Within just the past two days, Trump has taken the side of a murderous dictator Kim Jong-Un over U.S. intelligence actions in the national interest, directly chastised the CIA for spying on a brutal, dangerous dictator who has threatened the United States with a nuclear attack, said that he'd be fine getting information from a foreign enemy against one of his U.S. political opponents, and stated that the FBI Director was "wrong" for asserting the Bureau be informed of foreign attempts to influence a U.S. election, Keep in mind that Trump has sworn an oath "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." And there he is, saying outright for all to see and hear that -- all else aside over the past two days (which is a lot to put aside) -- he would accept information for a foreign enemy to use against a U.S. citizen running for public office who is his personal opponent, indeed virtually inviting it.
(Side note: lost in the news coverage is that Trump also dismissively said that he has never called the FBI to report anything in his life, suggesting that it was idiotic and naive to think that anyone would or even should. What this misses is that a) the FBI has long records of concerned law-abiding citizens doing just that, and b) no, most crime families don't call the FBI when they see illegal transgressions.)
To be clear, this isn't the findings of the two-year investigation of the Mueller Report. This is merely what Trump has done in the last two days. All in his spare time between insisting that no less than his "enemies" literally praised him for giving the "greatest speech ever on foreign soil by a U.S. president" and saying that "the moon is a part of Mars."
And for all that, none of my complaints here are about Trump It's Trump, after all. He's abnormal. This is abnormal. We know it, we get it, we don't accept it, we're appalled by it. But it happens several times a week -- and some weeks it happens several times a day. And there will be more next week, or possibly tomorrow. Or maybe tomorrow morning and then again in the afternoon. And maybe at night when he can't sleep and is watching "Fox News" praise him. So, each time he does goes off half-cocked we file it in the "This is not normal" folder and keep all the outrages on record for the impeachment trial or election campaign, whichever comes first.
No, once again, this is about the elected members of the Republican Party who were silent the past two days. Not a word or whisper of even polite, "excuse me, er...a point of personal privilege, if I may" complaint, let alone head-exploding outrage. Republican men and women in Congress -- themselves having also all sworn an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic" -- who enable Trump and his actions that are just barely on the good side of treason. And which I would suggest, by their deliberately enabling Trump, are themselves on the good side of treason.
(I say "on the good side" because, as much as the word "treason" gets tossed around, the Supreme Court has given it an actual, legal definition, and among other specific conditions "treason" must occur during a time of declared war. So, Trump and the Republican members of Congress skirt by the good side on a technicality)
So, it's not officially treason. Much the same way that margarine isn't butter. But you can use it as a close substitute in almost all recipes.
Legally treason or not, I've noted often in the past that the Trump administration is fascist. Not as a hyperbolic synonym of anything. I mean, quite literally, "fascist," by the actual dictionary definition of its meaning, as I specifically detailed in this article here. And the elected Republican members of Congress are perfectly fine enabling that, as well. Making them, at best, supporters of fascism. And at worst, what they most likely have morphed into -- actual, literal fascists.
They are silent and enabling of it all.
So, if not fascism and being just barely on the good side of treason, what on earth does it take to appall today's Republican Party??
Getting wistful for a moment, I'm happily able to remember a time Republicans did manage to get absolutely gut-wrenching horrified. It was when President Barack Obama wore a cream-colored suit to a press conference. And also there was the time they were close to wanting to string President Obama up (and yes, I use that phrase intentionally) when he...when he -- the leader of the free world, the most powerful man in the world, the commander-in-chief of U.S. armed forces, chief executive of the United States -- put his feet on his desk!
That was what horrified Republicans.
Not for defending a murderous dictator, and slamming the CIA for protecting the U.S. from an nuclear threat, and being willing to accept information from a foreign enemy against an American political opponent. And all that is just within the past TWO DAYS!!! We haven't even touched on acquiescing to Putin and Russia, China, Saudi Arabia , the Mueller Report, keeping Wilbur Ross and Elaine Chao in his cabinet rather than prison, separating immigrant children from their parents, supporting other dictators like Erdogan and Duterte, and everything else sliming through the garbage chute over the last two years.
The Republicans in Congress are okay with all of that. All of it. They have been silent and supportive of it all for two years by their silence and actions. They not only enable Trump, they encourage him.
That's why this is not about Trump. We know who he is. This is about the Republican members of Congress. If these elected officials lived up to their sworn oaths -- not even all the time which would be stressful to them, just merely a paltry third when even they couldn't stomach the worst -- Trump would be done. He would know he didn't have a clean slate to do whatever fascist, almost-treasonous thing he wanted and be aware there would be consequences, including the nagging fear that he could actually, possibly be convicted of impeachment in the Senate.
But the Republicans in Congress can't even meet that lowly, slovenly, one-third standard. They hover around 1% at best. Over 100 outrages they might possibly rise in finger-wagging petulance to say, gee, y'know, we really do have to put sanctions on Russia because they actually did cyberattack us -- but, hey, if you don't want to enforce them, well...okay, but we did our part.
This is about the elected officials of the Republican Party. They enable and encourage Trump, and put us all at literal risk.
You've most-likely seen clips of Jon Stewart's moving testimony yesterday in the House hearing on funding for 9/11 First Responders. The full comments go to another level. They only run nine minutes.
By the way, I suspect most people consider Stewart's humor the reason for the great success of The Daily Show under his time with the show. His humor was magnificent and certainly high among the reasons -- it can't be otherwise. But I would suggest that what we see in this video is most-probably the top reason, because it's the foundation of who he is, and informs everything about him, including his humor.
What should not be overlooked is that these words were not carefully crafted and written out beforehand to make sure he would be able to get his substantive points across. That this eloquence is done extemporaneously speaks even louder to it informing who he is.
On this week's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the main story was about the Equal Rights Amendment -- which is past its deadline, but only one state away from reaching the status where it could possibly be ratified. I didn't find the story as strong as some of their best, but that's a high standard, and it was very good -- and funny, nonetheless.
In this edition of the Al Franken Podcast, he sits down with Sarah Silverman. As the site describes, the two "discuss her evolution as a comedian, the hazards of using irony in comedy (the viral death-threat against Sarah from a Florida preacher’s sermon), and the importance of growing as an artist and a person. Alternately edgy and warm and fuzzy, you’ll leave this one smiling."
As we've seen over the past few weeks especially, the Republican Party has continued its war against women and abortion, doing their best to make it impossible to get access to despite being legal, the law of the land. Missouri is the latest conservative state, ratcheting up the hurdles until there is now only one clinic in the entire state that qualifies to perform abortions, and that one is at serious risk of having to close. And as Rachel Maddow reported last night, the state has recently taken even further steps to make it harder for women to get an abortion there.
That has been the playbook for conservatives over the past few years. Though abortions are legal, create state laws that make it almost impossible for abortion clinics to operate, for doctors to be licensed to give abortions, for women to unnecessary, insulting, hurtful step to get abortions.
This all reminded me of an article I wrote six years ago for the Huffington Post on another matter entirely -- gun control. It was written largely tongue-in-cheek, though mostly in its exaggeration. As time as passed since then, and as Republicans have been shameless (and I don't mean merely nasty, but in full meaning -- without even a sense of shame) to create the most-insurmountable roadblocks for something legal, I keep thinking of my article and that I'm even less tongue-in-cheek than I was before.
Here is that article, from March 13, 2013.
The Good Thing We Can Learn from Anti-Abortion States
I was watching the news the other day, seeing several more stories about how states are continuing to get around the legality of abortion. Though abortion is legal, the states are writing laws to make the availability of abortion near impossible. These could be from zoning laws, or code requirements and medical licensing. As a result, if the ability to have an abortion isn't available to a woman, it doesn't matter how legal it is. You can't get an abortion.
I can only imagine how wrenching this is to women who want to exercise their legal right to have an abortion. Especially if it's for health reasons. But any reason.
After I finished ungnashing my teeth, however, I realized that there's a lesson that can be learned here - not about abortions, but another issue that's just as divisive. And using those lessons, it would be possible to start making a dent in a problem that the vast majority of Americans are now saying they want addressed.
For the sake of argument, let's say that the most rabid gun advocates and the radical fringe group, the NRA, are right, that the Second Amendment is inviolate and that every American has the right to buy whatever gun they want, no matter how many rounds of ammunition the weapon can fire in 10 seconds.
Using the logic and tactics of the anti-abortion activists, however, there is nothing to say that states - or even local communities - can't take that legal right and make it as unavailable as possible.
Some suggestions to start with.
Anyone who wants to sell a gun can only do so in a standalone store that has a business license permitting operation.
Any gun store must also have a separate license to sell guns.
Any license to sell guns is good for only one, specific type of gun.
Any license to sell a specific type of gun is good for only one manufacturer.
A gun store must meet certain zoning and code requirements:
No gun store can be within 1,000 feet of a liquor store, tavern or any establishment that sells tobacco.
No gun store can be within a mile of any school or place of worship.
A gun store shall be licensed to sell guns only. No other merchandise may be sold, including tobacco, alcohol, soft drinks, chewing gum or beef jerky.
A gun store must have at least one bathroom for every employee.
No gun store may operate any electronic food devices, including but not limited to a refrigerator, coffee pot, hot plate and microwave.
A gun store is required to have air conditioning, sound-proofed ceilings, locked cases in which all guns are kept, and be wheelchair accessible.
Only one gun may be removed from a locked case at a time.
Ammunition cannot be sold in a gun store, but must be sold in an ammunition shop only.
An ammunition shop shall be licensed to sell ammunition only, and no other products.
Every box of bullets must be individually licensed.
An ammunition shop cannot be within 1,000 feet of a gun store.
An ammunition shop cannot be within 2,000 feet of a liquor store, tavern or any establishment that sells tobacco.
No gun store can be without five miles of any school or house of worship.
The owner of a gun store or ammunition shop must pass an official test to be personally licensed.
A gun or ammunition store owner license is good for one year only.
The owner of a gun store or ammunition shop is required yearly to take a two-week gun safety course.
The gun safety course must be retaken every year.
A two-day refresher course for gun safety must be taken quarterly for gun store owners.
Any employee of a gun store or ammunition shop must be licensed yearly and take a four-day gun safety course every year.
Any owner or employee of a gun store must have a high school diploma from the state in which he or she works.
No owner or employee of a gun store or ammunition shop may have ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or more than two traffic violations in any calendar year.
Any alcohol-related conviction prohibits someone from selling guns or ammunition for a probationary period of three years.
An owner or employee of a gun store must pass a target score at a licensed gun range each quarter with every gun model the store sells. Failure to pass a minimum score for any gun invalidates all other scores and that employee may not sell guns.
Neither guns nor ammunition may be sold on the Sabbath.
Before selling a gun, the salesperson must get an MRI brain scan and consult with a psychologist to ensure that they understand the full ramifications of their actions.
All owners of a gun store or ammunition shop must offer Affordable Health Care to all its employees.
“I know Boris, I like him, I’ve liked him for a long time. I think he would do a very good job."
-- Trump this week, on Boris Johnson about the possibility of him becoming British Prime Minister
Which brings us to the video that made the rounds yesterday. It was footage of Boris Johnson in 2015 which was beamed by a protest group onto Big Ben during the evening.
I am sure there will be all manner of convoluted contortions to explain this away. Like, "It was said in 2015." As if that matters with Trump. (After all, when Meghan Markle made her criticisms of him, that was before he had been elected president, too, yet he called her "nasty." So...fingers cross, maybe Trump will call Boris Johnson "nasty," as well -- though Vegas odds are low on that.) Or perhaps Trump will just deny it was even said -- after all, he denied calling the Royal Duchess "nasty" despite it being recorded. And he denied there were any protests against him London, or just very tiny ones later he clarified, despite the streets swarming with protesters. Or...well, you know, the whole long list of denying reality. Or perhaps they'll explain that that was long before Boris Johnson got to know Trump and knows thinks he's almost godlike.
But in the end, however it's explained or reality is simply ignored, we still have "He's betraying a quite stupefying ignorance that makes him, frankly, unfit to hold the office of president of the United States." And it's hard to get around that.
Although, of course, we also have Lindsay Graham (R-SC) saying in 2016 about Trump that "I think he’s a kook, I think he’s crazy, I think he’s nuts. I think he’s unfit for office" -- and now falling on his knees in adoration. So, denying reality seems to be a Trump Circle habit...along with, it seems, calling him "unfit for office."
For reasons unknown to man, Jared Kusher -- who has remained largely silent for over two years -- agreed to sit down with the very good, insightful, tough reporter Jonathan Swan of Axios for a long interview. And on Sunday, it was broadcast on HBO. I didn't have the stomach to watch it, but several of the extended clips that got released were telling. Which is a polite word for "ghastly." And they confirmed why I didn't think I could watch the whole thing.
This first, under two minutes long, is a hellish under-two minutes, dealing with the Trump Tower meeting he took with Russian operatives after getting an email to attend. It gets worse after the opening, which is saying a whole lot because the opening is him smarmily (I was going to say "disingenuously," but that's very unfair to the word "disingenuous") asking, "What email?"
"What email?", indeed.
(It remains me of the classic scene from the film Jumbo, based on the Rodgers and Hart musical. In the scene, Jimmy Durante is trying to sneak the title character out of the circus -- a massive elephant. He only gets part of the way, leading the elephant out, when he's stopped by a guard. "Where are you going with that elephant?!" the guard barks at him. Durante stops, the huge beast towering behind him. And with a look of total innocence, asks, "What elephant??"
Yes, right, "What email?"
Keep in mind, this is Trump's "most-trusted senior adviser," the person in charge of Middle East peace talks, and SO much more. And he had a secret meeting set up with Russian operatives -- and his defense, this ace, supposedly world-class negotiator with top level security clearance, says his excuse is "I didn't know what the hell it was about."
Because he was too busy.
Mind you, one would think that being the top senior adviser of the president in charge out many of the most crucial arenas in the world would keep him incredibly, otherworldly, ungodly busy -- far, far, far "busier" than running "three companies." So, we can only hope that he's able to keep completely focused when doing his job, trying to settle Middle East peace and all his other duties, and know "what the hell" they are all about because he goes into meetings and negotiations.
But the lying is childish and head-churning here. He didn't know Russia was involved -- he says. It was in the Subject heading! He didn't bother to scroll down and read what the meeting was about -- he says. He didn't bother to find out by asking anyone what in the world the meeting was about before going in unprepared -- he says. And almost worst of all, because this part is not a lie, is that he doesn't know even now if he'd contact the FBI to tell them about it!!!
No, this is not "Monday morning quarterbacking." This isn't a "three years after the fact and what we know now" kind of thing. Any honest person at the time would have said, "Don't take the meeting. Tell the FBI." This is a meeting with America's longest, most aggressive adversary -- Russia. And even if for some unimaginable reason he didn't know Russia was involved before he went in...he knew it when he walked out. And he not only didn't call the FBI immediately -- he still today, three years later, knowing all the investigations that have occurred, doesn't know if he'd contact the FBI to let them know about it.
Well, if that isn't a "tell," as gamblers call it, giving away his hand, nothing is.
Still, I do love the whineyness of it all all, trying to divert attention from his crimes onto other -- trying to paint people horrified at near-treasonous crimes that attempt to subvert the U.S. government as being "self-righteous." Self-protective is probably a far-better word.
By the way, I'm not sure what the three companies are that he's running, but we do know that for at least one of them he was running it to the verge of bankruptcies, and it's possible that the save it he used his position with Trump to make deals with Saudi Arabia (you know, the country that tortured and killed U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi) and strong-arm Qatr to get big enough loans to avoid total collapse.
"We're in a place now where people are playing Monday morning quarterback & they're being so self-righteous...I'm running 3 companies, I'm helping run the campaign...I didn't know what the hell it was about."
But of all the clips of the interview, perhaps the one most informative about Jared Kushner -- and of Trump, as well -- is the briefest. It starts with a direct question about Trump and birtherism. And not only does Kushner try to avoid answering like a six-year-old child and keep trying, but the reality underneath is that in trying to seem like he's oh-so clever in not answering, he misses the larger point --
He does not defend Trump against an accusation of racism.
I'm sure he thinks he does. I'm sure he sashayed around latter telling everyone proudly how he stood forthrightly and gave a full-throated defense, and that should show them. But it's not full-throated. It's not even a quarter-throated. It's frog-stuck-in-your-throat throated. Because he's so busy struggling how to protect himself and not answer the larger, harder question being asked, he missed the problematic point that not answer is the loudest answer of all.
But no, we can't end there. There's only one way to properly end things. We have to go out on this --
And the new Al Franken podcast keeps rolling along. Here's a latest -- A conversation with Dahlia Lithwick and Matt Miller.
Dahlia Lithwick was a guest who Franken had on his show regularly when he was broadcasting for Air America before running for the Senate. As his site describes this week's show --
"Dahlia Lithwick, brilliant writer for Slate on all things jurisprudential, and Matt Miller, former spokesman for Attorney General Eric Holder, have a lively discussion with an impassioned Al who argues that it’s time for the House to go to an impeachment inquiry or get off the pot."
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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