Furlough Journal: The good, the bad, and the stupid

Surely this is happening all around the country, as we’re in the fifth week of a totally avoidable shutdown of parts of our federal government.  (Including the part that employs me.)  But I know it’s happening here in Houston, because this morning Houston’s Leading Information Source tells me it is.  Of the 800,000 or so federal employees who are out on furlough and learning to do without paychecks—because, essentially, a girl on Fox News challenged the manhood of our tiny-fingered president and that led him to renege on his commitment to sign a bill funding the government—more than 200,000 of them are in Texas and 30,000 of those in the Houston area.  It’s heartening to read about the local businesses taking action to help neighbors and customers who are strapped for cash.

There are restaurants offering free meals to federal employees; pharmacies charging discounted prices on prescriptions; banks waiving late fees or allowing customers to miss a payment with no penalty; a credit union offering interest-free loans to furloughed workers to cover their missing paychecks; phone and internet companies and utilities offering payment plans.  I’m keeping a list of these good neighbors so I can patronize them in the future, and maybe take them up on their offers if I have to as we wait to see where this unprecedented national hostage-taking leads us.

In the meantime, what’s being done to end this nasty situation and get us back to our normal routine of overeating and underexercising, staring blankly at cat videos, and worrying about whether our favorite social media influencers are getting enough online attention?  Well, after more than a month of not even talking about a single damn thing that the president hadn’t already said he would agree with (BTW, why should that be a concern with a president who never keeps his word?), the leadership in the Unites States Senate plans to take a couple of votes it already believes are doomed to failure.  But at least they’re trying, right?  Because that’s what a co-equal branch of government charged by the Constitution with providing checks and balances on the other branches of government is supposed to do, not act like it has no authority or free will or good judgment of its own and shout over and over again “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”.

The White House appears to have come to a complete and safe stop about any and all other issues—except for the president’s yes-I-will-oh-no-you-won’t fight with the House speaker over a State of the Union speech next week, and the president’s laughable “threats” to the family of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen that have given Cohen a laughable excuse to cancel his scheduled testimony on Capitol Hill about…what was it again?  Oh, yeah, about his financial crimes and possibly the campaign finance law violations in which he implicated his former boss.  Good times.

But there is some targeted action in the Senate intended to keep this jackassery from happening again in the future, and for that I am very glad if not downright giddy:

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Resist, America!

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

db180701

Doonesbury Archive/Washington Post

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

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

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

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

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

(snip)

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

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

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

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

(snip)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom the Dancing Bug for Jun 15, 2018 Comic Strip

 Tom the Dancing Bug at go.comics.com

Goodbye, President Bannon

There’s precious little to laugh about when considering the current occupant of the  White House, but today I found two things I want to share.  First, he just fired Steve Bannon!

After all we’ve witnessed in the week since Nazis and white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, and left counter-protesters dead and injured, and the hole the president dug for himself when he couldn’t not share his shining insights on the matter with us, now he’s (finally) cut loose his senior advisor in charge of pandering to the ignorant as if that’s going to make everything all better.

And second, Tina Fey went on TV on topic!

Are we there yet?

It was a very busy weekend in the presidential election, and I’m finding it harder and harder to keep up with the developments.  But when the New York Times details how Donald Trump probably (we don’t know for sure—still no tax returns!) managed to legally avoid a big income tax bill on money his investors lost in his casinos (still wondering, how do you lose a bundle on a freaking casino?) and that fails to register as the top story because the director of the FBI pops off to let the nation know that there might (or might not) be some new email evidence that’s pertinent to the Hillary Clinton private email server case, evidence found while investigating an unrelated case (although that case is related to an investigation of Hillary Clinton’s top aide’s estranged husband), at the same time that there are new and dubious stories alleging Trump’s connection to top levels of Vladimir Putin’s government, then I’ve about reached my limit of good news.

It’s only a week until the election and I need some help synthesizing.  That’s the point of commentary, and today in The Atlantic Conor Friedersdorf made a nice contribution in reminding that an apples-to-apples comparison of the faults of Clinton and Trump doesn’t do enough.  The FBI/email news is big big big right now mostly because it is new; we’ve all seen how developments that seemed insurmountable have dwindled to near nothingness as this campaign has dragged on and on and on.

It is proper for journalists to keep informing the public about [Clinton’s] misdeeds as new information becomes available, whether it concerns her emails or her family’s nonprofit foundation and its donors. There are so many politicians, many Republicans among them, that I would rather have as America’s president. If not for Trump, I would not even consider voting for her.  And yet, strikingly, Clinton’s behavior doesn’t come close to the depths of awfulness displayed by her opponent. He isn’t just a little bit worse. He is orders of magnitude worse, and would do irrevocable damage to the country in ways totally unrelated to his preferred policies.

You can get a good reminder of the details in this May story from David Frum that finds seven “guardrails” in American political life that Trump plowed through to bring us to this point; things like, our presumption of restraint and honesty in a candidate, and even a basic knowledge of public affairs.

But the most moving thing I found today was in a clip trending on YouTube from Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight” in which John Oliver sums up my feelings nicely:

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.