You remember that classic scene from Chinatown, where Jake Gittes is interrogating Evelyn Mulwray?
Jake Gittes: I said I want the truth!
Evelyn Mulwray: She’s my sister…[slap]
Evelyn Mulwray: She’s my daughter…[slap]
Evelyn Mulwray: My sister, my daughter. [More slaps]
Jake Gittes: I said I want the truth!
Evelyn Mulwray: She’s my sister AND my daughter!
Let’s update that for some late-breaking developments from a certain cable news station:
Jake Gittes: Who are you? Tell me the truth!
Cable news station: CNN [slap]
Cable news station: Fox [slap]
Cable news station: CNN [slap]
Cable news station: Fox [slap]
Jake Gittes: I said I want the truth!
Cable news station: I’m CNN and Fox!
CNN has famously, or infamously, tried to position itself in between Fox’s rightwing craziness and MSNBC’s liberalism. This mushiness has not helped CNN’s ratings; it consistently ranks well behind Fox in viewership.
This is because CNN stands for nothing; in adapting its “both sides are entitled to an opinion,” it jettisoned its moral authority by normalizing Donald Trump and equating blatant falsehoods with truth. People don’t watch “nothing,” indeed, why should they? So now, CNN’s powers-that-be have decided that standing for nothing is not a winning strategy. What to do? Mimic the #1 cable news channel, Fox, and make a hard right turn.
On Wednesday I read, in the San Francisco Chronicle, that CNN has hired two new senior people, both drafted from Fox: Dave Briggs, who co-anchored “Weekend Fox and Friends,” and Stephen Moore, “former economics advisor for the Trump campaign, former consultant for Fox News [and] a Wall Street Journal contributor” (the WSJ is, of course, owned by Fox owner Rupert Murdoch).
Whatever prompted CNN President Jeff Zucker to cave? Well, CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, wants to buy AT&T, and Zucker wouldn’t be the first company head to make nice to a President in order to advance a deal that will make him richer than he already is. Zucker himself was quoted in the Chronicle that the reason he’s tacking Fox-ward is to appeal to “more conservative viewers because, you know, Trump and all.”
Well, at least he’s honest, if not particularly articulate. He’s also a coward, allowing himself to get pushed around by a bully who has shown no reluctance to use his power to intimidate people into doing his bidding. Trump has attacked CNN ferociously: for instance, on Jan. 12, shortly before being sworn in, he tweeted: #CNN is in a total meltdown with their FAKE NEWS because their ratings are tanking since election and their credibility will soon be gone! Zucker evidently felt that, rather than go against a sitting President, he might as well yield, and take it like a man.
But Zucker also is naïve, if he thinks CNN’s ratings can be improved by this appalling act of surrender. Republicans are not going to suddenly start watching CNN. They already have Fox “News,” not to mention right wing talk radio. All that this capitulation will do is alienate what few moderate viewers CNN retains.
It’s distressing to watch the demise of a once-glorious T.V. network. CNN invented cable news, with its historic 1980 founding by Ted Turner. It led us through the Reagan years, the Gulf War, Clinton’s impeachment, the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq War. It reigned supreme in live coverage; it was in fact—as Fox lies about being—“fair and balanced.” Now, CNN circles the drain in a desperate, doomed attempt to make the Tea Party like them. Poor Wolf Blitzer, to end his career like this. As a certain POTUS often tweets, #SAD!
Our United States Constitution provides for “the Removal of the President from Office” in only four cases: Impeachment (Article I Section 3) or “his Death, Resignation or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office” (Article II Section I).
Impeachment, we are pretty familiar with. Two Presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Impeachment is merely an indictment by the House; conviction and removal require a majority vote in the Senate. In the event, neither Johnson nor Clinton was convicted.
One of the three scenarios outlined in Article II Section I has, unfortunately, been played out too often in American history: the death of a President. Eight have died while in office: William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, FDR and JFK. Our smooth Constitutional process ensured no period of uncertainty in any of those cases. As for resignation, only one President has quit: Richard Nixon. Which brings us to the last, final, fourth means by which a President may be removed from office: “the Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office.”
Since it’s never happened, we have only conjecture to guide us. What would constitute such an “Inability”? Physical illness, of course. Woodrow Wilson suffered a severe stroke in October, 1919, more than one year before his second term as President was due to expire. He was largely paralyzed afterwards, but remained in office. Years later, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, he was a sick man, hospitalized numerous times, and each time he temporarily transferred power to his Vice President, Nixon, but he never resigned. We thus have no experience in how to deal with a President who is physically unable to perform his or her duties.
What if a President is ill, not in a physical sense, but a mental one? This question has arisen, seemingly organically, since Trump was sworn in. Let’s conjure up a scenario–this is purely imaginary–in which his behavior becomes increasingly erratic. Let’s say it starts with a continuation of the lying for which he has become notorious. (The latest is his insistence that the U.S. murder rate is the highest in history, when in fact it is at a historically low level.)
Imagine that the lies continue unabated, and become increasingly tenuous. Perhaps a Court rules against him on some large matter. He lambastes the judges. No matter; he has suffered a defeat. He is defiant; there is talk of a Constitutional crisis: the Executive versus the Judiciary, each co-equal. What is to be done? The country is riven with debate; the halls of Congress roar with the din of controversy. What will happen? Suddenly, Trump tweets that he never took the position in the first place that the Court rejected. In fact (he tweets), he argued the exact opposite. Were it not for the dishonest media (the New York Times, CNN, NBC, ABC and so on), which falsely misrepresent his positions, everybody would have known his real position.
It is an outrageous lie. Privately, even his most ardent Republican supporters are aghast. Public pressure mounts for someone, somewhere, to do something—rein him in. Cracks in Trump’s wall of support appear. Ted Cruz suggests all is not well in the Oval office; Paul Ryan says, embarrassed, he can speak only for himself, not the President; Kellyanne Conway, under massive assault from the media, quits. Even O’Reilly, on Fox, wonders if the President is compos mentis. The question of the President’s sanity, his mental fitness—up to now just background chatter in Democratic politics—now boils forth upon the general body politic.
Suddenly, in the midst of this electricity, comes new news of Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Investigative journalists determine that, yes, Trump was in St. Petersburg at the time of the alleged sexual liaisons reported in the dossier. Meanwhile, the bipartisan Senate Judiciary Subcommittee, which had been holding closed-door hearings, issues a scathing report, which concludes that, not only did Russian intelligence blatantly hack into the DNC’s and Podesta’s emails, but they did so with the intention of getting Trump elected—and certain officials close to Trump—most visibly, Rudy Giuliani–strongly appear to have been complicit.
The country is now in full uproar. Trump again resorts to Twitter. “I never even met Rudy Giuliani until 2012,” he writes, despite dozens of photographs showing the two men together as long ago as 1985. Monster lies pile up, one after another. “I’ve never been to Russia.” “I criticized Wikileaks for releasing the emails.” And the capper: “Why does the crooked media say I admire Putin? He’s a bad man. So-called reporters are the most dishonest people in the world.”
On August 6, 1974, Barry Goldwater famously told a Republican Conference lunch, “There are only so many lies you can take, and now there has been one too many. Nixon should get his ass out of the White House—today!”
That was his response to Nixon’s ultimately intolerable final lies about Watergate, which were annihilated by the tapes. That afternoon, Goldwater and a cadre of Republican leaders—Sen. Hugh Scott, Rep. John Rhodes—marched to the White House and told Nixon the game was up. Nixon resigned from the Presidency three days later.
Nixon was not physically ill. He was not accused of being mentally ill, but pathological lying—which, essentially, was his crime—is a form of mental illness. Soon, it might be that a Republican deputation from Congress repeats that march to the Oval Office, this time to inform Trump he has to leave. If he does not, they tell him, they cannot guarantee that some Republican Senator or Congressman might not introduce a motion to remove the President from office, based on Article II Section I. And, they add, were such a motion introduced, it would more than likely pass.
There were rumors, back in those hot summer days of 1974, that Nixon would surround the White House with troops (of which he was Commander-in-Chief) and refuse to vacate the office. Fortunately for the nation, Nixon backed down. Trump—more volatile, far more grandiose in his own mind than the insecure Nixon—seems unlikely to kowtow to the wishes of mere Congressmen. The standoff, should it happen, will make for unbelievably great live T.V., and we can already start fantasizing about who will play whom—Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Melania, Ivanka, Pence, Spicer, Giuliani, Ryan, McConnell, Comey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the arresting officers—in the movie.
Many years ago, in the early 1980s to be exact, I was driving home early on a Sunday morning from L.A. to San Francisco, idly switching between radio stations, when I came across a broadcast. It seemed to be, near as I could tell, a church meeting, and a big one at that to judge from the roar of the multitudes, who were presided over by a fire-and-brimstone preacher, of some evangelical or born-again stripe. As I have always found this sort of thing interesting—in a Margaret Mead-amongst-the-Samoans anthropological way—I listened. The preacher brought his audience to greater and greater heights of frenzy. The roaring and “amens” increased in crescendo. The mists of time have erased from my memory most of the particulars of what the preacher said, but there was one part that so seared itself into my brain that, even all these decades later, I recall it word for word.
He was talking about people who resisted the Christian message of Jesus being Lord and all that. He said they (the Christians) would try their best to convert non-believers, but that, in the end, if the non-believers refused to obey, “We will drag them, kicking and screaming, into the tent.”
Yes, those were his exact words. “He’s talking about me!” I thought. I found this so striking that I pulled over to the side of the road, to mull over what I had heard. To “drag someone kicking and screaming” is an old term whose derivation I do not know but whose meaning is clear: to make someone do something they do not want to do, by the use of force. I remember clearly the distinct image, repeated often over the years, those words formed in my mind: I saw a tent—a huge canvas structure, set up in some Bible Belt pasture or field, in which a Pentecostal audience was arrayed, like Romans in the Coliseum, egged on by a fiery Protestant orator. I saw a group of four or five burly white men engaged in the act of seizing hold of the arms and legs of a smaller white man who was struggling to escape from their grip. That smaller white man was me. As I screamed and flailed, the burly men carried me through the tent flaps, to the rabid, ecstatic howls of the mob. And there the scenario always mercifully ends.
Thirty-five years ago, these Christian evangelizers were eagerly courted by the nascent Reagan administration. Reagan himself was not particularly religious—nothing that we know about him suggests otherwise—but his political advisors, particularly a fellow by the name of Robert Billings, who was the executive director, under Jerry Falwell, of the Moral Majority, were given a seat at the table because the evangelicals were viewed by Republican strategists as the new equivalent of the “Southern strategy” that had got Nixon elected. And so the evangelicals had the ear of the President of the United States. Now we come to the year 2017, and the evangelicals have not only the President’s ear, but his mind, heart and bully pulpit. They have swarmed into the White House and Cabinet, long ago having seized control of the House of Representatives, and have made major inroads in the Senate and in the United States Supreme Court.
I have a few words for them–for you, if you’re one of them.
When I said you’re about as Christian as my dog, I immediately realized how unfair that is to Gus, as gentle and loving a soul as ever existed. You evangelicals speak the words of your God but you practice the actions of the Devil. You say you care for the poor, yet you would do away with public schools where they obtain free education, with Planned Parenthood where so many poor women obtain health services, with the Affordable Care Act: you would actually take healthcare away from 20 million of the neediest Americans. You would defund Public Defenders’ offices throughout the land, ensuring that only people of means can afford lawyers. You would gut if not eliminate environmental agencies, such as the E.P.A., whose “crime” in your eyes is to protect God’s air, water, creatures and lands. You would toss Muslims out of America and forbid others from coming in, to protect your so-called “Christian” nation, thus violating Jesus’s main instruction: to treat others as you would have them treat you. You have allowed your churches and pulpits to be fouled by politicians who cynically use you, you have allowed mockers like Donald Trump to achieve high office despite the fact—which you know in your heart—that he thinks you are fools. You have watched this President squander the essence of what America has meant to the world for 250 years: a shining city on a hill, of compassion, fairness and hope for all. You have elected a three-times-married adulterer, a self-admitted sexual abuser of women who tells a relative stranger he would “like to fuck” another man’s wife, even while he, himself, is married. Is this how you treasure the sanctity of marriage?
But that is not all! You throw your support behind a man whose mockery of the disabled ought to make you cringe, especially those of you—and they are many—whose own children or siblings are disabled. You think this man, who repeatedly insults anyone who disagrees with him, and who lies with pathological abandon, is a paragon of virtue. You cheer on a man who insults the entire country of Mexico, calling our southern neighbors “rapists and criminals”—and you say nothing to challenge such slurs even though you know they’re false. You see him fritter away our friendships with Australia, Iceland, France, Great Britain—friends who fought beside us in multiple wars and have stood by us through every troubled time. You—who for decade after decade hated the Soviet Union for its atheism—now suddenly discover what a wonderful country Russia is. You, who fulminated against the evils of Big Banks and Wall Street, of Mammon, now have a Cabinet stuffed with the leaders of Goldman Sachs, led by a billionaire who will not reveal his taxes or his business interests–and you do not care. You say you believe him when he says we need to deregulate these monstrous banks–whose CEOs are his friends–and yet you conveniently forget that the greedheads that run them caused the Great Recession that made your neighbors, maybe even your family, maybe even you, lose your jobs and homes. In short, you render unto Caesar what should be rendered unto God, and unto God, you render nothing but pious platitudes.
You have hated on and discriminated against huge swaths of the American republic in your religiously-based bigotry against gay people–a bigotry every Republican administration, including Trump’s, has exploited, and which, in your heart of hearts, you know is wrong. And now–the frosting on the cake–you urge Trump on as he seems hell-bent on unleashing more foreign wars—wars that will kill your sons and daughters or, if they are not killed, will leave them legless, armless, blind, and ravaged by PTSD. You–who talk about love!–loathed Obama, whom your Jesus would have blessed as a peacemaker. Now you are stuck with a warmonger, the father of sons who kill God’s noblest animals on the plains of Africa, not for meat for their well-laden tables, but for their own privileged, twisted pleasure.
What would Jesus have said about that?
I have no respect for you, evangelicals. You worship false gods and you speak with forked tongues. Your movement is spiraling downward, as ever more and more Americans, including Christians and elected Republicans, see through your hypocrisy. You have brought a godless, unstable person to the highest office in the land; through your stiff-necked, spiteful, reckless anger, you have wrought, upon this nation and the world, Havoc. Heed the lesson from 1 Samuel:
“So Saul died, and his three sons, and his amourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.”
At the height of the Occupy Oakland days, when mostly peaceful protests were disturbed by small groups of agitators who called themselves “anarchists” but were more widely referred to as “the black bloc” (not for their race, but for the bandannas they wore around their faces and the color of their clothes), I took a hard line against the agitators.
They were missing the entire point of the protests, in my view. The point, you’ll recall, in 2011-2012-2013 was the increasing disparity between the ultra-rich and the rest of us—a disparity Bernie Sanders used to drive his campaign. My approach was for massive peaceful protest, a la Gandhi. Only in that way, I reasoned, could we attract the broad support of the American people, who, in their fair-minded and level-headed way, also were bothered by the riches of the 1% and their control of the levers of government.
Alas, I lost that round. The Occupy powers-that-be decided in favor of a “variety of means”, which meant that masked vandals, arsonists and looters were allowed carte blanche to participate in Occupy demonstrations. Two results were inevitable: first, that large swatches of American cities, including Oakland, were left in ruins every time Occupy marched; and, second, that this represented the death knell for the Occupy movement. Far from sympathizing with Occupy, vast numbers of Americans turned against it (including me). Occupy was not killed by the cops; it committed suicide.
Now we come to a different era, when Trumpism runs rampant across the land. I am worried. You, probably, are, too. And once again, we have huge protests, as evidenced by the magnificent Womens Marches of Jan. 21 (the largest collective demonstration in American history), and the smaller but equally dramatic airport protests following Trump’s Muslim travel ban. Both of those gatherings were entirely peaceful. At the Womens March in Oakland I saw, and briefly engaged, three young people who wore the bandannas and military-style gear. I urged them to keep it peaceful (for which I was accused of being an undercover cop [!!!] and told to go fuck myself). In the event, that protest—the largest in Oakland’s history—was entirely peaceful, for which the city was grateful.
And then, Wednesday night. That was when the “gay, Trump-supporting provocateur” (as he styles himself), Milo Yiannopoulos, who was scheduled to speak to 500 U.C. Berkeley College Republicans, was forced to cancel at the last minute, and be hustled off-campus by the cops, to protect him from a huge mob that might have harmed him, had they got their hands on him. The mob—at least, parts of it–went on to do grave, violent damage, both on campus and in the nearby streets of Berkeley.
What is the proper attitude to take?
To begin with, let’s be blunt. Yiannopoulos is an asshole. He edits Steve Bannon’s rag, Breitbart “News.” I won’t go into his squalid assaults on anyone and everyone he hates (which is everyone except the tea party, which–ironically–hates him because he’s gay), but his vulgarity is 100% in line with Bannon’s and Trump’s. Having said that, did he have the right to speak?
Legally, technically, constitutionally, yes. But the other side—the protesters who shut him down—argue that Yiannopoulos’s speech is hate speech, and we have to put limits on that kind of inciting-to-violence, lie-filled rhetoric. So we have two forces here—a rock and a hard place—where constitutional rights spar with decency, and only one can triumph. Where do I stand?
I’ve thought long and hard about it. This Trumpist movement is becoming so seriously perilous that we—who I believe are the majority—cannot stand idly by, crossing our fingers and hoping someone or something will stop it. Nothing will stop it, except We, the people. I still hope we can do so peacefully, by dint of our huge numbers. Organizations are sprouting up every day to mobilize citizens at the push of an email button or text message. We can produce huge crowds, and the more outrageous the Trump outrage-of-the-moment, the bigger the crowds.
And I’m still furious at the black bloc. They’re vandals, thugs, neurotic and immature schmucks who deserve a paddling, not to be celebrated as freedom fighters. But I remember that our own American Revolution required violence in order to be successful. And I’m starting to wonder if I should re-evaluate my position. I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s going to take a gigantic collective effort to expunge the budding fascism here in America—if not to avoid a Third World War we might lose, given the pace at which Trump is pissing off our allies—and, when the stakes are this high, the tactics might just have to change.
Even President Obama’s fiercest critics, such as Trump, never questioned his sanity. They called him stupid, or evil, or a terrorist, or naïve, but never insane. In the dozen Presidents I’ve watched in my lifetime, none was ever suspected of being mentally ill.
It’s become a meme in the political conversation, not just in America but all over the world: Trump is nuts. Just what specific illness, or illnesses, people think Trump suffers from, though, isn’t clear. Lots of people think it’s narcissism; a Google search for “Trump” and “narcissist” brought 837,000 hits, including this one, from the New York Daily News, which quoted psychologists as diagnosing Trump as showing all the symptoms of “malignant narcissism.”
Then I searched “Trump” and “mental illness” and got even more hits, 1,570,000, including this one from the Atlantic magazine, which adds “grandiosity” to narcissism in the Trump diagnosis. “Grandiosity” is, of course, delusional: an exaggerated sense of superiority to others, to the point of losing touch with reality, which does sound like this President: the personal insults, the authoritarian streak, the disdain for viewpoints other than his own. But then, narcissism and grandiosity are linked: there’s even a mental illness called “Grandiose Narcissism” that’s defined as “a flamboyant, assertive, and interpersonally dominant style. Grandiose narcissists are more likely to attain leadership positions, they have an inflated sense of self, are overconfident in making decisions, and don’t seem to learn from their mistakes.”
Sound like someone you know?
Then I Googled “Trump” and “insane” and the results just about blew up my laptop. Number of hits: 23,500,000. Clearly, for a lot of people, when they hear the word “Trump” their immediate word association is “insane.” I like Louis C.K.’s description of him as “an insane bigot.” The film director, James Cameron, went Louis C.K. a step further and indicted Trump’s entire crowd, not only his direct associates, like Bannon, Conway and Spicer, but the Republicans who voted for hm. “These people are insane!” Cameron told the Daily Beast.
But the award for “Most Google hits” goes to “What is wrong with Donald Trump?” Results: 90,400,000. Of course, these hits don’t just include speculations on his mental state; they also include analyses of his draconian, reactionary policies, from the Muslim ban to his war on Mexico to his lies about the size of the inaugural crowd and numbers of illegal voters.
All of which leads up to the Big Question: What will it take for Trump supporters to turn against him? We can’t know the answer at this point, but History can perhaps give us a hint. When Nixon was spiraling down the drain during Watergate, his fans stayed loyal almost to the very end. Until about the late Spring of 1974, they still cheered him on, believing that Watergate was all a plot by Democrats and establishment elitists to drive Nixon from office. It wasn’t until the Smoking Gun tapes came out that all but the most diehard Republicans finally realized that Nixon had to go.
What will Trump’s “smoking gun” be? His mental state. Even the reddest of evangelical tea party Republicans has some rudimentary understanding that it’s not a good idea for a President to be mentally ill—even if he’s from their own party. They’ll tolerate a lot, for a while, but eventually, as Trump becomes ever more irrational, angry, reckless and abusive, they’ll start to talk about it, over coffee or beer or around the water cooler. It will take a lot for them to abandon him: they have massive amounts of emotional energy invested in him, and it’s never easy to admit you’ve made the biggest mistake of your life.
But they’ll get there, and when they do, Trump’s gone. Which will leave us with Pence. Now, a lot of Democrats are warning us, Be careful what you wish for, because if we get rid of Trump, we’ll be stuck with something even worse.
I don’t agree. Pence may have disgusting views, particularly those based on his religious fanaticism, but he’s not insane. When we get rid of Trump, we’ll deal with Pence. One battle at a time…