Trumpster Diving

* Interesting–and perversely nostalgic–to see Henry Kissinger visiting the other day with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office. The elephant-in-the-room inquisitor had to be whispering: “BTW, Henry, how good does Nixon look these days?”

* It was a new low even for the fabulist-in-chief. “With all of the fake news coming out of NBC and the networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their license?” he questioned–and not rhetorically. It certainly prompts a non-rhetorical response along the lines of: “With all of the media scapegoating, retaliation and would-be coercion coming out of the Oval Orifice, at what point is it appropriate to charge constitutional lawyers with a First Amendment-meddling case?”

* No, it’s not exactly a groundswell, but the “I” word is now fair game for political speculation. Democratic Congressman Al Green of Texas recently introduced articles of impeachment against the president. It was followed up by high-profile comments by Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee who indicated the subject has been broached in Republican circles.

“I have one Republican that has said he is looking at it, he’s considering it,” said Cohen. “I have other Republicans–just like Bob Corker suggested–who have told me on a constant basis that they know this man is not balanced, he is not capable of continuing to lead us.”

Speaking of Corker, he ratcheted up the speculation when he spoke alarmingly about Trump’s penchant for in-your-face insults and nuclear bluster. “We could be heading toward World War III with the kind of comments he’s making,” said Corker.

* Doesn’t it speak volumes about what we’ve devolved into when Trump Administration loyalists, Beltway insiders, the national media and the public at large are still engrossed over the president likely being called a “moron” by his secretary of state? T Rex, to be sure, hasn’t denied it.

This is, of course, beyond personal for Trump. No leader, let alone the narcissist-in-chief, wants to be publicly ridiculed. In this case, by the man who favors the Paris climate deal, the Iran nuclear pact and diplomatic channels to North Korea. It’s what prudently sane secretaries of state do.

But much more important than presidential pique is that this is also existential. We’re all imperiled when someone moronically unfit has access to the nuclear codes.

* How much more doubling down does Trump have to do to his minority, deplorable base? This just in: Kathleen Hartnett White, the author of “Fossil Fuels: The Moral Case” has been brought in to chair the Council on Environmental Quality. She really has. White is a carbon dioxide supplicant who has close ties to Rick Perry, the energy secretary who once advocated the Department of Energy’s elimination. No, you can’t make this stuff up.

* “God, I hate that man.” Ever find yourself muttering those words about America’s unhinged charlatan-in chief? And then following up with: “God, I hate hating. I’m better than this.” More collateral damage.

Trumpster Diving

* At one time, the president of this country was considered the guardian of stability. It came with the territory of the most important, powerful position in the world. Party affiliation notwithstanding. Now we have the Destabilizer-in-Chief. It worries the world, and it worries all Americans who care about America’s impact and what “calm before the storm” could possibly mean. Those it doesn’t worry? We know who they are and why they still applaud whatever spews from the Oval Orifice occupant.

* “A Russian sword of Damocles hangs over Trump’s head, and it’s suspended by a slowly unraveling thread. If it falls, his presidency is over.”–That’s the prophetic take of Allan J. Lichtman, American University history professor and author of “The Case for Impeachment.”

* Maybe impeachment will become a moot point. That could be one dark takeaway from some curious comments by Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Corker, a Trump campaign supporter, recently referred to Gens. John Kelly and James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as “the people that help separate our country from chaos.” It’s obvious who “chaos” is–and what the national and global implications are from a chaotic presidency.

You know they’ve all seen “Seven Days in May” by now. Who would Burt Lancaster have played?

* As we now know, no official record of Trump visitors to Mar-a-Lago should be expected. So says the Secret Service, which hasn’t always been this secretive. It says that it has no system to keep track of people who visit Trump in Florida. So there. The perceived rationale: Mar-a-Lago is merely the (oft-visited) “winter White House.” The other one, the one in Washington, does record visitors, and the public has an idea who–from key lobbyists to foreign agents–has had Oval Office access. It matters, if not to the Trump Administration and the selectively Secret Service.

* It’s beyond redundant to keep asking, but how does Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stay on? He lost the confidence of State Department officials below him by cutting staff by a third when he came in–without knowing anything. Then he lost the confidence of the one above, Trump, by comporting himself as an actual diplomat. He also has likely lost the confidence of his  international peers. Prospects look slim that T Rex will outlast the ‘moron.”

Speaking of, if nothing else, “President Trump” should be an oxymoron.

* Why would North Korea negotiate with the U.S. when it can see that Iranian negotiations have resulted in Trump trying to undermine and ultimately jettison the agreement that all the other signatories want to maintain. Can this version of the U.S. be trusted?

* It doesn’t get referenced like “The Art of the Deal,” but Trump’s ghost-written 2007 book, “Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and Life,” has lines that continue to resonate ironically a decade later. To wit: “When someone crosses you, my advice is get even. When people wrong you, go after those people because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it. I love getting even.” Just ask the non-Sean Hannity media and Bob Corker.

* Trump, as we’ve seen, has outlandishly inserted himself into the NFL’s National Anthem–and more recently tax-break–issues. No surprise, frankly. Don’t forget he once wanted to insert himself into the exclusive brotherhood of NFL owners. Back in the 1980s he owned the New Jersey Generals of the defunct USFL. He hoped–and lobbied–for an eventual merger that never came close to happening. He didn’t get in the club. As with so much else, he never got over it.

*Vice President Mike Pence left the Colts-49ers game in Indianapolis shortly after some San Francisco players took a knee during the national anthem. We now know that he had been asked to leave by Trump if any players knelt–knowing full well that some 49ers players surely would. We also know that Pence’s pre-planned cameo–including flight and security entourage–was on the public dime. And you know he didn’t fly coach on Allegiant.

Gun Upshot

A recent New York Times survey on Americans’ attitudes on a number of gun-related issues underscored that most Americans are in favor of gun-control measures–ranging from universal background checks and mandatory licensing to the banning of guns on college campuses and workplaces.

The results, however, were neither surprising–nor consoling. For example, the survey found that 67 percent favored an assault weapons ban and 63 percent favored a high-capacity-magazine ban. Put another way, about a third of Americans–post Sandy Hook, Orlando and Las Vegas–still have no issue with assault weapons and high-capacity magazines being in the hands of those who are not cops or soldiers.

That’s more disturbing than enlightening.

Trumpster Diving

* How much longer can Secretary of State Rex Tillerson remain in his position? He’s still trying to defuse that Trump-fueled, Saudi Arabia-Qatar crisis and now seems notably at cross purposes with the president when it comes to North Korea. This is beyond concern.

Tillerson recently said in Beijing that the U.S. had open “lines of communication” with North Korea. He was emphasizing the point, as a secretary of state should, that it’s always worth talking to your adversaries–especially when military confrontation in a nuclear world is too viable an option. And in this case, holding out hope is an existential strategy, not just a diplomatic one.

So what does the charlatan-in-chief say? “Save your energy, Rex. We’ll do what has to be done.” Say what?

“I told … our wonderful secretary of state that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”

Not only does Trump publicly deride Kim Jong-un, but he undercuts and mocks his own secretary of state. This can’t continue. Here’s hoping Tillerson outlasts Trump.

* When Gen. John Kelly left his post as Homeland Security secretary to become presidential chief of staff, it begged a couple of questions.

Would he ultimately be able to significantly impact–and possibly rein in–an undisciplined, temperamentally ad hoc president? And, frankly, might he be more valuable to the country had he stayed on as a competent HS secretary instead of being a White House insider overseeing Oval Office access and offering sane, if ignored, advice?

Trump’s schoolyard insults of “Little Rocket Man” and belittling responses to the emotionally-blindsided mayor of San Juan are reminders of the limits of a chief of staff, whether it’s a fawning Reince Priebus or a furious Marine general. Moreover, criticism of acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke–who infamously characterized the federal response to Puerto Rican devastation as a “good news story”–only underscores the downside of replacing Kelly.

* Puerto Rico, has we’ve seen, has been devastated. And this, we now know, is what it took to get the Jones Act, the 1920 maritime law that says shipping between ports in the U.S. must be done by U.S.-owned, U.S.-flagged and U.S.-built ships operated by U.S. citizens–waived. The Jones Act goes back to a time steeped in nationalist and protectionist rhetoric and rationales. How ironic.

* It used to be that national presidential polls, before getting issue specific, surveyed the public for approval and disapproval ratings to gauge a president’s performance and popularity. Standard stuff. They go up and down and vary with foreign relations, the American economy and domestic politics. We get that.

Now, however, we have a lower-bar assessment. For what it’s worth, the most recent Quinnipiac poll showed 42 percent of respondents characterized Trump as “fit to serve as president.” Sobering.

* “Last cycle I never once said that Democrats would win back the House. I have made that pronouncement this cycle.” Those are the optimistic words of New Mexico Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. For the record, Dems need to gain 24 House seats to regain a majority.

In other words, gerrymandering and Nancy Pelosi piñata notwithstanding, 2018 is not 2010. That’s when the Republicans, fueled by Tea Partiers, anti-Obama animus and normal anti-incumbent backlash, picked up 63 House seats. A couple of dozen–amid ever-ratcheting Trump turmoil and national embarrassment–could be downright doable next year.

* Remember when Trump U, multitudinous bankruptcies, contractor stiffing, pathological lying, the emoluments clause, income tax returns and Access Hollywood outtakes were hot topics? Those were the days of relative innocence. Before scary exchanges with North Korea and withdrawal from the Paris Agreement underscored that the real issues were existential ones–for this country and for this planet.

* So what is Jon Huntsman’s end game? He’s a wealthy, well-spoken, camera-savvy former governor (Utah), ambassador (China) and presidential candidate. He’s now the recently confirmed U.S. ambassador to Russia.

This can be a career dead end–given the overlapping scenarios of Russian collusion/tampering in the 2016 election and Vladimir Putin’s high-stakes, international meddling. And who would have his back as a former Trump critic? Or it could be an uber, high-profile role on the world-leader stage that could have major implications if he’s seen as America’s ultimate foreign policy adult.

* Just wondering. What keeps Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in the Republican Party? She’s the national version of Paula Dockery, who finally yielded to her better angels and converted to NPA last year.

Trump’s NFL Targeting

We needed a diversion. Did we ever.

From existential schoolyard threats at the United Nations. From disaster porn. From climate-change disingenuousness. From collusion reminders. From a smug, monarchial first family. From post-election campaign rallies steeped in dog-whistle rhetoric. From immigrant intolerance. From uncolored supremacists. From another health-care cluster-Trump. From another church shooting.

Having said that, did we ever not need this particular diversion.

The provocateur-in-chief has insinuated himself into the national-anthem-at-pro-football games debate by calling out protesting NFL players as “sons of bitches.” For context, Donald Trump said–at last week’s Alabama rally–“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!'”

Where to begin? Americans, be they professional athletes, professional pundits or professional partisans maintain their constitutional, first-amendment rights to speak out. Whether it’s an athletic arena, a newspaper column or a campaign forum. For the NFL, this had been about the “Black Lives Matter” agenda and the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick.

Now it’s also become a forum on presidential racism. And make no mistake this is about race. The NFL isn’t NASCAR. It’s mostly black, which means the Trump-referenced “SOBs” are also black. And the contrast with how Trump handles white supremacists couldn’t be more blatant. When you’re more riled by a symbolic knee at the National Anthem than vitriol and consequent acts by the Alt Reich and neo Nazis, you are an incendiary part of the problem.

Public safety is not an issue, just public spectacle that not everyone likes or condones.

Too bad. Democracy is so sloppy at times.

And too bad an unqualified, unprepared, under-read, faux populist president of the United States is among those who don’t get the most fundamental of American rights.

I have a compromise, even if this is unacceptable to Trump and his channeling subjects as well as to both protesters and veterans.

Why not save the Star Spangled Banner for really important occasions and more relevant national events? Why not have NFL pre-games simply include a moment of silence–one dedicated to “Honest American values, human dignity and racial and ethnic diversity”?  One that references those who put more than athletic performance on the line to keep neighborhoods safe, protect our country from terrorism and respond to disasters of every ilk.

And if one or more players wants to spike a football after this minute, good. That’s a celebration that knows no partisanship, no matter who occupies the Oval Office.

Trumpster Diving

* Imagine, the UN is the pre-eminent institution in support of international peace and security. Arguably, it is the last bastion of global, diplomatic hope. And that’s where this American president goes to be Trump. That “rocket man” insult was a twofer. It enraged both Kim Jong-un and Elton John.

* Kim called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” Dotard? Indeed, the T-shirt is already available for purchase, whether Miriam-Webster was consulted or not.

* Trump  and Kim have been referenced as the latest iteration of the “Mad Man” theory. As in, let the other guy think you’re mad, and it will give him pause about pushing any further. It’s a reminder of a Cold War version that overlapped with James Dean-era movie subplots. Two hot-wired guys are engaged in a game of “chicken” on wheels. They drive at each other until one chickens out and turns away from the impending collision. A winner is declared and mutual, head-on death has been averted. Brinksmanship for punks.

The political parallel has two leaders of nuclear-armed countries getting into their “chicken-mobiles,” but one has purposely stuck a whiskey bottle in his pocket obvious enough for his adversary to have seen. And pondered: “Hey, if he’s tipsy or drunk, he won’t be the one to turn away from a suicidal encounter. Uh oh.”

But what if they both have flasks–as well as blustery temperaments?

* Kasich in 2020? Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, the last challenger standing to Donald Trump in the GOP primaries, has formulated a high-profile, bipartisan health care compromise with Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado. This, in addition to increased media appearances and gubernatorial term-limits well before 2020, have caused speculation about whether he will challenge an incumbent Trump in 2020.

* As it turns out, Katy Tur’s book “Unbelievable” is actually, quite believable. If your assignment is to cover the Trump phenomenon, just keep your notes and make a quick publishing pivot after the election. Surprised it wasn’t out before “What Happened.”

Not that it’s a shock, because we’re seemingly inured by now to all things Trump, but Tur mentioned the notably nasty atmosphere at a Mike Pence rally in New Hampshire where the anti-Clinton chants included the unconscionably awful “assassinate that bitch.” Yet another disgusting reminder that this is what a segment of the electorate has brought us. It’s what can happen with a loathsome forum for validation and permission.

Health Care Maverick

Sen. John McCain is again a “no” vote on the Republican health care package aimed at repudiating and repealing the Affordable Care Act. McCain makes valid points about coverage and a deficit of details. But make no mistake, this is also about his legacy. It’s only underscored by being an 81-year-old with brain cancer.

McCain is a very proud–and stubborn–politician. He also has a temper that is publicly reined in.

He will never ever admit it, but he just might want to make up for putting Sarah Palin on his 2008 presidential ticket. She was an awful, hardly patriotic, choice for America–and could have been a scary heartbeat away from the presidency. And, ironically, as it turned out, her blatantly unqualified ascendance helped pave the perverted populist road for Donald Trump. That’s not what a maverick does, it’s what a pragmatic pol–or sellout–did in search of a self-serving game-changer.

Plus, you can bet that he never got over the derisive comments Trump made about his Vietnam POW status.

That Other Coast

A few takeaways from the aforementioned trip to the other side of the continent to visit Seattle, Vancouver, B.C. and Portland.

* All three cities have in common an odd juxtaposition: all the earmarks of hipness–from millennial workforces to meaningful mass transit to public art–contrasted with high-profile homeless communities. It was not unusual to see encampments in parks or under overpasses. Syringes came underfoot in unexpected venues.

* This bud’s for you. All three areas are more than familiar with the societal changes associated with marijuana. Pot tourism in the Northwest is faring well. Really well.

* Aromas are notable. Especially coffee, craft beer and weed. Not necessarily in that order.

* Seattle, Washington: Flying in, it’s apparent that the sports facilities for (Seahawks) football and (Mariners) baseball are urban hubs. The monorail–built, along with the Space Needle, for the 1962 World’s Fair–is still the quickest way to get from the Seattle Center to downtown. Bicyclists abound. In fact, Seattle was the first city to put its cops on bikes.

Current biggest news: What city will ultimately be chosen for the second headquarters of Seattle-based Amazon starting in 2019? Amazon says it expects to spend upward of $5 billion on a new corporate campus and house as many as 50,000 employees. Early favorites include: Denver, Austin, Chicago, Boston, New York and Toronto. No, Tampa didn’t make the speculative short list. A key requirement: accessible by mass transit.

* Vancouver, British Columbia: For a happening city, it had less downtown charm than expected. The biggest factor: a dense skyline of high-rise, residential flash cubes. Less than picture perfect at ground level. Granville Island, repurposed over the years from industrial to lifestyle, was a reminder of what Seddon Island has become. Will never understand the popularity of curling. Never.

* Portland, Oregon: Best signage of the trip: “Keep Portland Weird.” Imagine, the city’s Willamette River-crossing, $135-million Tillicum Bridge is only for light rail. Best pot ad: “Gluten-free marijuana.”  Speaking of, it’s a felony to bring your legalized marijuana purchases home with you. Your “budtender” will remind you, but only if you ask.

Yeah, we dodged that bullet too.

The Book Of Worse

In her new book, “What Happened,” Hillary Clinton underscores, and rightly so, the impact of James Comey’s last minute, campaign intervention. It was, indeed, outrageous and beyond the pale. But there is still this: For those who made Comey their game-changer, they still had to vote for the alternative. It wasn’t Mitt Romney or John Kasich or Jon Huntsman. It was still Donald Trump, arguably the most unqualified person to ever be elected president.

Clinton was an experienced, capable but frustratingly flawed candidate who ran a below-average campaign. James Comey’s interference was unconscionable. But this is still on the electorate. There weren’t enough “deplorable” haters and Trump channelers to have defeated Clinton. But too many saw a “lesser of two evils” Hobson’s choice and voted for Trump–or sat it out. Thanks, again.

“Presidential” Talk

President Donald Trump recently called on Congress to pass sweeping tax cuts. As only he can. He said so at a manufacturing company in Springfield, Mo. Details were in short supply. It wasn’t a rally crowd, so he had a script. But he’s still Trump. He eventually wanders, especially if he is detail-challenged, which is a given.

“I am fully committed to working with Congress to get this job done,” he underscored. But he couldn’t quit there. It’s not what he does. So he does what a pathological ad libber does. To wit: “And I don’t want to be disappointed by Congress, do you understand me? Do you understand? Understand? Congress. I think Congress is going to make a comeback. I hope so.”

Whatever. Mitch McConnell wasn’t moved to respond, in kind or otherwise. Maybe he’s still worrying about Elaine sharing a Trump Tower elevator with the president.

Imagine, being privy to the world’s ultimate bully pulpit and given to presenting yourself and your administration like this? Even if you were a xenophobic-racist-know-nothing, wouldn’t you (sort of) miss the eloquence and presidential demeanor of Barack Obama? I didn’t think so.