Trump Launches Operation Bannarossa

DJTDonald Trump is surrounded by – and apparently admires and respects – generals. His chief of staff, John Kelly, is a retired four-star Marine general. His Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, is also a retired four-star Marine general. His national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, is an active three-star Army general. And then there’s the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, who is also a four-star Marine general. He could walk out of any door in the Oval Office and would trip over a general. A couple of them – McMaster and Mattis – are known as intellectuals and students of history.

Since Mr. Trump seems to have some sort of soft spot for fascists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis, he should ask any of those generals about Operation Barbarossa and how it worked out for Germany’s Nazis. Today, with the shit-canning of the lumpy, oatmeal-ish, slovenly Steve Bannon, Trump is making the same strategic blunder. Let’s call it Operation Bannarossa.

Now, please don’t think for a second that 1) I’m unhappy about Mr. Bannon’s departure or 2) that I feel sorry for Mr. Trump that he’s made a decision of such epic stupidity that it compares to the decision that ultimately caused the death of millions, caused Germany to lose the war and led to the division of Europe for almost half a century. I am, actually, almost gleeful (more on that below). Instead, I’m writing today because this marks what may well be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.

For those too lazy to click on the link or who are too far removed from their high school history class, Operation Barbarossa was the name for Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941. It was – and remains – the largest military operation in history, involving 4 million men, an 1,800-mile front, 600,000 motor vehicles and 600,000 to 700,000 horses for non-combat operations. It also opened a second front in Germany’s war, one that ultimately sucked dry the German war machine. The horrific and protracted fighting lasted for four years and directly contributed to the ability of the Allies on the western front to reclaim the countries of western Europe that had been conquered earlier in the war.

There’s some debate among students of history whether Germany had to invade the western part of the Soviet Union as a source of manpower and natural resources, but there’s little debate – at least that I can find – that the actual invasion was incredibly stupid. It was based on overly optimistic assessments of German military effectiveness, the weakness of the Soviet military and the strength of its political leadership. It ignored the lessons learned by one of the great tacticians of all time, Napoleon Bonaparte, who invaded Russia in 1812 with an army of 422,000 soldiers and came home in 1813 with 10,000 men marching behind him (see the graphic below).

Figure527

What Trump has done today is pretty much the same thing. By firing Steve, he has opened up a new front in his war with…pretty much everyone. Yesterday, his strategic map looked like this:

Before

In the first seven months of his administration, Mr. Trump managed to go to war with almost everyone who wasn’t in his “base.” Whether deliberately or through ineptitude (my leading theory) he has managed to alienate both those he might have persuaded (Independents, moderate Democrats, the intelligence community) and those he should have been able to hold close like Senate Republicans, his only reliable support has been those loyal supporters on the right who – for a variety of reasons – responded to his populist/nationalist message. There are enough of these people to keep Mr. Trump’s rallies full and to enforce a little discipline on Congressional Republicans who are scared that they might be primaried by unhappy Trump voters.

Today, with the launch of Operation Bannarossa, Mr. Trump’s strategic map looks like this:

After

With this firing, Mr. Trump has opened up another front that will, I believe, cost him a substantial part of his remaining support. He has 1) pissed off and embarrassed Steve Bannon 2) freed him to “let Bannon be Bannon” 3) angered all those who think of Mr. Bannon as their guy inside this White House. High among those are the billionaire Mercer family, which has bankrolled Breitbart and Mr. Bannon and, of course, Breitbart itself. These people believe – with good reason – that they made Donald J. Trump’s unlikely victory and they can, by God, take it away.

Lest you think I’m exaggerating how this move is being perceived by Mr. Bannon’s allies, his former colleagues at Breitbart sent out a one-word Tweet upon hearing the news:

War

DevilAnd, lest you think I’m exaggerating the amount of effort Steve Bannon and his Breitbart colleagues poured into promoting Mr. Trump, I highly recommend the just-published Devil’s Bargain by Joshua Green that details how Bannon was pushing the Trump candidacy long before joining the campaign in August 2016. Consider, for example, Bannon’s efforts in February 2016 to convince then-Senator Jeff Sessions to endorse Trump:

As Joshua Green wrote in “Devil’s Bargain,” Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, was unsure if Trump could secure the Republican nomination, and knew that being the first senator to endorse Trump could further curtail his political future if Trump, the Republican frontrunner at the time, lost.

The day before Sessions endorsed Trump at a Madison, Alabama rally in February 2016, then-Breitbart News chairman Bannon told Sessions that it was “do or die” time and that “this is the moment” to endorse.

“Trump is a great advocate for our ideas,” Sessions told Bannon. “But can he win?”

“100%,” Bannon said. “If he can stick to your message and personify this stuff, there’s not a doubt in my mind.”

Sessions then noted that the GOP already denied him the chairmanship of the Budget Committee, and that “if I do this endorsement and it doesn’t work, it’s the end of my career in the Republican Party.”

“It’s do or die,” Bannon replied. “This is it. This is the moment.”

That moment was just days before what are known as the “SEC” primaries — a series of primary contests concentrated throughout the South. Bannon told Sessions that his endorsement could push Trump over the hump in many of those contests and essentially seal up the Republican nomination.

“Okay, I’m all-in,” Sessions said. “But if he doesn’t win, it’s over for me.”

And, lest you think I’m exaggerating the importance of Breitbart in setting the agenda of American conservatives and in controlling what they read, watch and listen to, I refer you to a recent study by a Harvard/MIT team which reached the following conclusion:

Our own study of over 1.25 million stories published online between April 1, 2015 and Election Day shows that a right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world. This pro-Trump media sphere appears to have not only successfully set the agenda for the conservative media sphere, but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda, in particular coverage of Hillary Clinton.

The research team visualized Breitbart’s impact by looking at how many postings to Facebook come from the various media sources. By far, the largest star in the conservative universe – the one that bends light because of its gravitational field – is Breitbart. Bigger than Fox, bigger than the Daily Caller or any other outlet combined.

Map

And Donald Trump just went to war with them. Good luck with that.

As an aside, if you want an in-depth look at Breitbart, I recommend this week’s New York Times magazine cover story.

Now, some will take issue with the near-glee I feel at the prospect of watching Mr. Trump’s approval ratings go into the 20s (near certain IMHO) and the steady procession of Congressional denouncements (again a near-certainty) and staff and Cabinet resignations (likely but not certain because some will have no place else to go – the spittle-chinned Stephen Miller for example – or are so thoroughly stained – I’m looking at you @kellyannepolls – that there’s no reason to leave). It is unpatriotic to root for our president to fail, they’ll argue, and in general I agree.

But, this isn’t the general case; Donald Trump is the black swan sort of case. After watching the damage he’s done to our country over the last seven months, convinced that he will never, ever, EVER change, I’m convinced that we need him to leave office as soon as possible whether through resignation, impeachment, use of the 25th Amendment or taking him up on his offer to go away for five billion dollars. We cannot survive a full term of this man.

Operation Bannarossa…may it do for Donald Trump what Operation Barbarossa did for the Nazis. Faster.

 

 

A Not-So-Implausible Conspiracy Theory

The June 2016 meeting between the Trumps and the Russians is the subject of ongoing scrutiny by the media, the public and – it appears – the special counsel appointed to look into the question of Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Much more effort will likely be expended in this area, trying to suss out what happened in that 20-30 minute meeting.

Those efforts are important, but here’s reality: The moment the Trumps’ visitors stepped off the elevator on the 25th floor of their tower to sit down with Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, the Trumps became pawns of the Russians. It doesn’t matter what was actually said or done.

By way of explanation, consider who was on the field that day: Starting with the visiting team, we have Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian attorney with close ties to the Russian elite, two people, Rob Goldstone and Irakly Kaveladzeare beholden to the Agalarov family, a former Soviet counter-intelligence officer, Rinat Akhmetshin, and a translator, Anatoli Samochornov.

Playing for the home team, we have the aforementioned Trump, Kushner and Manafort.

Now, if I were the kind of guy who was a former intelligence officer who used to catch and run spies for one of the most vicious (and effective) intelligence agencies in the world, the kind of guy who has been in power for nearly two decades and runs his country like a private bank for himself and his friends, the kind of guy whose political opponents serendipitously end up dead – if, in other words, I was Vladimir Putin – I would view this meeting as a lever. I could – with very little effort I suspect – convince the visitors – all of whom are tied to me, my country or my friends – to tell any story I wanted about what was said, what documents were provided, how the home team reacted.

Absolutely anything.

If I were Vladimir Putin’s kind of guy, I could probably get the visitors to swear that Ms. Veselnitskaya promised the Russians would arrange for the release thousands of Clinton campaign e-mails if Don Jr. promised that his dad would look the other way on Ukraine. Or that the Trump organization would wire $100 million to a Cayman Islands bank in exchange for help. Or that he’d pimp out Melania, Ivanka or Tiffany.

Or anything else. Let your imagination run.

Lest you think this is unrealistic, consider this thought experiment: sooner or later, the visiting team is going to be called to testify before Congress. If all five participants come to the witness table and in shaky, tremulous voices describe a more-or-less consistent version of what happened in that meeting, who can rebut them? After a solid year of lying, dissembling, omitting, misdirections, incomplete answers, amended forms and convenient forgetfulness, can anyone honestly claim that Don Jr., Jared and Paul have MORE credibility than five earnest people who haven’t spent all that time lying in public on a near-daily basis?

What if someone on the visiting team happened to record the meeting? Or at least has a recording that purports to be from the meeting? Before you say no way could something like that be faked, read this article.

Of course, the beauty of a lever like this is that you don’t actually have to use it in order to make it effective. All you have to do is let your opponents know that you have the lever and that you’re prepared to use it. You would also offer them a carrot in the form of a “promise” that the visiting team would continue to be helpful in terms of denying anything untoward happened as long as the Trump administration continued to cooperate.

Now, when could the Russians have let the Trumps know of the existence of such a carrot-and-stick arrangement? Could they have told them…

  • During the undisclosed conversations between Mike Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak?
  • During the undisclosed meetings between Jeff Sessions and Kislyak?
  • During the undisclosed meeting between Jared Kushner and Kislyak?
  • During the undisclosed meeting between Kushner and Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank?
  • During President Trump’s unpublicized meeting in the Oval Office with Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov?
  • During the 2:15 meeting between President Trump and Putin at the G20?
  • During the just-disclosed one-on-one meeting between the two at the G20 dinner?

Those are just a few of the possibilities. Turns out there’s a Wikipedia page dedicated to cataloging the many ways information like this might have flowed to the Trumps.

“The Russians are not our friends,” said Mitch McConnell. Similarly, Vladimir Putin does not admire, respect or want to be friends with Donald Trump. Everything I’ve ever read about the man suggests that people are important to him only to the extent that they’re useful to him. The Trumps, through ineptitude, greed or entitlement, have made themselves extraordinarily useful. As I’m putting the finishing touches on this article, I’m seeing reports that the Trump administration has ended its program to supply arms to anti-Assad rebels in Syria, something long sought by Moscow. As one current official described the decision, “Putin won in Syria.”

See how useful the Trumps can be?

Austin

 

 

Bye Bye Bobby Lee. Can a Stone Wall be Moved?

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After 133 years, a statue of Robert E. Lee came down in New Orleans last week. It made me wonder, again, about the portrait of Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson that’s in our bedroom. I’ve been enormously intrigued by Jackson for years, and researched and wrote an historical novel about him (Cross Over The River; Lives of Stonewall Jackson, available on Amazon.com and iUniverse.com) years ago. Jackson, like Lee, fought valiantly to defend the South and its inhuman institution of slavery. Is he to be admired? Why do I have him hanging on my wall?

Herman Melville wrote a poem about Jackson when Stonewall was accidentally killed by his own troops at the battle of Chancellorsville:

The Man who fiercest charged in fight,
Whose sword and prayer were long –
Stonewall!
Even him who stoutly stood for Wrong,
How can we praise? Yet coming days
Shall not forget him with this song.

Dead is the Man whose Cause is dead,
Vainly he died and set his seal –
Stonewall!
Earnest in error, as we feel;
True to the thing he deemed was due,
True as John Brown or steel.

Relentlessly he routed us;
But we relent, for he is low –
Stonewall!
Justly his fame we outlaw; so
We drop a tear on the bold Virginian’s bier,
Because no wreath we owe.

Stoutly stood for wrong. Earnest in error. Melville called him true as John Brown, who fought against slavery in Kansas and Virginia. Each a zealot, each spilling blood both innocent and guilty in his cause. Can one do something admirable, moving, courageous, in a bad cause?

Of course, “bad cause” and “earnest in error” are tepid bits of language for something as abominable as human slavery. But Jackson fought successfully against desperate odds. His 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, when he defeated five armies with his much smaller force and caused Lincoln to pull back troops from Gen. George McClellan’s attack on Richmond, is still studied at West Point. While the Federal armies were getting everything in order, arranging supplies and getting all horses shod, Jackson would move like lightning with only part of his force only half equipped and sweep down on the Federal flanks and rear. At the height of his greatest victory he was killed by friendly fire. If he had not been shot then, it’s very possible we would be two countries, not one, today. Jackson would likely not have hesitated two months later at Gettysburg, as his replacement did, on the day the Confederates almost swept the Federals from the field. And the war might have ended then with a Union defeat. So he’s clearly a powerful and influential figure in history.

On my first visit to New Orleans I was in a cab swinging around a traffic circle, in the middle of which was a statue on a pedestal so tall I couldn’t make out whom the statue depicted. I asked my cab driver, a black woman, who was up there. “That’s Bobby Lee, baby,” she said, as if I was a hopeless rube. She said it with what I heard as pride. I was probably wrong.

I asked a black friend of mine when she came to my house if the portrait of Jackson bothered her. No, she said — I took her to mean she had more current racial battles to worry about.

When I first heard, years ago, of movements to remove Confederate statues, I thought it was a mistake to try to erase history. The first instance I recall was a push to remove a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate cavalry general, from Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. Forrest was a ferocious, unconventional and successful fighter, like Jackson. After the war he was one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan. I understood that honoring him in public was at best a moral quagmire. But what about “Bobby Lee, baby”? Lee was a man of grace and honor and storied lineage. He married the daughter of George Washington’s stepson. His father was a colonel in the American Revolution and a governor of Virginia. After Appomattox, when many advocated that the remnants of the Confederate armies head for the hills and conduct guerrilla warfare, Lee told Confederate soldiers to lay down their arms, go home, and obey the law.

Should statues of Robert E. Lee be taken down? Or all the statues of Confederate line soldiers in countless courthouse squares across the South? Or Jackson’s statue at his grave in Lexington in the beautiful Shenandoah?

If I were Jewish, what would I think of finding a statue of Herman Goering in a public park?

I believe Donald Trump, with his denial of global warming and his rescinding of Obama’s environmental regulations, will share responsibility for hundreds of millions of deaths in his children’s and grandchildren’s generations as the seas warm and rise and weather worsens and crops and fish die off. I don’t ever want to encounter a statue to this barbarian.

Slavery is just a word to a well-off white guy like me. But in some of the museums in the South I’ve seen artifacts of slavery that are haunting, like an iron collar with six-inch spikes that clamped around a man’s neck and restricted his ability to do almost anything a human being should be able to do. I’ve lately heard two African American historians and writers explain whey they call their ancestors an “enslaved person” rather than a slave. No one is born a slave, they say. Slavery is something another person did to them. And continued, day after day, to do. Rounding up humans in Africa. Packing them in ships like cordwood, a large percentage of them dying on the passage. Beatings. Selling children away from their parents. Endless rape. Denying the right to read. Denying the right to be respected or even seen as human. Murder for sport. Terrible housing. Disease and death. There’s no way for me to imagine what existence was like as a slave. And the hypocrisy of the whites who said slavery was good for this “childlike race” is staggering.

Jackson and Lee fought to keep the right to keep people enslaved. How can that be admirable, no matter how resourceful and inspirational and successful they were against impossible odds?

Lee and Jackson said they fought because their country was invaded. They believed in the right of a state to secede from the Union it had voluntarily joined, and were appalled that other states would march murderous soldiers into theirs to force them to stay in the fold. They both owned slaves and said, correctly, that the Constitution guaranteed them the right to do so. They considered themselves patriots and opposed secession until it happened, then served to defend their native state.

Part of the answer to all this is unfolding in Charleston, South Carolina, the flashpoint of the Civil War. Like Washington, D.C., Charleston will open in 2019 an International African American Museum on the site of a wharf where perhaps 40% of the Africans enslaved and brought to America landed. The city’s mayor for four decades, Joseph Riley, is one of the people most responsible for the museum’s creation. He hopes the museum helps all Americans learn from the unvarnished truth of our country’s original sin by seeing the horrors of slavery and the heroism of those enslaved. Asked about taking down monuments to Confederates, he has said the answer isn’t less history, but more. Keep the old monuments but tell the whole story by adding new ones such as Charleston’s and D.C.’s museums and programs. That sounds like wisdom to me.

Otherwise, how many more statues will come down? In New Orleans, where Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis were just removed for display in some not-yet-determined, more-appropriate less-public place, a statue in Jackson Square of Andrew Jackson rises on rearing horseback. Our seventh president. Who conceived and carried out a policy of Indian removal that uprooted America’s indigenous civilizations and killed tens of thousands on many Trails of Tears. If Lee’s statue can’t stand — can Jackson’s? Must Jefferson be led away from his gorgeous stone gazebo on the Tidal Basin? Must Washington City be renamed?

So why do I have a portrait of Thomas Jackson on my wall? Stonewall wouldn’t have liked me, a reprobate pantheist. I probably wouldn’t have much liked him, a stern Old-Testament Presbyterian and a college teacher who delivered memorized lectures that allowed for no discussion. But as a father and husband he was tender and, flouting local custom, he taught a Sunday school class to black children. And his daring and decisiveness were breathtaking. The South was vastly outnumbered in everything — population, soldiers, ships, resources, railroad iron, manufacturing, guns, food, fuel, foundries. The only force they had stronger than the Union’s was their generals’ audacity. How quickly Jackson took the measure of his opponents, the chances he took, how he used the beautiful geography and topography of the great Valley of Virginia to hide his moving troops, all make him a fascinating man for me. Yet despite why he said he fought, the result of his fighting, if successful, would have been continued slavery. History is complex and unclear.

In Lexington, Virginia, where Lee served after the war as president of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University, there is a stable next to the president’s house. Lee died in 1870 in Lexington of pneumonia after a ride in the rain on his horse, Traveller, who had served Lee faithfully during the war. A year later Traveller died. The doors to Traveller’s stable are always kept slightly ajar, even today. In case the horse comes home.

One day, perhaps, America will come home. I can still hear George McGovern’s acceptance speech in 1972, late late at night, when the quixotic candidate ran against Richard Nixon in an America as divided as it is now, and almost as divided as it had been one hundred years before — “Come home, America,” was McGovern’s plea. Come home, together, despite conflicting views and values.

I’m fine with Robert E. Lee being taken off his pedestal in New Orleans. We don’t have to hold him up, but we can’t make believe he was never an American. We can’t delete Lee, or either Jackson, from history or from the tangled twisted improbable story of America that is still being told. As we all try to find home.

— Bruce Benidt

The Arrogance of Donald Trump

15237I’ll leave it to the elephants to trample the grass around the firing of FBI Director James Comey – except to agree with the obvious point that this clearly wasn’t about the Director’s handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail issue – but I do want to call out one telling detail of yesterday’s drama: Mr. Trump sent his longtime bodyguard – Keith Schiller – to hand carry the letter of dismissal to Director Comey’s office. That wasn’t an accident and reveals the petty cruelty and arrogance of Mr. Trump.

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Schiller, he has been part of the Trump Organization since 1999 when he signed on as a part-time bodyguard. In 2005, he became Trump’s head of security. If you’ve ever watched a Trump rally, you’ve probably seen Mr. Schiller as he’s rarely far from his boss.

Schiller served in the New York Police Department and in the Navy so he has law enforcement experience, but his primary qualification for his job is his unwavering loyalty to Trump. Sending him to “fire” James Comey – someone who has worked for decades in the highest levels of our nation’s law enforcement – is a calculated insult akin to sending a first-year medical student to pull a neurosurgeon out of an operating room.

In plain language, it’s a dick move by a low-class bully who probably fouled the Oval Office by giggling about how clever he was.

This detail changes nothing about how I feel about Mr. Trump and I suspect that it won’t change anyone’s opinion of the man. If, however, someone tells you about the “warm and gracious” Trump that no one sees on camera, remember this counterpoint. This is the real Donald Trump and these are the people he wants around him.

  • Austin

101 Trumpnations

One hundred and one. But who’s counting? The total is too daunting.

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Donald Trump in 100 days hasn’t done as much as we may have feared, and of course he’s done way less than he promised. Lots of commentary about this artificial hundred-day mark, about how Trump’s doing.

What about us? How are we doing?

Still shocked. Still disbelieving. I have friends and family who are watching and reading much less news. Thoreau said that, once you know trains can crash, you don’t need to know every time a train crashes. I’m reading and watching somewhat less. So little of what’s in the headlines and on the air is surprising: Trump guts environmental protections, Trump proposes tax breaks for the rich. We need to know he’s doing this, but I don’t need to punish myself with each detail.

My wife, Lisa, has said for some time that, politically, things have to get worse before they get better. She started saying this when W was “selected” as she says. I hoped eight years of W would be enough to start the “better.” But I guess we need more “worse.” I can’t quite fathom that we have fourteen times as many days of Trump left as we’ve had so far — if he doesn’t quit early, bored and tired of actual work, as I believe he will. At 66 years of age, keeping my head down for four years and hoping things get better doesn’t sound as easy as it might have in 1968, at the beginning of Nixon. Or even at the beginning of Reagan, when I was 30.

Several commentators, including Andrew Sullivan, have said it’s a good thing Hillary Clinton didn’t get elected, if Congress stayed Republican. Congress would have let her accomplish less than Obama, and the right would have gone more crazy, and the Democratic Party would have suffered more in the White House than in the Wilderness, Sullivan says. Maybe there’s a silver lining there.

The hope these writers have is that Trump will screw up enough that there will be a reaction against him in both the midterms and the next presidential election, and we’ll get back to … to what? Republicans and Democrats fractured within their parties, left and right (or right and far right)? Voters who don’t understand or want to understand people who voted for the other side? A country still divided, or splintered, but one with a Democrat in the White House? I guess that’s our hope, faint though it may be.

My hope is that people who voted for Trump will see his con. But they haven’t so far. Ninety-six percent of those who voted for him still support him, some polls say. Those numbers may not yet reflect reaction to his tax plan, which benefits him to the tune of hundreds of millions, and $1.2 billion in estate tax savings, if you believe his boasts about his own wealth. Maybe those numbers will wake up some Trump voters — but are the local media in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, or Anadarko, Texas, showing who benefits and who’s getting screwed in Trump’s plan? Fox News ain’t. What will make Trump voters understand that he ran as a populist and is already governing as a plutocrat?

Trump voters are getting the circus they wanted, but not the bread. Jason Miller, a Trump campaign adviser, told the New York Times today “The 2016 election wasn’t a delicate request to challenge exiting traditions; it was a demand that our next president do things different. And while the professional political class struggles to understand what has happened to their hold on power, supporters of President Trump — the forgotten men and women he referenced in his Inaugural Address — love the change they’re seeing.” So Trump shakes things up and doesn’t follow convention, and I understand how that’s appealing. Too many politicians are to human beings what a postcard is to a real sunset. So Trump is refreshing to people tired of both Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton poll-testing their every breath.

Trouble is, Donald Trump doesn’t give a rat’s ass about “the forgotten men and women he referenced in his Inaugural Address.” Never has. And is busily working, when he’s not golfing, at screwing them over. Will they see it, or will his flimflam bluster keep them entertained enough to not check their wallets?

Time will tell. But with an aging Supreme Court and the oceans rising … do we have 1,359 more days?

Me, I’m just glad baseball season started. Even reruns of West Wing (our fifth time through) aren’t cheering me up as much as an Evan Longoria homer or rope-line toss from deep at third.

How are you all doing?

— Bruce Benidt

 

Minnesota Has Seen This Movie

rotten_tomatoes_8290As I watched the dramatic collapse of Trumpcare today, I was reminded that Minnesotans have seen this Happy Gilmoresque movie before: Before there was “Trump: The President” there was “Ventura: The Governor.”

For those younger than me – approximately all of you – you might not remember that in 1998, sober, sane, proud-of-our-good-government-instincts Minnesota elected a former professional wrestler – surely the forerunners of today’s reality stars – and bit-player actor (“I ain’t got time to bleed.”) as its governor. While this decision looks positively brilliant next to Mr. Trump’s election – Ventura had at least served in the military and had held elective office – it was an electoral exercise in “what-the-fuck” voting as two uninspiring mainstream candidates drove down their turnout and allowed a third party candidate to eke out a narrow victory.

Two things saved Mr. Ventura’s tenure from immediately becoming the smoldering crater that is the Trump Administration after just 64 days. First, and most obviously, is the fact that we elected a buffoon to the Governor’s Office instead of the Oval Office thus limiting the damage that even the most inept office holder can do (though one should never underestimate what a motivated governor can do – I’m looking at you Scott Lets-Gut-Public-Unions Walker and you Rick Let-Them-Drink-Lead Snyder). Second, as MPR notes, Jesse “The Body” Ventura was lucky enough to come into office with a $4 billion tax surplus (which it also notes he turned into a $4.5 billion deficit) and a blessedly quiet period in Minnesota when the most difficult public policy questions consisted of everyone asking, “What should we do with all this extra money?” Even Jesse Ventura – who had the not-very-original-or-smart- but-defensible position of rebating the surplus to taxpayers – could manage not to screw things up too bad in a political environment that marshmallowly.

As an aside, while I was reading the MPR story mentioned above to refresh my memory of what happened – and didn’t – during The Body’s time in office, I was struck by this passage:

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says Ventura’s relationship with key lawmakers was hot and cold.

“There are times he just charmed you tremendously. You know, just very, very charming,” Sviggum said. “And in the next minute, you’ll be shaking your head and saying, ‘you know, I don’t want anything to do with the individual.'”

Gee, who does that remind me of? Wait, wait…it’ll come to me.

Unfortunately, shit got real for Minnesota in the last year or so of Governor Ventura’s term when the money ran out and actually governing and legislating had to be done. Mr. Ventura, after making some nominal efforts to participate in the process, checked out and left it to the legislature to work it out. I seem to recall he spent his time – while in office – being the MC for something called the XFL, junketing to China and Cuba and feuding with the media (the more things change…).

This trip down memory lane is more than just an old fart’s reminiscences; it bears on today’s debacle – and that’s an insult to the other debacles – in terms of what happened today and – more importantly – what’s going to happen next.

Today, Mr. Trump’s efforts at playing the role of President were exposed as the fraud many of us have believed it would be and is. The master negotiator got rolled by two dozen guys in $200 Men’s Wearhouse poly-blend suits. The “closer” discovered he’s a “c” short. The Great Leader turned around and discovered the parade was a bit shorter than he’d promised and that nobody seems terribly worried about crossing him. In short, he got the shit kicked out of him and even if he can’t admit it, looked hopelessly out his depth.

Who knew health care was so complicated? I mean, gee Wally, I guess being a grown up is harder than it looks.

My prediction is that Mr. Trump – who is so thin-skinned he makes Mr. Ventura look positively indifferent to criticism – will do exactly what the governor did back in 2001; he’ll pull back from all this “governing stuff” and leave it to the Congress – and maybe his cabinet members – to deal with. Having suffered a body-blow of a loss, Mr. Trump will retreat to what he likes best – ceremonial photo ops with truckers, bikers, CEOs who announce jobs (real or not), rallies (though I’ll be interested to see how those crowds hold up for a guy who lent his name to a bill supported by 17 percent of voters), Mar-a-Lago and Twitter. The billionaire president is going to be positively cheap when it comes to spending whatever political capital he has left.

We’ll be able to assess the accuracy of my prediction in short order because in just a few weeks Congress will have to vote to increase the debt limit or risk a default by the U.S. government. The adults in the room – reported to be Mnuchin and Cohn when it comes to economics – will start issuing warnings. Speaker Ryan, cindered up to his well-toned biceps from the last 18 days, will be as firm as Jello and mostly ignored. Mitch McConnell will say…something. The Freedom Caucus will announce its unalterable opposition to raising the debt limit (but will back-channel that it can be bought for some draconian price), the Democrats will take the understandable (albeit not very grown up) position that since it’s the Republicans who control both both houses and the White House, it’s their responsibility to lead on the issue.

My guess – based on what I know of Mr. Trump and what the lesson of Jesse Ventura tells me – is  that while the risk of default builds, President Trump will hit the links, meet with Bill Gates (again), Kanye, the border patrol union, seventeen guys in the construction business and a collection of country-and-western stars. He’ll Tweet out stream-of-consciousness thoughts as he watches Fox & Friends and let Congress and his surrogates work it out (though he will never, ever again own their actions). If they’re able to work out a deal, then – and only then – will he show up for work. I suspect he’ll re-create the boardroom set from The Apprentice and make Ryan, McConnell and a player to be named later have to come pitch him to save the country’s credit rating. He’ll do it live. Steve Bannon will get a producer’s credit. The other Steve – the one with the bulging eyes and the spittle – will do the script.

What a profile in courage. What a change agent.  And it’s only two months in. Forty-six more to go.

  • Austin

 

 

What Now? Can We Find Peace Amid Rising Waters, Rising Gorge?

God willing and the creek don’t rise…  I wrote earlier this week about the likely election of Hillary Clinton.

The creek rose. And now so will the seas. And now what do those of us, more than half the country, who think Trump is horrendous do to find some equilibrium? Anger shock and griping isn’t a healthy plan for living.

Donald Trump’s first act as president elect will ensure that his son Baron and Baron’s children will live in a world of horror. You think there are refugee problems now, Mr. Trump? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Wait until your know-nothing policy on global warming has its effects and tens of millions of poor people who don’t look like your voters flee the rising seas. Trump named Myron Ebel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to head his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. The fox has entered the henhouse. “Mr. Ebel has asserted that whatever warming caused by greenhouse gas pollution is modest and could be beneficial,” The New York Times writes today. Bye Bye Paris climate accord. Bye Bye livable earth.

Every day there will be another outrage like this. But these won’t be like Trump’s campaign outrages. Those could have still been addressed by the voters. Too late now. Too many of these new daily outrages will become policy.

Can I stand to be outraged every day? Angry? Depressed? Clinton in her concession speech said we owe the president elect an open mind. I’ll try. I’ll have to or I’ll go crazy. Or I’ll have to go up in the hills and live alone and become a helmet, as Maynard G. Krebs said.

Perhaps this man will grow in the office. He seems not to have fixed convictions, and he’s certainly not an orthodox Republican. So I suspect he’ll sometimes pleasantly surprise us. He may push for government-supported work repairing infrastructure that was the first thing the Republicans blocked President Obama from doing eight years ago. Clips and pictures of him meeting with Obama yesterday showed Trump looking as if he’s realized what deep water he’s in. That, or he was already bored.

I can’t live in anger for four years. People who thought Obama was an abomination and that his policies were ruining the country felt every day for eight years what I’ll feel now for four. Their representatives in Congress did little but bitch and say no. That wasn’t very satisfying or useful. I don’t want to do that.

So I’ll watch and read less news. Try not to wallow in the daily transgressions. Read more books. Write more books. Watch more movies. Talk with Lisa more instead of sitting next to each other watching MSNBC. Bowl. Do something. Actively try to stop some of the worst things Trump and his backers will do. Are already doing. But I can’t be sad or angry every day or the cats will hide under the bed and Lisa will make me live on the screen porch where my black cloud won’t foul the air.

Half the country is crawling out of their cellars these last three days and looking around at what the tornado rearranged. It’s an apt cliche to say we’re in shock. Moving slow. Staring off in the distance. Wishing it weren’t so.

The dark parts of me want to say to Trump voters, “You picked him, you got him, don’t come to us when you realize he’s screwing you.” And the nasty parts of me want to say to Democratic primary voters, “You picked her, a terrible candidate, and look where that got us.” The late great Molly Ivins wrote a book about George W. Bush’s years as governor of Texas to show voters what Bush would be like as president. And he was (sort of) elected anyway and he acted just like Ivins warned he would. She wrote a second book before Bush’s reelection and said in the introduction “If y’all hadda read my first book I wouldn’t have had to write the second one.” If we’d paid attention to Carl Bernstein’s study of Hillary Clinton’s actions and character “A Woman in Charge” we would have put up someone this year who wasn’t so reviled and could have won.

But that didn’t happen. And I have to stop moaning about it all. For my own peace, and so people and small animals don’t flee from me on sight. Pick a few important causes to back and then back away from the daily deluge. Find quiet corners.

We survived eight years of Reagan (the poor didn’t survive very well as income disparity started to skyrocket under this earlier actor who played a president). We survived eight years under Bush (the soldiers and civilians killed and maimed in Bush’s endless wars didn’t survive very well under this earlier front man who didn’t know much). We can probably survive four years of Trump. But the planet and our progeny?

Get thee to a hammock, Bruce. Squeeze a cat pet a dog love the kids. Turn down the temp inside yourself. And send Elizabeth Warren flowers.

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— Bruce Benidt