The C Word

NOTE: Pardon me for the long post. It’s been a while. But hang in there with me. Read this in parts or as a whole. But read it. Please.

The day before that dreadful election in 2016 I wrote a piece (“America’s Bone Marrow Biopsy”) that detailed an old blood cancer scare of mine while comparing that scare to what the presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Tr-mp might mean if the unthinkable happened. I wrote: “What is going on in our national bones?” Then:

This election will ultimately decide whether the obvious infection coursing through our democratic blood—Donald Tr-mp and the alt-right racists and xenophobes and conspiracy nuts he has attracted and normalized—is actually cancer or whether it is something less severe, but still troubling, still able to negatively affect our quality of life as Americans.

No matter who wins on Tuesday, America—understood as one nation united under certain political and moral assumptions—is sick. And we cannot blame our sickness only on Donald Tr-mp. The pathology he represents has been with us since our founding. It afflicts every self-governing civilization to some degree or another. In modern times, America’s democratic immune system has mostly been strong enough nationally to fight demagoguery, bigotry, xenophobia, and other forms of blood- and marrow-fouling hate. In the past we have been strong enough to reject malignant figures like Tr-mp, who has cheated his way through life, molesting women, workers, and the truth.

But there are signs our immune system is weakening. We have symptoms of something terrible going on inside us.

The day after the election I lamented:

The doctor, armed with our election test results, just told us what somehow we already knew: America has cancer. Stage 4.

I did not know at the time that, as I was writing those words, cancer had taken root in my own body. I did not find out for sure until July 24 of this year, my granddaughter’s ninth birthday, but somehow it was something I “already knew.” So, like our Tr-mpism-plagued country, I have cancer. Whether cancer will ultimately have me has yet to be determined. Officially, my cancer diagnosis involves two primary malignant tumors (“synchronous neoplasias”), Image result for cancerand I will, of course, write more about my own personal encounter with the C word in a future post. For now, because I’ve learned a little about the disease and because I am incorrigibly interested in our national social and political health, I want to focus on the fight to save our flawed democratic system. After all, our country, in one form or another, will still be here long after I am gone.

As I suggested in November of 2016, I think it is important to diagnose the problem we have and give it a name—a serious name—to communicate how serious the situation is. Cancer, obviously, is among our deepest, darkest fears. That’s what first came to my mind when I contemplated a country under the rule of Tr-mp and Tr-mpism. And others have done so, too. On Friday, Steve Schmidt, a conservative who was a senior campaign strategist for the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and John McCain, wrote on Twitter (emphasis mine):

Trump is vile, dishonest and corrupt. He is stoking a cold civil war in our land. He is assailing our institutions, traditions, alliances and is a party to the global regression of democracy. He is incompetent and mentally unfit. This is a national emergency.

This National emergency has every potential to cause a disaster of immense proportions. Should that happen generations will look back with wonder that people didn’t proactively understand the causal effect of the emergency to the disaster. There is also a crisis in America.

The crisis is different than the emergency. There is a crisis of cowardice. The GOP majority are complicit quislings enthralled to a dime store Mussolini who they know is morally, intellectually and mentally unfit for his office. This crisis of cowardice is making the emergency worse because these cowards have chosen their tribe and personal ambitions over America and have failed their oaths to defend the Constitution. They refuse to fulfill their oversight obligations as a coequal branch of government and have effectively obliterated the system of checks and balances that makes the American Republic work. I think it is important to think about the nature of the Emergency, the nature of the crisis and the possibility of real disaster as three distinct but interrelated metastasizing cancers. We don’t at our collective peril.

Also on Friday, President Obama finally broke his post-presidency silence. In a surprisingly combative speech given in front of students at the University of Illinois, he essentially defined the cancer that is Tr-mpism, that is the Republican Party these days, telling the young folks:

…even though your generation is the most diverse in history with a greater acceptance and celebration of our differences than ever before, those are the kinds of conditions that are ripe for exploitation by politicians who have no compunction and no shame about tapping into America’s dark history of racial and ethnic and religious division. Appealing to tribe, appealing to fear, pitting one group against another, telling people that order and security will be restored if it weren’t for those who don’t look like us or don’t sound like us or don’t pray like we do, that’s an old playbook. It’s as old as time.

And in a healthy democracy, it doesn’t work. Our antibodies kick in, and people of goodwill from across the political spectrum call out the bigots and the fear mongers and work to compromise and get things done and promote the better angels of our nature.

But when there’s a vacuum in our democracy, when we don’t vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, when we turn away and stop paying attention and stop engaging and stop believing and look for the newest diversion, the electronic versions of bread and circuses, then other voices fill the void.

A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment takes hold and demagogues promise simple fixes to complex problems. They promise to fight for the little guy, even as they cater to the wealthiest and most powerful. They promise to clean up corruption and then plunder away. They start undermining norms that ensure accountability and try to change the rules to entrench their power further. They appeal to racial nationalism that’s barely veiled, if veiled at all. Sound familiar?

Of course it sounds familiar. Maybe it sounds too familiar for some folks. Maybe people are tired of hearing about all the incompetence and corruption. Maybe there is some exhaustion, or cynicism, setting in, thwarting the will to fight the disease and fight the fear of the disease. That remains to be seen. But I want to emphasize something Obama said:

Our antibodies kick in, and people of goodwill from across the political spectrum call out the bigots and the fear mongers and work to compromise and get things done and promote the better angels of our nature.

His talk of “antibodies” in our politics reminded me of something Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in her recent book, Natural Causes. Ehrenreich is best known for her political activism and writings on various social issues, but she holds a PhD in cellular immunology. She’s also a breast cancer survivor. In Natural Causes she relates how she discovered something “deeply upsetting” about our immune system and cancer, something so upsetting that she “could only think, This changes everything.” What she found was,

the immune system actually abets the growth and spread of tumors, which is like saying that the fire department is staffed by arsonists. We all know that the function of the immune system is to protect us, most commonly from bacteria and viruses, so its expected response to cancer should be a concerted and militant defense. As a graduate student, I had worked in two different laboratories dedicated to elucidating the defenses mounted by the immune system, and had come to think of it as a magical and for the most part invisible protective cloak. I could walk through the valley of the shadow of death, so to speak, or expose myself to deadly microbes, and know no evil, because my immune cells and antibodies would keep me from harm. But here they were—going over to the other side.

I found this shocking. I found it disturbing. Does our immune system actually betray us, when it comes to cancer? Does it actually “enable the growth and spread of cancer,” as Ehrenreich claims? Yes. The culprit is a type of immune cell, a type of white blood cell, called a “macrophage.” Apparently there are “good” macrophages and “bad” ones, the bad ones helping to make, as the British Journal of Cancer puts it, “the tumour microenvironment conducive to tumour progression and metastasis.” Yikes. There’s even a name for these traitors: tumor-associated macrophages, or TAMs, which, as The Scientist magazine alarmingly notes, “can make up as much as 50 percent of a tumor’s mass.” Ehrenreich, writing about the state of biological science at the end of the 20th century regarding the immune system, wrote:

…as the century came to a close, it became increasingly evident that the immune system was not only giving cancer cells a pass and figuratively waving them through checkpoints. Perversely and against all biological reason, it was aiding them to spread and establish new tumors through the body.

Now, hopefully you know me well enough by now to know where I am going with this. The most basic definition of “cancer” is “the disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body.” As far as out body politic, as far as our Republic and the Tr-mpism that plagues it, we can apply that definition. There are “abnormal cells” of people who find Tr-mpism strangely appealing. But there is another definition of cancer: “a practice or phenomenon perceived to be evil or destructive and hard to contain or eradicate.” We can also apply that definition to our national nightmare. What we see with Tr-mp and his most ardent and faithful followers (and his abettors in Congress) is destructive and hard to contain. And the very immune system we rely on to protect us from corruption and demagoguery—our free press—often is like Ehrenreich’s bad macrophages that perversely and against all reason give Tr-mpism a pass and figuratively wave it through the checkpoints.

We saw it during the campaign, even though generally our press is mostly good at fighting corruption in our politics. Journalists normally excel at exposing compromised politicians (bacteria) and demagogic rhetoric (viruses), but in too many cases they do what they did in that 2016 campaign. They spread a cancer like Tr-mpism. In Tr-mp’s case, because they had not seen anything like him in national politics, the press gave him countless hours of free air time, which was worth a gazillion dollars. They disseminated his demagoguery. They featured, almost endlessly, his misinformed and bigoted voters and their cultish devotion to him. All the while they went about thoughtlessly “raising questions” about Hillary Clinton for what amounted to a relatively harmless handling of her emails and, by comparison to Tr-mp, a rather tiny amount of corruption involving the Clinton Foundation and her speeches to Wall Street bankers. By doing that, they unwittingly helped spread the cancer that we now face.

And the aiding and abetting of the disease continues.

After Obama’s anti-Tr-mpism speech on Friday, TV journalists waited breathlessly for Tr-mp’s response from Fargo, North Dakota, part of which was broadcast live on MSNBC (and probably CNN) an abc news.jpghour after Obama’s. On Friday evening’s ABC’s World News Tonight, the first story featured was “CLASH OF PRESIDENTS,” as if we were witnessing a typical political fight between moral equals. And add to that the fact that for over a week journalists of all kinds offered nearly undiluted praise for John McCain, who got a lot of deserved credit for his heroism but a lot of undeserved credit for being part of the “resistance” to Tr-mpism. Then, when that weird Op-Ed came out in The New York Times three days ago, part of the press made the coward behind it a hero for the “courage” to come forth and tell the world that his or her boss was mentally challenged or just plain nuts but that don’t worry, the nasty conservative agenda was marching on.

But I want to focus on something that one member of the press did last weekend that will be repeated as we draw closer to the 2020 presidential election. In this case, the damage was done by CNN’s Dana Bash, who was filling in for Jake Tapper on the network’s Sunday show, State of the Union. The guest was the just-elected Democratic Party nominee for Florida governor, Andrew Gillum, who is now running against a Tr-mper named Ron DeSantis. I’m going to post most of the long transcript in order to make a point. Read it and imagine the same thing happening to a Democratic presidential candidate two years from now, all of which feeds the cancer of Tr-mpism:

BASH: Thank you so much for joining me this morning. Let’s start with the president himself putting you in the spotlight and your race, of course, describing you this way in a tweet: “A failed socialist mayor named Andrew Gillum who has allowed crime and many other problems to flourish in his city, this is not what Florida wants or needs.” You’re now in a general election in a state that Trump won. You ran pretty far to the left in the primary race. In order to be governor, you need to win voters in the middle. How are you going to do that?

GILLUM: Yes, Dana, let me first say how extremely proud I was yesterday watching Senator McCain’s funeral. The comments from his daughter Meghan, from the president, all the former presidents, really was a display of really who we are as a country. Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump are at the far other extremes of what we want, not only as a country, but as a state. And I will tell you, I don’t believe that any of the issues that I stood on in the primary are in any way disqualifying in this general election. We’re going to win this race because the people of my state are interested in having an education system that their kids can get a good, quality education. And right now, we rank 40th of 50th in quality. The people in my state want access to good and affordable and accessible health care.

BASH: And I want to…

GILLUM: They want to see teachers paid what they’re worth.

BASH: And I want to get to a lot of those issues and dig deeper on them in just a moment. Before, though, I want—I have to get this out of the way. I don’t want to give undue attention to this. But, this week, a white supremacist robo-call came out in your state of Florida against your campaign. You, of course, are the first black nominee for governor in the state of Florida. How are you going to fend off against attacks of what really are not just racially tinged, racist things like we’re seeing there now?

GILLUM: Yes. Yes. Well, first of all, I have to tell you, I do find it deeply regrettable. I mean, on the day right after I secured the Democratic nomination, we had to deal with some of the dog whistles directly from my opponent. And I—and I honestly want to sincerely say this, Dana. We can have a challenge between ideas and around what we think the people of the state of Florida deserve. What I don’t want this race to turn into is a race of name-calling. I want to make sure that we don’t racialize and, frankly, weaponize race as a part of this process, which is why I have called on my opponent to really work to rise above some of these things. People are taking their cues from him, from his campaign, and from Donald Trump.

BASH: And we should…

GILLUM: And we saw in Charlottesville that that can lead to real, frankly, dangerous outcomes.

BASH: And I also want to make clear that your opponent, Ron DeSantis, has—has condemned this robo-call, which, again, we’re not playing. It is beyond offensive. I want to look…

GILLUM: Of course.

BASH: … talk about what the president mentioned also in that tweet, which is the crime rate in your city. Mr. Mayor, it’s true that your county has the highest crime rate in the entire state of Florida. The number of murders there hit a new high just last year. How do you explain to Florida voters why they should trust you with their state, when those crime rates are so high?

GILLUM: Well, I’m the mayor of the city of Tallahassee, not the county of Leon. And in the city of Tallahassee, we actually are experiencing a five- year low in our crime rate. In fact, we’re on par to see historic lows in our crime rate this year if we keep on the pattern that we’re currently on. And, Dana, we didn’t do that by arresting more people and throwing away the key, but by leaning into smart justice, restorative justice, second chances, because the best way to control a crime rate, frankly, is to reduce the number of people who re-offend. We’re very, very proud of, I think, the very progressive way in which we have addressed crime in my city. And it’s evident by the numbers. I’m extremely proud of where we are. And, frankly, I would like to see those kinds of strategies scaled up all around the state of Florida.

BASH: Let’s move on to health care. You mentioned that you support Medicare for all. A study earlier this summer from George Mason University estimates that Medicare for all, that plan, would cost the government $33 trillion—with the T—dollars over the next decade, which obviously would require a significant tax increase. Florida has—has a reputation, as you know, for being a tax-averse state. Are you ready to tell the people of Florida that they need pay a lot more in taxes to fund your health care plan?

GILLUM: Well, let me first say there was also a report, Dana, that showed that, should we move to cover more people to a Medicare-for-all system, we could actually save the system trillions over an extended period of time. But I will tell you this, because I…

BASH: You could. But in the short term, in order to do that, you need to raise taxes. Fair?

GILLUM: So, what I would say is, first of all — and I want to be clear about this — the state of Florida could not take this road by itself. We would need to do it as part of a federation of other states coming together. Think of Florida, New York, California, and a few of the other larger states.

BASH: But, sir, are you—in order to do that, taxes would have to be raised. Is that—is that fair? Do you agree with that?

GILLUM: I don’t buy that. So, let me just say, for instance…

BASH: How do you do that? How do you find that kind of money for the government without raising taxes?

GILLUM: So, first, I would say, one, Florida could not do it by itself. But, secondly, we have the opportunity to expand Medicaid for over 700,000 of the most medically needy people here in the state of Florida. My governor and legislature refuse to do that. Do you know it cost us about $6 billion in money that should have come from the federal government to the state of Florida that we never received? And so I’m simply saying—and this is—I want to be clear, Dana. This is very personal to me. I remember growing up as a kid having to wait for the mobile dental clinic to come to the neighborhood in order to have my teeth cleaned. The biggest concern for people…

BASH: Yes, I know you have experiences.

GILLUM: Sure.

BASH: And you’re coming from a real place, a personal place in supporting this. But as a government official, you have to make it work, and you have to make the numbers work.

GILLUM: Absolutely.

BASH: And so I don’t—I still don’t understand how you would do it without raising taxes.

GILLUM: So, the first step we would take is expand Medicaid and pull down about $6 billion a year from the federal government. That’s important. Secondly, as governor of the state of Florida, I would work to bring a number of the largest states into a conversation around how it is, together, we might be able to negotiate prices and access to health care to cover more people and ensure that even those who — of us who are in insured, who are right now paying premium increases year over year over year, all because Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump have worked overtime to make access to health care more affordable.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Will you say that you will not support raising taxes to make your health care plan work?

GILLUM: I will absolutely not raise taxes on everyday working Floridians to give access to additional people.

BASH: What about wealthier people?

GILLUM: So, what I said—and I ran on this, by the way—is that we will increase taxes for the—for corporations in our state who right now, just so you are aware, only 3 percent of companies in the state of Florida pay the corporate tax rate, 3 percent. And that 3 percent under the Donald Trump tax scam got a windfall of $6.3 billion overnight, due to the tax reform that took place in Washington, D.C. We’re not asking for all of it. We simply said, we believe that we ought to bring a billion of that money back into the state’s government, because being a cheap date state has not worked for the state of Florida. And, unfortunately, we have got to do that if we’re going to be leading state.

BASH: One more—one more issue. We have spent a lot of time, understandably, on health care. On immigration, you have joined growing calls for replacing ICE, the Immigration Customs Enforcement agency. The state of California actually passed a plan last year to become a so-called sanctuary state, which limits state cooperation with federal immigration officials. Would you support that plan for the state of Florida?

GILLUM: No. What I would support is the policies of this current administration have been wholly misguided and, in my opinion, are quite un-American. Not one of us wants to undermine the work of ICE to do the important work of making sure that we end sex trafficking and human trafficking, making sure that we are precluding drugs and other sort of insidious entrances into our state.

Unfortunately, this border crisis that the president created is all of his own making. We have not had the level the border crossing into this country since 2010. This is a straw man argument meant to speak to his base. It doesn’t keep any of us safer. And he’s turned this — the work of this important agency into a deportation and family separation force. And I simply believe that it’s un-American, and it also makes all of us less safe.

BASH: Before I let you go, I have to ask about something that’s going on back home in your city. There’s an ongoing corruption probe into development deals in your city of Tallahassee since you have been there. I understand that you’re cooperating in that investigation, you want to see justice done. But this investigation has already breached your inner circle. A subpoena went out to your longtime friend, former aide. You’re the mayor. Does the buck stop with you on this?

GILLUM: Yes, so, first of all, not a former aide of mine. But I will say this much. I — no one in my government is under FBI investigation.

BASH: He was a campaign aide, correct?

(CROSSTALK)

GILLUM: A volunteer.

BASH: OK.

GILLUM: Volunteer, not an aide. But the point being though, Dana, is nobody wants more for any activity that is illegal or corrupt that has occurred, we want to make sure that any individual that participated in that is held fully accountable. The good news is, is that it doesn’t involve my government or myself. We have all been fully cooperating. And the difference between how we have addressed this and how Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump have addressed the FBI is that we have welcomed them and have tried to aid in their work.

Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis have tried to undermine and undercut the FBI at every single turn, the president even going so far as to suggest a deep state as a way to undermining that work. That is an absence of leadership. And I think that what we have done here has, frankly, been a model of how you deal with these kinds of things as a way to root out any bad players, any bad activity. And nobody wants to bring that to a conclusion quicker than I do.

BASH: Final question.

Bernie Sanders was one of your big supporters, particularly towards the end of your primary race there. You endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. Would you support Bernie Sanders for president in 2020?

GILLUM: Oh, Dana, I’m trying to get elected governor.

(LAUGHTER)

GILLUM: We’re trying to save this state.

But I will tell you, I’m deeply appreciative of the support of Senator Sanders. And you’re right. I did support Secretary Clinton. I spoke to her earlier last week, she and the president, President Clinton. I value their friendships. And I think what is important is that what we showed is that we have got the ability to bring together all the wings of the Democratic Party.

BASH: Thank you.

Now, really there are two points here. One is that at no time has Tr-mp or any Tr-mper ever received such anus-probing scrutiny. That may be because most Tr-mpers avoid the real press and prefer the friendly confines of Fox or talk radio. But it also may be because Tr-mpers attract the attention of the legitimate press for completely different reasons than do the average liberal Democrats, who for the most part are focused on policies and helping people with those policies. Journalists know how to handle such liberals because such liberals are willing to submit to anal examinations by real journalists and real journalists understand how to interview politicians about policy issues.

But when it comes to Tr-mpers, journalists don’t even imagine that they will get a straight answer from them. For many reporters, the attraction of interviewing Tr-mpers has to do with their utter shamelessness, their utter adulation or cynical use of Tr-mp, their unwillingness to admit the obvious: that Tr-mp is at least partially out of his mind and a corrupt narcissist and a certified grifter. So, journalists, knowing they won’t get a straight answer from such people (think: Kellyanne Conway), instead use their platforms (think: CNN’s Chris Cuomo interviewing Conway countless times to no avail) to spread the cancer, albeit not out of malice or with an underhanded purpose. It’s just the nature of the beast, like those misguided macrophages, who although they are supposed to be protecting us from cancer, actually help it spread and eventually kill us.

So, to end this lengthy essay, what is it we can do? What treatment will work to eradicate the cancer of Tr-mpism, the cancer of today’s Republican Party? As he often does, Obama has an answer. We, you and me, we are the treatment. We are the chemotherapy. Our votes and activism can radiate the Tr-mp tumor and shrink it until the cancer goes into remission or, Allah willing, dies a final political death:

You cannot sit back and wait for a savior. You can’t opt out because you don’t feel sufficiently inspired by this or that particular candidate. This is not a rock concert. This is not Coachella. We don’t need a messiah. All we need are decent, honest, hard-working people who are accountable and who have America’s best interests at heart. And they’ll step up and they’ll join our government, and they will make things better if they have support.

One election will not fix everything that needs to be fixed. But it will be a start. And you have to start it. What’s going to fix our democracy is you.

People ask me, what are you going to do for the election? No, the question is what are you going to do? You’re the antidote. Your participation and your spirit and your determination, not just in this election, but in every subsequent election and in the days between elections. Because in the end, the threat to our democracy doesn’t just come from Donald Tr-mp or the current batch of Republicans in Congress or the Koch brothers and their lobbyists or too much compromise from Democrats or Russian hacking. The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference. The biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism.

I urge all of you, especially young people, to read Obama’s entire speech. If there is an anti-cancer agent in our body politic, it is young people. We older people have screwed up this experiment in self-government. We, especially baby boomers, have really done a lot of damage to the country. We’ve used up and not replaced the things we were given, while stealing from the future, and we’ve allowed Tr-mpism to flourish. But it’s not too late. Along with an empowered and empowering youth, we can fight and beat this thing, this ugly, ugly thing.

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[photo credit: Cleveland Clinic; ABC News]

White. Angst. Tr-mp.

If there has been one consistent theme running through this blog for the past nine years, it is this one: the domestic political obstacles President Obama faced while in office and the rise of the still-destructive Tea Party and the subsequent emergence of a corrupt cartoonish racist named Tr-mp are all importantly connected to what I have frequently called “white angst.”

As I use the term, white angst is in some cases merely a worry that something bad is happening to white dominance of the culture. In other cases it is a deep-rooted fear that something bad is happening to that dominance. But in all cases white angst is a foreboding, a concern that something bad is, if it hasn’t already, going to happen if white people don’t put a stop to it while there is still time. I have consistently posited this race-based phenomenon as a significant factor (along with pure partisanship) in the dreadful reaction against Obama, first as a viable presidential candidate, and then as our first African-American chief executive trying to combat a soul-crushing recession, a dangerous economic moment in our country that surely helped him overcome the electoral challenges in our race-troubled history.

Economic anxieties created by the Great Recession in 2008 temporarily put to sleep some of the racial anxieties of white folks. The voter turnout rate for whites that election year fell from 67.2% to 66.1%, while all minority groups increased their turnout rates. And Obama received 43% of the white vote that year. But the Tea Party movement, pregnant with white angst after the election of a black man, raised its ugly reactionary head early in 2009, just after Obama took office. Here in Joplin I attended three tax-day Tea Party events in three successive Aprils. I could hear the worry and fear in the speeches and in the conversations I had with some of the folks who were there. The pretense was that the worry and fear were rooted in economics, mostly about government debt and deficits and the future of “our kids and grandkids.”

But you may have noticed that there were no Tea Party events on any of the eight April tax days during the George W. Bush administration, despite the profligate war spending and tax cuts—and the doubling of the national debt that resulted. And you may have noticed that there were no Tea Party events on tax day this April, despite the news that annual deficits and long-term debt are skyrocketing, much of it due to the lingering effects of past tax cuts and new effects from cuts that Republicans handed out to their wealthy donors and corporations at the end of last year. No, there were no Tea Party events here in Joplin or elsewhere. Just silence from previously worried white teapartiers, a silence that provides some evidence for my past claims of racial angst and its effects on the white electorate. (Some other evidence: Obama received only 39% of the white vote in 2012, after that 43% showing in 2008. And the racist-birther Tr-mp beat Hillary with the white vote 58%-37%.)

Well, well. Now there is much more science behind my ongoing claim, a claim that was challenged by conservatives early on in the life of this blog. From The New York Times:

Ever since Donald J. Trump began his improbable political rise, many pundits have credited his appeal among white, Christian and male voters to “economic anxiety.” Hobbled by unemployment and locked out of the recovery, those voters turned out in force to send Mr. Trump, and a message, to Washington.

Or so that narrative goes.

A study published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences questions that explanation, the latest to suggest that Trump voters weren’t driven by anger over the past, but rather fear of what may come. White, Christian and male voters, the study suggests, turned to Mr. Trump because they felt their status was at risk.

“It’s much more of a symbolic threat that people feel,’’ said Diana C. Mutz, the author of the study and a political science and communications professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where she directs the Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics. “It’s not a threat to their own economic well-being; it’s a threat to their group’s dominance in our country over all.”

The study is not the first to cast doubt on the prevailing economic anxiety theory. Last year, a Public Religion Research Institute survey of more than 3,000 people also found that Mr. Trump’s appeal could better be explained by a fear of cultural displacement.

You can read the entire article if you want (“Trump Voters Driven by Fear of Losing Status, Not Economic Anxiety, Study Finds”), or you can follow-up on the study it was based on (“Status threat, not economic hardship, explains the 2016 presidential vote”), or you can see a study referenced in the article (“Beyond Economics: Fears of Cultural Displacement Pushed the White Working Class to Trump”).  There are other studies that offer similar evidence. With this post, I just wanted to defend myself from attacks long ago.

_____________________________

NOTE for NERDS:

Perhaps I should make something clear about the study that formed the basis for the latest Times article. The problem isn’t just with what the National Academy of Sciences study called “group status” threats related to white people’s perceptions. There is also the group status threat of globalism, “the increasing interdependence of the United States on other countries” and the idea that “Americans increasingly feel that they are not getting their fair share.” Regarding the former, the threat is to white dominance within our country. Regarding the latter, the threat is to American dominance in the larger world. But the study makes some points we shouldn’t miss, so I will quote it at length for those of you who like to get into the weeds a little bit:

Racial status threat and global status threat are technically separable, but they are difficult to distinguish in practice. Because white male Christians are seen as most prototypically “American” (31), they have the most to lose psychologically if they perceive America and/or whites to be no longer dominant. Given that the 2016 election featured discussions of perceived threats from religious minorities, racial minorities, and foreigners, this generalized sense of threat is likely to have spilled over into multiple arenas. For white Americans, the political consequences of racial and global status threat seem to point in similar directions with respect to issue positions: opposition to immigration, rejection of international trade relationships, and perceptions of China as a threat to American wellbeing.

For two of these three issues—trade and China—trends in public opinion clearly support the thesis of increased threat between 2012 and 2016 (3233). For immigration, however, multiple sources instead suggest increasingly supportive attitudes among Republicans and Democrats alike (34). Likewise, to the extent that immigration is perceived as threatening by Americans, scholars find that it is due to the increased economic burden Americans believe immigrants place on the social welfare system rather than a threat to white status (35). Nonetheless, it remains possible that the heightened salience of immigration contributed to Trump’s victory without increasing actual opposition to immigration, consistent with previous findings attributing preference changes to the increased salience of immigration (3).

How plausible is status threat—whether from a sense of declining racial or global status—as an explanation for changes in voting behavior in 2016? With respect to global status threat, the received wisdom from decades of research has long been that “voting ends at water’s edge.” In other words, outside of foreign wars, international affairs are assumed to have little if any electoral importance (36). However, economic globalization has gained prominence in recent years (37). Racial status threat makes perfect sense occurring immediately after 8 y of leadership by America’s first African American president. It is not racism of the kind suggesting that whites view minorities as morally or intellectually inferior, but rather, one that regards minorities as sufficiently powerful to be a threat to the status quo. When members of a dominant group experience a sense of threat to their group’s position, whether it is the status of Americans in the world at large or the status of whites in a multiethnic America, change in people’s sense of their group’s relative position produces insecurity.

Despite multiculturalism’s ostensible goal of inclusion, experimental studies suggest that it is experienced by whites as a form of status threat that produces more negative attitudes toward outgroups of all kinds (38). Simply reminding whites about their impending loss of majority status produces feelings of threat in experimental studies (39), particularly among those who think of the “American way of life” as being white (40). Consequences of exposure to information about impending majority–minority status have included increased conservatism and greater identification with the Republican Party (41) and the Tea Party (42), increased opposition to diversity (41), greater explicit and implicit racial bias, and a stronger preference for interacting with one’s own race (43). In one study, reminding participants about the upcoming racial shift also produced increased support for Trump among both Democrats and Republicans in a white convenience sample (44).

The Two Unforgivable Sins Of Mitch McConnell

A couple of crooks—“true friends” one of them says—met in the Whites House today. For all I know, Tr-mp and Benjamin Netanyahu discussed legal strategies to fend off the law. Or discussed war strategy against Iran. Or simply discussed how messy democracy is and, gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to be rid of it.

In any case, whatever the two scoundrels talked about, we can rest assured that not much talk among the Washington press corps today will involve Mitch McConnell, a crook of a different sort. He is one scoundrel who never faces that much scrutiny, and certainly not much scrutiny proportional to the outrageousness of his transgressions.

When you do hear talk of McConnell in the non-opinion press, it usually begins, and often ends, like this: “McConnell is a master of the Senate, a real legislative genius.” Well, maybe he is. But if so he uses such mastery and genius in a corrupt fashion, as when he deprived Obama voters of the power of our vote by stealing from us a Supreme Court nomination and appointment in 2016. I repeat: he stole that nomination and appointment not just from Obama, but he stole it from We The People who voted for Obama. Our vote for the winning presidential candidate in 2012 entitled us to a justice chosen by the winner of that election, not one essentially chosen by Mitch McConnell a year later. That, admittedly, is a special kind of crookedness, Image result for mitch mcconnell and trumpbut in some ways it is a worse kind of crookedness than the corruption that most certainly is behind the crimes Tr-mp and Netanyahu are credibly accused of.

So, at the heart of McConnell’s theft of that Court seat was a disdain for democracy: Obama voters expected and were democratically entitled to one kind of justice and we ended up with a judicial monster, in terms of Neil Gorsuch’s zealous reactionary conservatism. McConnell’s anti-democratic deed was just part of his attempt to sabotage Obama’s presidency, of course. But that dirty deed was particularly prophetic, as we learned of what else McConnell did in 2016.

Although you wouldn’t know it from the press coverage it hasn’t much received, but we have known since December 9, 2016—just one month after the election—that Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders refused to join with Democrats and warn the public about Russian interference in the election while it could have possibly done some good. As The Washington Post reported at the time,

the White House wanted congressional leaders to sign off on a bipartisan statement urging state and local officials to take federal help in protecting their voting-registration and balloting machines from Russian cyber-intrusions…

In a secure room in the Capitol used for briefings involving classified information, administration officials broadly laid out the evidence U.S. spy agencies had collected, showing Russia’s role in cyber-intrusions in at least two states and in hacking the emails of the Democratic organizations and individuals.

And they made a case for a united, bipartisan front in response to what one official described as “the threat posed by unprecedented meddling by a foreign power in our election process.”

The Democratic leaders in the room unanimously agreed on the need to take the threat seriously. Republicans, however, were divided, with at least two GOP lawmakers reluctant to accede to the White House requests.

According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.

I remind you that we learned of McConnell’s non-action and subversive threat shortly after that fatal or near-fatal election. And from time to time, there have been a few straight news reports about it, mainly if someone like Joe Biden speaks up, as he did in January of this year, when he said McConnell “wanted no part of having a bipartisan commitment.” Mostly, though, the relatively small amount of noise made over this naked, anti-democratic partisanship has been made by opinionators like Brian Beutler at The New Republic, who tweeted last July:

McConnell ran interference for Tr-mp during the campaign to stop Obama from warning the country about things Tr-mp was lying publicly about.

Only one Republican that I know of has recently called into question McConnell’s behavior. John Weaver, who has worked as a top adviser to John McCain, as well as a chief strategist for Jon Huntsman and John Kasich, wrote just last month:

We need to revisit why refused to join in warning America the Russians had attacked us.

And the one time that I know of that McConnell was openly asked about this moral failure was, as Steve Benen noted, in July of 2017, right after the Junior Tr-mp meeting with the Russians was all the rage. NBC’s Kasie Hunt asked McConnell if he regretted his “course of action” of not warning the public before the 2016 election. McConnell, apparently a man without regrets of any kind, didn’t answer that question. Instead he said this:

What I have a lot of confidence in is the Intelligence Committee handling this whole investigation. Senator Burr and Senator Warner have ball control, and we’ll hear from them later.

Yeah, well.

The matter of McConnell’s crookedness came up again yesterday on Meet The Press, during an interview Chuck Todd did with Denis McDonough, who was Obama’s Chief of Staff for the entire second term. (McDonough also served as the Chief of Staff for Obama’s National Security Council and then Deputy National Security Advisor. So, this man has an understanding of the intelligence business.) Todd, playing into Tr-mp’s deflective accusations against President Obama, asked McDonough whether the Obama administration had done enough about the Russian interference by asking him,

Did you choke?

Now, that kind of provocative question is fine with me, so long as it goes both ways. Like, if Todd interviewed McConnell and he asked him, “Did you shit on our democratic values by depriving Obama of a Court pick and by using your Russia silence to aid the Russians who were aiding Tr-mp?” You know, that sort of evenhandedness I can stomach. But for some reason, it never quite comes out that way.

In any case, McDonough tried to defend what the Obama administration had done, including he claimed, getting Vladimir Putin to back away from actually tampering with voting mechanisms:

We had great fear that that was what they had in mind during the course of the summer of 2016. We had great fear that we needed to take significant steps to stop them from doing it: A direct confrontation with President Putin when they were both in China; we went to the bipartisan leadership of Congress to ask them to work with us to ensure that the states had what they needed—and by the way, Chuck, the lack of urgency that we saw from the Republican leadership in 2016, we continue to see to this day today. It’s beyond time for Congress to work with the administration, to work with the states, to ensure that our electoral systems are ready to go. This is not a game.

It’s not a game to some of us, but it is to Mitch McConnell. And he plays to win, no matter the cost of winning. I will here insert the back-and-forth between Todd and McDonough that leads directly to McConnell’s involvement. The exchange began after Todd played Joe Biden’s remarks from January, when he said that McConnell “wanted no part of having a bipartisan committment”:

mcdonough on meet the pressCHUCK TODD: Do you stand by what he said, that Mitch McConnell is the reason why everything was a lower grade, sort of everything that you did in ’16, that you couldn’t be as robust in a bipartisan sense because Mitch McConnell didn’t sign on?

DENIS MCDONOUGH: What I know is that the intelligence community approached the, the entire leadership of the Congress—

CHUCK TODD: So called Gang of Eight.

DENIS MCDONOUGH: —in the early August, 2016. Several members of that group did not take the briefing until early September, 2016, indication number one of a lack of urgency. Number two, the president asked the four leaders in a bipartisan meeting in the Oval Office to join him in asking the states to work with us on this question. It took over three weeks to get that statement worked out. It was dramatically watered down. You can ask Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, even the Speaker—

CHUCK TODD: And it was watered down on the insistence of Mitch McConnell?

DENIS MCDONOUGH: Yes.

CHUCK TODD: And nobody else?

DENIS MCDONOUGH: Yes.

CHUCK TODD: Okay. Do you have any understanding as to why?

DENIS MCDONOUGH: I don’t.

I do.

The Man Who Never Weeps

“that’s a fucking lie. to say president obama (or past presidents) didn’t call the family members of soldiers KIA – he’s a deranged animal.”

—Alyssa Mastromonaco, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations

I have purposely avoided writing about Tr-mp lately. What more can be said about such a man? Recently someone said to me, “I hate him so much.” But that hate, while understandable, is misdirected.

Tr-mp houses in his head a plethora of pathetic pathologies that compel him to do the things he does. Nothing comes of hating him. The blame for Tr-mp goes to the culture that made him famous despite his failures, to the system that put him in power despite his unfitness, and that keeps him in power because of an unseemly institutional lust in the Republican Party for particular policy goals most members believe they can only achieve with the help of this historically dangerous and tragic figure.

Image result for mcconnell and trumpI watched his performance in front of the cameras yesterday, with the creepy Mitch McConnell by his side. I watched it all, as painful as it was. For almost two weeks Tr-mp has failed to even mention the deaths of four U.S. special forces soldiers in a desert in Niger. These and other U.S. soldiers were apparently part of a larger contingent of Nigerien troops who had met with some local leaders and were later ambushed by an Islamist terrorist group. Details are still unclear as to exactly what happened, but reportedly the mission these troops were on was not well supported. French aircraft rescued them, after flying from bases in Mali, hundreds of miles away. We will certainly find out more as days go by, but as for Tr-mp, we already know enough.

At a press conference yesterday, someone asked Tr-mp about the four soldiers and why he hadn’t spoken about them or why he hadn’t reach out to the families of the fallen. By now you know what happened. Tr-mp, because it comes so naturally to him, lied. He accused President Obama directly, and other presidents indirectly, of not making calls to families who had lost loved ones in service to the country. For this damnable lie, Tr-mp has received justified condemnation, but he’s also received plenty of unjustifiable defense. As always.

We have one of the nation’s worst natural disasters in history going on in Puerto Rico and Tr-mp cares only about himself and his feud with athletes or other trivia. He has been both condemned and defended for his posture toward Puerto Ricans—again, as always. When he attacked war hero John McCain at the beginning of his campaign in 2015, he was both condemned and defended. When he attacked a Gold Star family, same thing. When he admitted to sexual assault on tape, ditto. When he appeared at CIA headquarters, in front of a memorial wall that honors fallen CIA officers, he talked about the size of his inaugural crowd and his war with the press. For that inhumanity he was showered with shame, but he had plenty of people offering him an umbrella.

He recently attacked John McCain again, this time for a vote against a nasty healthcare bill that McCain, a man now ailing from brain cancer, found objectionable. Tr-mp once more was condemned—and defended. Tr-mp has now made good on a threat to put millions in jeopardy of losing their health insurance, a move that was followed by more condemnation—and an indefatigable defense. I could go on and on with the outrageous things he has said about and done to real people, all of it accompanied by necessary and appropriate condemnation and an unnecessary and inappropriate defense.

We are witnessing the behavior of a man, as I have said before, who has no soul. To put it another way, he apparently has no neurological capacity for empathy. He cannot feel, much less bear, the burden of another human being. He knows nothing of honor, of sacrifice. He is a man who cannot weep. You can imagine Tr-mp doing a lot of things, but you can’t imagine him sitting alone in the Oval Office composing a letter to the family of a fallen soldier and shedding a single tear. You just can’t imagine such a normal, human reaction coming from him. And as sad as that is, the saddest part of this deplorable drama we’re living through, the most distressing reality we face in real time, is that a large number of everyday Americans—your Republican neighbors and friends and family members—along with nearly every Republican member of Congress, will move on from this latest outrage, this latest offense to honesty and decency, like yesterday was just another day.

We simply have to come to terms with the fact—those of us who see Tr-mp as the sick, empty man he is—that a large swath of our fellow Americans just don’t give a damn that nearly every day Tr-mp assaults what’s left of the old idea of American exceptionalism, which by now is a corpse that he drags through our national streets, mocking us, mocking our country, and mocking what we used to believe we all shared, if we shared nothing else: our common decency, our democratic values, and our lofty, if not fully realized, ideals.

 

Unpresidented, Again

“There’s never really been a time when a generation of people, raised and rooted in the United States, has been stripped of official recognition and pushed back into the precarity of unauthorized-immigrant life.”

—Dara Lind, of Vox

Dara Lind explains stuff for Vox. This morning she wrote of the nasty DACA reversal decision ordered by one racist coward, Tr-mp, and announced by another racist with bigger balls, Sessions. Lind’s article (“Why ending DACA is so unprecedented“) featured this gem:

Undoing DACA would widen the gulf between reality and law. And that gulf is, in some ways, broader than it’s ever been before. What truly makes the end of DACA unprecedented, in the broad sweep of US history, is the size of that gap between the law and the reality.

With DACA hanging in the balance, America has a group of people on the verge of being socially integrated, but legally isolated — socially championed, but legally victimized — in a way we’ve never really seen before.

Well, we’ve seen a lot of things lately we’ve never seen before. And, somehow, one never gets used to it. Every affront still shocks. But Lind pointed out something that I think many of us either didn’t know or forgot about our border history with Mexico:

Historically, it was easy enough to cross the US/Mexico border and work in the US — both because it was simply easier to enter the country by land without being detected than to sail into New York harbor, and because (partly because it was so hard to regulate) the US government didn’t restrict immigration from the Americas the way it did from the Eastern Hemisphere.

It was so easy, in fact, that immigrants were often simply migrating back and forth. “Immigrants preferred to live in Mexico for most of the time,” Stanford historian Ana Minian explains, “and then come for short periods of time, sometimes up to a couple years, and then return to Mexico until they needed to come back again.”

It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that the US made it harder to legally immigrate from Mexico. After that, it was still possible to come to the US and work — just not legally. So the circular migration continued, but its legal status changed.

She notes that the “circular flow” stopped in the 1990s, when border security was beefed up and the crossings became riskier (thanks to a bipartisan effort in Congress and with Bill Clinton’s signature on a little-known law that, in Lind’s words, “essentially eliminated an existing back door to legal status” and “locked a front door to legal status, too”). Thus, many of the immigrants simply just stayed here rather than take the border-crossing risk. And their kids stayed with them. Today we call those kids DREAMers. And this country is the only home they know.

In June of 2012, President Obama spoke in the Rose Garden about his decision to create the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. He talked about the DREAMers:

These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag.  They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one:  on paper.  They were brought to this country by their parents — sometimes even as infants — and often have no idea that they’re undocumented until they apply for a job or a driver’s license, or a college scholarship.

Put yourself in their shoes.  Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life — studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class — only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with a language that you may not even speak.

Unable to put himself in anyone’s shoes but his own, Tr-mp, with the help of his loathsome and lying Attorney General, just told these DACA beneficiaries that they aren’t welcome here unless a Republican Congress, which isn’t even able to confidently guarantee the nation’s bills will be paid without defaulting, can rescue them within six months. Jesus.

John Kennedy wrote a book in 1958 called A Nation of Immigrants. On the back cover of a posthumous edition published in 1964 are these words:

Throughout his presidency, John F. Kennedy was passionate about the issue of immigration reform. He believed that America is a nation of people who value both tradition and the exploration of new frontiers, people who deserve the freedom to build better lives for themselves in their adopted homeland.

Man. What was he thinking?

sessions on dacaAs I write, Senator Lindsey Graham, who applauded Tr-mp’s action today, said this is a “defining moment” for the Republican Party to get this right, to fix our “broken immigration system” by helping the DREAMers. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen a lot of “defining moments” for the Republican Party over the last several years. And they have certainly defined themselves, time and again. They are now defined by that Orange Racist Creep who didn’t have the guts to go out himself today and tell the DREAMers they were now at the mercy of the same congressional Republicans who supported him, a man who began and maintains his putrid political career by scapegoating immigrants.

Here’s One Monument Tr-mp Didn’t Mind Dishonoring

A few days ago, Tr-mp, morally confused, equated Nazis with those fighting Nazis. He equated racist haters with those fighting racism and hate. He conflated imperfect nation-building revolutionaries in 1776 with slavery-defending traitors in 1861. But that wasn’t enough. Today he tweeted:

Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.

He was, of course, referring to the treacherous heroes of haters, people like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. And Tr-mp finished with this:

…the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!

It’s not odd that Tr-mp sides with the haters. And it’s not odd that he does so rather robustly and openly. What is odd is that he expresses such profound regard for “our beautiful statues and monuments,” considering he launched his political career by dumping his orange doo-doo—birtherism—on one of the most important monuments to the greatness of America: President Barack Obama.

Ten Augusts ago, during the crowded Democratic primary season of 2007, not many people thought a black man with a strange name would win the nomination of the Democratic Party—once the home of segregationists and other racists—not to mention win the presidency of a nation whose economic power was initially built on the backs of slaves. But win he did. And his win was truly monumental. And Donald Tr-mp, like a diarrhea-plagued pigeon, pooped all over our first African-American president, the living monument to the most prominent promise of America, the radical idea that some of us are still trying to perfect: that no matter who you are or where you came from, you are free to craft your own future.

Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in 2008 featured these words:

Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story—of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren’t well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to.

It is that promise that has always set this country apart – that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well.

That’s why I stand here tonight. Because for two hundred and thirty-two years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women – students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors — found the courage to keep it alive.

From Tr-mp’s embrace of racist birtherism to his labeling the free press his “enemy” and “the enemy of the people” to his advocacy of political and police violence to this week’s purposeful equivocation regarding the moral status of white supremacists and Nazis, he has been crapping on many of America’s greatest monuments, while defending its bad ones.

And he has never apologized—and never will—for desecrating that national monument named Barack Hussein Obama.

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.

How 59 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles Saved The World—And Made Tr-mp A Hero

I listened to thousands and thousands of words from hosts and guests on MSNBC this morning. There was Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, Bob Woodward, George Will, John McCain, Marco Rubio, David Ignatius and numerous other voices. Here is what I learned after all the talk from politicians and “experts”:

1. Tr-mp is now a hero among our Sunni “allies” like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

2. Tr-mp’s domestic poll numbers will certainly go up now—but that had absolutely nothing at all to do with his decision to bomb Syria and possibly start yet another U.S. war in the Middle East. Oh, no. Tr-mp had a genuine change of heart after seeing those pictures of poisoned kids. This had nothing to do with his historically low approval numbers. And Tr-mp has a new-found strength. He can “reset” his administration. He now has a chance to win the hearts of the American people. Those 59 cruise missiles not only blew up an airfield, they apparently destroyed our memories of just how deranged Tr-mp is and how the Russians helped put him in power. Can’t wait for the next poll to come out and see how much damage those missiles did to our collective brain.

3. By bombing one airfield in Syria, Tr-mp fixed all the problems Obama created with his failure to bomb Syria after all that “red line” talk in 2013 and all of his reluctance to get us caught up in another war. By God, the world will change now that Tr-mp has fired off 59 cruise missiles. China will respect us. North Korea will take notice. Russia’s Putin, who we were told by John McCain, respects “power” and is a “pragmatist,” will begin to look at the United States differently now. Barack Obama, who apparently is responsible for every bad thing that has happened in the world since Moses was a baby, is gone and “there’s a new sheriff in town.” And this new sheriff has cruise missiles and he ain’t afraid to use ’em.

4. Speaking of McCain, apparently Tr-mp’s national security team is McCain’s dream team because he gets to talk with them all the time and they listen. Which means, of course, that John McCain may get to be POTUS after all and he may get his war with Syria that both he and Lindsey Graham have wanted for some time now. McCain characterized last night’s bombing as “the end of the beginning.” More tough action must follow. He never told us, though, just how many Americans should die in the war he’s been aching to fight for years. Or how long we would be there fighting that war. Or how much it might cost. Or whether Congress should, uh, authorize such a war.

5. Bob Woodward, whose mind has deteriorated with age I suppose, used the opportunity this morning to tell us how engaged Tr-mp has been (!) with states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia and so on. It is part of Tr-mp’s broad strategy (!), Woodward suggested, to change the dynamics of the Middle East mess (again, that Obama created with his fecklessness). Woodward and others on the panel this morning believe this Tr-mpian strategy (!) and the bombing last night will give new confidence to the Sunni players that the U.S. can be a “reliable partner” and they may now be willing to “step up” and get involved in the mess.

6. Meanwhile, there’s “the mess” in the Middle East. I heard thousands and thousands and thousands of words this morning—praise of Tr-mp, speculation, more praise of Tr-mp, analysis, more praise of Tr-mp—all based, as I said, on the unchallenged premise that Barack Obama’s weakness did much damage to the world and that Tr-mp’s bombing Image result for tomahawk missilesof Syria, his willingness to show that when he says someone has crossed a line, by God, they will pay a price for it. All those words I heard in some form or another, but, amazingly, I did not hear one word, not one single word, about the one action that helped, more than any other thing, get us into this mess in the first place. In all the talk about a “destabilized” Middle East, in all the talk about an emboldened and powerful Iran, there was not one mention of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney starting, on false pretenses, a war with Iraq, a war which did much of the destabilizing and caused many of the problems we see today. Not a word. Nothing. Again, it is as if those 59 cruise missiles destroyed significant parts of our collective memory. “The mess” is all Obama’s fault and Tr-mp is now the man who has gone a long way in fixing it by lobbing a few missiles at Shayrat Air Base in Syria.

7. Finally, just to clear things up, let’s talk about that 2013 decision by Obama—mentioned countless times last night and this morning on all the cable news shows—not to bomb Syria, not to do what Tr-mp did last night without congressional approval. First, things are a lot different today than they were then. A lot has happened in those four years, including hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees (which Tr-mp still doesn’t want to bring to the U.S.). Second, there is Congress. As Sebastian Murdock reminded us this morning, all the giddy congressman and Senators praising Tr-mp’s actions last night had their chance to weigh in when it mattered in 2013, after President Obama decided not to take unilateral action himself and instead wanted Congress to also own what might have happened if he had bombed Syria. Murdock wrote:

In 2013, when a sarin nerve gas attack left more than 1,400 dead outside Damascus, President Barack Obama went to Congress to get approval to strike.

In a whip count from ThinkProgress, 183 Republicans were against bombing the country. Only 12 Republicans, including then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), sided with the president to launch a strike. Ultimately, Congress did not appear to approve the strike, with 243 Congressional members swaying towards voting “No.” Obama ultimately decided to postpone the vote.

Murdock also reminded us of how Tr-mp, the Woodwardian strategic genius he is, felt about the matter in 2013. In August, Tr-mp tweeted:

What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval.

Well, there obviously was no prior approval from Congress to bomb Syria last night. But there is plenty of praise today, especially from those who didn’t want any part of the decision four years ago. Murdock included this gem:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) was one of the members of Congress who was against Obama’s plan. But he didn’t seem to have much to say in response to the news of Trump’s strike:

chaffeetz tweet on bombing

It’s amazing how the world works. Or how it doesn’t.

We Need An 11/8 Commission Before Obama Leaves Office—But Don’t Hold Your Breath

Late in November of 2002, George W. Bush signed into existence what was officially called The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. We, of course, know it as the 9/11 Commission. Created by Congress, the commission was officially “chartered to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding Image result for 9/11 commission reportthe September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks.” It was “also mandated to provide recommendations designed to guard against future attacks.” 

Last week, Democrats introduced a bill in both the House and Senate that would establish a 9/11-like commission, bipartisan and with subpoena power, to examine the 2016 election and Russia’s role in it. So far, though, no Republicans have signed on. It is imperative they do so before next Friday—January 20—and it is imperative that President Obama sign such a commission into existence. We need an 11/8 commission. But I wouldn’t bet any money on getting one.

News related to the 2016 election is coming out fast and furious. On Friday, FBI Director James Comey and other intelligence officials gave Congress a classified briefing on Russian cyberattacks and election interference. But the issue quickly became, for Democrats at least, Comey’s own strange election interference, especially his inexplicable and unprecedented eagerness to publicly discuss and criticize Hillary Clinton’s email-server missteps, while refusing to say whether the FBI was, simultaneously or subsequently, also looking into allegations that members of Trump’s election team were in contact with and colluding with the Russians to sabotage Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. Democrats were, after the briefing, visibly upset.

Evidence is piling up that the FBI director and his agency did not properly handle either of the election-sensitive issues involving Clinton and Trump. As far as the former, the Justice Department’s inspector general has opened up aRelated imagen investigation into Comey and his handling of the Clinton email issue, which caused The Wall Street Journal and others to call for his resignation.  As for the latter, just this morning, the left-leaning British online newspaper, The Independent, published a depressing story: “Former MI6 agent Christopher Steele’s frustration as FBI sat on Donald Trump Russia file for months.” The story tells us that Mr. Steele, who is considered a reliable source by intelligence officials and who put together the now famous dossier that suggests Donald Trump has been compromised by the Russians,

became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence from others as well as him. He came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the Bureau blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Steele and a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal, who both worked for a firm hired by Republican opponents of Mr. Trump to do opposition research, were so concerned that no action was being taken that they “continued with the Trump case without being paid.” According to The Independent, the concern was that in July of 2016,

Mr Steele produced a memo, which went to the  FBI, stating that Mr Trump’s campaign team had agreed to a Russian request to dilute attention on Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine. Four days later Mr Trump stated that he would recognise Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. A month later officials involved in his campaign asked the Republican party’s election platform to remove a pledge for military assistance to the Ukrainian government against separatist rebels in the east of the country.

Mr Steele claimed that the Trump campaign was taking this path because it was aware that the Russians were hacking Democratic Party emails. No evidence of this has been made public, but the same day that Mr Trump spoke about Crimea he called on the Kremlin to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.

By late July and early August MI6 was also receiving information about Mr Trump. By September, information to the FBI began to grow in volume: Mr Steele compiled a set of his memos into one document and passed it to his contacts at the FBI. But there seemed to be little progress in a proper inquiry into Mr Trump. The Bureau, instead, seemed to be devoting their resources in the pursuit of Hillary Clinton’s email transgressions.

It’s important to note that it was on July 5 that Director Comey announced the results of his Clinton email investigation and offered rather scathing commentary along with his recommendation not to prosecute her. It was around this time, The Independent story says, that Christopher Steele’s memo—a collection of which at some point turned into that dossier published by BuzzFeed—was in the hands of the FBI. If this is true, it is more than a little disturbing.

The Independent story goes on in detail about the New York field office of the FBI, which “appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton.” Rudy Giuliani, a close friend of Trump’s and a member of his campaign, “had a long working relationship” with the New York office, and Giuliani seemed to have insider information that, he bragged, “should turn things around.” At that time—late October—Trump’s campaign was trending rather poorly in the polls. Two days after Giuliani’s curious cheeriness about Trump’s future electoral prospects, Comey sent his now infamous letter to Congress saying he was reopening his probe into Clinton because of some potential new evidence found, as we now know, on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. And, as we now know, and as many predicted at the time, there was no new evidence. Again, it is disturbing that not only did Giuliani appear to know what the FBI director was doing, but the director was doing it while pretty obviously knowing what people like Christopher Steele were saying about the Trump campaign’s collusion with the Russians.

Although the Obama administration, on October 7, formally and publicly accused Russia of interfering in our election, the story never caught fire. Many people now blame President Obama for not responding to the story more forcefully. Obviously, looking back now, he should have. But that wasn’t an easy call at the time. Clinton was leading in the polls and most of the experts and pundits expected her to win. A strong and loud reaction by Obama would have been greeted with charges that he was attempting to hack the election, especially if he publicly suggested a Russian-Trump alliance. Obama would likely have become the story, whether Clinton went on to win or lose.

In any case, according to The Independent, Steele became “frustrated and demoralised” at the lack of FBI action. While in New York in October, he reluctantly spilled the beans to David Corn, of Mother Jones. Corn published a story on Monday, October 31, eight days before the election. According to Corn’s subsequent account of his meeting with Steele, the former British spy said the FBI’s response to the information he provided them on Trump and the Russians was “shock and horror.” Despite that, there wasn’t any public comments by Comey at any time, which, you may remember, triggered a response from now-former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. On October 30, Reid wrote to Comey, accusing him of “a disturbing double standard for the treatment of sensitive information” and suggesting through his “partisan actions” that Comey “may have broken the law.” Reid continued:

In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it  has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government – a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public…and yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.

Like the October 7 story announcing the Obama administration’s accusations against Russia, Reid’s written outburst on October 30 and Corn’s October 31 story didn’t receive a sufficiently serious reaction from the wider press. Why? The biggest reason was because Comey’s reopening of the Clinton email probe, which was revealed on Friday, October 28, was dominating all the headlines. The press had always seen Clinton’s email-server story as the biggest of the campaign and would not let it go, even for much more serious allegations that the Russians were openly trying to get Trump elected, and Trump, on July 27, had openly asked them for help. Thus it is that the national press, especially cable news—which enjoyed record ratings and profits by promoting Trump almost endlessly—must share in the blame for what happened on November 8 and for what happens after January 20. And perhaps that is why, now that it is much too late, the national press is aggressively pursuing the Putin-Trump story. Maybe there is some collective guilt at work.

But despite an aggressive, if tardy, press, the only way this whole disgusting issue—Russian influence, Trump’s and his campaign’s level of collusion with the Russians, and the FBI’s handling of all of it—can be resolved for all time is via an independent, bipartisan commission. But, I hate to admit, it is fairly clear that this almost certainly will not happen before the inauguration next Friday, and it is even more certain it won’t happen after Trump is in control. He obviously has a lot to hide since he is not shy about hiding it.

We know, through stories featuring revelations from Christopher Steele, as well as through some earlier reporting, that the FBI has actually been investigating the Russian-Trump election issue for some time. And we know, by reading between the lines of Comey’s appearance before Congress last week and through other revelations, that the FBI has some classified information that would help Americans understand more of what happened during our election. Atop-secrett the very least, as Democrats have formally requested, President Obama should declassify some of this information. Short of a bipartisan commission, it would be our best chance to see for ourselves just what the Russians, with or without Trump’s collusion, did to us and what we can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

 

#NeverRespect

Here’s just one reason why I will be spending much of my future writing time unpresidenting Trump and his new right-wing friends:

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