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“Demystifying the presidency” means, in Trump’s case, soiling it

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My libtard friends (I use the phrase proudly) sometimes ask why I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal. Here’s a simple one-word answer:

Material.

Writers are always looking for inspiration, and the WSJ gives it to me. When my blog was about wine, back in the day, I frequently struggled to find a subject matter worthy of my readers’ attention, five days a week. But now, all I have to do is turn to the op-ed pages of the Journal.

The main thing I love about the opinion pieces is how hard the writers try to find nice things to say about Trump. A lot of them weren’t for him, but they have to pretend to be now, and it’s amusing to watch their contortions. Take, for example, yesterday’s piece by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. (what a name—sounds like an mean frat boy). Holman writes that Trump’s greatest achievement may be “demystifying the presidency.”

Of course, since Holman can’t point to anything substantial Trump has done (besides Gorsuch), he has to resort to metaphysical accomplishments. So what does he mean by “demystifying the presidency”? Well, by his own account, he’s talking about Trump’s “indisciplined tweeting.”

Segue: In one of those celebrity magazines I sometimes pick up at the gym, they have a section called “Stars: They’re Just Like Us.” It will show, like, Jennifer Anniston pushing a shopping cart at Raley’s, or Ryan Gosling slurping a smoothie. It’s cute, and makes us feel closer to the stars, but it also demystifies them. I think that’s what Holman is driving at. He’s essentially saying, “Here’s a president that’s just like you! He tweets!”

Unfortunately, tweeting isn’t the only thing Trump does, so what Holman’s message really boils down to is: Here’s a president that’s just like you! He insults people. He lies constantly. He has white supremacist friends. Yes, here’s a president that’s just like you! He’s ashamed to release his taxes. He grabs women’s pussies. He says Mexicans are rapists and criminals. Isn’t that just like you?”

Oi. I could go on and on…

Now, when Holman says Trump is “demystifying the presidency,” by implication he’s saying previous presidents “mystified” it, or failed to demystify it. Which previous president could Holman be referring to? Could it be the president he called “out of his mind”? The president who presided over “an alchemy of distortions”? The president whose concerns about the environment Holman called “sloppy indulgences”?

Yes, that one.

How did Obama not “demystify” the presidency, in Holman’s view? Because he was presidential, in the way we have come to expect our presidents to be: dignified. Obama and his predecessors somehow seemed above ordinary life; they exemplified moral excellence. This was true even when presidents tried their best to come across as ordinary—Reagan eating a blintz on the Lower East Side, Bill Clinton hitting up McDonald’s, Barack shooting hoops. Despite the ordinariness of those activities, most of our past presidents seemed to be the “honest and wise men” John Adams prayed would always occupy the White House.

Until now. Now we have a man who “demystifies the presidency” by making it dirty, vulgar and ugly.

But wait, there’s more from Holman Land. After Trump’s #1 achievement, demystifying the presidency, Holman also finds a “chief virtue” of this president. I have to quote his entire segment: “So much of Mr. Trump’s recent career involved pretending, not doing. The day may come when we have to admit this is one of President Trump’s chief virtues.”

How’s that again? Take a moment…inhale that phrase. Trump’s “chief virtue” is “pretending, not doing.” Dear readers, if you can parse that in a way that’s sane, I wish you’d let me know. In the meantime, all I can do is infer what he means. What is this president “pretending” to be doing, and what is so “virtuous” about it? When he tells us we desperately need the Mexican wall, is he pretending, or does he really believe it? When he tells us we need to destroy the Environmental Protection Agency, is he pretending, or does he really believe it? When he says we simply must cut taxes on the richest among us–his class–is he only pretending? When he tells us we need to destroy the Iranian nuclear agreement, is he pretending, or does he really believe it? When he tells us Obama tapped his phones, is he pretending, or does he really believe it? When he says Americans don’t care about seeing his taxes, is he pretending, or does he really believe it? When he says he didn’t really grab any woman’s pussy—well, you get the idea.

You see the hole that Trump has dug himself into. He’s lied so much, and so often, that nobody call tell the difference anymore between stuff Trump just makes up (for his own purposes) and stuff we really ought to know about. People now accept the fact that he lies, even Republicans. But they normalize Trump’s aberrant behavior. “Oh, that’s just Trump,” they chuckle. “Watch what he does, not what he says.”

I just hope to live long enough to see somebody in the Oval Office who brings back a little dignity and charisma. Somebody (and their family) we can be proud of. Somebody who “does” things, instead of “pretending” to do things. Wouldn’t that be nice?


Does Trump have dynastic ambitions for his family?

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When Donald J. Trump spoke to the astronauts on the space station the other day, his daughter Ivanka was by his side for the photo op. And yesterday, we were treated to the video of Ivanka being hissed and booed at a forum in Germany, right next to Angela Merkel. Can you or anyone tell me a single qualification for any job in the White House that Ivanka Trump possesses, aside, perhaps, from being some fashion or interior decor advisor? Can you imagine what would have happened if a Democratic president took his totally unqualified child and thrust her into the international spotlight like that? I mean, even Melania’s had the good taste to keep a low profile. But the glamorous Ivanka seems hell-bent on being some kind of Jackie Kennedy-cum-policy wonk-cum-FDOTUS-cum-face of the Trump Organization.

I remember when Jimmy Carter was excoriated by Republicans for saying that he’d talked to his daughter, Amy, about nuclear weapons. Bill and Hillary Clinton, who were very good parents, raised a dignified, discrete young woman, Chelsea, who never embarrassed her parents, or America. She stayed out of the spotlight, as was only right. George W. Bush and Laura similarly raised two fine daughters, whom they were wise enough to keep away from the glare of publicity and notoriety. Barack and Michelle Obama’s two wonderful daughters likewise did not lead conspicuously public lives. Had Obama been foolish enough to suggest that Sasha and Malia were acting in any sort of official role, just imagine the reaction of the likes of the Fox News sexual predator Bill O’Reilly, or Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and the nastier columnists at the Wall Street Journal, not to mention Republican junkyard attack dogs like Ann Coulter. They would be howling at the moon. The tea party would be demanding Obama’s impeachment (well, they did anyway), and brownshirts like Louie Gohmert and Daryl Issa would indignantly hold public hearings.

But now, with this president, we have him thrusting, not just Ivanka, but his whole family into powerful positions. Jared’s qualifications for anything, outside of, maybe, real estate deals, are unclear. Then there are Trump’s two legitimate sons, Eric and Donald, Jr., who seem to be at their father’s elbow though they’re running the Trump Organization and are not supposed to talk about it with him. P.S. If you believe that, there’s a bridge in Manhattan I’d like to sell you. Such a deal!

When I think of this Trump family, I think of nepotistic tyrants, like the Kims of North Korea, the Assads of Syria, and the House of Saud. The founder establishes a dynasty and then it goes down to successive generations, who become even richer. We don’t actually know what’s in Donald J. Trump’s head—if he fantasizes about anything of that sort. But why would he not? It would go along with the narcissism, the megalomania and the need to win—three personality traits we know he has. And Trump has never, ever shown a hint of understanding or respecting the Constitution, or democracy, or he common man. He has the smell of an autocrat.

When you think about it, the assumption that America is a stable, democratic [small “d”] country, based on the Constitution, rests on increasingly flimsy grounds. Government’s been eating away at the protections afforded us by the Constitution for years. We are one major terrorist act away from being so scared out of our wits that we may demand the president—whoever he or she is—do whatever it takes to protect us, including suspension of things like habeas corpus and other civil protections in the Bill of Rights. I’m not a paranoid man, but I see no reason not to believe that Donald J. Trump is not consciously thinking about getting absolute power. (A triple negative, sorry.) I can’t imagine Obama or George W. Bush, or even Reagan, ever doing so, because they respected the Constitution. What would Trump do immediately after, say, Manhattan was blasted with a dirty bomb, or twenty U.S. commercial airplanes fell from the sky in a single afternoon, or a hacking attack took out the electrical grid east of the Mississippi? I think he’d be on T.V. instantly, demanding the Congress give him unlimited power to make laws, or get rid of existing laws, and I think the Congress—many Democrats included—would go along. (Barbara Lee, my Congresswoman, no doubt would be a “No” vote.) As long as we’re playing out this scenario, let’s imagine the attack coming right before the next presidential election. It’s not hard for me, in my mind’s eye, to see and hear Donald J. Trump tell the nation that having an election at that time is dangerous. And from there, it’s a slippery slope to not having any more elections, period.

Donald J. Trump is 70 years old and will turn 71 in June. We don’t know any more about his medical status than we do about his taxes, but it’s safe to assume that he’s not in the best of health. Maybe he knows this, and is setting the inheritance pieces into place. He’s fat. His hot temper suggests he probably has high blood pressure. He eats like a pig (Trump loves McDonald’s burgers, eggs and bacon), so he probably has high cholesterol. His father, Fred, had Alzheimer’s, so that runs in the family. Who takes over when president-for-life Trump dies at, say, 81? Jared? Melania? Ivanka? A ruling family council? I will bet you that Donald J. Trump thinks about these things. You say it can’t happen here? With this one, and the white nationalists that are his base, it most assuredly can.


A Failed Presidency in only 100 Days

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What has Trump accomplished so far? Practically nothing. It is true that he has changed the conversation. It has gone from Obama’s rational and considered governing to the ridiculousness of Trump’s reality show: a non-stop barrage of scandal, failure, blunders, lies, insults, buffoonery, incompetence, damage control and international ridicule.

Oh, sure, through his executive orders (another thing he criticized Obama for) Trump has managed to undo much of the environmental work previous governments had accomplished over decades; he is throwing science overboard. But this is not what his base voted for. The big promises he made have turned out to be vaporware.

Trumpcare famously went down in flames. He promised to repeal and replace Obamacare on Day One. Some repeal! Some replace! Didn’t happen, and it’s hard to see how it will, since the same divisions within the Republican Party—moderates versus tea party—remain. (And Democrats will resolutely refuse to pull his chestnuts out of the fire.)

The Muslim travel ban also exploded in his face, and it’s hard to see anything like it coming back, given the disposition of every Federal court so far that has declared it unconstitutional. I suppose there’s a chance the conservative majority on SCOTUS, which now includes Gorsuch, could rescue it, but I haven’t seen any analysis that thinks it will.

Tax reform? “Timing of Tax Plan’s Release Is in Dispute,” headlined the weekend’s Wall Street Journal. The article described the tensions within the administration over details—how “administration economic officials were caught off-guard,” with “fundamental questions still unresolved” and “diverging timetables” making any sort of agreement “a risk” despite Trump’s “campaign-style rhetoric.” This does not sound like a formula for success.

Then there’s Trump’s central campaign promise, “The Wall.” He said he’d build it. He asked his tea party audiences hundreds of times “Who’s gonna pay for it?” and they roared back, Nuremburg-style, “MEXICO!” We now know Mexico won’t pay for a single brick. So who will fund this multi-billion dollar fiasco? “Lawmakers Balk Over President’s Wall Request,” the weekend Wall Street Journal reported. It’s not just Democrats who are against it: “Most lawmakers…both Democrats and Republicans…said they are opposed [to the wall] and many [others] said they have unanswered questions.” Democrats are united in opposing it—and they will voice their objections later this week and beyond, as they make the wall an issue in whether or not to fund the government, a fight that the Republicans will lose in the court of public opinion. And–breaking last night, as I write–apparently Trump is now conceding defeat on the wall–he says he won’t push for it until Fall. Another broken promise, another defeat!

How about Trump’s much-touted “Buy American, Hire American” push? He seems to pop up once every few days at a factory bragging how he’s saving and creating jobs. But—same weekend Wall Street Journal—“’Buy American’ Push Looks Tough for Government.” Trump can rant all he wants at CEOs, but in the end they’re going to do what’s best for their profits and shareholders. In the first three months of this year, “foreign-owned companies [in the U.S.] hauled in more money from federal contractors…than in any corresponding period in a decade,” a trend “likely to continue” well into this administration’s shelf life.

He promised to “drain the swamp,” too—and then hired a good chunk of his administration from Goldman-Sachs. The Liar really, really wants something to brag about for his first hundred days. But he has nothing, so he’s already playing down the importance of that symbolic deadline. We’ve gone from his pre-election boast that “this 100-day plan…will make America great again, believe me,” to the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days.”

Donald J. Tump’s “believe me’s” are starting to sound more and more like his fake promises to Trump University enrollees.

One recurring theme on this blog has been to wonder when his supporters will tire of the bull. They are experiencing now what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, but at some point the gap between their beliefs and reality will become so great as to throw them into crisis. His tea party supporters remain with him for now—they’re a tough, stubborn bunch, immune to facts and proud of it, as proven by yesterday’s new Washington Post/ABC poll, which shows—astonishingly—that only two percent of his voters now regret voting for him! That percentage seems like it has to rise, but on the other hand, some forms of mental illness are remarkable difficult to cure.


Why do working-class Christian Republicans love tax cuts for billionaires?

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The New Yorker (March 27), in an exposé of Trump’s secret money bundlers, wrote that since the Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United” decision, “power has tilted…toward a tiny group of rich mega-donors.”

Mega-rich donors. I’ve known my share of them in my time, people worth hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars. I’ve been in their homes, drank with them, and seen their extravagant lifestyles, and let me tell you, their interests and those of the average, normal American do not coincide. And–although it may be obvious–I have to point out that the mega-rich tend to be Republicans.

If there’s anything that characterizes the mega-rich, it’s their lust for money. They never seem to have enough. Once they get really rich, they start buying really expensive things: paintings, mansions, antiques, yachts, jets, clothes. But there’s always a bigger mansion, a better painting, a more expensive plane. It becomes a disease, an addiction. And the way these people pay for gobbling up their obscenely expensive toys is to make sure the tax system lets them keep as much of their money as they possibly can. Never mind that it’s fundamentally unfair to the hundreds of millions of Americans who don’t have one-one-thousandth of what they have, who can’t afford fancy tax lawyers to find loopholes, and who in many cases work harder than they do (certainly harder than the idle heirs of inherited wealth). Never mind that it’s also fundamentally destabilizing to America for average people to witness how stacked against them the system is. And now, under this Trumpian regime, we have a Republican President who not only wants to keep the system in place (despite his promises to end it), but make it even worse. As long as the rich pay anything in taxes, it’s too much for Republicans. And so the mega-rich pay off lawmakers through the pig pen of Citizens United, and the Trump administration—a regime of, by and for the billionaire class, his class—does their bidding.

Many Republicans in Congress, not all of whom are wealthy, understand how evil this is, but they go along with it. Why? Because Trump is giving them the stuff they’ve been wet-dreaming about for years: smaller government, less regulation, less science, more nationalism, less tolerance of non-white people, more Christianity, and a right wing Supreme Court that will make sure this agenda stays put.

Which brings me to the nugget of today’s post: an op-ed in Friday’s Wall Street Journal entitled “’In God We Trust, Even at Our Most Divided.” It is a call for more “religious reflection.” The author, Den Hartog—an “advisor” at something called the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center (whose website claims “the Bible” has been the “organizing cultural force” of America)—never uses the “C” word, as in “Christian.” He’s too politically smart to rub it in our faces. Nonetheless, with his citation of Matthew 7:1-2, it’s clear which religion he’s talking about: Christianity. He wants more of it—and more Americans to believe in it—more of it in government, and more of it to infect our laws. This is the sort of outright appeal to Christianity that could appear in no other major American newspaper than Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, which long has advocated on behalf of Christianity, and particularly Roman Catholicism, as the State religion.

Well, let me—a non-Christian—also quote the New Testament, namely Mark 10:17. It’s Jesus’s commandment for what the mega-rich should do (and remember that Jesus was born and died a Jew):

“Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Look, in a multi-cultural, multi-belief, Constitutional society, Den Hertog’s Christianity-first is so repugnant as to be beyond comment. First Amendment alert! No religious test! But tell me, why is it that the people who want a Christianized America also want to cut taxes on the mega-rich? #TheResistance wants to know, and so would Saint Mark, and Jesus.


How come Repubs support Trump even though they know he’s a bad person?

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I saw Andrew Card, George W. Bush’s chief of staff, on T.V. yesterday, blaming Senate Democrats for all the problems Trump is having (the gaffes, lies, policy failures, and so on). Card’s excuse: Senate Dems won’t confirm Trump’s appointments for mid-level executive positions, so Trump doesn’t have enough “truth to power” people around to give him sound advice.

When I heard that, my jaw just about dropped into my lap. Two problems: first, there’s no reason Senate Dems (or House Dems, for that matter) should cooperate with Trump on anything. When the reporter who was interviewing Card pointed this out, Card replied, “It’s not a partisan or political matter, it’s national security.” In other words, he suggested that Democrats must get behind this president if they love their country.

Look, this is the oldest lie in the book. Dictators are always arguing that the people have to support them to avoid chaos, invasion, etc. Patriotism, as Samuel Johnson reminded us, is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Hitler did it. Pol Pot did it. Kim Jong-un does it. Scare the hell out of the people, and you can get away with anything. Well, Democrats know that game, and we’re not going to play it. That’s why I’ve told my California Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, in no uncertain terms: Do not cooperate with this illegitimate president. Resist!

Second problem with Card’s assertion: it pretty much comes right out and admits that the emperor has no clothes—that Trump is such an immature, foolish boor that he needs baby sitters 24/7 to keep him from crapping up the house. Well, Democrats know this. We’ve known it ever since Trump announced his candidacy, and we know it more than ever, after his disastrous first three months in office. But for a Republican “senior eminence” like Card to come out and say it is pretty breath taking.

Why would Card, or any powerful Republican, support a man who they admit is incompetent and unworthy of respect? In a word, power. Trump may be a ridiculous fool, a schmuck, a pathological liar, but he’s their fool, schmuck and liar. I heard Kelly Ayotte, the former Republican Senator from New Hampshire, the other day, being interviewed. The reporter went through the litany of Trump horrors (the pussy groping, especially) and asked Ayotte how she, as a woman, could possibly continue to support him. Ayotte’s reply (I paraphrase): “He may be a horrible person, and I deplore that, but as long as he espouses political beliefs I agree with, I will support him.”

That is simply dreadful. I think Kelly Ayotte, and lots of Trump supporters, must be having tough conversations with their daughters, their granddaughters, their women friends. In my view the essential quality a U.S. president must possess is leadership. And leadership is a moral quality. It has nothing to do with particular issues. I didn’t agree with Reagan on lots of things but he was a real leader. As another Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, observed, “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

Is there a single Republican who would profess that Donald J. Trump possesses integrity? Why, now that you mention it, there is: Ann Coulter! Who, by the way, still insists she’s coming to U.C. Berkeley next week to talk to campus Repubs, even though officials canceled her speech—not to “silence” her, as she falsely alleges, but to prevent violence. With her race-baiting, mean spirit and snark, Coulter is the perfect Trump surrogate, as morally abject a human being as her idol.


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