Subpoenas Aren’t Optional, and Other Impeachment Musings

Apparently, being Donald Trump’s personal lawyer means you forget how the law is supposed to work. (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

In May, when former White House Counsel Don McGahn was called to testify before the House Judiciary Committee regarding information sought related to Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible conspiracy and obstruction charges for President Donald Trump and other members of his transition team, McGahn willingly defied the subpoena.

For a political figure like Trump and others around him, that McGahn would simply no-show members of Congress is, while almost unprecedented, not particularly surprising. We’ve thrown out the book on presidential behavior and politics as usual so often lately that the binding is cracked and our arms are worn out from the repetitive action.

Still, you would hope as a lawyer that McGahn would have some respect for the law and legal precepts. Besides, and at any rate, you’re, um, not supposed to be able to up and refuse a subpoena like that. As Committee chair Jerry Nadler put it, “Our subpoenas are not optional. We will not allow the president to stop this investigation.” He also warned that McGahn could face contempt charges for failing to appear before the House Judiciary Committee.

This was several months ago, when House Democrats were dancing around the very idea of impeachment and seeking an alternate route to accessing information about Trump’s potential impeachable offenses. It’s October now. Needless to say, the paradigm has shifted regarding the launch of a formal impeachment inquiry. With a majority of House Democrats and even members of the Senate/presidential candidates favoring impeachment, and with Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly indicating plans to move forward with impeachment proceedings, there is yet greater urgency to compel prospective witnesses to comply with congressional ultimatums.

Unfortunately, that urgency is lost on these witnesses themselves. Sure, the exact circumstances are different than they were a few months prior. Pelosi and Co’s. decision to finally go ahead with impeachment was brought about by a whistleblower complaint which has since come to light from an unnamed individual in U.S. intelligence made in August.

Among other things, the whistleblower alleges Trump pressured Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky multiple times to investigate Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, regarding his role as a board member of a Ukrainian energy company. Despite Trump’s assertions, there is no evidence either Biden did anything wrong within this sphere of influence. As with the focus on Hillary Clinton and her numerous supposed scandals prior to the 2016 election, however, the suggestion alone may be sufficient to sway the minds of voters. And to be clear, Biden, despite numerous bad policy positions (past and present) and the real possibility he is losing his mind, is still the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Please excuse me while I bang my head against a wall for a moment.

Seriously, though, this is serious business involving Trump. Asking for a foreign leader to investigate a political rival not as a matter of national security, but as a matter of personal political gain, may be a crime and is probably an impeachable offense. Either way, and getting to the central point about testifying before Congress, persons of interest within the context of an impeachment inquiry should not be treating subpoenas as if they’re tickets to some voluntary information session, some theoretical event. As Merriam-Webster defines subpoena, it is “a writ commanding a person designated in it to appear in court under a penalty for failure.” It’s not a request.

Try telling that to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, though, who has admitted he was on the call between Trump and Zelensky and has stated that he won’t comply with a House Foreign Affairs Committee subpoena, has vowed to fight the deposition of other State Department officials in the service of impeachment proceedings, and who has labeled the committee’s “request” (which, again, isn’t a request) as an attempt to “intimidate, bully, and treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the Department of State.” As Pompeo would have you believe, committee chair Eliot Engel will personally hold down each of these “distinguished professionals” and take their lunch money, whereupon they will be given wedgies and quite possibly will be forced into their own lockers.

Trump personal lawyer and morning talk show resident-crazy-person Rudy Giuliani also has commented about a subpoena in terms of something to which he may or may not accede. Evidently, Giuliani has received subpoenas from three different House committees, but claims that before a “proper” decision can be made, a number of issues have to be weighed, including attorney-client privilege, “substantial constitutional and legal issues,” and “other privileges.” What’s that, Mr. Giuliani? Adhering to the law might involve the Constitution and other legal principles? You don’t say! Never mind that attorney-client privilege might not actually apply in your case because you’re such a blabbermouth. But I digress.

For a House committee issuing a subpoena, when one of the objects of its investigatory powers fails to acquiesce to its summons, what recourse does it possess? Well, one option is to involve the courts. Regarding McGahn’s earlier refusal to appear before Congress and to try to nullify a larger strategy of the White House’s to shield presidential advisers from being held accountable, the House Judiciary Committee filed a lawsuit in August with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to force McGahn to testify. The White House has claimed McGahn has “absolute immunity” from being made to testify before the Committee, a concept which has been used by past administrations but hasn’t been fully tested by the courts.

The problem with this route? It, well, takes time. As stated in the New York Times article linked above, this case could take months or longer to resolve. With a presidential election little more than a year from now, this is obviously far from ideal. As Judd Legum, author of the political newsletter Popular Information, and others have pointed out, meanwhile, another possibility exists in invoking inherent contempt.

Congress hasn’t invoked inherent contempt in more than seven decades, but in this case and given the gravity of the Trump administration’s repeated attempted erosion of the Constitution and democracy overall, it seems well warranted. It certainly is a more direct path to try to get a particular target to comply. Upon the passing of a resolution to execute an arrest warrant, the desired party is taken into custody, tried for contempt, and if found guilty, can be detained or imprisoned “until the obstruction to the exercise of legislative power is removed.” The legislature can also fine the non-compliant party for failing to observe its authority, as Rep. Mike Quigley has publicly observed.

If House Democrats are truly forthright about wanting to carry out an impeachment inquiry with any due sense of efficiency, they shouldn’t hesitate to invoke contempt for those Trump administration officials and actual freaking lawyers who apparently don’t know what a subpoena is. Sure, it may feel like an extreme step to some, particularly among the president’s defenders. Then again, as Legum would insist, “these are extraordinary times.”


Despite the notion many of us looking on at this impeachment business from the cheap seats have been anticipating such action for a long time now, an unfortunate byproduct of this unfolding scandal is that we have even more coverage of Donald Trump now. Visit one of the major cable news sites and witness the litany of Trump-oriented stories available for your consumption. Trump lashes out. Trump attacks. Trump, at his worst. Trump this. Trump that. Even in potential infamy, Trump’s name is everywhere. He couldn’t have succeeded better on this front if he had tried.

What’s particularly bad about this state of affairs is it pushes news items important in their own right to the back pages. The United Kingdom is still in political turmoil, trying to come to grips with the results of a Brexit referendum vote that seemingly never had a chance of being implemented smoothly in the first place. Foreign interference in the 2020 election is probable if not certain, with Vladimir Putin among those laughing about the very suggestion. Mohammad bin Salman and Saudi Arabia have yet to face substantive consequences for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and war continues in Yemen, of which the Saudis, aided by American weapons and aircraft, are key players. U.S. manufacturing is on the decline. The border crisis is anything but resolved. Deforestation and fires continue in the Amazon, a direct result of an ill-advised policy shift by Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil. In short, there’s a lot of bad shit happening right now, and the fevered news coverage surrounding Trump’s legal and political entanglements obscures these real problems.

This isn’t to say, of course, that we shouldn’t be paying attention to the events and players relevant to the impeachment process. Even with Bill Clinton’s impeachment in the rear view mirror, so to speak, what we’re witnessing with Trump is historic and its own animal.

All the same, we should be cognizant of what we’re missing by dwelling on this single controversy. Besides, even if Trump were to be impeached and removed by Congress, that wouldn’t be the end of Republican control of the White House and Senate, nor would it magically put a stop to a rise in hate crimes and overt right-wing extremism in the United States and elsewhere. It’s not like he’s the Night King. Removing him wouldn’t mean the end of ugly rhetoric here in the United States and it wouldn’t essentially spell doom for the Republican Party’s attempts to stack the federal judiciary, target entitlement programs for cuts, and do other harm to the social safety net and fairness in representative democracy.

Donald Trump, members of his administration, and enablers of his on the outside like Rudy Giuliani may not have much regard for the rule of law. That notwithstanding, we shouldn’t treat their flippant dismissal of congressional authority as something to be considered acceptable or normal. In theory, no one is above the law. The Democrats and American news media would be wise to reinforce this idea in both their speech and actions, especially if we are to have but the semblance of confidence in them as institutions going forward.

On Sex Work, Morality, and Truth

Pete Buttigieg is among those on the left who, in deriding Donald Trump as a “porn star president,” takes a jab at an industry in sex work that has been disproportionately stigmatized and which sees its professionals face certain risks and a lack of concern for their rights and trustworthiness. (Photo Credit: Marc Nozell/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

At a recent CNN town hall, Democratic hopeful Pete Buttigieg took specific issue with Vice President Mike Pence’s support of Donald Trump. Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana (Pence’s home state) and openly gay (ahem, not Pence’s favorite distinction), criticized Pence for his support for Trump in an apparent abandonment of his principles as a Christian. As Buttigieg put it, “How could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency? Is it that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump?”

As far as the post-event dissection and sound bite accumulation went, this was Buttigieg’s quote of the night. For what it’s worth, the pointed criticism of Pence and the religious right is well taken. Prior to the rise of Trump, white evangelicals were most likely to insist on a candidate’s morality as an important quality. Now, however, they downplay Trump’s moral and other deficiencies of character, in this respect acting more white than evangelical. For some, it may be unconscious, but either way, religious conservatives see an ally in a president who appears to exemplify the so-called “prosperity gospel” and who would uphold their brand of “religious freedom.”

Mayor Buttigieg, though, is not a member of the religious right. He is a Democrat and Episcopalian whose mere sexual orientation would make him a target of conservative Christians’ scorn. His attack of Trump’s “porn star presidency” is a double-edged sword that strikes not only at Mike Pence’s hypocrisy and that of his ilk but also at adult entertainers and their choice of vocation. Within his comments are an implicit criticism of porn stars—or at least a failure to defend them. Trump is a bad person. He consorts with porn stars. By association, if you associate with him or them, you are a bad person.

The unnamed allusion to Trump’s extramarital liaison with Stephanie Clifford a.k.a. Stormy Daniels is not the first knock on the woman who alleges she slept with Trump and was paid off in advance of the 2016 presidential election for her silence. Rudy Giuliani—or the crazy person masquerading as Rudy Giuliani for the purposes of defending Donald Trump—expressed to a national audience the belief that Daniels has no credibility because she is a porn star. Translation: Stormy Daniels is a lying whore who can’t be trusted because all porn stars are lying whores. Michael Avenatti’s detractors on the right have leveled similar criticisms of Daniels’s then-lawyer on guilt-by-association principles. He represents porn stars, ipso facto, he is a lying scumbag.

Irrespective of what you think of their personalities—Avenatti, in particular, strikes me as an obnoxious attention-seeker—their choice of vocation or client shouldn’t have a bearing on their believability. As is oft said, love the sinner; hate the sin. In this instance, however, even on the left, there are those who condemn the sinner and sin. Trump is a “porn star president.” Lost in the discussion of his and Pence’s and Daniels’s and Avenatti’s morality is the more relevant issue of whether Donald Trump specifically directed a payoff to Stormy Daniels and whether that constituted a breach of campaign finance law. It shouldn’t matter whether Daniels is a porn star or prostitute or any other similar type of professional. It’s Trump’s conduct with which we should be primarily concerned.

Unfortunately, this bilateral takedown of adult entertainers and other sex workers is emblematic of our larger discomfort with sex work as a function of our discomfort with, well, sex. Sex is enjoyable. It’s the reason most of us are here, barring in vitro fertilization or the like. Talking about it, though, for many of us can be an, er, icky prospect, necessitating the use of double entendre or other euphemistic language. And showing our appreciation of its splendor? Oh, no. Especially for women, that’s not very “lady-like.” Too much sex and you risk getting branded as a “slut.” Worse yet if you’re a prostitute. Then you’re a criminal and deserve to be admonished. So much for the world’s oldest profession.

I watch porn. (Mom, if you’re reading this, apologies.) I’m not without my reservations. There are the usual complaints. The costumes tend to be tacky. Lo, the cut-rate nurse uniforms. The dialogue is often stilted. The acting is frequently subpar. And is there nothing that doesn’t get a porn parody? Who asks for a Rugrats porn parody anyway? Who finds that sexy?

Even when these things are improved upon—and I do think the production value of today’s adult entertainment is largely superior to the XXX offerings of yesteryear—there are troubling aspects of the presentation and of the industry as a whole. The plots—which often barely qualify as such and for some reason usually revolve around sex with stepfamily—can be steeped in misogyny, involving coercion or trickery of the female participant(s) as pivotal “plot” points.

Even when the content is geared to be more “female friendly,” the on-screen enjoyment is often reserved for wealthy characters who enjoy lavish accommodations on the count of being highly-paid hard-working individuals. It’s luxury porn on top of being actual porn. There are also concerns off camera about suicides of numerous high-profile stars and the ever-present worry about transmission of sexually-transmitted infections in a world where condom use is infrequent. And we haven’t yet gotten to the problem of monetization for production companies and actors/actresses alike.

So yeah, the adult entertainment industry has its issues—and I’m sure I’ve missed a few. Still, I’m not sure why there seems to be such a disdain or disregard for the people involved, the type which prompts left-leaning comedians like Chelsea Handler to equate porn stars with abusers, child molesters, and Russian hackers. I get that its objectors may see porn as exploitative and the performers as lacking talent. But why the hate? Because they love sex and like getting paid for it? Even within the context of the on-film productions, there seems to be an inherent condemnation of the young women in these situations modeled on real life. These whores will do anything for money! They can’t control themselves when they see what he’s packing down there! We condemn them for their vices while absconding to our bedrooms, gratifying our pleasures. To the extent that these scenes are a reflection of us and our society is disconcerting.

Morality also appears to cloud our collective judgment when it comes to our demonization of escorts, prostitutes, et cetera and advocacy for their rights. A presumption in this regard is that the sex worker has agency over her or his circumstances—and that may be a big presumption to make. There are arguments by some feminists and others that sex work is an oppressive form of labor, especially as it relates to exploitation by “pimps.” Speaking of exploitation, there are serious concerns about human and sex trafficking that would subvert that necessary agency and constitute a serious crime. In many cases, there are quantifiable risks to the sex worker, including drug use, poverty, rape, sexually-transmitted infections, and violence.

These issues notwithstanding, the stigma of sex work lingers. As with adult entertainers, prostitutes who get involved with this line of work for the money or sex are demeaned as unskilled opportunists, and as for the risks they face, the consensus response seems to be an effective shrug of the shoulders. They chose this lifestyle. If they don’t like it, they should get an education and a real job. This comes to a head when discussing sex workers’ desire for safety and protection against burdensome regulations as well as freedom of movement, available health services, and other rights that mere status as a human being should confer. In practice, this is not always the reality.

Meera Senthilingam, a CNN Health and Wellness editor, penned an article which appeared on CNN in February concerning “what sex workers really want.” In the opinion of one sex worker interviewed for the piece, seeing as they pay the same taxes, sex workers should be afforded the same rights as other service professionals who are allowed to work from home. There is also the problem for some prostitutes when law enforcement gets involved. In places where the legality of the practice is null or vague and dependent on who solicits who, the presence of police may actually be a deterrent to would-be customers.

This assumes, by the by, that the police aren’t the ones abusing, exploiting, or harassing sex workers, and as with the agency of sex workers mentioned earlier, this is quite an assumption to make. As with any profession, there are bad actors, and for a population in sex workers already susceptible to violence and other health and safety concerns, it puts practitioners in a bind, to put it mildly. It begs the question: who will watch the watchers when it comes to safeguarding their liberties as citizens?

The above deliberations are worth talking about. Whether it’s because of a deprecating attitude regarding sex work, a discomfort in approaching such matters, or both, however, even those on the left who usually are keen on standing up for individuals’ agency over their bodies and protecting their inalienable rights appear loath to mention sex workers specifically. Chalk it up to social mores or personal morality, but in 2019, America and the world at large is evidently lagging on this topic.


You might ask why we are worried about the feelings and opinions and rights of someone like Stormy Daniels. The woman didn’t even vote, for crying out loud! What do she and her contemporaries have to contribute to the larger discussion about Donald Trump and American politics? To be honest, I’m not totally sure, but if we dismiss her as an opportunist and a slut from the jump, what chance do we have to listen and know with an open mind?

In front of an audience of 500 women or so at The Wing, a work and community space designed for women in Washington, D.C., Daniels recently said she believes Michael Cohen to be true in his testimony to lawmakers. Cohen, like Daniels, has had his credibility attacked reflexively by Republican supporters of the president, and while she may not possess a great deal of affection for the man—she referred to Cohen as “dumber than herpes”—she thinks he is honest and that, like her, he came forward because he’s tired of “being bullied” and “being called a liar and a rat.”

Sure, this is just one person’s opinion, but it comes from someone who alleges to know Trump intimately—in more than one sense of the word. In this respect, her thoughts have at least much value as a shameless defender of Trump like Sean Hannity. Instead, though, she’s a porn star to be derided alongside the president, Mike Pence, and even child molesters and wife beaters. Thanks for the insight, but we’d rather scoff at you from atop our high horses. Don’t call us; we’ll call you.

Whether it’s within the context of #MeToo or of simply acknowledging the dignity of sex workers as human beings, the left has a problematic relationship with those storytellers it considers to be problematic or unsavory. Daniels has stressed she is a not a victim with regard to #MeToo. Cohen, set to spend three years in federal prison, is sure as heck not a victim.

Through all the deals they’ve struck and monies they’ve received, this doesn’t mean they’re utterly irredeemable. And their past actions and vocations have no bearing on the veracity of what they say about Trump. To allow our social and moral misgivings to stand in the way of our better judgment is to fall prey to the same kind of prejudices that have characterized conservatism of late. You know, when its practitioners actually heed their conscience or the teachings of scripture.

Do We Deserve Better Than Clinton and Trump? Maybe, Maybe Not

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Ralph Nader would urge you to vote based on your conscience this November. The two questions you need to ask yourself: 1) Can you do with that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? 2) Does it matter? (Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

I’m reasonably sure you’re familiar with Ralph Nader. If you were eligible to vote in the 2000 election, then you’re definitely familiar with the man. Nader, who has made a career out of activism on behalf of consumer protection (his book, Unsafe at Any Speed, is considered influential on safety standards for motor vehicles, not to mention consumer advocacy as a whole), environmentalism, humanitarianism and principles of democratic government, has run for president several times—either as a write-in candidate on individual state ballots, or as an official nominee of the Green Party or Independent Party.

It was the 2000 presidential election, however, where Ralph Nader’s third-party bid became perhaps the most relevant, at least in terms of perceived influence on the outcome. As you may recall, in the swing state of Florida, George W. Bush beat Al Gore by a margin of less than 1,000 votes, an amount Nader garnered more than 97 times over. The easy reading was that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the election and left us with a man-child as the President of the United States. As Nader and others pointed out, however, and quite rightly, I might add, there were other factors at play. For one, there was a whole recount fiasco—hanging chads and all—that necessitated a controversial Supreme Court ruling and prompted critics to insist the Republicans stole the 2000 election. Also, it’s not as if there weren’t Democrats who voted for Dubya, aside from the notion that it’s not as if Ralph Nader intentionally set out to sabotage Gore. Moreover, Al Gore didn’t even win his home state of Tennessee in 2000. On those three counts, or three strikes as it may be, the “Nader as spoiler” theory swings and misses.

In this election in 2016, Ralph Nader will not have a bearing on the outcome—real, imagined or otherwise. With respect to third-party options, the names most likely to serve as flies in the proverbial ointment are Gary Johnson, representative for the Libertarian Party, and Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party nominee. Nonetheless, as a political commentator in an election cycle in which both major-party candidates are disliked by a significant portion of the potential pool of voters—and thus, choices outside the Republican-Democrat red-blue binary stand to have a real impact—Nader’s voice carries a certain amount of weight. When asked by Jorge Ramos for his thoughts on Bernie Sanders’ recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton, Ralph Nader expressed the belief that the move, in its enumeration of meritorious policy positions on Clinton’s part, was more politically calculated in his (Bernie’s) favor than others might read or spin it:

He set her up for political betrayal, which would allow him to enlarge his civic mobilization movement after the election and after she takes office. So I think it’s a very astute endorsement.

“Betrayal.” Not mincing words, are we, Mr. Nader? I’m not sure Bernie Sanders is being quite as scheming as Ralph Nader would give him credit for, as I believe Sanders’ top priorities are 1) beating Donald Trump, 2) promoting a truly progressive agenda for the Democratic Party, and 3) mobilizing support within the Democratic Party among workers and younger voters—as well as encouraging the Democrats to do their part for less wealthy Americans and the middle class. Then again, as a Sanders supporter throughout the primary, I might be naturally more inclined to believe Bernie threw his influence behind Hillary for the best reasons.

What intrigued me most, though, concerning Ralph Nader’s opinions put forth in the Ramos interview, was not his musings on Bernie Sanders’ political machinations, but rather what he thought about voting for someone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. As is no huge surprise, Nader said he would most likely be voting for the Green Party or Libertarian Party candidate, but as regards what you should do with your vote, Nader is one of those dreadful sorts who believes in voting based on your conscience—for crying out loud! In Darth Nader’s own words:

I always believe, Jorge, in voting your conscience. Not tactical votes, not least-worst votes. If you do tactical, least-worst votes, you’ve lost your bargaining power over the candidates. They never look back when you basically say to them, “Well, I don’t like either candidate but you’re not as bad as the other one.”

This man can’t be serious, can he? After all, this is America! It’s Democrat or Republican! Blue or red, red or blue! We don’t need another party confusing things! Unless, God willing, that party is the Bull Moose Party! Loves me some Bull Moose. But, yes, Ralph Nader, we can’t afford to play games with this election! The stakes are too high! When will I stop yelling?!?

Before we so quickly dismiss Ralph Nader’s assertions as the ramblings of a crazy person, might there be some validity to what this madman is saying? Have we, by implicitly giving our consent to party politics and feeding the “lesser of two evils” trope over the years, paved the way to our own dissatisfaction now manifested in a likely two-horse race between Hillary “Never Met a War I Didn’t Like” Clinton and Donald “No Mexican Wall Is Too High” Trump? Isn’t now the perfect time as a people to vote third-party and give the Democratic and Republican Parties their due comeuppance?


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Donald Trump, as President, would restore law and order to our once-proud country. By himself. With his magic powers. (Photo Credit: Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

On the heels of the Republican National Convention, let’s first address the elephant in the room—the state of the Grand Old Party. Given the four-day scope of the event this past week in Cleveland, I initially thought about doing a whole post recapping it—though you’ll soon see why I’m covering it in (somewhat) abbreviated fashion. Donald Trump and the way he’s conducted his campaign have put him at odds with a number of Republican leaders and figureheads—as well as non-politicians with half a brain in their head. In fact, the public figures who made it known they would be skipping the Convention reads like a “Who’s Who” of Republican leadership over the past 15 years or so, or more: George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mitt Romney, Governors Matthew Mead and Brian Sandoval, of Wyoming and Nevada, respectively, and others.

In their absence, though, there were apparently enough B-list celebrities, crazy people and idiots to go around. Here are some of the highlights—if you can call them that:

Monday: “Make America Safe Again”

  • For some reason, Scott Baio was there. Yeah, you know, Charles in Charge, of our days and our nights, as well as our wrongs and our rights? He had some fairly generic comments to be made: it’s not about getting free stuff—it’s about sacrificing; Donald Trump is not the Messiah but a man who wants to “give back..to the country that gave him everything;” Hillary Clinton sucks. You know the deal. Nothing particularly illuminating. Thanks, Scott. You can go back to being all but irrelevant as an actor now.
  • Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame said something about both he and Trump having wives hotter than they are. How exactly does this “make America safe,” again?
  • Rudy Giuliani, touting his record on crime, actually addressed keeping American safe, albeit with a heaping helping of pointing out the dangers of “Islamic extremist terrorism.” His remarks were largely straight out of the GOP playbook: Obama made a shitty nuclear deal with Iran, Hillary Clinton sucks and had a shitty response to Benghazi, Syrian refugees are all potential terrorists in the making. Are you sensing a theme with respect to Hillary yet?
  • The speech of the night, however, belonged to Michelle Obama. I’m sorry, Melania Trump. It’s easy to get those two confused. Before I get to the story that Melania Trump’s speech became, let me first say that I find it highly odd, even for the ever-strange Trump campaign, to have a Slovenian immigrant born Melanija Knavs as the keynote speaker on a night devoted to keeping America safe from foreign influence. Just putting that out there. Now, let’s get to the speech itself. It soon became apparent that Melania’s address bore more than a passing resemblance to the one Michelle Obama gave at the Democratic National Convention eight years ago. I’m not sure what the standards are like at the University of Ljubljana—from which Melania dropped out but insists she received an architectural design degree—but at most universities, that’s the kind of thing that could get you kicked out for plagiarism. If Melania Trump was hoping to distinguish herself as more than just a pretty face through her speech, this controversy sure didn’t help matters.

Tuesday: “Make America Work Again”

  • Another day, another round of Trumps. Among the headliners on Day 2 were not one but two members of the Trump Tribe. Donald Trump, Jr. took to the podium, but in as similar vein as with Melania’s speech, discussion of its actual content was lost in the ensuing conversation about parts of his speech being hand-me-downs from a previously published article in American Conservative by F.H. Buckley. Even if sanctioned by Buckley himself, for Trump Jr. to deliver an address with borrowed material only a day after allegations of plagiarism with Melania Trump’s speech raises questions about the campaign as a whole. Tiffany Trump, whom I previously believed was only a myth, also made a rare appearance in support of her father. Tiffany, a recent graduate of Penn, made a speech that seemed like something you would hear out of a university commencement, and tried to make her dad seem, you know, human. People seemed to think it was a good speech, I guess, though being able to talk coherently for an extended period of time is a fairly solid achievement for that crowd. Also, it probably helps that she’s a cute young blonde. Whatever. As with a Slovenian waxing political on a night devoted to border security as an extension of foreign policy, there would seem to be a certain degree of irony inherent in two of Trump’s spawn—privileged descendants of a likewise fortunate heir of his father’s name and legacy—being centerpieces of a night devoted to getting the average American back to work. Then again, rarely do things make much logical sense in the political world of Donald J. Trump.
  • Paul Ryan waved a Steelers Terrible Towel for some reason. Ryan, you f**king moron—they do that in Pittsburgh, not Cleveland!
  • Checking in on Dr. Ben Carson—yup, still insane. His speech, in a stunning turn of Six Degrees of Separation, somehow tried to link Hillary Clinton to famous organizational guru Saul Alinsky to…Lucifer. Yes, that Lucifer. In this respect, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee is not only connected to the Beast himself, but by a slender two degrees, at that. Dr. Carson, I’m not sure what you’re smoking, but whatever it is, I think I want some.
  • And then there was Chris Christie, who not only failed to win Donald Trump’s pick to be his running mate, but apparently failed to secure a spot among the Tuesday headliners. As he exhibited in the primaries, Christie committed to talking about the one political topic he can seem to discuss with conviction and regularity: just how much the Republicans in attendance hate Hillary. In particular, Chris Christie hearkened back to his experience as a prosecutor to submit evidence of Clinton’s guilt in various foreign policy dealings, as well as the unending well of criticism from which the GOP can draw attack material ad nauseum: the State Department E-mail scandal. Again, nothing to do with the economy or jobs. Just rehearsed, tired attack points against Hillary, which, even if legitimate, sound desperate coming from Christie, not to mention hypocritical noting his own history with investigations of impropriety. Chris Christie, sir, you are a heel.

Wednesday: “Make America First Again”

  • Also known as the Vice President and Also-Rans portion of the program. Because it wouldn’t be a day at the Republican National Convention without hearing from at least one Trump, on Wednesday, we heard from Eric Trump, who, guilty by association, has had to assert the notion he didn’t lift his speech from an existing document. Regardless of who wrote his words, Eric spared no shred of Republican rhetoric we’ve grown accustomed to absorbing: our current foreign policy is inept (*cough*, Obama, *cough*, Hillary, *cough*), the Second Amendment and Christmas are under attack, the national debt is too high because of Obama and high taxes (warning: may or may not be true), foreign countries are taking all our jobs, and so on and so forth. After that, Trump began the obligatory deification of his father, painting him as a man who has “revitalized run-down neighborhoods, shaped skylines across the country, and turned dreams into reality his entire career.” (Warning: may be seriously untrue.) Eric Trump finished by, among other things, extolling Donald Trump, Sr.’s record of giving to charities, which, as I’m sure you can guess by now, may or may not be true. Eric, I’m glad you’re so proud to be a Trump, but this does speech does nothing for me—or for the people who might actually believe it.
  • We also heard from Newt Gingrich, the man who almost was Trump’s VP pick, and Mike Pence, the man who, for whatever reasons, is that pick. Gingrich talked about keeping America safe, which he and the convention organizers apparently failed to realize was more appropriate for the first day of the Convention, but OK. He had a lot to say, but it basically boils down to these essentials: radical Islam wants to kill us all, Hillary Clinton is dishonest, we need a big military and a big wall, our police are great and so is Donald J. Trump. Stop me if you’ve heard this all before. As for Pence, whom Trump finally allowed to speak and who formally accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for Vice President, I’ll allow Katie McDonough of Fusion to put it succinctly: “Indiana Gov. Mike Pence accepted the Republican vice presidential nomination on Wednesday night with a speech designed to communicate one thing: He is boring.” ‘Nuff said.
  • Last but not least, we had the also-rans. Wisconsin’s shitty governor Scott Walker said some things, and presumably, made a point, but evidently is not worth the trouble it takes to find the transcript of his commentary. Marco Rubio was there in video form, and more than one observer said his delivery resembled, more than anything, a hostage being filmed. And then there was the show-stealer himself, Ted Cruz. Cruz, despite not being well liked by, well, most people and small children, will likely run again for President in the future. This may at least partially explain why he delivered a speech, but somewhat surprisingly, ended it not by endorsing Donald Trump, but rather asking the convention-goers to vote their conscience. A regular Ralph Nader, this guy! Whatever his reasons, this was my highlight of the Republican National Convention, in that it was so straight-up gangsta of him to not endorse Trump. Ted Cruz, you may have heard boos that night and may continue to catch grief from other Republicans from bucking the trend, but I, for one, give you mad props. Respect, Felito.

Thursday: “Make America One Again”

  • With Big Papa himself officially accepting the Republican Party nomination, could there be a better theme for the ultimate night of the Convention than “Make American One Again?” This coming from the ultimate uniter, Donald Trump. (Please, try to hold back your eye-rolls, smirks and snickers.) Before the main event, you did have your fair share of notable “undercard” speakers. Republic National Committee chair Reince Priebus, whose name sounds like it belongs in the Game of Thrones universe, made an appeal to unity for Republicans—you know, to beat that dadgum Hillary Clinton. Prince Rhombus, sorry, Ranch Prius, dammit, Reince Priebus had this to say about what separates Republicans from Democrats: “What separates Republicans from Democrats is our belief in better. We believe in better schools. A better health care system. A better economy which rewards hard work no matter where or when you punch the clock. And most of all, we believe in a better chance at the American Dream for everyone.” Because Democrats want everything to get worse? Whatever, Ponce Rebus. Sell what you need to sell.
  • Peter Thiel, German-born co-founder of PayPal, entrepreneur, hedge fund manager, and venture capitalist, also took to the mic. As a foreign-born homosexual man living and working in Silicon Valley, you’d think Thiel would be a weird choice for the closing night of the Republican National Convention. And um, you’d be right. Matt Rosoff, in a piece for Business Insider, notes how Peter Thiel made numerous points that seem to be at odds with mainstream Republican thinking, particularly on the subjects of investment in science and technology, and the invasion of Iraq. Otherwise, though, he’s unfortunately on board the Trump Train. And, for whatever reason, he’s got a real bugaboo about who uses what bathroom.
  • Ivanka Trump, apparently the member of the Trump Tribe with highest standing outside of “the Donald” himself, served as the lead-in to the man with top billing. I’m not going to dissect Ivanka’s eloquent and impassioned speech except to say that numerous critics said she sounded more like a Democrat (probably in an effort to woo independents and women voters) than anything. In addition, and as has been argued repeatedly, with Ivanka impressing as much as she did and does, um, it looks like the wrong Trump is running for President. I mean, I know she’s only 34, but she’ll be 35 come November. That works, right? Shit, if Canadian-born Ted Cruz can run for President, why can’t Ivanka Trump?
  • Finally, the event we were all waiting for—sort of. Donald Trump, ever the strongman, depicted himself as the law-and-order candidate. In doing so, he delivered an address that the media roundly characterized as “dark.” In his tone of doom and gloom, Trump argued that anyone who doesn’t recognize the dangers that exist for the United States (hmm, could that be someone like Hillary Clinton?) is unfit to lead it, and that the time for political correctness is over. He also rattled off a number of “facts” about what a shitty state the country is in. And then he went in on Hillary directly, describing her legacy as one of “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.” The rest was a mish-mosh of his familiar themes: putting “America first,” I am not a politician or a member of the establishment, Hillary this, Hillary that, the police are great, so is Mike Pence, say no to Obama and the Syrian refugees, sanctuary cities are bad, walls at the border are good, laws should be enforced, laws should be enforced, did I mention laws should be enforced?, we’re going to bring jobs back to America, we’re going to lower taxes, we’re going to repeal ObamaCare, we must protect freedom of religion and the Second Amendment, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! There. I just saved you more than an hour. You’re welcome.

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Congratulations, Debbie. You played yourself. (Photo Credit: Patrick T. Fallon)

This is where I’m supposed to warn you not to let the crazies get the keys to the asylum. This is where I’m supposed to tell you not to let bigots like Donald Trump, Steve King and David Duke think they’re right by openly running on platforms characterized by a belief in white supremacy. This is where I’m supposed to point out that “putting America first” is a red herring when, for all our griping about terrorist attacks in Orlando and shooting of cops in Baton Rouge and Dallas, we can kill 85 Syrian civilians in an air strike, call it an accident, and sweep it under the rug. This is where I’m supposed to plead with you to consider that Trump is a bully, a fraud, and someone who still won’t release his tax returns, even though the IRS literally has no problem with it.

So, yes, in short, there is every reason not to vote for Donald J. Trump, and likely a great deal of merit in voting strategically to keep him away from the White House. At the same time, however, if we are thinking in Naderian terms and voting based on our conscience, how many of us can say we’re all in on Hillary Clinton, and not just because she’s someone other than Donald Trump? Speaking purely for myself, I know that I can’t endorse Hillary on her merits alone. Moreover, even though I’m putting forth my personal views, I know I am not alone in this sentiment.

Even before Wikileaks’ latest “gift” to the world, I have had my reservations about voting Democratic on the basis of feeling as if the Democratic Party has done little to earn my vote and yours. But let me tell you—the DNC E-mail leaks just dropped on the world don’t help matters from my perspective, nor do they inspire a sense of confidence in Hillary or desire for party unity among fervent Bernie Sanders supporters and serial Clinton haters. Sanders supporters, I will concede you, have looked and will look for evidence of a conspiracy against their candidate of choice, and for months have alleged Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been less than impartial in her dealings with Clinton and Sanders, arguing that she (Wasserman Schultz) has been influential in tipping the proverbial scales in the former’s favor.

For all their talk of a “rigged” political system and claims of the Sanders campaign that they have had to fight an uphill battle against an entrenched Democratic, if the DNC leaks show one thing, it’s that the conspiracy theorists are, well, at least somewhat right on this point. With nearly 20,000 messages recovered from a hack of the DNC’s E-mail server(s), credited to the mysterious “Guccifer 2.0” and believed to be the product of Russian intelligence, I am not about to try to parse through the entire message dump. Besides, most of these messages feature rather uninteresting and benign details within DNC operations. A prized few, however, shoot through the idea that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other key figures within the Democratic National Committee were neutral in their private handling of Bernie’s and Hillary’s campaigns. Furthermore, their communications with the press—including figures such as CNN’s Jake Tapper, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, and Polirico’s Kenneth Vogel—suggest a favoritism toward Hillary Clinton, and worse, that the DNC may have worked to influence their content and undermine Bernie Sanders’ bid for the Democratic Party nomination. In a piece for Heavy credited to Stephanie Dube Dwilson, a number of “the most damaging” E-mails are cited and highlighted. Among the revelations or potential revelations referenced in the article/slideshow:

  • The Democratic National Committee may have planned a joint fundraising party with The Washington Post.
  • Staffers, in talking about Rhode Island, a state that was reducing its primary polling locations and in which Bernie Sanders led in the polls at the time by a slight margin, derided the Sanders camp, suggesting they’d probably complain about the outcome regardless, and referred to the state’s governor, Gina Raimondo, as “one of ours.”
  • Mark Paustenbach, DNC staffer, suggested an anti-Bernie Sanders narrative to Luis Miranda, DNC communications director and the most-cited figure in the DNC leaks.
  • Miranda wrote simply, “lol,” to a report that Sanders welcomed an agreed-upon fourth debate in California in advance of the primary.
  • Debbie Wasserman Schultz E-mailed Chuck Todd, saying that MSNBC on-air personality Mika Brzezinski calling for her to resign was “outrageous” and that “this needs to stop.”
  • DWS, responding to Sanders campaign Jeff Weaver’s comments on the unrest at the Nevada Democratic Convention, called him a “liar.” (In a separate E-mail, Wasserman Schultz refers to Weaver as an “ass.”)
  • Kenneth Vogel allowed the DNC to review an article about Hillary Clinton’s fundraising prior to publication.
  • The DNC may have crafted fake Craigslist ads for employment with Donald Trump’s organization, referring to Trump’s oft-cited disparaging attitude toward women.
  • The DNC may have planned to attack Bernie Sanders on his faith, implying he is an atheist to hurt his support among more religious Democrats.
  • Wasserman Schultz, after a CNN story in which Bernie Sanders insisted he would try to remove her as committee chair should he get elected president, wrote, “This is a silly story. He isn’t going to be president.”
  • The Clinton campaign may have violated Federal Election Commission laws by making out donations checks to the DNC.
  • Donna Brazile, who had professed her neutrality on matters concerning the Democratic Party, said she would “not touch” a story on reservations held by the Sanders camp about adequate representation on the Democratic Party platform and in the Democratic National Convention, adding “because she would cuss them out.”
  • Luis Miranda referring to a New York Times piece by Nicholas Confessore as “good as we could hope for,” as the DNC “was able to keep him from including more on the JVF (the Joint Victory Fund).”
  • Paustenbach laughed when Sanders commented on state Democratic parties not having enough resources and the more undemocratic aspects of the primary process.
  • DNC staffers elected not to reference an MSNBC story talking about favorable unity within the Democratic Party among voters, as it was a “heavy Bernie piece.”
  • The DNC may have had people inside the Sanders organization as effective “plants” reporting information back to them.

Reportedly, Debbie Wasserman Schultz will resign from her post as Democratic National Committee chair following the Democratic National Convention, a move Bernie Sanders had called for following news of the DNC leak being made public, and one for which Sanders supporters had been clamoring for months. At the minimum, DWS’ removal as DNC chair needed to happen for general principles. That much was a given. The damage, meanwhile, in terms of perception, may be done, and this in turn feeds all sort of “Clinton-Lucifer” degrees of separation connections. OK, maybe that stretch is Ben Carson’s alone to make. But it does make one wonder whether or not all the Committee’s machinations made a difference in the race to the Democratic Party nomination, or if not, like Tom Brady and his deflated balls supposedly, why they needed to engage in chicanery in the first place.

Support for Hillary Clinton among Bernie Sanders supporters and progressives, theoretical or otherwise, has been an issue for the Clinton campaign and mainstream Dems for months now. On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, hopes for party unity have been seriously rattled by the one-two punch of the Wikileaks E-mail dump and the nomination of Tim Kaine for vice president. On the latter count—surprise, surprise—the mainstream media thought it was a great pick. “Clinton follows her heart!” “Clinton employs sound strategy!” “Kaine is able!” Lame last-name-related puns aside, as far as the rest of the potential voting pool is concerned, however, the choice of Tim Kaine as VP is either boring, infuriating, or infuriatingly boring. As comedian W. Kamau Bell reacted to the news on Twitter, “One glass ceiling at a time everybody. 🙂 — Hillary Clinton in a group text to Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren.” Progressives, too, are not very enamored with Kaine, and a lot of it stems from his perceived support for the big banks in his signing of multiple letters aimed at regulators to loosen regulations for community banks, as well as his past support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and fast-tracking it through Congress. Add to this the notion Bernie Sanders delegates have had to argue and compromise with top Democratic leadership to try to reduce the influence of superdelegates, a much-hated hallmark of the primary voting system, and you wonder whether or the Convention in Philadelphia will be even more “messy” as Sanders himself predicted months ago.


In his most recent essay on the state of the election, economist Robert Reich asks the pertinent question, “Does Hillary get it?” Likewise a critic of the choice of Tim Kaine as running mate for Hillary Clinton, he opens his post thusly:

Does Hillary Clinton understand that the biggest divide in American politics is no longer between the right and the left, but between the anti-establishment and the establishment?

I worry she doesn’t – at least not yet.

A Democratic operative I’ve known since the Bill Clinton administration told me “now that she’s won the nomination, Hillary is moving to the middle. She’s going after moderate swing voters.”

Presumably that’s why she tapped Tim Kaine to be her vice president. Kaine is as vanilla middle as you can get.

In fairness, Hillary is only doing what she knows best. Moving to the putative center is what Bill Clinton did after the Democrats lost the House and Senate in 1994 – signing legislation on welfare reform, crime, trade, and financial deregulation that enabled him to win reelection in 1996 and declare “the era of big government” over.

In those days a general election was like a competition between two hot-dog vendors on a boardwalk extending from right to left. Each had to move to the middle to maximize sales. (If one strayed too far left or right, the other would move beside him and take all sales on rest of the boardwalk.)

But this view is outdated. Nowadays, it’s the boardwalk versus the private jets on their way to the Hamptons.

The most powerful force in American politics today is anti-establishment fury at a system rigged by big corporations, Wall Street, and the super-wealthy.

If what Reich believes is correct, Clinton’s “safe” pick is not all that safe given the current state of the American electorate. And now, because I feel compelled, let’s bring Ralph Nader back into the mix, and return to our main point. If, regarding the Republicans, we are taking Nader’s and Ted Cruz’s advice, and voting our conscience, rather than simply voting against Hillary Clinton, then Donald Trump, a man who preys on voters’ fear and hate, should never appear with an X on one’s ballot. If you don’t understand this by now, brother or sister, you’re reading the wrong blog. As for the Democrats, though, if you’re voting strategically for Clinton to Trump, then there is concern that you’re implicitly sanctioning their own bad behavior, in the form of arrogance, tone-deafness, and an unwillingness to play by the rules, and thereby thinking they’re in the right, or worse, that this much simply doesn’t matter. Under this assumption, the Democrats, like the Republicans, can turn around after the election and say, “Well, you voted for us.” In this scenario, give the Nader his due—we, as voters, will have lost all leverage in convincing both parties to reform to better reflect the wishes of their constituents.

Ultimately, when it comes to my advice for your vote, I’ve already been very clear that voting for Donald Trump—are you hearing this, Ben Carson?—is really making a deal with the Devil. However, if you’re voting for Hillary Clinton, more and more I’m convinced the only reason to do so is to choose the lesser of two evils, and even that seems likes a poor justification when the Democratic Party has seemingly done everything they can to screw the pooch on this election, and again, little to earn your vote. So, if you’re planning to “throw your vote away,” as the saying goes, and come November, give Jill Stein or Gary Johnson your consideration, maybe you’re not wrong. Maybe this is your chance to tell the Democratic and Republican Parties to clean up their act or else stick it where the sun doesn’t shine, to send a message that we deserve better. Either way, you can fire back at your critics and say—however condescendingly—”Well, I didn’t vote for either Clinton or Trump.” Besides, regardless, even if, like in 2000, the presidential race is as close as could be in 2016, when it comes to brass tacks, it won’t be Johnson or Stein which costs either side the election. It will be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton who loses.