That question is becoming more and more acute for the rest of the world, in reference to President Donald Trump versus the rest of the Trump administration. If you were the foreign minister from a country in Europe, for example, would you believe what Trump says about American policy towards Europe and Russia, or would you believe his minions, such as the Vice President Mike Pence or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson? This dilemma could become a sort of low-level ongoing crisis, since Trump's comments are so far removed from what others in his administration are saying. Who are you going to believe? The boss, or the underling who is making much more sense? That's a pretty risky geopolitical gamble to make, no matter which side you choose to believe.
Since the Trump regime assumed office, the president has disparaged NATO (as he had repeatedly done on the campaign trail). This had to be walked back by Pence, who assured European leaders that Trump really didn't mean what he said. The Europeans are awfully nervous about Russia, and every time the Trump-Putin bromance gets chummier, they get more worried. Tillerson and Pence both tried to reassure the Europeans, but skepticism remains high that they don't truly speak for the president. Understandably so.
Tillerson went down to Mexico this week to make a desperate attempt at healing wounds south of the border. He immediately had to walk back a statement by Trump that deportations were proceeding as "a military operation." Tillerson was left to weakly insist that of course this wasn't true, and the U.S. military wouldn't be rounding people up in America. Again, who would you believe?
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis likewise got blindsided by Trump's repeated hinting that America would soon be "taking over the oil" in Iraq, because that is the way Trump understands how wars work. Trump didn't just say this one on the campaign trail, but as president, after all. Mattis valiantly tried to defuse this by saying:
I think all of us here in this room -- all of us in America -- have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I am sure we will continue to do so in the future. We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil.
Again, who to believe -- Mattis, or his boss? This chaotic and contradictory messaging on foreign policy is only going to get worse over time, one assumes, at least until someone wrests Trump's ability to send tweets from his own tiny hands (which doesn't seem likely, at this point). I mean, it's so much more comforting to listen to the sane and well-spoken administration bigwigs, but then again Trump is the man in charge, so choosing who to believe is a tricky business, these days.
Speaking of taking Trump at his word, where is his "Muslim Ban 2.0"? Team Trump announced last week that they'd be rolling out the new executive order "early next week, maybe Tuesday," but it's now Friday and there's no sign of any Muslim Ban 2.0 announcement yet from the White House. If you believed Trump, we'd have seen it by now. Since we haven't, we're assuming that it's still going through what might be called "extreme legal vetting," in a desperate attempt to make it constitutional. Heh.
In the "sane people denouncing Trump" category this week, we have a 15-year C.I.A. veteran who also was as spokesperson for the N.S.A., who quit his career this week because he just can't work for Trump. He penned a rather extraordinary op-ed in the Washington Post explaining his reasoning, which is worth a read. Also, the retired four-star admiral (and former Navy SEAL) who "organized and oversaw the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden" took exception to Trump's tweet this week calling multiple major media outlets "the enemy of the American People." According to the Daily Texan, William H. McRaven said in Austin this week:
We must challenge this statement and this sentiment that the news media is the enemy of the American people. This sentiment may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.... To be a good leader, you have to be a good communicator. As a leader, you have to communicate your intent every chance you get, and if you fail to do that, you will pay the consequences.
But the biggest smackdown of the week came from Gabby Giffords and Bernie Sanders, in response to Louie Gohmert trying to use the attempted assassination of Giffords as a pathetic excuse for why he won't be holding town halls:
However, the House Sergeant at Arms advised us after former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot at a public appearance, that civilian attendees at Congressional public events stand the most chance of being harmed or killed.
Gohmert hasn't got the stones to meet with his constituents, it seems. Isn't there a word for that sort of craven behavior, especially in Texas? Bernie Sanders was quick to call out Gohmert's cowardice:
If you don't have the guts to face your constituents, then you shouldn't be in the United States Congress. If you need police at the meetings, that's fine, have police at the meetings, have security at the meetings. But don't use that as an excuse to run away from your constituents after you support repealing the Affordable Care Act, throwing 20 million people off of health insurance, doing away with pre-existing conditions. If you are going to do all those things, answer the questions that your constituents have.
But the most scathing response came from Giffords herself:
To the politicians who have abandoned their civic obligations, I say this: Have some courage. Face your constituents. Hold town halls.
The big, tough-talking Texas Republican is scared of being yelled at? He deserves all the scorn everyone can heap on him, that's for sure. But he certainly isn't alone, as Republicans everywhere are backing away from listening to their constituents in similar fashion:
In California, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, local Indivisible groups held 'empty-chair town halls' where activists could meet -- and note the absence of their legislators. In Pennsylvania, activists propped up an empty suit to symbolize Sen. Patrick J. Toomey; in other states, following the guide, they posted dummy "Have You Seen Me?" ads. In New York, they derided Rep. Elise Stefanik for canceling town halls just a week after publishing a report ... urging more members of Congress to hold them.
We've seen photos of those "Have You Seen Me?" ads pasted on milk cartons in random stores, which we have to say we find utterly hilarious.
Speaking of effective political pranksters, somebody infiltrated the big conservative CPAC gathering and handed out flags with "Trump" written on them, for conservatives to wave during his speech. The funny part? They were Russian flags. A visibly-annoyed staffer had to run around the crowd confiscating them, since the audience members were cluelessly waving them. Talk about bad optics! Score one for the pranksters....
There was one bizarre quote from the gathering, from the chief organizer of CPAC: "There is a sinister organization that is trying to worm its way into our ranks. We must not be deceived by [a] hateful, left-wing fascist group." The "hateful left-wing fascist group" he was referring to is (drumroll, please...) the alt-right. Pretty hard to get that one mixed up -- the word "right" is right there in its name, after all! Boy, those conservatives will believe anything, it seems.
Let's see, what else is going on? Reince Priebus may be in some hot water, since it seems he tried to convince the F.B.I. director to publicly state that a newspaper story about Russian connections to Trump and his campaign was false. The director declined, but the real problem is that Priebus never should have made the request at all. The F.B.I. is (theoretically) supposed to be above politics -- especially when investigating the executive branch. In any other president's administration, this would be a firing offense, but not in Trump's White House, of course.
Democrats are going to have a confab of their own this weekend, as the Democratic National Committee meets to elect a new chair. We're going to remain neutral in this contest, but if you're interested, Huffington Post has a pretty good overview of the race and all the main candidates.
Finally, we have to end this week on a rather worrisome note. Sean Spicer ominously warned this week, from the White House press room podium, that Jeff Sessions might just decide to crack down on those states which have legalized recreational marijuana. Sessions is an old-school drug warrior, so this isn't entirely unexpected, and Spicer's comments were rather non-committal and vague, so perhaps the White House is just floating a trial balloon to see how people react to the idea. But the public is already overwhelmingly against such a regressive move. Almost six in ten Americans want to see legalization everywhere. A full 71 percent -- including a majority in every demographic -- would oppose efforts to crack down on the states that have already legalized recreational use. And support for medical marijuana is absolutely through the roof.
Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority responded with a veiled warning to Donald Trump, which is where we'll end this weekly wrap-up:
If the administration is looking for ways to become less popular, cracking down on voter-approved marijuana laws would be a great way to do it. On the campaign trail, President Trump clearly and repeatedly pledged that he would leave decisions on cannabis policy to the states. With a clear and growing majority of the country now supporting legalization, reneging on his promises would be a political disaster and huge distraction from the rest of the president's agenda.
Michael Moore deserves at least an Honorable Mention this week, for creating a one-stop shopping website for protests against Donald Trump and Republicans in general. He's not trying to co-opt any protest movement out there, he's just trying to create the ultimate calendar of all upcoming protest events so that people can check one "Resistance Calendar" website (organized both chronologically and geographically) to see what protests might be about to happen in a town hall or streetcorner near you. We think it's a great idea, and hope everyone starts using it, because one single community calendar of protests sounds like a great idea to us. As Moore put it:
We welcome all resisters across the movement to use this tool. It's completely free. There's no big "funder" or group behind it. There will be no ads, no commercialization, no fundraising lists -- all the stuff we hate. Just you, me, the volunteers donating their time to keep it going and the World Wide Web. BOOM!
But we have to award the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week to a candidate for a special House election in Georgia to replace Tom Price. Price got elevated to Trump's cabinet, so his House seat is now open. The district is in suburban Atlanta, and used to be Newt Gingrich's old district. Democrats think they've got a chance to pick up this seat, and are dedicating an impressive amount of resources to the race.
The district voted for Mitt Romney to the tune of 61 percent, but Trump only managed 48 percent last year, which is why Democrats see it as possibly vulnerable. Democrats seem to be lining up behind Jon Ossoff, who is only 30 years old but has so far outpaced his rivals in the primary election contest. Daily Kos has already raised a cool million bucks for his campaign, which is an astounding amount for a candidate for any House district, really.
We have no idea what Ossoff's chances for victory will be in the general (assuming he makes it that far, since Georgia has the dreaded "jungle primary," meaning only the top two will advance), but so far he's garnered a very impressive amount of support. The election is four months away, and who knows how the public will feel about the Trump administration by that point? But for making such an impressive start to his campaign, we hereby award the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to Jon Ossoff, and wish him well in the election.
[As a rule, we do not provide contact information for candidates running for office, sorry.]
We're not sure if "disappointing" is really the correct word, here, but the award's name was chosen long ago, so it is what it is.
Noah Dyer, who only recently "changed to a registered Democrat," is running for governor of New Mexico. He's big on the concept of transparency. Perhaps too big. You decide.
From his campaign website, on a page titled "Scandal and Controversy," comes the following:
Noah has had both deep and casual sexual experiences with all kinds of women. He is an advocate of open relationships. He's had group sex and sex with married women. He has sent and received intimate texts and pictures, and occasionally recorded video during sex.
Hoo boy. If only Anthony Weiner had been so up-front, right? Dyer announced his campaign on Valentine's Day with a "love letter" to New Mexicans, which included such sweet nothings as: "I want to make dinner for you, rub your feet...."
Although he is a newcomer to the Democratic Party, we have to say this one takes the cake. I mean, there's transparent and then there's just creepy. So, again, perhaps another word might be more appropriate, but we're just going to go ahead and give him this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week anyway.
[Noah Dyer is a candidate for office, and it is our longstanding policy not to link to campaign website contact pages for such individuals, sorry.]
Volume 426 (2/24/17)
Two weeks ago in this space, we put the call out for a name for the new protest movement sweeping the country. This was before we were aware that the "Indivisible" website had already provided a name, we are embarrassed to admit. But we pressed on anyway last week, calling for slogans for the protesters to rally around.
As promised, here are the ones that caught our attention, beginning with suggestions for the movement's name:
The 20/20 Campaign (from nypoet22, who helpfully pointed out it could be used in four years, just drop the slash mark)
The Rebel Alliance (neilm)
The Fact Party (Kick)
But our two favorites were the following. The first, because it not only is short, sweet, and accurate, it also has a fail amount of historical resonance:
The Resistance (neilm)
And the second because of our own personal bias (it fits right in with our masthead slogan "Reality-based political commentary," in other words):
Occupy Reality (Tina Marie Vossen Miller, on Huffington Post)
As for slogans, we got quite a few excellent suggestions as well, including a hilarious poem from (naturally) nypoet22:
Roses might be red
Violets might be blue
Corporations are people
Soylent Green is too
More workable slogans (ones that could fit on a sign and be easily read, in other words) included:
Recall and replace!! (MyVoice)
You work for us (Kick)
And, finally, our favorite of the bunch:
Take big money -- lose our votes! (Don Harris)
To everyone who submitted entries, thanks for playing! As always, we love to see reader participation, especially in a movement that is growing by leaps and bounds out there in the grassroots of America. Resist!
With that out of the way, let's get right to this week's batch of talking points.
Don't forget the 'patient protection' part...
This one has always kind of bugged us, personally. When did the PPACA become just the ACA? And why?
"The inside-the-Beltway Washington crowd long ago shortened the name of President Obama's signature healthcare law to just the 'Affordable Care Act,' which I think is a shame. The full name is the 'Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,' and what we're seeing across the country in congressional town halls -- even in deep red states -- is that the public deeply cares about the 'patient protection' part of that title. This is not a trivial point, as the 'patient protection' refers to the reforms that Obamacare made in how insurance companies are allowed to treat their customers. They can no longer kick people off their insurance for being sick, for getting sick, or for actually having the temerity to access health care. It's one thing for a Republican politician to rant and rave about the evils of Obamacare on the campaign trail, but it is a whole different ball of wax to answer to a constituent who would now be dead if those patient protections had never existed, to put it another way. Or just look at the polls -- Obamacare is now supported by 54 percent of the public, and that number is rising fast. Nothing focuses the public's mind so much as threats to take away their rights under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and Republican politicians better learn to deal with that fact soon."
Never, ever, not even once
We're always thankful when conservatives provide Democratic talking points to use. This beauty comes from former Speaker of the House John Boehner. Since he stepped down from politics, he has been free to say what he really thinks, rather than having to spin all the time. In a recent interview, he admitted the corner Republicans have painted themselves into over Obamacare with great detail. Democrats should keep this quote handy for the foreseeable future, because Boehner's predictions may very well come true.
[Republicans in Congress will] fix Obamacare, and I shouldn't have called it 'repeal and replace' because that's not what's going to happen. They're basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it.
In the 25 years that I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever, one time agreed on what a health care proposal should look like. Not once. And all this happy talk that went on in November and December and January about repeal, repeal, repeal -- yeah, we'll do replace, replace -- I started laughing, because if you pass repeal without replace, first, anything that happens is your fault. You broke it.
And secondly, as I told some of the Republican leaders when they asked, I said, if you pass repeal without replace you'll never pass replace, because they will never ever agree on what the bill should be. Perfect always becomes the enemy of the good,
Most of the Affordable Care Act, in the framework, is going to stay there: coverage for kids up to age 26, covering those with pre-existing conditions. All of that's going to be there. Subsidies for those who can't afford it, who aren't on Medicaid, who I call the working poor, subsidies for them will be there.
Trump's big con continues
The only part of Trump's agenda that Democrats could possibly support seems destined to fail, if the early signs are any indication.
"Trump got elected promising to spend lavishly on American infrastructure. He promised better everything, pretty much, for all -- to the tune of one trillion dollars! But when the rubber meets the road, so to speak, I'm pretty skeptical he's ever going to spend a dime on infrastructure projects. The San Francisco Bay Area has been working for years on electrifying the CalTrain line that runs from Silicon Valley to San Francisco, but this project was just delayed by the Trump administration -- a delay which could wind up dooming the entire project. Facing their first test on infrastructure spending, the Trump administration failed miserably. This is why I believe that none of Trump's infrastructure campaign promises will ever become reality. His own party in Congress hates the idea, and the Trump administration won't even fight for projects already underway, which doesn't really bode well for any future infrastructure spending. Yet another area where Trump pulled the wool over the eyes of his own voters, I suppose."
Good to see something is worth investigating!
"Jason Chaffetz is refusing to use his position as the chair of the governmental oversight committee to look into Donald Trump's ties to Russia, which led his own constituents to try and shame him into doing (with cries of "Do your job!") at a recent town hall meeting in Utah. Now comes the news that, instead of investigating Russian influence into the Trump campaign and the Trump administration, Chaffetz is instead hot on the case of a tweet sent out from the park rangers at Bryce Canyon National Park, who innocently welcomed the newly-created Bears Ears National Monument into the National Park Service family. The tweet which Chaffetz feels the need to bring the full weight of the United States Congress to investigate? Quote: 'Welcome to the family Bears Ears (& Gold Butte) NM! A hopeful slot in our front desk maps has long been held for you,' with a photo of a cubbyhole with the Bears Ears name on it. That's it -- that's the scandalous behavior Jason Chaffetz is prioritizing for taxpayer-funded investigation, over Russian influence in our election process. Glad to see he's got his priorities straight! If I may quote Boo-Boo the Bear: 'I don't think the ranger's going to like this, Yogi.' Sheesh."
Sanity almost prevails in Kansas, gets vetoed
With politicians like this, who needs tornadoes?
"When Sam Brownback became governor of Kansas, he insisted the state would become a model for conservative governments everywhere. It would be simple -- he'd just slash taxes, and then sit back and wait for his state's economy to boom as a result. Of all the conservative alternative facts, this is the one they love to believe in most -- that 'trickle-down' actually works. What happened was eminently predictable, even if it didn't match up with conservative magical thinking -- the economy cratered, tax revenue plummeted, and the state's budget went into the biggest crisis it has ever faced. Even after an orgy of cutting government services to the bone, they still face monstrous shortfalls. This past election, a bunch of Brownback supporters got chucked out of office in favor of more moderate Republicans (ones who can do math, in other words). They just joined with Democrats to pass a bill which would get rid of all the enormous tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy which got them into the mess in the first place. Brownback vetoed it. The Kansas house voted 85-40 to overturn the veto. Half of those 85 votes were Republican votes, mind you. Unfortunately for the citizens of Kansas, the state senate was three votes short, so the Kansas economic disaster will continue for the time being."
Trump doesn't like leaks
Insert your own Russian hookers joke, if you must. Heh.
"Donald Trump is reportedly incensed with all the leaks coming out of his administration. He tweeted about them this week, in a lame attempt to divert the media's attention from the embarrassing content of pretty much all of the leaks. So far, though, Trump's wrath doesn't seem to be doing much good. The most amusing headline yet over the leaks appeared this week in the Washington Post -- 'State Department Writes Anti-Leak Memo, Which Promptly Leaks.' Boy, that one's gotta hurt. What's next? Maybe a 'Memo Denouncing Leak Of Anti-Leak Memo Leaks' headline? Talk about infinite regression!"
This one's going to become a recurring punchline, that's for sure.
"Republicans in general went apoplectic whenever President Barack Obama spent some time on the golf course. Donald Trump in particular denounced Obama's golfing, promising over and over again that he'd be 'too busy' as president to do such a thing. Well, looks like there may have been another reason all those Republicans didn't like to see Barack Obama golfing, because so far Trump has spent six of his first 30 days on the golf course. He's obviously embarrassed by this, since he went to the trouble to tape plastic bags over the media room at Mar-a-Lago so reporters couldn't see him out on the links. If Trump keeps this up, he'll spend something like 300 days golfing during his first term -- which is exactly the same number of days Obama spent golfing during two terms. To date, I haven't heard a single Republican complain. Maybe it's because Trump looks more like the average country-club golfer than Obama? I mean, there has to be some reason why Obama golfing made Republicans' blood boil when Trump golfing is just fine, right?"
-- Chris Weigant
Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post