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Fear and Loathing…

The symmetry is as awful as it was expected. 

In the same week that saw the death of the man with the last, most obvious connection to the non-violent protests that eventually ushered in the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the 1960s, Donald Trump’s personal federal police force tear gassed protesting moms in Portland, Oregon.

In this Feb. 15, 2011 photo, President Barack Obama presents a 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The two events are connected in a tableau that perfectly illustrates the perilous state of American democracy. 

The praise for Georgia Representative John Lewis, the civil rights icon and moral consciousness of the often-amoral American political process, was near universal, with earnest commemoration even from many conservative Republicans. For the most part these Republicans never voted with Lewis, but they knew – at least for public consumption – that his righteousness grounded in his personal commitment to decency and in his religious faith transcended partisanship. 

The fleeting praise rings deeply hollow, however, when you consider that Lewis’s great cause – voting rights – has been under persistent attack from Republicans, most distressingly by the conservative majority in the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in the Shelby County case, which gutted key provisions of the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act. That’s the law John Lewis was peacefully marching to support when he was nearly beaten to death in Selma, Alabama.

A young John Lewis, beaten nearly to death, while marching for the vote in Selma, Alabama in 1965

“The decision in Shelby County opened the floodgates to laws restricting voting throughout the United States,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which tracks voting rights issues nationally. “The effects were immediate,” Brennan says. “Within 24 hours of the ruling, Texas announced that it would implement a strict photo ID law. Two other states, Mississippi and Alabama, also began to enforce photo ID laws that had previously been barred because of federal preclearance.” 

When the court’s decision was announced, Lewis immediately understood the import. The court, he said, “put a dagger in the very heart of the Voting Rights Act.” And the political murder continues. 

From Republican-led gerrymandering in Wisconsin and North Carolina to blatantly partisan efforts in Georgia and elsewhere to suppress the vote to Donald Trump’s attacks on voting by mail – the type of voting Trump has regularly done himself – the GOP assault on voting has been broad and deep. Moreover, repeated efforts to restore the safeguards removed in the Shelby case have been stonewalled by congressional Republicans, even though most of them, including a unanimous Senate in 2006, supported extending the law for 25 years.

Republicans, now cozy in Trump’s party that celebrates white nationalism and increasing authoritarianism, can’t abide more Americans voting, or voting more easily. The country’s changing demographics spell doom for a party built on aging white voters, so for Republicans clinging to power means making sure Americans outside the GOP demographic are marginalized. And what better way to weaken their commitment to democracy than by making voting harder, or even impossible. 

All this will come home to roost in November amid an out of control pandemic when GOP efforts to delegitimize voting by mail and limit polling places collides with a deeply polarized electorate fearful for its health, wealth and security. That Trump explicitly refuses to say he’ll accept the election outcome should chill every American spine. The Civil War, after all, began over one section of the nation refusing to accept the outcome of a presidential election in a country where millions were denied not only the vote, but citizenship. 

Meanwhile, desperate to redirect the gnat-like attention span of too many Americans away from his disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump has sent his own special paramilitary force on to the streets of Portland, Oregon, allegedly to protect federal buildings. Yet, in the incompetent and improvisational way that characterizes the president’s every action, the overwhelmingly peaceful anti-racism protests in Portland, now headed nightly by hundreds of women in yellow t-shirts, have only grown amid the federal presence; a presence strongly condemned by local officials.

Portland’s nightly protests have only grown larger with the insertion of federal paramilitary personnel

And well it should be condemned. America has no national police force, even if Trump hopes to turn the Department of Homeland Security into one. It is the very definition of un-American to dispatch unidentified federal agents to an American city to spirit protesters off the streets and hustle them away in unmarked vans. This is the nightmare of Pinochet’s Chile or Putin’s Russia.

And presidents don’t unilaterally insert federal agents into communities without the consent and advice of authorities on the ground. As The Atlantic’s David Graham wrote recently, “Trump appears to be trying to do something novel in this country: establishing a force like interior ministries in other countries.”

One of the few Republicans willing to condemn what Oregon Senator Ron Wyden calls Trump’s “jackboot goons” is the first secretary of Homeland Security, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. “The department was established to protect America from the ever-present threat of global terrorism,” Ridge told a radio interviewer. “It was not established to be the president’s personal militia.”

I’m old enough to remember when every Republicans would have been appalled by Trump’s Portland stunt, which is so far out of the mainstream of what was once considered the conservative understanding of the role of the federal government as to boggle the mind. 

One can almost hear one-time Idaho congresswoman Helen Chenoweth rage against “armed agency officials and helicopters,” who she was convinced were violating the Constitution to enforce the Endangered Species Act in the 1990s. Helen was wrong about her “black helicopters,” but she did articulate the once widely shared conservative view that turning federal agencies into paramilitary forces was a really bad idea. 

Trump’s motives, of course, both for trying to suppress the vote and for staging a photo op in Portland, is to stimulate fear, to stoke division and hope that he can eek out a second term from the outrage smoldering in his shrinking political base. It’s a strategy as transparent as his spray on tan and as cynical as his instant pivot to a message that wearing a mask is now OK by him. 

“My question,” Oregon’s Wyden said this week, “[is] where are the Senate Republicans who preach state rights and freedoms as Trump sends paramilitary forces into cities uninvited and tramples on the Constitution? Are they so cowardly that they too will try to convince the country that ‘walls of moms’ are threats?” 

Turns out they are cowards, senator. They really are. 

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Additional Reading:

Twilight of Democracy

The historian Anne Applebaum has done important work on Putin’s Russia and the rise of authoritarian governments around the world. In her new book – Twilight of Democracy – Applebaum assesses the state of American democracy. She’s not all that sunny about it. 

“By 2016, some of the arguments of the old Marxist left—their hatred of ordinary, bourgeois politics and their longing for revolutionary change—met and mingled with the Christian right’s despair about the future of American democracy. Together, they produced the restorative nostalgic campaign rhetoric of Donald Trump. Two years earlier, Trump had railed against American failure, and called for a solution Trotsky would have appreciated: ‘You know what solves [this]? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have . . . riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.’”

Read the excerpt here.


Trump May Not Accept the Election Outcome

Lots of commentary this week about Donald Trump’s testy interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News, particularly about the president’s refusal to say whether he will accept the results of the November election and the crisis that would surely follow.

Donald Trump’s sweaty, often incoherent interview with Chris Wallace

The always excellent Jonathan V. Last hits the nail with his piece in The Bulwark.

“The most likely path to a crisis isn’t a president who says, ‘I understand that I lost by 6 million votes, but I do not like this outcome and will not be leaving.’

“No, the path to crisis is a president who says, ‘These results claiming I lost by 6 million votes are illegitimate. The vote was rigged and it was not a fair election. We are going to contest the results with every option available to us and prove that I, in fact, won.’”

Read the whole thing.

Why are Restaurants so Loud 

Most of us aren’t going out to dinner much these days, but one can hope that will change before too long. Meantime The Atlantic asks and answers a question I keep asking – Why is it so loud in so many restaurants?

“Restaurant critics and journalists have long complained about noisy restaurants (San Francisco Chronicle food reporters have carried around sound-level meters since the late 1990s), but in recent years the clamor against clamor has reached new heights. Like the open office, the loud restaurant seems to have overstayed its welcome.

“That’s because loud restaurants are more profitable.”

But of course. Read the whole thing.


Quarantine Kat 

Life under the COVID-19 lockdown inspired Portland animator Jerold Howard to create “Quarantine Kat”—an animated character that channels Howard’s daily struggles at home: from balancing the mundane with the profound, to the temptations of excessive snacking.

We can all identify with this cat, er, kat. 

Watch the short video

Thanks, as always, for reading. Please share and/or send comments any time. Be well.

2020 Election, Trump

Corruption…

“Unprecedented, historic corruption,” says Utah Senator Mitt Romney, one of the last Republicans with a moral compass. Romney was objecting to “an American president commut[ing] the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.”

It was just a week ago – a lifetime in American politics – that Donald Trump commuted the sentence of convicted felon Roger Stone, his long-time associate and the man who conspired with Wikileaks to release hacked emails intended to damage the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016. 

Considering the entirety of the craven, corrupt, contemptable 42-month Trump presidency, the Stone commutation is clearly the single most obvious – and despicable – Trumpian abuse of presidential power, at least that we know of. History is sure to record it as the most corrupt act by any president, Richard Nixon included

Stone commutation: Rank corruption

Curious thing: we knew all along that Trump would engage in this corruption in plain sight. He long ago signaled to Stone that if the self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” kept his mouth shut about what he knows, Trump would keep him out of jail. 

“But the predictable nature of Trump’s action should not obscure its rank corruption,” as Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes wrote at the Lawfare website. “In fact, the predictability makes the commutation all the more corrupt, the capstone of an all-but-open attempt on the president’s part to obstruct justice in a self-protective fashion over a protracted period of time. That may sound like hyperbole, but it’s actually not. Trump publicly encouraged Stone not to cooperate with Robert Mueller’s investigation, he publicly dangled clemency as a reward for silence, and he has now delivered. The act is predictable precisely because the corrupt action is so naked.”

Or as former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance White wrote in USA Today, putting a fine point on Trump’s corruption: “Roger Stone knows too much for Donald Trump to permit him to spend a single night in prison. Stone has always known that. The final piece of evidence Mueller didn’t have, but that the American people now possess — Trump provided it himself when he commuted Stone’s sentence.” 

Let’s recap, since it seems like a decade ago that special counsel Robert Mueller, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran and former FBI director, issued his report about Russian interference in the last presidential election. Beyond a shadow of a doubt Mueller established that Russian military intelligence officers hacked Hillary Clinton’s email, as well as others at the Democratic National Committee. (It was Watergate just without the five clumsy burglars who were caught in the act in 1972.) The Russian behavior was also confirmed by the nation’s intelligence agencies and congressional committees. 

Cover of the Mueller report

In turn Mueller gained indictments against 13 Russians and three different Russian organizations. But, of course, Vladimir Putin, protected at every turn by an American president, even when he’s placing bounties on our soldiers in Afghanistan, would never let his agents be extradited so Mueller needed Americans involved in the plot to reveal what they know. Stone refused to cooperate, then lied to Congress, while one-time Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, hoping for his own pardon, also kept quiet. Trump, too, refused to cooperate with Mueller beyond limited written answers that prominently featured phrases like “I don’t recall.” 

Numerous commentators, including George Will, about as far from a liberal as one can find, have equated this corrupt farce to the behavior of a mob boss and his underlings. Yet, a Tony Soprano or Michael Coreleone seem almost professional compared to Stone and Manafort, “dregs from the bottom of the Republican barrel” in the words of Will. 

But, a week on from the late Friday night when we learned about this “unprecedented, historic corruption,” Trump’s corrupted Republican Party is moving on, willing once again in silence to embrace ethical depravity merely to serve the amoral conman in the White House. 

Imagine the mental jujitsu necessary for a Republican like Texas senator John Cornyn, a former state attorney general, to look the other way at such corruption. Think about the kind of political Kool-Aid is a guy like Idaho’s Jim Risch is drinking – he never speaks, after all, without reminding us that he was once a prosecutor – in order to stomach the Stone fiasco? 

“There has never been a case of a president buying silence about his own misdeeds with executive clemency,” Tom Nichols, the Never Trump conservative told Politico. “Other presidents have made bad and even corrupt calls with pardons, but this is in a class by itself, which is why the Republicans are either staying quiet or trying to play the ‘whataboutism’ game.”

But the old Republican game of covering for Trump is growing tiresome and increasingly ineffective. Trumpian incompetence, with the country closing in on 140,000 COVID-19 deaths and the administration’s response reduced to trashing Dr. Anthony Fauci, isn’t going to get the economy back in operation or the kids back in school. 

Trumpian corruption – commuting Stone’s felony sentence for lying, while hounding out of the military Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman who risked his career for telling the truth – represents the perfect bookends for this collection of ethically devoid Republican political cowards. The stink extends from Maine to Idaho.

Roger Stone has been a political bottom feeder since he helped found the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) in the 1970s, the group that stormed into Idaho in 1979 to smear the record and reputation of Senator Frank Church. Once a sleaze, always a sleaze. That’s Roger Stone. He’ll go to his just rewards branded a convicted felon who lied and schemed to protect the man who has burned down the Republican Party. He’ll be remembered as a crook just like the Republicans who countenance him and the man he’s protecting. 

In a few months’ time Republicans like Cornyn, Risch, Mike Crapo, and a hundred others, will be trying to convince us they hardly knew Donald Trump. They’ll hope their 42 months of silence will cover their complicit tracks. It won’t work. They’re dirty, too, just like their leader, their careers stunted and warped by their gutlessness in the face of all this corruption and incompetence. 

All that’s left is to ask them not just how could you live with such deceit and decay, but how can you live with yourself? 

—–0——

Additional Reading:

A View of the U.S. from Australia

A friend and regular reader sent me this piece from The Canberra Times, the paper is Australia’s capitol city. It’s a stark reminder of how we are now seen in much of the rest of the world.

“The underlying weakness in present US democracy is that partisanship has become so extreme that the nation is incapable of dealing with the major issues that face it. COVID-19 has illustrated that starkly, with every word and act predicated on party allegiance. Meanwhile, other problems like race, police violence, gun control, inequality, the health system, climate change and energy policy go unattended.” 

Read the whole thing


Notre Dame 

Notre Dame under restoration

French president Manuel Macron has backtracked on a proposal to give the historic restored cathedral in the heart of Paris a modern spire. As Architectural Digest reported: 

“‘The president of the republic has become convinced of the need to restore Notre-Dame de Paris in the most consistent manner possible to its last complete, coherent, and known state,’ the Elysée Palace said in a statement. In other words, the ‘redesign’ will look exactly the same as the original Gothic design, which is what many senior figures in French government were publicly pushing for.”

Well…good. Somethings really are perfect just as they are. Read the story


Truman and 1948 

This looks like a must read if you enjoy political history. A. J. Baime is the author of Dewey Defeats Truman: The 1948 Election and the Battle for America’s Soul.

“The Truman campaign began in earnest with a meeting on the night of July 22, at 8 pm, in the State Dining Room of the White House. Funneling in was a motley crew of Truman friends—hardly a big hitter among them. As the former secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes described this bunch: ‘The political figures who surround the President . . . could all be blown out by  one sure breath, as are candles on a birthday cake.’”

LitHub has an excerpt of the new book.

Thanks for reading. All the best.

2020 Election, Trump

George Wallace and Donald Trump…

Back in 1968, that awful year of assassinations, racial unrest, campus upheaval, war and political demagoguery – a year the writer Mark Kurlansky has said where “ideologies were seldom clear, and there was widespread agreement on very few things” – a diminutive racist from Alabama was at the height of his powers. 

George Corley Wallace was certainly not the first American politician to mobilize white grievance, but until the arrival on the scene of the current occupant of the Oval Office the Alabama governor did more than anyone else to perfect the politics of fear and division. 

George C. Wallace is shown in this Oct. 19, 1964 photo speaking in Glen Burnie, Md. at a rally supporting Republican presidential candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater. (AP Photo)

It was no accident the historian Dan T. Carter entitled his brilliant biography of Wallace The Politics of RageWallace, who ran for president four different times, was, Carter wrote, “the alchemist of a new social conservatism as he compounded racial fear…[and] cultural nostalgia.” 

When Wallace made his most aggressive presidential run in 1968 at the head of his short-lived American Independence Party, he won the electoral votes of five deep south states. Wallace’s campaign of fear and racial division prompted no less a political strategist than Richard Nixon to later admit that he carefully calibrated his own positions in order to head off Wallace’s appeal to white voters. It worked. 

Wallace’s appeal to white grievance helped birth the Republican “southern strategy” that has been at the heart of the party’s White House calculus ever since. Nixon won every state of the old Confederacy that Wallace failed to carry in 1968 with the exception of Texas, which he only narrowly lost to Hubert Humphrey. 

If Nixon’s long-ago appeal for “law and order” in service of “the silent majority” sounds familiar that’s because it is, updated now and applied to a cratering Trump re-election effort. But Trump is borrowing less from Nixon’s thinly veiled appeal to white grievance than he is appropriating the racist language of George Wallace

Nixon: Law and Order

Where Wallace said of civil rights and anti-war protesters “the people know the way to stop a riot is to hit someone on the head,” Trump tells police to “not be too nice” and demands that the nation’s governors “have to dominate or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks, you have to arrest and try people.” 

Wallace repeatedly made snarling attacks on street protesters who he claimed, “turned to rape and murder,” while Trump fumes about “Mexican rapists” and immigrants who “aren’t people,” but “animals.”

Trump’s re-election message can’t focus on the economy. It’s in shambles. His handling of the global pandemic, with the U.S. leading the world in death and disease, is a national tragedy and an international embarrassment. In three states – Florida, Arizona and South Carolina – new coronavirus cases are growing faster than in any country in the world. 

There has never been much of a Trump policy agenda and there is even less of one now. All he has is resentment and race. How else to explain the presidential attack on the only Black NASCAR driver or the defense of the Confederate flag and monuments that recall our deeply racist past.

“It’s not about who is the object of the derision or the vitriol,” Eddie Glaude, the chair of the Department of African American studies at Princeton University, told the Associated Press. “The actual issue is understanding the appeal to white resentment and white fear. It’s all rooted in this panic about the place of white people in this new America.”

As outrageous as Trump’s rhetoric has become you can bet it will get worse as the election slips toward an anti-Trump landslide. It is beyond Trump’s ability to give the country what it longs for: a common purpose. 

Imagine had Trump tried to unite the nation behind the shared mission of defeating the pandemic? But he can’t do it.  

“If he could change, he would,” says Cal Jillson, a presidential scholar at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. And even when, as Jillson says, the message of fear and racial animosity is “not helping him now. It’s just nonstop. It is habitual and incurable. He is who he is.”

And like ol’ George Wallace more than 50 years ago Trump always digs deeper even as the hole consumes him. In his authoritative history of the 1968 campaign, journalist Michael A. Cohen writes that “Wallace deliberately sought to ratchet up intense, racist emotions at his campaign events” where violence was not uncommon. Cohen quotes a Wallace aide as saying it was all calculated to be “purposely…inflammatory” in order to draw attention and demand press coverage. Cue Fox News. 

Still there are many signs that the old Trump reality show – fear and loathing on the campaign trial – just isn’t working. As Jonathan Lemire and Calvin Woodward of the Associated Press wrote after Trump’s hyperbolic Mt. Rushmore speech: “These are times of pain, mass death, fear and deprivation and the Trump show may be losing its allure, exposing the empty space once filled by the empathy and seriousness of presidents leading in a crisis.

“Bluster isn’t beating the virus; belligerence isn’t calming a restive nation.”

Trump has declared himself “the president of law and order…”

You can hear restive Republicans taking the first tentative steps to distance themselves from the coming disaster. There was panic in the air when five GOP senators announced this week they’ll stay away from the Republican convention in August, a move seen for what it is – distance from Trump. There will be more. 

Still, by ignoring Trump’s racism and division for so long in the interest of allowing their leader to remake their party into a petri dish where white grievance and cultural anger metastasize, Republicans, even those quietly bemoaning his tactics, will never succeed in cleaning this stain. Republicans, like the cowardly sheep who represent Idaho in Washington, D.C., bought the racist and now they own the racism. 

George Wallace, unlike Donald Trump, never made it all the way to the White House, but both men sadly prove an enduring point about our troubled country. The journalist Marshall Frady summed up the consequence – and danger – of such figures when he wrote in 1968: “As long as we are creatures hung halfway between the mud and the stars, figures like Wallace can be said to pose the great dark original threat.” 

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Additional Reading:

Sticking with Trump

Tim Miller is a #NeverTrump conservative, a former top adviser to Jeb Bush and a pretty fair writer on our current politics. His piece recently in Rolling Stone where he sampled Trump opinions from the GOP consulting class received a good deal of attention. It’s good. He writes: 

“These swamp creatures were never the biggest Trumpers in the first place — his initial campaign team was an assortment of d-listers and golf course grunts rather than traditional GOP ad men. So why, as Trump’s numbers plummet, are these establishment RINOs continuing to debase themselves to protect someone who is politically faltering and couldn’t care less about them?” 

The answers are both enlightening and sad.  You can read it here.

How a History Text Book Might Explain 2020 So Far

James West Davidson writes history text books. He says in a piece in The Atlantic:

“By now it seems clear that we are all living through a major turning point in history, one that will be studied for years to come. Future textbook authors will write entries on the year 2020, revise them, and revise them some more with each new edition. What follows is an attempt at—literally—a first draft of history: what I might write if I were wrapping up the last chapter of a high-school history textbook right now.”

Read it and you may be surprised, as I was, about how stunning the events of our time seem when they are compressed into a single, tight narrative.

Tom Hanks 

I don’t normal spend much time with celebrity profiles, but I’ll make an exception for Tom Hanks. 

Hadley Freeman has a charming Hanks profile in The Guardian. She writes: “It’s true that, since I last interviewed him, his demeanor has shifted slightly from the nice Jimmy Stewart ‘aw shucks’-ness he had going on, to something more akin to the beatific kindness of Fred Rogers, ‘a part people like you would say I was born to play,’ he says. ‘For A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, I ended up reading a lot of [Rogers] and he put ideas into words for me. There’s no reason not to greet the world with some kind of kindness.’”

Good observation. Read the entire profile

And finally…One of Ours 

Cather’s novel won the Pulitzer in 1923

Alex Ross writes in The New Yorker about Willa Cather’s enduring and under appreciated novel of war and loss. “When I revisited One of Ours in recent weeks,” he says, “I found it as haunting as anything I’ve read in this bewildering year. What seized my attention, not unexpectedly, was the section devoted to the flu pandemic of 1918.” 

I love Cather’s book. And am also a big fan of Ross’s book The Rest is Noise, which changed the way I think about music. It’s a classic.  

Thanks for following along here. All the best.

2020 Election, Pandemic

Denial…

In 2017, Tom Nichols, a professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, published a book that anticipated our current state of affairs. Nichols’s book, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, made an overarching point: with so much information literally at our fingertips everyone can be an expert on everything. Or at least play at being an expert on Facebook. 

One example Nichols cited was a Washington Post poll that found after the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine “only one in six Americans could identify Ukraine on a map; the median response was off by about 1,800 miles.” Yet, this lack of basic knowledge hardly kept Americans from their sure-fire opinions about what action the country should take. 

“In fact,” Nichols wrote, “the respondents favored intervention in direct proportion to their ignorance. Put another way, the people who thought Ukraine was located in Latin America or Australia were the most enthusiastic about using military force there.” 

Turns out our certainty frequently has an inverse relation to our intelligence. Why? Why do so many Americans disdain expertise? 

“Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue,” Nichols wrote. “To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong about anything. It is a new Declaration of Independence: No longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident, we hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true. All things are knowable and every opinion on any subject is as good as any other.”

The country’s disastrous, fragmented and deadly response to the global coronavirus pandemic is deeply rooted in the America aversion to expertise. Unfortunately for the first time in modern history we have a “fragile ego” in the White House who has made being ignorant about virtually everything a governing principle. 

“Across the rest of the developed world, COVID-19 has been ebbing,” David Frum wrote this week in The Atlantic. “As a result, borders are reopening and economies are reviving. Here in the U.S., however, Americans are suffering a new disease peak worse than the worst of April.” As a result, the European Union this week barred almost all travelers from the United States because we have failed to control the virus, and we have failed because millions of us have rejected fundamental common sense. 

Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott largely ignored the virus and now scrambles to control it

Back in February the president and his Fox News echo chamber were calling the virus “a hoax” that was completely under control. It wasn’t and people who have spent a lifetime studying such things knew it wasn’t. Yet, governors in Arizona, Florida and twenty other places embraced Trumpian logic about the virus, waited too long and then acted inadequately. 

From June 15 to the end of the month Arizona’s totals went from about 1,000 cases per day to nearly 5,000 per day. Idaho’s cases seem on a similar trajectory. Little wonder Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, worried this week that the country could soon be headed for 100,000 new cases per day. “I am very concerned,” he said. And for good reason. Death numbers, a lagging indicator compared to cases, will almost certainly begin rising in coming days. 

Meanwhile, every disease expert in the world is recommending the wearing of face masks as a fundamental necessity in slowing the spread. Yet, Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul – hard to believe he is actually a doctor – mused out loud at a hearing where Fauci testified, “We shouldn’t presume that a group of experts somehow knows what’s best for everyone.” 

Delegates to the Idaho Republican convention fumed last week about Governor Brad Little’s contact tracing efforts, an effective and proven method of isolating the virus and containing its spread that has been widely implemented in countries that have brought the pandemic under control. 

One “expert,” Heather Rogers, a convention delegate from Lewiston, was quoted by reporter Nathan Brown as saying, “What Governor Little did was frankly, in my opinion, completely unconstitutional.” The key words here are “in my opinion.” 

Donald Trump is scheduled to be at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota’s Black Hills Friday for a big fireworks display that defies common sense on at least two fronts. Fireworks displays at the national monument were long ago suspended due to concerns about forest fires and a big crowd of people will create a mountain sized petri dish of virus spread. 

South Dakota governor Kristi Noem welcomes the chaos. “We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home,” she told NBC, “but those who want to come and join us, we’ll be giving out free face masks, if they choose to wear one. But we will not be social distancing.” 

One of the toughest tasks in politics is to muster the courage to tell your followers that they are wrong. But so many Republicans have lived for so long in the land of science denial, in the universe of expertise bashing, that when confronted with a genuine crisis that can’t be flim flamed away they’re left with little but their own nonsense. 

But at this moment, as David Frum writes, “reality will not be blustered away. Tens of thousands are dead, and millions are out of work, all because Trump could not and would not do the job of disease control” – a task that requires deferring to science, accepting facts and behaving responsibly about things like wearing a mask. The task also involves leading the skeptical. 

From denying climate change and abandoning the international effort to rescue an imperiled planet to embracing the claim that the virus would somehow magically “go away,” the president and a sizeable percentage of the American population have, as Tom Nichols says, chosen to be ill-informed.

They are left with only their anger and their demands because they have abdicated “their own important role in the process: namely, to stay informed and politically literate enough to choose representatives who can act on their behalf.” 

Meanwhile, the cases continue to grow. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

1932 = 2020

University of Washington historian James N. Gregory looks at the striking parallels between this presidential election year and the year Franklin Roosevelt won the White House. 

“An election looms. An unpopular president wrestles with historic unemployment rates. Demonstrations erupt in hundreds of locations. The president deploys Army units to suppress peaceful protests in the nation’s capital. And most of all he worries about an affable Democratic candidate who is running against him without saying much about a platform or plans.

Welcome to 1932.”


State of the Race 

Veteran journalist and political watcher Stuart Rothenberg assess whether Joe Biden’s lead in a variety of polls is likely to last.

Stu says: “The burden is now on Trump to change the trajectory of the race, probably by demonizing Biden, who is well known after decades in politics and widely regarded as a decent and empathetic man. The president must pray he can once again squeeze out an Electoral College victory while losing the popular vote by a larger margin than in 2016.” Read his analysis.


Trump’s phone calls alarm U.S. officials

Carl Bernstein of Woodward-Bernstein Watergate fame had a big story this week about the president’s telephone habits with other world leaders, including Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan, the Turkish president. I’m betting some of Bernstein’s sources were Trump’s departed national security advisors. He says:

“Erdogan became so adept at knowing when to reach the President directly that some White House aides became convinced that Turkey’s security services in Washington were using Trump’s schedule and whereabouts to provide Erdogan with information about when the President would be available for a call.

“On some occasions Erdogan reached him on the golf course and Trump would delay play while the two spoke at length.” 

Donald Trump and his Turkish strongman pal Erdogan

Whoo. Read the whole thing.


Seattle and the Pandemic 

Knute Berger writes from Seattle about the once booming city’s future. “Downtown is still hollowed out with a ghost-of-itself ambience: The Alaska-bound cruise ships won’t be docking in Elliot Bay this year, nor will the conventioneers fill the bars and restaurants, erasing billions from the local economy. In June, downtown hotel revenues were down over 94% with a midmonth occupancy rate of 13%. COVID-19 is still impacting people’s willingness to travel.”

The Emerald City is looking pretty tarnished.


Finally…Ann, as in Richards

Years ago when Ann Richards was governor of Texas I had a few opportunities to see her in action, including at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. She was a force of nature and the new PBS one-woman show on Great Performances with the great Holland Taylor captures her perfectly.

Highly recommended.

Thanks for reading…be well.

2020 Election, Foreign Policy, Trump

Our National Humiliation…

During a week when coronavirus deaths in the United States topped 120,000 and the president of the United States admitted he was trying to slow testing for the virus – more testing means more cases, after all – it might be difficult to fully process that we are also living through a unprecedented time of upheaval in American foreign policy. 

Whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump has remade American standing in the world with consequences hard measure, but with impact long lasting. Trump’s upheaval has led to dangerous decline.

“Donald Trump has taken America out of key multilateral agreements, crossed swords with allies and pulled the U.S. from a leading role in geopolitical hot spots,” Bloomberg noted this week in an article about how Russian president Vladimir Putin was celebrating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II with a big parade in Moscow. Since Trump’s election in 2016, Putin has expanding his influence, while angling to stay in office much longer. 

The great American decline: Trump at the G-7 summit in 2019

The Trump led retreat from world leadership has, Bloomberg reported, “opened the way for Putin to build influence in Russia’s western flank, the Middle East and Africa, and to tighten an alliance with China. The planes flying in formation … over Moscow are a reminder that others will be eager to fill the gap if the U.S. withdraws further.”

One can deny the existence of Russian election help to Trump in 2016, but it’s impossible to deny the success of Putin’s repositioning at the expense of the United States and out closest, post-World War II European allies. 

Putin is certainly the largest beneficiary of Trump’s reported decision to remove nearly a third of U.S. troops based in Germany, a key NATO ally, a decision the BBC reported that was meet with widespread dismay in Europe, in part because there was no consultation or even warning. Many German officials believe the decision was prompted when chancellor Angela Merkel cancelled her visit to the U.S. because of the pandemic. In other words, the decision had less to do with a coherent national policy than the president’s personal pique. 

The administration’s Asia policy is in tatters with North and South Korea relations on a hair trigger. Trump tariffs on Chinese imports have cost American consumers (and farmers) billions and left the president begging Chinese president Xi Jinping, according to fired national security advisor John Bolton account, to help him win re-election by buying more U.S. goods. 

Bolton’s hefty book, its publication resisted to the very end by Trump, actually matters to our understanding of the feckless, chaotic Trump foreign policy. As conservative columnist Steve Hays argues only the most cultish Trump defender could dismiss a first-hand account “written by a longtime Republican and stalwart conservative—whose mustachioed face has appeared on Fox News more often than just about anyone other than the anchors.”

Pals: Donald and Vladimir

The power of Bolton’s book rests, Hays says, “less in attention-grabbing disclosure than in the relentless, almost mundane stupidity and recklessness of it all.” 

Or as David Ignatius, a long-time observer of American foreign policy, notes: “Among the most startling disclosures in [Bolton’s book] is his account of President Trump’s dealings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkey story — featuring the American president assuring Erdogan he would ‘take care of things’ in an ongoing federal criminal investigation — may be the clearest, most continuous narrative of misconduct by Trump that has yet surfaced.”

Ignatius says, “It’s a tale that connects some of Trump’s closest advisers: former national security adviser Michael Flynn, personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, and senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” 

Former John McCain advisor Steve Schmidt says of all this that Trump, “has brought this country in three short years to a place of weakness that is simply unimaginable if you were pondering where we are today from the day where Barack Obama left office. And there were a lot of us on that day who were deeply skeptical and very worried about what a Trump presidency would be. But this is a moment of unparalleled national humiliation, of weakness.”

Trump is not alone, of course, in creating our unparalleled national humiliation. He had plenty of help, most notably in the foreign policy field from the junior senator from Idaho James E. Risch, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Enabling Trump, encouraging his worst instincts and behavior and assisting his destruction of American standing have been the raison d’être of Risch’s otherwise vacuous Senate career. 

When Trump’s first secretary of state Rex Tillerson was fired sometime after calling the president “a moron,” Risch said nothing, made no inquiry, expressed no concern. The same pattern unfolded when retired Marine general James Mattis quit in dispute with Trump over Syrian policy. When Bolton was fired Risch let it pass. He’s said nothing about Bolton’s disclosures. Following the Trump playbook, Risch regularly bashes China, but like the president has no policy ideas to deal with the Chinese military and economic threat. 

Risch has not pursued the case of brutally murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi but has effectively stonewalled efforts to hold the Saudi crown prince to account for the crime. When the State Department’s inspector general was fired recently for reportedly investigating why the administration sidestepped Congress to sell more arms to the corrupt kingdom, Risch said nothing and then helped the secretary of state evade an appearance before this committee.  

Murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Risch has gone down the line with Trump is dismissing Russian malevolence, while ignoring the clear effort by the president to coerce the Ukrainian president into a phony investigation of Joe Biden. And when six Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee recently complained to Trump that his draw down of U.S. troops in Germany would “place U.S. national security at risk,” helping only Putin, Risch was silent.

“We live with the idea that the U.S. has an ability to rebound that is almost unlimited,” Michael Duclos, a top European foreign policy official, told The Atlantic’s Tom McTague recently. “For the first time, I’m starting to have some doubts.” For good reason.

As Jim Risch mounts a low-key campaign for re-election, he’s counting that his weakness, his failure to use his position to stem American decline, won’t matter in the deluge of division and misdirection that will increasingly mark all Republican campaigns. Faced with an opponent who so far has been unable – or unwilling – to highlight the senator’s servile deference to Trump’s plundering of America’s standing, Risch will likely continue a 50-yearlong political career distinguished only by its overwhelming partisanship.

History will not be so forgiving. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Bolton and the GOP

Michael Cohen writes in the Boston Globe: “I have little doubt that most every member of the GOP caucus, as well as Trump’s Cabinet, knows that Bolton’s account is spot-on, but the price for being a card-carrying member of the modern Republican Party is to regularly refuse to see what is in front of one’s nose. All of this makes the Bolton story more than your garden variety tale of grifters grifting. It’s the perfect parable for Trump’s malevolent presidency and the cabal of corrupted enablers too weak, too greedy, and too feckless to stop it.”

The Painful Reckoning 

Many stories this week about the faltering Trump campaign – I know it’s just June – and many, including this piece by Tim Miller, see the campaign’s recent Tulsa rally as a metaphor. Or as Vice President Mike Pence said – they’re going to make America great again, again.

The underwhelming Tulsa rally

Here’s Miller: “Donald Trump doesn’t know how to manage a global pandemic. He doesn’t understand how said crisis intersects with our economic decline or what to do about it. He is fundamentally incapable of being a uniter or a salve for a country that is raw with pain over police violence and racial tensions. And he doesn’t know what to do about the fact that Joe Biden is schlonging him in the polls.” Read the whole thing.

EU Considers U.S. Travel Ban

As the European Union considers keeping American’s out because of the uncontrolled spread of the virus, novelist Francine Prose asks how did we become a pariah nation?

“Unlike the US states that rushed to reopen too soon, that so clearly prioritized economic recovery over human life, the EU countries are saying they’d rather take the financial hit than see more of their citizens die.”

Gore Vidal

I’ve been reading a collection of essays by the late novelist Gore Vidal who, say what you will about his politics (or whatever), was a truly brilliant writer. Here’s a link to his still controversial post 9-11 essay – “The End of Liberty” – that was commissioned for Vanity Fair, but rejected.

Gore Vidal

And if you want to recall what Vidal was like on television you might find this amazing appearance on Dick Cavett’s show in 1971 interesting – or appalling. Cavett’s other guests were Norman Mailer and Janet Flanner, the great New Yorker writer.

Mailer refused to shake hands with Vidal and, well, it kind of went downhill from there. Watch it here.

And thanks for reading.

Civil War, Military History

Rename the Bases…

On November 30, 1864 the Civil War in what was considered the western theater effectively ended. After the bloody battle at Franklin, Tennessee, Confederate General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee literally ceased to exist as a fighting force. 

Bell, a Kentuckian and West Point graduate, wrecked his rebel army by smashing it against the breastworks of the army of the United States against which he was in rebellion. The frontal assaults ordered by Hood, who was by all accounts himself a very brave man, severely wounded in earlier battles, left the field strewn with southern dead. 

John Bell Hood, the rebel whose name adorns Fort Hood, Texas

“Never in any single-day battle during the entire war had that many Confederates soldiers been slain,” the historian and novelist Winston Groom has written of the Battle of Franklin. “In fact, Hood’s losses were double those of George Pickett’s famed charge at the height of the Gettysburg campaign. To add to the misery quotient, on no single-day battlefield of the war had so many generals been killed.” 

And yet this is the soldier – a traitor to his nation, a brave but thoroughly reckless man when it came to the lives of his soldiers – that our country celebrates by putting his name on the largest military base in the country for training armored units of the U.S. Army

By general agreement among Civil War historians Confederate General Braxton Bragg, a North Carolinian, was among the very worst generals on either side. As historian Peter Cozzens has written, “Even Bragg’s staunchest supporters admonished him for his quick temper, general irritability, and tendency to wound innocent men with barbs thrown during his frequent fits of anger.” In short Bragg was a disaster as a military leader, not to mention a traitor to his country. 

Braxton Bragg, a candidate for most hated man on either side of the Civil War

Yet this man was honored in 1918 when his name was attached to what is now Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps of which the legendary 82nd Airborne Division is a part. 

Fort Benning in Georgia is named for Henry Lewis Benning, a mediocre Civil War general, but a world class racist even by the standards of his time. As the New York Times noted recently, “Benning warned…that the abolition of slavery would one day lead to the horror of ‘black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything.’”

Fort Polk in Louisiana is named for a West Point graduate, Leonidas Polk, who resigned his commission to become an Episcopal priest. His political connections, particularly his friendship with Confederate president Jefferson Davis, led to a general’s commission during the Civil War. Deficient as a battlefield commander, Polk also made an awful priest. He made it his task to use religion to justify owning his slaves. Polk’s military service is perhaps best remembered for his bitter quarrels with Bragg. The two hated each other and richly deserved each other. 

All total ten different U.S. Army bases are named for Confederates who not only took up arms against their country thereby violating their Constitutional oath as officers, but who also fought to preserve slavery.

The American Civil War, at least until the Trump presidency, was our great national tragedy, but the losers of the conflict succeeded in remarkable ways in writing the narrative of the tragedy. The United Daughters of the Confederacy helped perpetuated the myth of The Lost Cause, the fiction that the Confederate cause was noble and its leaders chivalrous, by erecting in the early 20th Century most of the statutes and monuments that lately have been coming down

The Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond, Virginia is scheduled to be removed

Georgia born Margaret Mitchell cemented The Lost Cause myth in American culture with the publication of Gone With the Wind in 1936. The book remains an all-time best seller, but neither it nor the movie with its sanitized portrayal of a fight to preserve slavery, are history. Mitchell, as the novelist Pat Conroy wrote, “was a partisan of the first rank and there never has been a defense of the plantation South so implacable in its cold righteousness or its resolute belief that the wrong side had surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse.”

The myth making, including the Confederate monuments and the misnamed military bases, has never been more under attack than it is right now. And it’s about time. As historian Gary Gallagher, one of the great exposers of the myths of the Civil War, often notes, the terrible conflict wasn’t about some abstract notion of state’s rights or preserving a “southern way of life.” Our Civil War was fundamentally about the “peculiar institution” of human slavery. “One of the things that scared Confederates the most,” Gallagher says, “was that defeat would mean the loss of slavery and thus their control of black people.”

Vivien Leigh’s 1939 portrayl of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind helped cement the myth of The Lost Cause.
(Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

The president of the United States, of course, doesn’t read history and understands it not at all. So, he declares “Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!,” and thereby rejects the removal of names of treasonous racists from ten U.S. military bases. But Donald Trump and all who cling to the gauzy legends are choosing not to reflect the reality of American history, but to revere the myths of it. 

“We cannot be afraid of our truth,” then New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu said in 2015 when he declared that his city’s legacy of reverence for the traitor class that sought to destroy the United States was over. It has never been more important to confront our truth

And while we’re at it how about Fort Gavin to replace Fort Bragg in honor of General James Gavin who jumped with his 82nd Airborne into Normandy in 1944 and later became a critic of American policy in Southeast Asia. Gavin’s wartime decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Cross and the Purple Heart. A true American hero. There are many others vastly more deserving than Hood or Benning or Polk. 

Michelle Alexander, who wrote a searching book about civil rights and our history called The New Jim Crow, says “It’s not enough to learn the broad outlines of this history. Only by pausing long enough to study the cycles of oppression and resistance does it become clear that simply being a good person or not wishing black people any harm is not sufficient.”

A start at greater sufficiency at this moment of reckoning over history and racism would be white folks acknowledging that the symbols of oppression and the names of those that oppressed should not be glorified. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

We Never Learn

UC Berkeley law professor Frank Partnoy writes in the current issue of The Atlantic about something most of us have probably never heard of – the CLO, or collateralized loan obligation. His article is entitled “The Looming Bank Collapse” and paints the worst of worse case scenarios about the financial sector that Partnoy says could make the 2008 banking crisis look like a walk in the park. 

“The financial sector isn’t like other sectors. If it fails, fundamental aspects of modern life could fail with it. We could lose the ability to get loans to buy a house or a car, or to pay for college. Without reliable credit, many Americans might struggle to pay for their daily needs. This is why, in 2008, then–Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson went so far as to get down on one knee to beg Nancy Pelosi for her help sparing the system. He understood the alternative.”

You should read the whole thing and then discuss whether to put some cash under the mattress. 

Bolton Settles Scores

The New York Times ran a brutal review of The Room Where It Happened, the new tome by former national security advisor John Bolton.

There are a lot of great lines, including reviewer Jennifer Szalai description of Bolton as a “lavishly bewhiskered figure whose wonkishness and warmongering can make him seem like an unlikely hybrid of Ned Flanders and Yosemite Sam.” Spoiler: She didn’t like the book.

I think we always knew this wasn’t going to work out…

And Susan Glasser in The New Yorker has a good piece here about the book and the author. She writes: “Bolton mocks, disparages, or clashes with Steven Mnuchin, Nikki Haley, Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, Mike Pompeo, and others, all within the book’s first hundred pages. By the end of the nearly five-hundred-page book, Bolton also criticizes Mick Mulvaney, Jared Kushner, the entire White House economic team, many of his foreign counterparts, and, although he shares their misgivings about Trump, the House Democrats who impeached the President.”

See, now you don’t have to read the book.

Biden’s VP

I have no idea who Joe Biden is going to pick as his running mate and Jonathan V. Last admits to the same, but he received some amazing insight from a guy who is a professional gambler. Believe me it’s worth reading, even if you aren’t a political junkie.

Here’s the link

Thanks for reading. And stay safe.

2020 Election, Civil Rights, Romney, Trump

Romney Alone…

Three moments involving three older white guys serve to highlight the incredible events that have placed racism, inequality and the essential soullessness of Donald Trump’s Republican Party in the middle of American life. 

The first moment occurred in Buffalo, New York a few days ago when a 75-year-old man, Martin Gugino, was violently knocked to the ground by local police officers during a peaceful protest against racism. Gugino’s head banged off the sidewalk and he immediately began bleeding. He was eventually transported to a hospital and spent several days in serious condition in intensive care. The video of the incident is difficult to watch, not least because one of the officers seemed to move to help Gugino but was prevented from doing so by a colleague as several other officers walked pass the elderly man as he lay motionless, blood around his head. 

In Buffalo, New York 75-year-old peace activist Martin Gugino was pushed by police, fell and was hospitalized

The second event occurred last weekend on the streets of Washington, D.C. when the most prominent political member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints marched in a Black Lives Matter protest. Mitt Romney, the Republican senator from Utah, wearing a face mask with shirt sleeves rolled up, was asked by a reporter why had joined the protests that have spread to all 50 states. “We need to stand up and say that black lives matter,” Romney responded. Romney’s march was clearly motivated by his father, Michigan governor George Romney’s strong support for civil rights in the 1960s. 

The third event was the reaction to the first two. Reasonable, decent people – even many who opposed Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012 – praised his physical and verbal statement that was nothing less than an expression of solidarity with millions across the country who have been appalled by American racism and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Yet, virtually all the praise came from civil rights activists and Democrats. Romney’s fellow Republicans were silent. Except for one. 

“Tremendous sincerity, what a guy,” Donald Trump tweeted while cranking his caustic meter to hate speed. “Hard to believe,” the president said of Romney, “with this kind of political talent, his numbers would ‘tank’ so badly in Utah!” As with most of what the demented demagogue in the White House says his tweet was all projection and lies. 

Romney’s “numbers” are actually substantially better in Utah than Trump’s, even accounting for his controversial, albeit historically correct vote to remove Trump from office earlier this year. An early June poll in Utah pegged Romney’s favorable rating at 56, his unfavorable at 42. By contrast Utah’s other senator, Republican Mike Lee, stood at 46 favorable, 47 unfavorable. 

Another Utah poll earlier this year found that 54% of the state’s voters, among the most conservative in the county, would “probably or definitely not vote to re-elect the president in 2020.” The same number of voters say they approve of Romney standing up to Trump. A late May poll had Trump up by only 3% on prospective Democratic nominee Joe Biden. 

It is worth recalling that Mitt Romney once stood atop the Republican Party and the Idaho GOP loved him. Romney received 64% of the Idaho vote in 2012 and the state’s GOP leadership salivated at the thought of him in the White House. Jim Risch campaigned for Romney in Iowa and Colorado. Raul Labrador traveled with Romney’s Spanish speaking son to events in Hispanic communities in Colorado and Nevada. Butch Otter also stumped for Romney in Nevada and lavished praise on the GOP nominee, presenting him with a Boise State football. That was then. Trump is now and not a word utters from these morally bankrupt flunkies who have so debased themselves that they dare not speak no matter how ugly the deprivations of their leader.

Yet the true depth of the depravity of the wholly owned Trump Republican Party goes even lower than the president accusing Mitt Romney of insincerity for calling out racism. The current low point of Trump wickedness came when the president peddled the ludicrous conspiracy theory that 75-year-old Martin Gugino was some kind of antifa radical trying to set up the cops who might well have killed him. 

Gugino is actually a retired guy, a devoted Catholic, a peace activist who is well-known in his community for his quiet work on behalf of social justice, including repeatedly driving several hours in order to help prepare and serve meals at a facility whose mission is “follow(ing) Jesus in seeking justice for the poor.” A friend said of Gugino what can never be said of the president of the United States: “I have never heard him use a vile or angry word against anybody.” 

Romney condemned Trump’s slander. Few other Republicans did.

[Idaho Senator James Risch was asked about the incident after this column went to press. He bobbed and weaved his way through a remarkably mendacious interview with Fox News host Neil Cavuto, never coming close to condemning Trump’s disgusting slander and astoundingly ended up giving the comment credence.]

Still, there is a glimmer of sunshine amid the toxic clouds of lying, hatefulness, incompetence and political perversion that has overcome most elected Republicans in the age of Trump. Some conservatives are turning against the absurdity of it all. 

The stunts and gimmicks of the Republican reality television show have grown tired and worn and Trump’s ugliness is about all that remains. In those Utah polls cited earlier, LDS women are leading the turn. By a substantial percentage they approve of Romney’s brand of conservatism and reject Trump’s. Perhaps these moms and grandmothers realize, as Romney clearly does, that a fraud has been perpetrated on the country and they are sick of the hate and exhausted by the moral corruption. 

Trump defenders, including those in high office in Idaho, have shown they will accept policies and pronouncements, incompetence and idiocy and once would have been unthinkable to them had it come from a Democrat. In various ways back in 2016 they all labeled candidate Trump unfit. Back then you could almost hear them say: “how could we go from Mitt to this clown?”

But now like Rich Lowry, the editor of the old Bill Buckley journal National Review, a magazine that once devoted an entire issue to Trump’s unfitness, they have embraced their compromised morality. 

“There is no doubt that Trump’s periodic blustery assertions of having total authority are gross, would freak out Republicans if a Democrat made them, and deserve to be condemned,” Lowry wrote this week. But then Lowry immediately dismissed it all as a silly side show, saying “The president loves strength and is drawn to theatrical demonstrations of his own power.”

Four years ago Lowry’s magazine saw something else. “Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.” Mitt Romney flirted briefly with the corrupt bargain that is Donald Trump. He had guts enough to reject the bargain. Were that Idaho’s boneless wonders more like him. 

—–0——

Additional Readings:

Trump’s March to Church for a Photo Op

A remarkable act of journalism by the Washington Post that I suspect will be a reference for years to come. “Drawing on footage captured from dozens of cameras, as well as police radio communications and other records, the Washington Post reconstructed the events of this latest remarkable hour of Trump’s presidency, including of the roles of the agencies involved and the tactics and weaponry they used.” Remarkable. Watch

A lasting image – the president and his Bible

Experts Have Knew the Pandemic Was Coming

A fantastic long read about how the world’s experts in such things knew a pandemic was coming and have known for a long time. But, too many in positions to really prepare didn’t. Here is one nugget that hints at what needs to be done before the next one comes:

“A universal influenza vaccine would require a monumental scientific effort, on the scale of the billion-dollar annual investment that has gone into fighting HIV/AIDS. The price tag would be enormous, but since another population-devouring flu pandemic will surely visit itself on the globe at some point, the expense would be justified many times over. Such a vaccine would be the greatest public health triumph since the eradication of smallpox.” Read it here.

The Editorial Page Flap at The Times

I don’t always agree with media critic Jay Rosen, but I always read his work. In this piece he pulls apart the recent story that forced the resignation of the editorial page editor of the New York Times. Rosen writes:

“The Trump presidency is demagogic and mostly fact-free. What if there is no way to defend the government without practicing bigotry or demagoguery— or just making stuff up? This is the kind of question editors at the New York Times have tried to avoid. They want to declare it impossible. And by trying to avoid it, by declaring it impossible, James Bennet lost his way, then lost his job.” Read the whole thing.

More Civic Education, Please

Danielle Allen is a brilliant Harvard scholar and political theorist who is a regular contributor to the Washington Post. She recently wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs that I couldn’t agree more with. She calls for a renewed commitment to civic education: 

“In the United States today, the art of governance is, at best, on life support. Paradoxically, Trump has delivered the best civics lesson in generations. Thanks to his impeachment trial, Americans have had to think about the proper bounds of executive power, the checks offered by the legislative and judicial branches, and precepts of the Constitution. Thanks to his failure to govern through this crisis, many have learned for the first time just how the United States’ federal system is supposed to work.”

The link is here.

Thanks for reading. Be well.

2020 Election, History

History Informs Us…

History, if we study it, is a teacher. It informs us and provides valuable perspective on the challenges of our times.  Consider…

“To one foreign reporter he explained the secret of his success: ‘keep your heart a desert;’ because loyalties and friendships had to give way to the one important objective: power…there is no right or wrong in politics, only force.” – Historian Denis Mack Smith on Mussolini in 1923

. . . . .

“President Hoover, blamed by the Bonus Army commander for the bloodshed here yesterday, called out the United States Army troops to end ‘rioting and defiance of civil authority.’” – Brooklyn Times Union, July 29, 1932, reporting on the president’s decision to use troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur to rout thousands of out of work World War I veterans who were protesting in Washington to force payment of the bonus they were promised for service in the Great War. 

Brooklyn Times Union – July 29, 1932

. . . . .

“What Hoover should have done was to meet with the leaders of the Bonus Army…Hoover should have sent out coffee and sandwiches and asked a delegation in. Instead he let…MacArthur do his thing…[he] has just prevented Hoover’s re-election.” – Franklin Roosevelt reacting to the rout of military veterans in 1932.

Douglas MacArthur commanding troops in the streets of Washington, D.C. in 1932

. . . . .

“At the venerable Heidelberg University, a philosophy student named Hannah Arendt was working on a doctoral dissertation…when news came of the [Reichstag] fire…years later she told an interviewer that the fire ‘was an immediate shock for me.’ From that moment, she said, she felt ‘responsible. That is, I was no longer of the opinion that one can simply be a bystander.” – Historian Benjamin Carter Hett on the burning of the German Reichstag in 1933, the event that allowed new chancellor Adolf Hitler to consolidate power under the Nazi Party.

. . . . .

“No people ever recognize their dictator in advance. When our dictator turns up, you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys . . . and he will stand for everything traditionally American.” – Columnist Dorothy Thompson in the 1930s warning that fascism could come to America.  

. . . . .

“[Marshall] Petain almost immediately issued a number of constitutional acts which in effect gave him absolute power, and adjourned Parliament until further notice. The Vichy regime was born.” – Historian Julian Jackson on how Vichy collaborators in 1940 discarded French democracy to make common cause with the country’s Nazi occupiers

Vichy collaborator Petain meets with Hitler

. . . . .

“Every new totalitarian step is clothed in some righteous-sounding slogan. This, indeed, is not the Japan that we have known and loved.” – Joseph Grew, U.S. ambassador to Japan, in a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1940. 

. . . . .

“There is little hope for us until we become tough-minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance.” Nobel Prize acceptance speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964.

. . . . .

“My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: ‘In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’ What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.” – Robert F. Kennedy speaking extemporaneously in Indianapolis on the night Dr. King was assassinated in 1968.

Robert F. Kennedy tells an Indianapolis crowd about the death of Dr. King in 1968

. . . . .

“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” – Donald J. Trump Inaugural Address, January 20, 2017.

. . . . .

“In the history of the Republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors.’ This abuse of office served to cover up the President’s own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment—and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives.” – Article II, Obstruction of Justice, in the impeachment of President Trump.

. . . . .

“In interviews and posts on social media in recent days, current and former U.S. intelligence officials have expressed dismay at the similarity between events at home and the signs of decline or democratic regression they were trained to detect in other nations. ‘I’ve seen this kind of violence,’ said Gail Helt, a former CIA analyst responsible for tracking developments in China and Southeast Asia. ‘This is what autocrats do. This is what happens in countries before a collapse. It really does unnerve me.’” – Washington Post reporting on the alarm of U.S. intelligent analysts. 

Outside the White House – 2020

. . . . .

“President Donald Trump faced withering criticism in the hours after spurring a violent incursion against apparently peaceful protesters for the purposes of staging a political photo opportunity — provoking rebukes Tuesday from local and state executives, congressional lawmakers, faith leaders and even foreign governments over the extraordinary show of force amid converging national crises.” – Politico reporting on the use of military forces against civilian demonstrators outside the White House

. . . . .

“In life’s unforgiving arithmetic, we are the sum of our choices. Congressional Republicans have made theirs for more than 1,200 days. We cannot know all the measures necessary to restore the nation’s domestic health and international standing, but we know the first step: Senate Republicans must be routed, as condign punishment for their Vichyite collaboration, leaving the Republican remnant to wonder: Was it sensible to sacrifice dignity, such as it ever was, and to shed principles, if convictions so easily jettisoned could be dignified as principles, for . . . what? Praying people should pray, and all others should hope: May I never crave anything as much as these people crave membership in the world’s most risible deliberative body.” – Conservative columnist George Will, June 1, 2020.

The photo op of our times

. . . . .

“In due course, historians will write the story of our era and draw lessons from it, just as we write the history of the 1930s, or of the 1940s…They will see, more clearly than we can, the path that led the U.S. into a historic loss of international influence, into economic catastrophe, into political chaos of a kind we haven’t experienced since the years leading up to the Civil War. Then maybe [Lindsey] Graham—along with Pence, Pompeo, McConnell, and a whole host of lesser figures—will understand what he has enabled.” – Anne Appelbaum, a Russian-born historian of totalitarianism, writing in The Atlantic.

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Consider.

History, if we study it, is a teacher. It informs us and provides valuable perspective on the challenges of our times.  

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Additional Reading:

Trump and the American Idiocracy

Richard North Patterson writes in The Bulwark: “Perceiving the infinity of all they can never know, true geniuses are disinclined to overstate their gifts. By contrast, Trump is a classic exemplar of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, named for two psychologists who demonstrated that the less knowledgeable and competent you are, the more you believe in your own superlative abilities. Such benighted folks, wrote Dunning and Kruger, not only ‘reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the . . . ability to realize it.’” Read the entire article.

A Report From Occupied Territory

James Baldwin’s remarkable article from The Nation in July 1966 reads like it might have been written this week.

James Baldwin

Baldwin wrote: “Now, what I have said about Harlem is true of Chicago, Detroit, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco—is true of every Northern city with a large Negro population. And the police are simply the hired enemies of this population. They are present to keep the Negro in his place and to protect white business interests, and they have no other function. They are, moreover—even in a country which makes the very grave error of equating ignorance with simplicity—quite stunningly ignorant; and, since they know that they are hated, they are always afraid. One cannot possibly arrive at a more surefire formula for cruelty.” Read it here.

The Marshmallow Test Donald Trump Is Failing

Anne Kim writes in Washington Monthly that the rush to “return to normal” from the COVID-19 pandemic could backfire spectacularly, which is to say very badly. “The next few months will pose a crucial test of our national resolve and set the country’s trajectory for years to come. Americans need a leader who is honest about the difficulties that lie ahead, undaunted by the scale of the task, and willing to do take on the arduous job of navigating the nation’s recovery. In other words, they need the exact opposite of Trump.” Here is the link.

The Exact Moment Plot Against America Takes A Nose Dive

My friend Dr. Richard Drake, the Lucile Speer Research Professor in Politics and History at the University of Montana, authored an entertaining takedown of the HBO mini-series based on the Philip Roth novel. Richard writes: “As television, The Plot Against America benefits from some powerful acting performances and a dazzling exhibition of period automobiles, décor, and fashion, but it confirms the general rule of not going to the movies for history.” Read the piece in The American Conservative. (By the way, D. Drake is the author most recently of Charles Austin Beard: The Return of the Master Historian of American Imperialism.)

And…Wallace Stegner: Writer

Wallace Stegner

New York Times film critic A.O. Scott had a great piece recently about Stegner.  Scott says, “Stegner was critical of the individualistic ethos of the West in all its manifestations: romantic, entrepreneurial and countercultural. Sometimes that makes him sound like a left-wing critic of capitalism, sometimes like the deepest kind of conservative. His commitments to ecology, family and community against the forces of modern economic development leave him jarringly and thrillingly resistant to the ideological pigeonholing that has become our dominant form of cultural analysis.” Read the whole thing.

Thanks for following. Take care.

2020 Election, Trump, Uncategorized

Fantasy Land…

The essential objective of the Republican Party for the next five months is to rewrite the history of the last three and a half years. The strategy is to throw up so much flak that distorts or revises reality that by election day enough voters are so thoroughly confused or so supremely disgusted that they won’t vote, concluding American democracy is just not worth the bother. 

The GOP strategy is driven from top by a cult figure who, as conservative columnist Max Boot wrote recently, doubles as the “unhinged conspiracy-monger in the White House.”

Americans have for a long time, and very strangely, been susceptible to conspiracy theories. But now the old, standard wacky notions – the moon landing was faked, extraterrestrials landed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, Elvis is still alive – have given way to conspiracy theory as politics.  

If it’s in the local paper it must be true – right?

“Classically, conspiracy theories are propagated by people on the margins – they’re almost a weapon of the powerless, for holding the powerful to account,” says Russell Muirhead, a political scientist at Dartmouth College who has studied this American fixation with the nutty. “But right now the new stuff is coming directly from the powerful, which is really quite extraordinary.”

Donald Trump’s obsession with conspiracies provides both insight into his lack of character, as well his re-election strategy. Given his criminally botched response to a deadly pandemic that left 100,000 American dead in barely two months, while tanking the economy, perhaps for years, the Conspirator-in-Chief can hardly run on his record. He must shift attention to keep his most committed supporters both entertained and distracted from reality. 

Trump’s one-time chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who also once headed Breitbart News, a website cesspool of half-baked nonsense and rightwing propaganda, perfectly described the GOP strategy in 2018. “The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon told the writer Michael Lewis. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

And that is precisely what Trump has been doing while his willing enablers, including the timid souls Idaho voters dispatch to represent them in Washington, D.C., stand by mute amid the fetid garbage. 

Trump, of course, rode to real political prominence peddling the fake news that Barack Obama was not an American citizen. Many of his supporters bought the “birther” nonsense, and some still do. They also bought that Mexico would pay for his wall and that China would pay for his tariffs. Initially they bought his claim that the COVID-19 virus was “a hoax,” but clearly some conspiracy theories get overtaken by events. 

Barack Obama’s birth certificate – from Hawaii

Now Trump is asking them to buy the hoax that voting by mail will lead to vast corruption of the electoral process, a convenient claim for a guy who lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes in 2016 and will need a spectacularly outrageous conspiracy theory to justify his loss in November. 

The man the Internet whit Dave Pell calls “the Cloroxymoron” has, of course, had to manufacture new conspiracies as the old ones run out of steam. There is “Obamagate,” a conspiracy so deep and impenetrable that the White House press secretary declined to respond to a question about just what it was. Then came the spectacularly obscene charge emitting from the presidential Twitter feed that former Republican congressman and cable TV host Joe Scarborough may have murdered a young female staff member in 2001.

That odious one drew a poignant response from the woman’s husband who correctly accused the Republican president of having taken “something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain.” 

In debunking the Scarborough nonsense, the Washington Post’s Craig Pittman might have been talking about the gutless lack of decency on the part of Idahoans like Rep. Mike Simpson and Sen. Mike Crapo, Republicans who know Scarborough because they served in Congress with him when he represented Florida. 

 “Trump’s tweets offer a reminder of the remarkable nature of the Trump era — that a sitting president can traffic in incendiary and false allegations while the political world around him remains largely silent, accustomed to Trump’s modern-day definition of presidential behavior,” Pittman wrote. “As with many such eruptions from the White House, there will probably be little if any consequence beyond, in this case, the collateral suffering of a private family in Florida.”

At this point let’s note that a recent Yahoo/YouGov poll reported that “44 percent of Republicans believe that Bill Gates is plotting to use a mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign as a pretext to implant microchips in billions of people and monitor their movements.” Yahoo News felt compelled to note that is “a widely debunked conspiracy theory with no basis in fact.” 

That kind of statistic does, however, help explain why once sensible, fair minded guys like Crapo and Simpson now behave as they do in our Age of Trump. They have become paralyzed with the fear that the most fever swampish in the GOP base will turn on them. 

It’s a reasonable fear. After all Oregon Republicans just nominated a U.S. Senate candidate who is a believer in the wacky QAnon conspiracy theories that promote Trump as a world savior, while Idaho Republicans like Janice McGeachin and Heather Scott have become the party’s modern day “Know Nothings.” 

A conspiracy so immense…

Some of the president’s most loyal followers – and most fervent conspiratorialists – have taken to calling Trump the “God Emperor,” but this emperor’s clothes are missing even if the two Mikes and so many others ignore the reality. Their essential cowardice exposes the profound ethical and moral rot in the modern GOP under Trump. It will follow them all their days. 

“We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered,” David Frum wrote in his 2018 book Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic. Frum, the former George W. Bush speechwriter, has basically given up on the silent majority of GOP officeholders who have aided and abetted the intellectual destruction of their party. 

“What happens next is up to you,” Frum writes, knowing that once principled conservatives like Simpson and Crapo, unable or unwilling to exercise leadership at a time of peril, will do nothing, while cowering in a corner literally and figuratively clutching their seats.

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Additional reading:

Trump: The Manly Man 

Conservative commentator Tom Nichols writes in The Atlantic that the president is the least manly man to ever occupy the Oval Office, and the mostly white men who support him make up a cult-like following that has an image of Donald Trump divorced from reality. Nichols writes: “Perhaps Howard Stern, of all people, said it best: ‘The oddity in all of this is the people Trump despises most, love him the most. The people who are voting for Trump for the most part … He’d be disgusted by them.’ The tragedy is that they are not disgusted by him in return.”

The Manly Man?

Masha Gessen on Rising Authoritarianism

I try to read everything the historian and essayist Masha Gessen writes, both for her insights into the rise of authoritarianism in the world, but also because she brings an immigrant’s perspective to our current moment. Gessen was born in Russia and wrote an excellent book explaining Vladimir Putin. She spoke recently with Interview magazine.

INTERVIEW: What is the worst-case scenario for the future? 

GESSEN: A renewal and reinforcement of all kinds of borders—national, state, regional, whatever. We try to go back to exactly the way things were, and this means that the poor get poorer and the wealth gap grows. Two areas that are perhaps most in need of awakening and reinvention—healthcare and education—become worse versions of their already terrible selves. We learn nothing except that no one will help you.

Read the entire interview

New York Without Newspapers in 1945

For 17 days in the summer of 1945 newspaper deliverymen went on strike. “All told, 14 major papers were left without their usual means of distribution. According to an estimate in the New York Times, some 13 million customers in the city and surrounding area were deprived of their daily newspaper.”

This is a cool story about a time when most Americans got all their news in a paper.

The Man in the Red Coat

And finally…I’ve been reading a slightly strange, yet deeply interesting book by Julian Barnes about some truly fascinating characters of what we now call “the Belle Epoque.”

The Princess of Monaco said Dr. Pozzi was “disgustingly handsome”

“Barnes’s title comes from a magnificent full-length 1881 portrait of [Dr. Samuel] Pozzi by John Singer Sargent, which didn’t re-emerge into public view until 1990; Barnes tells us that viewing it was the original inspiration for this book. Sargent himself mentioned it in a letter to Henry James in London to introduce a visit from ‘Dr. S. Pozzi, the man in the red gown (not always), a very brilliant creature.'”

Highly recommended for the profiles of Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt and a cast of other “beautiful” people.

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Thanks for reading. If you are inclined share or recommend this post to a friend. Stay safe.

2020 Election, Foreign Policy, Trump

America’s Retreat…

The United States, the acknowledged world leader in the post-World War II era, is in retreat and decline. Among America’s closest international friends the deterioration of our country’s standing is simply astounding. In a recent survey of our once closest European allies only 28% of the residents of the United Kingdom said the U.S. would act responsibly in the world. In France, 3% – you read that correctly – think the U.S. is best positioned to confront global challenges. 

That this disastrous retreat has taken place under a Republican administration and with a GOP-controlled Senate is a stark reminder of how far Donald Trump’s Republican Party has retreated from the place Ronald Reagan once proclaimed the “shining city on a hill.” 

A portion of Ronald Reagan’s farewell speech in January 1989 as printed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The number two Senate Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, actually said the quiet part out loud this week, admitting that Trump not only owns the GOP soul, but apparently more importantly has also squeezed the last ounce of independence from his frightened lackeys. “I just think that everybody realizes that our fortunes sort of rise or fall together,” Thune said as he placed a priority on re-election at the expense of absolutely everything else. 

As capable as the president has been of destroying U.S. credibility and puncturing the myth of American exceptionalism, he didn’t get us here all by himself. He had a lot of help from this feckless, rudderless, incompetent collection of Republican senators and members of Congress. And no one wears the feckless label more notably than Idaho’s Jim Risch, who, in title only, sits atop the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

A comprehensive listing of Trumpian ineptitude in the foreign policy arena, combined with the willful rejection of critical allies and international institutions, would fill a library shelf, so consider just the most recent examples of America trashing itself with Republican approval. 

Anyone with a sense of how political leadership works would have known that a crisis like a global pandemic would lay bare Trump’s unfitness. “Trump’s handling of the pandemic at home and abroad has exposed more painfully than anything since he took office the meaning of America First,” says William Burns, a 33-year career foreign policy professional who now heads the Carnegie Endowment. “America is first in the world in deaths, first in the world in infections and we stand out as an emblem of global incompetence. The damage to America’s influence and reputation will be very hard to undo.”

Risch was Tweeting on January 24, “Today I was briefed by leading global health experts about the outbreak of a novel coronavirus in China. We learned that the risk of transmission within the U.S. is low at present. I will continue to work closely with U.S. officials to ensure Americans are protected.” But what has he actually done? 

Well, he’s embraced the White House blame China message, while totally ignoring the epicenter of the crisis – the White House. Even that begs the question of just what is Risch’s China strategy? Trump’s only approach, beyond unbroken fidelity to China’s dictatorial leader, involves tariffs that have crippled trade, while forcing U.S. taxpayers to bail out American farmers.

And what of the World Health Organization (WHO)? If the WHO needs reform, is the best strategy to eliminate U.S. funding in the middle of the pandemic? Again, the Idaho senator has no strategy and nothing to say. 

Meanwhile, under cover of COVID-19 confusion, Trump has fired the inspector general at the State Department, Steve Linick, an issue that had the Foreign Relations Committee a real chairman, would be front and center on the committee’s agenda. Risch has said nothing and will do nothing even in the face of published reports that the firing is linked to a number of questionable actions, including an investigation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to circumvent Congress and make a controversial $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. (I asked Risch’s office for a comment on the IG firing and received no response.) 

Trump’s cashiering of Linick marks the fourth such dismissal in three months and is an obvious effort to eliminate any visage of independent oversight of Trump and his administration’s conduct. The only Republican to immediately express concern about this blatant authoritarianism was Utah’s Mitt Romney who called Trump’s action “a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power.” Risch, meanwhile, is silent. 

Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

It is telling that in his year and a half as Foreign Relations chairman, Pompeo has not once appeared before Risch’s committee to answer questions about China, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea, deteriorating relations with NATO countries, or anything. With dereliction of his Senate duties – never more on display than the recent IG firing – Risch is abetting Trump’s efforts, as Aaron Blake wrote recently in the Washington Post, to “undermine independent oversight of his administration.” 

For good measure this week, Risch, acting as ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, voted to advance the nomination of Texas congressman John Ratcliffe to be director of national intelligence. Ratcliffe is a dedicated Trump toady widely described as the least qualified person ever nominated for such a position. Ratcliffe, with Risch’s help, will complete the politicization of the nation’s intelligence agencies.  

To be sure hypocrisy is part of this story, as well. Risch never tempered his criticism when a Democrat occupied the White House and his partisan disdain was regularly on display during the Obama Administration. “This is a foreign policy that is in shambles,” Risch said in 2012. “In the Middle East, it is a foreign policy of apology, it is a foreign policy of appeasement, it is a foreign policy of dithering and looking the other way. This cannot go on.” Yet, when it comes to Trump, Risch doesn’t critique, analyze or even discuss, he accepts – everything. 

Who benefits from Risch’s behavior and Trump’s foreign policy incoherence and incompetence? China, of course, (and Putin’s Russia) whose aim is to diminish American influence and weaken historic alliances, while discrediting democracy.

Michael Fullilove, a decidedly pro-American scholar who heads the Lowy Institute, Australia’s largest think tank, described it succinctly: “We increasingly feel caught between a reckless China and a feckless America that no longer seems to care about its allies.”

Meanwhile, Jim Risch is on track to be remembered as the worst chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the post-war period. He has certainly earned the distinction. 

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Additional reading:

Can these awful times make us better? 

I really admire the work of Rebecca Solnit who writes eloquently and profoundly about many things. In her recent piece for The Guardian she reflects on all the small, but incredibly important acts of kindness by ordinary people right now. She says: “I sometimes think that capitalism is a catastrophe constantly being mitigated and cleaned up by mutual aid and kinship networks, by the generosity of religious and secular organizations, by the toil of human-rights lawyers and climate groups, and by the kindness of strangers. Imagine if these forces, this spirit, weren’t just the cleanup crew, but were the ones setting the agenda.” 

What it’s like to be a Democrat in Montana?

With no official sanction, I like to think of myself as an honorary Montanan. I’ve never lived there, but I feel about the state like John Steinbeck who wrote in Travels with Charley: “I am in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love, and it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.” Yup. From the fishing to the political history to Glacier Park, I love the place. Now, read this from a real Montanan, Sarah Vowell, who gets the state pretty well. 

What it was like to have lunch with Noel Coward?

Dorothy Parker was a great wit and a great writer. Among her many quotable quotes: “That woman speaks eighteen languages and can’t say ‘no’ in any of them.” Parker was also a charter member of the Algonquin Roundtable and they surely had a good time. 

The Algonquin Roundtable…

And finally, was Donald Trump a good baseball player? 

“I was supposed to be a pro baseball player,” Donald Trump wrote in 2004. “At the New York Military Academy, I was captain of the baseball team. I worked hard like everyone else, but I had good talent.” Er, well, turns out like so much else he says that isn’t really true. 

Thanks for reading…