Category: personal musings

Trump is the Devil


Jelani Cobb had a great post on The New Yorker’s website about Michael Cohen.

What I love about it is this: “The hallmark of a great team leader is an ability to make his teammates play better; Trump has an uncanny ability to bring out the worst in those around him.”

It’s not just uncanny, it’s unarguably true, even if you are a Trump cultist. I mean, if Cohen is such a pathological liar, then why else did Trump keep him around for so long except to lie about him? Frankly, it’s why Trump has restored my faith in religion–because I’m so sure he is the Devil. If this was the Twilight Zone, the camera would pull back to reveal the audience, and we would realize that we are all minor (and some of us major) characters in a morality play. If this was Dallas, James Madison would wake up from a nightmare and realize that he needed to rewrite Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution to better-specify “treason” and “high crimes.”

An impeachment bid will undoubtedly fail in the Senate and probably provoke a fatal political backlash. I can easily imagine Biden winning the nomination by arguing that left wing Democrats have gone too far, effectively handing 2020 to Trump. But how can Congress not impeach him? A day doesn’t go by in which he doesn’t commit three or four impeachable acts. Honestly, I don’t think they have any choice. Which is also why I think he’s the Devil.

The Big Plot Twist

…is that we are all characters in a bad work of fiction. It was a staple of the Twilight Zone and at least one science fiction story I can think of. I read it when I was a kid. The protagonist was this pathetic schmo whose whole life has been one ridiculous pratfall after another. At the end, he finds out that he is the comic relief in a Truman-show like TV production. Somehow he finds the producer, pitches a plot twist in which he becomes the hero, and turns his fortunes around. It was a silly premise but memorable enough that I never forgot it.

It doesn’t seem possible, but this is apparently true. It even features the “I alone can save you, believe me” riff. Could it be that the writers of the story that we are all supernumeraries in are so lazy that they are plagiarizing a ‘50s TV show? Click the video; you’ll be relieved to see that it ends with Trump’s arrest.

Get me out of here!

This is an amazing moment from the G20–Trump abandoning the president of Argentina on stage, saying “Get me out of here.” Yes, he really is a dotard.

People who live on a diet of fiction expect life to follow its arc too–complications building to a climax and a resolution in which things tip one way or the other, to a sad or a happy conclusion. People who live on a diet of history and biography know that the arcs of lives and civilizations all tend to follow roughly the same trajectories–youthful struggles, brief maturities, followed by either an early death or a long decline.

I submit that we’ve been looking at the Trump presidency through the first instead of the second lens. And we need to recognize that we and not Trump are the protagonists of this narrative. Trump is a symptom of our civilizational decline. He is America’s having to get up and pee three and four times in the course of a night, forgetting the names of people we really should know, telling the same story over and over again, and waking up every morning with a back ache.

Mind you, I say that not as a pessimist, but as someone who believes that we can and will do better than we are, even if we’ve damn near killed the planet getting this far. I just don’t expect to live long enough to see a happy ending, never mind have it happen in the next week or month or year.

The Morning After

Trump is a vicious moron, but he has the invaluable property of being a strip of human litmus paper–put someone or something in his ambit and you find out who/what they really are. Jeff Flake: sanctimonious coward. Ted Cruz: spineless opportunist. Lindsey Graham: sycophantic opportunist. John Kelly: authoritarian racist. Crown Prince MBS: Murderous tyrant. Marco Rubio: Ridiculous Little Man. Jeb Bush: Effete Legacy. Or on the other hand, Barack Obama: Great-American-whose- fatal-flaw-was-his-over-estimation-of-his-enemies. James Comey: Flawed-and-bathetic-narcissist-but-a-genuine-patriot-who-is-trying-to-atone.

Dip the whole United States in the Trumpist cup and you realize, like Trump himself might put it, that “We’re not so nice. We kill a lot of people here too.” The voter suppression in Georgia and North Dakota that shocks people today–the only difference now is that it is controversial. Back in the good old days that we all long for, southern blacks only enjoyed the franchise when the federal government put a gun to state authorities’ heads. Native Americans weren’t fully enfranchised until 1924 (the Dawes Act gave some citizenship in 1887, provided they renounced their tribal affiliation) and their votes have been routinely suppressed ever since.

The kind of incendiary racism and know-nothingism that Trump and Fox News have been spouting these last two weeks–that Stacey Abrams, a Yale Law School graduate, minority leader in the state House, voting rights activist, and even a successful romance novelist, for Christ’s sake, is prima facie unqualified for the job she is running for; that hordes of brown-people-with-diseases are being paid by Jews to storm the border–are bedrock beliefs for a good third of the country AND THEY WERE THE CONSENSUS FOR A LOT MORE OF US FOR A LONG TIME BEFORE. “Don’t be a baby,” as Trump might say. “Didn’t you read THE NEW HATE?”

Never-Trump Republicans can belly up to the bar and wax nostalgic among themselves about the glory days when William Buckley purged the crazies from their party (something that never happened) and Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan personified all that was good and generous and prosperity-producing (they didn’t), but Democrats need to be more forward-thinking. Trump exposes the weaknesses of the old-line Democrats even more clearly than Bernie did.

I’m not blaming Hillary and Biden, or the Democrats who lost last night–far from it. In fact, I’m looking to some of them (Gillum, O’Rourke, Abrams) to lead us out of this wilderness. But I want to give Trump his due. By showing us how racist and oligarchic this country still is, by showing us how much more corrupt and rotten its economic systems are, how compromised and racist its criminal justice system, he has set a high bar before us. And after last night, we at least have a little bit of power, a foundation to work from.

Nothing worth doing has ever been easy.

Race killings, would-be assassins, and the largest anti-Semitic massacre in US history

Hate murders in Kentucky and Pittsburgh, and mail bombs to Trump’s adversaries. Ten days till the mid-terms and Trump is determined to make the election about foreign vermin and rootless cosmopolitans. It can happen here. It is happening here. No, Trump isn’t Hitler–he’s a two-bit hustler with a rotting brain. But he is taking us down a path that we would recognize immediately if it was happening somewhere else.

Ridiculously, I have been taking some of this week’s events personally, as in, why did I bother to write all those words about right wing populism for all of the difference they made? And was I too easy on America’s right wing political class? I argued that while they were cynically using age-old hate tropes to energize voters, what they really cared about was keeping the rich rich. Now I’m not so sure. I really do think the Trump core is white supremacist–and by “core” I don’t mean those blue collar guys in diners (though lots of them are too), but Federalist Society-approved judges, Congress-people, TV propagandists, think-tank presidents, political consultants, and an embarrassing number of professional writers.

While Bowers brought home how virulent anti-Semitism still is in some of the cesspits of the US–and how commonplace its vilest tropes are on Fox News and in Trump’s twitterstream–I don’t think it’s healthy or reasonable to make this weekend’s events about “the Jews.” They’re about hate and xenophobia writ large, and they have less-than-nothing to do with Israel’s ghastly politics. Jews should be championing the rights of refugees everywhere, whether they are Central Americans or Palestinians.

At the same time, I’m pretty sure that if Trump switched out his economic policies for Bernie’s tomorrow, most of his followers wouldn’t notice the difference, as long as he kept that same note of contempt in his voice and continued to ridicule and deride the elites, “foreigners,” and people of color. What matters to them is his us-against-them mentality.

I don’t see anyone restoring a sense of comity to this broken country. Countries do heal from civil wars, but one side has to lose first.

Deja Vu All Over Again

I’m so afraid we’re living through October, 2016 again: the favorable but wavering Democratic polls, the hope that our national nightmare will soon be over, the fear that it will never end.

It’s amazing how quickly the Saudis have eclipsed the Kavanaugh hearings in the headlines–and how absolutely catastrophic both stories would have been to a less catastrophic administration. It beggars the mind that the Trump and Kushner tax evasion revelations and the terrifying global warming report barely stayed in the news for more than a day. By election eve, who knows what we’ll be talking about? If Trump and company have their way, the Democrat penchant for lawlessness and violence and the white male apocalypse.

The big lesson that I take from the last two years is that we were never as united or forward-looking a country as forward-looking people liked to think. White high school graduates were united, no doubt, but mostly in their disdain for non-white men and women and progressives of all colors. Victories were won, of course. But Trump has exposed a racist/obscurantist/authoritarian bedrock to the American polity that me and most others of my ilk had convinced ourselves was much more crumbly than it is–and that is certain to outlast Trump and Trumpism.

That whole “we” thing has turned out to be a hallucination.

Bart O’Kavanaugh

Dahlia Lithwick offers a typically incisive take on Brett Kavanaugh’s “championship” of women: “The women who matter to Kavanaugh and Senate Republicans in this process are the high-status women—the lawyers and the girls’ basketball team and Amy Chua’s daughter. Their experience of Kavanaugh is all that should be credited. Other stories about Kavanaugh can be ignored.”

Of course, it’s not just women that Republicans erase–it’s the whole non-white, non-Christian, non-suburban, un-moneyed demographic that exists outside their bubble.

I think there’s a specifically Catholic aspect of the Bart O’Kavanaugh/Mike Judge world view too–the virgin/Madonna thing. And though it’s presumptuous, I really wonder if the real Kavanaugh doesn’t have a massively addictive personality, though I suspect his weakness is gambling now rather than black-out drinking. My interest in this isn’t just partisan–until Trump gets to replace someone else on the court in the next few months or years, Kavanaugh will be the linchpin of the unraveling of what’s left of the New Deal and the Great Society. Unless his liver fails or a loan shark murders him, he’s going to be on the court for a couple of decades at least.