Bicycle Adventures

Bicycle riding may be defined as long, Saharan passages of discomfort and boredom interrupted by occasional unexpected oases of entertainments and curiosities. About a month ago at three separate locations on our local rails-to-trails, Kelly O. and I saw three copperheads, agkistrodon contortix, one of which had the misfortune of coming under my wheels as I, being distracted by Kelly O.’s elucidation of the finer points of certain metaphysical problems in which he and I were engaged, neglected to give the surprised and annoyed serpent a sufficiently wide berth. We did not trouble to inquire after his injuries, but it is a certainty that he slinked back to his lair with a few broken ribs complaining to his wife about callous and inattentive humans.

Having nursed his ribs and bruised muscles back to health, I feel sure he would have taken comfort mixed with pleasure had he known of the adventure two weeks later of the author of his maladies. On that occasion, Kelly B., Glen, and I were at mile 46 of a long ride, again on the trail, rolling along at almost 20 miles per hour, with Kelly B. in the lead, me second, and Glen third. The trail was spangled with patches of sunlight and countless leaves, obscuring its contours, and at about the time Kelly B. said “bump,” I unaccountably found myself somersaulting through the air, with my feet, still clipped in, pointing skyward, bicycle momentarily above me. I landed on my back with a resounding and unpleasing thump, which happily threw the bike into the ditch, avoiding the inevitable scrapes or crimps otherwise its due had it, too, hit the trail. My helmet was cracked and the seat was twisted, but my companions were able to straighten the latter, and we were able to resume. Glen observed that the whole affair was most entertaining, and if I would offer to repeat it, he would happily wear his GoPro to record it for the entertainment of others.

This was not the end of our adventures. Yesterday, Kelly O. and I were resting at the Sumrall station, joyously occupied in heated debate, with Kelly this time challenging my views on some unresolved paradoxes of Aristotle. I was facing west, toward Main Street and the post office, and he was facing east toward Hattiesburg. Behind him, not seventy-five feet from us and a mere fifty feet from the post office and Main Street, there was a truck in the parking lot, with the passenger door strategically open and a woman of middle years standing on our side of it, minimally blocked to Main Street but totally visible to us. Just as Kelly was offering an unassailable riposte to a point I made concerning the Nicomachean Ethics, I interrupted with a dumbfounded “Holy cow!”, or similar expletive, as the lady completely dropped her drawers along with any pretension to modesty and partially squatted. Kelly turned around and briefly digressed from his enlightening disquisition to make an apt comment on the phases of the moon, which was then full. Before I could pull my jaw off the floor and regain the power of speech to inform her that there were facilities not five feet from where we were sitting, all of the physiological necessities had expired, drawers had been raised, and Sumrall returned to its genteel, bucolic self.

Surely these excitements were at an end. But no. Today five of us were homeward bound, having returned to the trail after a couple of hours absorbing the pastoral delights of the countryside. The wind was gusty and strong, and with no warning we found ourselves watching, not quite in slow motion, a dead oak tree, perhaps a foot in diameter near its base, wickedly fall directly onto the trail, one of its limbs catching and slightly wounding the lead rider and causing Teresa to hit her brakes so as to avoid running right into it. We all stopped of course, and fortunately the tree was small enough that we could move it off the trail. It is presumably unwise to anthropomorphize trees, but its intent did indeed seem a touch malevolent.

I would take up golf instead, but I happen to agree with Mr. Chesterton, who felt that it is unsporting to hit a sitting ball.

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Me and the Klan

All the recent Charlottesville and KKK news reminded me of my own encounter with the Klan, fifty-one or fifty-two years ago when I was about seventeen. Martin Luther King was giving a speech c. late 1965 or early ’66 at Memorial Auditorium in downtown Raleigh, and the Klan decided to march in protest. I believe it was a Sunday afternoon. Several of my buddies decided, in our marvelously naive and cavalier way, to ride our motorcycles downtown and watch the parade. My memory is that the Klansmen were walking single file about ten feet from us, some in robes, some not, and some in a kind of militia-like uniform, the last of whom were carrying flashlights about fifteen or so inches long as weapons. I had never seen Klansmen or their robes before, and, ever the absurd provocateur, I called out “Where’s the party?” A short, thirty-ish, rather Snopes-like fellow took umbrage, and before you could say white supremacist, he darted out of line, landed a fine roundhouse punch to my left jaw, spit out “THAT’S where the party is!” and then quickly retreated back in line immediately behind one of the flashlight fellows. I had never actually been sucker-punched before (childhood fights being mostly wrestling matches), and more than anything I stood there simply shocked—“Damn! Some SOB just hit me!” A plain-clothes detective of some sort quickly came up to me, asked a question or two, including “Do you want to file charges?” Not having any particular desire to enmesh myself in the criminal justice system, I declined. Then, in the throes of Justice Outraged, I started heading off to find the culprit and, I guess, call him out, or at least call him something. I had gotten who knows how many yards at a brisk walk on the way to finding him when a close friend—then and now—proved his courage, friendship, and sanity by chasing after me and dissuading me from my dubious quest.

It’s amazing how foolish a young fellow can be when seen through his own old man’s eyes. Not just foolish for the initial taunt, but even more so for interacting with the Klan when I probably could have seen MLK.

Of Saints and Sinners

In the pantheon of presidential saints, we have . . . hmmm, well, actually it’s a pretty short list. Maybe Lincoln. But even with him, it’s probably safer to put him at the second stage of the four-stage process to sainthood, Venerable. After all, despite more books about him—15,000 and counting—than any other human being possibly excepting Jesus, we don’t know of any actual miracles, and who knows what youthful peccadilloes may yet be discovered to mar Honest Abe’s march to glory.

So the standards are pretty high. Our current president, Mr. Trump, once suggested that he would be our best president, with the possible exception, he generously allowed, of Mr. Lincoln. Based on this claim, it is not unreasonable to consider Mr. Trump’s application for sainthood. There was the miracle of his actually getting elected, at least if one acknowledges that not all miracles have to be good things but can include things that are simply impossible yet somehow happen anyway. But before putting The Blonde One on the road to sainthood, let’s see how he does with the seven cardinal sins.

Typically no one remembers the seven cardinal sins except priests and those fortunate to have learned some mnemonic device for recalling them. Happily, we have one: WASPLEG, which stands for wrath, avarice, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. So how does the forty-fifth president measure up?

Wrath. If “wrath” means only screaming fits, rather than just anger, there is still some evidence. Leaks have suggested that The Don has exploded at underlings who fail their master, and his perpetual tweets have sometimes had all the characteristics of semi-literate writing done in red if not white heat. But if wrath is basically a mildly archaic word for anger, well, the President almost radiates anger, especially at anything that does not reflect well upon him. It is no great leap to assume that his obsession with denigrating the investigation of his Make Russia Great Again campaign shows him to be pretty darned angry that anyone might doubt him or even has the right to investigate him. Further, his excoriations of the press as fake news suggest a fellow who goes apoplectic in the privacy of the residential quarters of the White House when a reporter discovers some unflattering or possibly criminal fact and has the audacity to announce it on TV.

Avarice. This one’s easy. The billionaire bombast and braggadocio. The bankruptcies to avoid payments to his creditors. The unwillingness to make public his IRS returns, partly to hide his Russian connections but also to avoid revealing how little he has paid in taxes. His over four thousand lawsuits, many of which are aimed at stiffing contractors and tradesmen who have worked for him. The laughable preposterousness of Trump University, sucking thousands of dollars from credulous wannabe millionaires. The meretricious gaudiness of his physical surroundings, so much so that he can barely stand a weekend at the unacceptably drab White House. His endless pursuit of money-making schemes—golf courses, Trump steaks, Trump buildings around the world, even selling the Trump logo for buildings he does not even own. His two great goals—money and power—reciprocally reinforce each other: more money means more power, while more power, especially as president, means more money pouring into the coffers. It is not for nothing that he refused to put all of his holdings into a blind trust. And who ever heard of the “emoluments clause” in the Constitution until this president?

Sloth. The president is somewhere on the bi-polar continuum here. He is wonderfully industrious in the pursuit of his business enterprises, his eighth grade tweeting, and his (presumed former) pursuit of fair ladies. He has also shown industry in the writing of executive orders, or at least signing them. But in the area of governing, his industry flags. Of the 554 administration positions requiring senate approval, only eighty-two had even been announced, and only twenty-four actually filled as of April 24. Of course he is rather busy trying to put out fires and squash investigations, but he also is said to spend many hours attending to how he is being covered in the news. Thanks to Mitch McConnell, he did appoint a Supreme Court justice, but he has signed no significant legislation, he has had only one actual press conference where he was the only one at the podium, and he doesn’t bother to read much of anything longer than a page or otherwise improve on his vast horizons of ignorance. He can’t even write his own books.

Pride. Pride, if C. S. Lewis and presumably other theological thinkers are to be believed, is the most egregious of all the sins because the prideful person, like Milton’s Lucifer, is challenging God, even seeking to displace him. Mr. Trump has raised pride to an art form. First, of course, is that his name is on just about everything associated with him, written in glorious golden letters. Isn’t that just a little tawdry? Wouldn’t most folks be embarrassed to be thought so vain and self-obsessed? Then there is his constant bragging, particularly during the campaign, about what a great president he would be, how intractable problems would yield to his forceful deal-making and sheer personality, his assumption that his fame entitles him to grope women, and his demand of obeisance from underlings, even to the point of grotesque adulation, all of which bespeak a pride far in excess of mere arrogance. The quintessential example of grotesque adulation occurred at his recent cabinet meeting, in which each of the cabinet members except Secretary of Defense Mattis forfeited all semblance of dignity by offering their adoring praises of the president and professing their great honor and blessing at being his lackey—a spectacle of such sycophancy that an objective observer could only be left agape, stupefied. Rather than demur at this extraordinary display, the president smiled beatifically, acknowledging his due, like some middle-eastern potentate. One could further argue that many of his notorious lies, for example about crowd size at his inauguration, are self-deceptions as well as intentions to deceive others since the truth undermines his self-regard and diminishes his pride. And of course who can forget the textbook definition of narcissism in Trump’s monumentally egomaniacal statement at the GOP convention that “only I can fix it”? What galactic stores of pride are necessary to even think such a thing, much less to say it? The president might well ponder Proverbs 16:18 in his self-proclaimed favorite book, the Bible, which warns that “pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

Lust. No further comment necessary.

Envy. This one is tricky because hard evidence is difficult to come by. Still, there are intimations of envy in the president’s need to be bigger and better than others, to be the greatest president, and to belittle any challenger. Worse, his admiration of autocrats—Putin foremost, but also the leaders of Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines—suggests how much he envies their largely unchecked power and their freedom from an inquiring press and an untamed judiciary. Who, he must privately ask, will rid me of this meddlesome Constitution?

Gluttony. In its meaning of great intemperance in the matter of eating and drinking intoxicating beverages, we must give the president a pass given our absence of evidence. But if it can mean something slightly broader, as in “a glutton for punishment,” Trump’s need to acquire and own indicates a materialism so pervasive that it snuffs out curiosity, obliterates aesthetic values, and minimizes generosity of spirit. He is ruled by his passions—power, material gain, and adulation from others.

Somehow dishonesty, bullying, and hypocrisy didn’t make the Seven Cardinal Sins list. I offer them as amendments. Meanwhile Lincoln, the president Mr. Trump hopes to be compared to, is a Venerable. Trump has a pretty long way to go to move up the ladder. How could the Grand Old Party produce both a Lincoln and a Trump?

Obamacare vs. Voodoo Healthcare: Round One to the Democrats

So after ceaselessly decrying Obamacare, and multiple Republican attempts to eviscerate it with their depressingly hypocritical mantra to repeal and replace, the GOP finally controls both houses of Congress, the White House, and, soon enough, the Supreme Court. And yet, when finally in a position to repeal and replace, they come up with, to reprise George H. W. Bush’s famous criticism of Reaganomics as “voodoo economics,” Voodoo Healthcare 1.0. But alas, it is still far too liberal with the taxpayers’ money for the far-right House “Freedom Caucus” to stomach, and no Democrat is going to vote for actual repeal, so House Speaker Ryan’s Voodoo Healthcare 1.0 goes up in much deserved flames without even going to the floor for its inevitable No vote, much to the embarrassment of Republicans, the cheers of Democrats, and the usual whining of our Liar-in-Chief, Mr. Trump, who characteristically externalizes all blame to others, in this case the Democrats. Well gee, Donnie Boy, aside from the right-wingers who were poised to vote against it, did you really think that the party that passed Obamacare without a single Republican vote was going to suddenly have a Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus experience and vote your way?

Whatever the flaws of Obamacare, it did re-set the bar such that real healthcare reform, aspiring, at least, to eventual universal care at affordable prices, is now firmly in the public mind, and even the Republicans must respond. It is no small irony—actually hypocrisy—that in the early 90s, Republican current senators Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch along with then senators Bob Dole and Richard Lugar and House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich latched on to the conservative Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute’s idea of an individual mandate for healthcare. Thus armed with the imprimatur of conservative think tank bona fides, they boldly proposed it as an alternative to anything First Lady Hillary Clinton might come up with. The theory was that if everyone had it, not just the sick and elderly, prices would be affordable, we’d have universal healthcare, and those who already had it would no longer be subsidizing the many who did not and who sought out hospital emergency rooms since hospitals could not turn them away. In the curious flip-flop of party politics, the Democrats—rarely averse to a touch of hypocrisy themselves and hoping for better—were extremely lukewarm about the mandate idea, being leery of its provenance, and so of course it was never passed. It was a reasonable idea then, and it was just as reasonable when Obama proposed it as a key element in his healthcare reform package. It was also reasonable when Massachusetts Republican Governor Mitt Romney signed the mandate into law in his state. But somehow, in that magical way that political hypocrisy is portrayed as high principle, when Obama promoted the idea, it suddenly became the work of the devil and represented a godless attack on capitalism and a government overreach heralding the birth of American totalitarianism. The Grassley-Hatch-Gingrich-Bob Dole embrace of the mandate in the early 90s was happily long forgotten, and Democrats were weak in reminding the populace of it, likely because their view of it back then when it was a conservative idea was moderately contrary to their own present enthusiasm. Romney, as presidential candidate in 2012, was not quite so fortunate in escaping the national amnesia, being frequently peppered with questions about Massachusetts’ more recent Romneycare. But, as an accomplished politician, he wriggled and squirmed and demurred at all comparisons of his mandate and Obama’s mandate.

Meanwhile Foxy News—sorry, Mr. Ailes and Mr. O’Reilly; well, not really—aka Foxy Nudes, aka Faux News, aka Fake News, rails against all things Obama and what was originally a Republican idea is now transmogrified into the work of Beelzebub himself. This stokes the Gullibles, and the GOP, fearing another entitlement, excoriates Obama and his diabolical and un-American plan. They suffer a serious blow when temporarily apostate Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts actually affirms the constitutional legitimacy of the mandate, giving Obama a rare 5-4 Court victory, and earning the Chief Justice the eternal loathing of those masses who are largely ignorant of The Affordable Care Act’s actual provisions but know very well which president concocted it, which is all they need. So Obamacare escapes an early grave. Nevertheless many uninsured do not enroll, especially many younger, healthier Americans, despite subsidies for lower income enrollees, and they are reluctantly willing to pay the modest penalty for failing to do so. Consequently, the “universal” part does not kick in well. Predictably insurance companies raise prices, partly because it’s just what they do, and partly because they are no longer allowed to refuse coverage for pre-existing conditions, nor are they allowed to kick someone off coverage for exceeding maximums allowed for expensive medical conditions.

Citizen Trump, and later candidate Trump, has managed to take about every side possible concerning healthcare, which obviously means he has no real convictions at all. He has stated, in a debate, “I like the mandate.” He has blamed legislators and insurance companies for being in thrall to each other. He has actually endorsed the importation of lower-priced Canadian drugs, competition among insurance companies across state lines, and even, back in the day, a national, single-payer system—all anathema to conservatives whose fierce opposition to all of those has forced him into line. Candidate Trump, whose own physician appears to have just been released from the local de-tox rehab center and who declared in a momentary fit of ecstasy that Trump is the healthiest candidate ever to run for the presidency, promises to repeal and replace Obamacare on his first day in office with “something terrific.” Naturally he doesn’t have the remotest idea what that would be, nor do his fellow Republicans, as evidenced by their recent failure to do what they have long promised despite their congressional majorities and Trump in the Big House. Now that the luster of “repeal and replace” has been tarnished a little, the current GOP shibboleths are “patient-centered healthcare” and universal “access” to healthcare. The first one trips off Republican tongues as if it actually means something, which of course it does not, but it makes a deliciously invidious comparison to Obamacare, which by implication must not be interested in patients at all. The second one, like all political rhetoric, also sounds appealing—“access.” Heck, who doesn’t want access? By what conceivable right does the many-tentacled government deny me “access” to something I want? The worm in that pretty apple, as Bernie Sanders pointed out to Ted Cruz in a post-election debate on healthcare, is that everyone already has access to healthcare, just as Bernie has access to buying a Maserati. But if you can’t afford it, then “access” is a sweet-sounding but meaningless term. Or, rather, what it does mean is that those who can afford it can have it, and those who can’t—well hey, it’s a Darwinian world out there.

And that is where the political divide really is: Is healthcare a right, whose costs are to be amortized among all Americans, with the wealthy subsidizing the unwealthy; or is it a normal commodity like cars or L. L. Bean coats, where those who cannot afford it, even those working full-time, will just have to do without? (Or, as Representative Chaffee has characterized it in Marie Antoinette fashion, they should quit buying a new cell phone every few months so they can afford it.) Obama has forced the Republicans to come forward a little; even they now must speak favorably of preserving the ban on excluding those with pre-existing conditions as well as allowing individuals to stay on their parents’ healthcare until age 26—both progressive features of Obamacare. The problem is that they want the dessert but don’t want the vegetables, the vegetables being the mandate and the higher taxes on the wealthy which are indispensable pieces to make the whole thing work. In that sense it is simple economics: the goodies have a cost, and if you take away the mechanisms for paying for the cost, the system falls apart.

Having promised for years, the Republicans are trapped in their “repeal and replace” rhetoric, and Democrats are firmly resolved that no repeal will take place with their help. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer has, however, offered that if repeal is abandoned by Republicans in favor of fixing some of Obamacare’s problems, Democrats would be open to that. Two obvious reforms would be allowing insurance company competition across state lines, and allowing Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. Aren’t Republicans all for capitalist competition? Well, they are at least until corporate lobbyists with lots of dollars to dispense convince them otherwise. And what possible objection would Democrats have? Other bones will be much more difficult to pick, especially the “right” of healthcare vs. “access” to it, and the who pays, who benefits implications of that. Nobody, of course, is talking about a single-payer plan, as Canada and Britain have. Research indicates that those countries have lower per capita costs and equal if not better health outcomes. But that is not on the table—Democrats are too cowed to mention it and are aware of the corporate interests that would never allow it, while Republicans support those corporate interests and have screamed “government takeover” so long that some actually believe it.

So we’re still waiting for “something terrific.”

To Russia, With Love

Let’s play Connect-the-Dots.

Dot 1. President Trump has long had connections to the Soviet Union and Russia. His first trip was in 1987 to explore the possibility of building Moscow hotels. In the 90s, he went to Russia to explore renovating already existing hotels in Russia. He sought wealthy Russian investors, who had become wealthy after the fall of the Soviet Union by buying up formerly state-owned properties. Also in the 90s Russian investors bought dozens of condominiums in Trump World Tower in midtown Manhattan.*

Dot 2. Trump developed projects internationally in the early 2000s, some involving Russian money.

Dot 3. Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. told Moscow investors in 2008 that the Trump organization had trademarked the Donald Trump name in Russia and observed that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Dot 4. Trump took the Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow in 2013, funded by a Russian billionaire named Aras Agalarov.

Dot 5. Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was an Exxon-Mobil oil executive who made oil deals in Russia and in 2013 was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship award. Tillerson also met with Vladimir Putin.

Dot 6. Trump hired Paul Manafort as his campaign manager in 2016. Manafort had represented the former leader of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, a Putin ally. Unrest in Ukraine forced Yanukovych to flee to Moscow, and shortly afterward Putin invaded the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine. Putin continues to support ethnic Russian rebels fighting in Ukraine, who shot down a passenger jet in 2014. Manafort’s association with the Putin ally caused him to resign as Trump campaign chair.

Dot 7. Trump staffers objected to the GOP Platform statement that advocated “providing lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine in its fight against Russia-backed separatists after Russia’s land grab of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Staffers insisted that the language be changed to “appropriate assistance.”

Dot 8. Michael Flynn, Trump’s newly-fired National Security Adviser, was also fired by President Obama as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. After being fired by Obama, Flynn called Obama a “liar” and led Trump campaign rallies in their chants of “lock her up,” referring to Hillary Clinton. He was also working for Russia Today, the state-owned news and propaganda machine for Russia, and advocated for closer relations with Russia. He travelled to Russia for the 10th anniversary celebration of Russia Today, sitting at the same table with Putin. He was paid for that visit. He has not said how much, nor whether his acceptance of payment was approved by the secretaries of Defense and State, without which the acceptance of payment would be a violation of federal law.

Dot 9. U.S. intelligence agencies monitored a call from Flynn to the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, discussing new sanctions that Obama had imposed on Russia after the Russian interference in the American election. He told Vice-President Mike Pence and, according to The New York Times, the FBI that he did not discuss sanctions. Totally uncharacteristically, Putin did not reply in kind to Obama’s new sanctions and the expulsion of thirty-five Russians, presumed to be Russian spies. The intelligence agencies concluded that not only had the Russians interfered with the election, they did so specifically to help Trump defeat Clinton. Currently it is not known whether Trump or others knew of Flynn’s phone call at the time he made it.

Dot 10. During the campaign, Trump urged the Russians, “if you are listening,” to participate in the election by sharing all of Clinton’s emails. The Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign was apparently shared with Wikileaks. Wikileaks revealed emails indicating that the chair of the Democratic National Convention, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, had clearly favored Clinton over Bernie Sanders for the nomination, and she subsequently resigned. Another Wikileaks leak, again presumably provided by the Russians, exposed an email from John Podesta, chair of the Clinton campaign. Trump declared that “I love Wikileaks!” The Podesta email came almost immediately after the infamous Access Hollywood tape became public, a tape in which Trump bragged of grabbing women’s private parts and other sexual exploits.

Dot 11. Carter Page, who runs an investment company, was named as an early foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. Former Senate minority leader Harry Reid accused Page of being a conduit between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. Page gave a 2016 speech in which he accused the U.S. government of having a “hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change” toward Russia.

Dot 12. Trump continues to excoriate the “dishonest media,” and now the “fake news media,” by which he means virtually all media except Fox News and other conservative news outlets. As the Russia connection scandal swirls, he tweeted on February 16 “The fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred. @MSNBC and @CNN are unwatchable. @foxandfriends is great!” In another tweet he referred to “This Russian connection non-sense.” In the February 16 press conference, he pointed out that “the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.”

Dot 13. Trump learned on January 26 that Flynn had lied to Vice-President Pence about the phone call to Russian ambassador Kislyak. On February 10, The Washington Post reported the phone call and Flynn’s lie to Pence that sanctions were not discussed. Three days later, and eighteen days after apparently first learning about the call and Flynn’s lying to Pence, Trump fired Flynn. Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed that it was an “erosion of trust” that caused the firing, although it came only three days after the Post article. The transcripts of the calls are not yet available, though presumably they will be to House and Senate Intelligence committees. Democrats are calling for an independent investigation (like the 9/11 Commission), but Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell wants to keep it in the Republican-led intelligence committees. Democrats also fear that new Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, the earliest senator to support Trump in the campaign, cannot be a fair arbiter of a Justice department investigation.

Dot 14. A day after Press Secretary Spicer said that it was an erosion of trust that caused the firing (and presumably therefore having nothing to do with the Post article revealing the Flynn-Pence issue), Trump himself praised Flynn, stating that he, Flynn, had been “treated unfairly by the media.” There was no comment about Trump’s eroding trust in Flynn.

Dot 15. Trump has defied four decades of precedent from candidates of both parties in refusing to make public his tax returns, despite calls from various sources that he do so. His claim has been that he cannot do so because he is under audit, though the IRS has made clear that there is no legal prohibition of anyone making public his or her own tax returns. Moreover, he has said that he would release the tax returns when he is no longer under audit. As it is likely that the IRS routinely audits billionaires’ tax returns every year, this is probably a safe promise to make. The tax returns would help clarify where Trump has investments and debts.

Dot 16. Trump has refused to place his assets in a blind trust despite near universal calls to do so from ethicists and neutral observers. Instead he has handed over leadership to relatives and close associates, meaning that he still has ultimate control over his business enterprises.

Dot 17. Trump has had an ongoing hostile attitude toward the intelligence community, beginning with his pushback of the unanimous conclusion of American intelligence agencies that Russians interfered in the election with the goal of helping him get elected. He has sarcastically put the word intelligence in quotation marks in reference to the CIA, FBI, and NSA. The three agencies concluded in a report to President Obama that the Russians not only interfered with the election, they did so at the express orders of Putin and specifically to damage Clinton and help Trump (the CIA and FBI did so with “high confidence” and the NSA with “moderate confidence”). Most recently, Trump blamed intelligence officials for “criminal” leaks concerning the Flynn affair, and the The Wall Street Journal—no particular friend to liberal Democrats—reported on February 15 that intelligence officials are no longer sharing certain sensitive details, such as methods of intelligence gathering, with the President for fear that their methods and personnel could be compromised.

So what picture do all the dots appear to create? Can any or all of these dots be connected? First, and almost certainly, Trump fired Flynn only because of The Washington Post article’s revelations, given the eighteen days between Trump’s hearing of Flynn’s actions and the actual firing. Without the Post article, Flynn would almost certainly still be National Security Adviser, a strange role for an American who just before had been an analyst for a state-owned Russian propaganda arm, Russia Today. Second, and far more ambiguously, what are we to make of the numerous connections between Trump people—Manafort, Page, Trump Jr., Flynn, Tillerson, and Trump himself—and Russian officials, including Putin himself? How is it, and why is it, that Trump has collected such a collection of like-minded Russophiles in his orbit? Add to this Trump’s yearlong defenses of Putin, especially that some other entity could be doing the hacks, possibly China or some fat guy in his bed. Did Trump possibly authorize Flynn’s call to the Russian ambassador, thus making Flynn a scapegoat, albeit a highly unsympathetic one? Trump has publicly stated that he admired the leadership of autocratic and dictatorial Putin, including a recent interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, in which he stated that “we are not so innocent” when O’Reilly pointed out that Putin was a killer. Was Trump’s public invitation to Putin during the campaign to interfere in the election by leaking Clinton emails an ill-thought-out tip of the iceberg acknowledgment of a deeper collusion between Trump and Putin to actually rig the election?

It is certainly premature to suggest that Trump authorized Flynn’s call, though the apparent nature of the call—suggesting that Trump would lift or at least ease sanctions—is in keeping with Trump’s own thinking. The fact that Putin did not retaliate for Obama’s expulsion of thirty-five presumed Russian intelligence agents certainly reinforces the apparent subject of the call, at least in the absence of transcripts not yet made public. Flynn’s call also reminds us that we have one president at a time, and Obama was still president when Flynn made his call.

The Trump collection of Russophiles, not just individuals sympathetic to the idea of closer relations with Russia but individuals who have financial interests in that outcome, clearly tilts their (and Trump’s) perspective favorably or at least sympathetically toward Russian behavior, and thus neuters the natural skepticism that high level individuals in an American administration should have toward a long-term adversary. For example, so far the administration has had nothing to say about the Russian deployment of a ground-launched new cruise missile, in direct violation of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with the United States that prohibits the deployment of ground-launched missiles with a range of 300 to 3400 miles.

Trump’s financial ties to Russia, possibly including Trump debt to Russia or specific Russians, would certainly be one of two primary reasons that Trump would not wish to reveal his tax returns. The other, of course, would be that they may well reveal that he has paid no federal income taxes for approximately eighteen years after claiming a large loss in the 90s, which, apparently, he has effectively amortized over nearly two decades. But he certainly does not want his financial ties to Russia on public display.

Given that we know that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and subsequently shared that information with Wikileaks, it is probable that Russia also hacked the Republican National Committee for its own purposes. It is almost a certainty that Russian intelligence has whole file cabinets on Trump, going back to his first business dealings with the Russians in 1987, just as it has files on other presidential candidates and as we have files on numerous Russians. It is also quite probable that in addition to the Trump files containing business dealings and possible debt, some of the material is personally unflattering. Whether on the basis of business dealings or personal behavior, or both, Trump could be in the position of potentially being blackmailed without the threat even being spoken. As of this writing, February 16, Trump claimed in an almost bizarre press conference that he has no dealings with Russia: “I have nothing to do with Russia. I have no loans in Russia, I have no deals with Russia.” If the President had even a modest reputation for honesty, such a statement would have to be credited until proven false. But, even aside from his son’s own statement concerning Trump-Russia business connections, Trump is notorious for misstatements, falsehoods, and lies, and thus it is more reasonable than not to assume that “I have nothing to do with Russia” is not true. Also in the press conference he claimed to have won more electoral votes than anyone since Reagan (demonstrably false: Obama had more in both his elections, Clinton had more in both his elections, and George H. W. Bush had more in 1988). He also claimed, in connection with the Flynn affair, that the leaks were “real” but the news was “fake,” prompting the reasonable question, asked by a reporter, how could the news be fake if the leaks of that information were real? And while praising Wikileaks that helped him during the campaign, he now paints “illegal leaks” as the source of his troubles.

The business ties, the Trump inner circle of Russia supporters, the watering down of the GOP platform supporting Ukraine, Trump’s attacks on American intelligence agencies, Trump’s publicly expressed admiration of Putin, the expression of the moral equivalence of the United States and Russia when O’Reilly called Putin a killer, the silence so far in not condemning the Russian violation of the INF treaty, the likely intent to soften the sanctions on Russia, the refusal to release his tax returns, the Russian interference in the election with the purpose of helping Trump win, the unprecedented Russian decision not to retaliate after Obama’s expulsion of thirty-five Russian spies, all collectively point to, at the very minimum, an extremely un-Republican and worrisome relationship between the Trump administration and the most significant and continuous adversary of the United States since the end of World War II. It could be that Trump’s coziness with Russia is simply about money, with Trump using the bully pulpit to protect his investments and to expand his financial empire. Even given such a banal interpretation, a pro-Russia tilt for personal gain would be indefensible and almost inevitable.

But there is also a more draconian interpretation, clearly speculation at this point, but not unreasonable given what we know about Trump the businessman and the deal-maker, along with his penchant for a lack of candor. Might there have been some sort of collusion between Putin and Trump, in which Russia employs cyber-warfare to help Trump win the election, with a stated or unstated quid pro quo that Trump will take a soft stand vis-à-vis Russia. This could take the form of lifting sanctions, or, more generally, not standing in Putin’s way as he seeks to expand Russia’s international influence, to undermine other democracies’ elections through cyber attacks, to sew discord among American allies and NATO, and possibly to re-construct the Soviet Union. Certainly such a collusion would be a traitorous act and, as a constitutional “high crime,” an impeachable one. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose wife is in Trump’s cabinet, has his eye on the 2018 mid-term congressional elections, especially the tenuous Republican majority in the senate providing him with his senate leadership role, and hence he is reluctant to encourage any outside investigations. Republican senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, though having their own personal reasons for despising Trump, seem to be placing country over party in their willingness to follow the facts—the dots—wherever they may lead. They could lead to a dead end. But maybe not.

*Factual data and quotations have been gleaned primarily from various news stories in USA Today, but also NBC News, MSNBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and politico.com

Lessons Learned from the 2016 Election

Polls. Seriously? Margin of error: plus or minus 25 points.

There’s a whole lot of grievance out there, especially among white voters, 58% of whom voted for the winner.

The endorsements of the Ku Klux Klan newspaper and David Duke can help you, or at least not hurt you.

A history of infidelities and groping women you don’t even know can help you, or at least not hurt you.

A letter from the Director of the FBI to congressional leaders eleven days before the election casting possible aspersions on your integrity, followed by another letter a few days later saying never mind—sorry, got it wrong, doesn’t help you.

Getting the most votes doesn’t mean you win. Of course we’ve known that for a couple of centuries. This is the fifth presidential election—count ‘em, five—where the person with fewer votes won.

We have learned that there is not the least outrage at that particular fact; what we don’t know is why. We teach our kids that in a democracy, the majority—meaning the most votes—wins.

And while we’re on the subject of the infamous electoral college, we know (and have long known) that your presidential vote doesn’t count if you are a Democrat in Mississippi, nor does it count if you are a Republican in California. And it will be that way for a long, long time, if not forever, unless the electoral college is abandoned in favor of the popular vote or significantly modified to split all states’ electoral votes proportionately to their popular votes—the latter of which presumably would not require a constitutional change.

Still on the subject of the infamous electoral college, its all-or-nothing approach means that all the attention is on “battleground” states, and even their individual counties, meaning that their votes really count.

Discussing the size of your privates in a primary debate energizes your supporters.

Making public your federal income tax returns is totally unnecessary if you are being audited.

Lying on a titanic scale, even on matters that video and audiotapes can reveal as untrue, is not only not discouraged, but can actually be admired.

About a quarter of the population is amazingly gullible and will believe about any lunacy you tell them if it fits their world view—and will reject any self-evident reality if it doesn’t.

There is another quarter of the population that is not necessarily gullible or condoning of bad behavior or prone to racism but still feels disenfranchised and disaffected.

One should avoid running in years after your team has been in office for two terms. Reagan-Bush pulled it off from ‘81 to ’93, but before that you have to go back to FDR-Truman, 1933-1953. We like change.

Actual preparation for a debate is a liability.

Badly losing all three presidential debates, despite fantasizing that you won them, helpfully demonstrates that you are not burdened with useless information about unimportant issues.

Anything approaching civility to your opponents is idiotic because it turns off your supporters, though it’s fine to discuss how great those opponents are once they have ceased to be your opponents. But until then, the uglier the better; the more lies the better.

A senate majority leader not doing his or her constitutional duty by ignoring a president’s nomination for the Supreme Court when that president still has a year left in office can pay off handsomely.

Presidential elections are rigged until you unexpectedly win, and then they’re not.

You can have “great respect” for the current president after you win, even if he is “the most ignorant president” of all, “the founder of ISIS,” and not born in America.

Use the government server if you are Secretary of State planning to run for President—just sayin’.

Make colossal promises, like building beautiful walls that other countries will pay for or creating another police force devoted solely to deporting twelve million undocumented residents. Nobody actually believes such promises, but folks love to hear them anyway.

Developing budding bromances with Russian dictators, hiring campaign managers with Russian connections, and telling the Russians Sure, who needs NATO, prove that you are a peace-loving kind of guy.

Never let a response to a criticism go untweeted.

Being a billionaire and not paying federal income taxes for years can be financially beneficial; and even better, it can prove how smart you are.

Megalomania pays, at least through election day.

The winner had over 59 million votes, over a million less than the loser. Julian Assange—Wikileaks founder, indicted sexual predator, and self-appointed moral counselor to the world—deserves credit for at least a few million of the winner’s votes.

Education matters: College-educated voters went for Clinton by nine percentage points. And it matters especially if you’re white: Non-college educated white voters went for Trump by almost forty (!) percentage points. No statistics available on Trump University students.

When things don’t go your way: Bitterness is not a strategy.

FBI Director Comey’s Much Ado

It’s a fact that Chris Christie is one of the two best-known Trump supporters and advisers (Rudy Giuliani being the other). It is also a fact that eleven days before the election FBI director James Comey sent a letter to Congress stating that in an unrelated investigation of Anthony Wiener, the estranged husband of Clinton adviser Huma Abedin, new emails that “appear to be pertinent” to the Clinton email investigation had been found. Comey approved “steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails,” indicating that no such review had yet taken place. Comey acknowledged that based on these unexamined emails he “cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant.” So as of the receipt of the letter by Congress, there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by anyone, much less Clinton. Nevertheless, Comey saw fit to defy all FBI precedent by dropping this bombshell of a letter, with all of its accompanying innuendo, a mere eleven days prior to a presidential election.

So, let’s imagine a scenario. Let’s imagine that in its investigation of New Jersey governor and Trump adviser Chris Christie’s possible involvement in the “Bridgegate” scandal (in which traffic was intentionally impeded in order to punish a Democratic mayor who declined to support Governor Christie), the investigating agency came across a large group of Christie emails that may or may not have included some to or from Christie that might have suggested that Donald Trump might have been involved in a mob hit in 1993. Then let’s imagine that the head of the investigating agency, contrary to normal procedures concerning an ongoing investigation and with no evidence at all of Trump’s involvement, sent a letter to Congress stating that there might now be pertinent information, not concerning the Bridgegate investigation, but rather concerning the possible connection between Mr. Trump, now running for president, and the murder of an organized crime boss.

How fair would that imagined scenario be to Donald Trump, candidate for president, eleven days before the election?

Not fair at all. And, on the part of the investigating agency, ethically indefensible.

Vote for Trump IF . . .

Vote for Trump IF . . .

. . . you believe that Barack Obama is literally “the founder of ISIS.”
. . . you believe that “thousands” of Muslims were seen on a video celebrating in New Jersey after the attacks on 9/11.
. . . you think it’s OK for a presidential candidate to physically mock a journalist’s disability.
. . . you think it’s OK for a presidential candidate, in a highly publicized primary debate, reply to a vulgar innuendo from Marco Rubio that “there’s no problem” with the size of his genitalia.
. . . if you think it’s OK for you to pay federal income taxes but that billionaire Trump doesn’t for as many as eighteen years.
. . . if you believe that the real reason Trump won’t release his tax returns, contrary to precedent from all Republican and Democratic candidates for president for the last several decades, is that he’s being audited.
. . . if you believe that he will release his tax returns when the audit is over.
. . . if you believe that John McCain is not a war hero—not because he was captured and tortured over several years, but because he refused to be released when the North Vietnamese discovered he was the son of an important navy admiral if his fellow POWs would be left behind.
. . . if you don’t think there’s just a little bit of a sleazy parallel between Donald Trump trying to play down his admitted gropings of women he did not even know by calling it “locker room talk” and Jerry Sandusky trying to play down his sodomizing young boys in the shower by calling it “just horsin’ around.”
. . . if you don’t think there is something profoundly grandiose and arrogant about a man thinking that his importance is such that his gropings and kissing of women he didn’t know was a kind of entitlement because he is rich and famous.
. . . if you don’t think that a presidential candidate should know what the American nuclear triad is.
. . . if you agree with Trump that despot Vladimir Putin is a great leader.
. . . if you think Vladimir Putin is not playing Trump, just a little like Hitler played Neville Chamberlain in 1938, leading Chamberlain to declare that he and the Fuhrer had achieved “peace in our time.”
. . . if you don’t believe that Vladimir Putin would love to see Trump elected, knowing that Clinton would be a more significant adversary.
. . . if you believe that the guy who said “I love war, in a certain way” is the best guy to have his finger on the nuclear button.
. . . if you would be just fine with your daughter working for Trump in the same office.
. . . if you think Trump will, as he has claimed, erase the $18 trillion national debt in eight years.
. . . if you agree, as Trump charged in a primary debate, that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of JFK.
. . . if you believe that Mexico is going to pay for even a picket fence at the border, much less a massive wall.
. . . if you think that any tax plan coming out of a Trump White House would not be designed to benefit millionaires and billionaires, for example by eliminating the estate tax.
. . . if you think that just saying that everything will be great under his administration is a reasonable substitute for actual policy, whether on the economy, fighting ISIS, or social issues.
. . . if you believe that bombastic braggadocio and being woefully uninformed would be good substitutes for a cool head and wide knowledge of the problems we face nationally and internationally.
. . . if you believe, as Trump has speculated, that the reason he is audited every year is that he is “a strong Christian.”
. . . if you believe, as Trump has claimed, that the Bible is his favorite book, when he doesn’t even know that the second book of Corinthians is referred to as Second Corinthians, not “Two Corinthians.”
. . . if you are comfortable with the fact that he has stiffed numerous employees and small business owners, agreeing to a contract price, then, when the work is done, paying far less than the agreed-upon price, encouraging the business owner to sue, and then tying the dispute up in court for years, sometimes bankrupting the business owner.
. . . if you are not suspicious of someone who has been involved in over 4,000 lawsuits.
. . . if the fact that several Republican-leaning newspapers have endorsed a Democrat, especially the generally loathed Clinton, doesn’t give you pause.
. . . if you think that a fellow who avoided actual military service has any right to criticize the Muslim parents of a son who, as an American captain, was killed in Iraq.
. . . if you’re not worried that a thin-skinned President Trump would spend way too much of the presidential day tweeting about and otherwise seeking revenge on his critics.
. . . if you are absolutely sure that none of the animus toward Hillary Clinton, particularly among white males, is due to the fact that she is a woman.
. . . if you think it’s OK for a man who has groped women (though denying it to Anderson Cooper in the second debate), bragged about it, and committed adultery to attack the non-candidate husband of his opponent, who herself has groped no one and never committed adultery, by saying that she enabled her husband’s affairs.
. . . if you think it is logical and truthful to brag on audio tape about groping women and getting away with it because you’re famous, then to deny in the debate that you’ve groped anyone, and then to vilify as liars and conspirators the several women who say that you did indeed do to them what you said you did in the audio tape.
. . . if you don’t believe there is something just a wee bit hypocritical about Trump’s current excoriation of Bill Clinton’s long ago infidelities while inviting both Clintons to his most recent wedding.
. . . if you think that the students at the now defunct Trump University got a good business education.
. . . if you have never wondered why Trump doesn’t restrict his lies to things that cannot be clearly disproven by video or audio tape, such as his professed early opposition to the Iraq war, or his claim in the second debate that he has never groped women he did not know.
. . . if you believe that “no one respects women more than” him.
. . . if you believed him when he claimed that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
. . . if you didn’t wonder why he suddenly claimed that Obama was born in the United States after all, declining to give an apology for his four years of lying about it and, perhaps even worse, refusing to give the slightest explanation for the total reversal—meaning that he knew it was a lie from the beginning.
. . . if you think that megalomania and an unprecedented public coarseness are desirable qualities in the president of the United States.
. . . if you have never wondered why he once said that he thought Hillary Clinton would make a great president.
. . . if you have not noticed the irony of his little refrain “believe me” at the end of a sentence, given his difficulty refraining from any remark that glorifies him, advances his self-interest, or slanders a rival.
. . . if you believe, as Trump has claimed, that eighty percent of white murders are committed by blacks.
. . . if it doesn’t bother you that the last two Republican candidates for president, as well as the last two Republican presidents, do not support his candidacy.
. . . if someone who claims “I alone can fix it” doesn’t sound like a demagogic despot to you.
. . . if you think that Trump’s claiming that it could have been China that hacked Democratic emails, contrary to the intelligence community’s conclusion that it was Russia, was not an attempt to protect Vladimir Putin, or to curry favor with him.
. . . if you think that routinely committing five or six of the seven deadly sins—wrath, avarice, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony—is a good foundation for being an American president.
. . . if you think, as Trump has claimed, that man-made climate change is a “Chinese hoax.”
. . . if you believe that character no longer matters.

So if most of these apply to you—heck, if, say, just two or three of these apply to you—go for it. Trump’s your man.

A Pox on Both Your Houses? No

Donnie Boy says the darnedest things, but of course you would expect that of someone with the maturity of a ten-year-old. One of his latest whoppers is that President “Obama is the most ignorant president in American history,” afterwards Trumped, as it were, by accusing the President of being “the founder of ISIS,” not even figuratively, but literally. Conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt tried to give him an out by suggesting that surely he meant that Obama effectively allowed ISIS to come into being, but Donnie refused the exit and said that he meant it literally. Apparently he was imagining the President and Hillary in the Situation Room conspiring with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to let Baghdadi be the Operations Chief as long as Obama’s name was at the top of ISIS letterhead. And if Donnie imagined it, it must be true, like the non-existent videos of all those Muslims celebrating in New Jersey after 9/11.

But the “most ignorant president” comment was astonishing in revealing Trump’s horizonless ignorance of American history. Not only do James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson (said to have been taught to read by his wife), and Warren G. Harding pop to mind, but the reputations of all three would skyrocket by comparison if Trump joined their ranks as president. But further, the statement begs for a new word. “Ironic” would be the closest word, but even raised to the third or fourth power it seems pathetically inadequate to describe an abysmally uninformed philistine like Trump calling a former professor of Constitutional law and a man as articulate, reflective, and knowledgeable about world affairs as Obama “ignorant.” Love him or hate him, or something in between, Obama is hardly ignorant. What would be the word to use if, say, a pathological mass murderer called Gandhi or Pope Francis a threat to peace? What word captures that level of titanic irony? So beside all the accurate commentary about Trump’s temperament, his micro-thin skin, his demagoguery, his insecurity, his bullying, his offensiveness, his ostentatiousness, and his total disregard for truth as disqualifiers for the presidency, what about the simple fact that the GOP candidate who considers himself a “genius” and challenged the Muslim mayor of London to an IQ contest is in fact a know-nothing ignoramus?

Meanwhile, as for the fifteen percent of Bernie-istas who said in a recent poll that they would either vote for Trump, a two percent party, or no one at all, what are they smoking? Columnist Joe Klein calls them the dead-enders, comic and former Bernie supporter Sarah Silverman calls them the “ridiculous” Bernie-or-bust people, and I call them the left-wing equivalent of the right-wing Tea Party. They could also be called utopians, and not in a good way. In the same sense that Thomas More’s Utopia literally meant “nowhere,” Bernie himself spoke of “the real world” as a counterpoint to his most avid supporters who feel that they cannot dirty their hands or foul their souls by voting for Hillary, flawed as she may be. They seem to say that Hillary and the real world are imperfect, and thus depraved, and nothing short of utopia—nowhere—will do. But if they choose to sit out the election, or throw away their vote on the two-percenters and zero electoral vote-getters Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, they might consider the consequences of their moral superiority. And a claim of neutrality, the pox-on-both-your-houses defense, won’t wash—they are helping Trump. The catchphrase from my college years, “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” calls out the utopians. The pox-on-both-your-houses stand means you’re part of the problem.

So, to the utopians, the dead-enders, the Bernie-or-busters, if you don’t vote and Trump is elected, don’t complain. If a Thomas- or Scalia-like hard-right conservative gets on the Supreme Court, don’t complain. If that court hands down decisions you don’t like on abortion, guns, gay rights, voting rights, Obamacare, or a multitude of other issues, don’t complain. If Trump embarrasses the country through his bombast and ignorance, don’t complain. If Trump becomes the arrogant, authoritarian ruler he has already shown signs of being (“I alone can fix it”), don’t complain. If a Republican congress passes objectionable laws that Hillary would have vetoed, don’t complain. If your hourly wages don’t go up, if women’s equality does not advance, if the Trump tax plan favoring people like himself is enacted, if a de-regulated Wall Street leads to another crash, if corporate welfare continues apace, if we get into military conflicts that diplomacy would have prevented, don’t complain. If a hyper-sensitive President Trump uses the bully pulpit to denigrate or otherwise punish private citizens such as journalists who offend him, don’t complain. And, just one more, if a President Trump continues to view man-made climate change as a Chinese “hoax,” don’t complain.

It has become a political cliché to state that any particular election is critical to the history of the country, and it’s true, they all are. But this one really is unique. This is not merely a choice between two contending political persuasions, two visions of America’s future, two individuals of differing ideology but both within the elastic bounds of political competence. Trump, unlike any of his Republican predecessors running for president, is an amoral self-seeker of fundamentally despotic temperament, a crude misogynist, a liar exceeding anything we have seen in decades, a demagogue oblivious to and dismissive of inconvenient facts, a purveyor of conspiratorial innuendo, and a mercurial bully far too uninformed and narcissistic to wield the power of the presidency. I have compared him to Kim Jong-Un, ruler of North Korea, except that as president Trump would have a Constitution, a congress, and a free press to at least partially clip his wings. And so, Bernie-or-busters, you cannot congratulate yourselves for your high principles by sitting this one out. If you have to hold your nose while voting for Hillary, fine, do it. And then—but only if you vote for her—if she does something you don’t like, complain at will.

The Return of P. T. Barnum

The Republicans have actually done it, nominating someone even more bizarre than Lyin’ Ted, the evangelical Crusader given to endless attacks of piety and hoping to send the U.S. to the fourteenth century with all its accompanying witch burnings and other entertainments. Lyin’ Ted may yet prove to be the Republicans’ Lyndon Larouche, and, like Larouche, he will probably run again, and again, and again, bloviating about the Apocalypse if the electorate fails to heed his jeremiads hurled at Beelzebub and other Democrats. But for now, Lyin’ Ted slinks back to his Senate lair, mumbling about how he has been out-lied by the very best.

So The Donald is their boy, whose accusations of Lyin’ Ted’s lies, given his own, raise irony to fine art. Donnie himself lies only when his lips move. But when Crusader Cruz threw in the bloody towel, Donnie Boy lapsed into a kumbayah moment, which is to say that he did not call him Lyin’ Ted for once and said that he ran a “great campaign” and had a “great future”—all of which proves that the anti-politician Trump is a politician to the core. Apparently The Blonde One thinks that a campaign of lies is a great campaign and the basis of a great future. Meanwhile poor old Kasich, who managed to display some sense and integrity as all the poisoned darts flew through the air during the extended Republican circus, was the last opponent still standing on wobbly knees, but he too then keeled over in the face of the Trumpanista onslaught. The Dear Leader then entertained us with a triumphal, alleged foreign policy speech. Its incoherence bore all the stigmata of Trump’s own fiction-filled, love-me-because-I’m-God orations, but the tell-tale use of big words like “rudderless” and “disarray” and the failure to repeat his punch lines twice in a row testified to hidden authorship. Trump salivated at the thought of taking Ohio from Crooked Hillary by naming Ohioan Kasich as his veep, but the vanquished governor concluded that an embrace of the low-vocabulary, grammatically challenged, monomaniacal, National Enquirer devotee would be a bigly mistake. Damned bigly mistake. Rumors have circulated that Donnie is now thinking of appointing himself as his veep, but the Trump camp avers that no decision has yet been made.

Besides reading the National Enquirer for the news of the day, Donnie has been consulting the P. T. Barnum Scriptures for campaign advice on the subject of suckers, and it has paid off yuge. He has bamboozled vast swaths of the American electorate, which perhaps might not be all that hard, but you would think that some of them who consider themselves hard-nosed realists might see through the fantasy of heaven in America when he becomes president: with a wave of his hand, heaven will descend to the heartland, and walls will be built and paid for by Mexico, ISIS will renounce violence and embrace brotherly love, all trade deals will be re-negotiated to our advantage just because he says so, the military will be great again, all jobs will come back, the national debt will evaporate in eight years, all eleven million illegal immigrants will just pack up and leave, and every little girl will have a pony. Admittedly some of the Trump loyalists who account themselves realists have questioned the pony issue, specifically arguing that Muslim girls shouldn’t get one. Meanwhile back here on earth the sociologists have blitzed the staid, peer-reviewed academic gazettes with scores of their enlightened lucubrations on the subjects of mesmerism and mass delirium.

Or do the swooning masses actually know he’s just a huckster, but a huckster is what they want? On this point ol’ P. T. may have anticipated The Donald back in 1855: “The public appears to be amused even when they are conscious of being deceived.” As a purely psychological study, whole armies of professors will be required not only to ascertain the degree of credulousness of the Trumpanistas, but also to delve into the question of whether Donnie is just playing the Barnum card or his Messiah complex is so galactic in scope that he actually believes his own fantastic confections. It was reported by the National Enquirer that Trump called God and told Him that it was a good thing He wasn’t in the primaries and to keep the throne warm for him when he becomes president, known in Trumpland as the Second Coming. There was some skepticism about this story from the majority of losers in the journalism trade, or at least that part of the reporting where God said “yes sir,” but the Trumpanistas proclaimed it gospel, right up there with “Two” Corinthians.

There have been a few sniffish comments or attitudes about Huckster Don being the Republican nominee, including a few from the last two Republican nominees McCain and Romney, the last two Republican presidents Bush Sr. and Jr., and the current speaker of the House Ryan, not to mention almost all the lesser fauna of the official Republican confederacy. However, these Establishment views are all to the good for The Donald’s flock, who see those folk as just more losers to be left behind when the Rapture comes. The Establishment fears a break-up of the Party, with the crazies scurrying over to Huckster Don’s new Know Nothing Party, leaving the comparatively sane remains of the GOP impotent. They also fear that Donnie will cause destruction on the down ballot, with possible loss of the Senate and maybe even the House. At that point, current Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell will be hanged in effigy, or worse, for failing to call for a vote on moderate Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland when he had the chance. Abetted by Faux News and Rush Limbaugh and other assorted gasbags and circus barkers, the GOP has in fact long been drifting toward the right wing fringe, but reports of its demise may be greatly exaggerated.

Still, the party has reason for concern. Numerous professional and academic organizations have joined the Trump bandwagon and started thumping the drums. These include the Global Cooling National Front, the John Muir Clear-Cut Logging Federation, the American Phrenological Association, the Men’s Temperance and Anti-Evolution Coalition, the Society of Biblical Inerrantists, the North American Organization of Alien Abductees, The International League of Clairvoyants and Mind Readers, the Southern Scientology Society, the Four Humours Medical Association, the Midwestern Academy of Fantasists, and the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the American Slavery Denial League. These are organizations not to be trifled with, several of which boast a number of congressmen and senators among their memberships, especially the Global Cooling National Front. With the collective intellectual gravitas of these and other hotbeds of cerebral ferment in his camp, Trump’s full assault on the White House is ignored at the nation’s peril. Fellow megalomaniac Kim Jung Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea tweeted Donnie a congratulatory note on his nomination, joshing The Blonde One that in his country primaries and elections were unnecessary fluff since all you had to do was put words like “democratic,” “people’s,” and “Republic” in the name of the country to insure that the starving masses stand supreme. Kim also noted that he and Donnie had so much in common, including weird hairdos, itchy nuclear trigger fingers, a touchiness about criticism, zero political experience, self-idolatry, a penchant for fair ladies, and the joys of seeing their names and pictures everywhere. Donnie tweeted back: “Thanks, Kimbo. You’re an inspiration! Lunch?”

But unlike His Rotundancy, Trump still has the inconvenient burden of an election. You might think that women wouldn’t like him, blacks wouldn’t like him, the disabled wouldn’t like him, Hispanics wouldn’t like him, grammarians wouldn’t like him, POWs wouldn’t like him, immigrants wouldn’t like him, barbers wouldn’t like him, people making minimum wage wouldn’t like him, liberals wouldn’t like him, evangelical conservatives wouldn’t like him, and folks who know simplistic and blustering ignorance when they see it wouldn’t like him. But hey, this is America, waiting to be made great again by a magisterial wave of the Dear Leader’s dear hand. And, as ol’ P. T. also said, “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

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