Friday Talking Points [489] -- Ranting About Trump's Cruelty

[ Posted Friday, June 22nd, 2018 – 18:20 PDT ]

For a change, we're not going to have much to say in this introduction. The reason is that the talking points section is taken up by a lengthy rant this week, because it seemed timely to offer one up. It is a rare week of the Trump presidency where there is really only one overriding issue in the political world to comment on, but this was indeed that kind of week.

Other political things did happen this week, from Trump pushing his "Space Force" idiocy to the Trump trade wars heating up in a big way to an announcement that Trump is going to try to kill off the Department of Education. But it all paled in comparison to the firestorm over immigration and Trump's "zero tolerance" policy of separating children from their parents at the border, which consumed the political dialog all week long.

There is only one tangential issues which we feel the need to mention up front, because it didn't quite fit into the rant at the end of the program. And because we feel it really needs a much bigger media spotlight to shine upon it.

Why is the following story not at the top of all the headlines right now? We have no idea. It not only ties in to the week's biggest story, but it advances it in a new and horrifying direction. Read for yourself, and you'll see what we mean:

Staff working on the behalf of the Office of Refugee Resettlement are routinely drugging detained child migrants with psychotropics without their parents' consent, according to legal filings.

. . .

"ORR routinely administers children psychotropic drugs without lawful authorization," a memo filed in the lawsuit on April 16 reads. "When youth object to taking such medications, ORR compels them. ORR neither requires nor asks for a parent's consent before medicating a child, nor does it seek lawful authority to consent in parents' stead. Instead, ORR or facility staff sign 'consent' forms anointing themselves with 'authority' to administer psychotropic drugs to confined children."

Most of the allegations center on Shiloh Residential Treatment Center, in Manvel, Texas. But lawyers in the Flores case, who have access to the medical records of their clients, say the problem is widespread.

"It's not specific to Shiloh," Holly Cooper, one of the lawyers representing children in the Flores agreement litigation, said of the drugging allegations. The attorneys have seen the use of psychotropic medications at all facilities where the federal government holds unaccompanied minors but noted that the only cases of forced injections they documented occurred at Shiloh.

One child, identified in court records as Julio Z., said staff at Shiloh threw him to the floor and forced him to take medication. He said he witnessed staff pry another child's mouth open to force him to swallow a pill. When Julio Z. attempted to refuse the medication, he said the doctor ignored him.

"They told me that if I did not take the medicine I could not leave," Julio Z. said, according to the court records. "That the only way I could get out of Shiloh was if I took the pills."

"Sometimes they give me forced injections," another child, identified as Rosa L., said. "One or two staff hold my arms, and the nurse gives me an injection."

The medications often come with severe side effects. Julio Z. reported gaining 45 pounds in a matter of two months. A mother of a child identified in court records as Isabella M. said the medications were so powerful that her daughter repeatedly fell because she couldn't walk.

So why is this not a bigger story?!? We have no idea. It compounds the horror of losing your child to a faceless bureaucratic nightmare into one of truly Orwellian (or Kafkaesque) proportions. Drugging children without consent? That's a gigantic scandal, all on its own. So why hasn't this story made it to mainstream television news yet? Your guess is as good as ours.

So, with that out of the way, let's very quickly run through this week's awards, and then get to the main ranting event, shall we?


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We have two Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out this week, as well as a close second who at least deserves an Honorable Mention.

The Honorable Mention goes to Senator Dianne Feinstein, for admirably doing the job she is supposed to be doing. In response to the family separation policy from Trump, Feinstein did what senators of the opposition party are supposed to do -- she introduced legislation designed to fix the problem. Her "Keep Families Together Act" is pretty self-explanatory, from the title alone. To date, we believe she is the only Democrat to have filed bill in response to Trump's hideous "zero tolerance" policy. Her bill was quickly cosponsored by every other Democrat in the Senate, which is pretty impressive to begin with.

The only thing that kept her from sharing this week's MIDOTW award was the fact that Feinstein has done a pretty weak job of getting the message of her bill out to the public. She made no appearances on last week's Sunday political shows, and also seemingly failed to brief other Democrats who did appear on the shows, as well as the journalists who could have asked about her bill (but largely didn't). This lack of message continued all week, in fact, and even now her bill is rarely mentioned in news reports.

But for this lack of messaging prowess, she would have qualified for the coveted MIDOTW. Her actions were exactly right -- file a bill for other Democrats to rally around -- and she did a bang-up job of getting them all on board in a very short period of time. But this may be the first time many readers have even heard of her bill, which we feel is a real shame.

Instead, we're going to give the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week (in a somewhat belated fashion) to Senators Jeff Merkley and Bob Menendez. Over two weeks ago, both of these senators, on their own initiative, showed up unannounced at child detention centers and demanded to be let in to see what was going on. They were both turned away, although Merkley reported that he had witnessed "children in cages."

This was the initial spark that set off the fiery resistance to the Trump policy of family separation. Stunts like this from sitting members of Congress rarely work, and this one took a few weeks to get going (the two senators attempted their visit in the first few days of June), but once the issue gained momentum it hasn't stopped since.

Senators Menendez and Merkley wanted to see with their own eyes what was being done in all our names. When they were refused access (the cops were actually called on Merkley), they began to make a political stink about it. Again, even before the Trump era of nonstop crises, such political stunts are rarely reported on and even more rarely capture the media's full attention. This one, obviously, was different.

While it is somewhat amazing how quickly the issue grew in importance in the media, it likely never would have happened at all if these two senators hadn't demanded to see for themselves what was going on. This happened over two weeks ago, but the ripple effects finally became a tidal wave this past week, which is why we're awarding Senators Jeff Merkley and Bob Menendez this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Sometimes a sense of moral outrage is enough to get the whole country's attention. Merkley and Menendez sparked the nation's outrage in impressive fashion, especially when you consider how hard it is for any peripheral subject to get any media or political attention with Donald Trump in the White House. For pointing the finger of shame, and for getting everyone to see for themselves what was being done in all our names, Menendez and Merkley are the clear winners of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

[Congratulate Senator Bob Menendez on his Senate contact page, and Senator Jeff Merkley on his Senate contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

National Democrats held together this week in staunch opposition to both Trump's cruelty and to Paul Ryan's Machiavellian machinations in the House. So we don't really have any Democrat on the national stage who massively disappointed us this week. The Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award will thus stay on the shelf until next week.


Friday Talking Points

Volume 489 (6/22/18)

We really can't remember when a political issue was so all-consuming that both the mainstream media and our own humble column spent the entire week commenting on the ongoing nightmare of an official federal government policy of wresting children from their parents' arms in order to lock them in a cage. What we called yesterday the "glorious Republican Immigration Reform Week" has now (thankfully) drawn to a close, but the fallout from the past seven days is going to live on for many months to come.

The following was written as a stream-of-thought rant, so our apologies in advance if we omitted any significant events from last week, or if it's not in a perfectly outlined order. But then, that's the nature of an authentic political rant, isn't it?


Ranting about the GOP's Immigration Week

This week, the Republican Party proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that when it comes to immigration their entire agenda is to use immigrants as political pawns and -- even worse -- as political hostages. The only thing Republicans seem to care about, in fact, is scoring a few cheap political points in the desperate hopes of firing up their xenophobic base enough to survive an upcoming election. This cynical political ploy plays out again and again and again from Republicans, but this time around it backfired spectacularly. In doing so, it exposed the party's true goal of using human misery as political leverage in order to advance their own unpopular agenda.

Republicans, no matter how much they protest to the contrary and no matter how many crocodile tears they shed for the victims of their own party's abuses, simply do not care about the pain and suffering they cause. They prove this time and again by refusing to compromise and refusing to even talk to Democrats about viable solutions. Because they would much rather have the issue as red meat to toss to their base on the campaign trail. This is now beyond the shadow of a doubt, after the week we just witnessed.

This entire cynical "make them suffer so we might get a political win" strategy began last year, when President Trump unilaterally decided to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program instituted by President Barack Obama. He didn't have to do this, but he thought it was good politics to do so. At the time, he stated that he wanted Congress to act and bring him legislation he could sign to continue the program on a more permanent basis. This was a lie. When Democratic and Republican congressional leaders actually struck an agreement on DACA -- one that even funded Trump's beloved border wall -- Trump torpedoed the deal because he was scared the Republican base might not be happy about it. Trump yanked the rug out from under his own party's negotiators, after supporting the deal right up until one of his hardliner advisors cornered him about it. Lindsey Graham, at the time, was dumbstruck at the speed of this turnaround, stating: "So what happened between 10:00 and 12:00? I don't [know], either, and I'm going to find out."

So this isn't the first time Trump has made every effort to keep the issue alive politically, because he knows that attempting to solve it will not win him points with his most fervent voters. This time around, Trump's fingerprints were all over the effort to yank the rug out from under any actual progress on the issue -- and this time around it was even more notable because Democrats weren't involved in the slightest. This time around, Trump torpedoed legislation which was solely written by Republicans, because he obviously thinks keeping the issue alive would be better for him in the upcoming midterm elections. Consider the timeline:

Trump once again created a crisis out of nowhere. Jeff Sessions announced the new "zero tolerance" policy, and would eagerly tell reporters that separating children from their parents was supposed to work as a deterrent. When the blowback began, Sessions tried to justify his actions with a Bible reference -- which has led to 600 members of his faith to sign a letter denouncing his understanding of his church's theology.

Also when the blowback began to heat up, Donald Trump insisted over and over again that (1) it was all the Democrats' fault, somehow, and (2) his hands were tied, and Congress would have to act to fix it. This is all in reference to his own policy, mind you. This time around, Graham was even more direct in his reaction to Trump's lies: "President Trump could stop this policy with a phone call. I'll go tell him. If you don't like families being separated, you can tell D.H.S., 'Stop doing it.'"

Meanwhile, Paul Ryan had been forced by his own caucus to bring up immigration bills this week, even though every political instinct he had said it would be a very bad idea -- and that was before the backlash against the child separation policy began. Ryan tried to bridge the ever-widening gap on DACA within his own party's caucus with a sneaky parliamentary maneuver. He would bring up not only a so-called "moderate" bill, but also a bill favored by the Tea Party hardliners. The plan was for the hardline bill to fail and the moderate bill to advance, where it could die in the Senate -- since this would then give every House Republican the chance to vote for at least one anti-immigrant bill, to protect them on the campaign trail.

Ryan tried a bit of doublethink of his own with this performance, explaining that the bipartisan bill his own moderates really wanted a vote on would never be signed by Trump, therefore holding a vote on it was a pointless political exercise. The bipartisan bill might actually have become law, proving that Trump isn't the only Republican terrified of what his own voters would think if Congress actually did something rather than just use immigration as a political football. So Ryan had to shoot it down somehow. Later, when it became obvious that both of his bills were going to fail, Ryan astonishingly changed his tune, now saying: "I think we're advancing the cause even if something doesn't pass. I think these are the seeds that are going to be planted for an ultimate solution." He went from "we won't pass anything that the president can't sign" to "we're doing this as a political exercise, because we think it'll play well with our base" in a heartbeat. Such rank cynicism is rarely so obviously on display in Washington -- usually they try to be a bit more subtle.

But Trump was even more scared than Ryan of his base's reaction, so the president decided to do everything he could to undermine the process. First, he dropped a bombshell in an off-the-cuff remark, stating that he would need to "make some changes" to any bill the House managed to pass. Then he went up to Capitol Hill and refused to offer his support for a single bill, because he saw it as a lose-lose situation for him personally. He also took the time to denigrate a sitting House Republican, which actually resulted in Republicans booing Trump.

On the morning the two votes were scheduled, Trump tweeted out:

What is the purpose of the House doing good immigration bills when you need 9 votes by Democrats in the Senate, and the Dems are only looking to Obstruct (which they feel is good for them in the Mid-Terms). Republicans must get rid of the stupid Filibuster Rule-it is killing you!

Got that? Just before the votes were going to happen, Trump blasts out that passing either bill is going to be completely pointless because neither one will make it through the Senate. This is true, but it's supposed to remain unsaid if you're trying to get away with the political ploy Ryan had so carefully designed. This signaled loudly that Trump wasn't going to have anyone else's back after the vote, and it so completely undermined Ryan that he was forced to postpone the vote on the moderate bill (after the hardliner bill had failed). At first, they were going to vote on it Friday, but then this slipped to "sometime next week." Obviously, whipping the bill is getting tougher and tougher, the more Trump tweets.

Just in case he hadn't undermined Ryan's efforts enough, today Trump drove it home with a sledgehammer, tweeting:

Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November. Dems are just playing games, have no intention of doing anything to solves this decades old problem. We can pass great legislation after the Red Wave!

So, after Trump created not one crisis involving undocumented children, but two separate crises involving undocumented children (DACA and the child removal policy) so he could use both of them as political leverage against Democrats, Trump admits that Republicans are doing nothing short of "wasting their time" on immigration. Any time any deal looks even remotely like it will pass, Trump torpedoes it with a vengeance. He wants the issue to fire up his voters in November, and any deal (even a Republican-only deal!) might dampen xenophobic voters' enthusiasm, so all efforts to achieve such deals must be killed.

Today -- just in case this wasn't painfully obvious to everyone -- Trump once again held a media presentation complete with the relatives of people who had died because of an undocumented immigrant. Trump doesn't want a solution to the problem, he wants to use it as a political tool, plain and simple.

Of course, in the midst of all this happening at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, Donald Trump finally had to admit he had been lying to the American public, and for the first time during his presidency he was forced to very publicly back down. He signed an executive order -- which only days previously he had sworn simply was not possible -- which changed his policy from "separate the parents from the children and lock both of them up" to "lock up the families together, parents and children."

During the entire week, the Trump administration was so chaotic its right hand didn't know what its far-right hand was doing. Jeff Sessions went from bragging about the policy and quoting the Bible, to weakly defending that his policy wasn't anything like the Nazis (all he could come up with was: "Well, it’s a real exaggeration, of course. In Nazi Germany, they were keeping the Jews from leaving the country.") to bearing some mighty big false witness against it, during an interview with a Christian news network: "It hasn't been good and the American people don't like the idea that we are separating families. We never really intended to do that." It's a wonder he didn't burst into flame with a heavy odor of brimstone, right there and then.

Meanwhile, Kirstjen Nielsen was adamantly denying reality, stating unequivocally: "We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period." Later, during a press conference, she blamed the messengers, accusing the media of having "an agenda." One reporter even played the infamous audio of a wailing child during this press conference, but it was unclear whether she could hear it from the podium or not. ProPublica, who posted the audio, reacted to her accusation by stating: "That is true. Our agenda is to bring the American people facts for their consideration."

Nielsen was also in the news this week for being publicly shamed in (of all places) a Mexican restaurant by people loudly chanting "Shame! Shame!" at her. She wasn't the only one, either, as White House policy advisor (and immigration hardliner) Stephen Miller was called out at the Espita Mexcaleria restaurant by a fellow diner who yelled: "Hey look guys, whoever thought we'd be in a restaurant with a real-life fascist begging [for] money for new cages?" Perhaps Trump administration officials might want to rethink their choice of places to eat, for the foreseeable future? Just a thought....

But they weren't the only ones from the Trump White House adding gasoline to the fire. In what could have been a real diplomatic coup, First Lady Melania Trump traveled to the border to see for herself what all the fuss was about. This could have resulted in some badly-needed positive press for the president, except (of course) it didn't. Not only did Melania prove to be utterly tone deaf in her reactions to what she was told -- telling the children "Good luck" when leaving, and replying to the news that the average stay in the facility was 42 to 35 days with: "That's great!" -- but she felt she had to make a fashion statement on her way to and from the photo op. Despite the temperatures in Washington being over 80 degrees, Melania felt the urge to wear a topcoat as she both entered and exited the plane in Washington (both before and after her trip, in other words). This charmingly-hip jacket had graffitied on the back of it the phrase: "I REALLY DON'T CARE, DO U?" A clearer message of her indifference is hard to imagine, actually, and it turned the entire trip into yet another example of the Trumps shooting themselves in the foot for no apparent reason.

Meanwhile, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski ratcheted things up a notch himself, when he dismissively sneered: "Womp, womp" at the news that a 10-year-old girl with Down Syndrome was separated from her mother and put in a cage. Former senior Democratic National Committee advisor Zac Petkanas exploded back in fury, during their joint Fox News appearance: "Did you say 'womp womp' to a 10-year-old with Down Syndrome being taken from her mother? How dare you! How dare you! How absolutely dare you, Sir! How dare you! We have infants that are being taken from their mothers! We have infants that are being stolen from their mothers and being put into cages and you go 'Womp womp!'"

Nikki Haley apparently felt left out by all the public hatred and disdain, so she chose this particular week to announce that the United States was pulling out of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Apparently she thought this would be a dandy time to send the "REALLY DON'T CARE" message out, too.

Getting back to the practical effects, though, by week's end it was unclear exactly what was happening at the border. Word had gone out that the Border Patrol was essentially throwing in the towel and would no longer detain families caught crossing the border illegally -- the same "catch and release" policy that "zero tolerance" was supposed to fight. As the Washington Post put it:

Once again, the Trump administration has embarrassed its cult followers. We have gone from zero tolerance to "What zero tolerance?" to "Trump can't do anything!" to "Trump can end child separation!" to "Let's incarcerate families indefinitely!" to "No more zero tolerance -- just don't tell Sessions."

The damage Trump has done to himself, Republican candidates who are worried about losing their seats in November, and to the Republican Party's overall public image are impossible to measure, at this point, but the fallout has already begun.

Former first lady Laura Bush this week (before Trump signed his executive order) wrote an extraordinary article denouncing Trump's policy. The language used was stronger than anything Democrats had said to date, in fact. Here is just one excerpt from what Bush had to say:

I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart. Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history.

George Takei ("Mr. Sulu" from Star Trek) chimed in with some additional context for Bush's extraordinary comparison. Takei was sent to one of those Japanese-American internment camps as a child. But even in these camps (horrific as they were), children were not separated from their parents. Families were allowed to remain together.

Again, before Trump backed down, Mitch McConnell announced to the press that every Republican in the Senate would be joining in passing a bill to overturn Trump's policy. In an extraordinary rebuke to the president, McConnell stated: "I support, and all of the members of the Republican conference support, a plan to keep families together while their immigration status is determined." Of course, this bill they intended on passing did exactly what Trump did with his executive order -- allow children to be jailed with their parents instead of being jailed separate from their parents.

By week's end, the Republican Party had lost two very respected conservative voices. Steve Schmidt, onetime advisor to John McCain's presidential campaign, dropped a bombshell in an extraordinary series of tweets that is worth reproducing in full (and unedited, which is why the hard paragraph breaks exist):

29 years and nine months ago I registered to vote and became a member of The Republican Party which was founded in 1854 to oppose slavery and stand for the dignity of human life. Today I renounce my membership in the Republican Party. It is fully the party of Trump.

It is corrupt, indecent and immoral. With the exception of a few Governors like Baker, Hogan and Kasich it is filled with feckless cowards who disgrace and dishonor the legacies of the party's greatest leaders. This child separation policy is connected to the worst abuses of

Humanity in our history. It is connected by the same evil that separated families during slavery and dislocated tribes and broke up Native American families. It is immoral and must be repudiated. Our country is in trouble. Our politics are badly broken. The first step to a

Season of renewal in our land is the absolute and utter repudiation of Trump and his vile enablers in the 2018 election by electing Democratic majorities. I do not say this as an advocate of a progressive agenda. I say it as someone who retains belief in DEMOCRACY and decency.

On Ronald Reagan's grave are these words. "I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph and there is purpose and worth to each and every life." He would be ashamed of McConnell and Ryan and all the rest while this corrupt government

Establishes internment camps for babies. Everyone of these complicit leaders will carry this shame through history. There legacies will be ones of well earned ignominy. They have disgraced their country and brought dishonor to the Party of Lincoln.

I have spent much of my life working in GOP politics. I have always believed that both parties were two of the most important institutions to the advancement of human freedom and dignity in the history of the world. Today the GOP has become a danger to our democracy and values.

This Independent voter will be aligned with the only party left in America that stands for what is right and decent and remains fidelitous to our Republic, objective truth, the rule of law and our Allies. That party is the Democratic Party.

Today, none other than George Will agreed with Schmidt, in a column bluntly titled: "Vote Against The GOP This November," which ends with a similar plea to voters to elect the party he's been opposed to all his life, because of the damage Donald Trump is doing to his own party and -- more importantly -- to America:

In today's GOP, which is the president's plaything, he is the mainstream. So, to vote against his party's cowering congressional caucuses is to affirm the nation's honor while quarantining him. A Democratic-controlled Congress would be a basket of deplorables, but there would be enough Republicans to gum up the Senate's machinery, keeping the institution as peripheral as it has been under their control and asphyxiating mischief from a Democratic House. And to those who say, "But the judges, the judges!" the answer is: Article III institutions are not more important than those of Articles I and II combined.

This is the point where Donald Trump has led us all. Staunch lifelong Republicans are now falling all over themselves denouncing their own party's leader and their own president. They are now actually begging voters to vote Democratic to put some restraints on their own feckless leader.

The public got in on the act, as well. Some hapless person at the State Department had to hold an online family policy chat this week, and some of the questions posed were downright scathing, such as: "What tips do you have to beat the heat for toddlers imprisoned in a concentration camp in Texas in 100+ degree heat? And what type of baby pajamas will go best with a tin foil blanket?" and: "How should I expect the ID number to be given to visiting family members? Tattoos on the forearm or just written illegibly with a big Sharpie?" and: "How can I be sure my child's skin is white enough for the government not to steal him from me when I attempt to return to the United States?" But, public snark aside, it was the Republican response which was the most notable.

We have personally been watching politics for many decades, and we can't remember having ever seen such a revolt from within either party's ranks. This is extraordinary, folks. This does not happen every day. This has, in fact, not happened since Richard Nixon was unceremoniously shown the door by his own party, and that was over forty years ago.

Perhaps the dam is bursting. Perhaps Trump has finally gone too far for his fellow Republicans to stomach any more. Or perhaps George Will and Steve Schmidt are right -- perhaps what is needed for Republicans to find both their spine and their moral compass is to be defeated badly in the upcoming elections. Nothing would send the anti-Trump message so clearly as paying an electoral price for the ongoing chaos emanating from the White House on an almost-hourly basis. When even Laura Bush seems to have joined the resistance, then perhaps we've reached a point where Republicans will begin listening to that small child once again. No, not the small child screaming in terror in Trump's toddler jails -- but instead the small child who has been yelling all along: "But he hasn't got any clothes on!" as Trump once again shows his naked hatred of non-white people to the world, for all to see.

-- Chris Weigant


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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground