It’s not about the Racism, it’s about the Narcissim

At yesterday’s news conference the real and unscripted Donald Trump came out and said what he really believed. As anyone who has observed Trump even a little bit should know by now, there is no containing Donald Trump. No one (including new Chief of Staff General John F. Kelly) can manage Donald Trump. No one can speak for him, no one can manage him. He’s a one-man band, and always has been (as virtually all of his biographers have attested to).

So, yesterday Trump revived his ‘many sides’ accusation about violence at the Charlotteville incident.  In particular, he said this:

What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right’? Let me ask you this: What about the fact they came charging — that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.

Let’s, for the moment, skip over the fact that there is no such thing as the ‘alt-left.’ That’s an invention of the Donald’s imagination. There is however, such a thing as ‘Antifa,’ which Wikipedia describes in this way:

Antifa is a far-left political movement of autonomous anti-fascist groups in the United States. . . [T]he word ‘Antifa’ has its roots in Anti-Fascist Action, a name taken up by European political movements in the 1930s, and which was revived in the 1990s, particularly in Germany (Antifaschistische Aktion). [In the United States] Antifa is composed of autonomous groups, not a formal organization. Activists typically organize protests via social media and through websites and list-serves. . . [I]t is an organizing strategy, not a group of people, and is commonly associated with a willingness to engage in a show of force. Antifa groups have most notably protested the 2016 election of Donald Trump. . . . Antifa protesters participated in the 2017 Berkeley protests where they gained mainstream media attention, throwing Molotov cocktails and smashing windows.

We should all be able to agree that to the extent that it is a movement, Antifa is not a non-violent movement. We can’t all be Mahatma Ghandi or Martin Luther King. For sure, there were people from the left who were looking to rock and roll that night in Charlottesville, just as much as there were people from the right. To that extent, Trump is not incorrect. The difference maker, obviously, is James Fields, who drove a car into a group of marchers heading away from the confrontation (it must be emphasized), killing Heather Heyer and injuring approximately 19 others. Some were injured critically, so they may still end up in the morgue.

From the beginning, it’s been clear that President Kumquat has been vexed by all of these protestors, all of us who have been protesting against him from day 1. Let’s not forget that (according to the British Independent) this is a man who is ‘handed folder of positive news clippings twice a day by White House staff.’

Trump is a clinical runaway Narcissist. He is probably the most extreme narcissist who has ever become a major public figure, at least in recent memory in the United States. This drumbeat of never-ending protests clearly incenses him to no end. Whether Trump is a racist – and at this point it’s pretty hard to argue that he’s not – is completely secondary to the fact that he’s a narcissist. A clinical, extreme, over-the-top narcissist. That is the defining character trait that drives this man. He was clearly outraged that militant counter-demonstrators showed up for the ‘Unite the Right’ rally, at which so many of his hard-core supporters were getting together.

That Trump was not going to be enthused about disowning his supporters, not matter how white supremacist or neo-Nazi they proved to be, should not be a surprise to anyone who has observed President Kumquat for any period of time. Yesterday he doubled down and stayed true to form.

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The problem with Southerners advocating for Confederate monuments

As anybody who follows the news knows, the incident in Charlottesville VA last weekend started with the objection of white supremacists (and some others) to taking down a statute of Robert E. Lee.  Some southerners argue that the confederate flag and statutes like the ones of Lee are emblematic of southern pride. And there may be some truth to that. But here is the problem:

If modern Germany were populated with statutes of Hitler, and Göbbels, and Himmler, and Göring; if Germans were still singing the “Horst-Wessel-Lied” in the streets; if individual households were still flying the NAZI flag from their stoops, millions of Americans, including southern Americans would be outraged.

“What did we fight this bloody war for if these idiots could still be allowed to have their statutes, and their songs, and their flags?”, incensed Americans all over the South would be asking themselves. And they would be right.

While it’s not a perfect analogy – no analogies are perfect – that is essentially what many Southerners are arguing for when they are arguing for their flags and their statutes and their monuments. Because while the war was geographically between the southern and northern states, it was conceptually about the right to own slaves.

And the right to own slaves is not morally a whole lot better than the right to gas Jews.

The South lost the war. That ended in 1865. That was 152 years ago. As some comedians have recently noted,  there is some irony in Trump supporters waving confederate flags and shouting to the rest of us, ‘you lost, get over it.’

Uh huh.

It would be a good thing if at least some of the advocates for Confederate symbols and monuments could be a little bit more introspective about what it is that they are actually advocating for. And why much of the rest of the country objects.

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Our Hypocrisy is not like Donald Trump’s

By now, there has been a chorus of voices criticizing Donald Trump for his reaction to the events in Charlottesville Virginia. In case you don’t know, Charlottesville is the city in which the main campus of the University of Virginia, with its approximately 45,000 students, resides. So there was bound to be some pushback to a white supremacist rally in the middle of the city.

I really want to make two points about this that most other commentators have not yet made:

  • First, if you watch the video, you can see that Trump is reading a prepared statement – a statement he seems to be uncomfortable reading – and then he improvises the “on many sides” line. It’s obvious that this line is improvised, and that he couldn’t wait to get there and dilute the power of the previous statement.
  • Second, this is the same guy who made such an issue out of Barack Obama not using the term “radical Islamic terrorist” (a term that, ironically, Donald Trump also refused to use back in May of 2017 when he was making a televised speech in Saudi Arabia).

A number of commentators have pointed out (like John Oliver, for example) that it should have been the easiest thing for Donald Trump to refute white supremacists, and yet he didn’t do it.

Other people have pointed out that Trump’s own grandchildren are Jewish, his son-in-law is Jewish, and even his own daughter has converted to Judaism, and yet Trump cannot seem to condemn Neo-Nazis.

Apologists for Trump have made the argument that there was some violence on both sides between the white supremacists and the counter-protestors, and this is true. But that obscures the fact that the central event – James Fields driving his Dodge Charger into a crowd of people marching away from the rally – came from one side and one side only.[1]

The apologists obscure the fact that what James Fields did was, by any standard definition, a terrorist incident, premeditated and unprovoked. Rex Tillerson can admit that. Ivanka Trump can admit that. Even Mike Pence can admit that.  But not the Donald.

Now, I don’t believe that Donald Trump is actually a white supremacist, and I don’t know that he’s much worse of a racist than most of the rest of us. But what is different about Trump is that he’s clearly willing to go to bed with racists.

The man with the insatiable ego, with the runaway narcissistic personality disorder – a disorder so extreme that psychiatrists and psychologists are rethinking the necessity of the Goldwater Rule – will go to bed with anyone who will support him. White supremacists, Neo-Nazis and racists of all stripes have been gleeful in their support of Trump.[2]

The Donald, as he has done in the past, will continue to claim that he is the least racist and least anti-Semitic person alive – a claim so ludicrous that it is not even deserving of placement on a satirical website. But Trump may actually believe this about himself. It’s hard to tell where reality actually intrudes into the mind of Donald Trump.

In any case, his hypocrisy could not be any louder and clearer. Trump governs only for the 35% or so of his hardcore believers, but is losing everyone else. That group of hardcore supporters will shrink over time as Trump fails to deliver, but it’s still a disturbingly large coterie of people whose thought process is incomprehensible to me. And for whom going to bed with racists (or just being racists) is no big thing.

[1] This is one of the right’s favorite rhetorical techniques, to set up equivalencies which are clearly and demonstrably false.

[2] I want to clarify here that I’m not saying that all Trump supporters are racists. As logicians will remind us, proximity and causality are not the same thing. But Trump supporters are clearly willing to overlook his getting in bed with overt and adamant racists, and that is saying something in and of itself.

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Our Hypocrisy is not Like Theirs, Part 14

As loyal readers of the blog know, I have on occasion published posts in a long-running series entitled “Our Hypocrisy is not like Theirs.” Today we’re up to Part 14. I saw a certain kind of irony in the following two stories, both of which caused news yesterday:

  • Baby Charlie Gard
  • The Better Care Reconciliation Act

Let’s review these one at a time.

Baby Charlie Gard

Charlie Gard is a rather unfortunate baby living in the London borough of Camden who has acquired a rare genetic condition known as a mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. It’s a tragedy for this boy’s family, for sure. The boy was born in August of 2016, was diagnosed in October of 2016, and by January of 2017 was in the hospital long-term, where the medical team was applying for approval to do an experimental treatment with nucleosides.  However, while the application process was going on, baby Charlie had a round of seizures so severe that the medical team withdrew their support for attempting the experimental therapy (due to the development of severe epileptic encephalopathy). They began discussions with the parents about withdrawing life support and providing palliative care. The parents, however, were and remain opposed, and under the motto “if Charlie’s still fighting, we’re still fighting” have sought to move the baby to the United States to receive the experimental care there. They raised £1.3 million from the crowdfunding website GoFundMe for this endeavor, but have not yet received approval to move him.[1] Today came the news that they had stormed out of one more “last chance hearing” when their request to have him moved to the United States was once again denied.

This tragic little case had become newsworthy some time ago in the United Kingdom, and Charlie’s plight has since made news in the United States as well.  Pope Francis weighed in, with an offer to have the baby transferred to the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù Hospital in Rome. Naturally, it didn’t take long for President Kumquat and two Republican Congressmen (Brad Wenstrup and Trent Franks) to follow suit. The two Congressmen promised to file legislation to make little Charlie an American citizen so that he can come here and be treated here.[2]

The Better Care Reconciliation Act

The BCRA  is, of course, Mitch McConnell’s Senate version of the American Health Care Act, both of which are variants of the Republican’s repeated promise to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Again, to review:

  • There is nothing wrong with the Affordable Care Act that some bi-partisan cooperation could not fix.
  • The reason that the Republicans have been so implacably opposed is not because the Affordable Care Act is imploding or destroying the health insurance industry, but because they are implacably opposed to Obama’s legacy (even though Obama is out of office now).
  • Although they had six years to do so, the Republicans never drafted a replacement for the Affordable Care Act because they never thought they would be in a position to repeal it. (As long as Obama and Hillary Clinton were President, they knew their repeal would be vetoed.)
  • When they finally had the chance to repeal and replace, both the House and the Senate worked under the cover of night and with as much secrecy as possible, knowing that their work would be deeply unpopular.
  • The House’s first attempt failed when it became clear that they did not have the votes in March of 2017. However, a 2nd attempt a few weeks later succeeded just barely after enough sweeteners and bribes were thrown into the pot.
  • The Senate’s first attempt right before the July 4th recess also failed to come to a vote, because the Senate’s internal vote count made it clear that there were enough right-wing and moderate Republican defections to fail to muster the required 51 vote majority (including the Vice President, who can cast the tie-breaking vote).
  • Now they’re back with their own second attempt. They’ve tinkered around the edges, but the essential problem remains intact.

The two defining features of both bills is that they would (1) repeal the individual mandate that is at the core of Obamacare, and (2) substantially limit the federal government’s contribution to Medicaid (which goes far beyond an Obamacare repeal, and is intended to give the Republicans the financial flexibility to be able to pass tax cuts for the super-rich.) The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has determined that the House and Senate bills would cause millions of people to lose health insurance over the next decade: 23 million in the case of the House bill, 22 million in the case of the Senate bill. (Health care bills was and still is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States.)

For those of you interested in the details of what both the House and Senate bills would do, National Public Radio has put together a very convenient table, which you can see here.

Mitch McConnell went back to the drawing board – in secret once again – and this time he has come back with a very similar bill that adds two incentives for both wings of his party:

  1. For the right wing, he has added provisions that allow insurance companies who are participating in an exchange to offer “de minimis” plans that do not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act (i.e., don’t include ‘essential health benefits’), and which are cheap enough that some young and healthy individuals might actually buy health insurance. This is known as the “Cruz amendment” after our beloved Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz.
  2. For moderate Republicans, there are provisions adding billions of spending to the bill. The bill first offered by McConnell and friends a few weeks ago included $2 billion to address the opioid crisis for 2018; this version would offer about $45 billion over 10 years. Also trying to buy off moderate opponents, the original version provided $112 billion that would have allowed states to stabilize their markets; this version bumps up that “buy off” money to $182 billion.[3]

Other than that the new version of the BCRA keeps some of the Obamacare taxes that the first version repealed, including the net investment income tax and a payroll tax.  However, it still caps Medicaid, as the previous version did. And is still screws over people with pre-existing conditions by allowing insurance companies to charge whatever the fuck they want for that group of unfortunate people. Like me.

About the Hypocrisy

So, you can always count on Republicans to jump on the bandwagon when there is a public story out there that has a ‘pro-life’ angle.  Keep baby Charlie alive, no matter the cost! Make him a citizen, bring him to America! (Even though all the doctors who have treated him – and let’s face it, doctors basically never give up – have all given up.) Baby Charlie is worth every penny!

Now, how about working and middle-class Americans who would like to see their parents cared for in a nursing home, if needed, for the last few years of life. Well, fuck those people! Who needs them? Sure, a lot of them voted for Trump, but we don’t need them anymore.

Or how about middle-aged people with pre-existing conditions? Well, fuck those people! Who needs them? Sure, a lot of them voted for Trump, but we don’t need them anymore.

Or, how about those of us who might need some nursing care ourselves as we grow into the late stage of our lives. Well, fuck us! Who needs us? Sure, a lot of us voted for Trump – well, not readers of this blog, but you get the point – but we’re not needed anymore.

This is your modern-day Republican party. Pyrrhic victories, and a kiss off for everybody else, even the voters who brought you to the party. And those voters have been so thoroughly propagandized that they will find a way to blame the Democrats. After all Democrats are obstructionists! (as we’ve been told by President Kumquat). Forgetting the whole time that nobody has ever been more obstructionist than the Republican party during the Obama administration, and that the only reason that we’re having this “repeal and replace” debate is because it is part of the Republican’s legacy in obstructing the Affordable Care Act at every turn.

[1] The case was heard at the High Court, and on April 11 the court ruled that it was in the infant’s best interests for his treating clinicians to withdraw mechanical ventilation and provide him with palliative care only, maintaining his dignity. On May 25, the Court of Appeal refused to overturn the decision of the lower court, and the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom subsequently refused permission to appeal from this decision. A final appeal was made to the European Court of Human Rights, which was also rejected.

[2] It’s not so clear who would pay for all of this. Probably the American taxpayer.

[3] Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, has already announced her opposition to the revised bill.  So has Rand Paul from Kentucky (but for completely different reasons). So McConnell can’t afford to lose anyone else.

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The Senate Republican Health Care Screw Job

How does one put this delicately? Mitch McConnell and his gang that couldn’t shoot straight are trying to fuck us in the ass. Okay, maybe that’s not delicate, but there is no way to over-emphasize the degree to which this Senate Republican health care initiative is a screw job, the same as what was passed in the House. Their version is called the “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” and in some ways it’s worse than what was passed in the House.

So  how did we get here? Let’s review:

  • The Clinton administration initially tried in its first term to pass a universal health care bill, and famously appointed his wife Hillary to lead the project. The effort failed after it ran into unplaccable opposition from the health insurance industry and their very effective “Harry and Louise” ad campaign.
  • Shortly after (and in response to) the ill-fated Clinton Health Care Initiative, the Heritage Foundation conceived of the idea of the “individual mandate.”
    This is well known among health care experts and has never been disputed.[1]
  • Republican Governor Mitt Romney incorporated the “individual mandate” into the Commonwealth’s first in the nation universal health care bill, enacted in 2006 as Chapter 58.
  • When working on the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) President Obama and his team used some of the same ideas, as well as some of the same architects, in crafting the federal act.
  • Although Obama assiduously sought out Republican input and participation, the Republicans steadfastly refused to participate in the crafting of the Affordable Care Act. At the time, Mitch McConnell, recently installed as Senate Majority Leader, let it be known that his #1 priority was to see that Obama was not re-elected.[2]
  • Since then, the Republican engaged in a six year campaign to demonize the Affordable Care Act so that Obama would not get credit for being the President to finally enact universal health legislation in the United States.
  • Along the way the Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act somewhere around 60 times, knowing that the President would veto the repeal.
  • Now that they have control of the Presidency, the House and the Senate, the Republicans have pushed forward with repealing and replacing the affordable care act because it has been so central to all of their campaigns.
  • Several months ago, after an initial false start, the Republicans managed to pass the “American Health Care Act,” which even President Trump conceded was “mean.” The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that among other things, it would likely throw 14 million American off the health care rolls in 2018, 21 million by 2020, and 24 million by 2026.[3]
  • Since arriving in the Senate, Mitch McConnell and a group of 12 additional male Senators have been working in secret on a Senate version of the plan. They have had no committee hearings, circulated no drafts of the bill, and excluded even the rest of their Republican colleagues, all because they know that if their plan looks anything like the House plan, it would run into virulent opposition.
  • This is the plan that McConnell has finally released today, and which he wants the Senate to vote on next week. Even though the plan is not a budget, McConnell and friends have structured in such a way that they can use the budget reconciliation process in the Senate to avoid what would otherwise be a certain Democratic filibuster.[4]

What I really want to say to the Republican Congress is, Members, Obama is out of office now. You can stop obsessing about his legacy. You can stop trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act to score political points.

But with our Republican friends, it’s always politics first. Always.

McConnell has violated every rule relative to the normal historic operating procedure of the Senate. This immense Überhypocrite, who has had the temerity to complain about how the Democrats ran the Senate when they were last in power, wants to pass a bill that would literally screw millions of Americans out of health care. He knows it. The Gang that can’t shoot straight knows it. His Republican colleagues know it.

They don’t care.

No sane person has ever argued that the Affordable Care Act is a perfect bill. We all know that it’s not perfect, and it definitely needs some adjustment. Democrats practically begged Republicans to work with them on adjusting it while Obama was still in office, but the Republican response was their 60 efforts at repeal.

The Affordable Care Act is not “in a death spiral” as Republicans have repeatedly claimed. What is in a bit of chaos these days is the health insurance market, and the cause for that chaos is the Republicans continued attempts to completely repeal the Affordable Care Act.

I have some history with the efforts to enact universal health insurance in Massachusetts, and I’ve written extensively about the Affordable Care Act. Anybody who is interested in the details can read about them here. In any case, the enactment of the Affordable Care Act – whatever flaws it may contain – was at least a sincere best effort at finding a way to bring Universal Health to the American people in a way that would not generate total opposition from the health insurance industry (in a way that a single-payer solution would).

But this, this American Health Care Act, that the Republicans are promoting: this is just a cynical attempt to score political points at the expense of the American people, and which more than anything would hurt the people who largely supported Donald Trump.

[1] See “Assuring Affordable Health Care for All Americans” by Stuart M. Butler (1989).

[2] In this he clearly failed, but it set a pattern for the depth of his hypocrisy. One might reasonably think that the #1 priority of the Senate Majority Leader should be the proper governance of this country, and doing whatever possible to “make it great again,” but McConnell was at least honest enough to disclose his obsession with obstructing Obama.

[3] While an in-depth examination of the American Health Care Bill is well beyond the scope of this post, there are plenty of articles that have demonstrated in great detail what a disaster this bill would be for the American people.

[4] The budget reconciliation process is a complex set of rules that are designed to insure that budgets can pass in the Senate and not be waylaid by opposition filibusters. Budgets often have special rules because Congress must pass a budget in order to keep the government functioning. An in-depth examination of the reconciliation process and why it is inappropriate for this bill is also beyond the scope of this post.

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We have a President with the emotional maturity of a Five year old.

As most of you know already, last week Donald Trump fired James Comey, and his administration fabricated this lengthy alibi involving Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (technically Comey’s boss) and his negative assessment of how Comey handled the Hillary Clinton probe, and then the Donald went and undercut his entire administration by announcing to Lester Holt that he had fired Comey because he was a “showboat” and because he wouldn’t proclaim his loyalty to the President and because he wouldn’t wrap up the Russia investigation. And then he followed that up with a tweet threatening James Comey if he had any tapes of their conversation, which brought up a whole new set of questions, like is the White House taping people’s conversations again (as Richard Nixon and some of his predecessors had done) or did the President engage in obstruction of justice?

But never mind all that.

The two most fascinating stories for me, coming out of the White House this week were:

  1. That in a dinner with reporters from Time Magazine, the Donald had two scoops of ice cream on his chocolate pie, whereas the rest of the diners only had one.
  2. That in an interview with the Economist magazine, the President claimed to have invented the phrase ‘Prime the Pump.’

To which one can only say, really?!

Our President, my friends, has the emotional maturity of a five year old.

He needs to distinguish himself by getting two scoops of ice cream. He apparently needs to believe of himself that he invented phrases which have been in common usage since the Great Depression. And he has such an ego that he needs everyone to know that he made the decision to fire Comey, because that’s what he does, even though it may lead to an obstruction of justice investigation for him. (Prior to this week, I doubt the Donald even knew what obstruction of justice was.)

This is a guy who genuinely thought that Democrats would celebrate his firing of Comey since most of us already blamed Comey for creating the conditions that led to Hillary Clinton’s loss. Which he did.

We’ve moved from a guy (Obama) who was in the White House for eight years without creating any kind of a scandal to an emotional toddler who had a scandal brewing on the day he was inaugurated.

That’s our alternative reality now, my friends.

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What to make of Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey?

What to make of the firing of James Comey yesterday by Donald Trump? It  certainly had echoes of the Saturday Night Massacre under the Nixon Administration.

The official explanation from Trump’s administration is that Comey mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Well, no argument here.

Of course, it didn’t help that Comey lied in his testimony to a Joint Senate committee just last week. As reported by NPR,

Comey said that Clinton aide Huma Abedin had forwarded “hundreds and thousands” of Clinton’s emails, “some of which contained classified information,” to her husband, former Rep. Anthony Weiner, to print out. The discovery of those emails while Weiner was being investigated for possible lewd contact with a minor online is what triggered the reopening of the Clinton investigation just before Election Day. However, after ProPublica reported Comey’s testimony had been inaccurate and that there had been only a “small number” of emails forwarded, Comey had to clarify those comments in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee released Tuesday at nearly the same time news of his firing began to break in the media.

Jesus, Comey, you couldn’t even get that correct?

No one doubts that Comey is a certified asshole. But he was Trump’s certified asshole. He’s also a bit of a wild card, apparently, and seemed to get uncomfortably close to things the Trump administration did not want disclosed on their ties to Russia during the Presidential campaign. As further reported by NPR,

“The first question the administration has to answer is, why now?” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “If the administration had objections to the way Director Comey handled the Clinton investigation, they had those objections the minute the president got into office. But they didn’t fire him then. Why did it happen today?”

Yeah, good question Chuck. What are the chances that Trump’s Justice Department will appoint a special prosecutor? You already know the answer to that one.

Just a reminder:

  • Hillary Clinton’s email server = eight independent investigations.
  • Trump campaign’s ties to Russia = one botched House investigation and one lonely Senate investigation.

Oh yeah. Anybody remember the term “false equivalence?”

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