With Trump’s Pardon Inquiry and Mueller Investigation, We’ve Entered The “Not Even Pretending” Portion of the Show

OK, so, put on your Rawls veil of ignorance for a minute. Nice, thank you. That’s one sweet-looking veil. No, I get it, it’s painted like a War Boy. Yeah, Fury Road, cool. Anyway, the point is, with it on, you don’t know anything about the Trump Presidency. Hell, you don’t know anything about Donald Trump. You don’t hate him or love him, and have zero pre-conceived notions about his moral probity, his sense of ethics. You have no knowledge of anything about the Russian collusion investigation.

Good? Now peep these headlines.

NYTimesTrump Aides, Seeking Leverage, Investigate Mueller’s Investigators

WaPo: Trump’s lawyers explore pardoning powers and ways to undercut Russia investigation

Now, again, not knowing anything, at the very least you’d think there was something hinky going on, right? People who aren’t worried about an investigation don’t look for ways to undermine it and certainly don’t think about pre-emptively pardoning themselves. Right?

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Trump’s Cybersecurity Fiasco: The Idiot Presidency in Two Tweets

So, if you are a Donald Trump supporter, you have to believe that Trump didn’t think it would happen, didn’t believe it would happen, but tweeted about the discussion anyway, just to give people a chance to comment on it. That he thought it was worth discussing whether “election hacking, & many negative things, will be guarded”, but then had already decided it couldn’t happen.

Now, it is pretty easy to make fun of this. Trump said something monumentally, catastrophically stupid, was promptly and bipartisanly mocked, and rescinded it while trying to save face. That is sadly par for the course for this Presidency. But let’s take a step back, because I think there is something bigger here.

One of a few things happened. One is that Trump suggested the idea, which even I don’t think happened (although, who knows?). Another is that Putin had the idea, and Trump promptly and swiftly turned it down, but then, why would he say they had a discussion about keeping the election safe? Maybe he meant to say he turned it down, but then realized he couldn’t say that he didn’t trust the Russians, because that undermines his undermining of our intelligence services, so just backpedalled to save face.

But there is another option here. And it is that Putin made the suggestion, and Trump accepted it, or at least said it was worth looking into. He would have done this through a combination of wanting to please Putin, to be on the same side as a tough white nationalist authoritarian, and from his own inability to admit to himself something might have been hinky about his monumental landslide election. That seems about right

So why did Putin do it? Because, and I think this is key, they wanted to see what they could get the President to say. Putin had to know Trump would be scorned and mocked for making this public. Even were the Kremlin not behind the hacking (they were), the perception that they were would make any offer absolutely laughable. I truly think Putin wanted to see how much he could get away with.

And he made the President look like a jackass, one both weak in the face of Russia and ready to back down when revealed to be a fool. He’s keeping the system roiled. It was a power play, pure and simple, and Russia easily triumphed.  It’s wrong to say he support Trump, per se. There are certain policy similarities, such as “NATO bad”, but more than that, Putin supports western disorder. And with Trump, he has pure disorder. It’s chaos he can easily manipulate.

Myself, I am not yet so tired from all the winning. Does that start soon?

On Independence Day

 

(There’s not a real reason for this song, except it is elegiac and haunting and has been in my head, and it is awesome and represents the best of us, our creativity and drive, and that it has Canadians and Brits makes it even more beautifully and beatifically American in the best sense)

There is something grotesque and unwholesome about waking up on a blinding blue 4th of July and contemplating Donald Trump. It’s a day of jubilant parauppa-dum-dum parades and picnics along the lake. We shouldn’t be thinking about this waking nightmare, this wretched intrusion into our civic life. But then, it is exactly what we should be thinking about, because of how this intrusion reflects on our yearly show of patriotism.

What do these parades mean in the age of Trump? Where do our claims to greatness stand? Is celebrating Independence Day when Donald Trump is President a rebuke to his intrusion, or is it the same head-in-sand ignorance and chest-beating triumphalism that allowed our democracy to be so degraded?

To answer that, I think, we have to really think about that horrible phrase, “the Age of Trump”. It still seems ridiculous to say and makes the fingers itch to type; after all, how can we name an age for such an obvious buffoonish clown? As someone who has hated Donald Trump for as long as I can remember (really, literally), it is particularly painful. Here’s what I wrote last year during the primaries, which I think still rings true.

 He was the pinnacle of the worst of the 1980s, of the greed and opulence that marked our “return to traditional values”. In the 1990s, he was an avatar of cheating wealth, floating through a pointless time, opening and closing casinos, taking advantage of a game that was, for once and all, rigged toward the rich. In the 2000s he dominated the heightened idiocy of our reality age, all artifice and fake drama obscuring the disasters below our feet. And then of course in this decade he has been our preeminent birther, and the leader of the paranoid and hateful brigade.

In short, he’s been at the forefront of what has been the worst in American culture for four decades. He’s represented what is greedy and vulgar and dirty and stupid, what is fake and pompous and overblown and artificial. His glamour has always been the dull and lifeless sex of hostage porn, the weeping simulacrum of something beautiful. Whatever the American dream is, he’s been buying it on the cheap, packing it into something gaudy and worthless, and selling it at a profit.

He has always been this person: an insecure bully, an overhyped dope, a tabloid non-person. But that’s what has been celebrated. Artifice, vulgarity, ignorance, the virtues of blow-hardedness, the diminution of expertise, the faux-regular-guy with the golden yacht. We’ve celebrated the fake for so long that it isn’t an aberration. It might be part of our national character.

Every country has its myths and legends, and every country sees its best reflections in history’s dirty mirror. I can’t say that America is unique in this. But not being unique isn’t a virtue. America has always told a story of itself that is almost the exact inverse of the truth. It’s a cliche to say “We said all men were created equally, but still had slavery”, but really: think about it. The intensity of that hypocrisy is overwhelming, and yet, we still tell ourselves the myths of liberty.

We tell ourselves that America is now, and always has been, uniquely virtuous, and that we’ve never taken land in a war, and yet our entire country is stolen land. We warred for over a century to annihilate the existing nations. We were the exterminators. The British, French, even the Spanish after time weren’t interested in taking over all the land. Their claims were economic, making deals with the native nations to rob them. It wasn’t virtuous, of course, but it was nothing compared to the violent horrors of when America decided she wanted all the land.

(Want a good representation of our colonization process versus, say, the English? There are a billion Indians in India. The English, for all their cruelty, bigotry, and avarice, didn’t wipe them out, just as they didn’t wipe out the native tribes here. But we still somehow tell ourselves we are unique in our goodness, even while every inch of land was stolen via murder, war and broken treaty.)

We’ve employed horrific violence against workers trying to win rights. We’ve employed horrific violence against minorities trying to vote and take equal part in the civic life promised to them. We’ve employed horrific violence against the LGBTQ community for daring to be human. And those assaults–on labor, on voting rights, on equal rights–still continue, through legal means.

And yet, doesn’t that represent a kind of progress? Isn’t that sort of the point of America, this wild and fractious land, that we struggle toward a more perfect union, never getting there, but making incremental progress? Isn’t it inspiring that we’ve changed the battlefield for rights?

It is, yes. But that we’re still fighting those battles, and that the supposed rear-guard is actually winning, despite being in the minority is, I think, less an aberration but a continuation of our national character. It’s part of our belief that somehow good will always win even in the face of bad actors, and in our belief that America does good simply by doing. That we can’t do wrong, because we’re America.

That’s artifice, obviously, and it is artifice in a way that Trump exemplifies. He is a fake, and always has been. He’s a relentless self-promoter of his wholly-invented mythology, and in that way is extremely American. That he is grotesque and disgusting and entirely ignorant doesn’t make him distant from other hucksters and Gantrys, but rather an evolution.

That’s where America is right now. We’ve had 40 years of anti-intellectual “elite-bashing”, of praising “Real Americans” while destroying their jobs and poisoning their air and water, and that’s combined with a truly idiotic reality-show/tabloid/celebrity culture. None of this is entirely unique in America, but it does mix with our lack of historic honesty to create a culture in which a man like Donald Trump does more than exist, and more than thrive: it’s one in which he rises to unimaginable power, not despite, but because of these elements. He’s the right man for his time.

So yes, it is a weird 4th. We have to reconcile the fact that we aren’t a mature democracy. A mature democracy wouldn’t create opportunities for Donald Trump to rise in politics, and it certainly wouldn’t have a mechanism where he could win with fewer votes than his opponent (another legacy of slave power). A mature democracy wouldn’t allow a minority power to ruthlessly gerrymander votes out of existence based entirely on race.

This is where I want to offer hope. After all, it turns out our institutions are standing strong. The workers of the state are loyal to the country and are resisting Donald Trump’s attempts to turn them into personal servants. The courts are standing up to him. The media has seemed to at least sort of learn their lesson, and aren’t being cowered. And the people continue to resist his attempts to make bigotry and hatred the law and rule of the land.

But maybe it is already. Maybe the worst of us use these national myths not to unify, but to further their agenda of hatred (because it is impolite to cry “racism”). Maybe the worst of us use our devotion to 18th-century documents to erase actual democracy. Maybe there is something inherent in the American character, in our devotion to the myth and  that makes it easy for the worst of us to win. Maybe we’re just too big and wild and impossible to be governed.

We have to reconcile with these stories. They have raw power, and can often been used for good. This has happened as recently as the election of Barack Obama, a decent man who invoked these myths as a way to inspire. They’ll be used for good today, when we smile at neighbors and paint our faces and snuggle on blankets to watch fireworks enredden and smolder the bat-wheeling night. And that will be good, and we’ll be happy.

But when a man with no decency and no dignity is fronting an agenda that works to enshrine minority power, subvert democracy, and sell off our heritage, we have to ask ourselves what these stories mean. It’s time to tell a new one, before it is too late.

 

Qatar and Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, War in Syria: The Dangers of Unserious Leadership in Fragile Times

middle_east_1914_english

I’m not saying that to be a successful President you have to understand what this map means. But you actually kind of do…

America has been rightfully consumed with the subdued opera of the Comey hearings, in which members of both parties accepted as a stipulation that the President was a grotesque, habitual liar, and that his best defense was he literally has no idea what he is doing, so how could he be obstructing justice? I don’t know the legal ramifications of this, but even as the GOP desperately tried to downplay Comey, which seems to imply a return to the status quo, I think there will continue to be a steady drip of revelations. Comey implying that Sessions is dirtier than we (well, the media) thought might be the first major crack. No one is going to want to be the last person to go down for this.

But think again about the essential shrugging reaction even senators from his own party have to the essential nature of Trump: sure he’s dishonest and completely incapable of being President, but is that illegal? Maybe for the former, probably not for the latter. But that’s not the issue: the issue is that it is extremely dangerous. It’s dangerous domestically, and potentially catastrophic abroad.

There could be few worse times to have a blundering, spite-filled, ego-driven ignorant man as President of the United States. The post-WWII order was crumbling, but just as importantly (if unremarked), the post-WWI order in the Middle East (and much or Eurasia) is crumbling and reforming in unexpected and difficult ways as well. This is a hinge moment for a huge part of the world, and with his disaster-junkie approach to things, Trump can’t help but make it enormously worse. And it starts, of course, with Qatar.

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Trump and Paris: The Paranoid Element IS American Politics

 

Well, it happened. In a speech heavy with Bannon-esque paranoia, conspiracy, and almost endless mendacity, Donald Trump announced that the US would no longer fulfill its obligations in a treaty designed to try to mitigate the worst impacts that climate change will have on our planet and on our species. For this, he was roundly applauded by a pack of braying idiots.

But who knows? This seems to have galvanized the rest of the world to redouble their commitment, since, unlike the Republican Party, everyone else agrees that massive flooding combined with the withering reduction of arable farmland is a bad thing. It also spurred cities, states, and businesses to basically say “eff that, we’re following the treaty anyway.”

The speech was immediately fact-checked and debunked of course, but beyond the lies, it was a pile of terrifying paranoia and a view of the world that is 100% removed from reality. Trump kept repeating that the other countries only wanted Paris in order to hamstring the United States, that the entire process was nothing more than a global attempt to destroy our economic power.

It was a speech to be yelled from bughouse square, from a dirty corner on a forgotten street, in the backroom bar of a terrible movie. Is it political cynicism, to try to rally the nationalist base? Maybe to an extent, but I think that is in some ways giving people like Bannon and Miller, and Trump and Pence, too much credit. These are deeply stupid, credulous men, whose ideas of the world are shaped by Alex Jones and a peculiarly American prosperity gospel, in which bigotry and bullying go hand-in-hand.

Read this, and try to imagine the worldview that think it.

At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country? We want fair treatment for its citizens, and we want fair treatment for our taxpayers. We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore. And they won’t be. They won’t be.

It’s a perfect summation of how insane and ridiculous Trump and the Republican Party are. They think people are laughing at us for participating in trying to reverse our catastrophic actions and leading the world. But it is true people aren’t laughing at us. They’re terrified, and they are ready to move on without us. We’re the dumb and mean cousin that might get invited to family parties, but certainly isn’t welcome.

Trump and the Paris Climate Agreement: The Earth-Changing Weight of the Catastrophic Presidency

By all indications, our catastrophe of a President is poised to go fully global.

President Trump is expected to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, three officials with knowledge of the decision said, making good on a campaign pledge but severely weakening the landmark 2015 climate change accord that committed nearly every nation to take action to curb the warming of the planet.

There’s really no way to oversell the terrible nature of this decision. Let’s just take, in what is amazingly the least terrible aspect of this, how much Trump is sticking his stubby thumb in the eyes of our allies. After returning from a disastrous and petty trip to the elected leaders of Europe (on the heels of a fawning stay with Saudi monarchists), Trump immediately continued an offensive against Germany, and the liberal order in general.

This rift between him and Merkel is self-inflicted, but entirely in nature with his character. One, Merkel is a woman who isn’t his hot daughter, so he doesn’t care much for her. Two, she stands up to his arrant bullshit, and is clearly 100 times smarter and more capable than he is. This drives him particularly crazy (see: Elizabeth Warren).

It isn’t just personal, of course. The Trump plan, inasmuch as there is one, has been to undermine the liberal order so that America would be unconstrained. This has long been the goal of the right, and it fits with Trump’s self-image. He (and they) think the US should do whatever they want, and cut deals without concern for anyone else, or how it impacts the world. And he thinks he’s the only one smart enough to do, despite a lifetime of experience that should scream otherwise.

So that’s part of the reason for this rift, and honestly, part of the reason why Trump is going to be pulling out. He hates the Paris Accords because he didn’t negotiate it (never mind that he knows as much about climate policy or science as he does anything else, which is: nothing). He hates that it constrains the US (never mind what it actually does). He hates that it is multilateral. In the latter two, at least, the far-right is there with him.

And, of course, he is a terribly small and petty man who thinks that lashing out like a spoiled baby is a sign of toughness. So he’ll gleefully pull out of the Paris Accord, saying “a very bad and very unfair and also bad, bad deal” at least 100 times. He’ll do it just because people told him it was a bad idea. He’ll do it because he wants to stick it to Merkel.

It’s jaw-dropping how politically and internationally short-sighted this is. The Paris Accords were the product of years of negotiation, bringing aboard major polluters like China and India. Remember, for years we couldn’t act on climate change because China and India wouldn’t. That excuse is gone.

This is a terrifying abdication of global responsibility. This is causing one of the biggest rifts in the post-war world order. And while “world order” might terrify the black helicopter crowd, it is an apt phrase when taken literally. After the civilizational nightmare of WWII, these institutions were painstakingly created to create peace. It didn’t happen overnight, but it became solid enough that the idea of war between the western powers became unthinkable, instead of, as it was within living memory, accepted as an inevitable part of life. That’s enormous.

I’m not saying Trump is going to lead us to war with Germany. But I am saying that the ramifications of deliberately undermining that order are unpredictable, and absolutely none of the possible outcomes are good. At best, it will muddle along with gritted teeth until we replace this bozo.

But of course, this isn’t an argument over Iraw or Bosnia. It isn’t an argument over trade. What Trump is doing will make it increasingly hard for the human race to muddle along.  We’re at a very crucial point in our history. Dig this graph from AP News.

The world without U.S. efforts would have a far more difficult time avoiding a dangerous threshold: keeping the planet from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

The world has already warmed by just over half that amount — with about one-fifth of the past heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions coming from the United States, usually from the burning of coal, oil and gas.

So the efforts are really about preventing another 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) from now.

“Developed nations — particularly the U.S. and Europe — are responsible for the lion’s share of past emissions, with China now playing a major role,” said Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis. “This means Americans have caused a large fraction of the warming.”

Even with the U.S. doing what it promised under the Paris agreement, the world is likely to pass that 2 degree mark, many scientists said.

But the fractions of additional degrees that the U.S. would contribute could mean passing the threshold faster, which could in turn mean “ecosystems being out of whack with the climate, trouble farming current crops and increasing shortages of food and water,” said the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Kevin Trenberth

The best case scenario is more war, more instability, more starvation, and more disease. We’ll have more forced migration, refugee crises, and violence. The worst case is that the coastal cities flood, plants wither away, and human life becomes untenable on the planet in the next few hundred years. That isn’t the most likely scenario, but it is, in fact, a possibility.

This isn’t happening just because of Trump. It’s obviously a global problem, caused largely by capitalism, but with many other factors as well. And right now, the problem isn’t just Trump, but the entire Republican Party, which sees climate change as liberal snowflake nonsense, or a deep conspiracy to erode sovereignty.

It’s part of this madness that sees the earth only as land to be exploited, and sees reckless and selfish greed as a virtue. It’s the entire Republican Party. I don’t know if Jeb would have pulled out of Paris (though Cruz would have), but he would have appointed someone like Scott Pruitt to run the EPA. Maybe not as venal and corrupt, but someone who would have overturned regulations that protect us and the environment (pro tip: as animals, we’re part of the environment, which is something that we don’t really seem to understand). There is a small chance, I guess, that Trump will stay in, but he’ll do so in a way that still breaks every promise.

So that’s where we are. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so terrifying. There’s only one major political party in the world that doesn’t believe in climate science, and that is US Republicans. They don’t believe in it because they are faith-struck and fear-ridden and resentment-driven and paranoia-riven. They have no basis in the real world, and therefore don’t care what happens to the real world.

And they are a minority party in the US. And the US is only 4.4% of the world’s population. So a small, mostly-regional party in a country with a fraction of the world’s population is not only ripping apart the greatest force for peace the world has ever known, but literally setting the human race on a path toward possible wreckage, and even possible extinction.

And the face of that is Donald Trump. The sheer cruelty and stupidity of this, that Donald Trump, this vulgar dummy who in a decent world would never have been more than a cheap used car salesman, is consigning the planet to hell, is enough to send one to gibbering laughter. It’s the echoing laughter of the doomed, gone mad in a ghostship slowly drifting across a deadened sea.

With Emoluments Clause, Trump Places “Brand” Above Constitution

 

Image result for trump hotel washington

“Follow the money.” “It’s literally right there. It isn’t even trying to hide.”

 

The least surprising story of the week is also maybe the most enraging…

In January, Donald Trump’s lawyer said that the Trump Organization would donate any profits earned at Trump hotels from a foreign government to the US Treasury. The move was supposedly an attempt to stay on the right side of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits US government officials from taking gifts or benefiting from foreign governments. Ethics experts noted that the pledge, issued by attorney Sheri Dillon, did not truly address this violation of the Constitution. Trump needed to divest his ownership of the hotels, they contended. And now new documents released by congressional Democrats show that Trump is not taking even his insufficient effort seriously.

How does the Trump Organization determine which foreign funds ought to be donated? Not too assiduously, it appears. The House Oversight Committee several weeks ago asked the Trump Organization for information on this process. In response, the company sent the committee a nine-page pamphlet that instructs staff at its properties on how to handle this matter. The pamphlet indicates that the Trump Organization is not enthusiastic about gathering this information and doesn’t want its guests bothered by any efforts to comply with the Emoluments Clause.

The pamphlet notes that the hotels should not calculate the profit from foreign patronage but rather estimate it. After all, it says, calculating the actual profit would take a lot of effort: “To attempt to individually track and distinctly attribute certain business-related costs as specifically identifiable to a particular customer group is not practical, nor would it even be possible without an inordinate amount of time, resources and specialists.”

When it comes to identifying foreign revenues, the pamphlet tells Trump hotel staff not to try too hard, for that could annoy the customers: “To fully and completely identify all patronage at our Properties by customer type is impractical in the service industry and putting forth a policy that requires all guests to identify themselves would impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand.” So, the pamphlet points out, the Trump Organization will not try to identify customers who do not inform the hotel that they are representing a foreign government.

(All from Mother Jones, which, as always, is on it)

This is, first of all, a textbook case of how Trump has always worked. Make a big show and then nothing coming of it, whether it is the huge birth certificate announcement or a solemn pledge to uphold the Constitution. Because in his oily reptilian brain Trump knows that the announcement gets the headline, but the follow-through never does.

It’s clever, too: “estimating profits” is perfect. They will “donate” a certain amount of hotel profits that they estimate come from foreign sources, which means, as MJ points out, a foreign government could spend millions of dollars at a hotel that is just breaking even, and none of that would be reported. And it goes without saying that “Trump Possibly Donating Only Percentage of Estimated Profits From Hotel Business” isn’t going to be front-page news.

But you don’t even have to get into the weeds of this scheme to see why it is breathtaking and maddening. They are literally saying that following the Constitution would be too hard, and that it wouldn’t be good for their business. To which one could say, well, shithead, you didn’t have to run for President, but that would be belaboring the obvious. He clearly ran for President partly as a way to make more money. He’s exactly the greedy and terrible person he always was. This isn’t a surprise.

This is exactly how corruption works. Not the minutia, or the actual taking of money; we’re all familiar with how greedy people try to enrich themselves. But how systems and countries become corrupted and rotted. This is how it happens.

I’m not being naive here. America has always been a greedy land, a capitalistic engine that destroys everything in its path. Politicians have always taken from the till, when they haven’t been outright controlling the till. But this is something different.

This isn’t just theft. It is a subversion of the Constitution itself, and it is done flagrantly and openly. That they are sort of dancing around it by being cute isn’t an attempt at subtlety; it is making the crassness behind the moneygrab even more blatant. They are saying, openly: what are you going to do about it?

That’s true corruption. It’s exposing the weakness in a system, which assumes decency but is also ruthlessly partisan, for you own advantage. It’s daring anyone to stop you and knowing that they won’t. It both assumes, and promotes, a moral decay.  Because what this says, clearly, is that the institutions, the rules, the very documents to which we pledge allegiance, don’t matter if you are powerful.

We’ve always known that power corrupts, and all that, but in ths history of the American Presidency it has generally been to get more power. People around the President have been greedy and venal, but even Nixon wasn’t bagging cash, for the most part. At least, that wasn’t his sole or even primary goal. It was “just” to crush the Democrats so he could run the world the way he goddamn saw fit.

That’s why this is different. It’s cheap and it is dirty. It’s grubbing and low and vile. This corruption is entirely about money. It reduces the Presidency to a casino, a back-alley game of craps, a bunch of sweaty mooks in a garage office selling phony insurance to widows. Jack Abramoff and and Boss Tweed broke the law to get money. Trump is breaking the Constitution, entirely for money, and no one is stopping him.

Think about it: they literally said that protecting their “brand” was more important than scrupulously following the Constitution. Their brand! I can’t think of a better encapsulation of our idiot moment, one that let a remarkably stupid and inhumanely crass and greedy reality show idiot lie his dumbfuck way to the White House. He won on his “brand”, and his brand is a guy who relentless promotes his brand. It’s looping nonsense, a post-postmodern commerical for commercials.

And no Republican is stopping this. That’s corruption in its truest sense. Putrefaction doesn’t happen because of death; death just allows the bacteria that was always inside to work its rotting ways. Death means you can’t fight off worms any longer. Death is merely the precipitating factor to corporeal corruption.

That was Trump. But we were already on our way. We are a nation obsessed with brands and disinterested in facts. We’re too big and unruly, and have become too partisan. Our system has allowed for the tyranny of the minority (and the seating of Neal Gorsuch is the starkest example of that). Trump corrupted us by being the final death, but we were on our way.