Pulling a Homer: Elizabeth Warren wins an important victory…for the Republicans.

Sometimes I think if we all watched the Simpsons more often and paid attention to Homer’s peccadillos, we might save ourselves from similar offenses.

Take the episode from the 90s where Homer is offered witness protection and told he will receive a new identity. Unaware of what that means, he chooses to become former Denver Broncos football player John Elway and immediately launches into a fantasy in which Simpson scores a touchdown in the Super Bowl. He then celebrates in the endzone, unconcerned that his touchdown has made the final score, Denver 7, San Francisco 56.

Fast forward to Elizabeth Warren.

Her recent meaningless endzone celebration flaunting her DNA results made the final score Warren 7, Trump 56. If not worse. She, to quote another episode, had pulled a Homer.

We cannot afford to have her do this, and by we I don’t mean her supporters—I mean anyone who wants the floundering Democrats to gain control of some—any!— part of this government.

Does anyone seriously believe that her “victory” will become the deciding factor for voters on the fence? Is her DNA result more compelling than any of these preceding Trump bombshells?

  • Khizr Khan at the convention?
  • The Access Hollywood tapes?
  • The disparagement of John McCain?
  • The non-disclosure of his taxes?
  • The coronation of Kavanaugh?
  • The abuse of the children at the border?
  • Puerto Rico?

This list could go on for pages, exposé after exposé, all for naught. And Elizabeth Warren’s proof that she truly is 1/1024th Cherokee (though maybe not pure Cherokee!) will not turn the tide. Any chance of that was dashed when the Cherokee Nation released a statement accusing Senator Warren of “undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.”

Native Americans have often looked to the Democratic party to preserve their rights and improve their lot. Warren’s gotcha will not help.

Trump said he would donate a million dollars to charity if she could prove her heritage, then denied having said it. He’s a liar. Did we really need that last shred of evidence?

The liar is also a dunce, but a dunce with an uncanny knack for gauging the temperature of the American people. He even has the nice house on Pennsylvania Avenue to prove it.

Elizabeth Warren is not a dunce, but her intelligence let her down. And I don’t mean to pile on, but she must take one for the team and quietly disappear until November 6. After all, if the Democrats are perceived as the party which, instead of worrying about health care and education and the environment (and now the Saudis), cares more about scoring a meaningless touchdown as time expires, time will indeed expire.

And a dunce will continue to occupy that nice house on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Choose your favorite autocrat: the selection never used to be this good.

Whom do you like better, Recep Tayyip Erdogan or King Salman. They’re both world leaders for whom our “world leader” has shown great admiration. It’s just a question of which one you like better.

It’s a tough call.

A year and a half ago Trump called Erdogan to congratulate him personally on his election victory, this despite overwhelming proof of voting irregularities. The “victory” enhanced Erdogan’s virtually autocratic chokehold on Turkish citizenry. Autocratic chokeholds are one of Trump’s leadership goals, so there’s a feather in Recep’s fez.

In March of this year Salman’s son bragged that he had Jared Kushner in his pocket. He later denied having said it, but it was reported by numerous corroborating witnesses. This week Trump lamented the possibility of losing the Saudi leaders’ friendship, one destined to pad the U.S. coffers with billions of dollars in arms purchases. (To see these purchases in action, check out Yemen—while it’s still there. When you see what that country looks like, it’s hard to eliminate Salman from contention.)

Complicating the issue is the Trump-Kushner-Erdogan-Salman love-fest having fallen on hard times, and all because of some rogue killers—about fifteen of them—who snuck into the Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2 and then silently, and without anyone noticing anything untoward, killed and dismembered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who had been living in the United States. Khashoggi, a self-exiled Saudi journalist and prominent critic of the Saudi crown prince, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate that day to obtain documents he needed to get married. If rogue means invisible and fabricated, these fifteen were the roguest ever.

I’ll be the first to admit (all right, maybe not the first) we can’t blame Trump for everything that goes wrong in the world, but a president who has excoriated journalists and portrayed them as enemies of the people cannot now pretend to care about one of them having been murdered by another autocrat who feels the same way—and winked at by a third. Trump worries about the money—the exploding deficit which has come about through tax breaks for the wealthy and an obsession with military spending. If billions from the Saudis were suddenly to dry up, our deficit would reach the approaching $1 trillion even sooner.

For most of us Jamal Khashoggi is a human being endowed with certain inalienable rights, but for Trump he’s a political annoyance—a financial impediment. Nobody can say with a straight face that Donald Trump cares one iota about the well being of any American with a name like Jamal Khashoggi, especially when Mr. Khashoggi has become, by dint of his occupation, an enemy of the people. “World leaders” have little time to waste on one human life.

As for my original question, I guess there are really three choices…and Duterte won’t like being left out.

Fighting fire with fire works during wildfires; sometimes different tactics are required.

Donald Trump referred to Maxine Waters as a “low IQ person,” an accusation he hurls at just about every person he knows who isn’t white. Or isn’t Kanye West.

Good Americans have to fight back against such broad and demeaning generalities; unfortunately, at times, they have to fight back also against people like Maxine Waters.

In June of this year she urged harassment of Trump administration officials in public places to let them know they’re “not welcome anymore, anywhere.” Most Democrats with a scintilla of sense recognized this as rantings from frustration, but some did not. Her suggestion stuck, and now the Republicans are using Waters’s urgings to prove that the Democrats are wild-eyed lunatics bent on destroying the country. Of course it’s a ridiculous accusation, but Waters’s inappropriate suggestion is still out there. On record.

In recent weeks there has been a good deal of criticism concerning the ages of the Judiciary Committee, the implication being that they’ve lost touch, that they’re mired in beliefs from a half century ago. It’s hard to discount that, but it’s hard not to discount also that the combined ages of Maxine Waters, Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, Patrick Leahy, and Joe Biden (to whom many Democrats are looking in desperation) is 396.

This doesn’t make them unfit for office, but it does reduce the significance of our argument that the old white Republicans constitute the problem. We Democrats can’t have it both ways. But we can have it our way if we truly trust what we believe in.

Liberal principles.

John Locke proposed that people had natural rights to “life, liberty, and property.” The role of the government, he said, was to preserve these rights.

Life, liberty, and property. They stand on their own. They don’t require an apology. And they don’t require browbeating Republican legislators who don’t agree with us.

A free and effective education, a health care system that does not pauperize a victim, a job market that provides a living wage, a safe and secure place to live for all citizens, the freedom to make our own choices with regard to religion and lifestyle, equal opportunity without regard to race or national origin—these are all concepts with which we grew up and which we accepted. Maybe at some level we knew there were people in our own country who opposed those beliefs. They were called anarchists and radicals; now they’re called Republicans.

But we let it happen. We were smug and self-satisfied, complaisantly agreeing that “both parties are the same” and “what difference does it make?” or, as I heard during the election of 2016, “maybe it’s time to shake things up.”

Consider them shook.

Now we want the instant fix—throw the Republicans out of restaurants, harass them on the streets, excoriate them on Facebook. Meanwhile the damage being done to the liberal principles of our country are almost beyond imagining.

How do we stop this? First off, let’s stop being stupid. Let’s stop using illiberal tactics to promote a liberal agenda. Trump is an amoral, vapid, and simplistic boor. Not even the Republicans can deny that. But he’s winning because what we heard about sticks and stones is, alarmingly, true.

Second let’s stop continuing to be stupid. Let’s stop shouting at Flake and Collins, Graham and McConnell—they can’t hear you. They’re in bed with Trump where it’s warm and safe and comfy. And let’s stop the unrestricted censure of Republicans—stop acting like the frenzied and hysterical mobs we castigate at the Trump rallies—and work steadily and methodically to remove these people from leadership positions before their damage becomes irreversible. It took the Republicans fifty years to nurture and perfect this perverse autocracy, but we can’t wait fifty years to subvert it: by that time, we won’t even be able to define democracy, let alone revive it.

Us: Not my president! Trump: Not my hurricane!

The “leader of the free world” had a decision to make yesterday, and as always, made the one that benefited the leader of the free world.

On the same day as an unprecedented natural disaster occurred in one of “his” states, he opted to attend one of his pep rallies rather than monitor the situation—one that more than likely will eventually involve FEMA, the National Guard, and a plethora of aid organizations. And when I said his states, I meant one of fifty, not a red one.

As I’m writing this the sun is rising on the Florida panhandle. News reports last night warned that only daylight would illustrate the full scope of the horror. There are already photos on the wire—towns that resemble those which have been devastated by tornados. Towns that may never be rebuilt. We’re not used to that here in the states: Katrina, Sandy, last year’s Harvey, and the recent Florence all displayed the relentless power of water. This was all of that, but different: this was shrieking, howling, devastating wind—it was equivalent to an F-2 tornado sitting over your town for an hour or two.

[Note: An F2 tornado produces winds of 113-157 m.p.h producing “Considerable damage. Roofs torn off frame houses; mobile homes demolished; boxcars overturned; large trees snapped or uprooted; light-object missiles generated; cars lifted off ground.”]

Of course Puerto Rico experienced this last year with Maria. Puerto Ricans know what it was like to face a disaster in the Trump presidency. It’s a roll of paper towels and a basket of thoughts and prayers.

Mexico beach
Mexico Beach on the Florida Panhandle before Hurricane Michael
Michael
Mexico Beach after the ten foot storm surge and the 155-mph winds

Of course Trump’s enablers will counter by asking “what could Trump have done at the height of the storm? Go there and get in the way?” Of course not, but how about a national broadcast, a reassurance to the victims and to us  that their government was “on this.” Even if power was out and those suffering the most would not have heard him, their relatives would have, and there would have been a sense among all the rest of us that things were going to be okay.

He could have been Reagan after the Challenger disaster; Clinton after Oklahoma City, Bush after 9/11, Obama after Newtown. It’s what presidents do. Instead he was Trump after everything from Charlottesville to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Missing.

He chose to drown our sorrows in his pep rally, at which he deigned thoughts and prayers for the victims and assured his crowd of myrmidons that he would be heading to Florida.

We can only hope it’s not a stop in Panama City and Mexico Beach on his way to the first tee at Mar-a-Lago.

 

 

“It’s time to move on, time to get going/ What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing.”

Everyone remembers “Get busy living, or get busy dying” from Shawshank Redemption. We don’t always remember another pair of quotes that, today, are particularly apropos:

I. The concession from Red (Morgan Freeman) that “hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

II. The written response from Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins): “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Many of us are wrestling with those two conflicting positions this morning, and while I’ll admit to being cynical and sarcastic at times —I SAID AT TIMES!—I really am generally hopeful. On days like this, of course, the challenge is greater.

But for those of us who held out hope that some elected officials would come through in the end even though they never had before (even with health care, it was only John McCain), we simply move on to the next battle. I will not diminish the significance of this last loss—trying to put a positive spin on Brett Kavanaugh is like, well to use a banality from a decade ago, like putting lipstick on a pig. In the end, you still have a pig.

But I take some solace this morning in the fact that many of the Republicans voting to confirm Kavanaugh know that he is unfit for the job. Partisan as they may be, they cannot unwatch the spectacle of September 27, 2018: a man out of control, screaming and whimpering through a job interview, in front of a national TV audience. That will stay with him, and it will be resurrected every time one of his decisions goes against the Democrats or abrogates the rights of women. And his enablers—most of whom are not without conscience or sensibility—will learn to admit that their fear of losing a re-election bid or incurring the wrath of the king outweighed their duty to the Constitution. Let them live with that. And let them live with their brazen dismissal of Christine Blasey Ford, who is the only hero of this piece, and the most damaged victim

As for us on the sidelines, as Tom Petty sang “It’s time to move on, time to get going/What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing.”

Tom Petty died just a year ago, but my reference today transcends the lyrics of one song. There’s a lesson in his music: constancy. Tom Petty songs from the 80’s sound a lot like his songs from last year because, for him, they were the right sound. In like manner our beliefs in the basic goodness of man, in the progress of civilization, in the stewardship of the environment, and in the human rights of all people—in short everything missing from the sensibilities of Trump, Kavanaugh, McConnell, and their ilk—should continue unaltered. The tactics may have to change, but the overriding philosophy cannot.

For Kavanaugh the apology was required; the sincerity was not.

This is—and let’s give credit where it’s due—the perfect non-apology apology from Brett Kavanaugh:

I was very emotional last Thursday, more so than I have ever been. I might have been too emotional at times. I know that my tone was sharp, and I said a few things I should not have said. I hope everyone can understand that I was there as a son, husband and dad. I testified with five people foremost in my mind: my mom, my dad, my wife, and most of all my daughters.

No mention of the sexual assault victim.

No mention of what the “few things” were that he shouldn’t have said.

No retraction of the attack on Democrats in general.

No retraction of the accusations against “The Clintons.”

No retraction of his hints at a deep state conspiracy.

No apology to Amy Klobuchar.

Still no response to Patrick Leahy.

In short Brett Kavanaugh’s Wall Street Journal mea culpa is nothing more than a rehash of his Fox News interview where a calm and orderly man fielded softball questions and looked scholarly and judge-like—nothing like the mean drunk who appeared last Thursday.

It’s never wise to infer people’s motives, but sometimes they’re pretty obvious. So let me bypass wisdom (I do that a lot) and say this: Brett Kavanaugh is a vengeful, spiteful, hate-driven reactionary hell-bent on helping reshape the country into what it was before there was room for people of color, for women, for alternative-lifestyles, for immigrants who speak other languages, and on and on. He’s Trump with better hair, and he wants to make America great again, just like his mentor.

The WSJ op-ed apology is an embarrassment—nominees for the Supreme Court don’t do that!—but the only people who will never be embarrassed by it are his Republican enablers. Graham, McConnell, Cornyn, Hatch—they sold their souls so long ago that they can’t even remember what the devil looks like anymore.

Hint: he looks like Kavanaugh—with lousy hair.

One good thing about sinking lower: we’re that much closer to the bottom…and rising…or drowning.

When, in the 18th century, America moved from a God-centered Theocracy to a human-centered Deism, the revolution was on and democracy was born.

If you were ever in my English class and watched me belabor that for 45 minutes, now you know I could have done it in one sentence.

Sorry about that.

Here in 2018 we’re moving away from that belief that although God may have created the world, he then stepped back and let us run it; thus, for instance, we can’t blame God for the Holocaust—we can’t thank him for penicillin. Simple.

Here in 2018 we’re moving headlong in the other direction, back to a universe where God is actively involved, and his representatives are making sure that we all toe the line. Where does an irreligious and amoral stooge like Donald Trump fit in? Easy. He’s the empty shell whose space has been occupied by sharper and more decisive men and women intent on establishing that new Theocracy, a world order apparently no less draconian than the one of 350 years past whose leaders felt no compunctions about torturing women (Salem, anybody?) or practicing genocide (Read up on the Mystic Massacre.)

Seen through that lens, we can understand the new acceptance of misogyny (which before Trump was rife but subdued) and such factors as the deportations, the denial of alternative lifestyles, the distrust of immigrants, even the resurgence of a racist South.

Last night in Mississippi we were reminded again of how far the country has sunk. But even at that, blaming Trump is too easy. Like blaming a two-year-old. When Benjamin Franklin said “Tis hard for an empty bag to stand upright,” he has to have been thinking of empty vessels like Donald Trump. Even so, my disdain for him pales in comparison to my utter revulsion for anyone who, this morning, can justify the means Trump uses to reach the ends he desires.

Whether they reside in Congress under the protection of their titles, or in Mississippi under a red hat that mocks its very message—these are the people responsible. We can’t fix them, or deport them, or relegate them to tents on the Mexican border; for what it’s worth, they’re Americans too.

But they’re also educable. So can they meet me halfway? Can they admit that there was unwarranted cruelty in Trump’s Mississippi appearance? That bullying is never pretty, especially when carried out by powerful men? Can they maybe retire the hat for one day? In embarrassment? It’ll be just as spiffy tomorrow. In return I’ll stop berating the president for one day.

I heard someone say last night that every time we hit bottom, we find a cellar. The Deist in me says that one day we’ll reach the bottom and find no elevator down. (Maybe on then I’ll reprise my Chaucer class and talk about the wheel of fortune.) Of course, whether we survive as a nation until that day arrives is the more pressing question.

It’s hard to drive to Hawaii—and other valuable lessons from last week’s Judicial Committee hearing.

The outside prosecutor hired by the Republicans to provide them cover for the questioning of Christine Blasey Ford last Thursday has issued her findings: Rachel Mitchell, the prosecutor from Arizona, found that Professor’s Ford accusations were weak, have no corroboration, and seemed inconsistent. In addition Professor Ford did not offer a consistent account of when the alleged assault happened, “struggled” to identify her assailant by name, and had “no memory of key details.”

All this from the woman who, at one point, quizzed Ford about her fear of flying: how she had gotten to Washington, whether she has to fly for work, and how she reached the many island locations she said she had traveled to. (She should have asked Trump: he knows islands are surrounded by water.) Ms. Mitchell also asked who had paid for Ford’s polygraph test, implying that Ford was bankrolled by outside groups.

The only one bankrolled by an outside group was Mitchell herself.

As for Kavanaugh, who kept tripping over her questions until the committee rescued him, she simply reminded us that he was not on trial. No further comment.

Still, the only real mistake Ms. Mitchell made in releasing her findings is forgetting that tens of millions actually saw the proceedings—listened to the questions and answers. We heard Professor Ford’s attention to detail, the consistency of her responses, her 100% confidence that the assailant was Brett Kavanaugh. The only inconsistency came from Mitchell herself, more than likely because she asked questions in five-minute bursts while she covered for the committee Republicans. Professor Ford’s answers to the Democrats, asked at a more relaxed (i.e., normal) pace, may have sounded different. But they were not inconsistent.

At times it seemed Ms. Mitchell was trying to trip up Professor Ford. She never did—until she wrote her findings and turned them in.

I guess we should be used to this. Ever since twenty-seven people attended Trump’s inauguration (that’s my alternate fact—live with it!) and he claimed there were 1.5 million in the crowd (that’s his), we’ve grown accustomed to being told unabashed lies by shameless liars. I do not place Ms. Mitchell in that category, but because Jeff Flake is going all renegade in her home state, she may have felt pressured to placate the Republicans and avoid death threats. You know, like the ones Professor Ford received.

In the end Ms. Mitchell did herself no favors. Her attempts at empathy reminded me of Chuck Grassley and Donald Trump’s, two men who know that empathy is a good thing but don’t quite know how to carry it off. Her attempts at entrapment fell flat, as they always do with innocent people.

In a way I feel sorry for Ms. Mitchell: had she been effusive in her praise of Professor Ford, there’d have been accusations of gender bias. But at this point in our country’s history, when we feel no compunction about eleven Republican men deciding a women’s reproductive rights for the next thirty years, maybe it’s time for more of that.

 

 

“Speak what you think today in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that. I merely cut and pasted.

(And in case the president is reading this and says he’s “heard a lot of good things about what Emerson is doing,” Emerson died in 1882—thirteen years before Frederick Douglass.)

I thought of Emerson’s statement because I was troubled by my tirade about Jeff Flake and wondering if I should delete it.

I won’t.

First off, he has to own up publicly for what he does and says: on a level playing field, so should we. It can be argued that the playing field is hardly level anymore, but we’ve allowed that to happen and it may not be Flake’s fault as much as it is ours.

After all, it has been our cynical assessments of politics—why vote, both parties are the same, or why vote, they’re all crooks; or, why vote, it’s only for a representative?—all of that and more has turned us into a non-participatory nation with off-year voting turnouts of less than 40% common. Think of ten people you know: six of them won’t vote this November.

You can deflect and grumble about voter suppression—red-state shenanigans do occur and do suppress the minority vote—but blasé Americans have done a better job of it than gerrymandering or any other Machiavellian Republican plot.

So there’s that.

But also, I have to remind myself that Flake, Collins, Murkowski, and Corker—because they aren’t cultish and tribal—are the only ones we look to for rescue. That isn’t fair either. How would Ted Cruz or John Cornyn have fared yesterday, facing those angry and disgusted women outside that elevator? And how about Deb Fischer from Nebraska. No, she’s not on the committee, but she is a woman, and she is another senator who has issued support for Kavanaugh: how would she have dealt with those protesters? (Check out her website and voting record for a really big clue.)

It isn’t necessarily wrong to burden Flake, et al., with the onus of doing the right thing for the country instead of the party—all elected officials who take that oath are required to put the Constitution first. But we don’t do ourselves any favors when we profess to know the motives of people who don’t agree with us. I’m afraid I did that, and as a reminder, my snarky post remains.

So does the ensuing one.

Finally, I have written very little about Christine Blasey Ford. Somehow to claim I believe her or I found her testimony compelling is little more than damning with faint praise. She was so much better than that. I do think that even with the best intentions, men often make a mess of capturing the emotional narrative of sexual assault. And so I refer you to an article by Jessica Bennett in today’s New York Times. You must read it, but if you don’t have the time, just glance at the photo under the headline. If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about Christine Blasey Ford, then reading the article probably won’t make a difference.