Monumental Case For Context

When it comes to Confederate statues and monuments, we all agree on something: History is not to be destroyed. And if he were still around to weigh in, George Santayana would surely agree. Something about remembering the past–at the risk of repeating it.

And context, as always, matters.

We can acknowledge history without honoring it. Some things belong in the public square, some in a museum. Common sense and common decency, even if not common enough, should dictate.

Visit Berlin, for example, and see how modern Germany has handled the Holocaust. There are museums and there are high-profile public reminders. The message is the same: “This is what we as an unconscionably culpable society allowed to happen. Never again.” It is as moving as it is necessary.

However, statuary harkening back to the Confederacy–“Gone With the Wind” and apocryphal  family histories notwithstanding–is inherently inappropriate for America’s public places. There’s a reason why so many of them were erected during the height of Jim Crow. There are no publicly-acceptable rationales for referencing a cause steeped in racism. This isn’t cathartic, Holocaustesque therapy. This is a visceral affront to African-Americans.

Too bad these controversial Confederate monuments haven’t had inscriptions that contained more truth than allegiance to a revisionist “cause.”  Maybe something like: “This memorial ‘commemorates,’ as it were, the South’s treasonous war of secession from the United States and the concomitant effort to retain a way of life that relied on a slave-labor economy. The maintenance of such an economy was also dependent on a conscience-free rationale that defined non-white slaves as inferior human beings.”

Had that been the case, the truth may have set us free of all this angst and political posturing we still experience today.

Trumpster Diving

* Steve Bannon is no longer a White House staffer. This pleases White House insiders not named Gorka or Miller. Some say he’s been “unleashed”–so, head’s up Republican establishment, as well as Jared and Ivanka. But actual presidential influence–a phone call away–could still remain, especially as Breitbart News, an axis of economic nationalism and alt-right racism, refortifies. Bannon is now its executive chairman. Word is, Breitbart is serious about a TV version. As David Axelrod, former adviser to President Barack Obama, has noted, “If Bannon and Breitbart are spinning him up, Trump may dial him up on a regular basis. That may give him leverage.”

Leverage without “Javanka” and the generals listening in. Just Sebastian and Stephen.

* Trump, it has been announced, will be skipping the annual Kennedy Center Honors arts awards this year. It would have been a “political distraction,” disingenuously explained White House press harlot Sarah Huckabee Sanders. How noble. Actually, it would have resulted in a boycott by the honorees–and even more embarrassing press for Trump .

* First it was the business councils that baled. Then the artists committee. Now it’s scientists and local officials disbanding their climate policy panel. Pretty soon it will be official: “Input” is only welcomed from the “basket of deplorables” and certain GOP cowards.

* No one, obviously, should applaud what that Missouri state senator said about Trump, even though we understand where the rhetoric is coming from. For the record, Democratic Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal–in a Facebook post–expressed hope for a presidential assassination. She has since apologized. She took back the appalling reference, but she couldn’t take back context.

Doesn’t her disturbing–but not as shocking as it should be–post speak alarming volumes about where we now are as a country, as a culture and as a society?

*It’s beyond exasperating to read frequent analysis for Trump’s election that centers on the Democratic Party as effectively leaderless and message-challenged. As in no single galvanizing candidate and no single, all encompassing, rally-round message to rouse the grass roots and gin up the vote.

Not that we don’t get that overview. In normal times, it makes sense. It’s Political Campaigning 101. The Dems never found their A-game.

But in this case, it’s an absolutely unacceptable rationale for what happened. It means this electorate–notably including working class, white voters who had felt taken for granted–actually found this manifestly unethical, uninformed, narcissistic, vulgar, faux-populist lout to be an acceptable alternative to what the Dems were offering.

The most serious threat to democracy is not Donald Trump. It’s an easily duped electorate.

Firearm Warning

“Bullets are like the angry email you hit send on before thinking more calmly about–they can’t be recalled. I don’t have or carry a weapon precisely because I worry I’d use it.” No, these aren’t the words of some liberal advocating gun control, if not Second Amendment repeal. They were spoken by retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

The “Dr. Strangelove” Sequel

You often hear references to “sausage” in the context of unedited journalism products–from news reporting to news analysis. Print and electronic. The same goes for lawmaking. The process can be messy. The finished product hopefully belies that reality.

Well, this column’s initial iteration, I must admit, was more for therapy than publication. It would give sausage a bad name. The language was crude in parts, reflecting my mood–a taut mix of exasperation, anger and fear. We are on the brink of something unconscionable. And it was eminently preventable. Worst-case scenarios now hang in the balance.

So I cleaned it up some, and the f-bombs–actually FY imperatives–have been defused. But in their stead, I’ve left inoffensive reminders of their prominent sausage placement. They’re still necessary.

Here goes.

“Fire and fury”/”locked and loaded” should be the last act of this disgracefully nightmarish Trump presidency. Not that we didn’t see it coming. At least Peter Sellers was darkly funny in “Dr. Strangelove.”

Personally, I say Flatulent Yak to all Trump voters and ongoing supporters.

That goes for those who needed a white-nativist, alt-Reich misogynist to channel because their lives were hapless, and Trump helped enable their societal scapegoating with his validating, racist dog whistles. As to careerist Republican cowards who took one for team GOPster instead of Team USA and made their Faustian deal: Fatuous Yeoman. You all enabled this incompetent menace to be the president of the United States. How do you even sleep at night?

And to those who didn’t vote at all for whatever reason, including the disingenuously false equivalence of two off-putting candidates: What the hell were you thinking? This wasn’t some “lesser of two evils” dilemma. This was evil vs. a flawed candidate. So, yeah, you’re part of this Trump diarrhea derby too. Falsetto Yawn.

Fundamentally, here’s the issue. Trump’s a manifestly obvious national and global threat of existential proportions–not just an impulsively unhinged, pathologically lying lout. Would that he were merely that. Why the hell would anyone want his undersized digits anywhere near the nuclear codes? Why do you think administration officials have been trying to placate journalists and reassure them that Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have a pact designed to ensure that one of them is always nearby to watch over Trump in case he goes, uh, ballistic?

Trump could be the trigger man for Armageddon. As the editors of Scientific American have anxiously noted: “With the exception of the president, every link in the U.S. nuclear decision chain has protections against poor judgments, deliberate misuse or accidental deployment.” Helluvan exception. Kim Jong-un, frankly, is more calculated. Hell, so was Gen. Curtis “Bombs Away” LeMay, who found a stalwart John F. Kennedy between him and Cuban Missile Crisis mushroom clouds. Donald Trump 2017 is no JFK 1962.

And let’s not forget or forgive: Feckless Yokel, GOP primary voters, especially you hypocritical evangelicals who helped create dystopian momentum–from Charlottesville to Pyongyang. David Duke to Kim Jong-un. You didn’t see any of this coming? You were just religiously gullible and thought the right-to-strife Trump a better fit than Ted Cruz Control? Isn’t apocalypse part of your frame of reference? Who did you pray to for guidance? Mike Huckabee? Even Marco Rubio, Exhibit A of the Takes-One-To-Know-One School, recognized Trump for the narcissistic con man that he’s always been.

Sorry for the redundancy, but Freudian Yeti, Trump voters, for being part of the “Deliverance,” “Duck Dynasty” and Goldman Sachs crowds that helped elect him and do this to our country and our world. Moreover, lest I forget, Fetid Yahoo. We deserve better, even though you don’t.

In sum, Gen. Kelly–do something as Trump doubles down on dumb and dangerous–from Iran to Venezuela to North Korea. Don’t just be the semper fi version of Reince Preibus. Collude with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford–the one who was bumped from that national security meeting by Steve Bannon.

And recall the haunting words of former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who said Trump was fanning the flames of war with his rhetoric. “I think it eliminates maneuver space for him, because it looks like brinksmanship to me,” said Mullen.

If it helps, remember that Italy didn’t arrest anyone for what happened to Benito Mussolini when he hung around too long right-side up. Enough of America will have your back. Channel your inner Brutus or maybe Burt Lancaster in “Seven Days in May.”

Impeachment and the 25th Amendment are too civilized and time-consuming. Time is no ally; we are imperiled now. Tarring, feathering and quartering–finalized by a goodbye coup-smooch from Chelsea Manning–would be fitting.

OK, I’m exaggerating for effect.

No I’m not.

Trumpster Diving

* Is it too much to ask, even by the lying, “fake news” media, that the president of the United States at least act, well, somewhat presidential? To other heads of state as well as the Boy Scouts. And to anyone privy to disturbing, impulsive tweets–and that’s, of course, all of us. Could he at least not dishonor the office that transcends the individual occupant? The primaries are over, even if West Virginia will never act like it.

When Trump tells cops to “Please, don’t be too nice” to those they arrest, he was just channeling his inner open-mic-night temperament. Prudently protecting the head of someone entering a cop car who has just been arrested for, say, a heinously violent crime can seem ironically incongruous, even darkly humorous. But not coming from the president in front of an audience of police officers.

When Trump unpresidentially talks down to the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Australia, it can only hinder American prestige and, more importantly, influence. Those recently leaked transcripts provide unsurprising insight into his priorities and duplicity. Whether it was the wall or  refugees, Trump, it is now confirmed, wanted to save face from a campaign stoked in bumper-sticker rhetoric and whiskey promises to his gullible nativist  base.

* Frankly, if there’s anything that can bring bipartisanship to this polarized Congress, it’s Russia. The sanctions legislation was one sided and veto proof. And if Trump were to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller over Russian collusion and/or obstruction of justice, there are serious signs that this would ignite a congressional firestorm of Watergate proportions.

And speaking of Watergate, let’s not forget that the final push for Richard Nixon’s resignation was, indeed, a bipartisan effort.

* It has hardly gone unnoted that Mueller will be using multiple grand juries–common vehicles to subpoena witnesses and records–and has assembled an extremely formidable team of (16) attorneys. Mueller, a squeaky-clean, decorated war veteran and former F.B.I. chief, is highly thought of–as opposed to Trump–and has recruited some of the best and brightest. Arguably better and brighter than their counterparts. Game on.

* Another ripple effect from having Donald Trump as–it’s still oxymoronic to write–president: Political insiders are credibly discussing the actual possibility of Rick Scott running for president. WTF! And that, with a wink and nod to Sen. John McCain, doesn’t stand for “Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot.”

* We now know that Gen. John Kelly, the White House chief of staff,  reads the same book after every promotion. It’s C.S. Forester’s 1936 novel, “The General.” It’s a parable about the danger of patriotism and duty unaccompanied by critical thinking. Perhaps he could share it with the commander in chief, who hasn’t read a book since “Art of the Deal.” Or, perhaps, Kelly will expand his post-promotion list to include “Seven Days in May.”

*VP Michael Pence is saying all the right things about his sycophantic loyalty to the president, despite media speculation about viable GOP back-up plans for 2020. Interestingly, Pence has also formed the “Great American Committee.” That makes him the first sitting vice president to have his own political action committee. It also encourages the speculation he so publicly abhors.

Disciplining Trump

The terms “as of this writing” and “as we go to press” were never more applicable than they are now with the soap opera from hell that is the off-White House. Within a tweet cycle there can be multiple firings, hirings, promotions and career implosions. Corey, Sean, Reince, Mooch, thanks for playing. Sally Yates, James Comey, almost nice knowing you. Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, stuff happens. Steve and Kellyanne, still need dead enders and media harlots. Jared and Ivanka, check in with Gen. Kelly. Rudy and Chris, stay in touch. Jeff Sessions, who the hell knows.

All this, while the person in charge remains unprepared, unqualified and unhinged. Impeachment and 25th Amendment scenarios are openly discussed.

That said, here goes.

Retired four-star Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, the former Homeland Security secretary, means business. Discipline will be the theme. Seemingly, he will be appropriately empowered, and there will be an obvious chain of command with no links above him, just the chief narcissist.

A few takeaways before the unpresidential dust storm resumes.

First, this embarrassing excuse for an administration badly needs discipline. Only problem: Will Trump be amenable to it? He doesn’t do discipline. He has no impulse control. He runs the show, he tweets at all hours, he doesn’t read briefing books. He says what he wants, whether it’s the Boy Scouts or “Access Hollywood.” He’s still an unconscionably unpredictable brand.

Second, why, quite frankly, would somebody like Gen. Kelly want to work for somebody like Donald Trump? Hopefully, he’s the ultimate patriot. We know the caliber of people Trump tends to attract.

Third, if Gen. Kelly were doing such an outstanding job as Homeland Security secretary, why not leave him there helping insure the safety of the American people rather than being Trump’s Oval Office gatekeeper?

Trumpster Diving

* Interesting debut as communications director for Anthony Scaramucci. He made one thing perfectly clear about his take on the president who he will serve. He’s got a crush on Trump. “I love the president,” cooed Scaramucci. “I’m very, very loyal to the president. And I love the mission the president has.”

What’s not to love? Unless, of course, it’s verbal fawning and blatant sycophancy. Or the perceived need for “Mooch” to underscore how much he regrets what he said about Trump in 2015, which is that Trump was just “another hack politician.” Ouch. But that was back when Scaramucci was supporting Scott Walker and then Jeb Bush. So, if anyone would understand allegiance rhetoric, it would be Trump, a former Democrat and ex-friend and fan of Hillary Clinton.

* Trump brought in the rich, slick, camera-savvy, Fox-friendly Scaramucci–think Ben Stiller in “Zoolander”–to take over the administration’s top “messaging” job. That’s just a more professional PR term for “branding.” That’s what Trump is looking for, because it’s what he has always looked for. Now he’s frustrated that his hotels and his kid’s clothes line fare better than his presidential reputation, one that has been shredded everywhere except with a certain deplorable element.

* Speaking of a base that ironically has not and will not fare better under this billionaire “populist” opportunist. That’s because he still acts and talks like the loudest, last-call drunk, and they hear what they want to hear. They seemingly can’t be reasoned with. Sort of like talking to the cult followers of Jim Jones.

* Former White House spokesperson Sean Spicer pre-empted a firing by quitting. He also took the high road to keep his post-Trump Administration career open to all options. The last one to take this route was Corey Lewandowski, who was replaced as Trump campaign chair by Paul Manafort. Lewandowski picked up a quick gig with CNN before moving on to his own consultancy career within the Beltway. Spicer, however, is not that calculated .

We’ll know more after he hosts “Saturday Night Live” in the fall.

* It’s never a good sign for a presidential administration when the word “indictment” is part of the public, political parlance. As in, can a sitting president be indicted? Even worse: When the likely answer is yes.

We know that special counsel Leon Jaworski was informed in a 1974 staff memo that he could indict Richard Nixon, a sitting president. It was well noted in a court brief.

Ditto for independent counsel Kenneth Starr in 1998. Thanks to a recent Freedom of Information Act release, we now know that a detailed, office memo reached the same conclusion regarding Bill Clinton. “It is proper, constitutional and legal for a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president for serious criminal acts that are not part of, and are contrary to, the president’s official duties,” it reads. “In this country, no one, even President Clinton, is above the law.”

As it turned out, however, the issue became moot as both Starr and Jaworski preferred to let  Congressional impeachment proceedings play out.

As for an indictment option for special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation into Donald Trump’s Russian dealings and possible obstruction of justice, it may become moot as well. Letting it be known, and not too subtly, that he’s holding an indictment Trump card could be more than enough leverage.

* Given his very public rebukes and skewering by Trump, how does Attorney General Jeff Sessions retain any sense of pride? Yes, that’s a rhetorical question. Sessions already had forfeited any such claims by being the first senator to endorse Trump, wearing his “Make America Great Again” cap at Trump rallies and accepting the AG appointment in the first place. Call it karma.

* It hasn’t been all chaos, counterproductivity and intrigue-filled news as usual. Trump  announced that he will nominate Jon Huntsman to be U.S. ambassador to Russia. It makes sense in that Huntsman, former ambassador to China under President Barack Obama, has international experience and a reputation for integrity. And as a former governor (Utah) and a 2012 Republican candidate for president, he’s no political novice. The part that makes less sense, is that someone of his caliber would sign on in any capacity to this administration. The best-case take: He’s taking one for Team America in a global hot spot that can use his savvy.

* What Trump doesn’t get is that the presidential bully pulpit is much more than a “bully” forum. Bluster and swagger won’t get him far enough with career, congressional pols who know he’s really not one of them. So, he’d better master the details–of legislation as well as legislators’ home-state status. When he inevitably doesn’t do his homework, it’s a de facto insult to those he wants to impress and persuade.

The Jimmy Carter Dehydration Syndrome

News that former President Jimmy Carter was briefly hospitalized after becoming dehydrated at a Habitat for Humanity project in western Canada didn’t surprise me. Just worried me, because the combination of “hospital” and “92-years-old” is always concerning. It didn’t surprise me because I’ve been at a HFH project with President Carter and know what he can be like on site: all business. Whatever the weather, whatever the unfinished task at hand. He’s an accomplished carpenter with a work ethic sometimes at odds with his own well being.

I can still recall seeing him–in the late ’90s when he was in his early 70s–at a Houston “Jimmy Carter Work Project” on a roof hammering away on some plywood, seemingly oblivious to the Habitat folks below trying to coax him down. It was sweltering. An August-in-Texas hot house.

“Mr. President, you’ve been up there a long time, would you like to take a break?” came the beseeching inquiry from those below. “We’ve got more Gatorade over in the shade.”

“Not now. I’m still busy.” It wasn’t dismissive, just direct.

I was there as an in-house writer and a media go-between. The combination of a former president, the press and Secret Service sorts required it. The agendas didn’t exactly overlap seamlessly.

That’s mainly because Carter could be a handful. Even when properly hydrated.

For him, this was serious work, not opportunistic PR optics for politicians who know that everybody loves HFH because everybody loves sweat equity and volunteerism.

He had to be reminded respectfully and pragmatically why it was necessary to set aside some time to stop doing the important work he was doing to sit and talk to some print and TV strangers. The resultant publicity, as only a former president can deliver it, was in Habitat’s best interest. It helped with volunteers, in-kind services and donated construction materials. It was a win-win-win scenario.

A couple of other vintage-Carter moments still resonate from the experience.

One was the president shuffling along in a middle-school cafeteria line, pushing a plastic tray and agreeing to extra gravy on his mashed potatoes and an extra lemon in his iced tea. There was no presidential protocol; he didn’t jump the line. He didn’t look like he was going native for the modest-means occasion. He looked like he was in his overalled element with nice folks doing good work for humanity.

Later, he partook in the dedication of a house that had just been finished. There’s a standard ceremony that includes a few words and a quoted bible verse from President Carter.

Everyone had gathered at the appointed time, but it was apparent who was missing: the president.

People looked at their watches and made Habitat small talk, until a voice–unmistakably familiar and rural-Georgia–emanated from inside the nearly finished house next door. “Now, move that a little to your left, no a little more, no not that much. OK, that’s perfect. Thank you.” It was the president who had just finished some cabinet work, and, before leaving, was noticing that a couple of workers were putting in some final-touch landscaping. He had to weigh in.

I thought to myself–without sharing–My God, he really is a micro-manager. Some things don’t change–regardless of context.

BTW, President Carter was back at the Canadian worksite the day after he was hospitalized. Two days later he was back in Plains, Georgia–teaching Sunday School.

Trump Ego Commission

Amid all the predictable rhetoric and partisan agendas at play around the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, several points remain self-evident.

First, this isn’t about “election integrity.” Claims of widespread voter fraud have been proven again and again to be unfounded. What’s fraudulent is the premise. Talk about “fake news.”

What this is really about is Donald Trump’s ego. He lost the popular vote. By a lot. More than 3 million. How the hell could that have happened? It’s an embarrassing asterisk for one who has always reveled in ratings.

Second, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner made the right call by only providing voter information that is currently public record. The federal government already has enough hacker-vulnerable data. Most states are doing what Florida is doing.

Third, such a commission, in effect, diverts our attention from the biggest threat to America’s electoral democracy. Bigger than so-called “voter fraud.” Bigger than Moscow meddling.

It’s electorate ignorance, laziness and susceptibility to fake news and lowest common denominator pandering. That had more to do with the outcome of 2016 than fraud or Vladimir Putin.

Trumpster Diving

* He said/he said would be too simple an explanation for what transpired at that Trump-Putin G-20 sideline summit. It’s what happens when a KGB-trained professional prevaricator and a pathological liar sit down to shoot the self-serving shinola. From Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, we know that Trump “pressed” Putin on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential U.S. election. We know from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Trump agrees with Putin that Moscow didn’t interfere with that election.

What we probably do know is that at some point both principals said in the universal language of summit diplomacy: “Whatever.”

And we know–stop the presses–that Trump has agreed to some sort of cybersecurity partnership with Russia, our foremost cybersecurity adversary. Whatever. We also know that international third parties accorded the advantage to Putin, the one who had to defend the indefensible. Whatever.

But a scheduled 30-minute sit-down that lasted for more than two hours? That must have made for a lot of back and forth and ultimate agreement on their common enemy. ISIS? North Korea? No, the media.

*Imagine, if–for all of his bluster, arrogance, misogyny, unhinged temperament and blatant lack of preparation–Donald Trump–as has been assumed by his adoring base–had truly mastered the art of the deal? Think Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, Iran, trade and immigration. It would almost be worth it. Almost.

* Another Russian-connection shoe drops. That John McCain centipede metaphor just won’t go away.

This time it was the revelation that a couple weeks into last year’s presidential campaign, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort met at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-connected Russian attorney with an agenda that included sharing information about Hillary Clinton that would be “helpful to the Trump campaign.”

The Trumpsters deny wrongdoing, if not collusion optics. Besides, it was, according to the Trump Administration, mainly about American adoptions of Russian children. It was a “big, nothing burger,” said Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff and short-order political cook. Moreover, the presidential candidate was not there, nor was he aware of it.

Two points.

Increasingly, the Trumps seem like a half-assed Mafia family. Junior and Jared had seemingly free rein to negotiate and cut foreign deals and were deemed more important than professionals who would know what they were doing–and when to say “nyet.” This is as inappropriate and dumb as it is worrisome. And nobody was vetting Kremlin insiders, including those reaching out to collude?

The Richard Nixon inner circle was circumspect, professional and classy by comparison.

And, second, until a couple of days ago, President Trump was, as noted, unaware that such a blatantly problematic meeting had been held. There should be a statute of limitations on plausible deniability.