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TRUMP AND TRAGEDY: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on May 7, 2021 at 12:10 am

For historian and classicist Victor Davis Hanson, Donald Trump possesses an unappreciated self-awareness and sense of what it means to be a tragic hero.

Trump was into the first year of his Presidency when Hanson penned his article, “Donald Trump, Tragic Hero,” published on April 12, 2018. 

To make his case, Hanson cites a series of popular Western movies featuring lethal men who risk—and sometimes sacrifice—their lives on behalf of others too weak to vanquish evil on their own.

Victor Davis Hanson (@VDHanson) | Twitter

Victor Davis Hanson

Thus in the classic 1960 film, The Magnificent Seven, the Seven slaughter the outlaw Calvera and his banditos—and then ride into the sunset. As they do, Chris (Yul Brynner) tells Vin (Steve McQueen): “The old man was right. Only the farmers won. We lost. We always lose.”

Writes Hanson: “He knows that few appreciate that the tragic heroes in their midst are either tragic or heroic — until they are safely gone and what they have done in time can be attributed to someone else. Worse, he knows that the tragic hero’s existence is solitary and without the nourishing networks and affirmation of the peasant’s agrarian life.”

Chris may know this, but there is absolutely no evidence that Trump does. He has never shown even an awareness of sensitivity and self-knowledge, let alone the possession of either. Trump is at best semi-literate. The concept of tragedy—as expressed in the Greek tragedies to which Hanson refers throughout his article—means nothing to Trump.

Moreover, the Seven have risked their lives—and four of them have died doing so—on behalf of villagers who can pay them almost nothing.

It is inconceivable that Trump would risk anything—especially his life—for people he regarded as poor and thus unworthy of his concern.

The Magnificent Seven (1960 poster).jpg

Copyright © 1960 – United Artists Corporation.”, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In their first encounter with Calvera (Eli Wallach) the bandit chief offers to make the Seven partners in his ravaging of the village. Of his intended victims, Calvera sneers: “If God had not wanted them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.”

If Trump had heard Calvera’s offer, he would have instantly accepted it.

In June 2016, USA Today published an analysis of litigation involving Trump. Over the previous 30 years, Trump and his businesses had been involved in 3,500 legal cases in U.S. Federal and state courts.

Of the 3,500 suits, Trump or one of his companies were plaintiffs in 1,900; defendants in 1,450; and bankruptcy, third party, or other in 150. Trump was named in at least 169 suits in federal court.

Many of those cases centered around his refusal to pay contractors for their finished work on his properties. Most of the contractors didn’t have the financial resources—as Trump had—to spend years in court trying to obtain the monies they were owed. As a result, they never received payment—or, at best, only a small portion of what they were owed.

When he ran for President in 2015-16, Trump repeatedly promised poor and middle-class Americans a far better plan for medical care than the Affordable Care Act. 

He spent the next four years thuggishly trying to dismantle “Obanacare,” the signature achievement of Barack Obama, America’s first black President. But never did he offer even a general outline of his own alleged plan to “replace” it. 

Hanson tries to draw a further parallel between Trump and the fictional Tom Doniphon, the unsung hero of John Ford’s 1962 movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962 poster).jpg

Copyright © 1962 Paramount Pictures Corporation and John Ford Productions, Inc.”, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hanson sums up the movie thus:

“Tom Doniphon (John Wayne)…unheroically kills the thuggish Liberty Valance [Lee Marvin], births the [political] career of Ranse Stoddard [James Stewart] and his marriage to Doniphon’s girlfriend [Vera Miles] and thereby ensures civilization is Shinbone’s frontier future. His service done, he burns down his house and degenerates from feared rancher to alcoholic outcast.” 

It is inconceivable that Trump would take the risk of committing a crime on behalf of someone else—or being able to resist bragging about it if he did. It is equally inconceivable that he would give up a woman he wanted for the happiness of another man.

Most unbelievable of all is the suggestion that Trump would imitate Doniphon by quietly riding off into the sunset.

Trump has often “joked” about becoming “President-for-Life.” After losing the November 3 Presidential election to former Vice President Joe Biden, he filed 60 lawsuits to overturn the will of 80 million voters. Those failing, he tried some old-fashioned but unsuccessful arm-twisting of several state lawmakers to “find” non-existent votes for him.

Finally, on January 6, he incited a mob of his fanatical followers to attack the United States Capitol Building. Their mission: Stop the counting of Electoral College ballots certain to give Biden the victory.   

Victor Davis Hanson is a brilliant scholar and colorful writer. But his effort on Trump’s behalf is embarrassing and appalling.

In a series of bestselling books, he has eloquently chronicled the heroism of the ancient Greeks in defending their budding democracy.

It is depressing—and frightening—to discover that this same man can blatantly ignore the criminalities and even treason of the greatest and most destructive tyrant to ever attain the Presidency.

TRUMP AND TRAGEDY: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on May 6, 2021 at 12:10 am

Victor Davis Hanson has long been a distinguished historian and classicist at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

On April 12, 2018, the year before the publication of The Case for Trump, Hanson offered a preview of its upcoming contents in an article published in the well-known conservative magazine, National Review

Its title: “Donald Trump, Tragic Hero.”

“The very idea that Donald Trump could, even in a perverse way, be heroic may appall half the country,” begins his first paragraph. 

“Nonetheless, one way of understanding both Trump’s personal excesses and his accomplishments is that his not being traditionally presidential may have been valuable in bringing long-overdue changes in foreign and domestic policy.”

Related image

Donald Trump

Having laid out his thesis, Hanson writes: “Tragic heroes, as they have been portrayed from Sophocles’ plays (e.g., AjaxAntigoneOedipus RexPhiloctetes) to the modern western film, are not intrinsically noble.”

On the contrary: A true tragic figure is a noble character with a fatal flaw, which ultimately destroys him.

To cite one from literature: Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Hamlet believes that his father, the king of Denmark, has been murdered. He believes the murderer may be his uncle, Claudius, who has seized the throne. Hamlet is brilliant, athletic, supremely eloquent and conscientious. But he’s not completely certain that Claudius is guilty, and in his hesitation to strike he lays the seeds for his own destruction. 

To cite one from history: British General Charles George Gordon, sent by the British government in 1884 to evacuate the Sudanese city of Khartoum. But instead of evacuating its citizens, he chose to stay and fight the oncoming army of Mohammed Achmed, an Islamic religious fanatic who called himself The Madhi (“The Expected One”).

Although Gordon’s dynamic leadership enabled the city to hold out for almost a year, the British relief force arrived too late. The city was overwhelmed and Gordon himself killed.

Various theories have emerged to explain his motive: He was a religious fanatic; he had a death wish; he was arrogant to believe he could hold off an entire army. Any one or more of these theories could be correct. 

Charles George Gordon - Wicipedia

Charles George Gordon

But the fact remains that for almost an entire year he kept alive about 30,000 men, women and children. It was only the failure of the British to send a relief army in time that allowed the city—and Gordon—to perish. 

Tragic heroes always have a cause that is bigger than life—something that makes giving up life worthwhile. They always recognize this, and they have the ability to put into perspective the ultimate sacrifice—giving up life—for the good of something bigger. 

Which brings us back to Trump. Apart from being a five-times draft-dodger during the Vietnam war, he has never made an act of professional or personal sacrifice for anyone.

On the contrary: he has been forced to shut down both his Trump Foundation and unaccredited Trump University.

Trump was forced to pay more than $2 million in court-ordered damages to eight different charities for illegally misusing charitable funds at the Foundation for political purposes.

And his university scammed its students, promising to teach them “the secrets of success” in the real estate industry—then delivering nothing. In 2016, a federal court approved a $25 million settlement  with many of those students.

This is hardly the stuff of which tragic heroes are made.

The Controversy Surrounding Trump University - ABC News

Hanson cites several examples from famous Western movies to make his case that Trump deserves the status of a tragic hero. 

One of these is the classic 1953 “Shane,” starring Alan Ladd as the soft-spoken gunfighter who intervenes decisively in a range war.

Writes Hanson:

“He alone possesses the violent skills necessary to free the homesteaders from the insidious threats of hired guns and murderous cattle barons. Yet by the time of his final resort to lethal violence, Shane has sacrificed all prior chances of reform and claims on reentering the civilized world of the stable ‘sodbuster’ community.”

Comparing Trump to Shane is unbelievably ludicrous. Shane doesn’t boast about his past—in fact, this remains a mystery throughout the movie. Trump constantly brags—about the money he’s made, the buildings he’s put up, the women he’s bedded, the enemies he’s crushed (or plans to).

Moreover, Shane takes the side of poor homesteaders at the mercy of a rich cattle baron, Rufus Ryker. Ryker tries to bully the homesteaders into leaving. When that fails, he hires a ruthless gunman named Jack Wilson (Jack Palance).

In the film’s climax, Shane kills Wilson, and then Ryker, in a barroom showdown. Then he rides off—much to the sadness of Joey (Brandon de Wilde), the homesteaders’ son he has befriended.

“There’s no living with a killing,” says Shane. “There’s no going back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. And a brand sticks.”

And so he rides on, knowing that his gunfighter’s skills make him an outcast among those very homesteaders whose lives he’s saved.

If Trump appeared in the movie, it would be as Ryker, not Shane.

Shane empathizes with the plight of others. Ryker–like Trump–hires others to do his dirty work. 

TRUMP AND TRAGEDY: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 5, 2021 at 12:13 am

“America needs the outsider Trump to do what normal politicians would not and could not do.”

That was the assertion made by Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California.

Among his bestsellers on military history:

  • The Second World Wars
  • Carnage and Culture
  • Wars of the Ancient Greeks
  • The Western Way of War
  • The Soul of Battle: How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny

Historian Victor Davis Hanson said there has been no consequences for the wrongdoing by elites in society and warned that republics and successful states fall apart when the elites fall out of touch with the people."We have a whole bunch... here at home, that feel they can dictate to people and they're never subject to the ramifications of their own ideology and policy," he said of elites. "And it's like the emperor has no clothes and then they're surprised that Trump won or surprised that peo

Victor Davis Hanson

In 2019, Hanson turned his attention to politics—specifically, The Case for Trump.

Its dust-jacket provides a useful summary of its contents:

“This New York Times bestselling Trump biography from a major American intellectual explains how a renegade businessman became one of the most successful—and necessary—presidents of all time.

“In The Case for Trump, award-winning historian and political commentator Victor Davis Hanson explains how a celebrity businessman with no political or military experience triumphed over sixteen well-qualified Republican rivals, a Democrat with a quarter-billion-dollar war chest, and a hostile media and Washington establishment to become president of the United States — and an extremely successful president.

“Trump alone saw a political opportunity in defending the working people of America’s interior whom the coastal elite of both parties had come to scorn, Hanson argues. And Trump alone had the instincts and energy to pursue this opening to victory, dismantle a corrupt old order, and bring long-overdue policy changes at home and abroad.”

The Case for Trump by Victor Davis Hanson | Basic Books

Hanson’s book appeared before Trump:

  • Tried to coerce Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to smear former Vice President Joseph Biden, who was likely to be his Democratic opponent in the 2020 Presidential election.
  • Allowed the deadly COVID-19 virus to ravage the country, killing more than 400,000 Americans by the time he left office. 
  • Attacked medical experts and governors who urged Americans to wear masks and socially distance to protect themselves from COVID-19.
  • Ordered his Right-wing followers to defy states’ orders to citizens to stay-at-home and wear masks in public to halt surging COVID-19 rates.
  • Became the first President in American history to refuse to accept the results of a Presidential election.
  • Tried to overturn the November 3, 2020 election of Joe Biden through 60 lawsuits and the arm-twisting of several state lawmakers.
  • Sent a mob of his fanatical followers  to attack the United States Capitol Building. Their mission: Stop the counting of Electoral College ballots certain to give Biden the victory.         
  • Was twice impeached during his four years in office—the only President to be impeached twice (and acquitted by a Republican Senate which ignored his litany of crimes).

But his book appeared after Trump had:

  • Fired FBI Director James Comey for pursuing ties between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents.
  • Tried to fire Independent Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who was assigned to investigate those ties after Trump fired Comey. 
  • Attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions for refusing to fire Mueller.
  • Attacked the integrity of Federal judges whose rulings he disagreed with.
  • Given Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey  Kislyak highly classified CIA Intelligence about an Islamic State plot to turn laptops into concealable bombs.
  • Amassed an infamous record as a serial liar, in both personal and Presidential matters.
  • Attacked the integrity of the American Intelligence community.
  • Sided with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin against the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency which unanimously agreed that Russia had subverted the 2016 Presidential election.
  • Repeatedly attacked the nation’s free press for daring to report his growing list of crimes and disasters, calling it “the enemy of the American people.”
  • Branded America’s longtime ally, Canada, as “a national security threat.”
  • Praised brutal Communist dictators Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
  • Shut down the Federal Government for 35 days because Democrats refused to fund his ineffective “border wall” between the United States and Mexico. An estimated 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay. The shutdown ended due to public outrage—without Trump getting the funding amount he had demanded. 

So much for Hanson’s claims that Trump had been “one of the most successful—and necessary—presidents of all time.”

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Donald Trump

Then there’s Hanson’s claim that “Trump alone saw a political opportunity in defending the working people of America’s interior whom the coastal elite of both parties had come to scorn.” 

In November, 2017, Trump and a Republican-dominated House and Senate rammed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 through Congress. It became law on December 22, 2017.

According to Chye-Ching Huang, Director of Federal Fiscal Policy, the law did nothing to help ordinary Americans.

Testifying before the House Budget Committee on February 27, 2019, Huang stated that the law:

  • Ignored the stagnation of working-class wages and exacerbated inequality;
  • Weakened revenues when the nation needed to raise more;  
  • Encouraged rampant tax avoidance and gaming that will undermine the integrity of the tax code; 
  • Left behind low- and moderate-income Americans—and in many ways hurt them.

For American corporations, however, the law was a godsend: 

  • Cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent;
  • Shifting toward a territorial tax system, where multinational corporations’ foreign profits go largely untaxed;
  • Benefitting overwhelmingly wealthy shareholders and highly paid executives.

This was hardly an attempt at “defending the working people of America’s interior.”

Trump never made another attempt to “reform” the tax laws.

IT’S BIDEN VS. TRUMP–IN FICTION

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on February 19, 2021 at 12:10 am

Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump to become the 46th President of the United States on January 20, 2021.

But before scoring that victory, he racked up a series of incredible adventures as a private investigator—in fiction.

In Hope Never Dies: An Obama-Biden Mystery, author Andrew Shaffer has fashioned a novel that is half-mystery, half-bromance.   

Vice President Joe Biden has just left the Obama White House and doesn’t know what to do with the rest of his life. Then Finn Donnelly, his favorite railroad conductor, dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues.

To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” calls on the skills of his former boss: Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States. Together they scour biker bars, cheap motels and other memorable haunts throughout Delaware.

Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery (Obama Biden Mysteries)

Then Biden unearths a disturbing truth about his longtime—and now dead—friend. This, in turn, leads Biden and Obama to uncover the sinister forces behind America’s opioid epidemic.

The book is pure fantasy fun, as evidenced from this review by Alexandra Alter in The New York Times

“[Hope Never Dies is] a roughly 300-page work of political fanfiction, an escapist fantasy that will likely appeal to liberals pining for the previous administration, longing for the Obama-Biden team to emerge from political retirement as action heroes. But it’s also at times a surprisingly earnest story about estranged friends who are reunited under strange circumstances.”

A reader named Casey, reviewing the novel for Goodreads, writes: “While Shaffer could have leaned into nostalgia alone, he’s written a solid mystery with the characters fleshed out as more than just clichés. 

“The reader really feels Biden’s longing to be helpful and his anguish over seeing 44’s legacy undone so quickly by an individual who shall remain nameless. (The presidential zings in this book are incredible, truly.)

“The tension between the two rings as true as it did when they were in office….By all means, this book shouldn’t work as well as it does. For a few hours, I got to enjoy the company of politicians who behaved like adults (mostly). It sure was nice.”

Contrasting with the relatively lighthearted fictional images of Joe Biden and Barack Obama is the immensely darker one of Donald Trump.

Don Winslow offers Trump an extended cameo appearance in The Border, his massive, 736-page novel about America’s war on drugs—and the horrific violence it has spawned in Mexico. It’s the third of a trilogy of novels vividly portraying the violent costs of an unwinnable conflict. 

The Border: A Novel (Power of the Dog Book 3)

Art Keller is a dedicated agent of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). For over 40 years, he has waged all-out war on Adán Barrera, the godfather of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel.

Appointed director of the DEA, Keller now faces a series of deadly enemies:

  • A heroin epidemic surging across America; 
  • Hitmen who want to kill him;
  • Politicians who want to sabotage his agenda; and
  • An incoming administration that’s allied with the very drug traffickers he’s trying to destroy.

And heading this administration is John Dennison—Donald Trump in all but name—who:

  • Gratuitously insults people on Twitter;
  • Fires a Special Counsel;
  • Gets blackmailed by a woman he once bedded; and
  • Colludes with drug traffickers for a multi-million dollar loan to finance his Presidential campaign.

Whereas the reviews for Hope Never Dies were as upbeat as the book itself, those of The Border reflect the novel’s mercilessly grim take on a war that can’t be won. 

Los Angeles Times:The Border is intricate, mean and swift, a sprawling canvass of characters including narco kingpins, a Guatemalan stowaway, a Staten Island heroin addict, a kinky hit woman, a barely veiled Donald Trump and DEA agent Art Keller, who….has been noble and merciless, a conflicted wanderer who makes America face the transgressions committed in its name.”

Rolling Stone: “Clocking in at over 700 pages, it is his most overtly political installment yet. He takes on the Trump administration directly, creating a fictional candidate, then president, who stokes racist fears of Mexicans, campaigns on ‘building the wall’ and, along with his venal son-in-law, gets caught up in a shady real estate deal involving Cartel money.”

NPR: The Border becomes a book for our times. Like Shakespeare, it makes a three-act drama of our modern moment. Like Shakespeare’s plays, it shows us a world that is our own, a history that is our own, a burden that is our own, rendered out into the rhythm of scenes and arcs, chapters and parts.”

Obama concentrated the full force of his attention on reforming American healthcare—by making it available to millions whose insurance refused to provide coverage.

Trump’s top priority was to separate the United States from Mexico with an impenetrable wall—and he even diverted $3.6 billion from Pentagon funding to pay for it. 

Like John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama will likely be positively remembered as much for what he tried to do as what he succeeded at doing.

Like Richard M. Nixon, Donald Trump will likely be remembered as a menacing stain on American history. 

ONCE AGAIN, ACCOMPLICES TO OUR OWN DESTRUCTION: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 8, 2020 at 12:15 am

Once he became the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump began undermining one public or private institution after another.

On November 3, 80 million voters decided they wanted a change—and elected former Vice President Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States.

Trump refused to accept that verdict. Speaking from the White House in the early hours of November 4, he said:

“Millions and millions of people voted for us tonight, and a very sad group of people is trying to disenfranchise that group of people and we won’t stand for it.”

For the first time in American history, a President demanded a halt to the counting of votes while the outcome of an election hung in doubt.

States ignored his demand and kept counting.

Next, Trump ordered his attorneys to file lawsuits to overturn the election results, charging electoral fraud. Specifically:

  • Illegal aliens had been allowed to vote.
  • Trump ballots had been systematically destroyed.
  • Tampered voting machines had turned Trump votes into Biden ones.

Throughout November and December, cases were filed in Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, Minnesota and Georgia challenging the election results. And, one by one, more than 30 cases were withdrawn by Trump’s attorneys or dismissed by Federal judges—some of them appointed by Trump himself.

For 20 days, General Services Administrator Emily Murphy refused to release $7.3 million in transition funding and Federal resources to the President-elect’s team. Under the law governing presidential transitions, Murphy was responsible for determining the winner based on publicly available information before the actual Electoral College vote. 

Finally, on November 23, Murphy released the transition funding and resources.

Losing in the courts, Trump invited two Republican legislative leaders from Michigan to the White House to persuade them to stop the state from certifying the vote.

Nothing changed. 

On December 5, Trump called Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and asked him to call a special legislative session and convince state legislators to select their own electors that would support him, thus overturning Biden’s win.

Kemp refused, saying he lacked the authority to do so.

Meanwhile, top Republicans—such as Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—have refused to congratulate Biden as the winner. None of them branded Trump’s efforts to overturn the election as those of a tyrant.

Just as Germans did nothing to stop Adolf Hitler’s inexorable march toward war—and the destruction of millions of lives and Germany itself—so, too, do Americans seem paralyzed to put an end to the equally self-destructive reign of the man often dubbed “Carrot Caligula.”

Gaius Caligula was “the mad emperor” of ancient Rome. Like Trump, he lived by a philosophy of “Let them hate me, so long as they fear me.”

He ruled as the most powerful man of his time—three years, 10 months and eight days. And all but the first six months of his reign were drenched in slaughter and debauchery.

There are basically three ways America’s continuing slide into tyranny could be stopped:

First, Congressional Republicans could revolt against Trump’s authority and/or agenda. They could, for example, demand that Trump accept the verdict of the electorate—as every other past President has.

This is extremely unlikely to happen. Republicans fear that if they openly defy him, his fanatical base will turn on them in coming elections—and end their comfortable reign of power and privileges.

Second, invoking the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This allows the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet to recommend the removal of the President in cases where he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” It also allows the House and Senate to confirm the recommendation over the President’s objection by two-thirds vote. 

The Vice President then takes over as President.

A case could easily be made that Trump, emotionally distraught over his loss and determined to circumvent the will of the electorate, has been rendered unfit to continue in office.

This is also extremely unlikely. Most of Trump’s cabinet rightly fears him. He fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017 and publicly humiliated his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for more than a year until firing him in 2018. Vice President Mike Pence in particular has set new records for sycophancy. 

Third, the “Caligula solution.” Like Trump, Caligula delighted in humiliating others. His fatal mistake was taunting Cassius Chaerea, a member of his own bodyguard. Caligula considered Chaerea effeminate because of a weak voice and mocked him with names like “Priapus” and “Venus.”

On January 22 41 A.D. Chaerea and several other bodyguards hacked Caligula to death with swords before other guards could save him.

Trump has similarly behaved arrogantly toward his Secret Service guards. He forced them to work without pay during his 35-day government shutdown in 2018. He has also forced them to accompany him to COVID-infected states—both during the Presidential campaign and afterward. Many of them have been stricken with this often lethal disease as a result.

Gaius Caligula

As Niccolo Machiavelli warns in The Discourses“When a prince becomes universally hated, it is likely that he’s harmed some individuals—who thus seek revenge. This desire is increased by seeing that the prince is widely loathed.”

ONCE AGAIN, ACCOMPLICES TO OUR OWN DESTRUCTION: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 7, 2020 at 12:24 am

“Why are we letting one man systematically destroy our nation before our eyes?” 

It’s a question millions of Americans have asked themselves since Donald Trump became President of the United States.

Millions of Germans asked themselves the same question throughout the six years of World War II.

In September, 1938, as Adolf Hitler threatened to go to war against France and England over Czechoslovakia, most Germans feared he would. They knew that Germany was not ready for war, despite all of their Fuhrer’s boasts about how invincible the Third Reich was.

A group of high-ranking German army officers was prepared to overthrow Hitler—provided that England and France held firm and handed him a major diplomatic reverse.

But then England and France—though more powerful than Germany—flinched at the thought of war.

They surrendered to Hitler’s demands that he be given the “Sudetenland”—the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia, inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans.

Hitler’s popularity among Germans soared. He had expanded the territories of the Reich by absorbing Austria and Czechoslovakia—without a shot being fired!

The plotters in the German high command, realizing that public opinion stood overwhelmingly against them, abandoned their plans for a coup. They decided to wait for a more favorable time.

It never came.

Adolf Hitler and his generals

Less than one year after the infamous “Munich conference,” England and France were at war—and fighting for the lives of their peoples.

As for the Germans: Most of them blindly followed their Fuhrer right to the end—believing his lies (or at least wanting to believe them), serving in his legions, defending his rampant criminality.

And then, in April, 1945, with Russian armies pouring into Berlin, it was too late for conspiracies against the man who had led them to total destruction. 

Berliners paid the price for their loyalty to a murderous dictator—through countless rapes, murders and the wholesale destruction of their city. And from 1945 to 1989, Germans living in the eastern part of their country paid the price as slaves to the Soviet Union. 

Have Americans learned anything from this this warning from history about subservience to a madman? 

The answer seems to be half-yes, half-no.

In 2016, almost 63 million Americans elected Donald Trump—a racist, serial adulterer and longtime fraudster—as President.

On November 3, 2020, 81,255,933 Democratic voters outvoted  74,196,153 Republican voters to elect former Vice President Joseph Biden as the 46th President of the United States.

Related image

Donald Trump

Upon taking office on January 20, 2017, Trump began undermining one public or private institution after another.

  • Repeatedly attacking the nation’s free press for daring to report his growing list of crimes and disasters, calling it “the enemy of the American people.”
  • Siding with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin against the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency which unanimously agreed that Russia had subverted the 2016 Presidential election. 
  • Firing FBI Director James Comey for investigating that subversion.
  • Giving Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey  Kislyak highly classified CIA Intelligence about an Islamic State plot to turn laptops into concealable bombs.  
  • Shutting down the Federal Government for 35 days because Democrats refused to fund his ineffective “border wall” between the United States and Mexico. An estimated 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay. The shutdown ended due to public outrage—without Trump getting the funding amount he had demanded.
  • Trying to coerce Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to smear former Vice President Joe Biden, who was likely to be his Democratic opponent in the 2020 Presidential election.
  • Allowing the deadly COVID-19 virus to ravage the country, infecting (to date) 14.8 million Americans and killing 282,000.
  • Attacking medical experts and governors who urged Americans to wear masks and socially distance to protect themselves from COVID-19.
  • Ordering his Right-wing followers to defy states’ orders to citizens to “stay-at-home” and wear of masks in public to halt surging COVID-19 rates.

And throughout all those outrages, House and Senate Republican majorities remained silent or vigorously supported him.

A typical example:

On June 4, 2020, during protests over the police murder of black security guard George Floyd, a curfew was imposed on Buffalo, New York. As police swept through Niagara Square, Martin Gugino, a 75-year-old peace activist with the Catholic Worker Movement, walked into their path as if attempting to speak with them.

Two officers pushed him and he fell backwards, hitting the back of his head on the pavement and losing consciousness. 

On June 9, Trump charged that Gugino was part of a radical leftist “set up.” Trump offered no evidence to back up his slander.

Typical Republican responses included:  

  • Kentucky Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to say whether Trump’s tweet was appropriate.
  • Texas Senator Ted Cruz: “I don’t comment on the tweets.” 
  • Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson said he hadn’t seen the tweet—and didn’t want it read to him: “I would rather not hear it.”
  • Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander: “Voters can evaluate that. I’m not going to give a running commentary on the President’s tweets.”

On November 3, 2020, 80 million voters decided they wanted a change—and elected former Vice President Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States.

DUELING FICTIONAL PRESIDENTS: BIDEN, OBAMA AND TRUMP

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on November 27, 2020 at 12:06 am

Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump to become the 46th President of the United States on January 20, 2021.

But before scoring that victory, he racked up a series of incredible adventures as a private investigator—in fiction.

In Hope Never Dies: An Obama-Biden Mystery, author Andrew Shaffer has fashioned a novel that is half-mystery, half-bromance.   

Vice President Joe Biden has just left the Obama White House and doesn’t know what to do with the rest of his life. Then Finn Donnelly, his favorite railroad conductor, dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues.

To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” calls on the skills of his former boss: Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States. Together they scour biker bars, cheap motels and other memorable haunts throughout Delaware.

Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery (Obama Biden Mysteries)

Then Biden unearths a disturbing truth about his longtime—and now dead—friend. This, in turn, leads Biden and Obama to uncover the sinister forces behind America’s opioid epidemic.

The book is pure fantasy fun, as evidenced from this review by Alexandra Alter in The New York Times

“[Hope Never Dies is] a roughly 300-page work of political fanfiction, an escapist fantasy that will likely appeal to liberals pining for the previous administration, longing for the Obama-Biden team to emerge from political retirement as action heroes. But it’s also at times a surprisingly earnest story about estranged friends who are reunited under strange circumstances.”

A reader named Casey, reviewing the novel for Goodreads, writes: “While Shaffer could have leaned into nostalgia alone, he’s written a solid mystery with the characters fleshed out as more than just clichés. 

“The reader really feels Biden’s longing to be helpful and his anguish over seeing 44’s legacy undone so quickly by an individual who shall remain nameless. (The presidential zings in this book are incredible, truly.)

“The tension between the two rings as true as it did when they were in office….By all means, this book shouldn’t work as well as it does. For a few hours, I got to enjoy the company of politicians who behaved like adults (mostly). It sure was nice.”

Contrasting with the relatively lighthearted fictional images of Joe Biden and Barack Obama is the immensely darker one of Donald Trump.

Don Winslow offers Trump an extended cameo appearance in The Border, his massive, 736-page novel about America’s war on drugs—and the horrific violence it has spawned in Mexico. It’s the third of a trilogy of novels vividly portraying the violent costs of an unwinnable conflict. 

The Border: A Novel (Power of the Dog Book 3)

Art Keller is a dedicated agent of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). For over 40 years, he has waged all-out war on Adán Barrera, the godfather of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel.

Appointed director of the DEA, Keller now faces a series of deadly enemies:

  • A heroin epidemic surging across America; 
  • Hitmen who want to kill him;
  • Politicians who want to sabotage his agenda; and
  • An incoming administration that’s allied with the very drug traffickers he’s trying to destroy.

And heading this administration is John Dennison—Donald Trump in all but name—who:

  • Gratuitously insults people on Twitter;
  • Fires a Special Counsel;
  • Gets blackmailed by a woman he once bedded; and
  • Colludes with drug traffickers for a multi-million dollar loan to finance his Presidential campaign.

Whereas the reviews for Hope Never Dies were as upbeat as the book itself, those of The Border reflect the novel’s mercilessly grim take on a war that can’t be won. 

Los Angeles Times:The Border is intricate, mean and swift, a sprawling canvass of characters including narco kingpins, a Guatemalan stowaway, a Staten Island heroin addict, a kinky hit woman, a barely veiled Donald Trump and DEA agent Art Keller, who….has been noble and merciless, a conflicted wanderer who makes America face the transgressions committed in its name.”

Rolling Stone: “Clocking in at over 700 pages, it is his most overtly political installment yet. He takes on the Trump administration directly, creating a fictional candidate, then president, who stokes racist fears of Mexicans, campaigns on ‘building the wall’ and, along with his venal son-in-law, gets caught up in a shady real estate deal involving Cartel money.”

NPR: The Border becomes a book for our times. Like Shakespeare, it makes a three-act drama of our modern moment. Like Shakespeare’s plays, it shows us a world that is our own, a history that is our own, a burden that is our own, rendered out into the rhythm of scenes and arcs, chapters and parts.”

The signature slogan of Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign was: “Yes, We Can!” The slogan of Trump’s 2016 effort could have been: “No, You Can’t.” 

Obama concentrated the full force of his attention on reforming American healthcare—by making it available to millions whose insurance refused to provide coverage.

Trump’s top priority is to separate the United States from Mexico with an impenetrable wall—and he has even diverted $3.6 billion from Pentagon funding to pay for it. 

Like John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama will likely be positively remembered as much for what he tried to do as what he succeeded at doing.

Like Richard M. Nixon, Donald Trump will likely be remembered as a menacing stain on American history. 

TWO DEADLY MISTAKES IN ONE DAY

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics on October 7, 2020 at 8:27 am

Donald Trump was in a hurry to leave Walter Reed National Military Medical Center—where he’d been taken on October 3 owing to COVID-19.

So on October 6—just three days after being hospitalized, and still highly infectious—he demanded that he be returned to the White House. 

Once ensconced in the Executive Mansion, Trump proceeded to make two deadly mistakes.

Mistake #1: He tweeted a one-minute long video from the White House balcony, saying he “learned so much about coronavirus,” and believed that he was possibly immune to the disease.

“One thing that’s for certain: Don’t let it dominate you,” he said of COVID-19. “Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment, we have the best medicines, all developed recently. And you’re going to beat it.

“We’re going back, we’re going back to work,” Trump said. “We’re going to be out front. As your leader, I had to do that. I knew there’s danger to it, but I had to do it..”

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Coronavirus

Trump’s upbeat message about COVID-19—“Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it”—alarmed and angered many infectious disease experts. 

“It’s an unconscionable message,” said Dr. Sadiya Khan of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “I would go so far as to say that it may precipitate or worsen spread.”

“We have to be realistic in this: COVID is a complete threat to the American population,” said Dr. David Nace, an expert on infectious diseases at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“Most of the people aren’t so lucky as the president,” with an in-house medical unit and access to experimental treatments, he added.

Especially outraged by Trump’s comment was Amanda Kloots, who lost her husband, Broadway actor Nick Cordero, to the virus.

NickCordero.jpg

Nick Cordero

“Unfortunately not everyone is lucky enough to spend two days in the hospital,” she tweeted, referring to Trump’s short stay for COVID-19 treatment. “I cried next to my husband for 95 days watching what COVID did to the person I love. It IS something to be afraid of.”

Mistake #2: Always wanting to appear in command, Trump ordered his negotiators to halt talks over a new economic stimulus package, after House and Senate Republicans had struggled for months to reach a deal.

“I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business,” Trump wrote in a series of tweets.

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Donald Trump

Trump’s message stunned lawmakers. The decision is a major blow to Americans still struggling with the fallout from the pandemic and endangers an economic recovery that for months was driven by a $2.2 trillion stimulus passed by Congress in the spring. That money has been largely spent. 

Among those stunned by Trump’s move: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

At the annual meeting of the National Association for Business Economics, Powell warned: “Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses.”

Powell said that government support—expanded unemployment insurance payments, direct payments to most households and support for small businesses—has prevented a recessionary “downward spiral” where job losses would reduce spending, forcing businesses to cut even more jobs.

Jerome H. Powell.jpg

Jerome Powell

A far smarter move by Trump would have been claiming that Republicans were vigorously pursuing a stimulus package—but were facing roadblocks thrown up by spendthrift Democrats. 

That would have allowed Trump to play the part of the self-pitying underdog. And it would have put the blame squarely—if inaccurately—on the Democrats.

But Trump’s ego demands that he be the one seen to take decisive action. On December 11, 2018, it neatly tripped him up.

Nancy Pelosi—then House Minority Leader—and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, met with Trump in the Oval Office. And, true to his love of publicity, Trump made sure the meeting was televised live on TV.

Trump quickly demanded $5.6 billion to create a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.

When Pelosi and Schumer refused to budge, Trump said: And one way or the other, it’s going to get built. I’d like not to see a government closing, a shutdown. We will see what happens over the next short period of time.”

SCHUMER: “Twenty times you have called for, ‘I will shut down the government if I don’t get my wall.’ None of us have said—you’ve said it.”

TRUMP: “Okay, you want to put that on my—I’ll take it.  You know what I’ll say: ‘Yes, if we don’t get what we want, one way or the other…I will shut down the government. Absolutely.’”

Trump did shut down the government. And because he had threatened to do so—on nationwide TV—he, not the Democrats, was blamed for it. Thirty-five days later, he caved to public pressure and reopened the government.

With the 2020 Presidential election less than a month away and himself behind former Vice President Joe Biden in the polls, it appears that Trump’s ego has once again neatly tripped himself up.

WHY DID TRUMP DO IT?

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on September 28, 2020 at 8:39 am

From December, 2019, to July, 2020, President Donald Trump granted unprecedented access to legendary Washington Post investigative reporter Bob Woodward.

That access has since spawned a bestselling book—Rage—and proven that Trump privately knew how deadly the Coronavirus was. Yet, in public, he played down the lethality of the virus and attacked those who sought to take it seriously. 

On February 7, the following telephone interview occurred between Trump and Woodward:

Bob Woodward: And so, what was [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping] saying yesterday? 

Donald Trump:  Oh, we were talking mostly about the virus, and I think he’s going to have it in good shape. But it’s a very tricky situation.

Woodward: Indeed, it is. 

Trump: It goes through air, Bob. That’s always tougher than the touch. The touch, you don’t have to touch things, right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flues. People don’t realize, we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year here. Who would ever think that, right?

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Coronavirus

That damning confession has since appeared not only in Woodward’s book but on millions of TV and computer screens. Not only did Woodward tape record their conversations, but Trump knew he was taping them.

And those revelations have proven explosive for Trump—possibly enough to deny him a second term as President of the United States.

Yet a central question remains so far unanswered: Why did Trump give such access to a reporter—especially the reporter whose Watergate-related journalism proved instrumental in taking down President Richard M. Nixon?

Bob Woodward (@realBobWoodward) | Twitter

Bob Woodward

There are at least three possible reasons why Trump dared to reveal to Woodward that he had blatantly lied to the American public.

Reason #1: Sheer hubris

The ancient Greeks defined “hubris” as excessive pride that led mere mortals “to think more than mortal thoughts.” 

As President, Trump has:

  • Fired FBI director James Comey for investigating Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election.
  • Threatened to cut off federal funding to cities that displeased him.
  • Shut down the Federal Government to (unsuccessfully) get full funding for his “border wall” with Mexico.
  • Attacked “the top people in the Pentagon” for not defending him against charges that he referred to soldiers killed in combat as “losers” and “suckers.”
  • Openly embraced Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
  • Attacked members of the Federal judiciary.
  • Fired Inspectors General investigating corruption within his administration.

And earlier this year he was acquitted of impeachable offenses by a majority-Republican Senate.

So if Trump believed himself invulnerable when he confessed his lying to Woodward, he had good reason to do so.

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Donald Trump

Reason #2: Trump thought he could recruit Woodward as his cheerleader

Just as Germany’s Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, had a love/hate relationship with England, so, too, has Donald Trump had one with the American press—especially such major organs as The New York Times and The Washington Post. 

Trump has shamelessly used the media to promote his businesses, his TV show (“The Apprentice”) and, most of all, his Presidency. But he has bristled when the press reports scandals that have often been linked with his name.

So Trump may have thought he could win over Woodward—through the flattery of Presidential access. And with Woodward singing his praises, he would win a newfound respectability among the mainstream press which has so often savaged him.

In fact, he might have been encouraged to win over Woodward by no less than South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

Making that accusation is Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson.

“It was Lindsey Graham who helped convince Donald Trump to talk to Bob Woodward,” Carlson said during his show, Tucker Carlson Tonight. “Lindsey Graham brokered that meeting. Lindsey Graham even sat in on the first interview between Bob Woodward and the President. How did that turn out?

“Bob Woodward dislikes Donald Trump, he’s been very clear about that. Woodward works for Jeff Bezos’ personal newspaper The Washington Post, which has made defeating Donald Trump its all-consuming mission.”

Reason #3:  Trump wanted to take down Woodward

Donald Trump has long seen himself as a tough guy.  

In 2011, at the National Achievers Congress in Sydney, Australia, he offered his audience this advice: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it.”

During the second debate of the 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump vowed that, if elected, he would prosecute and  imprison his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Days later, he threatened to imprison Clinton’s lawyers. 

So it’s entirely possible that he saw his interviews with Woodward as the verbal equivalent of a prizefight, with himself—of course—emerging as the heavyweight champ.

Whatever his reason for agreeing to those interviews, he undoubtedly regrets it now: “It’s another political hit job,” he said of the bestselling book in a September 9 press conference.

Then he turned to his “handling” of the Coronavirus pandemic: He did the best he could, he did better than anyone else would have, and his actions saved millions of lives compared to doing nothing at all.

On September 22, Coronavirus deaths in the United States topped 200,000.

DUELING PRESIDENTS: OBAMA VS. TRUMP–IN NOVELS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 21, 2020 at 12:21 am

Presidential legacies live on in unexpected ways.  

Right now, the legacies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump are vying for the attention of—fiction readers.

In Hope Never Dies: An Obama-Biden Mystery, author Andrew Shaffer has fashioned a novel that is half-mystery, half-bromance.   

Vice President Joe Biden has just left the Obama White House and doesn’t know what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Then Finn Donnelly, his favorite railroad conductor, dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues.

To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” calls on the skills of his former boss: The 44th President of the United States. Together they scour biker bars, cheap motels and other memorable haunts throughout Delaware.

Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery (Obama Biden Mysteries)

Then Biden unearths a disturbing truth about his longtime—and now dead—friend. This, in turn, leads Biden and Obama to uncover the sinister forces behind America’s opioid epidemic.

The book is pure fantasy fun, as evidenced from this review by Alexandra Alter in The New York Times

“[Hope Never Dies is] a roughly 300-page work of political fanfiction, an escapist fantasy that will likely appeal to liberals pining for the previous administration, longing for the Obama-Biden team to emerge from political retirement as action heroes. But it’s also at times a surprisingly earnest story about estranged friends who are reunited under strange circumstances.”

A reader named Casey, reviewing the novel for Goodreads, writes: “While Shaffer could have leaned into nostalgia alone, he’s written a solid mystery with the characters fleshed out as more than just cliches.

“The reader really feels Biden’s longing to be helpful and his anguish over seeing 44’s legacy undone so quickly by an individual who shall remain nameless. (The presidential zings in this book are incredible, truly.)

“The tension between the two rings as true as it did when they were in office….By all means, this book shouldn’t work as well as it does. For a few hours, I got to enjoy the company of politicians who behaved like adults (mostly). It sure was nice.”

Contrasting with the relatively lighthearted fictional image of Barack Obama is the immensely darker one of Donald Trump.

Don Winslow offers Trump an extended cameo appearance in The Border, his massive, 736-page novel about America’s war on drugs—and the horrific violence it has spawned in Mexico. It’s the third of a trilogy of novels vividly portraying the violent costs of an unwinnable conflict. 

The Border: A Novel (Power of the Dog Book 3)

Art Keller is a dedicated agent of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). For over 40 years, he has waged all-out war on Adán Barrera, the godfather of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel.

Appointed director of the DEA, Keller now faces a series of deadly enemies:

  • A heroin epidemic surging across America; 
  • Hitmen who want to kill him;
  • Politicians who want to sabotage his agenda; and
  • An incoming administration that’s allied with the very drug traffickers he’s trying to destroy.

And heading this administration is John Dennison—Donald Trump in all but name—who:

  • Gratuitously insults people on Twitter;
  • Fires a Special Counsel;
  • Gets blackmailed by a woman he once bedded; and
  • Colludes with drug traffickers for a multi-million dollar loan to finance his Presidential campaign.

Whereas the reviews for Hope Never Dies were as upbeat as the book itself, those of The Border reflect the novel’s mercilessly grim take on a war that can’t be won. 

Los Angeles Times:The Border is intricate, mean and swift, a sprawling canvass of characters including narco kingpins, a Guatemalan stowaway, a Staten Island heroin addict, a kinky hit woman, a barely veiled Donald Trump and DEA agent Art Keller, who….has been noble and merciless, a conflicted wanderer who makes America face the transgressions committed in its name.”

Rolling Stone: “Clocking in at over 700 pages, it is his most overtly political installment yet. He takes on the Trump administration directly, creating a fictional candidate, then president, who stokes racist fears of Mexicans, campaigns on ‘building the wall’ and, along with his venal son-in-law, gets caught up in a shady real estate deal involving Cartel money.”

NPR: The Border becomes a book for our times. Like Shakespeare, it makes a three-act drama of our modern moment. Like Shakespeare’s plays, it shows us a world that is our own, a history that is our own, a burden that is our own, rendered out into the rhythm of scenes and arcs, chapters and parts.”

The signature slogan of Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign was: “Yes, We Can!” The slogan of Trump’s 2016 effort could have been: “No, You Can’t.” 

Obama concentrated the full force of his attention on reforming American healthcare—by making it available to millions whose insurance refused to provide coverage.

Trump’s top priority is to separate the United States from Mexico with an impenetrable wall—and he has even diverted $3.6 billion from Pentagon funding to pay for it. 

Like John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama will likely be positively remembered as much for what he tried to do as what he succeeded at doing.

Like Richard M. Nixon, Donald Trump will likely be remembered as a menacing stain on American history. 

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