slate writes about the silence of Republican senators regarding recent statements by fellow Republicans to the effect that the president needs round-the-clock supervision and isn’t playing with a full deck:

It is a hair-raising fact that though few Republicans have seconded [Senator Corker’s] or [Secretary of State Tillerson’s] appraisals of Trump, still fewer have spoken out in their president’s defense. The day after Corker’s interview in the Times, CNN staffers phoned all 52 Republican senators to see if any of them would come on Wolf Blitzer’s show to discuss politics that day. Not one assented.

They chose not to protest that one of the party’s leaders in the Senate likened Trump to a patient in an “adult day care center.” They don’t seem to mind that the nation’s top diplomat called Trump a “fucking moron.” And no one has as yet rebutted the latest report on Trump’s appalling cluelessness about nuclear weapons. The Republicans don’t deny any of these indictments, yet they do nothing about them; they do nothing to address the clear and present danger.

Elsewhere, Robert Reich, an economist who was the Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration and now teaches at Berkeley, posted this on Facebook. I can’t vouch for its accuracy, of course, but it does give one hope:

This morning I phoned my old friend, a Republican former member of Congress.

RR: So what’s up? Is Corker alone, or are others also ready to call it quits with Trump?

He: All I know is they’re simmering over there.

RR: [Senators] Flake and McCain have come pretty close.

He: Yeah. Others are thinking about doing what Bob did. Sounding the alarm. They think Trump’s nuts. Unfit. Dangerous.

RR: Well, they already knew that, didn’t they?

He: But now it’s personal. It started with the Sessions stuff. [Attorney General Sessions] was as loyal as they come. Trump’s crapping on him was like kicking your puppy. And then, you know, him beating up on [Majority Leader McConnell] for the Obamacare fiasco. And going after Flake and the others.

RR: So they’re pissed off?

He: Not just that. I mean, they have thick hides. The personal stuff got them to notice all the other things. The wild stuff, like those threats to North Korea. Tillerson would leave tomorrow if he wasn’t so worried Trump would go nuclear, literally.

RR: You think Trump is really thinking nuclear war?

He: Who knows what’s in his head? But I can tell you this. He’s not listening to anyone. Not a soul. He’s got the nuclear codes and, well, it scares the hell out of me. It’s starting to scare all of them. That’s really why [Corker] spoke up.

RR: So what could they do? I mean, even if the whole Republican leadership was willing to say publicly he’s unfit to serve, what then?

He: Bingo! The emperor has no clothes. It’s a signal to everyone they can bail. Have to bail to save their skins. I mean, Trump could be the end of the whole goddam Republican party.

RR: If he starts a nuclear war, that could be the end of everything.

He: Yeah, right. So when they start bailing on him, the stage is set.

RR: For what?

He: Impeachment. 25th amendment.

RR: You think Republicans would go that far?

He: Not yet. Here’s the thing. They really want to get this tax bill through. That’s all they have going for them. They don’t want to face voters in ’18 or ’20 without something to show for it. They’re just praying Trump doesn’t do something really, really stupid before the tax bill.

RR: Like a nuclear war?

He: Look, all I can tell you is many of the people I talk with are getting freaked out. It’s not as if there’s any careful strategizing going on. Not like, well, do we balance the tax bill against nuclear war? No, no. They’re worried as hell. They’re also worried about Trump crazies, all the ignoramuses he’s stirred up. I mean, Roy Moore? How many more of them do you need to destroy the party?

RR: So what’s gonna happen?

He: You got me. I’m just glad I’m not there anymore. Trump’s not just a moron. He’s a despicable human being. And he’s getting crazier. Paranoid. Unhinged. Everyone knows it. I mean, we’re in shit up to our eyeballs with this guy.

Will Congressional Republicans stick with this monster to the bitter end? If only they were brave enough and clever enough to get rid of him and put Vice President Pence in the Oval Office. They have to be looking for an excuse to dump Trump, since their lives would be so much easier with President Mike Pence. Before Pence became governor of Indiana, he served in Congress for 12 years. He’s a standard right-wing religious fanatic they could work with!

Even When You Want To Back Away From It

I’ve been working on a post that explains why I want to back away from our political crisis, but it’s been slow going. Meanwhile, an exchange that appeared on Brian Wilson’s community forum might be of interest.

First, some background. Brian Wilson (my favorite musician, who is best known as the creative force behind the Beach Boys) has a website that includes a forum mainly intended for fans to discuss his music and other aspects of his career. Occasionally, however, other topics come up.

A few days ago, a person who apparently lives in Germany and goes by the name “Cantina Margarita” (a reference to the song “Heroes and Villains”) announced that he or she was leaving the board after 10 years of participation:

I’d like to thank you all for some 10 years of being allowed to be a part of this community. Now it’s time to say goodbye because I feel I can’t continue having musical discussions on a US music forum, suspecting all the time to be talking to Donald Trump voters.

I can’t go on discussing music and concerts, trying to ignore the subject. It’s a very ugly and dangerous fly [???], and I’m used to expressing my opinion quite frankly. I can’t do this here without spoiling BW’s board, and this is not something I want this forum to suffer….

Keep having a nice time here, I just don’t feel like being in any longer.

My account is just being cancelled.

Maybe, only maybe, I’ll return after the next POTUS election, under a new nick. American politics is just too important to the rest of the world to ignore it.

[wave]

As you’d expect, there were a variety of responses to this post. Some people thought it was an overreaction. Why stop communicating with Americans in general just because millions of us voted a certain way? For example:

I am puzzled by this too.  I don’t like the way your election went, so I cannot talk to an entire country’s people?

I’m trying to look for an interpretation of this that does not seem like holding your breath until your face turns blue, or ‘cutting off your ear to spite your face’, etc., but I am failing.

Since Cantina Margarita was no longer available, well, it was a dirty job, but somebody had to…

How about this interpretation:

It matters to the whole world when America chooses a new president. Yet millions of Americans chose a person who is manifestly unfit for the job and whose presence in the White House constitutes a clear and present danger. I am so damned angry and worried about this that it’s hard to keep quiet about it, especially when I communicate with Americans. And since Americans who post here are probably among those responsible for putting this person in office, I’d rather not interact with them. Sadly, since I don’t know how people here voted (or if they chose not to vote, even in such an important election), I’m going to leave this board rather than have pleasant discussions with these people about Brian Wilson, given how I feel about the decision they made. Maybe I’ll be back when your country comes to its senses and it’s reasonable to assume that the person I’m communicating with didn’t make such a horrible decision, putting themselves and others around the world at serious risk.

I know this may sound extreme, but this person being the American president is far more extreme. None of us should accept this situation and go about our business in the usual way.

By the way, a powerful member of the president’s party expressed deep concerns about the president this week:

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged in an interview on Sunday that President Trump was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”

In an extraordinary rebuke of a president of his own party, Mr. Corker said he was alarmed about a president who acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ [a TV show] or something.”

“He concerns me,” Mr. Corker added. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”

… All but inviting his colleagues to join him in speaking out about the president, Mr. Corker said his concerns about Mr. Trump were shared by nearly every Senate Republican.

“Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” he said, adding that “of course they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”

So far, other Senate Republicans have declined Sen. Corker’s implied invitation to share their thoughts. However, a Republican congressman, Mark Meadows, did say “it’s easy to be bold when you’re not coming back”, referring to the fact that Sen. Corker won’t seek re-election in 2018. I suppose that Rep. Meadows does want to be re-elected, so being bold is out of the question.

Now back to backing away from the current crisis.

Reading About Hitler Makes Me Think of Someone Else

I’m about halfway through Hitler: Ascent 1889 – 1939 by the German historian Volker Ullrich. It’s 1932 and Hitler is on the verge of becoming the German chancellor. I’ve learned a lot about Hitler’s rise to power. At the same time, I can’t stop noticing similarities between Hitler and our president.

I wish I’d been taking notes all along, so I could be specific, but it’s hard not to be reminded of the president when reading about Hitler’s lies, exaggerations, insecurities, misconceptions, exorbitant promises and celebration of violence. There’s his successful use of the media, his ability to excite a crowd of admirers, his reliance on certain emotional catchphrases, his need for total loyalty, the way he pits his underlings against each other and, of course, his targeting of scapegoats to explain all of the world’s ills.

There is also the reaction of some contemporary observers to the possibility that a man like him might rule the nation. Paul von Hindenburg, a military commander in World War I, had been the German chancellor since 1925. He was 84 and ill when he agreed to seek the office again in 1932, partly because he was thought to be the only candidate who could beat Hitler. The left-wing Social Democrats didn’t even nominate a candidate. They threw their support to Hindenburg, even though Hindenburg was a right-winger, because they were so afraid of the alternative. From the Social Democratic Party’s newspaper:

Hitler in place of Hindenburg means chaos and panic in Germany and the whole of Europe, an extreme worsening of the economic crisis and of unemployment, and the most acute danger of bloodshed within our own people and abroad. Hitler in place of Hindenburg means the triumph of the reactionary part of the bourgeoisie over the progressive middle classes and the working class, the destruction of all civil liberties, of the press and of political, union and cultural organizations, increased exploitation and wage slavery.

The declaration ended with: “Defeat Hitler! Vote for Hindenburg!”

A journalist noted: 

What a bizarre country. Hindenburg as the pet of the pro-democracy camp. Years ago when I heard of his election … I threw up out of fear and horror. Today, in the face of the fascist threat, a democrat has to anxiously hope for Hindenburg’s re-election.

The Nazis attacked Hindenburg on the basis that leftists were supporting his candidacy (“Tell me who praises you and I’ll tell you who you are!”), as if the leftists truly admired Hindenburg and weren’t supporting him simply as the lesser of two evils. A leader of the Social Democrats responded: 

If there is one thing we admire about National Socialism, it’s the fact that it has succeeded, for the first time in German politics, in the complete mobilization of human stupidity.

That reminds me of the present moment too.

The Truth Still Matters

Will be going to North Dakota today to discuss tax reform and tax cuts. We are the highest taxed nation in the world – that will change.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2017

But the truth still matters:

oecd tax burdens

The chart includes individual and corporate taxes, as well as local taxes, as reported by the 35-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

For some historical perspective, consider “When the Rich Said No to Getting Richer” by from David Leonhardt of The New York Times:

A half-century ago, a top automobile executive named George Romney — yes, Mitt’s father — turned down several big annual bonuses. He did so, he told his company’s board, because he believed that no executive should make more than $225,000 a year (which translates into almost $2 million today).

He worried that “the temptations of success” could distract people from more important matters, as he said to a biographer, T. George Harris. This belief seems to have stemmed from both Romney’s Mormon faith and a culture of financial restraint that was once commonplace in this country.

Romney didn’t try to make every dollar he could, or anywhere close to it. The same was true among many of his corporate peers. In the early 1960s, the typical chief executive at a large American company made only 20 times as much as the average worker, rather than the current 271-to-1 ratio. Today, some C.E.O.s make $2 million in a single month.

The old culture of restraint had multiple causes, but one of them was the tax code. When Romney was saying no to bonuses, the top marginal tax rate was 91 percent. Even if he had accepted the bonuses, he would have kept only a sliver of them.

The high tax rates, in other words, didn’t affect only the post-tax incomes of the wealthy. The tax code also affected pretax incomes. As the economist Gabriel Zucman says, “It’s not worth it to try to earn $50 million in income when 90 cents out of an extra dollar goes to the I.R.S.”

The tax rates helped create a culture in which Americans found gargantuan incomes to be bizarre.

A few years after Romney turned down his bonuses from the American Motors Corporation, Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation that lowered the top marginal tax rate to 70 percent. Under Ronald Reagan, it dropped to 50 percent and kept falling. Since 1987, the top rate has hovered between 30 percent and 40 percent.

For more than 30 years now, the United States has lived with a top tax rate less than half as high as in George Romney’s day. And during those same three-plus decades, the pay of affluent Americans has soared. That’s not a coincidence. Corporate executives and others now have much more reason to fight for every last dollar.

And fight they do (it’s called “class warfare”).

Meanwhile, the president* is unnecessarily threatening hundreds of thousands of young people brought to this country by their parents and another extremely dangerous hurricane is on its way. This is further evidence that Republicans are evil and global temperatures are rising, but you already knew that.

Update:  John McCain, the Republican senator who talks a good game but can’t be relied on, has changed his mind about repealing the Affordable Care Act. He now says he’d vote Yes on what is “in may ways … the most radical” repeal bill yet. Further evidence for [see above]. 

2nd Update: McCain now says he would only vote for repeal if the legislation survived committee hearings and was subject to amendments proposed by both sides. That’s not what the 81-year old senator implied earlier today. This latest announcement is good news, because the repeal legislation is extremely unlikely to pass if it’s subject to “normal order” in the Senate instead of being rushed through.