Concentration camps. In 2018. In America. For children.

June 16, 2018

“First they came for the Jews . . . “

Eighty years ago, on the deck of ship passing the Statue of Liberty, stood my mother, a refugee from the Nazis.

Two days ago I stood, for a second time, in a protest about children taken away from parents at the border. The night before, watching a program including something about Auschwitz, I heard the line, “upon arrival, children ripped from their mothers’ arms.”

That was a Nazi crime. Now it’s America ripping children from mothers’ arms. And, literally, putting them in concentration camps.* Some in cages there. I used to loathe America-haters accusing my beloved country of crimes. Now it brought tears to my eyes to be standing there myself protesting a crime against humanity by America.

(Times-Union photo)

It’s not just “illegal immigrants” who are victims of this atrocity. Also asylum seekers, who do not arrive illegally. Their right to come here to apply for asylum is clear under international law supposedly subscribed to by America. There was a time when the U.S. respected — even promoted — international human rights norms. Trump’s border policy blatantly violates them.

Now Attorney General Sessions furthermore says we will no longer recognize claims for asylum based on domestic or gang violence, abrogating longstanding principles relating to asylum. And no other country separates children from parents at their border. None. 

For most of these migrants, the journey is extremely hard and dangerous even before reaching the border. Anyone who brings their children through such peril must be trying to escape some truly horrific conditions. They are human beings who have already suffered greatly and deserve, at the very least, compassion and charity. Instead we treat them as criminals, indeed meting out the harshest punishment imaginable. Taking away their children. Many of these parents will never again see children disappearing into the bureaucratic chaos of America’s overwhelmed concentration camp system (and foster care system). This vile crime, against innocent children as well as their parents, is an indelible black stain upon this country and upon every government functionary guilty of participating in it.

That includes Jeff Sessions, John Kelly, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who continue trying to defend this monstrous policy. And it mainly includes the occupant of the desk where the buck stops. Who weaseled that it’s because of a “horrible law” allegedly passed by Democrats. That is nonsense. The law in question was passed in the George W. Bush administration — and does not require child separation. It was never so interpreted before. Trump is doubly criminal: presiding over this cruel travesty, and lying to blame political opponents for it.

These shameless creeps dare to call themselves Christians and even, to defend their inhumanity, invoke the Bible. What would Jesus do?

Trump fantasizes going to Stockholm for a Nobel Prize. Instead it should be the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

How low America has sunk. The words engraved on the Statue of Liberty — the high ideals of a great and good nation — have been made a cruel mockery. I had actually long feared America was heading for decline. But I never imagined the bottom falling out with such a swift bang.

* Some are falsely told their children are being taken for baths — an eerie echo of Auschwitz victims told they were going to showers, not gas chambers.



June 15, 2018



@RealDonald Trump


Frank Robinson and myself had a very good meeting, really really terrific. We showed him a video how great it could be for him and his people if he’d just be nicer and got a better haircut, like mine. I think he wants to, he’s very talented and sincere (not like that backstabbing Canuck liar Trudeu), Frank swore he would totally cut his hair, which I believe is going to happen very very quickly! So now we’re BFFs and lifting sanctions on his blog. Americans can sleep soundly now!

5:12 AM – 15 June 2018


June 14, 2018

Notice: Pursuant to Executive Order #9038672, this blog (“The Rational Optimist”) is determined to be a threat to national security, very dishonest, an enemy of the people, and very very unfair, and accordingly is hereby terminated.








Ordered and Decreed                                       DONALD J. TRUMP

June 14, 2018                                        President of the United States





Reader Poll: Trump’s Top-100 Hit Parade

June 11, 2018

What is Trump’s greatest hit (upon America)? Find below a top-100 list. Vote for your selection, in the comments section. Feel free to add other items, since of course it would be humanly impossible to compile a full list. This one I just threw together quickly, in no particular order:

1. “Grab them by the pussy”

2. His “spygate” lie, falsely smearing the FBI and Department of Justice and undermining America’s institutions of accountability and rule of law

3. His “Obama wiretapped me” lie

4. His inauguration crowd size lie

5. His racism (“very fine people on both sides”) — aggravating America’s racial tensions and divisions

6. Refusal to release tax returns

7. Lying about the reason for not releasing tax returns. (“Can’t believe I got away with that,” he reportedly said)

8. His conflicts of interest

9. The show he put on faking resolution of his conflicts of interest — with a table full of document folders — filled with blank paper

10. Saying John McCain was not a war hero

11. Refusing to apologize for an aide who said McCain doesn’t matter because he’s dying

12. Sliming Khizr Khan (whose soldier son was killed in Iraq) and Khan’s family

13. Encouraging fans at his rallies to beat people up

14. His speech to the Suffolk County police, encouraging them to beat people up

15. Withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and thereby handing China a huge geopolitical/trade victory while outraging our allies

16. Withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and thereby hastening Iran’s getting the bomb while outraging our allies

17. Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords, outraging our allies

18. His comprehensive ignorance of history, world affairs, and economics

19. His severe narcissistic personality disorder

20. Canceling DACA

21. Falsely saying he hoped Congress would undo the damage of canceling DACA

22. Rejecting every Congressional effort to undo the damage of canceling DACA

23. Blaming Democrats for the DACA mess

24. Demanding to build a useless white elephant border wall

25. Lying that Mexico will pay for the border wall

26. Calling Mexicans rapists, etc. (And repeating it lately)

27. Saying a U.S. judge cannot be fair because of his Mexican ancestry

28. His Muslim travel ban

29. Denying it is a Muslim travel ban

30. Proposing to slash legal immigration (and lying about how the existing system works)

31. Questioning why we take immigrants from “shit hole countries”

32. Taking away children from asylum seekers— a vicious crime against humanity, violating internationally recognized rights

33. Falsely blaming Democrats for it

34. Supporting pedophile Roy Moore

35. Pardoning racist Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of defying court orders

36. Otherwise abusing his pardon power to favor political allies, like slimeball Dinesh D’Souza, an extremist Obama-hater convicted of an illegal campaign finance scheme

37. His rants against leakers

38. His leaking sensitive classified intelligence to the Russians

39. His infatuation with dictators like Putin, Erdogan, and Al Sisi

40. Congratulating Putin on his phony re-election after his staff told him not to

41. Congratulating Turkish strongman Erdogan for a referendum giving him virtually unchecked power

42. Congratulating Philippine President Duterte for his handling of the drug problem — by having thousands of people murdered

43. Calling the press “the enemy of the American people”

44. His Trump University fraud (case settled for $25 million)

45. Getting rich by consistently refusing to pay contractors and workers on his projects

46. His mocking Republican members of Congress for their obeisance to the NRA

47. His obeisance to the NRA

48. His starting an idiotic self-defeating trade war. Several of them in fact. Against our closest allies

49. His being prosecuted by the Feds in the 1970s for racial discrimination in 39 housing sites

50. Falsifying the height of his buildings

51. Employing 200 illegal immigrants in constructing Trump Tower

52. Found guilty by a federal judge in 1991 for conspiring to avoid payment of union pension contributions for those workers

53. Four bankruptcies, walking away with millions while investors got screwed

54. Siphoning money contributed to his own campaign, into his own pocket. (One example: the campaign spent $55,000 to buy, from Trump, copies of one of his own books)

55. A “charity” he founded illegally diverting donated money to pay for a painting of Trump

56. Lying to Canada’s prime minister about America’s trade deficit with Canada

57. Lying about lying to Canada’s prime minister

58.  Justifying hitting Canada with tariffs because Canadians burned down the White House. (They didn’t)

59. Saying he’d accept the 2016 election results only if he won

60. Falsely claiming he lost the popular vote only because millions voted fraudulently

61. Setting up a commission to investigate supposed voter fraud as a pretext for harsher vote suppression measures to keep poor and black people from voting

62. Denying Russian meddling had anything to do with the 2016 election outcome

63. Saying President Obama didn’t do enough about Russian election meddling

64. Doing nothing about forthcoming Russian election meddling

65. Firing FBI Director Comey to squelch the investigation of Russian election meddling

66. Denying that’s why he fired Comey (though he’d previously said it was)

67. Calling the investigation of Russian election meddling a “witch hunt”

68. Refusing to implement sanctions against Russia voted by Congress

69. Convening the cabinet for the purpose of showering praise on him

70. Falsely saying America is the highest taxed nation in the world (far from true)

71. Passing a tax bill giving the great bulk of benefits to the rich and corporations, worsening inequality

72. Lying that he would not personally benefit from the tax bill

73. Re-tweeting phony videos posted by a British hate group

74. Insulting the British prime minister when she upbraided him for that

75. Failing to provide adequate help to our Puerto Rican citizens after the hurricane

76. His disgraceful political speech to the Boy Scout convention

77. Spending most of his time in the White House watching television; while refusing to read briefing papers, or anything else

78. After having criticized Obama for too much golfing, golfing way more himself

79. Birtherism Lie

80. Blaming birtherism on Hillary and claiming he was the one who ended it (yes, he actually did that)

81. Claiming he saw New Jersey Muslims celebrate 9/11

82. Going on whacko conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s radio show and saying Jones has a “great reputation”

83. Extramarital affair with porn star

84. Paying hush money to porn star

85. Falsely saying he knew nothing about the hush money

86. Falsely denying the affair

87. Calling liars all the numerous women who say he took unwanted sexual liberties with them; and calling some of their accounts implausible because those women were ugly

88. Buying ownership of a beauty pageant so he could invade dressing rooms to ogle undressed women

89. Insulting journalist Megyn Kelly (“blood coming out of her wherever”)

90. Insulting Mika Brzezinski, Justin Trudeau, Kristen Stewart, Arianna Huffington, Rosie O’Donnell, Gail Collins, Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Katy Tur, Carly Fiorina, Meryl Streep, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Anna Wintour, hero John Lewis, beauty pageant contestant Alicia Machado, Congressman Adam Schiff, Senators Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren, and all women journalists saying “it really doesn’t matter what they write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”

91. Wasting millions so he can preen at a vainglorious military parade

92. Appointing liar and criminal Michael Flynn national security advisor

93. Firing Michael Flynn for his lies, and then saying Flynn was treated very unfairly

94. Health care — “repeal and replace” — with what?

95. Calling America’s murder rate the highest in 47 years when in fact it’s gone down pretty much steadily since 1980

96. Repeatedly falsely claiming that the N.Y. Times apologized for incorrect reporting about him

97. Steve Bannon; Roy Cohn; Michael Cohen

98. In numerous additional ways degrading America’s dignity and political and civic culture, enflaming people’s worst instincts and tribal divisiveness, undermining our global leadership and network of international alliances, as well as the cooperative rules-based world order America hugely invested in building since World War II, which has been a bulwark of our national security and prosperity, and shredding the principles, ideals, and values America used to stand for

99. Forty percent of Americans nevertheless still support him

100. His hair

My own vote: #99

And remember, his term isn’t even half over.

Trump has responded in a tweet: “All fake news, folks. Very unfair. Lying Frank Robinson is a very ugly, short, old, very stupid has-been loser (failed writer — and only one wife!!). Weak on crime, weak on the border, weak on the military. But we’ll see what happens.”

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

June 10, 2018

Envy is something deeply embedded in the human condition. It comes from the kinds of minds evolution endowed us with. Alone among animals, we are able to contemplate hypotheticals — “what ifs” — and imagine non-existent things. We are also capable of modeling, in our minds, what goes on in other minds, and to project ourselves into them. It’s great for helping us negotiate life among other people. But it also creates the substrate for feelings of envy.

I make it a principle in my own life to envy no one; and when other (good) people enjoy successes, to be glad for them. It’s actually easy for me, because I’m very lucky to have a great life. When someone else has something I might wish for, I remind myself that other parts of their life I’d feel differently about. Would I trade mine for theirs? The answer is always no.

Then there was Anthony Bourdain.

Appropriately enough, we only ever caught his show, “Parts Unknown,” while traveling ourselves; in hotel rooms we’d turn on CNN, and there was always Anthony Bourdain. Now here was a guy who really seemed to be having a great life. If I had to switch with anyone, what better candidate? Tall, handsome, going on cool adventures in exotic places. The food was fantastic! And the human connections were integral; Anthony Bourdain brought people together and made the world more intimate. For doing all this, he got paid handsomely! And had a beautiful girlfriend besides.

Then he hanged himself.

His show’s title, “Parts Unknown,” may have had a double meaning — with parts of Anthony Bourdain himself unknown to viewers. What we didn’t see on TV was his history of out of control alcohol and drug use; and he was broken up over a past marital break-up. Anthony Bourdain shows us that a human life has many sides; the human heart and soul are very deep.

Envy no one.

Cynthia Nixon for Governor — What is wrong with “progressives”

June 8, 2018

I switched enrollment from Republican to Democrat when the GOP went off the rails, to the dark side; I wanted to use my primary vote to keep at least one party on the rails. And I was glad when actor Cynthia Nixon (“Sex and the City”) challenged vile Governor Andrew Cuomo — even though from the left.

The other night Nixon was on The Daily Show.

At the start, the question was whether she’s really out to become governor, rather than just making a point.

Someone serious about the governorship might focus on the state’s real problems — like its weak economy beset by high taxes, a lousy business climate, and crumbling infrastructure. Instead, Nixon was all pet “progressive” memes. Such as inequality, $15 minimum wage, and “women’s issues.” Repeatedly chanting the word “progressive” as a talisman.

Cuomo himself has been doing the same, leaving little space to squeeze into on his left. But Nixon is trying, calling Cuomo insufficiently progressive. Like on the $15 minimum wage, being introduced gradually rather than immediately.

This kind of left-wing purity trial will kill the Democratic party for 2020. There’s already a big debate within the party over whether to countenance anyone not 100% for abortion. Are these people out of their minds?

Republicans have left vacant a vast territory in the American political center. But instead of moving briskly to seize that territory, Democrats like Nixon (and Cuomo) are fleeing it too.

Meantime, Andrew Cuomo is a very strong candidate, still basking in his father’s glow, with the party organization locked up, and a huge campaign war chest. How will Nixon compete with that?

I’m reminded how last year, a guy sought me out who wanted to run for Albany Mayor on the Republican line. The Democratic incumbent, Kathy Sheehan, had done reasonably well, and, mind you, the city is something like ten-to-one Democratic. No Republican had been elected to anything in almost a century. So this guy starts telling me all his nifty ideas for how Albany could be spruced up. One was something about bike paths.

Finally I stopped him and said, “All very nice. But is Sheehan going to lose to a Republican on the issue of bike paths?

The point being that to defeat a powerful incumbent you need a powerful issue. And Cynthia Nixon actually has one: public corruption. Andrew Cuomo is drenched in slime. His top honcho, Percoco (his “third brother”) was convicted of taking bribes, peddling his influence with the governor, and mis-using his position right under Cuomo’s nose. While another top Cuomo guy, Percoco’s partner in crime, pled guilty and testified against him while being revealed as a comic book sleazeball.

State government corruption was already so odoriferous in 2013 that Cuomo convened a special blue-ribbon “Moreland Act” commission to investigate and take action. Then he pulled the plug, disbanding the commission — when it started looking at the governor’s office. Eeewww. To her credit, Cynthia Nixon has pledged a new Moreland Act commission.

But did she mention any of this on The Daily Show? Not a word. The word “corruption” did not pass her lips. Instead she hammered the word “progressive” and stuff like “women’s issues.”

At the very end, Cuomo’s $31 million campaign kitty did come up. As something Nixon would have to overcome. I literally shouted at the TV: “Tell us how he got the money!”

She did not. Did not mention he got it by selling favors to contributors, paid for by taxpayers. Like the real estate developer who gave Cuomo’s campaign big bucks, and then was repaid many times over with a huge unnecessary public subsidy for a project which was already underway.

On all this Nixon was silent. She has one issue, and one issue only, that could conceivably elect her, and she ignored it — so wrapped up was she in her “progressive” shtick. Corruption isn’t an issue with a satisfying ideological thwack.

Last time around, Cuomo was similarly challenged from the left by Zephyr Teachout — who got a third of the vote. A lot of her votes, ironically, did not come from ideological “progressives” but rather upstaters angry over Cuomo’s gun control legislation. That’s why Teachout carried around 30 rural counties (while being crushed downstate).

Nixon will get all the votes Teachout got. And not one vote more.

Correction: one vote more. Mine.

Code Red: Guest column by Thomas Friedman

June 5, 2018

I’m not one for reblogging and sharing what others say, preferring my own words. But I’m making an exception for Thomas Friedman’s May 29 column, which expresses so well my thinking. I’ve taken the liberty of shortening it considerably (find the full text here). His title is Sounding Code Red: Electing the Trump Resistance:

This election is not about what you may think. Not a choice between the particular basket of policies offered by candidates for House or Senate in your district or state — policies like gun control, right to choose, free trade or fiscal discipline.

No, what this election is about is your first chance since 2016 to vote against Trump. Or are you in favor of another two years of unfettered control by a man who wants to ignore Russia’s interference in our election; a man whose first thought every morning is, ‘What’s good for me, and can I get away with it?’; a man who shows no compunction about smearing any person or government institution that stands in his way; and a man who is backed by a party where the only members who’ll call him out are those retiring or dying?


The worst Democrat on the ballot for the House or Senate is preferable to the best Republican, because the best Republicans have consistently refused to take a moral stand against Trump’s undermining of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Civil Service, the basic norms of our public life and the integrity of our elections.

It is up to the Democrats to protect America from Trump’s worst impulses. To oust the most corrupt Republican lawmakers who lead key committees, to properly oversee the most reckless cabinet secretaries, like Scott Pruitt, and to protect the F.B.I., the Justice Department and Robert Mueller from Trump’s intimidation.

I don’t write this easily. On many issues, I’m not a card-carrying Democrat. I favor free trade, fiscal discipline, pro-business regulations, a democracy-expanding foreign policy, and I have an aversion to identity politics.

But all of that is on hold for me now, because something more fundamental is at stake: It’s not what we do — it’s who we are, how we talk to one another, what we model to the world, how we respect our institutions and just how warped our society and government can get in only a few years from a president who lies every day, peddles conspiracy theories from the bully pulpit of the White House and dares to call our F.B.I. and Justice Department a “criminal deep state” for doing their job.

So that’s why I have only one thought for this election: Get a lever of power that can curb Trump. Nothing else matters now.

Still, Democrats can’t count on winning by just showing up. They still have to connect with some centrist and conservative voters — and that means understanding that some things are true even if Trump believes them: We do have a trade issue with China that needs addressing; we cannot accept every immigrant, because so many people today want to escape the world of disorder into our world of order; people want a president who is going to grow the pie, not just redivide it; political correctness on some college campuses is out of control; people want to be comfortable expressing patriotism and love of country in an age where globalization can wash out those identities.

Democrats need to connect with some voters on those issues but then take them in a constructive direction, in contrast with Trump’s destructive direction.

I want to see, and I want the world to see, a majority of Americans vote to curtail his power for the next two years — not to push a specific agenda over his but because they want to protect America, its ideals and institutions, from him — until our next presidential election gives us a chance to end this cancer and to birth a new G.O.P. that promotes the best instincts of conservatives, not the worst, so Americans can again have two decent choices.

Again, this is Code Red: American democracy is truly threatened today — by the man sitting in the Oval Office and the lawmakers giving him a free pass.

Are smartphones bad for kids?

June 3, 2018

One of the earliest ancient inscriptions has been translated as reading, “Kids today don’t behave well or respect their elders like they used to.”

This essay may sound like that. And I’m one of those dinosaurs who doesn’t use a smartphone. So either I don’t know what I’m talking about, or can discuss smartphones with detached objectivity.

The word “addiction” often comes up here. And while these devices obviously entail vast benefits, many people feel they’re a curse, enslaving them. Kids’ use is a particular concern.

I’ve seen data showing American children aged 8-12 use their phones, on average, six hours a day. Teenagers: nine hours. Even if these numbers are inflated, clearly the phenomenon is huge. For these kids, school must be a very secondary activity.

What do they actually do, on their phones, for all those hours? I researched this question. (Yes, my blog posts are carefully researched.) Well, research is not what they use their phones for. The main things are gaming and social media; for boys it’s more the former, for girls more the latter. Regarding social media, Facebook is rather passe; the place to be is Instagram (a more simplified alternative that emphasizes photo sharing). Kids also use their phones to watch shows and other video, and listen to music.

Much of this they do while doing other things — like school, or homework, or even several of those phone activities simultaneously. It’s called “multitasking,” and people think it’s an efficient use of time. But studies show we greatly over-rate our multitasking ability. Generally, doing two things at once means doing neither of them efficiently or well. We perform far better when concentrating attention on one thing at a time.

The music, video, and gaming kids enjoy; the social media not so much. Despite its engendering very mixed emotions, kids, especially girls, feel they can’t opt out, that’s social death. But the problem is that social media puts their fragile self-regard on the line pretty much continuously. They live for “likes.” The main reason they post things is to elicit “likes” from their peers; they give “likes” to others to court reciprocity. A posting that doesn’t get enough response signals personal failure. You’re nobody without a lot of Instagram likes.

Neuroscience is relevant here. The amygdala is a primitive part of the brain responsible for fear and anxiety, the flight-or-fight response. The amygdala activates when one feels social exclusion. The prefrontal cortex, a more advanced brain area, responsible for rational thought, talks you down from the amygdala’s going ballistic. That’s how it works for adults. But for teenagers, while the amygdala is fully developed, the prefrontal cortex is not (until the mid-twenties in fact). That makes teenagers’ online social lives a particularly explosive emotional minefield.

At least phones keep kids from ever being bored. Formerly a staple of childhood, the very concept of boredom seems to have disappeared. Not necessarily a good thing. Our brains may need some down time, to just wander. If they’re on and stimulated constantly without let-up, something important, developmentally, could be lost.

Helicopter parenting probably doesn’t help. The obsession to keep kids safe, from the terrors of the outside world, keeps them locked in their homes; they don’t much hang out in the streets, socializing, like we used to in my own Pleistocene childhood. Smartphones at least offer a way to connect to that outside world.

Unfortunately they also make it easier to act badly. The nature of the medium, its impersonalness, where you don’t have to confront someone face-to-face, virtually encourages snarkiness. A lot of bullying and personal destruction results.

Phones are also used a lot for sexting. But hormones and smartphones are not a good fit. While youngsters seem to be sexualizing earlier, actual sex among teenagers is actually trending downward. That might sound like a good thing, but their sexuality may be channeled in less healthy ways that don’t put them on a path toward mature, fulfilling relationships. I think this shows up in the steep decline in marriage rates, and corresponding rise in single parenthood. For kids especially, the whole smartphone thing makes what we used to call “dating” more fraught. I put “dating” in quotes because that whole social construct — where one could gradually get to know a person and develop a bond — is largely a thing of the past.

The bottom line is that, according to (more) research, today’s youngsters seem less happy, lonelier, more anxiety-ridden, more likely to be clinically depressed, and more likely to commit or attempt suicide. Factors other than phone fixation may of course be at work, it’s hard to disentangle all the ways in which modern life is changing, and their effects. The mentioned over-protective parenting is, in many additional ways, counter-productive for kids’ emotional development and true well-being.

However, what really strikes me about the smartphone activity is that so much is just plain trivial. In all those “likes” being bandied back and forth, where is the meaningfulness? In fact, a lot of what kids do they do less for the sake of the activities themselves than to generate photos for Instagram. And never mind the triviality of “liking” a picture of someone doing something that’s basically trivial in itself — it’s not even genuine liking, but just a ploy to elicit reciprocal stroking. What a cat’s cradle of inauthenticity. And for a lot of kids, this is the hollow center of their lives.

Human relationships are a key to life, and much fulfillment comes from interacting with others who mean something to us. But it seems a lot of kids are trapped in cycles of interactions with people with whom they don’t have real relationships or intimacy. I feel fortunate to have realized pretty early that how I am seen in the eyes of people who matter to me is something that should matter to me; but how I’m seen (if at all) in the eyes of people who don’t matter to me is not.

P.S. If you enjoy this blog post, please be sure to click “like!”

Cat picture

June 2, 2018

My wife said I should put this picture of our cat (yes, it is one cat) on my blog. I always obey my wife. Though it does seem a bit weird. I mean, who ever thought of putting a cat picture on the internet? Well, maybe it will become a thing!

Trump’s “spygate” — biggest scandal in political history

May 31, 2018

In a personal conversation, journalist Lesley Stahl asked Trump why he says bad things about the press. He answered candidly: “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.”

Straight out of the would-be dictator’s playbook. Trump can’t (yet) lock up journalists and shut down newspapers and TV stations, like in Turkey, Russia, or Venezuela. But what he can do is neutralize them by undermining their credibility. If the public stops believing them, they might as well be shut down.

That gets rid of one key check upon his power. Another comes from within the government itself. Indeed, that was a foundational concept of our system (remembering King George) — rule of law rather than by men.

Trump wars against that too — our infrastructure of internal accountability — the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Mueller investigation which, recall, was started because Trump fired the FBI director to squelch the Russia investigation. An independent probe was considered needed. Trump’s strategy is not to actually refute any eventual charges but to get them disregarded.

His weapons? Lies, lies, and more lies.

Previously it was alleged political bias. Simply a lie (Mueller is a Republican).

“Spygate” is another lie. Trump says the FBI “implanted, for political reasons, into my campaign” a “spy,” and this is one of the “biggest scandals in history.” (As if he knows any history.)

I know a lot of history, actually. And what is in fact our worst scandal ever is a president assaulting the pillars of our democratic system and rule of law with a shameless campaign of lies.

It wasn’t a “spy” and he wasn’t “implanted” and it wasn’t “for political reasons.” He was someone who spoke with some Trump campaign operatives which he reported to the FBI, which was already investigating the Russia links. Simply routine law enforcement practice.

Think. If the FBI was really out to screw Trump, they could have simply made public the fact that his campaign was under investigation for criminal Russian involvement. Far more explosive than anything in the Hillary/email investigation — which the FBI did make public before the election — probably sinking her candidacy. The scandal, if anything, was publicizing the Hillary probe and not the Trump one.

“Spygate” is just a Trump smokescreen to obfuscate the basic fact that Russia, not the FBI, messed with our election, on Trump’s behalf; and to discredit the Mueller investigation. So (just like he told Lesley Stahl about the press) when something damning comes out, people won’t believe it.

At least those people he counts on as suckers for his con game. His Republican base, for whom tribal solidarity now trumps everything. There’s no lie they won’t embrace if necessary.

This includes many Republicans in Congress (like Devin Nunes). And those who do know better are so cowed by their partisan voters, they dare not whisper such heresy. They betray America and (what used to be) its fundamental values.

How bad is it? Click here for a GOP fundraising email I just got, with the “spygate” party line: it’s the DOJ and FBI (not Trump) lying; the FBI’s conduct (not Trump’s) that “cuts to the very heart of democracy!”

Right now, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray stand as a kind of Maginot Line shielding our democracy against this attack. An ominous metaphor.

Trump’s blitzkrieg of lies is winning. Confidence in the press and in the Mueller investigation erodes, while Trump’s support edges up toward 50%. (In almost any other country, and in our own past, a leader behaving like him would be in single digits.) So what will happen when Mueller delivers his final verdict? Probably nothing. Democrats will scream, while Republicans dismiss it as fake news. Our worst scandal ever, and justice will not triumph.

And by November 2020, it will all have faded into the background. Voting is swayed most by events closest to the polling date. Democrats will likely pitch their campaign to Boston and Berkeley with Bernie. Trump will be re-elected. Then he’ll be really unbound.