Friday Talking Points -- Tanks For The Memories (Of The Continental Army's Air Force, That Is...)

[ Posted Friday, July 5th, 2019 – 17:05 UTC ]

After all the hype, things weren't nearly as bad as they could have been in Washington D.C. for the nation's birthday. Donald Trump gave a speech in front of some stationary tanks, but he (mostly) rigorously kept to the script which had been written for him to parrot. Perhaps someone had explained that if he went off script and turned the event into a campaign rally, then his campaign would have had to foot the bill. The size of that bill is still a secret, although the National Park Service admitted it had used over $2 million for it that should have gone to regular park maintenance.

It also, quite literally, rained all over Trump's big day. No better metaphor could have existed, really. Trump tried to hijack an event which has always been strictly nonpartisan and universally welcomed in D.C. (where every other day is absolutely consumed with partisan fighting), but in the end D.C.'s Fourth of July will survive even Trump. After all, the event is bigger than he could ever hope to be. It will go down in history, in fact, as a textbook example of why America should never again elect a man-baby to the Oval Office. Speaking of babies, the Trump Baby Blimp made an appearance, and veterans handed out T-shirts with the logo of the U.S.S. John McCain, just to get under Trump's thin skin. So a fun time was had by all, in the end.

Trump did provide one bit of amusement for his detractors, when (according to him) the TelePrompTer went out (or was possibly obscured by rain) so he just went ahead and said the following:

In June of 1775, the Continental Congress created a unified army out of the revolutionary forces encamped around Boston and New York and named after the great George Washington, commander-in-chief. The Continental Army suffered a bitter winter of Valley Forge, found glory across the waters of the Delaware and seized victory from Cornwallis of Yorktown. Our army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do. And at Fort McHendry, under "the rockets red glare," it had nothing but victory. And when dawn came, their star-spangled banner waved defiant.

Let's see if we can count up all the mistakes in just that one paragraph alone, shall we? Most glaring, of course, was the fantastic claim that the Revolutionary forces "took over the airports," since this would have happened more than 125 years before the first airplane flew at Kitty Hawk. But, of course, there were other mistakes as well, since it was Trump "winging it," as it were (pun intended). The Continental Army was never "named after the great George Washington" (unless his secret middle name was "Continental"); they suffered a bitter winter at (not "of") Valley Forge; the ultimate victory was in Yorktown, Virginia, not New Jersey ("across the waters of the Delaware"); Cornwallis was not "of" Yorktown, that's just where his army got beat; Fort McHenry (not "McHendry") was instrumental in the War of 1812, not the Revolution; not even sure what "rammed the ramparts" is supposed to mean; and, of course, the "air" was not "manned" by the non-existent pilots flying their non-existent airplanes from the non-existent airports.

Twitter, of course, had a field day with Trump's Revolutionary Air Force. As did many others. How patriotic!

Sigh. At least he didn't talk about the Continental Army's nuclear bombs, we suppose.

Snark aside, though, let's get right to the rest of the political world. We didn't write a Friday Talking Points column last week, because we were busy writing up our reactions to the Thursday night debate instead. This means we've really got two weeks of news to cover, including how the first round of Democratic 2020 presidential debates turned out.

Polls have been coming in all week, and they have mostly confirmed the widespread initial post-debate impression that Elizabeth Warren won the first night, while Kamala Harris knocked it out of the park on the second night in her showdown with Joe Biden. Biden, Warren, Harris, and Bernie Sanders are now grouped together as frontrunners, which is a shift from the way things stood before the first round of debates. As mentioned, we wrote up our immediate debate impressions last Thursday and Friday, if anyone's still interested.

Since then, some of the campaigns have been releasing their second-quarter fundraising totals, and so far it looks like Pete Buttigieg is out in front, raising roughly $25 million. But while the numbers are being touted by some of the frontrunners, the more interesting numbers are going to be those down at the bottom of the stack, because a very weak second quarter might just mean the end of the road for some candidates. The ones who have qualified for the second debate round will almost certainly stay in until then, hoping for a breakout moment to revive their fortunes, but our guess is that soon after the second debates (to be held later this month), many of the minor candidates will be calling it quits. Some, like John Hickenlooper, will then have the option to run for a different office, but the others will likely just fade into the background once again. This was always going to be necessary, of course, with such a wide field, but the two-month gap between the second debates and the third, coupled with anemic fundraising, is likely going to be the cause for many candidacies to end.

Over on the other side, the Trump campaign has been running ads purportedly showing "just plain American folks" talking about how wonderful Trump is, but they goofed in a big way because the stock photos and video they used actually depict models from "France, Brazil, and Turkey." In other words, the videos are lying on multiple levels at once, which is about par for Trump's course.

In past election cycles, the Republicans have been able to heavily rely on the National Rifle Association for election help, but this is going to be a far smaller factor this time around, because the N.R.A. is completely imploding. Their second-in-command just quit in the midst of a serious factional battle involving blackmail, and their vaunted "NRA TV" video channel just closed down. So they likely aren't going to be able to throw quite as much weight around in the 2020 elections.

Before he was extolling the Continental Air Force during our national birthday, Trump spent some time overseas, and (as usual) he said some rather idiotic things over there, too. When he was asked about "Western-style liberalism," Trump obviously had no idea what the term meant, and responded: "I guess, if you look at what's happening in Los Angeles, where it's so sad to look, and what's happening in San Francisco and a couple of other cities, which are run by an extraordinary group of liberal people." In other words, Trump equated "Western-style liberalism" to "liberals who run the cities on the West Coast of America." But that wasn't his most laughable misunderstanding of history overseas.

When Trump was asked about "federally-mandated busing" as "a viable way of integrating schools," he responded in part: "You know, there aren't that many ways you're going to get people to schools. So this is something that's been done.... it is certainly a primary method of getting people to schools." In other words, Trump thought he was merely being asked about "sending schoolchildren to school on buses." The stable-minded genius strikes again!

Trump did make some news overseas when he threw together an ad hoc meeting with Kim Jong Un, and handed the North Korean leader an enormous propaganda victory by stepping over the line at the demilitarized zone into North Korean territory -- the first time a sitting president has done so. What did Trump get for handing Kim such a prize? Absolutely nothing, as usual. Trump even, after the meeting, sounded like he was ready to back off on all of the standard American demands, and allow sanctions against the North to be dropped if they'll merely "freeze" their nukes at the current level. So much for denuclearization, or as Trump likes to call it, "de-nuking" the Korean Peninsula. Trump got played, he is in the process of backing down, and Kim scored big propaganda points. In other words, this meeting with Kim went roughly the same as the last two.

Halfway around the world, Iran announced that it had breached the limits on enriched uranium contained in the Iran deal that Trump walked away from, and that furthermore the next step would be to move to much more highly-enriched uranium. Unlike with North Korea, Trump isn't even bothering to talk to the Iranians, so the prospect of any new deal is as non-existent as those brave Revolutionary pilots in the George Washington Air Force, at this point.

So, to recap: North Korea has more nukes than they had when Trump took office, and Iran is closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon than it ever has been. Anyone tired of all this "winning" yet?

Back here at home, Representative Justin Amash just left the Republican Party in open disgust over what Donald Trump has done to it. He wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post sounding the alarm for his formerly-fellow Republicans, stating his view that "modern politics is trapped in a partisan death spiral," and that "the two-party system has evolved into an existential threat to American principles and institutions."

Also back at home, there was continuing bad news for the coal industry, as three coal companies filed for bankruptcy this week. We wrote about this at more length yesterday, pointing out that coal miners are just the latest group of people who voted for Trump only to find out that his promises to them were nothing short of a cruel con job.

The crisis at the border got ugly this week, as photos of the inhumane conditions people are being held in were made public -- by the office of the inspector general. Many Democratic congressmen went down to tour the facilities to see for themselves just how bad things have gotten. During this visit, it was revealed that Border Patrol agents have been posting some vile and sexist things on a secret Facebook group. House Democrats have called the leaders of the agency into hearings next week, so that could get interesting.

House Democrats have also -- finally! -- gone to court to get the Trump administration to provide copies of Trump's taxes to the relevant committees, as required by law. This is a necessary move, but it comes about six months after it should really have happened.

What else? The 2020 Census is in complete chaos, after the Justice Department backed down and announced that the Census forms would be printed without the citizenship question, but then Trump had a tantrum on Twitter and forced them to reverse course. They're busy explaining themselves to two separate federal judges, who will likely not be impressed with the excuse: "Under President Trump, the situation went from a snafu to completely fubar."

And finally, we got to enjoy seeing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speak (about the tempest in a teapot over a pair of Nike sneakers) at a podium in front of a field of weed. Yep, it wasn't amber waves of grain behind him, it was green fields of marijuana. Well, OK, hemp, but even so, the photo op value is still priceless. Astonishingly, while many media organizations (even lefty ones) reported on Mitch's Nike comments, virtually none of them pointed out the disconnect of one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington standing in front of a field of six-foot weed plants. That's progress, of a sort, we suppose.


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We've got two Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards, which is fitting because it has been two weeks since we last handed awards out. The first of these goes to Senator Kamala Harris, who it is pretty universally agreed won last week's big debate. Harris had a breakout moment challenging Joe Biden on his past racial stances, and this week it showed up in the polling in a big way.

While almost all the other Democrats stayed fairly static in the polling after the debate (with the exception of some repositioning among the top few candidates), Harris was really the only one who saw her poll numbers change dramatically for the better, as a direct result. Notably, almost all of her rise came at Joe Biden's expense, which tends to prove that the debate was what had changed voters' minds.

Harris has yet to prove herself over time -- she still shows a worrisome willingness to quickly shift her positions when she thinks they are unpopular, as she did on the question of whether Medicare For All will abolish the private health insurance industry or not, and even on the busing question that she skewered Biden with in the debate. But it's still early days, and the campaign has a long way to go, so perhaps she'll improve in this respect later.

Harris is making the case that Democrats should nominate a former prosecutor to "prosecute the case against Donald Trump," as she put it in her closing statement. She has shown one ability that bolsters this argument more than anything else -- the ability to fight hard, face to face. That is going to be crucial in the general election campaign for whomever the Democrats decide upon, because the nominee is going to have to take Trump on and beat him in future debates. They'll also have to bone up on the history of the Continental Air Force to do so, obviously.

Last week, Harris certainly looked up to that task. She has always been known (by those who previously noticed her) for her feisty questioning style in Senate committee hearings. Prosecutors have to have a certain amount of showmanship to win trials, after all, and Harris has always done well in this particular regard.

One polling bump isn't the end of the race, of course, but Kamala Harris was really the only one who saw such a dramatic spike in her polls after the first debate (Elizabeth Warren, to be fair, also showed some movement, but her poll numbers had been trending upwards even before the debates, so it's less certain that the debates were the sole reason). For her stellar debate performance and for the polling results afterwards, Harris was an obvious pick for the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

But we have a second award to hand out as well, on the state government level. Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker earned his own MIDOTW award, for following through on a big campaign promise in a very impressive way. We wrote about this at length last week, after Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana use.

Pritzker actively campaigned on this issue, and he presented it as one of racial justice. More people of color are arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses than white people, so overturning the legacy of the failed War On Weed is one way to rectify racial injustice in America. The Illinois law was passed through the state legislature rather than as a ballot initiative, which meant that it was more comprehensive than other legalization efforts to date. Not only was marijuana made legal for recreational adult use, past criminal records will be expunged for those convicted of possession offenses. Moving forward, a certain number of licenses for marijuana businesses will be doled out to minority-owned businesses, which is meant to avoid what has happened in other states, where minority businesses have been shut out of the process for one reason or another.

In other words, Illinois didn't just legalize marijuana, they formed a plan to fix the worst abuses of the past and hopefully avoid inequality going forward. That is impressive indeed, and the Illinois law may soon become a template for other states to use when they consider legalization themselves.

Pritzker was instrumental to all of this happening. He didn't just offer lip service to legalization, he made it one of the pillars of his campaign platform, proving to other Democrats how potent an issue this can be at the ballot box when a candidate shows some real leadership instead of timidity. Legalization is a winning political issue, as Pritzker proved. He also made good on his promise to make legalization one of his top priorities when he got into office, and he motivated the legislature to take up his comprehensive approach to it. That is impressive all around, which is why we have to award a second Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to J. B. Pritzker. Well done, Governor, well done!

[Congratulate Senator Kamala Harris on her Senate contact page, and Governor J. B. Pritzker on his official contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

He's not really eligible for this award since he's not a representative of the Democratic Party or anything, but we were disappointed in the entire fracas over a Nike sneaker model with a Betsy Ross-style flag on them this week, which was sparked off by criticism from Colin Kaepernick.

The whole thing just struck us as rather silly, if truth be told. We firmly believe that you've got to carefully choose the battles you're willing to fight, and this one seemed like a battle not worth fighting at all. We supported Kaepernick's stand (or, rather, "not-stand") over the National Anthem, and we think the National Football League was wrong to blacklist him (even if he was no more than mediocre as a 49ers quarterback), but like we said you've got to pick your battles.

The Betsy Ross flag was offensive to Kaepernick because it was flown during a time of slavery, according to him. That seems an awfully broad brush to be painting with, to us. There are plenty of other offensive symbols to protest against, and this is the first time we've ever heard anyone complain about this historic flag (even if it wasn't actually sewn by Betsy Ross). It was also easy to make fun of, as conservative columnist David Brooks did on Twitter, with a rather masterful use of reductio ad absurdum: "I only wear New Balance because Nike was a goddess in a Greek culture that practiced slavery." So, once again, let's choose our battles a bit better next time, whaddya say?

We're going to reach back to the Democratic debates for the actual Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, though, and hand it to Beto O'Rourke. Now, we could easily have given it to Marianne Williamson or Andrew Yang (or Joe Biden, for that matter), who didn't have what you could call stellar debate performances, but they simply didn't have the level of expectation behind them that Beto did.

Beto O'Rourke's candidacy was supposed to embody the youthful energy alive within the Democratic Party of late, and he was supposed to be the one in the spotlight challenging the older Democratic generation for the party's nomination. That hasn't exactly happened as originally planned. After an enormous media splash when he announced his campaign, he's been on a downward slope ever since. His debate performance utterly failed to reverse this trend.

Instead, O'Rourke was eclipsed during the first night's debate by a fellow Texan, Julián Castro. Castro and O'Rourke got into it over what they'd do to improve the border, and Castro was the clear winner of the scuffle. O'Rourke's entire campaign has had a rather ad hoc feel to it, and his debate performance also looked rather unprepared as well. He's never really given anyone a solid reason to vote for him beyond the fact that he's young and energetic and rising in the Democratic ranks. He has so far mostly failed to recapture the national Democratic wave behind him that he generated during his campaign to take down Ted Cruz in the Senate.

Anyone looking to the first debates for O'Rourke to have some sort of breakout moment was seriously disappointed last week. Which is why we've decided to give Beto O'Rourke the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[Beto O'Rourke is a private citizen, and it is our longstanding policy not to link to campaign webpages, so you'll have to seek his contact info out yourself if you'd like to let him know what you think of his campaign to date.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 533 (7/5/19)

We didn't post last week due to having to write about the Democratic debates, and (sadly) we will not be posting next week either as well, because we are off to Philadelphia for the annual Netroots Nation confab. The bags are being packed and the housesitter is knocking on the door, so we're just about ready to go, but it will mean that the next Friday Talking Points column will be in two weeks, so our apologies for the sporadic service.

Onward to this week's talking points, though. Since we're pressed for time (since we've got to catch our Revolution Air flight soon...), we've lazily taken every single one of them from reactions to two events from the past two weeks: Trump's impromptu meeting with Kim Jong Un, and Trump's militarizing the Fourth of July celebration. Although, as one Politico article pointed out, things could have been worse:

Back in 1845, President James Polk presided over a fireworks display at the White House. During the festivities, 12 rockets were accidentally fired into the crowd, and two people were killed. If the worst thing that happens tomorrow is just a speech, we can be thankful for small favors.

Heh. OK, let's get to the talking points, all reactions to Trump's Fourth and to one particularly egregious lie he told about Barack Obama.


   We know who we are

The first comes from Leon Panetta, President Obama's former top defense advisor, reacting to how very wrong a Trumpian military Fourth of July truly is.

We're the strongest military power on the face of the Earth and we have never had to display that power to the world in order to prove it. We know who we are, we know our strengths, and very frankly our view has always been that we should appreciate our liberties and our freedoms because in a democracy the most important thing is that we protect the values that our country is all about. That doesn't mean we have to roll tanks down the street or roll troops down the street because we know who we are. We appreciate those that serve, but most importantly, we are all part of one family when it comes to America.


   We don't do that

The second comes from Michael Steele, the guy who used to run the Republican National Committee. Steele was more succinct than Panetta.

We don't roll tanks down Constitution Avenue.


   The grass is always greener...

A CIA analyst tweeted an appropriate quote from writer Erma Bombeck.

You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics.


   No instance whatever

Trump made one of his off-the-cuff claims, during the photo-op with Kim Jong Un, where he claimed that President Obama had "begged" Kim to have a meeting, but that he couldn't make it happen because Kim didn't want to meet with him. This self-aggrandizing lie was supposed to show how unique Trump's "diplomacy" was, but it spectacularly backfired. James Clapper, Obama's former director of national intelligence, was quick to refute Trump's lie.

In all the deliberations that I participated in on North Korea during the Obama administration, I can recall no instance whatever where President Obama ever indicated any interest whatsoever in meeting with Chairman Kim.


   Trump is lying

From Obama's deputy national security advisor, Ben Rhodes, some stronger language.

Trump is lying. I was there for all 8 years. Obama never sought a meeting with Kim Jong Un. Foreign policy isn't reality television it's reality.


   Tell us how you really feel, Susan!

Susan Rice, however, won the prize for strong language, tweeting back at Trump:

At the risk of stating the obvious, this is horse-sh*t.


   Bush's C.I.A. director agrees

Michael Hayden, who led the C.I.A. under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, backed Rice up, making the strong-language rebuke bipartisan:

Yes. It's horseshit.

-- Chris Weigant


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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground