politics

Why Are Republicans Protecting Trump? A Theory

Right now, Republicans are busy running interference for Trump as former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifies about Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia.  At this point, it’s fairly obvious there was some sort of connection between the Trump campaign and Russia, but the details are still foggy, and trying to discern them will likely lead you down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole.

So instead of trying to postulate about what exactly are the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia (information that will probably be slowly revealed over the following years rather than what someone vomits out in a tweetstorm), I’d like to offer a theory about why Republicans are bothering running interference for Trump in the first place.  After all, he’s not their guy.  He’s not a popular President.  If they threw him under the bus and put in Mike Pence, they could probably enact their agenda with far less drama.

So why protect Trump?  I think there are two reasons.  The first is that Trump still controls the base.  These are the people that have no regrets about voting Trump and haven’t really felt his wrath.  They’re fine with the administration terrorizing immigrants and people of color, and while they wish Trump would tweet less (i.e. be less openly stupid), they want him to stay President…for now.

But Trump is everybody’s fool, which leads us to the second reason.  If the policies enacted under Trump are wildly unpopular, then the GOP can throw him under the bus before the midterms.  Keep in mind that most politicians at the national level don’t have ideology; they simply want to get reelected (this is an issue on the right and the left), and they’ll do anything to be reelected.  So, for example, if the GOP’s poll numbers are bad around spring or summer 2018, then they’ll launch an investigation into Trump.  By that point, the base will be suitably disappointed, and then the GOP can say that Trump was never a true Republican and that the GOP will always look into malfeasance.  They sacrifice Trump to save their skins and buy another two years under a President Pence.

Monday, May 8th, 2017 politics No Comments

There Is No Safety in Stupidity

We’ve passed the 100 day mark in the Trump administration, and while there were fears that we would be plunged into an authoritarian state, it turns out that Trump is too lazy and stupid to make that happen.  He has all the makings of a fascist except the part of actually figuring out how to make things happen.  What’s disturbing is that it seems like our greatest bulwark against Trump’s cruelty is his stupidity.  The man is so profoundly dumb that he can’t make anything happen.  There was the fear that Steve Bannon would act as a Svengali and use Trump as a puppet for his white nationalistic goals, but it turns out that since Bannon was also kind of dumb and his initial plans backfired horribly, his role has been reduced.

Some are hoping that this is our new normal: incompetent kleptocracy.  Simply put, Trump, due to his lack leadership and complete disinterest in policy details, will putter around miserably for four years as he modestly enriches himself and his family by going to Trump properties every weekend.  He may even ram through a massive tax cut that would save him and his wealthy peers (I don’t say “friends” because Trump has no friends), but on the whole, the Republic will persevere and we’ll never make this kind of horrible mistake ever again.

That’s comforting, but it’s unlikely.  Remember that for the first nine months of the George W. Bush presidency, he was seen as a largely comical figure.  He almost choked on a pretzel.  Trey Parker and Matt Stone made a sitcom parody called That’s My Bush! because he was viewed as a lovable dope.  Then 9/11 happened and everything got a lot less funny.

So far, the Trump administration has been embroiled in chaos, and it’s all chaos of their own doing.  To assume that this is the new normal is to assume that no external threat will emerge in the next four years.  And it’s possible we’ll get ridiculously lucky and no major threat will emerge until an adult is in White House.  But that’s a huge risk, and to simply assume that everything is going to be okay just because Trump’s first 100 days have been a (to borrow one of his favorite words) disaster is a mistake.

On the one hand, I don’t think we’re slowly plunging into authoritarianism.  I understand the vigilance and I respect it, but I think Trump’s actions over the first 100 days have shown that he’s not playing 3D chess or even checkers.  He struggles mightily with connect-the-dots.  But if a true crisis emerges, that’s when we’ll be in even greater danger.  I pray that day never comes and we can get to January 20, 2021 with a new, compassionate, and sane President.

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017 politics No Comments

You Can Care About More Than One Thing (And You’re Going to Have To)

So liberal Twitter today got into an internecine spat about Trump’s comments over Mike Pence being politely addressed by the cast at last night’s showing of Hamilton.  Pence was booed by the audience, and then after the show, actor Brandon Dixon addressed the VP-Elect in a serious but respectful manner.  The following morning, Trump, incensed that anyone would chastise a powerful white guy, said the cast was rude and that they should apologize.  It was Trump being Trump, but it was worth noting his hypocrisy, weakness, and inability to let any slight go by unnoticed.

Or was it?  There was then a counter uproar saying that people who cared about the Hamilton incident were being distracted from the Trump University fraud settlement and that Trump is getting richer by having foreign diplomats stay in his Washington, D.C. hotel.  Trump was using social media as a distraction so people wouldn’t call him on settling the Trump U scandal even after he had previously promised he would never settle (Trump lied! It’s true!).

So we have liberals chastising liberals over the proper way to respond to which scandals, and saying that this is Trump’s genius strategy: throw so many problems at people that they can’t focus, and he can get away with everything.  There are just a few problems with this.

1) If “Trump Wins by Being on Twitter” was true, then why did his staff force him off of it in the final weeks of the campaign?  “Aides to Mr. Trump have finally wrested away the Twitter account that he used to colorfully — and often counterproductively — savage his rivals,” wrote the New York Times on November 6th.  The more Trump opens his mouth, the more opportunities people have to attack him, and during the campaign, his aides were smart enough to realize that if he could just shut the fuck up for more than two weeks, the news cycle would consume Hillary Clinton.  (This, by the way, is not the sole reason Clinton lost)

2) Trump may have a lot of issues, but it’s not your place to tell people what they can and can’t care about. People are scared and hurting right now, and trying to police that outrage is sanctimonious and counter-productive.  Let’s go back to the campaign, and assume that if all liberals had just focused on one issue to the neglect of all others, then Trump would have lost.  So what issue should it have been?  His sexist comments?  His racist comments? His lack of political experience? His dealings with Russia?  The Trump University fraud?  Who gets to decide what’s important to everyone?  Do you want to be the one who tells a woman who was sexually assaulted, “Hey, it’s rough, but we’ve got to keep the focus on his ties to Russia.”  Do you want to tell the Muslim man, “I know he wants to criminalize being Muslim, but we can only care about his sexual assault charges.”

Trump does pose a unique problem in that he is a non-stop (to borrow one of his few and favorite words) disaster.  It is difficult to pin him down to any one thing, but that makes it more important for all of us to care about all of it.  And I know that’s exhausting.  I know that in the last 10 days, it’s been nightmarish, and it’s not going to get any easier.  Life is going to be hard, and it’s going to suck for a while, but telling people what they can and can’t care about isn’t a solution.  Every day is going to be a struggle, and there’s no saying, “You are only allowed to care about these things.”  It’s incumbent on all of us to hold Trump and his administration accountable 24/7.  If that means today we rail against him for chastising artists, wiggling out of a fraud trial, filling his cabinet with racists, and profiting off foreign diplomats staying at his hotel, then that’s what the day calls for.  It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be fun, and there is no alternative.

Saturday, November 19th, 2016 criticism, politics No Comments

37 Left

When the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings were announced yesterday in favor of gay marriage, I was overjoyed…for about 20 minutes.  I wasn’t particularly shocked since I deeply doubted that the Supreme Court would pull a Dred Scott and do something horrible.  The tide of history was turning, and perhaps if this ruling had come to the court twenty years ago, it would have been against gay marriage or punted.  But the possibility of this terrible outcome weighed far more heavily on the minds of gays and lesbians.  Whether the Supreme Court ruled for or against gay marriage, my life would stay the same.  Thankfully, the Supreme Court mostly did the right thing and provided a victory to the battle, but not the war.

And that’s why my enthusiasm faded after about 20 minutes.  First, the ruling on Prop 8 was limited to California, and it was limited on the grounds of those who opposed it (the Mormon Church instead of the State) rather than the fundamental inequality of the proposition itself.  That fundamental inequality was addressed in the DOMA ruling, but DOMA can only apply to places that have passed a bill allowing gay marriage—currently 13 states plus the District of Columbia.  There are 37 states left, and they have laws on the books making gay marriage illegal.

My concern is that yesterday’s victory will seem like the conclusion of the fight rather than what it is: a major victory in an ongoing conflict.  I think of my gay friends in Georgia, and if they want to get married, they can’t live here.  The federal benefits now allowed by the DOMA ruling will not affect them until they can be married.  Their fight continues, but it continues in a red state.  And every red state, especially in the South, is far from allowing it.

So how does that fight continue?  Is it now every state for itself?  I don’t know how national coalitions for gay and lesbian rights will proceed, but I’m afraid that there may be a divide and conquer mentality where pro-gay rights groups in deeply red states won’t have the resources to even begin mounting a serious battle against the deeply entrenched forces allied against gay marriage.

It’s important to remember that the fight is far from over, and that a new national strategy is needed because the battle now begins in the individual states.  Thankfully, three more states will be on the side of equality by the end of the summer: Delaware, Minnesota, and Rhode Island.

34 to go.

Friday, June 28th, 2013 culture, politics No Comments

Post-W.

I just finished re-watching George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck.  It was like stepping into a time machine, although not in the way of throwing back to 1953 and Edward R. Murrow’s fight against Joe McCarthy (not to dismiss the excellent historical portrayal of the era).  It was a time machine into the Bush Administration, which is what the movie is really about.  It was about a fiercely-divided America that had been fundamentally ruptured by the attacks of 9/11 and war-hungry response of the Bush Administration.  We were at war not only with “terror”, but with each other.  And our news couldn’t save us.  The news we trusted helped facilitate a march towards war.

I was in college at the time, and being a college student is already far too quick with half-baked ideas.  It’s the last time you can revel in the concept that you know everything (post-academic life quickly lets you know how little you know).  I became a big fan of Michael Moore, because in the 2000s conflict, each side had its heroes.  I look back and shake my head, but Clooney’s film, which I saw in my senior year, persists, while Moore is a joke.

Nevertheless, it was an intense time, and yet oddly simple.  We saw the wedges and knew the problems insofar as the issues.  There was a flood of information, but pro-war, anti-war was easy to understand.  Meanwhile, there was a gathering financial storm that no one cared to notice, and now that we’re still suffering its aftershocks, we still don’t understand it.  We know things are bad, but the reasons are too complicated, and intentionally so.  You instinctively know that it’s bad for someone to fight and die on a lie.  Or perhaps you’re persuaded by the “Fight them over there so we won’t have to fight them here,” argument.  But how many people can explain a credit default swap and why that financial instrument was partially responsible for the downfall of our economic system.  In a run-up to war, we will (hopefully) never again be so quick to accept information because we’re motivated by fear.  But how do you stop a crime you don’t understand?  Obama hasn’t taken any serious steps to punish those responsible for our economic collapse nor has he set up any measures to stop it from happening again.  We still live in dangerous times.  We just can’t clearly articulate it for a variety of reasons.  There are so many distractions, so many opinions, and so many “facts” we glean from the Internet, the box that provides trivia and calls it knowledge.

Bush is gone and the world has tried to forget him (and he’s done his best to help), but I feel like we live in even more dangerous times.  I don’t like thinking that because I know part of that fear is simply me getting older, getting stuck in my ways, looking at the future and fearing what’s to come.  Namely, I fear a world where we’re all disconnected but think we’re closer than ever.  Social networks will provide the illusion of intimacy just like a glance at a webpage or reading a single article will provide the illusion of knowledge rather the truth that we’re swimming in a sea of confirmation bias.

Earlier this week, the Bush Library opened its doors, but it was a small story (as such openings are) mixed in with news about flight delays caused by the sequester, and further developments in the case of the Boston bombers.  The easy joke is to openly wonder if the Library contains a copy of “My Pet Goat”.  I think back to 2005 when ridiculing and despising George W. Bush was a matter of course.  I certainly don’t think Obama would have been elected without Bush.  The extreme change of electing a black president couldn’t have been accomplished without a thoroughly reviled and unpopular previous president (it also didn’t hurt that Clinton ran a shit campaign, and McCain imploded by selecting Palin as his running mate).  But our problems persist, but the political air isn’t thick in the same way.  It’s the air of a stalemate rather than battle.  Washington is broken, it’s broken behind closed doors, and the American people are exhausted from four years of intransigence.

Clooney tried to explore the difficulty of political change in his 2011 film, The Ides of March.  It doesn’t really work since it’s a mixed metaphor where the movie is supposed to be about disillusionment, but because the disillusionment comes from such heightened circumstances (spoiler alert)–the candidate sleeping with a staffer and then the staffer committing suicide–it doesn’t ring true like Good Night, and Good Luck.  It’s because it’s so much tougher to see where we are right now, and that’s the difficulty of the dramatization.

If I sound wistful for the days of Bush’s clear-cut-nation-dividing, I’m not.  I’m absolutely rambling (but it’s for my personal blog, so who cares), but I wonder if I’ll be sitting alone on a Saturday night eight years from now, and looking back at a movie that makes me thinking about the 2010s, and the new kind of dread it inspired.  Will it be about a herald leader not up to the task?  Will it be about a political system that can no longer function because it’s been warped and twisted by time, culture, technology, and money?

Then I have to look at history, shake my head, and laugh a little bit because I feel silly.  I feel that we have to hope because living in hopelessness is no way to live.  Living in fear is no way to live.  Of course, these sentiments are luxuries of a privileged life, and I write them sitting comfortably from my desk chair on my nice computer.

If I don’t stop soon, I’ll ramble on until dawn, so I’ll quickly finish by saying that on November 3, 2004, when Bush had been reelected, the world looked bleak.  It’s almost ten years later, and we’re still here.  Talking about what’s with us will keep me rambling until dawn.

Sunday, April 28th, 2013 politics No Comments

We Could Have Had This Conversation Yesterday

This morning, the country woke up to the tragic news that a gunman had opened fire at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, and killed 12 people.  The number of injured was initially reported at 38, but new reports have put it at 59.  I want to say it’s “shocking”, but it’s not.  It feels inevitable.

But today, social networks are in an uproar about gun control and gun violence.  It’s the roar that comes every 6-12 months because it rarely takes longer than a year for another one of these massacres to occur.  And then the uproar dies down, and we move on to the latest news story.  It’s also a little strange that gun violence only seems to rouse people to action when it’s in a cluster.  Massacres make headlines, but I don’t hear an outcry on Twitter on a daily basis.   There were 12,632 gun-related homicides in 2007.  What makes those gun deaths less notable than those that happened at the Aurora Century 16 theater?

The question we’ve become forced to ask ourselves is not “Why does this happen?” but “Why doesn’t this happen more often?”

There’s no political will to make it stop.  If Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords getting shot in the head doesn’t spur congress to action on tougher gun control laws, then a bunch of Batman fans at a midnight screening isn’t going to register.  Just like a bunch of college kids at Virginia Tech didn’t register.  Just like the birthday party killings in Texas didn’t register (I didn’t even remember the one until The New Yorker mentioned it).  Taking on guns is a political loser because it means wasting a lot of money fighting the NRA, and stronger gun control doesn’t get candidates elected.  Americans don’t like being told what we can’t do and what we can’t have.

This post isn’t a call to ban guns, or a call for stricter gun laws.  This isn’t a call for anything.  It’s just an observation about how we could have had today’s discussion about guns yesterday, and we’ll probably be having this conversation a year from now.  The problem of gun violence in America never dies.

Friday, July 20th, 2012 culture, politics, stupid No Comments
 

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