Sending Don Spelunking

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Well, I’ll admit it: I was wrong that Trump was going to declare a national emergency over the wall. For perhaps the first time, I may have overestimated his self-destructiveness.

Maybe someone talked sense into him over the folly of blasting a hole in his foot in this particular way. No doubt the intense pressure the GOP was feeling played a role, as Mitch McConnell and every other sentient Republican knew what a disastrous losing strategy this was for them, and that a majority of the public saw through all the Trumpian bullshit and rightly blamed their party for the shutdown. And Wilbur Ross’s Marie Antoinette moment didn’t help.

Trump’s former ghost writer Tony Schwartz suggested that Don’s real motive for caving was simple ego: he is openly desperate to give the State of the Union address before Congress, after Nancy Pelosi effortlessly called his bluff and told him in so many words, “Not in my house.”

That strikes me as completely believable….more than any other explanation, in fact.

So the guy who claims to be a world-beating negotiator, who supposedly—per Roy Cohn—never gives in, is actually a pushover who will fold like a cheap lawn chair because he picks unwinnable fights, makes impossible demands, and—above all—is willing to deny deny deny reality when he inevitably gets his ass handed to him. So it has been throughout his checkered business “career,” contrary to what Mark Burnett would have us believe.

On that count, I was right about one thing, and it was not hard to predict: Trump declared victory despite suffering what was by any measure a deeply humiliating butt-kicking by his Democratic opponents. (Rep. Dan Kildee [D-MI] called his Rose Garden speech today a “defeat lap.”) But only the most fencepost-like of Trump’s dead enders could possibly have believed any of his weak attempts to present this as a win.

The first batch of this evening’s news reports confirm that consensus. Do a search for “Trump” and “cave” and see for yourself.

To state the blindingly obvious: the deal to re-open the government does not include ANY money for the big beautiful wall, which supposedly was an over-my-dead-body precondition. Oh well, never mind. If Trump could pretend he never said Mexico would pay for it, he can certainly pretend he never said he was proud to own the shutdown and wouldn’t blame the Democrats.

And by the by, how we got from “Mexico will pay for the wall!” to “I’m shutting down the government until the American people pay for the wall!” in the first place, I dunno.

Trump hasn’t just moved the goalposts to try to disguise his resounding defeat; he’s torn down the stadium and retired from the sport. (Ask the New Jersey Generals.)

NICKNAMELESS NANCY

In the three short weeks since the Democrats took control of the House, Nancy Patricia D’Alesandro Pelosi has repeatedly owned Trump, including two big wins this week alone—Trump’s surrender over the State of the Union on Thursday and today’s capitulation over the shutdown—not to mention numerous televised zingers that made him look like the floundering bozo he is. (“The beaded curtain”…..”Don’t characterize the strength I bring”…..“I don’t think he knows what it means,” etc.) Even though he will now get to give the SOTU before Congress that he so openly covets, Trump’s meek acknowledgment that he can only do so if Mistress Nancy says it’s OK was memorably emasculating.

(Amanda Marcotte and Greg Sargent both wrote wonderfully this week about Pelosi’s mastery of the art of politics at the Donald’s expense.)

It’s clear that Trump—an inveterate misogynist with massive emotional and psychosexual insecurities—has no idea how to handle a strong woman who refuses to blink at his juvenile bullying, or kowtow, or play any of his stupid games (except when she does and is better at them than him). Watching Pelosi bat him around like a cat playing with a mouse is some small consolation after the bitterness of Hillary’s defeat, and of course an encouraging omen for what the next two years might bring.

It takes nothing away from Mrs. Pelosi’s skill to note that Trump got himself in this mess in the first place. Writing in The New Yorker, John Cassidy succinctly summarized the irony of our fearless leader’s latest self-inflicted wound:

The rabid support of his anti-immigrant base is what sustains him, and with Robert Mueller’s report looming it is arguably more critical to him than ever. But with every day that the shutdown continues Trump is becoming more unpopular in the country at large, and increasingly cut off from other elected Republicans who might otherwise be inclined to rescue him. Caught in a trap of his own making, it’s unclear who is left to offer him a way out. Sad!

So it was that Trump was, for once, forced to bow to reality, whose existence he usually manages to avoid even acknowledging. It was sweet to see.

Of course, this settlement is a temporary solution only, one that merely kicks the metaphorical can down the proverbial road for three weeks. But in the interval perhaps Trump can find a more lasting way to save face, or at least hope people forget. (Good luck with that.) He may yet—as he hinted—declare a national emergency (and/or try to divert federal funds, or misuse the US military) though the pushback will likely be even worse than if he had done so weeks ago. And we shall see if he can even stick to his promise, as Ann Coulter—his other chief female tormentor, this one on the right, who slut-shamed him into this debacle to begin with—immediately slammed him for today’s decision, calling Trump “the biggest wimp ever to serve as president.”

But if Trump reverses himself yet again, does that mean he’s not a wimp, or that he’s an even bigger one, after caving to Coulter, then Pelosi, then Coulter again?

Trump may be a bad negotiator and a spineless punk, but he’s very good at “Mother May I.”

ADULT DAY CARE, PART DEUX

Dear Washington Post: please stop giving Marc Thiessen a platform. If he is the best the right wing can do for a “reasonable” voice, then American conservatism is in even worse shape than we thought.

Prior to today’s announcement, Thiessen had a risible column in the Post this week in which he argued that Donald Trump was “being the adult in the room” when it came to seeking a solution to the shutdown, by virtue of the so-called compromise he offered last Saturday. Never mind that Trump had impulsively— singlehandedly—initiated the entire crisis in the first place, blindsiding even the leaders of his own party. Never mind that at the end of its last session both houses of Congress passed a budget that had no funding for a border wall, before Trump pulled that 11thhour switcheroo to please Fox & Friends. Never mind that the proposal Thiessen praises was, by the administration’s own admission, laced with poison pills designed to ensure Democratic rejection, like the absurd idea that asylum seekers should get the permission of their home countries before fleeing. Never mind that even its allegedly “reasonable” compromises, like a measly three-year extension on DACA rather than a permanent one, were laughable. Never mind the needless pain that this shutdown stunt inflicted on almost a million federal employees, untold others in the private sector by virtue of its knock-on effects, and the economy at large. Never mind that the wall is idiotic in the first place, and not in a million years worth that kind of brinksmanship.

Per above, the Democratic proposal on which the Senate voted on Thursday was opposed by all but six Republican senators, even though it was almost identical to a measure the Senate approved unanimously in December, before Trump decided to play chicken with his own party’s future. But as the New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis noted with priceless understatement, “Republican views in the Senate have shifted dramatically since then to reflect the president’s.” Which tells you all you need to know about the debased state of the erstwhile Grand Old Party. I guess that’s what happens when you see your soul—such as it is—to a D-list TV game show host and veteran criminal huckster who, PS, is in the pocket of Vladimir Putin.

Also writing in the Post, Jennifer Rubin—a genuinely principled conservative—had already preemptively taken Thiessen’s specious argument apart like a tinkertoy: “A burglar has broken into your home, has taken the silver and is now offering to lease it back to you for three years only—but first, give him a $5.7 billion edifice.” This is gangland-style extortion plain and simple. But as the Post’s Damian Paletta and Josh Dawsey reported, this has long been Trump’s “knock ’em in the teeth” strategy: “He creates—or threatens to create—a calamity, and then insists he will address the problem only if his adversary capitulates to a separate demand.”

And then pishers like Marc Thiessen come along behind him like circus workers sweeping up elephant dung (get it? They’re the GOP) and try to convince us that it was a reasonable counterproposal.

Just checking my birth certificate a moment…..ah, right, just as I thought: I wasn’t born yesterday.

FAKE FINGERS, THE CONE OF SILENCE, AND THE PUTRID CORPSE OF AYN RAND

But Thiessen is not alone in this kind of intellectual dishonesty and neo-libertarian callousness.

Last week I had an online tête-à-tête with a libertarian who argued with a straight face that furloughed federal workers were getting a paid vacation, that the longer the shutdown lasted the better, and that in the long run it would be great to force almost a million federal workers into the private sector permanently.

It was practically Wilbur Ross-ian.

This sort of childish, drown-the-government-in-a-bathtub rhetoric is rife on the Interweb, where Gary Johnson supporters are still looking for Aleppo on the map. These are the kind of guys who whack off to pictures of Ayn Rand.

The issue of fraud, waste, abuse, and inefficiency in the federal government is a bigger discussion, though it’s notable that most proposals for addressing it never seem to go near a certain five-sided building in Arlington, Virginia. The wisdom of taking the whole system apart and rebuilding it is a worthwhile debate, but these Randian fever dreams aren’t part of that sort of serious conversation.

For starters, they don’t take into account the fact that in the Dickensian, one-percent-centric 21stcentury American economy, most working people live paycheck to paycheck and have no cushion for missing a month’s pay, let alone two. Nor the massive ripple effect on the economy at large, including federal contractors who won’t get any fucking backpay. Nor the Coast Guard families forced to visit foodbanks, the FBI agents risking their lives without compensation, the sleep-deprived air traffic controllers moonlighting as Uber drivers, and on and on.

Nor, above all, the essential government services that aren’t getting done at all during the shutdown.

But the dirty little secret of the shutdown is that hardline right wingers actively liked it precisely because of the way it social services were from the body politic untimely ripped. In fact, Adam H. Johnson of the Nation argued persuasively that the very term “shutdown” was itself misdirection, and that what we were experiencing was more accurately described as a right wing coup.

FLORIDA MAN ARRESTED

I also don’t want to close this week’s blog without nodding to two other noteworthy stories, and of course, the biggest one of all.

First, we were told that Trump is reported to have images posted on social media that have been digitally altered not only to make him look thinner, which is kind of old hat (if you’re a fashion model), but also to make his fingers look longer. Is there no bottom to the well of this petty, petty man’s preening insecurity? (Answer: no.)

Second, and more substantively, we learned that a President and a White House who are under suspicion of being controlled by a hostile foreign power have been jamming through Top Secret security clearances for at least 30 people—including Jared Kushner—whom career security officials had rejected for access to that level of classified material, something never before seen at that level in any previous administration.

Nah, nothing fishy about that. But it does take us back to the Russia of it all.

Trump’s big announcement on the shutdown was—not coincidentally—timed to distract from this morning’s other big news: the long-expected indictment of that ass-clown Roger Stone for obstruction of justice and witness tampering in the Russia probe.

Stone may well be the only person on earth thirstier for publicity—even spending-the-rest-of-your-life-in-federal-prison publicity—than Donald Trump. It was amusing to hear protestors outside the courthouse in his hometown of Ft. Lauderdale (where Stone is apparently on permanent spring break?) chanting “Lock him up!,” just as it was kind of amusing to see ol’ Roger give a Nixonian double v sign on the courthouse steps. In a soap opera rife with buffoons, Stone may take the prize…..and let’s remember that’s a soap opera whose cast includes a drunken Sam Nunberg and the Mooch himself, Anthony Scaramucci, whose recent tenure on “Celebrity Big Brother” lasted—no joke—only half as long as his eleven days as White House press secretary.

No surprise, the reliably odious Sarah Huckabee Sanders wasted no time in telling the press that “the specific charges that have been brought against Mr. Stone don’t have anything to do with the President.” But that is pure semantics, referring only to the issue of obstruction of justice (and even then it’s bullshit). But for what it’s worth, she did not specifically deny that Trump directed or was aware of the underlying crime that Stone was hiding, which allegedly was conspiring with Russian agents.

But you don’t bother with a coverup if you haven’t committed a crime.

Notwithstanding Sarah’s Tonya Harding-level spin, Stone’s indictment marks a major development in the Mueller probe, bringing us deeper still into Trump’s inner circle, and on the central issue to boot. Evidence of conspiracy with the Russians is now bluntly on the table, Steve Bannon is likely implicated as the unnamed “senior campaign official” mentioned in the indictment, and that same indictment suggests that he was taking orders from Trump himself, or short of that, Don Jr. or Jared. It beggars the imagination to believe that the elder Mr. Trump did not at the very least know of Stone’s coordination with Wikileaks, which was itself acting as a Kremlin cutout.

In short, the vise continues to close, and even Rudy Giuliani has been reduced to parsing his words to say that while others in the Trump campaign may have colluded, Donald himself did not. (But even if he did, shouldn’t he get the Medal of Honor?)

Even that stand is not likely to last.

To get into too-much-to-hope-for fantasyland for just a moment, if Donald Trump gets frogmarched out of the White House in handcuffs (please please please let me get what I want), and Mike Pence rightly gets chucked out too, as well he should given his backroom involvement in all this skullduggery, guess who’s next in line for the presidency, according to the constitutional order of succession?

The Speaker of the House, the Honorable Representative from California, Nancy P. Pelosi.

Wouldn’t that be fitting?

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