Submitted for your consideration

The Congressional election just two weeks away will lead us down one of only a few possible paths.  If the Republicans who control the House and the Senate maintain their majorities in both chambers, there’s no reason to think that they will then choose to start exerting more constitutional authority as a counterweight to President Trump’s apparent on-going violations of constitutionally-mandated behavior of a government official, or have any new political reason to begin to seriously challenge or even oppose their party’s leader.  If they lose control of both houses, the Democrats would take command of the constitutional machinery that could restrict the president’s future activities and investigate or prosecute some of his apparent past crimes.  If the GOP loses control of just one chamber, life will get more confusing…more confusing than it already is, and that’s saying something.  Despite polling which shows less than half of the country approves of the president’s performance in office, the outcome for November 6 is unclear.

It’s no great pronouncement to say that American politics is polarized today, which by the way is not the same as having two major political parties with different opinions about the means to achieve goals…or which have completely different goals.  As they say on the Internet, I’m old enough to remember when having opposing beliefs or values from other people did not mean that I was good and pure and true and a Real Loyal Patriotic American and that they were stupid and evil and dishonest and corrupt and traitorous.  How’d we get from there to here?

Submitted for your consideration: the October 25th edition of The Daily, the podcast of the New York Times, which explores the premise that the 1994 midterm elections—in which the Republicans gained 54 seats in the House of Representatives to take control for the first time in 40 years—holds the seeds to the political divisiveness that rules the day today.  Give it a listen: host Michael Barbaro talks with opinion writer Jennifer Senior about the 1994 midterm elections, which she covered as a reporter, and she interviews former congressman Vin Weber, a Republican from Minnesota who left Congress in 1993 but whose friendship and political alliance with Newt Gingrich made him a behind-the-scenes force in the 1994 elections which resulted in Gingrich becoming speaker of the House.

Without question, Gingrich and the GOP played a clever political game to maximize the party’s gain of seats beyond what is usual for the party out of the White House.  They focused on wedge issues—they created the term “wedge issues,” I think—which were successful that day, and which have been driving wedges in our lives ever since.  Whether or not the politicians were sincere in their stated belief in the positions they advocated can be argued, but as a tactic it worked beyond their expectations.

Was it a good thing to have done?  Did Republicans of 1994 do the country a disservice in opening a rift in civil society that’s only gotten worse in the years since?  Good questions to consider, I think…

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To accuse is not proof of the truth

The flurry of accusations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the attendant surge in the past few days of the #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport hashtags has resurfaced for me a topic I’ve wanted to discuss, and on this day I’m happy to say that it is a topic which has nothing to do, at least not directly, with the president we cannot shake from the headlines for even one stinking day.  (Today he had to suffer the indignity of having the United Nations General Assembly laugh at him; I admit I enjoyed that very much.)  I’ve had this thought in the past year or so as events have forced the issue of sexual violence against women into public discussion, which is for the good, but now I’m hearing a drumbeat more loudly, more certain and more forcefully stated: the belief that all right-thinking Americans must accept all accusations by women of sexual harassment or sexual assault or rape at face value, without exception and without the need of corroborating evidence.  I’ve got a problem with that.  Let me risk stirring up multiple hornet’s nests all at once.

I have no problem with the protesters who argue Black Lives Matter, because I think I understand what they mean.  They do not mean black lives matter more than white lives (or the lives of any other color), despite the counterargument from some mostly disingenuous people who are trying to diminish the BLM effort.  The protesters are trying to persuade their fellow Americans that despite our country’s clear history of treating black people as less than people—even writing it into our Constitution—an inequitable, ignorant, hateful behavior that continues today, they are appealing to our better angels to persuade us that black lives matter, too.  At least that’s how I understand it.

They’re not saying that white lives don’t matter; they’re not saying that white lives matter less than black lives.  They’re calling attention to the recent string of deaths of black people, mostly young black men, at the hands of law enforcement across the country, in questionable circumstances, to try to make us all see the unfairness which they recognize as part of their daily lives.  The protests grow out of their personal experience, and they’re arguing for a commitment on behalf of all of us to the American ideal of fair treatment for all.  That’s also what the athletes are saying when they demonstrate during the national anthem: they aren’t protesting the song, or the flag, or the military, or the country in general, despite what you hear from the president (listen instead to the many many veterans who acknowledge that the right to this protest is exactly the thing they went to war to protect).  The players are taking advantage of their position in the public eye at that moment to do the thoroughly American thing of exercising their freedom of speech.  We each of us is free to disagree with their methods if we choose.

Now, I’m not saying that women in America have been treated the same way that black people have been treated.  (To any commenters who would criticize me for saying just such a thing, I refer you now to the previous sentence where I say quite plainly that I am not saying that.)  But I think it’s clear that women have been, and still are, treated differently from men in American society—there’s a Constitution thing there, too, of course—and that today they are making another push on behalf of their equality as Americans.  Specifically, they are speaking up on the subject of how, historically and contemporaneously, they have been and still are the victims of sexual violence.

In a society devised primarily by men with laws written primarily by men, in a society in which women were not considered equal citizens to the men, it should not be surprising that the men in charge protected themselves from accusations of sexual assault by women.  We can be ashamed of it, but not surprised.  Women were treated as property, as live-in baby-makers and babysitters and household help, and as “things” to be used by a man for his pleasure.  The men of those times turned a deaf ear to any woman’s protest of mistreatment, knowing that the woman would not be taken seriously and that even if her complaint were believed, well, so what.  The women of the time came to know the likely result of speaking up, and so they didn’t.

In more modern times we like to think that we’ve become enlightened enough not to behave in that way toward women; recent examples abound that prove how wrong we have been to think that.  Even as women became more financially independent of the men in their lives and more able to sustain a public accusation, they knew that the default response of male-dominated society remained to disbelieve and to dismiss accusations, and to find ways to punish the accusers for having accused.

What is changing now—for the good, I believe—is that the public airing of accusations of sexual assault has caused the scales to fall from more men’s eyes, for us all to recognize that this is real and pervasive, and to feel at least a little sick to our stomachs that we’ve closed our eyes to this reality for so long and allowed the women in our lives to suffer.  We’re coming around, as a society, to having our default response to these accusations be to search for the truth rather than to dismiss the charge out of hand.  Yea, America!

What concerns me is those who are filled with the fervor of the rising tide of righteousness who go a step too far and treat any accusation of sexual assault as proof of the truth of the charge.  It’s the right response to take an accusation seriously, and to investigate as we do when any crime is alleged; but it’s not right to assess a guilty verdict and hand out punishment solely on the basis of an unproved accusation.

Some of the accusations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh seem more believable than others; inasmuch as they are being made against a nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States, who proclaims his innocence of the charges, they deserve to be investigated to try to determine if they are true or false, and to learn what we can about the nominee in the process.  (BTW, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee: that’s exactly what the FBI does; that’s what it’s there for…put it to work).   Let the system work; there is no reason to rush a vote on this nomination…well, no good reason, anyway.  The GOP proved quite clearly, thank you, when refusing to take any action at all on the nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016, that the Supreme Court can get along nicely with one seat vacant.

America’s growing recognition of the ways in which our country has not lived up to the lofty goals of our Founders, and our continuing efforts to make those wrongs right, must continue.  Reaching the ideals of equal treatment under the law and providing a level playing field for all Americans, of being the open and welcoming society of our dreams, will take longer than we would like it to but we’ve got to keep going, keep our eyes on the prize.  But we won’t get there by trashing our belief in innocence until proven otherwise.

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Try this at home, it’s fun

I didn’t mean for it to happen, I swear…but I was driving home and had the radio on—yes, terrestrial radio; sue me—and before I could think to change the station or to flip over to the music on my phone, there it was.  Like a regularly scheduled feature, I became conscious to the news report on what I think of as the president’s outrage of the day: the thing about which the president is feigning outrage and saying words that clankle off the ear as one tries to parse sense from nonsense.  In today’s case he was accusing Google and other Internet sites of intentionally skewing their search results to feature news articles which cast him in a negative light.  (It’s what we old guys in the news business would refer to as “bad news” from his point of view, and something that most people who live in the public eye know is coming their way, can’t be avoided entirely; Trump refers to this as “fake news” or sometimes “Fake News” or some other times “FAKE NEWS!”)  What’s more, he was promising to “address the situation without providing evidence or giving details of action he might take.”  Put that down as the shock of the day, right?

And it occurred to me, what would I find if I Googled “what the hell did Trump say today” and so when I got home I did just that.

I haven’t been keeping track of all of the surprising, strange, unusual, odd, bewildering, outrageous, incorrect, untrue, misleading, ridiculous, self-centered, tone deaf, racist, ill-intentioned things he has said…initially it didn’t seem like it was something that would happen very frequently, but then because I got so woefully behind the curve so goddamn fast it was pointless to try to catch up.  But I don’t have to, because Matt Kiser’s already doing it.  When I Googled “what the hell did Trump say today” the first entry returned was a link to What the Fuck Just Happened Today?, a selection of news headlines from Trump’s America with links to the source stories.  (Click on the audio embed at the top of that page today and listen to a bit of Shep Smith’s incredulosity on the “Google story” du jour.)

Other fun stuff for sharing today:

…and this, which isn’t fun but is important to pass around to as many as we all can, since we live in Trump’s America:

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A Trump news companion

Wonder if there’s anything about the president in the news today…

Hmmm, a lawyer who worked for Donald Trump in his private company before he became president, and I guess for a little time after he became president, pleaded guilty to some bank fraud charges today…oh, but also to some federal election law violations.  Michael Cohen admitted to arranging payments to two women to keep them from telling secrets that would damage the campaign of Dona…well, he doesn’t actually name the candidate whose campaign would have been harmed, but it’s clear who it was.  (It was Trump.)  Those are the payments to Karen McDougal and to Stephanie Clifford (Stormy Daniels), women who claimed to have had sexual relationships with Trump, relationships which he still denies…although his lawyer now admits in court to making the payments to keep the stories of those affairs quiet (hell of a lot of good that did!) and says that Trump repaid him, although Trump denies even knowing anything about the payments.   Something doesn’t quite synch up here.  Those bank fraud charges were about his other business operations, nothing to do with Trump.

What else…

Oh, the guy who was the Trump campaign chairman for a few minutes in 2016 was found guilty by a federal jury of eight tax and bank fraud charges (and got a hung jury on ten other counts)…looks like all those crimes had nothing to do with Trump, either, except maybe give us another data point on Trump as a judge of character.  Let’s see, along with Paul Manafort and Cohen, we have:

  • Michael Flynn, retired general who was fired as national security adviser over “trust” issues, who pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his pre-inauguration contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.
  • Rick Gates, another former Trump campaign official and inaugural committee official, and Manafort business partner, who has admitted committing crimes with Manafort
  • George Papadopoulos, a one-time Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his attempts to set up meetings between the Trump campaign and representatives of Russia
  • Twelve Russian intelligence officers indicted for hacking the Democratic National Committee
  • Thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian companies indicted for interfering in the American political system

…and those are just the people collared, so far, by the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.  (Never before seen a witch hunt that came back with so many witches in just a year’s time, have you?)  Can Trump have been that bad a judge of character?  Maybe he’s actually a really good judge of character, and found what he was looking for: like all those people that Mr. Mueller has taken an interest in.  Maybe like his pal Omarosa, who he loved so much before he said mean things about her.

Trump’s argument is Manigault Newman:

  • Was only hired because she begged for a job, and he acquiesced.
  • Was not smart.
  • Was broadly disliked and mean to people.
  • Constantly missed meetings and skipped work.
  • Struck [Chief of Staff John] Kelly so negatively he suggested she be fired, and, perhaps most damningly.
  • Was of such questionable quality as an employee that she failed to win his reality show three times.

But she kept her job, even after Kelly complained—Kelly, whose job was to guide Trump’s White House staff.  Why?  What is the one quality Manigault Newman possessed that was sufficient for Trump to argue she keep her job?

She praised Trump.

Maybe he’s getting what he got because he looked for people who reminded him of him, or who at least were willing to swim in the same pool as him.

The problem with being Donald Trump isn’t just being Donald Trump. It’s all the other, lesser Trumps around you. It’s the versions of yourself that you create, the echoes of yourself that you inspire. They’ll devour you in the end.

I don’t mean his biological offspring, though they’re no picnic. I mean his spiritual spawn. I mean the knaves, nuts, schemers and dreamers who have taken their cues from him or turned his lessons against him. This is their moment. This is their month.

What was that other thing about Manafort I just saw?  Oh yeah:

I’m reading that people from the Trump Administration who at his West Virginia rally tonight are reportedly busy reminding people that a president can’t be indicted; wonder why they think that’s important to say right now?  (My understanding is that it’s Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president, but not a law.)

Remember when the former Navy Seal who ran the mission that got Bin Laden wrote a letter to Trump that said “revoke my security clearance” after the president did that to John Brennan, the former CIA chief who’s been very critical of Trump’s actions as president (to say the least)?  In that letter Bill McRaven said something that was echoed the next day by more than a dozen other former high-ranking intelligence agency officials who criticized Trump for playing political games with the country’s security:

Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs.

A good leader tries to embody the best qualities of his or her organization. A good leader sets the example for others to follow. A good leader always puts the welfare of others before himself or herself.

Your leadership, however, has shown little of these qualities. Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.

If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be.

(I think he’s being polite with that very last bit there…)

Well, there was a weird next chapter in that story today: with his very own thumbs (I think, given the odd capitalization) the president wrote on his Twitter that former director of national intelligence James Clapper “admonished John Brennan for having gone totally off the rails.  Maybe Clapper is being nice to me so he doesn’t lose his Security Clearance for lying to Congress!”  Not sure what Clapper actually said, but what University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck said about Trump’s Tweet ought to be talked about:

I think I’m ready for the sports section now…

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Resist, America!

Happy Birthday, you big ol’ wonderful U S of A, you!

db180701

Doonesbury Archive/Washington Post

More of the same, Mike.  It just keeps coming and coming, crazy outburst after incomprehensible decision.  An unprovoked trade war here, a cruel immigration enforcement policy there…how can we be expected to even keep up, much less resist?  It’s too hard, right?

Yes, it’s hard, but not too hard.  This isn’t over unless we let it be over.  (“Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”)

America can’t throw up its hands and quit because our president lies to us, unconstitutionally profits off of holding the office, threatens our alliances all over the world, and shows no signs of changing his behavior.  There’s more and more of it every day, and it feels like we have no time to rest up from the onslaught from the White House, even a sliver of which would have been unimaginable before January 2017.  In Slate, Dahlia Lithwick used the occasion of the separation of immigrant families at the border last month to encourage us all to speak up and not let Trump’s treatment of America become normal.

That we are finding ourselves unable to process or act or organize because the large-scale daily horrors are escalating and the news is overpowering is perfectly understandable. But we need to understand that and acknowledge it and then refuse it any purchase. Because to be overwhelmed and to do nothing are a choice.

It’s a choice, and it’s also a luxury, because the asylum-seekers at the borders cannot afford to go numb. Female victims of domestic abuse who are coming to the United States to save their own lives cannot afford to go numb. Teen girls denied access to reproductive care do not have the luxury of going numb.

(snip)

There isn’t a lot we can control in the present time, but as any good counselor will tell you, we can absolutely control how we react to what’s going on around us. And this is the scene in the movie where even though you want to fall asleep in the snowdrift, you need to get up and walk around. If you decide to stop swimming and just drift for a while, you’re apt to wake up in a land you don’t recognize. Because “going numb” is the gateway drug to acceptance.

As David Frum wrote in January, reflecting back on the first year of Trump, “the unacceptable does not become more acceptable if it is accepted by increments.” It’s only easier to swallow and more apt to wear down our defenses. Don’t let other people tell you what to focus on. Choose for yourself. Sure, tune out that which makes you feel hopeless. But hold on to what motivates you to act. Find all the humans you can find who agree with you and make calls and register voters. Because if things continue on this way for people without funds, or with brown skin, or for women and children and the sick, there will come a time when we all have fewer choices. This is not yet that time. Get out of the snow bank, find the St. Bernard with the tiny flask of hope, and stomp around like democracy depends on it

You don’t have to be a member of Congress to fight back, although it sure might help if members of Congress started holding the president to account—that is part of their damn job.  We can all start by being careful in the language we use in talking and writing about what’s going on, and not lazily repeating the words Trump uses that make him seem stronger and more rational than he really is.  This is a spot where we all have to make an extra effort because the president has an advantage: our brains just naturally keep track of what is true and what is not, what makes sense and what’s just crazy talk, but he’s just spewing whatever he wants to be true at the moment he says it or Tweets it, with no effort at accuracy, or consistency, or even sensibility.  Lili Loofourow calls it a “linguistic emergency” and urges us to stop reinforcing his defenses.

Sidestep every attempt he and his allies make to equate treating people badly with being strong, because their efforts to link those concepts are working. Neutral outlets are defaulting to his language for what he does—he’s “cracking down” on unions! He’s taking a “hard line“ on the G-7! Driving “hard bargains”! These all position him as powerful, which he loves. The trouble is, it’s wrong. In practice, Trump’s positions slip and slide all over the place. He never got that “hard bargain” he allegedly drove (though he sure got credit for driving it). His deals fall through, his policy shifts depending on whomever he spoke to last. It would be the height of irony if the weakest president on record managed to rebrand himself as the strongman he so badly wants to be.

(snip)

A president’s lack of basic competence is worth accurately reporting on. And it must be reported on when there is nothing else of value worth reporting.

So why doesn’t this happen more? Two reasons: For one, I sense in much of the reporting on Trump a secret fear that maybe we’re missing something. He won, after all. And he keeps insisting that he’s strong despite all the evidence, so maybe there’s something we’re not seeing. This, as many have pointed out, is gaslighting. It’s why he always says he has a plan he won’t describe.

The second reason is that many news organizations still confuse neutrality with accuracy. Better to just report what he says and let the people decide, the thinking goes.

But that’s wrong. And that’s due to the power of language: Simply repeating his fantastical claims makes them seem less fantastical. What a president says usually matters a great deal. But because what Trump says usually bears no relation to the truth (or to what his own policies end up being) it therefore fails to inform the public, and is not worth repeating. He wants to propagate the story of a power he doesn’t have. We shouldn’t help him.

Jon Stewart made the same point, along with some others, when he visited his pal Stephen Colbert last week:

And remember, along with still having our votes to use this November, we in the resistance have one other advantage: unlike Trump, we have a sense of humor and can see the ridiculousness for what it is…all he has is a mirror.  Sad.

Tom the Dancing Bug for Jun 15, 2018 Comic Strip

 Tom the Dancing Bug at go.comics.com

Posted in American Values, Effective Communication, Funny, Intellectual Dishonesty, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment