It’s been a hell of a year

If you want to try to narrow down the chaos that is Trump’s America,  try for a moment to put aside the things the president has done, and those you fear he might do, which you feel threaten the security of our country, or maybe even the safety of the entire world (there are some things!), and just focus on corruption.  There’s too much, right?  Well, not if you’re CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.  Earlier this month it published its cumulative list of actions that it considers to be personal conflicts of interest for President Trump…things he has done to financially benefit himself and his family, things that no previous president has ever done (at least not so blatantly and openly).

CREW researchers spent a year tracking every known interaction between the Trump administration and the Trump Organization in a daily timeline. Here’s what they found:

  • President Trump spent a full third of his first year in office—122 days—visiting his commercial properties.

  • Seventy executive branch officials, more than 30 members of Congress and more than a dozen state officials visited Trump Organization properties during the first year of the Trump administration.

  • President Trump and his White House staff promoted the Trump brand by mentioning or referring to one of the president’s private businesses on at least 35 different occasions during the president’s first year in office.

  • There have been more than 40 instances of special interest groups holding events at Trump properties since January 20, 2017.

  • At least eleven foreign governments paid Trump-owned entities during the president’s first year in office, and at least six foreign government officials have made appearances at Trump Organization properties.

  • Political groups spent more than $1.2 million at Trump properties during the president’s first year in office. Prior to President Trump’s 2016 campaign, annual spending by political committees at Trump properties had never exceeded $100,000 in any given year going back to at least 2002.

Are you OK with all of that?  I’m not.  But a thing that is in some ways even worse—although frankly I’m having trouble deciding what thing is worse than the next thing anymore—is the revelation of the heart and soul of the national Republican Party in this first year of the Trump Administration.  (Yes, it’s only been one year.)  Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin gives a stark but honest reading in the Washington Post:

The sight of conservative Republicans cheering President Trump as a great success in his first year in office tells us much about the state of conservatism and the future of the GOP. There are two components to the reverential treatment of Trump: first, praise for allegedly conservative wins, and second, a willingness to tolerate falsehoods and attacks upon democratic norms and the American creed, as though these are matters of style.

As to the first, “conservatism” these days has become (both in the eyes of liberals who think conservatism is interchangeable with “right-wing extremism” and those claiming the conservative mantle) a cartoon version of itself. A tax cut that grows the deficit and gives disproportionate benefits to the rich is a “win” and “conservative” because, because … why? Because conservatism demands that whatever the needs of the moment and whatever the politics, the first order of business is to starve the government of revenue? Tax cuts unmoored from reasonable ends (e.g. fiscal sobriety, focused help for the working and middle class) are not “conservative”; deficits and widening of income inequality should not be cause for celebration.

Likewise, denying climate change or calling all regulatory repeal “conservative” (is it conservative to allow restaurants to take away employees’ tips?) doesn’t strike us as evidence of truth-based, modest government. In sum, much of the cheering for “conservative” ends skips over the details, disregards the substance and ignores context — none of which are indices of conservative thought. It is not conservative to favor reversing everything President Barack Obama did without regard to changed circumstances or alternatives. That doesn’t make Obama’s political legacy wonderful; it makes those advocating blind destruction without reasoned alternatives anything but conservative.

(snip)

The “shithole” episode vividly illustrates this. The sentiment underlying Trump’s attack on African immigrants entails a repudiation of the “all men are created equal” creed, a disregard of facts (e.g., education levels of African immigrants) and a rejection of economic reality verging on illiteracy. (We do need skilled and unskilled workers, we do not have a finite number of jobs, etc.) Put on top of that the willingness to prevaricate (Well, if we say it was “shithouse” and not “shithole,” we can say Sen. Dick Durbin was lying!) and you have an assault on principles that are the foundation for our democracy and for conservatism (or what it used to be). It’s not a minor episode. It’s in many ways a defining episode, not only for Trump but, worse, for his defenders.

OK, just one more today.  As bad as I feel this has been, I am persuaded by Leonard Pitts, Jr., in a column entitled “Trump’s definitely not the brains of the operation—and that’s a good thing” that it could be worse:

But what if Trump were smart?

More to the point, what if there arose some future demagogue who combined Trump’s new media savvy with a toxic ideology? It’s not far-fetched to wonder if Trump is not simply writing that individual’s playbook, showing her or him how easily a stable democracy can be subverted.

So even as we grapple with the daily outrages of this presidency, it would be smart to begin inoculating future generations against one that could be worse. Now, then, would be an excellent time to push even harder for Internet giants like Facebook and Twitter to find better ways of purging their platforms of false news and hate.

Now would also be an excellent time for schools to beef up their teaching of philosophy, history, civics, social studies. Teach those things as a means of helping people to think critically, value truth and internalize the ideals that are supposed to make America America.

All I can hear in my head right now is Whitney Houston: 

I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way

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This is not the president you’re looking for

I get tired of feeling like I have to write about Donald Trump, and about what he has done and is doing to our country and our society.  I get tired of reading about the topic, too: it’s unhappy, repetitive, disillusioning news for anyone who believes in the American ideals of justice and tolerance and fair treatment and service to others.

The thing is, we can’t stop reading and writing about it because it’s too important.  None of us should just let what Trump and the Trumpettes are doing become background noise, or just blindly trust that someone somewhere will take care of it all eventually and things can go back to the way they were.  (First of all, things the way they were weren’t all that grand, but still…)  The least we can do is keep reminding ourselves and others of what is really happening—to recognize reality, to see the truth—and remind ourselves and others that things are not supposed to be like this.  We have to stand up for ourselves, and for our country.

David Brooks of the New York Times did a good job of that last week, sadly reminding the Republican Party and those who claim loyalty to its beliefs that they’ve betrayed their own ideals and are letting their party rot away.  He told Republicans who believed “…You didn’t have to tie yourself hip to hip with Donald Trump…You could sort of float along in the middle, and keep your head down until this whole Trump thing passed…it’s clear that middle ground doesn’t exist.”

First, [Trump] asked the party to swallow the idea of a narcissistic sexual harasser and a routine liar as its party leader. Then he asked the party to accept his comprehensive ignorance and his politics of racial division. Now he asks the party to give up its reputation for fiscal conservatism. At the same time he asks the party to become the party of Roy Moore, the party of bigotry, alleged sexual harassment and child assault.

There is no end to what Trump will ask of his party. He is defined by shamelessness, and so there is no bottom. And apparently there is no end to what regular Republicans are willing to give him. Trump may soon ask them to accept his firing of Robert Mueller, and yes, after some sighing, they will accept that, too.

That’s the way these corrupt bargains always work. You think you’re only giving your tormentor a little piece of yourself, but he keeps asking and asking, and before long he owns your entire soul.

The Republican Party is doing harm to every cause it purports to serve. If Republicans accept Roy Moore as a United States senator, they may, for a couple years, have one more vote for a justice or a tax cut, but they will have made their party loathsome for an entire generation. The pro-life cause will be forever associated with moral hypocrisy on an epic scale. The word “evangelical” is already being discredited for an entire generation. Young people and people of color look at the Trump-Moore G.O.P. and they are repulsed, maybe forever.

You don’t help your cause by wrapping your arms around an alleged sexual predator and a patriarchic bigot. You don’t help your cause by putting the pursuit of power above character, by worshiping at the feet of some loutish man or another, by claiming the ends justify any means. You don’t successfully rationalize your own tawdriness by claiming your opponents are satanic. You don’t save Christianity by betraying its message.

(snip)

The Republican Party I grew up with admired excellence. It admired intellectual excellence (Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley), moral excellence (John Paul II, Natan Sharansky) and excellent leaders (James Baker, Jeane Kirkpatrick). Populism abandoned all that — and had to by its very nature. Excellence is hierarchical. Excellence requires work, time, experience and talent. Populism doesn’t believe in hierarchy. Populism doesn’t demand the effort required to understand the best that has been thought and said. Populism celebrates the quick slogan, the impulsive slash, the easy ignorant assertion. Populism is blind to mastery and embraces mediocrity.

(snip)

[Unlike the tax cuts of 30 to 40 years ago] Today’s tax cuts have no bipartisan support. They have no intellectual grounding, no body of supporting evidence. They do not respond to the central crisis of our time. They have no vision of the common good, except that Republican donors should get more money and Democratic donors should have less.

The rot afflicting the G.O.P. is comprehensive — moral, intellectual, political and reputational. More and more former Republicans wake up every day and realize: “I’m homeless. I’m politically homeless.”

We don’t have to end up that way; we don’t have to let it happen.  Start with this Jedi-mind-trick chant: this is not the president you’re looking for…

Seatbacks in the upright and locked position, please; we’re about to encounter some (more) turbulence

If you were thinking that someday the chickens of justice would come home to roust, probably in that thing on the top of Donald Trump’s head, then today could be the day they start.  Very excited at the news of the first indictments in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation and of charges against three people, including a guilty plea that ties the Trump presidential campaign to Russian attempts to influence the election.  En garde!

One-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime business partner Rick Gates are named in indictments alleging felony conspiracy, but the indictments make no reference to the presidential campaign nor any reference to coordination between the campaign and Russia.  Up front, let’s remember that an indictment is not proof of a crime, and that Manafort and Gates both pleaded not guilty to the charges today.  But let’s remember as well that an experienced and skilled investigator and prosecutor like Mueller doesn’t go the grand jury with charges without having a strong case.  (Yes, yes, I know about grand juries and ham sandwiches, but still.)  Also, we should have faith that this is just the first public step in a well-developed-and-researched case(s), not the last.

Why was it again that Manafort was the former campaign chairman?  Oh yeah, because he was fired from the campaign after it was learned he’d received more than $12 million in payments from a former president of Ukraine, a pro-Russia politician whom he had worked with for years, that he had failed to disclose.  And for what has he been indicted?  Conspiracy against the United States of America, conspiracy to launder money, and more.

I believe in giving credit where it’s due, especially in areas where it rarely ever is: the president was accurate when he tweeted this morning that the indictments of Manafort and Gates make no reference to the Trump campaign, nor do they allege wrongdoing in relation to the campaign.  Now, on the other hand (you saw this coming), he tweets that as if it’s all that needs to be said ever again on the topic, as if that proves the ultimate innocence of Trump, and all the Trumpets, and the campaign, of all the Russia allegations, and then (of course) uses it as a springboard (again) to suggest the real investigation should be aimed at Hillary Clinton.  (Heavy sigh.)

But he offers no comment at all on the rest of the indictment news, which I think is far more important on its face: the fact that former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pled guilty earlier this month to lying to the FBI in the Mueller probe, which is the “most explicit evidence [so far] connecting the Trump campaign to the Russian government’s meddling in last year’s election.”

Short version: Papadopoulos tried repeatedly to arrange a meeting between a London-based professor and Trump campaign officials…because he was told by the professor in April of 2016 that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails, at a time long before the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign were public knowledge…and then he lied to the FBI about how valuable he considered the professor but now acknowledges he knew then that the professor had “substantial connections” to Vladimir Putin’s government.

It’s unbecoming for a graying, overweight man in his 60s who is not Santa Claus to be giddy, but I’m right on the edge of that with today’s news.  Mueller is ready to start showing his cards, and I trust that he (a) is smart enough to believe he has the goods, and (b) has all the ducks properly aligned, before he starts to deal the cards.  Charles Pierce has the same feeling: this is just the beginning, or as he puts it, the snowball has started to roll downhill:

For a while on Monday, whomever in the White House is charged with the task of hiding the presidential* telephone had done a fairly good job. The president*’s Twitter account was rigged for silent running. Republican congresscritters also were maintaining a discreet distance in the immediate aftermath of the news. (Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin popped up on Three Dolts On A Divan to say “dossier,” “Hillary,” and “uranium” a few times, but his heart didn’t seem to be in it.)

At the very least, it would seem to me, Republican congressional leaders ought to be forced to take a position as to what they would do if the president* fired Robert Mueller now that the first shoe has dropped. This should be an easy one, of course, but there is that tax bill to pass, and all that money to shove upwards to the donors, so obligations to the Constitution can wait.

This isn’t going to go like a Perry Mason murder trial, where the real killer suddenly feels remorse and rises to confess the whole thing.  Trump won’t go away easy; we can expect he’ll resist every step of the way because he still believes he’s smarter and luckier (and richer, and better looking) than everyone else.   And of course, there’s the general understanding that he will lie…about everything, as he has done, even when lying doesn’t help his cause.  He operates as if he firmly believes that everyone accepts everything he says as gospel because, well, because it’s him saying it; the fact that he is often wrong and contradicts himself is apparently irrelevant to the true believers.  Now, that was probably a good bet to be true when he lived in a universe wholly populated by people dependent on him for their financial well being.  For the rest of us, the vast majority of the world’s people who don’t have a financial relationship with Trump, it’s annoying and pathetic.  But we know it’s coming, so we’ll deal with it.

Despite the agony I imagine the president will put the country through, I admit I relish the thought of that day when we’ll get to see this guy go up in flames.  But it won’t be tomorrow…author Kevin Kruse (@KevinMKruse) tweeted a reminder earlier today that it was almost two years between the first Watergate-related indictments (of the Watergate burglars) and Richard Nixon’s resignation.  And it was close to the end of that period before the Republican Congressional leadership moved past their private disgust and went public with their opposition to the president of their own party.

There’s no encouraging reading yet on how far the Republicans who control Congress today will let this go before publicly standing up to the White House.  You’d like to think they’d already be taking a stand against a good bit of what Trump has been doing, but as Pierce noted, there are still rich Americans in desperate need of tax cuts, which means Republicans have some pipers to pay before they can stand up for America.

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.

It ain’t over till it’s over

…and it ain’t over yet.  There is encouraging news for #NeverTrump types from many polls that indicate GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump is running behind the levels of voter support enjoyed by the most recent Republican nominees, even in places that have been solidly Republican for a generation.  If the polls are to be believed, and if Trump stays true to form and shoots himself in the foot again this week or next, there seems little chance that he will win two weeks from now.  But don’t throw up your hands in victory and think it’s a done deal—you still have to vote.  The polls are telling us what people say they believe or who they plan to support, but the polls don’t predict who will actually cast ballots; if the people who want to vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton, or just want to vote against Trump, don’t actually vote, Trump could still win.  Then, we’d all lose.

Trying to do my little bit, I’ve been keeping notes on what seem to me to be the clearest examples of Trump as an unstable narcissistic buffoon who is unfit to hold office, and comments thereupon, and re-tweeting them (@patryan12) as a way to remind people that we have to be vigilant against Trump’s behavior becoming normalized.  (You can see my Twitter feed in the sidebar, just to your right and down a bit.)  That’s things like:

https://twitter.com/SopanDeb/status/788257674492162048

https://twitter.com/mckaycoppins/status/788975700480974849

It’s been hard, I’ll admit; there is so much that is so out of touch with American normality that it’s hard to stay surprised.  (Be strong, America; just two more weeks!)  On the topic of the “rigged election” that Trump is floating as a way to protect his fragile ego from having to face up to a yuuuge failure, I offer this explainer video.  It’s from the Internet, so it must be true:

Polls are now showing that my own state of Texas, which hasn’t voted for a Democrat in a statewide election since 1994, is now considered a toss-up, or in play, or closer than anyone would have thought it would be.  Point is, Trump is so bad that even this reddest of red states might vote against him, if not for Clinton.  So please: there’s no good excuse for you not to vote…and if the early voting in your area is as busy as it is in mine, there may not even be any lines at the polls on November 8.