As concerns the intersection of politics and the #MeToo movement, perhaps no figure encapsulates its potential divisiveness and difficult contemplations like Al Franken.
It’s been over a year-and-a-half since Franken resigned from his post as U.S. Senator from the state of Minnesota, but his case is one that media figures and political junkies alike feel the need to relitigate. Jane Mayer’s recent essay for The New Yorker is the latest high-profile entry in people’s meditations on whether he should’ve resigned.
Mayer considers a lot of angles in her examination of this subject matter: the precipitousness of his fall from grace after once being considered a possible challenger to Donald Trump in 2020, the regret he and numerous former colleagues feel, contrasts with Joe Biden’s and Donald Trump’s records, the evolution of accuser Leeann Tweeden’s account of sexual misconduct, the nature of U.S.O. shows like the one Franken did with Tweeden and the content of the skit prompting her accusations, character witness accounts on his behalf, proposed logical faults taken with Tweeden’s characterizations of the incident and ruminations on her credibility, FOX News personalities’ personal ax to grind with Franken, that allegations against Roy Moore were fresh in the minds of many, Franken’s physical awkwardness, allegations from other accusers, concerns about lack of due process, the role Kirsten Gillibrand and other Democratic colleagues played in calling for his resignation, the notion that not all accounts of abuse are made equal. In this regard, Mayer’s piece seems reasonably well considered.
This effort to reclaim Franken’s image is arguably not without its problems, however. On one hand, Tweeden’s failure or refusal to acknowledge the context in which the U.S.O. skit was performed and its content (there is a scene of a breast exam in the skit, to which the infamous photo of Franken and Tweeden presumably refers) are curious omissions. Acknowledging this wouldn’t make her accusations any less valid.
On the other hand, we might rightly object at various points in Mayer’s analysis. For one, comparisons to Biden and Trump are whataboutism, pure and simple. We’re talking about Franken here. Their supposed misdeeds are irrelevant to the deliberation at hand. Certain aspects of Tweeden’s life which apparently go to her believability are also of questionable application. Tweeden may have fabricated or embellished whether or not she could’ve gotten into Harvard in the past. She is a noted conservative who has professed admiration for Trump and has appeared on Sean Hannity’s show to talk about birtherism, and she may have a personal animus against the liberal Franken, whose political star was on the rise prior to the events which led to his resignation.
None of this means she is necessarily lying about being assaulted or interpreting Franken’s actions in this way, though, nor do the motivations of any of his accusers or the people who called for his resignation. Gillibrand, who continues to be lambasted for being among the first to publicly call for Franken’s resignation, points out that she didn’t end his Senate career—he did. He could’ve opted to soldier on despite the allegations against him and regardless of the strain it put on Gillibrand and Co.
Jeet Heer, national-affairs correspondent at The Nation, addresses Mayer’s article and notions that Franken was “railroaded” or otherwise was a victim of circumstances, as she might make it seem. Like Mayer, Heer alludes to Franken as a sort of “ghost” haunting the Democratic Party with claims he was all but forced out without consideration of due process.
Heer concedes that Tweeden’s account of unwanted touching and kissing “has all the earmarks of a politically motivated smear.” The problem: there are still seven other accusers. Mayer’s juxtaposition of this alongside Franken’s physical “obtuseness” makes for a strange defense. All his accusers are women and their allegations are of a sexual nature. It’s more than just his being a “hugger.”
There’s also the matter of Franken’s defenders weighing his actions against the Harvey Weinsteins and Strom Thurmonds of the world. Again, in contrast to partisan relativism, Heer speaks to “setting a minimum standard of respect,” regardless of political affiliation or likability. For that matter, all the people jumping at the chance to exonerate Franken or come to his defense because of what they “know” about him is not a guarantee. What they think they know may be dependent on their limited interactions with him or what he allows others to see. I’m not saying the reverse can’t be true, mind you, but human beings are, well, complicated.
As Heer cites Rebecca Traister, New York magazine writer-at-large, if Franken took a leave of absence to re-examine the effect his conduct might have had on women in his life and later came back to speak to women’s rights and the responsibility of men in the #MeToo era, he might still be serving the people of Minnesota in an official capacity today. It was his silence and the conviction he’d be given ample time and a thorough investigation into his affairs that was his undoing—fair or unfair.
Heer takes this a step further in closing by saying that Franken’s playing the victim betrays his lack of understanding of the whole situation and creates a barrier to any real sense of redemption in the future. He writes:
If we want #MeToo to be effective, we need to be careful to distinguish between major criminals and petty transgressors. We also need to figure out how to reintegrate figures like Franken into society. But you can’t have forgiveness without contrition. To this day, Franken sees himself as a victim. Until that changes, there can be no healing.
In his resignation speech back in 2018, Franken was anything but contrite. Instead, he insisted that he knows who he really is and considered it an irony that he was leaving office while Trump, who once bragged about groping women, is president and Moore, who has preyed on young women, has political aspirations. His parting remarks, draped in comparisons to the worst the GOP has to offer, offered sentiments of “no regrets.” It bears wondering whether his accusers could or would say the same, even assuming the small magnitude of his purported offenses.
A big question I have in relation to Jane Mayer’s essay and why The New Yorker felt the need to publish it is: why now? Why are we reconsidering Al Franken’s fall with everything going on with the 2020 presidential race looming, the Trump administration, and any number of crises facing the country and the world today?
Part of the answer would seem to lie with the notion we need someone like Franken in American political discourse. Last year, Bill Maher, in a brave act of defending another white male like himself, expressed the belief that we need a comedian like Franken to ridicule Donald Trump and take down other “rightwing blowhards.” In doing so, he assailed the credibility of Leeann Tweeden, minimized the charges of Franken’s other accusers, and shot back at “purists” who overreact only to suffer from buyer’s remorse later on.
More recently, Pete Buttigieg, when asked during a town hall whether he would’ve called for Franken’s ouster, replied that he “would not have applied that pressure at that time before we knew more.” It probably helps that Buttigieg has raised funds alongside big-bucks Democratic donor Susie Tompkins Buell, who previously endorsed Kamala Harris despite the fact she was one of the first Senate Democrats to advocate for Franken’s resignation and who has made public positions on the end of Franken’s tenure somewhat of a sticking point. Evidently, the goal is to beat Trump by any means necessary—even it means compromising our moral standards.
To the extent that Franken could add to the discussion on resisting Trump, his absence is regrettable. Are his talents so unique that a void like his in American politics can’t be filled, however? This much seems dubious. To say that Franken was one of the more interesting members of the Senate isn’t saying much. For the integral role Congress plays in shaping the American experience, it is filled with boring people and uninspired ideas. This reality doesn’t obviate the public’s responsibility to hold these public servants accountable and to actively participate in issue advocacy, mind you. Then again, even if this doesn’t excuse voters tuning out, you can sort of understand why they do.
If the Democrats are that desperate to have Franken back because he is the only one who can stand up to Trump or the only one who possesses the requisite skill to ridicule him to the point it rattles him, however, it would seem there are bigger problems within the Democratic Party. It’s along the lines of needing Jon Stewart back as a voice of empathy, reason, and wit in late-night television. Do I miss him? Of course. But if we can’t find others who can approach his level of thoughtful criticism and oddball humor, we might be in more trouble than we know.
One of the lessons of the #MeToo era with which people still appear to be grappling is that men who abuse their fame or position of influence are infinitely replaceable. (The label of “abuser” does not apply to Stewart, to be clear; I invoked him simply as an illustration of my earlier point.) Louis C.K., while clearly talented, is not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to stand-up comedy. Nor is Kevin Spacey God’s gift to acting. Without wanting to seem cruel, life goes on. If we can’t meet the need for artists, politicians, producers, writers, and other professionals without sanctioning their alleged violations of boundaries, we’ve clearly failed as a society. No amount of good deeds, intelligence, leadership skills, or talent should supersede another’s right to his or her bodily autonomy and physical safety.
Will Al Franken ever return to the limelight, and with that, U.S. politics? Who knows? In the event he doesn’t, it may be ultimately be unfair to him, though the number of credible accusations against him suggests otherwise. Maybe it’s that he doesn’t feel he needs to apologize because he did nothing wrong. Regardless, though some of us may want him back, that doesn’t signify a need. Yes, we should talk about how and whether to weigh the offenses in each case. Yes, we should discuss how to handle less-than-perfect accusers. But we can do so looking forward rather than back.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s new show Who Is America? premiered this past Sunday on Showtime, the first episode in a seven-episode series that sees Baron Cohen return to the world of donning disguises and accents, and continuing to dupe people of influence into interviews and supporting positions publicly that undermine their credibility.
Ahead of its release, few details were released about who or what would appear on the show, save for Dick Cheney signing a “waterboarding kit” (which amounted to little more than a jug of water) in the promotional materials. Also, Sarah Palin copped to being played by Baron Cohen, although not without calling him “evil and sick” for tricking her, and Roy Moore threatening to sue Showtime over his chicanery. Clearly, the man has already struck a nerve.
At this writing, reviews are yet sparse, with only a handful having been aggregated by the likes of Metacritic. Having seen the premiere, I can say that Republicans are not the only targets of his comedy, although whether these figures are the jokes or whether Baron Cohen’s send-ups of American culture are tends to vary more as we move more leftward across the political spectrum. Bernie Sanders appears in a segment with Baron Cohen’s character Dr. Billy Wayne Ruddick, an Alex Jones-style conspiracy theorist, engaging in an absurd conversation where “Ruddick” engages in some warped math involving the 1% and 99% before Sanders confesses he has no idea what Ruddick is talking about.
As Rick Sherman, meanwhile, an ex-con who paints portraits with bodily fluids, Baron Cohen also meets with Christy Cones, a fine art consultant for Coast Gallery in Laguna Beach, who praises the bravery behind “Sherman’s” story and work. Since finding about the ruse, Cones has evidently expressed a desire to meet face-to-face with Baron Cohen as “compensation for his underhanded tactics,” criticizing him for “pretending to be someone who suffered when he probably hasn’t suffered a moment in his life.” To what extent Cones may have “suffered” in her own life, who knows, but for someone who seemed a willing participant in the throes of the filming, certainly, she is not taking it all in stride after the fact.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s “art”—some might say I am being generous in calling it that—relies on deception and making people feel uncomfortable, both on screen and off it. It’s not a style for everyone, particularly those who feel victimized by their encounters with him and his portfolio of personas. In terms of perceptions of its quality, as noted, reviews are still being written or are in the waiting, but from my estimation, while entertaining, some segments play better than others. Baron Cohen, in his sit-down with June Page Thompson, a Trump delegate from South Carolina, and her husband and fellow Trump voter, Mark Thompson, as Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello, a liberal Democrat who apologizes for his identity as a white cisgender male, tells accounts of raising his children that are obvious caricatures of liberalism taken to an extreme. The Thompsons don’t bite, though, or not to the extent that they angrily ask him to leave. It’s as if Baron Cohen is slow-playing them for a reaction he never gets, and the final product seems flat as a result.
The payoff proves larger for a segment in which Baron Cohen, as Col. Erran Morad, an Israeli anti-terrorism expert, convinces numerous gun rights advocates/Republican lawmakers to lend their support to an initiative that would arm children with guns as a means of curbing gun violence in schools. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida does not take the bait, but others, including Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, and former U.S. senator Trent Lott, appeared only too happy to endorse the measure. It’s both funny and terrifying, and the most redeeming value is that these men consented to appearing as they did and reading from prepared materials. That is, they can’t claim this is “fake news” because the tape doesn’t lie.
Whether or not the show is subjectively “good” or “bad” as a comedic creation does not approach, however, the subject of whether or not Who Is America? is a show that real-world America needs in the current political climate. This topic is at the heart of a recent piece by Aja Romano, Internet culture reporter for Vox, who believes Baron Cohen’s “prankster provocations are a bad match for our current cultural climate.” Declaring them “exhausting” and “dangerous,” Romano attempts to quickly poke a hole in the liberal balloon of giddiness in delighting over the trickery and debasement of conservative figureheads:
On the one hand, all this may seem like the beginning of a glorious sublime parade of politicians owning themselves. But on the other hand, these politicians were tricked into appearing on the record as themselves, in a way that further perpetuates and entrenches not only the cultural ideological divide, but the idea among conservatives that “liberal” media, including entertainment media like Baron Cohen’s production, is a constant and perpetual trap to be distrusted at all costs.
Not only that, but the mileage Team Reality will get out of Baron Cohen’s performance-art antics won’t be nearly as potent as the validation Team Fake News will get out of claiming that Who Is America? represents a new low for liberals. And that’s because Team Reality was losing its hold over a single dominant reality paradigm long before Baron Cohen cycled back onto the scene.
As Romano would have it, it’s not so much that Sarah Palin et al. allowed themselves to be deceived, but that someone like Baron Cohen, who may or may not have an ax to grind, is doing the deceiving and providing cannon fodder for conservatives in the ongoing “culture war” coloring much of political interaction today. In other words, the right does not need any more material, not when they are especially good at creating it—out of thin air, if need be.
The problem, as Romano tells it, is that Baron Cohen is an “old comedy dog with old comedy tricks.” Back in 2006, when the Borat movie was first released, his comedy was still fresh and novel, and YouTube and the 24-hour news cycle had yet to really explode. Now, YouTube pranksters are numerous, outrage over news is Twitter’s currency, and it’s getting harder and harder to tell what is the genuine article and what is a meme designed to provoke hysteria. As such, in an era when real news seems like a parody of itself, exposing celebrities as Baron Cohen does loses its (shock) value.
Romano also cites Ted Koppel, who reportedly was also interviewed for the show. While dealing with his being duped better than others, Koppel expresses real concern about whether or not the whole exercise is productive, saying that “if there’s one thing we don’t need any more of in this particular era, it’s people posing as documentarians,” and that “to undermine whatever tiny little bit of confidence might be left by pulling a stunt like this” may make for good comedy, but at the same time, might not be terrific for the “overall atmosphere.” When so much focus is levied on the cultural “divide” and on people adhering to their social media “bubbles,” as a seasoned journalist, Koppel knows full well what is he talking about when he refers to such an atmosphere.
In all, as Aja Romano sees it, Sacha Baron Cohen is not adding to the national dialog, “but…gleefully poking at it and watching everyone — politicians and onlookers alike — get upset.” To wit, I am not familiar with Romano or her work, though that doesn’t mean her commentary is to be dismissed. It’s not like she is the only one concerned about where Who Is America? fits into the whole modern political conversation, either.
While any number of celebrities and humorists have extolled the show’s virtues—presumably because they genuinely enjoy the show and not merely as a show of solidarity—not everyone is as keen on labeling it “essential” viewing. Indeed, Charles Bramesco of The Guardian, for one, finds much of the program’s content “inconsequential,” and Mike Hale of The New York Times prefaces his review of the first episode with the tagline “Should We Care?” When Romano speaks to a larger exhaustion at having to deal with real politics, her assessment of Baron Cohen’s comedy as exhausting might just hit the nail on the head. Certainly, not everyone affixed to the “liberal media” is so amused by his antics.
Then again, it could be that the program is but one amid a glut of comedic programming devoted to the state of political affairs in the United States. With so many competing voices, perhaps it’s natural that Baron Cohen, delivering material in a format not dissimilar from his previous efforts, loses his appeal in light of all the alternatives. In a sea of angry (or wryly amused, at least) voices, maybe he was bound to be unable to add anything to our discourse before he began.
In asking whether or not Sacha Baron Cohen’s new show is “bad” for America, it should be stressed that, while this question is phrased in terms of a yes-or-no binary, a fitting answer may be simply that it is neither bad nor good for America—it just is. Even if Who Is America? isn’t deliberately provoking outrage from detractors on the right, therefore—already, it’s evident that it is provoking outrage, so the remaining debate is whether Baron Cohen should shoulder the lion’s share of the blame or whether his victims should for allowing themselves to get so PO-ed in the first place—and assuming, as Ms. Romano insists, that the program doesn’t add to the discussion but only entertains, might this be a counterproductive creation in that it keeps us stuck in place when we should be making progress on bridging the divide? That is, if we’re not moving forward, are we essentially moving backward?
In considering the utility (or potential lack thereof) of Baron Cohen’s show, I’m reminded of the media’s attempts to grapple with The Daily Show‘s popularity in the Jon Stewart era. At its peak, about 12% of Americans cited The Daily Show as a place where they got their news, according to an online poll by Pew Research in 2015. That didn’t make it a leader in news, of course, but it put the show roughly equal to sources like USA Today and Huffington Post. Stewart, ever self-effacing, has always been quick to downplay the show’s influence, at least as much as he brought to it, and even the results of the poll suggest most respondents watched for the entertainment value during his tenure rather than for in-depth reporting, the latest headlines, or views and opinions.
Any inherent limitations as a news source aside, Stewart’s 16-year stewardship of Comedy Central’s flagship program was admired for his being tough on public figures when the occasion arose, notably Barack Obama and Tony Blair, the latter for his insistence on military solutions to a war on terror which was becoming increasingly apparent could not be fought be purely on military terms, but also had to confront the underlying ideologies.
Accordingly, while interviews with various entertainers seemed comparatively lightweight, the show’s regular dissection of the motives of established political figures and aspiring candidates alike, as well as the agendas of authentic news media outlets, was seen as meritorious. As with Michelle Wolf’s takedown of the news media alongside the political elite in the most recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner (Wolf herself is a Daily Show alum), comedy was a tool for Stewart and his confrères to cut through the bullshit and hold the objects of their critical lenses accountable.
And while Stewart downplayed this aspect of the show, too, his measured, rational approach to confronting the issues of the day prompted favorable responses, not to mention this column in The New Yorker from Amy Davidson Sorkin entitled “Jon Stewart, We Need You in 2016.” In an era in which more traditional news sources are either losing customers (newspapers) or credibility (cable news), The Daily Show seemed less like an escape from reality and more like a bastion of sanity, capped off by its trademark closing “Your Moment of Zen.” By this token, antipathy from the FOX News wing of political belief systems was considered more of a badge of honor than a legitimate admonishment to be honored or feared, with the conservative network billing itself as “fair and balanced” guilty of more than its fair share of biased “reporting.”
Besides, it is not as if Jon Stewart hasn’t been critical of Democrats. In fact, since ending his run as host of The Daily Show, he arguably has reserved his harshest rebukes for figures outside the GOP fold, as if to express his dismay and disapproval with a party that has appeared, at times, to lack a unified message or to act in accordance with its stated values. In a notably tense exchange in a live podcast taping with David Axelrod for The Axe Files, Stewart blamed the Dems, in part, for the rise of a demagogue like Donald Trump by not doing their part to make government more effective and efficient for their constituents. There was still plenty of humor to be enjoyed throughout, although perhaps not as irreverently told as when he was host of The Daily Show—and not without plenty of harsh words for “man-baby” Trump.
This is where I’m a little unsure how to regard Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest act. The backlash from the Joe Arpaios, Roy Moores and Sarah Palins of the world is to be expected, and deceiving them, one might argue, is going after some low-hanging fruit, politically speaking. Then again, when has the provocateur suggested he is interested in anything else but entertainment? If the first episode of Who Is America? is any indication, everyone is fair game, including liberals, so allegations of bias might be deemed overstated.
What’s more, this irritation at Baron Cohen’s humor seems indicative of a larger trend of conservatives reacting negatively to jokes made at their expense, either because of their inability to take a joke, their frustration with having drastically fewer comedians at their disposal in alignment with their ideologies, or both. Liberal humor panning conservatives seems rooted in poking fun at people like Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, and Donald Trump who carry themselves so seriously and yet merit none of the respect they crave.
When the script is flipped, meanwhile, stabs at comedy feel predicated on lazy stereotypes, if not real contempt for the objects of the joke-maker’s gaze and/or resentment of the perceived snobbery of the left. Or it could be that so many people who enjoy humor with their political news tend to be younger, and by association, more liberal. Or it could be that conservatism is about preserving the status quo, and is therefore fundamentally at odds with comedy, the milieu of the underdog. Or, as comedian Dean Obeidallah would aver, it’s that conservatives want desperately to be funny, but just aren’t very good at it. While humor indeed is subjective, statistically speaking and for what it’s worth, it’s hard to come up with many examples of successful right-leaning comedians. You can fill in the blanks herein as you see fit.
Is Who Is America? a great show, or even among Sacha Baron Cohen’s best work? Probably not. Is it good for America? Maybe, maybe not, though having already outed a number of GOP lawmakers for supporting the right of kindergartners to bear arms, it feels like Baron Cohen has already done fine work. But at the end of the day, perhaps it’s not Baron Cohen’s job to provide hard-hitting commentary, much as it wasn’t incumbent upon Jon Stewart to be a clarion call amid the static of the cable news cycle and the entropy of the social media sphere. Let the funny man play dress-up and prank people, calls for civility aside. There are those in Congress, in the Supreme Court, and the White House who are specifically tasked with upholding major American institutions, and are thereby more deserving of our scorn. No kidding.
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.
What began as a trickle of allegations of sexual impropriety against Harvey Weinstein and Alyssa Milano’s unwitting revival of a decade-old hashtag campaign has since crescendoed to a tidal wave of admissions of guilt, suspicions of wrongdoing, and canceled project releases, suspensions, and firings. The list is a growing one, an impressive collection of high-profile names that’s becoming too long to contain even for my purposes in a 3,000-to-4,000-word blog post. Ultimately, what seems most important about these revelations is that they are happening at all. Women and men are coming out of the proverbial shadows to explicitly name their assaulters/harassers, and late in 2017, some measure of accountability for the abusive actions of men in power appears to be being exacted. In this respect, the identities of the accusers and the accused do not seem to be the most critical aspect, especially as it concerns attempts by media outlets and publicists to paint the accuser as a deceiver, liar, Jezebel, or seductress. Civil rights activists hope the #MeToo campaign and other associated movements are indicative of a sea change, a watershed moment for sexual freedom and reproductive rights, or some other water-related metaphor for social progress.
The idea that the names are less important than their associated dirty deeds becomes complicated, however, when the accused are charged specifically with representing and protecting members of the very populations against which they are alleged to have sinned, if you will. Sen. Al Franken, a leader within a party broadly identified with ideals of inclusivity and empowerment of women and other minorities, recently apologized after being confronted by several women about inappropriately touching them—though he didn’t really explain what in particular he was apologizing for. Rep. John Conyers is under pressure from fellow Democrats to resign from his post after his own allegations of sexual misconduct and after announcing he would step down from his role as top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. And then there’s Roy Moore. Beyond questions of his fitness to serve the public in any capacity in an unbiased way—let’s not forget his erecting a monument to the Ten Commandments outside his courthouse as well as continuing to enforce Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage despite it being deemed unconstitutional as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court—there’s the matter of several women accusing Moore of making unwanted sexual advances on them prior to the age of consent (16 in Alabama) and/or sexually assaulting them. And this man currently has a 50-50 shot of winning a ticket to the U.S. Senate seat from Alabama voters.
Herein, a pattern begins to emerge just among those alleged to have committed unthinkable acts within the political sphere. The obvious commonality is that these supposed perpetrators are male and hold more power than the women claiming to be their victims. (I say “supposed” and “claiming” under the premise that these men are innocent until proven guilty, but by the same token, I believe their accusers, so at least for my sake, this is largely a question of semantics.) What are not part of the pattern, it should be stressed, are the race of the would-be assailants—Franken and Moore are white, Conyers is black—or their party affiliations—Conyers and Franken are Democrats, Moore is running as a representative of the Republican Party. Owing specifically to the notion sexual deviancy is a nonpartisan issue—or at least should be—and is a hot-button topic at that, it should be relatively easy for other party members to call for their colleagues to resign or step aside. As noted, other Democrats in Congress and members of the Congressional Black Caucus have suggested that John Conyers resign. Meanwhile, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, alongside other prominent Republicans, have urged Roy Moore to remove his name from consideration for the vacant Senate seat set to soon be decided via special election, or otherwise have distanced themselves from supporting his campaign. Apparently, that he was a birther, hates homosexuals and Muslims, has past ties to neo-Confederate and white nationalist groups, and lied about monies received from his nonprofit Christian legal organization is all OK, but going after young women amidst a groundswell of public support for outing sexual predators—whoa, draw the line!
Which brings us to Donald J. Trump. Before we even get to his seemingly sordid history with women, let’s acknowledge the fact that he has maintained his support for Roy Moore through the litany of allegations, in this regard deviating from key members of his own chosen party. To be fair, other politicians, chiefly fellow Alabamans, have defended Moore in their own right, participating in their share of character assassination of the purported victims of Moore’s misdeeds. Also, Steve Bannon is set to publicly stump for Moore in advance of the election, which should be as much of a red flag as anything, but the point here is that Trump isn’t alone in backing Roy Moore. Then again, when Mitch Mc-freaking-Connell won’t even get behind someone purely for political reasons, you know he or she must be pretty damn toxic. That prospective voters in Alabama are yet on the fence about him would be mind-boggling if not for the idea roughly half of Americans who came out to the polls this past November opted for someone as scandalous and unqualified as Trump. For those voters, morality was an afterthought next to the issue or issues that mattered most to them at the time they cast their ballot. Unless they were voting strategically to block Hillary the Neoliberal and the Democrats, which would be more forgivable if it didn’t play directly into the hands of the two-party system.
So, what possible sins of Donald “Two Corinthians” Trump’s are his supporters potentially forgiving or at least overlooking? You know, besides generally being a shitty human being? In the arena of sexual predation, allegedly, there’s a lot to forgive/overlook. At least 12 women have made accusations of unwanted physical contact, not to mention several women have cited his effective invasion of the dressing rooms of various Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants while the contestants were undressing or undressed. It would be one thing for Trump if it were merely his word against theirs, and even then, he is vastly outnumbered. Being the blowhard and entitled-feeling brat he is, however, we have everything short of an admission on these fronts. Regarding the allegations against him of undesired advances and physicality, Trump basically copped to being a repeat offender in the infamous leaked recording from 2005 where he boasts to Billy Bush, then of Access Hollywood fame, about being able to grab women “by the pussy” and being able to do so essentially because he’s rich and famous. As for the discussion of him being a voyeuristic perv, possibly involving underage women at that, Trump bragged about that, too. In 2005—wow, this was quite the banner year for “the Donald,” wasn’t it?—Trump uttered these words during an interview with Howard Stern, really playing to his predominantly-male audience:
I’ll go backstage before a show, and everyone’s getting dressed and ready and everything else. You know, no men are anywhere. And I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner of the pageant. And therefore I’m inspecting it…. “Is everyone OK?” You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. And you see these incredible-looking women. And so I sort of get away with things like that.
“Sort of get away with things like that?” What does that even mean? Either you do or you don’t get away with it, and through a #MeToo lens, Donald Trump shouldn’t get away with anything. For a man that many would contend shouldn’t have been allowed to be President in the first place, it stands to reason that he, like Louis C.K. and others fallen from grace, should be removed from his current role, even if he is President of these United States. That is, just because he is POTUS doesn’t mean he is infallible.
President Trump said these things. He may not have been President when he said them, but he did say them. At least with respect to the Access Hollywood tape, though, and more recently, Trump has indicated his disbelief, however insincere or warped it may be, that the tape actually exists. Again, it would be one thing if Trump merely denied the existence of the tape to begin with, and that would make this denial at least plausible on his part. But Trump has publicly acknowledged the contents of the tape. Leaked in the weeks before the 2016 election, it prompted him to issue a hasty apology. That’s a matter of public record, too. He literally said, “I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.” So, if the tape doesn’t exist or was “doctored” in some way, for what was he apologizing in the first place? If it was a sincere apology, first of all, it was a terrible one, because it involved one of his favorite strategies to attempt to mitigate his personal responsibility: pivoting to the misdeeds—real or imagined—of the Clintons or some other made-to-be-reprehensible figure. More likely, though, Trump’s apology was wholly insincere. Why do I say this? Because Trump never really apologizes or takes responsibility for anything. It’s been his way leading up to the presidency, so why should it change now? The man simply doubles down on his assertions, claiming he does not remember key details of events that reflect poorly on his character, attacking the credibility of sources that report these events (see also “fake news”), and pivoting once more to other subjects. Even if he is not an abuser—and that’s a big “if”—he sure fits the profile of the kinds of men who have been brought down for less in recent weeks.
When Donald Trump isn’t busy trying to make the incontrovertibly true false, he’s trying to do the opposite. Much as recent reports have indicated that Trump has waffled on the very existence of the tape that painted him as a pussy-grabber, apparently, the man is not done with the whole birther controversy. You know, the one where Trump and others have insinuated Barack Obama was born in another country and should have never been able to be President. According to Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin, writing for The New York Times, Trump has questioned the veracity of Obama’s birth certificate behind closed doors. In the same type of forum, Trump has also repeated his belief that widespread voter fraud led to his losing the popular vote. The problem with these notions is that they’re both patently false. Obama has long since released his birth records showing proof of his Hawaiian birth, and Trump has even publicly acknowledged Obama was born in this country—period. As for the whole voter fraud angle, there is no credible evidence to back up Trump’s theories. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Besides, in what would seem to be a telling turn of events, the commission authorized by Pres. Trump has not even convened in recent weeks, though this may simply be a function of it being sued over a dozen times because of lack of transparency and concerns about the privacy of voter information. Either way, it’s a big to-do about something that ultimately has no bearing on the outcome of the election—and seriously, we should get on that whole making-the-popular-vote-decide-the-election thing the law of the land.
All of this talk of personal accountability for Donald Trump and his—how shall we say this?—special relationship with the truth has been within the purview of easily verifiable and already-verified data. There’s a recording of Trump saying awful things about his physical contact with women. There are authenticated birth records that reveal Barack Obama is a natural-born citizen of the United States. There is no evidence that millions of people voted illegally on Hillary Clinton’s behalf. Such an operation to meddle with the results of the election would require a significant amount of organization and resources to effect. You know, the kind of organization and resources, say, a central government would be able to provide, maybe even a foreign power such as—oh, I don’t know—Russia. Wait a minute—that did happen, only it was Trump who was the intended recipient of such collusion! It is on the subject of Russian interference and ties, meanwhile, that we segue to discussion of things yet less transparent: that of matters financial for Trump and his administration.
Even before the election, scrutiny was levied upon the unknowns surrounding Donald Trump’s personal finances. Specifically, people wondered—and still do—what the contents of his latest tax returns might reveal. Sure, Trump has claimed that only the media wants to see his tax information. In fact, at various points, a majority of Americans have wanted him to release his returns, believing it to be important to them and/or how the President does his job. What’s more, the returns are only part of the conversation re Trump and his money. For one, there’s the matter of Trump failing to put his assets in a blind trust. Oh, Trump’s legal representation has gone through contortions in explaining how what he has done with his businesses constitutes such an arrangement, but unfortunately for them, it’s a bunch of hogwash. That the Trump family has still managed a high degree of involvement in Trump Organization affairs clearly points to this so-called “blind trust” as being neither blind nor trustworthy.
There’s also the matter of Trump’s umpteen trips to Mar-a-Lago and other Trump-owned properties. These trips cost money, particularly when considering the need to safeguard the President and secure a host of properties not optimized for ensuring Trump’s safety. While we are talking about particulars, we, the taxpayers, are the ones footing the bill. And the Trump clan is materially benefitting from this arrangement—every time the President takes his golf clubs out of his bag. Based on a 2016 estimate from the Government Accountability Office, just one trip to Mar-a-Lago costs about $3 million. Donald Trump has been President for less than a year, but in that time, has made trips to at least one of his properties on 34 weekends, as of November 22. That’s no small potatoes, and we thus have every right to wonder whether any decision the Trump administration is making is primarily for the family’s benefit. Recall the first iteration of the embattled travel ban, a thinly-veiled bit of prejudice. Conspicuously, the countries that were named in the ban were ones in which the Trump Organization held no properties. Coincidence? Hardly.
It is against this inconsiderate and reckless financial backdrop that I invoke the recent tumult surrounding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for when Donald Trump isn’t busy enriching himself—and boy, has he been enriching himself at our expense for longer than he has been President—he’s been doing his part alongside his adopted Republican brethren to help other rich assholes like himself stay rich or otherwise unaccountable for their actions. (See also, “Republican tax reform.”) First, a little backdrop for the backdrop, the CFPB was authorized in 2010 with the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a piece of legislation designed to approve accountability for financial institutions and lenders following the financial crisis of 2007 to whenever-the-heck-analysts-want-to-claim-it-ended-despite-people-and-companies-still-trying-to-recover. Broadly speaking, the Bureau is devoted to empowering consumers to make financial choices that best serve their needs, enforcing existing regulations against predatory lenders and other institutions that break the law, and educating consumers and companies alike about their capabilities and responsibilities. Much of their work has focused on credit cards, mortgages, and student loans, the likes of which just happen to produce mountains of debt and keep millions of Americans in financial shackles.
And this is the organization Trump, professed man of the people, and his cronies want to dismantle. The CFPB has not been above controversy in its brief tenure, not the least of which involves its unique structure as an independent agency controlled by a single director, i.e. “who will watch the Watchmen?” As Bryce Covert (great name for an investigative journalist, by the by) writes for New Republic, however, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been the one organization devoted solely to protecting financial consumers, and has produced tangible results, namely netting some $12 billion from the likes of Wells Fargo and other financial institutions as compensatory relief for Jane and John Q. Public. According to Covert, this is precisely why Trump and the GOP want to gut the agency. Despite Trump calling the CFPB heretofore a “total disaster,” (much like ObamaCare, but who knew people actually like keeping their health care!) and despite disputed acting director Mick Mulvaney labeling it a “sad, sick joke,” many would contest the assertions of its conservative Republican critics that the Bureau is bad for banks. As Covert and others would maintain, the big banks, in particular, seem to be doing just fine ten years removed from the financial crisis. That’s what makes the current legal battle over the CFPB’s directorship so critically important. Prior to his resignation, Richard Cordray named deputy director Leandra English as acting director, and English has maintained the language of Dodd-Frank specifies that she should automatically take over as director. Pres. Trump, meanwhile, has appointed Mulvaney, previously one of the conservative mob looking on at the CFPB from afar with pitchforks and torches. Not literal pitchforks and torches, mind you. After all, this is Washington, D.C. we’re talking about here, not Charlottesville, VA.
When it comes down to brass tacks, then, why is Bryce Covert so concerned about Mick Mulvaney taking the reins of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and why should you be as well? Well, in a nutshell, because each and every appointment made by President Trump so far has been a deliberate attempt to undermine the purest applications of the underlying office. From the appearance of things, in fact, Donald Trump looks to be directly trolling the disapproving left, but to suggest such things would be giving him far too much credit. Just look at some of his nominees for key Cabinet positions. Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education—despite having no experience with public education. Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA—after suing it umpteen times as Oklahoma Attorney General. Rick Perry as Secretary of the Department of Energy—an agency he wanted to dismantle while on the presidential campaign trail but the name of which he famously was too blockheaded to remember during one debate. Even Mick Mulvaney himself barely got through Senate confirmation hearings to name him director of the Office of Management and Budget. Mulvaney, a fervent Tea Partier, rode the GOP offshoot’s wave of success during Obama’s tenure to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for the state of South Carolina in 2010. Among his soaring achievements as a member of the House (sarcasm intended) are his involvement in voting in 2015 against a funding resolution which would have prevented a government shutdown, in significant part due to the resolution also funding Planned Parenthood, which he named as a “traffick[er] in pieces of dead children,” being a founding member of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus within the House ([INSERT EYE-ROLL EMOJI HERE]), and opposing the Affordable Care Act and gun control, two things many of his constituents need or want, even the Republicans. Thanks for nothing, Mick!
Between Donald Trump in the White House and Mick Mulvaney as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, there is little to inspire or warrant enthusiasm. Once more, we turn to the insights of Bryce Covert:
[Republicans] opposed the creation of the CFPB from the beginning, and are devoted to whittling away at it. They’ve pushed to weaken its independence and effectiveness by monkeying with its structure. The House passed the CHOICE Act in June, which would strip the CFPB of its authority to supervise, police, and examine financial institutions; bar it from overseeing payday loans; and let the president fire its director at whim.
Candidate Trump appeared ready to strike a different pose in office. On the campaign trail, he railed against “hedge fund guys.” He promised not to “let Wall Street get away with murder,” arguing that “Wall Street has caused tremendous problems for us.” It was all part of his supposedly populist message that he would stand up for those left behind by an elite-driven economy and Washington, D.C. Yet, now in office, he’s gone soft on banks. His administration has already loosened financial regulations, dropped a rule to rein in Wall Street bonuses, and allowed AIG to wriggle out of stricter rules to protect the economy if the insurance giant failed.
And he’s followed the rest of his party in attacking the CFPB. His budget zeroed out its funding completely and proposed other ways to significantly change it. His Treasury Department released a report arguing that the CFPB’s “unaccountable structure and unduly broad regulatory powers” have “hindered consumer choice and access to credit, limited innovation, and imposed undue compliance burdens, particularly on small institutions.” The Treasury also recommended that the president be able to fire the director, that its enforcement be slowed down, and that many of its supervisory powers be handed back to agencies that previously did barely anything to police financial firms.
If Mulvaney survives English’s court challenge, he would be able to bring much of that wish list to life. And there’s no reason to think he’d do anything different. He has outright stated, “I don’t like the fact that CFPB exists.” On Monday he got to work, saying all new regulations from the CFPB will be frozen for 30 days. If he remains the bureau’s leader, we can expect much, much more of the same.
OK, so here’s the thing: Mick Mulvaney is only the acting director. If Leandra English’s legal challenge fails to make an impact, though, who knows how long Mulvaney will be at the helm of the CFPB or if it will even last long enough to make the contested director’s seat a meaningful point of contention? Pres. Trump’s administration has been marked by discord and disorganization, a notion highlighted by his molasses-like filling of key government positions that does little to help serve his agenda, as makeshift as it is. Why wouldn’t he drag his feet on appointing a successor for a bureau he wants to delete in the first place? And why wouldn’t we anticipate more abandonment of existing investigations into misdeeds of the financial sector and relaxation of regulations all under the vague impression regulation kills businesses? To take a cue from Ms. Covert, why expect anything to get better until it gets much, much worse?
Accountability. Responsibility. Truth. Whether with respect to something as trivial as the size of one’s Inauguration crowd vis-à-vis that of the previous President or something as of paramount importance as the health of the nation’s economy, rest assured you will not get these virtues from Donald Trump and the gaggle of Republican yes-men and yes-women he has tapped to distract and dissuade from the real damage they are trying to do for the benefit of their corporate and otherwise wealthy benefactors. Putting Mick Mulvaney at the head of the CFPB in an apparent attempt to eviscerate the one truly consumer-oriented agency designed to safeguard everyday Americans’ finances only furthers this notion. Amid Trump’s culture war on the most sacred American values, the vast majority of us stand to lose. Whether his supporters fail to recognize this, or do and simply don’t care, is the only thing left to question.
When Barack Obama stepped into office in 2009 and began signing executive orders, he was criticized vociferously by conservatives, Republicans, and the combination therein. Never mind that they were primed to look for any reason to hate on Obama—Sean Hannity even took time out to assail #44 for his choice of condiments on his burger, of all things—but the suggestion was that Barack Obama was content to rule by fiat rather than work with Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike. Not one to hold his feelings and opinions back, Donald Trump was among these vocal critics, regularly attacking the man who would eventually hand him the keys to the White House, so to speak, on matters of playing golf and issuing executive orders. Of course, now that “the Donald” is President, he spends more than a quarter of his time golfing—usually at one of his resorts and thereby costing the taxpayer while lining his own pockets. As for executive orders, Trump’s pace thus far is likewise hypocritical. As of this writing, Trump’s 49 executive orders puts him on pace to sign the most orders in 50 years. Now if only he could fill his Cabinet with this much alacrity and zeal!
This most recent Trump executive order is especially notable in the context of the apparent war waged by the GOP on affordable health care in the United States of America, as it specifically addresses the Affordable Care Act. Broadly speaking, the executive order is aimed at allowing small businesses skirt some of the requirements currently imposed by the ACA. One of its major functions is to ease the rules that govern the creation of “association health plans,” which are plans that can be created by small businesses across state lines through trade groups, theoretically designed to drive down insurance rates by increasing competition. As Bruce Japsen, a Forbes contributor, tells, however, AHPs don’t have a track record of great success. The idea of association health plans has existed for decades, but according to Japsen via those who have studied interstate insurance sales over time, these plans have not met with much efficacy. AHPs have been prone to cost-cutting methods which have also meant cutting the quality of service, not to mention they’ve been subject to their fair share of fraud and insolvency. As critics have outlined, there is increased risk of “essential health benefits” no longer being covered by these new plans, as well as fewer options and higher premiums on the individual market. In addition, in states where buying insurance across state lines already exists, plans that make use of this provision are sparse to nonexistent. As Japsen details, this “hasn’t worked in large part because plans haven’t wanted to spend the money contracting with more doctors and hospitals in areas they have no enrollees.” For consumers and insurers alike, the prospect of association health plans has been a losing proposition.
The other major function of President Trump’s executive order is to increase the limits by which insurance plans can be considered short-term insurance plans. Effectively, it would be undoing an Obama-era provision that narrowed the window to three months of eligibility for these plans—which are intended for people expected to be out of work only for a limited period of time. By expanding the period of time that these plans can be used by employers, which tend to offer fewer essential benefits and involve higher out-of-pocket costs, it is that much more likely that healthier people will use short-term plans to circumvent the ACA. With respect to the ACA plans, this likely will lead to higher premiums, fewer insurers, and thus, less competition and stability. Other than that, though, a great idea, eh?
Overall, the theme is one of offering less expansive health coverage while at the same time increasing premiums for the most vulnerable Americans, namely the elderly, the poor, and the sick—often one and the same given a previous inability to accrue savings or the simple fact of not having a steady source of income beyond supplemental avenues—and decreasing the number of available insurance options, all under the guise of cutting costs and creating competition among insurers. In other words, Trump’s executive order is not all it’s cracked up to be, which explains why opposition to it is so widespread, including from consumer groups, physicians groups, policy analysts, and state officials. While the very legality of this executive order has yet to be decided, as with a number of Pres. Trump’s directives in their original form, and while the order merely provides direction to government agencies with respect to how they should interpret elements of health care touched by the Affordable Care Act to alleviate financial burdens, it seems apparent that Trump is not altogether concerned with the long and short of what his own authorization contains, but rather merely that this will eat away at a significant portion of Barack Obama’s legacy as POTUS. This is to say that Donald Trump evidently is OK with ending the so-called “mess” that is ObamaCare whether it works or not, Tweeting as Americans threaten to slide down into the abyss.
And this is before we even get to the issue of ending Affordable Care Act subsidies. President Trump stated that he plans to end federal payments to insurers as part of cost-sharing reductions that allow consumers to manage their deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses. The timetable for this shift is—surprise!—unclear, although some believe the cutoff will arrive next month. Coincidentally—though likely not coincidentally—open enrollment for coverage through ACA marketplaces is set to begin in a few weeks. Accordingly, Trump has been charged with figuratively “throwing a bomb” into these marketplaces, the fallout of which would stand to disproportionately affect Americans in the states that voted him for in the presidential election. Thanks for your support, guys, but it’s time for you to pay more or die! It’s telling when Democrats are on the same side as health insurance companies on an issue, and when congressional Republicans are urging the President to continue these subsidies despite them being challenged in court by House GOP members. Speaking of the courts, a number of states have sued to stop the removal of these subsidies, and more lawsuits are apt to come from insurers and other concerned parties. Donald Trump’s move to essentially “gut” the Affordable Care Act may be his way of trying to push responsibility onto Congress and various federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, but it comes with real consequences. Might these consequences also come in the form of political damage for Trump and the rest of the GOP? Though his popularity has steadily declined, Trump has yet to really feel the brunt of strong criticism for his poor decision-making, especially among his supporters. Then again, if he f**ks with their health care, all bets might be off.
On the specific subject of these ACA subsidies—the main reason for the furor over Pres. Trump’s decision, at that—the debate seems to be a striking example of what is technically correct and what is morally correct. I alluded to the notion earlier that House Republicans have challenged the legitimacy of the subsidy payments. As a federal court decided, this challenge has merit. The Obama administration approved Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) subsidies that go directly to insurers in an effort to reduce the bottom line of the consumer. As the court found, however, this violates the Constitution because it involves the executive branch making appropriations and bypassing Congress to do it, a violation of the separation of powers doctrine fundamental to the idea of checks and balances. Additionally, by giving money to insurance companies, this, in theory, materially benefits them, though the companies allege consumers are the primary beneficiaries. It’s no small potatoes, either—we’re talking billions of dollars here. This is the aspect of the subsidies that Donald Trump, friend of the American people and of the little guy, has latched onto in explaining why he is choosing to end these subsidies so abruptly and why now. You know, because if this were truly a principle-of-the-thing kind of thing, wouldn’t you have ended the subsidy payments when you first got into office? Unless you were convinced that you and your Republican cronies were going to ram a repeal of the Affordable Care Act down our throats before it even got this far? I mean, did you even think about the matter this hard?
So, yes, CSR subsidies may not be technically constitutionally correct, and conservative publications and thinkers which shamelessly defend the President have already hailed this directive as a defense of law and order in these United States. Never mind his myriad potential other constitutional offenses and conflicts of interests—in the arena of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, Trump is A-OK. On the other hand—and this is the critical point in all this discussion of the Affordable Care Act, subsidies, and making affordable health care less a luxury and more a right (as it should be)—to yank away these subsidies suddenly like a rug under the feet of average Americans, as many would argue, is not the morally advisable course of action. Even Trump’s boasting on Twitter about hurting the stocks of health insurers smacks of an emotional disconnect with the consumer. While few would or should feel bad for corporations, which do not have feelings and don’t exist outside of the world of legal entities, having share prices dive affects shareholders, and could even result in employees within these companies losing jobs. There are real people behind the dollars and cents that go up and down. It’s not a game.
Of course, Donald Trump’s moral compass has long been suspect in its utility as a guide, if not completely broken. As such, we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised he would put himself at odds with the needs of his constituents, let alone the wishes of his Republican comrades in his adopted party, many of whom are likely to face stiff contests in 2018 in midterm elections, let alone GOP primaries leading up to the big shebang. Already, if Roy Moore’s defeat of Luther Strange in Alabama to fill the vacancy left by Jeff Sessions when he became Attorney General is any indication, “establishment” candidates/incumbents are facing a voting public that has soured on Congress’s well-established tradition of being inefficient and ineffectual in representing the needs of the working class and middle-class America, demographics on the seeming decline as they are. Thus, while Trump himself may be safe given that incumbent Presidents seeking re-election tend to be victorious and that Democrats seem unlikely to unite behind a sufficiently progressive candidate, if voters connect the dots between failures in health care and a faulty GOP health care strategy, contested seats may not be as secure as Republican congressional leaders might otherwise be led to believe.
Donald Trump, in his usual grandiose style, stated that there is no more such thing as ObamaCare, that it is “dead” and “gone.” Also as usual, his rhetoric is misleading. Trump’s executive order and his intended end to subsidized lower insurance costs through the Affordable Care Act would be devastating to insurance marketplaces, an effect exacerbated by the timing of this decision/its proximity to open enrollment. However, without a satisfactory plan waiting in the wings, #45 is invoking the name of congressional Democrats and Republicans and insisting that the two sides work together for the sake of a “short-term fix.” This is not how good political leaders operate: by coercing lawmakers into action, including those of his own adopted party, and encouraging a standoff between the executive and the legislature. It’s bullying, and it’s a refusal to own his own failure in being unable to negotiate a deal that would see a credible surrogate for the ACA. Meanwhile, at least 18 states are suing to block a halt to the CSR subsidies, with insurance premiums and federal budget deficits set to increase significantly if Trump’s plan—if you can even call it a plan—comes to fruition. That’s not just bad for insurance companies and the senators who have counted them among their biggest donors. That’s bad for the entire nation.
In the name of his own vanity, President Donald Trump aims to throw a wrench into the workings of the Affordable Care Act as a means of somehow erasing Barack Obama’s legacy. Obama’s historic presidency, however, is more than just the sum of the legislation he signed into law, and while Obama was far from perfect as leader of the country, he is light-years ahead of Trump in intellect, moral fiber, and professionalism. As aforementioned, thus far, not much in the way of negative associations have stuck with Teflon Don, during his tenure as POTUS or, for that matter, in light of his overrated track record as a businessman and entrepreneur. Perhaps through the lens of TrumpCare, though, the shine on his unnaturally orange visage will begin to fade.
With all that is going on with recovery efforts after a barrage of hurricanes in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, and with a battle over the future of health care in the United States of America in its current iteration in the form of the Graham-Cassidy Bill causing divisions even within the Republican Party, it almost seems silly to be talking about whether or not players kneel during the National Anthem. Then again, man-child Donald Trump is our President, Twitter is readily available, and his base apparently values blind patriotism over most things, so here we are. Trump essentially picked a fight with those individuals who would protest by doing anything other than standing with hand over heart—and by proxy, started in with the entirety of the National Football League—even going as far as to call these would-be dissenters “sons of bitches” and suggesting they should be fired. The NFL, meanwhile, through statements released by commissioner Roger Goodell and various owners, as well as through on-field shows of solidarity including kneeling, sitting, locking arms, and even remaining in the locker room during the playing of the Anthem, took Trump to task for his divisive rhetoric. These sentiments echo those of a separate fight picked with Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors of the National Basketball Association regarding whether or not he and they would honor the invitation to the White House customarily afforded to the champions of their sport. After it became apparent Curry and the Warriors would not be attending, Trump assailed them on Twitter and disinvited them—you know, despite the idea they already said they weren’t going. YOU CAN’T QUIT—YOU’RE FIRED! DO YOU HEAR ME? YOU’RE FIRED!
What was especially significant about this turn of events regarding the NFL’s repudiation of Donald Trump’s off-color language is that admonishment came not only from those players who assumed the distinction of being the target of the President’s ire and their coaches, but from those individuals who had previously indicated their support for Trump during the presidential campaign. Rex Ryan, who appeared with Trump at one or more campaign stops in New York state (Ryan previously coached both the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills) and is now an analyst in ESPN’s employ, indicated he was “pissed off” by Trump’s comments and that he “did not sign up for” the kind of shenanigans in which Trump was engaging. This line of discussion, however, prompted some curious reactions on social media and even from his fellow on-air personalities (for example, see Randy Moss’s face when hearing Ryan reveal he voted for Donald Trump). A number of critics highlighted the notion that Rex Ryan evidently signed up for a man leading the country who has denigrated Asians, the disabled, environmentalists, the LGBT community, members of his own party, Mexicans, Muslims, veterans, and women—but calling football players a name was where he drew the line? Especially when, based on their size, these players are relatively more capable of defending themselves?
Psychologically speaking, it is perhaps unsurprising that Rex Ryan would react in this manner to the hissy-fit President Trump threw over players kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem. Tough talk and rhetoric is all well and good—until someone starts talking about you or someone you care about. Transcending the NFL and people who get paid to render their opinions on sports, however, Ryan is not the only person whose support for Donald Trump has ended with disillusion and distancing oneself from the so-called “leader” of the nation. After Trump’s response to Charlottesville and his condemnation of white supremacy were deemed to be—how shall we say this?—insufficient, his business councils were disbanded when CEOs couldn’t leave fast enough to separate themselves from his hate. When companies aren’t merely dissolving their working relationships with the Trump family, they are scaling back or outright terminating their business relationships with their litany of brands, in part thanks to targeted campaigns by members of the Resistance such as the #GrabYourWallet movement. As you might recall, months back, Donald Trump threw a whole different hissy-fit at Nordstrom for its announcement that it was phasing out his daughter Ivanka’s products from its stores—HIS DAUGHTER! WHAT A BUNCH OF MEANIES! Like with Rex Ryan and his support for Trump’s agenda up until the point of belittling rank-and-file football players for expressing their personal beliefs, all was well and good until Trump’s behavior threatened these organizations’ bottom line. As the saying goes, money talks and bullshit walks. In this instance, rather, people walk when Trump’s bullshit costs them money. After all, wouldn’t you?
If any of the above were isolated incidents, there wouldn’t be much here to discuss. Plenty of CEOs are dicks. Plenty of political leaders are dicks. Why shouldn’t Donald Trump—CEO-turned-President—be one of them? Ah, but Pres. Trump is not your average dick. The embodiment of rich white male privilege, Trump has never had to deal with meaningful consequences for his actions; even in business, some creditor or his daddy was there to bail him out. As the putative leader of the free world, meanwhile, Donald Trump is in a position that beckons diplomacy and restraint, two skills in which it is very clear at this point the man lacks proficiency because he has never had to hone them. Accordingly, for all those individuals who feel compelled to entertain Trump’s invitations to help him elaborate his policies, whether because of respect for the office of President of the United States or because they think they can manipulate him into serving their own interests, it is worth considering whether or not they truly understand what they’re getting themselves into.
Matthew Gertz, senior fellow at Media Matters for America, helps explain trying to work with Donald Trump at perhaps its most essential by keeping a running account of dealings with Trump in which #45 has publicly tried to debase or discredit the other party. Or, as Gertz, terms it, “If you try to work with Trump, he will humiliate you.” The list of instances of Trump throwing someone under the bus, getting into the driver’s seat, and backing over them again is far too long to regurgitate here. (If you really want to peruse Gertz’s ever-expanding Tweetstorm on the subject, suggested clicks are here and here.) That said, there are still, um, “highlights” to be had by which we can get a better sense of just how ill-fated any partnership with Donald Trump is owing to how self-aggrandizing this man is. Here is just a sampling of “working with Trump” looks like:
Trump passed over Mitt Romney for the office of Secretary of State, taking him out to dinner at a fancy restaurant and essentially having Romney publicly express his confidence in Trump as a repudiation of his earlier misgivings.
After Paul Ryan informed Trump he didn’t have the votes to make the GOP version of “repeal and replace” of the Affordable Care Act go through, Trump still wanted a vote. In subsequent talk of tax reform, Trump and his administration sought to take a more hands-on approach to the issue—and cut Ryan out of the picture in the process.
Trump regularly contradicted members of his administration and his aides regarding whether he had planned to fire James Comey as FBI director or whether he relied on the advice of deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein before doing so.
Disregarding the advice of members of his business councils, Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement.
There was this time when everyone around Trump’s table was praising him out loud. Super creepy and weird.
Sean Spicer felt he had to resign over the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director—who lasted less than two weeks in that role.
Scaramucci, for that 10 days in his tenure, sold his business and had his marriage dissolve. Congratulations, Mooch!
Steve Bannon had his supposed role in helping Trump get elected diminished by Trump himself, suggesting Bannon came onto the campaign late. Bannon was gone shortly thereafter.
Jeff Sessions has basically eaten shit over the issue of Russia. Heaps of it.
And now there’s the whole NFL thing. People like Rex Ryan and Tom Brady and owners like Jerry Jones (Cowboys) and Robert Kraft (Patriots) lent Trump their support in advance of the election, and to satisfy his base and distract from other issues like health care and North Korea, Trump picked a fight over kneeling for the National Anthem, one which only serves to magnify the race problems that he and the League face. Thanks for your contributions, guys! Perhaps beyond being momentarily “pissed off” or “humiliated,” Ryan and Co. don’t really mind so much. After all, they got the President they wanted—or at least got the man they thought they wanted—and from the appearance of things, a conservative agenda for the White House is in place, the economy is humming along, and “America first” is our raison d’être. By the same token, however, perhaps there is just a twinkling of a spark of regret from these Trump backers that they helped create a monster. Probably not, but—what can I say?—I’m an optimist.
If non-politicians may be looking on at President Trump’s tenure with a sense of buyer’s remorse, what might congressional Republicans be experiencing? Their own embarrassment or shame? Such a question implies that these lawmakers can possess these emotions, or genuine feelings altogether. (Like Trump re Mexicans, I assume some members of the GOP in Congress are actually good people.) One individual who seems to lack the ability to express actual human sentiments is Mitch McConnell the Toad-Man, a guy who has overcome having a neck pouch to become Senate Majority Leader. Vis-à-vis Trump, McConnell has toed the party line on elements of the President’s agenda where their goals have aligned, trying to push through health care reform legislation even Donald Trump himself, the Grinch Who Stole the Election, could recognize was “mean,” exercising the “nuclear option” to require a simple majority to confirm conservative justice Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, and arousing feminist ire around the country by silencing Elizabeth Warren on the Senate Floor for trying to read a letter from Coretta Scott King believed by Warren to be relevant to the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.
In the latest chapter of the Donald Trump-Mitch McConnell relationship, the two men were perhaps strange bedfellows in the Republican Party primary in the special election for the vacant Senate seat created when Jeff Sessions was sworn in as Attorney General. Trump, McConnell, and most of the GOP establishment backed Luther Strange, an attorney and the interim junior senator from Alabama so appointed when Sessions became part of the Trump administration. Roy Moore, the challenger, is—well, Roy Moore is a special individual. Former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore’s greatest claims to fame—or, perhaps, infamy—are refusing to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from outside his courthouse, thereby signaling his intentional blurring of the lines of separation between church and state, and his order to probate judges to refrain from issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. So, yeah, more of that whole church-state business. For these incidents, Moore was twice removed from his role as Chief Justice by the Alabama Court of Judiciary, and based on his experience and penchant for inflammatory conduct and remarks, he was likely considered a liability by Republican leaders. Again, though, in the current political climate, Moore may just as well be seen as a godsend by many of his prospective constituents, and in the deep red state of Alabama, he looks to be in a great position to be an elected successor to Mr. Sessions despite his apparent craziness to a national audience. What’s more, despite McConnell’s signaling that he intends to work with Roy Moore should he be elected, many—including Moore himself—probably see his primary victory as a rebuke to McConnell’s brand of politics and a movement to oust centrist, ol’ fuddy-duddy Republicans like him.
Rich Lowry, writer for the New York Post, devoted a recent column to matters of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Roy Moore, and the GOP’s handling of an evident insurgency within its own party. Hearkening back to the larger issue with which we began—the issue of working with Trump—as Lowry sees it, the party establishment still doesn’t understand how to do so, creating problems for both sides. Lowry explains:
The result in Alabama will render Trump even more up for grabs everywhere else. Is he going to simply move on and work with the congressional leadership on the next big priority, tax reform? Is he going to exercise the “Chuck and Nancy” option? Is he going to double down on his base and resume afflicting the comfortable of the GOP establishment as he did in the primaries? All of the above? Does he know?
Trump’s problem isn’t that he threw in with the establishment, as his most fervent supporters believe; it’s that he threw in with an establishment that had no idea how to process his victory and integrate populism into the traditional Republican agenda.
One of the many causes of the failure of ObamaCare repeal is that Republicans didn’t emphasize the economic interests of the working-class voters who propelled Trump to victory (and Trump showed little sign of caring about this himself). Out of the gate, tax reform looks to have a similar problem— the Trumpist element is supposed to be a middle-class tax cut, but it’s not obvious that it delivers one.
This gets to a fundamental failing of the populists. House Speaker Paul Ryan isn’t supposed to be the populist; Trump is. But the president and his backers haven’t even started to seriously think through what a workable populist platform is besides inveighing against internal party enemies, igniting cable TV-friendly controversies and overinvesting in symbolic measures like The Wall.
If the populists don’t like the results, they should take their own political project more seriously, if they are capable of it.
A success on taxes would provide some respite from the party’s internal dissension, yet the medium-term forecast has to be for more recrimination than governing. Whatever the core competency of the national Republican Party is at the moment, it certainly isn’t forging coherence or creating legislative achievements.
It’s no great surprise that Donald Trump and his cronies don’t have much of an idea about what they’re doing; concerning matters of domestic and foreign policy, Trump is a veritable Magic 8-Ball—shake him, wait a few moments, then shake again and see whether or not you get a different response. On the side of the Republican leadership’s veteran wing, however, this failure of party brass to respond to the needs of past voters and potential future voters is an ongoing concern somewhat mirrored in the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party between moderates and liberal progressives. The main difference, of course, is that, on the left, progressives seek to take centrist Dems to task for overvaluing corporate interests and not going far enough in seeking policy-based reforms, while Trumpist populists seem more concerned with the right’s refusal to embrace cultural elements of far-right conservatism. Germane to the Republican Party or not, it strikes the observer that Mitch McConnell and other GOP members of Congress greatly overestimated their ability to corral, handle, wrangle, or otherwise work with Donald Trump, much as they overconfidently thought they could ram the Graham-Cassidy Bill down our throats, underestimating we, the people, in the process. Thus, if you believe I believe that the likes of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell deserve a shred of sympathy for making a deal with the Devil, you would be sorely mistaken.
There’s no working with Donald Trump because he is a capricious, spoiled, man-baby with no room for other people’s considerations aside from his ego. Moreover, he is a known con man and liar who has exhibited a willingness to step on and over anyone who is an impediment to his desires, and for those who think that he will fulfill their own desires, they would be advised to wait for the other shoe to drop. Or, as Matthew Gertz might put it, wait to be humiliated.