Watergate Nostalgia

  • “The Trump presidency is worse than Watergate.”

No, that’s not partisan hyperbole from Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi or Tom Steyer. That’s the reflection of Carl Bernstein, who’s uniquely qualified to comment. “The heroes of Watergate were Republicans who demanded that the president be held accountable,” recently assessed Bernstein.

Yeah, tell that to Mitch McConnell and Brett Kavanaugh.

  • Senate confirmation hearings on Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, will begin in a few weeks. Look for this 20-year-old quote to play prominently: “We believe an indictment should not be pursued while the president is in office.”

That was Kavanaugh in 1998, when he was a member of Ken Starr’s team that was investigating President Bill Clinton. If Sen. Kamala Harris doesn’t bring it up, it’s because Sen. Cory Booker already had.

  • Lines continue to blur between certain media and the White House. Is Sean Hannity an adviser–not just a Trump-channeling cheerleader? The other day he turned his (three-hour) radio show over to guest hosts: Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow. They brought their Robert-Mueller-Russian-investigation-criticism talking points in defense of their Oval Office client.

Is Larry Kudlow just on loan from Fox?

And not that Trump needs help in doubling down to his white nationalistic base, but that’s what Fox News’ Laura Ingraham did the other day. As in: “The America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people.” The operative word: “foisted.” In short, we’re not becoming more diverse; we’re being made less white. Has the WHITE House ever seemed more redundant?

  • The bottom lines for under-siege, mainstream media or Trump-supporting media: You’re either the enemy of the (Trump base) people or you’re the enema of the (Trump base) people.
  • It’s now official; Slovenia natives Viktor and Amalija Knavs are now American citizens. Yes, those Knavs–the parents of Melania Trump, who had sponsored their green cards. It’s what is known as family-based immigration. It’s also known, as we know from President Trump’s disparaging commentary, as “chain migration.”

What’s the takeaway? If you’re Lady Maga’s parents, some chain links matter more than others.

  • It speaks volumes, doesn’t it, when the lead item–from AOL to the network news–is what is being said and alleged by former White House adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman and how the White House is responding. The president, for example, called her a “low life.” The biggest issue should be Omarosa’s tapes–regardless of embarrassing or scandalous content. Situation Room security was that easily breeched?

Otherwise, it’s all, frankly, about blatant opportunists who actually deserve each other and use the media and a presidential forum to further their own agendas. We deserve better–from an unqualified, overpaid, token African-American “adviser” to an unqualified, pathologically unhinged, dangerous Oval Office cult figure.

  • The era of Trump tweets has brought into focus, like never before, the reality that words truly matter. And it’s not all tweets. We still don’t know, unless a translator breaks ranks, what was said between Trump and Vladimir Putin. Here’s hoping they did a better job than the United Nations’ translator in 1956. That’s when the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev further fanned the flames of Cold War fears by declaring: “We will bury you.” That, as it turned out, was the English version. In Russian, it translated to “We will outlast you.” But the Cold War didn’t do nuance.

Here’s hoping the translators at the Trump-Putin summit exchanged notes.

  • America’s relations with Turkey are, as President Trump recently noted, “not good at this time.” Part of that is an American pastor still held on espionage charges. Another part is a function of the U.S. abruptly and unilaterally doubling the rate of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Turkey. Only two years removed from a coup attempt and with an economy that’s in crisis, Turkey–that most, uh, incongruous of NATO members–would shock nobody by turning to Vladimir Putin for help.
  • In 1970 the U.S. was the world’s biggest oil producer. Not exactly nostalgia producing. Then it was surpassed by the Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia. Now America is on pace to reclaim that distinction. What happened in the midst of enlightened self-interest that began prioritizing pollution awareness and alternative-energy agendas?

In short, innovation that wasn’t limited to wind turbines, solar panels and electric cars. To wit: hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. We know this is right in somebody’s MAGA wheelhouse.

BLM Update

From vigilante-victim Trayvon Martin to Staten Island choke-hold-victim Eric Garner to Stand Your Ground-victim Markeis McGlockton, there are obvious and valid reasons why the “Black Lives Matter” movement has been resonating. Racial profiling, targeting, stereotyping: It’s a familiar, lamentable litany of a country still in search of “post-racial America.”

Having said that, however, the movement would resonate even more across the racial spectrum if it didn’t also manifest itself as “Black Lives Selectively Matter.” If a cop is involved, it matters–and it should–although cops, most notably in Baltimore, are not always white.

But what about black gangbangers in Chicago taking out each other as well as innocent bystanders? And, yes, the killing fields of Chicago pre-date Rahm Emanuel. This war-zone dystopia is not a function of police bigotry–any more than the Tampa drowning death of Je’Hyrah Daniels was.

“Black Lives Matter” has to be seen as a subset of “All Lives Matter” to truly matter in a society where the culture of guns and violence cruelly and tragically impacts everyone.

Gubernatorial Subplots

  • If you’re Ron DeSantis and you’ve just had Donald Trump campaigning with you, how do you top that? Well, you don’t, but you’d gladly settle for a three-stop Florida campaign tour with Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, founder of the Freedom Caucus and a prime candidate for Speaker of the House. And as for Jordan being embroiled in that controversy about whether he knew about sexual abuse of Ohio State wrestlers by a team doctor when he was an OSU coach, well, that’s probably “fake news.”
  • A Gwen Graham-Bob Buckhorn ticket? The I-4 vote is still critically important and the pragmatic, pro-business, progressive Democratic mayor of a resurgent hub city in a major market could certainly help, but Buckhorn as a LIEUTENANT governor? Hizzoner could likely help get the Democratic and independent vote out and, if successful, help change Tallahassee’s GOP-skewed, political dynamics. But he might just want a reward better than a political-career dead end.
  • “The Seinfeld candidate.” That’s Adam Putnam’s characterization of Ron DeSantis, who has been, points out Putnam, running a campaign “about nothing.” Good line, Adam, but nothing neutralizes “proud NRA sellout.”

SYG Update

First the good news. Finally, an arrest was made in the fatal Clearwater parking lot shooting that made national news as everyone was reminded again that “Flori-duh” still has its common-sense-defying, gun-culture-venerating “Stand Your Ground” law.

The bad news: the Florida Legislature rejected calls for a special session to re-evaluate SYG. It was, of course, along party lines. Senate District 18 was a microcosm. The Democratic candidate, Rep. Janet Cruz, was in favor of the special session; Republican Sen. Dana Young was not. To be sure, that’s not the last we’ll hear on this issue.

Art Of The Deal

So, Janet Echelman, a Bay Area native, is on board with the new location for her St. Petersburg signature aerial-banner art. For $2.8 million, of course she’s on board. No matter that aerial art looks so much better from a distance–where it doesn’t seem like a marketing banner for some weekend festival. But no home-town discount?

Pundit Humor

It probably comes as no surprise that one of my favorite books is “Get Thee to a Punnery.” Among the places that harbor more than their share of puns are docks. I love checking out boat names–from “Irish Wake,” “This End Up” and “Sea Señora” to “Unfathomable,” “Knotty Buoy” and “Marlin Monroe.” It says a lot about who owns the boat–and why. A dockumentary could be done on the subject.

Here are a few I recently picked up online: “Aquaholic,” “Berth Control,” “Breakin’ Wind,” “Ship-Faced” and–I’ll leave it there.

Sports Shorts

  • MLB’s All-Star game will be in Cleveland next year. The official logo has already been revealed–and the demeaning caricature Chief Wahoo is nowhere in sight. Just Cleveland’s tradition of baseball and the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. Moreover, next year the hometown Indians will no longer feature a Wahoo logo on their uniforms.

But, no, Indians’ ownership didn’t finally do the right thing for the right reason across the board when it comes to Chief Wahoo. They were following PR protocol. Chief Wahoo will remain, alas, on Indians’ merchandise indefinitely.

  • Baseball–from Little League to Major League–gets a lot of our attention right now. But there’s also softball. The U.S. just won the world championship in Japan. Most notably, the head coach was USF’s Ken Ericksen.
  • For the first time, the NFL will feature male cheerleaders this season. Thanks, LA Rams and New Orleans Saints. Just what the NFL shouldn’t need: Another reminder that the erstwhile “No Fun League” is now as much about show business as it is about football.
  • So, the NCAA is officially easing up on agent contact with athletes. It was inevitable. Too bad basketball and football don’t have serious minor league systems like Major League Baseball. That’s where most blue-chip 13th graders–shy of LeBron James and Kobi Bryant talent–should go instead of becoming oxymoronic “student athletes.”

Quoteworthy

  • “Space Force all the way!”–President Donald Trump.
  • “The fake news hates me saying that they are the ‘enemy of the people’ only because they know it’s true. I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American people. They purposely cause great division and distrust. They can cause War! They are very dangerous and sick!”–Donald Trump.
  • “Exposing Mr. Trump’s lies seems to play right into his hands. We rarely consider the possibility that the president’s supporters want a scoundrel, as long as he’s their scoundrel. Great con men feed off accusations of dishonesty.”–Emily Ogden, author of “Credulity: A Cultural History of U.S. Mesmerism.”
  • “Donald Trump is a demonstrable authoritarian in terms of his rhetoric, in terms of whipping up his base. Nixon did not do anything similar to that.”–Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein.
  • “If we think of fascism as a wound from the past that had almost healed, putting Trump in the White House was like ripping off the bandage and picking at the scab.”–Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
  • “I think there is going to be a return to normalcy in the Republican Party, and I think there’s an opportunity for somebody or some people to come along and put it back on the right track. I don’t see this continuing beyond this presidency.”–Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
  • “He’ll get confirmed. It won’t be a landslide, but he’ll get confirmed.”–Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on the upcoming confirmation hearing on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
  • “We are a nation of less and less impulse control. … Communicating in a language that lacks precision ultimately means having to justify your words to people exercising their own agency in deciding what they want to hear.”–J. McCullough, National Review.
  • “It’s now clear that Facebook will remove a dangerous hatemonger if a lot of people demand it. It’s not clear, however, if it will swiftly remove a figure of (InfoWars’ Alex) Jones’ ilk without a larger campaign.”–Alex Shephard, New Republic.
  • “Corporate boards and managers need to wake up to the reality that sexual harassers, no matter how important they seem, do incredible harm to their companies. They desiccate a culture, draining employees’ motivation. They push qualified employees to leave. … It’s stupid, financially, to keep those men around.”–Bryce Covert, The Nation.
  • “Every November the nation’s eyes turn to Florida. What happens in Florida is so much bigger than just Florida.”–U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., and grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, at a St. Petersburg rally underscoring the differences between Republican and Democratic health care policy proposals.
  • “Here in America, health care is a right; it’s not a privilege for the wealthy few.”–U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.
  • “Stand Your Ground has no place in a civilized society.”–Tallahassee mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.
  • “Why aren’t we effectively monitoring waterways so we can predict when an (algae) bloom is occurring?”–Calusa Waterkeeper chief scientist John Cassani.
  • “Good pay is important, but if you look at the reasons people are leaving education, pay ranks about sixth because they aren’t being respected. They need a leader who understands their issues.”–Adam Putnam.
  • “We plan on having a very robust discussion of the issues in the general election.”–Brad Herold, campaign manager for Ron DeSantis.
  • “There are a lot of people who thought medical marijuana would be available in a certain manner when they voted, and it hasn’t turned out that way. I wouldn’t blame them if they felt like this was some kind of bait-and-switch.”–State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.
  • “As we see major new hotels and exciting new attractions come on line this fall and into 2019, we can expect to see our success as a destination continue to grow.”–Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, in announcing that hotel bed taxes—a 5 percent surcharge on overnight stays—have set records in nine out of 10 months so far this fiscal year.
  • “Because the economy is strong, voters are more likely to accept marginal tax increases if the (transit) initiative is seen as legitimate and beneficial.”—Stephen Neely, USF School of Public Affairs.
  • “The level of activity here and growth is pretty extraordinary.”—Tim Schar, SunTrust Bank president for Tampa Bay and southwest Florida.
  • “What people need to realize is that I’m not here to run out. … Once people see I’m here to run this program, we can build on it. I really am happy to be here.”—USF head football coach Charlie Strong.

America’s Uncivil War

It was disturbing—as well as embarrassing—to see Tampa nationally highlighted, as it were, as a media demonizing, Qanon-friendly venue for that vintage Donald Trump rally. No, it wasn’t a casting call for a “Deliverance” sequel. It wasn’t that nuanced. And it makes a back-in-the-day George Wallace rally seem relatively civil with its states’-rights code words and dog whistles that were meant to arouse an anti-elite movement well shy of a media-targeting lynch mob.

All presidents have had issues with those in a position to publicly criticize them. Of course, they did. It comes with the territory of being elected, being accountable, being political, being fallible and being part of a constitutional democracy with an iconic free speech amendment. If you can’t take the political heat, get the hell out of this sometimes-combative democracy’s kitchen.

But no president, including Richard Nixon of “enemies list” infamy, has ever made violence-embracing assaults on the mainstream media a top presidential priority. With good reason. Viciously attacking a free press is more than unpresidential. It’s un-American and unpatriotic.

What this vocabulary-challenged president does is not tongue and cheek pushback. It’s not even expediently partisan rhetoric normally heard in a primary. No, this is self-serving, inflammatory, down-right scary abuse of the world’s preeminent bully pulpit.

Media scapegoating and targeting is not just a strategic White House distraction. It’s also unconscionably unfair to put CNN’s Jim Acosta in the presidential cross hairs. At some point, frankly and tragically, we could be talking about the late Jim Acosta who was seen–up close and personal–by too many Trump channelers as “the enemy of the people.” The Capital Gazette murders can’t be seen as purely coincidental in this parlous-press environment. Trump controls the echo chamber from hell.

Would that it were pure bluster when Trump bragged that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone” and “wouldn’t lose voters.” He’s the Rev. Jim Jones in the Oval Office.

As if Trump’s performance in Tampa wasn’t revolting enough, Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubled down the next day by not publicly disassociating herself and the White House from “enemy of the people” slander. She flat-out would not–and she was asked directly to do just that by Acosta.  But she did fire back with bullet points about unfair media treatment of the White House. But no backing down on “enemy of the people” rhetoric that most of us once thought had been consigned to the dustbin of history with the rest of Josef Stalin’s authoritarian rhetoric.

There are no quick fixes or easy answers here—beyond an electoral awakening in 2018 and 2020. The threat to the media constitutes an existential crisis. The right response is to continue to do our jobs. As TV journalist Christiane Amanpour told writers at the recent Television Critics Association, “By continuing to put the truth out, that’s how we fight back.”

And may the truth set us free. All of us.

Trumpster Diving

  • Rudy Ghoul-iani says President Trump’s tweets are merely opinions.  Hardly official—and hardly an order. For example, Trump said Attorney General Jeff Sessions “SHOULD stop this rigged witch hunt.” He didn’t say: MUST. You have to wonder what former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson thinks of Trump’s Twittered “opinions.” He was fired by tweet.
  • Maybe a major media boycott of Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ dismissive, insulting sham press briefings and Trump’s “Triumph of the Will” pep rallies would be better than, in effect, enabling this inciteful, “enemy of the people” theme.
  • Will Trump interview with Robert Mueller? Why would a savvy attorney, with his client’s best interest uppermost in mind, allow such a perjury time bomb? Because the client in question is the pathologically narcissistic Donald Trump, and he is his own ultimate adviser.
  • When the White House rolled out the intelligence chiefs to address foreign media tampering and domestic anxiety, it was cause for concern—and more anxiety. Not just because America remains vulnerable, but because there’s still an obvious disconnect between top intelligence officials and Trump, who remains largely disengaged and creates his own Russian reality. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, for example, still doesn’t seem like an Administration insider. That’s unconscionable. In fact, he still seems uninformed about the details of the Trump-Putin one-on-one and incapable of a deep-diving assessment of the dangers we face. That’s beyond disturbing.
  • It seems as if Trump tweets are getting nastier when it comes to the media and the Mueller investigation. One conclusion is that even this unhinged president senses a day of reckoning fast approaching. So, he ups the rhetorical ante to undermine the credibility of the results, knowing full well that his fawning fan base–a sizable, but still minority part of the electorate–remains all in.
  • So, the Russian Foreign Ministry has announced—on Facebook—that it has named Steven Seagal special representative to improve relations between the U.S. and Russia. Isn’t that part of Ambassador Jon Huntsman’s job? But, then, Huntsman never played a hitman in the movies.
  • Need I.D. to buy groceries? Only in a billionaire-populist, reality-show performer universe.
  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders: Tokyo Rose, only not nearly as personable.