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Starr Redux

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I have to admit that my jaw dropped this morning when I learned that one of Trump’s defense lawyers is going to be none other than Kenneth Starr.

Those of us of a certain age remember Starr well. He was the Special Prosecutor in charge of Bill Clinton’s impeachment. When the Whitewater case he was trying to build against Clinton—corruption—collapsed completely because it was a lie to begin with, Starr found another way forward. A gossipy woman named Linda Tripp brought to his attention that Clinton had been having an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Monica had a dress as evidence. Starr pounced.

Clinton’s trial was disgusting and nauseating, not because of Clinton (he had an affair; so what?), but because of Starr. To begin with, Starr had an off-putting way about him; arrogant, small-minded, nasty. And then there was the sexual nature of the case itself. Starr, it turned out, was a prurient little man, obsessed with sexual details of body parts, bodily fluids, specific sexual acts. Like the censors of old, who seemed to get off on the things they were deploring, Starr came across as a smutty weirdo, with secrets of his own to protect.

It didn’t take the public long to figure all this out. They didn’t like Starr, not one bit. He was creepy, an old perv, a bit ludicrous. Whenever he talked about sex, one wanted to take a shower: that was the effect Kenneth Starr had on the American people. The result was that Clinton was vindicated in his Senate trial, and went on to enjoy his highest popularity ratings ever. He ended his second term on a high note, while Kenneth Starr—disgraced, embarrassed, humiliated—was banished to become the dean of a Christian law school in Southern California, about as far from the nation’s political center as one could get.

But he’s baaaack!

Think of the irony. Here’s Starr, once so contemptuous of Bill Clinton’s extra-marital affair that he wanted to remove him from office, now representing a man who is, as far as we know, the most adulterous, sexually-voracious president in American history. Starr, who painted Clinton as a depraved predator, now will defend the man who bragged about groping women’s pussies, and who pays off porn stars to keep silent about his sexual escapades with them. Is there some cognitive dissonance here?

Well, everyone in our American way of life deserves a good defense, so let’s give Starr—and Trump—a pass on that one. Let’s muse, instead, on precisely what Trump’s defense is going to be.

First of all, it will be noteworthy for what it is not: a refutation of the facts. No Republican has disputed the essential facts: the Congress voted to give Ukraine weapons and money to fight the Russians. Trump, facing a tough re-election campaign, in which his most-feared opponent is Joe Biden, wants to smear Biden with something, anything, to drain off just enough votes so that he can narrowly win (as he did in 2016). Trump, through intermediaries and, eventually, in that notorious phone call, tells Zelensky the aide will not be forthcoming unless Zelensky announces he’s investigating the Bidens. That was Trump’s crime, now verified by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office.

That’s why he’s being impeached (the second reason is his obstruction of Congress). So there’s not a single Republican defender who has said Trump did not do these things.

Instead, the Republicans are fighting in the court of public opinion. It’s a P.R. battle, not a legal one. The Republican argument goes like this: It doesn’t matter if Trump broke the law. What matters is whether or not Americans are upset enough about it. If they are, then they’ll bring pressure on Republican Senators to remove him from office. If Republican Senators sense this pressure, they’ll side with Democrats. But, so far, they’re not sensing it—with the possible exceptions of Collins, Murkowsiki and Romney, and they may end up siding with Trump.

So this is all political, which is the way impeachment is supposed to be. For the life of me, I can’t see any way that the American people, including the voters in Maine, Alaska and Utah, will support the Republican agenda of coverup and repression of evidence. It’s so horrible what Trump is doing, including his wag-the-dog killing of Soleimani. Politicians have always played partisan games, but I’ve never seen anything as deplorable as what Republicans are doing now. Everybody knows exactly what’s going on. The crime is continuing right in front of our faces, and these Republicans seem proud of their brazenness. They may get away with it in the Senate—in fact, there’s no doubt they will. But Election Day is just ten months away, and I feel stronger than ever that a massive Blue Wave is going to sweep Republicans from power, and give us a Democratic president and Congress. Then we’ll relaunch investigations: into Barr, into Pence, into Giuliani. Republicans will call it a witch hunt. I’ll call it Justice.


HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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My blog will resume tomorrow.


Impeachment: What will happen

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Democrats are waiting for some kind of surprise happy ending to the Senate Impeachment trial. Maybe Bolton will sit down and testify: “Yes, there was a quid pro quo.” Maybe Mulvaney will swear to tell the truth and then say, “The president lied. Everybody was in the loop.” Maybe Giuliani, under subpoena, and facing multiple indictments, will strike a plea deal. “Trump made me blackmail Zelensky. And he wants to build a Trump Tower in Kiev.”

And maybe the moon is made of green cheese.

Alas, there will be no last minute denouements. No breaking news, no dramatic “other shoes” dropping. This dreary little script has been written for months: the House impeaches, the Senate—dominated by Cult of Trump devotees—acquits. Trump screams VINDICATION; his wild-eyed acolytes have torchlight parades and yell KILL DEMOCRATS as they rally in their MAGA hats and Trump2020 buttons.

At least, that’s how it looks from where I sit. The only question remains, What will the voters decide in 2020? It all comes down, apparently, to about 80,000 votes, scattered in a swathe of Midwest land from rural western Pennsylvania through Ohio into Michigan and Wisconsin. Republicans know they’re going to lose the popular vote—again. They know that coastal states, including Virginia and, likely, North Carolina, are lost to them. But they don’t care. They’re organizing in the Midwest, in two ways: registering new voters, mainly Christians whom they’re scaring the shit out of by telling them a Democratic president will force them to be atheists and make their grandchildren gay, and by suppressing existing voters, especially voters of color, in states like Georgia and Kentucky.

And it just might work. If you keep a finger in the wind from day to day, as I do, you become acutely sensitive to the slightest shifts in public opinion concerning the upcoming election. One day, Democrats are surging; the next, Republicans. Lately, if I read the tea leaves correctly, the conventional wisdom has swung back to a Trump victory. The Mueller Report landed with a great big THUD (although it should have set everyone’s hair on fire). Impeachment seems like a new NBC sitcom that hasn’t gotten traction yet (although it still could). Trump is proving, once again, to be a dirty, below-the-belt but marvelously effective fighter, while his Republican stooges, abandoning all pretense of standing for justice and law, stand shoulder to shoulder with him; this Republican Party really does deserve credit for solidarity. Never mind that History will be unkind to them; they don’t care. History is fungible: people still quarrel over the French Revolution, American southerners still insist they didn’t lose the Civil War, some Germans still year for a resurgence, and the civil rights of homosexuals in this country are still perilously vulnerable. Republicans know that History is never finished, but is constantly being rewritten.

One wonders if these Republican officials—the Scalises, Sensenbrenners, Jordans, Lindsay Grahams, Cornyns, Cruzes and their like—have private conversations with their best friends and family members:

Old friend to John Cornyn: “Jonnie, why do you stand by this guy, Trump? You know he’s a creep.”

Cornyn: “Yeah, but look at the judges he’s appointing!”

Old friend: “Yeah, but Pence would do the same thing. And at least Pence is a real Christian! Trump is, you know, he screws around with other women, and doesn’t pay his bills—he’s the kind of deadbeat we Republicans have spent our lives denouncing.”

Cornyn: “I can’t deny that. But I can’t go against him. I’d get my ass primaried.”

I hope they have these conversations, but that presumes that the families and friends of extreme rightwing Republicans still are capable of rational thought—of moral commitment—of patriotism—of respect for the Constitution. This presumption, though, may be inaccurate. It may be that mental illness has completely swept through Republican America, an epidemic, like AIDS, that strikes at—not the body, but the mind, and not just the mind, but the soul.

One thing is certain: Trump began as a minority president, he remains a minority president. That means (and Trump can’t stand to admit it) that most Americans really dislike Trump. They don’t dislike him the way, say, some Democrats disliked George W. Bush. Democrats did, but they still admitted that W. seemed to be a pretty nice guy whom they wouldn’t mind having a beer with (notwithstanding the fact that W. doesn’t drink).

No, most Americans loathe Trump, are shocked and embarrassed by him, and see him as the threat he actually is. They perceive the disease that permeates his brain. They know who and what he is, because he doesn’t try to hide it. Most sociopaths paper over their sickness with charm and smiles. Trump doesn’t even have that skill. I’ve long said that the best way to beat Trump in an election is to remind the people what they already know about him: that he’s mentally and morally depraved. The Democrats who took the “Can’t we all just get along” route were playing a losing hand. I like what Biden’s been doing lately: calling Trump a “narcissist” and attacking him personally. That’s the winning ticket.

By the way, yesterday’s Supreme Court decision (or lack of one) on homeless camps is bad news for cities, like Oakland, that are trying to clean up the filthy encampments. Apparently the Supreme Court is saying cities can’t roust campers without offering them someplace else to live. That is clearly impossible: Oakland has 4,000 homeless people (Los Angeles has tens of thousands), so in order to shelter them all—permanently?—taxes would have to be raised inordinately, and people will not stand for that. SCOTUS has weighed in very stupidly on this one: they should respect the rights of local municipalities to govern themselves.


Millennials are abandoning traditional religion in droves

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This is good news for those of us who believe that organized religion has as many bad features as good ones—and maybe even more.

Forty percent of Millennials (aged 23-38) told a Pew Center survey that they’re religiously unaffiliated. In fact, “Millennials are now almost as likely to say they have no religion as they are to identify as Christian.”

The reasons why range from not having had strong ties to religion to begin with, to the belief that religion is not necessary for living a moral life, and to an impression that religious people are sanctimonious and hypocritical. One survey participant, from Atlanta, put it this way: “We [he and his wife] moved to a city and talked a lot about how we came to see all of this negativity from people who were highly religious and increasingly didn’t want a part in it.”

What religion do you think the Atlanta man was referring to? Judaism? Buddhism? Islam? Hinduism? Christianity? Wicca? The survey doesn’t specify, but I think it’s not hard to guess. It’s not likely to have been Buddhists or Hindus that turned off the man and his wife. Nor Jews, I would venture to say. It could possibly have been Muslims, I suppose, but most American Muslims don’t radiate “negativity”; radical Islamicists do, but they’re not exactly swarming the streets of Atlanta.

But you know who is? Christians. And I don’t think it was the Unitarians or the Lutherans or the other “liberal” Christian groups who were so negative that they helped push the Atlantans out of being religious. No, I suspect it was the ranters and haters, the fundamentalists who are so filled with anger and resentment that Jesus Christ himself, were he to return, would tell them a thing or two about brotherly love.

After all, how many times have you heard evangelical Christians declare, for example, that homosexuality is an abomination? How many times have you heard evangelical preachers, like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. (and their fathers before them) say that Muslims are going to hell? How many news reports have you heard about evangelical bakers refusing to sell wedding cake to LGBT people? How many times have you heard fundamentalists say that they “hate the sin but love the sinner,” which is about as ridiculous a statement as a person could possible make?

I think it’s that kind of nonsense that the Atlanta man and his wife found so “negative.” Religious people are supposed to believe in God. And God is supposed to be a God of love. The “God” that so many Christian fundamentalists believe in has nothing to do with love, it seems to me, but is rather an angry, vengeful, punishing God of wrath and hatred. People who believe in that kind of “God” are not religious. They’re the opposite of religious. The root of the word “religion” is from a Latin term meaning “to bind together.” True religions bring people together. Fake religions, like fundamentalist Christianity, divide us, and make us hate each other.

You have to wonder why people even choose to be fundamentalists in the first place. I think it’s because there’s something deeply misanthropic about them. They hate most people—possibly because they hate themselves–but deep down inside, they feel guilty about it, so they find a religion that allows, nay encourages them to espouse their hatred openly, without guilt or remorse. Problem solved: fundamentalist Christianity. God ordered them to hate entire sections of humanity, so they’re off the hook. When they hate, they’re not only freed from the shackles of polite, civilized society, with its expectations of acceptance and humility, they’re actually fulfilling God’s wishes by hating, thereby earning themselves a place in heaven.

Imagine that: Hatred as a “Get into heaven for free” card. I don’t think that’s what Jesus intended. I don’t think he’s pleased (if he’s still around) to see hatred inflicted on other people—and in his name. And I don’t think heaven (if it exists) is populated by haters. I’ve heard of a place that is, though…


The Impeachment Hearings

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I’ve been watching to Impeachment hearings on T.V., sort of. I mean, I’m not glued to the tube for every moment. I generally catch the morning opening statements, and I’ll tune in occasionally throughout the day, and of course I try to fathom how the media is covering the news at night. But otherwise, no. This time around, the Impeachment of Donald John Trump doesn’t have, for me, the compelling drama of the Impeachment of Richard Milhouse Nixon.

(I’m totally ignoring the Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton because—again for me—that was a non-event. We had a sexually prurient special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, working at the behest of Clinton haters in the Congress, and the best he could come up with—after years of investigative snooping—was an extra-marital affair.)

But the main reason why I’m not watching every moment of the Impeachment hearings is because they’re redundant. We all know exactly what Trump did. Nobody is disputing the facts. They can’t. Trump, afraid of Joe Biden, tried to extort or bribe the president of Ukraine into launching, or announcing the launching, of an investigation of Biden and his son, Hunter. Trump did this solely in order to muddy the waters in the upcoming campaign. While Trump himself is at the center of a dozen, or more, really nasty scandals, he is trying to befuddle voters by raising totally fake charges against the Bidens. He knows there’s no “there there.” He doesn’t care. His purpose is to throw just enough doubt into just enough independent voters to squeak through to re-election with another 75,000-vote edge.

So I already know the facts. But there’s another reason I’m not really watching, and that’s because the sight and sound of these Republicans defending the indefensible is incredibly offensive to me. I’ve seen and heard a lot of political nonsense in my life. I’ve heard lies and smears. But what these Republicans are offering up is breaking into brand new territory for chutzpah. Everybody knows—I would hope everybody knows—that no Republican actually believes there’s anything on the Bidens, or Hillary, or Obama, or the FBI, or anyone but themselves. I would hope everybody knows, in the consciousness of their own private thoughts, that Trump really has violently broken the law by trying to get foreign countries to intervene in our election for his own personal gain. I would hope they know that Trump’s behavior constitutes High Crimes and Misdemeanors. I can’t believe that there’s a single Republican who doesn’t know these things. But the fact that they’re not admitting it, and are defending this president’s unConstitutional behavior, can mean only one thing: they don’t care that the President of the United States is lawless. All they care about is that he’s appointing judges who they believe will uphold their small government Christian agenda, and undoing years of careful government stewardship of the environment, of health and safety laws, of worker protections.

And this is why Democrats are fighting back. After three years of witnessing Trump’s unrelieved attack on our Constitution, on our way of life, we have to do something. Speaker Pelosi, bless her, withheld support for Impeachment for as long as she could. She knew that the country needed something more solid to base Removal on than the Mueller Report; bad as it was for Trump, it failed to persuade Americans, other than Democrats, that it warranted removal from office.

Then Trump pulled off this Ukraine stunt. I will admit that the specific two House articles against him occur against the background of everything else he’s done that is evil, horrible, offensive, disgusting and insulting to America and the office of the Presidency. House Democrats chose to limit their allegations, ignoring the details of the Mueller Report. Whether that was correct, I do not know; History will decide. But what I know is that this deviant president must go. My respect for the history of our country demands this; my knowledge of the rise of Adolf Hitler, with which the rise of Trump provides exact parallels, further justifies it.

Yet the Republicans will stop at nothing. When an irresistible force meets an unmovable object, what happens? Does the resulting collision end with a bang, or a whimper? We may be about to find out.


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