Friday, April 26, 2019

The Lowest Barr

My upcoming newspaper column:
More than the rampant corruption revealed in Robert Mueller’s report, what defines these times, when lies are truth and facts are lies, is the confidence with which Attorney General Barr stood before us and lied. That he felt empowered to say what he did, knowing his falsehoods would become immediately obvious, says it all. 
Maybe favor from the Fogfather was more important to him than preserving the integrity of his office or the rule of law. Who can say it’s impossible? People with better reputations to protect than Barr’s have capitulated to Trump’s lies and autocratic excesses. 
Since November, 2016, there’s been a fire sale on souls in our country. Barr is just the latest to surrender his. His job is to defend the Constitution and prosecute the law on behalf of all citizens. We’re his clients, not the “president.” His pre-release snake-oil salesmanship made it clear he doesn’t see it that way.  
More probable is that Mr. Barr assumes – rightly – that Trump’s supporters haven’t and won’t read the report. That they’ll take his word, just as they do Trump’s. That by disgorging a smog of deception, no subsequent revelation will dissuade those who breathed deep. They’re proving him right. Disinterested in becoming informed, loyalists are claiming, ever since, that Trump was completely exonerated, that no evidence of obstruction was found. 
The disturbing revelations in Mueller’s report are unimportant to thirty-nine-percent of Americans, who actively avoid knowing them. It’s consistent with Barr choosing to deliver his dissembling in the first place. In no prior instance has a report from a special prosecutor been described beforehand by an Attorney General, dishonest or otherwise. But this is how he and Trump view supporters. 
Were Trumpophiles willing to think about it, they’d see how they’ve been insulted and dismissed. Were they dragged, fighting it, outside the Fox News/rightwing-radio bubble, they’d learn what’s been going on where reality lives. Here’s but a tiny sampling: 
Mueller said he “found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations.” He made it clear that, were it not DOJ policy not to indict a sitting president, he’d have made the case. Unable to do so, he considered it unfair to level charges when the president couldn’t rebut in court. One man’s integrity saved the other’s lack of it. Professing that Mueller said the DOJ policy had nothing to do with his decision, Barr flat-out lied. 
Barr claimed Mueller hadn’t left it up to Congress to do what he, Mueller couldn’t. What Mueller wrote, in fact, was “… that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President's corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” And “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, … because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders ...” The report implicitly called upon Congress to do its Constitutional duty. 
When Barr quoted the investigation, saying it “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government …” he left out the preceding words: “Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency … and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, …” By omission, it’s a lie. 
Also: “[I]f we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgement.” “No obstruction,” said Barr; and, several times, “No collusion.” Mueller described multiple contacts between Russians and Trump’s campaign, and the stupidity that kept direct cooperation from happening. He also noted that many documents had been destroyed.
Trump refused to appear in person and, having bragged “I have one of the great memories of all time,” replied “I don’t remember” thirty times in his written responses. Barr insisted he “cooperated fully.” 
So here we are: lying as policy. No resistance from Republicans. Not even as Trump rejects Article I of the Constitution, ordering staff to ignore Congress. In its silence, the Republican Party has become as dangerous as Trump himself. If they once did, they no longer even pretend to believe in constitutional democracy. 
It’s 2020 or never. 
[Image source]

Friday, April 19, 2019

Sanctuary Much

My upcoming newspaper column:
William Barr chose to lie, blatantly, about the Mueller report. Taking time to digest that, let’s change the subject. 
Donald Trump’s idea of transporting refugees to “liberal sanctuary cities” and releasing them onto the streets fills all the squares we need to understand him and his most unwavering enthusiasts. It shows he views those desperate people as pawns, cruelty to whom he counts on to please his supporters; it explains his obsession with our southern border, not as an immigration issue, but as a reliable arouser of his flock. 
After all, if his aim is to keep refugees out because they’re rapists and murderers whom liberals would turn into voters using the kind of dark magic only liberals know, setting them loose in our cities exposes the lie for what it is. 
In addition, it shows his vengeful attitude toward those who disagree with him; and it confirms a theory posited by many writers, including this one, about why the most devoted among Trumpists love him: they have in common their hatreds. In this case, immigrants and liberals. 
It’s immaterial whether the hauling away and dumping of refugees was Trump’s idea or, as has been said, came from Stephen Miller, the most evil inhabitant of Trump’s lowest circle of Hell. That it’s seriously considered is all one needs to know. And it follows a well-worn pattern of ill-conceived policies that have, or would have, the opposite of intended consequences. Like tariffs and trade wars, shutting down the government, closing the border, cutting or eliminating taxes on corporations.  
It’s easy to imagine a conversation in the White House that followed the proposal: “That’ll stick it to those treasonous liberals. Hah. Hah. Low five.” We can be sure Trumpists of the rally-attending sort love the idea, for exactly that reason. Imagining refugees wandering the streets, getting what they deserve for huddling beside the golden door, yearning to breathe free. While liberals shrink away, their hypocrisy exposed. 
In fact, it’s certain that people in those cities, and their governments, would scramble to do right by the refugees. Governors and mayors have already said so. It’s equally certain that Trump would fail to recognize such empathy and traditional Americanism for what it’d be. Not his oeuvre.  
That we have a “president” who thinks like this and who has followers who love him for it, shows how deep is our decline as a nation, and how sharp is the inflection point at which we find ourselves, on which we must act come November 2020. If, among Trumpists who take offense at having their motives questioned, there are people who like this dumping idea or find it amusing, they need to stop pretending they’re not something they are.  
As there’s no bottom to this “president’s” intentional cruelty, it’s unsurprising that he’s also unloading poisonous attacks on US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, nor that they’re resulting in death threats against her. About which he said he’s “not at all” concerned. Whatever one thinks of her comments or how they’ve been characterized, one ought to expect better from a “president.” The last person to hold the office without quotation marks also failed in uniting us; yet, notwithstanding a few easily-misconstrued remarks, he spoke of our commonality. But he said a murdered black youth could have been his own son. How divisive! 
That’s in stark contrast to Trump, who calls for jailing opponents, considers Constitutionally required oversight treasonous, and threatens the free press; who can’t be trusted to be truthful about anything; who claims Democrats hate America. Raucous agreement from those who, were they actual conservatives, would know better is alarming. Silence from those who, under other circumstances, would speak out, is disappointing. Are we, finally, irreparably fractured?  
Among Americans who see refugees differently is Pete Buttigieg, whose candidacy-announcing speech ought to be seen by everyone, especially those who assume they wouldn’t like it. Confuting the right’s standard characterization of Democrats, he shares his Christianity unhesitatingly. Unlike Trump’s multimillionaire megachurch preachers and their followers, he advocates policies that don’t ignore the least among us. Freedom, he reminds us, derives not only from military power, but from health and economic security. And equality.  
In times unremembered, Republicans would have agreed with much in Mayor Pete’s speech. In the era of “alternative facts,” though, having forsworn Christian values by embracing the politics of greed and exclusion, Trumpists are claiming it’s Buttigieg who’s not a real Christian. Which reveals their own apostasy. Were they capable of it, they’d feel ashamed.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Bordering On Insanity

My next newspaper column:
Anyone remember what happened in September, 2001? Remember what led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security? Turns out there was a massive, coordinated, long-planned terrorist attack. Turned out, also, there were hints of it known to various intelligence-gatherers, who weren’t talking to each other. 
Of that revelation was born the DHS, whose mission is to prevent future terrorist attacks; to be an entity to which all others reported, coordinating information, puzzling pieces together, being vigilant. As there’ve been nothing close to 9/11-level events since, it appears DHS has been doing a decent job. 
So far. 
After Donald Trump was placed in office by antiquated Constitutional quirks, aided by a dangerous foreign adversary, DHS has been attending disproportionately to our border with Mexico, across which, to date, no terrorists have attempted to come. 
Trump’s purging of DHS leadership is ominous. Kristjen Nielsen wasn’t “tough enough.” Perhaps she hadn’t put enough kids in cages or tear-gassed enough asylum-seekers to satisfy him. (He’s lying about the oranges of his family-separation policy, BTW. Again.) This places Stephen Miller, white-power-sign-flashing, Muslim-ban-creating sociopath, denounced by his Holocaust-surviving family members, effectively in charge of immigration. 
Meanwhile, Trump has defunded agencies and programs aimed at identifying and reducing home-grown, right-wing terrorism. It’s as if his intent is to deflect attention to the back door, while the front door is being left wide open. 
It’s hard to decide whether Trump’s obsession with our southern border is because of his own shallow thinking or because he counts on it from his enthralled supporters. Evidence for the former includes ending financial aid for Central America’s Northern Triangle countries, as punishment for not stemming the exit of refugees therefrom. Policy experts told him the aid has improved the dismal conditions from which their people have been fleeing, and has decreased the rate; that ending it will make things worse. He doesn’t care. 
Evidence for the latter includes his threat to close the entire border, which would have produced predictably disastrous consequences for the US economy. One assumes he shovels such petulant nonsense to his anti-immigrant base because he figures it validates their fears and anger enough to cause them to ignore his other harmful policies: increasing pollution, ignoring climate change, removing healthcare coverage, eliminating OSHA rules; skyrocketing deficits, hugely profitable corporations paying no taxes. Hey, look: immigrants!  
Or, maybe, like cutting funding for programs helping Americans in need, it’s simply cruelty for cruelty’s sake. Hungry American children, caged Latino ones, who cares? Not Trumpists, evidently. If they dislike it, they’re keeping it to themselves.  
There’s also the benefit of keeping the misled masses distracted from his legal entanglements and the efforts being made to keep eyes off his tax returns and the Mueller report. Who among his supporters, after all, has pointed out that if they’re indeed exculpatory, he’d silence doubters instantly by releasing them? It’s what an innocent person would do.  
As with many of his ill-considered policy announcements, Trump has backed down on closing the border. It’s one thing to hurt brown people fleeing from horror; quite another to affect his backers’ bottom lines. Still, it leaves us to wonder what’s behind his monomaniacal distaste for asylum-seeking refugees, and why he insists on portraying them as a greater threat than homegrown terrorists. Not to mention foreign-grown, like those that entered here legally, far from the Mexican border. 
So great is his obsession that he tried to get border agents to ignore the law and to lie to immigration judges. Of whom he wants to get rid. This is a “president” who considers laws impediments to be ignored; a man who would be king, confident his supporters love the idea.  
Illegal immigrants are a diminishing problem, though businesspeople like Trump would like to keep hiring them. The thousands of emigrants seeking refuge here, however, challenge our values on many levels. How to fix it is a question that resists answers, or even serious efforts to find them. But Trump’s demagoguery is not just counterproductive: it raises troubling questions about his real intentions. As does decapitating DHS and directing its mission away from where real dangers remain. 
Which raises the final word. “Spying.” That Attorney General Barr used it to describe addressing concerns about a presidential campaign’s Russian contacts confirms the obvious: he was hired to protect Trump, and is willing to do whatever it takes. 

Friday, April 5, 2019

Publish Or Perish

Saturday's newspaper column:
As of this writing, we still don’t know what’s in the rumored four-hundred-page Mueller report (not counting tables and appendices), other than William Barr’s cagey four-page letter to Congress, which he first characterized as, then claimed wasn’t, a summary. Nevertheless, reactions from Trump and his apologists have been fierce, and, despite knowing nothing, signal shocking disregard for our Constitution. Were it not so dangerous, it’d just be bizarre.  
Say what you will about liberals and their desire to make American capitalism work for everyone; they’re not, unlike Trump and his adulators in Congress, trashing the Constitution, confident their flock will swallow it. 
To repeat: we don’t know what’s in the report. We do know, though, that Barr explicitly stated it did NOT exonerate Trump. He also intimated Mueller found suggestions of collusion with Russia; just not enough for him, as opposed to Congress, to level charges. This we learned from words. Written by Mr. Barr. To Congress. In English. A language we understand. Except Trump, et ilk. Doesn’t exonerate. Is what it said. Exoneration: didn’t happen.  
Trump claimed complete and total exoneration. 
He added that those who’d dared to investigate him had committed treason. Announced desire for retribution. Demanded resignations, imprisonment. Because we have this peculiar piece of parchment called the Constitution, which, quaintly, created separation of powers and the jejune concept of “checks and balances,” you’d think members of Congress, regardless of political party, would rise, united, to affirm their Constitutional role and its obligations.  
You’d be wrong.  
Instead, intelligence-impaired Republicans taking up space on the House Intelligence Committee unanimously called on Democratic Chairman Adam Schiff to resign. Bad move. Have you seen his response?  
Trump oinked his intention to see “this never happens again.” By “this” he meant Constitutionally bestowed oversight, by Congress, of the Executive Branch. Countries in which “this never happens” are called dictatorships. Countries against which the US has occasionally stood, particularly when not receiving their electoral help. Republicans in Congress, all but waving banners saying “The Constitution is un-American” and “The Founders Were Pinkos,” are on board. People who investigated one Clinton for years, impeached another, now proclaim -- and Trump’s rally-attending apostles, switching to “Lock THEM up,” agree -- investigations of possible malfeasance by the Executive Branch are treasonous except when it’s their party investigating the other. 
All it took was Trump’s lie about Barr’s memo to convince Republicans that Mueller’s investigation, vested by a Republican Congress, was ipso-facto, retro-acto, seditious. Having first professed he wanted the full report released, Trump now says those calling for it are “a disgrace.” Surprised? 
By contrast, Republicans released every word of Starr’s report. And Watergate.  
It’s perfectly proper to debate what circumstances should trigger what level of Congressional oversight. Javakna’s use of private servers and unsecured communications, for example, might be more investigation-worthy than Hillary’s. If one, why not the other? Fair question. But to contend there’s no rationale for Mueller’s investigation or the ones gearing up in the House of Representatives is to be blissfully uninformed or cosmically hypocritical. 
That Russia interfered with our election on Trump’s behalf is undeniable. That there are legitimate grounds for probing possible collusion and obstruction is, too. Chairman Schiff’s response to that failed Republican coup covers them well. 
Imaginative fourth-grade-level wit that he is, Trump began calling Mr. Schiff “pencil-neck.” Unembarrassed to expose their well-cultivated ignorance, delighted deplorables are selling T-shirts so imprinted. Choosing Foxic ridicule over honest reflection, theirs is American exceptionalism, Trump style. 
Like those that came before, Trump’s latest provocations are pernicious. Anyone who abides them rejects the essential principles on which our republic stands, confessing preference for autocracy. For if Congress hasn’t the duty to oversee the conduct of a “president,” there’s no wall between us and tyranny. No believer in America should countenance this, even when it’s “their” president. But Republicans do. In Congress and at Trump’s deranged rallies, dropping prior pretense of being the “law-and-order” party, they display their disturbing, anti-constitutional inclinations.  
If no criminality is found, fine. (We've just learned, though, that there's more in the report than has met our eyes.) But vilifying those seeking answers undermines America. Whether or not Trump did, vilifiers are providing aid and comfort to our enemies. In 2020, it’s imperative that they’re outvoted and voted out. America now stands, without question, at a crossroads. 
Meanwhile, Director Mueller’s report remains hidden, the conditions of its release subject to the will of an Attorney General hired explicitly to protect Trump. 
[Image source]

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