Sign Of Change?

It was the student-led, anti-gun violence “March for our Lives” gathering in St. Petersburg. It was only a few hundred people, and it was only a few dozen signs. But one of those signs spoke volumes for what it will take politically to get beyond the dysfunction, divisiveness and sheer anger we are now living.

“We are diverse. We are truthful. We are compassionate. We are informed. We vote.”

If only that one sign were to truly resonate. Because that must be the realistic, idealistic and pragmatic message going forward for all those desperate to make a difference as they fear where this country is going under this Administration.

In short, remember that you still represent the majority in this country: from demographics to values. But that, as we lamentably saw in 2016, is not nearly enough, even though volume and vitriol don’t define majority. And it’s not nearly enough if caring, diverse people are not informed enough on the issues and not motivated enough to vote for America’s self-interest.

And that includes Democratic millennial socialists and Bernie die-hards who can’t muster enthusiasm for “establishment” Democratic candidates, including the ultimate, non-socialist Democrat at the top of the ballot in a presidential year. It also includes minorities, even if the presidential ticket is all white.

The focus has to be more than post-Pelosi and encouraging electoral signs from Queens to Little Havana. The focus must also prioritize Trump-Pence and all its dire implications. How can the possibility of that reprise not rally everyone who truly cares about America and truly fears its current caretakers?

The 2018 mid-terms are about political leverage, human values and societal priorities. The 2020 presidential election will be all of that plus where America fits in the world, what’s really in our national-security and economic self-interest and who we still are as a people.

Being angry is understandable and appropriate. In-your-face confrontation with the usual sell-out suspects shows attitude and can be a visceral rush. But ultimately this is about group therapy. This is about being collectively caring, informed and motivated to vote for all the right, not just righteous, reasons. It’s also about having the guts to be undaunted by vile and volume.

And this is about Making America Grateful that enough of its citizens are moving to reclaim the moral and ethical high ground of the Oval Office and remove a cult figure lionized by societal haters and political harlots.

Trumpster Diving

  • This has to be part of anyone’s takeaway from that sham summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin: Something is compromising Trump’s behavior. Increasingly, it looks like it’s a lot more than “golden showers.”
  • Trump accepts the word of Putin that Russia didn’t meddle in our election. He dismisses the word of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats—and demeans the entire intelligence communitywho say they certainly did meddle. How does Coats not quit? Or is he concerned that next up will just be a Trump sycophant who will make matters even worse?
  • Bottom line: Trump is good for Russia, not America. In an international forum, he stands forcefully against American media’s “witch hunt,” but he stands down to Putin.
  • Donald Trump, as we know, is the “enemy of the press.” But he looks almost tolerant when juxtaposed to Vladimir Putin. That’s because the bar is subterranean low. Trump demonizes, stigmatizes, threatens and scapegoats. Putin does mob hits.
  • Speaking of the media, this just in from Donald Tusk, president of the European Council: “America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news.”
  • Amid all the back and forth regarding the Russian state’s obvious meddling in the U.S. elections, one quote continues to resonate more than any other. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” It should still Make America Grate.
  • It says a lot about our virulent, divisive politics when Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti are cast as the “good guys.”
  • That Judiciary Committee exchange that featured FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, the F-bombing Trump disparager, was beyond contentious. It was an in-your-face exercise in mutual contempt that most American observers, including “Saturday Night Live” staffers, would find deplorably embarrassing.

Sobering Reality

As Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary ratchets up in rhetoric, fundraising and targeted appeals, there’s a sobering reality that can—and has been–determinative. Not that many Dems turn out to vote in non-presidential years. And the costs, of course, can be catastrophic. It’s a big part of why a state can go for both Rick Scott and Barack Obama. The most recent numbers—from the 2014 midterms—are as embarrassing as they are worrisome. Fewer than one in five Dems bothered to vote.

Hopefully the past will no longer be predictably prologue for a democracy and a Democratic Party under siege.

Media Attack Context

No, there was no direct tie between the shrill demonization of the media by Donald Trump and the murder of those five journalists at the Capital Gazette. By all accounts, Jarrod Ramos had a personal vendetta with the paper that morphed into a murderous assault.

That said, we still can’t dismiss the context of a deadly media attack in an era where presidential animus toward the media is a daily constant. Especially when we also know that the Capital Gazette received death threats and emails celebrating the shootings following the slaughter. That wasn’t the warped work of Ramos; that was the vile upshot of the media-scapegoating times we live in. When the one with the bully pulpit megaphone labels the media “the enemy of the people,” all bets are off.

RIP App

It’s not for everyone—although it applies to everybody.

For those who think mortality is an abstraction as they go about their here-and-now priorities, here’s an app for, well, context. It’s called “We Croak,” and it’s available for 99 cents via Apple I-Tunes. Five times daily it delivers a philosophical quote to live by, so to speak. It also includes some daily “You’re Going To Die” reminders to get on with it.

R(ead) I(n) P(eace).

Sports Shorts

  • Two things Major League Baseball needs to change. First, it needs a uniform ruling on the “designated hitter.” It’s ridiculous to have the American League—and minor leagues—use it, but not the National League. Especially when teams from both leagues have to play each other. It’s as if the National Football League only allowed the two-point PAT in one conference.
  • Second, get rid of the provision that enables MLB to market an “All Star” game that requires representation of all teams. Not every team has, in fact, an “All Star.” The annual upshot is that some deserving players—and the “All Star Game” itself—are shortchanged. The fact that Rays pitcher Blake Snell wasn’t initially named—and others, less qualified, were—was Exhibit A for an ill-advised, embarrassing selection process.
  • Amid all the rhetoric surrounding the Rays Ybor stadium rendering, this—from Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg–was particularly notable. “It’s not so much about the value of the franchise,” said Sternberg, “because I don’t plan on selling it.” No, he didn’t put that in writing.
  • Joe Namath and Meghan Markle. Now there’s two names you won’t be seeing again in the same sentence. But they fit in the context of those detecting a bit of an incipient British accent from the California-raised Duchess of Sussex. Linguistics professors have been weighing in. Social identity and all of that.

But I recall a much earlier, much more blatant example. Western Pennsylvania-raised Namath made a name for himself when he left Beaver Falls, Pa. for Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He loved Bear Bryant’s program and the welcoming Southern vibe. He fit in with his nationally prominent quarterbacking and with his adopted Southern accent. By his junior year, he sounded like Andy Griffith.

  • “We all have things we’d like to take back in our lives. You don’t get to take them back when you’re in the public eye, so you have to be very careful.” Those are the words of Tony Dungy. And, yes, they were said with Jameis Winston in mind.

Quoteworthy

  • “He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”—President Donald Trump.
  • “It was not a good day for the country. … It was shameful.”—The response of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., to the Trump-Putin summit.
  • “Now you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe. Russia is a foe in certain respects. China is a foe economically, certainly a foe.”—President Donald Trump.
  • “It is up for debate whether Donald Trump will be a sad aberration in American history, a mere blip. But thanks to the cheeky citizens of London, he will always be a blimp.”—Maureen Dowd, New York Times.
  • “What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy?”—Donald Trump.
  • “Trump is a troll—both by temperament and by habit. His tweets and offhand taunts are the very essence of trolling—the lies, the scorn, the invective, the trash talk, and the rabid non sequiturs of an angry, aggrieved, isolated, and deeply self-absorbed adolescent who lives in a self-constructed bubble and gets the attention he craves from bashing his enemies and trailing clouds of outrage and dismay in his path.”—Michiko Kakutani, author of “The Death of Truth.”
  • “When we were in power, under Obama and Clinton, I don’t believe party leaders did what should have been done, and this is come up with a manifesto for the 21st”—Former Democratic Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado, a two-time presidential candidate.
  • “The Republicans galvanize their base by inciting a lot of fear; they operate on a lot of mythmaking.”—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the unheralded New York Democrat who knocked off incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley, chairman of the Democratic caucus and heir apparent to the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi.
  • “Whether it comes from the left or the right, judicial restraint is honorable, especially if it operates in a nonpartisan manner. But movement conservatism—like its left-wing sibling—is a major threat to democratic ideals. It is well worth figuring out whether any Supreme Court nominee, including Judge Brett Kavanaugh, subscribes to it.”—Cass R. Sunstein, author of “#Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media.”
  • “I do see more news stories that are more Republican-leaning than I ever had. I’ve (also) seen the shift in all the national media to harden their positions and play more to their perceived audiences.”—Ken LaCorte, former senior vice president of Fox News Digital.
  • *This policy of (school) choice has helped create the most segregated school system in the country by reducing government intervention and incentivizing the public school system to act like a market. Those with purchasing power do fine. Those without suffer.”—Mike Stivers, Jacobin Magazine.
  • *Now that the Republican Party is very much Donald Trump’s party, you see less focus on ideology and more focus on tribalism, who has the guts to take people on.”—Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz.
  • “It makes it clear that a medical marijuana card is not a get-out-of-jail-free card if you’re driving impaired.”—State Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, on the state’s “Drive Baked, Get Busted” campaign.
  • “As Florida’s top agricultural official, I’ve witnessed firsthand how trade deals can impact our Florida farmers and agricultural industry. I’m pleased that the president is fighting for American jobs and Florida families.”—Agricultural Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam.
  • “Our goal is to use as little tax money as possible. We’re going to have to find other ways.”—Mayor Bob Buckhorn on the city’s role in supporting a Rays move to an Ybor City stadium.
  • “With each passing day … We’re confident we will have the signatures by the end of the month to get this solution on the November ballot.”—Tyler Hudson, chairman of the All for Transportation committee, which needs 48,745 signatures by July 27 to get a sales tax referendum on the November ballot.
  • “I don’t know if I would call it a mode of transportation. It’s not going to take a lot of cars off the road, but it does bring bodies to our urban core.”—Mayor Bob Buckhorn, in announcing that he will recommend that City Council contribute the city’s $150,000 share to help fund the return of the CrossBay Ferry.

Trumpster Diving: Putin To Pruitt

* “A republic, if you can keep it.”–That’s Ben Franklin’s famous take on what had resulted from the Constitutional Convention. It’s telling how that cautionary comment continues to resonate.

* Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin: It still seems like Trump is meeting up with his handler.  No one else in the room but translators. This will be prominent in somebody’s memoir.

* When Trump sat down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, he was doing what he should have been doing–talking to the other side. But no one of sound reasoning could have disagreed that the blatant lack of preparation downgraded the summit to an exercise in world-stage narcissism and geopolitical negligence.

After the summit, Trump rhetorically high-fived himself over having been the catalyst for North Korea “no longer (being) a nuclear threat.” Now the North Korean Foreign Ministry is telling that world that “The attitude and demands from the U.S. side during the high-level talks were nothing short of deeply regrettable.” And this just in: Satellite surveillance appears to show NK expanding its nuclear capabilities.

Bottom line: There isn’t even a common definition of “denuclearization,” let alone its “phases.”

It’s what happens when there are no extensive, low-level talks to build the framework for an agreement with substance that two leaders can ceremonially sign off on. It hardly helps that Trump is also under-briefed and largely unread. No, high-stakes international summitry isn’t the same as a handshake deal with a leverage-challenged, Queens sub-contractor.

* Trump, as we’ve been noting too often, has the sinister wherewithal to normalize–whether it’s authoritarians, such as Putin and Kim, or racists, such as American Nazis in Charlottesville.

* When it comes to states’ rights, some things are more appropriate than others. A state income tax or building codes, for example, are well within state purview. Alas, abortion and states’ rights are also contextually joined. But existential issues, such as women’s rights and abortion, shouldn’t be as discretionary as crossing state borders to play the lottery.

* So much of the focus on former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was over his chicanery. Understandable, but in the scheme of things  these were ethical blips in an Administration stocked with ethical blipsters. Pruitt’s legacy, alas, is that he was a true “enemy of the people” in his anti-environment, anti-science, anti Paris climate agreement agenda. That matters more than self-aggrandizement. So does leaving his right-hand man, former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, as next up to continue the dismantling of the EPA.

* Trump’s nomination of federal appeals court Judge Brett  Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has predictably prompted ideological speculation about abortion and gay rights.

But if he’s confirmed, Kavanaugh will likely be dealing with another high-profile, galvanizing issue first. It’s one that would highlight Kavanaugh’s (expansive) take on executive power and limits on presidential investigations. In short, how would Kavanaugh rule in Trump v. Mueller? Chances are, that matters a helluva lot more to Trump than Roe v. Wade.

* When the Senate confirmed Bill Clinton’s nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993, the vote was 96-3. That’s not a misprint. Nor is it a political era we’ll likely see again.

* Of all the ally push-back at Trump, none, ironically, has been as blunt as that of Emmanuel Macron, the French president. “We won’t talk at all with a country if it is with a gun to our heads,” said Macron. So much for that budding bromance.

* “I will do anything to protect Mr. Trump. I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president.” That was Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, last year.

“I put family and country first. … I don’t agree with those who demonize or vilify the FBI.” That was Michael Cohen last month.

* American presidents have occasionally been received overseas with demonstrations of dissent by our trade-and-treaty partners. Happens in any relationship. They’re usually measured, and they come and go with the geopolitical dynamics of the times.

But this is different. Visiting Americans are advised to keep a low profile. And a high-profile part of London’s “reception” for Donald Trump will be a prominently-positioned, giant orange balloon of Trump depicted as a baby in a diaper. It’s part of massive “Stop Trump” protests organized by activist groups and trade unions. “This is a man who lacks the capacity for moral shame,” explained the Trump-balloon creator Leo Murray. “Liberal outrage just makes him smirk harder.”

*According to the always blunt Republican pundit Pat Buchanan, “some painful truths” about the current state of the Republican Party need re-stating. To wit, the GOP of the Bushes and Bob Dole and John McCain is history. “Unlike the Bourbons after the Revolution and the Terror, after Napoleon and the Empire, no restoration is in the cards. It is over.” Sobering, if not nostalgic.

* Relationships in the age of Trump: They are impacted.  As in families, friends, neighbors and co-workers. When it comes to families, neighbors and co-workers, you take one for the familial team and one for sheer self-interest because of proximity and inherent awkwardness.

When it comes to “friends,” however, this is different. This is about values and respect. Without respect, there is no friendship. That’s where you draw the line: Good bye. Line-drawing can be as brutal as it is shocking. But these are the times that bring out the worst in too many of us, including those we thought we knew.