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What Trump could have learned—but didn’t—from the Warriors


The parade celebrating the Golden State Warriors’ NBA championship was just two blocks from my home in Oakland, so of course I went.

The day was warm, the sky blue, the breeze gentle. As many as 1-1/2 million members of Dub Nation gathered along the route, which ran from downtown Oakland, up Broadway to Grand Avenue, then to the convention center along beautiful, sparkling Lake Merritt. Oakland has had its share of woes over the years, but yesterday was all about joy, as it was two years ago, when the Warriors also won.

Much has been made in sports reporting of the key to the Warriors’ success. As coach Steve Kerr pointed out, talent is necessary, but you need more than that. The Warriors are famous for not letting any one man be the leader. Steph Curry himself pointed this out in his talk at the post-parade rally. Give your teammates room to shine. They in turn will give you room to shine, and together, the team will shine.

In improvisational comedy, we have a similar view. See your performance colleagues as poets and geniuses—meaning you do whatever it takes to make them look good. Then they do the same for you. When it all works right, you have a fantastic troupe: a team in every sense of the word. One comic might star tonight; tomorrow night, someone else will. Over time, everyone gets to star; everyone feels like a star. And the real star is the troupe.

Success in basketball, or in performance, or in anything entails risk. There can’t be a winner if there’s not a loser. You have to put your ego on the line to be greater than yourself. Draymond Green, in his rally speech, expressed this when he said, “The further away you get from risk, the further you get from reward.” Being mediocre—in the center of the pack, along with everyone else—is safe. Taking chances is risky, and so is giving your teammate his moment to shine, even if you think it’s your turn; that is part of Steph Curry’s generosity. Being true to yourself, it turns out, is about selflessness.

What a contrast to the way this current president runs his team. Think about that bizarre Cabinet meeting Trump had the other day, the kissing of the ring (or the posterior) ceremony in which his secretaries exalted him, in an embarrassing show of abasement unprecedented in our history. Trump sat there, soaking it in, like some banana republic generalissimo being sworn unfailing fealty by his warlords. This is a man who famously needs to be in charge, needs to dominate. In his narcissism, he cannot abide the thought of sharing the glory with anyone else. He needs to be Number One, the smartest guy in the room, the center of attention–the hog. Trump doesn’t make others look good; he demands they make him look good, while he makes them look ridiculous, as he did in that farce of a Cabinet meeting.

Had Donald Trump been watching the Warriors march their way to basketball history, he might have learned that being humble is one ingredient of teamwork. He might have learned that, if you want to have a friend, you need to be a friend. He might have learned to “put the team into superteam.” He might have heard Steve Kerr talk about his four core values: joy, mindfulness, compassion and competition–lessons that are being learned by everyone from CEOs to high school coaches. Trump might have learned, in short, how to be a decent human being.

But Trump doesn’t appear to know how to learn, or to be interested in being decent. In his paranoia and egotism, his almost sociopathic disdain for others, he knows how to do only a few things well: Bully. Intimidate. Threaten. Lie. Insult. Fire. This is why Steve Kerr leads a winning team, while Trump’s is going down.

Jeff Sessions’ gobbledygook; Mueller perseveres

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“The meeting some say occurred, and may have occurred, but if it occurred, I don’t remember that it did.”

–Jeff Sessions, on the third Mayflower Hotel meeting with Kislyak [quote noted by me from televised hearing, 6/13/17]

Jeff Sessions says it’s “an appalling and a detestable lie” to insinuate that he helped Trump collude with Russia or did anything improper, but there are holes in his explanation, and they’re not little holes, they’re the kind of Florida sinkholes that swallow houses.

Time after time at his Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Sessions wouldn’t answer questions about private conversations he had with Trump. He didn’t formally invoke “executive privilege,” so we now appear to have at least two different levels of stonewalling for this administration: 1) authentic executive privilege (which actually doesn’t exist in the Constitution or in law), and 2) a Jenny Craiged version of executive privilege—slimmed down, petite-sized—in which Session asserts he doesn’t want to talk about his chats with the president because—well, because he doesn’t want to, and what are you gonna do about it, nyah nyah nyah?

Well, what we can do is infer what’s going on, and that is: Collusion. The reason there’s no smoking gun, yet, is because this administration is walling off access to every conceivable smoking gun. Trump won’t release his taxes. That could be—not a smoking gun, but a mushroom cloud. Trump won’t divest from his worldwide business interests, which even Republicans know are unsavory; we now know that the uber-rich people who are buying his real estate are doing so through shell companies, anonymously, so that their ties to the Trumps and Kushners can’t be looked into.

So we have Sessions refusing to tell us the real reason Comey was fired, and what really went on in the talks between two public servants—Trump and Sessions—who are paid by us taxpayers, which conversations we have a right to know about.

I’m annoyed by this notion of closed sessions and “can’t discuss private conversations” and executive privilege and the general secrecy and obfuscation surrounding so much of what this government does–Republicans and Democrats. Why, for instance, are we told certain things aren’t suitable for public consumption? I’m not talking about revealing the names of spies, I mean simple stuff. How come Comey pleaded executive privilege when he was asked, Was the FBI able to confirm any criminal allegations contained in the Steele document [i.e. the ‘dossier’]?” How come DNI director Dan Coats demanded a closed session when asked if Trump asked him to slow down the FBI investigation? Why can’t we know these things? Are we, the public, too stupid?

Sessions isn’t asking for closed sessions, he’s not invoking executive privilege; he’s saying he won’t answer anything at all. Period, end of story: a new standard of suborning of justice. What we’re seeing is the script of the coverup written before our very eyes. Reread that gobbledygook quote I opened with. “If it occurred.” It’s bullcrap. What Sessions really meant was: Yes, there was a third meeting with Kislyak, but I’m not going to admit it, and if the Senate Intelligence Committee thinks it can prove there was, they can bloody well go ahead and try.

So we have to depend on Robert Mueller. Thank heavens the news came late yesterday that Mueller really is investigating Trump for obstruction of justice. At the same time, we also heard about increasing calls from rightwing surrogates (including the reptilian, discredited Gingrich) for Trump to fire Mueller.

If we let Trump and his cronies get away with this stuff, America will deserve what happens to us, and believe me, it won’t be good. But I have faith in my country. Justice and Truth will prevail.


FDR and Trump: A comparison of two big political losses



On Feb. 5, 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, having recently been re-elected to a second term by a huge margin, presented to the Congress a “Plan for the Reorganization of the Judicial Branch of the government,” in the words of his special assistant, Robert E. Sherwood. The plan, which became known to history as FDR’s “Supreme Court Packing Scheme,” proposed to enlarge the Supreme Court from its historic quota of nine Justices to as many as 15, with FDR appointing the new ones, who would, of course, like himself be liberals.

“This was the most startling—and, to many, the most alarming—development of Roosevelt’s adventurous Administration,” Sherwood wrote. It “touched off oratorical fireworks in the Senate and House,” recorded FDR’s then-Postmaster-General, Jim Farley, adding, “The cry of dictatorship was raised.”

In the event, the scheme failed; Roosevelt had seriously misjudged the mood both of the country and of Congress, which rejected the bill. It was the most serious political setback FDR experienced in his 12-plus years in office.

The Muslim travel ban is Trump’s court-packing scheme. Trump’s judgment like FDR’s also lapsed on that one. The ban has failed in the courts every time he tried to install it by fiat; his latest loss, in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, makes it increasingly likely that, should he appeal to the Supreme Court, he will lose again.

The fate of the Court Packing Scheme was a setback for FDR but ultimately it was only that–a passing moment: he went on to win a third, and then a fourth, term in office, and is widely considered one of the great Presidents in U.S. history, and the greatest of the 20th century, even by conservatives. The defeat became merely an asterisk in the long, successful political biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

However, should Trump lose in the Supreme Court, or, if the Court does not accept his appeal and the decisions of the lower courts stand, Trump’s defeat will not be brushed off so easily. The man who calls his many enemies “losers” himself is a loser. There are stark differences between the Court Packing Scheme and the Muslim travel ban, and also between the political situations of FDR in 1937 and Trump in 2017. For one, FDR already had a ton of legislative successes when his scheme went down; Trump by contrast has none. FDR was wildly popular in America;  in 1937 his approval rating was above 60%, while Trump’s is 38 percent, and Americans trust James Comey over Trump by a 20-point margin. FDR therefore could absorb so serious a repudiation; Trump cannot. And, of course, FDR did not have looming over him multiple scandals and the very real possibility of impeachment, the way Trump does.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was a transformational President who fundamentally changed the way government works and the expectations average Americans invest in it. “From the soaring optimism of his Inaugural Address…to his unconventional first 100 days, the president was a man on a mission,” wrote Marvin McIntyre, the namesake grandson of FDR’s secretary, Marvin H. Mcintyre, last month, in NewsMax.

Donald Trump and his surrogates, like Steven Bannon, have said he wants to be a transformational President; he acts as if he already is. His surrogates now, and oddly, include the younger McIntyre (whose grandpa would be appalled). “Is it heresy to compare the leader who ushered in the New Deal to our president of today?” McIntyre asked, implying that the answer is “No.”

Well, the answer is Yes. It’s not only heresy, it’s ridiculous. But it’s highly unlikely that Trump will be remembered in a positive way, and—in view of what we know of his inclinations and those of the reactionaries around him—it’s far more likely he’ll be remembered as a dismal, divisive and disastrous president, even if he isn’t impeached. Trump may succeed in pushing the inevitable tidal forces of politics to the right for a while, but there’s nothing transformational about that. Things tilt rightward under Republican presidents—Eisenhower, Reagan, the two Bushes—and leftward under Democrats—JFK, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama. None of these presidents comes close to rivaling FDR’s importance and staying-power because FDR really did have his hand on the pulse of History, and knew how to massage it to his ends, and to match his ends to History’s imperatives.

If Trump’s small hands are touching any pulse, it’s the waning beat of his administration, winding down even as his surrogates falsely proclaim its triumph.


What Ivanka can’t or won’t see



Ivanka Trump told Fox News she’s surprised by the “viciousness” of the attacks on her father. As a proud member of the attack squad, I admit that The Resistance’s thrust has contained elements of “viciousness,” if by that you mean (as my dictionary defines it) “given to or characterized by vice, evil or corruption.” But I would argue that the “vice, evil and corruption” originated on her daddy’s side; The Resistance is simply fighting fire with fire.

The two main political parties, Democrats and Republicans, have long been antagonistic, and that’s fine; politics, as Clausewitz reminded us, is just another form of war. But Ivanka’s daddy took the traditionally simmering level of antagonism to the boil, using lies, nasty smears, innuendos and phony accusations that shocked even the Republican establishment. Does Ivanka not understand that daddy’s “Obama is not an American” accusation, which he asserted for years, was incredibly vicious? Has she not watched lie after lie, smear after smear, pile up until the top definition of “trumpism” in the Urban Dictionary is: A whole load of bull shit, i.e. lies, deceit, deliberate obfuscation”? Where was Ivanka when daddy threatened to “jail” Hillary Clinton, whom he called “the devil”? What did Ivanka think when daddy called Obama–a Columbia University and Harvard Law School graduate who taught Constitutional law at the University of Chicago–“the most ignorant president in our history”?

For that matter, what does Ivanka think of her baby brother, Eric’s, remark that “Democrats aren’t even people”?

Who’s vicious, Ivanka?

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: Ivanka’s and Eric’s lashing-outs reveal the contempt bordering on hatred the entire Trump family feels towards traditional American values of truth, decency, kindness and respect.

Ivanka Trump, like her brothers, is a sheltered, spoiled and unself-reflective brat whose politics embody what John Kenneth Galbraith called “the modern conservative: engaged in the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” The beam in Ivanka’s eye has blinded her to the truth of her daddy’s horrifying temperament. “Viciousness”? My dear Ivanka, The Resistance is just responding to the gut kick your daddy delivered to more than half the country. “Vice, evil, corruption” are the stigmata of trumpism, of which you are now a poster child.

The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.

                                                                                                           Dante Alighieri


Greta Van Susteren: Lies, truth and journalism


Greta Van Susteren has given me the opportunity to write about something I’ve wanted to explore in depth for some time. She left her job as a Fox News commentator last year, and then signed onto NBC News; she now anchors an MSNBC show, For the Record with Greta. Greta recently replied to a comment I made on her Facebook page. More on that in a moment.

When her MSNBC show was announced, I remember thinking how odd it was that someone who had worked for arch-conservative, rapidly pro-Trump Fox News could be comfortable, not to mention credible, at MSNBC which, of course, is leading the anti-Trump charge among the cable networks. When I finally got around to watching her show, I thought, how vanilla. Her “on the one hand, on the other” format was non-informative and, worse, missed the entire point of journalism, which is to distinguish between truth and fiction. Still, I thought I knew what Greta was trying to do: fair and balanced journalism, the kind Fox News claims, falsely, to practice. Get both sides together and have a reasoned discussion, to see if there’s common ground.

Normally, I could respect that, but these are not normal times. With Trump, the stakes are much too high for dithering. So, a few days ago, I sent a comment to Greta. I suggested that her “cocktail-style” format is more suitable for Wolf Blitzer’s CNN—a network that is befuddled and hapless in the face of Trump’s onslaught of lies.

Greta, who seems like an enormously decent person, was kind enough to reply. “If you want to listen to someone who just takes sides…you are right…I am not your person. I look at the facts and try to figure out what is fair and right….I don’t just take sides.” To which I responded, “The two sides [i.e., lies and truth] are not intellectually or honestly equal. Surely you know that.”

Sometimes it’s appropriate for people with opposing views to sit down and work things out. Let’s say you think the Stones are better than the Beatles. I disagree. We can have a reasonable and informed conversation without, perhaps, ever coming to agreement, because, in a sense, we’re both right. Who’s to say?

But not all dialecticals lend themselves to such equal treatment. Let me make an extreme example. Imagine a debate between someone who believes the Earth is round and someone who thinks it’s flat. (I actually had this conversation with a friend.) The person who thinks it’s flat (my friend) argues that photographs of our planet taken from outer space prove that the world is flat. When the other person (me) points out that that’s crazy, that every photograph ever taken of Earth from space shows that it’s round, the flat-earther declares those photos have been faked.

Now, if you take the Greta Van Susteren point of view, both sides are entitled to equal treatment. You sit them down and give each a chance. Greta might ask the person who thinks the Earth is round, “Can you prove that the photos of round Earth have not been faked?” That would be the approach of someone who “does not take sides.”

But, obviously, that approach would be ludicrous. There is no intellectual equivalence between a flat earther and a round earther! Why would someone like Greta, with her massive power of hosting a national T.V. program, give a flat earther air time, and waste the valuable time of her viewers? Is it in the interest of “fairness,” or does it merely perpetuate disinformation?

But that’s what her “Both sides have a right to speak” results in: a debate between truth and rubbish: for example, between Kellyanne Conway defending Trump’s statement that his inaugural crowd was the biggest in history, against actual photographs proving that it was dwarfed by Obama’s. How can a T.V. news host possibly not take sides? Why would she not want to defend truth and order the truth denier off her stage?

Greta subscribes to the old newspaper ideology that both sides in a debate deserve to be listened to respectfully by us, the public. That once was true in journalism, but it’s now an anachronism. Trump neutralized it, at least for the time being, with his very first birther lie, and he and his surrogates continue their assault on truth. Networks like CNN, which lacked the courage to repudiate Trump’s lies, succeeded merely in normalizing him. There is a difference between truth and lies—a stark, epistomological difference that must be acknowledged if human reason is to rule over superstition. Pretending that truth and lies both deserve respectful treatment is deliberate, and dangerous, obfuscation.

At the Wall Street Journal, new cracks in Trump’s support


Six days a week, I check out the Journal’s op-ed pages to see when their support for Trump will start to erode. So far, Rupert Murdoch’s writing puppies have been well-trained. They remain fixated on their “Jail Hillary, Kill Obamacare, Give Trump a chance, The Left loves terrorists” silliness. But this past week—the worst so far in Trump’s presidency—was so bad that even the Wall Street Journal is showing the strain.

First, on Wednesday, William A. Galston, a conservative Brookings Institution employee who had been a reliable apologist for Trump, in “A Turning Point for Trumpinology” hit Trump hard on foreign policy. All American presidencies for the past 70 years, he writes, have been united in running foreign affairs along “conventional postwar lines” upon which our allies could depend. Now, under Trumpism, “The true north of [American foreign policy] points to [Steve] Bannon’s truculent, aggressive nationalism,” making America “the epicenter of instability in the world.” Trump’s take on global affairs, Galston concludes, is “wrongly understood” [by him, not by us], and, in language shockingly inflammatory for a think-tank intellectual, Galston accuses Trump’s “enablers” (Rex Tillerson, James Mattis) of “helping him peddle this poison as medicine.”

Then, a day later, two more columns. Karl Rove’s “Political Death by 1,000 Tweets” concluded with remarks that have been widely quoted: “Increasingly it appears Mr. Trump lacks the focus or self-discipline to do the basic work of the presidency.” Pretty tough stuff for a Republican. Granted, Rove resented being shut out of Trump’s inner circle, but even so, with this piece, his criticism has reached an apex. “[C]hronic impulsiveness,” “sabotaging his own agenda,” “confused,” are jabs that could have come from Nancy Pelosi instead of from George W. Bush’s Brain. With the dire warning that the Trump administration’s existence is “at stake,” Rove’s shot across Trump’s bow is a not-so-distant early warning sign that the conservative base is nearing the limits of its patience.

In the same issue of the paper was Daniel Henninger’s “Can Trump Govern”? think piece. The title alone suggests his conclusion: “Yes, but the window is closing.” The White House, he charges, has been creating “an environment toxic to governing.” Henninger can’t bring himself to join The Resistance—yet. But you can feel his inner struggle: part of him wants to support the president, another part of him recognizes that “blood is in the water” and “the Russia story [is] becoming Trump’s Watergate.” Henninger is as good an example as there is of the anguish Trump supporters feel, as week after week brings more bad news. When Henninger writes that “The White House has arrived at a binary choice: Choose chaos or choose success,” what he’s really describing is his own inner dialectic: Support Trump, or bail.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest the Wall Street Journal is turning into the New York Times. Most of Murdoch’s puppies remain solidly revanchist, and will go down with the ship. Probably the last to admit she’s wrong—dead wrong—will be Kimberley A. Strassel, whose Friday piece, “All About James Comey,”—you won’t believe this—blames everything on, yes, Comey. And I do mean everything: RussiaGate, Trump’s obstruction, the Flynn affair, the hearings, the special counsel. “If only…Mr. Comey [had] chosen to retire in, say, 2015 to focus on his golf game,” none of this would have happened. If she believes that, I have a bridge in San Francisco I’d like to sell her. Well, I guess every about-to-expire regime has a Magda Goebbels, willing to take a bullet for her dead führer in the bunker.

Anyhow, Trump, Bannon and their cohort will blow off Rove-style criticism as the disgruntled last gasps of a dying Republican establishment, and no doubt Trump’s dwindling supporters in red districts will agree, telling themselves that all he’s doing is keeping his promise to “drain the swamp.” The problem for Trump is that his hardcore supporters don’t really think rationally: they’re reactionary (in all senses of the word), reacting to situations on impulsive, emotional bases—like Trump himself. Sooner or later, when the rightwing media they depend on begins to go south on Trump, the virus of doubt will infect them too: that’s how politics works. And all this will happen as the country gears up for the 2018 Congressional elections.

I know that three columns on two consecutive days in the Wall Street Journal do not make for an irresistible tide. They do, however, signal a shift in the prevailing winds, providing us tea leaf readers some insight into how things are going on the right. And, from here on the left, I have to say I like the direction.

Confessions of an anti-Trumpist: “I want him to suffer”



Schadenfreude. One of those quintessentially German words, for which we have no equivalent in English. The roots, translated, are “Damage” and “Joy.” The definition: Pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.”

Fans of The Simpsons may remember the word being used by Lisa, in the episode (“When Flanders Failed”) when Homer manipulates to have Ned Flanders’ left-handed store go out of business. When he succeeds, Lisa accused Homer of schadenfreude, which she defines as “shameful joy.”                              

Feelings of schadenfreude are all-too-human; who among us hasn’t secretly wished for an enemy to be brought low, or been pleased when one fails? I feel schadenfreude sometimes, and when I do, I also inevitably feel guilt, as though I should be a mixture of the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa, thinking thoughts of lovingkindness to all.

Well, as long as I’m in the confession business, I’ll ‘fess up to this: I am taking pleasure in seeing Donald Trump suffer. That he is suffering emotionally due to the scandals is evident. Now, the conventional stance Democrats are supposed to take is, “I wish President Trump well because, if he succeeds, America succeeds,” and that is, I suppose, true, as far as it goes. But there are plenty of reasons to think that America will do just fine when and if Trump goes away, and that the country would in fact be better off without him. So, from that point of view, one can wish ill upon Trump without wishing harm to America.

But why would anyone wish harm on Trump? Isn’t that uncharitable? It’s a good question. So here’s my personal explanation for my Trumpian schadenfreude.

I didn’t much think about him one way or the other until he started the birther stuff. Of course I knew who he was: billionaire real estate tycoon, media showboater, New York blowhard, Mar-a-Lago, The Apprentice, the wives and mistresses, etc. etc. ad nauseum. But he was just another piece of detritus floating on the Sea of Celebrity, about which I care nothing.

Until birtherism. It was such an awful lie from the start, so blatantly malicious, that it immediately put Trump on my radar: Really Bad Person! And then he stayed with it for years, repeating the lie even after everybody else (except the lunatic fringe right) knew it was false. As I recall, it wasn’t until sometime last year, when he was running for president, that he finally conceded Obama to be American, although he did so begrudgingly.

To list Trump’s subsequent lies, smears, defamations and insults would take a book; I don’t have to, because you know them, too. This thug has shanked both Clintons, both Obamas, all Democrats and many ordinary people (the Gold Star parents, that reporter with a disability, immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans, scientists, gay people) so many times that I just can’t forgive him for bringing dishonor into the White House and rancor into the national conversation. He has needlessly and stupidly rabble-roused the tea party into fury, besmirched our political system, upset the international order in a way that is not helpful to America, and dragged the nation down. These are all very bad things. I take my politics seriously; for me, “forgive and forget” is not going to happen; I’ll leave that to others. Donald Trump declared a war on truth, kindness, fairness, decency and respect, and continues to wage it to this day.

And he did so deliberately, with malice aforethought. He himself does not care about the damage he has caused and continues to cause—does not care how much hurt he inflicts on innocent people—does not care if he’s caught in lie after lie—does not care about anything, except his personal power and wealth and bamboozling what few credulous supporters remain in his camp. It has simply been an awful, traumatizing experience for those of us who believe in honor and in this country. Every president in my lifetime has been a gentleman—Republicans and Democrats alike. Not this one. He has brought our politics to a dark, unholy place, because he is dark and unholy inside. I resent him for what he’s done to America. And for that, I want him to suffer.

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