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Live from the House Judiciary Committee!

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What would Republican members have said if they’d been defending previous monsters in history?

James Sensenbrenner: “Members of the Tribunal, no evidence whatsoever has been provided by these Democrats to prove that my client, Adolf Hitler, did or said anything to provoke the murder of 6,000,000 Jews.”

Jim Jordan: “It is a patent hoax that my client, Pol Pot, murdered millions of his own people in Cambodia. That lie was spread by Hillary Clinton and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez!”

Matt Gaetz: “I am here representing an innocent man, Attila the Hun, against outrageous lies from liberals that he impaled people, raped women and wiped out entire villages!”

Louie Gohmert: “We shall provide evidence that Mr. Idi Amin, far from being the murderous monster Democrats portray him as, actually is a kindly philanthropist, who tried to stop Hillary Clinton from destroying the planet!”

Doug Collins: “Saddam Hussein is a good, decent man. His record with respect to his people is perfect. Why are Democrats, who routinely kill innocent civilians, trying to frame him?”

Steve Chabot: “The lies being spread by Demon-crats about Kenneth Dahmer are outrageous. There is no evidence that he killed anyone, much less ate them.”

Martha Roby: “How dare these Democrats accuse Mr. Ted Bundy of doing anything wrong? Why, as a woman and a Republican, I can tell you, Nobody that handsome and Christian could be a murderer!”

Debbie Lesko: “This hearing is a total sham. My client, the Asteroid, did smash into the Earth—but she did NOT kill off the dinosaurs! Democrats haven’t offered a shred of proof to the contrary!”

* * *

Well, readers, that was a bit of fantasy. It was brought on by listening to opening statements yesterday from Republicans at the Judiciary Committee’s first hearings—statements that are in total defiance of the facts, and simply prove that these Republicans will support any crime by Trump, as long as they get their tax cuts, money from their big religious and corporate donors, golf outings with their leader, and assurances that they will not get primaried.

I need not point out my outrage at their conduct—you’re as outraged as I. I need not point out how severely History will treat them. You already know that. All I want to do, by writing these words, is to be with you—commiserate with you—empathize and sympathize with you. We are appalled, but it’s better to be appalled with your friends than alone.

Yet we are not alone. A majority of the American people wants to impeach and remove this president, this stain on our nation. He will be impeached. He will not be convicted by his tools in the Senate. He will then scream “EXONERATION!” at the top of his boorish lungs, and the fools, traitors and vulgarians who support him will erupt in cheers. When the Senate acquits, it will be a hard time for Democrats—a time of testing. There will be voices (some on our side) crying out against Schiff, or Pelosi, or Democratic strategy in general. Let us not be distracted by those voices. They are wrong, We are right. This president has committed High Crimes and Misdemeanors, and the House Democrats had no choice—no choice at all—but to uphold their Constitutional duty by conducting these hearings and voting to impeach. What Trump is accused of really is awful. His crimes weren’t petty; they are blatant and monumental and ongoing. He is the most corrupt president in our history, and his Republican Party is the worst, the most treasonous and despicable, since the nation’s founding.

So let the chips fall where they may. We have to protect America, our freedoms and our basic democracy. We will not yield! As Speaker Pelosi said at her press conference this morning, “Don’t Mess With Me!”


What will be Trump’s legacy?

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Whether or not he wins a second term, Donald Trump will have a presidential legacy.

Every president does, whether it’s a do-nothing legacy (Warren Harding, James Buchanan) or a legacy so massive it defines politics for decades if not centuries (FDR, Washington, Lincoln, JFK). So what will Trump’s legacy be?

We have first to look at what he has actually accomplished. There was the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which essentially lowered taxes on the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans, and provided little relief to anyone else, except for corporations like Amazon, which now pays nothing in taxes. That is a legacy, of sorts, and Republicans make much of it. But it’s not particularly innovative and in fact is a bit stale. Tax cuts are what every Republican president does. Trump joins Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush in that regard. Trump is merely the latest tax cutter, at a time when our deficits and debt are exploding and Republicans don’t give a damn.

Anything else? Trump brags about the economy, but the fact is (and I’ve pointed this out many times), the recovery after the George W. Bush Great Recession actually began in the Fall of 2009, shortly after Obama took office. At that time, the stock market began a steady climb (and continues to do so today), while unemployment began a steady fall (resulting in the historically low jobless figures we see today). No Republican will ever credit Obama for presiding over the Recovery. Hell, Republicans won’t even acknowledge that recoveries happen by themselves; given time, any recession or even depression will self-correct. In this case, according to Republicans, the Great Recession was caused by Obama–or Hillary–or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez–who knows? And we’d still be in it if Donald Trump hadn’t been elected.

What else has Trump accomplished in a positive sense? We have to give him credit for packing the courts with conservatives. However, it’s too early to say how this will play out. Predictions about how courts will rule are notoriously imprecise; all those Republican judges and Justices may well turn out to be not as bad as we thought, now that they have lifetime appointments and don’t have to answer to, say, the Koch Brothers. At the level of the Supreme Court, SCOTUS has always been unpredictable: Eisenhower’s “conservatives” turned out to be pretty liberal, and the ultra-conservative John Roberts approved ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and also enabled same-sex marriage.

The Border Wall? As the French say, c’est a rire: a joke. Hasn’t been built, won’t be built, despite Trump’s repeated claims otherwise. Relations with our allies? Wrecked by Trump’s foolishness. Is the world safer because of Trump? Not by a long shot. Wars and threats everywhere; allies who no longer trust us. Climate change? Trump obviously is missing in action. Domestic tranquility? Shattered by the most partisan, hated president in modern history.

This latter catastrophe—the shredding of bipartisanship, the mortal wounding of our collective will, the destruction of our common amity—is going to be Trump’s legacy: Trump the Destroyer. Under this president, historians will record, the U.S. came the closest to civil war since 1860—and we don’t yet know if he actually will inspire or provoke a real one. Under this president, the traditional norms of American society, which have held us together in war and peace, good economic times and bad, have shattered. The trust of Americans—in the media, in their leaders, in education, in science, in truth, in each other—has been eroded, possibly beyond repair anytime soon; and the proximate cause has been Donald J. Trump. With his litany of lies, his catering to the most ignorant elements of the culture, his absolute refusal to cooperate with Democrats, Trump has systematically dismantled the foundations of America, the bedrock principles upon which our country has existed and thrived. History will record that Donald J. Trump came along and demolished America. The only question historians will long debate is: Why?

We can’t really know Trump’s motives. I think no one believes he has a political philosophy, beyond Republican talking points like cutting taxes and building up the military. These aren’t his own, developed views: they’re the bullet points of the Republican National Committee and the Heritage Foundation. Does Trump have pecuniary motives? For example, does he have real estate deals pending in Turkey? In Russia? (We know he longs to build a Moscow Trump Tower.) In Ukraine? We might uncover these things in years to come but it won’t be easy because Trump will do, say and spend anything in order to conceal them. Or does Trump perhaps have psycho-pathological motives that would explain his recklessness?

Most likely his motives are combinations of all the above. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter why he does the things he does. What matters is that he does them. And that will be his legacy. Trump destroyed the America of history, the Founders’ America, JFK’s New Frontier, LBJ’s Great Society, Reagan’s shining city on a hill–the country most of our ancestors came to in order to live free.

Trump may not live long enough to witness this rendering of his legacy, or to feel shamed by it. But his descendants will. One day, Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka, Eric and various other spawn and in-laws will be in the same position as the children of Nazi chieftains after the war and the Nuremberg trials. Many of them had to change their names and go into hiding, afraid or embarrassed to admit they were the child of Hermann Goering, or Josef Goebbels, or Heinrich Himmler. Let it be the same for Trump’s seed.


This Utah teacher gives all Christians a bad name

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We don’t know the name of the teacher who was fired for giving her fifth-grade students a Christian lecture that “homosexuality is wrong.”

She’d asked her students what they’re grateful for this Thanksgiving, and one of them, an 11-year old boy identified only as D.M., replied that he was grateful for his two Dads. The teacher proceeded to harangue the class for ten minutes on the evils of homosexuality; she actually told D.M., “That’s nothing to be thankful for.”

We might never have known about this horrible incident were it not for three girls in the class. The girls “asked [the teacher] to stop multiple times,” but when the teacher continued her homophobic diatribe, “they walked out of the room to get the principal.”

The teacher was immediately escorted from the school and fired.

Thank goodness for the decency of the principal, and for those three little girls. Their parents must be very proud of them.

It won’t surprise me if the unidentified teacher finds some Christian law firm to sue the school district. There are all sorts of private organizations representing Christian lawyers, who defend their clients against legitimate charges of bigotry, discrimination, slander and civil rights violations, such as those bakers in Colorado who refused to serve a cake to a gay couple who were getting married (a decision upheld by the Christian-dominated U.S. Supreme Court). The fired teacher probably didn’t intend to get herself in trouble, but once she found herself there, she may be thinking she can make some serious money from her experience and at the same time defend her religious beliefs. And, given the makeup of our increasingly conservative-Christian courts, she may be right.

Because, you see, it doesn’t matter that that teacher is a hopelessly bigoted, vile woman. It’s one thing to hold a private belief about homosexuality, but it’s quite another to haul that prejudice into a public school classroom and then unleash it on a group of eleven-year olds. What trauma the child of the two Dads must have experienced! “It’s absolutely ridiculous and horrible what she did,” one of the Dads told a newspaper reporter who interviewed him. He added, “This situation really hurt him. This person really hurt us.”

The rightwing, religious faction of the Republican Party is repugnant for many, many reasons (including continuing to support an amoral, greedy adulterer and liar who is the opposite of Christian decency), but surely one of their most egregious sins is their ongoing campaign against same sex love and marriage. Despite the fact that the United States Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, these homophobes continue to mobilize, hoping that a future Court (one dominated by Christian radical conservatives like Gorsuch and Kavanaugh) will overturn Obergefell v. Hodges.

That seems unlikely, given the Court’s traditional respect for precedence, or stare decisis.

But the thing to realize is that we’re now dealing with a group of revolutionaries—radically Christianized rightwing conservatives—who wish to overturn many of the fundamental tenets of American society, and the Court’s historic embrace of precedence may not matter anymore to the Christian extremists on the Court. They may feel that they have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do away with same sex marriage and if they don’t act soon, they’ll be stuck with it forever. We can’t know how this will turn out, and there doesn’t seem to be a case out there in the lower courts that will float up to SCOTUS and give the Christians the opportunity to strike a blow (no pun intended) against homosexuality. The point is that the Christian haters, like that Utah schoolteacher, aren’t going away. They’re thoroughly radicalized; they’re attempting to radicalize others (including children), and even death won’t stop them, because new haters are being manufactured every day, on the assembly line of the Christian Gay-Hating Factory.

Still, remember those three little girls, who saw injustice and decided to oppose it. And remember the school that fired the damned teacher, and vowed that she would never, ever be allowed to teach there again. If only everybody in America were that noble.


Trump, trailer trash and the Chinese: connecting the dots

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Nancy Isenberg has a telling chapter in her 2016 book, “White Trash,” on “trailers” and “trailer parks” as symbols of, and metaphors for, this distinct underclass of American society.

White trash, trailer trash, call them what you will, have been identified as bulwarks of the Republican Party since before the rise of Trump; but Trump’s election cast them in a brand new light and gave them immeasurably more importance. Liberals, capitalizing on the reputation of poor white people, especially in the south, for being unhealthy, uneducated and shiftless, quickly identified trailer dwellers are bastions of Trump’s base—and thereby undesirable. Keith Olbermann, in 2017, slammed Trump for hosting “the trailer park trash trio” of Sarah Palin, Kid Rick and Ted Nugent in the White House.

A Mother Jones Magazine reporter, visiting a trailer park just prior to the 2016 election, witnessed “trailers with doors flung open [and] tall grass pockmarked with holes where mailboxes once stood”;  he analyzed Trump’s appeal to the residents this way: “[They] see him as very strong. A blue-collar billionaire. Honest and refreshing, not having to be politically correct. They want someone that’s macho, that can chew tobacco and shoot the guns—that type of manly man.”

Notwithstanding that this view hardly accords with the reality of Trump’s fastidious, non-gun Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster lifestyle, “The white American underclass,” writes the National Review (conservative, but no fan of Trump’s), “is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.” Bill Clinton’s former political adviser, the Ragin’ Cajun James Carville, famously referred to the sordid reputation of trailer parks when he said, concerning Paula Jones (who had accused Clinton of molesting her), “If you drag a hundred dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find,” the implication being that trailer dwellers are unscrupulous, venal, addled liars. Years later, Sen. Lindsay Graham, defending his new idol, Trump, against Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations of sexual molestation during the Kavanaugh hearings, resurrected the Carville quip, but this time against Blasey Ford: “This what you get when you go through a trailer park with a $100 bill,” he said, bizarrely, since Blasey Ford—a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine—patently never lived in a trailer park.

In “White Trash,” Isenberg traces the rube reputation of trailer parks back to the 1930s, when The Depression forced Americans by the millions into mobile home parks, “rickety boxes…eyesores” associated with “deviant, dystopian wastelands set on the fringes of the metropolis.” Isenberg tells the story of Agnes Meyer (mother of the Washington Post’s Katharine Graham), who, in 1943, set out on a cross-country tour for the Post to report on the war’s “home front.”. Encountering trailer parks throughout the south, Meyer found the residents pitiful, ragged, illiterate and undernourished; astonished, she asked herself, “Is this America?” A new brand of pulp fiction arose, portraying trailer dwellers as promiscuous, amoral trash. Dime-store novels like “Trailer Tramp” and “The Trailer Park Girls,” Isenberg writes, “told stories of casual sexual encounters and voyeurism…Tramps and trailer nomadism, like drugs and gambling, identified social disorder on the edge of town.”

By the 1980s, these poor white trailer dwellers had turned into Republicans (to the extent they bothered to vote). Two factors fed into this phenomenon: the trailer dwellers’ feeling that educated, coastal “elites” were putting them down, and their embrace of a new form of politicized evangelical Christianity, which encouraged them to vote—and vote conservative Republican.

With the surprise election of Trump—not only to Americans, but the world—trailer trash became the object of intense study by political operatives, who suddenly felt it imperative to understand what made these poor white Americans tick. An Australian newspaper last year reported the startling news that “China’s top think tank has turned to a New York Times best seller to understand what drives US President Donald Trump.”

That best seller was, no surprise, Isenberg’s “White Trash.” The think tank put Isenberg’s book at “the top of the reading list” to understand Trump; the editor of a Chinese scholarly publication told the Australian reporter, “Trump represents that political class [i.e., trailer park residents], and I don’t know how China should respond.”

The Chinese still don’t how to respond to the Trump phenomenon, any more than many of us Americans do. It’s far from clear what, if anything, Chinese intellectuals have learned about Trump from Isenberg’s book, but probably, whatever decisions the Chinese government has been making about tariffs are influenced, in part, by their impression of how tariffs impact the lives of poor white Americans. China may be betting that making cars, flat-screen TVs and War-Mart gadgets more expensive will turn trailer trash against Trump, which seems unlikely, given the “Fifth Avenue shooting” prophylaxis he’s already Teflon’ed himself with.

All of  which makes Isenberg’s concluding words in “White Trash” poignant:

White trash is a central, if disturbing, thread in our national narrative. The very existence of such people…is proof that American society obsesses over the mutable labels we give to the neighbors we wish not to notice. ‘They are not who we are’ [we tell ourselves]. But they are who we are and have been a fundamental part of our history, whether we like it or not.


People dislike Trump for the same reason they dislike advertisements

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“People hate ads.”

That’s the message from the New York Times. In an article about the advertising industry, the Times reports that unless it can confront “an existential need for change,” it risks “falling further into irrelevance.” The more pressure the advertising industry feels in terms of declining revenues and soaring marketing costs, the more it resorts to frequent, heavy-handed and obnoxious ads, which further turn off consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z. “[M]any of those consumers, especially the affluent young people prized by advertisers, hate ads so much that they are paying to avoid them” through the use of ad blockers.

I play a little game with myself when watching television. As soon as the program I’m watching switches to a commercial, I press the “mute” button or change the channel, to see if I can remain unaware of who the commercial’s sponsor is. If the commercial doesn’t mention the sponsor in the first second or so, I usually win my little game. When I lose, it’s because the advertisers know that they’d better get their company name out immediately, before viewers can mute or change the channel. That’s good marketing, I guess, but it also makes me resent those companies even more, because I’m aware of how desperately they’re trying to manipulate me.

We all know that T.V. commercials generally are louder, sometimes much louder, than the programming they interrupt. This, too, is an example of how advertisers are trying to seize our attention. Car ads blare loud, nerve-jangling music; insurance companies have jingles you can’t get out of your head; drug companies list disgusting symptoms and side effects along with diagrams of stomachs and bowels; appliances make ridiculous claims about ease of use, while cosmetic manufacturers continue the lie that nobody will like you unless you use their products.

It’s all so insulting to our intelligence, but it’s also mind-numbing. We’re supposed to pretend that a T.V. pitch man, screaming at the top of his lungs about APR financing for a car, is not a vulgar interruption of our peace and quiet. Besides, the inference that our lives are incomplete unless we purchase product “x” or service “y” is insulting. Americans don’t need more stuff, we need more peace in our lives; all this commotion and noise affects our psyches, making us jumpy and grouchy, and making us feel that suffering loud, stupid commercials is simply part of life.

It is this psychological negativity that Donald J. Trump knows how to manipulate. His years as a successful, high-ratings television producer and star have taught him how to use the media in all its obnoxious glory. First, craft a message. It need not be true; but it has to be attention-grabbing. Then repeat your message over and over and over; it may piss people off, but at least they’ll be listening (or, in the old Madison Avenue adage, bad publicity is better than no publicity at all). Above all, appeal to emotion. Jealousy, envy, anger, revenge, aspiration, hatred, curiosity, resentment, sex—if you can kindle these feelings in viewers, you’ve gotten inside their heads. From there, you can switch to reason: convince them they need your product or service, even if the facts you offer to prove it are fake. There’s essentially no difference between “fake” facts and “real” facts when it comes to advertising. A cream that makes the wrinkles under your eyes disappear may or may not work; even it it works, its effects may not last for more than an hour; and even if it lasts all day, there’s no proof that the world will love you any better, or treat you more humanely. There is thus no “truth” at stake here, only the advertiser’s ability to sell product. If the product “moves,” it means the ad worked, whether or not it was accurate.

This is the essence of Trump’s self-marketing. Of course, this kind of word play can only work with a certain type of consumer, namely, one who is credulous. The better educated people are, the less susceptible they are to the lies of commercials. Conversely, low-information consumers are more likely to be convinced by commercials. Trump knows that, too, which is why his base is dominated by low-information voters; conversely, again, his opponents tend to be the most highly-educated people in the country.

One explanation for the Resistance to Trump is because educated people understand how perverse is his use of the bully pulpit. Educated people tend to assign a high moral value to truth and fact-based reasoning. We’ve seen the historic results of ignorance and superstition: inquisitions, pogroms, mass death, civil disintegration, dictatorship, dark ages, the repression of minorities. We believe that “the truth shall set you free”—literally. We cringe when we have to see an ad or commercial that is misleading, and that seeks to take advantage of people’s credulity. It’s the same cringe-worthy reaction that makes it so distasteful to see T.V. televangelists huckster their elderly, poor followers out of their hard-earned money. That is not an honest, truthful way to make a living; it’s grifting on a grand scale.

Donald J. Trump grifts on a grand scale. He has taken everything disreputable about advertising and incorporated it into himself, so that there is no longer a difference between Donald J. Trump, the living, breathing human being, and Donald J. Trump, the product he self-peddles with the same vulgarity as a screaming car salesman. People hate ads, yes. And people hate Trump, although whether or not that’s a strong enough reason for voters to eject him next year remains to be seen.


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