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Repubs circle the wagons, for now (and how things might end)

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Have you noticed?—Republicans doubling down on their message that “There’s no there there” when it comes to RussiaGate?

I see it all the time. Every GOP congress member or Senator on every cable news show says it. Every columnist at Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal says it. Every fundraising email from Republican organizations says it. “There’s no evidence of any collusion. There’s no evidence of any crime. This is just Democrats who are mad about the election.”

Well, I have one question for these apologists: How do you know “There’s no there there” before the investigations are finished?

I’m old enough to remember Watergate. Republicans circled the wagons around Richard Nixon to the bitter end, until even they couldn’t stand the heat anymore. That’s when Republicans Barry Goldwater, John Rhodes and Hugh Scott went to the White House to tell Nixon the jig was up: he had to resign, or be impeached and convicted. But that intervention didn’t happen until August 7, 1974, more than two years after the original Watergate break-in. Granted, things occur more quickly these days because of social media, but it is still extraordinary for politicians to turn against a sitting president of their own party, so we should not be surprised by the stubbornness with which Republicans currently are standing by their man.

How might it happen that Ryan and McConnell pay Trump a little visit? My crystal ball: By year’s end, Mueller issues his report. It indicts Michael Flynn and names Jared Kushner, and perhaps others, as an unindicted co-conspirator. It does not directly tie Trump to any crime, but suggests, strongly, that he fostered an environment of reckless disregard for the law that encouraged others to commit crimes. Jeff Sessions is forced to resign. Tillerson is embarrassed but stays. McMaster, citing health reasons, quits. The complicity of many other Trump staffers and family members remains questionable.

By this time, of course—early 2018—we’re headed straight into the election cycle. Things are really heating up in red districts. Republicans are running scared. Democrats rachet up the campaign ads: the word “reckless” is tattooed to Donald Trump, and Republicans running on the “reckless Trump ticket” can’t help but be tainted. No one wants him campaigning for them in their districts. Barack Obama, who’d been fairly quiet all year, bursts forth with a series of pointed attacks; his credibility, still high, hurts Republicans greatly.

Then comes more breaking news: Flynn is looking at jail time and/or severe financial problems for not revealing those Russian and Turkish payments. He now understands that violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause applies, not just to elected officials, but to military personnel: Without the consent of Congress, an individual who holds an ‘Office of Profit or Trust’ in the Government may not accept a compensated position (an “emolument”) from a foreign state unless Congressional consent is obtained.” And in Flynn’s case, of course, Congressional consent was not obtained; Congress didn’t even know.

Flynn, who had been the most resistant of FBI suspects to tell what he knows, sees the light: he can horse-trade in exchange for a lighter sentence. What does he have to offer the prosecution? Evidence that Trump and his agents, acting on his instructions, furthered the Trump family’s wealth by revealing U.S. secrets to the Russians, and otherwise conspired to help Russia, in exchange for favorable treatment by Russian banks, and the withholding of the dossier by Putin. The news leaks: the resulting furor overwhelms all other news. Suddenly, the tipping point is reached: Republicans jump ship. Staff changes are made, wholesale, in the White House; Priebus takes a job in PR with a powerhouse corporation. The final straw: the Wall Street Journal’s lead editorial reads:

THE PRESIDENT’S UNEASY RELATIONSHIP WITH TRUTH: TIME TO STEP DOWN, FOR THE GOOD OF THE COUNTRY

Even the most vociferous Trump supporters—Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Alex Jones, Ann Coulter—begin to swing into line, although they obfuscate the issue with smears of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and by blaming the media for “fake news.” Trump’s polling numbers hold steady among tea party and evangelical types—no surprise there, nothing could change their minds—but his “base” in the Congress, never strong in the first place, disintegrates. That’s when Ryan and McConnell make their little trip to the Oval Office. Amidst an explosion of flashlights, at 10 a.m. on a weekday morning, and with plenty of advance notice to the media, the two gentlemen emerge from their meeting with their noses to the ground, grimly saying nothing to reporters, issuing only a brief written statement: “Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell will leave it to the president to speak for himself.” A tense two days go by: the country is consumed. What did they say? What did he say? Will he quit? Be impeached? Fight? More leaks: Trump wanders morosely through the White House halls at night; one staffer calls him “a zombie.” The West Wing staff is demoralized, terrified of running into him: they avoid him as best they can. Melania, who had been living in the White House, returns to Trump Tower with Barron. Jared, still reeling from his “unindicted co-conspirator” status, resigns all duties in his father-in-law’s administration. There are rumors his marriage to Ivanka is in trouble. Vice President Pence is nowhere to be seen. And then, in early March, Trump’s office announces the president has requested 15 minutes on the major television networks, to address the American people. It becomes the most watched T.V. show of all time, finally giving Donald J. Trump his only real achievement in a little more than one year in office: He is #1 in the ratings!


Is Trumpism a permanent or a temporary feature of American geopolitics?

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Over the weekend we learned more about how disastrous Trump’s visit to Europe was, although you’d never know it by the rah-rahing on right wing media. They’re having a field day portraying the trip as a net-plus game changer for him; typical is the New York Post, which deemed it “a huge success” and praised Trump for being “clear, concise and disciplined.” Of course, you have to consider the source: the Post is owned by, yes, Rupert Murdoch, of Wall Street Journal and Fox “News” notoriety. But this pro-Trump slant is a canard—nobody outside of Trump/tea party circles believes it (and even the more intelligent of them doesn’t). Clearly it is a ham-handed attempt to distract the nation’s attention away from the gathering menace of RussiaGate.

In reality, two overarching facts emerged from the trip:

  1. Trump was warmly welcomed by Middle Eastern dictators and also by Israel’s right wing government, and
  2. Leaders of western democracies are appalled by Trump and Trumpism.

It is the end of May, 2017, only four months into this new administration, and so suddenly has Trumpism become a phenomenon that it’s impossible as yet to place it in perspective. What does it mean for America and the world? Is it an aberration—a fever that will break, releasing the patient from delirium? Or is it a new permanent condition?

America is such a dominant factor in world geopolitics that anything that happens here has instant and long-lasting impact everywhere else. The Cold War began here—rightfully or wrongfully will long be debated—and quickly spread around the globe, influencing everything for the next half-century and even today. Truman, Acheson and Marshall decided in favor of resistance to the Soviet Union, and they prevailed, proving that the wishes of a small handful of men can send history careening in a certain direction.

Now we have Trump. What is Trumpism? It has elements of fascism, in its pro-corporate inclinations and disdain of liberal democracy. It is nationalistic: “America First” implies that traditional “American exceptionalism” now has reached gigantic proportions of hubris. It is authoritarian: Trump as businessman was accustomed to being the only voice that counted, and his predilection for dictators, such as King Salmon in Saudi Arabia, Duterte in the Philippines and Trump in Russia, shows that he prefers to do business with others who call the shots in their own countries, without the messy distractions of interfering parliaments.

Which leaves Western European leaders in a bind. When Merkel announced that Germany’s and Europe’s reliance on America is now “over” due to Trumpism, she was simply voicing the common-sense conclusion that Trump’s skepticism about NATO and climate change, not to mention his character, are proof that the U.S. is not a reliable friend. When Macron said his tense, awkward handshake with Trump was a deliberate “moment of truth,” that, too, was an announcement that France is prepared to break with 70 years of solidarity with America.

Nor were Merkel and Macron the only Europeans shocked by this regime. “Donald Trump’s Europe tour leaves leaders strangely shaken,” the Guardian headlined, with NATO’s secretary-general, the prime minister of Montenegro and the Belgian prime minister publicly registering degrees of insult and shock. A U.S. State Department official, off the record, said to the Daily Beast, When it comes to diplomacy, President Trump is a drunk tourist. Loud and tacky, shoving his way around the dance floor. He steps on others without realizing it.”

Some “huge success”!!

Why would a Trump supporter in a Red State care about all this gossip? After all, those offended leaders are foreigners, and not only that, they’re Europeans. Devout Christians from the Bible belt have been reared on the belief that you can’t trust Europeans. They’re atheists, Euro-trash, and globalists, in favor of homosexuality, abortion and trade deals that rip off America—in other words, the enemy.

History loves symbols: Hitler at Nuremberg, being hailed by 100,000 Nazis in the “ice cathedral” of Leni Reifenstahl’s spotlights; JFK declaring “Ich bein ein Berliner” at the height of the Cold War; that lone Chinese protester in Tiananmen Square facing down the tanks. Trumpism, too, now has its symbol: those Trump-supporting white supremacists marching in Virginia earlier this month, chanting “Russia is our friend.”

I can speak only for myself, but I prefer the culture of western Europe to that of Middle Eastern autocracies. The West has developed traditions of liberalism, intellectual curiosity, tolerance, diversity, optimism and progress—values I cherish, and that I believe advance world civilization. This current president, Trump, seems to prefer something else: regressive, dark, resentful, atavistic and paranoid. If Trumpism is a new permanent feature of American policy, it is deeply disturbing, but I think it’s too early to say that at this point. Macron’s landslide victory in France, after all, suggests that the fascist-nationalist wave rolling across the West may be over. At any rate, The Resistance continues to be all-important: it is our duty, to America, to the world and to the future, to make Trumpism a temporary sickness.


Homophobia is alive and well in the Republican Party

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Texas has done something odious and horrible against gay people—an act of sheer malice that ultimately will not survive a Constitutional test in the courts: They have passed the so-called “Freedom to Serve Children Act.”

This mean-spirited, wholly unnecessary new edict allows publicly funded foster care and adoption agencies to refuse to place children with non-Christian, unmarried or gay prospective parents.” (Does this mean Jews in Texas can no longer adopt?) Texas now immediately jumps into the lead as one of the most cruelly homophobic (and religiously intolerant) states in the nation, thanks to a Republican legislature and governor. The bill was pushed by the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, who argued their usual bigoted claptrap.

The president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, hardly uttered a peep about gay rights during the campaign; gay hatred—homophobia—was remarkably low-key this cycle. During the campaign, Trump implied he was cool with the LGBTQ community, and even with gay marriage. Even today, four-plus months into the disaster of this regime, we hear almost nothing publicly coming from Trump, members of his administration, or senior Republican members of Congress, concerning overturning gay marriage or restoring Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, although individual Republicans continue to express their revulsion of gay Americans when they’re among friends. Republicans seem happy to use the fig leaf of “states rights” to crack down on homosexuals.

But things are changing for the worse.

The fact is, lots of Republicans, perhaps a majority, remain absolutely opposed to any sort of break for gay people, and nowhere is that more evident than on social media. This blog appears on both Facebook and Twitter (circulated through the Huffington Post), and I get many comments from Trump supporters. I’m tough on their guy, and they feel the need to back him up and attack me. Fair enough. One thing these Republicans do in their comments is say or imply deprecating things about the San Francisco Bay Area, which is where I live. Whenever I read negative comments about San Francisco from right wingers, I think they’re homophobic. Yes, you can attack San Francisco for being liberal, but Republicans don’t attack Portland Oregon or Austin Texas or Washington D.C. or Madison Wisconsin for being Democratic enclaves, so when they feel compelled to say something about me being “from San Francisco,” I read the tea leaves to determine what’s really going on. In most cases, you can almost see the sneer on their faces as they write those words, San Francisco; you can hear the contempt in their voices. “You’re from San Francisco. Gay, depraved, sick, ungodly. What else can we expect from you?”

Republicans are afraid to be too public about their homophobia because it’s unfashionable to do so. (Some people call this “political correctness,” but I don’t like that term, because it reduces what are fundamentally moral arguments to the level of partisan politics.) It’s good that we’ve reached a point in America where homophobes don’t feel free to voice their hatred of gay people. It took long enough! But the hardest core of the Republican Party is fundamentalist Christians, and they haven’t eased up on their homophobia one bit. They know they’re looked down on for that by a large part of America as ignorant; they know that homophobia is out-of-step with today’s standards, and that the rest of the developed world has moved towards LGBTQ acceptance; they know they’re being old-fashioned when they insist the God hates gays, and that marriage is between a man and a woman.

They don’t care; the fact that they’re more aligned with Islamic states on this topic doesn’t seem to concern them (even though they’re anti-Muslim). They take pride in being “wrong” in the popular sense and “right” in the Biblical sense. And I can respect that. You don’t have to win every fight to be proud of having fought it. We Democrats have lost very badly to Republicans in the last 6 or 7 years (except for Obama’s 2012 re-election triumph), but I’d rather lose an election than crater on my views or pander to people who are so misguided. So the Republican stubbornness does elicit from me a certain grudging respect.

Still, it is wise to keep in mind that a good many Republicans would do away with gay rights, if they got the chance. I’m sure they’re hoping Gorsuch is the magic bullet that will restore the status quo ante and push gays back into the closet. I don’t see it happening; stare decicis is too strong a value on the Supreme Court, and while a true fanatic like Clarence Thomas might not respect precedent, the Chief Justice appears to, and—let us hope—so does the newest Associate Justice.

This won’t stop local and state municipalities, like Texas, from enacting vindictive homophobic laws, such as allowing bakers to refuse to make wedding cakes for Adam and Steve. But the gay community can deal with that, through civil lawsuits and boycotts, if not through established law. Still, listen to the dog whistles from Republicans. I’m not big on predictions, but I don’t think it will be long before Trump—isolated, paranoid, beset by his scandals, and fundamentally amoral—issues a coy sign to the more deplorable of his followers about some gay-related thing: it will be subtle, but unmistakable. He already stuck his toe into the homophobic waters in his speech at Liberty University a few weeks ago, when he praised Jerry Falwell, thereby confirming to the Christian right that he agreed with Falwell’s policies, including his hysterical homophobia. In his speech Trump used the word “family” 9 times, more than “freedom” (4), “patriots” (3) or “dreams” (5), although less than “America” (13) or “God” (15). You know, when a Republican uses the word “family” speaking at an evangelical event, everybody in the audience knows exactly what he means: straight families. And then, of course, there are the intensely homophobic members of his inner circle: Vice President Pence (who is in favor of “conversion therapy”), Attorney-General Sessions (who voted against both gay marriage and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell), HUD Secretary Ben Carson (who compared gay sex to bestiality), and that friend of the workingman, Betsy DeVos, who has made sizable donations to anti-gay groups.

Then too, when the Trump administration published a photo of NATO leaders’ spouses last week, they omitted one person: the gay husband of Luxembourg’s Prime Minister.  As a former Obama employee in the White House Public Engagement Office noted, “These things are carefully planned and worded (& with White House senior staff sign off).” So already, Trump is ramping up the visible symbols of Republican homophobia.

Expect it to continue. The more frightened Trump gets by RussiaGate (and it’s only beginning), the more he will turn to his Christian supporters for succor, and they will never, ever accept gay equality, as long as they live. They will, if they have to, fight to prevent it.


What is the most heinous Republican lie?

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One of the more disgusting charges Republicans made against Barack Obama was that he was weak on terrorism. Trump repeated endlessly that Obama couldn’t say the words “radical Islamic terrorism” although when he, Trump, was in the Middle East this week, he couldn’t say them either. Then there was the ever-delightful Sarah Palin, who accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists.”

It’s really a mark of cowards and swine that they have to stoop so low, but with Republicans, if the shoe fits… Besides, Republicans always are accusing Democrats of being weak on military matters. Now, down in that close Georgia House election, they’re going after Jon Ossoff, calling him “a mouthpiece for terrorists.” Never mind that it’s a ridiculous, outrageous lie; enough naïve voters will believe it to possibly salvage the election for Republicans.

Democrats are no less against terrorism than are Republicans, obviously. If there’s a difference, it’s that (a) Democrats want to spend Pentagon dollars wisely, not profligately, and (b) Democrats tend to use diplomacy as a life-saving alternative to force.

In the wake of Manchester—the first serious terrorist event to occur on Trump’s watch, even though it was in England, not America—Republicans are amping up the charge that Democrats are weak. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had an odious column by Daniel Henninger in which this apologist for all-things Trump blamed the attack on the Democratic Party. He accuses Obama of having presided over “four major terrorist attacks…inside the U.S.: Fort Hood, the Boston Marathon, San Bernardino and Orlando (conveniently forgetting that Sept. 11 happened under George W. Bush). Now that Obama’s no longer president, Henninger turns his fury on the Democratic Party, which ignores terrorism, he implies, in order to be the “Trump-Is-Russia Party.” Hillary Clinton tried to “duck the terrorism problem” in the 2016 election cycle, he rants, and the (allegedly pro-Democrat) New York Times underplayed Trump’s Riyadh speech.

These allegations are all lies, easily disproved; one expects a tea party point of view on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, but fabrications and innuendoes so unfair, so mean-spirited and vicious are rare, even for the Journal—and that’s saying a lot.

Let’s not blame Henninger alone. He’s just a GOP water carrier, doing his job the way Rupert Murdoch pays him to. The right wingers can never admit that Democrats do anything good or well; they have to pretend that Democrats have some sort of predilection in favor of anti-western, anti-capitalism violence. Those smears play well with their base, even though capitalism has largely failed those among them who have lost their jobs and gone from well-paid manufacturing jobs to be Wal-Mart greeters, if that. The fact that Trump’s proposed healthcare bill will throw tens of millions of them off their healthcare plans, and raise their premiums and out-of-pocket medical costs significantly, is further proof that the Republican Party doesn’t care about poor people, no matter how much they say they do. (When have Republicans ever stood for anything except cutting taxes on the rich?) Slandering Democrats is the perfect way of keeping Republican-voting poor people from turning against the GOP. “I don’t particularly like Trump for taking away my health insurance,” goes their thinking, “but at least he’s standing up to those damned commie-radical Islamic terrorism-loving Democrats.”

Well, it is, at least, a strategy, even if it depends on stupidity to work. The ironic thing is that Hillary Clinton was so tough on terrorism—she spoke a far tougher game than Obama—that the Left turned against her, for that and other reasons. Probably, Hillary felt she had to be a warrior woman, in order to deflect Republican anti-Democrat attacks but also because right wing gun-toting white men believe that women are weak. Women aren’t, of course, but Bible thumpers who think women should be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen tend to be the same ones who think that Democrats love terrorists, and who voted for (and still support) Trump. And that, my friends, is what the modern Republican Party has become.

Have a great weekend, and happy Memorial Day!


What will Trump’s supporters do when he’s driven from office?

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Now that it seems like a foregone conclusion that Trump is toast–well, it’s my conclusion, anyway–we have to wonder: What will his fans do when he leaves the White House in disgrace?

We already know quite a lot about them. They’re white men, mostly. They’re heterosexual. They’re rural, generally didn’t go to college, and of lower income. They’re angry. They consider themselves Christian. They have guns. They don’t care what Trump did or does, no matter how bad it looks; all they care about is that he freaks liberals out, and that’s fine with them, since they hate liberals. At their most extreme, they’re potentially violent; we’ve seen them in places like Berkeley, where they showed up to “protect” Ann Coulter, wearing their black masks and camouflage outfits. They certainly seem very determined. Will they simply accept Trump’s departure when it happens, or will they refuse?

For that matter, what of Trump? Does he go gently into that good night?

There are all kinds of scenarios. Trump could call in the National Guard, federalizing them and instructing them to surround the White House, and barricading himself inside, where he would still have his finger on the nuclear codes. This would pose a unique problem for Secretary of Defense Mattis, often described as a grownup and a moderating influence on Trump. Would Mattis stand up for the Constitution, or for his boss? What could he do anyway? The president is commander-in-chief. Troops are pledged to obey him. If he were to be impeached, or indicted, and senior Republicans urged him to resign, Trump might simply settle into the obstinacy he often demonstrates when he’s proved wrong, as for example when he refuses to back away from his claim that Obama wiretapped him, or that his inaugural crowd wasn’t a record. He might just make the White House his last stand.

It would make for great television. The revolution, as it turned out, would be televised. Can you imagine the T.V. cameras up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, broadcasting 24/7? The breaking news stories, the talking heads, the floor of the Congress? Pandemonium, which may be exactly what Trump—a show boater and television celebrity—wants.

And his supporters? They would rally. There would be huge pro-Trump crowds in right wing places like Oklahoma City, Virginia Beach, Colorado Springs and Jacksonville, among the most conservative cities in the U.S. They’d be wearing their little MAGA hats and waving their Trump banners, and the more aggressive of their spokesmen would be calling for civil disobedience and an absolute resistance to removing Trump. Meanwhile, in liberal cities, like New York, San Francisco, Portland OR and Los Angeles, the anti-Trump demonstrations would be gigantic. When and where the two opposing groups met in physical proximity, there are bound to be clashes that police could not control.

And Trump, from his safe haven, might easily whip them on. The T.V. networks would give him unfettered access, amplified by his tweets. He’d issue all kinds of inflammatory statements: Protect our democracy. Don’t let the liberals destroy America. Stand with me against the evil-doers. And, in an ironic twist, #resist–the slogan of his opponent. Frantic, behind-the-scenes negotiations would be happening at the highest levels: Reince Priebus, Jared Kushner, Don McGhan for the administration, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi for Democrats, Defense Department personnel, Federal judges, F.B.I. officials, D.C. police. At issue would be: How do we end this while avoiding bloodshed? But it may not be possible.

It’s easy to see it spinning out of control. The American Civil War ended only 157 years ago, a mere blink of the eye of history. The tensions of 1860—state’s rights versus federal rights, conservative values versus liberal ones, white privilege—remain today; instead of the Confederacy we have Trump’s supporters, loosely allied, not really Republicans so much as white nationalists, like the South was. With the Internet connecting them (as it connects ISIS sympathizers), Trump’s tribe could communicate plans, share resources and encourage each other. So too would the anti-Trumpists. The business of the nation would continue, at first, but if this unsteadiness continued for long, the trains would stop running on time, or come off the track—choose your disaster metaphor. Were armies of gun-toting Trump supporters to march on, say, liberal enclaves in red states (Austin TX, for instance), how would the anti-Trumpists respond? Could the police handle it—or would they take sides?

On the other hand, it could all end peacefully. Trump supporters could rest easy in the knowledge that Pence—one of their kind–had taken over. Anti-Trumpists could celebrate the fact that they had accomplished their most fervent goal: driving him from office. Then the nation could get back to good, old-fashioned partisan politics. It would be a relief after these first four months of chaos.


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