A white unicorn

Our weather has been pretty consistently dreary for weeks on end now, long enough so that I don’t know for sure how many weekends it’s been since I was able to go stand in the sun and club the life out of some perfectly innocent golf balls that have never done anything to me.  The forecast is that the weather will start looking better next week, and I hope that comes true.  In the news, there are a lot of predictions about the good possibility that the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference into the 2016 elections (and related matters) may be very close to ending; that would be even better news.

I want to know what Robert Mueller’s investigators have found about how Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and maybe the 2018 midterms, too.  There isn’t any real doubt that Russia was involved in an organized effort to keep Hillary Clinton from being elected president, and I want all the evidence lined up for us all to see.  Even if the Trump campaign and the Trump family were in no way at all complicit or cooperative with the Russian effort, we need to publicly recognize that our country was attacked by a foreign power and be better prepared to withstand that attack the next time it comes.  (You’d think that a president of the United States would agree with that, and say so; do you wonder why this one doesn’t?)

So what are we going to do when the Mueller Report is submitted and (it if is) released to the public?  Dahlia Lithwick suggests in Slate this week that we shouldn’t expect we can sit idly by and let Robert Mueller lead us to the Promised Land.

There’s a lingering perception that once Mueller delivers his report, the Trump era will end in a cloud of white smoke and glitter. It’s a nice fantasy—the one in which Mueller, armed with Truth and Fact, finishes off the Trump presidency with a ride through the Capitol on a white unicorn, scattering indictments and the seeds of impeachment, in a conclusive and irrefutable wrapup of the two-year probe.

It is also profoundly unlikely to actually happen that way. As one observer after another has reminded us, this is not necessarily Mueller’s call, and it’s not necessarily Mueller’s mandate. It’s also, perhaps most importantly, not necessarily Mueller’s style. At every turn, Mueller has shown us who he is, and that would be the antithesis of the Trump-style reality show protagonist.

(snip)

For those who have been collecting the Mueller memes and the T-shirts and the mugs, and who are waiting breathlessly for his conclusions, there’s a very reasonable chance that major disappointment looms. The Mueller report is unlikely to provide a perfectly binary call to arms. He is amassing facts on a limited series of questions. Some of those facts will make their way to the public, but many will not. Congress will make decisions on how best to proceed. There is going to be a torrent of “no collusion/fake news” out of the White House. What comes next may not be perfectly certain.

Instead of “waiting for Mueller” to take action, we should perhaps realize that we largely know what’s happened: Four people who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign have either faced conviction or indictment for their involvement with Russian actors, or for lying about it. There’s a case to be made that Jared Kushner or Donald Trump Jr. could face charges. It’s surely true that should any such thing happen, life will grow infinitely more complicated for the Trump administration.

But it’s also true that this administration has thrived in part because too many people have been waiting for Robert Mueller to formally say what we already know to be true: The levels of corruption, conflict of interest, and untruth in this administration are without parallel. What we saw at Helsinki was without parallel, what was done to Jamal Khashoggi and the refusal to address it is without parallel, threats of “retaliation” against the press are without parallel. We don’t need to read this in a report. We live it every day.

(Hey, this could be fun, and cathartic, too: go to the comments and fill in the blank to extend Lithwick’s thought: “The ______ we have seen during the Trump campaign and presidency have been without parallel.”  Keep it clean and I’ll post ’em all.)

Mueller’s job was and is to investigate, not to prosecute or impeach or even to tell the rest of us what to do.  Lithwick again:

We want Mueller to be both the guy who knows everything and the guy who does everything. It obviates anyone else from needing to know what we already know and do what needs doing. But going into the next few fateful days, my sense is that we might want to stop investing too much hope in great men, and superheroes, and saviors. Instead, we should remember that it is our job to insist that we, and our public officials, must be the Muellers we hope to see in the world.

The action that comes next is up to us, and to the people we elected to Congress.  It’s not surprising that Republicans in Congress would want to support a Republican president and his goals and actions, but party political success is not (supposed to be) the primary reason they are there: it’s to represent us and our interests, and the Constitution, even when that means challenging the president.  The Constitution establishes each of the three branches of government to provide checks and balances on the other two.

That’s the major theme of an open letter from Democrat Adam Schiff, published this week in the Washington Post.  The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee reminds his colleagues that the responsibilities of their offices go deeper than just supporting the president, especially when our country is under attack.

For the past two years, we have examined Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and its attempts to influence the 2018 midterms. Moscow’s effort to undermine our democracy was spectacularly successful in inflaming racial, ethnic and other divides in our society and turning American against American.

But the attack on our democracy had its limits. Russian President Vladimir Putin could not lead us to distrust our own intelligence agencies or the FBI. He could not cause us to view our own free press as an enemy of the people. He could not undermine the independence of the Justice Department or denigrate judges. Only we could do that to ourselves. [emphasis added]  Although many forces have contributed to the decline in public confidence in our institutions, one force stands out as an accelerant, like gas on a fire. And try as some of us might to avoid invoking the arsonist’s name, we must say it.

I speak, of course, of our president, Donald Trump.

The president has just declared a national emergency to subvert the will of Congress and appropriate billions of dollars for a border wall that Congress has explicitly refused to fund. Whether you support the border wall or oppose it, you should be deeply troubled by the president’s intent to obtain it through a plainly unconstitutional abuse of power.

To my Republican colleagues: When the president attacked the independence of the Justice Department by intervening in a case in which he is implicated, you did not speak out. When he attacked the press as the enemy of the people, you again were silent. When he targeted the judiciary, labeling judges and decisions he didn’t like as illegitimate, we heard not a word. And now he comes for Congress, the first branch of government, seeking to strip it of its greatest power, that of the purse.

Many of you have acknowledged your deep misgivings about the president in quiet conversations over the past two years. You have bemoaned his lack of decency, character and integrity. You have deplored his fundamental inability to tell the truth. But for reasons that are all too easy to comprehend, you have chosen to keep your misgivings and your rising alarm private.

That must end. The time for silent disagreement is over. You must speak out.

This will require courage. The president is popular among your base, which revels in his vindictive and personal attacks on members of his own party, even giants such as the late senator John McCain. Speaking up risks a primary challenge or accusations of disloyalty. But such acts of independence are the most profound demonstrations of loyalty to country.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III may soon conclude his investigation and report. Depending on what is in that report and what we find in our own investigations, our nation may face an even greater challenge. While I am alarmed at what we have already seen and found of the president’s conduct and that of his campaign, I continue to reserve judgment about what consequences should flow from our eventual findings. I ask you to do the same.

If we cannot rise to the defense of our democracy now, in the face of a plainly unconstitutional aggrandizement of presidential power, what hope can we have that we will do so with the far greater decisions that could be yet to come?

Although these times pose unprecedented challenges, we have been through worse. The divisions during the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement were just as grave and far more deadly. The Depression and World War II were far more consequential. And nothing can compare to the searing experience of the Civil War.

If Abraham Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party, could be hopeful that our bonds of affection would be strained but not broken by a war that pitted brother against brother, surely America can come together once more. But as long as we must endure the present trial, history compels us to speak, and act, our conscience, Republicans and Democrats alike.

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.

I’ve never been prouder

It should be exquisitely clear to all of us by now that our president will never understand.  He thinks he was elected king of America, and that we owe him fealty.  We do not.  We owe respect to the office and to the person who holds it, when that person’s actions show he or she is deserving of that respect (just ask any of the Obama haters!), but we are allowed to disagree with the opinions and positions held or expressed by that person without fear of government retribution.  In fact, as free people we have a duty and responsibility to stand up for our rights, and for what’s right.

Most people understand that the athletes who have knelt or otherwise protested during the national anthem at their games have NOT been protesting the national anthem; they have chosen a high-visibility opportunity to express their opinion on other issues, and done so with the understanding that they could suffer adverse opinion of some of their fellow citizens, which many have.  But that’s the deal: the First Amendment gives each of us the right to speak our minds, and to react and respond to the opinions of others as we choose.  The government doesn’t have to like what we say, but it cannot take action to stop us from speaking our piece.

Most people understand this…not all.

So, from this…fertilizer…spread by the president this weekend–

…arose these blooms, among many:

https://twitter.com/Robert_K_Kraft/status/911940868944343040

Thank you, my fellow Americans, for speaking up.

What you can do for your country

Let’s please just get this over with.

The good news is that a ton of people have already voted: here in Texas it’s reported 30% of the 15 million registered voters have already cast their ballots; there are an estimated 4000 people in line in Cincinnati right now waiting to vote.  When you add in all the people planning to vote on Tuesday (including me) we could be looking at a(n) historic voter turnout, and while I think that’s good in a general sense—more of us should take our responsibility as citizens more seriously—it also would lessen the chances that Donald Trump will win…and there’s nothing that could be better than Trump not becoming president.

That is not to say that I’m looking forward to four years of Hillary Clinton as president; the truth is, I can’t believe she even won the nomination.  In mid-2015 when candidates were starting to be serious about the primaries, I felt confident that the Democrats wouldn’t be so blindered to reality as to nominate Clinton.  To a large segment of the country she is the personification of all things evil; I don’t share their irrational hatred of her, but surely, I thought, the Democrats wouldn’t handicap their attempt to maintain control of the presidency by choosing a candidate who had no chance at all of winning support among Republicans.  After two terms from Obama, Democrats would pick another fresh face from that generation, someone without Clinton’s political baggage who could generate some excitement.

And Republicans?  Well, I didn’t (and still don’t) have much confidence in that organization.  In winning the White House in 1980 with Ronald Reagan it sold its soul to the social conservative, vaguely racist, radical Christian evangelical wing that meant to use the political system to institutionalize its religious agenda.  They have the old fiscal conservatives—the old Bush types, the Rockefeller Republicans—so whipped into submission that there was no reason for me to suspect they’d pick someone I’d like, but they might choose someone I could support.  I’ll repeat what I’ve said many times: though I disagree with their goals I recognize and applaud the radical conservatives for working the system as it’s designed.

I did not think both parties would select such polarizing candidates.  If the Republicans had picked a more mainstream candidate than Trump, I don’t doubt that that person would beat Clinton handily, and if the Democrats had selected anyone other than the historically unpopular candidate that they did that person would probably be pounding Trump in the dust.  Now we’re left to pick from between two really bad options.  Yes, there are third party and independent candidates on the ballot, and a protest vote for one of them was feeling like the right way to go…until you consider just how ungodly awful Trump really is, and think about the kind of damage he could do to our country if we gave him the keys.

That’s always the bottom line in a presidential race.  But never before in my experience (my first vote for president was 1976) has one of the choices been so irresponsible and frightening.  I sympathize with people who are fed up with the state of our politics, and the glaring inability of our representatives to do their jobs, and who want to throw all the bastards out and start over.  But this isn’t the way.  This option is too dangerous to the future of our country.

If you haven’t done so, please take a few minutes to read David Frum’s essay in The Atlantic in which he thoughtfully explains why he chose to vote for Clinton, and think about what you can do for your country.

Those attempting to rally reluctant Republicans to Trump seldom waste words on the affirmative case for the blowhard businessman. What is there to say in favor of a candidate who would lie even about his (non) support for a charity for children with AIDS?

Instead, the case for Trump swiftly shifts to a fervid case against Hillary Clinton.

(snip)

Demonology aside, most conservatives and Republicans—and yes, many non-conservatives and non-Republicans—will recognize many of the factual predicates of the critiques of Hillary Clinton’s methods and character. The Clintons sold access to a present secretary of state and a potential future president in pursuit of personal wealth. Hillary Clinton does indeed seem a suspicious and vindictive personality. For sure, a President Clinton will want to spend and regulate even more than the Obama administration has done.

Like Henny Youngman, however, the voter must always ask: compared to what?

One of only two people on earth will win the American presidency on November 8. Hillary Clinton is one of those two possibilities. Donald Trump is the only other.

Yes, I fear Clinton’s grudge-holding. Should I fear it so much that I rally to a candidate who has already explicitly promised to deploy antitrust and libel law against his critics and opponents? Who incited violence at his rallies? Who ejects reporters from his events if he objects to their coverage? Who told a huge audience in Australia that his top life advice was: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it”? Who idealizes Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein, and the butchers of Tiananmen as strong leaders to be admired and emulated?

(snip)

To vote for Trump as a protest against Clinton’s faults would be like amputating a leg because of a sliver in the toe; cutting one’s throat to lower one’s blood pressure.

I more or less agree with Trump on his signature issue, immigration. Two years ago, I would have rated immigration as one of the very most important issues in this election. But that was before Trump expanded the debate to include such questions as: “Should America honor its NATO commitments?” “Are American elections real or fake?” “Is it OK for a president to use the office to promote his family business?” “Are handicapped people comical?”  

(snip)

We don’t have to analogize Donald Trump to any of the lurid tyrants of world history to recognize in him the most anti-constitutional personality ever to gain a major-party nomination for the U.S. presidency. I cannot predict whether Trump would succeed in elevating himself “on the ruins of public liberty.” The outcome would greatly depend on the resolve, integrity, and courage of other leaders and other institutions, especially the Republican leaders in Congress. To date, their record has not been reassuring, but who knows: Maybe they would discover more courage and independence after they bestowed the awesome powers of the presidency than they did while Trump was merely a party nominee. Or maybe not.

(snip)

The lesson Trump has taught is not only that certain Republican dogmas have passed out of date, but that American democracy itself is much more vulnerable than anyone would have believed only 24 months ago. Incredibly, a country that—through wars and depression—so magnificently resisted the authoritarian temptations of the mid-20th century has half-yielded to a more farcical version of that same threat without any of the same excuse. The hungry and houseless Americans of the Great Depression sustained a constitutional republic. How shameful that the Americans of today—so vastly better off in so many ways, despite their undoubted problems—have done so much less well.

I have no illusions about Hillary Clinton. I expect policies that will seem to me at best counter-productive, at worst actively harmful. America needs more private-market competition in healthcare, not less; lighter regulation of enterprise, not heavier; reduced immigration, not expanded; lower taxes, not higher. On almost every domestic issue, I stand on one side; she stands on the other. I do not imagine that she will meet me, or those who think like me, anywhere within a country mile of half-way.

But she is a patriot. She will uphold the sovereignty and independence of the United States. She will defend allies. She will execute the laws with reasonable impartiality. She may bend some rules for her own and her supporters’ advantage. She will not outright defy legality altogether. Above all, she can govern herself; the first indispensable qualification for governing others.

So I will vote for the candidate who rejects my preferences and offends my opinions. (In fact, I already have voted for her.) Previous generations accepted infinitely heavier sacrifices and more dangerous duties to defend democracy. I’ll miss the tax cut I’d get from united Republican government. But there will be other elections, other chances to vote for what I regard as more sensible policies. My party will recover to counter her agenda in Congress, moderate her nominations to the courts, and defeat her bid for re-election in 2020. I look forward to supporting Republican recovery and renewal.

(snip)

I am voting to defend Americans’ profoundest shared commitment: a commitment to norms and rules that today protect my rights under a president I don’t favor, and that will tomorrow do the same service for you.

Vote the wrong way in November, and those norms and rules will shudder and shake in a way unequaled since the Union won the Civil War.

I appreciate that Donald Trump is too slovenly and incompetent to qualify as a true dictator. This country is not so broken as to allow a President Trump to arrest opponents or silence the media. Trump is a man without political ideas. Trump’s main interest has been and will continue to be self-enrichment by any means, no matter how crooked. His next interest after that is never to be criticized by anybody for any reason, no matter how justified—maybe most especially when justified. Yet Trump does not need to achieve a dictatorship to subvert democracy. This is the age of “illiberal democracy,” as Fareed Zakaria calls it, and across the world we’ve seen formally elected leaders corrode democratic systems from within. Surely the American system of government is more robust than the Turkish or Hungarian or Polish or Malaysian or Italian systems. But that is not automatically true. It is true because of the active vigilance of freedom-loving citizens who put country first, party second. Not in many decades has that vigilance been required as it is required now.

Your hand may hesitate to put a mark beside the name, Hillary Clinton. You’re not doing it for her. The vote you cast is for the republic and the Constitution.

When setting a price cheapens the product

The recent news that the Pentagon has been paying professional sports teams to honor current service members and military veterans was dismaying and surprising to me.  I’ve become numb to the annoying level of enforced patriotism in America in the past ten years or so, chalking it up to the thoroughly American trait of overdoing pretty much anything that becomes popular.  But I hadn’t considered that our government was paying hard money to try to keep the swell of pride in the military from subsiding.

Frankly, I’ve felt sorry for the men and women who were trotted out to the field to accept the accolades, because I felt they were being exploited by the local teams.  Turns out, they were being exploited by their government, too.  Now, Tom the Dancing Bug makes it clear that I should not have been surprised at all:

td151113

Thanks to Tom the Dancing Bug and GoComics.com