Trumpster Diving

  • The Washington National Cathedral memorial service for John McCain was more than a hero’s send off. It was a metaphor for who we still are and where we now are. There was a bipartisan presence and requisite aura of respect and gratitude. The aisle, in this case, didn’t separate political party affiliations. But there was a palpable, GOP elephant in the rhetorical room–ironically notable for its absence: the president of the United States. He was not there because he was specifically uninvited by Sen. McCain.

 

The reasons have been well chronicled. President Donald Trump, unconscionably, included McCain among his myriad targets for ridicule and insult. It was all too appropriate that Trump took his hypocritical “thoughts and prayers” to a Virginia golf course. And while speakers, such as Meghan McCain and former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, pulled some rhetorical punches and didn’t mention Trump by name, they made sure their praise of the late senator was juxtaposed to that of the unprincipled, classless current occupant of the White House.

 

The choice of Obama was totally appropriate. It was, even for Republican birthers and Obama obstructionists, a graphic reminder that not long ago we had an eloquent, honorable man in the White House. Flawed, but not an unethical, immoral, existential threat. It could happen again.

 

“So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty,” noted Obama. “Trafficking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage. It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born in fear.” It looked like Lindsey Graham, a McCain best friend who’s increasingly prominent among Trump toadies, was among those party-first GOPsters nodding in embarrassed assent.

 

We can only guess as to how many rewrites Meghan McCain did. Her presentation was personal as well as patriotic. It was, of course, her father who was on the receiving end of those sophomorically demeaning, disrespectful insults from Trump. “The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great,” she said with barely a hint of nuance. “We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness,” she underscored. “The real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly.” Indeed, John McCain’s “America First” had nothing to do with international arrogance or race-baiting, white nationalism.

 

One more thing–and a reminder that sometimes we add by subtracting. No Sarah Palin.

  • “You’re one election away from losing everything you’ve got,” said Trump in recently warning a gathering of, yes, evangelicals about what could happen if the arch-enemy Democrats do well in the mid-terms. “The level of hatred, the level of anger is unbelievable. They will overturn everything that we’ve done and they’ll do it quickly and violently.” Well, there’s Trumpian bombast and red-meat, base rhetoric. It’s a daily loop in Trump world. Then there’s this–an incendiary, de facto call to meet concocted violence with violence.
  • Upon further–and much earlier–reflection, does anyone in the Trump Administration, except the Oval Office Apprentice, really think it was a good idea to have that Trump-Kim summit without much preparation? How’s that (ambiguously-defined) “denuclearization” process going?
  • Imagine Trump now supporting the Senate re-election campaign of Ted Cruz. As in “Lyin’ Ted.” As in “unattractive” wife. As in “all talk, no action pol.” As in son of someone who may have been involved in the JFK assassination conspiracy. No outrage is too outrageous. Cruz and Trump may actually deserve each other, but this country deserves so much better. You go, “Beto” O’Rourke.
  • So, Sen. Lindsey Graham interceded and helped Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner put in an official appearance at John McCain’s Washington memorial service. It arched more than a few non-Trumpian brows.

 

We know the Trump-Kushner motivation and who they were representing. IT and JK are not unhinged, ideological haters. So, OK, why not put in a symbolically respectful appearance–while the president was golfing–and squeeze in near Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Director John Bolton?

 

But you can bet there’s another agenda, because there’s lot left of their post-Trump Administration careers and reputations. And it’s more than likely that being part of a historically disgraced family and administration–wealth and opulent lifestyle notwithstanding–will not advance their standing and agendas, which could include their own political ambitions. However this Oval Orifice mess ends, including before 2020, Ivanka and Jared want more than life-long societal pushback for being calculated opportunists who helped enable what could be seen as the most reviled presidency in U.S. history.

  • Word has it that Jessica Manafort, 36, the indie film-making daughter of convicted felon Paul Manafort will be changing her name. Reportedly, she will become Jessica Huckabee Sanders. No, not really. But we understand; being associated with a nationally disgraced person is unfair familial baggage for any individual, let alone one with a public-context career. No word on whether Ivanka Kushner or Melania Knavs have had similar epiphanies.
  • Here’s what no president, especially a faux-populist one, wants to hear on Labor Day from the president of the AFL-CIO. “Unfortunately, to date, the things that (Trump) has done to hurt workers outpace what he’s done to help workers.” That was AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, not exactly a spokesman for establishment elites.
  • “Coal miners for Trump.” We get that. “Bikers for Trump.” We get that. “Nazi Robo-callers for Trump.” Hell, we get that too. But “Evangelicals for Trump”? We will never get that. In fact, shouldn’t that be a sin?
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh is the first formal test of whether the rhetoric of respect and bipartisan participation at John McCain’s Washington memorial service has made any difference. It hasn’t.

Trumpster Diving

  • Trade deficits, as we’ve heard time and again, are incompatible with MAGA. Regardless of the overall volume of trade. But here’s a way to trim that deficit without resorting to tariff threats and trade wars: Get more foreign tourists to visit the U.S.

Since 2016, the number of international visitors has dropped by nearly 7.5 million. Travel industry economists estimate that this decline has reduced foreign purchases of American goods and services by more than $30 billion. It also, obviously, impacts jobs.

And begs the question of why. The strong dollar is a factor, as is immigration scrutiny. But the biggest factor is Donald Trump. Many foreigners with the wherewithal to travel and spend money don’t like Trump, his policies and the arrogant, America-first image the United States has been projecting.

  • It says it all that two former presidents and rivals, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, will speak at a memorial service for John McCain. It also speaks volumes that the current president will not.
  • Remember when the media, in effect, colluded with partisan Republicans in legitimizing “Obamacare” as the go-to, demonizing reference for the Affordable Care Act? Maybe it could do something comparable and Dem-friendly with the Trump energy plan that would increase carbon emissions and lead and subsequently cause up to 1,400 premature deaths annually. Maybe “Trump Gas” instead of the disingenuous “Clean Energy” rule.
  • “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen.” Indeed, but it took Donald Trump a dozen-plus years of personal attorney-fixing to finally come to that realization about Cohen. Just never know when an epiphany is coming in the world of Trump.
  • It’s a longstanding Justice Department position that a president cannot be criminally charged while in office. It’s also a longstanding tenet of American democracy that no man is above the law. Something’s got to give.
  • He was once a respected prosecutor, “America’s mayor” and a presidential candidate. Today he’s a ghoulish minion farcically defending the indefensible. Rudy Giuliani: We hardly knew ye.
  • “Bikers for Trump.” Who would have thought?
  • Whatever happened to the “law and order” candidate? Aren’t campaign finance violations illegal? Isn’t being surrounded by felons sort of at odds with a “law and order” mantra?
  • Alas, John McCain is gone. The best way for his party to honor him would be to mirror his feisty, truly America-first response to the threat that is the Trump presidency. Feckless fealty can’t trump principles if you want to honor McCain’s legacy. Among McCain’s last proclamations was his assessment of the Trump-Putin summit: “One of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” Too bad his spine couldn’t be donated to the Republican Congressional leadership.
  • So, who is the key figure in the National Inquirer’s effort to keep secret the identities of those who had extra-marital sex with Trump? David Pecker. Once again, you can’t make this stuff up.
  • Using campaign-finance hush money to shut up sex partners has all sorts of legal ramifications. As for the Trump base, having extra-marital sex with babes is a perk–not a character flaw or some technical illegality. And if Melania doesn’t seem to care, why the hell should anyone else?
  • “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” That was Sir Walter Scott–not Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
  • Our democracy is founded on the constitutional sanctity of three branches of government and attendant separation of powers. It can understandably be a delicate balance. But there’s nothing understandable–or acceptable–about the legislative branch’s abdication of power-sharing responsibility. The Congressional quislings.
  • “There will be holy hell to pay.” That was South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham last summer when rumors were rife about Trump firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions. These days, in effect: “Fire away. We’ll move on.” Graham has become Exhibit A for all the gutless GOPsters (who are not stepping down) who constantly remind us of their hierarchy of priorities: Career, Party, Country. A basket of deplorables.
  • And when AG Sessions is finally disposed of, imagine how the Senate hearing for Trump’s next nominee will play out. It will be a de facto forum on “recusal,” “the indictment of a sitting president,” “perjury,” “obstruction of justice,” “impeachment” and “collusion.”
  • If Senate Leader Mitch McConnell had an iota of fairness and integrity, he would consider saying something like: “Given that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, of Ken Starr-staff fame, is on record for favoring the criminal immunity of a sitting president, we cannot accept his nomination by this vulnerable president. The prospect of a conflict-of-interest scenario looms too likely. Frankly, I’d like to see the president re-nominate Judge Merrick Garland. It might help heal the dangerous divisiveness that truly imperils our country. And let’s not forget, Trump isn’t really a Republican anyhow.”
  • Imagine Trump’s crazed reaction to the disparaging zinger of Fox News host Neil Cavuto. “You are so darn focused on promoting a financial boom that you fail to see that you are the one creating this moral bust,” castigated Cavuto. “And we could all be the poorer for it.”
  • Living in the tremulous times of Trump certainly lends itself to escape. If your respite from reality, however, is going to the movies, heads up if you’re going to see Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman.” Lee is not exactly agenda-challenged, and it’s no coincidence that this movie is out now in the context of rabid white nationalism. “Make America great again” and “America first” are dialogue staples. And you won’t depart the theater on a note of hope. The movie, which is worth seeing, ends with brutal images from the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

“McCarthyism” Resonates

“McCarthyism at its worst!”

That’s what the commander-in-grief tweeted the other day in reference to Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. What an ironic reference and all-too-apt metaphor.

 

In the early 1950s “McCarthyism” was synonymous with the headline-grabbing, “Red Scare” paranoia created by Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy. His loud, accusatory, down-to-earth speaking style resonated with a lot of Commie-fearing Americans for several years. And his self-serving, infiltration crusade was enabled by a media easily drawn to his Cold War predictions of America’s imminent ruin. He made the House Committee on Un-American Activities must-cringe optics.

 

McCarthy underscored his shameless, prophetic prose with false charges that ruined careers and lives. By the middle of 1951, “Tailgunner Joe” McCarthy was warning his fellow senators of “a conspiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man.”

 

That will dominate more than a few pre-Twitter news cycles.

 

And it sounds like a perverse precursor to President Donald Trump, the fabulist-in-chief. McCarthy’s fear-mongering playbook obviously survived: Play to societal anxiety, find scapegoats, blatantly lie and make false charges to further an agenda and bully fellow members of Congress to discourage those inclined to call your bluff and call out your lies.

 

McCarthy kept it going for three years because he had a complicit, clamorous base: those who shared his Red Scare anxieties, liked his wise-guy rhetoric and enjoyed watching the elites squirm.

 

It would, in the end, all come crashing down when McCarthy was ultimately censured by the Senate that condemned his wanton witch hunt ways and removed him from any committee seats. He was then largely ignored–including by the media–for the duration.

But what an unhinged, maliciously melodramatic run it was–and a reminder of what can befall America when too much power, complemented by raw nationalism, is amassed at the people’s expense.

 

One other familiar aspect to the Trump-McCarthy parallels. McCarthy’s chief counsel during the height of the Red Scare ‘50s was Roy Cohn. The same “punch first and never apologize” Roy Cohn who became Trump’s mentor and lawyer in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Trumpster Diving

  • So, former CIA Director John Brennan, a harsh critic of Donald Trump, has lost his national security clearance. Others will likely follow. It’s a new chapter in White House retribution and an old chapter in media-diversion strategy.

 

Here’s a bottom line that’s as telling as it is sobering: a former CIA director loses his security clearance, but Ivanka Trump keeps hers.

 

  • There are better ways than “Truth isn’t truth” to rationalize qualms about letting your client sit down with a special prosecutor. But that’s how Rudy Ghoul-iani, who should be assigned legal counsel, worded it. Maybe he’s wary of “alternative facts.”

 

  • “Trust me, I’m like a smart person.” That was vintage Donald Trump in the early days of his presidency. Even by then, we already like knew enough of the reality TV huckster’s mental acuity. In short, he’s neither smart nor “like smart.” He’s actually unlike a smart person.

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.

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.

Best Defense

Amid all efforts to combat interference in our democracy, there remains a constant—amid all the technological manipulation—that is far more fundamental. The best defense is an electorate that is involved, informed and motivated. The bar isn’t that high. If you’re not outsourcing your ideology, your values and your vote, and you’re not channeling a cult figure for validity, you’re doing your part.