Pardon Me?

Shame on you if you are surprised.

I refer to the new Washington Post report which has President Dumpster Fire asking his henchmen to investigate and advise him on his power to pardon anyone who may face indictment as a result of the blossoming Russia scandal.  He is also reported to be asking them to find out if it’s possible for him to pardon himself.

Are you amazed?  Are you stunned?

If so, shame on you.  Two reasons.

In the first place, a raft of pardons would be the most entirely predictable thing ever for the ethics-resistant 45th president.  Remember that time he shoved the prime minister of Montenegro out of his way so that he could stand preening in front of a group of world leaders?  Remember that time a reporter learned that he had decorated his golf resorts with fake issues of Time magazine showing his mug on the cover?  Remember how people said, “This is the most Trump thing ever”?

Wrong.  Covering his backside?  Acting out of naked self-interest? Being the ultimate weasel?  That’s the most Trump thing ever.

Which brings us to the second reason you ought not feel the least bit surprised at any of this.  Namely, it would suggest that you still have expectations of this guy, that you still think there’s a bottom somewhere and eventually, he will hit it.  In that, you would be like those pundits who exult that he’s “turned the corner” or “become presidential” every time he manages to read an intelligible sentence or two off a teleprompter.

In my neighborhood, we used to have a saying: “If you catch a sucker, bump his head.”  It meant that if someone is a naive fool, he deserves to be conned.

Trump has been bumping heads for far too long.  Meaning not just the Kool-Aid drinkers who would happily die in the bunker with him if it came down to that, but also those otherwise sensible observers who simply cannot credit the evidence of their senses, cannot make themselves believe he is this much of any empty suit.  They are the ones who insist there must be some “there” there, the ones who still hold out hope he might somehow rise to at least some rough approximation of the dignity and selflessness the presidency demands.

Give it up, folks.  He does not have that gear.  More to the point, he has no interest in reaching it.  It was always a fallacy to believe a man who was a narcissistic boor when he was only a private citizen would somehow become the soul of probity when he attained the powers of the presidency.

So let no one be surprised that he has begun talking about issuing pardons.  Nor let them be surprised when he does.  Or, for that matter, when he fires the special prosecutor who might make pardons necessary.

After all, there is no bottom here.

What’s Next: Bill Gates Doing Ads For iMac?

Maybe this is just me.

I mean, I went to school hiding under my desk on the last Friday of every month as air raid sirens howled and we practiced what we would do if the Russians attacked.

I read comic books where Iron Man, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four were always on their guard because of the threat posed to America by the evil “Commies.”

And I grew up at a time when every liberal politician jockeyed to prove that he (always “he”) was tougher than the next guy where the Soviet Union was concerned.  Conservatives demanded an unyielding and aggressive stance toward our great geopolitical foe and liberals were seen as too potentially soft to get the job done.

In that era, to suggest mere outreach toward the Russians was to be called a traitor, a “Commie dupe”, a “weak sister.”  It was to commit political suicide.

So while I’m sure a lot of us are taken aback by it, a sense of stark and utter bamfoozlement overtakes me and people of my age at hearing conservatives now rationalizing the Trump Administration’s ongoing liplock with the Russians.  For us it’s as if we woke up in a world where cats are mating with dogs and Coke is singing the praises of Pepsi.

The easy argument is that times have changed.  Maybe so, but the former Soviet Union remains our great geopolitical foe, as witness its recent attempt to hijack an American election.  What has changed, it seems, is our response thereto.

Conservatisim, as practiced by the Republican Party and Donald Trump, has embraced a conditional morality in which nothing is ever truly wrong – or right.  No, the only markers that seem to matter are whether a given alliance, arrangement or agreement helps them gain or hold power.

As a result of that moral sliminess, we find ourselves in an era that, to those of us of a certain age, cannot help but feel surreal.

Trump’s son meets with a Russian lawyer in hopes of being given information damaging to Hillary Clinton?

Trump spills top secret information to Russian visitors during a meeting in the Oval Office?

Trump trusts the word of the Russian president more than he does his own intelligence agencies? 

And all of this now “conservative?”

One wonders what ever happened to the conservatives of not so long ago who would have spat fire and raised unholy hell at a fraction as much pro-Russian misbehavior on the part of a U.S. administration.  

Has situational morality won the day?  Has our capacity for outrage been worn to a useless nub?  Or isnt this new order of things not every bit as bizarre and untenable as it seems to those of us of a certain age?

I mean, is it just me?

 

The United States of Apartheid

I am not going to burn a regular column on this, thought I am more tempted than I can tell you.  Still, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t at least note the incident in passing.

You’ve heard about it, right?  How Devonte Shipman, a 25-year-old African-American man was stopped the other day in Jacksonville, FL for jaywalking and then cited for not carrying an ID.  If you haven’t heard, then by all means, enlighten yourself with this story and video courtesy of The Miami Herald.

As you will hear, Shipman seemed less angry than just frustrated and even mildly amused by Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officer J.S. Bolen, an officious martinet straight out of the Barney Fife Academy.  Obviously – and sadly – this wasn’t the young man’s first encounter with racially biased policing.  The closest he comes to anger is some amazed cursing at the end of the video as he realizes that Jacksonville – which apparently has no crime – has dispatched two more patrol cars to back up Bolen in this dastardly case of walking against the light.

And then, there’s the matter of the ID Shipman wasn’t carrying.

“In the state of Florida,” warns Bolen, “you have to have an ID card on you identifying who you are or I can detain you for seven hours until I figure out who you are.”

Actually, the law says you have to have ID to operate a motor vehicle.  And as my colleague David J. Neal notes with admirable restraint, Shipman was only “operating his feet.”

Problem is, he was operating said feet while being young, male and black.  Worse, he did so in a nation that is fast and proudly backsliding from the progress it made during the Civil Rights years toward finally redeeming its founding promise of liberty and justice for all.  Those things seem – putting it mildly – less of a priority in this era than at any point in my adult life.

Because of that, you get incidents like this one, a black man cited because he was found to be without papers.  As Neal notes, it smacks of Miami Beach in 1962.  Frankly, it also smacks of Johannesburg in 1962.  More to the point, it smacks of the use of the police as a force not to deter or investigate crime, but to clamp down upon and control an inconvenient population.

There is an unfortunate historical resonance in that fact.  I’d like to think we were beyond that sort of thing.  I’d also like to think the Lakers are going to win the NBA championship next year, but that’s also not very likely.

As far as I know, the city of Jacksonville has yet to speak out on this.  At minimum, it owes Shipman an apology and should seriously consider firing – or at least, retraining – Officer Fife.

The kind of behavior he showed is unprofessional, racist, infuriating and unacceptable.  But even worse, it is common.

What Happens When “Terrorism” is Us?

My last column raised a simple question: Is leftwing terrorism making a comeback?

It seemed to me an obvious thing to ask.  In the last year, we have seen three random attacks on police officers in apparent solidarity with (though not collusion or connection with) Black Lives Matter.  Top that off with last week’s mass shooting in a DC-area park by a gunman who hated Republicans, and the question seems obvious.

I knew it was a provocative point and I was fully prepared for a storm of responses.  Nor was I disappointed.  I heard from many Republicans who, amusingly, feel themselves victims of “hate speech.”  Then, there was the individual whose email said, in its entirety, “Terrorism has always been perpetrated by the left with no exceptions.”

Yeah.  Because it was tree huggers in the Ku Klux Klan who bombed 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, right?  And the guy who bombed the Atlanta Olympics, wasn’t he angry about global warming?

More interesting than those, though, were the tweets and emails from liberals affronted by the idea that the left can commit terrorism.  Some were willing to go to truly prodigious lengths to rationalize.

Indeed, one person dismissed the idea that there was something morally wrong in shooting Rep. Steve Scalise, who is, in the writer’s estimation, a bigot and homophobe.  Putting aside that I wouldn’t want to live in a nation where bigotry and homophobia were capital crimes, two police officers were also wounded in the shooting.  Were they bigots and homophobes, too?

Another individual wrote that the shooting did not constitute terrorism, but, rather, “spasmodic violence on the part of oppressed people whose mental state cracked and failed them.”

I couldn’t help thinking how forgiving that is, how terribly understanding.  I wonder if that compassion will extend to the next Muslim who shoots up a street full of tourists.

Terrorism is defined as violence (usually indiscriminate) aimed at terrorizing a population in the name of some social or political point.  It’s a pretty simple definition, but I find myself struck, not for the first time, by how ready some of us are to believe that it can’t be terrorism if the terrorists look – or think – like we do.

That’s why news media are routinely slow to identify white terrorists as terrorists.  It’s why some liberals who don’t think twice about labeling Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph a terrorist contend that last week’s shooter was just a guy with a  good heart who “cracked” under pressure.

But that’s bull.

But in my humble opinion, if you are not willing to hold your own to the same standard you demand of others, you forfeit any right to the moral high ground.  These are angry and politically perilous times, yes.  We find ourselves saying, doing and feeling things we never thought we would, yes.

But in the midst of that maelstrom, it is as important as it ever was – in fact, more important than it ever was – to hold on to that high ground, to hold on to right.  Because otherwise, what’s the point?  If you become what you abhor in order to defeat what you abhor, what have you really won?

We all draw the line in different places, mind you.  But I’d like to think we can all agree on this much:

When you find yourself making excuses for a mass shooter, you’ve probably gone too far.

It Can’t Happen Here?

Did you hear?

Today came news that the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia have filed suit against Failed President Trump.  They’ve charged him with violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution – that’s the one that prohibits a president from receiving payments from a foreign government.

The Great Trumpkin, of course, has, indeed, violated that clause with gusto, refusing to let go of his luxury hotels, which are frequently patronized by foreign officials.

News of the lawsuit brings to mind something that fascinated and troubled me last year, as I listened to an audiobook of Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here.  As you may know if you stayed awake in English class, Lewis’ book, published in 1935 as Hitler was building his war machine, imagined a dystopian future in which fascism came to America.  The intriguing thing about Lewis’ story was that when authoritarianism comes to this country, it comes, not by force of arms but, in a very real sense, by force of apathy.

In other words, as the established norms and laws, the things that theoretically make America America, are trampled upon by the incoming dictator, a populist presidential candidate named Berzelius Windrip, there is a sense of America shrugging in response.  For all the newspaper editorials fulminating against this outrage, there is a sense of ordinary people  looking the other way, sheepishly surrendering their rights, freedoms, and national identity in exchange for the candidate’s magical promises.

It’s a narrative that suggests how fragile our institutions really are.  It’s a reminder that they exist only because we all agree they exist, have force only because we agree they do.  And that they are threatened the moment we don’t.

Lewis’ fear was that that unspoken agreement, the social covenant by which we live, would prove unequal to the task of restraining a brazen and charismatic strongman.  Which is precisely the situation we now face.

The good news is that our institutions are, in this early going at least, proving more formidable than we might have thought.  The courts have decisively stopped the failed president from implementing his Muslim travel ban.  Though Trump fired its director, the FBI is still looking into whether his campaign improperly colluded with the Russians and seeking to ascertain whether the failed president himself sought to derail that investigation.  Congress, albeit with morally supine Republicans dragging their feet, is doing the same.  Now comes this news out of Maryland and DC.  

The best part? For all his brazenness, for all he has done to undermine these institutions, Trump not yet signaled a refusal to be bound by them.  It suggests that the things that theoretically make America America are actually rather resident.  In an alarming political season where truly good news has been hard to come by, that offers a reason for guarded hope.

Maybe it truly can’t happen here.  At least, not yet.

 

 

Dear Donald: Just Say No

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Donnie, Donnie, Donnie.

Are you really so dense, Donnie?  You think news media want you to not use Twitter?  Au contraire, mon frere, if a Twitter account cost money, the Fourth Estate would ante up to pay your tab.

Make no mistake: as concerned Americans, we in news media are duly appalled at your Twitter habit, your periodic outbursts of pure id, the way you spray your predecessor, your former opponent, our international allies and the mayor of London with the indiscriminate recklessness of a gang member firing an assault rifle on a crowded sidewalk.  As thinking people, we are deeply concerned for the damage you are doing and will do to our country.

But as journalists?  As people who live for the story?

Donnie, your failed presidency and the tweets that regularly provide such a fascinating glimpse into it, are like a Christmas Day that lasts all year.  Like learning that chocolate cake causes weight loss and prevents cancer.  They are like puppies and birdsong, like baby smiles and grandma’s cookies, fresh from the oven.

They are, in a word, a gift.

Those people who are “working so hard” trying to get you off Twitter?  That would be your staff, which desperately wants you to grow up and start acting like a real president.  And it would be your lawyers, who are working hard to keep you from being impeached.

Those are the people who are begging you to give your thumbs a rest, Donnie.  You know, the folks who work for you and, theoretically, have your best interests at heart.

Not to worry, though.  I’m sure there’ll be a bus along any minute for you to throw them under.