Friday, March 8, 2019

Oversights And Oversight

My next newspaper column:
What an amazing week, the one when Trump’s bone spurs didn’t keep him from Vietnam and Michael Cohen spurred the bones of Trumpworld. Our reprise begins with Trump’s behavior around dictators: 
What world leader takes a high-profile trip across the seas, after his or her people had been working on an important international agreement, without having it nailed down? Or, putting it another way, who but a delusional narcissist would believe his deal-making skills were so phenomenal that he could single-handedly hammer one out, in a day or two, with a murderous dictator known for his creative methods of offing relatives?  
Well, he tried. Called Kim a great leader, a great guy, said they “like each other.” (Last time, it was “fell in love.”) Took his word, that of a malevolent tyrant who surely knows what goes on in his torture chambers, that he, Kim, knew nothing about the merciless, slow assassination of American Otto Warmbier. 
Buttering up the person across the table can be a useful tactic, but this? A despotic starver and punisher of his own people, who demands absolute fealty, on pain of death? Trump also takes Putin’s word over our intelligence agencies’, even as Russia openly called for Kim not to give up his nukes. And Putin’s emissary was in Hanoi. 
Fudging the fiasco, Trump said “walking away” was smart. After such embarrassing failure, it surely was, but it didn’t erase the travesty by which Kim made Trump look weak and ineffectual, lost nothing, and won another cancelation of US-South Korea war games. Last year Trump announced the nuclear threat from NoKo was NoMo: “Sleep better at night,” he beamed. This failure was over denuclearization. Fake news back then, from its primary purveyor. 
After Trump’s decampment, North Korea called him a liar. And we’ve just learned Kim is buffing the missile site he’d promised to dismantle. Played like a janggu.  
On, now, to Michael Cohen, starting with obvious questions for his Republican interrogators: If your point is that he’s a liar, cheat, and felon, what are your thoughts on the man who employed him for a decade? (The RNC did, too, for a while.) Although you never will, is it inconceivable that a person who rolled over for a crook found a conscience? What does Cohen, already heading to federal prison for years, have to gain by lying now? 
Trump called Cohen a rat, possibly ill-advised mob-speak for a guy who squeals. There are prior examples of testimony before Congress from convicted felons that blew doors open on criminal enterprises for which they worked, leading to bipartisan action. But that was when both parties had integrity.  
The extent to which Michael Cohen is deemed credible depends, we know, on one’s political leanings and ability to compartmentalize. For example, Trump bleated that everything Cohen said is a lie except the “no collusion” part. Per usual, Trump was lying about Cohen’s statement, which was not that there was no collusion; only that he’d not witnessed it. Suspected it, though, and provided reasons. 
No Republican attempted to exculpate Trump from Cohen’s disclosures; how could they? For that matter, excepting Justin Amash, none showed a molecule of interest in exploring the possibility of criminal activities by an American “president.” A dais of deplorables, it was.  
How likely is it that Trump’s career as a lying conman, bully, and swindler ended when he took office? It’s public record: Bankruptcies, stiffing contractors. Scam businesses, racist housing policies. Tax evasion, insurance fraud. When his tax records are made public, we’ll understand why he wanted them hidden. 
Because Trump’s crimes are self-evident, Michael Cohen’s testimony was mostly unsurprising, but, in this political climate, it was undeniably brave. What was surprising was the incoherence of Republican inquisitors. Repeating irrelevant questions, cherry-picking the record, flinging discredited falsehoods, they even whined the hearing lasted too long. The guys who chased Hillary Clinton for eight years, whose investigations of Trump when they were the majority were being exposed, before their eyes, as vaporous shams. That week, we saw what Constitutionally-mandated oversight looks like, when the majority and its chairman have rectitude. We’ll see more.  
A constantly lying “president” can’t expect to be believed when he proclaims innocence, nor should he be. So, off he went to CPAC, whipping up resentment, disgorging a record-breaking torrent of lies, spewing unprintable obscenities to the adoring, “conservative,” “family-values,” USA-USA-chanting throng.
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