Archive for the ‘stinking piece of shit’ Category

How to become a Nazi

July 9, 2018

You’re a nurse, and a doctor instructs you, by phone, to give his patient 20 Mg of a certain drug. The bottle clearly says 10 Mg is the maximum allowable daily dose. Would you administer the 20 Mg? Asked this hypothetical question, nearly all nurses say no. But when the experiment was actually run, 21 out of 22 nurses followed the doctor’s orders, despite knowing it was wrong.

Then there was the famous Milgram experiment. Participants were directed to administer escalating electric shocks to other test subjects for incorrect answers. Most people did as instructed, even when the shocks elicited screams of pain; even when the victims apparently lost consciousness. (They were actors and not actually shocked.)

These experiments are noted in Michael Shermer’s book, The Moral Arc, in a chapter about the Nazis. Shermer argues that in the big picture we are morally progressing. But here he examines how it can go wrong, trying to understand how people became Nazis.

Normal people have strong, deeply embedded moral scruples. But they are very situation-oriented. Look at the famous “runaway trolley” hypothetical. Most people express willingness to pull a switch to detour the trolley to kill one person to prevent its killing five. But if you have to physically push the one to his death — even though the moral calculus would seem equivalent — most people balk.

So it always depends on the circumstances. In the nurse experiment, when it came down to it, the nurses were unwilling to go against the doctor. Likewise in Milgram’s experiment, it was the authority of the white-coated supervisor that made people obey his order to give shocks, even while most felt very queasy about it.

Nazis too often explained themselves saying, “I was only following orders.” And, to be fair, the penalty for disobeying was often severe. But that was hardly the whole story. In fact, the main thing was the societal normalization of Nazism. When your entire community, from top to bottom, is besotted with an idea, it’s very hard not to be sucked in.

Even if it is, well, crazy. Nazi swaggering might actually not have been delusional if confined to the European theatre. They overran a lot of countries. But then unbridled megalomania led them to take on, as well, Russia — and America. This doomed insanity they pursued to the bitter end.

Yet they didn’t see it that way. The power of groupthink.

And what about the idea of exterminating Jews? They didn’t come to it all at once, but in incremental steps. They actually started with killing “substandard” Germans — mentally or physically handicapped, the blind, the deaf — tens of thousands. With the Jews they began with social ostracizing and increasing curtailment of rights.

This was accompanied by dehumanization and demonization. Jews were not just called inferior, genetically and morally, but blamed for a host of ills, including causing WWI, and causing Germany’s defeat. Thusly Germans convinced themselves the Jews deserved whatever they got, had “brought it on themselves.” These ideas were in the very air Germans breathed.

Part of this was what Shermer calls “pluralistic ignorance” — taking on false beliefs because you imagine everyone holds them. Like college students who’ve been shown to have very exaggerated ideas of their peers’ sexual promiscuity and alcohol abuse, causing them to conform to those supposed norms. Germans similarly believed negative stereotypes about Jews because they thought most fellow Germans held such views. Actually many did not, but kept that hidden, for obvious reasons. There was no debate about it.

Of course it was all factually nonsense. An insult to intelligence, to anyone who knew anything about anything. Yet Germany — seemingly the most culturally advanced society on Earth, the epicenter of learning, philosophy, the arts — fell completely for this nonsense and wound up murdering six million in its name.*

Which brings me to Trumpism. (You knew it would.) Am I equating it with Nazism? No. Not yet. But the pathology has disturbing parallels. The tribalism, the groupthink, the us-versus-them, nationalism, racism, and contempt for other peoples. The demonization of immigrants, falsely blaming them for all sorts of ills, to justify horrible mistreatment like taking children from parents — even saying, “they brought it on themselves.” And especially the suspension of critical faculties to follow blindly a very bad leader and swallow bushels of lies.

I might once have said “it can’t happen here” because of our strong democratic culture. Today I’m not so sure. Culture can change. That within the Republican party certainly has. Not so long ago the prevailing national attitude toward politicians was “I’m from Missouri,” and “they’re all crooks and liars.” Too cynical perhaps but the skepticism was healthy, and it meant that being caught in a lie (or even flip-flopping) was devastating for a politician. Contrast Republicans’ attitude toward Trump (a politician after all). Not only a real crook and constant flip-flopper, but a Brobdingnagian liar. That 40% of Americans line up in lockstep behind this is frightening. And as for our democratic culture, the sad truth is that too few still understand its principles and values. Germans in their time were the apogee of civilization, and then they became Nazis.

Shermer quotes Hitler saying, “Give me five years and you will not recognize Germany again.” Fortunately Trump will have only four — let’s hope. But America is already becoming unrecognizable.

* My grandfather was a good patriotic German who’d even taken a bullet for his country in WWI. But that didn’t matter; he was Jewish. Fortunately he, with wife and daughter, got out alive. His mother did not.

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The civility issue

July 7, 2018

Actor Robert DeNiro shouts “Fuck Trump!” Comedians Samantha Bee and Kathy Griffin, respectively, call Ivanka a “cunt” and pose with a (fake) severed Trump head. Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen is heckled in a Mexican restaurant; Sarah Sanders is refused service in another eatery. And I’ve labeled Trump a “stinking piece of shit.”

Welcome to American political culture 2018.

Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” A fine sentiment. And indeed the candidate against Trump in 2020 must not join him in the gutter, but should instead embody a contrast against the boorish degradation of Trumpism. (Even if the better angels of our nature are out to lunch.)

It’s Trump we can thank for all this. He’s the one who really has pulled American political culture into the sewer; it’s one of the very things that so outrages opponents and provokes them to obscenities. Political nastiness does have a long history; but as a close student of that history, I can say Trump represents a stark discontinuity. It’s bizarre that Trumpists take offense at incivility toward him and his lackeys, such as I’ve mentioned, and even say it strengthens his support; when he, like, invented horrible behavior.

Jordan Klepper’s Comedy Central show, The Opposition, tried to be an over-the-top parody of Trumpism. But it was ended basically because the parody had a hard time topping the grotesque reality.

I never voted for Obama, and often, as a Republican,  harshly criticized him here. That’s politics in a free country. But never in talking of Obama did I use the kind of language I use for Trump. Obama was an honest, virtuous, dignified man who, even when wrong, was a credit to America’s civic culture. Trump is a stinking piece of shit.

Example of a metaphor

Now, when I say this, it is a metaphor. And I am someone for whom language is very important, and I use it with care. My metaphor reflects careful consideration for its verity.

We are endowed with reasoning minds that make judgments, based on facts and evidence (well, some of us). As a longtime political junkie, faced with a phenomenon so dramatically altering our political landscape, I worked hard to learn the facts about Trump. And even before the election, it was clear that he is a very bad man. Far worse than I could ever have imagined in a president. Bad through and through, in every aspect of character and personality. Columnist Thomas Friedman used the words “disgusting human being.”

I have supported that judgment by marshaling facts, and was ringing the alarm bell before the election. Afterward, I was actually prepared to be surprised — hoping Trump might rise to the magnitude of the responsibility thrust upon him. Yet I also warned that power doesn’t make bad men better. Alas, it’s the latter that has proven true.

In contrast to my own carefully considered judgment, grounded in judicious evaluation of all relevant facts, Trump flings around verbal bombs in utter disregard of them. One of his most odious traits. Like his insulting John McCain’s war hero status. Accusing Obama of bugging him. All that “weak on borders, weak on crime” garbage. Calling numerous honest people “liars,” day in and day out. His “spygate” accusation against the FBI, deliberately and falsely undermining public confidence in our institutions of rule of law. The list goes on and on. Res ipsa loquitur.

So —

Kathy Griffin’s severed head? Tasteful it wasn’t. But she’s a comic, after all. And this was another metaphor, for what would be Trump’s just comeuppance for what he’s done to this country — removal from office in humiliation and disgrace.

Nielsen (I tried to find the nastiest looking picture)

The Nielsen episode? In this democracy, public officials — especially the highest — are answerable to citizens. That comes with the job. Calling her out in a restaurant may not have been polite and decorous but those citizens had a right to express disapproval of her official conduct when an opportunity arose. A cabinet member cannot expect to leave it all behind at the office at 5 PM. In this case, the irony of her eating in a Mexican restaurant was too rich. And in the moral balance, does Nielsen’s being shouted at compare with taking children away from parents? (And Trump’s falsely blaming Democrats for it?)

Sanders

The Sanders episode? The 1964 Civil Rights Act assures equal access to public venues for racial minorities and the like. Its protections don’t cover public officials who are bathed in lies. That restaurateur had a right to express her political opinion by kicking Sanders out.

DeNiro? When I call Trump what I call him, it’s always in the context of some specific transgression, my disapproval of which is fully explained (as here), with an effort to persuade readers to my point of view. This was not true of DeNiro’s ejaculation, making it kind of pointless.

But finally, once more, if all this rawness is not your cup of tea, you know who’s to blame. The malodorous defecation product.

(Part II) Conservative or Republican?

July 4, 2018

Mill

The political philosophy called “liberal” originated in 19th century Britain, with thinkers like John Stuart Mill; it stood for individual human flourishing free from undue constraints — especially imposed by the state. Then the word “liberal” got hijacked, in America, to mean virtually the opposite — social engineering by big government.

Conservatives opposed this; that’s what the Republican party basically represented. (Indeed, its philosophy was classical liberalism.) But now, just like the word “liberal” got perverted, so too “conservative.” David Brooks says that “Today, you can be a conservative or a Republican, but not both.”

Brooks

In a recent column, he approaches the matter from first principles. Thomas Hobbes posited the idea of the social contract. Free people get together and agree to exchange some of their liberty — basically, the liberty to prey upon others — for freedom from predation. It’s not a literal contract, but an implicit one; it’s why we have governments and obey their laws.

But, says Brooks, individuals do not come to this self-formed. Instead we are shaped by family, religion, local community, local culture, arts, schools, literature, manners, etc. All of which he calls collectively a “sacred space,”  which traditional conservatism venerated (to promote the kind of human flourishing Mill sought). In contrast, ideologies like communism, fascism, socialism, and (American) liberalism all, to a greater or lesser degree, sought to supplant those “sacred space” societal structures with the state.

But today, says Brooks, “the primary threat to the sacred order is no longer the state. It is a radical individualism that leads to vicious tribalism.” It’s the “evil twin” of community feeling. Grounded not in the positive, cooperative, humanistic vibe that community feeling should ideally propagate but, rather, in “hatred, us/them thinking, conspiracy-mongering and distrust.”

This ain’t your daddy’s conservatism (that I identified with for 50+ years). Brooks calls it “an assault on the sacred order that conservatives hold dear — the habits and institutions that cultivate sympathy, honesty, faithfulness and friendship.”

A previous Brooks column spotlighted just what this means in practice. Conservatives always used to argue that statism tended “to become brutalist and inhumane . . . caus[ing] horrific suffering because in the mind of the statists, the abstract rule is more important than the human in front of them. The person must be crushed for the sake of the abstraction.”

That’s a good description of a communist system. Likewise Trump administration immigration policies. This so-called “conservative” regime has “become exactly the kind of monster that conservatism has always warned against,” writes Brooks.

Separating children from asylum-seeking parents is an inhuman moral obscenity.* Mocking the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty and in the Declaration of Independence. These latter-day “conservatives” have lost the thread of what America means; of what conservatism means; what it’s all about; what it is for.

It goes beyond even what Brooks talked about. It’s across the board — from fiscal irresponsibility to trade war to undermining our institutions of rule of law, cozying up to dictators, excusing personal vileness, and abetting racism. And all of it shot through with pervasive lying. Trumpism is a grotesque perversion of what conservatism used to be.

But in truth philosophy or principles have nothing to do with this. It’s tribal behavior run amok. These Republican so-called “conservatives” back their tribe; nothing else matters. Not truth, not principle, not basic human decency. It’s Lord of the Flies time. “Conservative” is just a word, a label, a tribal signifier like a team name emblazoned on their jerseys.

Or their red hats, displaying just as big a lie.

* Ordered by a court to reunite those families, the administration is charging them for the airfare to do so.

The Grotesque Odious Party (Part I)

July 1, 2018

Recently on the NewsHour it was noted that Trump’s approval percentage among Republicans has reached record highs. “Yeah,” I said to myself, “because people like me have left the party.” Then pollster Stuart Rothenberg came on, making the same point. And when an arch-conservative pundit like George Will declares we must now vote for Democrats — any and all Democrats — you know how out-of-kilter politics has become.

Not just in America. Britain voted for national suicide with Brexit; its Conservative party embraces it totally while being flummoxed over how to limit the damage; and the opposition Labour Party, having failed with a very leftist platform, has gone extreme left/Marxist. Italian voters deserted the center and put in power two parties of crazies at odds with each other. Large votes for German fringe parties made it hell for Angela Merkel to assemble a governing coalition, and now it’s cracking apart over immigration. Mexico is about to elect as president a populist rabble-rouser contemptuous of rule of law. A retrograde populist creep leads the polls in Brazil. I could go on.

Only Canada and France seem redoubts of sanity.

During the 2016 campaign I kept telling my wife, “He’s got the asshole vote but that’s not enough to elect him.” I was wrong. Enough others threw civic responsibility to the winds.

Of course some voters have always been pretty clueless, motivated by base instincts, simultaneously both cynical and credulous, thus manipulable by demagogues. But demagoguery doesn’t begin to describe this; America has plunged into a moral cesspool, of cruel policies saturated in hate and lies.

I have been struggling to understand this tragedy. I’ve written much about tribalism. The “us versus them” factor looms very large and has long been building. But what caused it to become so extreme (mainly on the GOP side)?

Tribalism is part of human nature. This actually helped our early ancestors’ survival. It also provides a sense of belonging, of security, and identity. But in the big sweep of history, casting other tribes as enemies has been diminishing, reducing conflict and violence, as Pinker documented with facts and figures in The Better Angels of Our Nature.

However, is something about modern life making such tribalism recrudesce? The word “alienation” has long been a staple of sociology discourse. Robert Putnam wrote of Bowling Alone. Many aspects of technology fray social ties. Surveys report people saying they have fewer friends nowadays. Many have hundreds of Facebook “friends” but that’s not the same thing, maybe actually undermining genuine friendship.

I have written too about Tom Friedman’s latest book, arguing that technological and societal change is now so fast that people have a hard time keeping up with it, and making sense of the world.

Maybe all these factors drive people to cling more tightly to tribal identity. And that it’s happening more on the right is understandable. Those with traditionalist mindsets see themselves and their social verities under assault — from ethnic minorities, women’s empowerment, irreligion, and what they see as sexual sin. In this whirlwind, tribal identity is a kind of anchor and security blanket.

What’s particularly startling is how this political tribalism even trumps religion. You might have thought religious faith would be the stronger. Yet most fundamentalist Christians back Trump, a man steeped in sin, with policies the very antithesis of “love thy neighbor.” Their political loyalties seem impervious to their supposed religious scruples.

Well, I suppose if you can believe fairy tales like God, Heaven, and Hell, it’s not so hard to believe the liar in the White House. And that you’re somehow still, despite all the hateful cruelty, on the side of the angels.

(To be continued)

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.

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.”

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?

Friedman

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.

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.

Suffer the little children: America’s crime against humanity

May 28, 2018

Remember when “for the children” was a staple of political discourse?

The Trump administration is now implementing a policy of taking children away from undocumented parents caught at the border. We’re told this is to deter them. White House Chief of Staff Kelly said the children are being “put into foster care, or whatever.”

“Foster care” has long been a scandal. Supposedly it’s to remove kids from bad family situations. But many foster parents do it not for the children but for the payments they get. On average, kids are better off with their biological parents, however problematic, than in foster care.

The refugee children are being handled by the Office of Refugee Resettlement — which is understaffed and overwhelmed. It admits that of 7633 children in its custody in 2017, it has lost track of 1475. Has no idea where they are now. Their parents will probably never find them again. Some are infants. Some were apparently given to traffickers.

While foreigners don’t have a general right to come here, under international law among civilized nations, pursuant to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, people escaping persecution or endangered in their home countries do have a right to apply for asylum. Many of the migrants in question qualify. Asylum seekers don’t break the law by crossing our border. Aiming to “deter” them is wrong. Punishing them by taking away their children constitutes a crime against humanity.

Trump himself actually calls it “horrible” — but compounds the crime by blaming it, somehow, on Democrats — yet another of his constant lies. (Fact: as Kelly and Attorney General Sessions have stated, it’s the Trump administration that has chosen to newly interpret the law in this inhumanly harsh way.)

The Leaker-in-chief condemns leakers

May 21, 2018

The uncanny pattern continues: every insult, accusation or smear Trump flings at others applies more to him than to them.

Now he’s fuming against leaks and leakers, calling them “traitors.” Remember how he himself leaked sensitive classified intelligence information to the Russians? Right in the oval office?! I guess he doesn’t. He also has a documented history of telephoning journalists, pretending to be someone else, bragging about him(self) and disseminating lies, to puff up his (self) image. Not only does he leak, but he leaks lies.

And lies about leaking. Calling other people leakers is a favorite Trump sleaze ploy. (He’s used it on Comey and McCabe.) Recently he called it disgraceful that a list of potential interview questions from the Mueller investigation was leaked. Turns out there’s strong evidence the leaker was Donald J. Trump.

The latest Trump leaker fit concerns White House aide Kelly Sadler’s remark about John McCain, apparently leaked by an insider who heard it. (The story’s truth is (perhaps strangely) not denied. But White House policy is no apologies, about anything, ever.)

Now let’s be clear. Of course Trump’s own leak to the Russians was treasonish. But the leak about Sadler? No. It may have betrayed Trump and his odious administration, but it did not betray America or the public. To the contrary, leaks like that serve the public good. Remember, the government, and everyone in it, works for the public. The public has a right to know what they do and say. Governments — especially this one — are often secretive, not wanting the public to know about their dirty laundry. But particularly where there is dirty laundry, it’s important for citizens to know, so government can be held to account.

When someone like Sadler, working at the highest level of government, is so stupid and depraved as to say what she said, the public has a right to know it. Whoever leaked it, allowing the public to know, deserves praise.

But the issue concerns more important matters than mere offensive remarks. Major misfeasance, and even policy blunders, which government has sought to cover up, have been the subject of leaks. Such whistle-blowers, who act at great personal risk, are heroes.*

Meantime, Trump and his Republican creep squad ratchet up their campaign to discredit with lies the Mueller investigation and our whole justice apparatus. The latest lie is that the FBI planted a spy in the Trump campaign; he’s demanding an investigation of this “scandal.” The truth seems to be that someone in the campaign with a shred of integrity (improbable though that seems) saw something wrong there and blew the whistle with the FBI. Trump wants that “traitor” outed so he or she can be tormented.

Trump has never retracted his related lie that Obama wiretapped him.

Republicans have even mounted an effort to impeach Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department’s #2, overseeing the Mueller investigation, who refuses to abet their anti-Mueller lie-athon.

Trump and these Republicans call Mueller’s probe a witch hunt. Consistent again with all their accusations, they themselves are the real witch hunters, wanting Mueller burned at the stake.

Do you realize how horrible this whole story is for our democracy? Are you sickened yet?

I guess not. Trump’s approval rating has risen to 50%.

Make America great again!

* Snowden and Manning? Some of what they leaked does fall in that category. But more of it was in fact treasonous, harming America’s legitimate national security and interests; in fact, putting at risk the lives of others who helped America.