Thursday, July 30, 2020

July 30, 2020
The vacuum at the top

A headline on an email from Der Spiegel in May was “China Is Happy to Fill the Leadership Vacuum Left by the U.S.”  That is an apt commentary on Trump’s boast that he would make America great again. Internationally, he made us irrelevant when not obstructive, and generally pathetic.  Domestically, he doesn’t know how to make America safe again, or doesn’t care, probably both.  Thanks to raging infection, Americans are not welcome in Europe.
A leader would unite the country, especially in the face of mortal danger.  In a time of crisis, the people should be able to look to him for information and advice, for the truth.  By any measure, Trump has failed. How far we have fallen since FDR said this: “I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly.” Instead Trump has lied, evaded responsibility, promoted dangerous behavior and encouraged division.  As if to underscore his indifference to the suffering in the country over which he presides, he is pressing a lawsuit to destroy the Affordable Care Act.
Mary Trump’s recent memoir destroys whatever might have remained of Trump’s image as a self-made business success, neither element of that claim being true.  His life has been a pose, a cover-up.  He is so pathetic a creature that one could feel sorry for him if he had any humane instincts, but he seems not to. Resentment, envy, and excuses flow into that empty space.  His niece put it thus: “[F]or Donald there is no value in empathy, no tangible upside to caring for other people. David Corn wrote, ‘Absolutely everything is transactional for this poor broken human being. Everything.’ ”
Many Trump voters, those who continue to support him, are deluded, although there may be an element of self-delusion involved.  Another category of followers is the converted, people who at one time were capable of independent thought, but now have joined the cult.  They trail behind him, attempting to spin his egocentric incompetence.
His press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, is an example of this conversion to the dark side. She had said, in 2015, of Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants: "To me, a racist statement is a racist statement. I don't like what Donald Trump said.”  His comments were "derogatory" and "hateful."  Also: "Donald Trump has shown himself to be a showman. I don't think he is a serious candidate. I think it is a sideshow."   She saw his weakness as a spokesman for the Party: “Look, the GOP doesn't need to be turning away voters and isolating them. We need to be bringing them into the tent. Donald Trump is the last person who's going to do that."  She saw him as "a Republican in name only" and, horrors, “a progressive.” 
Soon after that, having been advised that Trump would be the nominee, Ms. McEnany was converted. After Trump became President, she served as a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee and then for the Trump re-election campaign.  Having become a Trumper, she was fully in line as to the present crisis.  On February 25, she said on Fox (where else?): “This president will always put America first. He will always protect American citizens. We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here. . . . And isn’t that refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama?”  In her debut at the White House podium, she rewrote the Mueller report: it was “the complete and total exoneration of President Trump.”
As with Lindsey Graham and many others, her critical appraisal turned to sycophancy. The moral and intellectual vacuum at the top sucks them in. 


1. Too Much and Not Enough, p. 210


3. See

4. 172185

5. debut/

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

July 20, 2020

The quest for racial justice

The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has galvanized the Back Lives Matter movement and captured public opinion.  This is not because that was an unprecedented event; the cases of  Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Elijah McClain, Freddie Gray and others made that clear.  Eric Garner, like Floyd. died from a police choke-hold, pleading “I can’t breathe.” 

There are several interrelated causes of the violence.  The first, clearly, is racial bias among police officers. The reality of that bias is demonstrated by the disproportionate number of African Americans who are the victims of the police.1  Bias simply must be rooted out, and police unions must not overlook it in defending officers.  Federal oversight and monitoring of police departments should be expanded, another reason — if any were needed — to vote Trump out of office.

Another factor is the too-quick use of deadly force, often including frantic multiple rounds;  Breonna Taylor was a victim of that behavior.  This is in part the result of the militarization of police forces, including weapons and other equipment, tactics and attitudes.   American police kill far more civilians than those in other countries.2 A swat team seems to be the default response to almost anything.  Using no-knock warrants, as in the Taylor case, adds another layer of irresponsibility.

Killings and other acts of violence by police often are not punished because of forgiving legal standards and policies regarding the use of deadly force.  This issue needs systematic review.3

Another reason for overreaction is gun policy.  Our idiotic laws and public attitudes have left the country awash in firearms, which must make policemen fearful.  That is no excuse for racist, over-violent actions, and it has nothing to do with cases such as George Floyd’s, but it does contribute to the wider problem. 

It is not only police who are armed and dangerous, especially to minorities.  The cases of Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery involved self-appointed vigilantes, free to roam about, armed, looking for “criminals,” i.e., African-American males. 

An article in the July 2 issue of The New York Review of Books discusses another shocking manifestation of racial bias and brutality, the torture of prisoners in Chicago police precincts.  “[B]etween 1972 and 1991 at least 125 black Chicagoans were tortured by police officers” in one precinct, probably repeated to some degree elsewhere in the city.4   

The protests have been peaceful for the most part, but there have been excesses, including vandalism and looting during the early rallies and the occupation of a few blocks in Seattle.  I was afraid that Trump would seize upon such matters, rally his base behind a law-and-order pitch, and turn the public against BLM.  However, his use of U.S. Park Police and National Guard troops to clear Lafayette Square for an inane photo-op was widely condemned, and his rhetorical attacks didn’t resonate, partly because public and media support for the protests was stronger than might have been expected, and also due to Trump’s obvious nods toward white supremacy.  His racism never has been a secret, so his tweeting of whites brandishing guns and yelling “white power” was just Trump blundering along his usual path.

There still is a risk of backlash as matters are out of control in places.  In Seattle on Sunday, demonstrators damaged the East Police Precinct building, adjacent to the formerly occupied area, damaged another precinct building, and engaged in some looting and general vandalism.  Public support has been both proper and strong, but this sort of behavior could destroy it.  The invasion of federal forces in Portland and the threat of similar deployments is Trump’s somewhat belated play of the law-enforcement card. However, it is so crude and excessive that it may be self-defeating. 
As a result of the protests there has been some movement by police departments to ban neck holds and to require an officer to intervene if another is using excessive force.  The US House has passed a bill which would, among other features,

Ban no-knock warrants in drug cases at the federal level. Condition law enforcement funding for state and local law enforcement agencies on prohibiting the use of no-knock warrants in drug cases. . . . Ban the use of chokeholds and carotid holds. Condition law enforcement funding for state and local law enforcement agencies on establishing a law to prohibit the use of chokeholds and carotid holds.5

It would create a national registry to track officers with a record of misconduct who move to other police forces.

The protests also have forced a long-overdue examination of Confederate symbols and attitudes.  The hypocritical defense of the Confederate flag — it’s a symbol of a proud regional heritage — should have collapsed, if not long before, with the image of Dylann Roof posing with a gun and the flag before he murdered nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in 2015.6  Again Trump has come down on the wrong side of the debate, opposing removal of Confederate statues and symbols and the renaming of military bases.

The death of John Lewis reminds us of another issue of racial justice: voting rights.  In 2013, in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act claiming, through the Chief Justice, that its factual assumptions were out of date, although reviewed by Congress in 2006.  The decision resulted in a flood new restrictions on voting rights, affecting minorities disproportionally.  A bill updating the Act passed the House in December 2019, but has been ignored by the Senate. A Democratic Senate and President would guarantee its passage.  Whether the Supreme Court would uphold it is another matter; the Shelby decision also rested on a theory of states’ rights, spurious but attractive to reactionaries.


1. I collected some statistics demonstrating bias in my post of July 11, 2019. Here’s another source:


3. An article describing the situation is here:

4. Peter C. Baker, “A legacy of Torture in Chicago,” NYRB p. 43

5. Quotes are from a summary by sponsors: campaign=2926-519

There was a brief push to remove Confederate flags following that murder.  See my note of July 5, 2015, which also describes the hypocrisy in the pro-flag argument.

Friday, July 10, 2020

July 10
Trump, according to one of the inner circle

I haven’t posted anything since April 23 because my computer died, and I was slow in buying another, loading new programs, transferring data1 and generally getting organized.  It would be an understatement to say that much has happened in the interim.  Before registering my thoughts on the killing of George Floyd and the mishandling of the virus pandemic, I’ll comment, while the impression is fresh, on a book I just read.

John Bolton’s oddly-titled The Room Where It Happened is a memoir of his seventeen-month tenure as National Security Advisor.  The buildup to publication, including Trump’s attempt to block it, suggested that the book would be a devastating portrait of our esteemed leader.  It hardly is sensational in tone, being a detailed and often tedious narrative of various challenges and crises faced during that time. Most of Bolton’s comments about and appraisals of Trump are not sweeping, but are connected to the discussions surrounding those events.  They certainly do reflect Bolton’s low opinion of Trump, but then Bolton expressed a low opinion of most of those in the executive branch — including Cabinet members and permanent staff — and of the Obama administration, and of foreign leaders, so a low opinion of the President is, up to a point, just a reflection of Bolton’s disappointment that others aren’t as wise as he.

True, he does give many examples of Trump’s limitations and of the near-impossibility of keeping him focused, but with a few exceptions these are details added to a picture well known to any reader of The New York Times or The Washington Post.  On one topic, Trump’s dealings with North Korea, including his fawning over Kim Jong-un, Bolton is kinder and less detailed than the news reports.

One exception pertains to discussions between Trump and Xi Jinping, President of China, on June 18, 2019. Trump, “stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming US presidential  election, alluding to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win. He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome.”2 This is an example, although a shockingly blatant one, of Trump’s known subordination of policy to re-election, the familiar instance being the manipulation of aid to Ukraine. However, on this topic Bolton does make a general appraisal: “I am hard pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by election calculations.”3  

Bolton confirms reports that Trump was warned of the dangers of coronavirus infection but did little or nothing to prevent disaster.  His discussion is defensive, reacting to criticism of the structure of the NSC, but it rings true. He makes the point by quoting a New York Times report, then adding his evaluation of Trump’s response:
The National Security Council office responsible for tracking pandemics received intelligence reports in early January predicting the spread of the virus to the United States, and within weeks was raising options like keeping Americans home from work and shutting down cities the size of Chicago. Mr. Trump would avoid such steps until March.
“Thus, responding to the coronavirus, the NSC biosecurity team functioned exactly as it was supposed to.  It was the chair behind the Resolute desk that was empty.”4

Bolton’s discussion of the Ukraine issue — whether Trump demanded election help in exchange for releasing aid to Ukraine — is confusing.  However, he refers to Trump’s request to President Zelensky of Ukraine for “a favor,” makes clear that Trump was holding up transfer of the funds, and comments as follows: “When, in 1992, Bush 41 supporters suggested he ask foreign governments to help out in his failing campaign against Bill Clinton, Bush and Jim Baker completely rejected the idea. Trump did the precise opposite.”5

Bolton criticizes the way in which the House went about impeaching Trump.  There is some merit in his appraisal, along with some of his ususal negative attitude toward Democrats.  One point he makes is that narrowing the charge to the Ukraine issue “provided no opportunity to explore Trump’s ham-handed involvement in other matters — criminal and civil, international and domestic — that should not properly be subject to manipulation by a President for personal reasons (political, economic, or any other).”  He suggests that if attention had been directed toward the “broader pattern of [Trump’s] behavior . . . there might have been a greater chance to persuade others that ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ had been perpetrated.”6  Perhaps, but the Senate would have acquitted anyway; contrary to Bolton’s impression, not only Democrats play politics.  However, a broader and longer inquiry might have been the better plan in terms of demonstrating to the public just how important it is to send Trump into retirement next January.

Fortunately, a tech-savvy son retrieved files from the dead box.

37. The Room Where It Happened, p. 301

Ibid, at 485

39. Ibid, at 317

40. Ibid, at 468

41. Ibid, at 485. In the ellipsis, the author refers to examples of what, elsewhere, he describes as “Trump’s penchant to, in effect, give favors to dictators he liked. . . .” Ibid, at 458.

Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day