Trump-Washed

I caught a little piece of an Oliver Stone interview last night. He was saying that after thirteen years of watching Trump be decisive and commanding on The Apprentice, very few except the politically sophisticated would be able to perceive the empty vacuum at the heart of his persona. Of course, about the time of the Access Hollywood recording, producers at The Apprentice let it be known that they had to work really hard to maintain that image. Trump was abusive during scenes, and arbitrary in his decisions. One of the challenges was building a back-story that justified his actions.

Coupled with this is the dominance of Fox News in Republican circles. Joy Reid was on with Chris Hayes last night, observing that the reason the Republican base still remains loyal to Trump is because Fox continues to tell them that the Russian interference scandal is nothing worth paying attention to.

Contrast this with Joseph McCarthy, leader of the Red Scare scandals of the 1950s. McCarthy would roll into town, make a bunch of baseless accusations against local politicians, and then leave. The press would publish front-page denouncements of McCarthy’s targets, followed by back-page retractions when the accusations were debunked. Lives were ruined by the asymmetrical publicity.

What undid McCarthy were the televised Congressional hearings. Before the cameras, he was revealed as a manipulative little weasel.

Of course, some among us see Trump in the same way, but his electorate has been conditioned to associate those traits with carefully-scripted moments of glory.

But what about his sons?

It was cathartic to see Donald, Jr. on Fox News last night. He came across as a whiny brat.

Trump, Sr. characterizes the meeting with Russian representatives as “opposition research” that “almost anyone” would pursue. If so, that’s an indictment of our political culture. Trump has long been cozy with organized crime figures, and draws his legal talent from a community of ugly intimidators – men that will not even bother to apply for security clearances that would never be granted. Is this where we have come as a nation? A political culture in which winning by any means possible includes crawling through the gutter with people whose livelihood requires corrupting virtue?

In the early hours this morning, I found myself musing that maybe Comey took the line he did against Clinton in part to create conditions under which that culture would be exposed. I know that it had invaded the FBI itself, where anti-Clinton zealots used Breitbart publications to motivate a criminal investigation of her family. This is a visible case of misuse of agency resources by political operatives, but what if elected officials all across the country are interceding in investigations to protect criminals that have contributed to the destruction of other candidates?

I personally don’t find that inconceivable.

J. Edgar Hoover ran the FBI as long as he did because he had files full of the dirty secrets that elected officials wished to keep hidden. Could it be that organized crime has its own database at this point, and is securing its influence by blackmailing the political class? The Russian government – now the most powerful organized crime ring in the world – may not be motivated only by its foreign policy goals to attack our political system. It may also be extending its power through organized crime, and collaborating with U.S. criminals to corrupt not just our political class, but our entire culture.

Smoking Dope

Matthew Walther at The Week argues that no smoking gun has been found to support the claim that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in its interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Walther (isn’t that the name of a gun manufacturer?) wanders a little, asserting that when the Clintons fly first-class for their global charity, they reveal their corruption, and so justify ongoing support for the President. I find that argument weakened, however, in that Trump flies in a private jet purchased with funds gained laundering money stolen by Russian kleptocrats.

And as for the central assertion: it’s going to be awfully hard to find a smoking gun in the radioactive crater left by the hydrogen bomb Trump has set off in American foreign policy. As Rachel Maddow has been laying out, Russia has been given everything that it could have asked for. Trump’s craven catering to a murderous tyrant is all the evidence required to prove his unfitness to be our head of state.

Or should that have been “cave-in cratering?”

Separation of Church and State III

My response to the Freedom From Religion Foundation turned their position on its head. Rather than keeping religious leaders out of politics, we need to keep political leaders out of religion. The tendency for leaders to cross lines is one of the greatest dangers to religious practice.

Steve Matichuk offers a summary of the absolutist Christian position. Essentially, as Christ seeks a universal brotherhood, any celebration of national identity dilutes his message. Steve holds out for some accommodation. My response below:


This is very close to my mind at this point, as I am just working through a video teaching on Revelation 13. In Revelation 12 the dragon (or Satan) is expelled from heaven, and in 13 he plots his dominance of earth by raising up tyrannical governments that are supported by hypocritical religious practices.

On the other hand, in Christian terms some governments are better than others. We should celebrate actions that manifest Christian ideals, while avoiding at all cost the use of government to enforce Christian morality.

As I emphasize in the video, the real battle is in the human mind, which continues to evolve after birth. Beginning with the collaborative experience of nursing, the brain actually develops centers that support socialization, culminating in adulthood with the center responsible for altruism – or what Christians would call “Unconditional Love.”

The holidays that you list are manifestations of many of the virtues listed in 2 Peter 1:5-8. But it is those virtues that should be celebrated – not some abstract ideal like our “freedom.” We are all yoked to God’s purpose, and so none of us should consider ourselves to be privileged with absolute freedom.

Mueller to File Lewd Conduct Charges

Pursuant to his remit to investigate “Russian interference in the 2016 election, and matters that arise directly” from that investigation, Special Counsel Bob Mueller is planning to file charges against President Trump for “grabbing government by the pussies.”

This blogger has obtained the case brief. Exhibits include:

  • Public scraping and bowing at Cabinet meetings. Obviously unhappy with the proceedings, none of the Cabinet members had the balls to resign. Pussies!
  • Paul Ryan exonerating obstruction of justice with the allowance that the President is “new to his job.” Pussy! New neurosurgeons will be relieved by a precedent that establishes a defense against malpractice: “Yes, I shouldn’t have cut the spinal cord, but I’m new to my job.”
  • Mitch McConnell promising that the Senate will empanel all of Trump’s judicial appointments. We wouldn’t want to have a robust system of checks and balances to protect our citizens from government bullying, now would we? Pussy!

How to Save the Federal Legislature

Our Congressional system currently operates on the worst kind of winner-take-all cronyism: the majority party controls all of the legislative committees.

Here’s an alternative: Count up the number of committees, and divide into 100%. If there are 20 committees, that would be 5%. Every party with more than 5% representation in the chamber gets to pick a committee to run. The largest party picks the first committee, on down to the smallest qualifying party. Continue the rotation, skipping those parties that have more committees by percent under their control than has been allotted to the larger parties.

So if a party has 5% representation when there are 20 committees, they don’t get to pick any more committees at all. If they have 10%, they have half as many as they are allowed, and they don’t get to pick another committee until every other party has at least half as many committees as they are allowed.

So if the party has 7%, they only get one committee.

This allows single-issue parties to manage the committee they feel most passionately about – although with only a single committee member, they still have to convince the larger parties on the merits of their policies.

And the majority party can’t prevent legislation from advancing from committees that they don’t control. So they’ll have to learn to negotiate, instead of acting like little tyrants.

Compromising Positions

Last night, I finally shook out of the Congressional leadership the reason for their passivity regarding Trump’s malfeasance. They are confident that he is going to destroy his presidency. They want Pence as president, because Pence is a committed partisan of Ryan’s domestic policies. And they want to secure control of Trump’s blue-collar base by blaming the Democrats for the failure of his Administration.

Trump’s attack on Comey undermines the second goal: Comey was the alt-right’s hero for his take-down of Clinton. By attacking Comey, Trump begins the alienation of his base – a base that hates with a purple passion the Washington establishment led by Ryan and McConnell.

And Pence may no longer be a viable president. Currently, the national security community is focused on the possibility of compromat, the use by Russian intelligence services of financial and social relationships to entrap their targets into the commission of treason. The US has its own culture of compromise, though: organized crime. Trump was tutored in business by a lawyer who moved in organized crime circles. Trump’s cabinet selections are almost universally people with ethical clouds in their pasts. Trump has surrounded himself with such people because they are malleable – he can use their history to command their loyalty.

In The Godfather, Michael Corleone aspired to federal office before chaos in the family’s empire force him to assume criminal control. Trump may not have been born into the Mob, but he is a student of its methods. Worse, he may beat back opposition by drawing upon the Mob’s knowledge of transgressions by federal office-holders, in much the same way that Edgar Hoover secured his control of the FBI by threatening politicians with exposure to secrets uncovered by the FBI.

Even if Ryan and McConnell weather the storm of Trump’s self-destruction, when the full story is gathered together by historians, they will emerge as the most craven of the cowards of this ear.

The Tide Pool of Selfishness

Watching Donald Trump serve as president brings up a memory from my elementary school years. The Cub Scout pack took a field trip down to the tide pools in Palos Verdes. I spent the day picking my way through the kelp-coated rocks, amazed by what I was seeing, until one of my school chums said: “Hey Brian, come see this! These kids have found some crabs!”

Excited, I rushed over, hearing raucous laughter, to be confronted by the sound of a crab being crushed against the rock under an older boy’s boot.

The principal characteristic of a stable democracy – often the only thing that prevents it from devolving to fascism – is the existence of a robust and independent justice system. The lack of such a system is what has allowed Putin to make himself the richest man in the world while running Russia. Again and again, his political enemies have languished in jail while the courts transfer their assets to Putin and his cronies.

Watching Trump dismantle our federal justice system is terrifying to me. The onslaught of court cases brought against Trump since the inauguration demonstrate the dangers of letting a narcissistic fraudster into office, and that many of them involve foreign financial dealings means that they are brought in federal court. Trump’s political and financial interests are aligned to the end of destroying the system.

In my mind, that Republican legislators green-light the demolition only builds greater certainty that they’ve got something to hide. Perhaps Republican campaign operatives are linked to the weaponization of the data stolen from the DNC by the Russians?

I was back in Palos Verdes a few years ago. The abused tide pools now are barren rock.