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Inside Trump’s Brain

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He’s scared.

Of a Democratic House that will vote articles of impeachment against him. Of a Democratic Senate that will convict him and remove him from office.

Imagine the darkness of his thoughts, late at night, when he’s in bed, alone, brooding. The foreboding…the catastrophizing…his blood pressure must be through the roof. What does Donald J. Trump do?

Part of him knows that there’s nothing, literally, that he can do. The die is cast: Mueller is on the hunt, the walls are closing in. The Wolff book, which rings true despite Trump’s pronouncements about libel lawsuits, permanently destroyed whatever little reputation he had among independents. He sees Republican congressmen quitting in droves, knowing that re-election is almost an impossibility.

There’s no one he can talk to. He’s never had friends, only subordinates. He doesn’t even have a dog. His wives, including Melania, haven’t been confidantes, but trophies who married him for his money. He’s said to be close to his children and Jared, but Trump has to be careful what he says to them these days; everybody’s already testified under oath, or will have to. So Trump, who lives in his head, is utterly alone.

But he’s a strategic thinker who fancies himself “a genius.” He may be facing difficulties that seem overwhelming, but his belief in himself is enormous. He can overcome anything! All it takes is a grinding determination to forge ahead—with what Hitler called “granite will”—a mastery of strategic thinking, and, possibly, a little luck. Well, he’s always been lucky. He lucked out with “The Apprentice” when everybody said it was a dud. He lucked out with the bankruptcies and business failures. He won the damn Presidency! So there’s nothing, really, that can bring him down. Or so he tells himself.

There was no collusion, he says over and over and over again. Even Democrats know that, he insists. He knows that, in the end, he will be exonerated, and the world will see that Donald J. Trump is an honest man, pursued by his enemies, the liberals, the same way Reagan was pursued. Actually, Trump will remind you, he has a lot in common with Reagan. Sometimes, Trump even thinks about his Presidential library: where it will be, who will design it, what it will contain. These fantasies help get his mind off his troubles.

But still…he’s scared. He would never admit it to anyone. Not his style. But deep down inside, it’s there. Maybe he should start being friendlier to Democrats. Warm up to Pelosi, to Schumer, to Steny Hoyer and Dianne Feinstein, make nice sounds about DACA, talk about love (he knows it’s gibberish, but Democrats like to talk about love). Maybe, somehow, he can keep the House Republican, by one seat, if his luck holds. That’s all he needs, a one-seat majority. Even he if loses the House, maybe he can keep the Senate. Even if he does get impeached, there are certain things a President can do to hold onto power. (Here, even Trump knows his thoughts are crazy, but sometimes, you have to be crazy to win.) He is Commander-in-Chief, after all. Has anyone ever tested the limits of that? Memo to self: Find out who can tell him if he can have the Army seize control of the Capitol.

But who could he ask to find out? Kelly? McMaster? No. Can’t trust them. Can’t trust anyone, only himself. Sigh. The fear churns. Need something to take his mind off it. Fox & Friends! That always works. They still like him. Right?


Another rightwing lie: “Liberals aren’t patriotic”

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I want to thank my reader Bob Rossi for sending me this letter to the editor, which was from the Portland (Maine) Press Herald newspaper. Boiled down to its essence, it’s a rightwing attack on the Left’s alleged hostility to “patriotism” and “American exceptionalism,” couched in pro-Trump hyperbole and a characterization of liberals so clearly phony, it can only be deliberate.

Bob had sent it to me because in Tuesday’s post I wrote that “there’s something patriotic about what I do” (i.e., writing this blog), and I do consider myself a patriot. But as we all know, one of the ongoing accusations against the Left—against people like me—is that we hate America, we’re not patriots; and taken to its ridiculous extreme (which the tea party and Trump supporters are wont to do), this results in them calling us “Communists” or whatever other nasty epithet occurs to them.

I could here quote Dr. Johnson: “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” but I won’t, because I don’t entirely agree. Patriotism is defined as “vigorous support for one’s own country,” and there’s nothing wrong with that. There is, however, something dreadfully wrong when rightwingers claim exclusive ownership of patriotism, with the concomitant imputation that anyone who isn’t a rightwinger must hate America. This is the sort of reductionism that Trump, who always needs an enemy to rail against, specializes in.

The letter writer in the Portland newspaper, someone named Charles Todorich, creates a false dichotomy: you can either be a patriot (defined by him, of course) or you can hate America. There’s no in between. Now, this is complete rubbish, as I’m sure even Mr. Todorich would concede, were he to engage in a reasonable conversation, instead of indulging in letter-writing umbrage. Take me, for example. I don’t “hate America,” and I do consider myself a patriot. I even believe in the concept of “American exceptionalism,” to a degree: I mean, Americans did write the greatest Constitution in the history of the world, and for the better part of two centuries, America has symbolized justice, freedom, progress and human potential, here and across the world. It’s why my four grandparents emigrated here from Russia. I am proud of my country.

But it’s clear that Donald J. Trump is eroding that heritage, if in fact he hasn’t already destroyed it. And if you compare America with other countries in terms of things like wealth, healthcare, life expectancy and optimism, we’re not always number one. Trumpism is quickly eroding whatever glorious reputation America has enjoyed around the world.

So I’m no longer sure what American exceptionalism means. Does it mean a “Christian” country? Does it mean a country in which science is suspect? Does it mean a country where white people (mainly men) fight unscrupulously to preserve their hold on power? Does it mean a country where secret billionaires control the legislature through shady means? Does it mean a country where the hard-gotten gains of minorities are constantly under assault? Does it mean a country where the free press is under assault from the right? I’m afraid that, in all these cases, the answer is “Yes.”

Mr. Todorich’s letter encapsulates all these regressive tendencies. I don’t mind that he insults “take-a-knee” football players. Reasonable people can disagree about Kaepernick. But I do mind when he hauls out a Trump quote that’s absurd on its face: When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” Wow, what utter B.S. The most vocally ardent “patriots” in my lifetime have been white Republican rightwingers—the same crowd that was pro-segregation, that discriminated against gay people, that holds xenophobic views towards foreigners, that calls Islam evil, that subscribes to the old saying, “America: Love it or leave it,” the slogan of rightwingers going back to Joseph McCarthy. So, really, if you call yourself a “patriot,” according to Trump and Mr. Todorich, there’s “no room in your heart for prejudice”? Rightwing “patriots” are the most prejudiced bigots in America.

I yield to no one in my patriotism, and I don’t need a Republican rightwing extremist to tell me I hate America because I believe in human rights for all people. Someone ought to tell Mr. Todorich that he’s completely wrong. Well, I guess I just did.

 


I reply to my critics

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I get a fair number of complaints from readers who say, “I used to love reading your wine blog. You were a great wine writer, but I don’t care about your political views. You’re not an expert. Go back to writing about what you know: wine.”

Usually I don’t reply to criticism of my blog because the vast majority of people who put me down are Trumpists, and I’ve given up trying to have a rational discussion with them. However, I want to get this on the record, and explain why I changed my blog’s focus, and how I feel about these criticisms.

Rock stars sometimes get lambasted because they dare to change styles, or they prefer to play their new songs in concert instead of their old hits. Dylan experienced this at the Newport Jazz Festival. Keith Richards wrote about it in his memoir. If you’re a Rolling Stone in concert, do you play “Sympathy for the Devil” for the ten-thousandth time, or do you play, say, “I Gotta Go” off their 2016 album, “Blue & Lonesome”?

You can play both, of course, but many bands have discovered that if they don’t play enough of the old hits, the audience is disappointed. Still, rock stars are artists, above all, and artists like to feel that they evolve and learn; they don’t want to get stuck in a rut when that rut no longer interests them.

That’s how I felt about wine back in the late summer of 2016. I’d been writing my wine blog for eight years. It was one of the top wine blogs in America, with one of the highest readerships. My blog was a must-read in the American wine industry, particularly in California. I was aware of its status. And yet, when I retired, I thought to myself that there was no longer any reason for me to continue writing about wine. I’d “been there, done that.” I wanted to move on to new creative ventures.

I could have kept on writing about wine. Nobody forced me to stop. My readership numbers were not declining. However, I’ve always felt that there’s no reason to do creative things if they don’t interest me and challenge my intellectual and writing abilities; and wine became considerably less interesting the moment I retired. So I asked myself, “If I’m not interested in wine anymore, what am I interested in?” And there was one clear, obvious, overriding answer:

Politics.

I grew up in an intensely political household. It was a Democratic household, where FDR, Adlai Stevenson and, later, John F. Kennedy were heroes. I was for Jimmy Carter before most Americans heard of him. I wrote Bill Clinton a letter in 1988, when he was still Governor of Arkansas, urging him to run for President. I supported Hillary Clinton as best I could and, when she lost the 2008 nomination, I was happy to be for Obama. The advent of Trump filled me with alarm, horror and disgust. That such an evil, incompetent and ignorant fool should be President seemed like a nail in America’s coffin. So, on the day in September, 2016 that I announced my retirement, I also announced that henceforth the focus of my blog would shift, from wine to politics, and specifically to anti-Trump and anti-Republican politics.

I have never regretted that decision for a second. I knew I would lose many readers, and said as much in my blog. I knew I’d come in for some criticism. But the important thing, in any creative venture, is to do what turns you on. Not your audience: they want you to stay with the old stuff. It’s what they’re comfortable with: it’s what attracted them to you in the first place. It’s why people want Paul McCartney to play “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

Well, in fairness, if I went to a McCartney concert, I’d want to hear “Can’t Buy Me Love” too. But a blog isn’t a rock concert: you can’t do a little of this, a little of that. You make your decision what your focus is, do your best, and hope that others will like what you do.

And if they don’t? Fine. Besides, there’s another reason I’m satisfied with the political slant of my blog. I never felt like my wine blog was important to America’s growth and survival. But I feel like it’s imperative for me to be as strong an anti-Trump voice as I can be. It may sound weird, but there’s something patriotic about what I do. I’m not a nationalist yahoo or anything like that, but I do love America, and I feel an obligation to do my part, however small, in protecting her from the onslaught of Trump and all the reactionary, theocratic baggage he brings with him.

So that’s my answer to the critics. If you don’t like my politics, then don’t read me! I really don’t care. I’m doing my part to be a good citizen, partaking in the most important conversation an American can have. Compared to toppling this awful Trump regime, writing about the 2014 Pinot Noir vintage in the Russian River Valley seems irrelevant.


The Republican-Trump trials: Nuremburg or South Africa?

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At the Nuremburg war trials, German leaders were held to the harshest account; many were hanged and many more served long prison sentences for their crimes. On the other hand, in South Africa, after Nelson Mandela toppled the apartheid regime, the nation held “Truth and Reconciliation” hearings “to heal the deep wounds among people” by enabling victims and aggressors to “speak to one another as fellow human beings.”

These are two different ways of dealing with political criminals: vengeance versus forgiveness. So when this Trump regime is toppled–rest assured, it will be– and if the trials happen (and I hope they will), which path will we follow? Will we hold Trump’s enablers to account to the fullest extent of the law, a la Nuremburg? Or shall we “speak to one another as human beings” and hope to open Republican hearts to the truth?

Here are the defendants or, if you prefer, co-conspirators. I have divided them into three categories. This is not a full list, but it’s a decent start.

The Politicians

These are the direct enablers; they make or enforce the law, and in the case of Trump, they consciously allow him to break the law, time after time, and serious laws, at that. They consciously allow him to violate the Office of the President of the United States and stain the good name of the Oval Office. They stand by and allow Trump and his henchmen to lie. They allow this president to enrich himself in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. They stand by and allow him to attack the Justice Department, the F.B.I. and the Courts—among America’s greatest institutions–in order to prevent them from investigating his crimes and the crimes of his family. They allow him to undermine a Free Press in violation of the First Amendment. They take dark money from anonymous billionaires and deceive the American public about their true intentions. For these and other crimes, misdemeanors and derelictions of duty, they must and will be held to account:

Devin Nunes

Paul Ryan

Lindsay Graham

Mitch McConnell

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions

Orrin Hatch

Rex Tillerson

Mike Pompeo

The Official Surrogates

They do not make the law. But they represent the President of the United States in an official capacity to the American people. They repeatedly lie, abet lies, make false and misleading statements, deny proven facts, twist words, and aide this president in the commission of his crimes. For this, they must and will be held to account.

KellyAnne Conway

Sean Spicer

Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Stephen Miller

The Private Surrogates

These people are not employees of the government. They do not work for the White House. It is true that they aid and abet this regime relentlessly, but have they broken the law? Are they culpable in such a way that merits a trial? Perhaps. After World War II, the U.S. prosecuted a woman, Mildred Gillars, known as “Axis Sally,” and charged her with multiple counts of treason for broadcasting pro-nazi, anti-American programs on her radio show. Gillars was convicted and served a dozen years in jail for her crimes. This juridical history suggests that even private citizens can be indicted for the high crime of disseminating damaging and false propaganda.

Rupert Murdoch

Stephen Bannon

Alex Jones

Rush Limbaugh

Sean Hannity

Lou Dobbs

The Koch Brothers

You’ll notice I left one group out: Trump’s military advisors: The Joint Chiefs and their Chairman, Secretary Mattis, and so on down the line. They’re not exactly politicians or official surrogates, but they are Executive Branch employees with a great deal of power. They could have turned on this president by now; they still can, should they choose to do the right thing. How we deal with them is going to necessitate the closest scrutiny.

So, which style will the trials be, Nuremburg or South Africa?

I fear there’s no way to open these defendants’ hearts and get them to admit the terrible things they’ve done. Can you honestly see any of them appearing before a court and saying, “I don’t know what came over me. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” That’s not going to happen.

It’s too early to make the Nuremburg-South Africa decision at this time. It all depends on what these individuals do between now and the trials. Each of them still has a little time left to repent and confess. But with every passing day, and with each outrage committed by Trump and his family and associates, their time is growing shorter. The longer the politicians and surrogates aid and abet the regime’s crimes, the more the pendulum swings toward Nuremburg-style justice, with its severer outcomes.

The Nuremburg defendants in the dock

 

 

 


More on the Trump-Bannon smackdown

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Wednesday may well have been the craziest day yet for the current regime, which has had more than its share of crazy days. It was the “bomb cyclone” of Trumpian politics: a superstorm of right-wing bloodletting. We saw, not only Manafort suing Mueller, and Bannon’s amazing revelations from that new book—none of which he has repudiated–but Trump’s almost immediate response, which was to send him a cease-and-desist letter and say Bannon’s lost his mind.

What’s the relationship now between Trump and Bannon? Hard to say. Objective reporting, such as this story from Politico, says the friendship has “collapsed,” a casualty of ‘the most vicious falling out between a president and a former aide in modern history.”

Yet Bannon is singing a different tune. “Nothing will ever come between us and President Trump and his agenda,” he said yesterday, using the Papal first person plural. Then, just to make sure no one misunderstands, Bannon reiterated on the Breitbart radio show, “The President of the United States is a great man.”

So which is it? Did Trump commit “treason,” as Bannon alleged earlier? Or is he a “great man” who is the victim of the whole swamp up there, the D.C. apparatus, the nullification project”?

Bannon understands he’s caught between his conflicting statements. He knows, too, that the hapless white people whom Breitbart “News” succors with fake information are suffering in this tug-of-war between him and their president. Not knowing what to believe, they flail and writhe, seeking comfort any way they can find it, which usually means self-delusion and ever more righteous indignation. How does Bannon wriggle out of the hole he’s dug himself into?

For the answer, let’s take a closer look at his remarks on his radio show. First of all, he can’t take back his words—they’re engraved in the stone of History. So he has to hedge them. “Maybe things get off track, or stuff gets said, and all this heated stuff…”. What sort of things got “off track” and “got said”? Minor peccadillos, such as a misplaced memo? No: far more serious “stuff.” Bannon’s charge that the Jared-Donald Junior meeting was “treasonous,” that the White House is “trying to stop a Category 5” hurricane, that “money laundering” will be the crime that brings Trump down, is the “heated stuff” that got “said.”

Do you see the disconnect there? “Treason” isn’t just “things getting off track.” “Money laundering” isn’t just “stuff getting said.” They’re huge, federal crimes, punishable by long prison sentences, not simple misstatements or minor accidents that anyone can make. So that part of Bannon’s mea culpa just doesn’t wash.

But that won’t stop the credulous right-wingers who love Bannon and Trump from accepting this nonsense. Listen to “Gayle,” a caller-in on the radio show: “I never thought we were delorables. I thought they [i.e. Democrats] all were criminals, because I know who they are. We are fighting the people, the Clintons and the Bushes. We are not the delorables. We are subdued by the criminals in Washington. I happen to know this country is greater because of a Stephen K. Bannon.”

Is “Gayle” perhaps Steve Bannon’s mother? In her words, you can discern every neurosis, every delusion and sociopathic instinct of Bannonism-Trumpism. Where Hitler had “the November criminals” to blame for Germany losing the Great War, “Gayle,” prompted by Rush Limbaugh, Bannon and other neo-nazi propagandists, knows who the criminals are in modern America: Democrats and, of course, the Clintons, who for the Right are the devil incarnate. It’s interesting that “Gayle” also throws the Republican Bush family under her bus. But that’s very Bannon-esque: he declared “total war” on the Republican Party and his gullible fans, such as “Gayle,” believed him when he implied that her unhappiness, her frustration with her life and herself, her personal problems have all been caused by “the Clintons and the Bushes, the criminals in Washington.”

Ah, well. Gayle, poor thing, doesn’t know any better. Bannon does know better, but, like all totalitarian figures (including his former boss, Trump), once he’s told a Big Lie, he has to keep on telling Bigger Lies to cover them up. Of course, the problem with telling lie after lie after lie is that, eventually, they catch up to you, which is why telling the truth from the get-go is always the best policy. Sadly, telling the truth has never been the Bannon way. Or the Trump way. Or the Republican way.

I’ll end today’s post with the funniest headline of the week: “Alex Jones Defends Trump’s Penis.” Yes, the rabid right-wing agitator of InfoWars assures us it’s a media lie that the president has small genitals.” Alex doesn’t tell us how he knows this for a fact. Did he see the Presidential junk? Pictures?

Have a lovely weekend! If you’re east of the Rockies, stay warm. With climate change, the extremes of weather are getting more common.

 


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