The way President Donald Trump operates, it’s not like many of the remarks he made during his recent interview with Lesley Stahl for 60 Minutes were particularly surprising or groundbreaking. Many of his comments were riffs on the same songs he has sung before.
Even if they weren’t very earth-shattering or shocking, meanwhile, Trump’s comments were nonetheless disappointing to hear/read as an American who doesn’t share the same set of values. Stahl’s questions ranged across a fairly wide set of topics, but here are some of Trump’s most noteworthy insights:
Trump “doesn’t know” that humans have a role in climate change.
Pres. Trump seemed to walk back one-time comments he made that climate change is a “hoax.” In the same breath, however, he expressed doubt that it’s manmade, and when Stahl pressed him on the overwhelming evidence that it does exist and that we’re contributing to it, he suggested that this climate change could simply reverse somehow and that the scientists advancing the consensus theory have a “very big political agenda.”
That Trump would feign concern for the effects a shift away from fossil fuels might have on American jobs is commendable, at least by his standards. Trying to effectively deny our hand in climate change as part of a political agenda when the scientific consensus is such a strong one, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of thinking we don’t need at this stage in the game when more urgent action was needed yesterday.
Trump suggested there could be “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia if found they were behind the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but didn’t provide specifics.
Trump admitted it was possible the Saudi government was behind the murder of Khashoggi, and indicated the vehement denial on the part of the Saudis. He then hinted that weapons deals could be at stake, but as he did with concerns about climate change, he pivoted to worrying about jobs at companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. So, while he acknowledged the possibility of sanctions, Trump doesn’t seem all that committed to endangering business ties with Saudi Arabia because of it. Astonishment of astonishments there.
At this writing, reportedly, the Saudis are preparing to admit Khashoggi died during a botched interrogation. Obviously, the interview was taped prior to these reports. What was worst about this segment, though, was that Trump said the matter was especially troubling because Khashoggi was a journalist, even making an aside about how strange it must be to hear him say that. Yeah, it is, and it comes off as more than a little disingenuous after regularly railing at members of the press and calling them the “enemy of the American people.” Pardon us if we’re not especially enthralled by your promises that you’ll get to the bottom of his disappearance.
Trump claimed that Barack Obama put us on a path to war with North Korea, and qualified his “love” for Kim Jong-un.
Evidently, under President Obama, we were going to war with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but now—BOOM!—no more war and Kim is talking about nuclearization. You’re welcome, America. Get that Nobel Peace Prize nice and shiny for “the Donald.”
Within Trump’s logic, it’s his trust for Kim that has been such an essential diplomatic asset. This despite the possibility raised by Stahl that North Korea hasn’t gotten rid of any weapons and may actually be building more. Trump, attempting to further distance himself from Obama, intimated there are no plans to ease sanctions, but Stahl persisted on the topic of Trump’s stated “love” for North Korea’s despotic leader. Trump tried to minimize the language he used as a figure of speech, but Stahl belabored North Korea’s horrid human rights record under Kim and his father.
Trump’s admiration for dictators is nothing new, but hearing him downplay talk of gulags and starvation is yet bothersome. More on this to come.
Trump still has no idea how tariffs work, nor does he apparently have high regard for his supposed allies.
President Trump insisted China is close to negotiating on tariffs and other matters of trade. In the meantime, though, President Xi Jinping (another leader with dictatorial aspirations overseeing a country with questionable regard for human rights) and China are content to retaliate with tariffs, and Stahl questioned how long we will be content to try to strong-arm China into negotiation when it’s American consumers who are bearing the brunt of these tariffs. Is the point to use the people of each country as bargaining chips in an escalating trade war?
Trump argued with Stahl for a while about whether or not he called it a trade war, a skirmish, or a battle, but this is semantics (and he totally f**king did call it a trade war, according to Stahl). Alongside likely overstating our trade deficit with China, Trump once more communicated his faulty understanding re tariffs. What’s more, he seemed ambivalent as to the continued integrity of diplomatic relations with Europe as a function of NATO membership, and grew combative with Stahl on the point of levying tariffs on our allies and inviting disunion. As long as Trump and his advisers hold to the narrative that the United States is being taken advantage of by the rest of the world when it comes to defense spending and trade, the average consumer is the one who will be caught in the middle.
Trump believes that Vladimir Putin is “probably” involved in assassinations and poisonings.
But only probably. Continuing the earlier conversation about Pres. Trump and his love of autocrats, the man would not commit to saying that he believed Putin was behind attacks on critics and political opponents, professing that he “relies on” Russia and that it’s their country, so it’s essentially their business. I’d be eager to know what precisely he means when he says he relies on them, and it’s possible his drift is a more innocent one, but when so much seems to hint at Trump being compromised by Russian ties, it’s hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.
This sentiment only grows when considering his hedging on Russian interference in the election and his evasiveness on the Mueller investigation. When prompted by Stahl on meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Trump was quick to rebut by claiming China meddled as well. Even if that were true, however—experts say there is evidence of a pro-Chinese influence campaign at work, but no concrete evidence of Chinese electoral meddling—it’s a deflection. Stahl called him out on this tactic, only to be argued with in the spirit of whataboutism.
Additionally, Trump refused to pledge that he won’t shut down the Mueller investigation. In other words, um, yeah, you should still be worried about Mueller’s fate as special counsel. Particularly if the midterms go poorly for the Republican Party.
That whole family separation thing was all Obama’s fault.
When asked what his biggest regret so far has been, the first thing that jumped to Trump’s mind was not terminating the NAFTA deal sooner. Not the whole taking children away from their parents thing, as Stahl interjected. It’s not exactly mind-bending to witness Trump fail to recognize a policy bent on unmitigated cruelty as his worst mistake, but it still stings like salt in the proverbial wound if you fashion yourself a halfway decent human being.
To make matters worse, Trump defended the policy under the premise that people would illegally enter the United States in droves otherwise. Furthermore, he blamed Barack Obama for enforcing a policy that was on the books. To be fair, Obama’s record on immigration is not unassailable, as his administration was responsible for its share of deportations. But separating families is a new twist on trying to enact “border security,” and it ignores the perils immigrants face upon return to their native land, perils we have helped exacerbate. Try as he might to escape it, Donald Trump and his presidency will be inexorably tied to this heartless policy directive.
The country is divided, but that’s the stupid Democrats’ fault.
According to Trump, the country was very polarized under Obama, but now on the strength of the economy, he can see it coming together. You’re welcome, America. Stahl questioned him on this criticism of Obama and the Democrats’ contributions to political rancor when he and his Republican cronies just won on the Kavanaugh confirmation and he proceeded to immediately lambast the Dems. Trump predictably deflected by saying it’s the Democrats who don’t want the country to heal. They started it! They were so mean to Brett Kavanaugh! What a bunch of stupid babies!
In case you had any doubts, Trump doesn’t give two shits about Christine Blasey Ford.
Continuing with theme of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Lesley Stahl addressed Trump’s mockery of Dr. Ford’s testimony before Congress, asking why he felt he had to make fun of her. Trump says she was treated with great respect. Stahl was, like, really? Trump was, like, anyway, who cares? We won.
That’s right, ladies and germs—the ends justify the means. It’s all about the W. You heard him.
The White House is definitely not in chaos. Definitelynot.
The on-air portion of the 60 Minutes interview ended with Stahl asking the president about the media reports of a White House in turmoil. Three guesses as to his reply. If you said “fake news,” you’d be correct. (If you didn’t, what’s wrong with you?) Trump also didn’t seem fazed about the high turnover within his administration. Hey, sometimes it just doesn’t work out! Along these lines, Trump wouldn’t commit to James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, nor would he give a ringing endorsement to Jeff “I’m Only a Racist on Days That End in ‘Y'” Sessions. Not that I have any great love for either of those men, but it’s still messed up when a man like Trump expects unflinching loyalty and yet stands by his appointees only when it’s convenient.
Trump also opined on his feelings of distrust of White House officials, consummate with his assessment of Washington, D.C. as a “vicious, vicious place.” Good news, though, fellow Americans: he now feels very comfortable as POTUS. Many of us might be continuously on edge, but he’s right as rain. Well, at least there’s that.
To some, Lesley Stahl’s 60 Minutes interview with Donald Trump was disappointing in that it didn’t break new ground. Sure, it further revealed that he is ignorant of how basic economic and scientific principles work, that he possesses a predilection for strongmen, that he will blame Barack Obama for pretty much anything, that he holds absolutely no regard for survivors of sexual assault, rape, and sexual violence, and that he has the temperament (and possibly the intellect) of a grade-school child. But we already knew all this. As noted earlier, it’s more salt in the wound for members of the so-called Resistance, but short of potentially alienating our allies with his public comments—which is not to be undersold or encouraged, mind you—but comparatively, his words are sticks and stones.
It’s where Trump’s actions and those of his administration have effect that should truly frighten us, meanwhile. As he so often does, Matt Taibbi provides excellent insight into the area of biggest concern: the U.S. economy. Stahl noted in voiceovers during the interview that Trump loves to talk about America’s economic success. After all, it makes him look good. Never mind that he may have a limited role in that success and that he inherited favorable conditions from his predecessor, but he wouldn’t be the first president to take advantage of others’ successes.
Trump was notably silent, conversely, when the Dow recently fell 1,377 points over two days amid a stock market sell-off. As Taibbi writes, this event is but a prelude to a larger economic disaster, and it stands at the confluence of three irreconcilable problems. The first is the Federal Reserve raising interest rates as a means of trying to rein in the excess of large companies taking advantage of quantitative easing and zero-interest-rate policy.
This might not be such a problem except for the second factor: the Trump/GOP tax cuts. As economic experts warned prior to their passage, the cuts were based on overly enthusiastic projections of economic growth. When the inevitable tax shortfall occurred, we would need to start borrowing more, as is already underway. Higher interest rates on increased borrowing means more of an economic burden.
All of this comes to a head when we consider the third problem: tariffs. To try to make up for the issues raised by higher borrowing rates and a revenue shortfall, the government this week debuted new Treasury bills in the hopes of generating immediate cash. The potential conflict arises when considering China is the primary buyer of U.S. T-bills and holds over a trillion dollars in American debt.
The assumption is that Chinese demand for Treasury notes will remain unchanged despite the tariffs. However, as Matt Taibbi and Lesley Stahl and others are right to wonder, what happens if the trade war’s tariffs hurt the Chinese economy to the point that China no longer can or is willing to subsidize our skyrocketing debt? It’s a purely theoretical question at this point, and a rhetorical one at that, but the fallout from the intersection of these trends could be devastating. Taibbi puts a cap on the gravity of the situation thusly:
As we’ve seen in recent decades, even smart people are fully capable of driving the American economy off a cliff. What happens when the dumbest administration in history gets a turn at the wheel? Maybe last week wasn’t the time to start panicking. But that moment can’t be far.
Ominous, but perhaps not hyperbole. Noting what happened last time when the economy nearly collapsed, when the next disaster strikes, it will undoubtedly be we, the other 99%, that pays most dearly. Especially as Mitch McConnell and his Republican partners would have it, now clearly eying cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
President Trump may enjoy schmoozing with Lesley Stahl and giving bad answers his base will eat up now. In the short to long term, though, the terrible choices of his administration and his party could prove costly to the American economy, and by association, the global economy. Though he undoubtedly won’t meet with our same burden, he should at least take more of the blame when it does.
There is only so much time in a day, and only so many resources that news services can devote to the coverage of the pressing matters of the world. Still, the relative sparsity of mainstream attention to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is a phenomenon that a lack of manpower, time, or money can’t explain. Indeed, there’s a conscious effort to sanitize the news and downplay the U.S.’s role in perpetuating the violence that has made for such a catastrophically deadly situation for civilians, and one that has otherwise led to widespread malnutrition and massive displacement of people.
Yemen has been in the throes of a civil war for more than three years, in which Shia-led Houthi rebels backed by Iran have been fighting against the Yemeni government of exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, backed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and yes, the United States of America. With the insinuation of the likes of the Saudis and the UAE into this conflict as part of a coalition designed to ostensibly reinstate Hadi to power, the nature of the violence being inflicted on the people of Yemen has only gotten worse.
Shireen Al-Adeimi, a Harvard University graduate and Yemeni by birth, writing for In TheseTimes, explains the magnitude of the turmoil there, as well as the extent of the U.S.’s involvement:
Both the Obama and Trump administrations have provided the Saudi-led coalition with extensive military support, selling hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, deploying U.S. Special Forces to the Saudi-Yemen border and providing midair refueling of Saudi and Emirati jets during bombing campaigns. American support has continued as more than a million people have been infected with cholera, tens of thousands have been killed by violence, and at least 113,000 children have perished from malnutrition and preventable illnesses.
The publication of Al-Adeimi’s piece comes on the heels of two significant developments relating to the situation in Yemen. One is the August 2 airstrikes carried out by coalition forces on the city of Al-Hudaydah which killed upwards of 55 civilians, strikes that targeted a market and a hospital and of which coalition leadership denies any involvement.
This sort of crime against humanity is difficult, if not impossible, to hide, and of course, is a bad look for the coalition forces supporting Hadi, hence their disavowal. Yet even much of the reporting of this catastrophe tends to overlook America’s role in arming the Saudis who lead the coalition. UPI speaks of the U.S. providing “logistical support” to those responsible for the strikes, but this omission covers for the fact that the U.S. is dealing weapons to Saudi Arabia.
The other relevant development here is the recent passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorized a $717 billion defense budget for 2019. This legislation and its language are what especially draws Ms. Al-Adeimi’s focus, language that by itself is insufficient to either limit the scope of America’s complicity in war crimes or to prevent deadly airstrikes against civilians like the ones that ravaged Al-Hudaydah. Al-Adeimi writes:
Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), as well as Representatives Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.)—all of whom oppose the United States’ unauthorized military involvement in Yemen—successfully included provisions in that aim to limit the NDAA’s use toward the war on Yemen. These include measures requiring the Secretary of State to verify that the U.S.-backed coalition is taking steps to alleviate the humanitarian disaster, minimize harm to civilians and end the civil war. According to the bill, such certification is required for the United States to engage in midair refueling to support bombing campaigns. However, the Secretary of State could issue a waiver to allow midair refueling for “security reasons,” so long as a detailed justification is submitted to Congress.
These stipulations are better than nothing, given that, in the words of Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), there is “an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen.” The cooperation between House and Senate lawmakers on including the “Yemen provision” stems from growing concern about U.S. complicity in apparent war crimes.
These caveats, however, pose a significant problem for a coalition that has consistently denied bombing civilians and infrastructure outright despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, or dismissed such bombings as “mistakes.” The August 2 attack conducted by the Saudi-led Coalition on al-Thawra Hospital and a popular fish market in the embattled city of Hodeidah has been described by locals as a “massacre.” The airstrikes killed at least 55 civilians and left over 124 people injured, many of whom are fighting for their lives in health facilities that are barely functional due to repeated airstrikes and medicinal shortages resulting from the Saudi/UAE-imposed blockade. Whatever “protections” U.S. lawmakers are extending to Yemeni civilians, those protections did nothing to prevent this assault.
It stands to reason that massacres like the attack on Al-Hudaydah are liable to happen if we sell aircraft and weaponry to Saudi coalition forces backing the Yemeni government. Sure, the U.S. government might ask real nicely for the Saudis not to bomb civilians, but as long as the Saudis possess such superior military capability, and as long as Iran is invested in the Yemeni civil war, shows of force like this are eminently possible, if not probable. After all, if the Saudi-led coalition can carry out attacks on fish markets and hospitals without acknowledging its culpability and without proportionate censure from the international community, there’s no real risk for it to operate with anything other than impunity.
To stress, however, even if America isn’t the one pulling the trigger, they’re still implicated in the devastation in Yemen. What’s more, the United States’ involvement preceded President Donald Trump’s tenure, and has continued despite the absence of a formal authorization by Congress to engage in hostilities there.
How does this happen? How does the United States of America provide “logistical support” for years to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—and thus serve as party to human rights violations—in relative obscurity? As Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone tells, the cone of silence surrounding the atrocities in Yemen is owed to a perfect storm of factors that lend themselves to sparing media coverage and limited interest from Jane and John Q. Public. He writes:
Ultimately, the ancillary humanitarian disaster that has grown out of the war has become a distinct tale in itself. The U.N. puts the number of displaced persons at over 2 million, with more than 22 million people “in need.” Yet still the Yemen crisis has received little attention, likely because it represents a whole continuum of American media taboos.
For one thing, the victims are poor nonwhite people from a distant third-world country. Also, our involvement is bipartisan in nature, which takes the usual-suspect cable channels out of the round-the-clock-bleating game (our policies in the region date back to the Obama presidency, and have continued under Trump).
Thirdly, covering the story in detail would require digging into our unsavory relationship with the Saudi government, which has an atrocious human rights record.
In just a few sentences, Taibbi outlines a number of elements lying behind the failure of much of the news media to adequately address the situation in Yemen. There’s a racial component (likely aided by a distrust, for many, of Muslims and a sense of hopelessness about peace in the Middle East), the specter of classism, a shared sense of blame for representatives of both parties (which doesn’t help generate clicks in an era of partisanship), and a long-standing material financial relationship with the Saudi government buttressed by a mutual distrust of communism and a mutual love of oil.
This is all before we even get to discussing the possibility that the U.S. starts selling drones to the Saudis, a concern Taibbi addresses. As part of our aversion to being associated with Saudi violations of international law, we’ve, until now, refused to supply Saudi Arabia with killer drones (although we’re happy to sell them F-15s and help them re-fuel in mid-air). With China already supplying the Saudis and the UAE with drones, meanwhile, there is a push within the United States government to ease restrictions on the sale of these machines. If you were thinking President Trump is leading this push, you were right. It’s unfortunate, and yet wholly predictable.
At the end of the day, America’s penchant for meddling in other countries with military might alongside Yemen’s status as an unsexy topic in this Trump-oriented age of clickbait news has pushed the crisis there to the back pages at a point when Yemeni civilians are the most vulnerable and their plight merits a more robust response from the international community. As Taibbi writes in closing, “Until [Yemen] becomes a political football for some influential person or party, this disaster will probably stay at the back of the line.”
As part of a line including American farmers hurt by Trump’s trade war, immigrant families deported and separated as a function of the administration’s “zero tolerance exercise in cruelty, victims in Puerto Rico of Hurricane Maria and the government’s woefully insufficient response to the storm, and a water crisis in Flint of which the impact stands to be felt for decades to come, that’s a wait that Yemenis in need can ill afford.
What makes matters worse—yes, it does get worse—is that Yemen is home to one of the most dangerous wings of al-Qaeda in the form of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, and the bombings/drone attacks and substandard living conditions there only give rise to an increased ability for this terror network to recruit new members.
In this respect, the United States is apparently caught between competing interests. On one hand, in its ongoing (and amorphous) war on terror, it wants to combat the influence of extremist elements in the Arab world and in other countries where Islam has a significant number of followers. On the other hand, it is loyal to a Saudi government engaging in a proxy war with Iran in Yemen, a government that is notorious as a sponsor for jihadism. If the cautionary tale of Syria is any indication, then inaction presents its own consequences. As is always the case, there is no perfect solution to a problem marked by hostilities between groups along international and sectarian divides.
Complicating this power struggle and U.S. involvement is the notion that Saudi-Emirati coalition forces are actively negotiating with al-Qaeda to leave key areas in exchange for cash, equipment, and weapons. An Associated Press report by Maggie Michael, Trish Wilson, and Lee Keath details the nature of these arrangements, as well as the anger in certain circles that America is prioritizing coalition concerns with Iranian expansionism over fighting terrorism and stabilizing Yemen.
To be clear, the AP report states there is no evidence that American money has gone to AQAP militants, and the U.S. government has denied complicity with al-Qaeda. This notwithstanding, the gist one gets is that we’re at least aware of these deals. In all, it’s a big mess of factions and interests, and what’s more, the indication in the report that AQAP’s numbers are on the rise suggests there is some degree of comfort for the group in Yemen. At any rate, it runs counter to a narrative that coalition forces are stamping out al-Qaeda’s influence in the region, and for a war we’re involved in that hasn’t even been met with a congressional declaration, that’s not encouraging.
At the heart of the trouble with the Yemen situation is the overwhelming humanitarian need, it should be emphasized. Sadly, and while not to dissuade aid efforts, until real progress can be made to curb open hostilities, treating the victims will only temporarily assuage their wounds and will only help a portion of those impacted. Accordingly, due notice must be paid to the suffering of the Yemeni people, and with that, the United States’ hand in this state of affairs.
Based on principle alone, Yemen deserves more attention, and noting the U.S.’s assistance to the Saudi-Emirati coalition, it’s yet more incumbent upon our nation to accept responsibility. Whether or not the prospects of such recognition are particularly good, however, is another matter entirely.
2017 looks poised to finish on a high note, at least economically speaking. The stock market in the United States is near a record high, likely buoyed by the GOP’s corporation-friendly tax cut that President Donald Trump signed into law. Reportedly, the holiday season saw an increase of 5% in sales, an increase of 3.7% from the same span in 2016. Winning, winning, winning. Aren’t you tired of winning so much, fellow Americans? Aren’t you glad Pres. Trump is making America great again? Never mind the notion that he may not have as much to do with the economy as he would lead you to believe. Also, maybe we shouldn’t mention that, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research in London, England, China and India’s economies will surpass that of the U.S.’s by 2030. In other long-term news, meanwhile, productivity growth within America’s economy remains low, income inequality remains startlingly high, the federal debt continues to skyrocket, and the nation is gripped by an opioid dependency epidemic.
So, glass half empty or glass half full? How do you see these United States shaping up over the next few years and into the future? It likely depends on which side of the political or socioeconomic fence you live—and whether or not you stand to personally benefit from the policies the Trump administration and a Republican-led Congress aim to advance. Looking just at the GOP tax cuts, opponents of this policy shift have assailed it as a present for the super-wealthy and industry leaders at the expense of average Americans, and as a greasing of the slippery slope toward the erosion of Social Security, Medicare, and other social safety net programs. In other words, the advantages of this agenda would tend to be appreciated by the few rather than the many, and perhaps it is no wonder Trump’s approval ratings are languishing south of 40%, a historical low at this point in the presidency.
Perhaps it’s instructive to see where we’ve been to help gauge where we may be going in 2018, in 2020, and beyond. Let’s take a look back at some of the topics covered in 2017 on United States of Joe. Warning: we may have a bit more to say regarding our orange leader. If you have any small children in the room, you may want to move them to a safe location—especially if they happen to frequent beauty pageants. I hear El Presidente and his buddies like ’em young, and like to invade dressing rooms of contestants while they’re potentially less-than-fully clothed. Without further ado, let’s do the…
US of J 2017 Review: This Time, It’s Personal—Because Our President Takes Everything Personally
The Biggest Inauguration in U.S. History—Kinda, Sorta
Hey—did you realize Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election? No? Let Trump himself tell you about it! In fact, let him tell you about how he won going away every time something goes wrong or the press challenges him on the quality of his performance as President. You know, even though he didn’t win going away—dude didn’t even win the popular vote. Of course, Trump being the stupid baby that he is, he would challenge the legitimacy of Hillary Clinton’s supremacy in the popular vote, a harbinger of a disturbing trend that continues to play out with the Tweeter-in-Chief. Hillary didn’t win the popular vote—it was massive fraud involving undocumented immigrants that illegitimately got her that small victory. There’s absolutely no credible evidence of this, mind you, and the bullshit voter fraud task force the White House commissioned hasn’t turned up anything either. Trump’s Inauguration crowds were bigger than Barack Obama’s. Don’t believe the visual evidence? That’s OK—Trump, Sean Spicer and Co. were simply offering “alternative facts.” Don’t care for CNN’s brand of reporting? No problem—it’s “fake news.” After all, the media isn’t to be trusted in the first place—it’s the enemy of the people. I’m sure you felt that deep down anyhow, though.
Donald Trump’s assault on the truth and on verifiable fact is unmistakable, and his attacks on the press, including his fetishistic obsession with CNN, are overstated. That said, it’s not as if American news media is blameless in this regard either. Even before Trump was elected President, the mainstream media was an unabashed enabler of his antics. With Buzzfeed’s release of the “Pee-Pee Papers,” a salacious and unauthenticated account of Russian prostitutes performing sex acts at Trump’s behest supposedly based on credible intelligence, and CNN retracting a story on a supposed connection between Anthony Scaramucci, whose tenure as White House Communications Director was remarkably short-lived, and Trump’s Russian ties, Trump suddenly appears more credible. In the push for ratings and clicks in an turbulent era for journalism, the rush of media outlets to meet the demand of consumers for up-to-date information is understandable, but this does not excuse sloppy, irresponsible reporting. For the sake of the institution as a whole, the U.S. news media must balance the need to generate revenue with the importance of upholding standards of journalistic integrity, and must stand together when Trump et al. would seek to undermine one among their ranks—or risk a more precipitous downfall.
Gorsuch: Silver Fox and Supreme Court Justice
One of the big concerns following the death of Antonin Scalia and prompting voters to think hard about voting strategically between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was the idea the next President would get to nominate Scalia’s successor. We would be remiss if we did not mention that Barack Obama, well in advance of his departure from the White House, had already tapped Merrick Garland, a fine candidate to fill Scalia’s void. Mitch McConnell a.k.a. Turtle McTurtleface and the other Republicans in the Senate, meanwhile, would not even entertain Obama’s choice, prompting their constituents to protest outside of their offices and chant “Do your job!” In other words, it was really a dick move on the GOP’s part, and a gamble that the party would win the 2016 presidential election so they could install Antonin Scalia 2.0. Trump’s upset electoral victory thus paved the way for Neil Gorsuch to ascend to the highest court in the United States.
Gorsuch, previously a U.S. Circuit Court Judge with a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, is eminently qualified in his own right. This didn’t seem to be a point of contention between leaders of the two parties. Still, coming off a situation in which a perfectly good candidate in Garland was blocked as a function of mere partisanship, it brought an added measure of scrutiny and tension to confirmation proceedings. The Democrats filibustered to prevent cloture and delay a confirmation vote. The Republicans countered by invoking the so-called “nuclear option,” effectively changing Senate rules whereby they could break the filibuster with a simple majority. By a 54-45 vote, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed as the latest Supreme Court Justice. The whole process ultimately revealed few interesting tidbits about Gorsuch, and more so demonstrated the ugliness of political brinksmanship that has become a hallmark of Congress in this day and age. And we wonder why average Americans are not more politically engaged.
The Trump Administration vs. the World
As a function of “making America great again,” Donald Trump apparently believes strongly in defense spending and letting the world know the United States is #1. After alternatively touting his desire to bring the country along a more isolationist track and vowing to “bomb the shit out of ISIS” on the campaign trail, Trump, well, sort of did both. In terms of shows of force, his administration was responsible for dropping the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan, as well as approving the launch of dozens of missiles into Syria, supposedly as retaliation for the Assad regime’s use of toxic gas on its own people. The latter, in particular, got the dander of his white nationalist supporters up, though as far as most kinder, gentler souls are concerned, the disappointment of a bunch of ethnocentric xenophobes is not all that much of a loss. Less talked-about, but perhaps no less significant, were other less successful operations across international lines. First of all, not long after Trump took office, there was a botched raid in Yemen that saw Navy SEAL Ryan Owens killed, and to date, little information has been offered on the attack that led to his death and by all appearances was ill-advised. And there was the massacre at a mosque in Syria outside Aleppo. According to U.S. officials, numerous al-Qaeda operatives were taken out by the strike in the town of Jinah, but activists and others on the ground there tell a different story, one of civilians attending religious services and being fired upon as they tried to flee the place of worship. Reportedly, at least 46 people were killed in the assault on the mosque, and the U.S. military was criticized by humanitarian groups for not doing its due diligence in assessing the target for the possibility of civilian casualties. Oh, well—they were Muslims and not Americans anyway. Whoops!
In terms of isolating itself from the international community, America has done that under Donald Trump—if for other reason than it has done to things to alienate that international community. There was the whole backing of out of the Paris climate accord thing, which is voluntary in the first place and thus mostly serves as a middle finger to those here and abroad who give a hoot about polluting and climate change. Even before apparent attacks on American diplomats there, Trump and his administration have reversed course on Cuba relative to an Obama-era thawing of frigid diplomatic relations, and the benefit of this 180 to either side merits questioning. They’ve taken a tough tone with Iran and accused the country of not meeting its end of the bargain with respect to the nuclear deal much hated by conservative Republicans, in apparent deference to the whims of Saudi Arabia. Trump and North Korean president Kim Jong-un have basically had a year-long war of words through television news media and social media, with the latter referring to the former as a “dotard.” (Essentially, he told our President he’s a senile moron. Thanks, Merriam-Webster!) The White House has resolved to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and to acknowledge the city, contested as to its very boundaries, as the capital of Israel, prompting a United Nations resolution condemning the move. And this is all before we even get to the investigation into Trump, his transition team, his administration, and suspected ties to Russia. In short, if Donald Trump hasn’t pissed you off this year, you’re either one of his core supporters or have just run out of f**ks to give—and I’m not sure which one is worse.
Race to the Exit: The Trump Administration Story
Viewing some of Trump’s picks for Cabinet posts and various positions within the White House at length, it was a wonder for many to see who might be first to go or fail to even get confirmed. At least Andrew Puzder, then-CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, had the decency to withdraw before the confirmation process was over; as potential Secretary of Labor, it was his employ of undocumented immigrants which was his undoing. Not giving less than half a shit about his employees and being opposed to raising the minimum wage? Nah, that was fine. In fact, it made him more than suitable for nomination in the era of Trump. Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, Linda McMahon, Mick Mulvaney, Steve Mnuchin, Rick Perry, Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, Jeff Sessions—these are the kinds of individuals that Donald Trump, seemingly without irony, tapped for important government posts despite a lack of proficiency in their area of supposed expertise, a stated desire to abolish the very agency they were named to head, or both. Price ultimately resigned when information about his questionable spending of the government’s finances to suit his convenience came to light, and there have been whispers about the job security of Sessions and Rex Tillerson from time to time, but for the most part, the bulk of them still remain. And so much for draining the swamp—between Goldman Sachs and billionaires, this Cabinet is as marshy as they come.
As for other appointees and residual officeholders, there was yet more volatility to be had. Michael Flynn was National Security Adviser for all of about a month before getting canned, and currently, he’s facing repercussions after pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators. Not to be outdone, the aforementioned Anthony Scaramucci lasted a scant ten days before his sacking as White House Communications Director, and in that short time, he divested himself of business ties and ruined his marriage. Welcome to the team, Mooch—and don’t let the door hit you on your way out! His predecessor, Sean “Spicey” Spicer, made it to July before bowing out, but not before some hilarious cameos on Saturday Night Live featuring Melissa McCarthy as Spicer. Steve Bannon, the Skeleton King, made it to August before he was either fired or before he resigned—depending on who you ask. Sebastian Gorka also departed in August, and seeing as he didn’t do much but argue with the press in interviews anyway, I’m relatively sure he isn’t missed. Omarosa Manigault Newman is set to resign in January, and evidently is not afraid to tell all. In sum, people can’t get out of the Trump White House soon enough, and whether some vacancies will go unfilled or simply are taking forever to get filled, the hallmark of this administration is disarray and upheaval. And somehow Kellyanne Conway still has a job. Sorry—that’s the sound of my head hitting the wall. I’ll try to keep it down.
The Democrats Form a Killer Strategy to Win in 2018, 2020, and Be—Oh, Who Are We Kidding?
For a while, it was relatively quiet on the Democratic Party front following the election and even the Inauguration with the Dems licking their wounds. This is not to say, obviously, that nothing was going on behind the scenes. One event which seems fairly minor but reflects deep conflicts within the Democratic ranks was the election of a new Democratic National Committee chair to replace departing interim chair Donna Brazile, herself a replacement for Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Keith Ellison, a Bernie Sanders supporter and popular progressive Democrat, was the front-runner for the position early, but concerns about Ellison’s lack of obeisance to the positions of the DNC’s rich Jewish donors and the establishment wing of the party not wishing to cede too much control to the “Bernie-crats” among them led former Labor Secretary Tom Perez to enter the fray. In the end, the vote was close, but Perez carried the day. That the Obama-Hillary segment of the Democratic Party would expend so much energy on a position that is largely ceremonial and concerned with fundraising is telling, and signals that any progressive reform of the party will be slow in coming—if at all.
If there is any further doubt about this, look at how certain races played out outside of the presidential milieu. Sure, Democrats may point to more recent victories in the gubernatorial elections of New Jersey (Phil Murphy) and Virginia (Ralph Northam), as well as the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in Alabama (Doug Jones), but other losses appear indicative of the Dems’ failure to commit to a comprehensive, 50-state strategy, namely Jon Ossoff in Georgia, James Thompson in Kansas, and Rob Quist in Montana, who lost to Greg Gianforte, even after the latter beat up a reporter. Seriously. Elsewhere, Hillary Clinton, after a moment of repose, released a book in which she accepted full responsibility for losing a election she was largely expected to win. Kidding! She blamed Bernie Sanders, voters for not coming out more strongly for her, James Comey, and even the DNC. That last one seems particularly disingenuous, especially when considering that Donna Brazile herself had a book to release critical of Hillary and one which confirmed what many of us already knew: that Hill-Dawg and the Committee were in cahoots long before the primaries. The Democrats seem content to allow Donald Trump and the machinations of the Republican Party to dig the GOP into an electoral hole. For an electorate increasingly weary of the “We’re Not the Other One” line, though, this does not a strategy make, and without an obvious frontrunner for 2020, the Democratic Party’s presumed advantage could well be overstated. Such that, if Trump actually makes it that far, it’s not inconceivable to think he could be re-elected. Talk about a recurring nightmare.
The White Supremacists, They Come Bearing Tiki Torches
In 2017, I would’ve thought it crazy for a scene to play out like it did in Charlottesville, Virginia this past August. And yet, lo and behold, it did. Some 250 protestors, carrying kerosene-filled torches and rebelling against a perceived erosion of their heritage and history, marched on the University of Virginia campus, shouting epithets, vowing not to be “replaced,” and generally ready to start a ruckus over the planned removal of a statue honoring Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The next day, though, if not as frightening in terms of the imagery, was worse in terms of the outcome. Protestors arrived carrying nationalist banners clubs, guns, and shields. Counter-protestors were also on hand to “greet” the white supremacists, the anti-fascists among them armed as well. It was not long before violence broke out, and by the time the police intervened, there already were injuries to tally. The worst of it all, though, were the fatalities. Heather Heyer, a counter-protestor, was killed as a result of a man deliberately plowing into people, and two state troopers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, died in a separate helicopter crash. In terms of senseless violence and loss, the Charlottesville riots seem to epitomize the very concept.
The apparent surge in white nationalist leanings following the election of Donald Trump is disturbing in its own right, but by the same token, so too is it unsettling that people would condone attacks against their ranks so readily. Some people who reject any set of principles that resembles Nazism believe violence to suppress hateful rhetoric is justified. Such is the belief of various antifa groups, and this where the debate of the movement’s merits comes into play. Though anti-fascists like those who don the mark of the Black Bloc don’t actually have much to do with traditional liberalism, their association with the left threatens the credibility of true liberal and progressive groups, and nullifies the bargaining power that these individuals have over the deficient worldviews they oppose. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and violence as a tool to suppress violence does not serve its intended purpose.
Congress vs. Everyday Americans: F**k Your Health Care, and F**k Your Income Inequality
Per President Trump, the Affordable Care Act, also affectionately known as “ObamaCare,” is a total disaster. Republican leaders likewise have been decrying the ACA for some time now, painting it as an unwanted intrusion of the federal government in the health care industry. Never mind that a significant portion of red-state voters depend on the provisions of the Affordable Care Act to be able to pay for medically necessary services, and that a sizable subset of America would actually like to see the nation move to a single-payer/Medicare-for-all model. Trump and a GOP Congress had a lot riding on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and replacing it, though owing to the notion the devil is in the details, that Republicans tried to rush legislation through the House and the Senate with little idea of what was in it was telling that it probably wasn’t something they would want to share with their constituents. In the end, John McCain’s “no” vote on a “skinny” repeal of ObamaCare turned out to be pivotal in the measure’s failure to pass. Trump would later issue an executive order that would broadly task the government with working on ways to improve competition, prices, and quality of care, though it faced criticisms for how it essentially opened a backdoor for the destabilization of ACA marketplaces by taking younger, healthier consumers of the equation. Yet more significant could be the planned ending of cost-sharing subsidy payments to insurers that would likely mean higher prices for the consumer. Whatever the case, Trump and the GOP haven’t killed the Affordable Care Act, despite their boasts—they’ve only repealed the individual mandate aspect of the law. Of course, this doesn’t mean the Republicans are done coming for affordable health care. Far from it, in all likelihood.
Where Trump et al. found greater success—to our detriment, it should be stressed—is in the passage and signing of their tax reform bill. Once again, the knowledge of its contents prior to voting among lawmakers was questionable, but ultimately, by relatively slim margins in the House and Senate, what many have referred to as the “GOP Tax Scam” cleared Congress. Make no mistake: this is not good news for average Americans. Any benefits to be enjoyed in the short term are outweighed by how the wealthiest among us and corporations will experience that much more of a boon, with long-term consequences to the national debt and minimal rewards to be trickled down to the rank-and-file. In short, it’s class warfare, and potentially a troubling herald of future attempts to screw with Medicare, Social Security, and other entitlement programs—and the worst part is most of us seem to know it. One can only hope that Republicans will face their own consequences in forthcoming elections. It’s not a great consolation, but at this point, it’s the best we’ve got.
Some Protests Get Lost in the Shouting/Tweeting; Others Succeed Beyond Expectations
Even before Colin Kaepernick, there were player protests and refusals to stand at attention for the playing of the National Anthem at professional sporting events. Not long after the start of the NFL season, however, the continued kneeling, sitting, staying in the locker room, or raising of fists raised the ire of one President Donald Trump who, while apparently not busy playing golf or signing disastrous legislation into law, started a fracas about players refusing to stand during the Star-Spangled Banner, suggesting they should be suspended or outright released for their disrespect of the flag and of those who have served and died for our country. Trump also cited the NFL’s declining ratings and ticket sales as a direct impact of the players kneeling. While it’s possible reactions to player protests may be a factor in these downturns, this overlooks other persistent issues facing professional sports in general: declines in traditional television viewership among younger adults, high costs of premium sports channel packages, the prevalence of injuries and concerns about traumatic brain injuries, the steep price tag for attending games in person, and the mediocrity of play of any number of teams. All the while, the original thrust of Kaepernick’s protest—to raise awareness of the unfair treatment of people of color at the hands of police and other institutions—seemed to get lost in the discussion of who was protesting, which teams issued ultimatums about standing and which did not, and why people weren’t watching now. So much for fighting racial injustice. Better luck in 2018, people of color.
In perhaps a surprising turn of events, though, and possibly a watershed moment in the fights for gender equality and for standing up for victims of sexual assault and harassment, movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s exposure as a habitual offender of sexual misconduct, if not outright rape, opened the floodgates for other accusations, admissions, allegations, and denials. Hollywood has apparently borne the brunt of the revelations inspired by the #MeToo movement, with any number of projects shelved or cancelled as a result of men’s misdeeds, but the political realm also has seen its share of high-profile figures caught in the spotlight. Al Franken was forced to resign from his seat in the U.S. Senate after numerous women accused him of impropriety. John Conyers, another congressional Democrat, resigned too in the wake of a veritable mountain of allegations. Roy Moore didn’t abandon his political aspirations even after the likes of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan suggested he should step aside, but he also didn’t win as a Republican in Alabama. And then there’s maybe the biggest fish of them all: none other than Donald Trump. That Trump hasn’t been brought down by his own accusations—or for any other wrongdoing, for that matter—is somewhat deflating. Then again, maybe it’s only a matter of time. As with members of the GOP losing in 2018 and 2020, once more, we can only hope.
Meryl Streep famously put Donald Trump on blast at the Golden Globes. Predictably, this invited jeers from Trump supporters who felt “limousine liberals” like herself should “stay in their lane.” You may not like that Streep has a platform in this manner, but she still is an American, and that means not only is she entitled to say what she wants given the opportunity, but as she and others might see it, she has a civic duty to speak out when someone who ostensibly represents us, the people, does so in a destructive way. Kudos, Ms. Streep. I look forward to your acceptance speech at the forthcoming Golden Globes. Come on—you know it’s coming.
Bill Maher more or less engaged in a conversation with Sam Harris about how Islam is a deficient religion—though both men notably have their issues with organized religion, so take this for what it’s worth. In a separate chat with Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, when jokingly asked by the senator if he would work in the fields of Nebraska, Maher referred to himself as a “house n****r.” For an educated guy, Maher is kind of a dickish moron.
Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz had a health care debate on CNN. Why? Why not! At any rate, it was better than the Republican Party debates from last primary season.
In perhaps a glaring example of where we are as a nation in 2017, our President revealed he did not know who Frederick Douglass is—though Trump being Trump, tried to play it off like he did. Also, Kellyanne Conway continued to speak words that sounded like actual thoughts, declaring herself a “feminist” who apparently doesn’t know the meaning of the word, and elsewhere suggesting microwaves can be turned into cameras and be used to spy on us. Hmm—it appears my nose is bleeding. Or maybe that’s just my brain liquefying from these comments. Carry on, please.
In international news, Canada moved closer to legalizing marijuana, with a target date of Canada Day, 2018. In the States? Jeff Sessions the Racist Dinosaur and others like him talk about how weed is a drug for “bad people.” So, if you’re keeping score at home: cannabis :: bad; alcohol, tobacco, and firearms—things that are way more deadly than cannabis :: good. Well, at least we’ve got our priorities straight.
A handful of inmates were executed in Alabama, essentially because the state had a bunch of drugs used in lethal injection at its disposal set to expire, so—what the hell!—might as well use them! Pardon me for waxing philosophical as this moment, but the death penalty is state-sponsored murder. It is revenge for the sake of revenge, and way too often (and too late), it has ended the lives of those whose guilt would be proven false with new evidence and advances in forensic science. It should be abolished. Thank you. I’ll get down from my soapbox now.
James Comey was fired from his post as FBI director. This was in no way politically or personally motivated and in no way related to the investigation into Donald Trump, his finances, and any collusion with or other connections to Russia involving him or his surrogates. Right.
In Florida, the Grieving Families Act was signed into law, allowing women who have had miscarriages to obtain a “certificate of nonviable birth” for their fetus. So it’s about providing solace to women and their families? No, not really. At heart, it’s an end-around about abortion that seeks to specify when life begins and potentially heralds future attempts to chip away at women’s reproductive rights. Not to mention it connotes the idea that women who lose or terminate their pregnancies should only feel grief, when really, it can be a complex mix of emotions. As long as men are making decisions on the behalf of their female constituents about what they can and can’t do with their bodies, we’ll continue to see policies like this. Keep your eyes peeled.
Dana Loesch released a fiery video about the NRA and how it is “freedom’s last stand.” In other exciting gun news, a guy shot up a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and killed a bunch of people. Let freedom ring, eh?
White nationalists apparently love Tucker Carlson because he question the merits of all immigration—legal or not. Carlson, like Bill Maher, is kind of a douche.
Venezuela held a sham election “won” by Nicolas Maduro. Maduro identifies with socialism. Socialism, therefore, is bad, and Bernie Sanders is the devil. Are you following this logic? If it makes sense to you, um, you’re probably not the intended audience for this blog, but thanks for reading anyway.
Catalonia had a vote to declare independence from Spain. The Spanish government, well, didn’t like that too much. The result was a violent crackdown against pro-independence protests and a lot of international attention drawn to the situation, and in a recent vote, separatists won a slim majority after Spain ousted the previous Catalan government. Great job, Prime Minister Rajoy! You really screwed the Puigdemont on that one.
Joe Arpaio, a virulent racist and all-around ass-hat who held inmates in substandard conditions and profiled residents suspected of being undocumented immigrants as Maricopa County Sheriff in Arizona, was pardoned by President Trump. In other words, f**k off, Hispanics and Latinos.
Millennials can still be blamed for pretty much anything, depending on who you ask. The extinction of the dinosaurs? Oh, yeah—we did that shit.
Bitcoin continues to see wild swings in its valuation after the spike in the second half of the year which brought it to the national consciousness. Does this mean it’s inherently bad? Not necessarily. As with any emerging technology, there are ups and downs to be had with Bitcoin made more pronounced by its recent prominence. Are you behind the curve now, though, with respect to making big bucks off of a relatively small investment? Most definitely.
By installing Mick Mulvaney as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, America moved one step closer to eliminating the one agency expressly devoted to protecting consumer interests as regards their finances and investment vehicles. Consumer advocacy—what a joke!
Speaking of one step closer, the powers-that-be edged the Doomsday Clock one tick nearer to midnight. Er, pop the champagne?
In advance of the coming year, as far as politics and current events are concerned, there are all kinds of things that may factor into predictions for 2018. Certainly, though, we would expect certain things to continue as they are. Our beloved President will undoubtedly keep Tweeting acrimonious barbs at anyone who runs afoul of him and making cheap concessions to his supporters, especially from the context of rallies that he shouldn’t be having while not on the campaign trail. A GOP-majority Congress will still try to pass off policy designed to primarily benefit its wealthy corporate and individual donors as a boon for the “American people.” Bitcoin will probably still see extreme volatility as to its price, if the bubble doesn’t burst outright. And don’t even get me started about America’s attention to environmental conservation. When Trump and his Republican cronies are repealing Obama-era protections on keeping mining waste out of clean water, reversing bans on the Keystone XL Pipeline going through Native American reservations, allowing for the use of lead ammunition in national parks, and greenlighting drilling for oil in wildlife refuges, you know we are not close to doing our part to combat deleterious climate change. These actions belie the seriousness of the problem, and stunt the progress which can’t be stopped regarding the transition to renewable energy sources away from fossil fuels. At a time when we need to do all we can to slow or reverse the damage we’ve done to our planet, standing still is going backward.
Sounds bad, huh? While there are yet more reasons to be concerned from an activism/human rights standpoint—the all-too-slow recovery from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico; the pervasive influence of money in politics and gerrymandering purely for political gain; the plight of immigrants, migrants, and refugees worldwide; and the repeated iterations of the travel ban (read: Muslim ban) jump to mind—there is yet for hope for those on the left, and perhaps even those on the right. You know, even if they don’t know any better. In the political sphere, in particular, the deficient policies advanced by Republicans could end up in an electoral backlash in 2018 and 2020. Granted, this does not mean that Democrats don’t need to be held to higher standards, and as bad as GOP leadership has been, that Bernie Sanders, an aging independent from Vermont, remains a more popular choice than most prominent Dems suggests not is entirely well with the Democratic Party either. Speaking of bad leadership, and depending on the contents of Robert Mueller’s investigation, President Donald Trump might also be in real trouble from an ethical/legal standpoint. While visions of impeachment and President Mike Pence aren’t all that inspiring, at this point, anyone seems better than President Pussy-Grabber. I mean, eventually, all the terrible shit Trump has said and done has to come back to him, right? Right?
In truth, I am not terribly optimistic about 2018. But I’m also not done resisting against those who compromise ethical and moral standards to enrich themselves at the expense of others. By this, I mean the people at the top who are willing to see everyday Americans struggle through hunger, poverty, sickness and even death to further their bottom line. For all the preoccupation about border security, crime, and terrorism for many prospective 2020 voters, the “rigged” system about which Trump offhandedly talks is a yet bigger worry, and the aforementioned climate crisis our Earth faces is potentially worst of all. This all sounds very old-hat and trite, but until we start making real progress on the various forms of inequality which plague our society, these aphorisms must be repeated and stressed. Accordingly, through all the trepidation we might feel, there is too much work to be done not to do it. It’s worth the effort. After all, it’s our very lives and livelihoods we’re fighting for.
Whatever path you choose, best wishes to you and yours for 2018 and beyond, and keep fighting the good fight.
In the era of President Donald Trump (still jarring to read or hear, by the way), every piece of news—good or bad—runs the risk of being exaggerated or sensationalized, especially when and where there are issues to sell and clicks to generate. Of course, there is also the risk of underselling the danger Trump presents to America, to democracy, and to the world at large, among those who either fail to comprehend this threat, or fail to be able to confront it in all the terror it induces. As it must be stated and restated, Trump and his presidency are not normal. His war against the media is not normal. His personal gain from use of his properties because of his refusal to divest is not normal. His nationalist rhetoric and the hate and violence he encourages is not normal. Pres. Trump, in obscuring, obstructing, and distracting from his ties to Russia, is potentially at the heart of a scandal yet worse than Watergate. He’s a fraud, and details like fake covers of Time magazine with his image on them hanging in his golf clubs would be laughable and piteous if this man weren’t such a prick and President of the United freaking States. Donald Trump can and should be resisted for these reasons and more.
As specifically regards attributing good news to Trump, caution should be taken before ascribing any boon to him or any other POTUS, for that matter. In the weeks after Trump’s election, the stock market was on the rise, prompting chatter about a “Trump bump.” That bump extended even to his first 100 days, with Trump enjoying the biggest increase in stock prices since George W. Bush. The seeming justification for this was the perception or prediction that Trump’s policies would generally favor business, hence reason for optimism on Wall Street. Since then—and not merely to kill one’s buzz—the Trump bump, as measured by the “yield curve” plotting the difference between 10-year and 2-year Treasury bond yields, has flattened out, and if analysts like Steve Denning are accurate in their assessment of what’s going on economically in the U.S., this kind of rise in stocks and shareholder value does nothing for jobs and stands to depress the real economy. Not to mention that “much of the markets’ movements arises from circumstances beyond any president’s control.” As #45 would have us believe, he inherited a real mess from Barack Obama, and the initial upward surge we saw was nothing short of miraculous, but the truth is Trump stepped into a better situation than either of his predecessors. Dubya was dealing with the dot-com bubble burst when he began his tenure. Obama was dealing with the financial crisis of 2007 to 2008 to 2009 to whenever one presumes it actually ended. Ol’ Cheeto Voldemort has had to deal with—what?—BuzzFeed and CNN being mean to him?
Along these lines, the recent announcement of a move by NATO members to increase defense spending by some $12 billion has less to do with Donald Trump than he or his supporters might otherwise lead you to believe. In a piece for Foreign Policy, Robbie Gramer suggests it is another autocratic strongman at the heart of this 4.3% uptick: Vladimir Putin. According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, this increase, part of an ongoing upward trend, is specifically designed not only to confront terrorism and extremism in the Middle East, but to handle Russian aggression. According to sources cited in Gramer’s piece, the 2014 invasion of Crimea, in particular, was a catalyst for a pledge for NATO members to raise their level of spending to at least 2% of GDP spending by 2024 if not there already, with a number of governments putting plans into motion before November’s upset presidential victory. (It should not surprise you to know that the United States has already long since eclipsed that threshold.) Per Mr. Stoltenberg, these monies will be used for new military equipment and exercises better designed to address emergency situations and other unexpected events (like, um, invasions), as well as to fund pensions and salaries for troops.
In enumerating the justifications for this more robust commitment to defense spending, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg actually acknowledged President Trump’s focus. No, seriously. He is quoted thusly: “I welcome the strong focus of President Trump on defense spending and burden sharing, because it is important that we deliver. European allies should invest more in defense not only to please the United States, but they should invest more in defense because it is in their own interests.” OK, give the devil his due—even if to be merely diplomatic about the whole situation—but how much credit do we give a man for being right for the wrong reasons? Let’s assume Donald Trump has progressed, shall we say, in his thinking about NATO. It’s not a high bar to clear, mind you, but it would be an upward trajectory. As Robbie Gramer outlines, Trump not only characterized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization once upon a time as “obsolete,” but criticized its various members for essentially owing back dues and for intimating that the U.S. might not come to the rescue if they didn’t pony up. Ivo Daalder, former American ambassador to NATO, took to Trump’s favorite medium to drop some knowledge on him. Among his salient points:
The United States decides how much it wants to spend for NATO’s benefit. That is, no one forced America to spend the way it has.
The other member nations don’t pay the U.S. for its services. It’s not a transaction.
All NATO signatories have pledged to spend 2% or more of their GDP on defense spending. Besides the U.S.A., four already do (Estonia, Greece, Poland, and the United Kingdom), and the others are on their way.
America does commit a fair amount of financial resources to the purpose of NATO, but this is because it is in the country’s best interest to make sure Europe is safe. Much in the same way European leaders see increasing defense spending as vital for their own sense of security—and not merely to appease the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
In short, sharing is caring, and for Trump to envision the rest of NATO as taking advantage of the United States’ hospitality is for him to seriously mischaracterize the whole situation. It should be noted, however, that Pres. Trump has since backtracked on his wholesale condemnation of NATO and has committed to endorsing Article 5, the NATO mutual defense clause. The administration has also earmarked nearly $5 billion in its 2018 defense budget for activities amenable to NATO’s cause and Europe’s protection.
Still, while the above elements are promising signs, let’s not lose sight of the 800-pound Russian dancing bear in this equation. On the subject(s) of Russia, Vladimir Putin, hacking, and trying to influence our presidential elections, Donald Trump, as he and other Republicans are wont to due when deflecting, has pointed to Barack Obama’s culpability in these matters. To be fair, the sanctions and other remedial actions approved by the Obama administration in response to evidence of Russian hacking have been criticized by any number of experts as fairly tepid. Nevertheless, as seems to be the pattern with Trump, his lashing out at anyone who is not a staunch loyalist is almost certainly a case of the pot proverbially calling the kettle black. At a recent hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Nicholas Burns, a former State Department official and your company’s computer guy, testified with respect to Russian meddling in America’s elections. At one point, James Risch, Republican senator from Idaho, pressed Burns ever-so-partisanly on his statement that the “Obama administration should have reacted more quickly and vigorously” to Russian hacking, as it was aware that such attempts to undermine American institutions were going on.
Burns, however, maintained that part of the problem in Obama’s dilatory response was resistance from top congressional Republicans, notably the toad-faced Mitch McConnell, in going further on action against Russia despite the administration informing them of the hacking. Furthermore, he offered, while Obama and Co. could have done more, at least he did something to address the Russian threat. Pres. Trump has downplayed the seriousness of Russia’s involvement in our affairs, with he and some of his spokespeople even going so far as to call it all a “hoax,” but while buffoons like Tom Cotton may paint Trump as a superior Commander-in-Chief to Obama because of action in Afghanistan and Syria and for calling for steep (and overstated) domestic defense spending increases, Nicholas Burns is right to be concerned that not only will Trump refuse to act against his BFF Putin, but will even roll back those sanctions approved by Barack Obama, tepid as they were.
What’s striking about this exchange between Risch and Burns is that this is an example of a conflict that is being fought along the lines of the political divide, when matters of national security and defense should be above such posturing. If Cotton, Risch and their Republican colleagues in Congress were really concerned about protecting our homeland and holding people accountable, they would go after Donald Trump just as hard as they rail against Obama. You know, provide some checks and/or balances. After all, if this were Hillary Clinton in the White House instead of Trump, these kinds of hearings would be incessant and aimed directly at her actions. Just look at how the marathon hearing on Benghazi played out, a public event which was as much spectacle as it was legitimate inquiry into what happened to our diplomatic mission in Libya. And Hillary wasn’t even in office at that time! While we’re at it, let’s relitigate other questionable uses of our defense capabilities. Like, for instance, that time we got involved in a war in Iraq based on intelligence that proved faulty. That was a real humdinger.
Indeed, pretty much everything points to the assertion that we as Americans should be concerned about Russia’s attempts to weaken the United States of America, such that a unified defense on the domestic front (Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike) as well as a cooperative approach on the international front (i.e. NATO) is advisable. It is therefore highly disconcerting that, in advance of an upcoming planned meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, the former doesn’t have a set agenda. Because, as Yochi Dreazen, deputy managing editor of Vox’s foreign affairs wing, and others have illuminated, the latter definitely does. Among the things Putin seeks for himself and Russia are 1) that prized roll-back of sanctions for the invasion and annexation of Crimea, which prompted NATO’s rush to increase defense spending in the first place; 2) allowing him to operate more freely in Syria (nothing about a freer Putin sounds good, but maybe that’s just me); 3) the U.S. distancing itself from NATO (ol’ Vladdy is, as it turns out, not a huge fan); and 4) kindly look past trying to influence the 2016 United States presidential election. Presumably, then Putin would shrug his shoulders as if to say, “Come on—you know you want to.”
Almost objectively, one should expect, irrespective of political leanings, the answer to the above requests should be: 1) No; 2) No; 3) No; and 4) F**k no—why? But this is 2017, this is Donald Trump, this is Vladimir Putin, and honestly, do you have any great confidence that Trump will do what is in the United States’ and Europe’s best interests? Whether because Trump has admiration for Putin as a leader who rules with an iron fist and who uses his stature to neutralize the opposition—permanently, even—or because there is some illicit connection between Trump and Russia which compels him to kowtow to Moscow’s whim, or both, there is every reason to worry that the end result of this heart-to-heart will favor Russia at our expense. Despite his contention that he is the consummate deal-maker, if Donald Trump’s ability to “negotiate” a credible replacement of ObamaCare through Congress given majorities in both the House and Senate is any indication, then he’s, um, not all he’s cracked up to be. Now put him up against the likes of Vladimir Putin, a man Dreazen refers to as a “master tactician,” and one’s imagination may wander down some dark paths if one lets it. Or it could be a Putin-Trump love-fest. Anything could happen, which both inspires a small amount of optimism Trump might stumble upon the right course of action, and well-justified terror.
There’s another dread-provoking level to the drama inherent in U.S.-Russia relations, though, in addition to what Trump and his administration won’t do, and what Putin wants. As Yochi Dreazen explains, it’s how Vladimir Putin and others who think like him view the United States—and it’s not merely as a patsy, either. Citing intel by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, there apparently is a laundry list of “offenses” for which Russia suspects the U-S-of-A, including but not limited to the Arab Spring; the ouster of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, currently in exile in Russia and wanted for high treason; revolutions in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and the Ukraine; and wars in Iraq, Kosovo, and Libya. Oh, and Putin thinks we are actively plotting to kick him out, too. In other words, Vladimir Putin sees the United States as an enemy. This is the man that Donald Trump has consistently exempted from criticism. This is the kind of threat that Trump has largely downplayed and over which he has resisted the credibility of the very intelligence agencies designed to furnish him with viable information. This is more than a passing concern, but it’s doubtful that our President fully grasps the very concept.
Returning to the beginning discussion of bad news vs. good news, the ultimate bad news is Donald Trump is still President of the United States, as it has been every week since he’s been elected. With respect to our relationship with our allies, both in Europe and elsewhere, Trump apparently likes to test the bounds of our diplomatic relations by very publicly calling out our allies, particularly when he feels that the United States is being taken advantage of. Which is pretty much all the time. Gotta keep producing those sound bites and playing to the base, eh? Trump’s most recent victim, if you will, is South Korea and newly-elected president Moon Jae-in, chosen to fill the void left by the impeachment of Park Geun-hye. Given his rhetoric on North Korea, there was some degree of expectation that Kim Jong-un and his nation’s ever-present threat would be more of a centerpiece of this meeting. Instead, very little was said by #45 in terms of specifics on a strategy for how to deal with North Korea, and the South Korean president was made to be lectured about its trade policies. With reporters entering the room just as Trump was essentially dressing down his South Korean counterpart. Yeah. Moon Jae-in agreed insofar as being open to revisit KORUS, the five-year-old treaty between the two nations, but what this means for the fate of the treaty and the reception of these events in Seoul is unclear. I know if I were on the South Korean side of things, I would certainly be hesitant to want to deal with President Trump—or even invite him to my country. And you could forget about buying any crappy Trump Home products.
The good news is that Congress may actually be willing to push back against Donald Trump on certain aspects of foreign policy, particularly regarding Russia. Maybe. The Senate just approved by an overwhelming margin a bill which would prevent Trump from rolling back sanctions on Russia. This still has to clear the House without getting watered down significantly, mind you, but that this measure had so much Republican support in the Senate may be telling of what GOP lawmakers think of the President’s temperament. Even more surprising was a vote of the House Appropriations Committee to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force that has allowed the United States to essentially continuously fight wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, with the thinking that this now-15-year-old provision is too broad and should be debated/updated to reflect the current situation with ISIS and al-Qaeda. Of course, when not being criticized for being all but symbolic gestures, some of the actions taken in departure from Trump’s proposals would actually increase the defense budget. That doesn’t exactly enthrall me as a progressive. Still, that there is thinking outside Trump’s proposals and outside blind party loyalty gives one the minutest sense of hope.
Outside of Trump. Invoking this piece’s title, that seems to be the optimal perspective to take, especially when it comes to the global economy and defense spending. Don’t assign Donald Trump more blame than he deserves for factors largely outside his control, but certainly don’t give him more credit when our European allies are bolstering their defense spending—not when they already have made plans to do so and when the shadow of Vladimir Putin looms largest of all. And for the sake of our country’s national security, pray that whole G20 meeting goes well. Fingers crossed.
When President Donald Trump announced his intention to back the United States out of participation in the Paris climate accord, what was most startling was not the potential negative ramifications this move might have for climate change on Earth—which are not to be merely undersold, mind you—but the tone this set in terms of America’s relationship to the rest of the globe. As was largely established in his espousal of an “America First” ideology during his Inauguration speech and throughout his campaign, Trump’s abdication of the U.S.’s environmental responsibilities was essentially a “f**k you” to anyone who was not the U-S-of-A. What made Trump’s announcement particularly galling was the idea the Paris agreement is a voluntary, non-binding treaty. That is, if any signatory nation violates the terms of the accord, it is not as if the rest of the nations in the form of some super big army would come in and, say, force the violator to use hybrid cars.
In fact, prior to Pres. Trump indicating he was opting to pull out—cue salacious wink—the U.S. has been by far the worst offender when it comes to carbon emissions, and has further hampered international efforts to effect a set of environmental standards with some teeth, thanks in large part to opposition on the part of Republican leaders and lawmakers who have refuted the science on climate change, or simply have favored weakening regulations as part of their vague conservative pro-business agenda. Climate change—pshaw! It’s ISIS we should be worried about! They want to take over the world and force us all to live under sharia law! I’m sure as shit not giving up pork! Hell, no, we won’t go!
The United States of America has long viewed itself a cut above the rest, something special. To a certain extent, those who feel this way are right—in terms of its history as a fabled melting pot and as a haven for democratic values, not to mention one of the world’s richest countries, the home of the red, white, and blue has a unique place in the international community. Then again, we are long since removed from the days of the American Revolution and Ellis Island serving as a major hub for entry in the United States. Besides, regardless of what era we’re living in, it’s seemingly a fine line between a proclamation of national pride and individuality, and patriotism to the point of stubbornness. Metric system? Forget that! Why would we want a system based on the number 10 which makes all kinds of sense? Better to have some mess of measurements based on the British imperial system that you either have to memorize or constantly look up! And while we’re at it, screw soccer! Football is way better—because you use your hands—which makes it strange that it’s called “football”—but screw it some more! Because America!
Attitudes like those set forth by Donald Trump which would place America first and all others second—presumably this includes Russia, but you are free to draw your own conclusions in this regard—by their nature appeal to the ultra-conservatives and nationalists among his base. Of course, this is Donald Trump we’re talking about here, so his positions on this dimension have been anything but consistent. For all his bluster about keeping out of other countries’ affairs, especially in the Middle East, it certainly knocked the alt-righters who bought a four-year pass on the Trump Train for a loop when he went and authorized the use of the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan. As enthusiasts of the military-industrial complex instead would be concerned, America under #45 has already seen its fair share of meddling and flex of military might.
Soon after his Trump’s tenure began, the administration proceeded with an operation in Yemen, the success of which is very much debatable. For all the supposedly “helpful intelligence” that was gathered and despite 14 al-Qaeda militants being killed, according to U.S. officials, the Yemen raid also resulted in the death of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, the destruction of a $90 million aircraft, and the deaths of 23 civilians. John McCain, a man who, ahem, knows something about serving his country, even went so far as to label the mission a “failure.” Once we dispense with the usual self-serving talk from Trump, Sean Spicer, and other flatterers within the administration, we are presented with a case where—surprise!—our President’s judgment and flippant approach to foreign policy can and should be scrutinized.
It’s not just in Yemen, however, that we as a country collectively have blood on our hands under Donald Trump, and as with the botched raid on high-ranking al-Qaeda members in Yemen, the collateral damage and overall questionable utility of certain operations merits more attention than it otherwise has received by the mainstream media. In April, multiple reports confirmed that the United States bombed a mosque in Syria, killing 40 civilians and wounding dozens more, a notion which flew directly in the face of U.S. officials’ accounts that it had targeted an al-Qaeda stronghold. This incident fits in with a disturbing pattern of the use of military force under #45: lower insistence on safeguarding civilians in Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere; spikes in the number of civilian casualties disproportionate to the actual number of airstrikes being carried out; and general lack of oversight by the Commander-in-Chief and leadership by the Armed Forces in general. And this is before we even get to the matter of spending and cost overruns, which have been an issue with the Department of Defense even prior to Trump’s tenure. Just recently, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) published a report which found that the DoD blew upwards of $28 million on uniforms for the Afghan Army that not only were inappropriate fits for camouflage given the surroundings (roughly only about 2% of Afghanistan is forest), but were much more expensive than comparable options. Again, whether it’s human lives or millions or dollars, that these are not larger concerns or more publicized is disconcerting. Oh, well. Just put it on our tab. What’s that? A bunch of brown people died in the Middle East? No biggie. They were only Muslims—no big deal.
America First—but just for kicks, let’s bomb the shit out of ISIS and al-Qaeda. Sure, we have tons of things to fix right here at home, but let’s focus on who can and can’t come into the country. President Trump’s professed inclination toward isolationism alongside his apparent hard-on for upping our defense spending and bolstering our nuclear capabilities only hints at an administration of which its foreign policy direction in any given area or region is marked by maddening inconsistency and positions that are far from fully-formed. Trump entertains a call from Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen—and then goes ahead and agrees to uphold the “One China” policy that has existed in America for decades. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggests Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states overstepped in their blockade of Qatar—and then Trump commends the use of that same blockade. Trump derides NATO as “obsolete”—then backpedals on that assertion. It’s one thing to use the “keep them guessing” strategy so as to try to bolster your position in negotiations or to ward off your enemies. Heck, North Korea relies on this as its default way of interaction with the rest of the world. Do we have nuclear capabilities? Can we fire a missile and obliterate you as you’re sitting and sipping on your latte? Not sure? Guess you better watch out! It’s another, however, when you confuse your allies and members of your own Cabinet with your remarks. The administration is already hampered by inefficiency owing to the number of positions Mr. President has yet to fill or for which to even provide a nominee. Add the inability of Trump and Co. to effectively communicate within their own circle, and it’s no wonder this presidency has been characterized as, as the kids would say, a “hot mess.”
More recently, two overt policy shifts with respect to specific nations have drawn widespread attention, and though they are very different, one begins to wonder whether they are both motivated by a legitimate belief that they are the best option, or perhaps more likely, that they are concessions to his supporters and/or deliberate attempts to do the exact opposite of what Barack Obama did, especially toward the end of his second term. The first is Cuba. Marking a 180 from the previous administration’s renewal of bilateral relations, Pres. Donald Trump’s restrictions on travel and business with the island nation are intended expressly to cripple its Communist-led government—as well as to appeal to the portion of the Cuban-American delegation resentful of decades of rule under the Castros and a voting bloc that has generally and traditionally opted red (though there is evidence that tendency is eroding). Moreover, in the demand for the extradition of Assata Shakur/Joanne Chesimard—who escaped prison after being convicted for the murder of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster, fled to Cuba, and has remained there as a political asylee ever since—Trump is looking to solidify his support from the men and women who wear the badge.
You may agree with Trump that Cuba’s government is not an ideal arrangement. You may yourself favor Shakur/Chesimard being “brought to justice.” Even noting these may be principled stances, though, whether or not to engage in a reversal of America’s course to renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba deserves to be talked about. David E. Wade, former Chief of Staff of the State Department, penned an opinion piece critical of this change. Calling the move “the wrong policy in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Wade, noting the odd juxtaposition of lashing out at Cuba despite Trump’s apparent affection for the likes of Vladimir Putin and Rodrigo Duterte, first questions the utility of taking a hardline stance with Raul Castro set to step down next year and the Cuban government becoming increasingly unpopular with its own people. But that’s our Donald—a man who seems pathologically incapable of thinking about the long term as opposed to what’s directly in front of his face or what he watches on FOX News.
Secondly, Wade argues, this hurts the Cuban people and does little to disadvantage the regime in power; the spike in tourism from the United States experienced since President Obama effected a thawing of diplomatic relations between the two nations has benefited everyday Cubans, since Americans stay predominantly using Airbnb, while other foreign visitors use government-controlled resorts. Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, this move is bad for American economic and diplomatic interests. According to a study cited by Mr. Wade, over $6 billion and 10,000 jobs stand to be lost in Trump’s policy shift, and aside from this, there has been improvement in agreements between Cuba and the U.S. on how to handle drug trafficking, environmental disasters, human trafficking, and other issues of a human rights tint. Not to mention our loss may well be China’s or Russia’s gain. Unless that’s really the whole point—particularly on the side of the latter.
The other big bugaboo is Iran, which was already on the GOP hit list because of the nuclear deal orchestrated with its government, a perhaps imperfect but viable framework for bilateral relations between the two nations. Amidst fighting ISIS in Syria, U.S. forces, which have long advocated removing Bashar al-Assad from power, and Iranian forces, which have lent support to the Assad regime, have found themselves on opposing sides when not trying to root out extremism. Donald Trump, for his part, has thus far only insisted on spewing anti-Iran rhetoric and being buddy-buddy with Saudi Arabia, also notably, ahem, not a big fan of Iran (something we would believe is not-so-coincidental given his business interests there). And while he hasn’t dismantled said nuclear deal yet, Trump’s comments have made it evident where he thinks Iran stands, relatively speaking: he equates the nation with ISIS and al-Qaeda in terms of its danger to the rest of the world. Apparently, all those “Death to America!” chants are not exactly endearing to Iran’s cause—shocking.
This political posturing exhibited by the Trump administration bereft of a concrete strategy in the Middle East, coupled with competing interests that seem difficult, if not unlikely, to reconcile, makes various outside onlookers concerned that an all-out conflict with Iran is not only possible, but probable. In a recent piece which appeared in Politico, Dennis Ross, an experienced U.S.-Middle East negotiator, accedes to as much from the jump by stating that “Trump is on a collision course with Iran.” In laying out the state of affairs in the region which concern both the United States and Iran, Ross goes into depth about the forces and motivations behind what has happened and potentially will happen. Admittedly, much of it is beyond my ken as a humble blogger, but a significant point in his analysis involves the notion that Iran is seeking to create a land corridor to Lebanon through Iraq and Syria. Ross is not the only one to suggest this direction for Iran as an extension of its foreign policy, but regardless of who is supplying this intelligence, if you will, this adds a bit of a wrinkle to American aims in this region. While there clearly is no love lost for Iran within the United States, nor is Assad a popular figure (rightfully so), the U.S.’s priority is ISIS and al-Qaeda. Add Iran’s interference and the presence of the Russians, and we’ve got quite the situation on our hands. On one hand, we want to fight jihadists and don’t want to go looking for trouble with Iran or Russia. On the other hand, though, by letting Iran operate unchecked, this could make it harder for us to fight extremism in and around Syria.
Simply put, and as Dennis Ross elaborates, things are not so simple in this neck of the woods. The YPG, a group of mostly Kurdish fighters who has been most effective alongside the U.S. Armed Forces in fighting ISIS, also has ties to Assad’s government, and there is the risk that clearing militants out of certain areas within Syria will be an immediate boon to the regime and will lead to the kind of oppressive conditions for Sunnis that helped produce ISIS in the first place. The powers-that-be in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Gulf states, while certainly concerned with the fate of Syria and ISIS’s influence, are presently more absorbed by the blockade of Qatar, with the Saudis in particular making demands of Qatar to cut ties to Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, to close a Turkish military base stationed there, and to disband al-Jazeera, among other things, as well as making unspecified threats should its leadership not comply within a short span. Meanwhile, Iran and Turkey are helping Qatar weather the blockade with food supplies. Each country seemingly has its own agenda, if not multiple reasons for its behavior, at that.
In light of this, as Ross explains in closing, the United States is tasked with trying to navigate the morass of conflicts and clashes of worldviews in the Levant and surrounding areas in forming a strategy moving forward. Saudi Arabia and the UAE need to be convinced to help reshape Syria given a defeat of ISIS and an end to the Assad regime. Turkey has to work with, as opposed to against, the anti-ISIS coalition, and has to be assuaged about its concerns about the growing Kurdish/YPG presence at the Turkish border. And Qatar has to stop supporting extremist groups and giving voices to, for instances, those who condone violence against Israelis by Palestinians—even if there are legitimate issues with the relationship between Israel and Palestine, including our own blanket support for Israel despite the proliferation of West Bank settlements. As Dennis Ross puts this succinctly: “In a confusing landscape, the administration must leave little doubt about its objectives and priorities.” And yet, there are so many doubts about our objectives and priorities, chief among them whether the presidency, for Donald Trump, is merely a vanity project and means by which to enrich himself. Or to try to gain access to certain resources in the region. Just saying what many of us were thinking.
Pres. Trump’s tough talk on Cuba and Iran—and for that matter, Mexico or the Paris agreement—may play well with specific segments of the American electorate. Let’s build a wall! Let’s put a boot in the ass of those who don’t like freedom, baseball, apple pie, and the rest of ‘Murica! Where it doesn’t go over so well is in those countries at which Trump is pointing his freakishly small fingers. In response to Trump’s announced policy shift, Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez referred to it as a “grotesque spectacle,” vowing his country will “never negotiate under pressure or under threat,” and scoffing about Trump and America lecturing them on their human rights records—of all countries. Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian vice president and head of the country’s atomic energy organization, has similarly warned the U.S. about siding with Saudi Arabia, selling them guns, and threatening to upset the balance of power in the region while ignoring its security concerns. In other words, these countries are not cowed by Trump’s rhetoric, nor would we expect them to be particularly jazzed up about being all but coerced into behaving a certain way. Donald Trump’s brand of “diplomacy,” as a subset of his professed ability as the consummate deal-maker, seems to be little more than a combination of transactional stick-and-carrot appeals and vague militaristic threats, as if a simple token of appreciation or show of chutzpah will be enough to get the other side to acquiesce. Whether it’s because the United States has lost its standing somewhat, whether other leaders believe #45 is only interested in idle gestures, or both, however, they appear more than willing to stick by their principles. Especially when, you know, they’re in the right.
Donald Trump’s vision of America is one of the greatest country in the world continuously being taken advantage of for our riches and generosity. This coming from a man who wears designer suits and claims to speak for the downtrodden among us, and who experiences delusions of persecution in his own life, imagining himself as the subject of the greatest witch hunt in our history. You mean, more so than the actual Salem Witch Trials, Donald? Although that was before we were technically a country, and you’re only getting off with a technicality with this sort of logic. It doesn’t take long before Trump’s claims, unsupported by verifiable evidence, fall apart like a flaky French pastry, and either way, you figure it would behoove him to act with a little more dignity. Though America is great for the ideals on which it was founded, it is not without its excesses and hypocrisies, the likes of which are surely not lost on its critics around the world. As such, it is arguably worth very little to cry about being a victim when we have and continue to throw our weight around economically and militarily.
Alas, Mr. Trump can only pout and stamp his feet, and work to squander, in record time, the credibility and goodwill Barack Obama, the imperfect President that he was, worked to foster. In a framed conflict of America vs. the world, we all lose. What’s more, if prevailing trends in international relations continue as they are, we evidently have much more to lose in the coming days, weeks, and years.
You may have heard about President Trump’s plan to increase military spending in his outline for next fiscal year’s budget. According to a February 27 report by Andrew Taylor and Julie Pace for the Associated Press, the 2018 fiscal year budget proposal would increase defense spending at the expense of programs like the EPA and foreign aid programs. Programs like Medicare and Social Security are not included in the proposed cuts, though knowing of the plans of Paul Ryan and other prominent Republican lawmakers to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without a credible replacement, privatize Medicare, turn Medicaid into block grants, and defund Planned Parenthood, this might yet be coming, just from a different angle. Alex Lockie, an associate news editor and military/defense blogger at Business Insider, in conjunction with reporting by Reuters, helps flesh out the details with a report from that same day. Some $54 billion would be earmarked for the Department of Defense, and indeed, matching cuts would indeed be proposed with the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. On the side of the proposed funding to be slashed, these cuts shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. When you nominate Scott Pruitt, a man who sued the EPA over 10 times as attorney general of Oklahoma, to head that department, and Rex Tillerson, a man with close ties to Russia, no foreign diplomacy experience, and whose dedication to curbing climate change was nil as the CEO of Exxon-freaking-Mobil, to be Secretary of State, you get the sense Donald Trump is deliberately trying to undermine the authority of these divisions of the Cabinet.
Before we get to the idea of whether or not the Department of Defense is overfunded relative to other programs—a valid and worthy question, I might add—let me begin by providing two fairly recent anecdotes concerning why the mere notion of how the DoD accounts for and spends it money may be a problem right off the bat. Back in 2015, this tidbit of news made the rounds on national and international news, but soon got buried in the avalanche of other stories inherently created by the global, multimodal 24-hour news cycle: the United States spent $43 million on building and operating Afghanistan’s first compressed gas station and helping develop the natural gas market in Afghanistan. OK—that sounds pretty expensive for a gas station, but is it really? Maybe there’s things about natural gas or working in Afghanistan that we don’t understand.
Nope—it turns it was really f**king expensive for a gas station. According to SIGAR, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, that’s 140 times as much as it should have cost. 140 times! Any number of harsh language might have been used by John Sopko, the special inspector general, and—lo and behold he did—troubling, ill-conceived, gratuitous, extreme, and outrageous were all adjectives that came directly from the man himself. There was “no indication” that a study was done prior to construction to assess the feasibility or viability of the project, or what kind of difficulties might be faced in trying to complete this endeavor. Sopko could safely attribute this lack of care to sheer stupidity, and even hinted it could be related to corruption or fraud, but—get this—the DoD couldn’t cooperate with enough information to even make that determination. Per SIGAR, the Department of Defense initially responded to a request for more information with the idea it lacked the requisite experience to comment following the closure of the Task Force for Stability and Business Operations (TFSBO). Apparently, someone forgot to save the data, and/or everyone after him or her is a complete f**king idiot. John Sopko wouldn’t go as far as to claim “obstruction” on the part of the DoD, but noted the unreasonableness of its official response, as the task force had only shut down a few months prior. On this issue, the Department of Defense was not accountable, and what’s more, it didn’t care to go to any lengths to even pretend like it was. It becomes all the worse when you consider we, the taxpayers, are the ones on the hook for catastrophic blunders such as this.
Did you enjoy that story? No? Too bad—here’s another bag of dicks to wrap your mind around. (First, wrap your mind around the wrapping of your mind around a bag of dicks in the abstract. I’ll wait.) In 2016, the Pentagon’s inspector general discovered that for the 2015 fiscal year, the Department of Defense had reported $6.5 trillion in accounting adjustments. Once again, it sounds bad, but is it? Yes, it is. When your department’s entire budget is just over $600 billion, yes, it f**king is. In defense of the Department of Defense, the magnitude of these errors is compounded by the notion that improper recordings were likely made the first time, and based on the double-entry nature of accounting, multiple accounts would stand to be affected. Still, when you’re off by multiple trillions of dollars, and when the inspector general finds that you made several unsupported adjustments, that records were mysteriously missing, that financial statements are inaccurate, and that much went documented and that there are insufficient data for an audit trail, your department is pretty much just plain wrong.
As Dave Lindorff in a piece for FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) explains, the Pentagon has a long history of noncompliance with federally-mandated standards for accounting and auditability. Yet it doesn’t seem to feel the weight of any formal censure by the appropriate authorities, nor did it receive nearly the amount of media attention the super-expensive Afghanistan gas station did—and even that news story received limited play. Per Lindorff, while two articles appeared on Reuters related to the scandal, at the time of the publication of his article—September 2 of last year—both the New York Times and the Washington Post had yet to cover this story. Sounds bad, right? Like apparently everything else in this post, it is exactly as bad as it sounds. The DoD inspector general’s report was dated July 26, 2016. In other words, they had over a month to investigate and report on this, or even to respond to Dave Lindorff’s requests for a response. But they didn’t. Trillions of dollars in errors, and barely a peep from the mainstream media.
Which brings us to where we are today with the Trump administration and the prospective 2018 budget. The enacted FY 2016 budget, per the Defense.gov website, was $521.7 billion. Barack Obama, in his final defense budget proposal, put forth a proposal for a $582.7 billion FY 2017 budget, citing changes and threats in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, including China throwing its weight around in the Pacific, the continued fight to bring down ISIS, Iran and North Korea, you know, still being Iran and North Korea, and Russian aggression. President Trump, for FY 2018, has proposed a defense budget of $610 billion, which he has claimed is about a 10% increase and, like, the biggest in history. Whether we’re talking about his Inauguration crowds, or his electoral victory, or even his hands or likely his, ahem, presidential staff, we should gather that the size is overstated. According to an NBC News report penned by Phil McCausland, the White House’s calculation of a $54 billion increase is relative to the budget cap which Obama’s proposed FY 2017 budget already exceeded by about $35 billion. So, Trump’s proposed increase for FY 2018 is actually fairly modest by comparison: only about 3.1% more. Donald Trump is trying to sound like the strongman he is, and quite possibly take attention away from all the Russian drama that surrounds his administration and his own finances with the help of some patriotic bombast. With each new revelation (e.g. Jeff Sessions apparently lying under oath about speaking with a Russian diplomat before Trump was elected), this proves difficult, if not impossible, but if anyone can make you believe in the impossible, it’s a man who had no business winning a presidential race.
The Afghani money pit and the multi-trillion dollar oopsy happened before Donald Trump even was sworn in. Coupling these Obama-era SNAFUs with the notion Trump’s proposed defense budget increase is overstated and thereby more modest, why bother coming at the current President about it? First of all, I don’t even know that I need much of a reason to come at Pres. Trump under the premise of it being just for general principles, but let’s talk Trump’s campaign promises, which already are somewhat infamous in Democratic circles and likely have even independents and some Republicans confused or upset. As is oft cited, Donald Trump vowed to “drain the swamp,” and part of realization of that platform, one might presume, would involve eliminating government waste. Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University, agrees with this sentiment. As de Rugy notes, Trump, through various executive orders, has already signed orders that require federal agencies to establish regulation watchdogs and cut two regulations for every new one enacted. However, curbing government waste involves more than just cutting regulations, and de Rugy insists the President instead should focus on improper payments by government agencies, suggesting he begin with the Medicare fee-for-service program, which makes $137 billion in improper payments per year, and to expand the profile and authority of the Recovery Audit Contractor program, which exists for the very purpose of uncovering fraud, and which Democrats and Republicans alike have acted to undermine in deference to their special interests.
This would be a great place for Donald Trump to dig in and help distinguish himself from his predecessor. However, as we understand too well only a month and change into his presidency, Trump doesn’t seem to mind too much playing fast and loose with other people’s money. Every time he takes a trip to his Mar-a-Lago Palm Beach estate, it costs taxpayers $3 million. Reportedly, it costs the city of New York $1 million a day to protect Trump and his family. Eric Trump even cost taxpayers nearly $100,000 for a trip to Uruguay on behalf of the Trump Organization to pay for Secret Service members and embassy staff—not even for matters of true diplomacy, but to enlarge the profits of the business from which Donald Trump enriches himself. These are galling enough, and when we consider President Trump’s proposed increase for the Department of Defense as a subset of his administration’s adversarial approach to certain non-defense programs, his hawkish tone takes on a more sinister aspect, as with his administration’s increased focus on deportation, which, by the numbers, isn’t wildly out of line with Obama’s record, but because it vastly expands the powers of ICE agents and because undocumented immigrants without a history of violent crime are apparently being specifically targeted for removal (Google “Daniela Vargas” and prepare to be disheartened), seems comparatively that much worse.
We could go on about Donald Trump’s war on immigrants, much as we could or maybe even should go on about Jeff Sessions, Russia, and the tangled web prominent Washington figures have woven with respect to Vladimir Putin and his country, but let me make my point about Trump’s separate war against programs that are reviled by his base. As noted earlier, Trump wants to slash funding for the EPA and has lined his Cabinet with climate change deniers, or at least those who evidently have no problem rolling back environmental regulations at the expense of flora and fauna (see also newly-confirmed Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s decision to bring back the use of lead ammunition in national parks and refuges). Along these lines, the President wants to cut funding to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the nation’s leading climate change research department, by 17%, roughly a sixth of its current budget. Reportedly, he also wants to decrease funding to the already-beleaguered Internal Revenue Service, a move which not only is geared primarily to benefitting other rich assholes like himself, but is patently self-defeating. A central point of the IRS—the Internal Revenue Service—by its namesake, is to generate revenue. If it can’t properly fund and staff its intended functions such as conducting audits or going after tax shelters, that’s needed money that the United States can’t access. Especially if Trump and congressional Republicans want to lower taxes and yet still somehow expand defense spending and address our crumbling infrastructure. If you keep spending more than you take in as a nation, eventually, you’re going to have a problem.
Donald Trump vowed to “drain the swamp” as President, but by now, it’s painfully obvious he’s only intent on feeding its alligators, and then after feeding those alligators, apparently killing them off by de-funding all the environmental organizations that help protect their numbers. If Trump really wanted to separate himself from Barack Obama and help the little guy, he could start by curbing waste at the Department of Defense, which I see as the poster child for government inefficiency, rather than boasting about vastly increasing its funding, but let him only try to keep up appearances as being a commanding Commander-in-Chief, much as he tried to maintain his image as someone who didn’t support the Iraq War like Hillary Clinton did—even though he totally f**king did. In other words, Trump can’t have it both ways. He can’t be a champion of the people and of his rich, white conservative base at the same time. Donald Trump wants to augment the Department of Defense, but simply put, there’s no defense for him in this regard.
By most counts and accounts, the United States of America had a fine Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. According to the official medal count, the U.S. was head and shoulders above the other competing countries, garnering 51 more medals (121) overall than China, the next-best country on the list (70), and 19 more golds than Great Britain/the United Kingdom, besting them 46 to 27. And while, perhaps, Usain Bolt’s capturing three more gold medals and cementing his legacy as one of the all-time greats, as well as the host country winning gold in its two biggest sports—soccer and volleyball—were most significant on the world stage, a number of American athletes made their mark on the record books. Gymnast Simone Biles won five medals at the Games—four of them gold—vaulting high into the air, and of course, into our hearts. Swimmer Michael Phelps continued to add to his trophy case. Fellow swimmer Katie Ledecky proved dominant in her races, at one point breaking her own world record. In all, the United States was a force with which to be reckoned in basketball, swimming and track and field, and the women’s soccer team’s early exit at the hands of Sweden marked the only real big upset of the Olympics on the American side, unless you count Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross failing to win gold, and that was only really surprising considering Jennings had never lost at any Summer Games.
Unfortunately, it was not all sand, smiles and sunshine in Rio for Team USA, and despite the country’s relative dominance in the 2016 Olympics, the achievements of the whole have been at least somewhat overshadowed by the actions of one or more bad apples. In particular, the drunken late-night-into-early-morning antics of Ryan Lochte and other members of the U.S. men’s swim team have gotten a fair bit of play on social media and traditional news for the seeming strangeness of it all. It all started innocently enough—if that’s the word one would use about a purported crime—as a tale of Lochte and Co. being pulled over by men posing as police officers, only to have these men point a gun at Ryan’s head and rob them. After all, the story made sense. Rio de Janeiro is no stranger to crime and violence, and within the course of these very Olympics, at least one other athlete was legitimately held up at gunpoint, while reports surfaced of gunfire narrowly missing reporters. The tale weaved by these soused swimmers, owing to what we know of Rio and Brazil, sounded, early on, plausible.
It was not long, though, before the Lochtean narrative began to unravel. Just a few days after Ryan Lochte gave his account of the night’s events and the armed hostility which allegedly ensued, Fernando Veloso, Rio de Janeiro police chief, categorically denied the American swimmer’s claim, and furthermore, said this of him and his story: “We saw our city stained by a fantastical version.” Lochte initially told authorities the taxi the members of the swim team were pulled over, and then a gun was cocked and put to his head. That, evidently, didn’t happen, however, at least not in that way. The taxi instead stopped at a gas station upon the swimmers’ request so they could use the bathroom, whereupon they treated the facilities with the utmost respect. Kidding! They acted like drunk assholes, tearing up the joint! It is only then that a security guard brandished a gun, and witnesses say they saw the Americans give the guard money before leaving.
In fact, right down to the times of events supplied by both sides’ accounts of what happened, key details differ. Simon Romero, in an article for The New York Times, and with the help of Larry Buchanan and Josh Keller, in an interactive point-by-point comparison of Lochte’s version vs. the Rio police’s, outlines how materially inconsistent the two narratives are from one another. The four swimmers—Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, Jimmy Feigen and Ryan Lochte—said they had left Club France, a creation of the Rio Games to honor its namesake, at four in the morning, all intoxicated-like. According to Fernando Veloso and video camera evidence, however, it wasn’t until 5:50 AM that the four members of Team USA stumbled out of the joint. As noted earlier, Lochte’s telling of what happened next at the gas station paints a different picture than what the police insist and what surveillance shows. No gun was cocked and pointed at Ryan’s head, and as he casually failed to initially mention, the swimmers tore up the bathroom and urinated around the premises, though Lochte was adamant on both points that his account was accurate. Perhaps most telling of all, Ryan Lochte said in an interview on The TODAY Show that he and the other athletes were the victims, and that any inconsistencies in his recounting of that night could be attributed to “traumatic mischaracterization.” Once more, however, the videotape tells a different story, and footage of their return to the Olympic Village shows the men laughing and joking around. Seemingly odd behavior from a bunch of victims.
While Simon Romero, in authoring his article, acknowledges the idea that a weapon does appear in both versions of the events in question and that the swimmers do end up giving money in response to this implied—if ultimately moot—threat, and while, furthermore, Chief Veloso admits that it is possible this was an attempt at extortion by the security guards, who were moonlighting at the gas station while also working as prison guards, that Ryan Lochte apparently made up details to make he and the rest of the swim crew present look better (I’m sorry, Ryan, but the idea you would say “whatever” to a gun cocked and held to your head strains credulity), and that he seems inauthentic in his contrition, makes his non-apology apology all the more disappointing. Lochte spoke to Matt Lauer—because when you want hard-hitting journalism, you naturally turn to Matt Lauer—in a one-on-one interview to clarify and apologize for his actions and earlier statements. And though he professed he had “let his team down” and that he was taking “full responsibility” for his actions, his euphemistic language betrayed the notion that he didn’t truly, well, get it—that he acted like an asshole, he lied about it, and he left the other swimmers to try to clean up his mess. A few choice comments from his responses:
“I left details out, which—that’s why I’m in this mess—is I left certain things out. And I over-exaggerated some parts of the story.”
“Over-exaggerated?” I don’t even know if such a word exists, but that’s not the point. Even if you lied by omission, you still lied. Don’t say you exaggerated to try to blunt the impact.
“You know, it was still hours after the incident happened. I was still intoxicated. I was still under that influence. And I’m not making—me being intoxicated—an excuse. I’m not doing that at all. I mean, it was my fault. And I shouldn’t have said that.”
Actually, that’s exactly what it sounds like, Ryan. I get it—alcohol impairs judgment. Still, no one, ahem, held a gun to your head and forced you to drink that much, and while we’re dissecting your words, you weren’t intoxicated—you were drunk. You and/or your mates were hammered enough to trash a gas station bathroom and piss all over the place. And though they are in their twenties, and that might afford them some clemency in chalking their hijinks up to youthful exuberance, 32 years of age, while still not that old compared to many, is more than enough years to warrant better judgment on your part.
“It’s how you want to—it’s how you want to make look like. Whether you call it a robbery, whether you call it extortion, or us paying just for the damages, like, we don’t know. All we know is that there was a gun pointed in our direction, and we were demanded to give money.”
This is where Ryan Lochte’s explanation begins to go off the rails, and where Lauer actually gets some points for pressing the Olympian on this issue. Robbery and extortion are two very different things, and as Matt Lauer highlights at one point, through someone translating so Lochte and Co. could understand, the Americans were made aware that they were paying money so that security didn’t call the police. In that respect, as Lauer insists, they were making a deal to avoid punishment, and weren’t “victims” being targeted, as calling it a “robbery” would suggest. In other words, they weren’t all that innocent.
“I was immature. And I made a stupid mistake. I’m human. I made a mistake. And I definitely learned from this. And I’m just really sorry.”
You’re human—well, aren’t we all? Isn’t it a premature to say you’ve learned from this, that this chapter of your life is over? You haven’t had remotely enough time pass to demonstrate through your actions that you’ve truly learned anything. And you say you’re sorry, but I tend to believe you’re mostly sorry you got caught.
“It could [cost me a lot of money]. And that’s something that I’m going to have to live with. That’s something that I’m going to have to deal with. But I know what I did was wrong. And I know I learned my lesson. And all I can do now is better myself and making sure that this kind of stuff never happens again.”
You mean, it should. See, this is why I think Ryan Lochte is truly sorry: because this incident could cost him endorsement deals (in fact, it since already has), and perhaps worse yet, could cost him a place on the U.S. swim team. If Lochte were truly repentant for his actions, he wouldn’t care about what this means for his sponsorships or his quest for more medals, but would place the greatest priority on restoring the public’s faith in him and Team USA, because he deserves to be admonished. I’m not sure that I would want Lochte’s “shenanigans” to permanently damage his image; no one was apparently hurt or killed, and besides, who doesn’t love a good redemption story?
All the same, you’re concerned about your legacy as a role model to little kids? For whose sake? Yours or the kids’? How about you start by admitting you lied, and to refrain from lying going forward? How’s that for a start?
What must have been particularly galling to Brazilians—and viewers from other countries, including the United States— in watching the events of “Lochte-gate” unfold was the feeling that a spoiled white athlete had acted like an idiot and chose to cheaply try to further pile onto an “exotic” (used by white people when they can’t tell where you’re from) city and country feeling the effects of economic distress, political turmoil, poor infrastructure and violent crime. Worse yet, that members of the media were already looking to exonerate Ryan Lochte, or at least mitigate his level of culpability and responsibility, smacked of a certain degree of privilege. This tendency toward revisionism was brought to the forefront beautifully in a dialog between—you guessed it—two more NBC personalities. A rather salty Al Roker came out in a discussion on The TODAY Show about Lochte by stating the reality of the situation more baldly than an Olympic swimmer’s shorn body. As he put it, speaking to Billy Bush, “He lied. He lied to you, he lied to Matt Lauer, he lied to his mom. He left his teammates hanging while he skedaddled. There was no robbery, there was no pull-over. He lied.” When Bush tried to argue that Ryan Lochte lied about certain details, or that he embellished within his account, Roker quickly interceded, having none of Billy’s sugar-coating Lochte being a liar-liar-pants-on-fire. Or as freelance writer Alexander Hardy put it, “And now, back to Al Roker vs. White Nonsense.”
Though perhaps not an especially egregious example of it, Ryan Lochte’s—and by extension, Billy Bush’s—euphemisms for his drunkenness and lying, as well as his seeking to quickly move on from the controversy, are what some would refer to as “whitesplaining.” As Dictionary.com defines the larger “-splain” neologistic family, it refers to “acombiningformextractedfrommansplain,andmeaning“toexplain orcommentonsomethinginacondescending,overconfident,and ofteninaccurateoroversimplifiedmanner,fromtheperspectiveofthe grouponeidentifieswith.” Thus, if we are whitesplaining Lochte’s antics, we would say he embellished, or over-exaggerated, or otherwise made a mistake. And, plus, he tearfully apologized. White people love when you do that.
I say Lochte-gate is perhaps not an especially egregious example of the phenomenon, because, again, besides a bathroom and the reputations of the swimmers involved getting superficially damaged, no one seems to have gotten physically hurt. It is therefore less serious as with the case of former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, whose six-month jail month for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman was justified by the judge’s assertion it would “severely impact” his life—as if getting raped doesn’t impact one’s life. Or as in the now-infamous case of Ethan Couch, who killed four people while drinking and driving—while speeding and with a restricted license, no less—and then tried to claim “affluenza” (the inability to understand the consequences of one’s actions because of financial privilege) as a defense. And then there are the “whitesplanations,” if you will, that try to defend or justify more systemic forms of discrimination, as in the support of police officers in more obvious cases of brutality (“they shouldn’t have been resisting”) or the rejection of affirmative action and similar practices on principle (“I don’t want an inferior choice forced on me”). As the persistence of the Donald Trump presidential campaign beyond rational belief illustrates, white people can splain away pretty much anything if you let them.
Rich white people may seek to deflect accusations of rape or murder on the count of their privilege—or, in the case of Trump and his supporters, will assume it of other groups—but it’s their pretense of superiority while trying to hide their wrongdoing that really gets one’s proverbial goat. Not that it exculpates him, of course, but Donald Trump seems to have made this maneuver into an art form. He states some wildly inaccurate theory or lies outright, which is clearly wrong and/or easily debunked, he doubles down on his assertion, and he begins to treat you as if you’re the asshole for bringing up the whole issue he had previously considered closed. In a similar vein, but arguably not nearly as well, Hillary Clinton has stubbornly tried to move past any culpability in her use of one or more private E-mail servers to access classified material while serving as Secretary of State, putting our national interests at risk. She has claimed to have sent over all relevant E-mails in the ongoing inquiry into her use of a private E-mail account. But that’s not true, as 15,000 new E-mails just found would hint at. She has insisted that E-mails weren’t listed as classified at the time they were sent and received, but FBI Director James Comey has refuted that assertion, and after being directly confronted with Comey’s testimony, she responded to the controversy by non-apology apologizing that she “short-circuited” in her response. What are you—a robot, Hillary? No, you didn’t short-circuit—you lied. Then, as a consummate politician would, she tried to shift the blame, alleging Colin Powell told her to use a private server. OMFG, HILLARY, NO, HE DIDN’T. STOP LYING. FOR ONCE, JUST STOP.
And yet, as extremely careless and negligent as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are with their handling of facts or even their own finances, if we’re once more concerned with trying to explain away violence and wanton destruction, let’s highlight the ultimate government-related recipient of a free pass in the U.S. military. There are any number of ways you can approach lack of accountability within the leadership of the Department of Defense and the Armed Forces—discrimination against gays, and an apparent epidemic of sexual assaults against women without superiors doing enough to address the problem, come to mind—but in terms of the slaughter of innocent people, that those with the requisite authority can order a drone or helicopter strike, resulting in massive unintended civilian casualties if a miscalculation or other snafu occurs, and justify it with no more than an “Oops!” is troubling indeed.
Just last month, an American air strike left at least 85 innocent Syrians dead, and while Pentagon officials promised it would investigate these deaths, seemingly no outward progress has been made on this particular front, and it is not as if this error in accuracy and judgment yielding the murder of non-targets is an isolated incident. On one hand, the actions of ISIS and other terror groups is reprehensible, but on the other hand, when we’re indiscriminately bombing the Middle East, killing random human beings without even having to look them in the eye when we destroy their families and villages, that makes us as a country only marginally better. “War on Terror,” huh? When your primary distinction between what you do and what jihadists do is that you don’t film people getting their heads chopped off, that’s a problem, and when the American people accept these “mistakes” or fail to demand more accountability from their leaders in Washington and from the media reporting on these matters, we are guilty by association.
When all comes down to brass tacks, what especially matters, as a subset of this perceived lack of culpability, is that consequences of real weight so frequently seem to be lacking. U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Executive Scott Blackmun has vowed the USOC will review the case of Ryan Lochte and his accompanying drunken swimmers, including potential ramifications, but any theoretical strong ban or fine is unlikely. Brock Turner was banned from both the Stanford and U.S. swim teams, but as discussed, he still got off relatively easy. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton apparently live in a world where there are no repercussions for violating ethical and moral standards, if not the law outright, and in which fabrications and lies are assumed as part of “politics as usual.” And speaking of these two vis-à-vis the U.S. military, noting the former’s self-indulgent tough-guy image he puts forth, and the latter’s much-talked-about hawkishness, does anyone really believe either of them will do much to curb defense spending? If you do, let me tell you about some lovely beachfront property in Idaho I have for someone like you.
What the above figures fail to appreciate is that we, the American people, are smarter and less forgetful than they think we are. Well, most of us are. I’ll confess that some of my peers and adults younger than I am do things that cause me to scratch my head sometimes—not to mention adults my parents’ age. Also, I can personally attest to the notion millennials are forgetful, at least in terms of short-term memory. By the same token, however, the Internet never forgets, so there’s that to fall back on, and moreover, millennials are also supposedly quite good at reading people for authenticity. So, Ryan Lochte et al., some quick notes, in closing: 1) if you’re going to lie, at least do a better job of it; 2) ditto for your non-apology apologies; 3) we understand when you’re using euphemisms to hide your lies, or “over-exaggerations” or “short circuits” or “uh-ohs” or whatever you call them; 4) for us non-Trump-supporters or those of us who are not Jamie Foxx, blaming it on alcohol or people of color only makes matters worse, and 5) when property gets destroyed, or people get bombed, killed, raped or run over, and your reputation suffers, you are not the victim, so stop acting like one or crying that you are. The American public deserves better than a blanket apology, and exploiting your money, power and/or privilege to obscure this idea doesn’t make you better for it. Sorry, but we’re not sorry for saying as much.