Every week brings an avalanche of horrific things from this White House, far more than one would see in an entire four-year term of an ordinary administration, contributing to the sense that time is being bent out of its normal Newtonian or even Einsteinian shape.
This week wasn’t even especially extreme in that regard; I would rate it a 6.5 out of 10. But it’s still worth examining a handful of extraordinary things our insane clown president did or said in the past seven days, in no particular order:
- Undercutting His Own Secretary of State
- Race-Baiting the NFL
- Proposing a Christmas Present for the 1%
- Attacking the Mayor of San Juan
- Pretending to Care About Gun Violence
- Lecturing Puerto Ricans on “A Real Catastrophe” (and Praising Himself)
- Keeping Bob Mueller Working Overtime
- UNDERCUTTING HIS OWN SECRETARY OF STATE
This seven day period was bad, but actually came off one that was even worse for our Dear Leader, including the “Little Rocket Man” tweet; pointlessly disinviting Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors to the White House after Curry said he wasn’t coming anyway; the third humiliating implosion of an attempt to replace Obamacare with Trumpcare; claims about an Iranian missile test that wasn’t; and last but not least, six top presidential aides (including Kushner, Ivanka, Priebus, Bannon, Gary Cohn, and Stephen Miller) exposed for using personal email accounts for official government business, accounts in some cases set up AFTER the election. (Lock them up.)
But it wasn’t all bad news. On Saturday September 30 Rex Tillerson made the welcome remark that the US was in direct talks with Pyongyang over the North Korean nuclear crisis—the first good news I’d yet heard on that front. So naturally Trump undermined his own Secretary of State the very next morning by tweeting that Rex was “wasting his time,” implying that military action by the US was a foregone conclusion. I suspect that the Right’s take was that this was a “good cop bad cop” routine, but it felt more like an ignorant, unhinged child humiliating his handlers and recklessly risking nuclear war just because someone told him he shouldn’t. It remains hard to imagine any previous POTUS behaving so petulantly, let alone with stakes that high.
Apparently Rex didn’t take it too well, as stories emerged by Wednesday that Tillerson had openly called the President a “moron” this past summer and more than once threatened to resign, including over this latest humiliation, only to be talked down by Pence and Kelly and counseled on how best to work “within Trump’s policy framework.” No word on whether Rex was stunned to learn that there was one.
Now that this story is out in the public, how long will the notoriously thin-skinned Donald Trump be able to countenance the presence of an openly insubordinate Cabinet member? On cue, no sooner did those stories appear than Tillerson went on TV to deny them, Khmer Rouge self-criticism-style, which was the ultimate indicator that they are true.
Look for him to be gone by Halloween.
- RACE-BAITING THE NFL
After once again sending millions of sphincters puckering over North Korea, Trump presumably settled in for some pro football that same Sunday, as he continued his racially-based attack on NFL players who dared exercise their First Amendment rights—a campaign he began the week before in (whaddaya know) Alabama.
Trump had traveled to that very friendly turf to hold a campaign rally—ostensibly for Sen. Luther Strange (not a Marvel Comics supervillain) but really for himself. (After all, it’s just 1123 short days till Election Day 2020.) Embarrassingly for Trump, his chosen candidate would later go down to defeat in the primary at the hands of a Republican politician even more gutwrenchingly awful than Trump himself—if that’s possible—former Judge Roy (the Alabama Ayatollah) Moore. That’s a topic worthy of its own blog post, but that wasn’t the most memorable part of the affair.
In front of an adoring crowd of rabid Southerners, Trump took aim at one of the easiest targets imaginable for someone trying to pander to his particular base: wealthy African-American professional athletes. As the crimson-necked crowd cheered, Trump cloaked himself in the flag as he attacked the patriotism of NFL players who had the temerity to protest the appalling number of African-American citizens murdered in cold blood by police officers. He sneered: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!”
Much has already been written about this brouhaha as Trump rode it into the week in question, but allow me a personal note.
As both a veteran myself and someone who grew up in a military family, I am left cold by the unearned sanctimony of Trump and the others on this point. It ought to go without saying, but perhaps a remedial civics lesson is in order. The men and women who serve our country in uniform do so to DEFEND Constitutional rights like free expression, not to compel some forced display of loyalty. That is the province of police states, which some seem determined that we emulate. Kneeling in protest during the anthem no more disrespects those who served than—say—learning French disrespects your high school English teacher. If the US is indeed exceptional it is precisely because of things like peaceful dissent, and the people insisting otherwise mostly have no idea what they’re talking about. I resent them usurping my service and that of other American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines for their irrational, jingoistic, and truly un-American agenda. And contrary to popular misconception, I’d wager a large segment of professional soldiers agree.
Patriotism is not only the last refuge of a scoundrel but often an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles, and Trump’s shameless pandering betrays his moral bankruptcy. He never served his country in any way, or indeed anything other than himself; to hear him pontificate about patriotism and disrespecting the flag is the height of hypocrisy. The ways in which he personally disgraces our country are legion, from spewing racism and hate (as he did in that very speech), to denigrating a free press, to obstructing justice, to colluding with a foreign power. A man who pre-emptively pardons Joe Arpaio even before he is sentenced and calls him “a great American patriot” while labeling Colin Kaepernick a “son-of-a-bitch” is a man beneath contempt.
Colin Kaepernick, by the way, is currently unemployed precisely because his politics have made him radioactive to NFL owners, even though he remains undeniably better than many active QBs in the league (per Richard Sherman, who ought to know). His own former team—currently 0-4—has the hapless Brian Hoyer, discarded by the Cleveland Browns (!), starting at quarterback. What does that say?
Some have argued that picking a fight with black NFL players was a savvy move for Trump precisely because his base loved it so. Maybe, although I’m not sure I give our toddler-in-chief that much credit for strategic forethought. He seems to operate more on a knee-jerk basis like the deranged child he is, with a keen instinct for what will most please any given crowd in the moment, other considerations and consequences be damned.
Still, it may be true that his appalling behavior does delight his base (and the more appalling the better). The question is: how long will the United States allow itself to be held hostage by this minority of mouth-breathing neo-fascists and the fatuous bully they worship? It’s a question that only the GOP can answer.
Speaking of which….
- PROPOSING A CHRISTMAS PRESENT FOR THE 1%
Captain Renault, call your office:
On September 27 the GOP rolled out its long-awaited tax cut, the crown jewel in its whole agenda, which—brace yourself!—turned out to be a shameless early Christmas present to the 1%. (There: I said “Christmas.” Get off my back, Fox News.)
I am shocked, shocked!
Technically Trump did not take the lead on this—it was the doing of his despicable allies- cum-enablers Ryan and McConnell—but he had certainly campaigned on it and now endorsed it with his trademark gauzy promises (commonly known in the vernacular as “lies”), promises that were short on details and long on magic beans. Among his whoppers was his continued insistence that he and his family would not benefit from the new plan. (“Believe me.”)
Meanwhile, those bothersome experts who analyzed the plan—thin and vague as it was—concluded that it would actually result in higher taxes for some in the middle class, while the Family Trump stood to save approximately $1 billion from the repeal of the estate tax alone. Wow: that is a record-breaking piece of perfidy even by Trumpian standards, one that ought to test the credulousness of even the most ardent drinker of Trump brand Kool-Aid.™
We will delve into this tax cut in more detail in an upcoming post. To be continued.
- ATTACKING THE MAYOR OF SAN JUAN
Trump’s psychology promises to be a cottage industry for psychiatric experts long after he is dead and gone and rotting in hell, but this much is already clear: somewhere in his childhood he failed to learn that it is not always wise or advisable to viciously counterattack every single person who ever says anything even remotely negative about you.
Such was the case with the Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulín Cruz, who had the gall to say publicly that the people of Puerto Rico were in a life-or-death crisis and desperately needed assistance. (Making matters worse: she had the bad judgment to be a woman and Latina.)
The President of the United States responded by attacking her on Twitter even as she was struggling to address this epic humanitarian crisis. Much like the North Korean tweet, it’s impossible to imagine any previous American president laying into the mayor of an American city during a crisis of this sort. Then again, it seemed clear that Trump either was not aware that Puerto Rico was part of America, or did not consider it to be. (Not really—I mean, come on.)
Perhaps he was taking his cue from Sondheim’s lyrics for “America,” from “West Side Story,” which also seems geographically challenged about PR’s status, but has the excuse of having been written in 1961:
Puerto Rico, my heart’s devotion
Let it slip back in the ocean
Always the hurricanes blowing
Always the population growing
And the money owing
Trump also issued a barely veiled racial dig by claiming that the leaders of Puerto Rico “want everything to be done for them.” He did this while playing golf at his posh country club in New Jersey.
No further comment necessary.
- PRETENDING TO CARE ABOUT GUN VIOLENCE
Trump was still dealing with the blowback from the Puerto Rico debacle when, on Monday October 2, the US suffered the worst mass murder by gunfire in its history, which is saying something.
There is far more to say about the horrific Las Vegas massacre and the issue of gun control than can be adequately addressed here, including the sinister fifty year transformation of the NRA from a sportsman’s group to an insane homicidal lobby for the Republican Party; in conjunction with that, the GOP’s criminally cynical embrace of guns as a wedge issue; how the rise of gun fanaticism in the US was accelerated by white panic at the emergence of the Black Panthers, again demonstrating the racial subtext to this entire debate; the miraculous ability of Australia (another once gun-besotted frontier culture) to do what it’s said is impossible in the US to do and disarm; the widespread belief among right wing Americans that they need to arm themselves in case they have to overthrow the government (proof positive of Richard Hofstadter’s “paranoid style”); and the inexplicable willingness of allegedly brilliant members of a conservative-dominated Supreme Court to interpret the words “well-regulated militia” to mean that private citizens have the right to own combat weaponry designed for the sole purpose of killing other human beings as fast as possible on the battlefield.
Feel free to check my bio on this website if you are tempted to dismiss me as a bleeding heart liberal with no firsthand knowledge of firearms.
At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, what is wrong with our country that we—alone among Western democracies—keep letting this happen as if it is routine, acceptable, and unavoidable? Speaking of Australia, an op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald rightly shamed us:
“It is incomprehensible to us, as Australians, that a country so proud and great can allow itself to be savaged again and again by its own citizens. We cannot understand how the long years of senseless murder, the Sandy Hooks and Orlandos and Columbines, have not proved to Americans that the gun is not a precious symbol of freedom, but a deadly cancer on their society. We point over and over to our own success with gun control in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre, that Australia has not seen a mass shooting since and that we are still a free and open society. We have not bought our security at the price of liberty; we have instead consented to a social contract that states lives are precious, and not to be casually ended by lone madmen. But it is a message that means nothing to those whose ideology is impervious to evidence.”
In the wake of Vegas, we have already heard again from the GOP and the NRA that the issue isn’t guns but mental health (or some such canard), even though just this past February Trump signed Republican legislation making it easier for mentally ill to obtain guns, including semiautomatic weapons. Part of the GOP/NRA mantra is the tedious refrain that even if all guns were illegal a deranged individual would still find a way to kill people with a knife or a boxcutter or a car. No doubt that is true to some extent. But a man with a knife cannot readily kill fifty Americans and wound hundreds of others from a rooftop for minutes on end with such horrific ease as Steven Paddock did.
By way of deflecting an urgent conversation about guns in America, the Right has assumed its usual sanctimonious stance that “we shouldn’t politicize this tragedy.” What utter dishonesty. That’s like saying, if you’re in a burning building you shouldn’t talk about fire. Whatever the shortcomings of how we deal with mental illness, we have this problem not because of that but because we let ordinary citizens have battlefield weapons, and there is a giant multi-billion dollar industry devoted to protecting that indefensible state of affairs, and a ruling political party that has seized on it for partisan gain. This blood is on their hands. And that is not “politicizing” anything; that is an objective fact.
But let’s just focus on the fake president’s role in all this.
In response to the Vegas atrocity, Trump managed to read from a teleprompter, robotically repeat the usual empty platitudes, and do the bare minimum we expect from a president without veering off into an attack on Jeff Sessions or bragging about the size of his Electoral College win. Two cheers.
But it’s worth noting that he was very quick to express sympathy for a largely white audience of country music fans—undeniably his demographic—when he has been disgracefully slow to express any kind of sympathy—or even acknowledge—the victims of violence when they are people of color or don’t otherwise neatly fit within his agenda. (On the contrary, in fact, when it comes to the epidemic of African-Americans murdered in the name of the law. See above.) He certainly took his sweet time before even trying to reach out to the family of Heather Heyer, murdered by a white supremacist, part of a group he instead defended as including “some very fine people.” In that sense, his reaction to Vegas mimics the racism of his non-reaction to Puerto Rico.
Trump supporters will say, “He can’t win with you libtards, can he? Even when he does the right thing you attack him.” But until he has consistently demonstrated empathy and equitable treatment for all Americans regardless of race, creed, or other distinctions, he has not yet earned that right and this critique will remain legitimate.
6. LECTURING PUERTO RICANS ON “A REAL CATASTROPHE”
On Tuesday October 3, with the country still numb from the shock of Vegas, Trump finally made his way to Puerto Rico, evidently a forbiddingly remote place where relief efforts had been hampered by the fact that it is “an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water.”
Once on the ground, Trump clueslessly lectured the crowd (again) on Puerto Rico’s financial debts, and informed them that they were lucky they hadn’t been hit with a “real catastrophe” like Katrina. He also praised himself and his administration for its response to the crisis, saying they would get an A+, as they he claimed they had in Texas and Florida. (A heckuva job, Brownie.)
By this time it seemed plain that, compared to those Southern US states, Trump had paid little attention to the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico because—as we have already seen—it was full of brown people who did not fully meet his criteria of true Americans. To my knowledge, that conclusion has not been directly put to Sarah Huckabee Sanders Mellencamp Parker-Bowles, but one assumes that if it were it would be met with outraged denial at the very thought. But it’s hard to understand Trump’s actions (and inactions) in any other context.
George Bush may hate black people, as Kanye memorably said on national TV, but by comparison with Trump he’s Harriet Tubman.
7. AND LASTLY, KEEPING BOB MUELLER WORKING OVERTIME
Last but far from least, all this madness nearly obscured what should have been a front page story: yet another significant development in the ongoing Russiagate investigation in the form of two new previously undisclosed contacts between Trump associates and Russian interests during the presidential campaign. If not exactly a bombshell, it was at least another in the steady drip drip drip of damning revelations. (Note deft swapping of metaphors there.) From the WaPo:
Trump’s personal attorney and a business associate exchanged emails weeks before the Republican National Convention about the lawyer possibly traveling to an economic conference in Russia that would be attended by top Russian financial and government leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, according to people familiar with the correspondence.
In the other case, the same Trump attorney, Michael Cohen, received a proposal in late 2015 for a Moscow residential project from a company founded by a billionaire who once served in the upper house of the Russian parliament, these people said. The previously unreported inquiry marks the second proposal for a Trump-branded Moscow project that was delivered to the company during the presidential campaign and has since come to light.
How many more of these undisclosed contacts with the Russians are going to come out???? Gee, it’s almost like Trump’s people are deliberately hiding them.
Technically, per the title of this essay, this is not something Trump did this week….it’s more like something he did not do, which is be honest with the American people about what he and his employees were up to. But a sin of omission is a sin nevertheless.
Three things worth reiterating here:
Michael Cohen, who had these two heretofore undisclosed contacts with Russian officials, is Trump’s longtime personal attorney. The “business associate” in question is the shady Russian real estate developer and longtime Trump crony Felix Sater, who in 1998 pled guilty to a $40 million dollar stock fraud scheme involving the Russian mob. And documents detailing those contacts are now in the hands of the special counsel Robert Mueller and the other congressional committees investigating Russiagate.
There are already numerous documented instances of Trump associates actively seeking out, responding to, or coordinating with Russian efforts to help him win the White House, not to mention a byzantine web of Trump business dealings with Russian interests (many of inevitably connected to the Russian government itself, as well as organized crime, which are almost one in the same). As the Post article says, these include—astonishingly—an aggressive effort by the Trump organization to build a giant highrise hotel in downtown Moscow, an endeavor which required the endorsement of the Kremlin, during the heart of the US presidential election.
Needless to say, if Hillary Clinton had been involved in such a deal the American right wing would already be parading her severed head around Washington on a stick.
Please recall that throughout the campaign and even into his first weeks in office, Trump and his minions and apologists in the GOP and conservative media consistently denied any contacts with Russia, scornfully dismissing them with proclamations that left little room for misinterpretation, like this one from DT himself, in July 2016: “I have nothing to do with Russia. I don’t have any jobs in Russia. I’m all over the world but we’re not involved in Russia…..I have nothing to do with Russia whatsoever.”
Or this one, from February 2017: “I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.”
Or this one, in the infamous Lester Holt TV interview, where he also boasted that he fired Jim Comey over Russiagate: “I had the Miss Universe pageant—which I owned for quite a while—I had it in Moscow a long time ago. But other than that, I have nothing to do with Russia.”
And while he was saying those things, everyone around him was busily talking to the Russians, trying to negotiate enormous business deals with Russians, attempting to build skyscraper hotels in Russia, and eagerly looking to obtain Russian help on the campaign trail. So it’s hard now to see any of those quotes above as anything short of bald-faced lies—quelle horreur!—displaying stunning arrogance and contempt for the American people. Some might even say they contribute to a slate of impeachable offenses.
(See here for a detailed rundown of all the times Trump or his people have denied any contacts with Russia…..and this list is three months old)
Just limiting ourselves to what is public knowledge, let alone anything the special counsel knows and we yet don’t, it is already clear that the Trump Organization has long had massive, lengthy, and immensely complex business entanglements with many many Russians, to an almost comical degree. Don Jr—he of the infamous July 2016 meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, former Soviet counterintelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin, along with Manafort, Kushner, et al—bragged about it as far back as 2008, telling attendees at a real estate conference: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
The Cohen revelations may prove to be dark horse winner as the most significant event of this past week, though the more baroque incidents will likely stand out in our collective memory. In toto, when future generations look back on this era, the events of the past week will be just another sad episode in the headshaking saga of our 45th (cough cough) president.
So let him rant and rave and disgrace himself and the country and gin up his neanderthal base all he wants. A reckoning is coming for Donald Trump, and an end to what history will remember as a deep dark chapter in American history.
Rod Serling photo illustration: h/t Jay Rosenblatt