Two promising things happened on Tuesday:
---Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris as his running mate, a decision that seemed logical the moment it was announced.
(Update: Did you see her speech from Delaware Wednesday afternoon? Full of passion and concern and reality. Clearly, Joe Biden picked the right candidate. Back to my original essay.)
---And two of the major college football conferences called off their season, sending a message to the American public that a few sports administrators are smarter than the murderous and avaricious fools who keep talking about “opening it up” and passing false virus "information" to the public during a pandemic.
Because I am a reforming sports columnist, let me start with the football news. The Big Ten and Pac-12 Conferences will not be sending athletes out to maul each other, up close and personal, for our entertainment.
The remaining conferences may be shamed into the same decision, with other fall sports also postponed until a safer time.
This pandemic is dangerous. I just read it in the Times. But young people will congregate, up close, without masks and spread the globules of damage and death, because they are young. What is the excuse of government and business and education “leaders” who ought to know better? Instead, moronic governors and educators allow children to mingle and spread the virus, as happened in Georgia.
As for the naming of Kamala Harris, it was a decision that made a couple of Warren Wing Democrats exhale and say, “Well, of course.”
I did not like the way Harris went after Biden in the first debate, in such a studied, assassin-type way. Biden blinked and stared at her and took it....a sign of grace....and months later he chose her, maybe because of that.
Or, as Aretha Franklin sang, "What's like got to do with it?"
Hearing people describe Harris’ career gave me a more realistic feeling -- that she is a big-timer who has been preparing for this a long time, as prosecutor and state attorney general and senator.
Harris made a fool of Bill Barr in a Senate hearing, although he may be so far gone that he didn't realize. She will drive Trump crazy, and we are wondering if Pence's wife -- a/k/a Mother -- will have to sit with him during the debate, to make sure he is all right.
On Wednesday, we heard dozens of insiders describing Harris's sense of humor and political astuteness. And then there is this: Blacks are the soul of the Democratic party. This selection honors that, as well as all the considerable assets of the candidate herself.
(I know, I know, we shouldn’t write about the way female candidates present themselves, but we both saw hours of clips of Harris over the years, always dressed in smart sport jackets, or suits, giving an aura of power and purpose.)
Trump must be worried, since he called Harris "nasty" several times Tuesday night – a code word to his male followers, a sign that his pathological contempt for the female gender is kicking in. See how that works at the polls in November.
The rest of the country now has time to observe Kamala Harris carrying the case to the voters.
Much or all of the country will not have the normal diversion of college football, thanks to the courage and intelligence of sports administrators who have more sense than the old and inadequate Trump regime.
People were restless -- yawning, stretching, looking around.
Donald Trump, the latter-day Jim Jones, who would lead his people into a vicious pandemic, was losing his audience.
That's what the TV screen was telling me Saturday as Trump ran out of material, ran out of juice. Maybe it was the blue seats in the upper deck yawning down on him that took away his edge.
He was alone out there, dying, as they say in show biz.
People were breathing on each other, taking the chance of a fatal dose of the virus he does not take seriously.
What was worse was the ennui of the faithful, who had driven all that way to downtown Tulsa, braving the fears of violence and huge crowds -- and now they seemed to be thinking about whether they could get their car out of the parking lot and head for home.
He had nothing for them.
That doesn't mean Trump won't do scandalous things, violent things, in days to come, when he can take out his anger on his staff, his enemies, the American people, aided by the Lickspittles of the Year, Barr and Pompeo. He will fire people, sure, but deep down he knows that the polls and Joe Biden and the honest investigators and even the Supreme Court are on to him.
He tried to wing it once too often, and on Saturday night he came up empty.
* * *
(The following is my original essay leading up to the Tulsa yawner:)
Jim Jones picked Guyana.
Donald Trump is, you might say, dead set on Tulsa.
Having a bad month with that mean Supreme Court, Trump is mimicking that old-time religion -- trying to hold an old-fashioned tent revival for the faithful in an arena in Tulsa on Saturday, during a pandemic.
Trump is losing in the national polls plus polls of most swing states, and if he loses the election he knows that dozens of legal challenges are waiting. Even if he has no stomach or brains for it, he needs this job.
As of Friday, Trump was going ahead with the mass meeting of Coronavirus microbes while nags like Dr. Anthony Fauci tried to remind him that the pandemic is still on, and while cases are spiking in red states that "opened up" without precautions.
Of course, Trump is already responsible for thousands of deaths because he ignored the warnings early in the year. Any executive would already be indicted, probably convicted, of wilful malfeasance. Instead, he gets crowds at his rallies.
Putting 19,000 people in an arena could be injurious to their health and exponentially that of many thousands more outside.
The result would be on a much higher scale than Jim Jones' pouring the poisoned Kool-Aid for his American followers in far-off Guyana on Nov, 18, 1978, leaving 909 dead, including himself.
For whatever reason, Trump has the same messianic appeal to his people that the charismatic preacher from California had back in the ‘70s.
The son of Jim Jones, Stephan Jones, who happened to be away from the Jonestown compound on Kool-Aid Day back in 1978, has been comparing Trump and Jones for years.
“I see so many parallels it’s ridiculous,” Stephan Jones told Susie Meister in Medium.com in 2018. The son said that Trump, like Jim Jones, is a narcissist and relies on similar manipulation tactics.
“My dad would meet someone, quickly read what you feared most and what you wanted most, and convince you that he was the one to save you from one and give you the other,” Stephan Jones said.
Trump, who needs to feel big about everything he does, might be heading for a much higher figure than Jones achieved.
There are some sensible people out there: themayor of Tulsa, a Republican, wants this thing called off, and conservative doctors and lawyers went to court to block this health hazard, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the rally could go ahead.
There are indications the regular ushers and other workers at the arena might decline to show up because of the danger, leaving "security" in the hands of volunteers, most of whom do not have the sense to avoid crowds, much less control one.
Another person who has seen the light is Trump’s 11-day-wonder of a press secretary, Anthony Scaramucci.
I wonder whether Rep. Jackie Speier of California makes the connection between Jones and Trump. At Jonestown, Speier took five bullets in an ambush when she accompanied her boss, Rep. Leo Ryan, who was investigating the Californians said to be in danger there. Ryan died but Speier survived 10 operations and in 2008 was elected to Congress from the same region as her late boss. She is one of the most stable and subtle critics of Trump.
Trump may have prevailed in this legal effort to spread the word -- and the virus -- so gratuitously, but with the Supreme Court making decisions that rebuke him and relatives and aides writing books critical of him, deep down he may understand that he has been found out.
An arena full of potential virus carriers could be the new version of poisoned Kool Aid. This could be his way out.
* * *
How this rally came about:
Scaramucci and Trump:
Stephan Jones on his father and Trump:
Rep. Jackie Speier of California:
Watching Dr. Anthony Fauci politely try to clear up some of the most egregious errors by Donald Trump, I am fascinated by his political poise.
Dr. Fauci was at his best Friday, calmly labelling Trump’s claims that a malaria vaccine might help stop the Coronavirus as "anecdotal." Trump had a “hunch.” Fauci had experience and facts. And character. And discretion.
I’ve been impressed by Dr. Fauci since he escaped Trump’s dungeon for inconvenient experts. You know, the Deep State. People who know things, like Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 -- six presidents, two Democrats and four Republicans.
Apparently, in this Dark Age, circumstances dictated that one qualified person should be up front with all the Pences and Pompeos.
So there he was, this tiny man (the web does not seem to divulge his actual height) who keeps a straight face while Trump is making stuff up during a grave crisis. And when Dr. Fauci speaks, he does so in a mixture of scientific knowledge and a gravelly accent that says, “Noo Yawk."
* * *
NB: Maureen Dowd spoke to Dr. Fauci. Great quotes. She also uses the word "gravelly," only proving that great minds think...or hear....alike .
* * *
I did not know anything about Dr. Fauci, but felt I knew him from my home town. He reminded me of the humble comedian, Jimmy Durante, a presence in my childhood, always ending his TV show with the mysterious salute:“ Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”
The good doctor also sounds just like Lou Carnesecca, the beloved ex-coach of St. John’s basketball, still very much alive at 95. Looie, bless his heart, would usually begin his post-game summary by saying: “Two t’ings,” which he would then enumerate. And he always raved about New York pizza and bagels, claiming they were superior because of the elixir in the city pipes.
Turns out, I was on the right track, comparing Dr. Fauci with Looie. My brother-in-law Rich recalled Tony Fauci as a star athlete at Regis High School in Manhattan, one of the best Roman Catholic high schools in the city.
Anthony Fauci was the captain and starting point guard for Regis. before concentrating on his studies at Holy Cross and med school and has had a long and honorable career. Surely, running the offense against larger players prepared him for the gross lack of expertise and leadership in this ailing country.
I watch him while Trump is bloviating. He looks straight ahead, no eye-rolling, no twitching, no raising his hand to make a point. Some people might see him as going along with the program, just another Trump toadie, but I see him as Tony Fauci, point guard, trying to find space amidst the blockheads, and taking the charge for the good of the nation.
* * *
(Another alum of Regis is Colin Jost, the pleasant, deceptively sly co-host of Weekend Update on “Saturday Night Live.” Jost recently published a sweet little article in the New Yorker, about commuting from Staten Island – bus, ferry, subway, 90 minutes each way, for four years, and the interesting species he encountered, two-legged and four-legged. It’s part of a book he has coming out.)
* * *
Links about Dr. Anthony Fauci:
Very nice column by Jenni Carlson of the Oklahoman:
Check out this poor schlub being interviewed by Rep. Katie Porter of California.
More important, check out the faces behind him – presumably colleagues or family.
They are wincing as Dr. Robert R. Redfield is exposed as yet another Trumpite bumbler in the time of Covid-19.
Rep. Porter, in her first term, has become the scourge of corporate and government “leaders” who try to out-wait her few minutes of questioning.
Originally from Iowa, Rep. Porter went to Yale University and Harvard Law School, where her mentor was Elizabeth Warren.
On Thursday, she was doing what she does best, in a hearing into the lack of preparation for the rampaging virus – specifically the lack of tests and who will bear the cost when any tests are finally available after a scandalous delay.
Rep. Porter said she had violated her own rule of not alerting the hapless witnesses. She sent her line of questioning to Dr. Redfield’s office a week ahead of time so he could be prepared. But he appears to know nothing, nothing -- staff work in the time of Trump.
Dr. Redfield is a 68-year-old relic, a virologist who previously “served” in government during the early days of AIDS.
In his unprepared and ignorant fashion, Donald Trump tried to do away with government medical and research agencies but was forced to find a few people who could pretend to expertise, while Trump’s family and friends filled their gunnysacks with loose cash.
In 2018, Dr. Redfield was brought in as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Not even having the bluster of a bank president, Dr. Redfield was confronted by the terror of the House. Rep. Porter had her facts and figures on hand – how much a test would cost. But most people seeking emergency treatment could not afford this perhaps life-saving process.
Would the government cover the cost of a test, Rep. Porter asked.
Dr. Redfield took the punches, waited for the bell to ring.
But Rep. Porter kept telling him: not good enough. She wanted to know if the government would take care of its people. She told him she has researched his powers. You can do this, according to law, she said.
Rep. Porter does this better than I can describe it, better than any lawmaker I have ever seen. Most legislators talk about themselves. She talks about law, about reality.
Watch the video. It’s a Perry Mason moment – the stunning reversal in real time—that almost never happens in trials or hearings.
In the end, battered and beaten, Dr. Redfield succumbs, seems to promise government coverage.
I do not know if his foggy submission has any legality.
Trump might well fire him any hour now, say it was all a mistake.
Once again, Katie Porter has exposed the stupidity and callousness of this regime.
* * *
On Thursday, a federal judge characterized the public statements of Attorney General William P. Barr as “distorted” and “misleading” in his early descriptions of Robert S. Mueller III's report last year.
I missed the name of the judge at first, but later the name drifted from the television in the next room.
“Oh, my God, that’s Reggie Walton!” I blurted, a bit informal toward a prominent judge.
I learned about Federal Justice Reggie B. Walton a decade ago when I was writing a biography of Stan Musial, the great baseball player from Donora, Pa. I was blessed to have two mentor-guides to that hard-times steel town: Bimbo Cecconi, one of Pitt's great athletes, and Dr. Charles Stacey, the former school superintendent and a town historian who was proud of both Musial and Walton.
“You ought to talk to Reggie Walton,” Dr. Stacey said. Later, on his own, he called his star pupil and suggested he give me a ring. That is the Donora connection – the pride of people who survived the mills and the streets and the hard times.
There was a history to Judge Walton. His parents worked hard -- the job market was always tougher for African-Americans -- and had high hopes for their son. Reggie was a competitor, who goaded his football teammates not to quit against much bigger teams, but he also ran with a tough crowd. In his senior year of high school, he thought he was going to a fist fight between two gangs from opposite sides of the Monongahela River.
Somebody pulled a sharp object and a boy from the other side was stabbed. Reggie Walton helped him get medical help, and then he decided to make himself scarce from gang activity. People in town pointed him toward West Virginia State University, a historically black college, to play football, and maybe to study.
The football was all right, but the studying was better. Reggie Walton is now a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., who has been in the news a few times since being appointed by President George W. Bush.
In 2005 the judge broke up a street brawl near the courthouse, and in 2007 he presided over the trial of I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, for outing a C.I.A. agent. The jury convicted Libby and the judge sentenced him to 30 months, but President Bush set him free, and President Trump later pardoned Libby. The judge was reportedly not amused, either time.
I finally got to meet Judge Walton in 2011 as he prepared for the perjury trial of Roger Clemens in the steroids frolics. Maybe because of his former school superintendent, Judge Walton agreed to meet me, on the grounds that we not discuss Clemens, at all.
I thought maybe I could slip in a question or two, but after five minutes in his office, I knew better than to try to make a fancy journalistic feint through Judge Walton's defense.
Nobody pulls the okey-doke on Judge Walton. I was in the courtroom in the first hour of the Clemens trial, when the prosecution alluded to a witness who had been ruled off limits. The highly-paid defense lawyer stuck up his hand and made an objection and the judge called a timeout, saying he needed a few minutes to think it over. After consulting his colleagues in back chambers, the judge declared a mistrial.
This year Judge Walton was assigned a case questioning whether the attorney general had accurately portrayed the Mueller report long before the public could see it. The judge alluded to “inconsistencies” from the attorney general.
In football terms, the liaison between the president and the attorney general has produced a dirty game for the past three years -- lots of grappling in the mud, kneeing and gouging in the pile.
All I know is, when the oblong football skitters loose in a legal scrimmage, I want it to roll near Reggie Walton, from Donora, Pa.
The article I wrote in 2011 before the brief Clemens trial:
Judge Walton's official website:
We sat in front of the tube Sunday night and made that exclamation, watching a politician kiss his husband and then deliver a gracious and hopeful speech.
The love in the room was tangible, following months of campaigning by Mayor Pete in far corners of the United States, where he was treated with respect and affection by wide swaths of the population.
In the narrow sense, this was not a triumph, since Buttigieg had just been ignored/rejected by voters in South Carolina, who had other agendas, quite understandable. But Buttigieg knew he had taken his youth and hope and skill to the American public and received votes, delegates, and promise of a future.
So, yes, this scene was not something we had thought we would see in a national election, any time soon.
In a way, it reminded me of the hope of turning, dare I admit it, 21 in the election year of 1960, and seeing a candidate I thought represented youth and idealism, John F. Kennedy, beating Richard M. Nixon.
For anybody believing in equal opportunity, there was pride in that religious barricade coming down, but much more it was the hope of another generation coming along, that would sort things out, or so we hoped.
More to the point, Buttigieg’s speech, clearly without prompters or notes, celebrating values like honesty and equality and facts, reminded us of a speech at the Democratic convention in 2004, by a senator, of color.
My wife caught it live, and told me about it, and said Barack Obama would be president, and soon, because he could express the hope and ideals of the nation.
Four years later, we saw an appealing family, husband and wife and two little girls, walk onto a stage in Grant Park, Chicago, to acknowledge being elected president.
“Did you ever think you’d see that?”
I can only speak for myself, but the magical sight reflected to my upbringing, the highly “progressive” political values of my family – the adoration for Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband, the records by Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson in our house, and the discussion group of working class people in Queens, intentionally maintained at 50-50, black and white, that sometimes met in my family’s living room.
How often do you see family ideals expressed on worldwide television from a jammed lakeside park in Chicago? For all the birther crap being spread about the Obamas, this was a family victory.
Now it is a gay couple, Pete and Chasten, married, kissing in front of the world, celebrating the reality that Mayor Pete had been accepted – chosen in primaries and caucuses – particularly by older folks, in a time when younger people are much more comfortable with gender diversity.
And then Mayor Pete gave a speech that reminded us of Barack Obama in 2004.
Nobody knows what will play out in the coming days and months.
I won’t even go into the glaring and dangerous failures of the current president.
I only know that Mayor Pete kissed his husband, and gave a great speech, and that made us feel better, if only for the moment.
“Did you ever think you’d see that?”
"Lord of the Flies."
Circular firing squads. Mass suicides. That’s what the Democrats have going for them, self-destructive fools that they are.
They are trying to beat The Worst Person in the World and none of them can summon enough dignity and knowledge to help their causes.
(There is even published talk of seeking a compromise candidate if Bernie Sanders cannot get enough delegates by the convention. Sounds like more anarchy ....except.... except.... for months I have been sad that Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio did not run for president. It's bizarre that at this point there is still strong sentiment for "another" candidate and even the fantasy that Michelle Obama would agree to run for vice president. I wouldn't wish it on her. But that only speaks to the desperate need to upgrade the leadership of this country.)
I never realized how degraded the primary system is until CNN held a so-called Town Hall from Charleston, S.C., Wednesday night.
We caught Bloomberg, Biden, Klobuchar and Warren, all with an hour of their own, to answer thoughtful questions from screened members of the audience – clearly an elite group.
Without yapping and trying to draw blood from a fellow candidate, all four displayed their strengths, often going for 3-4 minutes on one question.
Their answers were such a contrast to the inarticulate, uninformed blather from Trump when he tries to assure us that the Coronavirus will be fine with Mike Pence (Mr. Science) in charge.
Bloomberg was highly informed and adult, talking about being a mayor of a world city.
Biden was touchingly knowledgeable about the reasons for brain cancer affecting the military, including his beloved son Beau. At the end of his hour, he motioned the questioner to come to the front and he would supply references.
Klobuchar still talked about all the bills she had helped send “to Mitch McConnell’s desk,” still appearing self-centered but also emulating past senators who ran (and won) presidential contests.
And Warren, while still overly kinetic and anecdotal, reminded us of the lawyer/senator who has effectively reigned in the bandit banks and insurance companies.
The format was a welcome relief from the Trumpian reality shows, the Simon types sneering at contestants, Jerry Springer dragging human misery onto the stage and goading people to attack each other.
Maybe America is not terminally afflicted with show-biz hysteria.
Instead of turning public figures into survivors, it is time to do away with these hideous mass “debates” that turn into pie fights.
And while they are at it, let's do away with the caucuses, all that inscrutable and inarticulate milling around -- not democracy in action but rather a theater of the absurd.
This is important. America has a president who is a lethal mix of malicious and stupid and greedy.
Earth cannot afford more of this.
If there is still time, let's restore a touch of gravitas to the process.
No more mass “debates.”
The other day I referred to the current debates as a "horror show."
Then came Wednesday night's Democratic slap-down from Las Vegas, with all the candidates greeting Mike Bloomberg with all the ear-ringing civility of the old Jerry Springer show, or maybe a Trump stalk-a-thon from 2016.
It's all a reality show now. What would happen if, say, Adlai Stevenson and Robert Taft, prominent candidates of the left and right from the 1950's, wandered into that raucous scrum?
Hard to maintain dignity in this melee. Rip Van Bloomberg blinked and shrugged and pursed his lips at the political Billingsgate being heaved at him. Rotten fish and unkind verbiage. Didn't they know who he is?
I'm typing this in mid-morning on Thursday. It wouldn't surprise me if Mayor Mike said "screw this" before noon and fired up his private carbon-burner for a weekend in his mansion in London. (Beats the hell out of Mar-a-Lago.) What does he need this for?
I'll leave the ratings and snide points to the paid observers in the media.
I only want to add that Joe Biden maintained his avuncular posture while people around him were tossing verbal chamber pots around the stage.
Maybe that means Uncle Joe is irrelevant? Or he is going to wait for Senator Amy and Mayor Pete to be led away for mutual assault? It's a battle of attrition out there while Trump pardons body-double criminals who remind him of, well, himself.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden stayed on his feet, hair and syntax in place.
(Here's what I wrote about him the other day, before Mayor Mike wandered onto the stage, stunningly unprepared:)
* * *
On Monday I strolled past an active television screen and saw a poised gent making sense (at least, to me) and I paused to take a look.
Omigosh, it was Joe Biden, the candidate that the national hangin' jury has consigned to oblivion.
Time to take Grandpa to the Dog Track.
Biden sounded and looked healthy, focused, experienced and decent -- not the distracted old-timer out in public beyond his bedtime in this circus of primaries, outdoors in small, snowbound states.
He spoke rationally about the danger of the disturbed man currently defiling the post of President,. He spoke in some detail about the right way to run his country.
"Wait a minute," I said out loud. He sounded like somebody who could pick a cabinet much better than the current collection of self-serving ghouls. He sounded as if he had some job experience, could absorb facts, as opposed to the illiterate and sadistic buffoon we currently have.
Joe Biden was being interviewed by Nicolle Wallace, the reforming Republican who has become one of the very best hosts on MSNBC. She asked good questions, did not interrupt or blather like some people I could mention.
So he's old. So are most of the other leading candidates. I'm three-plus years older than Biden, blessed to be in good shape, but I can easily imagine a president wanting to sneak off for a nap. Then again, look at the bloated, addled oaf we have now.
(Old president? Get a younger running mate. Stacey Abrams, age 46, jobbed out of the Senate by Georgia's establishment, would be a perfect running mate.)
So Biden stutters a bit -- a lifelong condition he has mostly overcome, which sounds worse in the circus carnival of primaries. Listening to him the other day, I could see him making sense with leaders of other countries, members of both parties, corporate executives, union officials, as well as citizens of all political leanings. I could see him delegating chores to responsible assistants.
The former Veep has been there, done that.
(I know, I know, the "borrowed" speech, Anita Hill, the vote on Iraq, his unqualified son taking a cushy "job" in Ukraine, complaints that Biden is a bit too old-school hands-on.)
For 14-plus minutes, Joe Biden looked and sounded presidential -- perhaps more than anybody else in this mad roller-coaster of a campaign.
For that moment, I was once again ready to reconsider the potential candidates to save this country.
Would somebody please tell Barr he cannot get it back, whatever he gave away in order to serve Trump?
It doesn’t work that way. Trump uses his lackeys and then he tosses them out. Later, some locate a glimmer or pretense of conscience, like Cohen in jail or Kelly out in the world, but by then the damage is done.
I’m not sure I really believe the fuss Barr is making about Trump’s interference in the Justice Department over the Roger Stone sentence. It could very well be a smokescreen to divert the thinking/caring half of the country. This current flap could be buying time for McConnell and the White Citizens Council to do more damage.
It’s too late for Barr, and maybe even too late for those of us who knew Trump as a wrongo, going back to his feckless-playboy days in New York, and tried to warn people. It’s too late for Barr because he has already wasted a year we could not afford.
It's too late for Barr in his slavish role as "My Roy Cohn," the nether force who advised the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Barr maligned Robert Mueller – his friend! – before Mueller’s report was public, thereby rendering it ineffective. Barr left his stink on a good public servant.
Maybe people informed Barr that he was looking horrible, that Trump was using him. Some of Barr’s old friends were going on TV and sighing that this is not the person they used to know. This is what happens in the monster movies when the core is removed.
* * *
Also, would somebody please tell Sen. Susan Collins that her social-worker cause isn’t working out. This wishy-washy senator from Maine said her vote to end the impeachment could very well teach a lesson to Trump. There is no such thing as a bad boy, Collins seemed to be saying.
Even if Collins and her pals in the Senate had voted to pretend to hear witnesses, the process might still be going on, and Trump would not be exacting revenge on the citizens who did their duty in sworn testimony.
Collins will figure out soon that heroes like Vindman and Yovanovich get to keep their reputations while she and Lamar Alexander and Lisa Murkowski get to ride the Senate subway to ignominy.
How’s that reclamation project working, Sen. Collins? Maybe she will explain it to voters in Maine this fall -- if Trump allows elections to go forward.
* * *
Things could happen fast as I type this on a cold Valentine’s Day. Trump could fire Barr. Or, Barr could quit. Or, it could all be a smokescreen to validate Barr’s next round of enablement.
After watching these people in action, I trust nobody.
* * *
Pozzo and Lucky: Please see:
"My Roy Cohn":
Eight years ago (!) I wrote about a presidential candidate named Mitt Romney.
He was, I said, more than just the slick Money Guy he appeared to be.
This was based on my interviews with him when he stepped in and saved the scandal-ridden host committee for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
I also had a long breakfast with him in Sydney during the 2000 Summer Games. (I offered to pass the coffee pot to the devout Mormon, before remembering. Somebody joked that the wired Mitt Romney did not need any caffeine.)
The one thing that stuck with me during his ineffective campaign later in 2012 was that Romney often referred to his wife. Ann Davies Romney was a presence, an equal in the relationship. She gave him feedback, advice, and he acknowledged it with the occasional “Ann tells me” or “Ann says.” (I surely can relate because of my strong and capable wife.)
I did not see any overt signs of his Mormon faith – but he had made his mission (to France, nice going, man) and was clearly living in the Mormon tradition. That is to say, he had a strong core, whatever I might think of his “politics.”
So I was not totally stunned when Romney last Tuesday and delivered a speech in the Senate on why he would vote for President Trump to be judged guilty (on one of two counts) in his impeachment trial. He cited his faith, pausing to collect himself, fighting off the emotions, discussing why he was doing what he felt was right.
Romney’s near tears were catching. Several of his colleagues – Democratic colleagues – were openly weeping at the sight of this Mormon Republican laying down the lines of right and wrong.
At least there was one Republican, to stand in opposition to the Susan Collinses and Lamar Alexanders of the world, consisting of gooey polenta at the crucial moment, plus the White Citizens Council that gathers mutely behind Mitch McConnell. Mitt Romney stood alone, but not alone.
Having been around him, I could feel the presence of “Ann says” as Romney made his brave stand.
In that, Mitt Romney is very much in the path of the two previous Presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, both of whom acknowledge the presence of co-equal spouses, which may be why the Obamas and the Bushes seem so friendly at infrequent meetings. They recognize each other.
That’s all I’m saying, not trying to discuss the current occupants of the White House, or earlier couples.
It’s something to think about this time around. Just for example, candidate Pete Buttigieg often refers to his husband, Chasten, clearly a regular presence in his life. That is not a political endorsement, just an observation.
In an important moment in his life, Mitt Romney had something inside that led him to recognize a criminal, a bully, an empty and dangerous despot. Not perfect – nobody is – Romney set an example for other Americans. I am sure his wife is proud of him.
My glimpse of Mitt Romney, Feb. 2012:
Ann Romney has multiple sclerosis; one reason I admire her so much is that my mom fought it back for over 40 years. This is a glimpse of Ann Romney’s fight:
(The following ode to Iowa was written before all hell broke loose in the ramshackle "system" that was supposed to collate the Democratic caucus results Monday night. Even before the network failed to produce while the world was watching, visiting savants like Chris Matthews were questioning -- in front of the earnest citizens -- why Iowa got to hold the highly visible first "primary" scrimmage every four years. With these reasonable questions being raised, Iowa may lose its prominent spot. Shame. There ought to be a place for well-meaning Americana -- but maybe not with an ignorant and vicious wannabe dictator getting a free pass from his party enablers. Poor Iowa, caught up in the tumult. My original praise for Iowa and skepticism about a caucus:)
They are highly motivated, conscientious American citizens.
But what in the world are they doing?
Why don’t they just vote?
Then I remember, Iowa is different, or so they say.
I’ve been there three times and liked all three visits. (More in a bit.)
While trying to make sense of this caucus thing Monday evening, I remembered one of my favorite musicals – “The Music Man,” by Meredith Willson, that’s with two L’s, and don’t you forget it.
A con man (Robert Preston) gets off the train in River City, Iowa (Willson was from Mason City) and tries to chat up the townspeople, only to receive a bunch of double talk, some of it polite.
The result: “Iowa Stubborn.”
That charming character trait emerged Monday in snow-covered Iowa (or “I-oh-way,” as some of the denizens insist.)
“The caucus is like cricket,” I told my wife. (We once saw the great West Indies team play a tuneup in a Welsh country town.)
“Cricket is easier,” she said, meaning – bat, ball, tea.
This caucus thing determines who wins the delegates, who has the momentum, or maybe not.
It’s a portrait of Iowa. The Grant Wood painting, American Gothic.
I am affectionate about Iowa – after first noting that its populace does not at all resemble that of my home town of New York.
My first trip to Iowa was in 1973 when Charlotte Curtis, the great Family/Style editor of the Times (herself a Midwesterner), sent me out to Iowa to write about a boy, 18 or 19, who had just been elected mayor of a little town. (I cannot find the story in the electronic files.) It was such a nice visit, at this cold time of year, as I recall.
My second trip to Iowa was early in 1979 when Iowa was selected as one of the sites for the first American visit by Pope John Paul II, because of the huge farm preserve, judged a perfect site for the man from Cracow. After scouting out Des Moines, I had dinner with a couple who had met when he was posted to her town in the Altiplano of a South American country. We went to a Chinese restaurant, where they chatted with the staff in Spanish – a big Chinese contingent, emigrated via Latin America.
My third trip to Iowa was on a perfect autumn day in 1979 as the square-jawed Pope strode the plains, waving to a bunch of Lutherans. He was young and strong, looking like a former linebacker for the Iowa Hawkeyes. I edged closer to get a look – and got blind-sided by an American Secret Service guy.
When the Pope had moved on, I stood on the great plain and congratulated the nun who had facilitated the press visit. She was so happy that the day had turned out so beautifully that I could think of only one thing to do – I hugged the nun. That’s what I think about whenever I remember that day.
Oh, one other Iowa impression: Our daughter Laura decided to spend her junior year abroad and chose Iowa City. Every few weeks the phone would ring and a plaintive voice would say: "It's dark out here."
Now, every four years, the great journalists from my cable-network-of-choice wander all over that state and I thrill to every coffee klatsch and every barber shop. The journalists can explain “quid-pro-quo” and “impeachment” perfectly, but they cannot explain what those folks are doing on the first Monday in February.
(The aforementioned Laura watched caucus news from Iowa Monday night and texted us: "Nicolle and Rachel far better than Troy and Buck." Poor girl is having Super Bowl flashbacks.)
Maybe Meredith Willson could have explained the caucus, but he was more interested in the busy intersection of chicanery and romance, and bless his heart for that.
I did the healthy thing and did not watch a moment on Sunday night. While I read a book, the next generation kept me posted -- good reviews for the ladies, terrible reviews for the TV babblers. Some of our family were early Mahomes fans; I'm happy for them. Ditto for my friend Bill Wakefield, ex-Met, who chose his home town over his adopted Bay Area. I have that righteous (probably smug) feeling I have on Jan. 1 after going to sleep before midnight..
Now I have a three-word mantra for other true believers:
Pitchers And Catchers!!!
* * *
After covering 10 or 11 Super Bowls (*), I still did not truly understand the broad appeal of the event -- until Friday evening.
While watching the Republican majority in the Senate dump on the impeachment trial, I became aware of the magnetic pull of the Big Game on everybody – not just the deaf, dumb and blind Senate majority but even the broadcasters on cable news, who referred to the Super Bowl in just about every other sentence.
People made jokes about home-region teams -- nicknames, rivalries, ancient games -- as if that mattered more than a real hearing, a real trial.
I got the impression that even news TV people with connections had the promise of a ticket and a flight to South Florida, as long as the Senate did not take its job seriously and keep working into Saturday. Plus, four Democrat senators could now rush out to Iowa to peddle their wares before the caucus on Monday.
Take it from me, up close the Super Bowl is just another football game – but with more logistical annoyances, more noise, more stupid stuff at halftime, more clichés, and in the end just a bunch of running and passing and tackling and blocking and kicking and commercial timeouts.
It really isn’t much of a consolation that the Senate cannot officially toss the impeachment into the Dumpster until Wednesday.
Does this mean Trump won’t swagger around South Florida on Sunday….and strut into the State of the Union speech on Tuesday….and make pointed remarks about how the Democrats couldn’t prove a thing. He’s been getting away with stuff all his life. But at least his latest escape won’t be official until Wednesday.
The big game this weekend is that Americans can ignore the reality that Trump forced Ukraine to survive without promised weapons for many crucial days last summer while Trump pursued a personal and political goal and jeopardized Ukrainian people and befouled the honorable career of a diplomat assigned to Ukraine
Thanks to the Republican majority in the Senate – who will be pursued by emerging facts in days and weeks to come -- the menace and the lies get to take a few days off now.
Democracy and justice have been kneed in the groin, have “had their bell rung,” as the football broadcasters used to bray, have been tripped and elbowed, have been clotheslined by a neck-high tackle.
The big game will be run by tighter rules than the Trump Frolics, but that makes sense.
After all, what’s more important - an impeachment trial or a Super Bowl?
* * *
(*) -- I originally thought I covered nearly two dozen Super Bowls, but it just seemed that way. When I checked, it was only 10. Maybe 11. Some of them numbed my mind but I do have memories: Preservation Hall jazz in 1970; having to trek over snowy fields because VP Bush's arrival halted all traffic around the Silverdome in 1982; John Riggins' superb traction on a slick Rose Bowl field in 1983; enjoying the Bears, my favorite childhood team, winning in NOLA in 1986; and watching southern drivers try to negotiate icy interstates before Atlanta game in 2000. Who says there is no fun at the Super Bowl?
Now that our Dear Leader is back on his meds, the United States is in the hands of Mitch McConnell.
This was the conclusion in the past day as we realized the world was not in smoldering ruins, not yet, from an impulsive drive-by shooting ordered by the Dear Leader.
The twitchy fingers of Twitter America have produced a theory that somebody had fed him doggie downers or whatever it took to leave Donald Trump slurring as he mechanically tried to read what his handlers had written for him. Not a pretty sight, but better than more rabid postures he takes.
Meantime, the nation is back in the hands of the same friendly feller who kidnapped the Supreme Court candidacy of Judge Merrick B. Garland and committed other acts of contempt toward democracy.
I don’t need to go through the scenarios of the impeachment frolics. We’ve got time to talk about it while Nancy Pelosi – the smartest person in the room – is making the Dear Leader twist.
But I, who lived in Kentucky as a Times reporter for a few years and returned often, have my own take on Mitch. I have told this story before. Short version: I covered a statewide election in Kentucky and the winning candidate – I have no memory which one or which party – celebrated that night at headquarters by proclaiming:
“They’ve had their turn at the trough; now it’s our turn.”
Ever since then, I retain the image of one porker or another making the most of his chance – no concern for others.
Millions of Americans would not have health care, however imperfect, if John McCain had not pointed his thumb downward on that historic midnight. Mitch would be fine with disregarding the needs of the poor in the cities and hollers of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
He also shows his contempt for others by championing the dying industry of coal mining, which I covered years ago. He doesn’t care how badly King Coal pollutes the land and the air – or that it is is only a sliver of Kentucky’s economy. His turn at the trough.
McConnell’s posture is even more negative considering that he broke into politics as an aide to Sen. John Sherman Cooper, a Republican – I guess you’d say an old-style Republican. Cooper was worldly and collegial. I covered his announcement that he would not run again in 1972. Maybe I met McConnell that day; I do remember the gravitas of John Sherman Cooper.
I think of Cooper and others these days during the scrimmage for the House-to-Senate impeachment.
I remember when Democrats like Sam Ervin and Republicans like Howard Baker were able to work together in the Watergate scandal that doomed Richard M. Nixon.
It seems clear to me – from the impulsive assassination ordered by Trump to the lies from Trump’s toadies, angering even a Republican stalwart like Mike Lee of Utah – that the United States needs Trump dismissed.
Mitch McConnell is trying to block it. I don’t know what McConnell gains from a defective president like Trump. But it’s still Mitch’s turn at the trough, and that may be all that matters to him.
* * *
Here is Gail Collins today, on McConnell. (I have delayed my pleasure in reading Collins until after I file my little screed, which was already in the works.)
(Update: A major evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, founded by Billy Graham, has called for Trump's removal via impeachment. This is a huge step. I used to cover religion; I also know and love some evangelicals, who scurried out to vote for Trump in 2016 because their pastors said he was a good Christian fellow. Many of those pastors are caught up in Trump's money and power and swagger. The red ties! The adoring crowds! Will they pay attention to the prophetic message from a magazine that has been a voice of evangelical thinking? The "mainstream" media is taking this very seriously. Will it trickle down to people who call themselves "Good Christians?")
* * *
A guy I know canvasses for the Democratic party in his rural corner of America. He says it is not unusual to knock on a door and have the woman of the house say, softly, that she votes Democratic these days, but that the visitor should not try to discuss voting with her husband.
In that exchange there may be a palpable sense of intimidation, of fear.
I was thinking of that on Impeachment Wednesday when President Trump was in Battle Creek, Mich., making an ad-lib rant about how he had “given” an A-plus ceremony upon the death of Debbie Dingell’s husband, John Dingell, a veteran of World War Two and the longest-serving member of Congress in history, 59 years.
The President made his brand of joke that John Dingell was “looking up” rather than “looking down” – and a smattering of Republicans right behind him tittered, as if this was one more out-take from Trump's reality show, which, in a way, it is.
The President referred to the touches he had personally included in the funeral, like a third-rate real-estate sleaze who tosses in a used doormat and a fly-swatter as incentives to seal the deal for an apartment rental (as long as the renter is white, of course.)
John Dingell’s widow, Debbie, now holds his seat in Congress, and Trump took it personally when she joined all but three Democrats in Congress to vote for the two counts of impeachment Wednesday evening – after all he had done for her.
She owed him, he suggested. In fact, in the old way of government, which seems to have been dumped in January of 2017, the White House always had respectable functionaries, essentially apolitical, trusted to treat deceased veterans and members of Congress with dignity. Red regime, blue regime, the government knew how to do the right thing.
But now the country is divided, and one of the major splits is on the civility frontier. The video from Trump’s vile talk Wednesday night shows women right behind him, cheering him on. Reports from the hall said some people were hushed and upset by his attack on the Dingells, but I could not tell.
* * *
* * *
Polls suggest women lean toward the Democrats rather than Trump in the 2020 election. What is clear is that Trump particularly victimizes women – not just from charges of his physical brutality but also in verbal abuse.
He expresses deep feelings that women are objects of disgust, to be feared and mocked: the TV personality who had blood coming from her “whatever;” the opponent who used a debate intermission to go the lavatory; the speaker of the House whose teeth were “falling out” as she spoke.
Women upset Donald Trump, apparently disgust him. I am sure it has to do with his late mother, whom he never mentions. His third wife seems frozen in fear, possibly loathing. His daughter Ivanka? Another story.
Women in Michigan, a state he needs in 2020, hear Trump mocking a widow, a highly capable public figure on her own, now serving as a Representative from Michigan.
When do American women tell the men in their lives that this man is sick, this man is perverted, this man is cruel? Or does the American male -- that intimidating presence somewhere in the back of the house -- have the same anger, the same bluster, as Jordan and Gaetz and Collins in the House of Representatives? Where does this anger in the American psyche come from?
I have come to recognize that Bill Clinton has worse baggage than I was willing to admit. Now, when are the women of America going to realize that Donald J. Trump seems to have no limits to abuse, verbal or otherwise?
I’ll let you define “here.”
There are thousands of factors from "there" to "here," but I’m going to list four random indicators that something was happening.
One. My wife went to the movies with some fellow teachers, circa 1981 -- "Raiders of the Lost Ark." She watched as Harrison Ford blew away a guy who was wielding a sword, in front of a crowd, and she felt he did it with a smirk, for yucks, and the audience laughed, and she felt tears. Something is different, she said. Life means less.
Two. I was clicking through the cable channels around 2006 – no doubt looking for a ball game or a soccer match – and happened upon a talent competition.
We had these things when I was a kid, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts – first prize being a week on his morning radio show. Godfrey was generally genial on the air (well, except when he fired his singer, Julius LaRosa, live, to teach him some “humility.”)
In 2006, a talent competition was different. A British guy named Simon was sneering and making remarks about the competitors, and also about the wisdom of his fellow judges. I had never seen such sheer nastiness on the air; the show was about this Simon guy, not about the contestants singing or dancing their hearts out.
I had never seen a reality show -- knew they existed, but avoided them, scrupulously. Only thing I could say about sneering Simon was “If he acted like that in the schoolyard where I played basketball, somebody would have popped him one.” But Simon seemed quite popular.
Three. I did hear there was a comparable reality show on the tube, starring a guy who grew up near me in Queens. He was rather yappy; friends of mine who lived next door told me that. I never saw him in the schoolyard.
Later, I heard he had been staked by his successful builder father to a rather large allowance to look like a successful businessman. He owned a team in a low-scale pro football league; his wife (first wife, as it turned out) had to correct all the things he did not know about his team.
Then I heard the guy had his own reality show, on which he postured and preened, Simon-like, dismissing candidates with a curt “You’re fired.” I heard it was popular but I never saw it. After all, I had met the guy. People in New York didn't take him seriously. We knew.
Four. Starting in 2009, I started to read about new members of Congress who had run for the House or Senate because….they did not much like centralized government and the use of taxes to run the country, to help other people.
Once elected, they were obligated to go to Washington for a few days here and there, but to show their disdain for centralized government they bragged about bunking in with friends, maybe even sleeping on couches in their offices, until they could get back home to God’s Country, away from the Deep State. These advocates of minimal government were labelled The Tea Party by Rick Santelli of CNBC. Last elected rep to leave, please turn out the lights.
That brings us to today, when the country seems to be divided between elected public officials who seem to have studied and respected the Constitution and the Founding Fathers and other elected public officials who seem to have a Tea Party twitch to shut the whole thing down and turn it over to Our Masters – particularly the guy on the reality show.
I guess it goes back to laughing at bodies being blown to bits by Indiana Jones, back to contestants and fellow judges being mocked by the Simon guy, back to Tea Party types who don’t believe in the separation of powers of government, who do not respect the public servants who make government run.
It’s been coming on for a long time.
I am thankful for the Wampanoags who flocked to the Plymouth settlement in November of 1621 when they heard white people firing off their guns, and stayed three peaceful days to partake of the “feast.” Nobody spoke of “thanksgiving,” but rather a celebration of survival.
Tribal ways were more complex than most people today know; the Narragansetts in what became Rhode Island welcomed Roger Williams, banished from Massachusetts for his inclusive Christian beliefs. All the “Indians” deserved better than the genocide that was coming down on them.
I am thankful for the Americans who arrived as slaves in shackles and were treated cruelly. I am thankful for the modern-day Africans who flee failed societies and continue to add talent and energy and spirituality to the United States.
I am thankful for the Latino people in my part of the world, who do the hard work that immigrants always do. In recent months we have had painters, gardeners, plumbers’ assistants and a mason’s assistant around our house, most of them quite willing and skillful. Their children speak colloquial English and contribute in the schools; some are going to college – the American dream.
I am thankful for the immigrants who served in the military, many of them on the promise of citizenship for their contributions. I am sickened by a country that welshes on its promises, both domestic and foreign. People come to America in hope, the way the “pilgrims” did, and their children are put in cages.
I am thankful for some of the best and brightest in this country, who left their homelands, escaping the Nazis or the Soviets, for what America said about itself -- the promise of education and opportunities and honest government.
I am thankful for the true believers who testified in Congress in recent days, speaking of their hope in America. Some of them are Jews, like Marie Yovanovich and Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman,, who served so diligently and speak so eloquently about this country.
Lt. Col. Vindman acknowledged his father for bringing the family from Ukraine to America, saying: “Here, right matters.”
They should put his saying on the next new dollar bills.
For their pains, Yovanovich and Lt. Col. Vindman have heard sneering overtly anti-Semitic sentiments from some of the “patriots” in government. Shades of Father Coughlin in the ‘30s, Roy Cohn (Donald Trump’s mentor), with Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the ‘50s, and Richard Nixon blaming the Jews during his last days in the bunker in the ‘70s. In America, it never goes away.
Finally, I am thankful for Dr. Fiona Hill, a non-partisan government expert on Russia, and an American by choice, a coal-miner’s daughter from Northeast England with a Harvard degree. (Having helped Loretta Lynn write her book, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” I heard Dr. Hill’s background and said, “They are messing with a coal miner’s daughter. Not a good idea.”)
Dr. Hill caught everybody’s attention by speaking so knowledgeably in what sounded like the finest British accent to our unsophisticated ears but which Dr. Hill termed working-class.
She besought the legislators not to swallow Russian propaganda. The Republican firebrands seemed to know they were outmatched; a few panelists scampered to safety. One of the remaining Republicans, Dr. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, spoke of his non-partisan volunteer service as a doctor of podiatry in Iraq; it is also known that he administered to a colleague shot on a ball field, and rushed to a train crash near Washington.
After delivering some remarks with a scowl, Dr. Wenstrup was not about to ask questions of Dr. Hill. After she requested the chance to respond, Dr. Hill produced the little miracle of the hearings:
As Dr. Hill spoke passionately about fairness and knowledge, the anger drained from Dr. Wenstrup’s face. He was listening – he had manners -- he maintained eye contact -- and he seemed touched, perhaps even shocked, that she was speaking to him as an intelligent adult. How often does that happen in politics? “He’s going to cry,” my wife said.
As Dr. Hill finished, she thanked Dr. Wenstrup, and he nodded, and we saw the nicer person behind the partisan bluster. (I am including a video, but nothing I find on line captures the ongoing split-screen drama that we saw in real time. Maybe somebody can find a better link of this sweet moment, and let me know in the Comments section below.)
I am thankful for Dr. Fiona Hill’s educated hopes for a wiser country. I am thankful to Dr. Wenstrup for listening. I wish them, and Ms. Yovanovich, and Lt. Col. Vindman and all the other witnesses a happy and civil Thanksgiving.
(In other words: Don’t yell at your cousin for not agreeing with you!)
* * *
(In the video below, you might want to skip forward 5 minutes or so, to the point where Dr. Hill asks, "May I actually...." . The video, alas, does not show the split-screen version.)
Thomas Friedman gives Mike Pompeo a well-deserved knee in his missing morality area.
If you haven't seen it yet:
When I took ROTC in college, the first thing they did was pass out a slim manual about leadership, aimed at second lieutenants who might one day be in charge of a platoon, in combat.
One of our teachers – can’t remember if it was an officer or a sergeant – defined leadership as: “Get the troops out of the hot sun.”
Made sense to me. You want health and morale as high as possible.
They taught potential officers how to speak to people. Make eye contact. Square up to the person you were addressing, whether standing or sitting. Try to know their name. Show respect.
I left ROTC after three years – mutual decision, so I guess you could say, who am I to talk? I was married with a child before the Vietnam war heated up and I never served in the military.
I knew people who never came back from Vietnam; I know people who graduated from West Point, who saw duty over there, who had classmates and soldiers under their command killed over there.
I retain respect for the many things the military can teach via a slim manual. Some sports “leaders” have it; some do not. Other industries – no names mentioned -- could learn from the ROTC manual, or any kind of leadership seminar.
A few years ago, an aged relative of ours was starting to decline in a very nice retirement home in Maine. My wife and I requested a conference with the director of the home, who had been an officer overseas, in the nursing corps.
When we arrived, she stood up to greet us and asked us to sit down. She sat squarely in her chair and leaned forward for some small talk.
“What’s on your minds?” she soon asked.
I smiled and said: “I heard you were an officer.” Our meeting was productive. The retirement home did the best it could with our relative.
I was reminded of that meeting on Friday, when I watched Marie Yovanovich, the former ambassador to Ukraine, face a Congressional subcommittee. (There may be something about this hearing in the media today.)
This admirable American modestly discussed her long career, going to the front lines in danger zones, to fly the flag with the people who served.
She talked about being caught during a shootout in Moscow as the Soviet Union came apart – being summoned to the embassy and having to make a dash for it without body armor.
The only time the former ambassador seemed to falter was when she was asked why she was abruptly recalled from her top post in Ukraine. What had she done wrong? Did anyone explain? No, she said plainly. She would not venture a guess why.
From the line of questioning from the Democrats, it was suggested that President Trump and his hatchet man, Rudy Giuliani, wanted her out of there, but never explained to her. The President gave others the impression that something bad could happen to her – beyond the blight to her outstanding career, that is.
On Friday afternoon, Chuck Rosenberg, a sober legal counsel whom I have admired greatly throughout this ugly time, delivered what for him is a rant. Just back from a chatty day with friends in the city, I heard him (on Nicolle Wallace's hour), and I am sure that is what inspired me, five hours later, to deliver my own take here:
One person was conspicuous by his general absence – the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, No. 1 in the Class of 1986 at the United States Military Academy, who later served in Europe.
At the Academy, Pompeo undoubtedly read leadership manuals like the one linked below. Probably, he looked after his troops when he was in uniform. But he is a civilian now – a former member of the House of Representatives, rumored to be interested in running for the Senate from Kansas, and currently punching his ticket by serving time in the cabinet, obsequiously.
People have attacked somebody in Mike Pompeo's unit, have maligned her work. Did he assert his leadership?
Perhaps he has been busy in some hot spot of the world, or perhaps he is cowering in his bunker at the State Department. Sometimes leaders have to deliver harsh news, harsh orders, to their troops. Mike Pompeo has never explained to the former ambassador to Ukraine why she was removed, does not seem to have thanked her for her service.
Mike Pompeo has left Marie Yovanovich standing at attention, out in the hot sun, even when the President of the United States savaged yet another woman, in public, while she was testifying Friday. That is where we are these days.
* * *
"Expose yourself to many of the same hardships as your soldiers by spending time with them in the hot sun, staying with them even when it is unpleasant." --- Tacit Knowledge for Military Leaders; Platoon Leader Questionnaire. (below)
U.S. Army Cadet Handbook:
In this ugly time, I tear up when reminded of the knowledge, the eloquence, the idealism of Barack Obama and Michelle Obama.
Sometimes, I entertain the fantasy that Mrs. Obama will offer herself as a candidate for President – not that I would subject her, or her family, to the viciousness of another campaign, another presidency.
Besides, any ephemeral hopes have been dashed by reading Mrs. Obama’s stimulating book, “Becoming,” which confirms what has seemed apparent: since she was young, Mrs. Obama has felt a visceral distaste for politics.
In her book, she recalls qualifying for the elite Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, which entails a long two-bus commute, but also introduces her to new friends like Santita Jackson. Sometimes, after school, she is invited to the Jackson home, which takes on a frenzy when the man of the house, Jesse Jackson, is in town, making plans for one campaign or another.
One day Michelle and Santita find themselves “conscripted” into marching in the annual Bud Billiken Day Parade on the South Side.
“The fanfare was fun and even intoxicating, but there was something about it, and about politics in general, that made me queasy,” she writes.
When she comes home that afternoon, her mother, the stalwart Marian Shields Robinson, is laughing, saying: “I just saw you on TV."
Michelle Robinson Obama has always known her own mind. She was enough of a realist to admit that she had fallen for a charismatic summer intern at the law firm she had worked so hard to join. Barack Obama had many plans and dreams, and in her telling, she had enough faith in him that she would change her own life around.
That is the first half of the book – how Michelle was raised by Fraser and Marian Robinson, and her older brother, Craig, a basketball star at Princeton, and strong-willed, talented relatives. The richness of her family life – the wisdom of her parents – challenges any stereotypes of African-American life that might get thrown back at the Obamas, to this day.
The second part of the book is about Michelle Obama’s reactions to her husband’s abrupt rise to presidential candidate. Mrs. Obama describes how campaign aides failed to prep her for public appearances, leaving her to improvise. She realized she was no longer primarily a lawyer or community organizer but a political spouse who can jangle a campaign with one impromptu phrase. A born organizer, she seems to have impressed upon the handlers: That won’t happen again.
She describes election night in 2008, when her husband, seemingly so confident, watched on television, and how her mother reached out and patted his shoulder.
Mrs. Obama describes how much she already admired Laura Bush from afar, for her poise and advocacy of books. During the transition, she quickly came to like Mrs. Bush’s husband, and has often been photographed hugging and laughing with him.
She describes life in the White House, how close the family – including her mom -- felt to the mostly-black staff, and how much she relied on advisors to help with her interest in nutrition and gardening and with her wardrobe.
She praises the President as a loyal husband and father. I know this is true because a journalist friend of mine, who often traveled on the Presidential plane, told me how day trips were planned to get the entourage back to Washington in time for the Obamas’ 6 PM supper in the White House.
How Michelle Obama really felt about being a White House wife comes out in one of the most charming anecdotes in the book: On the evening of the Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage, large crowds celebrated in front of the White House. Michelle and her older daughter, Malia, made a break for it, rushing past their guardians, finding an exit to a quiet corner of the garden, just to feel and hear the jubilant crowd. For a few minutes, they beat the system.
There are many sweet memories in this book (written with the help of a talented journalist, Sara Corbett): the entire family meeting an elderly Nelson Mandela in his home, and feeling so comfortable with Queen Elizabeth, who motions for Michelle to sit next to her, referring to palace protocol as “rubbish.”
The book includes gracious mentions of all the people who helped her, and minimal references to the candidate who tried to portray her husband as an illegal alien. I would have liked to hear what Michelle Obama really thinks of that man, but the Obamas live by smart lawyerly aphorisms:
“Don’t do stupid stuff.” And “When they go low, we go high.”
In its high-minded way, Michelle Obama’s book reminds me that this family has earned its independence, mostly out of the spotlight.
We were lucky to have them.
(I wrote the following Mets/Democrats piece before the horrors of last weekend, and the ensuing hypocrisy in a country that cannot deal with the proliferation of weapons of war, in the hands of racists, surely touched off by the president. Is there room or excuse for musing about reality-show "debates" and a baseball team?)
* * *
I am a Mets fan and I am a Democrat.
I believe these masochistic traits are linked.
The Mets, as I typed this, were on a seven-game winning streak. I was not fooled. This will not go anywhere. The rock will fall down the hill. On our heads. And indeed, they got whacked Friday night in Pittsburgh.
The Democrats are currently not on any kind of winning streak. You saw it.
Both loyalties involve short Dionysian moments of glory and long Appollonian decades of suffering.
In other words, the 1969 Mets were John F. Kennedy and the 1986 Mets were Barack Obama.
This temporary joy goes way back. In the first year of the Mets, 1962, a pitcher named Jay Hook, great guy, pitched a good game and likened it to picking cherries – some are sour, but then you bite into a sweet cherry, and that keeps you going.
In the years to follow, the Mets discarded Nolan Ryan and Amos Otis and Tom Seaver and Justin Turner. They once traded Len Dykstra and Roger McDowell for a mope named Juan Samuel.
At the moment, the Mets are being run by a reforming agent and a former pitching coach. Somehow management avoided the Metsian impulse to blow it all up and start over. At the trading deadline, they kept their good pitchers and have won seven straight. I do not expect it to last.
I was prepared to suffer with the Mets by a childhood rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers, who signed Jackie Robinson in 1947. They did the right thing.
I was also raised to believe the Democrats tried to take care of people. They did the right thing.
Now the Dems are trying to find a candidate who can beat The Worst Person in the World. They paraded 20 candidates on stage on Tuesday and Wednesday, like some laboratory experiment involving small furry animals, who immediately set upon each other with teeth and claws.
The worst thing was watching some young wannabes whacking away at old Joe Biden, fair enough, but then linking it to the Obama regime, which I found offensive and self-defeating.
I could not tell how much of that act was posturing and how much was real. It was horrible to watch, but I watched, because…because….I am also a Mets fan. I know how to suffer.
Okay, it was summer TV fare. You know how icky summer TV is. It did not count. It did not happen. (I was relieved to see that the entire country – everybody! – reacts to Mayor de Blasio the way New Yorkers do.)
My main reaction to this summer reality show is that I like Mayor Pete (“He ain’t failed yet,” as Casey Stengel used to say about The Youth of America, that is, young hopefuls) and that Elizabeth Warren is the most knowledgeable and most passionate candidate. She is 70 and has the energy of a 45-year-old. She is from Oklahoma and has experienced deprivation.
And as somebody wrote in a letter to the NYT today, if Trump stalks Warren on stage the way he did to Hillary Clinton, Warren has the street smarts, the sense of self, to point to his corner of the stage and say, “Down, boy,” or worse.
But one thing I have learned in a life of noble causes: stuff happens.
No reason to give up my cup, a gift from last December.
No, I did not smash it with a hammer or shatter it against the kitchen wall.
We watched the hearings Wednesday to see if anything had changed, and nothing had. Robert Mueller was not going to tell us what to do. He is a prosecutor, not a politician, and, bless the difference.
Mueller was going to leave it up to Congress, and the people, which is too bad, but that’s all there is.
I still have the image of Mueller as the Marine officer, taking a bullet in the thigh in Vietnam while leading his platoon. He serves his country, still.
He is more than a veteran prosecutor. Robert Mueller is a concept, an ideal -- Paul Revere riding through Massachusetts, warning “The Russians are coming! Hell, the Russians are here! -- and they have a friend in a high place."
He did that again on Wednesday and, instead of the Vietcong taking potshots at him, he faced some distempered legislators who seemed offended at being thusly warned.
I give the Democrats this much credit: they actually planned their questions. I am sure the Democratic elders had been shamed by rookie legislators like Katie Porter and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who asked informed questions in recent hearings rather than make self-serving speeches like most mossbunker legislators of both parties.
Mueller was generally inscrutable, just getting through the day –his plan for his 89th and 90th visits to Congress, and with any luck at all, his last.
Mueller clearly was not going to deliver an “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” rant. Through the eyes of somebody half a decade older than he (that is to say, me), he looked like I felt – he needed a nap. So I took one.
After a day of reflection, I wonder, even more strongly, if there should be some self-imposed limit, whether elders like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders should try to “run the country,” as the cliché goes, for the next four years.
I also look at the disturbed old man now currently the President, his already meager brain cells obviously crammed with memories of being a reality TV star for the millions, plus the fat from a zillion Big Macs. Incoming senility – or fast-food grease – or malicious intent -- or some toxic combination?
(Elizabeth Warren turned 70 on June 22, but she clearly has the physical and psychic and mental energy of a 50-year-old, plus she has done her homework. She knows stuff. Every case is different.)
Meantime, the septuagenarian Robert Mueller delivered a warning that the Russians are coming.
Most of the country is on vacation, watching videos on smartphones or summer movie sequels, clearly not reading newspapers, much less 444-page reports (mea culpa on that one.)
Robert Mueller has tried. Whatever happens next, not his fault.
He is an American hero, and in my mind remains one.
Paul Moses quotes Horton the Elephant (by Dr. Seuss) to stress the Semper-Fi values of Robert Mueller.
Please see the follow essay from Common-weal Magazine:
Even after King’s assassination and Angelou’s poetry and eight years of an idealistic, educated family in the White House, it never went away.
It festered under the rocks, all over America, and then, like some super-microbe, it reasserted itself in 2016 with the affirmation of essentially half a country.
Now racism has its spokesman, its hero, speaking things that have been gathering in all corners of this diverse country, things people of color (my friends, my relatives) hear and feel every day: why don’t they go back where they came from?
This sentiment generally refers to people of color, people who are “different,” people who speak out. The Other.
Now they have their man, looking to weed out all those who don’t fit into the white mold. It’s been there all along. You can see it in the smug nods of the White Citizens Council that gathers behind the Grand Kleagle himself, Mitch McConnell, in the halls of the Senate.
Now President Donald J. Trump has blurted it out, perhaps to the consternation of his backers, who prefer to do it by degrees, by gerrymandering, with the assent of the Supreme Court.
Goodness gracious, even servile Lindsey Graham, lost without John McCain, has urged Trump to “aim higher” while essentially agreeing with Trump.
Trump and his stubby little tweeting fingers let it fly on Sunday, the rant of a bigot who needs a minder, wishing that four women – of course, women, it seems to me that he hates women – of “different” backgrounds, urging them to go back where they came from.
Except, of course, three of them were born in the United States, and all of them have succeeded admirably in this country which allegedly rewards strivers. But only if you’re Our Kind.
There is no need to insert the quotes here, it’s all out there. The president wants to deport Latino immigrants without the right papers, but he also wants to deport, psychologically at least, people who are different, “troublemakers” (as the Chinese call dissidents), even elected representatives who are challenging their own Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
Trump is speaking to his base, which seems to think the economy is going great -- for them, and that is all that matters. He is betting that the Supreme Court and the McConnells and the state legislatures will give his party – his race – an edge in 2020. And he is willing to play the race card, out in the open, knowing he has support, a lot of support.
Speaking of deporting – go back where you came from – it is worth remembering that Trump’s grandfather, one Friedrich Trump, left Bavaria and wound up in Seattle, apparently running restaurants and hotels and maybe even brothels. When that earlier Trump went back to Bavaria and sought to resume his citizenship, they deported him because he had avoided military service – a perfect example of rampaging genetics, come to think of it.
Friedrich Trump groveled to the prince:
“Most Serene, Most Powerful Prince Regent! Most Gracious Regent and Lord!”
And he concluded his plea:
“Why should we be deported? This is very, very hard for a family. What will our fellow citizens think if honest subjects are faced with such a decree — not to mention the great material losses it would incur. I would like to become a Bavarian citizen again.”
In Bavaria, they told Friedrich Trump: go back where you came from, so he wound up in Queens, New York, and his son, Fred Trump, was soon keeping black people out of his apartment buildings, on his way to shielding his revenue from taxes, to pass on to his children (one of them a judge; only in America.)
Now the grandson tells four duly elected members of Congress to go back where they came from, his rant based on racism. He has touched off a storm, but Trump has an audience.
It never went away.
* * *
(The reaction to Trump’s racist bleat on Sunday)
(The deportation of Friedrich Trump)
(Even Lindsey Graham urges Trump to aim higher)
By all accounts, Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson is a superb pediatric neurosurgeon with a grand career of service to his patients and their families.
However, Dr. Carson is something less of a whiz as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Trump administration.
Dr. Carson often gives the impression he has inhaled way too many toots of operating-room anesthesia. Why would anybody expose himself to such a public position when he has not bothered to learn or care anything about it, including the mandatory alphabet-soup of government terminology?
The Secretary contributed to a classic video on Tuesday during a House hearing, when Democrat representatives peppered him with caustic yet knowledgeable questions about poverty and wretched housing.
His willing appointment to HUD is a constant reminder of the scorn Trump and his fellow Republicans have for the department and for the needs of the poor. (Then again, this administration has been kidnapping migrant children, tossing them into cages, and covering up, always covering up, even when children die.)
By going from medicine to mendacity, Dr. Carson put himself in a position where he could be questioned by Rep. Katie Porter, in her first term from a formerly Republican district in Orange County, Calif. Rep. Porter, out of Yale and Harvard, is a protégé of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, and shows the same passion for others as well as attention to detail.
(A protégé like Rep. Porter is another reason fervent voters consider themselves members of the Warren Wing.)
Rep. Porter knows how government runs because she has worked in it, before running for office. She often does her best to get through five minutes of questioning of witnesses like Carson. She clearly cares about the poor; Carson seemed to be sleep-walking.
Several news stories on Tuesday said the Secretary was “humiliated” by the questions of Rep. Porter and other Democratic members of the committee, several of them African-American or Latina:.
The subcommittee members had the right to grill him because he is doing the dirty work for a political party and a disdainful slice of the (white) American population.
Trump wanted to show his contempt for the poor; he found his man. Ultimately, Trump drags everybody down. The real question is why Dr. Carson, who once had enough wits to repair damaged children, took such a prominent position. It cannot merely be the free-loading instincts he and many other cabinet members have demonstrated.
What was in this for Dr. Carson, to be exposed in such public fashion?
Mid-day is a great time for reruns, oldies and goodies.
On a cool May Day, I turned on the tube in late morning, highly unusual for me, and there he was, a blast from the past, blustering through touchy moments: Jackie Gleason, The Great One, resorting to a law-school version of his old “Honeymooners” filibuster:
“Homina, Homina, Homina.”
Gleason used to get caught out on his obfuscations – the camera did it lavishly – but there on national and probably worldwide television was the Attorney General of the United States resorting to time-killing phrases, to while away the 5-minute chunks of time.
Sometimes the old blatherer could not escape. Sen. Diane Feinstein asked him about testimony in the Mueller report that Donald J. Trump asked his legal counsel to change his story about being ordered to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.
“That’s not a crime,” Gleason/Barr said.
The hearing is being covered in the great newspapers that have been coming up with daily news about this seedy administration, and is also echoed on the networks, (Even Fox: see the above video. The Murdochites wrote a headline that said Barr “Embarrasses” Feinstein. Really?)
The Democrat questioners could not fathom why somebody who once had a decent reputation would now cast his fate as a lackey for Trump. Barr gave no clue. There seems to be nothing there, not a twinge of conscience. Was there ever anything more to him?
The Republican questioners – particularly Sen. Lindsey Graham, lost without his big brother John McCain -- seemed more intent on trying former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for the heinous e-mail offenses she may have committed, now three and four years ago.
Barr’s cheeks puffed up as Sen. Mazie Hirono said he had lied, and that he did not seem concerned that Trump had urged his counsel to lie.
We all can see that Trump has bad judgment in his choice of lawyers, on his "Where's my Roy Cohn?" crusade, seeking the vile creature who aided Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The best Trump can do are Michael Cohen, Rudy Giuliani, Jay Sekulow, his own personal bums-of-the-month.
Now he has the Attorney General of the United States – theoretically, the lawyer for the people, according to the Constitution -- covering for him. On national television. In mid-day. More vital than reruns, but sad, terribly sad, that Trump has lowered the country to this.
The Old Man.
I found myself thinking about The Old Man Friday night – how Casey Stengel always talked about The Youth of America, which was on its way, in 1962 and 1963 and 1964 and 1965 before he broke his hip, and time ran out on his gig, creating the New York Mets.
Casey would talk about young players as if they were the raffish hitch-hikers of the time, all gone to look for America, with live arms and fast feet and power and eyesight to “hit the ball over a building.”
For every young hopeful who put on a uniform, Casey indulged in wishful thinking that he would be ready to play for the Amazing (But Horrible) Mets.
“They ain’t failed yet,” Casey would say.
Ed Kranepool (above) was one of the first, a New York kid who signed and played a bit in the Mets’ first season, and turned out quite well. But dozens of the Youth of America never got to the Polo Grounds and Shea Stadium. Then, in 1969, Gil Hodges managed Seaver and Koosman and Ryan and all the others who won the improbable World Series, which we will celebrate all season.
Full of memories of that infant season, I watched Chris Hayes on MSNBC Friday evening, hosting a “town hall” of sorts, starring Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from New York. She is smart and idealistic and impertinent and disarmingly candid, allowing as how the voters might “kick me out in two years.”
AOC – as she is now known – talked up the Green New Deal, which combines ecology with medical care with economic parity. (I recently heard her say that, at 29, she had gained health insurance for the first time when she was sworn into Congress in January.)
When prodded on Friday, she could be realistic about picking the right battles first. She also told some lout in the audience who had heckled another speaker that his words were “unacceptable.”
In that moment of truth, she channeled John McCain rather than the seedy bully temporarily soiling the office of the Presidency.
AOC is the Youth of America. So is Rep. Katie Porter, a freshman from Orange County, Cal. They both have distinguished themselves by being prepared in committee hearings, by asking questions. (Porter is a protégé of Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Does it show?)
Reps. Porter and Ocasio-Cortez came to Congress unspoiled, able to put together 5-minute skeins of questions, backed up with research and logic and direction. They have not acquired the bad habits of mossbunkers of both parties, who waste their 5 minutes by talking about themselves.
Check out Rep. Ocasio-Cortez as she probed the great new American truth-teller Michael Cohen about the business practices of his former mentor and protector, Donald Trump.
Check out Rep. Porter as she probes the head of Equifax, like the prosecutor she used to be. The guy undoubtedly makes a ton of money for making tons of money for his shareholders, but about 15 seconds into the questioning he got the look of a lazy-minded fish that has bit into the wrong morsel.
For the past two years, we have watched inarticulate and servile slugs like Rep. Devin Nunes doing Trump’s dirty business. Now smart young women have arrived in Congress. They may strike out a lot. They may not last. But right now they are outplaying the sloppy old veterans.
They ain’t failed yet.
Birch Bayh called me at the Times about a decade ago. I was curious why a former US senator wanted to talk to a sports columnist, and of course I called him back.
Now I can’t remember the reason he called. His obituaries this week praise him as a major force on Title IX, which has enriched sports for women – for everybody – in America, but I don’t recall him presenting himself as the Title IX guy.
Whatever it was about, we schmoozed for a bit. I told him I had covered his re-election in 1970 and I determined that this son of Indiana was now living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
As long as we were chatting, I had a question for him. It went something like: “Senator, could I ask you a question about politics? I’m looking at all this Tea Party business, and it seems that some of the new members of Congress hate government, can’t even stand being in Washington, just want to shut things down.”
He was diplomatic, did not go fire-and-brimstone on me. After all, he was known as a very moderate Democrat; he had to be, to win in Indiana. But he allowed that he had never seen anything like the antipathy between Democrats and the new Republicans, wandering around brandishing mental pitchforks. He recalled with a tinge of sadness that he always had friends across the aisle.
That made me think about legendary friendships between Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen, Dick Durbin and John McCain (once again being vilified by Donald Trump.)
On the phone, Birch Bayh sounded reflective, maybe even sad, recalling better political times, and then we said goodbye. But his brief comments fueled my sense that things were not as mean in the 1970s when I had a brief fling as a national correspondent. There were giants in those days, on both sides of the aisle.
I keep a mental list of Republicans I met, or covered, and admired, mostly from Appalachia and the border states I covered:
I covered the retirement announcement of Sen. John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky, a thoughtful gentleman. (One of his aides back then was a young guy named Mitch McConnell, whom I consider one of the most empty and destructive people I have ever seen in public life.)
I ran around Tennessee one glorious September afternoon in 1972, covering the re-election campaign of Sen. Howard Baker, who was accompanied by his assistant, Fred Thompson. They were good company, rational people, and Baker became a giant during the Watergate proceedings.
When I lived in Louisville, Richard Lugar was a constructive Republican mayor of Indianapolis, just to the north on I-65; later he became a highly positive Senator.
Later, I observed Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, during the baseball steroids hearings -- a thorough gentleman who later got sick of the nasty politics and retired.
In that same period, I spent an hour in the office of Sen. John McCain, during a hearing on Olympic reform, and I retain a strong impression of him as an American hero, despite Donald Trump’s blather – with no retort from Trump’s new best friend, Lindsey Graham. How far we have fallen.
* * *
Two farewells to Sen. Birch Bayh:
has filed an interview with, of all people, me.
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see: