The president wants due process: so do we—when it comes to Trump

In October, 2016, ninety minutes before the second presidential debate, Donald Trump hosted a panel that comprised four women, all of whom accused former President Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct. One of them, Juanita Broaddrick, said “Actions speak louder than words,” in reference to Donald Trump’s recorded admission about grabbing women’s genitals, adding: “Mr. Trump may have said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me and Hillary Clinton threatened me. I don’t think there’s anything worse.”

I won’t argue that there is nothing worse, and whether her closing words were an editorial comment supplied by the Trump campaign or words from the heart, it was a statement that deserved to be made.

Fast forward to February, 2018—when the line of White House men accused of sexual misconduct and/or domestic violence forms on the right—and the same Donald Trump has found religion, or at least jurisprudence: even though he pronounced Bill Clinton guilty of sexual misconduct and/or assault regarding those four women sixteen months ago, he suddenly wants due process for men like Rob Porter and David Sorensen because, unlike Clinton, their guilt has not been “proven.”

Trump seems to have forgotten that Clinton’s has not been proven either.

I don’t like being in the position of defending Bill Clinton, but the law that works for Trump must work for everyone else too. Nobody wants to eliminate the presumption of innocence, but let’s not forget that this is the same Donald Trump who said of accused child molester Roy Moore that “[Moore] totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen.”

…and of course the same Donald Trump whom a dozen or so women have accused of sexual improprieties accrued during his career as a celebrity. His plea for due process becomes just another way of framing his own situation as a victim of angry and vengeful (and in Jessica Leeds’ case, he claims, “not attractive enough”) women.

Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Kathy Shelton composed that Trump pre-debate panel in 2016, after which they were seated in the audience in an attempt by Trump to gloss over the release of the Access Hollywood tapes, the ones in which he declared his uncontainable urges when it came to beautiful women.

The strategy was political, and complaining about the morality of it is just silly—entirely dependent upon your party of choice. But the principle of due process—one which Trump never suggested for Al Franken, for example—is one that Trump assumes will save him and exonerate Porter, Sorensen, and perhaps others whose deeds have not yet come to light. Too bad he’s willing to bypass that principle when it suits him.

He worries that men’s reputations might be ruined, while we wait for some Trumpian concern for the victims of Porter, Sorensen, Moore, himself(!)—the women who need photos or tapes to prove their veracity while the men, well, to paraphrase the president: they totally deny it; they say it didn’t happen.

Noted, Mr. Trump. Noted.

While we turn inward, Syrian children face starvation, disease, and more than ever, death.

During the Vietnam war, I was one of those who held that the United States could not be the policeman of the world, wandering willy-nilly into other country’s internal disputes. Vietnam was the perfect example, though calling it the first war America ever lost does a disservice to all those who fought hard to win it when the cards were stacked against them.

Vietnam has made us gun shy—not a bad thing— but these days, as more and more video comes out of Syria and the horrors become more prevalent and more gruesome, I’m wondering if there’s something we can do so that when the Syrian disgrace ends—if it ever does—we won’t be deemed complicit in one of the most horrific slaughters in history.

I don’t know what else to call it. Yes, it’s a war, but the victims here are not soldiers or even, in most cases, adults involved in the battles. They are children, and they are being killed an orphaned, maimed and mutilated, at a pace that, contrary to popular opinion, has not diminished since ISIS has been contained, but has increased. (ISIS has gone underground, but other insurgent groups have sprung up, setting off explosives in Aleppo and Damascus as proof of their existence.)

Then there’s Turkey which aims to seize to press east and seize Manbij. The problem is that American troops already hold that area. Wouldn’t Putin love to see two NATO members fighting each other? Because this is Assad and Putin in a power struggle not against each other but with each other—an attempt to establish a powerful force in Syria and relegate the United States to some outsider position.

Trump didn’t start this, but he has done nothing to remedy it. And his constant harping on the wall, on America First, on protecting our borders, even the departure from the Climate Accord, has sent strong signals to the rest of the world leaders (i.e., Syria, Russia, China, even Turkey) that we’re kinda too busy to check this out. And at home we become so lost in the shenanigans of the White House that we hardly have time to worry about an estimated 400,000 deaths and 11 million displaced Syrians from their homes, or children suffering from malnutrition, or dying from easily treatable illnesses.

On a particularly violent day this week, a barrage of explosives killed more than 100, at least five of them children who died fetching water. All this the Israeli attack on a Syrian drone ramped up the tensions a bit more.

We may not be able to police the entire world anymore, or to ensure that every country can escape humanitarian tragedies like the one besetting the Syrian people, but the demand that we turn inward and protect ourselves is not a directive anyone expects as American policy. And with the abdication of our moral authority, we no longer impose, even symbolically, the constraints that made other countries think twice before affronting America.

The thing of it is…

There’s a thing called Office of National Drug Control Policy.

There’s a thing called Kellyanne Conway.

One of those things is “handling” the opioid crisis in he United States for Donald Trump—with a big assist from Andrew Giuliani, Rudy’s 32-year-old kid, who has no background in drug policy.

The president, who knows less about more than any other person to hold that office, believes that everything bad comes over the wall that hasn’t been built yet. In truth Trump would have to build a wall around every pharmaceutical company, every pharmacy, and every well-meaning physician to slow down the current opioid epidemic. One of those things would have been able to inform him that this is a home-grown problem, but he chose the other.

Last year Trump declared a drug emergency—something he equates with setting policy—then reverted to calls for stricter law enforcement and better border security. Locking up drug addicts has always worked so well in the past, if filling the prisons to capacity is any criterion. It’s not surprising that Trump and Conway have bought into it.

The new budget will slash more finds from ONDCP, relieving dedicated professionals and addiction experts from the ignominy of having to answer to Kellyanne Conway, but doing nothing for the addicted and the epidemic that is swallowing them.

Just as we did in November, 2016, he chose the wrong thing.

An ill-informed citizenry serves almost no one’s interests. Almost.

opThere’s a weekly news quiz in the New York Times on which I usually do creditably well—which is to say not embarrassingly bad. I can usually hit about 80%. Last Saturday I answered four out of eleven. Even I can do that math—36% —lower than Trump’s approval rating.

I don’t discount the possibility of my decreasing mental acuity, but I think the reason is more insidious: All Trump All The Time makes us all as ignorant as he is.

Let me tell you what I didn’t know:

a question about troop deployment in Afghanistan. (I was off by 100,000!);

a question about an upcoming abortion referendum in Ireland (May) which is bound to have ramifications here and elsewhere;

a question about the impending health care consortium comprising Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and whom? (J. Morgan Chase was the name I didn’t know);

the director of the CDC (and not the Office of Management and Budget—my answer!) had resigned;

Strava—some new App that accidentally divulges military bases and activities;

Jay-Z had the most Grammy nominations without a win last week;

Yesterday, for a change, I recoiled from reading anything about Trump. There’s actually another world out there.

In case you missed it, read the Maureen Dowd interview with Uma Thurman—uplifting and sickening at the same time. Read it if for no other reason than to witness the level of debasement to which powerful people can sink, and the degradation they can foist upon others in the process.

Have you ever shared airplane space with a service animal? Are you sure it was a service animal and not a pet in…uh…disguise? Read this op-ed piece about how some are perfectly happy to job the system without regard for actual victims who require the support of service animals.

This particular service animal was not allowed to board a flight last week.

Regarding the train derailment in South Carolina, Federal Railroad Administration statistics have shown that in recent years the agency has had an average of about two derailments a month. (Amtrak has described itself as a “safe and reliable transporter.)

And if you have time (about twenty minutes) and access, watch this disturbing documentary on white supremacists and their leaders. This story does link itself to the age of Trump, of course, but sometimes you have to make an exception.

Have a Trumpless day. Don’t worry—he isn’t thinking about you either.


Outrage. All that’s left to own.

Remember how you felt when you went to bed on November 8, 2016? Or awakened the next morning? As one friend said to me, it was like landing in a different country with all these strangers around.

They’re still here. So are we. And there are still more of us.

Those first few days after the election—when everything was theoretical—those were awful days. But, and let’s be honest, they were awful because we had trouble believing that a country like America—that had generally prided itself on honesty and inclusion—could have elected someone as ill-prepared and ignorant, as bigoted and intolerant as Donald Trump. The horror was unrealized but lurking.

But then the weeks went by and the theoretical became real, and it was worse than we’d imagined: Cabinet appointments, travel bans, exaggerated inauguration attendance, gratuitous attacks on the previous president, baffling attacks on his previous opponent, relentless attacks on the press. There were Flynn, Bannon, Conway, Manafort, Russia, Charlottesville, DACA, the perfidy of Paul Ryan, the double-dealing of Mitch McConnell, the asininity of Devin Nunes. And there are incidents you’re like to have already forgotten: David Johnson and his widow Myeshia, the suggestion to the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico that they tend to their country, his tone-deaf avowal that Frederick Douglass (who died in 1895) would someday make something of himself, his crowing to Houston hurricane victims about the size of the crowd.

I have tried to be philosophical, to maintain that the idea of America will undo Trump’s autocratic vision, but I’m past that. All I can feel after a week like this one is outrage. It’s not unlike what I felt fourteen months ago when it slowly settled in that Donald Trump had become the president of the greatest country on earth (a designation of America he would undo in mere weeks).

Lately I’ve been posting many cartoons, but none of this is funny—not his corruption of law enforcement, not his continuing to profit from his hotels where foreign dignitaries stay, not his autocratic approach to government. And the jokes we make at Trump’s expense are jokes on us. He remains implacable, impervious, immutable while we attempt logical arguments, make appeals to the Constitution, verbalize calls for humanity and justice. We talk like people whose world extends beyond ourselves, but we’re talking to someone whose world vision is narrower than we can imagine: the wall we mock has already been built, and it’s being guarded by Kelly, Sanders, Hannity, and other. Trump is sequestered safely behind it.

Outrage. Maybe it’s time to own it, to quit looking for chinks in the armor when Jeff Flake, or John McCain, or Lindsey Graham says something that is not totally outlandish. Trump is not moved by them, or by Collins, or Murkowski. Why should we be moved? The hope these politicians provide always vanishes with the next party-line vote or the next toilet tweet.

From them and from the other Congressional Republicans, I want nothing less than a public disavowal of the despot they have agreed to support, nothing less than a formal rebuke of his hypocrisy and belligerence.

The rest of us have compromised, looked for signs of humanity, welcomed the occasional scrap thrown our way, but in the end we—and I mean the majority of Americans—are on an island, having ceded the power of numbers to a minority of yahoos, dolts, and criminals.

So then, outrage works for me. I think I’ll just hang on to it. I don’t know where that will lead, but I really am afraid that if we wait until November to undo the harm that is accruing daily, November may be too late.

This country was founded by men and women who recognized tyranny and rebelled against it. History tells us that the revolution was never unanimous, never easy: loyalists stood in the way at every turn but ultimately lost out to democracy and human rights.

America of 2018 faces the same challenge, not from without but from within. I wonder how history will remember us.


Even a long, tedious, insincere speech can hide the unspeakable

Victor Cha, one of America’s most respected North Korea experts, was pegged as our next ambassador to South Korea, a position that after twelve months of his presidency, Trump has left unfilled.

Then Cha’s name was withdrawn., and the reason is disturbing: Cha had opposed the administration’s proposal for a limited military strike in a private meeting. That’s not rumor. The following day Cha published an op-ed piece claiming the same thing.

Now this could all be a bluff—something to keep Kim Jong-un guessing and fearful that Trump is not alone in his bellicose pronouncement. If it’s bluff, it’s a beauty—right down to asking Cha how best to protect American lives in South Korea after the preemptive attack. I’m not sure if South Korean civilians were up for discussion. Collateral damage? That’s about 51 million victims.

There were a great many disturbing elements to last night’s State of the Union address, but most of them were typical Trump: Look at me. Look at what I did. Praise me loudly. So when he lies about rescuing the economy, or decontextualizes black employment, or touts deregulation, or lauds the rebirth of coal, we can chalk it up politics, to stupidity, to insanity, whatever makes us feel better.

But when he mentions preemptive strikes against a nuclear power, one whose only chance of defending itself is through nuclear warfare, then we need to be more fearful than amused.

Victor Cha is one of those people who, in a tense situation, might have known how to deal with someone like Kim in a manner that did not center on name-calling. He’d have been valuable, but it seems that the president would prefer someone in the mold of Dr. Strangelove.

It’s probably a better match.




“Once upon a midnight dreary…” guess we’ve all grown weak and weary

On January 29, 1845, Edgar Allan Poe’s most well-known work met its public for the first time. It was an odd piece about a black bird with a penchant for repetition and a man pining for a lost love named Lenore—whose name, conveniently, rhymed with nevermore. “The Raven” involved complexity of rhyme amid a setting of supernatural fear and horror. Its publication dramatically increased Poe’s popularity, but only moderately affected his life: he died four years later in October, 1849. He was forty.

Seems that, like the narrator of “The Raven,” we’re all pondering “weak and weary” these days. Barack Obama used to talk about “teachable moments,” but those have been supplanted by Trump’s “ponderable moments”—in which we wonder aloud how we ever got here.

Sometimes we internalize these ponderable moments, and there’s one coming up tomorrow. I mean, of course, the State of the Union address. Now we all know that the state of the union is essentially a dog’s breakfast at this point, but when I was teaching I used to remind my students it was their civic duty to watch it.

Civic duty.

I don’t think I could say that today. It’s not that I would oppose everything the president says (though that appears likely) but the person who delivers any speech at such an august occasion must possess at least a shred of credibility. Donald Trump has none, and I don’t think he can reclaim it in the next thirty-three hours; in fact with a day and a half to go, he is bound to lie at least eight more times—if current trends hold.

And yet, if I don’t watch it, how can I comment intelligently or at least knowledgeably?

•I could read the transcript afterwards, but I probably won’t.

•I could watch it closed-captioned so that I wouldn’t have to hear his Stepford-Wives monotone, but I probably wouldn’t.

•I could follow Twitter comments, and although good tweets inject some humor into it, in the end he’s still going to be president.

Or there’s Poe—no stranger to depravity and horror. He just never thought the president of the United States would embody those two characteristics.

So then, what to do?

•Maybe a quick read-through of “The Raven” followed by “The Fall of the House of Usher” would cheer you up: if we can’t rely on premature burial and a hint of incest to take our minds off even worse things, where are we?

•If you plan to make the evening tolerable with a little Cabernet or Pinot Noir, may I recommend “The Cask of Amontillado.” Yes, Amontillado is a sherry, but let’s not nitpick; after all, the tale has not only that claustrophobic interment, but also adds a dollop of drunkenness. Cheers!

•And if Trump is still babbling when you’ve gone through your readings, then finish with “The Masque of the Red Death,” an unpleasant little narrative featuring a disease in which blood oozes from the pores, ruining an otherwise festive evening and leaving its victims…well…indisposed. It ends “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

Now I haven’t read Trump’s text for tomorrow night, but I’d imagine it ends pretty much like that.