Friday Talking Points [496] -- OMG Omarosa!

[ Posted Friday, August 17th, 2018 – 17:07 PDT ]

This week in politics can be summed up in a very short tweet: "OMG -- Omarosa!"

Omarosa was wholly created, as a media personality, by Donald Trump. He absolutely loved her backstabbing and underhanded play on his reality show, The Apprentice. He loved her act so much that he brought it with him to the White House. Now that she's turned against him, however, he isn't loving her act quite so much anymore. Sad!

And (Lordy) she has tapes!

In a week where Trump's former campaign manager's first federal trial was sent to the jury, in a week where Trump is publicly revealing his enemies list, in a week where over 350 newspapers took the president to task for calling them "the enemy of the people," all people could talk about was Omarosa and her tapes. The most jarring response came from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who notably could not guarantee that a tape didn't exist of Donald Trump using the "N-word." This was just after Trump called Omarosa a "dog" on Twitter. That's the state of our politics today, folks.

Trump attempted to fight back against Omarosa, trying to legally hold her to a non-disclosure agreement she apparently signed during the campaign. Our reaction to hearing this news was to fervently hope that Omarosa hires Michael Avenatti as her lawyer, because that team-up would be sure to make Trump's head explode. As we wrote earlier in the week (musing on a possible Avenatti run for the Democratic presidential nomination), these two people have, so far, done the best job getting under Trump's skin of anyone (well, anyone not named "Bob Mueller"...), so it'd be fantastic to see them team up, just for sheer entertainment value. Again, that's the state of our politics today, so it seems somehow appropriate.

Trump tried to distract everyone from the Omarosa revelations by yanking the security clearance of John Brennan, former director of the C.I.A., because Brennan's been saying mean things about Trump. Never before in American history has a president revoked someone's security clearance for political reasons, and the backlash was swift. Presidential historical Douglas Brinkley called the action "unprecedented," and added: "The public outcry of Brennan being stripped will echo long and far in the annals of American history. It will be seen like McCarthyism -- a dark stain on our democracy." Brennan himself responded by likening Trump to "foreign despots and autocrats," and also warned: "If Mr. Trump believes this is going to lead me to just go away and be quiet, he is very badly mistaken."

The best response came from the Washington Post, which pointed out that the stated reasons for stripping Brennan of his security clearance were: "erratic conduct and behavior", "frenzied commentary", "wild outbursts on the internet and television", monetizing his official position, and telling lies. Tongue firmly in cheek, the article then draws the obvious conclusion:

It's a disturbing list of allegations, one that should be taken seriously. If a policy principle were to display erratic conduct and behavior, increasingly frenzied commentary, make wild outbursts on the internet and television, monetize his official position, and lie repeatedly, well, by now you should be fully aware of the punchline to this joke.

The article was titled: "Donald Trump's Compelling Argument For Revoking Donald Trump's Security Clearance," we should mention.

Trump has indicated that this is only the beginning, as well. He released a whole list of his political enemies who still hold security clearances, with the threat that he'll be revoking them as well, in the coming days.

The most scathing response to all of this came from a retired Navy admiral, the man who oversaw the raid on Osama Bin Laden. He called John Brennan "one of the finest public servants I have ever known.. a man of unparalleled integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question, except by those who don't know him." His open letter to Trump then pivots:

Therefore, I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.

In other words, please add me to your enemies list, because history is going to record them all as patriots.

Speaking of Trump's enemies, the press (led by the Boston Globe) engaged in a mass protest of their own, when over 350 newspapers devoted their Thursday editorial to proclaiming that they are not "enemies of the people," a phrase Trump has been using to describe them of late. We joined this effort as well, because it seemed such a worthy one. The Senate this week also had to unanimously pass a resolution stating that the press was not the enemy of the people, an act that in normal times would be considered downright extraordinary, but in Trumpian times was barely even noticed.

Politico published a rather amusing article this week, which quoted several White House sources saying that Donald Trump doesn't really understand time zones. No, seriously. He repeatedly states he wants to call Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the middle of the afternoon (Trump's time), only to be told it is the middle of the night in Japan:

Trump's aides had to explain the issue, which one diplomatic source said came up on "a constant basis," but it wasn't easy.

. . .

In the case of Abe and others, Trump's NSC staffers would advise him, for instance, that "the time is messed up, it's 1 o'clock in the morning" and promise to put the call on his calendar for a more diplomatically appropriate time.

One official tried to cover for Trump, but didn't do a very good job of it: "He's the president of the United States. He's not stopping to add up [time zones]. I don't think anybody would expect him or Obama or Bush or Clinton or anybody to do that."

Um, yeah, I actually would expect all three of those other guys to understand that when it is afternoon in D.C. it is the middle of the night halfway around the world. It's a pretty basic concept, after all.

This article further pointed out that Trump was mystified by seeing a map which continued Nepal and Bhutan. Trump reportedly "didn't know what those were -- he thought it was all part of India. He was like: 'What is this stuff in between?'" Trump then mangled the pronunciation of the countries' names as: "nipple" and "button." Nothing like having a "very stable genius" in the Oval Office!

Trump keeps trying to prove what a regular guy he is, as well, without much notable success. He posed this week with a biker in full regalia, which included a jacket patch with the charming message: "I [heart] guns & titties." Corey Lewandowski also tried to paint Trump as a regular Joe by pointing out that, one time, Trump got pulled over by a cop. While driving his Rolls Royce. You just can't make this stuff up, folks. Even Mitt Romney must have cringed at that one.

Please keep in mind, as well, that we are in the midst of merely the first federal trial of Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. There's another one teed up before the midterm elections yet to come. If Trump is spinning this far out of control during the first one, what will he be like when the second one begins?

And just to rain on Trump's parade a little more (so to speak), the White House abruptly announced that Trump's big military parade scheduled for Veterans' Day will be postponed until at least next year (if it is ever held at all, that is). It seems the parade would have cost a whopping $92 million, far exceeding the initial estimates of 10 to 20 million dollars. Trump petulantly blamed the cost overruns on the local D.C. government, but the estimate of their costs were only a fraction of the $92 million total. Trump also, in a snit, announced he'll be going to France for Veterans' Day (or Armistice Day, as they still celebrate), because they have a big military parade he can watch. This, in a week where Trump snubbed a real American war hero, when he refused to say John McCain's name while signing a military appropriations bill named for McCain. Nothing like the toddler-in-chief throwing a tantrum, is there?


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We know they're probably not all Democrats, but we still thought it worth giving a shout-out to all the people who turned out in Washington D.C. and Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend to express their displeasure with the second "Unite The Right" white supremacist rally. The few racists that showed up were vastly outnumbered by decent people, which is entirely as it should be. From someone who was not able to attend either counterprotest, we wanted to thank those who did.

This week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week is Randy "Iron 'Stache" Bryce, who won his primary in Wisconsin this week. Bryce was initially a favorite to win the Democratic primary, but of late had become somewhat of an underdog, after his past arrest record was made public by one of his opponents. So Bryce's win was somewhat of an upset.

The House district Bryce is running in used to be a whole lot more important, because Bryce jumped in the race in an effort to unseat Paul Ryan. Now that Ryan has announced his retirement, flipping the district won't have as groundshaking an effect as it would have if Ryan had been dethroned. Even so, Democrats are going to need to pick up every House district they can to win back control of the chamber, so we are definitely rooting for Bryce to win in November.

If Bryce wins, his race is going to be examined by national Democrats to see how the party can win back blue-collar districts in the Midwest. As we wrote earlier this week, though, there's nothing really magical about Bryce's campaign:

I don't believe there is any secret about how Bryce is running his campaign. He was inspired to run on a few issues near and dear to his own heart, and he is genuine and authentic about his beliefs. He is for a $15-an-hour minimum wage because he's been a Union worker and wants all working families to be able to have a decent house and make a decent life for themselves. The other issues he has been championing are just as personal. That's the sort of thing that can't be cut-and-pasted on to other candidates, to put it another way. It has to come from within, so a candidate either has it or doesn't -- it can't really be taught.

We'd love to see the Iron 'Stache win in November, but pulling out an upset victory in the primary this week was already good enough to win him this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

[As a rule, we do not link to candidates' websites, so you'll have to search for Randy "Iron 'Stache" Bryce's contact information on your own, if you'd like to congratulate him on his victory.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

Sadly, there's a lot of disappointment to go around, this week. The first incident would normally have automatically qualified for a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, but we're going to withhold such action until more of the story is known.

Keith Ellison won a primary in Minnesota for state attorney general this week, but there was a last-minute surprise in the race. A former girlfriend of Ellison's accused him of physical violence against her, which Ellison flat-out denied ever took place. The girlfriend says she made a video of the event, but has yet to publicly release this video. So for the time being, it is a he-said/she-said situation.

Making this even more acute, it happened in Minnesota, where Al Franken was forced out of his Senate seat by accusations when Democrats were quick (perhaps too quick) to condemn him. So for the time being, we will wait for further information. If true, this is certainly disappointing from Ellison, whose star has been rising within the Democratic Party for some time now. He won his primary, but that is not going to be the final word on the accusation, we assume.

Up for a (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week is Senator Jon Tester of Montana, for a poster created for a fundraiser he just held, headlined by Pearl Jam. The poster art is pretty juvenile, including a depiction of a corpse lying in front of the White House, reaching for a briefcase with a hammer and sickle on it. The corpse has a prominent hairpiece and is being eaten by an eagle, but the face is not shown. Still, any depiction of dead political opponents is odious and should be condemned. Tester's spokesperson eventually did so, but it took a while and it didn't come directly from Tester himself, which is why we feel he still deserves a (Dis-)Honorable Mention.

We also have two Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out this week, sad to say. The first goes to a relatively unknown state legislator, an African-American woman from Michigan who currently sits in the state's lower legislative chamber and was running for a state senate seat against an Asian-American woman. Here's the whole story:

The Detroit Metro Times reported that state Rep. Bettie Cook Scott used racial slurs, including "ching-chang" and "ching-chong," when referring to her opponent, state Rep. Stephanie Chang, during a recent Democratic primary. Witnesses told the newspaper that during the Aug. 7 election for District 1, which includes Detroit, Scott also called a campaign volunteer an "immigrant" and later said that "these immigrants from China are coming over and taking our community from us."

The incident prompted outcry among the local community.

That's not too surprising, since it was a disgraceful and disgusting racial slur and should never have been uttered. Cook Scott apologized profusely, but it's hard to ignore words like that no matter what is said afterwards.

The best news from this story? Chang won her primary, handily beating Cook Scott, who came in third place.

Our second MDDOTW award goes to New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo is in his own primary race, against the progressive Cynthia Nixon, but at the end of a speech this week he stumbled badly. There's a knee-jerk impulse in politics to just say you're against everything your political opponents are for, of course, but blindly doing so can lead to some avoidable pitfalls. As Cuomo proved, this week.

At the end of the speech, Cuomo attempted to take on Donald Trump and his campaign slogan, saying:

We're not going to make America great again; it was never that great. We have not reached greatness. We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged.

There were "audible gasps" from the audience, in reaction. Trump, of course, has piled on Cuomo's statement, and you can look for it to be prominently displayed in lots of Republican ads in the coming weeks, attempting to paint the entire Democratic Party with Cuomo's boneheaded remark. Cuomo has been attempting to walk it back ever since he said it, but without much success.

Cuomo sees himself as a possible presidential candidate, it's worth mentioning. He always has. But running on "America was never that great" is not going to win him many votes, on either side of the political aisle. Cuomo's political history is already pretty checkered (as Cynthia Nixon will be glad to tell you), and not very progressive at all. Since Nixon began her run, she has forced Cuomo to take stances he should have taken years ago, but that hasn't really been fooling many people. Her reaction to Cuomo's gaffe was priceless: "I think this is just another example of Andrew Cuomo trying to figure out what a progressive sounds like and missing by a mile."

Handing Republicans a political bludgeon in the middle of a pre-written speech is downright inexcusable. There may be nuances to the concept of America's greatness, but the campaign trail is not the place to have such an in-depth discussion of history. Because at the end of the day it's the soundbite that people will remember -- and Cuomo just provided the Republicans with a doozy of a soundbite. For doing so -- an unforced error if ever there was one -- Cuomo is also the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week.

[Contact Governor Andrew Cuomo on his official contact page, and Michigan Representative Bettie Cook Scott on her official contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 496 (8/17/18)

The Queen of Soul is dead. Long live the Queen!

We have our own memories of Aretha Franklin, so we thought we should share the following excerpt from our final report from Barack Obama's first inauguration, written after we read some snarky comments in the papers the next day:

Next up was Aretha Franklin singing "My Country 'Tis Of Thee." What is it with all the hat-haters out there? The first thing I noticed was her hat. I turned to my wife and said, "That's some hat!" And now I find out people are making fun of the hat? Get a grip, people. Her hat was fabulous (to get all fashion-y here), and although most women couldn't have worn it without looking at least a little bit silly, Aretha Franklin pulled it off without a hitch. Her hat's statement was: "I am Aretha Franklin's hat, and you better get used to me -- because she looks better wearing me than any woman in Washington since Jacqueline Kennedy and her pillboxes. You got a problem with that?" Her hat spoke to me, in other words. Anyone who didn't hear this message just wasn't listening hard enough.

Speaking of listening, Aretha did a wonderful job of "My Country 'Tis Of Thee," as you would expect from such a talented woman. Sweet land of liberty, indeed!

You will be missed, Aretha. Requiescat In Pace.

There's really no way to segue from that, so this week's talking points will have to do without an introduction.


   Conspicuous in their absence

This one even stumped Kellyanne Conway this week, as she desperately tried to come up with a name, and failed.

"Omarosa's been gone from the White House for a while now, but in all that time Donald Trump has not seen fit to elevate a single African-American to a senior advisory position. The only real conclusion to be drawn is that Trump had exactly one black person he listened to, and now that she's gone he saw no reason to replace her. No wonder he keeps tweeting tone-deaf comments on race, when he is surrounded by a very homogenous group of people. Trump's White House, to state the obvious, is indeed a very white house."


   Voter suppression continues apace

It's not just Trump, though.

"There is a reason why certain states -- before the Supreme Court freed them from doing so -- used to have to get Justice Department approval before changing their election system in any way. Their history of racism and voter suppression demanded it. Now that they are free to change things at will, it seems they're back to their old ways. In Georgia -- where for the first time an African-American woman is on the ballot for governor -- one county is considering shutting down seven of their nine voting locations. Randolph County is more than 60 percent African-American, and one of the polling places to be shuttered is in a precinct that is 96.7 percent black. Without a car and without any public transportation, this means some black people in the county will have to walk up to three hours to get to one of the two remaining polling places. If anyone believed that institutional racism doesn't still exist in America, take a good look at this county, because it is all the proof you need."


   OK, if that's the standard...

Many have been making this joke, because it is so obvious. But that shouldn't stop anyone from repeating it, because it is indeed the right way to look at things.

"Donald Trump, in a written statement, said he was revoking John Brennan's security clearance because of, quote, erratic conduct and behavior, frenzied commentary, wild outbursts on the internet and television, monetizing his official position, and because of telling lies. OK, let's take a good look at that list, in relation to the president himself. Erratic conduct and behavior? A daily occurrence at the White House. Frenzied commentary? Check his Twitter feed on any given day of the week. Wild outbursts on the internet and television? See his Twitter feed again, and pretty much any TV interview Trump gives. Monetizing his official position? You mean like all those diplomats and lobbyists who stay at Trump's D.C. hotel? As for telling lies, well, even the statement Trump released was proven to be a lie by Trump's own words, when a few days later he told a newspaper that he really revoked Brennan's security clearance because he's still miffed at the Russia investigation. So even the statement itself was a lie. Nevertheless, we think Trump should hold himself to that standard, and immediately revoke his own security clearance."


   Say what?

Trump's not the only one lashing out this week, though.

"Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke this week blamed, quote, environmental terrorist groups, unquote, for the wildfires raging across the West. No, seriously, he said that. What did this so-called terrorism consist of? Here's Zinke: 'There have been a number of instances where environmental groups have submitted petitions to the Bureau of Land Management, halting companies from removing dead and dying timber until the B.L.M. can sort through each petition point. These actions halt proper forest management and leave the West vulnerable to incredible devastation.' Seriously? That is somehow equal to terrorism?? Words matter, Mr. Zinke, and following the procedure to 'petition the government for redress' is decidedly not terrorism -- it is in fact a right guaranteed to us all in the Bill of Rights."


   Ask Richard Nixon how it worked out

Trump's been compared to Richard Nixon more times than we can count, but never was it more appropriate than this particular week.

"Donald Trump, like one notable president before him, is now openly putting people he doesn't like on his enemies list. First it was the media, whom Trump called the 'enemies of the people' (which would have made even Uncle Joe Stalin proud). Now it is individuals who still retain security clearances, which Trump has discovered he has the sole power to revoke. Trump is going after anyone who has said a nasty word about him, in a naked display of petulance unequalled in the White House these last 50 years. What will be next? Trump siccing the I.R.S. on his enemies list? Somebody really needs to explain to Trump that a presidential enemies list doesn't really work out all that great in the end -- just ask Richard Nixon."


   Standing up for the media

While there were over 350 editorials written denouncing the president for calling the media the Stalinesque phrase "enemies of the people," the best response by far came from Patti Davis, the daughter of Ronald Reagan. She pulled no punches in her article, which is well worth reading in full. Here are the best parts:

I've tried to imagine what my father would have done if people attending a political speech of his had turned to the press and raised their middle fingers, hurled obscenities or physically menaced the reporters who were there doing their jobs. I found it difficult to conjure the image, and then I realized why. It simply wouldn't have happened. The person on the podium, the person everyone has gathered to see, sets the tone.

President Trump has quite successfully set today's tone. He expertly stirred up the anger that was already simmering in the people who support him, and then he lit a match to it. He gave them an enemy -- always a useful tactic. And naming the press as the enemy has precedents: Many tyrants have employed it to their advantage. Trump may not read much, but I'll bet he knows that.

Those of us who are horrified by the vilification of the news media, those of us who cringe at the sight of angry mobs jeering at the cordoned-off journalists at Trump rallies, far outnumber those who are swept up by this ugly passion. We are still in the majority. But if we are silent, if we don't speak up, if we don't raise our voices and say, "This is not America," it won't matter that we are in the majority. Silence didn't create this country; brazen, unwavering commitment did. And one of those commitments was to a free press -- one not controlled or hampered by a demagogue who has a good day only when he's being flattered.


   Standing up for Brennan

This one is worth quoting in full, and it's short enough to do so. This was an open letter (published in the Washington Post this week) to President Trump from retired Admiral William H. McRaven, who was the commander who oversaw the successful raid on Osama Bin Laden in 2011. His letter speaks for itself.

Dear Mr. President:

Former CIA director John Brennan, whose security clearance you revoked on Wednesday, is one of the finest public servants I have ever known. Few Americans have done more to protect this country than John. He is a man of unparalleled integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question, except by those who don't know him.

Therefore, I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.

Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs.

A good leader tries to embody the best qualities of his or her organization. A good leader sets the example for others to follow. A good leader always puts the welfare of others before himself or herself.

Your leadership, however, has shown little of these qualities. Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.

If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be.

-- Chris Weigant


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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground