Another teaching moment from an instructor who knows nothing

Never one for missing an opportunity to exploit the misery of others, Donald Trump tweeted the following in response to the horrific bombing at an Egyptian mosque that killed more than 300 worshipers:

“Will be calling the President of Egypt in a short while to discuss the tragic terrorist attack, with so much loss of life. We have to get TOUGHER AND SMARTER than ever before, and we will. Need the WALL, need the BAN! God bless the people of Egypt.”

Donald Trump could not care less about the people of Egypt; besides, no God of which I’m aware waits for Donald Trump to authorize a blessing. Perhaps Trump was told to add that postscript, but I’m not going to guess at the way unhinged minds operate. Let’s deal with facts instead.

After the Las Vegas massacre on October 1, during which one Stephen Paddock fired off 1100 rounds and killed 56 people, Mr. Trump did not admonish us to be TOUGHER and SMARTER with regard to gun sales and gun usage. No. That was not the time to discuss matters that didn’t involve Muslims.

At the church murders in Sutherland Springs, Texas, earlier this month in which 26 worhipers (again) were gunned down by a former mental patient, Donald Trump steered clear of any anti-NRA rhetoric, choosing instead to admit that we have some crazy people in America.

And who would know better?

Trump comprehends very little about anything. His opinions usually result from superficial news updates from sycophants whose main concern is making their king happy. If Trump understood the nuanced relationship between Muslim sects, and especially that which separates the Sufi Muslims from the more traditional factions, he would be a little less glib.

Sufism, a mystical form of Islam, emphasizes the inward search for God and shuns materialism. Most non-Sufi Muslims understand this and accept it; however, to a fundamentalist with extreme views, the Sufis are considered heretics or apostates; and for years terrorist groups like Al Qaeda have debated whether or not killing the Sufis was justified. With 305 dead in that mosque, we seem to have received our answer, though similar killings have occurred for years.

No wall prevents this, and no travel ban. It is also unlikely that the sworn revenge of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the Egyptian warplanes attacking in the desert and pulverizing vehicles used in the assault will make much of a difference. It’s a method Trump would endorse, but it accomplishes nothing.

Meanwhile our status in the world is diminishing rapidly as Trump (and his accomplice, Rex Tillerson) continue to eviscerate the State Department, firing or releasing many accomplished and respected statesmen. American foreign correspondence has degenerated into a spate of simplistic and shallow tweets—most of them dashed off in anger. (It’s interesting to note that Trump’s mosque tweet occurred on the same day he took the time to blast NFL football players again.)

It comes down to this: even if we overlook Trump’s boorishness, greed, and dishonesty, we cannot overlook the dire situation into which this know-nothing is leading our country. And whenever he confronts any multifaceted issue that requires even a minimal depth of understanding, or even one that requires simple empathy for the 305 families facing loss and hardship tonight, we are reminded again just how ill-equipped this man is to be the leader of anything, let alone of the United States.

 

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First we’re overwhelmed, then the acceptance begins to take hold.

In reverse chronological order, from 11/21/17 to 10/5/17:


Charlie Rose, Television host
Glenn Thrush, Reporter at The New York Times
Al Franken, U.S. senator
Steve Jurvetson, Co-founder of a venture capital firm and a board member of Tesla and SpaceX
Eddie Berganza, Editor at DC Comics
Andrew Kreisberg, Executive producer of “Arrow,” “Supergirl,” “The Flash”
Louis C.K., Comedian and producer
Roy Moore, Alabama judge and politician
Benjamin Genocchio, Executive director of the Armory Show art fair
Jeffrey Tambor, Actor
Ed Westwick, Actor
David Guillod, Co-chief executive of Primary Wave Entertainment agency
Jeff Hoover, Kentucky speaker of the House
Brett Ratner, Producer and director
Kirt Webster, Music publicist
Andy Dick, Actor
Michael Oreskes, Head of news at NPR and former New York Times editor
Hamilton Fish, President and publisher of The New Republic
Kevin Spacey, Actor
Ken Baker, E! News correspondent
Mark Halperin, NBC News and MSNBC contributor, author of “Game Change”
Rick Najera, Director of CBS’s Diversity Showcase
Knight Landesman, Publisher of Artforum
Leon Wieseltier, A former editor at The New Republic
Terry Richardson, Fashion photographer
James Toback, Director and writer
John Besh, Chief executive of the Besh Restaurant Group
Lockhart Steele, Editorial director of Vox Media
Robert Scoble, Tech blogger and co-founder of the Transformation Group
Chris Savino, Creator and showrunner of “The Loud House”
Roy Price, Head of Amazon Studios
Andy Signore, Senior vice president of content for Defy Media
Harvey Weinstein, Producer and co-founder of the Weinstein Company*

*reprinted from the New York Times, November 21, 2017

Names you know. Names you don’t.

Do not print out of the list—it isn’t permanent.

What is so worrisome about this ever-increasing and shameful register is that we risk looking upon these men as the norm. Don’t forget—when Trump debased John McCain’s war record, we were stunned; when he openly insulted Gold Star Parents, we were horrified; when he declared he could kill somebody on the streets of New York and not be punished, we were appalled; when he said he wouldn’t accept the election results if he lost, would prosecute his opponent, would wall off our neighbors to the south, would abandon NATO, would imprison journalists, we were…well we were slowly becoming acclimated. I challenge you to imagine a bridge too far when it comes to Trump: I’ll bet you can’t construct it.

His rancorous and asinine tweets have become the norm. The danger is that we become desensitized to the prevalence of sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault in the same way—that we lose our capacity for outrage.

Speaking of which, if you do print out that list, please add the president’s name—the prototype for the others and the true benefactor if, in the end, we numbly accept the way things are.

 

 

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Dilemma: we must judge Franken’s conduct in a presidency where there is no morality.

The Democrats need not revise their own history.

In light of Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) latest broadside and her hesitant assertion that Bill Clinton should have resigned, it’s important to remember that President Clinton was impeached—not for sexual misconduct (which is not an impeachable offense) but for lying about it. The belief that he “got away with it” is ludicrous. He has carried—and will carry forever—the stigma of adulterer; and among some, of rapist and abuser. (Yes people still like him, but I would guess the number of admirers is diminishing.)

Further, before Clinton the last president to suffer impeachment was Andrew Johnson, more than a century earlier. It is not an everyday event. (One might say that Nixon escaped it by resigning and I would not argue, though it doesn’t alter the rarity.)

I’ve said before that we missed the boat on Clinton—that we were willing to overlook his indiscretions (some would call them crimes) because we liked him. Maybe it was because America had gone thirty years without a youthful and vibrant president, and among many Clinton was viewed as the reincarnation of John Kennedy. So we gave him a pass on Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones, both of whose accusations seemed doubtful at best. But there was Juanita Broaddrick’s account—with the invitation to “discuss matters” in Clinton’s hotel room. Now that we know Harvey Weinstein’s MO, she seems even more credible today.

But again, we liked Clinton—women—not because he was young and attractive, but because of the issues he championed:

  • His first executive action was to revoke the Gag Rule: abortion counseling could begin in federally funded clinics.
  • He signed off on family and medical leave .
  • He promoted a childhood immunization effort.
  • He promoted Head Start reform and Early Head Start.
  • He signed the bill stiffening the penalties for violence against women.
  • He fought against teen pregnancy, stepped up efforts to collect child support, and lengthened the time new mothers could remain in the hospital after giving birth. All this was in his first term. More followed.

These progressive efforts resonated with women, with families. That and the fact that an organized, well funded, and merciless “Get Clinton” cabal had been in operation for decades (I’m looking at you, repentant Kenneth Starr) led many of us to put things into perspective, a perspective that may have been skewed.

Now we must deal with Al Franken, or rather, he must deal with himself. For Senator Gillibrand to announce that Clinton should have resigned at this particular moment implies that Al Franken should do the same. I don’t know a whole lot about Ms. Gillibrand, but I do know a little about politics—enough to know that jockeying for position in 2020 has begun, and to know also that internecine warfare within parties is not unusual. Franken and Gillibrand have already been mentioned as possible Democratic presidential candidates, and it would be to the Republicans advantage to weaken both of them, or to sit back and let the Democrats themselves do it—something at which they’re quite adept.

Both Franken and Gillibrand have spoken. Now, since neither one is a victim, it’s time for both of them to shut up. The system of reporting abuse and the climate for doing so are finally beginning to take hold. Debating punishment and political blowback will only distract us, and may in the end dissuade more victims from coming forward. (Oh yeah, her, she destroyed a political/entertainment/sports/professional career.)

Al Franken must decide what accomplishes the greater good, and he must make this momentous career decision within the context of the presidency of a man whose morality and integrity don’t quite rise to that of a child molester—one of whom Trump actually supports. But don’t delude yourself: if you really think that Franken’s remaining in the Senate will make Trump’s comeuppance impossible, you haven’t been paying attention. Trump’s judgment will begin only when our judgment of his accusers matches our judgment of Weinstein’s, Spacey’s, and Moore’s. In a favorable climate where victims can feel comfortable and safe, they can put to rest this excuse of “locker-room talk” and expose Trump for the serial abuser he is.

 

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When we debate the politics of abuse, we too often diminish the victim.

It would be easy for me this morning to dismiss Al Franken’s tasteless behavior by declaring it “better than a serial rapist like Roy Moore,” or even to suggest that Franken’s offenses occurred before he was an elected official and therefore should not be considered quite so damning.

Certainly there are gradations of abuse just as there are gradations of boorish behavior, but when we speak in those terms we miss the point, and it’s the same point we have been missing since we marginalized Mary Jo Kopechne, turned a blind eye to Bill Clinton, winked at Clarence Thomas, condoned Newt Gingrich, and consummated our insensitivity by electing Trump: the victims in each of these dramas became mere extras: the headliners always stole the show.

If you don’t believe that, look at Twitter this morning—rife with calls for Franken’s resignation, for a revisiting of Trump’s assaults and infidelities, for cries of “if one must go, all must go.” There’s the Trump’s tweet that the tasteless picture (of Franken) “speaks a thousand words (though Trump has yet to offer an opinion on Roy Moore, or himself).

It’s all about political fallout.

But there was also a victim.

Franken’s victim’s name is Leeann Tweeden, and all you need to know about her is that, during a USO tour in 2006, she appeared with Franken in a skit in which he kissed her, despite her request that he not do so. In her words:

“I immediately pushed him (Franken) away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time. I walked away. All I could think about was getting to a bathroom as fast as possible to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth.”

If that doesn’t infuriate you, then ask yourself if you haven’t politicized everything to the point that even a plaintive “me too” from a victim of sexual violence means nothing. Whether Ms. Tweeden was an actress in a spotlight, or a mid-level employee in some high-rise office building, or a teenager with a part-time job, her rights were violated. Period.

Personally, I like Al Franken. I’ve read his books. As a senator he has worked vigorously to promote causes that empower women, minorities, and average Americans. Today I read his apology. It’s his voice and his syntax and was not, as some suggest, pieced together by a crisis management team. For that kind of fraudulence I turn to Trump, Moore, and their ilk.

But I’m disappointed.

I don’t want Franken removed from the senate, though my opinion counts for nothing outside the voting booth. Today only Leeann Tweeden’s counts.

“People make mistakes,” she said of Franken. “I’m not calling for him to step down.”

It was a gracious comment, but it will not end the matter. It will be litigated on social media and talk radio until the next scandal effaces it. And that’s fine, as long as we remember that, amid all the political wrangling and whatboutism, there was an offense committed and that there was—and is—a victim. When we lose sight of that, or choose to ignore it, then we become no more than hypocrites with ready lists of platitudes we use to disguise a lack of empathy.

 

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Five years since the Newtown tragedy, and yesterday we almost repeated it

Realistically, it seems unlikely that anything significant will come from the appeal brought by the relatives of victims in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A state judge dismissed the case last year. The families have now appealed to the State Supreme Court to reverse that decision and allow a jury trial.

The defendants? Essentially the gun companies and specifically the methods they use to market their firearms, specifically the one Adam Lanza used to kill twenty children and six adults in Newtown that Friday in December. One line from a Bushmaster ad, “consider your man-card reissued” might particularly appeal to someone who has been slighted or bullied, or who lacks the emotional wherewithal to differentiate between an acceptable response and a murderous one.

A lot of mass-shooting history has been rewritten between 2012 and now, and in America we have become almost inured to the bloodshed. Those 26 deaths in Newtown have been surpassed many times; and though the horror evinced by the murder of children in what should be a sanctuary affects us more strongly, in the end any deaths from a madman with a gun are dreadful, whether the victims be church attendees in Texas, concertgoers in Nevada, or nightclub revelers in Orlando.

In the end the Newtown case will not be decided by horror or tragedy, nor by anger and revulsion. It will be settled by laws. Proving that a gun manufacturer, distributor, or seller willfully designed a firearm for a delusional teenager (or for his mother who purchased the gun and gave it to him) will be problematic. I don’t believe that the cowardice of Republican lawmakers, who keep snuggling up in bed with the NRA, extends to the judicial system, but I wonder what sort of recriminations might befall a judge who finds in favor of the Newtown plaintiffs.

And I wonder also, can the judges ignore what almost happened in California’s Tehama County yesterday? If not for the quick thinking of some school officials, Newtown could have been repeated, and by most estimates, surpassed. As it was, four innocent victims perished.

It’s November 15: so far this month America has counted seventeen mass shootings. Seventeen! One of them, in Gary, Indiana, injured seven but none fatally, and many others produced injuries only. In eight of them there was at least one fatality. And in all of them someone with a gun wanted to harm other people.

Like every resident of every state, we want our Supreme Court to be impartial—to decide each case on its merits. But we can hope that, maybe in this instance, someone will point out that “it almost happened again” and “maybe we should do something before it does.” It would never end all mass shootings, but it would be a start…and we haven’t had one of those since before president of the NRA became a Cabinet post.

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I don’t want to hurt the Clintons—unless I can save my own neck.

Shortly after Trump won the presidency an ignominious year ago, he stated that much of the election-year bombast had been just that. The rabble shouting “lock her up” at every rally had been dispersed, and when asked if he intended to prosecute Hillary Clinton, he said, “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons.”

That was before Flynn, Comey, Sessions, emoluments, Ivankawear, Charlottesville, Puerto Rico, LaDavid Johnson, several health care embarrassments, a reference to the “president of the Virgin Islands,” a tax plan to maintain the plutocracy, a predilection for the FSS over the CIA, Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks, and a hug from the murderer-president of the Philippines.

If I’ve omitted your personal favorite, it’s only because there are so many.

Now Trump is running scared. He’s a frightened little boy with lots of creepy-crawly things chasing him and with even his go-to allies wobbling a bit today. And he owes much of this new trouble to the creepiest and crawliest of them all: Roy Moore, a man whom Trump didn’t even support but in whose slime he’s mired.

Exacerbating that problem are those go-to allies. When Sean Hannity referred to Moore’s rape of a 14-year-old as consensual sex (he later said he misspoke) and Steve Bannon rushed to the aid of the sleazy Moore whom Bannon had groomed for the Senate, Trump found himself in the unenviable position of bucking up against his favorite sycophants or agreeing with the party he needs to pass his legislation. Trump may not like Mitch McConnell very much, but when the majority leader said, “I believe the women, yes,” he was calling out Bannon, Hannity, and maybe Trump himself.

And if all that isn’t even bad enough, let’s not forget Trump’s history as an abuser of women.

And so, to save his own neck he will attempt to persuade the Justice Department to go after Hillary Clinton for the uranium deal, for her emails, for the Clinton Foundation. A special counsel to offset the other special counsel. This is a new tack for America: we generally don’t try to imprison or persecute the people we defeat in an election. But Trump, philosophically, isn’t really an American—doesn’t subscribe to most of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, and doesn’t accept the fact that the Department of Justice is not the puppet of the president.

In truth Hillary Clinton’s involvement with the uranium deal was minuscule, and it was never 20% but closer to 2%. Russia buys its uranium from Kazakhstan, the emails were never more than a talking point, and so far the Clinton Foundation has been clean. We gave Bill Clinton a pass twenty years ago, and that was a mistake; but that’s the one area Trump can’t comfortably litigate, since he and Bill seem to have been cut from the same cloth.

Expect more panicky moves in the weeks to come—more whataboutism from Trump and his apologists. Impeachment may be a distant fantasy, but watching the president run from fire to fire is, if nothing else, amusing.

 

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Trump wants to stifle journalists; Roy Moore probably agrees.

Steve Bannon, “journalist,” pointed out that it was the Washington Post—the same newspaper that “dropped a dime” on Donald Trump for the “Access Hollywood” tapes—that also outed Roy Moore, the Alabamian with a history of assaulting young girls. This fact, for journalist Bannon, is proof of…of what?

  • That journalists do their jobs?
  • That Bannon is not a journalist?
  • That Breitbart News is neither journalism nor news but the Post is?
  • That Roy Moore is unfit to represent his state in Congress?

Yes. All of those and more.

Bannon’s is, of course, another non-denial denial. He doesn’t claim that Moore is not a pedophile or a rapist or a sick S.O.B. Instead he impugns the integrity of the accuser, in much the same way as the marionette masquerading as president has done—you know, that real-estate guy whose strings Bannon pulls.

Ah, the non-denial denial. It came to the fore in All the President’s Men, the book about two young reporters uncovering the seamy and illegal activities of the Nixon White House some five decades ago. The Watergate investigation ultimately led to a president’s resignation (and the adding of -gate to every political scandal since!) And those young reporters? Coincidentally they also cashed their paychecks from the Washington Post, as did those who broke the Monica Lewinski story. Democrats are not immune. It’s called reporting. It’s called journalism.

Steve Bannon knows history. He knows it’s in his best interest to dispute the authenticity of the Roy Moore report in hopes of averting another Watergate. But in this case, he sounds like a fool. Even in the age of social media with its utter dependency on unsubstantiated information, the real stories get out and we recognize them. Bannon knows this is a real story.

And he also knows Roy Moore is done, and should be. Moore may very well survive the upcoming election when the blocs of Alabama evangelicals sell their souls once again and choose to blink at his perversions (because, after all, he isn’t a Democrat), but already his own party is attempting to block his path.

And if we really subscribe to some moral code, even at its most simplistic level, Trump should be done too. Trump—who bragged that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not deter his supporters, who bragged that he forced himself on women whenever he wanted to because he couldn’t help himself, who gloated over his stature as a star with its concomitant “fringe benefits” that allowed him to grab women’s genitals when he felt the urge. Yeah, that Trump. He and Moore are cut from the same cloth, each with a bully’s code of conduct to take what they want when they want it.

Trump wants reporters locked up. Of course he does. A huckster like Steve Bannon won’t get him, but some journalist on the Washington Post might.

 

 

 

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