Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Russia & Norway & Trump & Mueller & Truth

April 21, 2019

Russia has invaded Norway. That’s the premise of the Netflix series Occupied, recently reviewed here. Now we’ve started Season 2, eight months have passed and the situation is . . . the same. It does worsen, yet basically it feels like watching the same stuff just repeating.

Just like America’s political scene. Stuck in this unending psychodrama, each new episode seeming repetitive. Though it too does worsen. A year and a half to go.

This is what we tuned in for, in November 2016, and we can’t change the channel till November 2020. While our screens are filled with ear-splitting static.

Let’s cut through that and be clear about Mueller’s findings.

First, Russia did engage in a massive state-sponsored attack on our democracy. (We already knew this.) Whether it changed the election’s outcome is impossible to prove, but given its extent and the narrowness of Trump’s win, it’s obvious the Kremlin succeeded in putting its man in the White House.

Republicans — traditionally so anti-Russian — just shrug. And basically nothing is being done. Because Trump sees the whole story as a personal affront, undermining the validity of his “triumph.”

But put Russia aside.

The other story is obstruction of justice. Was Trump exonerated? No. Innocent? No. Was it a case of insufficient evidence? No. About this, Attorney General Barr’s summary and press conference were flagrantly misleading.

Mueller — based on sworn evidence and documented facts — proved that Trump, on numerous occasions, did attempt to obstruct justice. Note that the attempt, even if unsuccessful, is still a serious crime. And Trump was unsuccessful only because his orders were disobeyed.

The past two years saw much discussion of whether Trump would really cross the line and fire Mueller. Now we know he did direct his Counsel, Don McGahn to do just that. McGahn refused. (Trump is infuriated with McGahn for telling the truth.)

That’s just one point. There were others. And in addition to thusly abusing his power, to sabotage the Russia investigation, Trump (and Republicans and Foxers) have waged a two year smear campaign against not only the Mueller probe but the FBI, DOJ, and our intelligence services, as well as the press for reporting what turns out (no surprise) to be the truth, as documented in the report. This assault on the foundations of our democracy and rule-of-law continues, indeed grows even more hysterical as the evidence of Trump’s criminality mounts.

The report also makes clear that Trump’s White House is a cesspool of lies. (We already knew this too.)

Yet in spite of it all, 40% of Americans still support him. A profound sickness of our civic soul.

So why didn’t Mueller have Trump indicted for obstruction of justice? Not because the evidence was insufficient. The only reason, the report explains, was the Justice Department’s policy against indicting a sitting president. Nothing in the Constitution requires that policy. But it’s the sole reason Trump wasn’t indicted. So Mueller’s report says the responsibility now falls to Congress to fulfill its duty and act upon these crimes in the way the DOJ could not. Thus in effect Mueller recommends impeachment.

Of course, impeachment is politically impossible absent major Republican support. And Republicans are loyal not to America but only to the criminal in the White House (or are totally cowed by him).

Stay tuned for further episodes. As I keep saying: it will get worse.


Venezuela’s tragedy: lessons for America

April 18, 2019

Javier Corrales is the Dwight Morrow professor of political science at Amherst. I recently heard him give a talk about the situation in Venezuela, divided into three parts: what he called “democratic backsliding;” economic collapse; and lessons for America.

Corrales explained that the democratic decline preceded and led to Venezuela’s economic disaster. And he saw reasons for concern that the story could repeat even in well-established democracies like ours.

Corrales started with “Democracy 101.” America, in the 1700s, basically invented the modern concept of liberal democracy. (Not to be confused with the “liberalism” that’s a political orientation of some Americans.) It’s rooted in the Enlightenment, with government accountable to people, and limited, to prevent tyranny by either a minority or a majority. A key means is to divide power among different government branches to check each other, with constraints upon government as a whole to leash its authority.

For a time, after WWII, and especially after the Cold War, liberal democracy was spreading. But then came a “democratic recession” beginning around 2006. Notable cases are Turkey and Hungary, and of course Venezuela. What we see is not the “old fashioned” putsch, but something that more insidiously starts in ambiguity — what Corrales called “executive aggrandizement,” with other centers of power being neutered or co-opted. The picture may ostensibly seem at first more democratic, with a majority thinking they’re getting what they voted for.

Then the regime uses and abuses laws, and creates new ones, to make an uneven political playing field. Elections are still held, but they’re manipulated by a host of measures to produce the desired results. The ruling party becomes a rubber stamp cheering section. The opposition is demonized and delegitimized. Press freedom and public debate are suppressed.

Political scientists use a host of criteria to measure a nation’s degree of democracy. Corrales presented a graphic timeline of Venezuela’s scores. They started low, with a dictatorship until the 1950s, when they jumped to a sustained democratic plateau. Then in 1999 Hugo Chavez (a former would-be putschist) got elected president, and Venezuela’s democratic score fell off a cliff. (Corrales also displayed Cuba’s graph — basically flatlined since the 1959 Castro takeover — and America’s, starting high and rising higher through the period, but with a noticeable drop in the last few years.)

Another set of criteria encompasses all the specific ways in which undemocratic regimes subvert fair elections, and here again a detailed chart was presented for Venezuela. At the start of the Chavez era, voting was still pretty much fair. But then the regime utilized ever more of the measures on the chart, to the point where today, Venezuela’s voting is a cynical charade.

The manipulation became necessary because whereas Chavez was actually popular for a while, the regime’s popularity faded, and nosedived under his successor Maduro. This leads us to the matter of the economic disaster. Venezuela is an oil state; that is, almost all its national earnings are from oil. Chavez was the beneficiary of a big spike in the global oil price, and he used the windfall to buy off political support from the poorer classes. Then the oil price collapsed with the 2008 global financial crisis. As Warren Buffet said, when the tide goes out, you see who’s been swimming naked.

In Venezuela’s case, the regime’s economic mismanagement became tragically evident, plunging the once-rich nation into poverty, with an inflation rate measured in millions of percent, and a tenth of the 30 million population escaping to other countries. Corrales explained that Chavez not only imprudently spent all the oil windfall (saving nothing), but went deep into debt besides. While some of this profligacy did trickle down to the poor, most was frittered away through corruption and incompetence. None was allocated to investment to build the economy.

So Venezuela suffered from an unrestrained state — and that was combined with a restrained private sector. The regime’s “socialism” led it to regulate private business so as to destroy it. Thus food, medicine, and all sorts of other goods (which Venezuela, so oil-concentrated, used to import) have disappeared from the shelves. While the regime’s fiscal indiscipline brought forth hyper-inflation. It made things worse by responding with price controls and even more punitive anti-business measures.

Corrales rejected any idea that America somehow bears responsibility for Venezuela’s travail. To the contrary, he said, the U.S. actually helped finance the regime by buying its oil (now stopped). Meantime its oil income has plunged due to its mismanagement, stuffing the state oil company with political hacks.

We keep hoping Venezuela’s military will oust Maduro. After his talk, I suggested to Corrales it won’t happen because the generals too are profiting from the corrupt system. He agreed. So, I said, the only path is the opposition taking up arms and starting a war. He smiled and nodded (somewhat to my surprise). Then I added, “Some things are worth fighting for.” He smiled and nodded again (ditto).

The lessons here for America should be obvious by now. I have written about the burgeoning phenomenon of political populism ( Corrales said the world’s democratic backsliding is driven by populism, defined by its perceived political betes-noires. On the left (epitomized by Venezuela) it’s anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, anti-Americanism. Bernie-style populism inveighs against “neoliberalism,” corporations, and the rich. Right-wing populism typically demonizes the intelligentsia, elites, immigrants, ethnic minorities, and crime. For both right and left, the stomping on hated enemies can excuse the stomping on democratic norms. (Many Western lefties still defend Maduro.)

Also obvious is Trump’s following the playbook Corrales outlined: executive aggrandizement, undermining governmental checks and balances, demonizing and delegitimizing opponents and the free press. We even see election manipulation, with voter suppression. All this is how it starts. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Pete Buttigieg — Are we ready for a gay president?

April 14, 2019

Pete Buttigieg (pronounced Buddha-judge) is the young (37) mayor of an Indiana town (South Bend), running for president. Well, why not? Everybody else is.

There’s always an array of “dark horse” candidates, some in for the fun of it, the exposure, or delusional hopes. Buttigieg initially seemed to be such a case. But now he’s getting serious traction, because it turns out he’s actually a terrific guy.


You might think an unknown like him would try to break through by flame-throwing stridency. Buttigieg is doing the opposite. He’s been described as slightly left of Biden and right of all the other candidates trying to outbid each other for the zealot vote. Interviewed on the New Yorker Radio Hour, I was really impressed by Buttigieg’s calm, intelligent reasonableness. That itself is actually a shocker in today’s political environment.

Radical reasonableness — isn’t that exactly what we need, after a generation of howling scorched-earth partisanship?

Buttigieg does suffer from a weird name (sure to be the butt of jokes). Also, he’s married to a man. The American mainstream did come around to accept gay marriage. So how about a gay president?

Many thought we weren’t ready for a black one, but when it came down to it, the country in 2008 (enough voters at least) saw more important qualities in Obama than his color. It actually seemed almost immaterial; maybe even a plus (with some people seeing an Obama vote as proving they’re not racist). Would Buttigieg’s gayness fare similarly?

Obama did not run as “the black candidate” and tried to be reassuring to race-anxious whites. Similarly Buttigieg is not running as the gay guy. It may be politically incorrect to say this, but he’s not in-your-face gay, having no stereotyped gay mannerisms. He exudes normality. So perhaps, in light of the five-alarm dumpster fire of depravity that is Trump, Buttigieg’s gayness would look like a minor detail.

Still, with America’s very soul at stake in 2020, I’m concerned that Democrats cannot afford to lose any potential votes. That includes racists, misogynists, and homophobes. True, they’re nearly all Trumpers anyway. But maybe some can be persuaded to vote for a candidate who at least doesn’t wave a red flag in their faces. Running a gay one in 2020 would be a big gamble I’m not sure is prudent.

And if Buttigieg is elected, then what? With Obama, we first thought we’d entered a post-racial nirvana; but how wrong that was. There were plenty of legitimate policy reasons to oppose Obama, but in a lot of people’s hearts his true sin was governing-while-black. Those people went nuts. This intensified what was already bitter partisan division. With a Buttigieg presidency, the god-hates-fags folks won’t slink away under a rock. They too will go nuts.

It will be bad enough even with a plain vanilla president. For many people now just the label “Democrat” is virtually equivalent to “Satanic.” That alone will put them on the warpath. Trump won’t slink away either, he’ll keep tweeting, and the media won’t be able to take their eyes off the disaster scene.

So maybe this infection is really incurable after all, and we must live with it. Keeping it under control with medication — by, year after year, beating it down with our votes. Votes for what is good, decent, honest, and reflective of this country’s highest ideals and values. Making America great again.

Trump’s clearancegate

April 5, 2019

Asked whether he’d had any role in Jared Kushner’s security clearance, Trump said no. Turns out he lied. Ivanka lied about this too.

In fact, Trump directly ordered Chief of Staff John Kelly to ram through security clearances that had been denied for Kushner and Ivanka, his nepotism advisers — and for over twenty others whose clearances had also been denied by the White House security office with responsibility for such matters.

Those determinations were for reasons including drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, mental illness, criminality, and foreign business entanglements, all of which could be exploited to compromise these appointees. In several cases the denials were said to be for “very serious reasons.” Kushner in particular was stated to have “too many significant disqualifying factors.” Certain countries were known to be discussing ways to manipulate him by exploiting his financial vulnerabilities and extreme lack of relevant experience.

The whistleblower here, Tricia Newbold, an 18-year career official, reported that because she wouldn’t play ball on these clearances, she was the target of various sorts of harassment, including suspension without pay.

This administration’s reckless trashing of established security protocols is unprecedented. No previous president is known to have thusly corrupted clearances. The process is aimed at protecting sensitive classified information, to which officials like Kushner are privy, from getting into the hands of hostile foreign powers. It’s extremely important. Trump is driving a truck through our national security firewalls. (He himself irresponsibly handed sensitive classified material to the Russian ambassador, right in the Oval Office.)

Another day, another travesty. I’m committed here to let none (well, no big ones) pass unremarked. Precisely because that’s what’s happening in the wider world. This clearance scandal, in any past time, would have been hugely explosive. Certainly it’s a vastly graver threat to national security than Hillary’s emails. But in the raging Trump shitstorm, this hardly even registers as a blip.

We also now hear Trump is appointing Herman Cain (remember that whacko creep?) to the Federal Reserve Board. Caligula supposedly appointed his horse to a consulship. That was probably ancient fake news. Like Nero’s fiddling while Rome burned. But America is burning, and Democrats are fiddling over Biden’s hugging.

Witch Hunt Politics II: “Tom Brokaw’s Racist Comments”

April 3, 2019

Recently I wrote of “Witch Hunt Politics.” And Joe Biden pilloried for a head kiss. Now, “Latinx Humanists Call for Action after Tom Brokaw’s Racist Comments” is a headline in Free Mind, published by the American Humanist Association.

First, “Latinx” is apparently a new politically correct gender-neutral replacement for “Latina” or “Latino.” I recall how first you were supposed to say not “colored people” but “Negro.” Then “black,” then “African-American,” then “people of color” (a strange throwback to “colored people”). It’s hard to stay correct. But isn’t that precisely the point? To wrongfoot as many people as possible.

So what were Tom Brokaw’s “racist comments?” Here’s the full quote (during a Meet the Press panel discussion): “Hispanics should work harder at assimilation” and “make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English, and that they feel comfortable in their communities.”

That’s it — called “racist” and “unacceptable.” One advocate is quoted saying it reflects “ignorance of the struggles and accomplishments of the Latinx community.” The article goes on, “Brokaw’s inaccurate comments come despite the fact that for generations there have been aggressive efforts by both educators and parents to ensure more and more of the next generation are English speakers . . . Brokaw’s comments are indicative of xenophobia at play when immigration is only seen as valuable if immigrants ‘assimilate’ and speak English. English is no more American than other languages.”

Wait, what? How does this gibe? First they condemn Brokaw for urging that all Hispanic kids learn English. Then they indignantly insist they’re already doing that. Then they deplore the idea of it.

And Brokaw nowhere implied that immigration is only “valuable” if people assimilate. To the contrary, his comment bespeaks supportiveness for immigrants. This “xenophobia” charge says more about the mind of the article’s (unnamed) author than Brokaw’s.

The piece ends by quoting a Latinx advocate that Brokaw’s apology (itself never quoted in the article!) “was shallow and failed to acknowledge the inappropriate content and inherent racism of his remarks . . . his statements were factually incorrect and unsupported by data.”

Wait, what? Where did Brokaw make factual claims? The article asserts over 80% of Latinx students are proficient in English. Brokaw urged ensuring “that all their kids” learn English. All. No child left behind. Eighty percent is not all. What here is “factually incorrect and unsupported by data?”

It is indeed the attack on Brokaw that is factually incorrect. Throwing around words like “racism” and “xenophobia” like this is disgraceful. It’s the culture of Taking Offense, torturing someone’s words to somehow squeeze from them something to exploit for high dudgeon. Political correctness run amok. Many on the left talk universalism and brotherhood yet quickly demonize people for any deviation from their purity code. It’s really the age-old “us-against-them” syndrome; a tool for people to indulge in sanctimonious smugness, demonizing as many others as possible, to make the virtue zone they imagine themselves inhabiting as rarefied and exclusive as possible.

David Brooks’s latest column laments our era of “culture war, class warfare and identity politics;” of “call-out culture” and “tribal grandstanding.” That exactly characterizes this Free Mind article.

It’s especially absurdist to gin up such a contorted attack on a person like Brokaw when Nazis march with torches chanting “Jews will not replace us” and the president sees “very fine people on both sides.” Absurdist to tear down a decent man like Biden for gestures of support and encouragement to women when Pussygrabber sits with impunity in the White House.

I call myself a humanist. Free Mind’s article is a travesty of those rationalist values. When even a humanist publication betrays them like this, the country has gone nuts.

Biden, Lucy Flores, and “MeToo”

April 1, 2019

It started with Harvey Weinstein. Actually, no, it started a million years ago. Disgusting behavior by men toward women. The reckoning was long overdue.

Lucy Flores says Joe Biden, in 2014, touched her shoulder and kissed the back of her head.

Flores and Biden

Flores was running (unsuccessfully) for Nevada Lieutenant Governor. Biden had come out there to help her. His actions — in public, at a campaign event — were obviously intended as gestures of support and encouragement. A lot of thanks he’s gotten from Lucy Flores (now a Sanders enthusiast). She says Biden made her uncomfortable.

Too many women have suffered real ghastliness from men, abusive behavior, intimidation, outright sexual assault. Literal rape in Weinstein’s case. True victims. Those perpetrators deserve punishment and pariahdom.

Flores claims Biden’s touch made her uncomfortable? Know what I’d say to this lady? Boo hoo. Grow up. If this was a big deal for you, you’ve led a charmed life.

Flores & Sanders. Umm . . . what is wrong with this picture?

You want a perfect presidential candidate? Who’s never done anything anyone could question? Then find a hermit who’s lived in a cave his whole life. Biden’s lived in public, interacting with people day in and day out, by the thousands. Sometimes people can take things wrong.

The other day I e-mailed my daughter about a draft report she wrote. I was mostly laudatory (ending with “Bravo!”) but included a couple of language corrections. Focusing on the latter she angrily accused me of belittling her work. I was mortified.

That’s what can happen with interactions among imperfect fallible humans. Long ago I was on track to marry a woman — until I sent her something meant as a joke. She read it literally and freaked out. End of relationship.

Maybe that disqualifies me from the presidency. But if the Flores thing is Biden’s worst sin, he’s a goddamn saint.

Compare this: “I did try and fuck her. She was married . . . I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there . . . She’s now got the big phony tits . . . I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it . . . Grab them by the pussy.”

The contrast with Biden could not be more stark. He is about as good and decent a human being as you can find. May be the nation’s best hope for redemption from the depraved monster in the White House. For Democrats themselves to destroy him, over Lucy Flores, would be tragically insane. How ironic if “MeToo” winds up the cause of Pussygrabber’s re-election.

Witch hunt politics

March 28, 2019

Now the backlash. Accusing the accusers. Trump calling them “evil” and “treasonous.” Retribution time. A real witch-hunt. David Brooks says Adam Schiff, John Brennan, and other Democrats should apologize for “grievous accusations against the President that are not supported by the evidence.” (He also says Trumpeters should apologize for undermining America’s institutions. Fat chance; they’re drunk with triumph, which Brooks feeds.)

His headline is “We’ve all made fools of ourselves.” Not so. Trump makes fools of us (especially of his supporters).

I’m not apologizing. He has not been “exonerated.” If Trump and company did not “collude” they certainly connived with Russia’s attack on our democracy. And lied about it. If Trump can’t quite be nailed for obstruction of justice, he certainly tried hard to wreck the investigation; smearing the investigators with lies; firing the FBI Director and Attorney General in that effort. His tearing down our intelligence and law enforcement institutions did immense harm. And he refused to stand up for America against Russia’s attack, kissing Putin’s posterior in Helsinki. None of this was a “hoax;” its stench not washed off by Mueller.

But Brooks does make a trenchant point. Stepping back for a larger perspective, he says, “Watergate introduced a poison into the American body politic” — what Bill Clinton called “the politics of personal destruction” — rather than principled discourse. Now “you don’t need to do the hard work of persuading people to join your side.” You just aim to bring them down with scandal. (Republicans also try to block them from voting.)

While “[t]he nation’s underlying divides are still ideological,” Brooks writes, “we rarely fight them honestly as philosophical differences.” Instead of seriously debating opponents we demonize them as evil. They counter with, “No, you’re evil.”

So Hillary in 2016 was not attacked for her policy positions; Republicans smeared her character. Now we have a president whose character flaws and record of corruption are so incandescent they define our political situation. And how do many Republicans respond? “Hillary, Hillary, Hillary!”

In comparison it makes Animal House’s food fight seem like the Oxford Union debating society. But this is understandable. So much easier to convince yourself you’re up against rotten people than to grapple with the difficult complexities of actual economic, social, or international policy issues.

Am I guilty myself? Actually, I’ve devoted thousands of words to analyzing and critiquing the nitty gritty of Trump administration policies. Explaining my substantive disagreements, like with trade policy, tax policy, immigration, etc. True, I have also shredded his character and behavior (and that of his Republican handmaids). Because that goes to the heart of America’s Trumpian degradation — with huge repercussions for the quality of life of people worldwide.

Even Trump supporters ought to see how awful it is that, just when America was already mired in bitter partisan divisiveness, along comes a president whose actual unarguable moral delinquencies are off the charts. Considering how bad things were already, electing such a man was just asking for it. I was no fan of Obama, but given the venom heaped upon someone of such great personal integrity, what could we expect with a president of zero personal integrity?

And Brooks says “[t]he scandal culture hasn’t ultimately helped one party over the other. It’s just spread a corrosive cynicism that has disabled government altogether.” Recriminations over the Mueller/Russia story will afflict us for a very long time. Another rallying cry for each side. Each will think the other despicable. More poison making American politics — our civic culture — even more badly broken.

How to fix this brokenness should be the key issue for 2020. Fat chance.

Bizarro America

March 27, 2019


Black is white and white is black

Criminals are innocent, accusers guilty

Traitors are patriots, and patriots treasonous

Lies are telling it like it is,

And facts are fake news

The swamp is being drained, not deepened

War is peace

Freedom is slavery

Ignorance is strength

America Made Great Again

What the Mueller report does not say

March 25, 2019

Exultant Republican Trump worshippers are dancing in the streets and blowing their Trumpy-trumpets, gleefully rubbing in the faces of their Democrat betes-noire the Mueller report’s supposed exoneration of their Dear Leader.

As if he’s now certified for sainthood. If you thought he was drunk with power before, hold onto your chair.

For years Trump has been burbling “No collusion!” with such manic frequency it’s akin to a Tourette’s tic. As if that’s all the Mueller probe was about. It was not. It was to get to the bottom of Russia’s subversion of our 2016 election. And Mueller has proven, with abundant facts (yes, there’s still such a thing) that Russia did that, bigly. Republicans refuse to admit this fact, but given Trump’s razor-thin margins in three crucial states, and the hugeness of Russia’s effort on his behalf, without it he would almost surely have lost. The Kremlin not only plotted, but succeeded.

And did it with the proven connivance, if not “collusion,” of the Trump campaign.

And even if Trump did not himself personally “collude” with Russia during the campaign, there is the well-established legal concept of accessory after the fact. It means trying to help a crime’s perpetrators, afterward, get away with it. You go to jail for that. And Trump certainly did that. His blatant efforts to undermine U.S. intelligence and law enforcement, in going after the Russian election subversion, make him an accessory after the fact. (Or colluder after the fact.)

Even if that case appears murky, and even if he hasn’t been nailed for obstruction of justice (Barr’s summary letter says Mueller does NOT exonerate him of that), the fact remains that his relentless, vicious, totally dishonest and self-serving attacks on such key American institutions as the intelligence services, the FBI and other law enforcement, and the Justice Department, have been sickeningly disgraceful and destructive. Of this Mueller does not exonerate him either.

And as if Russia’s role is not enough to negate the idea that Trump won the election “fair and square,” he committed other proven crimes to win it. Including a fraud upon taxpayers by diverting contributions, from his tax-exempt charitable foundation, into his campaign. And paying hush money to paramours, in aid of his campaign, in clear violation of law. Checks with his signature are “smoking guns.” Mueller does not address these crimes. Does not exonerate Trump.

Citing all these facts is not being a “sore loser” over the 2016 election. It is to show the president is a criminal. Even after the election, shouldn’t we be concerned about that? And about Russia subverting our democracy and installing a stooge as president? Who, right in the White House, handed the Russian ambassador classified material? Who acted as Putin’s pet monkey in Helsinki?

And even if you somehow imagine Trump has evaded being proven a criminal, it is proven that he’s surrounded himself with criminals. Most notably his campaign chairman Paul Manafort who’s going to prison for a long time; his national security advisor Michael Flynn, awaiting sentencing; and his longtime personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen. Republicans who went to town bashing Cohen as the scum of the earth did not pause to consider what that reveals about Trump.

Republicans somehow convince themselves that everything I’ve written about just reflects a vicious partisan whipping up of smoke by Democrats to wrongfully bring down a political foe. I would remind them that the last Republican president, George W. Bush, was also intensely hated by Democrats. At the time, I felt the Bush-bashing was way over the top. Yet virtually never did Democrats impugn Bush’s personal integrity or go after him with “witch hunt” investigations. The reason was that Bush was a decent human being who did not commit the sorts of crimes, or abuse his office, as Trump does. Indeed — speaking as a close student of political history — Trump’s travesties are entirely unprecedented. Off the charts.

Of this Mueller does not exonerate him. Nor of being the biggest compulsive liar in our political history; divisive, crude, cruel, race-baiting, personally vile; I could go on and on, and wearying though it gets even for me, I consider it my civic duty to continue ringing the alarm over this, the greatest American crisis of my lifetime, shredding every principle this country used to embody.

Trump’s recent attacks upon John McCain — calling him “horrible!” — a true American hero, who literally endured torture for his country — a man whose shoes Trump was not fit to lick — plumb a new low, astounding even for him.

While reporters on PBS’s Washington Week roundtable soberly pretended to parse Trump’s strategic rationale for cursing out McCain, Times-Union Editor Rex Smith’s column was not so circumspect: “The man is clearly quite mad.”

Of this Mueller does not exonerate him.

Trump threatens political violence

March 20, 2019

My wife and I watched “The Dictator’s Playbook,” a PBS TV series, each episode profiling one of history’s worst dictators, and analyzing their methods for gaining and holding power. Every one prominently featured violence. Always violence, to bludgeon opponents into silence and submission.

“It can’t happen here?”

Remember Trump encouraging people at his rallies to beat up protesters? Even promising to pay their legal bills. And some violence did break out. That’s where it starts.

Last week Trump gave an Oval Office interview to Breitbart News. It’s a far-right website notorious for extremist, inflammatory, and false content. Exactly the kind of menace that’s shredding America’s civic culture. Trump’s thusly dignifying Breitbart is an utter disgrace. (He’s even done the same for Alex Jones, worse yet.) But never mind that. Even more disturbing is what Trump said:

“You know, the left plays a tougher game, it’s very funny. I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don’t play it tougher. OK? I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

And what might that certain point  be? “Like with all the nonsense that they do in Congress . . . all this invest(igating) . . . they do things that are nasty.”

So the message is clear: if Congress continues its “nasty” investigations, at “a certain point,” Trump’s bikers and his other “tough people” will do “very bad” things. “Very bad.” (He did repeat it twice.)

Like the “tough people” Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, and Idi Amin deployed to beat up, torture, murder, and cow opponents to consolidate their power. No pesky investigations for these tough guys. No legislators making them accountable for their crimes.

At about the same time the president of the United States was delivering his extraordinary, chilling warning, a white supremacist was killing 50 people at prayer in New Zealand — having disseminated a manifesto that called Trump an inspiration.