For all the well-deserved attention on the stories leaked from the new book Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, as much as the ones about General Mark Milley dealing with China to protect the country against Trump were the most critical, what struck me most was the exchange Milley had with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
“He’s crazy. You know he’s crazy,” said Speaker Pelosi. “He’s crazy and what he did yesterday is further evidence of his craziness.” To which Gen. Milley replied, “I agree with you on everything.”
What leaps out as so important to me about that is it’s the foundation for Milley’s later actions. And it’s as blunt as you can get, coming as it does in a private conversation. No polite expression in public to dance around an awkward sensibility. No, just flat out -- “He’s crazy. You know he’s crazy. He’s crazy and what he did yesterday is further evidence of his craziness.”
Clearly, too, this is not meant euphemistically, nor hyperbolically. But literally. Now, of course, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and General Mark Milley are not licensed psychologists, so it’s just amateur analysis. But it’s amateur only from a psychological standpoint – they’re expressing very professional observations from the long high-ranking experience in their jobs in Congress and in the military. Further, one has to keep in mind that both Pelosi and Milley have dealt with Trump in ways that we’ve never seen – in private, behind closed doors. Where any protective guards that Trump might work hard to put up in public are let down so he can be himself. And he was crazy enough in public. One can only imagine the depths of his mania, especially hearing the Speaker and General.
Two other things about the exchange stand out for me.
The first is that neither General Milley nor Speaker Pelosi have denied the conversation, or even anything about it. So, yes, everybody, yes, I called him crazy. You know he’s crazy. He’s crazy and what he did yesterday is further evidence of his craziness. And yes, I agreed with her on everything. It’s one thing for Nancy Pelosi to be fine with acknowledging the full exchange – we pretty much know her sense of Trump from her many public statements, even if they weren’t this blunt. But for a general in the army and White House Chief of Staff, who’s spent most of his public life being as taciturn as possible, his confirmation is noteworthy.
And the other thing that leaps out to me is how on earth did Woodward and Costa get that exchange – and get it word-for-word right. I have no idea, but why that’s important is that when reporters gets something that private and newsworthy, it gives credence to all of their work All the more so since General Milley has confirmed all their other stories about him, Trump and China.
Peril, indeed. And thankfully we got passed that. And how wonderful that it’s on the record, for whatever is to come from Trump.
But again, as always, this is not about Trump – we know who he is, and that’s he’s crazy. As do Republicans in Congress, especially Republicans leaders. This is about the Republican Party who enabled the crazy Trump and supported him and his crazy fascism for four years, and still do. Knowing that he’s crazy.
And it only cost $276 million.
The good thing about the Republican attempt to recall the California governor for no actual reason other than they're unhappy they lost in 2018 is that it makes clear their effort was fascist, irresponsible and phenomenally costly. And it was clearly so fascist, irresponsible and phenomenally costly that it will be remembered for a very long time.
And yes, it was a fascist attempt, because one of the tenets of fascism is to try and undermine centers of power, creating mistrust in them, so that a strongman can come in to power. And this was nothing more than an effort to overthrow a fair election and distrust democracy. Worse, days before the election, Republicans already began trying to push that the election was supposedly rigged.
And then reality set in. At the time of writing -- 10:30 PM, California time -- 66% of the votes are in, and the recall effort is not only failing by 66-34%, but it was called for "No" to the recall by all news channels long ago. [UPDATE: At 7:30 AM, with 70% of the votes in, it's 64-36%.]
It’s losing by 33%!! That number will come down, but at a bare minimum the recall will fail by 20 points, perhaps even 25 points. (And who knows, it could even be higher at the end, but I’m just being conservative in my assumptions.) Even at just 20 points, that’s massive. In fact, that would be close to the 62-38% margin Gov. Newsom won by in 2018. To fix an election with that huge a margin, you’d need rigging that would bewilder magician David Copperfield.
And the big problem for Republicans with this is how utterly foolish it makes them look. Not just massively foolish in losing this recall election by so much (though it does that), but otherworldly foolish in the long-term the next time Republicans try to claim an election was rigged. Because (especially with a margin this huge) it risks turning the cry of "rigged" into becoming just white noise, knee-jerk meaningless, nothing more than a Republican slogan, with a weeping tear as the logo.
And what will be remembered, too, is that Republicans forced a state to spend $276 million – a quarter of a billion dollars – trying to undermine a fair election in order to overthrow democracy by claiming a governor should be removed from office…and being crushed in the process.
This was a truly horrible process. Happily, there are a few good things to come from it:
It made the Democratic Party in California even more united and stronger and vigilant in knowing what they have opposing them in the GOP. Indeed, it likely helped the National Democratic Party for the same reasons.
It showed the general public even further how fascist the Republican Party had become, with one more attempt to undermine the democratic election process.
It emphasized public support for health measures and mandates.
It solidified that Newsom will likely win re-election in 2022. In fact, his only hurdle will be if he's challenged in the Democratic Party -- but even that will now be a high fence to get over. After all, he was vetted strongly at his "worst," allowing people to vote for him twice. Moreover, he now has $24 million leftover in his campaign chest from money raised for the recall. Along with a new team of volunteers.
And it probably ensured that California’s truly horrific recall law will be changed – hopefully significantly, but even at worst, it critically important small ways – like increasing the number of signatures required to force a recall, requiring a serious reason for qualifying there be a recall, and determining who the replacement would be if a governor is recalled, like perhaps it being the Lieutenant Governor.
And it all cost only $276 million.
I've started to see social media posts from people who are now explaining that their company gave them a deadline to get vaccinated or leave, and that they've chosen to leave. Most say this sadly, but also with pride -- one of them, for example, noting that his decision was not from any high-minded principle, but just his "natural stubbornness," and in the end, he just didn't want to "be stupid."
Of course, just as it was his personal choice to not get a shot, it was also his personal choice to quit. He was given an option, not pressure. But then, pretty much all of life is a personal choice. And in this case, he chose "being stubborn." Which, he's right, is not particularly high-minded. In making his personal choice out of stubbornness, however, he also confused social responsibility with "being stupid." Which I'd suggest speaks loudly to his standards.
On the other hand, a few weeks ago Delta Airlines told workers that those who were unvaccinated would be having their health insurance raised by $200 a month, since the program's costs were rising as a result of those not being vaccinated getting sick. Within the first two weeks, 4,000 employees (which is 20% of the unvaccinated workforce) already got vaccinated -- and none quit. So, that was their personal choice and social responsibility.
I am sure that there are some valid reasons people may have for not getting the vaccine -- actual medical issues, or deep, lifelong religious convictions, or profound fear, perhaps. That's one thing. But as much as those quitting their jobs want to seem like they're making a great individual stand, I think there are very few high-minded reasons for quitting rather than getting vaccinated. Not because personal choice can't be high-minded -- it absolutely can be. But because in a worldwide pandemic of an infectious virus, from which 4,652,874 people have already died, that has mutated even more deadly and will mutate further, potentially rendering current vaccines ineffective, ignoring social responsibility removes almost any claim to nobility.
Social responsibility is not a touchy-feeling, feel-good, kumbaya thing to sing about around the campfire. It's what everyone takes on the moment you step outside your home into the world. If one doesn't want to take on that social responsibility, that's fine, but then you're pretty much obligated to stay in your home or live in the forest alone or on a deserted island.
Yes, people have every right to make another of their unending, daily personal choices and in doing so, ignore their social responsibility to the world around them. But you don't get to think that just because you are ignoring your social responsibility it therefore doesn't exist -- nor in making that personal choice do you get to think that you might not be causing harm to others to whom, as a member of the society you have entered, you owe that responsibility.
Some matters of social responsibility are minor, and if we ignore them in exchange for our personal choice, the consequences are insignificant to the world around you. A worldwide pandemic with 226 million cases so far of deadly infection is not one of them.
In not wanting to "be stupid," you most probably are not only the very definition, but also selfish and potentially a killer.
If you missed Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, he's back in his studio with a limited, vaccinated audience after 18 months. The Main Story about Belarus, notably its profoundly dictatorial leader of 30 years, Alexander Lukashenko. It's a fascinating report, interlaced with a great deal of humor.
It seems that the far-right has come to believe that a great GOP strategy is to slam President Biden for his COVID-19 policies, claiming they’re tyrannical, despotic and dictatorial. This is a strange position to take for two reasons. The first is that they’re not tyrannical, despotic or dictatorial, but actually legal – not because I say so, but because there’s over a century of Supreme Court decisions supporting them. And not just generally-related decisions, but pretty near exactly applicable. Consider, after all, the 1905 case, Jacobson v. Massachusetts.
(By way of background, the state of Massachusetts had enacted a vaccine mandate during a smallpox epidemic. Jacobson refused, he was convicted and then appealed. The 7-2 decision went against him.)
Here is what the legendary Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote:
“The liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States does not import an absolute right in each person to be at all times, and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint, nor is it an element in such liberty that one person, or a minority of persons residing in any community and enjoying the benefits of its local government, should have power to dominate the majority when supported in their action by the authority of the State.
It is within the police power of a State to enact a compulsory vaccination law, and it is for the legislature, and not for the courts, to determine.”
Okay, that’s not only pretty specific, but it’s as close to an exact matching ruling as you’re going to find, most-especially for one that’s lasted as law for 116 years.
But even putting all that Supreme Court precedence aside – along with the precedence of the federal government making health code requirements in the workplace with OSHA regulations – the crackerjack Republican “strategy” is strange on just the basic matter of pure politics, which you’d think a political party would grasp, “pure politics” being its lifeblood, even political party that has become fascist.
Right now, about 65% of the country has already had at least one vaccination. Which means that 65% of the country (at a minimum because the number is still going up) grasps how serious the health crisis of the pandemic is and have determined how critically important it is to get vaccinated. And only 35% doesn’t.
Further, this 65% of Americans (so far) also understands that getting vaccinated is not just for their health, but what is needed to get the country to open business up, to get schools protected and to return life to normal. And until 85%-90% of the country is vaccinated, not only will the country stay in health-crisis mode with masks, social distancing and sheltering home as much as possible, but the coronavirus will stay active and able to mutate into more infectious forms, which risks making the vaccines – that the 70% have already determined to get – potentially ineffective. Sending the country back to square one. All the while, more and more American will die, the number now 677,754. All because of the 30% who refuse.
And human nature being what it is, the 70% is beginning to get seriously angry at the 35%, allowing this vast minority, in the worlds of Supreme Court Justice Harlan, to “have power to dominate the majority.” And not dominate it in merely in a specific, individual matter, which is often a point of the law, to protect the minority, but dominate it in keeping the vast majority from being able to live their lives.
And to be clear, when you have 65% of the country becoming angered at the 35% who are ignoring the worldwide pandemic for their own personal reasons – as opposed to social responsibility, which everyone takes on when you step out of your house into society – that isn’t a case of Democrats against Republicans. Democrats are not a full 65% of the country. And Republicans are not a mere 35% of the country. There’s a lot of overlap. So, when you get 65% of the country supporting something, you are now crossing into the world of Independents…and Republicans. And again, that 65% – who feel so strongly they’ve already gotten vaccinated – is growing. Indeed, that number not only isn’t getting smaller, it can’t get smaller. But the 35% unvaccinated can get smaller – and is.
All of which means, by pursuing this utterly inexplicable policy of attacking COVID health protocols during a worldwide pandemic that has killed 4.6 million, the far right Republican Party is not only fighting a battle for 35% against an increasingly angry 65% of the country, it is fighting a battle that divides its own party.
In the words of President Biden, have at it.
On this week’s Al Franken podcast, his guest is Atlantic Monthly’s Adam Serwer. They discuss his book about the Trump Administration: The Cruelty is the Point. As Al writes, “Separating kids from their parents at the border? Mocking a disabled journalist? Cutting food stamps? The Cruelty is the Point!”
Yesterday, as the pandemic continues and infections spike in Florida, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis complained that for some reason he couldn’t imagine, masks had become politicized.
"I don't know why the masks have politics around it," said DeSantis.
Oh, why, oh, why?
It is uncertain whether anyone on his staff sat the embattled governor down – as his approval has dropped, while infections soar, with some early polls showing prospective Democratic opponents running ahead of him for the race in 2022 – and explained that he has signed an executive order banning mask mandates…and when the courts ruled that his ban on mask mandates in school districts were illegal, DeSantis said he was going to ignore the courts and withhold funds from the schools anyway.
So…y’know, yeah – why, oh why?
But that’s no my favorite comment in his statement. It came immediately after saying, "I don't know why the masks have politics around it," and keeping a straight face. What the then continued saying was –
"Let the parent make the decision that's best for their kids. If you want the masks, do it, if you don't, don't -- that's fine."
This is Ron DeSantis no doubt returning to his Hippie days. The "If it feels good, do it" gambit. Whatever, man. Cool, kumbayah.
To be clear, this about parents and their kids is something he’s said before. And what I wrote the first time I heard him say it holds true this time, as well – and will hold when he says it again, and every time. And that’s -- how about them wearing clothes? Or what if parents decide that what’s best for their kids is that they don’t need to go to school? Or that what’s best for their kids is only one meal a day is fine? Or if parents decide that what’s really the very best for their rambunctious kids is a good punch in the head that will get them to straighten up?
What if, hunh, y'know?
Sometimes we not only actually let, but accept government stepping in when what parents decide is “best” for their children is totally irresponsible and dangerous, and puts their children at risk. Sometimes government even steps in and takes a child away from a parent when that risk is too great.
In fact, sometimes we even let and accept government stepping in when what adults might decide is best for themselves may be actually totally irresponsible and dangerous, and puts themselves and society at risk. Like requiring seatbelts. Or needing a license to practice medicine. Or stopping at a red light. Or have safety codes. Or health codes.
Health codes, what a concept. Like perhaps even, you know, wearing masks during a pandemic.
Even if Ron DeSantis can't figure out why, oh, why, that’s become political.
Yesterday, Trump made an insanely stupid comment about the 2020 election. I was going to write about refuting it, but then figured – why??
We know at this point that Trump is a pathological liar, and a fascist, and divisive, and a con man and probably nuts, and will pull anything out of whatever open orifice he can most-easily reach in his body. So – why try to refute anything? He’ll just make up some other insane lie the next time anyone cares to listen. So, you can end up playing whack-a-mole the rest of your life as he tries to divide the country and tries to convince himself that he won the 2020 election, all the while opening the Fascist Handbook to the chapter on trying to make the country lose faith in fair elections, facts, reality and democracy.
Instead, you can participate in this by instead just making up the most idiotic lie you can think of and substitute that for what Trump said. And then dismiss it for all the rational reasons you want. Whatever you come with probably won’t be as crazy as what Trump said, but in fairness he’s a professional at this and not only has decades of experience lying without impunity, but has never shown any personal or moral qualms about it. So, you’re likely hindered by having a conscience – and a sense of reality.
But even without being in office, I still get to trot out the old chestnut – this isn’t about Trump, we know who he is. This is about the Republican Party, which enables him, has turned total fascist and won’t refute a single insane thing he says, but instead pay fealty to him.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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