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On the wealth gap that Trump will do nothing to narrow



The San Francisco Chronicle, my paper, has a new columnist by the name of David Talbot, and his opinion piece from yesterday is spot on. His topic isn’t new—the income gap between the one percent and everybody else—but he articulates the facts succinctly—and facts are something we’re going to have to protect, as we descend into this maelstrom of fact-free trumpism.

Entitled “Growing wealth gap is recipe for disaster,” it cites a brand new Oxfam report whose title is absolutely shocking: “Just 8 men own the same wealth as half the world.”

I mean, we knew that a handful of superrich men owned a lot of money, but just eight owning 50% of Earth’s wealth? That is beyond shocking. It’s inexcusable. Now, here from the Oxfam report are those eight men:

  1. Bill Gates: America founder of Microsoft (net worth $75 billion)
  2. Amancio Ortega: Spanish founder of Inditex which owns the Zara fashion chain (net worth $67 billion)
  3. Warren Buffett: American CEO and largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8 billion)
  4. Carlos Slim Helu: Mexican owner of Grupo Carso (net worth: $50 billion)
  5. Jeff Bezos: American founder, chairman and chief executive of Amazon (net worth: $45.2 billion)
  6. Mark Zuckerberg: American chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Facebook (net worth $44.6 billion)
  7. Larry Ellison: American co-founder and CEO of Oracle  (net worth $43.6 billion)
  8. Michael Bloomberg: American founder, owner and CEO of Bloomberg LP (net worth: $40 billion)

I’m not saying that these are evil people. Some of them are the biggest philanthropists in the world. Some have pledged to give almost all their money to charity, not to their kids, when they die. I have a great deal of respect for Bloomberg, and several of them—Gates and Zuckerberg in particular—have altered our lives in immeasurably positive ways. So this is not a criticism of them.

No, it’s a criticism of our American system of taxation, including the income tax and the estate tax. That individuals are allowed to accumulate such obscene wealth, while there’s so much poverty and suffering, is the indictment of our age. Look, our tax system didn’t come to us from heaven, like the Ten Commandments: it was written by congressional politicians at the behest of rich people who contributed to their campaigns–people who want to hold onto every dollar they have, and to hell with everyone else. I believe in confiscatory taxes: people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett would remain unbelievably rich even if they were taxed at the 95% level. And even Warren Buffett has remarked how unfair it is that his secretary is taxed at a higher rate than he is.

I’m not going to let Democrats off the hook, because they’ve been a little too cozy with Wall Street and Goldman Sachs and have not pushed as hard as they could for higher taxes on the rich. But you know who’s worse—much worse—than Democrats? Republicans. Everybody knows they’re the party of the rich. Always have been. They’re always calling for lower taxes, even on the Warren Buffets of this country, and they want to do away with the estate tax completely. Now, let me tell you something about the estate tax: as currently constructed, it’s disgusting. I know a family in San Francisco that is uber-wealthy. They now have a third generation living on grandpa’s inherited wealth, and believe me, the kids do absolutely nothing that contributes to the general welfare. (It’s not the Jacksons. They don’t live in San Francisco, and those Jackson kids are terrific, hard workers with social consciences.) That this San Francisco family should be allowed to transfer their wealth, largely untouched, from generation to generation to ne’er-do-wells is appalling, and I will never understand why Republicans let them get away with it: both the Republican politicians and the blue collar types who vote against their own interests in electing these protectors of billionaires.

And now we have a President who is one of them, who has pledged to cut taxes on Warren Buffet and Bill Gates even further (to a maximum 25%), and has vowed to repeal the estate tax, a move that would financially benefit him and his Cabinet—the richest in American history, by the way, collectively worth $14 billion.

It’s disgusting; I think Trump is an oligarch and a fascist, but then, I’m a liberal Democrat, so the teabaggers out there can say “Heimoff is just pissed that his side is losing.” Yes, I am. But I look at the laid-off blue collar dude in Pittsburg or Cleveland and I wonder what he must think when he reads about Trump’s Goldman Sachs administration and the billionaires that are running it. Here’s what he’s probably thinking. “Well, I’m not completely comfortable with some of that, but as long as Trump brings the jobs back, I’m willing to cut him some slack.” Freud would call that rationalization: A defense mechanism in which controversial behaviors or feelings are justified and explained in a seemingly rational or logical manner to avoid the true explanation, and are made consciously tolerable—or even admirable and superior—by plausible means.” In this case, the “true explanation” is that these blue collar people voted for a man who is completely at odds with them, their families and their friends—a man who would not allow them into his mansions unless they were there to clean the bathroom. These voters make Trump “consciously tolerable” to themselves because to admit the extent of the mistake they have made would be intolerable. Man, do they have a surprise coming at them. And P.S. Trump isn’t going to bring the jobs back, although he’ll lie about that, too.

Thank you President Obama! We will miss you!

An Obama Valedictory



Like many of you, I watched President Obama’s final press conference yesterday, glued to the television for a last glimpse at one of the greatest Presidents of my lifetime. My emotions were distinctly mixed. On one side I was so proud of this still-young (to me), charismatic man, whom we’ve been fascinated with ever since his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention. On the other side, I was—am—bereft. The thought of losing him, and Michelle, and those beautiful daughters, fills me with no end of distress—especially given what is to replace them in the White House.

Even those Republicans who hated Obama (and almost all of them did), who fought him to the bitter end, not just disagreeing with his vision and policies but insulting him and his family in the vilest way, had nice things to say: about his temperament, his grace and dignity, his personal decency. Obama was certainly all that, and more. He made me (and, whenever I use that first-person pronoun, I know it stands for tens of millions of others) feel so glad to have such a fine human being in the Oval Office. Of course, I agreed with most of his positions (or, rather, he agreed with mine), but I also thought he was splendid as a person. Obama possessed that rarest of human qualities, virtue.

“You were not made that you might live as brutes,” said Dante, in the Inferno, “but so as to follow virtue and knowledge.” In this Canto, Dante addresses, not a man, but a city: 14th century Florence, where the Renaissance was aborning, but where also the Black Plague had decimated the population, and the Medici were undermining democracy. It was to spare his countrymen from Hell that Dante reminded them of their duty “to follow virtue and knowledge.”

Obama tried similarly to spare us from a sort of Hell: a divided, rancorous population that had fallen far from grace and was given to petulance, resentment, hatred and ignorance. That he failed is not his fault, for he was undermined, not only by Republicans, who pandered to those ill feelings, but by history itself: America may simply not be ready for healing, or we may have moved past the point where it is possible (although I hope not). These lamentable thoughts went through my mind watching the President yesterday, his face lined with the weariness of knowing that, although he had given it his best, his best was found wanting.

And now, on to what is to come next, and this is the saddest, most depressing part. What is the antithesis of grace? It has a name. Trump ran the foulest, most vulgar, mendacious and base campaign in modern American history. Even his fellow Republicans acknowledge this: most of them found it impossible to support him until he had actually won. That a person this ignoble should live in the House where Obama lived, sit in his chair and work at his desk, is obscene. We watched Sasha and Malia grow up, lovely, intelligent, scandal-free children and, now, young women. And Donald Trump’s children? Two spoiled sons whose idea of fun is to kill exotic animals. We watched Michelle Obama indelibly mark the First Lady’s office with sensitivity, intelligence and graciousness. We now have an incoming First Lady who posed in Lesbian pairings as a model before she married her current husband, whose wife is his third. In Obama, we saw the most respected man in the world, with the possible exception of Pope Francis. In Trump, we have the least respected.

Well, I could go on, but this is a time to sadly reflect on what we are about to lose: Obama, and what we are to inherit: Trump, an unvirtuous brute, with little respect for knowledge. It is sad. It is mournful, for each of us individually, for America, and for the world. But we have got to pick up the pieces and get on with the job of regaining America so that another Obama may someday arise. And a good place to start will be this Saturday, when marches occur the length and breadth of this nation to let the incoming administration know that they will not be allowed to impose a hateful agenda on our country. I was watching the television yesterday and they were talking to a lady who is helping to organize the Women’s March on Washington. She said, “You know, people are talking about this march as if it’s going to happen and then go away. This won’t be the end of anything. It’s the beginning.”

Be of good cheer. You are not alone.

New wine reviews



Aratas 2012 Shake Ridge Ranch Petite Sirah (Amador County): $52. Alcohol 14.9%. This is a real mountain wine, grown at an elevation of 1,700 feet. The climate in this part of California is wild, with very hot summer days that turn rapidly chilly at night, as cold air sinks down from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The wine is 100% Petite Sirah, aged in 50% new Hungarian oak. The wine itself is dramatic. I love the intricate blackberry jam and cassis flavors that ooze across the palate, complexed with grilled meat bone, crispy bacon, crushed black pepper, espresso, umami tamari, wood spice, mocha and smoky oak. I love the mouthfeel, rich and deep in finely-meshed tannins, enlivened by bright, citrusy acidity. And I love the finish, which is as satisfying as the attack. The founding partners come from a restaurant background, and it shows in this wine, which tames Petite Sirah’s sometimes brawny character and makes it elegant. This is the best, most satisfying Petite Sirah I’ve ever reviewed, and I have no problem giving it the highest rating I’ve ever given to a Petite Sirah. Score: 97 points.

Aratas 2012 Petite Sirah (Napa Valley): $48. Alcohol 14.9%. The winery’s 2012 Shake Ridge was the best Petite Sirah I’ve ever reviewed. This one’s nearly as good. Clearly, winemaker Matt Sunseri, who has worked with Helen Turley, Heidi Barrett and Paul Hobbs, understands this variety as few do. The wine has Cabernet-like elegance, which is really hard to translate to Petite Sirah. The vineyard is in Oak Knoll, in other words, a cooler, southerly district of Napa. The wine is 100% Petite Sirah, and spent 27 months in a combination of new and older oak before bottling—a long time by any standard, which gives the wine a smokiness throughout. Black currants, blackberry and cherry liqueur, umami charcuterie and baking spices comprise the fascinating array of flavors. I wish I had a case of this. Score: 96 points.

Hindsight 2013 Bella Vetta Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Howell Mountain): $75. Alcohol 14.7%. By coincidence I had been working on a project involving describing Howell Mountain Cabs, so tasting this wine played right into that. We know that the mountain is a fabulous place to grow intense, concentrated Cabernets. What this wine brought home is how elegant they can be. It’s not a pitch-black monster, but rather gleams with ruby luminescence, a hint of its character. Despite the considerable black cherry, cocoa nib, smoked meat, spice and saline flavors and rich tannins, it dances on the palate, now lithe, now full-bodied and muscular. It grows more complex by the minute. I must admit I spent a lot of time with it. The winemaker is Jac Cole, whose resume includes time at Chateau St. Jean, Stag’s Leap and Stags’ Leap (both of them) and Spring Mountain. Cabernet Sauvignon, in other words, is in his DNA. (Jac also owns the vineyard.) I would happily drink this wine immediately and over the next ten years. Score: 96 points.

Robert Biale 2014 Palisades Vineyard Petite Sirah (Calistoga): $55. The trick with Petite Sirah is to balance the variety’s natural tendency toward bigness with the elegance we want in a red table wine. This single-vineyard wine succeeds. It was grown in the eastern side of Calistoga, a warm, sheltered region that is friendly to Cabernet Sauvignon, but also for Petite Sirah, which thrives in inland Napa Valley, from St. Helena up to Calistoga. The wine is rich, soft and heady (although the official alcohol is just 14.4%). The texture is pure velvet. Blackberry jam, black currants, white pepper, crisped bacon, cocoa nib, violets, a firm minerality—this is as complex as Petite Sirah gets. Definitely one of the best I’ve had in years. Score: 95 points.

Robert Biale 2014 Royal Punishers Petite Sirah (Rutherford): $45. Biale’s three new Petite Sirahs are all so good, it’s crazy. Is anyone else making multiple Pets, especially at this level? Not that I know of. This one is really good, but first, I want to criticize the winery for not letting us know why they call it “Royal Punishers” or providing any technical information as to grape sourcing. Is it a single vineyard? A blend? Some of us want to know! Anyhow, it’s a wonderful wine whose soft tannins and taste of the earth define “Rutherford Dust.” The wine is pitch black in color except for a glint of garnet at the outer rim. The flavors are fabulously deep in concentrated plum essence, espresso, blackberry jam, beef teriyaki and smoky cedar wood. I’ll give it 95 points, easily, which makes it as good as the E.B.A., which costs 30 bucks more.

Robert Biale 2013 E.B.A. Petite Sirah (Napa Valley): $75. The initials stand for extended barrel age, to suggest the long aging period, 30 months, in oak. The wine has begun its long process of softening and mellowing. Although it’s still pretty hefty in tannins, it’s fully drinkable now. Stuffed with blackberry jam, black currant and cassis flavors, it has a smoked meatiness that suggests pairing with short ribs, barbecue, Szechuan beef. Expensive, yes, but it brims with complex elegance and smooth grace despite high alcohol (15.5%). Drink now-2026. Score: 94 points.

Vina Robles 2013 Creston Valley Vineyard Petite Sirah (Paso Robles): $44. Creston is southeast of the city of Paso Robles, located in a hilly, arid and hot area that is a high region III on the UC Davis Winkler scale. That is too hot for many grape varieties, but not Petite Sirah, which thrives in such a climate. This single-vineyard wine is an excellent Petite Sirah, inky black, soft and thick in tannins, with the most delicious mulberry, chocolate, blackberry, espresso, cola, beef teriaki and spice flavors. Oak barrel influence shows up in the smokiness and caramelly-vanilla taste. The alcohol is a hefty 15.1%, and only 418 cases were produced. This is quite as good as any Petite Sirah I’ve ever encountered. Score: 94 points.

Hindsight 2013 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon (Calistoga): $65. Hindsight is really killing it with Cab. This bottling is just lovely. It defines a more elegant, supple style (the alcohol is only 14.1%), although the tannins are rather hard at this time. They frame enormously complex black cherry, leather, licorice, teriyaki beef, espresso and smoky cedar flavors, and that just begins to describe it. Despite the hefty tannins the wine impresses for its balance and charm and overall fanciness. Drinkable now, but it will improve with 6-8 years in the bottle. Score: 94 points.

Hindsight 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): $40. Right out of the bottle, the wine is tight and seems a little straightforward in fruit and oak. It offers tiers of black raspberry and cherry jam, mocha, fig, cassis, toast and cinnamon-spice flavors, swirling in soft, complex tannins. It’s tasty, but you really want to give it some time for the baby fat to start to melt. Made from 100% Cab, it’s full-bodied and dry, with an inherent sense of drama. Give it until the holiday season before popping the cork. It will drink well for another decade. Score: 92 points.

Vina Robles 2013 Estate Petite Sirah (Paso Robles): $29. What a delightful Petite Sirah. If you compare it with, say, the Robert Biales, it’s not as gigantic. But it is Petite Sirah-esque in its dark color, thick tannins and full-bodied, ripe blackcurrant, espresso, blueberry and dark chocolate flavors. It also has a real bite of acidity—technically, 7.6 grams per liter, which makes it a little tart on its own, so drink it with the appropriate foods. I can’t see it aging, so your window is over the next three years. The alcohol is 14.9%. Score: 91 points.

Hindsight 2012 Estate Grown Petite Sirah (Calistoga): $45. If size was everything, this would get a much higher score, because it’s a big, huge, gigantic Petite Sirah. By that, I mean inky black, tannic, and absolutely stuffed with blackberry, blueberry, blackstrap molasses, black licorice, charred meat bone, black pepper, tanned leather and smoky oak flavors, with a bone dry finish. It’s impressive, but kind of cumbersome, with something old-fashioned and rustic. It could age very well, and in fact probably will. If you can, give it ten years in the cellar. Right now, the score is 91 points.

Hindsight 2014 Chardonnay (Napa Valley): $28. Some people will find this Chard too oaky. Others, including me, will love the caramel vanilla richness, which meshes effortlessly with underlying tropical fruit flavors. The texture is creamy, the acidity is just right. This single-vineyard wine comes from the Oak Knoll District. It’s a little sweet on the finish, but sure is tasty, and easily deserves 90 points.

Paul Dolan 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendocino County); $20. Alcohol 14.5%. It’s not a back-handed compliment to call this one of the best $20 Cabs on the market. It has real character, from the rich tannins and oak-infused smokiness to the fresh blackberry and licorice flavors. It’s a little rough around the edges, but to tell the truth, it has quite a bit of sophistication, sort of a country cousin to Napa Valley. Score: 88 points.

Parducci 2013 True Grit Reserve Red (Mendocino County); $20. Alcohol 14.5%. This is one of those red wine multi-blends the oldtimers used to drink. In this case, it’s comprised of eight varieties, led by Carignane, Zinfandel and Grenache. The wine is briary and rustic, not as heavy as a Petite Sirah, in fact quite drinkable with the right foods: barbecue, tacos, chicken cacciatore, lasagna. It has the benefit of honesty: an old-fashioned wine with few pretensions, but solid. Good price. Score: 88 points.

Zin-Phomaniac 2014 Old Vines Zinfandel (Lodi); $15. Zin’s rustic personality has been preserved here, with plenty of baking spices and slightly overripe flavors of red currants and raspberry jam. Some 20% of new oak brings sweet oak flavors. The alcohol is a little high, 14.9%, and there’s evident glycerine in the wine, which makes it somewhat sweet, like sugared berry tea. This is a big, bold Zin for easy drinking. Score: 85 points.

Tie-Dye 2013 Red Blend (North Coast); $15. Crazy label, kind of a cross between a Sixties psychedelic rock poster and an auto repair shop pin-up. They’re clearly appealing to a crowd that eats pizza and such and doesn’t want to spend big bucks on their red wine. The blend is at least seven varieties, from Pinot Noir to Tempranillo and Barbera. The wine is decent and honest, with leather and blackberry jam flavors and scoury tannins. Score: 84 points.

Justice Grace 2013 Tenbrink Vineyards (Solano County): $30. Solano is the county to the east of Napa, almost in the Central Valley, but the climate is tempered by its proximity to San Pablo Bay. This wine, with a little Grenache from the Sierra Foothills, is rustic and drinkable. It has blackberry jam, bacon and espresso flavors, and is full-bodied and tannic. Score: 84 points.

Trump as the Light of the World (according to some. But who are they?)



We have in American political media two competing memes. One holds that Trump’s election is a ridiculous one-off, an accident of history America will come to regret (I am of that belief). The other is that his election is some kind of game-changer akin to FDR’s or Reagan’s. The “game-changing” commentary is seldom heard in Democratic circles and only slightly more in Republican circles; establishment Republicans are not enamored of this incoming President, although they’re not allowed to say so. Only on the far-out fringes of the Republican Party do you hear prognostications that Trump is historically significant. Of this extremist view, the oddest is this piece, in the weekend’s Wall Street Journal, headlined, “Trump May Herald a New Political Order.”

It’s a bit premature to talk about “new political orders,” don’t you think? After all, Trump hasn’t even been sworn in. He lost the popular vote by a record (and embarrassing) three million. He’s also the least popular or respected incoming POTUS in recent American history (as I pointed out the other day, citing Quinnipiac and Gallup polls). He faces an unprecedented Resistance from tens of millions of Americans who view him as dangerous, mendacious, unstable and illegitimate. He has broken virtually every campaign promise he made and will likely break the rest of them eventually. And yet, here we have a writer with the imposingly royalist name of John Steele Gordon telling us, a week before the inauguration, that “a New Political Order” is on its way—and is being “Heralded” at that, as if borne on the wings of trumpeting angels.

Gordon rambles through U.S. Presidents trying to determine who “heralded new orders” and discovers, mirabile dictu, Lincoln, FDR and Reagan. And Trump? He won a “stunning election.” He “was elected explicitly to change the self-serving ways of Washington.” He “signal[s] profound change.” “He has a gift…for cutting out the oblivious media” to “communicat[]e directly with the people.” Gordon clearly is a fan—an allegiance made all the more obvious by his unproven allegation that “The Obama years showed liberalism to be exhausted.”

I don’t believe that, do you? Liberalism is protecting the environment. Liberalism is believing in science. Liberalism is narrowing the destructive gap between the rich and the 99%. Liberalism is trying to get along with each other no matter what color or race or gender or sexual orientation. Liberalism is keeping religious ideology out of civil discourse, and walking a mile in the other guy’s shoes. Liberals believe in sensible gun control, and that government plays a role in managing the nation’s affairs, from keeping air and water clean to making sure kids have free public school and healthcare. Liberals believe in investing in America. Liberals believe in limiting nuclear proliferation. Liberals believe in having good relations with other nations, especially our neighbors. Most Americans believe in these values, including Republicans. That they elected Trump doesn’t mean they have stopped believing in these values.

So who is this John Steele Gordon? He is a tool of Big Finance, born to Wall Street wealth, who makes his living, in part, by ghost-writing books for billionaires, including the ultra-rightwing plutocrat, Steve Forbes. He advocates doing away with corporate income taxes. He fundamentally blamed the 2008 Great Recession on Democrats and Bill Clinton (!!!), while offering the fantastic assertion that “the Bush administration tried…to change the [economic] system…but got nowhere” due (according to him) to Democrats like Chris Dodd. He has called for a “new contract with America,” Newt Gingrich-style, so that Republicans can “position themselves credibly as the party of real reform.” Most recently he dredged up Bill Ayers—remember him from Clinton’s time?—to slam Trump resisters, whom he accused of plotting a “coup d’état”; he actually called the new era of Trump “a glorious light unto the world.”

I mean, this is a man so giddy at the prospect of his candidate “heralding a new political order” that he resorts to end-times eschatology (herald, unto, glorious light), as if Trump were Elijah or, perhaps, Jesus. Mr. Gordon, I don’t think Trump is going to “herald” anything, except—if he continues to be dilatory—the breakdown of civil order in America. And you know what? I firmly believe a majority of Americans are going to agree with me. By this summer, watch the polls. Quinnipiac and Gallup are only the start.

What does Trump fear the most?



At first glance, this may seem like an easy question: He fears being a loser.

We’ve known this for years. There have been numerous reports that his greatest anxiety, when he was an entertainer, was losing his celebrity status. His fragile ego and sense of self-worth just can’t tolerate the thought of not winning.

Calling someone a “loser” is also among his most common insults, no doubt a projection of his own insecurity. Of course, now that he’s President-elect, we don’t know if he’s worried about losing his new job—although he might well be concerned by the latest Quinnipiac Poll, which shows him to be the least liked or respected incoming President in modern American history. As if that’s not bad enough, according to the latest Gallup Poll, he’s disapproved of by a majority of Americans even before taking the oath of office–an unprecedented rebuke to an incoming President.

But there’s something Trump fears even more than losing. What he really fears and cannot stand, deep down, is being made fun of–being a joke. And you know what? That’s precisely what he has become: a joke.

With the ridiculous hair, the pussy groping, the Russian dossier of his perverted flings with prostitutes, the European models he has dated and occasionally marries, the insults, the exotic animal-killing sons, the Twitter storms, the lies, the thin skin, the temper tantrums, the contradictions, the use of NOT! and SAD! on Twitter, and, yes, calling his “enemies” losers—in fact, all the bizarre tics that Alec Baldwin captures so well on Saturday Night Live—Trump has become a caricature of himself, the ultimate Trump impersonator. People are no longer trembling at him. They’re laughing. Trump has long been comedic fodder for late night T.V., but now he’s a full-fledged cartoon character—and not a sympathetic one, either, but a ridiculous, foolish bozo.

Look at the media. There’s Trevor Noah’s crack, “Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Obama and now Trump–one of these things is not like the other.”

Stephen Colbert: “This is what it feels like when America is made great again. I was wondering.”

Conan O’Brien: “Two things happened last night. Trump got elected president, and my job just got easier for the next four years.”

Jimmy Kimmel: “I had the weirdest dream last night. Remember that guy who used to host ‘The Apprentice’?”

James Corden alluded to the golden showers. “Donald Trump was refuting it when it leaked out, but it was too late. The puns were already flowing on Twitter. There were streams and streams of jokes online.”

Then, here in San Francisco, there’s the new Beach Blanket Babylon version of Trump and a guitar-strumming Melania.


And finally, this tweet I saw, from a regular guy: “Donald Trump is like if Homer Simpson inherited all of Mr. Burns’ money.”

A rich Homer Simpson! Doh! Can you imagine how angry all this makes him? It’s the one thing he can’t fight back against: being the butt of a national joke, being seen as pathetic despite the money and power. Yes, he can lash out on Twitter or in an angry public rant, but that just becomes part of the joke. The poor guy, I’m almost feeling sorry for him, as he melts down and Democrats rub their hands with glee. But caution!! Let’s enjoy the laughter, but let us not lose sight of the fact that he’s still an ominous, pernicious fraud and an illegitimate President.

A conversation with Gavin Newsom: Part 5



[In Part 4, Governor Newsom was talking about moral authority, and how it’s the one thing that Democrats have left, after the shellacking we’ve taken. Democrats should not get into the mud with Republicans, he said, quoting Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high.”

GN: I’m not willing to give up the moral authority.

SH: It’s politics!

GN: It’s the politics that have gotten us into this position. So if we want to pave over the old cow path, then we should expect nothing less than the status quo for the next decade or two.

SH: I wish you were angrier.

GN: I am angry. I think you can win, but with different kind of engagement.

SH: So Democrats will allow SCOTUS hearings. It will be a strict party-line vote, with an anti-choice, tea party Republican as the new Justice of the Supreme Court.

GN: It’s likely.

SH: And we could stop it.

GN: No. We can delay it.

SH: Democrats could filibuster.

GN: Republicans will go to the nuclear option and remove the filibuster. They will. Just a fact. I mean, it’s a fact. We can delay, and we will delay, and we should. We should scrutinize, and we should be aggressive, and there’s a hundred other Federal appointments we have to worry about. So you’re gonna get Scalia back, so it’s five-four, which is where we’ve been. The bigger concern I have is Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s health! That is an ominous prospect.

SH: Okay, so let’s move on. This is a little controversial, and it alludes to the story we were talking about, those two guys who believe in Jesus Christ. In my judgment, the conservative evangelical movement is a clear and present danger to the United States of America.

GN: [big laugh]

SH: They’re entitled to their rights, but—

GN: [still laughing] In what way are they a clear and present danger?

SH: These are people who don’t believe in science. They don’t believe in global warming. They believe that Adam and Eve played with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden.

GN: That is—

SH: Because the world is only five thousand and something years old, everything was created in six days—

GN: Yeah. It is interesting.

SH: And they just elected Donald Trump President.

GN: Played an outsized role in that. Not exclusively, but an outsized role. I mean, some of my neighbors [in Marin County] elected Donald Trump.

SH: How do you deal with people who are irrational and immune to fact?

GN: It’s, um—there are ideologues on both sides of the political aisle.

SH: Democrats don’t have anybody that crazy.

GN: I dunno. You should have governed with me when I was Mayor! There are some folks on the left that I think are a bit out there. Yeah, I don’t like ideologues. I like open argument with people who are interested in evidence, who are fact-based. And I think the vast majority of people are. But there is a potent and powerful group of folks that are not, and it’s increasingly alarming.

SH: So you’re equating what I’m calling the craziness of evangelicals with San Francisco liberals?

GN: No. [laughs] I’m saying that—I didn’t even equate, I just said factually. My point of view is, I agree one hundred percent with you that ideology gets in the way of progress, but ideology is by no means an exclusive right of one group or the other. I see ideological rigidity impacting our politics on both sides of the aisle.

SH: This is beyond ideology. This is, is people who want a theocracy in the United States.

GN: Well, there’s those folks. I will say, it seems to me—and this is just me—that ten, fifteen years ago, that was even more apparent and present in our politics: prayer in school, George W. and others—I was more alarmed then than, candidly, I am now. I think it’s dissipated a little bit. That’s my own humble opinion. And I think Donald Trump is a complete fraud when it comes to his religious—

SH: The Bible is his favorite book!

GN: It’s laughable.

SH: Could he do a Sister Souljah moment?

GN: Well, there’s nothing Sister Souljah because he never even believed it in the first place, so are you gonna say, “I don’t believe in it now”? Folks like [George W.] Bush were true believers. Guys like Pence are true believers. I’m more worried about them being in control. So, yeah, you’re right—Trump was able to completely bamboozle them in this election, and, boy, how easily they were bamboozled. I mean, by a serial—

SH: –liar.

GN: No, not necessarily a liar, I mean, this guy was the antithesis of their values.

SH: Groping.

GN: Yeah. Even his current wife acknowledged he had relations with that person they paid off at the Enquirer. I mean, this guy—

SH: They fell for it anyway. He was a bad guy, but he was their bad guy.

GN: Yeah, yeah. He said the right thing, and he said it with conviction. But people…I think a lot of folks who identify with institutions, religious and otherwise, there’s a very patriarchal history there, and people identify with a strong man, the father figure, the guy who’s going to take care of the family. And he sort of connected with that—that strength. The sexism is pretty overt, too, and we don’t talk enough about how sexism played a dominantly outsized role in this Presidential election.

SH: The misogyny against Hillary Clinton.

GN: Significantly so. “She doesn’t look the part” [of a President], very overt statements that played a huge role.

SH: Terrible.

GN: In ways that are much more, I would argue, than what we’ve dominantly focused on, which is racism.

SH: Do you care at this time to come out with the things you’ll do in your first 100 days as Governor?

GN: [big laugh] Ha ha! It is important to repeal and replace! What executive orders can I undo of Jerry Brown? [laughs]. But that’s getting ahead on my skis! Not even close to thinking about that. Actually, I am Acting Governor [Brown was out of California that day] so I can begin today!

SH: Kamala [Harris] got huge play when she was elected [Senator], with the predictable chatter about Presidential timber. On the other hand, a young, attractive, Democratic Governor of California will automatically—

GN: Yeah. I mean, I’m sure [former L.A. Mayor Antonio] Villaraigosa [California Treasurer] and John Chiang, all of us— [EDITOR’s NOTE: Newsom refers to other potential or actual Democratic candidates for Governor next year]. I think—

SH: You don’t think about it [being President]?

GN: No. And I’m dead serious about it, I do not. I really don’t. I would say something differently, if I did think about it. But I honestly don’t. I’ve been to Iowa for Hillary Clinton, stumping. I’ve been on the road and not seen my [4] kids. I’ve been on the red-eyes and barely didn’t even know where I was on some of those morning shows. It’s not a life. I can’t connect that with any aspiration. It’s not in my cards.

SH: Why are you a politician?

GN: I mean, it’s one of the reasons I didn’t run for U.S. Senator.

SH: That was a deal with Kamala.

GN: It wasn’t a deal with Kamala. And, by the way, perhaps it could have been; it wasn’t. We could have had that conversation; we never had that conversation. The reason I didn’t even lean into that was, I’ve got kids. I don’t want to screw that up. I don’t want to regret having kids in rehab, and hearing what a horrible human being I was in ten years. And I want to make sure I have a relationship with them that thrives, and Washington, D.C. is not the place to do that.

SH: And Sacramento is?

GN: Sacramento is a day trip, it’s back and forth from all over the state.

SH: So if your political life were to end, would you be happy being a businessman again?

GN: Yeah.

SH: Is that what you would be—a businessman?

GN: I don’t know. I honestly don’t know what I would do.

SH: Go back to PlumpJack?

GN: No, I wouldn’t go back to PlumpJack, though it keeps growing. We just did four new businesses. You know, we’re going to win [in 2018]. I want to win. So I don’t think about a backup plan. But the good news is, I have the privilege of being myself in this campaign. I’m going to run a campaign I won’t regret, and what that means is, if I lose, I won’t regret the process, because that’s because I’ll say what I think and be the person I am, privately, publicly, and if that doesn’t meet the moment, I’ll have no issues with that, and I’ll have a wonderful life outside of politics. Whereas a lot of folks in politics desperately need it, their identity is tied to it, and there’s no real life outside of it—they may be a little more hesitant, more reticent, less willing to say what they think. And that’s not me. If I had a billion dollars, I’d buy a winery and build a restaurant [which Newsom already has done through PlumpJack]. So I’m blessed beyond words.

SH: Well, Governor Newsom, I think we’re done, unless there’s anything else you’d care to add.

GN: [laughs] I think we got it!

A conversation with Gavin Newsom: Part 4



[In Part 3, Lieutenant-Governor Newsom disagreed with me on the need for immediate resistance to a Trump regime. He was in favor of a cautious, wait-and-see approach, in which Democrats hope for the best. At the same time, he added:]

GN: Look, if Trump moves forward with internment camps and registries for Muslims, then we go into a deep and aggressive mode, not just of resistance, but pro-active, aggressive counter-measures.

SH: I’m glad to hear you say it!

GN: Yeah. Unquestionably. If he doesn’t do those things, and he’s focusing on infrastructure and re-evaluating our trade pacts and economic development and job creation, bringing manufacturing back to the country, I’ll celebrate that, if he actually follows through. So, you know what? We need to focus on paid family leave, and childcare, and if he comes up with interesting and innovative policies, we have to embrace that.

SH: What’s your hunch?

GN: Uhh [laughs], I think he’s got a real problem with this Republican Congress, and I don’t think he has a clue about how big a problem he’s about to have, with his Vice-President [Mike Pence] and this Republican Congress.

SH: Starting with the intelligence community?

GN: Well, there’s that, and his own self-imposed problem with the intelligence community. But I think he’s going—I’ll give you an example of the problems I think he’s going to have, very early. And I’ll excuse the obvious, which is this “repeal and replace” [of Obamacare], where the “replace” they have no idea; they have rhetoric and talking points, but no idea. So that’s an obvious one. But I think the ones that will be outsized—things like Planned Parenthood. He’ll have a bill on his desk to defund Planned Parenthood. Remember, he was an outlier at those Republican Presidential debates on Planned Parenthood, and that’s going to be a gut-check moment. [EDITOR’S NOTE: As with other issues, Trump has had multiple positions on Planned Parenthood. During the campaign he demanded defunding. More recently has has said Planned Parenthood “does very good work.”] So does he want to go there, or not? And if he does go there, the reaction to that—I think these are the small sparks that become big fires. Therein lie some real traps for him, and those traps will be set, not by Democrats, but by Republicans in Congress.

SH: Another meme out there is that impeachment will be launched by his own party.

GN: Yeah. Impeachment scares me more than anything, because Pence scares me more than Trump. I’m sorry.

SH: My feeling is, let’s deal with Trump. Take care of him. One fight at a time.

SH: That said, I’m a little disconcerted with your—you just seem so accepting of this. “We lost, let’s get over it—”

GN: Unlike Donald Trump, I want to deal with reality. It’s not theoretical that he’s President. It’s real. It’s not fake news, it actually happened.

SH: So—

GN: It doesn’t matter. It exists. The point is, you have to—it’s like a 12-step program, where you have to acknowledge the problem. He is a problem, and I—

SH: I mean—

GN: And I’m not accepting just rolling over.

SH: A lot of Democrats are saying—I think I heard [L.A. Congresswoman] Maxine Waters say it the other day—Democrats have just been too nice, historically. The Republicans play really hard ball, and Democrats are always so—

GN: Yeah, we try to intellectualize—

SH: –Kumbaya.

GN: I agree with that.

SH: And we lose. So why not start getting nasty, the way they do?

GN: I think, you know, I would like to think that Michelle Obama resonated with the vast majority of Americans for a reason in this campaign, and came off as the shining star of the 2016 Presidential election because she inspired America to a higher value. “When they go low, we go high.” And, you know what? That doesn’t mean you don’t play rough.

SH: I hope you’re right.

GN: And that doesn’t mean you don’t—Look, we took on the National Rifle Association, and we beat ‘em! [EDITOR’s NOTE: Newsom sponsored California Proposition 63, a tough anti-gun measure fiercely opposed by the NRA. It passed.] They tried to punch us and we punched ‘em back five times as hard.

SH: Congratulations on that.

SH: And we went after all the arbiters of the status quo, including my entire party, on legalization of marijuana; we did the same thing. [EDITOR’s NOTE: Newsom also sponsored Proposition 64, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. It, too, passed.] Same thing on marriage equality. My entire party unanimously opposed it. So I have no problem playing rough and playing tough and going after folks. But there’s a way of doing it, and that’s my approach. So, you know, Donald Trump wants to take us on? We’re not just going to play defense, it’s not just resistance; there’s a pro-active and aggressive counter-strategy. It’s not about navel-gazing, it’s about stepping up and recognizing [that] we have agency, we have a voice. This is California! This is not some small, rural, isolated, weak state. We have more engineers, more researchers, more scientists, more professors of higher education, sixth-largest economy [in the world], we look more like America’s about to look in the next twenty years. This is the economic engine of the United States, it is what people identify as uniquely American in terms of entertainment, agriculture, technology, natural beauty and wonders, its coastal beauty. So all those things give me a little more sense of calm and confidence.

SH: Okay. Back to politics. How about SCOTUS?

GN: That scares me.

SH: Do we block it?

GN: That scares me.

SH: Or do we play along?

GN: Now we’re having a conversation that scares me, beyond—

SH:  Why should Chuck Schumer—

GN: That was only for one-quarter of an actual term. [EDITOR’s NOTE: Newsom is referring to Republican Senators blocking Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, from even having hearings last year.]

SH: But why should we not give tit-for-tat and say, Forget about it, we’ll have eight SCOTUSes—

GN: Because there is something called the Constitution of the United States.

SH: There was for Republicans, too.

GN: Yeah, and—

SH: They didn’t give Obama anything.

GN: They didn’t—

SH: So why should we?

GN: Because—

SH: Or am I being immature again?

GN: I think you get to a point, it’s advise and consent. And we have the right to reject. But it’s just—just—it basically diminishes every argument we just made, if we play by the same rules. You lose your moral authority. And if you don’t have moral authority, then you only have—

SH: Moral authority? That and two bucks will get you on the subway.

GN: Well, I’ll tell you, there’s two kinds of authority, moral and formal. We don’t have formal authority right now. So the only authority we have is moral authority. And if we give up the moral authority, then you’re left with nothing.

TOMORROW: The final part of my conversation with Gavin Newsom.

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