Making Ignorance Great Again

by Paul Krugman, New York Times

Donald Trump just took us out of the Paris climate accord for no good reason. I don’t mean that his decision was wrong. I mean, literally, that he didn’t offer any substantive justification for that decision. Oh, he threw around a few numbers about supposed job losses, but nobody believes that he knows or cares where those numbers came from. It was just what he felt like doing.

And here’s the thing: What just happened on climate isn’t an unusual case — and Trump isn’t especially unusual for a modern Republican. For today’s G.O.P. doesn’t do substance; it doesn’t assemble evidence, or do analysis to formulate or even to justify its policy positions. Facts and hard thinking aren’t wanted, and anyone who tries to bring such things into the discussion is the enemy.

Consider another huge policy area, health care. How was Trumpcare put together? Did the administration and its allies consult with experts, study previous experience with health reform, and try to devise a plan that made sense? Of course not. In fact, House leaders made a point of ramming a bill through before the Congressional Budget Office, or for that matter anyone else, could assess its likely impact.

When the budget office did weigh in, its conclusions were what you might expect: If you make huge cuts in Medicaid and reduce subsidies for private insurance — all so you can cut taxes on the wealthy — a lot of people are going to lose coverage. Is 23 million a good estimate of those losses? Yes — it might be 18 million, or it might be 28 million, but surely it would be in that range.

So how did the administration respond? By trying to shoot the messenger. Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, attacked the C.B.O., declaring that it did a “miserable” job of forecasting the effects of Obamacare. (It got some things wrong, but overall did pretty well.) He also accused the office — headed by a former Bush administration economist chosen by Republicans — of political bias, and smeared its top health expert in particular.

So, Mr. Mulvaney, where’s your assessment of Trumpcare? You had plenty of resources to do your own study before trying to pass a bill. What did you find? (Actually, the White House did do an internal analysis of an earlier version of Trumpcare, which was leaked to Politico. Its predictions were even more dire than those from the C.B.O.)

But Mulvaney and his party don’t study issues, they just decide, and attack the motives of anyone who questions their decisions.

Which brings us back to climate policy.

On climate change, influential conservatives have for years clung to what is basically a crazy conspiracy theory — that the overwhelming scientific consensus that the earth is warming due to greenhouse-gas emissions is a hoax, somehow coordinated by thousands of researchers around the world. And at this point this is effectively the mainstream Republican position.

Do G.O.P. leaders really think this conspiracy theory is true? The answer, surely, is that they don’t care. Truth, as something that exists apart from and in possible opposition to political convenience, is no longer part of their philosophical universe.

The same goes for claims that trying to rein in emissions will do terrible economic damage and destroy millions of jobs. Such claims are, if you think about it, completely inconsistent with everything Republicans supposedly believe about economics.

After all, they insist that the private sector is infinitely flexible and innovative; the magic of the marketplace can solve all problems. But then they claim that these magical markets would roll over and die if we put a modest price on carbon emissions, which is basically what climate policy would do. This doesn’t make any sense — but it’s not supposed to. Republicans want to keep burning coal, and they’ll say whatever helps produce that outcome.

And as health care and climate go, so goes everything else. Can you think of any major policy area where the G.O.P. hasn’t gone post-truth? Take budgeting, where leaders like Paul Ryan have always justified tax cuts for the rich by claiming the ability to conjure up trillions in extra revenue and savings in some unspecified way. The Trump-Mulvaney budget, which not only pulls $2 trillion out of thin air but counts it twice, takes the game to a new level, but it’s not that much of a departure.

But does any of it matter? The president, backed by his party, is talking nonsense, destroying American credibility day by day. But hey, stocks are up, so what’s the problem?

Well, bear in mind that so far Trump hasn’t faced a single crisis not of his own making. As George Orwell noted many years ago in his essay “In Front of Your Nose,” people can indeed talk nonsense for a very long time, without paying an obvious price. But “sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.” Now there’s a happy thought.

Trump’s Incompetence Won’t Save Us

Since last November when the nightmare truly began, I’ve been struck by how many friends and relatives have admitted that when they voted for the Orange Man-Child they were simply “making a statement” that they were tired of “business as usual,” they viewed any current elected official as corrupt, and they wanted to “drain the swamp” and install someone who would do just that, never mind that the person they voted for had no experience whatsoever in government. 

In virtually every area of our lives we seek out the best people to help us solve our problems, even going so far as to pay for membership in organizations like Angie’s List and Consumer Reports to give ourselves every possible advantage in getting the best doctors, the best lawyers, the best carpet installers, the best plumbers. We ask friends about their experiences with dentists, with restaurants, with day care.

Yet when it comes to trusting someone to run the most complex political and economic entity on the planet, the government of the U.S., somehow—inexplicably– experience becomes a liability and rank amateurism a virtue.

The fact that the Popular Vote Loser had rung up seven bankruptcies, had paid out a $25 million fraud settlement, had stiffed countless vendors, been sued twice by the feds for housing discrimination, was provably incompetent in running something as simple as a real estate business, and was unable to secure any loans from any U.S. banks to run his failing enterprises was completely lost on these voters. I had friends in Florida get angry with me and declare loudly that “it’s time for a businessman to run this country,” and they were unconvinced when I reminded them that we had recently tried that with Bush Jr and that turned out well. And had they checked the record on this latest republican offering?

In this excellent piece by Masha Gessen in the NYT, she describes the incompetence and general lack of curiosity and appreciation of complexity that seems to be the hallmark of most latter day authoritarians, not just ours, and the destruction and havoc putting someone like that in office can cause. 

Damn good writing. 

[Masha Gessen is a contributing opinion writer and the author of “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.”]

Can an autocrat be ridiculous? Can a democracy be destroyed by someone who has only the barest idea of what the word “democracy” means? Can pure incompetence plunge the world into a catastrophic war? We don’t like to think so.

We imagine the villains of history as cunning strategists, brilliant masterminds of horror. This happens because we learn about them from history books, which weave narratives that retrospectively imbue events with logic, making them seem predetermined. Historians and their readers bring an unavoidable perception bias to the story: If a historical event caused shocking destruction, then the person behind this event must have been a correspondingly giant monster. Terrifying as it is to contemplate the catastrophes of the 20th century, it would be even more frightening to imagine that humanity had stumbled unthinkingly into its darkest moments.

But a careful reading of contemporary accounts will show that both Hitler and Stalin struck many of their countrymen as men of limited ability, education and imagination — and, indeed, as being incompetent in government and military leadership. Contrary to popular wisdom, they are not political savants, possessed of one extraordinary talent that brings them to power. It is the blunt instrument of reassuring ignorance that propels their rise in a frighteningly complex world.

Modern strongmen are more obviously human. We have witnessed the greed and vanity of Silvio Berlusconi, who ran Italy’s economy into the ground. We recognize the desperate desire of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to be admired or at least feared — usually literally at his country’s expense. Still, physical distance makes villains seem bigger than they are in real life. Many Americans imagine that Mr. Putin is a brilliant strategist, a skilled secret agent turned popular leader.

As someone who has spent years studying Mr. Putin — and as one of a handful of journalists who have had an unscripted conversation with him — I can vouch for the fact that he is a poorly educated, under-informed, incurious man whose ambition is vastly out of proportion to his understanding of the world. To the extent that he has any interest in the business of governing, it is his role — on the world stage or on Russian television — that concerns him. Whether he is attending a summit, piloting a plane or hang-gliding with Siberian cranes, it is the spectacle of power that interests him.

In the past few months, Americans too have grown familiar with the sight of a president who seems to think that politics consists of demonstrating that he is in charge. This similarity is not an accident (nor is it a result of Russian influence). The rejection of the complexity of modern politics — as well as modern business and modern life in general — lies at the core of populism’s appeal. The first American president with no record of political or military service, Donald Trump ran on a platform of denigrating expertise. His message was that anyone with experience in politics was a corrupt insider and, indeed, that a lack of experience was the best qualification.

Since taking office, he has been largely consistent, purging experienced staff from agencies like the State Department and appointing officials who have no relevant experience and often have nothing but disdain for the mission of their agencies. It’s hardly a coincidence that plagiarism has become a regular occurrence among the Trump team — from Melania Trump’s convention speech to the cake at an inaugural ball to an aspiring assistant secretary’s master’s thesis. If the value of political expertise is less than negligible, then the theft of expertise is barely a transgression. (The Putin government is similarly afflicted: A number of cabinet ministers plagiarized material for their dissertations, as did the president himself.)

Mr. Trump has communicated repeatedly his apparent belief that the presidency should be a job of simple decisions and clear gestures. This was why during the campaign he reportedly asked a foreign policy adviser repeatedly why the United States can’t use nuclear weapons “if we have them.” That is why, in the wake of using the “mother of all bombs,” he bragged of giving the military “total authorization” — because why complicate things by restraining the generals? It is also why Mr. Trump announced on Thursday that the United States will pull out of the complex, sprawling, painstakingly negotiated Paris climate accord, which he apparently made no effort to understand but every effort to recast for his public in deceptive, primitive terms.

That is why Mr. Trump fired James Comey, the F.B.I. director. Mr. Comey was annoying, and Mr. Trump, the most powerful man in the world, wanted him to go away. In his subsequent interviews, he displayed a clear lack of comprehension of why the news media and the Washington establishment insisted on creating so many complications in the wake of such a simple act as dismissing an employee. The sequence of events that followed — from the appointment of a special counsel to Mr. Comey’s expected testimony in the Senate — would have been predictable in a conventional, complicated view of the political world. In the Trumpian universe, however, one effective gesture simply makes a problem go away.

Mr. Trump has admitted that being president is harder than he thought. He does not, however, appear to be humbled by this discovery. More likely, he is, in keeping with his understanding of politics, resentful because his opponents — his predecessor, the elites, the establishment — have made things so complicated. If they had not, things would be as he thinks they should be: One man would give orders, and they would be carried out. He would not have to deal with recalcitrant legislators or, worse, meddlesome investigators. One nation, with the biggest bombs in the world, would dominate every other country and would not have to concern itself with the endlessly intricate relationships among and between all those other countries. The United States would run like a business, an old-fashioned top-down company of the sort Mr. Trump used to run, the kind of company managed through the sheer exertion of power.

 Consider some of the latest revelations to have shocked the nation: Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, appears to have asked the Russian government, back in December, to provide the incoming administration with a secret communication channel based in Russian facilities. In the complicated world of American politics, Mr. Kushner’s behavior appears bizarre, dangerous and, most of all, inexplicable. In the Trumpian universe, there is likely to be a simple explanation, such as the incoming president’s desire to boast of a tremendous accomplishment before he took office, and his son-in-law’s being dispatched to negotiate an anti-terrorist alliance by making a few calls — the way Mr. Trump himself negotiated with Carrier, the air-conditioning company, a deal to keep several hundred jobs in the United States. Whatever the objective, pushing aside the accumulated national-security and foreign-relations expertise of the United States government came naturally to the budding Trump administration, which attacks institutions and attempts to render expertise irrelevant every step of the way.

 This is one way an autocracy can come into being. In other words, it is Mr. Trump’s insistence on simplicity that makes him want to rule like an autocrat. Militant incompetence and autocracy are not in opposition: They are two sides of a coin.

The Crack-Up

by Bob Ingram

Dorothy Parker looked down at Scott Fitzgerald in his coffin and offered her eulogy: “The poor son of a bitch.”
Shortly after, in 1945, Edmund Wilson collected Fitzgerald’s final Esquire essays into a book called The Crack-Up. The term has passed into common usage. We all pretty much know what it means, although now the preferred term is “losing it.”
Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s crack-up in all its sadness and tragedy still maintained the man’s inherent grace. He was that rare and now almost vanished person, a gentleman, even in his twisting downward spiral. Jesus, he wrote about his own crack-up, wrote with depth and awareness and humor and irony even as the waters closed over him. Now we call it “a class act.”
Guess who’s eminent crack-up is going to be totally classless, like the sordid life that has proceeded and produced it? Donald Trump will go down ugly and brutal, which is only apropos.
It is already beginning. The kitchen is too small and the heat is too high. “Covfefe” might be for Trump what “Rosebud” was for Charles Foster Kane.
I can’t believe they let him stagger around Europe and the Middle East like “a drunken tourist,” as an aide put it. And Trump doesn ‘t even drink. Maybe he should take it up.
He was “fatigued,” they said, from reading too much on AF One on the way over. TV and Diet Cokes, more like it. Lay’s Potato Chips. Two scoops of ice cream. Extra sauce. The dude is 70 years old and has the life habits of a pimply teenager.
You know how they show those pictures of how the presidents age over time? That’s over years. Trump is barely out of the gate and he’s looking totally raggedy already. Puffy, baggy eyes, skin like a cottonmouth, and he’s getting porky and moving with the grace of an aged anteater.
Our esteemed leader cannot take the pressure that is just beginning. Truly serious pressure from truly serious people. These aren’t caddies on his Scottish golf courses or hat-in-hand general contractors at one of his ticky-tacky building sites.
These are vetted, experienced Beltway veterans who have been around every block and know every alley and back door where frauds like Trump and his gang will look for refuge. There isn’t any. These people have time and resources and they will use them in their own way and the pressure will be unrelenting. These dogs hunt.
Trump will be finally, inescapably treed and he might snarl and tweet and offer up sacrifices, but in the end – one way or another – he will crack up. He Iacks the courage and moral fiber to withstand anything he cannot control. He is a sniveling, inveterate coward — a lowlife punk — and it will be there for all to see and then they will come for him.
And they will find him, like Nixon, wandering the ghostly halls of the mansion he has disgraced with his every breath, the distant dawn offering no reprieve. He will be alone in his crack-up as he has been alone in his life, trusting no one, loving no one, his shell now stripped for all the world to see the emptiness beneath it.
And recoil.

You’ve Been Duped

This article puts to rest the pernicious Republican lie that Obamacare is in a death spiral and the only way to save ourselves is to accept their fix, the godawful Trumpcare replacement that kicks 23 million Americans off health insurance . It’s written by J. Mario Molina, M.D., the former CEO of Molina Healthcare, one of the largest health insurance companies serving Medicaid and Marketplace programs. He has three decades of experience caring for low-income patients.

THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT ISN’T RAISING YOUR PREMIUMS. REPUBLICANS ARE.

by J. Mario Molina

As I watch the debate unfold over repeal of the Affordable Care Act, I keep thinking about the Hans Christian Anderson story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In the story, the emperor’s weavers convince him that they have made him clothes of special cloth, invisible to those too stupid to appreciate their beauty. The emperor parades through town stark naked, and his subjects are too afraid to state the obvious until one little boy blurts out that the emperor has no clothes. The emperor looks down and realizes the boy is right.

You might guess that President Donald Trump is the emperor in my metaphor, but you’d be wrong. The emperor is the American public, who has been duped into believing that the Affordable Care Act is failing, even as Republicans work behind the scenes to destroy it.

And who is the little boy in this story? I am. I am the former CEO of a health insurance company, and I have been warning publicly what will happen if Trump continues to effectively sabotage the Affordable Care Act. Earlier this month, I lost my job.

When Trump ran for president, he promised reforms to ensure there would be health insurance for everyone and that it would be a “lot less expensive” than under President Barack Obama’s health care law. We have yet to see the plan he described during his campaign. Instead, earlier this month, House Republicans passed the American Health Care Act – a bill the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office determined would cause 23 million Americans to lose health insurance coverage.

When confronted with the dire projections about how their bill will make insurance unaffordable for their constituents, most of the representatives who voted for the bill often echo a line that Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and Trump have used repeatedly: that the Affordable Care Act is in a so-called “death spiral” that will inevitably “explode,” so they need to pass a bill, no matter how terrible, before it does. That narrative is patently false. In fact, most of the instability driving up premiums in the marketplace can be directly traced to Republicans’ efforts to undermine the health care law for their own political purposes.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, was among the first to land a blow. In 2014, he proudly led a successful effort to cut funding for the “risk corridors” program. Rubio called the payments made from these funds a “bailout” for insurers, but in fact the program was an integral backstop to help control premiums as insurance companies in the marketplaces adjusted to the new population they were covering. The consequence of that ploy to score political points was that some insurers left the marketplace, and many Americans’ premiums went up.

Since Trump took office in January, these kinds of sneak attacks on the law have accelerated. During the final week of the open enrollment period, when consumers can sign up for a marketplace health care plan or choose a new one, Trump officials within the Department of Health and Human Services decided to cancel advertising and outreach for the HealthCare.gov website. That decision came despite the fact that it is well documented that younger, healthier enrollees tend to sign up at the last minute. It was a transparent effort to damage the stability of the health insurance marketplace and to create the illusion that demand for insurance was decreasing.

Perhaps the most drastic way that the Trump administration is sabotaging American’s health insurance is by refusing to commit to reimbursing health plans for the cost-sharing reduction payments they make to lower out-of-pocket costs for their lowest income members. Insurance companies are currently in the process of determining their rates for the 2018 plan year, and without a guarantee from the administration that they will receive the payments they are owed, they will factor that added cost into their premiums for next year. And you don’t have to take my word for it – the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that insurers would need to raise premiums for silver-level plans by an average of 19 percent to compensate if the administration will not commit to making the cost-sharing reduction payments.

One common thread in all these efforts is that Americans who purchase their health coverage through the individual market are the ones harmed, not insurance companies. The administration and Republicans in Congress want you to believe that insurers raising premiums for their plans or exiting the marketplaces all together are consequences of the design of the Affordable Care Act instead of the direct results of their own actions to sabotage the law. Don’t let them fool you.

If you think Obamacare is failing, I have one simple message for you: Open your eyes and stop being the emperor.

A Republican Strategist Speaks the Sooth

rickwilson.jpg

The day before the Montana Congressional special election, when Republican Greg Gianforte body-slammed a Guardian reporter for having the temerity to ask a question about the Trump health care bill, most republicans shrugged, dismissed it, and even agreed that it was a really good idea. “Montana justice” was invoked, even though Gianforte is from Pennsylvania out of New Jersey. Republican strategist Rick Wilson, however, had a different take. One that I agree with. It’s harsh, but for my money, straight to the point. Thank you sir, maybe it is possible for republicans and democrats to agree on something.

No, the “grownups” won’t save us

May 30, 2017

The thing I’ve noticed during the past twenty years or so of my development into a mature old guy is the startling absence of any kind of institutional or historical memory by the American voting public. This may not be a new thing, as I was reminded last night watching again the still relevant 1976 movie ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, and hearing Jason Robards (as Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post) tell Woodward and Bernstein in the picture’s final speech, ““Y’know the results of the latest Gallop Poll? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a shit.” 

I remember speaking and writing ad nauseam after Bush Jr was appointed President by his dad’s buddies on the Supreme Court that this would not end well, that I had researched just a little of Shrub’s history as a person and politician, read how he had failed to show up in Alabama to serve out his required duty in the National Guard,  saw what serious damage he had done as Governor in Texas, learned how he had helped some friends screw the Curtis-Mathes Company out of the land they ended up using to build the new ball park for the Texas Rangers by buying the judge who condemned the land, and a dozen other giant red flags that told me whatever he had done in Texas he would do ten-fold for the country, simply out of ignorance, lack of curiosity, and inexperience. This was all information readily available to anyone, but all I heard from republican friends and family was “You’re just a Bush hater, Mark—he’s really a good guy.”

Fast forward 16 years. Same strokes, same folks, a different joke in the White House, arriving there under the same cloak of national dimwittedness and determined ignorance from the people who thought that even if the Orange Man-Child might be unqualified, at least the people around him would keep him from doing the damage that he is now inflicting on the world at an appalling rate.

Heather Digby Parton writes to this strangely American phenomenon, where no one seems willing or able to learn from history, and Americans who insist on qualified professionals in every other aspect of their lives from their own personal health care to their family’s financial well-being to who repairs their plumbing nevertheless come to the bizarre conclusion that a completely inexperienced known felon whose whole life is a record of personal unaccountability, financial failure and  generally horrible treatment of nearly everyone he encounters—-THIS is the guy who should be given the keys to the Oval Office and entrusted with the nuclear codes. Because, apparently, the “adults” he appoints will act as some kind of check on his worst instincts.

Yeah, that always works out. So, some history. And a fairly bleak conclusion from Ms. Parton. Worth the read, it’s brief.

 

 

Donald Trump’s supposedly respectable advisers have become enablers to a regime of lies, incompetence and idiocy.

Back in January of 2001, after a protracted post-election legal battle that ended with the Supreme Court seating George W. Bush in a 5-4 partisan decision, the Beltway establishment was giddy that the jejeune Clinton administration was finally out of office and responsible adult leadership was back in town. The late conservative commentator Kate O’Beirne memorably put it this way on the eve of the inaugural:

“There’s a whole lot less Hollywood this weekend than there is Houston, and it’s not a boomer — baby boomer inaugural, despite the fact that George W. qualifies as a baby boomer. The grownups are back in charge.”

Whatever reservations Washington may have had about the incurious George W. Bush, they were soothed by the presence of the old Republican guard represented by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and others who reminded them of a time before Bill Clinton and his boomer buds roared into their “little village” and “wrecked the place.”

The president himself was a man who acted like a frat boy most of the time and could barely string a coherent sentence together. Recall just a few of the memorable quotes from the man who would soon be sitting in the Oval Office as these pundits were excitedly welcoming the adults back to Washington:

“I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family.” — Nashua, N.H., Jan. 27, 2000

“Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?” — Florence, S.C., Jan. 11, 2000

“We’ll let our friends be the peacekeepers and the great country called America will be the pacemakers.” — Houston, Sept. 6, 2000

“Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.” — LaCrosse, Wis., Oct. 18, 2000

It was obvious that our new president’s antenna didn’t pick up all the channels, if you know what I mean. But the pundits didn’t care because it wasn’t important. The grand poobahs of the GOP establishment would make America great again.

We all know what happened: 9/11. Democrats rallied around the president and he shot up to a 90 percent approval rating and stayed between 60 and 70 percent for the better part of the next two years. This was when the grownups led the nation — first into a war in Afghanistan that has really never ended, and then into Iraq, making their longtime fever dream of an occupation come true.

Their agenda had little to do with the challenges of terrorism. These men of the past were fighting the last war — the Gulf War of 1991, which many of them believed had been mistakenly left unfinished. Indeed, even the untried son, Bush junior, openly proclaimed that he was proposing the war as an act of revenge for an earlier assassination attempt on his father, President George H.W. Bush. And many members of the administration had signed on years before to an American imperialist agenda, with an invasion of Iraq serving as the fulcrum for “benevolent global hegemony.”

It turned out that these éminence grises, these respectable men in suits and ties who were going to bring honor and dignity back to the White House, were radicals. And the man they were charged to instruct in the ways of Washington was more than willing to be just as radical as they were.

One would have thought Americans had learned their lesson after having lived through the disaster of the Bush years. But 16 years later the Republican Party served up another unqualified, ill-equipped nominee, and he too became president without winning the most votes. Once again the establishment tried to reassure the public that he would be held in check by the vice president and the respectable appointees: Gen. Jim Mattis at the Pentagon, Gen. John Kelly at Homeland Security and — after the first choice was fired — Gen. H.R. McMaster as national security adviser. Since the military is the only institution left in America that maintains even the slightest respect among the public, this seemed like a good idea. These men had commanded legions, surely they could control the likes of Donald Trump.

That’s not happening. The people who were supposed to help Trump become a responsible leader have instead followed their boss into his morass of lies, corruption and incompetence. As Tom Ricks (who encouraged these people to join the administration for the good of the country) points out in this piece for Politico, they have degraded their reputations without making the slightest improvement in Trump’s performance as a leader.

Defense Secretary Mattis embarrassed himself on “Face the Nation” on Sunday by bizarrely asserting that by appointing him, a big supporter of NATO, the president had endorsed the alliance. This came despite the fact that Trump behaved like an ill-mannered boor at the annual NATO meeting in Brussels and refused to publicly affirm the mutual defense imperative known as Article 5. Mattis claimed that it doesn’t matter what Trump said; we should be content  that he deigned to attend the meeting at all.

The Secretary of Homeland Security, Gen. Kelly, appeared on “Meet the Press” and blithely dismissed reports that President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had asked the Russian ambassador to use secure Russian embassy communications facilities for a covert channel to the Kremlin. Kelly said, “I think any time you can open lines of communication with anyone, whether they’re good friends or not-so-good friends, is a smart thing to do.” His reputation, already strained by his willingness to enact Trump’s draconian immigration agenda, is now no better than that of a partisan hack.

McMaster is the only one of the Trump “grownups” still in uniform. As Ricks points out, that means he is required to tell the truth and shun conduct unbecoming of his position. Ricks suggests that McMaster should feel compelled to resign rather than continue to spin Trump’s obviously inept behavior, believing now that these experienced hands are doing nothing more than enabling a president who will never listen to them.

The lesson in all this is that it is foolish to count on advisers and appointees to make up for what’s lacking in our leaders. These aides can be malevolent or ineffectual but either way, they can’t fix the fundamental problem of an unqualified president. The political establishment needs to stop assuming they can. The person sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office is the one who needs to be a “grownup.” It’s a basic requirement of the job.

“Moral and Intellectual Rot” At the Center of Today’s GOP

I find it more than “interesting” the extent to which conservative writers and commentators in the national media are abandoning the Republican Party and its current leadership. This latest short essay by Jennifer Rubin, a mainstay conservative on many network and cable news shows and a staff writer for the Washington Post, demonstrates the revulsion that many liberals have been expressing for months. And the reasons for it. David Frum said this morning that the way things are going it won’t be long until “we’re discussing whether treason is a good thing or a bad thing.” Listen to Ms. Rubin:

May 28, 2017

President Trump has had more-scandalous weeks. He has had weeks with more bombshell bad-news stories. But no week has matched this one in revealing the moral and intellectual rot at the center of the GOP. Pandemic intellectual dishonesty and celebration of uncivilized conduct now permeate the party and its support in the conservative ecosystem. Consider what we saw and learned this week:

  • Trump in Saudi Arabia disclaims any concern for human rights.
  • Trump bullies NATO allies in public (and physically shoves one leader).
  • Trump’s budget is built on a rickety scaffold of math errors, economic nonsense and fantasyland predictions.
  • Trump’s advisers defend massive cuts to the safety net, coupled with huge giveaways to the rich.
  • The Congressional Budget Office score, which the House did not require before voting on a mammoth health-care bill, confirms that GOP leaders falsely claimed they protected people with preexisting conditions.
  • Trump’s lawyers contemptuously swat away a request for information relating to his receipt of foreign monies, finding that it is too impractical to abide by his own promise and the Constitution.
  • Trump has nothing but praise for thuggish autocrats, including Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
  • Trump continues to pursue a Muslim ban, repeatedly struck down by the courts as bigotry disguised under the cloak of national security.
  • A GOP congressional candidate, conclusive evidence suggests, attacks a reporter and apparently lies about it (he later apologizes for actions he denied less than 24 hours earlier), but party leaders do not repudiate him or demand that he withdraw.
  • Jared Kushner, the beneficiary of egregious nepotism, now is a focus of the FBI’s Russia investigation, bringing a once-in-a-lifetime scandal one step closer to the presidency.
  • Sean Hannity is forced to stop propagating a detestable hoax about a young man’s murder; Fox News after a week withdraws the original false report without much explanation or an apology.

This is the state of the GOP — a refuge for intellectual frauds and bullies, for mean-spirited hypocrites who preach personal responsibility yet excuse the inexcusable.

Conventional wisdom says that Trump executed a hostile takeover of the GOP. What we have seen this week suggests a friendly merger has taken place. Talk radio hosts have been spouting misogyny and anti-immigrant hysteria for years; Trump is their ideal leader, not merely a flawed vehicle for their views. Fox News has been dabbling in conspiracy theories (e.g. birtherism, climate-change denial) for decades; now Republicans practice intellectual nihilism. Nearly every point of criticism raised against the left — softness on foreign aggressors, irresponsible budgeting, identity politics, executive overreach, contempt for the rule of law, infantilizing voters — has become a defining feature of the right.

Anti-Trump Republicans have debated whether the GOP can be “reformed” or must be abandoned. Where would one even begin to reform a party such as this — and who would lead such an effort? (Sorry, but Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska cannot themselves run a national party.) It would take a clean sweep of not merely officeholders but also right-wing media outlets to recover anything approaching the intellectual rigor and moral decency conservatives used to cherish.

The country needs two parties and benefits from the ideas associated with classical liberalism (small “l”) — the rule of law (over the law of the jungle), respect for the dignity of every individual, prosperity-creating free markets (including trade), values-based foreign policy. The Republican Party no longer embodies those ideals; it undermines them in words and in deeds. It now advances ideas and celebrates behavior antithetical to democracy and simple human decency. Center-right Americans, we have become convinced, must look elsewhere for a political home.

Standing Up, Speaking Up

Despite the negative opinions I’ve read and heard about the “disrespectful” student walkout at the Notre Dame commencement, I think this article most clearly represents what actually happened and why. The Notre Dame ethos and mission statement is all about compassion and social justice, two subjects with which VP Pence seems totally unfamiliar with. The peaceful refusal of some Notre Dame graduates to participate  in welcoming a speaker whose career in politics stands in opposition to those ultimately Christian values should be applauded, not denigrated.

PENCE AT NOTRE DAME

At the University of Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony, graduates got up and walked out of Vice President Mike Pence’s speech as he began speaking. A Notre Dame faculty member had this to say about the students’ decision to leave:

“There will surely be negative responses to the Notre Dame graduates who walked out during the commencement speech by Mike Pence today. But you should know they are not snowflakes or sheeple, they are not ignorant or intolerant, they are not entitled or disrespectful. They are committed to the Notre Dame ethos of compassion for the marginalized, and to the university’s mission of fighting for social justice, and they believe that everything Mike Pence represents stands at odds with that, so they choose to make a visible yet peaceful statement opposing him. I proudly stood with a number of my colleagues outside the stadium, to applaud our students for their four years of hard work and their powerful choice of protest in literally standing up for what they believe is right for them, for social justice and civil rights, and for Notre Dame.”

As governor of Indiana, Mike Pence led a vicious crusade against LGBT rights, social welfare programs, Planned Parenthood, immigrants, and abortion access. In March 2015, Pence was catapulted into the national spotlight for signing a bill into law that allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBT Americans under the guise of religious liberty. Indiana faced swift backlash as businesses and events, including the NCAA, pulled out of the state.

A student activist group, We StaND, had organized the walkout, and anticipated as many as 100 students leaving once Pence took to the podium. They released a statement explaining their rationale for the impending walkout, part of which read: “During his time as governor of the state of Indiana and now as a Vice-President, Pence has targeted the civil rights protections of members of [the] LGBT+ community, rejected the Syrian refugee resettlement program, supported an unconstitutional ban of religious minorities, and fought against sanctuary cities. All of these policies have marginalized our vulnerable sisters and brothers for their religion, skin color, or sexual orientation.”

The hashtag #WalkOutND was used to promote the protest on social media. This came on the heels of over 1,700 ND alumni signing a letter expressing their disappointment at Pence being selected as commencement speaker. Bryan Ricketts, the organizer of the walkout, said that what Pence stands for is “a very legitimate thing for people to be scared.” He further explained how his appearance is a direct insult to some graduates. “Some students are undocumented and some parents are driving to see their kid graduate because they can’t get on a plane.”

In the face of such blatant adversity – a man who has single-handedly promoted one of the most anti-LGBT agendas in modern history – it is encouraging to see so many young people stand up for what they “believe is right for them, for social justice and civil rights, and for Notre Dame.” It was right for the United States of America, as well

BY  (Occupy Democrats, May 22, 2017)

 

Good Riddance to A Bad Person

News item: Roger Ailes, founder and CEO of Fox News (until recently losing his job when his habit of sexually harassing his employees finally caught up with him), died. He was 77.

We have observed the necessary moment of silence. Now let us remember ex-Fox News head Roger Ailes for who he truly was: a man who did more damage to American democracy than any other individual in the nation. A man who transformed news into a propaganda effort, a man who transformed conspiracies and paranoia into a new conservative ideology, a man who dedicated the entirety of the apparatus he oversaw to lying to Americans in very specific, calculated ways. He was a bad person. He did great harm, and he died too late to do anyone any good.

Ailes was a monster who was pushed out of the network he founded because dozens of women who had worked for him came forward and reported that he had sexually harassed them. And the legacy he leaves behind is a propaganda machine he created in his own image that has done incalculable damage to the country, slanting facts and information — and sometimes completely inventing them — in service of a vicious, right-wing agenda.

In Fox News, Ailes found a way to exacerbate and monetize the conservative movement’s paranoid opposition to the “liberal media,” turning millions of Americans into devoted followers who were inculcated to trust no other source of information. Mainstream outlets soon internalized his critique, forced by constant accusations of bias to elevate hackish conservative commentators and provide false balance.

Ailes saw political opponents as enemies and created a network that demanded the same behavior of conservative politicians. Fox brought political vitriol to a new level. Chasing the approval of Fox’s hosts and its audience, Republican politicians became ever more partisan and intransigent, making congressional bipartisanship and even collegiality a thing of the past.

Conspiracy theories, bigotry, paranoia, more conspiracy theories, a culture of misogyny run rampant; the Ailes legacy is malevolence, and fear, and contempt. You could not name any American in the modern era who has harmed his nation more. His life will be his legacy, and his life was rotten to the core.

–Hunter, Daily Kos (with contributions from Media Matters For America)