QUICKSAND

 

The “swamp” has many strata.

The D.C. of old was jammed with bright, young, idealistic kids who worked for not much money but worked together, having fun, expanding their horizons.  Hope lived in prospects for the future and for advancement.   People believed they might make a difference some day to the wealth, power, strength and sensibility of our nation.

These kids grew into their thirties, undeterred by the occasional setback.  There was the world to control, conquer, civilize and improve.   Peace was to be kept at nearly any cost.  Health was to be fostered, and antibodies, vaccinations, food and water were to be the international coin.   Brain power and wisdom began to be accumulated.    Achievements began to seem to be possible.

In their forties and early fifties, this happy band –now accompanied by reasonable and far-reaching results both domestically and internationally – settled into roles for which they would be remembered and revered.   True enough, they were not (most of them) making enormous money, but the satisfaction was great, the sense of having had hands in progress and improvement – in guiding the world to a better place – grew.

We know, because we started there.

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NOT HELPFUL

 

It is disappointing to us to have to admit that despite the integrity and believability of James Comey this week before the Senate, in the end (as far as we know: there was a second, classified debriefing before the same committee later the same day) no puzzles were solved, no “smoking gun” found, no straight- forward instance where the behavior of the president was beyond dispute.

Millions of people watched the hearing on television or other devices.  It is fair, we think, to imagine that at least half the audience was inclined to will Comey’s recitation into something greater than it was.  Conversely, Mr. Trump’s well-known base was pulling in the other direction, hoping against hope that Comey would stumble and reveal himself to be a partisan warrior with a personal agenda.

Expectations did not stop there.  From Mr. Comey himself, as well as from several questioning Senate members, what we think of as unrealistic reliance on the wisdom and insights to come from Robert Mueller as he tries to untangle constricting cords in this governmental Gordian knot may be wishfully misplaced.   Very few mortals have ever carried such a heavy load of encouragement and disbelief simultaneously.

Regardless of what Mr. Mueller turns up and shares with the American people, a conspiracy or lack thereof, the arguments over the president’s behavior are going to continue for years, just as suspicion and doubt “clouded” the report from the blue ribbon panel investigating the assassination of John Kennedy.

The partisan divisions of the past few years throughout the country do not allow for calm reflection.   With a president fostering festering discontent with all things governmental, judicial, Congressional, we do not see a moment to come when citizens are allowed respite from doubt, anger, frustration, and violence.

Worse, the president seems determined to continue in ignorance of common civilities and decencies.  Just as he is equally determined to believe that world history began with his inauguration.   Not for him a few moments each day reading about the past and the lessons it has to teach us all.   And forget about sitting with counsel or his cabinet, or “his” generals, even for fifteen minutes a day to learn about what preceded his reign, and what is likely to follow it.   After all, ignorance got him where he is today.  He is reliant on ignorance, confident in believing that no one in America knows anything more than what he, the King, dictates.

Which, of course, goes a long way to understanding the wreckage Mr. Trump produces when travelling or tweeting.  Not to mention his preference for “rallies” and continued campaign commercials that – as during the campaign – are imprecise, full of unfulfillable promises, personal attacks on opponents or disbelievers.   Hints of good times to come, or – as is his wont – good times from the past to which he purportedly yearns to return – are as precise as his limited experience of the world allows.  The plain fact of the matter is that he doesn’t give a damn about other people’s pain, troubles, poverty.   This allows him free rein to exercise what he envisions as his calling:  “Only I can fix it.”   Not for him the value of a cabinet with experience and knowledge.   In the Executive Branch these days there is only one executive, and the faster we all understand that, the easier it will be for us to accommodate ourselves to his world vision.   Whatever that may be.

The press is not helping.   The take-home from this week’s hearings seems to be that Comey is the first man in world history to announce to one and all that the president of the United States lies.   Yet the press have religiously reported every instance of Trump’s myth-making from his descent on that golden escalator onwards.  Having established that we have a leader who reflexively lies as easily as he breathes, what more can it tell us?  It can, has done, and will continue to breathlessly tell us how he has lied, what he doesn’t know, what he cannot seem to understand.  But little of this is new or even newsworthy.

As for Mr. Trump’s ”party,” it seems content to smile and nod and cluck just bit because all this presidential stuff is so new to Mr. Trump that he hasn’t yet had time to learn the ins and outs of D.C. or even the broader world.  Which would seem to indicate that Republicans too think of him as encapsulated in his own ego and image.   (Once again we see the Donald as practicing daily before his mirror.)

There is a contrast between Mr. Comey and his former boss.   Comey ran the FBI as though the US were still flawless in its depiction of democracy and rule of law.   Mr. Trump is barely conversant with the simple idea – although complex in daily exercise – that the US is a nation of laws and that the country is not a business he can bankrupt as he chooses.   One man has a claim to protecting the nation from all dangers; the other invites intervention by our enemies.

Although we think these differences are clear and obvious, millions disagree.   Which is why continued prospecting by Mr. Mueller, the Senate and the House, may be destined to return bags of pyrites.  The glitter is in the eye of the beholder.  Without an assayer of Biblical standards, this may come in the end to disappoint millions.  Among that number, we cannot count Donald Trump.

INEXPERIENCE, GREED, TREASON

One of the problems we in America have just now is what we don’t know.  Fake news?  Real news?  Experience?  Make-believe?  Altruism?  Pocket-lining?

With nearly half-a-dozen investigations afoot – in Congress, in the office of the Special Counsel, in the Washington Post and The New York Times – wires are being crossed and what’s released to a pubic that cares is increasingly confusing.

Our reactions are not singular.   As each day passes with more and more “Breaking News,” anger grows, impatience, suspicion.

Regardless of whom one voted for, the results can now be seen to be, in our mind, disastrous.  Hiring a hockey rink jammed with ballet dancers – in effect, calling upon friends, neighbors, and family members – none of whom have any skating experience – is more than ridiculous.  It’s incredibly stupid.   Matching these artistic bozos with tasks to perform for the good of the public is tantamount to handing a six month old a bottle of J&B.   Balance is not improved, and knowledge is nowhere garnered.  Occasionally a good prima ballerina can be turned into a wizard on ice, but this happens so rarely we’d hardly recognize her.  It certainly isn’t happening in Washington today.

Today’s Primary Example: Jared Kushner.

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THOSE TEETH!

 

Donald Trump has the most beautiful set of teeth we’ve ever seen.  They may even be his own.  They’re bright, white, even.  We couldn’t take our eyes off them as he spoke Wednesday at the Coast Guard Academy.

While most Americans spend their days – and nights, too – dreaming of doing better, a raise in salary, sending children to college, worrying about their retirement funds, their next job, their FIRST job, the Donald’s dentist is racking in the chips keeping the new president glamorous, welcoming, shining.

The ivories were on wide display before Mr. Trump cried he was the most ill-used new president in the history of the Republic.  Although never an historical scholar, he deserves this distinction.

There’s little point in listing the reasons why Mr. Trump is taking it on the chin from the press and a goodly (bigly?) portion of American voters.   Suffice it to say he has earned it, assuming that being president was a task he could naturally do at the same time he commanded his international real estate empire, such as it is.  How hard could it be?

Although one might think that in his early days he would be discovering an answer to that question, this is man who cannot learn.  Anything, apparently.   Even when presented with unanimous judgments and theories of policy, Mr. Trump still believes only he “can fix it.”   In truth, only he can fix those things he has already fixed, i.e., the tenets of democracy in the United States of America to which he has devoted what spare time (and what a lot of it he must have!) to dismembement.

Life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is not getting easier.  The press refuses to cooperate and insists on keeping a daily score of missteps and misdeeds, gaffs, tantrums, ally-baiting, and Mr. Trump’s unique take on American history.   Happily for him, his base is not eager to rectify error and fact.  Which is how Mr. Trump has lasted this long!

Add to an adoring base a quiescent and weak, trembling, fearful House of Representatives – and, to be fair – much of the Senate as well – and we are pretty well able to draw up a list of  “enablers,” apart from his own family who seem no more interested in the welfare of the US of A than their progenitor.

The big question of the day is an old one:  “Why is this man smiling?”

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BAD GUYS, BAD NEWS

Black hats, white hats; farmers, ranchers; straight-shooters, city-slickers.

Ever since Manifest Destiny allowed thousands of Americans to head west to start their own families,   one half of the American character solidified into templates for behavior: masculinity, femininity, honesty, manners, cooperation, neighborliness.    The other half developed into thieves, charlatans, rustlers, conmen, murderers.

Small settlements grew because their inhabitants cared about one another and saw that the way to growth and success was through unified action and beliefs.   Together settlers fought off men who would cheat, kill, use any means whatever to forward their own dreams of expansion and wealth.

With the development of the motion picture, this all-for-one, white hats against the black, good guys against the bad gelled into not only a common literature of the West and of America, but into the very bones of parents who then passed on to their offspring rules of judgment, kindness, ecclesiastical bent, and a certainty that there was a Good God protecting them if only they continued to deserve His attention.

That, as people like to say, was then. This is now.

We’ve spent this entire week transfixed by shady dealing, by men who without guilt use any assistance from any friend or collaborator to forward their own goals, and then have no compunction about leaving these beknighted souls hung upon the side of the road as they continue on their triumphal march to wealth, power, and influence.

There was, as you may remember, a lot of talk sixteen months ago about New York values, about American values – which may in the end not be the same thing.  Certainly as of today they seem separated by habit, custom, usage, greed, and self-regard, and by lying with every breath, without thought of consequence or even purpose.

Giving Mr. Trump time to be himself seems to have been a mistake. As he morphed into the President of the United States, his semi-reasonable exterior fell away and we are left with a President who hates, who punishes, who fears.   His legions of followers are only now beginning to understand that they, too, will be left on the side of the road, either on crosses or without food, water, and shelter, as the Donald blithely learns nothing but can’t keep his mouth shut.   Worse, people who helped him achieve his current status are left without self-respect, the respect of their peers and their families.   Our Allies watch from distances well-maintained, waiting to see which way the ball will roll next, convinced that Mr. Trump would sacrifice them for the slightest advantage to Trump Enterprises.

The truly American hope that even someone like Trump can find talented, intelligent, experienced men and women to help him govern has been blown to hell.   Without being overly personal, let us point out just a few of the folk on whom he depends:  Mike Huckabee’s daughter, Sean Spicer, his two half-wit sons, reconstructed racists, his daughter’s mysterious man-of-all-trades, Mike Flynn, Sr., detached wealthy would-be’s, some very reliable military folk (thank God), some very unreliable and totally isolated  “counsels.”   Not for Trump to be surrounded by people more effective, smarter, more highly regarded than he.

Great wealth does not always come with inspiration and know-how, i.e., Trump’s cabinet.

Our concerns are not put to rest by “the greatest deliberative body on the face of the earth.”   Despite a success over levels of methane this past week in the Senate (the first and only instance in Congress of actual achievement), Republicans are not foolhardy enough to try to ditch their leader.  And Democrats are moving very cautiously, only daring to criticize in the most civilized tones designed to soothe the savage Trumpies throughout the country and yet somehow signal to their own rank and file just a little bit of gumption.

“Fish rots from the head.”

This adage is heard more and more frequently.

It seems to be true.   When the Donald reflexively lies about matters great and small, his lieutenants do the same, in the same terms and with the same purpose.

To his fans, Trump rode into town wearing a white hat.   Within hours it was replaced by a black one, which has stayed steadily perched ever since.

No tax returns, no recitation of business contacts and contracts; vetting of his staff has gone by the board because Donald hasn’t the patience for it.   He also thinks the government is overpopulated and may indeed have no plans to bring the personnel quotient of the judiciary and regulatory apparatus up to snuff.  His son-in- law has yet to address anything to do with veterans.   He’s got a quick trigger finger.   He’s self-absorbed and rude to visitors from other lands.    And as time progresses, there is less and less doubt that he has made a goodly portion of his fortune cooperating with and paying court to the Russians.

Trump is the city-slicker Americans of all incomes have come to deride and reject.  He’s smart, God knows, but he isn’t honest.

It’s time to remind the nation that Mr. Nixon’s impeachment and removal from office was in fact done in an orderly, thoughtful way, and that the country survived.   Alas, where Gerald Ford was the perfect antidote – and a true White Hat – Mike Pence is not.  But since we’ve already thrown our collective hopes into the ring, we may very well have to gear up for an encore.

MONTHS OF GNASHING TEETH

 

This is not a column we want to write, but we feel compelled.  We could be wrong – we hope so. But if we’re not, we want people to be prepared in advance.  (N.B., we’re waiting for the new disaster of the day to be sorted out, at least by the press.)

The long and short of it?   The possibility of passing the House AHAC seems unlikely.  But it was kicked upstairs to the Senate by members who just wanted to get it off their desks.   Not because they believed in the bill’s goodness.  They voted against 83 per cent of the nation that loathed its contents (that data reflects people who had no opinion when asked, people who don’t vote, people who refuse any longer to be involved with politics, period.)   They showed us all once again that the word “representative” is now an oxymoron.  The House does not give a damn about what its members’ constituents see as legislation that will help anyone, but the rich.   You knew that.

Even though the House as now constituted is full of bright, fresh faces we’d like to think really care about the health of the country, the facts teach us otherwise.   The old House preferences for big business, big money, campaign contributions, and willful ignorance prevails. This is modern Republicanism, with –as a cherry on the top” – “winning one for the team.”

It doesn’t seem necessary to remind people that the “Team” couldn’t give a damn about anything but appearing victorious.

So now on to the Senate.  Many people in the country feel relieved.  They shouldn’t.

Thirteen Senators have been named by Mr. McConnell to a committee dedicated to writing a new AHAC of its own.   They tell us they may start from scratch, ignoring what the House has presented to them in favor of their own Republican beliefs about healthcare, about women’s healthcare in particular, and the healthcare of the nation’s insurers.

What they, and we in theory, are concerned most about are premiums, pre-existing conditions, “access” to a health care system even our Dear Leader admits (as he did to the Australian Prime Minister) last week is a poor second to what Australia offers its citizens.

Once again, as in the case of abortion rights, decisions will be made entirely by men.   “Input” from women may be allowed but certainly not highlighted.

In all but a very few cases the members of McConnell’s squad is comprised of Republicans who grew up the old-fashioned way.  They early on learned to knuckle down to Uncle Mitch who does, after all, know where the bodies are buried and is not afraid to exhume them.  From McConnell’s p.o.v. he has also built in a scape-goat (and probably a deserved one): Ted Cruz, already well-known for sabotage and meanness.   Ted could, if needed, save Mitch’s ass.  And his job.

The Senators swear they will not neither rush the bill through as did their House counterparts, nor ignore the suggestions of member across the aisle.  We’ll see.   What they haven’t addressed is the huge outpouring of criticism from the public health field, professional organizations and insurers (yes, insurers) alike.

But it seems to us that whether the Senate starts from scratch or uses the House template from which to work, the end result is going to be nearly identical to what already exists as Paul Ryan’s anti-intellectual decision.   Once more the Speaker has forgotten his own biography about relying on the compassion and generosity of the Federal Government to get him into and out of college.

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MIRROR, MIRROR – II

Once one begins to picture Donald Trump imagining himself in front of television and/or other news cameras, practicing his posture, his gestures, his tone of voice, the width of his eyes…you can go a little crazy.

Having worried that our Dear Leader is practicing for hours and hours in his full-length mirrors, one begins to sense the number of other hours he spends leaning into a mirror set at table height, one he can get really close to, and practicing his facial expressions as well.

Just examine any photograph released by the White House showing our Dear Leader looking (a) presidential, (b) concerned, (c) caring, (d) stern, (e) determined, (f) bellicose, (g) sympathetic, and (h) triumphant.  (i) Disapproving.  (j) Bored.  (k) Innocent.

These poses are not inter-changeable.   As he leans forward to speak to a reporter’s microphone, his inner guidelines tell him which face to show.

Most people don’t have this kind of self-control. But then again most people have real feelings that can’t help being displayed in an interview or an outing or at a rally.

We may lack Dear Leader’s self-control, but we have something he doesn’t seem to have.  Bottom lines.  Convictions.   Principles.

It’s not so much that Mr. Trump wants to keep his enemies off-balance or lose the element of surprise at his decisions and pronouncements.   Our Dear Leader himself doesn’t for an instant know what he’s going to say or suggest.   Without this kind of foresight, it’s no wonder that his every utterance nearly causes the world to become unglued.  If he doesn’t know, how can we (they)?  If our Dear Leader had been paying attention, instead of mentally practicing his facial responses in advance of speaking, he might have a better chance at reacting in an adult fashion, one on which we could eventually depend.

This posing, we are told, comes from his numbers of years on NBC.  This idea by itself should cause viewers to immediately underwrite PBS.

Continue reading “MIRROR, MIRROR – II”