Archive for the ‘stinking piece of shit’ Category

Impeachment, partisanship, and defending the indefensible

January 21, 2020

Now it’s official: the Government Accountability Office (chief federal watchdog agency) has determined that Trump’s Ukraine aid shakedown broke the law.

So Republicans can no longer pretend “he did nothing wrong,” and that holding up the aid was within his presidential prerogative, regardless of the reason. No, says the GAO, it was not — regardless of the reason, genuine or fake.

And of course there was no plausible genuine reason. Trump’s “combating Ukraine corruption” doesn’t pass the laugh test. He was trying to extort a bribe (smearing a political opponent) in exchange for releasing the aid. Republicans point out the articles of impeachment don’t actually say “bribery” or “extortion.” Omission of those plain words doesn’t change the reality; they’re the substance of the case.

Exactly the sort of “high crime” the founders meant in the Constitution’s impeachment section. Abuse of the presidential office for personal gain. (Not “abuse of power” because Trump actually didn’t even have the power to do what he did.)

Is impeachment an attempt to “undo the last election,” or pre-empt the next? No, those cries are ridiculous. Elections and impeachments are separate in the Constitution. And that’s particularly pertinent in this case, where it’s the election itself Trump tried to corrupt. His attempt failed only because the whistle was blown.

Lawyers say if the facts support you, pound the facts. If the law supports you, pound the law. If neither, pound the table. That’s what Republicans are doing. Screaming, with intensifying hysteria, that Democrats are perverting the Constitution out of sheer partisanship. But let’s examine this seriously.

Are Democrats Trump’s political opponents? Yes, of course. Just as Republicans opposed Obama. We do have a two-party system. Have they forgotten the ferocity of their partisan opposition to Obama? Talk about trying to undo an election — they actually denied his right to office, Trump himself leading the “birther” crusade, challenging Obama’s citizenship. Vile nonsense, by the way. There was no record of his mother ever being in Kenya. And being a U.S. citizen, her son would have been born one too, even if overseas.

But this shows how deranged Republican hatred for Obama was. Now they talk as though Democrats’ opposition to Trump is somehow similarly deranged. As though it’s just blind partisan tribal hatred, unmoored from any rational reasons. But there are perfectly rational reasons. Democrats hate Trump because he is hateful. The worst human being, biggest liar, most corrupt selfish person ever to hold the office. But never mind his character. It’s his actions. Coddling dictators while shredding our alliances. Separating children from parents. Not summoning the better angels of our nature, but stirring a toxic brew of people’s worst impulses. The list goes on and on. Republicans blind themselves to it all; Democrats cannot.

Yet not for any of this is he being impeached. Nor even his clear attempts to obstruct justice as proven in the Mueller report. It’s for his incontrovertible, indefensible Ukraine crime.

Is that partisanship, perverting the Constitution? No, it’s upholding the law and the Constitution, Congress fulfilling its assigned duty, protecting our democracy. If Trump’s Ukraine extortion attempt didn’t incur impeachment, no presidential misconduct ever could, and the presidency would now be above the law.

Psycho-sociology, politics, and reality lenses

January 5, 2020

“Events, dear boy, events.” That was British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan’s famous reply, when asked what could shake up the status quo.

We’ve seen a lot of events in the last three years. Government shut-downs. Mueller investigation. Cruelties at the border. Charlottesville. Kavanaugh. Ukraine scandal. Impeachment. Yet nothing moves the political needle. Trump’s poll ratings have stayed stuck at around 40%.

This is actually very strange. If anything, historically, and throughout the world, voters have exhibited not steadfastness but fickleness. France’s President Macron was elected in 2017 with 66% of the vote (unimaginable in America), then his favorability polling plummeted to only 23%. Never mind whether that made sense — at least the French were attuned to events, and changing opinions in response thereto. In almost any country, a leader conducting himself as abominably as Trump, caught in so many lies, etc., would see his support plunge close to zero.

A recent David Brooks column tackles what’s going on. “Events,” he writes, “don’t seem to be driving politics. Increasingly, sociology is.” Who you are as a person tends to be determinative. This by itself is no revelation: a gay urban artist is likely to vote Democrat; a rural churchgoing construction worker Republican. But Brooks goes on to say an event itself is not what’s salient; “it’s the process by which we make meaning of the event.” Each seeing it through our own lens.

And, says Brooks, different segments of American society “now see reality through nonoverlapping lenses. They make meaning in radically different ways. Psychosocial categories have hardened.”

This cultural segmentation has very deep roots. Brooks writes that if a region was settled, in the 17th and 18th centuries, predominantly from East Anglia, it probably votes Democratic; if from the North of England, for Trump. He adds that the 1896 election is also a good predictor of today’s politics — 22 of 23 states voting for Democrat Bryan in 1896 are Republican now.

But if that kind of sorting is not new, it has greatly intensified in recent decades. For reasons Brooks says he doesn’t understand.

Nevertheless, in the rest of the column, Brooks contends that any political analysis must today concern itself not just with the ostensible ramifications of events themselves but with the different ways different groups see them. However, nothing he writes here suggests that those very different lenses are not equally valid. Yet therein lies much of the tale.

I wrote recently of a conversation with some Trumpers which included assertions that Adam Schiff had been outed as a pedophile; that Biden was not a candidate when Trump spoke with Zelensky; that child migrants were caged only during the Obama administration; they weren’t separated from parents, as proven by DNA tests! And so on and so forth. All right-wing fake news. Including saying mainstream media spouts fake news.

This isn’t just seeing reality through a different lens. It’s seeing reality on a different planet.

Can 40% of Americans have succumbed to mass psychosis? If Brooks is baffled by what’s happened, I’ll suggest a theory:

Our reality perception was honed by evolution to promote survival. That makes us very good at seeing reality insofar as that aids coping with all life’s hazards. You won’t mistake a red light for green. But that doesn’t apply to the realm of public affairs; that’s a freebie, where reality perception isn’t life-or-death, giving us the luxury of a different criterion: what makes us feel good.

That’s a perfectly valid human concern. One might even say it’s the very purpose of being alive. Hence feeling good, along with the survival instinct, is a powerful motivator.

Nevertheless, in normal circumstances, we don’t really see it as an option to believe something that’s false just to feel good. However — if it does somehow seem to be an option — if one can rationalize believing it — then heck, let’s go for it!

Trump and his enablers have hypercharged this. Helped by the explosion of garbage on the internet, much put there with cynical intent. They’ve made it seem a valid choice to believe things that actually are, well, lies. Indeed, they’re undermining the whole concept of truth versus lies. Truth is whatever you’d like it to be.

It helps if you’re not alone, if there’s a whole community of others with you. And a major TV network. Even  the President of the United States. 

In this environment, “events” actually don’t matter much at all. It’s not just that you see events through your own sociological lens. Social psychology dictates your politics regardless of events. 

All this plays to people wanting (naturally) to feel good about themselves. Eliminating the cognitive dissonance of trying to reconcile support for Trump with the rotten reality. Without having to give it up and admit to yourself you’ve been conned. Especially with everyone around you staying conned. Far preferable to live in an alternate universe where what you’re supporting is all good (and opponents are all bad). Where DNA tests prove no children were taken from parents.

 

America’s reality problem

December 19, 2019

Reality. We have to live in it. Humanity may one day escape the confines of Earth, but we cannot escape reality.

America was the one nation actually founded on the rationalist ideals of the Enlightenment. Such rationality is grounded in reality. It’s also the substrate for reasoned discourse, another element of the Enlightenment. Reasoned discourse means opinions can differ; indeed, it is through such argument, as opposed to everyone thinking alike, that we work toward truth and wisdom. But argument must be rational — grounded, once more, in reality.

And America, we have a problem.

It’s not news that we’re polarized into two mutually antagonistic tribes, each inhabiting a very different reality. Political opinions can, again, differ, but each must be reality-based. The two contradictory realities can’t both be true.

Democrats (being human) certainly have their biases, blind spots, even irrationalities. But their big picture perception of today’s political reality is basically grounded in fact. While Republicans’ picture is a false one self-servingly painted by a monstrous liar, Trump. I say this as a Republican myself, for half a century, until I saw the party plunge down that rabbit hole.

The other night I attended a dinner, with a couple of Trumper friends (I do have some). They are not (otherwise) stupid or crazy; one has a Masters in History. One mentioned “Shifty Schiff” unmasked as a sex criminal. They avowed lack of surprise, wondering only how such a scumbag got away with it so long.

Amid all the despicable Trumpist smears against Schiff, I’d never heard this one. I held my tongue, but googling at home, immediately found (as expected) reports debunking this totally false garbage sloshing around the internet.

I did suggest my friends take care about their information sources; and was told I should stop listening to the fake news on lying mainstream media.

As talk inevitably turned to impeachment, trying to swat down, with facts, all the Trumpist spin, was a waste of breath. The History guy even insisted Trump couldn’t have been trying to smear an opponent because Biden wasn’t even a candidate at the time. (He was.)

To change the subject I mentioned thousands of children snatched from parents at the border — including toddlers, most of whom will be never be reunited — a Trump atrocity I thought no decent human being could defend. But I was told that every picture of children in cages was taken during the Obama administration. And that those adults were not their parents! DNA tests proved it.

DNA tests? They weren’t even properly recording children’s names. Good God.

After this alternate reality bath, at home on TV I then caught a clip of Trump reacting to the DOJ Inspector General’s report. Trumpists have long been salivating for this to prove the whole Russian meddling investigation was a “deep state” plot to take Trump down. Inspector General Horowitz found nothing of the kind (of course). While faulting the FBI for some irregularities and mistakes, he concluded that its investigating Trump’s campaign was wholly justified based on actual evidence, with no political bias.

The idea of the FBI nefariously plotting against Trump in 2016 is obviously absurd because they publicly revealed their investigating Hillary’s e-mails, and a reopened investigation right before the election, almost surely sinking her; but didn’t reveal investigating Trump’s campaign! If they were biased against anyone, it was Hillary.

That’s factual reality. But your reality may differ.

As does Trump’s. Concerning the Horowitz report, he said it’s “far worse than expected. This was an overthrow of the government . . . a lot of people were in on it, and they got caught, they got caught red-handed.” He called the FBI officers “scum.”

This was an overthrow of the government?!

Trump’s reality is just exactly what he wants it to be. Nothing he says need have any resemblance to actual reality. If this were not so cynically calculated, by a president, in anyone else it would be seen as severe mental illness. Yet his fans march in lockstep to his tune. This is destroying the basis for reasoned discourse upon which a democracy depends.

Factual reality: Trump tried to extort a bribe (smearing an opponent) from Ukraine’s president, in exchange for releasing congressionally-mandated aid. Compromising national security. The aid was only released because the scheme was blown by the whistleblower. Who got it totally right, as confirmed by mountains of hearing testimony. Trump doesn’t even deny what he did. The idea that he was concerned about “corruption” is ludicrous. He wasn’t even asking Ukraine to actually investigate — merely to announce an investigation, to besmirch Biden. And trying to pin 2016 election meddling on Ukraine, not Russia, makes a mockery of what America’s intelligence services determined, confirmed by tons of evidence in the Mueller probe. While Trump ordered the entire executive branch to defy lawful Congressional subpoenas for testimony and documents.

These charges are extremely grave, and indisputable.

Republicans’ devotion to Trump has an intensity without parallel in U.S. history. It might be comprehensible if he were some paragon of virtue; a Nelson Mandela. Yet we’ve also never seen a political figure so obviously corrupt, selfish, lying, divisive, irresponsible, and immoral. A reality to which Republicans blind themselves.

Lincoln said this nation cannot endure half slave and half free. Nor can it endure half in reality and half in a corrupted alternate reality.

America’s coming redemption — or its demise?

December 13, 2019

I never expected Communism’s collapse. Still less America’s — in terms of what it stood for.

I awakened in 1964. Living near the World’s Fair, one day at West Germany’s pavilion I saw a film about the Berlin Wall. I started to understand.

For the next quarter century the Cold War was a defining political reality. A dark one. Around the late ’70s, it seemed the world was going headlong in the wrong direction. I felt despair. But then things turned around. Like Hemingway’s line, gradually, then suddenly. And the Wall came down.

When 1989 closed, watching new year fireworks (with my new wife — another seeming miracle), I saluted it aloud as a blessed golden year. In 1993 I visited Russia — now a free country. Seemed a miracle. Walking up St. Petersburg’s Nevsky Prospekt, the grim grey Soviet facades were interspersed with occasional flashes of color — new stores! I returned in 1995 and now the Nevsky was all color. I was elated at this total triumph of my deepest ideals.

It wasn’t “the end of history.” But it appeared humanity had turned a corner, into a new dawn, finally putting behind us so much that had hobbled and afflicted us.

The “Flynn Effect” is named for a researcher who revealed a perhaps surprising global trend: people getting smarter. IQs literally rising over a long time span. More education and more exposure to different kinds of people are partial explanations. And if we were putting a lot of bad stuff behind us, better thinking played a role.

But now we see bad thinking is more tenacious than we may have realized. Especially when, as always, some people can benefit from exploiting it.

Of course I’m talking about today’s America. In the great moral triumph that was the fall of Communism, America had a leading role. We won the Cold War not because we were more bad-ass than the Communists, but because we won the war of ideas. Because our kind of society, the values we reflected, were more attractive to human beings. As a deep student of history, I’d always loved my country as (for all its human imperfections) a uniquely good creation in humanity’s story. Those triumphant American values were key positive components of my own personal identity.

Now that’s been betrayed. How could America have gone so far off the rails? I could never before have imagined a regime here that so travesties everything the U.S. once stood for. With four in ten Americans idiotically cheering it on. Defying the Flynn effect. Seems you can fool enough of the people all the time.

Because I’m no cynic, an idealist really, the country’s disgrace, by a regime behaving so contemptibly, lacerates my soul. My shock and pain have continued to intensify, and will not abate until this evil is purged.

This has re-energized, in the past three years, my political engagement (mainly through blogging). People find meaning in life through concerns larger than themselves. Seeing my country’s fate at stake is certainly such a cause, and my advocacy has been a source of meaning in my life, a deep part of my very personhood.

I have no illusions about what Trump’s 2020 defeat would portend. I have seen too many hopeful developments in the world turn sour. Trump and his minions will not disappear,* their poison will long continue to infect American politics. Their reality denial extends to believing victory is certain; losing will unhinge them even more. I worry about his gun nuts. He’s already darkly tweeted about civil war. At a minimum, thirsting for revenge, Republicans will wage partisan war against a Democratic administration with an intensified deranged ferocity. Untethered from truth and reality, with morality askew, there are no limits.

Yet nevertheless, their 2020 defeat will, for me, feel like a great moral triumph, on a par with the fall of Communism.

Maybe it could even be a turning point for the whole world, bending back a trend of brainless voting for authoritarian populists. And even while the infection will persist here, demography would militate against its recrudescence. That whole nasty strain in American politics will inexorably die off along with the older religious white voters upon whom it depends.

But on the other hand — if they cannot be defeated in 2020 even with a candidate so blatantly vile as Trump, then what hope would there be for the American ideal? How much more will that monster, drunk with triumph and unconstrained by any further need for votes, crush that ideal? His second term would be the end of America.

That would crush me; it would be existentially demoralizing.

I’d have to figure out a different way of being in the world. Deploying the serenity prayer. Perhaps going into exile — if not literally to Canada, then mentally. Disengaging, tuning out — at my age leaving it for another generation to deal with. For them to re-achieve, finally, the human revolution that I’d once thought had been achieved.

* Or maybe, given his off-the-charts narcissistic personality disorder, unable to handle the humiliation of defeat, he’ll kill himself. It wouldn’t surprise me. How would his supporters react? Would it break the spell — or martyrize him?

“Treated very unfairly” — a Trump trope

November 26, 2019

“Treated very unfairly” is an incessant Trump trope. Like he’s a great stickler for fairness.

First it was National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, “treated very unfairly” Trump said — after he himself fired Flynn for lying. Flynn was later convicted.

Then he pardoned racist Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of defying a court order.

Then it was Paul Manafort — also fired by Trump, as campaign manager. Later convicted by a jury for illegally concealing his work for foreign dictators, and failing to report the income to the IRS. But somehow he was “treated very unfairly,” said Trump.

Others he’s said were “treated very unfairly” include right-wing propagandist Dinesh D’Souza, who he pardoned after pleading guilty for a campaign finance felony; Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh; Veterans Affairs nominee Ronny Jackson; National Intelligence Director nominee John Ratcliffe; Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, facing recall; and various others including, of course, Trump himself, unremittingly whining of “very unfair treatment” in innumerable instances. He said he’s changing his residence to Florida from New York because he was treated unfairly there. He’s even said the writers of the U.S. Constitution treated him very unfairly; even that Fox News has treated him very unfairly!

Of course he never says why, exactly, something was unfair. It never works that way with him. It’s enough to just say “unfair.” One of his many forms of lying.

Now it’s navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, court-martialed for war crimes in Iraq, convicted by a military jury, and demoted. Trump ordered Gallagher’s rank restored. He also pardoned two other soldiers punished for misconduct. “Treated very unfairly.”

War is hell, and bad stuff happens. But America has long insisted on the highest standards of conduct by our military. Trump’s actions shred that honorable tradition, sending totally the wrong message. That’s why they horrified our military; higher-ups said this would undermine maintaining good order and discipline, calling this a crisis in military governance.

They pushed back, scheduling a review board to consider Gallagher’s expulsion as a SEAL. Trump tweeted he wouldn’t permit that, and Gallagher is being allowed to retire as a SEAL with no demotion. But meantime, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who opposed Trump’s action but tried to work something out with the White House, has been fired. His resignation letter said he’d been given an order he could not in good conscience carry out.

“Treated very unfairly?” Gallagher, convicted of war crimes? Or Spencer, ousted for trying to uphold standards of honor?

And how about Trump himself, his endless business history of screwing people? All those left holding the bag in his bankruptcies? Victims of his “Trump University” fraud? All the contractors and workers he just stiffed? Were they not “treated very unfairly?”

And how about our former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch — our longest serving envoy with a sterling record of exemplary service — smeared by Trump as prelude to abruptly yanking her from her post. To serve his corrupt political scheme. And then, right amid Yovanovitch’s congressional testimony, Trump tweets idiotic juvenile insults. “She started off in Somalia, how did that go?” She was a junior foreign service officer there, as if that made her responsible for Somalia’s mess. She went into a very tough, dangerous situation, serving her country, and that’s the thanks she gets from the President of the United States.

“Treated very unfairly?”

Normal human beings have some basic sense of what fairness means. Trump does not, and uses the word with perverted cynicism. Those he calls “treated very unfairly” are typically scumbags, like Flynn, Arpaio, Manafort, D’Souza, actually getting what they deserve. While upstanding people like Spencer and Yovanovitch are in fact treated very unfairly, by Trump.

One more way in which Trump’s is a bizarro world, where black is white and white is black; wrong is right and right is wrong.

Foreign service heroes and patriots, telling the truth

November 13, 2019

Foreign service professionals normally toil for their country under the radar. Now some are at the center of a storm. Trump has tried to keep them silenced, to bar them from giving evidence to Congress. But their loyalty to the nation, and its rule of law, comes first.

Testimony from them — dedicated professionals like former Ambassadors William Taylor and Marie Yovanovitch, and Alexander Vindman, George Kent and others — has already been devastating. They’ve documented factually how Trump’s Zelensky phone call was just the tip of an iceberg of corruption: a lengthy scheme to force Ukraine’s government to give Trump political dirt (likely trumped up), in exchange for military aid. All the foreign policy professionals who became aware of this were horrified.

Let’s be clear. Of course aid to a country is often conditioned on its doing things consistent with U.S. policies. But serving a president’s private political interests is entirely different. In fact, literally a crime — it’s against the law for a foreign government to give anything of value to a U.S. political campaign. That’s what Trump sought from Ukraine. Not just a quid pro quo, but extortion. Soliciting a bribe.

Moreover, what he did actually undermined U.S. policies and security interests, by hampering Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression. Saying he was really concerned about corruption in Ukraine is a laughable lie.

The scheme was only stopped by the whistleblower’s blowing the whistle. Only then was the Ukraine aid finally released. It’s questionable whether Trump even had the authority to withhold it in the first place.

Not an impeachable offense, say Republicans? If this isn’t one, nothing ever could be. Manipulating $391 million in Congressionally-mandated foreign assistance, to get another country to smear a political opponent. A worse abuse of power is hardly conceivable.

And anyone inclined to give it a pass should consider the defendant’s record. This vileness is just the latest in a long sickening string of one vile thing after another.

Republicans who bray that this is a sham, a witch hunt, a hoax, disgrace themselves. By saying it, they’re the ones perpetrating a sham, a witch hunt, a hoax.

The whistleblower, and the foreign service officers who are testifying, telling the truth, in the teeth of presidential intimidation and threats, are courageous patriotic heroes. They show that the American ideals, which Trump so travesties, are not dead yet. Republicans who vilify them as shameful treasonous partisan hacks are themselves the shameful treasonous partisan hacks.

Two kinds of Trumpers

October 31, 2019

He famously said he’d lose no votes if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. Recently one of his lawyers actually argued in court that if he did it, the law could not touch him.

I’ve written a lot about confirmation bias, an aspect of human psychology whose importance seems growing. It’s the proclivity to embrace information agreeing with one’s beliefs, and shun anything contrary. Smarter people are actually more susceptible. Education makes some think they’re know-it-alls. And they’re more skilled at confabulating rationalizations to justify their stances.

We see this in anti-vaxxers. The more science proves them wrong, the more they dig in. And these are not dumb people. Again, smarter than average. Too smart for their own good. “The greatest deception from which men suffer is their own opinions,” wrote Leonardo da Vinci.

Groupthink also operates. You get yourself in a group of like thinkers, and they reinforce each other. In fact, studies have shown a tendency for such groups to be pulled toward the views of their most extreme members.

All this is epidemic among Trump supporters. Like some relentless commenters on my local newspaper blog — fountains of what they think are facts and information, talking points from the right-wing groupthink echo-chamber. These guys are all full of the Steele Dossier*, FISA warrants, spies, Hillary-this and Hillary-that, demonizing Adam Schiff, deep state conspiracy theories, all soon to be proven, dastardly Democrats demolished, Trump totally triumphant.

All foolish fantasy.

Just as they’re blind to Trump’s big con, equally are they impervious to actual facts. Like his disgusting business history of rip-offs, Trump University fraud, inheritance tax fraud, charitable foundation fraud. Everything in the Mueller report proving how Russia subverted our election, and how Trump conspired to obstruct justice. Now the shocking proof about his mis-use of Ukraine aid. Trump’s blatant brobdingnagian record of lies and other swineries. And so on and on and on, it would fill many ghastly pages. All dismissed as “fake news.”

Nothing will break the spell. They’ll go their graves waving their arms still bleating about the Steele Dossier and all, while the rest of the world has moved on. History will look back on them like we look back at flat earthers and The Inquisition.

John Maynard Keynes said, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Mindful of that quote, and the phenomena of confirmation bias and groupthink, I strive to avoid those pitfalls. I was a lifelong conservative Republican. But when in 2016 the Republican party, and what went by the name “conservative,” drastically changed, I changed my mind. I don’t laud myself. It was forced upon me, by reality.

So why don’t most Republicans see what was so clear to me? Are confirmation bias and groupthink really that powerful? Apparently so, and it’s extremely disturbing. An unprecedented extreme of political loyalty — to a man of unprecedented vileness. There’s no Trump depravity they won’t defend or excuse, no idiotic attack of his they won’t parrot.

It’s partly explained by that very muscularity of badness, all previous politics seeming weak tea in comparison. Between a strong horse and a weak one, people by nature prefer the strong horse (said Osama bin Laden). Even if the strength is in monstrousness.

Then too, hate is stronger than love. These folks are infused less with Trump love than with hatred for the other side.

And for the people I’ve described, Trumpism has become central to their human identity, their very existence. It’s the reality they’ve constructed for themselves to inhabit. Like the religious beliefs most of them also hold. Oliver Cromwell told an opponent, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.” These people cannot think it possible, neither regarding religious faith nor Trump faith.

But such zealots are actually a small minority of Trump voters. Most are just, well, ordinary normal people. For whom politics just isn’t that important. The Steele Dossier? Never heard of it. It’s all just a blurry buzz in the background of their lives. To them, Trump may appear to be doing a good job. Shaking things up like he said he would. The economy is OK. He’s not a politician — a good thing. A “successful businessman” — ditto. All the arguing is just a lot of noise. Democrats are all effete socialists.

The world order that Trump’s blowing up is far outside their consciousness. The basic American ideals he’s shredding had become so commonplace, so deep in the background, they’re no longer even visible — hence their destruction doesn’t even register.

So, unlike those who actually refuse to see how horrible this is for America, most Trump voters don’t see it because . . . they simply don’t see it.

The first type are a lost cause. But not so the latter. I continue to believe that the great majority of Americans are (like humans everywhere) good people. While we must, alas, write off the former group, the latter we must embrace, as our neighbors and fellow countrymen, to find commonality, to get us all past this ugly interlude of our history. We need a new president for whom this reconciliation is a top priority. In the words of Lincoln, “With malice toward none, with charity for all . . . let us strive . . . to bind up the nation’s wounds . . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

* For the record: The claim is that a dodgy dossier, paid for by Democrats, was behind the Russia investigation. Steele was a former officer with Britain’s intelligence service who’d previously given ours much useful material. Democrats hiring him in 2016 didn’t taint his work. When he gave it to the FBI, it fit with what they were already seeing. Though allegations of Trump hotel sex hijinks couldn’t be documented, Steele’s detailing how the Russians had long been working Trump certainly merited investigation. It would have been a scandal if the FBI had not followed up. And there was loads of other evidence for Russia’s efforts to manipulate our election, justifying the investigation — which proved it. This was no hoax or witch-hunt. It’s Barr’s investigation of the investigation that’s a hoax and witch-hunt.

Trump and Republicans: how vile can it get?

October 25, 2019

Before Trump took office, I wrote that power doesn’t make bad men better. Since, I’ve kept repeating: it will get worse. And so it goes.

Trump’s every word about the Syria situation perverts reality. He now says he’s lifting sanctions on Turkey because they’ve “agreed” to stop their military action. The action Trump green-lighted, and called a great victory for civilization. Actually, Turkey is ending it because it’s achieved its aims. But Trump boasts Turkey’s “agreement” means the picture in the region is now one shaped by America. Actually, it’s a Turkish agreement with Russia, America removed from the picture.

Trump meantime pats himself on the back for “bringing our troops home.” Actually, they’re redeployed elsewhere in the Middle East.

He says he’s saved thousands of lives. Actually, hundreds have been killed and over 160,000 forced to flee. Trump has oceans of blood on his hands. The atrocities apparently continue despite the supposed cease-fire. It’s a horrific human tragedy. He says it’s a U.S. foreign policy triumph. Actually, it’s a giant foreign policy debacle. Betraying our long time allies*,  rewarding the mass murderer Assad and dictatorial Erdogan. ISIS ranks are replenished. Others in the world will now think twice before trusting America about anything. Trump’s betrayal is explicable, if at all, only as serving the interests of our enemy Russia. It is treason simpliciter, and merits impeachment.

But Trump’s being impeached for a different abuse of power. Though one Trump apologist is quoted saying abuse of power is not a crime.

There’s an old lawyer line: if the facts support you, pound the facts. If the law supports you, pound the law. If neither, pound the table.

With facts and law increasingly leaving Trumpsters with no place to hide, they’re pounding the table, frantically, attacking the legitimacy of the impeachment process. Trump says it’s a lynching. Lynching entailed a mob hanging a usually innocent black person, normally with hideous torture, including cutting off genitals and forcing the victim to eat them.

But speaking of mobs, a mob of Republican congressmen literally stormed a secure room to disrupt for hours a committee hearing therein. The hearing was being conducted behind closed doors in a secure facility to protect sensitive national security information under discussion. That’s standard congressional practice. The Republican mob used actual violence and breached security by bringing in forbidden electronic devices. Their pretext was bogus, as if Republicans were being somehow shut out of the hearing; in fact, of course, Republican members of the committee were always in the room, with full rights to question witnesses and otherwise participate. And open public hearings on everything are scheduled to follow.

The more undeniable Trump’s monstrousness becomes, the more unhinged do Republicans become in their denial. Their mob violence was intended to distract attention from the testimony of Ambassador William Taylor, which was devastating and shocking. Taylor was a professional brought out of retirement by Pompeo to man the Ukraine embassy after our ambassador, Marie Jovanovich, was improperly removed at Trump’s order. Taylor’s testimony detailed how Trump improperly outsourced U.S. Ukraine policy to a rogue actor, Giuliani, because nobody in the proper chain of command would do the slimy stuff Trump wanted. Namely, extorting Ukraine’s complicity in smearing Biden and Democrats as a quid pro quo for releasing $391 million in Congressionally-mandated military aid that Trump was improperly withholding. (Aid to help Ukraine fight  Russia!)

Another effort to distract from Ukraine is Attorney General Barr’s now opening a “criminal investigation” of the Mueller probe’s origin. Trump always called it a hoax and a witch-hunt, based on various absurd conspiracy theories. Now his stooge Barr is resurrecting all that nonsense, launching an investigation of his own Justice Department. This  is a hoax and a witch-hunt. “History repeats, first as tragedy, then as farce.”

If Trump’s actions concerning Ukraine weren’t wrong, then the word has no meaning. No president before ever did anything remotely so malign. The impeachment inquiry is being lawfully conducted by the lawfully elected House of Representatives, pursuant to express constitutional provisions. There are no violations of due process or anyone’s rights. What is being revealed, rather, is destruction by Trump and Republicans of every principle this country used to stand for.

I was a Republican for 53 years. What has become of the party is tragic. It must be defeated.

* Correction: I wrote previously that the Kurds had lost 11,000 men fighting ISIS on our behalf. Should have said “men and women.” Sorry.

 

Impeachment, Nixon, and me

October 22, 2019

I watched Nixon’s 1974 farewell speech live, with tears in my eyes. Not tears of sorrow; it was actually a bizarre speech. But at the moment’s poignancy and historical weight.

I’d been a fervent Nixon supporter in 1968, and he was my friend. A slight exaggeration, but I did feel a personal connection. In my teens I would write to famous people for autographs. This was before celebrity culture; they weren’t inundated and would often reply. I wrote to Nixon several times about politics while he was in New York exile after his dual election defeats. Looking toward a comeback, he was working the Republican vineyards; probably didn’t realize I was a kid. Anyhow, he would respond to me not with form letters but meaty disquisitions that seemed obviously personally dictated.

He was my dream presidential candidate, which seemed a pipe dream at first, given the GOP’s crushing 1964 defeat. I was very active in Republican politics, both on campus and in the real world. I signed up with Nixon’s campaign. A huge Nixon poster adorned my bedroom. On Election Day (my first vote), I was a poll worker, then stayed up through the night watching returns. It was a nail-biter.

I remember my elation the next day, commuting to my law school. My classmates were mostly radical left, with only a handful of “out” Republicans. Sixty-eight was such a tumultuous year. But in the end, it was my guy who’d won. I was over the moon.

Later I was actually appointed by Nixon to a minor federal commission.

As Watergate unfolded, I followed events closely. Carefully read the transcripts of White House tapes, and was appalled. The man there revealed was not who we’d thought he was. Most Republicans had the same reaction.

I was as partisan as anyone. Indeed, at the time, deeply engaged in the political wars locally, as a ward leader. But I saw no animus by any Republicans against Democrats over impeachment. It was not a partisan issue, it was about the facts. Nixon resigned because his own party could not condone what he’d done.

Certainly they were not demonizing Democrats as “traitors,” as trying to mount a “coup” to overturn the previous election, or any such nonsense. Even Nixon himself, in that mawkish farewell speech, did not impugn his opponents’ motives.

Trump’s offenses are far worse than Nixon’s. Nixon tried to cover up a “third rate burglary.” Trump, the mis-use of hundreds of millions in U.S. aid, perverting our foreign policy, for his own base political ends. Mulvaney saying this is normal, and we should just “get over it,” insulted our intelligence.

But not only do Republicans defend Trump, their idea of a defense is cooking up false smears against Democrats, like their meritless attack on Adam Schiff for supposedly lying — he didn’t — as if Trump isn’t the biggest liar ever. What a sickening disgrace.

Trump’s behavior shows he’s trying to prove he can get away with absolutely anything. Our president is literally an insane out-of-control monster, a patsy for dictators, yet Republicans still have his back. When Senate Republicans vote to clear him, it will be their final, ultimate degradation. While Democratic presidential canmdidates are off on another planet somewhere fixated on the minutiae of health care plans. If Trump is re-elected, America will need mental health care.

In 1974 we were all Americans, first and foremost. Not blinded by partisan tribalism. We could tell right from wrong. Truth from lies. And true patriots from Russian stooges.

What a different country that was. I mourn for it, with tears of sorrow in my eyes.

Impeachment and the party of rule-breaking

October 17, 2019

Trump’s Northern Syria retreat is shredding U.S. national interests. Our longtime Kurdish allies, thrown to the wolves, are now aligning with the Syrian regime and its Russian backers, empowered together with Iran. Likewise ISIS, with thousands of its fighters, formerly imprisoned by Kurds, back in action. After first greenlighting Turkey’s attack, now Trump seeks to punish it; Europeans too denounce it. This endangers their deal for Turkey’s harboring millions of Syrian refugees. If they’re expelled into Europe, the political fallout there will be ugly. While the newly exploding Syrian humanitarian nightmare is making yet more refugees — 160,000 fleeing at last count. What a stupid unnecessary disaster.*

But Trump is being impeached for a different foreign policy travesty. Unjustifiably withholding vital military aid, voted by Congress, to extort Ukraine’s leader to help Trump’s re-election by concocting smears against an opponent. There’s no question of fact or even interpretation; Trump’s own account of the key phone call amounts to a confession. And that call, we now know, was part of a broader plot to suborn Ukraine. Giuliani played a key role; our Ukraine ambassador was fired for not playing ball.

Not only is seeking foreign help in a U.S. election flatly illegal, the Constitution furthermore specifies bribery as one impeachable offense. Trump clearly solicited a bribe — in the form of election help — in exchange for releasing the aid. Compounded by attempted cover-up, and defiance of Congressional authority. The House of Representatives has no choice about impeaching, it’s a duty. And it’s not a “coup” or attempt to undo the last election. The Constitution prescribes elections; it also prescribes impeachment for serious misconduct.

So will Republican senators vote to convict Trump? No. Over 80% of Republican voters still love him, despite everything. The Economist’s “Lexington” columnist, on U.S. politics, nods to the idea that Republican officeholders actually hate much of what Trump is about, but political cowardice keeps them in line. However, based on his conversations with these folks, it seems they actually don’t object to Trump’s behavior all that much.

Republican senators would actually be smart to unite and take the opportunity of impeachment to rid themselves of this Trump affliction. But they won’t because they’ve drunk his Kool-Aid. Lexington quotes social psychologist Jonathan Haidt that Republicans “have now dug themselves into a position that they can’t leave without admitting that they sold out morally.” A Devil’s bargain.

I used to blame our political divisiveness more on lefty Democrats demonizing Republicans. But now Republicans have proven them right after all, living up to their worst stereotypes, and repaying the demonization with a vengeance. It’s a relatively new and scary feature of America’s political landscape. The idea of politics as blood sport, and anything — anything — is justified for your side to win. Rules shmules. Laws shmaws. Truth shmooth.

This goes with the idea that the other side does the same — no, worse. An idea now implacably embedded in, particularly, Republican heads. Thus every objection to Trump administration misconduct is met with “what about Hillary? What about Bill?” or the like. There’s even a name for this: whataboutism. This kind of thinking defines today’s Republicanism.

Were the Clintons angels? Certainly not; as a Republican myself I criticized them plenty. And one might point out that two wrongs don’t make a right. Yet only a mind pathologically blinded by partisanship could equate Clinton transgressions with Trump’s monstrously greater ones. (Let alone deny the latter altogether.) The Clintons skirted rules — Trump drives a Mack Truck through them.

He’s found he can flout not only our unwritten societal norms of civic conduct, but even actual laws, with impunity. He’s done it throughout his life, and contempt for rules and standards is an organizing principle of his presidency. This does not make him some sort of admirable free spirit like a ’60s counterculture character. It’s deeply corrosive of the glue that holds society together and keeps us from barbarism. No democracy can endure this way.

It’s true that while Republicans imagine Democrats are worse, Democrats see Republicans as worse. Yet in fact there’s no symmetry between the parties here. Because Democrats do not, in their minds, justify any rule-breaking on the basis that Republicans are worse. They don’t justify it at all. But Republicans do justify it, based on that deranged notion of equivalence. They actually do believe two wrongs somehow make a right.

Lexington also cites a poll, shortly after the 2016 vote, wherein two out of three Republicans agreed that America needed a leader “willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes.” An even greater percentage today, he thinks, would say that, based on their total support for the rule breaker in chief.

Lexington furthermore suggests that Republicans, deep down, realize that with their shrinking base of older, whiter, less urban and more religious voters, they cannot maintain power through playing fair. Thus their despicable voter suppression tactics. While Democrats, in contrast, believe that in fair elections with broad voter participation, they’ll prevail.

The column concludes that how Republican senators vote on impeachment “will decide more than the president’s fate. It will decide whether theirs is now the party of rule-breaking.”

* Erdogan would not have invaded without Trump’s assent. As usual with foreign dictators, the Great Dealmaker got nothing in exchange.