Friday Talking Points [493] -- Colluding In Plain Sight

[ Posted Friday, July 20th, 2018 – 17:03 PDT ]

President Donald Trump is now openly colluding with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, in everyone's plain sight. That's an astonishing thing to type, but there is simply no other way to put it. Trump is now Putin's ultimate "useful idiot," to resurrect an old Cold War term. The subject of whether the president of the United States has just committed treason is now being seriously discussed. That's where we, as a nation, find ourselves at the present moment.

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Historical Presidential Strength Versus Trump's Weakness On Russia

[ Posted Thursday, July 19th, 2018 – 15:59 PDT ]

President Donald Trump, who never met a superlative he didn't love (when it describes him in glowing terms, of course), claimed after his disastrous performance in Helsinki this week that: "No president ever has been as tough as I have been on Russia." That's a pretty tall order, especially when many others are saying exactly the opposite -- that no American president has ever been as weak as Trump was this week towards Russia. John McCain even offered up his own lyrical superlative to describe what just took place: "No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant."

Trump's megalomania is, as usual, quite easy to disprove. To begin with, there was the purchase of Alaska in 1867, signed by President Andrew Johnson. Can anyone imagine how the Cold War might have played out differently if Alaska had still been Russian territory? The start to America's uneasy and adversarial relationship with Russia dates back to Woodrow Wilson, who sent American soldiers onto Russian soil in 1919 to fight against the newly-emerging Soviet state. Hundreds of Americans died fighting Bolshevik Russians, even though most Americans never learn about it in history class. Fast forward to the aftermath of World War II, and you'll find plenty of American presidents showing incredible strength against the U.S.S.R. during the entire Cold War period, the most notable of whom was probably John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And then, of course, there was Ronald Reagan, who famously taunted: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" in Berlin. Does any rational being think that Donald Trump's fawning press conference this week stacks up in any meaningful way with any of these previous examples?

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The Real Double-Negative: Trump's Non-Denial Denial

[ Posted Wednesday, July 18th, 2018 – 16:21 PDT ]

Does anyone truly believe President Donald Trump's explanation of how he says he misspoke during his press conference with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin? Does anyone even believe that he knew what "double-negative" meant before his staff forced him to read his prepared statement? That second question is a stretch, but the first is just downright laughable. Trump might have convinced some Republican politicians desperate for a way to publicly give Trump the benefit of the doubt -- any doubt, at this point -- but that's for purely self-protective reasons. They can now say they believe Trump's walk-back, so they don't have to face angry pro-Trump voters this November. But anyone outside this tawdry equation of believing obvious lies for political reasons knows full well that Trump didn't mean what he said when explaining what he did and didn't mean. Perhaps that's a triple-negative? I leave it to the semanticians to decide.

Trump explained, reading from a statement it was painfully obvious he didn't personally write, that he meant to say "wouldn't" instead of "would," and that by doing so he meant to interject a double-negative into his outrageous statement that he didn't know why the Russians would attempt to hijack our elections. But his off-the-cuff ad libs during his carefully scripted walk-back completely undermined what he was attempting to claim. Twice. He proved beyond a shadow of a doubt what he really meant, and it was not what the scripted statement said at all. He singlehandedly turned the entire statement into a non-denial denial, which is its own kind of double-negative. And since he did so twice, we're now down the rabbit hole of a double-double-negative (a quadruple-negative?). Just another day at Trump's White House, folks.

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Comrade Trump!

[ Posted Tuesday, July 17th, 2018 – 17:04 PDT ]

President Donald Trump loves to come up with sneering put-downs of his political opponents, both Democrats and Republicans alike. "Crooked Hillary" and "Lyin' Ted Cruz" immediately spring to mind, but there are literally dozens of these snide Trump taunts to choose from. Trump has singlehandedly reduced the political game to the level of schoolyard taunting, and the fact is that he's quite good at it. Once one of his labels sticks, it's hard to get rid of, in other words. But he's just handed his opponents a dandy opportunity to return the favor. Starting today, Democrats should all start speaking with one voice whenever Trump's name arises, by attaching one simple word as a defining taunt. Because the time has now come to start universally calling him "Comrade Trump."

Like all really effective playground taunts, this one is based on an embarrassing reality. Also the sign of a good smear, it is designed to get under Trump's skin in the worst way possible. Which is why, if prominent Democrats start using it on a regular basis, it could easily become the defining label for a man who has so masterfully smeared anyone he doesn't like with similar put-downs.

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If I May, I'd Throw In Some Two Cents

[ Posted Monday, July 16th, 2018 – 17:12 PDT ]

President of the United States Donald Trump and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin met today in Helsinki, Finland, and after their two-hour one-on-one meeting they gave a joint press conference. Trump wanted to make some history at the summit meeting, and the press conference certainly accomplished that -- but not exactly in the way Trump had wanted. By all accounts -- even those from Fox News, mind you -- Trump gave the weakest performance next to a Russian leader of any American president, ever. It's as if he changed his campaign slogan to "Russia first!" in fact -- it was truly that bad.

In fact, it was so bad that halfway through the press conference, Putin seemed to take pity on Trump's inability to even articulate what America stood for at all, and Putin decided to help Trump out by explaining the American position for Trump. In Putin's words (well, to be fair, in the English words of his Russian-English translator from the transcript), he magnanimously offered: "If I may, I'd throw in some two cents." Putin had to do so because in the entire press conference, Trump could not manage to offer up a single criticism of Putin or Russia -- not a single complaint, not a single admonishment, not a single disparagement, not even a single gentle diplomatic remonstration whatsoever. Not one. Instead, Trump repeatedly took Putin's position rather than the American one. Now, it's one thing to (as Ronald Reagan did) call the Soviet Union "the Evil Empire" in a political speech and then diplomatically not do so when its leader is standing right next to you -- that is the definition of a steel fist in a velvet glove, and that is to be expected in the diplomatic world. Being tough diplomatically doesn't mean insulting other countries' leaders to their faces, after all. What Trump offered up, however, was a rousing defense of the Russian position, both before and after the meeting. This was not a steel fist, this was a blob of mashed potatoes instead.

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Friday Talking Points [492] -- Super Callous Fragile Ego Trump You Are Atrocious

[ Posted Friday, July 13th, 2018 – 17:57 PDT ]

We certainly can't claim authorship for that rather brilliant title. It was seen on a protest sign in the midst of the 100,000 people who marched in London in opposition to President Donald Trump's visit to Britain. Accompanying the march was a giant "Trump Baby" blimp floating in the breeze, which depicted Trump in diapers with a cell phone in his tiny, tiny hand. The wranglers of the blimp all wore outfits with "Trump Babysitter" written on them, for extra emphasis. Where is Mary Poppins, when you need her the most?

The organizer of the blimp protest, Leo Murray, said he decided on the blimp because "we wanted to cheer people up." He added that it "would be an effective form of protest against Donald Trump, because he's famously vulnerable to personal insults." So how did it all work out? Trump responded in an interview with The Sun newspaper: "I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London. I used to love London as a city. I haven't been there in a long time. But when they make you feel unwelcome, why would I stay there?" In other words, it worked out brilliantly. Murray agreed: "It's worked out spectacularly well. We've basically run him out of London. He's got the message: He's not wanted here."

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Donald Trump's Delusional Worldview

[ Posted Thursday, July 12th, 2018 – 17:10 PDT ]

President Donald Trump is delusional. My dictionary defines "delusion" as: "a persistent belief in something false typical of some mental disorders." Even if you generously leave off the last five words of that definition, from all the available data it seems to fit Trump perfectly. Trump, according to the tireless work of the Washington Post researchers, has told over 3,000 lies in his first 500 days in office. Many of them are repeat lies, proving the "persistent belief" part of that definition. Many of these lies are easy to disprove, which checks the "something (obviously) false" box as well. One recent example that Trump has repeated more than once in the past week is his claim that he won the state of Wisconsin in the presidential election, a feat that no other Republican had managed since "Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1952." This is false. It is untrue. Richard Nixon won Wisconsin three times, and Ronald Reagan won it twice -- even though Trump boasted that he had done what Reagan could not. Eisenhower even won Wisconsin again, in 1956. These are not the shifting sands of political opinion, these are basic historical facts which anyone can look up within seconds on the internet. And yet no one has been able to convince Trump that what he is saying is simply delusional. Republicans generally revere the memory of Saint Ronnie, but none of them so far has had the backbone to defend the Gipper's electoral record against falsehoods from their current delusional leader. This is just one small, rather silly example, but it proves the bigger case -- Trump continually refuses to admit he's gotten something wrong, because he sees doing so as a sign of weakness. Therefore, since he said no Republican since Eisenhower had won Wisconsin, it must be true and anyone who says otherwise is attacking him with "fake news."

Lying about the scope of his electoral victory is rather minor, though. Having a delusional worldview while meeting with other nations' leaders is quite another. That impacts America as a whole, because it serves to undermine our standing in the world. In Trump's rather unique worldview, Europe and Canada are our enemies, while Russia and North Korea should be our friends. That would be a jaw-dropping statement to make about any U.S. president, but with Trump it is merely par for one of his many golf courses. Trump has shown, in two recent multilateral meetings between America's closest allies, that he is deeply distrustful of America's staunchest friends and is quite willing to punish them for all their perceived faults. Trump has actually instituted tariffs against our allies using an obscure clause in U.S. law that allows the president to do so unilaterally (without the consent of Congress, in other words) when "national security" is at stake. Trump has claimed (with zero proof) that Canadian steel and European cars sold in this country actually threaten our national security. Again, this is simply jaw-dropping stuff, but so far Congress has not bothered to directly challenge Trump's delusions. The Senate just passed a very weak "perhaps you shouldn't do this" state-of-the-Senate resolution against Trump's national security tariffs, but they failed to even vote on any stronger measure which would have removed Trump's ability to singlehandedly levy such tariffs. So they've dipped one very timid toe in the water, but they refuse to dive in yet.

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Democrats Should Be Prepared To Lose This Nomination Battle

[ Posted Wednesday, July 11th, 2018 – 16:26 PDT ]

I normally prefer optimism over pessimism when writing about politics, and I always try to steer completely clear of downright defeatism. I think my work over the years would prove this to be generally true. At the same time, I always strive to be realistic, which leads me to the sad conclusion that Democrats are almost sure to lose the upcoming battle over Donald Trump's most-recent Supreme Court nomination. Democratic politicians and their supporters should be mentally prepared for this outcome, because it is far and away the most likely to occur. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this is probably going to be a fight Democrats are going to wage unsuccessfully on the Senate floor.

Of course, Democrats should indeed fight the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as hard as is humanly possible, due to the stakes at hand. Not just Roe v. Wade but a whole host of civil rights, workers' rights, minority rights, gay rights, voting rights, and consumer rights (among many, many others) are at risk of being tossed aside as the highest court lurches even farther to the right. It's impossible to accurately count how many rights are at grave risk, in fact, because there are so many possible 5-4 decisions looming that could turn back the clock in any number of ways. The stakes are higher than they have been for a Supreme Court nominee in decades, in fact. It's hard to even overstate the case, at this point. For all the pious talk of respecting stare decisis that we're soon going to hear from Kavanaugh during the nomination hearings, there are a whole host of laws that conservatives on the court have been absolutely itching to overturn for a very long time. With a solid 5-4 majority, there will be absolutely nothing stopping them from doing so.

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The Battle Of The Bluster

[ Posted Tuesday, July 10th, 2018 – 16:52 PDT ]

There are more imminent foreign policy problems for Donald Trump than North Korea this particular week, but I'm sure we'll have plenty of time to talk about NATO, Trump's visit with the Queen of England, and the summit between Trump and Vladimir Putin in the days to come. For now, I think it's worth turning our attention to the apparent deterioration of the comity between America and North Korea. Trump, a master blusterer if ever there was one, has been overselling what happened between him and Kim Jong Un pretty much since the two men parted in Singapore. He sees the meeting and the agreement as a great achievement, thus he has his own political reasons for praising Kim and the North Koreans. However, the North Koreans are no slouch in the blustering game themselves, as they proved this week by hurling insults and mockery at Mike Pompeo after the first high-level meeting since the Trump-Kim summit. Pompeo appeared blindsided by this bluster, after already having publicly said that it was a productive meeting. So far, Trump has been too busy with other matters (foreign and domestic), and has not really responded to the deterioration in relations. But sooner or later, he's going to have to address it in one way or another. We've seen some potshots, but the full-on battle of the bluster has not yet been truly joined, to extend the metaphor.

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Has Michael Cohen Already Flipped On Trump?

[ Posted Monday, July 9th, 2018 – 15:16 PDT ]

Last week, there was much speculation among politics-watchers over whether Michael Cohen was possibly on the brink of flipping on Donald Trump. This would be big news, of course, since Cohen himself regularly described himself as "Trump's fixer," meaning he probably knows where a whole lot of metaphorical bodies were buried from the Trump organization's various antics and shenanigans over the past decade or so. One week later, I can't help but wonder if that point has already passed. Perhaps the question now isn't whether Cohen will flip sometime soon -- but whether he already has.

I admit this is nothing short of sheer speculation on my point. I have no inside sources. I have not talked to Cohen or his legal team. I know nothing more than anyone else watching this drama play out on television. But after watching Rudy Giuliani on this week's Sunday political chatfests, it seems rather obvious to wonder whether Cohen has already flipped and is now singing like a little birdie to the prosecutors.

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