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.

How do you like America?

Three weeks in; time to take a breath and assess the new administration in Washington, D.C.

Donald Trump asked Americans to trust him to do what’s right for America; 46% of those who bothered to vote (roughly 27% of Americans who were eligible to vote) took him up on his offer, and that was enough to give him the ticket to the Oval Office.  But so far he’s made it plain that he doesn’t respect this country and what it stands for; the only thing he’s interested in is what financially benefits Donald Trump.  This is a partial list of some of the fun so far, just off the top of my pointy head:

  • the new president tries to make good on a campaign promise to keep Muslims from coming into the country, stabbing at the heart of the great American belief in freedom of religion while playing on the irrational fears of many of the people who elected him…
  • and after losing in court, for a second time, his retort is—of course—see you in court
  • he succeeded in placing a racist in charge of enforcing civil rights laws…
  • an effort highlighted by the Senate voting to silence one of its members when she tried to image001read into the record a letter that’s already a public document…
  • before then allowing at least two other members to go unsanctioned for reading that same document into the record
  • a top administration official glibly violates the law but gets just a rap on the knuckles…
  • although that shouldn’t be a surprise since the president is happily making a mockery of government ethics by retaining his business interests and turning a profit…
  • while the First Lady goes to court seeking damages for not being able to monetize her new position
  • the president is still massaging his insatiable ego by repeating the unfounded allegation of a voter fraud that, if true, is so massive as to be unbelievable…
  • and making a promise to have his government investigate said claim, a promise that lays dormant (to put in charitably)
  • he made good on a promise to nominate a Supreme Court justice from his pre-election list of approved candidates…
  • and then by not keeping his Twitter thumb quiet and insulting a judge who had the temerity to disagree with him, Trump forced his high court nominee to blandly chastise his benefactor

Jack Shafer thinks the president of the United States is a child throwing a temper tantrum because he doesn’t get everything he wants; Josh Marshall offers a short list of reminders to help us figure out motivations in the Oval Office; Bill Moyers tries to look past the policies and realize that the chaos which Trump (and President Steve Bannon) are creating is an intentional part of a plan, and Eliot Cohen argues that Trump is behaving exactly as many people (many people) predicted.

Any good news?  Yes, there is:

  • the judicial system is proving it is not afraid of the new president (unlike damn near every Republican in the House and Senate) and is living up to its responsibility of interpreting the law and acting as a check on the executive (and legislative) branches…
  • if new subscription rates are any indication, Americans are being reminded of the value of a free press serving as watchdog and are making their individual contributions to support the effort…
  • we have even been able to take a little joy from watching the president’s childish reaction to being criticized.  0qBLuKbpAny president, or anyone who’s ever performed public service at any level, would know to expect disagreement, but this president has apparently lived in a bubble where people do not criticize him, and he doesn’t get it that the world at large doesn’t accept his every utterance as gospel just because he said it.  He has no sense of humor about himself, it seems, takes the unimportant stuff way too seriously, and can’t seem to stop himself from feebly trying to parry each thrust from outside the bubble—thank you, Twitter.  I giggled when I read that Trump took it out on press secretary Sean Spicer because a woman comedian satirized his briefings on “Saturday Night Live,” so I’m eager to see out how he reacts if it should come to pass that his long-time nemesis Rosie O’Donnell gets a chance to take the role of President Bannon.

What’d I miss?  Oh yeah: a New York congressman has “filed a ‘resolution of inquiry’ that amounts to the first legislative step toward impeachment.”  And there’s much more.  As Crash Davis said to his coach when the coach came to the mound during a game to inquire as to the cause of the delay, “We’re dealing with a lot of shit.”  And as my dad would say from time to time, to reinforce that you really didn’t think about what you were doing or saying just then, “How do you like America?”

Dear Ted Cruz,

I was going to write you a short note to congratulate you (I guess) for becoming the first officially-announced candidate for president…in a primary season whose first election is still more than a year away, for a general election even more distant than that.  But we both know that I wouldn’t have been sincere, so I didn’t do it.  I know how you hate the phoniness that’s unfortunately so typical of politics, and God knows I don’t want to add to it.

I think I understand why you announced when you did—to try to get commitments from big money donors before they sign up with Jeb, and to capitalize on any remaining Tea Party fervor that hasn’t just naturally bubbled off since November.  I take it you feel that was worth the chance, even if it flies in the face of the fact that in recent times the first person to announce does not end up winning.  And I guess I understand why you announced where you did—forsaking stages in both the nation’s capital as well as your state’s capital, and even your hometown here in Houston, you chose a setting deep in the heart of the Christian extremist movement to say loud and clear, I am here to be the president of Born Again America and the rest of you better watch your step.

What the hell, it’s your campaign…do it however you want.  I will note that while you have the advantage of at least being an alternative to another Clinton, or yet another Bush—a not insubstantial advantage, to my mind—you are also following in the footsteps of Barack Obama by aiming for the top after having barely dipped your toe in an elective office.  Your hubris is showing, buddy, and I imagine they had something to say about that back at Faith West Academy and Second Baptist.

Can you win?  There is so much time before anyone casts the first vote that actually means something, and so many unknowns that could go one way or another during that time—and that’s both the known unknowns as well as the unknown ones—it’s impossible to say.  So sure, I guess you could win…and I could finally break 80 on the golf course.  I can get you the names of some folks who can help quantify that possibility for you, if you’re interested.

So as you set off on this adventure, no doubt intensely secure in your belief in yourself, I’d suggest looking out for this one way that you might be able to expand your appeal: try to be less of an asshole.  It couldn’t hurt.

1+1=2, water is wet, and default is bad

Some good news for those in the reality-based community following the debt ceiling discussions in Washington: House Republican leaders are getting their head-in-the-sand brethren prepared to do the responsible thing and vote for a debt ceiling increase.  Amid reports of continuing private negotiating sessions—which, frankly, is how the negotiating should be done—Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan explained to the Republican conference the realities of what would happen if the U.S. government were to default on its loan payments, and it appears to have worked with some of them:

“He said if we pass Aug. 2, it would be like ‘Star Wars,'” said Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a freshman from Tennessee. “I don’t think the people who are railing against raising the debt ceiling fully understand that.”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not wanting to raise the debt ceiling, with wishing it weren’t necessary; but there’s everything wrong with refusing to do it, with denying the overwhelming evidence that it will lead to serious economic problems for most of the country, because you’re trying to prove the validity of a discredited economic theory.  Extremists have co-opted the once-proud name of “Republican Party” to pursue their radical ends with some cover of respectability, and every one of us who didn’t do enough to shine the light of reason on their goals and tactics must take part of the blame for their current power.

Paul Krugman put some perspective on this in a column this week:

A number of commentators seem shocked at how unreasonable Republicans are being. “Has the G.O.P. gone insane?” they ask.

Why, yes, it has. But this isn’t something that just happened, it’s the culmination of a process that has been going on for decades.

(snip)

As The Times’s Nate Silver points out, the president has offered deals that are far to the right of what the average American voter prefers — in fact, if anything, they’re a bit to the right of what the average Republican voter prefers!

Yet Republicans are saying no. Indeed, they’re threatening to force a U.S. default, and create an economic crisis, unless they get a completely one-sided deal. And this was entirely predictable.

(snip)

Supply-side voodoo — which claims that tax cuts pay for themselves and/or that any rise in taxes would lead to economic collapse — has been a powerful force within the G.O.P. ever since Ronald Reagan embraced the concept of the Laffer curve. But the voodoo used to be contained. Reagan himself enacted significant tax increases, offsetting to a considerable extent his initial cuts.

(snip)

Recently, however, all restraint has vanished — indeed, it has been driven out of the party. Last year Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, asserted that the Bush tax cuts actually increased revenue — a claim completely at odds with the evidence — and also declared that this was “the view of virtually every Republican on that subject.”

(snip)

…those within the G.O.P. who had misgivings about the embrace of tax-cut fanaticism might have made a stronger stand if there had been any indication that such fanaticism came with a price, if outsiders had been willing to condemn those who took irresponsible positions.

(snip)

…there has been no pressure on the G.O.P. to show any kind of responsibility, or even rationality — and sure enough, it has gone off the deep end. If you’re surprised, that means that you were part of the problem.

I hope the report of House leadership having a “come to Jesus” meeting with the GOP conference is a sign that there is still some responsibility and rationality there that can be accessed to do what’s right for everyone.