The Man Without A Chest

“The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it…Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism…In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” 

—C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

I watched Donald Tr-mp’s 100-day speech Saturday night, given in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, among a group of enthusiastic supporters. I, like most non-Tr-mpian Americans who watched it, was appalled. His reprise of “The Snake,” aimed this time at immigrants rather than Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS killers and Putin-supported Bashar al-Assad, was, well, shameful and disgusting. His deliberate narrowcasting to his cultic admirers, as opposed to the rest of America, was sickening. Norman Ornstein tweeted:

Trump’s bombastic, divisive rally shows he is a dangerous narcissistic sociopath.

Yes. He is. No doubt about that. But I found myself experiencing his speech, and thinking about it afterward, in a way that surprised me. I actually felt pity for that poor man on the stage at that rally. I can make fun of his diminutive hands and what that means to him. I can point to his petty insecurities and how they dominate his psychology. I can diagnose his multiple disorders and express fear for the safety of the country. But, really, on Saturday I saw a small man. The smallest man in the world. The smallest man in the world with the biggest job.

I can’t swim. I’ve tried. I just can’t. I can’t even learn to swim. It’s hopeless. And I always had this fear that someone would, trying to earnestly help me overcome this obvious handicap, take me out in the middle of the ocean and drop me in the water, forcing me to swim or die. I can’t tell you, those of you who take swimming for granted, how palpable is that fear, how paralyzing it is.

It dawned on me, while thinking about Tr-mp’s horrific speech on Saturday, that he is a man who has been dropped in the middle of the sea without the ability to swim. And, right before our eyes, he is drowning. He is literally drowning. Oh, he told us he could swim. In fact, he bragged that he was the world’s greatest swimmer, that he could expertly swim, with ease, the raging ocean. And 46% of the electorate, with the help of the Russians, took him out to sea and dropped him there. But, really, he’s scared of the water. He’s afraid. As the waves of the job he is uniquely unqualified to do batter him day after day, he needs something to cling to, some solid thing to grasp, some hope that he will not suffer at the hands of an angry ocean, at the hands of his invincible ignorance, at the hands of his irremediable incompetence, at the hands of his irreversible disabilities. Those people at that rally, at any of his rallies, are his lifeline. When he is sinking, they pull him up again. He calls for help and they come.

But at some point even they won’t be able to save him. At some point he will go down for the last time. And for that he is to be pitied. For that he deserves our sympathy, even those of us who didn’t vote for him and despise what he stands for. But he does not deserve our help. He does not deserve to be saved. He needs to go down. He needs to sink, if America is to stay afloat itself. He has done irreparable damage to the presidency. He has assaulted one national institution after another and made a mockery of our democracy. He has attacked and threatened—and he and his administration continue to threaten—our free and indispensable press. He is each and every day using his office, the office of Lincoln and the Roosevelts, for personal and family profit. He has embraced despots and international thugs. He admires the unadmirable.

Why? Why does he do such things? Why is his moral compass broken?

As C. S. Lewis might say (extrapolating from his book, The Abolition of Man), Tr-mp doesn’t have a “chest,” a solid set of “trained emotions,” or “stable sentiments,” that conform to what Lewis considered to be “objective” values, those values that we all should acknowledge in one way or another, that we all should “see” are not just “mere feelings” on the part of the observer but real things. For instance, you and I may disagree about the splendorous beauty of Chopin’s Étude Op. 10, No. 3, but in order for us to disagree we both have to acknowledge there is such a thing as “beauty.” Otherwise, we have nothing to argue about. Or we may argue about whether cutting off health insurance for millions of poor and working people is good or bad, but we have to acknowledge the objective reality of the concepts of “good” and “bad” in order to have that argument. If you tried to claim that there were no objective values, that what we referenced when we used the words good or bad were only subjective human feelings, you would in fact be contradicting yourself because such a claim is itself an objective one, one that allegedly applies to and is independent of all of us.

David Gergen, who once worked in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton administrations and who is now an analyst for CNN, has spent most of the last 18 months or so pretending that Tr-mp can’t be as bad as he appears, that there has to be a “good” Tr-mp in there somewhere waiting to “pivot” and embrace the dignity of the American presidency. But Saturday’s 100-day speech was too much even for Gergen. He said after it was over:

This was the most divisive speech I have ever heard from a sitting American president. Others may disagree about that. He played to his base and he treated his other listeners, the rest of the people who have been disturbed about him or opposed him, he treated them basically as, ‘I don’t give a damn what you think because you’re frankly like the enemy.’ I thought it was a deeply disturbing speech.

He’s right. Tr-mp doesn’t “give a damn” what “his other listeners”— “the enemy”— think about him at this point. He is a drowning man and he knows it. And he knows that his only hope of surviving, of treading the water of the presidency, is in the people he dreadfully charmed with “The Snake” on Saturday and eerily entertained with more talk of “fake news,” while cynically and embarrassingly creating an impromptu prop out of a pitiable man holding a “Blacks for Trump” sign. As the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner was going on in Washington—the first time a sitting president hadn’t participated in 36 years—Tr-mp told his human life preservers that,

A large group of Hollywood actors and Washington media are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom in our nation’s capital right now. They are gathered together for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner—without the President. And I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from Washington’s swamp, spending my evening with all of you and with a much, much larger crowd and much better people.

Everyone who has carefully witnessed Tr-mp’s tragic trajectory to the White’s House knows this is another one of his lies, another tale he told himself and his followers. In fact, there is no plImage result for drowningace he would rather have been than at that dinner with Hollywood actors and media stars. But he can’t swim in that sea. The water there was simply too deep without something to cling to, something he could use to keep his head above the waterline.

So, as a man without natural political buoyancy or the learned skills to avoid the hazards of the political depths—as well as a man without a chest, those trained emotions or stable sentiments—he was reduced to crudely entertaining his adoring fans, while insulting the rest of us and depreciating what once was the highest office in the world. This sad, sad man with the big job is indeed the smallest man alive. And as strange and painful as it might be to watch, we have to let the unforgiving and tumultuous sea have him.

What Chelsea Clinton Teaches Us About Persistent Sexism

A local columnist for the Joplin Globe once wrote this stunning paragraph, which I have posted before:

On the investigative side, it has been learned by this reporter that quality of education, safety, or class arrogance had nothing to do with Mr. and Mrs. Clinton’s decision to enroll their daughter Chelsea in a private school. An informed source has confirmed that the real reason, was the school’s policy of allowing no mirrors on campus. Apparently, Hillary felt it would be too traumatic at such a tender age to allow her little bundle of joy to see just how ugly she really is. In a private statement Mrs. Clinton was heard to vow that she would keep Chelsea away from all mirrors until such time as she could handle the emotional stress of facing the fact she was her mother’s daughter.

Image result for chelsea clintonAt that time, 1994, Chelsea Clinton was fourteen years old. And the classlessness of that writer has only grown over the years, which, I suppose, is what makes him a perfect columnist for a newspaper in this Clinton-hating geographical area.

Just recently, another right-wing writer, writing for the once renowned National Review, published a post about a grown-up Chelsea Clinton, in a piece thoughtfully titled “Little Creep,” a piece that began with this line: “Hasn’t Bill Clinton been fellated thoroughly enough?” More classlessness, obviously. The piece was, like that of our local columnist, not just a shot at Chelsea Clinton, but a shot at her mother, “the Big Creep.” There’s something about the Clintons, especially the Clinton women, that drive conservatives to write things like our local columnist wrote and things like that nationally-known columnist wrote:

Chelsea Clinton, most recently lionized on the cover of Variety, is a 37-year-old multi-millionaire who has never uttered an interesting word about any subject at any time during the course of her life. Judging from the evidence of her public statements, she has never had an original thought — it isn’t clear that she has had a thought at all. In tribute to her parents, she was given a series of lucrative sinecures, producing a smattering of sophomoric videos for NBC at a salary of $600,000 a year. She later went more formally into the family business, leaving her fake job at NBC for a fake job in her parents’ fake charity. She gave interviews about how she just couldn’t get interested in money and bought a $10 million Manhattan apartment that stretches for the better part of a city block.

That’s just another way, a snootier way using a phrase like “lucrative sinecures,” of calling Chelsea “ugly.” The writer ends his tasteless piece with this:

Have a little self-respect, Democrats. Build Bill Clinton a statue or . . . whatever. Send him your daughters like a bunch of bone-in-the-nose primitives paying tribute to the tribal chieftain. But stop trying to inflict this empty-headed, grasping, sanctimonious, risible, simpering, saccharine little twerp on American public life.

It’s stupid enough out there.

A few days ago, Jill Filipovic, writing for Cosmopolitan, published a piece (“How Dare Chelsea Clinton, a Well-Educated, Accomplished Woman, Share Her Opinions”) that essentially is a response to this hate-filled fascination with the Clinton women, even if the critiques are sometimes hidden behind hatred for Bill. She wrote:

The Chelsea hate-fest isn’t new, but like a disturbing proportion of the critiques of her mother, Hillary Clinton, the case against Chelsea is conspicuously wrapped up in sexism. She was mocked mercilessly as a teenager, savaged for her looks and adolescent awkwardness on comedy shows and in right-wing media. Now, the idea that she tweets regularly, talks in public, and weighs in on political issues, like her recent advocacy for equal pay, is apparently enraging for some men — the fact that she talks about herself is outrageous enough, but what seems to really disturb the pundit class is that she does it in a way that they think signals political ambitions.

Filipovic acknowledges the obvious, that “Chelsea is a child of immense privilege,” that “politics is the family business.” But she offers us a solid reason for the “preemptive smack down” of the Clinton’s daughter:

Perhaps it’s because Chelsea won’t shut up and go away — because she has the gall to believe that she, a bright young woman with a PhD in international relations and a master’s in public health, and who was raised on a steady diet of politics and civic duty, and has had an inside look at campaigning and even the White House, might have something to say.

One has to admit that a great deal of the obnoxious conservative-based criticism of the adult Chelsea has to do with the legacy of her parents. But there is a lot of truth to the claim that many of the harsh barbs thrown Chelsea’s way have to do with visceral sexism. And those sexist barbs don’t just come from the right. Filipovic references lefty writer T. A. Frank, who wrote about Chelsea for Vanity Fair. Filipovic wrote:

What seems to rub mostly male pundits the wrong way is that Chelsea is perceived as bragging when she talks about herself, by saying, for example, that she wrote a letter to President Ronald Reagan when she was 5, or that “They told me that my father had learned to read when he was three. So, of course, I thought I had to too. The first thing I learned to read was the newspaper.” I read this and see a cute story; T. A. Frank, who wrote the Vanity Fair hit piece, sees this as “self-regard of an unusual intensity.”

That quote from the Vanity Fair hit piece (“PLEASE, GOD, STOP CHELSEA CLINTON FROM WHATEVER SHE IS DOING”) goes like this:

What comes across with Chelsea, for lack of a gentler word, is self-regard of an unusual intensity. And the effect is stronger on paper. Unkind as it is to say, reading anything by Chelsea Clinton—tweets, interviews, books—is best compared to taking in spoonfuls of plain oatmeal that, periodically, conceal a toenail clipping. […]

At first glance, of course, Chelsea seems to be boasting that at age five she was interpreting the news with the maturity of an adult. But we should consider whether it’s instead a confession that as an adult she still interprets the news with the maturity of—well, let’s just submit that perhaps she thinks what other people tell her to think.

Jill Filipovic observes:

Women are notoriously hesitant to speak about their accomplishments lest they be perceived as bragging; women who do talk about their accomplishments, then, break gender norms and are perceived poorly for it. It’s the same dynamic that ends up penalizing women who try to negotiate but rewards men for the same: When men act aggressively, ask for more, or toot their own horns, we see them as capable, assertive, professional, and going after what they deserve. When women do it, we’re seen as bitchy, unlikable braggarts. […]

Our leaders are mostly male, and the people who talk, write, and pontificate about our leaders are mostly male. When women do manage to shine in this system — to gain political popularity, to ascend the professional ranks — there are too often many people who take offense at such raw and unfeminine ambition, and want to see them dimmed and quieted.

Just today, Tr-mp, speaking before the testosteronic NRA, once again referred to Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.” That’s Tr-mp’s buffoonish way of dimming her, of quieting her, of calling her “ugly.” And, unfortunately, such behavior is not just limited to classless creeps like Tr-mp or nasty local right-wing columnists or venomous big-time writers for well-known conservative websites. We have a long way to go here in 21st-century America, in terms of seeing smart, strong women as simply smart, strong people.

This Post Isn’t For Everybody

I have recently written about inclusion in the Democratic Party, as well as Bernie Sanders’ role in the party’s future. A regular contributor to our discussion on this blog wrote me to express his feelings about my opinions, his experience here, and to discuss his views on Democratic politics. Originally, I meant only to respond to him, but after I thought about it, I realized there are other people out there in my blogging family who share his views. Thus, here is my reply to “thgeneralist”:

Okay. Let’s get something straight that I am sure is my fault, for which I apologize. If you feel like I (I can speak only for myself on this matter) have belittled you, then I have sent you the wrong message. Your views are important and appreciated, despite the fact that I don’t always agree with them or, sometimes, attempt to challenge them. Perhaps I do so in ways that sound belittling, but I assure you that’s not what I mean to communicate. I guess I have more work to do expressing myself clearly, but sometimes I just assume that my long (sometimes too long) responses indicate how valuable I find our interactions. Again, my bad for making you feel like our dialogue is not valued.

Also, as far as there being enough room for you and me in the same party, I absolutely don’t know where I gave you the impression that we can’t live under the same tent. I know all sorts of people who either are Democrats or who vote with the party but call themselves independent. I’ve never met one of them with whom I always agree. Nor do I expect to ever meet such a person. I recognize that in many cases, it is I who hold some unorthodox positions for a liberal Democrat (for instance, my stance on a strong military and how that power can serve as insurance to help maintain liberal democracies around the world, but not “create” them).

I also recognize that I am not a revolutionary in the Bernie sense. And that’s not because I don’t share many of his goals. It’s because I think, living and campaigning in Vermont all those years, he doesn’t really understand the wider electoral landscape. I can assure you, if he lived where I live, he wouldn’t think for a minute that his attempt to transform the country overnight into a European-style social democracy, complete with the high taxes that go with it, is as achievable as he sometimes makes it sound. For God’s sake, we are at this moment witnessing Republicans trying very hard to undo a very modest change in our health insurance system, Obamacare, because it is seen, falsely, as a “government-run” system. We have a lot of work to do before we are even close to achieving Bernie’s revolution of American healthcare, not to mention his other proposals.

That leads me to your false charge that I am a “Corporate Democrat.” I hesitate to call it false because I’m not exactly sure what you mean by it. But if you follow some on the left like I do, people like Cenk Uygur and that whole self-righteous bunch of litmus-test leftist purists, then I think I know what you mean. They use that term to describe people who don’t see American politics the same way, say, Bernie sees our politics. They use that term for Democrats who don’t think it is wise, given our system, to unilaterally disarm when it comes to fundraising, who believe that businesses are good for America but also believe that those businesses ought to be good for their workers. It is possible to value business while also aggressively championing labor. Neither can exist without the other.

And, thus, I could have been pissed off at your accusation, but I chose not to be. Because I think I understand why you, or others who read this blog, would falsely label me as a “corporatist,” despite the fact that for years I worked my ass off on behalf of a labor union and still remain a union officer. I think your accusation springs from the fact that I’m a progressive who doesn’t believe in the possibility, here in America, of revolutionary progress. That’s because I think I know American politics fairly well. We are not a revolution-friendly electorate, largely because of what FDR and LBJ did so long ago. People, generally, aren’t ripe for the kind of radical transformation Bernie talks about because they are relatively comfortable (“Thanks, Obama!”). They see problems, but not the kind of problems that demand revolutionary change. Heck, Bernie couldn’t even convince a majority of Democrats to buy into his revolutionary message (and I don’t even want to get into the whining about how he was “cheated” out of the nomination; that is nonsense). 

What I understand is this: our differences as Democrats aren’t so much tied to policy as they are tied to how to get from here to there. On that matter, you and I are miles apart, apparently. You say Bernie champions “causes that will resonate with most Americans.” Well, maybe they would so resonate if our politics were conducted in a vacuum. But when you mix in the severe attacks he and his policies would undergo in a real election—the inevitable and well-funded demagoguery over the taxation necessary to fund his goals, for instance—then that alleged resonance will get muffled very quickly. Suddenly the things he champions will strike the ears of many voters with a cringing dissonance. That’s just the nature of American politics at this point in time. A majority of people aren’t ready for sudden, disruptive change, and Republicans would make Bernie sound like Hugo Chávez bent on turning America into a highly dysfunctional Venezuela. Tr-mp represented, among other things, sudden, disruptive change. And he only got 46% of the vote and barely squeaked out an Electoral College advantage. And he used Bernie, the Russians, and ten thousand lies to get that “win.”

I don’t “slam” Sanders because of his radical policies. I criticize him because he seems not to recognize the reality of American politics outside the bubble of his energetic followers. He translates the narrow enthusiasm he sees at rallies and other events into a wider craving for revolutionary change. But we are still, essentially, a 50-50 country. Change, if and when it comes, will come slowly. I wish it weren’t that way. I wish we had a different electoral system, one in which the winner of the popular vote gets to be president and do things like appoint Supreme Court judges. But we don’t. We have a system that elevated an ignorant buffoon to the White’s House who will change the course of the judiciary for at least a generation, all in the direction of reactionary ideology. And Bernie, unwittingly to be sure, helped put that buffoon there by not realizing how little chance the Sanders’ campaign had of winning the primary and how much damage it was doing to the eventual anti-Tr-mp nominee by attacking her integrity—and by Bernie hesitating to endorse her until the last possible minute. I know that analysis makes a lot of Bernie people mad, but that’s the way a lot of Democrats see it.

I also fiercely criticize Bernie because he still refuses to taint himself by actually becoming a Democrat. He seems too good, too self-righteous, to ever attach himself to an entity that might say and do things he doesn’t like. And by that I mean say and do things that don’t match up exactly with his own economic vision, the only vision he seems to have or care about. He doesn’t seem to mind rounding the edges off issues like, say, reproductive rights, but he resists rather dramatically people who don’t share all of his views on economic justice or trade, or he simply seems to ignore them (he finally got around to a late, lukewarm “endorsement” of our Georgia congressional candidate, Jon Ossoff, for instance). 

What I want to tell you and others is this: the Democratic Party is a political association with certain policy goals but with uncertain and evolving strategies on how to achieve those goals. Most people who call themselves Democrats share most of the party’s goals, but have different views on how to get there. Much of the variation on that goal-achieving strategy has to do with one’s view of the electorate. I have met people here in southwest Missouri who, election after election, actually believe Democrats can win here. They base that belief on the enthusiasm they see at local events and other indicators. But when you step back and look at the local landscape from a higher perspective, you see very quickly that Democrats, particularly Bernie-friendly Democrats, cannot do well here. Heck, a few elections back we actually had two Democratic candidates for the House seat who were really Republicans who called themselves Democrats. Most of their policy positions were indistinguishable from the average Republican. And they still got trounced. In politics it is vitally important to know the electoral landscape, to know where to put scarce resources, to know where and how to put up a robust goal-achieving fight. That’s not to say local Democrats shouldn’t try to change the landscape. But the changes will come slowly, incrementally. There will be no Democratic Party revolution here in southwest Missouri, I can assure you. 

Again, I apologize for making you feel belittled or for making you feel like you have to put up with “shit in order to listen to and participate in the conversation.” I do agree with you that we are all, in our own way, “trying to do the right thing.” And, yes, that includes Anson Burlingame, as hard as that is for some readers of this blog to process. And because we are all trying to do the right thing we tend to get passionate about it at times. I plead guilty to that. I am still so bothered by “president” Tr-mp that I get heated when people try to tell me it was “corporate Democrats” who derailed Bernie’s candidacy and who made Tr-mp’s tainted victory possible. No. That’s not true.

Image result for bernie sanders and tom perezHillary Clinton won the popular vote. The Democratic Party platform was Bernie-approved. What happened was that not enough people, particularly working class voters in crucial states who had previously voted for Obama, understood what a Tr-mp win would really mean. In some cases they believed his populist lies and voted for him. In other cases they assumed he would lose and stayed home. But in too many cases they believed that Hillary Clinton was corrupt and untrustworthy. And some of them believed she was corrupt and untrustworthy because Bernie Sanders told them so. Thus, I confess that still burns my ass. But I could get over that if it weren’t for the fact that when I listen to Bernie and some of his supporters talk about the Democratic Party these days, in much the same way they talked about Hillary Clinton, I think about how such talk brought us Agent Orange. And I think about how such talk will keep him in power.

Duane

 

The Pup Tent Party?

Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi, both of whom actually belong to the Democratic Party, said what shouldn’t have needed to be said: DNC Chairman Tom Perez was wrong when he said the national party would not support any candidate who did not support reproductive rights. Here’s part of what Perez said:

Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health. That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.

He is right. Everyone should support reproductive rights for women and those rights should not change depending on where you happen to live. But he is wrong to ignore the reality of American politics. Pro-choice Democrats can’t get elected in some places.

Both Warren and Pelosi are, in Warren’s words, “strongly pro-choice.” Pelosi said:

I have served many years in Congress with members who have not shared my very positive — my family would say aggressive — position on promoting a woman’s right to choose.

Image result for warren and pelosiBut both of these powerful Democrats recognize, as do most party leaders, that the issue of abortion is one that plays differently in Louisiana than it does in Massachusetts or California. We should remember that when Democrats held a majority in the House in 2009, it was because more than three dozen anti-choicers called themselves Democrats.

Leading Democrats have more work to do in convincing an overwhelming majority of people that women should be able to control their own bodies, should be able to make their own choices about having children and how many they should have. Until then, we have to live with the fact that not everyone, including not everyone in the Democratic Party, agrees with the party’s platform on the issue. Warren put it well:

I recognize that not all of my colleagues agree with me. I’ll do everything I can to persuade them, but they are my colleagues, and that’s just how it is with the Democrats. But I got to say, it does not dampen my energy in this fight.

It’s the same way with issues like single-payer health insurance. Many Democrats don’t support the concept, either as a revolutionary change in our system or even as an incremental change, step by step until we get there. These Democrats need to be convinced otherwise, as far as I’m concerned. But if they are willing to fight for other issues that we Democrats have in common, then they should be welcome in our party to fight with us on those issues.

The two major political parties in our system are, by the nature of the case, full of all kinds of people with all kinds of views on all kinds of issues. There is no one issue that defines what a Democrat is, even if there does come a point where you can disagree with so many core principles of the party that you should just call yourself something else and get out of the tent.

Et Tu, O?

Taking time away from unpresidenting Tr-mp on this blog is not something I want to do. But in this case, I think I need to address something unpleasant that I did not see coming.

By now you have read the headline:

Obama to be paid $400,000 for Cantor Fitzgerald speech

Cantor Fitzgerald is an investment bank and brokerage firm. You may remember that its corporate headquarters was located inside of One World Trade Center on 9/11. And you may remember that it lost more than two-thirds of its employees—658 people—including the brother of the CEO, Howard Lutnick. According to Wikipedia,

the company was able to bring its trading markets back online within a week. On September 19, Cantor Fitzgerald made a pledge to distribute 25 percent of the firm’s profits for the next five years, and committed to paying for ten years of health care, for the benefit of the families of its 658 former Cantor Fitzgerald, eSpeed, and TradeSpark employees (profits which would otherwise have been distributed to the Cantor Fitzgerald partners). In 2006, the company completed its promise, having paid a total of $180 million (and an additional $17 million from a relief fund run by Lutnick’s sister, Edie).

New York magazine published an article in 2011 that credited the “willful determination of Lutnick and the other survivors” for the firm’s subsequent success and noted:

…it’s been suggested their crisis-preparedness helped them avoid some of the worst of the crash of 2008: While Cantor trafficked heavily in the mortgage bonds that would prove to be the downfall of many, it wisely did not hang on to any for itself. Its financial success has allowed the firm to extend its philanthropy: According to Edie Lutnick, funds earmarked for memorializing family members lost on 9/11 have given life to 500 new charities, including a Manhattan-based bereavement center for children, and the company recently donated money from its annual charity day to the victims of the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan. Which distinguishes it in the disaster of this decade, too: It may be the only company that bought and sold lousy mortgage bonds that can plausibly lay claim to a greater social purpose.

Okay. Perhaps this particular Wall Street investment bank is better than most. Perhaps it is worthy of President Obama’s time and prestige. I don’t know. I do know that its CEO, Howard Lutnick, backed John McCain in 2008. And I know he backed Jeb Bush last year. And I know the event at which Obama will speak, a “healthcare conference,” was described by the company “as an opportunity to introduce investors to executives at dozens of the biggest healthcare companies,” according to CNBC. And there is something else I know: our ex-president, the guy many of us thought was just a little bit different from other politicians, is wrong to take such a large fee for speaking, unless he plans to donate the money to some kind of charity (we don’t know whether he plans to or not).

At any time, but particularly at this Tr-mpian time, it is unseemly and off-putting for Mr. Obama to feed the cynicism that has infected our country, our electorate, our politics. He has often talked about that cynicism, which helped bring us Tr-mp and Tr-mpism. In fact, he talked about it the other day at the University of Chicago, during an event designed to get young people involved in “changing the world.” Wait. Let me quote him in full (emphasis mine):

I’m spending a lot of time thinking, “What is the most important thing I can do for my next job?” And what I’m convinced of is that, although there are all kinds of issues I care about and all kinds of issues I intend to work on, the single most important thing I can do is to help, in any way I can, prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and take their own crack at changing the world.

Because the one thing that I’m absolutely convinced of is that, yes, we confront a whole range of challenges from economic inequality and lack of opportunity to a criminal justice system that too often is skewed in ways that are unproductive to climate change to, you know, issues related to violence. All those problems are serious. They’re daunting. But they’re not insolvable.

What is preventing us from tackling them and making more progress really has to do with our politics and our civic life. It has to do with the fact that because of things like political gerrymandering our parties have moved further and further apart and it’s harder and harder to find common ground. Because of money and politics.

Special interests dominate the debates in Washington in ways that don’t match up with what the broad majority of Americans feel.

The next day we learned about that $400,000 speaking fee from a Wall Street bank.

To put it bluntly, it is hard not to be cynical in the face of the news that Obama seems to be, like so many before him, cashing in. Again, we don’t know what he plans on doing with the money, but assuming the worst, assuming he merely adds it to the $65 million he and Michelle got from Penguin Random House for two books they are writing, it is all very depressing.

Vox’s Matthew Yglesias put this stunning development in a larger context:

The election in France earlier this week shows that the triumph of populist demagogues is far from inevitable. But to beat it, mainstream politicians and institutions need to shape up — not just with better policies, but with the kind of self-sacrificing spirit and moral leadership that successful movements require.

That means some people are going to have to start making less money and raising the ethical bar for conduct, rather than leveling down to the worst acts of their predecessors.

That is exactly right. And I would have been the first to argue that President Obama was someone who would not cash in and would in fact raise the ethical bar for out-of-office conduct. Now, though, unless all that Wall Street money he will get goes to charity, I will have no real argument. Obama, despite his soaring words over the years, despite his inspirational, civic-minded talk to young folks in Chicago the other day, will have become part of the problem of a creeping, crippling cynicism torturing liberal democracies everywhere. Yglesias writes (again, my emphasis):

a crucial vulnerability of center-left politics around the world is that their sincere conviction — a faith in the positive-sum nature of cosmopolitan values and appropriately regulated forms of global capitalism, tempered by a welfare state — is easily mistaken for corruption. The political right is supposed to be pro-business as a matter of ideological commitment. The progressive center is supposed to be empirically minded, challenging business interests where appropriate but granting them free rein at other times.

This approach has a lot of political and substantive merits. But it is invariably subject to the objection: really?

Did you really avoid breaking up the big banks because you thought it would undermine financial stability, or were you on the take? Did you really think a fracking ban would be bad for the environment, or were you on the take? One man’s sophisticated and pragmatic approach to public policy can be the other man’s grab bag of corrupt opportunism.

Image result for obama appears in chicagoMr. Obama needs to think about something the next time—and there will be plenty of next times—some “fat cats” come to him with a basketful of money asking for a few minutes of his time. He needs to think about how a lowly blogger here in Missouri, one who spent eight years believing in his vision for the country and defending his personal integrity, might feel if, as our former president, he enriches himself by speaking to people who aren’t interested in furthering the causes that so many of us who supported Obama believe in. No, actually, he needs to think about how his conduct out of office, his conduct as someone whose integrity so many people genuinely thought transcended the corruption surrounding the money-based system in Washington, will turn so many people away from a hope of transforming the system.

He needs to think about how many cynics $400,000 can buy.

White Trash In The White’s House

If anyone ever asks me, on some future date, why I refuse to call Tr-mp “president,” why I refuse to acknowledge his legitimacy and fitness for the office, why I consider him to have, perhaps permanently, cratered the dignity of the presidency, and why I consider him to represent the worst of America, I will simply point to this picture of him and Ted Nugent:

636283237459049887-nugent-trump.jpg

Or perhaps I’ll point to this one:

Image result for sarah palin and ted nugent flip off picture of hillary clinton

These are pictures of classless people. And they spent four hours in the White’s House with an even more classless Tr-mp, talking about, according to Ted Nugent, “pretty girls.”

Three years ago, Larry Womack of The Huffington Post wrote this about Nugent:

In fact, in the case of Nugent, we have even come to see alleged child sexual abuse as some sort of eccentricity or harmless vice. Can you imagine anyone else who had been accused of having sex with a 12-year-old, written a song about raping a 13-year-old and adopted a 17-year-old so that he could have sex with her going on to campaign alongside all the most conservative “family values” candidates? […]

Would governors and congressmen hit the campaign trail with that guy? Would they send their children to his “Kamp for Kids” — and professional snipers? What would they say about almost any other man? They wouldn’t call him a creep or a redneck. They’d call him a pedophile.

Instead, Nugent is embraced as some sort of down-home firebrand. He’s a redneck rock star; sex with kids is just part of the package! Sarah Palin says that if a candidate “is good enough for Ted Nugent, he is good enough for me!” Congressmen invite him to the State of the Union.

Besides all that, we have the gun-worshipping, warmongering Nugent’s admission in 1977 that he had an elaborate plan to dodge the Vietnam War draft:

Then two weeks before, I stopped eating any food with nutritional value. I just had chips, Pepsi, beer — stuff I never touched– buttered poop, little jars of Polish sausages, and I’d drink the syrup. I was this side of death. Then a week before, I stopped going to the bathroom. I did it in my pants. Poop, piss, the whole shot. My pants got crusted up.

I don’t have to rehearse all the stupid, nasty, racist, bigoted things that crusty pants Ted Nugent has said, but here are a few of them:

“If Barack Obama becomes the next president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. Why are you laughing? Do you think that’s funny? That’s not funny at all. I’m serious as a heart attack.”

“I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if not shame enough Americans to be ever vigilant not to let a Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel like the ACORN community organizer gangster Barack Hussein Obama to weasel his way into the top office of authority in the United States of America.”

“I was in Chicago last week. I was in Chicago and said, “Hey, Obama you might want to suck on one of these you punk.” Obama, he’s a piece of shit, and I told him to suck on my machine gun. Let’s hear it for him. And then I was in New York. I said, “Hey, Hillary, you might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch. Since I’m in California, how about Barbara Boxer, she might want to suck on my machine gun. And Dianne Feinstein, ride one of these you worthless whore. Any questions?”

Those are the words of a man whom Sarah Palin—a classless quitter cynically brought into American politics by a tainted John McCain, thereby helping pave the way for Tr-mpism—embraces and celebrates. Those are the words of a man with whom she proudly stood in the White’s House, in front of a portrait of the former First Lady—the same one Nugent called a “worthless bitch” and suggested she “ride” on his “machine gun”—and mocked Hillary Clinton. And Palin stood there and posed with Ted Nugent in front of that portrait with the permission of Donald Tr-mp, who might have been the one Nugent was referring to when he told the New York Times that someone asked the three of them to “extend their middle fingers beneath the portrait.”

The term “white trash” goes back a long way in American history. It has had a lot of meanings over time. Certainly, somewhere in the extended pedigree of that word Donald Tr-mp and his vulgar, boorish, clownish friends can be found. Alongside the misogyny, the racism, the xenophobia, and general bigotry of these people, there is the simple fact that they are unrefined, unpolished, unsophisticated, ill-bred schmucks who, by their very presence, disgrace what is fast becoming the trashiest house in America’s neighborhood.

The Message, The Messenger, And How Democratic Party Unity Is A Two-Way Street

The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

—Matthew 8:30

A after a recent piece I posted on a reported stupid move being considered by Senate Democrats (“Some Senate Democrats Are, Well, Idiots“), one writer, Jim Hight, told me the following:

Yes, Democrats are their worst enemies. I hope Elizabeth warren takes over the Majority Partly Leader when (and if) Democrats take the Senate. I write “and if” because the party will always lose unless this tiff with the Bernie supporters ends. As long as the in-fighting continues, Republicans will continue to tear the country apart.

Another writer, DG, commenting on Jim Hight’s observation, said this:

…a united party must appear very shortly. Jim Hight suggests Elizabeth Warren as a possible leader to unite the scaredy cats on the left. That may well be a good start but we need more. […]

Of course I voted for Hillary, but I am a Bernie supporter. That is, I very much support his views…we need a very progressive movement. Bernie has started one. You can see it with the protests and marches that are taking place everyday somewhere in this country. It’s an angry, disgusted and desperate cry to stop this dangerous bullshit republican take over before it gets way out of hand. Thank God they are!

I know what I have to say below, which I write with some trepidation, will make some people mad. It will upset some folks. But so be it. I’m here to express my opinion. As a Democrat, I’m here to give you my honest take on what I see and where I think we are going as a party and who should lead us there. Here goes:

It happens that Bernie Sanders was on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes” on Tuesday. Sanders appeared with the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, who is, bless his heart, trying like hell to hold onto the Sanders folks, trying to keep them from bolting from the Democratic Party when it comes time to vote. Sanders and Perez are on what they are calling a “Unity Tour.” Hayes played a video clip of Sanders saying the following:

Our job is to bring millions of people into the political process. Our job is to radically transform the Democratic Party. And when we are united, we are strongest as a party, as a  nation, as a resistance movement.

Hayes then asked Sanders the obvious question:

You’re talking about reforming, reviving, transforming the Democratic Party.  Do you consider yourself a Democrat?

That’s a fair question, isn’t it? Sanders ran as a Democrat in last year’s presidential primaries. His campaign manager said a year ago that Bernie would remain a Democrat after it was all over. And Bernie just said “when we are united, we are strongest as a party.”  But here is how Bernie answered Hayes’ “Do you consider yourself a Democrat?” question:

No. I’m an independent.  And I think if the Democratic Party is going to succeed—and I want to see it succeed —it’s gonna have to open its door to independents. There are probably more independents in this country than Democrats or Republicans. It’s got to open its doors to working people and to young people, create a grassroots party. That’s what we need.

With jaw-dropping audacity, Sanders sat right next to the DNC chairman (whom Sanders opposed during the DNC election process) and said that although he, Bernie Sanders, wanted to “radically transform the Democratic Party,” he didn’t want to become a Democrat. He essentially said he is happily married to some gal named “Independent.” It is that gal, Ms. Independent, to whom he owes his fidelity, his first and final allegiance and loyalty. Okay. I get it. In other words, Bernie wants to not only go home to Ms. Independent at night, but he wants to have a girlfriend on the side in the daytime, one whom he isn’t quite ready to leave Ms. Independent for, but nevertheless one whom he thinks he should get to sleep with while he simultaneously demands she radically change her ways and become the girl of his dreams. Apparently, he wants the Democratic Party to become his perfect mistress.

Well, to hell with that nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, I think many of Bernie’s ideas are something that Democrats could hang their hats on, could run on and win on (Hillary actually ran on many of them, which is why Bernie’s call for “radically” transforming the party makes little sense to me). But we need someone to come along and talk a lot like Bernie does, but do so while actually marrying the party, committing to it, warts and all. Bernie isn’t that guy. Weirdly, he thinks he can reform the party from the outside; he thinks he can change her ways while still going home to Ms. Independent at night. He thinks he can still retain what he thinks is his moral integrity even while he is flirting, sometimes with the crude entitlement of a Bill O’Reilly, with Ms. Democrat. He flirts while talking smack, enticing her with his rap about rich people getting away with murder while the lower and middle classes suffer, using his position of power to dominate her, to exploit her weakness, to make her give in to his demands. In Bernie’s case, the Democratic Party was a campaign fling, the handy dame he used to run for president against Hillary Clinton. He used the party when he wanted something, even if it was something many Democrats wanted, too. But Bernie’s would-be mistress is not, and apparently never will be, his wife. Why? Because the Democratic Party is not something Bernie wants to come home to at night and snuggle with. He’s not the snuggling, spooning type. He seems to be, to put it crudely, the O’Reilly of party politics.

And make no mistake about it. Bernie can talk the talk. He can paint a broad picture of the economic and political landscape that most Democrats, but not all, find appealing. He is the Picasso of populism on the left. Mind you, he’s short on details, but, as we found out from Tr-mp’s Russian-aided triumph, details don’t really matter all that much to the electorate these days. You merely have to have a monster to attack. You have to have a villain to gun down (as Chris Hayes suggested during his Bernie interview). You have to Image result for demon and the pigshave a devil to cast out. How you gun down your villain, how you cast out your devil, is the hard part, of course. But Tr-mp’s razor-thin Electoral College win shows us that the “how” doesn’t much matter, doesn’t interest people all that much in the voting booth. What does interest them, what does matter, is that you say you want to gun down the villain, shoot the bad guy; you say you want to cast out the demon from a possessed system and send it into the swine, and then send the swine over the cliff.

Bernie told Chris Hayes:

What the party has got to focus on are the most important issues facing working people – that’s the decline of the middle class; that’s the need to take on the billionaire class and Wall Street and the insurance companies and bring people together, a) against Trump`s absolutely reactionary agenda, and, b) fight for a progressive agenda which, among other things, includes a Medicare for all single-payer program.

As I said, Bernie is short on details on how to get all that done. Fighting for a single-payer insurance system is music to my ears (and music to the ears of 80% of Democrats and 60% of independents. But someone has to write down the actual notes on paper, complete with the lyrics about how to win that fight and make it happen in a reluctant, splintered Congress. Someone has to tell us how that can be accomplished in a country so divided as ours, with an electorate so susceptible to the right-wing propaganda that would surely come with such a fight. Vermont, Bernie’s own state, tried the single-payer route. It didn’t work out too well.

To reiterate, the details are less important, at this stage, than the rhetoric. Tr-mp doesn’t have much of value to teach anyone, but he did educate us on how one can win an election without a 48-point policy plan. You simply pick out a couple of bad guys, like the Wall Street oligarchs whose handprints are all over Tr-mp and his administration, and go after them, relentlessly. If our next presidential candidate and our congressional candidates in 2018 and 2020 can successfully do that—if we get a Democratic Congress, and a legitimate president in the White’s House—then we can, and will have to, talk details later. Maybe all we can get done at first are much-needed improvements to the Affordable Care Act. Maybe we can get more. But we have to get in power first.

All that leads me to what you will see below in a video from Wednesday’s Rachel Maddow Show. All that leads me to Elizabeth Warren. She is a Democrat. She is actually married, willingly, to the Democratic Party. She recognizes the party is not all it should be, but sees it for what it can be, the vehicle for real reform, the vehicle to bring about the necessary change that Sanders and his followers say they want. But she also realizes that one cannot demand change from outside the party. She realizes that one cannot demand that the pursued radically change before the pursuer will half-heartedly commit. Warren realizes, as her support for Hillary Clinton demonstrated last year, that change comes from a committed relationship, not from a one-sided, I’ll-tell-you-what-I-want-before-I-give-you-my-love affair. She’s in bed with the party. She doesn’t have another lover on the side to whom she can go if the Democratic Party lets her down in this way or that.

And that’s why I prefer her to Bernie Sanders. I’ve always had reservations about Bernie because Bernie has so many reservations about the Democratic Party. I’ve always had trouble trusting Bernie because Bernie has so much trouble trusting Democrats. Commenter Jim Hight above says “the party will always lose unless this tiff with the Bernie supporters ends.” He’s probably right. We do have to work it out. We do have to heal the divisions between the Sanders voters and the Democratic Party. But that’s not a one-sided task, not a mending that can be done only by Democrats kneeling at the feet of an independent Bernie Sanders and asking for his forgiveness and promising we’ll do whatever he wants us to do.

Bernie did a lot to hurt Hillary Clinton and, as an unintended consequence, helped elect Donald Tr-mp. Oh, I know he didn’t mean to. I know he finally got on board in the end. But he owes the party some kind of a mild mea culpa, some kind of acknowledgement that, long before he eventually came on the anti-Tr-mp general election campaign team, that he did real damage to the person he had to know, as time and primary elections went by, would be the party’s general election candidate. At the very least he owes it to the party to, for God’s sake, join it. He needs to become one of us. He needs to commit. He needs to stop his flirting. He needs to curb his I-am-entitled-to-reform-a-party-I don’t-belong-to arrogance.

Below you will find the entire episode of Wednesday’s Rachel Maddow Show. I could have chopped it up, but I decided to use the whole thing for two reasons. One is that her opening, pre-Warren segment will piss you off and make you realize why Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are absolutely right about who it is that currently runs and ruins the system, using wealth as their tool. The second reason is that you will see why Elizabeth Warren, as reluctant as she is to become a national candidate to run against Tr-mp in 2020 (she has a Senate election in 2018, which takes priority), is someone who is a real Democrat, someone who really believes the party can be the vehicle to do the things that both she and Bernie, and so many progressives, believe should be done. Rachel’s interview with her, and the way Warren conducted herself and answered the questions, shows why her fidelity to the Democratic Party and her belief in its potential means much more to me than Bernie sitting next to the chairman of our party and refusing to commit to it.

Here is last night’s segment in full. You owe it to yourself, as a Democrat, as an independent, or simply as an interested observer of politics, to watch it all:

The Tr-mp Doctrine? Are You Kidding?

“The Trump doctrine? Don’t do what Obama did” 

—Chris Cillizza, writing for CNN

People forget that we are technically still at war with North Korea. In July of 1953, fighting on the peninsula stopped due to the signing of an armistice agreement that was supposed to “insure a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieved.” There has been no “final” settlement and there have been plenty of “acts of armed force” since 1953.

In 1956, the old Soviet Union first introduced the North Koreans to nuclear technology, via training its scientists and engineers. The Soviets continued over the years to help Image result for korean peninsula at nightnurse North Korea along in this and in other ways (along with the Chinese). In the late 1950s, under President Eisenhower, the U.S. introduced real nuclear missiles into the mix, which was a abrogation of part of the armistice agreement (click on this link for an interesting look at “How the Korean War Almost Went Nuclear” in 1950, under Truman; for a look at Ike’s mixed views on the use of nukes, read Chapter 12 from Ira Chernus’s “Faith and Fear in the Fifties“).

Since Eisenhower’s actions in the ’50s (George H. W. Bush unilaterally withdrew all tactical nuclear weapons deployed in South Korea in 1991), the biggest worry in the region has been the nuclear issue and whether the North Koreans would become a big-time nuclear power. With the collapse of the Soviet Union after 1989, North Korea essentially lost one of its lifelines. It became poorer, more desperate, and more dangerous. The American Security Project put the situation in these terms:

This begins the rebalancing of power within the North-South Korean dyad later noted as one of the systemic factors driving North Korea’s nuclear program.

Since then, various attempts were made to curb the development of that nuclear program and the testing required. Threats were issued, deals were offered, joint statements were made. But all those things depended on the assumption that there are reliably rational actors on the North Korean side. There is little evidence of that, however. Early in 2013, the North conducted another nuclear test, causing the UN to issue a resolution, complete with sanctions, condemning the test. As the BBC reported back then,

South Korea’s ambassador to the UN, Kim Sook, said it was time for North Korea to “wake up from its delusion” of becoming a nuclear state.

“It can either take the right path toward a bright future and prosperity, or it can take a bad road toward further and deeper isolation and eventual self-destruction,” he said.

US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said the sanctions would “further constrain” North Korea’s ability to develop its nuclear programme.

She warned that the UN would “take further significant actions” if Pyongyang were to carry out another nuclear test.

These responses, the sanctions and the threat of more sanctions, is what people mean when they use the term “strategic patience” toward North Korea. After all, it is either patience or war, a war that would result not just in the deaths of American soldiers stationed in the region (and more soldiers that would be subsequently deployed there), but potentially hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of South Korean civilians living in places like Seoul, which sits about 30 miles away from the border with the North. The Seoul Capital Area, which includes the city of Seoul, is home to around 24 million people, making it the fourth largest metro area in the world. Resuming the war with North Korea would mean certain death for an uncertain number of civilians. Thus, strategic patience.

Since Tr-mp has no experience with patience, strategic or otherwise, the first time we officially heard from this administration on the matter was from a very inexperienced diplomat who also happens to be our Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. He issued a warning in March that our “policy of strategic patience” with North Korea “has ended.” Out came another middle-school tweet from Tr-mp:

North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been “playing” the United States for years. China has done little to help!

On April 9, we found out that an American Navy carrier strike group was headed for the waters near the Korean Peninsula. Tr-mp, sounding like Kim Jong-un, the dangerously wacky kleptocratic criminal running North Korea, told Fox Business Network:

We are sending an armada. Very powerful. We have submarines. Very powerful. Far more powerful than the aircraft carrier. That I can tell you.

“Armada?” Tr-mp was either displaying his extensive knowledge of 16th-century Spanish-English warfare, or he just thought the word “armada” sounded cool. Likely, it was the first time he had uttered the word in his life, unless he used it during his promotions for the History of European Conflicts and Their Affect on Real Estate Acquisitions, a little-known part of the extensive course offerings at Tr-mp University.

In any case, besides his strange use of Spanish words, there have been, of course, the stupid and dangerous Tr-mp tweets. He said on April 11:

I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!

North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.

Those two tweets sound like a teenage hacker got into Tr-mp’s Twitter account and, with Lee Greenwood’s godawful song playing in the background, decided to exercise juvenile notions of toughness, sort of like using the word armada to describe a U.S. carrier group. But, no, those were Tr-mp’s words. And they constitute threats, even if they are playground threats. The New York Times, being the New York Times, referred to this sort of dopey diction as “intemperate talk.” Well, okay. Whatever you want to call it, they are threats. The Times editorialized the obvious:

It would be risky for Mr. Trump to let overconfidence and bombast, expressed in tweets and public statements, box him into some kind of showdown with the North’s ruthless leader, Kim Jong-un, who has displayed similarly macho traits. South Korea, Japan and even Russia have urged both sides to avoid a devastating miscalculation.

Mike Pence, lapdog for the “broad-shouldered” testosteronic Tr-mp, is obviously not afraid of “devastating miscalculation.” Echoing Tillerson, he told the world, while standing on the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone:

All options are on the table to achieve the objectives and ensure the stability of the people of this country…There was a period of strategic patience but the era of strategic patience is over.

But that wasn’t the scariest thing Pence said. This was:

Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan. North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region.

I don’t know about you, but a man-crushed Pence using Tr-mp’s “strength and resolve” to challenge the crazy leader of North Korea doesn’t bring me much comfort that this thing will end well (even if we remember that Tr-mp ordered that cruise missile attack on Syria while having chocolate cake at Mar-A-Lago and he had nothing to do with the MOAB use in Afghanistan). So, we have the image, broadcast widely, of a tough Pence “staring down” the North Koreans at the demilitarized zone while offering tough Tr-mp talk, but then in comes our National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, who is supposed to be the adult in this administration. It was widely reported what he said on ABC on Sunday, during an interview with Martha Raddatz: “this problem is coming to a head.” Uh-oh. That short quote makes it sound like our strategic patience really has run out. War seems inevitable if North Korea doesn’t give up on its nuclear program, an issue that’s been around since the 1950s. Tr-mp’s recent statement that “North Korea is a problem, the problem will be taken care of,” wasn’t just bluster.

Except here is what McMaster said in context:

RADDATZ: You know, you sound very confident. President Trump of course sounds very confident. But one final question on this: every president since Bill Clinton has said the U.S. will not tolerate a nuclear armed North Korea, and North Korea has only grown stronger in their capabilities. So why do you think President Trump will have a different outcome?

MCMASTER: Well, as you mentioned, this is a problem that has been passed down from multiple administrations. But our president, I think, it’s really the consensus with the president, our key allies in the regions — Japan and South Korea in particular, but also the Chinese leadership — that this problem is coming to a head. And so it’s time for us to undertake all actions we can, short of a military option, to try to resolve this peacefully.

And so we’re going to rely on our allies like we always do, but we’re also going to have to rely on Chinese leadership. I mean, North Korea is very vulnerable to pressure from the Chinese. Eighty percent of North Korea’s trade comes from China. All of their energy requirements are fulfilled by China.

So in the coming weeks, months, I think there’s a great opportunity for all of us — all of us who are really under the threat now of this unpredictable regime — to take action short of armed conflict, so we can avoid the worst.

Now, if you look back at the history of our relations with North Korea on the issue of their obtaining nuclear weapons that actually work, what McMaster said sounded very much like what everyone else has said. In other words, what he said sounded very much like strategic patience. Earlier in that interview he said about “Tr-mp’s aggressive tweets”:

MCMASTER: I think it should make clear to the North Korean regime that it is in their best interest to stop the development of these weapons, to stop the development of these missiles, and to denuclearize the peninsula. And so I think while it’s unclear — and we want to — do not want to telegraph in any way how we’ll respond to certain incidents, it’s clear that the president is determined not to allow this kind of capability to threaten the United States. And our president will take action that is in the best interest of the American people. […]

I mean, what Kim Jong-Un is doing is a threat to all people in the region and globally as well. I mean, this is someone who has said not only does he want to develop a nuclear weapon, but he wants to use it to coerce others. He’s said that he was willing to proliferate nuclear weapons once he develops them. And so this a grave threat to all people.

Again, those words could have come from George H. W. Bush or Bill Clinton or George W. Bush or Barack Obama. All of them recognized that no matter which little freak is running North Korea that a nuclear North is “a grave threat to all people.” That is why there has been a lot of tough talk over the years but a lot tougher practice of strategic patience. McMaster seems to know the value of that patience. His boss, though, doesn’t. His boss, an unhinged tweeter, thinks he can tweet his way through this tough problem, perhaps break his adversary’s will with words like “armada” or threats like “North Korea is looking for trouble.” But on the other side, there is Kim Jong-Un, himself also clearly possessing a basketful of personality disorders. He just might read Tr-mp’s tweets both literally and seriously, not merely seeing them as the rantings of a seventh-grader going through a tough, late puberty. Calling the North Korean regime “unpredictable,” McMaster said of Kim:

This is someone who has demonstrated his brutality by murdering his own brother, by murdering others in his family, by imprisoning large numbers of people in horrible conditions for no reason, for political reasons.

Tweeting stupid comments aimed at playing a game with someone like Kim Jong-un, someone who does appear to do things “for no reason,” or at least no discernible Image result for kim jong unrational reason, is a dangerous game. Conducting diplomacy around the North Korea nuclear problem is hard enough for the few professionals still around the State Department who are trying. It’s almost impossible to conduct such diplomacy when an amateurish, even childish, man in the White’s House has his finger on a keyboard that can provoke a military crisis in an instant.

Rather than act like they are fast running away from the doctrine of strategic patience, when there appears to be no better place to actually run to, perhaps the adults in this administration ought to demand of the “president” that he practice some strategic silence on Twitter.

Before someone, a lot of someones, get hurt, if the Korean peninsula catches fire.

Friedrich Nietzsche On Tr-mp

“Being is an empty fiction.”

—Nietzsche

If you’ve ever taken a philosophy course or read an introductory book on philosophy you know something about Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic philosopher known for his doctrine that “change” is the underlying reality of the universe, captured in this famous statement:

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

The great 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche affirmed this observation:

Heraclitus will remain eternally right with his assertion that being is an empty fiction.  The “apparent” world is the only one: the “true” world is merely added by a lie.

As we have seen lately, Tr-mp and his policy positions are a river flowing. He is not the same politician today that he was year ago. He is not the same politician today he was two weeks ago. And we know he will be yet a different politician two weeks hence. There is no “true” Tr-mp, nothing to hold on to, nothing about him that is real except his mindless modulation and mutation, his careless contraction-expansion-contraction, his numbing novelty. Tr-mp is an empty fiction.

We have now watched him metaphorically stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and murder his previous assertions about NATO, kill his prior criticisms of China’s currency manipulation, shoot down his past promise to stay out of Assad’s business, assassinate his old position on the Export-Import bank, and liquidate his past dislike for Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen and turn it into love. Oh, and he now has a gun aimed at Steven Bannon, who helped get him elected but has lately been in the way of “family” business.

Today we find out that, after holding numerous and contradictory positions on healthcare and the health insurance system, Tr-mp may have a new plan:

Tr-mp threatens to undermine Obamacare to get Democrats to negotiate

That ABC News article says:

Since the failure of the GOP health care bill in the House nearly three weeks ago, President Donald Tr-mp has suggested letting Obamacare explode to bring Democrats to the negotiating table.

Now, he’s threatening to push the detonator.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, Trump suggested the federal government would hold back key subsidy payments made to health insurers offering insurance to low-income Americans.

“Obamacare is dead next month if it doesn’t get that money,” Trump said. “I haven’t made my viewpoint clear yet. I don’t want people to get hurt.”

He doesn’t “want people to get hurt.” That’s today’s Tr-mp. Tomorrow’s Tr-mp could override today’s Tr-mp and we could see what Republicans have wanted to see and tried hard to accomplish ever since the Affordable Care Act was passed: the murder of Obamacare and the collateral damage that will come with that killing. But don’t bet on that happening. Tr-mp told the Journal the purpose of his threat:

What I think should happen and will happen is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.

The alleged master of The Art of the Deal (a book he continues to get credit for writing even though he did not write it) thinks he might set himself up for a big deal with Democrats, who being the good-hearted folks they are, won’t let Tr-mp hurt millions of Americans and will come running to work things out with him and the Republicans. If nothing else proves Tr-mp has no talent for deal-making, it is this pitiful and quite nasty attempt to hold millions of Americans hostage to get what he and Paul Ryan want. Jonathan Chait explains why this is a dumb political strategy:

If the exchanges collapse, the public backlash will redound to the benefit of the opposition party. Democrats may have a strong humanitarian rationale for preserving the system, but their political interest runs in exactly the opposite direction. Trump is threatening Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to meet his demands or else he will give them a majority in Congress.

This whole thing is insufferably stupid. We have a president who is lost in the complexities of governing, who is facing an ocean of problems without a seaworthy ship. To move from philosophy to literature, Stephen Crane, in his most famous short story, “The Open Boat,” wrote:

A particular danger of the sea is the fact that after successfully getting through one wave, you discover that there is another behind it. The next wave is just as nervously anxious and purposeful to overturn boats.

Image result for ocean wavesIf only Tr-mp could figure out, like the characters in Crane’s story, that the waves he faces, the issues that face each and every occupant of the White’s House, are not really out to get him, not bent on overturning his boat. They are simply problems to confront and, if possible, solve. And they should be confronted without threatening to hurt millions of Americans just so Tr-mp can make a deal, just so Tr-mp can claim a win, just so Tr-mp can prove he is more than an empty fiction.

But he’s not. He is Tr-mp.

Some Senate Democats Are, Well, Idiots

Sam Stein, of HuffPo, posted a piece yesterday that just floored me:

Democrats Contemplate How To Forfeit Their Power Upon Regaining The Senate

It began:

After watching Senate Republicans lower the threshold for confirming a Supreme Court justice in order to vote Neil Gorsuch onto the court, Senate Democrats are openly talking about making it harder for themselves to do the same, if and when they regain power.

Over the past few days, a number of Democratic lawmakers have said they’d be open to bringing back the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.

“When the Democrats return to the majority and capture the presidency ― which we will, that day is going to arrive ― we will restore the 60-vote margin,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) told MSNBC on Monday. “We will ensure that for the Supreme Court, there is that special margin that any candidate has to reach, because that is essential to ensuring that our country has a confidence in people who are nominated, rather than just someone who passes a litmus test.”

Image result for knife fightIf you ever wondered why Democrats get rolled so often by ruthless Republicans, now you can see why. Jeez. If the Democratic Party wants people to support it, wants people to knock on doors for it, wants people to send it money, its leader better put out a retraction of this bullshit right now. I ain’t working to support a party that would have its throat cut by Republicans in a fight, and then when it wrestles the knife out of Republican hands, uses that same knife to cut its own throat.

Oh, my.

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