Confoundmentalizing

So I’m sitting here on a rainy afternoon, dealing with some back soreness that would have made playing golf problematical anyway, and instead I’m working on a blog post.  And I’m hashing through ideas trying to develop the topic, which is always a thing, when I find that our president and his band of accomplices and enablers are doing the hard work for me right now.  Thank you, Mr. President.

In case you missed the early chapters here, last night Attorney General Bill Barr issued a statement announcing that the U.S. Attorney in New York City, Geoffrey Berman, was stepping down and the president had nominated the current chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission to be the new U.S. Attorney.  (Well, it wouldn’t be the first time Donald Trump has fired the man in charge of the Southern District of New York.)

BUT, Berman takes issue: “I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning:”

And Twitter is aglow about (1) what seems to be a poorly-executed Friday Night Massacre by the Administration, five months before the election, of the prosecutor leading the office investigating multiple cases against Trump, his associates, and his businesses, AND (2) that Barr’s letter is lying when it says Berman resigned.

I learned from reading about this today that Berman was appointed to the job in an acting capacity by the federal judges in New York, after Trump fired the Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney (who refused the standard request to submit his resignation) but never nominated anyone to be confirmed by the Senate.  And, that Berman is/was a Trump supporter.

This afternoon, Barr issues a letter to Berman expressing surprise that Berman was saying he wasn’t going anywhere, and taking the tough stand that “I have asked the President to remove you as of today, and he has done so.”  Really?   Because it turns out, Trump doesn’t think he has done that at all.  He says this is all on Barr:

This, given the most favorable spin I can think to put on it, is evidence of a complete lack of professional competence by the attorney general.  Without offering any explanation at all of why he would try to remove the federal prosecutor in New York.  To not try to spin it, it sure as hell looks like the White House is trying to cover Trump’s ass.  Again.  Which takes me back to where I was when I started this, and that is to think through why it is that people who support Donald Trump do not/will not acknowledge the evidence of their own senses of what he is doing.

I started out writing “people who are conservative” but that’s not right. “Being conservative” is not the problem; being conservative is not a problem at all.  Fact is, there are plenty of conservative people who have been very vocal about the problems they see with this president, and declared their intention to work against his re-election.  Take a look at Republican Voters Against Trump on Twitter for example, where they’re lining up a series of short videos by long-time Republican voters who explain, calmly and logically, why they believe Trump should not be re-elected…and for many, why they think the current Republican leadership should be routed, too.

This is not about conservatism, nor I think is it about any political philosophy, unless Know-Nothingness is still a thing.  This is about people who are unwilling to be honest with themselves about what’s going on right in front of them.  And when the things going on are tearing down the institutions of American democracy, that’s a problem.

The problem is not what Donald Trump believes in.  I am persuaded that he doesn’t have any deep and abiding beliefs or philosophy other than that making money, for himself, is the only worthy goal of life.  Period.  Running for president in 2016 was a publicity stunt to raise his profile and open up money-making opportunities; he didn’t believe he would win.  Since then, his actions have been intended to (1) maximize his profitability and (2) placate the voters who supported him, as a means of shoring up (1).

The problem is not that too many Americans support Trump or his policies.  Remember, although he legitimately won the election he did not get the majority of the votes that were cast.  In fact, the Census Bureau reports “In 2016, 61.4 percent of the citizen voting-age population reported voting” and we know Trump won 46 percent of that 61.4 percent total, which means he won the election with the support of (roughly) just 28 percent of Americans who were old enough to vote!

The thing that annoys me so much is to see what Trump does, and then see the people who don’t get it or who don’t care about it.  Today, Trump and his attorney general couldn’t get their story straight as they tried to fire a federal prosecutor who is investigating Trump businesses and Trump associates (a bad look all around), but it won’t make a damn bit of difference to the MAGA crowd.  Not-a-doctor Trump suggests people inject themselves with cleaning products to fight a deadly virus, or take a drug that the medical experts say has no value in this case, while he is adamant about setting a bad example in not wearing a mask, and there are plenty of Trump supporters who decide to see that as a courageous stand against government overreach into our daily lives.

Nothing bad that happens is ever his fault, despite being the guy who asked for the job that carries the ultimate responsibility when it comes to actions by our government.  It’s one childish excuse after another.  You wouldn’t stand for this whining from your children; why do you accept it from your president?

OK, a couple more, just for fun:

Teleholiday Journal: Eyes on the prize

More American deaths than were suffered in the Vietnam War—less than a month ago, that was the comparison meant to shock us into the reality of the depth and breadth of the COVID-19 pandemic.  But it didn’t.  It was too little too late: for the tens and tens of thousands of the sick and the dead, and the millions and millions of Americans who got the message when they lost their jobs, because a significant portion of American businesses had to shut their doors as part of the effort to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the disease.  Since this started, U.S. unemployment has moved from a level that was arguably full employment across the country to now 14.7% actively looking for work—”Employment fell sharply in all major industry sectors, with particularly heavy job losses in leisure and hospitality”—just in a matter of two months!

Today, the day we honor the more than one million of our fellow Americans who lost their lives in military service in the defense of our country, we are told we are days from seeing the COVID-19 death toll in our country pass 100,000.   Worst death toll in the world; also the most total cases in the world, with new ones still added every day.

Americans are not particularly known for being overly patient.  It’s kind of part of the ethos that when we want something, we go get it.  Or make it.  Sometimes we take it.  But we don’t like being told we can’t do something we want to do.  Our initial cooperation with directions from federal, state and local area governments to stay home and keep our distance from one another, as our best defense to fight a virus for which we had no medical weapon, had a positive impact, lessening the out of control spread of the virus.  It also caused the economic crisis.  And we are tired of that.  Understandably so.

America, and Americans, have a well-deserved reputation, for generations now, for generosity toward others in the face of natural disaster or economic crisis.  The orders to stay home, and to shut down businesses, were a call to us all to help us all: if we can keep from spreading the virus, it will die out when it has no one new to infect.  The urge to put an end to the hardships of social distancing and self-isolation, and to the self-inflicted damage to shuttered businesses and their laid-off employees, is a strong and an understandable one.

How then do we reconcile the apparent contradiction between the recognized generosity and civic-mindedness of the American people, faced with the sacrifice needed to defeat this generational challenge to our society, and the blindered selfishness of those few who are demonstrating against the restrictions because…because what, actually?  Because they are tired of it?  Because they don’t want to be told what to do?  Because they have long guns and Confederate flags laying around, and a desire to intimidate others that is going unfulfilled?

Or maybe it’s because they’ve fallen for a subversive attack:

Carnegie Mellon University researchers analyzed over 200 million tweets discussing COVID-19 and related issues since January and found that roughly half the accounts — including 62% of the 1,000 most influential retweeters — appeared to be bots, they said in a report published this week.

That’s a far higher level of bot activity than usual, even when it comes to contentious events — the level of bot involvement in discussions about things like US elections or natural disasters is typically 10% to 20%.

The researchers identified bots using artificial-intelligence systems that analyze accounts’ frequency of tweets, number of followers, and apparent location.

There is an interesting paradox about many of these demonstrators that is also found among others of the conservative right these days, including President Trump.  Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo put this way:

From time to time when hearing a new complaint from the president, it has occurred to me to wonder, why is he bitching about unfair treatment again?  Has he lived his life to this point in a world where he has received, and has dispensed, only fair treatment?  In any case, there has always been what seems to me to be an inordinate amount of whining coming from Trumpworld, totally at odds with it being the source of so much winning that we can’t stand it.

Yesterday Trump tweeted that the number of new cases of the disease and the number of deaths are all down; in all fairness, not so much:

While total new cases nationally have begun declining, hospitalizations outside New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have increased slightly in recent days, as Mr. Trump’s own former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, pointed out.

Altogether, cases are falling in 14 states and Washington, D.C., but holding steady in 28 states and Guam while rising in eight states plus Puerto Rico, according to a New York Times database. The American Public Health Association said the 100,000 milestone was a time to reinforce efforts to curb the virus, not abandon them.

“This is both a tragedy and a call to action,” it said in a statement. “Infection rates are slowing overall in the U.S., but with 1.6 million cases across the nation in the past four months, the outbreak is far from over. New hot spots are showing up daily, and rates remain steady in at least 25 states.”

And even that grim total barely begins to scratch the surface of the pain and suffering endured by a country under siege by the worst public health crisis combined with the worst economic crisis in decades.

I know that in some ways this crisis feels like it’s over, or at least has turned the corner.  That probably is due at least in part to seeing restaurants and bars begin to re-open in states where governors are saying enough is enough, let’s get back to business.  I think that feeling comes mostly from us wanting it to be true.  But it’s not true, and it’s up to us to do our part.  All of us.

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…

“Biggest con job since the Trojan horse”

The phrase jumped off the obituary page in Houston’s Leading Information Source last June: Elene Davis passed away from “…complications due to congestive heart failure and the 2016 Presidential campaign.”  Imagine if she’d seen what’s gone on in the past week!

Late last month I saved the link to this Garrison Keillor column punching again at Donald Trump, noting that “a panhandler in Times Square sat holding a sign reading, ‘Give me a dollar or I’ll vote for Trump,’ and people laughed and reached into their pockets.”

His bucket overflowed. He stuffed the bills into his jacket, and other panhandlers looked at him with admiration. The man could’ve sold franchises and retired to Palm Beach.  The panhandler knows what every New Yorker knows, which is that the biggest con job since the Trojan horse is taking place in our midst. Millions of Americans are planning to cast their votes for a man who has lived his life contrary to all of their most cherished values. They are respectful, honest, generous, loyal, modest, church-going people with no Mafia connections and good credit records who try not to spout off about things they know nothing about.

The same week USA Today did something it had never done in its thirty-four years of publication: it took sides in a presidential race:

This year, the choice isn’t between two capable major party nominees who happen to have significant ideological differences. This year, one of the candidates — Republican nominee Donald Trump — is, by unanimous consensus of the Editorial Board, unfit for the presidency.

From the day he declared his candidacy 15 months ago through this week’s first presidential debate, Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he lacks the temperament, knowledge, steadiness and honesty that America needs from its presidents.

Then it went on to spell out the record, that Trump is erratic, ill-equipped to be commander in chief, traffics in prejudice, has a checkered business career, and more.  The Atlantic quadrupled-down when it comes to historical precedent, making only its third endorsement since 1860 and the first since recommending Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater:

Today, our position is similar to the one in which The Atlantic’s editors found themselves in 1964. We are impressed by many of the qualities of the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, even as we are exasperated by others, but we are mainly concerned with the Republican Party’s nominee, Donald J. Trump, who might be the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency.

(snip)

Hillary Rodham Clinton has more than earned, through her service to the country as first lady, as a senator from New York, and as secretary of state, the right to be taken seriously as a White House contender. She has flaws (some legitimately troubling, some exaggerated by her opponents), but she is among the most prepared candidates ever to seek the presidency. We are confident that she understands the role of the United States in the world; we have no doubt that she will apply herself assiduously to the problems confronting this country; and she has demonstrated an aptitude for analysis and hard work.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has no record of public service and no qualifications for public office. His affect is that of an infomercial huckster; he traffics in conspiracy theories and racist invective; he is appallingly sexist; he is erratic, secretive, and xenophobic; he expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself. He is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America’s nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read.

This week the Republican Party’s nominee added something new and bizarre when he repeated to CNN his belief that the Central Park 5 are guilty of a famous 1989 rape and beating of a jogger in Central Park.  That is, he claims that the five men (who were teenagers in 1989) originally convicted of the crime but “exonerated in 2002 when an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney found DNA evidence linking the vicious crime to a previously convicted rapist. That man admitted to acting alone in the crime” are, nevertheless, the guilty parties.  DNA evidence to the contrary, and the confession of the actual guilty party notwithstanding, Trump today insists those five men are guilty of the crime.  It’s one thing to have taken a stand on an issue and then have time and the facts ultimately prove you to be wrong; it happens.  But Trump is incapable of acknowledging the facts laid out for everyone to see, and rather than admit a thoroughly human error–or even, God forbid, just shut his damn mouth–he repeats his error.

Dumb ol’ me, here I am thinking that should be enough to shock some more Trump supporters into realizing just what a moron he is…but then the issue completely disappears when the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold publishes the Access Hollywood videotape that has dozens of high-ranking Republicans elbowing each other out of the way to jump off the Trumptanic.  (Fahrenthold is the reporter who’s dug into the Trump Foundation and found it to be far less than the charitable organ that’s advertised.)  I won’t pretend to be horrified by Trump’s comments, which on their face do resemble an admission of numerous instances of sexual assault (if you assume he was telling the truth and not just “bragging”), since they reinforce my previously-held belief that he’s a genuine creep, as well as an ignorant narcissistic megalomaniac with the attention span of a three year old.

Question for those now changing their minds on Trump: why now?  Does this incident just seem to be a good excuse that also allows you to pander to the puritanical element of your constituency?  It seems like you’ve passed up plenty of chances to do the right thing…

The Deseret News, among others, is now calling on Trump to drop out; I hope he keeps his promise not to withdraw from the race because I think he’s now on an irreversible slide to a yuuuge loss and I want the Republican Party and the crazy right-wing element that nominated this yutz to feel the pain of what they’ve done while they consider their future…yesterday Craig Mazin storified a Tweetstorm that pretty well sums up the path forward for the GOP.

I’d also like to see NBC News pay for its role.  Producers for Access Hollywood, which is a corporate relation of NBC, brought the tape to the network last Monday and they sent it to their lawyers; while a legal review was prudent, withholding permission to publish out of fear that Trump would sue is plain old cowardice: in real journalism, being sued by powerful people over a big story is sometimes just part of the deal.  So far Trump has apologized and he’s started to accuse others of being bad guys, but he hasn’t threatened to sue anyone.  It appears that someone in NBC who was frustrated at the delays leaked the tape to the Washington Post, leaving NBC to be scooped on its own story.

Now, let’s see how Trump handles the town hall-style debate this evening when, hopefully, the nice people at Washington University will insist on straight answers rather than a string of sentence fragments out of the Republican nominee.  I predict that without a fawning audience to buoy him, the real, ugly Donald Trump is likely to be on full display.