Category Archives: opinion

Suddenly, Steve Bannon is Very Popular — With the Lawyers

Steve Bannon is not likely to remember the year 2018 with great fondness. He has alienated key supporters and is out even at his platform, Breitbart

And there is more. One does not need to be a genius to figure out that Bannon (1) was present or near key events during the Trump campaign that might comprise obstruction of justice, (2) he has a big mouth, and (3) he can be forced to open it.

So Bannon has been subpoenaed by Mueller to testify before a grand jury.  That means he has to appear alone — no legal advisors — and sit there as long as it takes, testifying under oath, and not knowing what the prosecutor knows from other witnesses.  It is one of the more stressful ways to spend a day, or two or three.

Mueller thinks Bannon will offer useful information one way or another in that setting. Well, we will find out soon enough. And what will the physically and mentally healthy, stable genius do in the White House? Hmmm … pardon Bannon? That might be a political reach given how Trump has so publicly roasted Bannon for the things he said in Mr. Wolff’s very popular book. And pardoning Bannon would remove his ability to take the 5th. It would appear that Trump’s options are limited.

There is one more potential scenario Bannon may have put himself or may now put himself in legal jeopardy. If so, he may come to see that his only potential friend at this stage is Bob Mueller. He might do a deal — if he has evidence that Mueller finds useful enough to do such a deal. If so, we are not likely to find out what that evidence is until after Mueller uses it.

Onward!

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A Snooze Party at the White House!

Another day in Trumpistan. The president calls a bipartisan meeting to discuss immigration policy and, of course, nothing comes of the meeting. That is the boring part of the news. We have come to expect that meetings in the White House do not produce policy  break throughs. That is our new normal.

It gets marginally less boring when the president claims that the meeting was brilliant and that his performance was especially important and highly regarded.  Huh? Not because any result was achieved, but because of something else.

Hmmm … and what else would that be? Perhaps it was his trenchant commentary on policy. And of course, here we should note that it was alleged that during the meeting, the president lost it. He allegedly asked why the US would want immigrants from “shithole” countries.

Not surprisingly, the allegations led to questions. One question was, did everyone hear the same thing? A number of Republicans said they could not remember.  Precisely what you would expect to hear from a hungover teenager when you ask “What time did you get home last nigh”?

The sentence “Hard to believe” comes to mind. Fox News Anchor Chris Wallace said this

“I can understand you either saying (these words) were said or they were not said,” Wallace said. “It is pretty shocking language, and to say I do not recall seems implausible. If the President of the United States used the word “blank-hole” talking about countries in the Oval Office, or didn’t say it, I would know.”

For me, this is perhaps a bigger scandal than the language scandal. If you believe the “I don’t remember” crowd, at a top policy meeting, a large number of the participants were completely zonked out. Did they have their headphones on? Were they daydreaming of snorkeling off CanCun? Perhaps wondering what was for dinner?  Or were they just sawing logs? Whatever, it was clear that they were not listening to Donald Trump.

Errr … on the other hand, if I were there, I might be tempted to tune out of that dude’s blah blah too.

Lordy! This is your tax dollars at work!

Just When You Thought Trump Could Not Make Things Worse, He Makes Things Worse

A bit of background. A federal court just forced the Trump administration to renew taking DACA applications.

In case you are wondering, DACA stands for the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”.  And DACA applies to kids who were brought to the US and who have lived nowhere else. It says that if those kids meet rather strict standards, they can apply for citizenship, and in the interim live normal lives.

So what about that court order?

The order (the result of a lawsuit filed by the University of California) directs the Trump administration to make it possible for people who have or have had DACA to apply for renewals again — something that many of them were prevented from doing when the administration announced an end to the program on September 5, 2017, while others missed a narrow window for one final renewal last fall.

Right. Without further ado, here is the President’s comment on this

“DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don’t really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our Military,”

Hmmm … the stable genius has spoken. In fact, if anyone “doesn’t want” DACA that person is Donald Trump. After all, it was Trump who tried to end the programme. And why not continue DACA? Because the kids in question are not from countries like Norway. Screw the kids! Let’s buy more helicopters!

Sounds like a campaign slogan to me!

And BTW, do you really believe that Donald Trump has any clue about the military budget? Do you really think he has identified a desperate need that is not met because his administration has to take DACA applications?  That is a good one!

Walt Whitman and the Path Back to Pragmatism

For many reasons, politics these days is highly emotional. This is a bit odd, given that the deeply emotional splits between ideologies like fascism, communism and capitalism seem a bit vieux chapeaux.  After all, do we see fascist or communist armies on the loose? No. Didn’t capitalism, with all of its warts, simply “win”?

Something other than ideology has been stirred up that creates deep divisions. What is it?  It is a bit superficial to simply claim that this proves that mankind is more of an  emotional than a rational actor. That may be true, but what is driving our emotions? That is a bit muddled.

Walt Whitman had witnessed the horrendous effects of a much worse emotional split — the US civil war. You could argue that the emotions stirred up back then were more muddled than anything we are experiencing now. And the nightmare of it was that there was no way out other than violence. And the emotional split produced incredible and sustained violence. Even after the war ended, it took decades upon decades to regain even a semblance of normalcy in the defeated south. One might argue that we have still not achieved that.

Despite that, Whitman remained an optimist about the American prospects.  Here is Richard Rorty on Whitman

Whitman thought that we Americans have the most poetical nature because we are the first thoroughgoing experiment in national self-creation: the first nation-state with nobody but itself to please — not even God. We are the greatest poem because we put ourselves in the place of God: our essence is our existence, and our existence is in the future. Other nations thought of themselves as hymns to the glory of God. We redefine God as our future selves.

We are free to create ourselves as we wish, while others are confined to pre-fab stories of who they are. The natural question is how does one go about creating one’s self in that sense? The answer is not to find an excuse for arguing that we have already achieved perfection. Instead, it is to embrace the hard work, the less glamorous day by day work ,of self-improvement — and building coalitions that support the improvements that are needed. This is an essentially pragmatic rather than ideological commitment.

For a time, that commitment was made by Republican progressives. They lost their initiative after Teddy Roosevelt. Then, after a time, it shifted over to the Democrats under FDR.  I would argue with Rorty, that the party affiliation mattered less than the commitment to pragmatic improvement. And the pragmatic left in US politics forged a powerful coalition that got lots of stuff done.  It was far from perfect, especially with respect to race, but many things were improved beyond what was thought imaginable at the time.

Rorty argues that things got muddled in the 1960’s, when for various reasons the left moved from pragmatism to cultural war. Should we blame the hypocrisy of public figures? Perhaps. Arrogance? Perhaps. Vietnam? Perhaps. The shift had its justifications, but unexpectedly,  it opened the door to an opposing force on the right – the populist conservative. Populism had reared its head before. And I recall that populist figures like George Wallace were initially thought of as fringe – not important in larger historical terms, But Nixon flirted with it, and with Reagan, and after Reagan, conservative populism became a powerful national force. And one could argue that it became more powerful than the narrative of the left. To call someone a “liberal” was to insult. But notice that neither the populist conservative nor the leftist cultural warrior is a pragmatist.

So now we have Donald Trump, who is a populist in the extreme sense. He thrives on the idea that it is right to awaken distrust in the system – to get rid of  the rascals in the “deep state”. And the left roars when he serially demonstrates insensitivities to matters of race, gender, national origin and indeed to any interests other than those of folks who are loyal to him. We have found our American strong man and he is driving out reasonable discussion from our national debate. Not only that, Trump affects the various electoral contests that are coming up. Perhaps the most interesting battle field that reflects his impact is Arizona. Very complicated!

Rorty would argue that the way back to sanity is not to push more identity politics and cultural war. It is to find a new pragmatic path.  Not just “centrist” politics. But a political narrative that embraces a proud American tradition – The “can do” tradition. More important still —  we need to build a coalition of various interest groups around that idea. Not all will be ideologically pure. And there may be serious disputes inside the “big tent”, but the path back to sanity is to gain renewed respect for the art of coalition building — which means embracing progressive pragmatism.

Do you agree? And if you do, who is the leader of this movement?

My own sense is that a number of high profile liberals (like Oprah) will be tempted to step into the limelight. I am not opposed to that. But I hope that these figures will rally BEHIND a credible politician who builds a stronger pragmatic progressive message. Whether that figure is from a minority group or not, that person needs to exhibit strongly OPTIMISTIC characteristics who CONNECTS with people rather than talks down to them. The pedigree from Harvard or Yale is less important than the winning smile, trust building handshake and inclusive message. Who is that? To be honest, I don’t know.  But that is the type of leader that I am looking for.

Trump Loves Norwegians! Norwegians are Grossed out!

Perhaps Donald Trump wants the Statue of Liberty to be taken down. Let the French take it back! And of course, they should pay for the removal! Hmmm … now that you mention it, the island might be a good place for a Trump Hotel! Or perhaps a hotel and casino! And a venue for professional wrestling!

What is all the fuss?  The statue is ok. But the inscription on this massive work says this

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

You can look all you want to, bu the great Statue does not say, “Send us more Norwegians! And no folks from Shithole Countries”

Clear? Right. Let’s seque to a high level meeting at the White House between Donald Trump and a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders.  Our fearless leader frames a delicate issue this way

“Why do we want people from all these shithole countries here?” the president asked, referencing Haiti and countries in Africa, according to a report from NBC News. “We should have more people from places like Norway.”

An interesting question. No doubt, the president wished to raise the level of dialogue with his colorful use of rhetoric. And you might expect Norwegians to be honored to be singled out as the gold standard for immigrants. Guess again. One tweet from Norway expressed a sentiment that went something like “Why would Norwegians want to move to your shithole country?”

Sometimes, Congressional leaders emerging from White House meetings give press conferences on the White House grounds to summarize what happened inside. I was hoping for commentary on this particular remark from Republican leaders who are so enamored of Mr. Trump’s excellent leadership. Something like “I have never heard such inspiring words before about the impressive qualities of Norwegian immigrants! Thank the Lord that this man is at the pinnacle of power! His deep thinking and strong and open character represent what is best in our land!”

Sadly, I did not find that. I suspect that Congressional Republicans were in a hurry to get back to their very important planning about how to thwart useless investigations of how Russia interfered in our last election. Or perhaps they wish to add to the tax cuts on offer to the super wealthy while further cutting back on health care for the poor ?

Fox News will no doubt report that vibrant high level policy discussions like these reflect well on how America is developing as a young democracy.

Bravely Pulling the Trumps Back from FantasyLand

We have been aware for some time now that Donald Trump has at best a tenuous grasp on reality. Instead, he sees reality as the expression of various stories that he believes are true. Conveniently for him, those stories are all about his personal heroics, the dastardly ways that his opponents have attempted to besmirch his victories, and how these villains will be or should be brought to justice.  Mistakes? Errr … that is something other people do. We see this storyline play out again and again in his public pronouncements. In fact, it is getting so predictable that I daresay it is getting boring.

Less apparent in the news cycle is how his family and accolades facilitate this immersion in fantasy. That became more apparent  the other day, when out of the blue,.  his daughter Ivanka, praised Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Globes Speech and supposedly embraced the “MeToo”.  No doubt, Ivanka was inspired by Oprah’s very good speech. Me too! But oops! Ivanka’s father  is one of the most visible targets of “Metoo!” Has she forgotten about the long line of women shouting “me too” to Trump because he allegedly sexually abused them?

Did she not know? Or did she think that no one would notice?

My own sense is that Ivanka was blindsided by this reality which is outside of the reality she thinks she lives in. She has been trained not to look at news outside of the “blah blah” that sympathetic sources offer, and she had no idea that supporting Oprah’s speech and the “Meetoo” movement would cause problems.

And that is my focus here today. It is tempting to say “Poor you! dear Ivanka!” and ignore this jarring disconnect. But if we do,  we ignore the broader problem with Trumpism and Republicanism at this point in history. The problem is not just that the folks behind these political movements may be mistaken in their policy thinking. It is rather that they do not care if they are mistaken. They are loyal to something other than reality. And for that reason, we should not expect them to see reality until it bites them — and us — in the ass. To be more blunt, they are so intoxicated by power, they can only see what might keep them in power. Everything else is dross.  From this perspective, the number of Republicans in Congress who are choosing to retire rather than run for re-election in 2018 is to be expected. They think the game is over.

Shock! Horror! Well, hold on to your seats. This cynical view of reality is not as new as we might think. Hollywood has been playing fast and loose with historical narratives for decades. And because Hollywood is a major shaper of American cultural standards, we have to accept that Americans are prepared to swallow bullshit narratives that make us feel good, especially if and when the truth hurts.

BTW, I do not  think Americans are alone in the world in this regard. My concern is that we have held ourselves up to a higher standard that we cannot meet.

With this background, consider this short video about the way that a very popular Hollywood movie, Braveheart, completely distorts the historical record in telling the story of a historical figure, William Wallace.

It is enough to make your head spin! Or perhaps Ivanka might offer us an explanation of how these inaccuracies are left without examination in the public record

President Oprah?

The other day, Oprah Winfrey won an award at the Golden Globes ceremony and gave a rousing acceptance speech.

I thought the speech was very fine, and would encourage all to listen to it. The reason that I thought it was fine is that Oprah laid out an alternative narrative to the Trump Republican story. And her narrative is a lot more inspiring and inclusive than the Trump blah blah blah Not only that, Oprah demonstrated that she is capable of stirring people by the way she communicates. That is in contrast to dear old Hillary, who may have meant well, but who was too stiff and formal. to get folks excited.

So should Oprah run for president? There are those who say “yes!”

My view – Oprah has done us a service already by intervening in our national politics in a positive way. I hope that she will continue doing that, and build alliances that are tied to her message and continue getting people roused up. At the same time, it may not be necessary or even advisable that she be the main candidate on the ticket. It might be more important that she is one of the main inspirations on the ticket.

Why do I say that? It is not because she is black and it is not because she is a woman. It is because she has no political experience. If she runs, it will be yet another “leader on a white horse” charging into Washington as a neophyte outsider to put things in order. And that will not strengthen Washington institutions. To  the contrary, it strengthens the Luddite perception that politics is a celebrity game by other means.

What do you think?

Josh Barro makes the argument that Oprah might offer unique skills

Like Donald Trump, Winfrey has built her career on her intuitive sense of what a slice of the public wants. But Winfrey’s slice is wider, which would make it easier for her to produce an ethos of inclusion instead of division.