Bad Habits and Strange Bedfellows

At least once a month, I sink into the pillows of my rattan sofa, fixated on the flicker of the TV and drop off into an abbreviated sleep. It’s unintentional, though by now, I should know better. I awake several hours later, groggy and groaning, my neck akimbo, those  pinched nerves clenching my back, and slowly pull myself forward. There’s a voice pouring through as I dig myself out of this makeshift bed – mellifluous and steady. It’s a few body lengths away, filling the TV screen. The preacher brings me back to consciousness.

There is something peculiarly attractive about his presence. That statement contradicts my adversity to institutional religion, to my Roman Catholic upbringing, my mother’s disdain for evangelicals, even my preference for companions and partners.

He’s an unattractive man with a greasy cast to his black hair, a sadly pockmarked face and a softness to his body. But the preacher is the embodiment of sartorial splendor – stiff white shirts, jet black suits, deep purple ties.  In fact, his clothing is woven into every homily I’ve heard – how he placed his trust in the voice in his ear, donated a hundred or a thousand dollars and then experienced the dramatic results of his seed money – pastors at such-and-such church in such-and-such town taking him to such-and-such men’s store where he is gifted with these fine wardrobes. The detail is superb. I think immediately of the propagandist. The advice to make the lie as intricate as possible to add to its weight of credibility.

I imagine this fellow had few opportunities open to him with his acne and pudginess and definite absence of sexual grace. The radio disc jockey gig is a dead-end. Car and home sales are hell in a slow economy. But he had that voice and an ability to parse scripture in a non-stop, common-man sort of way. There, that was his future – his fortune.

It’s the voice that intrigues me. He speaks in a gentle tone, holding that open bible with its fallen pages in one hand while walking the stage. He uses big words and crafts complex persuasive arguments. There’s no excoriation, none of the hell and brimstone of the Southern Baptists. Rather, this preacher speaks of possibility. He’s all about hope.

These are angry days. Hate-filled language is the coin of the country. Divisiveness encouraged. Dark forces at play. Hope is a faint sound; the weakling in the fight. Up in the Oval Office, we witness the decay of decency. He pushes rivalry, lies, deep resentment. Donald Trump is the most ungodly man to hold that office.

I’m so tired of my anger.

So when I wake, muscles tense, anxiety in my eyes, the steady voice of that TV preacher pitching his send-me-a-dime-you’ll-make-a-dollar scheme has a calming effect. I don’t buy his line, not for a second. But lordy, at least he isn’t pitting me against my neighbor or causing me to debate the value of violence or stoking the iron fire of hatred.

We all need a break. Find it wherever you can.

Be Careful What You Ask For Donald

Worn clichés and classic hits. Biblical slang. These are the things that come to mind when thinking of Donald Trump and his pitiful, self-absorbed, addictive thirst for fame.

Be careful what you ask for, Donald.

This set of magazine covers depict the intelligent world’s view of Trump over the past week. Chief among the topics: his insulting and divisive Charlottesville comments and the firing of his Alt-Right best boy Bannon.

We take all kinds of pills that give us all kind of thrills
But the thrill we’ve never known
Is the thrill that’ll gitcha when you get your picture
On the cover of … Time

-Maladapted Lyrics by Dr. Hook

 

And in Germany, where white men carrying torches in a funereal march and chanting “Blood and Soil” are not “very fine” folks but anathema, Donald Trump’s True Face is recognized for its true colors.

 

That ship has sailed. The windbag blew and blew and out stepped his jackboot thugs.

There is no bridge over these troubled waters.

ECONOMIST

When the 174-year old conservative voice of The Economist leads with an article declaring the moral void of the Republican president, I feel the earth move under my skin.

The sentiments that follow in the op-ed effectively titled: “Donald Trump has no grasp of what it means to be president” savage this fake president. Feel the karma.

Start with the ineptness. In last year’s presidential election Mr Trump campaigned against the political class to devastating effect. Yet this week he has bungled the simplest of political tests: finding a way to condemn Nazis. Having equivocated at his first press conference on Saturday, Mr Trump said what was needed on Monday and then undid all his good work on Tuesday—briefly uniting Fox News and Mother Jones in their criticism, surely a first. As business leaders started to resign en masse from his advisory panels (see article), the White House disbanded them. Mr Trump did, however, earn the endorsement of David Duke, a former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Mr Trump cannot see beyond the latest slight. Instead of grasping that his job is to honour the office he inherited, Mr Trump is bothered only about honouring himself and taking credit for his supposed achievements.

Mr Trump has neither skill nor self-knowledge, and this week showed that he does not have the character to change.

The truth shall set us free.

When Republicans in Congress retrieve their wits and ethical clarity, when they can at last release the battered hope of the political trifecta and dump this glaring monster-boy and his morose minions, then America can resume.

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Until then, we remain an angst-filled, dejected, disgraced nation, briefly gladdened by the fourth estate and its brutal honesty.


 

ACLU Will No Longer Defend Armed Protestors

Some of you may have watched the Vice News mini documentary of the events in Charlottesville through the perspective of a cadre of white supremacists. One of the lead characters in that film is a fellow by the name of Christopher Cantwell, introduced as a “White nationalist” and speaker for the Unite the Right rally.

In an interview with the Vice reporter Elle Reeve, Cantwell boasts that he carries a pistol, goes to a gym and is “trying to make myself more capable of violence,” before bashing Donald Trump for “giving his daughter to a Jew.”

By the end of the two-day event, after the brutal killing of Heather Heyers by one of Cantwell’s comrades-in-arms, he makes a last appearance back in a hotel room in Roanoke Rapids, NC. Here, Cantwell sheds his arms – a theatrical move designed for maximum camera effect. He tosses an automatic weapon of some sort on his bed. Then pulls out three handguns and a knife, holstered and hidden on his body. “I came pretty well-prepared for this thing today,” says Cantwell with the smirk of a grin crossing his face.

Cantwell returns for a solo appearance on 16 August, where he rants on about his terror over a possible arrest and killing by the Charlottesville police.

It’s hard to tell whether those are genuine tears or coke-induced sniffles but Cantwell grinds on in his pitiful dirge for nearly five minutes. Key to this story is his one comment about working with the ACLU to gain legitimacy for the Alt-Right rally that brought fisticuffs, beatings, a weaponized Dodge Charger and the death of a young woman and injuries to 19 others in the path of that car.

In fact, the Virginia branch of the American Civil Liberties did go to bat for the rally organizers and succeeded in their legal representation. The two-day demonstration of KKK, Neo-Nazis and assorted white supremacists were granted a permit for their gathering. But now legal representation of these groups may grind to a halt.

On 17 August, Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, announced a deliberate change in policy. His organization will no longer defend groups that seek to demonstrate or march with firearms.

The abrupt change in policy is directly related to the violence in Charlottesville. It removes the legal resources of the ACLU from any future protest groups seeking representation.

“If a protest group insists, ‘No, we want to be able to carry loaded firearms,’ well, we don’t have to represent them. They can find someone else,” said Romero.

The policy change departs from the historic umbrella of protection offered by the organization, which has defended the Constitutional rights of parties that include white supremacists, fascists and backers of the Citizens United Supreme Court case.

Romero’s announcement was followed by a tweet reiterating the limits of free speech as defined in the First Amendment and case law.

Even with this barrier, the ACLU will continue to review pleas for legal help from white supremacists. However, Romano promises much stricter screening of such cases and absolute “Nos” when firearms are added to the demonstrators’ planned marches.

This means that the Christopher Cantwells and organizers of extremist groups will be forced to hire private attorneys such as Glenn Greenwald, who has represented nazis, rather than benefit from the ACLU’s pro bono representation.

The new policy also hopes to blunt criticism leveled at the organization for its defense of the Unite the Right rally.

However, the ACLU’s move looks like a pre-emptive strike against that violent fringe element loosened and legitimized by Donald Trump. As news of imminent protests by these groups circulate, there is a parallel movement to restrict their appearances and prevent further bloodshed. These cannot be outright denied but it’s hoped that their potential for harm can be blunted.

According to one news report, nine Alt-Right demonstrations will occur the weekend of 19-20 August. Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Los Angeles, Mountain View, CA, New York, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Washington, D.C. are each preparing for marches and rallies.

Cheers to Rachel!

I want to pause for a moment (in the midst of  my many unfinished articles) to praise Rachel Maddow.

In the last few months, the host of MSNC’s The Rachel Maddow Show has eclipsed all other commentators with her incisive grasp of the whole Trump catastrophe. Every weekday evening, she reports on the headlines of the day, often having to encompass breaking news of the hour and even the minute. She does this with a velvety texture of articulation that combines humor, sarcasm and wit with a deep undercoating of holistic research.

This wonderful display brings together threads of seemingly disparate events, meshing them into new findings. I listen expectantly to her presentation, never for a moment willing to turn down the volume or walk out of the room.

Rachel is in her element. Each show, she builds in acuity while never embarking on a glory ride. The speed with which she and her staff absorb new data and release it in a coherent explanation complete with ramifications and potential futures is amazing.

I look forward to her nightly reviews of the upcoming impeachment hearings or the invocation of the 25th Amendment or (less likely) the aftermath of Trump’s resignation.

Take us through, Rachel!

 

Joint Chiefs Denounce Extremism, Racism Following Charlottesville

While Donald Trump was trying to figure out the “facts” of the violent melees leading to death and injuries in Charlottesville, his Joint Chiefs of Staff quickly assessed the events and determined that racism was the root cause of the violence. It’s unknown whether Trump consulted with his military leaders. The answer is probably a negative. Perhaps this is one reason they individually denounced those fringe elements and the hatred they evoke.

Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations

The Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson was the first to raise his voice, just hours after the vehicular murder of Heather Heyer, a counter protestor.

Richardson posted a full statement on Facebook and followed that with a tweet.

 

Richardson’s post was followed by the head of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, who echoed the intolerance for extremism.

Marine Corps General Robert Neller

Neller’s statement arrived after the Trump press conference and the revelation that the head of Vanguard America (VA) was a former Marine.

Vanguard America, an anti-Semitic white supremacist group participating in the violence at Charlottesville, is led by a fellow named Dillon Irizarry (aka Dillon Ulysses Hopper), who is a former recruiter for the Marine Corps.

Videos from Charlottesville show VA members as they chanted “Blood and Soil,” a Nazi slogan from WWII. The alleged killer of Heather Heyer is also seen associating with VA members and in their uniform.

 

Gen. Mark Milley, US Army

On Wednesday, the head of the Army, Gen. Mark Milley, tweeted a zero tolerance statement condemning “racism, extremism or hatred” among soldiers. His comments came after Trump’s Tuesday press conference during which the president blurred the responsibility and the morality of the KKK, Neo-nazis and white supremacists with those protesting these groups.

Milley’s remarks are especially pointed since the alleged killer of Heyer, James Fields, served in the Army briefly before failing basic training.

 

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein joined his fellow military leaders with a cheer for inclusivity among the Airmen, and interestingly chose Hillary Clinton’s “stronger together” meme to propel his message.

 

The chief of the National Guard, Gen. Joseph Lengyel, was the fifth and final member of the Joint Chiefs to reiterate the military’s intolerance for extremist bigotry.

 

The collective statements by the leaders of the American military is in stark contrast to the waffling by the president, who described neo-Nazis and other extremists as “very fine” people and then doubled down with a series of tweets decrying the removal of Confederate statues.

They should also signal a coordinated effort to weed out extremists among those who serve. That effort may have started with “Jack” Posobiec, a fervent Trump supporter and Navy reservist who has proliferated right wing conspiracy theories. Posobiec gained recent attention when Trump retweeted him. One report today claims that Posobiec’s security clearance has been suspended.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have brought a clear, disciplined and united front in decrying extremism, a clarity that is lacking from the president. Americans ought to be grateful for their principled presence and voice. On the other hand, we should be horrified that they are required to step into the political void vacated by the commander-in-chief and his GOP Congress.