Yikes! So much news to digest in the past week or so, I don’t know where to begin.
Oh wait—yes I do. Let’s begin with how the American people told Donald Trump to go fuck himself.
I BELIEVE IN YESTERDAY
Any surfer will tell you that among the most tedious and eyeroll-inducing conversations in the sport is how big the surf was when you weren’t there. (“You shoulda been here yesterday.”) So it was with the Blue Wave, which Republicans wanted us to believe hadn’t materialized, but only got bigger and bluer as the week rolled on. It is now clear that Democratic gains in the midterms were the party’s biggest since 1974 in the immediate aftermath of Watergate….and this in the face of odds badly stacked against them, to include active voter suppression by other side. The GOP, meanwhile, which was clinging to the consolation prize of increasing its slim majority in the Senate, now looks like it will have gained a paltry one to two additional seats, with Mississippi still awaiting a runoff. This with the most advantageous electoral map in a generation.
The implications of the Blue Wave are myriad, but let’s focus on how this beatdown has affected the man on whom it was, by his own admission/braggadocio, a de facto referendum (at least until he lost and decided it wasn’t).
After the midterm embarrassment, an impulsive Trump wasted no time in firing Jeff Sessions, as he’s wanted to do for months, a blatant step toward shutting down the Mueller inquiry which is inexorably closing in on him.
Of course, firing Sessions and installing a shameless, pre-compromised toady might itself be considered part of a pattern of obstruction of justice, one of the very things that Mueller is investigating. In that regard, it is yet another in a series of unforced errors and self-inflicted wounds that began in May 2017 with another firing, when Trump impulsively shitcanned Jim Comey.
Some people never learn.
One thing we can’t say about new acting AG Matt Whitaker is that he didn’t warn us. Even before he became Sessions’ chief of staff, Whitaker spoke enthusiastically about how the Mueller probe could stopped by starving it of funds. It is now evident that he was actively auditioning for a job in the Department of Justice with comments like that in a series of rabid, Mueller-attacking appearances on Fox News. But even Whitaker himself didn’t imagine Trump would making him acting AG. Reportedly, he was hoping for a job as a mere DOJ staff lawyer. As Trevor Noah said, that’s like applying for a job as a cashier at Ross Dress for Less only to be told, “Forget cashier; you’re Ross!”
Even without his should-be-disqualifying remarks about Mueller, Whitaker is an almost laughable choice as an interim AG, a guy who makes Ronny Jackson or Harriet Miers look overqualified by comparison. He is a Bigfoot-believing religious zealot who hawked toilets for guys with extra big dicks, thinks only Christians should be judges, and was on the board of a fly-by-night Florida-based company dedicated to bilking would-be inventors, currently under investigation by the FBI (an agency that now reports to him). Generally speaking, it’s a bad sign when you see headlines that read, “Acting AG under fire for alleged Bigfoot, toilet, time travel scams.
That said, Whitaker is undeniably in keeping with Trump’s pattern of putting people in charge of organizations that they have sworn to destroy: see also Rick Perry, Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt, et al.
Whitaker is such a demonstrably unqualified, blatantly partisan pick that it has prompted a surprisingly strong backlash against the White House, which gives you some idea of just how terrible and clumsy this choice was, considering the rogues gallery I just mentioned. (Andy Borowitz, predictably, had the best take, writing ”Trump Fires Don Jr., Names Stephen Miller New Son.”) With a straight face, Trump subsequently told Fox’s Chris Wallace that when he chose Whitaker he didn’t know about his virulent criticism of Mueller—when it is plain that is his chief qualification—and that he “wouldn’t intervene” if Whitaker chose to curtail the Mueller probe.
Such a relief.
Next up, Geppetto insists he won’t interfere with Pinocchio’s autonomy.
QUISLINGS, AMERICAN STYLE
Conservative legal scholars ranging from Neal Katyal to George Conway (as in, Kelly’s hubby) to Bush administration torture enthusiast John Yoo have all weighed in on the improperness—if not outright unconstitutionality—of Whitaker’s appointment.
When you’ve lost John Yoo, you know you’re in trouble.
It’s true that Whitaker’s appointment may be not just ill-advised but actively illegal, but so what? We all know that the GOP-controlled Senate will rubber stamp him if necessary. Regardless, he should by all rights recuse himself due to the prejudicial comments he is on record having made, but the odds of that are an Elvis Costello-like less than zero. On the contrary, Whitaker’s whole appointment is predicated on the notion that he would never recuse himself, but rather, act as Trump’s eyes and ears on the Russiagate inquiry (to the extent he can) and, ultimately, stop it at all costs.
But as transparently hamhanded and shamelessly jackbooted as Whitaker’s appointment was, the question of how much damage he can do remains an open one.
Numerous legal experts such as Ben Wittes have opined that it’s probably too late for Whitaker—or anyone else—to stop the freight train that is the Mueller probe. What the GOP-controlled Senate and Fox Nation do about the results Mueller eventually returns is a separate matter, and an entirely political one. Others—like former US Attorney Harry Litman—are less sanguine, noting that only his own conscience (gag) can stop Whitaker from illegally providing Trump intel about what is going on inside the investigation, to include grand jury activities.
I have to believe that the famously smart and strategic Bob Mueller has anticipated this moment and made the necessary twelve-dimensional chess moves to protect his investigation, especially given the despicable unwillingness of Mitch McConnell and the GOP-controlled (for now) Congress to do so. Mueller and his team of “killers,” as Bannon called them—a compliment, in Bannonspeak—are infinitely smarter and more experienced than Trump and his legal team, whose few rational voices—Emmett Flood, presumably—are likely drowned out by their boss’s bombast. John Dean, who ought to know, is among the many observers who thinks that Mr. Mueller might already have sealed indictments ready to go, just in case. We know that he has made the strategic move of passing off cases and sharing information with the SDNY and state AGs, the latter of which will help outflank any attempt at self-pardon by our lawless ruler.
For let us not delude ourselves. The Republican Party will not stand up and challenge Trump over this slow motion Saturday Night Massacre, nor over the installation of an obvious puppet with a mandate to obstruct justice and protect Donald Trump. Last year’s tough guy posturing by the likes of Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley warning Trump not to fire Sessions (“There will be holy hell to pay”) is nothing but a bitter joke.
If it wasn’t clear already, the Republican Party will not ever do anything to stop Trump, either now or in the future, no matter what conclusions or evidence Robert Mueller returns, the rule of law be damned. He could uncover a video of Trump signing a blood oath of loyalty to Vladimir Putin in exchange and the GOP would still do nothing but shrug.
See the world-beating cynicism of Mitch McConnell. See the McCarthyite fearmongering and servile bootlicking of Ted Cruz. See the empty rhetoric and desire to have it both ways of Jeff Flake. (Time will tell if Flake sticks to this new claim that he will join Senate Democrats in blocking all of Trump’s forthcoming judicial nominations until legislation is passed protecting Mueller.) And anyone who expects the newly elected junior senator from Utah, a fresh face named Mitt Romney, to be a bulwark against Trumpism is living in a fantasy world.
As I’ve said, the Republicans don’t WANT to stop Trump. Why should they? He has provided them unprecedented cover to foist their hateful agenda on the nation and entrench themselves in power in defiance of the will of the majority. The midterms represented an incensed electorate beginning to reassert itself, which naturally alarms the GOP greatly. We can expect Republicans to continue to do everything in their power to try to suppress a properly functioning democracy. The lesson the GOP took away from the midterms wasn’t that Trump is a drag on their party—though he is—but that he is the ONLY thing they have left.
Paging Dr. Faust, Dr. Faust, white courtesy phone…
PANIC IN THE WEST WING
The Whitaker appointment is merely the most glaring evidence that, in the wake of the midterms, Trump is melting down over the imminent threat that Democratic control of the House represents—a threat not only to his presidency, but to the vast criminality at the heart of all things Trump. That is a road that ultimately leads to prosecution, the destruction of his business empire and family fortune, and even imprisonment. Disgrace and ignominy go without saying. Among the rot and skullduggery waiting to be exposed are not only felony campaign finance violations and conspiracy with hostile foreign powers to gain control of the presidency, but decades of tax fraud, money laundering, graft, corruption, bribery, extortion, and other malfeasance, much of which has already been uncovered, but has yet to sink in with the general public.
Trump clearly hears Robert Mueller’s footsteps approaching…..and for all you fans of The Wire, Bob’s whistling “The Farmer in the Dell.”
In light of that, the slavish obedience of his base and the willingness of the morally bankrupt and thoroughly compliant GOP leadership to protect him is about all Trump has going for him right now. Any crack in that seawall, no matter how small, is rightly terrifying to him.
We’ve all been beaten over the head with the reminder that it is DOJ policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted, that impeachment is the proper mechanism to remove a chief executive involved in serious wrongdoing. That policy has never been tested, but no matter. Robert Mueller may well respect it, or he may not. But even if he does, massive criminal indictments await Trump when he leaves office, which he eventually will one way or another. (Unless it’s feet first. Twelve Diet Cokes a day take their toll.) Barring a Trump-triggered Armageddon—which I’m not ruling out, once the endgame begins—or the announcement of Year Zero and the establishment of a police state under our newly decalred president-for-life, which is also not off the table IMHO, Trump will return to private life with a Wile E. Coyote-style sixteen ton weight of criminal charges ready to come crashing down on him.
It is very ironic that a man who rode into the White House to chants of “Lock her up!” will himself likely become the first American president to go to prison.
Numerous reports have detailed Trump’s foul post-election mood (even by Trump standards). But behind-the-scenes reportage wasn’t really necessary, as anyone could see how bad things were just by following what he did and said publicly, beginning with the aforementioned firing of his Attorney General and installation of a ridiculous replacement.
A brief review:
Trump got in a pissing contest with CNN and banned Jim Acosta from White House press briefings; tried to pass off a doctored video to support that move; claimed the midterms were “close to complete victory” for him; variously called female African-American reporters Yamiche Alcindor of PBS and Abby Phillip and April Ryan of CNN “racist,” “stupid,” and a “loser;” blamed California for being on fire; spun an imaginary Finnish tradition of forest raking (førstrakken, as they call it); and took the word of his Saudi business partners over our own CIA when it comes to Jamal Khashoggi’s horrific murder, plus the usual daily barrage of batshit crazy tweets of course. (He did pause to give himself an A+ for his performance as president thus far.)
Oh, and also, Ivanka used a private email server to do government business, because, you know, there hadn’t been any real publicity indicating to her that that would be problematic.
But for whatever reason, several of Trump’s most prominent missteps following the midterms had to do with his fraught relationship with the armed services, which remains one of the most puzzling aspects of his brief political career. (For a thorough survey, see this piece in the Washington Post by James Hohmann).
The trouble began when he didn’t realize it would look bad to let a light rain deter him from joining every other major world leader on a visit to a World War I cemetery full of fallen US Marines who died in the battle of Belleau Wood. Then, after pouting like a petulant child among the rest of the world leaders (except when he lit up at the sight of Vladimir Putin), he compounded the error upon his return to the US by choosing to skip the regular presidential visit to Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day.
But Trump was just getting started.
Every week seems to bring a new, headslapping low from Donald J. Trump, but I must say that the sight of a draft-dodging, lifelong libertine who never served his country a day in his life bloviating that JSOC didn’t catch Bin Laden fast enough still managed to surprise me.
For a guy who claims to “love” the military and to have done so much for it (spoiler alert: he doesn’t and he hasn’t), Trump sure does insult servicemembers a lot.
Of course, as has been widely pointed out, neither JSOC nor the military at large was charged with finding UBL; the intelligence community was. But as we know, facts have never been Trump’s strong suit. Not that that is even the point: he would be equally out of order had he criticized the CIA for this alleged tardiness. But it is a reminder that the man currently in control of the nuclear codes doesn’t have the faintest idea how the national security apparatus actually operates.
In any event, one would think that THIS sort of thing, at long last, would cause at least some of Trump’s hardline pro-military followers to turn on him. Perhaps it has, but if so only in numbers disproportionately small for the crime. In the main, Trump Nation batted not an eye at the McRaven brouhaha, any more than it did over Trump’s shameful insulting of John McCain (“I like people who weren’t captured”), or disrespect toward the late Captain Humayun Khan and his Gold Star family, or telling the mother of Sergeant La David Johnson who had been killed in Niger that her son knew what he was getting into, or his suggestion that vets with PTSD are weak, or that his generals—not he, the commander-in-chief—bears the blame for ordering the misbegotten raid in Yemen that killed Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, or any of Trump’s other appalling dustups with the armed forces.
This lack of response is very telling, for here is another dirty little reality at the heart of Trumpism and its Kool-Aid besotted adherents. That demographic tends to idolize and deify the US military to an almost unhealthy degree—which is typical of fascism, of course. They would savage any other politician who dared disrespect a McCain or a McRaven in even the most passing way, let alone hurl insults like this. But for Trump these same rah-rah gung-ho people will viciously turn on those genuine heroes without so much as blink…..all proof that, as Chris Hedges recently wrote, what we are dealing with is a literal cult. Not a metaphorical one—a literal one.
I say this as someone with the military in my marrow. (I won’t bore you with my CV or pedigree; you can read about it here, if you’re interested.) But that is precisely why I am disgusted by Trump’s self-aggrandizing politicization of the military, and contemptuous of the mindless, dangerously uncritical valorization of the professional of arms that he both traffics in (when convenient) and foments among his jingoistic disciples.
The right’s fetishization of the armed services is a very worrying development, one that is symptomatic of a diseased and dying empire. It began—admirably, or at least benignly—as a justifiable response to the mistreatment of Vietnam veterans, but it has morphed into a grotesque charade that serves as poor substitute for genuine citizenship and shared sacrifice. (See Colonel [Ret.] Andrew Bacevich on this subject; no one has said it better.) The GOP has weaponized this pantomime patriotism very effectively, even though it has even less claim to being the party of strong national security than the Democrats do. (I refer you to the pointless, deceitfully ginned up, criminally destructive, and self-destructive, war in Iraq.)
And nobody has played this con game better than Trump.
But so psychotic is the cult of Trump that if he points a stubby finger at anyone, even a decorated SEAL admiral with 37 years service who oversaw the most chest-thumpingly satisfying US military mission since the Doolittle raid, his faithful will quickly absorb—or manufacture—the narrative that it is somehow the bemedaled warrior who is the turncoat, the failure, the coward, rather than Trump.
Luckily, Admiral (Ret.) McRaven seems more than capable of defending himself.
That Trump repeatedly goes after bonafide war heroes says something about the depths of his malignant narcissism and megalomania, especially coming from a man with four academic deferments and a medical one for alleged “bone spurs” that mysteriously vanished when the draft did.
I don’t begrudge those who tried to avoid going to Vietnam, but I have no truck with those who, like Trump, dodged the draft while vocally supporting that war (see also: George W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rove, Giuliani, Gingrich, et al), and have beaten the drums for other wars since then, let alone made a practice of maligning their fellow Americans who did serve. Ask John Kerry about that.
Some pundits have theorized that the deeply insecure and glory-hungry Trump can’t stand the sight of genuine giants and feels the need to try to bring them down. To that point, it’s also worth remembering that another regular target of Trump’s infantile ire, Robert S. Mueller III, is himself a Marine officer and combat veteran of Vietnam, Bronze Star and Purple Heart and all.
Curiouser and curiouser.
SOME GAVE NONE
As absurd as it was, Trump’s attack on Bill McRaven was not the thing that stunned me the most this past week, military affairs-wise. No, that honor goes to this quote from unnamed White House aides, attempting to explain why their boss—who has managed to visit his golf courses on 150 different days, or about 25% of his presidency—has not yet visited US forces deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere overseas for that matter, something that was routine for every one of his predecessors of both parties in the modern era.
Here’s their explanation:
“One reason he has not visited troops in war zones, according to his aides, is that he does not really want American troops there in the first place. To visit, they said, would validate missions he does not truly believe in.”
This might be the worst, most transparently dishonest and irrational statement to emanate from the White House since the midterms, which is saying something. Talk about an absolute inability to grasp the role of Commander-in-Chief!
I know this trope has become hackneyed, but imagine if Obama had…..
Never mind. Not worth it.
Trump himself told Chris Wallace that he’s just been “unbelievably busy,” which I guess is true if you consider getting to work at 11 a.m. and having nine hours of TV time a day “busy.” Incredibly, he also—again—blamed Robert Mueller for the time-consuming “phony witchhunts.” Meanwhile, insiders report that Trump is simply afraid for his life, saying that people in those war zones “want to kill him.” (Why he is not afraid at home is another question.)
In any case, there is a saying among veterans, relating to our fallen comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our country: “All gave some, but some gave all.”
True true. But some gave none.
Maybe his bone spurs are acting up.
“Bad Tweety Bird,” Illustration by Steve Bernstein