Not first time GOP deal with a foreign government has helped it win presidential elections while out of power. Nixon & Reagan did it

If the past serves as any predictor, the Senate will not impeach Trump for the large number of contacts his factotums had with Russian intelligence officials before the election, even if we discover that Trump struck a deal to have Russian hackers help him win the election.

No matter that such a deal would be treasonous and clearly against the law. No matter that such a deal would offend our sense of fair play. No matter that such a deal would go against the best interests of the United States.

It’s par for the course for Republican candidates to ask foreign powers to intervene in American presidential elections. It’s what Nixon did in 1968, when he persuaded the South Vietnamese government not to come to the negotiating table in Paris until after the election. In one of the closest elections in history, it’s clear that Nixon’s Democratic opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, would have won if his boss, Lyndon Johnson, had been able to declare that peace talks had begun. Nixon promised the South Vietnamese government that if it refused to negotiate until after the election he would get it a better deal. What he gave us instead was seven more years of war, illegal bombing and the ultimate abandonment of his South Vietnamese partners.

Asking a foreign power to fix an election is also what Ronald Reagan did in 1980. It is well documented that Reagan representatives and the Iranian government struck a deal to postpone release of the American hostages that Iranian radicals took a year earlier. If the Iranians had released the hostages in October, there is no doubt that the surge of positive feeling sit would have sent through the electorate would have turned the election in President Carter’s favor. But Reagan offered the Iranian government something it desperately wanted: guns to battle Iraq. So Reagan made an illegal bargain to sell weapons to a country that at the time was officially an enemy. And what did it do with the money? It used it to support the Contras, a rightwing ragtag guerilla force trying to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nicaragua. Like Nixon, Reagan piled illegality on top of illegality by helping the Contras despite the fact that Congress had voted specifically to ban U.S. military aid them.

During both the Nixon and the Reagan Administration, plenty of people inside and outside of government knew about these treacheries. There were hearings on what became known as Iran-Contragate, but Reagan got a pass, as everything was blamed on subordinates and the Washington establishment pretended that Reagan knew nothing about supplying the Contras. Nixon was and remains untouched by his treasonous negotiations that went against what the American government was trying to do and what the American people wanted it to do. In retrospect, undermining the negotiations and policy of the sitting American government seems like a worse offense than the third-rate Watergate burglary, especially since both involved cover-up operations.

Thus it would be a major break in precedence for a Republican Congress to attempt to dismiss Trump from office for committing treason while a candidate. There may be a Congressional investigation or two about Trump’s pre-election dealings with the Russian government. Other, lesser heads may roll. But while treason is a cause for impeachment, treason while a candidate evidently is not.

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Times gives torture advocate John Yoo another chance to rehabilitate himself by blaming Trump for doing worse

In its continuing attempt to characterize as illegal the Trump Administration’s ban on immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim countries, the New York Times has either allowed itself to be manipulated by a long-time supporter of torture or doesn’t really mean it when its editors frequently write that the Times thinks torture is illegal.

How else to explain why the Times published an opinion piece by torture advocate John Yoo?

Yoo, as some will remember, was the Bush II lawyer who wrote the infamous Justice Department memo that said, among other things, that:

  • Waterboarding is not torture
  • Torture does not begin until injury to a vital organ
  • If the President of the United States orders it, it isn’t torture
  • The President is not bound by any international agreements regarding torture.

In his article titled “Executive Power Run Amok,” Yoo goes over some of the actions Trump has already taken that Yoo believes are unconstitutional, such as the orders to build a wall, pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, fire acting attorney general Sally Yates and halt immigration from selected countries.

The American Enterprise Institute scholar begins his article by stating the obvious: that he is a strong defender of the power of the executive. He explicitly states that he feels himself the heir of Alexander Hamilton in advocating the “unitary executive,” which essentially means that the Constitution grants the president all powers not expressly given to other branches of the government. Using himself to demonstrate how truly unique Trump’s power grab has been, he writes, “But even I have grave concerns about Mr. Trump’s uses of presidential power.”

Yoo, and the Times, are both saying that even this extreme advocate of presidential power thinks Trump has overstepped the bounds of presidential power.

But the power Yoo gave the president was to approve something illegal and immoral, and that’s the problem. By presenting Yoo as yet another expert in presidential power who says Trump is acting against the constitution, the Times gives de facto approval to Yoo and the actions he advocated. Here is the key statement in Yoo’s latest attempt at rehabilitating himself by being a mainstream expert on Constitutional law:

“As an official in the Justice Department, I followed in Hamilton’s footsteps, advising that President George W. Bush could take vigorous, perhaps extreme, measures to protect the nation after the Sept. 11 attacks, including invading Afghanistan, opening the Guantánamo detention center and conducting military trials and enhanced interrogation of terrorist leaders. Likewise, I supported President Barack Obama when he drew on this source of constitutional power for drone attacks and foreign electronic surveillance.”

Note all the deception in this paragraph: Like others in the Bush II, he refers to torture as “enhanced interrogation.” He equates torture with invading Iraq and opening a detention center as “extreme” measures taken to protect the country. He calls Gitmo a “detention center,” which kind of misses the point that torture occurred there. He connects his advice that torturing is okay to constitutionally questionable actions Obama took.

All these things are okay, Yoo proclaims, but not what Trump is doing. By accepting Yoo’s premise that action A and B were okay but actions C and D are not, the New York Times accepts Yoo’s assertion that torture is legal if the president orders it.  Yoo did not write, “What I recommended was illegal and so are Trump’s actions.” No, what he is saying is he may have taken it to the extreme, but he remained within the lines, whereas Trump has crossed over into illegality.

This article is not the first time since the revelation of Yoo’s central role in justifying the establishment of a torture gulag that the Times has given him a chance to enhance his reputation by appearing as an expert in its pages. Why does a supposedly liberal newspaper continue to participate in the rehabilitation of this intellectually bankrupt individual? Are the Times editors that stupid that they don’t see they are being used? I know politics makes strange bedfellows, but rightwing, centrist and leftwing scholars, pundits and politicians are falling over themselves to distance themselves from Trump’s obnoxiously racist and stupidly counterproductive immigration ban. Couldn’t the editors find someone else for their daily “Trump is a dangerous ignoramus” guest column?

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In one act of self-centered, evil stupidity, Trump becomes the poster boy for both Christian & Islamic terrorists

Stupid. Self-serving. Evil.

That’s the answer.

The question is: Use three words to describe Donald Trump’s ban of immigrants and refugees from seven primarily Muslim countries (hyphenated words count once).

Stupid, because it will not accomplish what it intends to, which is to make us any more secure. We already do adequate—what some would call “extreme”—vetting of visitors, refugees and immigrants from these countries. The ban drives a wedge between us and the countries affected and gives terrorist organizations another recruiting message.

The stupidity of the action has imbued how the Trump Administration has implemented it: no warning to anyone; inconsistent instructions; a lack of preparation for the predictable messes it would create; almost immediately rescinding its impact on people with green cards or who are permanent residents. That Trump never thought, or never cared, about the impact that the ban potentially has on employers and universities represents the height of seat-of-the-pants stupidity, as does the notion that the U.S. constitution could let Trump get away with letting Christians in from these countries, but not Muslims. It’s almost as if the Trump Administration is using the Bush II Administration playbook for the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its reaction to Superstorm Sandy.

It’s easy to point at the selection of banned countries as another part of the overwhelming ignorance manifested by the Trump Administration on immigration. Countries that have supplied the terrorists who have killed 100% of all innocents murdered on U.S. soil are not on the list. Syria, which has being living through a horrific breakdown of civil society that demands a humanitarian response, is on the list. Iraq is an important U.S. ally supplying a large part of he troops currently fighting ISIS.

In one action, Donald Trump has managed the feat of becoming the poster boy for both Christian and Islamic terrorists, emboldening the former and embodying the devil to the later.

But the selection of countries exemplifies the self-centeredness of the action. As many have noted, all the countries that would seem to be prime candidates for inclusion on Trump’s no-no list such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt have business relationships with the Trump family. Trump promised his supporters and the world a crackdown on immigration that targeted Muslims, and he delivered it without affecting his own bottom line. He also delivered a message to every small country in the world that practices a different religion from Christianity—better start building that Trump Tower or else!

The evil part comes from the fact that Trump, spurred on by the bad intentions of his white supremacist advisors, is so willing to sacrifice the lives of so many refugees and immigrants—employees, technicians, small business owners, cabbies, many with families. But he won’t sacrifice even one penny of his own rich horde. And for what reason is he hurting these innocent people? So his leviathan-sized but fragile ego can say he kept his word. It’s a completely symbolic act that will not make anyone safer, and will likely make us less safe.

The American people are largely opposed to Trump’s ban. Spontaneous demonstrations broke out at airports and public spaces all over the country. Most Democrats many religious leaders and some Republicans are condemning the action. Even the Koch Brothers and their allies, who stand to benefit in so many ways from the Trump Administration, have come out against the Muslim ban. Polls show that from late 2015 to late 2016, the number of Americans with favorable attitudes towards “Muslim people” grew from 53% to 70%. 59% of all Americans now say they want to accept refugees from the Middle East.  These surveys and the general reaction to the Trump ban demonstrate that the Trump core isn’t that large. To win a general election Trump’s deplorables must be augmented by the “orange hair” Republicans who will vote for anyone who promises to lower taxes on the wealthy, no matter how crude, ignorant or mentally ill she-he happens to be.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, at least to someone like me whose Jewish family comes from Aleppo, Syria, the announcement of the ban on selected Muslim countries came the day before Trump almost certainly consciously insulted Jews in his remarks to acknowledge International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Every president before Trump has specifically noted that about 6 million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust. But not a word from Trump. While it is true that about five million non-Jews died in the concentration camps and mass executions, the devastation inflicted on the worldwide population of Jews (now estimated at just 15 million) and the singling out of the Jews for complete eradication brand the European Holocaust as a specifically Jewish genocide. Not to mention Jews in general remarks on the Holocaust is akin to explaining U.S. slavery with no reference to color. What Trump did is an explicit act of “Holocaust denial.” It suggests to me that Jews who trust Trump because he’s hard on Islamic countries should instead condemn him for hopping into bed with Steve Bannon, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions and other white supremacists.

Today the Muslims. Tomorrow the Jews?

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Donald Trump is giving us a government of the Kochs, by the Kochs & for the Kochs

Funny how everything seems to always work out well for some people.

Take the Koch brothers, David and Charles, who kept a billion dollars in their and their associates’ pockets that they had planned to spend to sway the 2016 presidential election for just about any Republican candidate other than Donald Trump. Jane Mayer is reporting in her post-election update of Dark Money, her masterful expose of how the Kochs’ money has perverted American politics, that even though the Kochs sat on their hands in the 2016 election, they are now deeply embedded in the Trump Administration.

Mayer reports that the Trump administration is crawling with Koch operatives and lobbyists. Mike Pence was the Koch’s first choice for president in 2012 and has received significant financial support from the Kochs in the past. The Kochs set new CIA Director Mike Pompeo up in business and have provided him with financial support throughout his political career. Then there’s the cabinet, that skewers towards the kind of anti-regulation, pro-oil, climate deniers that the Koch Bro’s love to love. Did Trump say he would “drain the swamp” or “join the swamp?”

It’s no wonder that Koch’s political director says there is no “daylight” between his positions and those of Trumpty-Dumpty.

As Mayer points out in an interview with NYC-FM’s Brian Lehrer, Trump is poised to deliver what the Kochs want:

  • A weak global warming policy or none at all: The primary Koch business is selling oil and other fossil fuels.
  • A weakening of regulations that reduce industrial pollution: Koch Industries in the largest producer of toxic waste in the United States and among the leaders in air and water pollution.
  • Cutting taxes on the wealthy: The Kochs are multi-billionaires and own the second largest private company in the country.

As the German industrialists who backed Hitler discovered, when you lie in bed with a crazy person, you have to take the good with the bad. It’s hard to imagine that the Kochs, who see that there is a coming labor shortage and therefore are in favor of lowering sentences and emptying prisons of non-violent offenders, would favor a wall, even if they believed it would keep out illegal immigrants (which it won’t, of course). The trade war and much higher consumer prices that are sure to be the outcome of Trump’s proposal to raise tariffs will likely hurt Koch businesses more than it will help them. The banning of immigrants from seven predominately Muslim countries seems gerrymandered to help Trump, not the Kochs, since Trump conveniently forgot to include countries with which he has business dealings. Finally, you would think that as extreme libertarians, the Kochs would uphold the right of a woman to have control over her own body and are would therefore not be happy that Trump is reinstituting and strengthening the ban against U.S. funds supporting international organizations that even mention the word “abortion” (a move, by the way which will lead to more abortions worldwide as fewer means of birth control exist for poor women in Africa and elsewhere).

But the Kochs reserve freedom and self-determination to themselves and their billionaire brethren. They really don’t care what happens to anyone else, as long as they can continue to pollute the earth and avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Like the Republican Party, the Kochs hold their nose and let a crazy person with ideas that will hurt most people hold power. The Kochs could be applying a lot of pressure on Congress to impeach and convict Trump. Perhaps they will, as soon as Trump has completed gutting environmental regulations and lowering taxes on the wealthy.

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Every other democracy in world history would already have dumped Trump

Looking at the video streams and photos of the marches around the country against the Trump Administration was like sex. There are only three kinds, good, better and best.

Seriously, I had many favorite photos of the marchers, but my absolute top favorite was of the D.C. police wearing pink caps loaned to them for the purpose taking the photo. It’s not the 19th century anymore. For the most part, police in major cities are educated professionals with working wives. They want Trump as little as the marchers do.

The truth of the matter is, no one wants Trump except that gerrymandered minority who for this brief instant in history control Republican primaries and the Electoral College. And a good chunk of that minority are orange-dog Republicans. The Republican Party doesn’t want him. The military doesn’t want him. The CIA doesn’t want him. The news media don’t want him. A majority of the people in the country voted against him and think him incompetent for the job. No country in the world save Russia wants him. Correction, China doesn’t really want him but knows that it will be the big winner if he manages to put his program through.

But no one is willing to even consider changing governments at this point. Except, that is, for a contingency supporting Trump, for whom violent regime change is a fondest dream.

In no other democracy in the history of humankind would the Trump government still be standing. Every other democracy has either been weak or a parliamentary system which produces multiple parties. In either case, the kind of protest we saw the day after the inaugural ceremonies would have toppled the government. In any parliamentary system, the marches would force the government to resign, something that Paul Krugman pointed out in the New York Times. In Turkey, the military might have taken over and immediately handed power to Hillary Clinton or Paul Ryan. Moreover, no other democracy has had an Electoral College to serve as an intermediary between voters and election results.  In every other democracy, the candidate receiving 2.8 million more votes would have been declared the winner.

We may talk about Putin, Comey, voter suppression, the news media’s double standard and the GOP ending super delegates as proximate causes for the ascendancy of Donald Trump, but the structural causes are two: the Electoral College and the two-party system, two attributes of American government which are pretty much unique.

The problem with the Electoral College is the winner-take-all nature of the system, increasing the power of some states and the voters in those states. Winner-take-all is not in the constitution. States made it a winner-take-all system only in the 1880’s. In other words, we don’t have to attempt the near impossible task of amending the constitution to address the basic problem with the Electoral College. All we have to do is amend state laws to mandate that their electors divide their vote according to the popular vote. Democrats have won the popular vote in four out of five of the last elections but have assumed the presidency twice only. My conclusion: Democrats and progressives should begin a major campaign to either pass a federal law using the 14th amendment as a pretext for mandating states divide electoral votes to reflect popular vote totals. We could also attempt to change state laws, but that’s a little tricky. We would have to focus first on red states, because if only blue states changed the law, Democrats could see their margin of loss in the Electoral College grow at the same rate as their margin of victory in the popular vote increases.

Imagine if we had more than two parties as national and legislative force. Imagine if we had three, four or more parties. In election cycles of the 21st century, the Democrats and Greens would have formed alliances to rule the government, which would have moved the Democrats to the left. The demands of the Libertarians would have forced the Republicans to ditch Trump for someone real.

But let’s be realistic. We’re talking about the United States of America, the country founded on slavery and propelled by racism through its entire history. If we had multiple parties, they would without a doubt tend to break down along racial lines. And that could get ugly.

So we accept all the cheating that went on to elect Trump and let him serve. Everyone conveniently forgets that Republicans fixed the voting rules in many swing states. We conveniently forget that James Comey and Vladimir Putin broke the rules. We forget that the news media created different rules for the two candidates. And we overlook the hundreds of rules that the winning candidate broke in his professional career. But once this seeming ruleless election ends, we all follow the rules that dictate that the winner of the Electoral College, no matter how unqualified and unpopular, has the right to dramatically make disastrous and illogical changes in the direction of the country. The peaceful transfer of power matters more than the will of either the people or the ruling elite.

It’s what we in America like to call “stability.”

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Best part of inauguration: the sparse crowds. Worst part: Trump’s fascist-inspired speech

There were many moments when I found the imagery and words of the inauguration inspiring, and they were all the same moment: the views of the sparse crowds. The Pence family walking by empty grandstands. The aerial comparisons of the jam-packed mall in 2009 and the deserted mall of 2017. The news that groups rented more buses to bring people to the Saturday anti-Trump march—the Women’s March—than to the inauguration itself. More people will take to the streets in Washington, D.C. and nationwide to protest the policies of the new administration than to celebrate it.

These images warm my heart because they prove that the United States is still a free country.

If we were living in a dictatorship, the streets would have been crowded with cheering admirers. Censorship would have suppressed the reporting of the comparison photographs and factoids. The surveys that show Trump’s unprecedented unpopularity would have been rigged to pretend the man is universally beloved.

The mass revulsion and renewed activism motivated by the Electoral College’s decision to elect this unqualified no-nothing gives me cause for optimism, although I can’t help but wonder how many of the marchers voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or stayed home on Election Day.

Both a friend of mine and I noticed that in most of the video streams and photographs (but not the one gracing the front page of the New York Times), the Trump family looks grim and unhappy. I shrugged it off as the typical awe and trembling that the nouveau riche feel when confronted by century-old traditions which fill them with the anxiety of those who believe in their hearts that they are unworthy. They focus on playing their role to perfection, which gives them a certain stiffness and seriousness of purpose. Contrast with the smiles, kidding and other grace notes that have brightened the inaugural performance of every other president in my lifetime. Of course all of them, even Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, were long-time insiders who participated in transfer of power ceremonies before and knew how government worked.

My friend, a practicing psychotherapist, saw an unhappy family in strife. For unhappy families, milestones and public events often provide a battlefield for playing out their problems. Mentally stable people, no matter how pissed off or disappointed they are at their spouse, child or parent, will hide behind a public mask. We know Hillary Clinton learned to do that during the 1990’s. But the more troubled a family or an individual, the less they can control themselves in public settings. Does family unhappiness explain the first family frowns? Before their grand entrance, did Trumpty-Dumpty berate everyone with commands, chides and insults?

As to Trump’s speech, I think MSNBC’s Chris Matthews put it best. It was Hitlerian.

Not so much specifically Hitlerian, but with many attributes of speeches given by fascists and totalitarians since human history began, including:

  • References to the people as an organic unity that feels, moves, suffers and exults together. “We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny” sent a shudder down my spine because it fit right into a speech by Mussolini or Hitler. Or the ancient Greek tyrant Pisistratus, for that matter.
  • Explicit and implicit linking of the people to the ruler, as if the ruler is the people and the people are the ruler.
  • The big lies, which in the inauguration speech focused on the current state of the country. To the degree that there ever was “American Carnage,” it has ended over the past 25 years, as crime rates, shooting of police by others and terrorism have gone way down. The education system is not flush with cash, as Trump averred. As the unemployment rate and income equality suggest, the problem is not a lack of jobs, but the low wages paid for most jobs nowadays. We have not, as Trump claims, depleted the military.
  • The cry to put the country first, unlike what the old regime did, at least according to the incoming fascist dictator. “America First,” the rallying cry of the virulently anti-Semitic American fascists in the 1930’s and 1940’s, sounds no different from the Nazi proclamation to put “Deutschland űber alles.”
  • The evocation of a special destiny for the country, the idea that the country is better, purer, more advanced. Both times that Trump declared American exceptionalism he implied or stated that it’s god’s will: the first time when he called us a “righteous public,” and more explicitly when he said that “we will be protected by God.”
  • Glorification of a past that never existed. The past to which Trump refers is industrialized America during the twentieth century. Yes, we were an industrial nation, but always because we exported. As Sven Beckert’s magisterial Empire of Cotton demonstrates, the United States built its economy on trade from its very origins. Our manufacturing flourished in the 20th century because we were able to sell our goods everywhere. The other major inaccuracy in discussing our past was the idea that everything was wonderful back then—it was only wonderful for workers once they unionized, and then only for whites.Embedded in the fascist rhetoric that both tore down the current state of the country and glorified the national ideal, were a mere three policy recommendations.

Let’s pretend that we’re living in a logical world and consider those three initiatives the cornerstones of the Trump Administration:

  1. Protectionist trade policies
  2. War against “radical Islamic terrorism”
  3. Investment in rebuilding our infrastructure of roads, bridges and highwaysThat’s a paltry program compared to what Regan, both Bushes, Clinton and Obama laid out in their inaugurations. Paltry, and mostly wrong-headed. Protectionist trade policies have been a contributing factor to most depressions in American history, as trade wars close off markets. Singling out Islam suggests a religious war, not a fight against terrorism. Rebuilding our infrastructure is something I and other left-wingers have been advocating for at least a decade. Too bad Trump didn’t say that he would pay for it by raising taxes on the wealthy, nor note that a national building program gives the country the opportunity to create the infrastructure needed for a post-fossil fuel economy.

But unlike other inaugural addresses, Trump’s remarks seemed less about describing a program and more about reminding people how lousy their lives were and how great they will be now that the big man is in charge.While Trump channeled fascism in his inaugural address, his Administration got started with two symbolic acts that reminded me of Hemingway’s dictum not to confuse motion with action. Trump signed an executive order that allows agencies to dismantle those parts of the Affordable Care Act it is legal for the president to dismantle. No specifics, no commands, no timetables. Thus no real action.

All references to global warming suddenly disappeared from the White House website the moment the transfer of power occurred. But again, the act was symbolic at best, since the White House did not countermand any single regulation or rule.

I recently wondered if the Trump Administration would engage only in symbolic acts of branding and rebranding. I speculated that the kind of gridlock that this approach to running the country both reflects and initiates would be the best-case scenario for a Trump Administration. So far, so good.

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Our best hope for Trump years is that he does nothing but what he does best: Brand & rebrand

I’ve sat in front of a blank screen for the past hour trying to grapple with the enormity of what has happened: An ignorant, autocratic, erratic, irrational, racist, misogynistic narcissist has assumed the presidency of the United States and with it control over a vast rule-making administration.

Erratic though he may seem, Trump’s cabinet speaks to a consistent agenda: lowering taxes on the wealthy and making it easier for a handful of large businesses in a handful of industries to operate while turning the federal government into one giant business-making machine for cronies. Trump’s cabinet promises to take national the disastrous Kansas experiment under Governor Sam Brownback—starving government to the point that it can’t even deliver basic services such as public education. We’ve seen how this approach to governing has failed not only in Kansas, but in states around the world.

Since Trumpty-Dumpty has made the same deal with the devil that other economic rightwingers have made since at least the middle of the 19th century, we will also get a large dose of nativism and racism in how we pursue social and economic policy. Besides the dangers created by cutbacks to funding, the harsh administration of justice and more voter suppression laws, minorities, immigrants and women also face the ire of Trump’s “basket of deplorables.”Reflecting Trump’s own loose-tongue explicitness, this latest generation of hate-mongers seems ready to become more overt in both word and deed under a Trump presidency.

I believe that, despite voter suppression laws and the rise of the militant white power movement (AKA the alt-right), history, demographics and the facts are on the side of social democrats. Eventually the demographic majority in favor of the left’s platform will turn into a voting and electoral advantage on the state and national levels. I am, for example, convinced that even if Trumpty-Dumpty survives the next four years without assassination or impeachment voters will sweep him out of office, perhaps even denying him the Republican nomination.

But unfortunately, Trump, Jeff, Betsy, Paul and their cohorts could do a lot of damage in a very short amount of time.

One of any of a large number of actions that Trump and the GOP-led Congress have threatened to do would be disastrous:

  • Ending the current healthcare system without putting in place either a single-payer system or a system that looks like the current one down to virtually every detail.
  • Lowering taxes on the wealthy, with or without gutting safety net and other government programs.
  • Installing a Supreme Court that will continue to grant rights historically reserved for human beings to corporate entities, while constraining the rights of actual individuals.
  • Replacing our public education system with a voucher-based system good for either assembly-line, for-profit charter Mac-schools or parochial private schools.
  • Turning our back on the Paris Accord and promoting the development and use of fossil fuels instead of moving towards alternative fuels.
  • Walking away from international trade agreements and creating barriers to trade except for those related to the environment, safety and compensation for workers.

Like he does with his bankrupt companies, when Trump leaves office, either in disgrace or in a cloud of gilded faux glory, he will leave it to others to fix what he has broken.

But that’s the way of the world. Who suffered when Athens decided to go to war more than the slaves and hoplites who had to do the fighting? It is the poor and the innocent who suffer in wars, not the rich old men (and now women) who send them to fight or order others to attack and plunder their lands. Who suffers when a Chief Executive Officer, driven by ego and blinded by his (and now sometimes her) ignorance does something stupid like expand too quickly, take on too much debt or borrow money to pay bonuses? The CEO walks away with a golden parachute and the workers lose their jobs and sometimes get shorted on their pension. (Anecdotally, years ago I observed a president of a Fortune 500 company fueled by a cocaine habit drive his company into a chapter 11 bankruptcy and massive layoffs; when he was fired, he walked away with a large severance package).

It’s also not the first time in world history that a large population has fallen under the spell of a mendacious charlatan. Nor the first time that a society has lived by a series of lies or myths. I would assert that since World War II, we in the United States have based our society on a few wrong-headed ideas that turn out to be based more on ideological belief than facts:

  1. All emotions, rituals and human relationships can be reduced to commercial transactions.
  2. The suburban lifestyle built on cars, malls and few public spaces is superior to the urban lifestyle built on diversity, mass transit and lots of public spaces and institutions.
  3. The free market provides better solutions to social needs and challenges than government does.
  4. There is something suspicious, antisocial and/or uncool about intellectualism, intellectual endeavors, learning and science.

Celebrity culture represents the logical endpoint of the confluence of these false beliefs, and Donald Trump represents the apotheosis of celebrity culture a failed businessman who plays a successful one on TV, someone who is famous merely for being famous, gallivants from one expensive place to another acting out his inner demons in front of a national audience. Entertaining to some, but not the way to run either a business or a government.

While ignorant, bullheaded, self-centered, vindictive and crass, Trump also has a genius in one area—branding, which on an operational level consists of making people want something more than they should by attributing to the thing values and meaning that go beyond its use value. “More than they should” is the important concept here, because in the case of an end to the Affordable Care Act or the building of a wall between the United States and Mexico, the average person should not want to see it happen at all. This one skill Trump has may prove to be the salvation of the country during his years in office.

My best case scenario for the Trump rule is that he focuses on branding and nothing else. For example, the entirety of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act could be replaced by itself but with new names—the exchange could be called a “Freedom Market.” The standards that insure that no one will buy a worthless policy could be called the “Patients’ Bill of Rights.” The individual mandate could be relabeled a user fee—those who go to expensive hotels and vacation resorts should be used to user fees for something they don’t use!

In a similar way, the Trump Administration might rightfully conclude that the cost to modernize our stock of nuclear weapons is too expensive and instead institute a program that pretends to modernize but really decommissions hundreds of our unneeded thousands of nuclear warheads. Trump could call it “Peace through Strength.” The Donald could also very easily do nothing to change our immigration intake process and still call it extreme vetting, wait six months and declare victory in the war to protect our borders, using statistics that reflect the Obama years. Same with crime.

Our best hope, then, is that Trump remains true to his inner Barnum and spends his time in office doing nothing but bullshitting people (and engaging in feuds, of course). Maybe his family and friends will cash in, but we survived Jackson’s, Grant’s, Harding’s and Bush II’s gang of thieves. We can survive a little more kleptocracy and an administration full of empty slogans.

Gridlock never looked so good.

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Trump’s reply to John Lewis comment displays usual Trumpian ignorance of facts and symbols

John Lewis said what a lot of us have been thinking: that Trump is not a legitimate president because of voter suppression laws in a handful of states that broke to Trump by micro-thin margins and decided the results of the Electoral College. The Georgia Congressman also implied that Trump delegitimizes himself with his behavior and language towards minorities, immigrants and women. Finally, Lewis rejects Trump’s vision for America as its putative symbolic leader for the next eight, four, two or one year(s) that he’s president.

When not trying to bully women or his campaign adversaries, Trump often takes off on figures with halos over their heads, people who both the religious and non-religious consider saint-like: A Gold Star family. The Pope.

And now John Lewis.

On both the factual and the symbolic level, Trumpty-Dumpty’s recent tweet attacking Lewis was as wrong as wrong can be. After mischaracterizing Lewis’ vibrant and relatively wealthy Congressional district as a crime-infested rat hole, Trump said “All talk, talk, talk—no action or results.”

John Lewis. No action?

On the factual level, the district itself belies Trump’s accusation that Lewis doesn’t spend time helping it.

On the symbolic level, John Lewis epitomizes the man of action. Remember that when police officers and soldiers put themselves in harm’s way, they carry weapons and are willing to use them and, if American, they typically outnumber the other side.

But John Lewis went out to face the enemy with nothing but the courage of his conviction that peaceful disobedience was the most powerful weapon to achieve social, civic and economic justice. When he led the demonstrators across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama that bloody Sunday in 1965, he knew he was going to take a bad beating, and he took it. He took it for Dr. Martin Luther King, who didn’t march that day. And he took it for the civil rights movement. He took it for the entirety of the United States and for everyone who ever believed that the right to participate fully in society belonged to all men and women, regardless of their color, religion or condition in life. I’ve read the Gospels and a lot of history and I’m still not convinced that such a man as Jesus Christ ever existed. I definitely question the concept of a person suffering for the sins of the collective. But if there were ever a Christ-like human being, it was—and is—John Lewis.

The simplified form of the twentieth century philosophy called existentialism is “You are what you do.” By that measure, Lewis is an existentialist’s existentialist, the highest form of the man of action.

While John Lewis has lived his life as the embodiment of true heroism, every public act of Donald Trump’s existence manifests the extreme narcissism and greed of a spoiled but very dull four-year-old. While John Lewis has dedicated himself to the ideals of helping others, Trump and his cabinet of billionaires and multi-millionaires have dedicated their time on earth to selfish ends or to rolling back the gains made by Lewis and others to bring social and economic equity to all.

Some people are bemoaning that Trump is an accidental president, a product of a bizarre series of one-off events. Others blame racism and misogyny for the still hard-to-imagine horror of 60 million people voting for him. Still others say Republicans fixed the Electoral College vote with voter suppression laws. All of these explanations for why this ignorant loutish racist who lost the popular vote by almost three million still ended up president is enough to delegitimize his moral authority for John Lewis. And for tens of millions others, too.

Including me. Donald Trump may assume the office of the presidency in a few days, but he’ll never be my president.

On the other hand…if he would keep and extend Obama’s energy and environmental policies; fund infrastructure improvement with new taxes on the wealthy; veto all legislation that would end the Affordable Care Act or the individual mandate or cut funding to Planned Parenthood; come out in favor of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian mess; embrace the Iraq nuclear deal; advocate raising the minimum wage and lifting the cap on incomes assesses Social Security taxes; nominate Merrick Garland as Supreme Court justice; encourage parents to give their children timely vaccinations, stopped using Twitter to create prosecute personal feuds, stopped dissing our allies while praising Vladimir Putin…

In other words, if Trump acted presidential, I would consider him president.

Fat chance of that.

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When news media changed definition of objectivity, they opened door to ignorance & Trumpism

Once upon a time, the news media defined objectivity as presenting the facts, and just the facts, usually substantiated by at least two reliable sources. Then the right-wing, led by its own sometimes vibrant sometimes moribund cadre of media, hammered mainstream media that its side wasn’t getting a fair hearing.

According to Nicole Hemer’s Messengers of the Right, which covers the development of the right wing media from the end of World War II until the ascent of Rush Limbaugh and his various imitators, the right wing began assaulting the idea that the mainstream news media was objective from the early days of William Buckley’s National Review and Regenery Press, which published right wing screeds about communism and the evils of labor unions and government regulation, usually financed by their trust fund authors or bulk purchases by corporations run by right wingers.  But the real assault on objectivity began in the 1970’s, about the time that the right wing added cultural issues such as abortion to its agenda. In place of objectivity in coverage, the right-wing proposed balance—presenting all sides of the issue.

The right wing never admitted it, nor did anyone notice at the time, but the critique of factuality as the central value of reporting correlated with the general compliant that the mass media were too “liberal,” by which they meant “left-wing” or “collectivist.” The right was subtly admitting that liberal positions were right, because the facts supported them. The news media only print facts. The facts skew liberal.

Thus the right wing pushed the notion that judging by the facts in and of itself didn’t create objectivity.

Their substitute definition of objectivity—balanced reporting—required journalists to quote the one crackpot who doesn’t believe in global warming when they had already talked to two thousand who do. Stories that should have been about how to we are addressing human-caused global warming instead rehashed whether it existed or not. This balanced approach enabled many lies to sneak into news coverage on a wide range of issues, including women’s reproductive rights, immigration, crime, science, education and health care. The biggest band leader for balance was, of course, Fox News, which did not balance its coverage but applied major pressure on other media to balance theirs. That brings us to the current situation in which most Americans have their choice of right-wing news or news that presents both the right and the left without evaluation of the truth, validity or factual basis of either side.

Remer doesn’t speculate on why the mainstream news media responded to the exhortations to replace facts with balance as the guide star of journalistic objectivity and integrity, but I’m pretty sure that two motivations drove the mainstream news media; 1) The inherent controversy in “presenting both sides” is more dramatic than a technical discussion and therefore more like entertainment; 2) Writing he said-she said stories is easier than becoming an expert and developing an in-depth discussion of an issue.

From letting people tell lie in these balanced stories to accepting their lies without question, as the media has done with trump, was a small step. Balanced reporting allowed Trump to flourish because he is a master of phrasing every argument as an “us-versus-them” battle, or, to be more specific, the great Donald versus them.

Remer’s book walks an interesting tightrope. It focuses on the right wing media’s various players, their media mix and marketing techniques, their internal squabbles, especially on whether to cut ties with the proto-alt-right John Birch Society and to support Nixon, their suspicions that the media was too left-wing, and their attempts to influence elections, political parties and mainstream media. But very little is said about the actual positions that the right-wing media held, except that they believed in the ascendancy of individual rights over what’s good for society and they disliked unions. The opposition to the civil rights movement, government regulation and all social welfare programs, including Social Security; the belief that communists had infiltrated the government; the flirtation with racist organizations; the ultra-hawkish militarism; and the belief that an elite of highly educated white men should lead society—none of these planks in the right wing media’s platform in the 1950’s and 1960’s are worthy of discussion in Remer’s telling of the story. It’s a bit like discussing the Donald Trump phenomenon without talking about the lies, lechery and lawsuits.

 

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Trump & GOP behave like children on “Take Your Kid to Work” day, focus on “make-busy” work instead of solving problems

There might be some possibility of convincing Donald Trump and the Republicans not to build a wall along the Mexican border if they sincerely felt threatened by an invasion of undocumented immigrants. Once they learned that more of the undocumented have been leaving the country than entering over the past few years, once they computed the true cost of a new wall, once they saw the Department of Justice estimates of the low number of people a wall would prevent from entering—all of these facts might sway them to change their minds and not pursue this enormously expensive boondoggle.

Unfortunately, Trumpty-Dumpty and his GOP cohorts act not out of a misguided effort to solve a non-existent problem, but for two intertwined cynical reasons. Most GOP members—but perhaps not the unread and inexperienced Trump—know that undocumented immigrants are not a security threat to the United States and that between Presidents Bush II and Obama, we have already pumped up border patrols, rounded up and deported the “bad guys,” and instituted “extreme vetting.” They continue to use the wall as a political catalyst to enrage and frighten voters, and especially those prone to Nativist or racist views. They can’t be convinced the wall is nonsense, because they already know it and don’t care. That’s why the GOP and Trump are proposing an accelerated timetable for starting construction on a wall instead of quietly dropping it as another in many empty campaign promises.

The second reason has to do with money. Trump represents the apotheosis of the post-Reagan Republican Party in many ways, but no more so than in his belief that the real function of government is to collect taxes for use by private industry, one of the pillars of Republicanism since the days of Ronald Reagan. Trump is the ultimate crony capitalist. He has bragged in the past of buying the support of politicians. Many of his developments received governmental aid of one sort or another. Many of his cabinet members, most notably the incoming Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, have dedicated their careers to privatizing essential government functions.

And have no doubt about it, building a wall is the ripest, juiciest, lowest hanging fruit on the tree of government largess to corporations because it doesn’t take much more expertise than knowing how to set rebar and pour concrete to do it. If we were talking about building a fighter jet, the government would have two companies from which to choose. Not many more if we were talking about investing billions of dollars in improving our cybersecurity. But there are dozens of large and small contractors in every state with the experience and capabilities to build Trump’s wall. That means that there are going to be many opportunities for Trump and Republican members of Congress to reward their friends with contracts for building the wall. It’s going to be the biggest swindle of the American people since Bush II’s Iraq War, which was in large part fought by what used to be called mercenaries, i.e., private firms contracted by the Department of Defense to provide key military services that the military once did for itself.

While it provides a lot of government contracts, the new wall between the United States and Mexico will make no one safer nor keep many people out. It’s nothing more than “make-busy” work.

It seems as if Trump and the Republican congress have prioritized this kind of “make-busy” work as the most important platform promises to get started fulfilling. They are behaving as a bunch of ten year olds cutting scrap paper or moving files to help mommy at her job on “Take Your Kid to Work” day. Besides authorizing the funds to begin building a wall, the Republicans are hell-bent in repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which will likely turn out to be another make-busy waste of time.

Here’s why: The problem is that Congress has only three choices in repealing Obamacare:

  1. Take away the health insurance of 20 million Americans, while putting three million people out of work, increasing the cost of health insurance for everyone else and increasing the deficit.

OR

  1. Go to a single payer system (which FYI wouldn’t really hurt insurance companies if we followed the German model, but will have a great financial effect on physicians and hospitals)

OR

  1. Reconstruct a system that looks pretty much like Obamacare: a delicate balance of taxes, incentives, subsidies and important benefits that the American public have quickly come to believe are birthrights, such as accepting people for coverage with pre-existing conditions, not having a lifetime cap on coverage and keeping children on parents’ insurance until age 26. Ending coverage for pre-existing conditions would in and of itself lead to an estimated 53 million people losing their healthcare insurance.

The cynical GOP know the first option will lead to certain defeat at the polls and that the second one looks too much like socialism, so my prediction is that the GOP’s version of healthcare reform will resemble what we currently have, with the possible addition of a very small voucher program to justify the clamor that the healthcare system must operate more on free market principles.

That means that like the wall, the GOP’s healthcare reform process will likely waste a lot of time—and money—in meaningless activity.

Pass the juice box, Paulie. And don’t horde all the paper clips and staples, Donnie.

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