Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of kitsch

You’ve got to hand it to Trump: the man knows how to play to a crowd, especially a televised congressional one. Theatrical flourish and suspense he’s no stranger to. Witness his State of the Union address. Worthy of “The Bachelor.” From the surprise reveal of Townsend Williams’s return from his deployment in Afghanistan, to the awarding of an Opportunity Scholarship (compliments of Betsy De Vos)—read school choice—to fourth grader Janiyah Davis, to awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh at a State of the Union speech, no less (and not at the customary White House ceremony), Trump kept the suspense going. And I’ve mentioned only three of the surprises. What a huckster! Trump could have made P.T. Barnum envious.

If cheap sentimentality can cause a TV audience to tear up, you might get yourself four more years. So what if you’re crassly exploiting others to achieve your electoral ends. We all use one another, don’t we? Impeachment aftermath? Not on this night. So what if you have to keep Townsend Williams’s family in the dark. The surprise is sure to tug at voters’ heartstrings. Sure, Rush is dying from cancer, but this just makes awarding the medal all the more poignant. Spectacle! Spectacle! My kingdom for a spectacle!

If this nation hasn’t already been completely kitschified, then Trump will bring it across the finish line. At that point, we may all be finished. Thank god someone tore up that speech.

–Sobering News

Deus Ex Machina

Impeachment ending in the conviction of this president may well be a pipe dream. Twenty Republican senators and all of the Democrats (47) would have to vote to remove him from office (a supermajority of two thirds of the Senate is required for removal). No Sec. 4 of the 25th amendment is likely to be invoked—ever—though there is, perhaps, no more deserving president for its invocation than this one. Still, the House should, or must, vote for articles of impeachment. Failure to effect that, despite the near impossibility that the Senate will vote to convict, should be a black mark that no representative serving in the House should ever want next to his or her name. Bent-knee syndrome may afflict congressional Republicans, but Democrats can and should stand straight.

No god from the machine (deus ex machina) hovers over the stage of American politics to resolve the issue of Trump. Indeed, it could be argued that that is what 60 million+ voters saw in Trump in 2016—a deus ex machina, or thaumaturge if you will, who will magically wrest America from its demoralization and “make it great again.” The reactionary nostalgia we’ve been witnesses to for more than three years now has subverted the Republican Party and quite possibly put the nation in peril. It goes without saying that all this “deus” has done is add to the demoralization, and made of himself and the country a laughing-stock.

What are we left with, then, if not impeachment and conviction? The hope and faith that our democracy will right itself, that those 60 million+ will be defeated by a larger 60 million+, even though that actually happened in 2016. In this country, winning the popular vote is no guarantee that your candidate will win the electoral college.

This is where we are at the end of 2019, readying ourselves for November 2020. To say we’re in a precarious, if not perilous, position should be obvious to all. It’s not, of course, obvious to all, and that’s the problem. Depending upon our democracy, which put Trump in (however influenced by Russian interference), to now remove him might well be wishful thinking; but failure to remove Trump in the next election, in which he has, beyond any reasonable doubt, solicited even more foreign interference, will mean having to tolerate four more years of his “leadership.” A continued reign of this president may well finish off whatever’s left of the United in the United States of America and its people. If this strikes you as overly pessimistic, then compare the national and international stature of the previous president, despite his mistakes, to the stature of this one. See what I mean?

–Sobering News

The Blind Republicans and the Elephant: A Parody

A number of blind Republicans met for lunch to discuss quid pro quos and whether or not they could identify the elephant in the room. They’d often heard of an elephant in the room, and on occasion used the expression themselves, even though they’d never seen an elephant in the room. They’d also used more than frequently the Latin phrase quid pro quo, though they never truly understood it.

So they met for lunch one day, with an elephant in the room, to put out feelers, so to speak, and to determine a clear strategy to deal with their predicament. The first blind Republican, a senator from Louisiana, put his hand on the elephant’s side, pushed, and declared, “Ah, I see,” said he, “the elephant is very like a wall.” He paused for a moment. “I wonder if the Mexicans will pay for it.” The other senators chuckled. “I mean,” the senator continued, “that the president should establish an immovable wall barricading the White House and simply declare that there is nothing amiss with quid pro quos, especially in regards to the Ukraine.” Countries routinely ask, he indicated, something for something. Asking for an investigation by a foreign government of one’s political opponent—and the location of the DNC server—while withholding a promised $391 million in military aid to fight against a lethal invasion by Russia is neither wrong nor unusual. “It’s about intent and motive,” the senator said. “What was the president’s state of mind? Culpable? Based on the evidence up to this point,” he declared, “the president’s state of mind wasn’t culpable.” Can an amoral narcissist, one might ask, ever feel culpability for anything?

A second blind Republican, a senator from Texas, reached out and touched the tip of a tusk. “Ah,” he said, “I see that the elephant is like a spear, yet another tool in the tool bag of conducting foreign policy, used to pierce corruption in foreign nations. For it to be corruption on the part of the spear thrower, however, well, he’d have to have corrupt intent. Which, as we all know, our president, in his unmatched wisdom, would never have.”

A third blind Republican, from North Carolina, approached the elephant in the room and grasped its trunk. “Sorry mates,” he said, “but this elephant is like a snake. Anybody who knows anything would conclude that.” He turned to the senator from Texas and said, “Of all the Republicans here, I’m more than surprised that you wouldn’t recognize that.” The others chortled and nodded in agreement. “There was no quid pro quo. Admitting there was when there wasn’t just isn’t accurate.” The others barely suppressed their snickering.

The fourth Republican, from Maine where blindness seems endemic (how else to explain LePage), approached the elephant and shyly touched a leg. “Why,” she said, “I see that you are all wrong. The elephant is very like a tree.” She hugged the leg desperately, repeating that she would remain strong and not yet judge the president because she could well be one of his jurors. “I shall remain steadfast like this tree,” she said, “until I figure out from whence the wind blows.” She heard the rustle of leaves from an actual tree outside an open window, but couldn’t tell the direction from whence the wind came. She felt her anxiety increase. She was up for re-election in 2020 and had grown impatient with the times’ swirling winds.

A fifth, rather tall, blind Republican from North Dakota stood and reached for the elephant, and seized upon an ear. “Oh, how silly all of you are,” he said. “Don’t you know that an elephant is like a big fan. Republicans can’t,” he went on, “hope for a quick resolution to this problem. Drawing out the process, fanning the flames so that the public can see the president’s side of the story, even though we can’t, is what’s needed. There’s lots of quid pro quos,” he said, echoing the first Republican’s thoughts. “So what? Was this one corrupt is the question.”

A sixth Republican, from Wisconsin, and very blind indeed, had considerable trouble locating the elephant in the room. Finally, he latched onto its tail and announced how foolish all his fellows were. “The elephant,” he declared, “is not like a wall, or a spear, or a snake, or, for heaven’s sake, like a tree. Sheesh,” he said, wiping his brow, “how did any of you get elected? And a fan? Good lord! Get some a.c. if you’re too warm.” Still holding the tail, he said, “It should be obvious to you all the elephant is like a rope.” Immediately, he winced at the word rope, realizing the danger of hanging himself—again. “The president is concerned about corruption, and that’s a legitimate reservation in bestowing aid to Ukraine, even though I told the Wall Street Journal otherwise.” He choked a bit at that and checked to see that the “rope” was still in his hand and not around his neck.

With that, the elephant in the room decided never to leave. Tired, he rolled to his side, inadvertently crushing those in the room. He was comfortable among Republicans (or on top of them), whether they could see or not. He was, after all, their party’s national symbol. More so than they, he knew that just because one can see doesn’t mean one isn’t blind.

–Sobering News

Based on the poem The Blind Men and the Elephant and a prose version of the same name.

Image of Blind Men and Elephant (Public Domain) from Sophie Woods, World Stories for Children, Ainsworth & Co. (Chicago), p. 14 (illustrator unknown).

Photo of elephant’s tail: Tanel Teemusk from Estonia; used under  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Trump the Globalist

Despite what others say about the man, despite what he himself says or believes (if he believes anything), Trump has revealed himself to be a globalist. True, he has upset alliances, North American and European; true, he has imposed tariffs on a host of Asian, European, and North American goods; true, he has banned Muslims from entering the country; true, his anti-immigration politics and rhetoric, now mixed in with his tariffs, place him at the forefront of America First and everybody else last; despite all of these things, President Trump is a globalist. Who knew? How else to explain his admission that he would accept foreign dirt to smear political opponents? As Trevor Noah joked, “Apparently foreign dirt is the only import he won’t put tariffs on.” Yes, there can now be no doubt: The president is a globalist. His secret is out.

–Sobering News

Profiles in Courage

Comes a time when you just have to stand up for what’s right, despite whatever forces are arrayed against you, forces like the president, or too many of your fellow Republican senators, or, most of all, your party’s base. Make no mistake—standing up for what’s right could cost a seat in Congress. Ask former South Carolina Republican representative Mark Sanford.

Still, when a president usurps the power of the purse that Article 1 of the Constitution reserves for Congress, that’s a tectonic shift every senator and representative should resist, no matter what party you belong to. Except for twelve Republican senators out of 53 and 13 Republican representatives out of 197, the Republican Party put its tail between its legs and ran. As has happened too often with this president, the overwhelming majority of Republicans (90%) again kowtowed to a president whose leadership many of them distrust. Why? They fear him and his base. Thus, if they don’t outright support him, they must at least acquiesce.

Were there Republican congressional delegates from Wisconsin who added their votes to the Democratic resolution to block the president’s action? Yes, two: Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (5th) and Mike Gallagher (8th). On this issue, they deserve our praise. (Representative Grothman, who represents the congressional district (6th) where I live, predictably voted with the president. Rep. Grothman is so far out in right field that he voted against reimbursing federal employees for income missed during the shutdown.)

Where was our Republican senator Ron Johnson in this debate? Furiously backpedaling from earlier misgivings he professed about the president’s use of emergency powers. Not to worry, he was in good company. Among other backpedalers were Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who had, in a February 25 Washington Post Op-Ed, pledged to vote with Democrats before switching sides at the last minute; Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who previously had voiced concerns about the president’s usurpation of “constitutional authority”; and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Col.), whose hometown newspaper, the Denver Post, withdrew its 2014 endorsement of him for the U.S. Senate, calling his “vote on the border wall a failure of leadership.” All three senators are up for re-election in 2020. Their votes demonstrate how fearful they are of Trump and his base.

What, then, explains Senator Johnson’s vote? His seat isn’t up for re-election until 2022. Furthermore, he’s announced he won’t run again. What’s he scared of? Presidential wrath? Vilification via tweets from the base? But surely not of being published in a future “Profiles in Courage.” Three guesses (first two don’t count) on how he’ll vote to overturn Trump’s veto.

–Sobering News

This Travesty of a Presidency

The charges: “erratic conduct and behavior”; making “a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations—wild outbursts on the internet and television”; engaging in “frenzied commentary”; and facilitating “the very aim of our adversaries, which is to sow division and chaos.” If you thought someone was criticizing President Trump, and this travesty of a presidency, you’d be wrong, though forgiven for the mistake. The president delivered (projected?) those charges against former CIA Director, John Brennan, then revoked his security clearance.

The president has revealed his own enemies list and attacked several other former government officials whose security clearances he’s considering pulling, among them James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence; Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA, in addition to other intelligence services; Susan Rice, former National Security Advisor; and Bruce Ohr, the only person currently employed by the government (Justice Department, Criminal Division).

President Trump stepped outside the normal revocation procedure and simply withdrew Brennan’s security clearance himself. Ordinarily, revoking a security clearance would begin in the agency of which Mr. Brennan was once a part, in this case the CIA, but the agency had initiated no action against Mr. Brennan—he’s revealed no classified information—and directed questions back to the White House.

Former intelligence officials keep their security clearances in case present-day officials need to consult with them about past policies and actions, and how they inform the present.

None of this is to say that Mr. Brennan hasn’t participated in the president’s politicization of the intelligence agencies. In his manner of saying the things he’s said publicly about the president, however much people agree with him, Brennan may have lowered himself to Trump’s level. The Dozens is Trump’s game; it’s foolhardy to take him on. Just ask Marco Rubio.

For former and present government officials, best practice may be Mr. Mueller’s steady, quiet plodding.

–Sobering News