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“AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM” IS KILLING US: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 5, 2019 at 12:05 am

In his 2015 book, American Reckoning: The  Vietnam War and Our National Identity, Christian G. Appy describes the way Americans saw their country before the war: 

“The United States [was] a unique force for good in the world, superior not only in its military and economic power but in the quality of its government and institutions, the character and morality of its people, and its way of life….. 

“It was still unimaginable to most Americans that their own nation would wage aggressive war and justify it with unfounded claims, that it would support undemocratic governments reviled by their own people, and that American troops would be sent to fight in countries where they were widely regarded not as liberators but as imperialist invaders.”

For millions of Americans, writes Appy, the Vietnam war forever shattered that tremendously appealing self-image.

Yet for millions more, the United States remains an exemplary nation with a divine mission to lead other nations—willingly or unwillingly—to follow its example.  For these Americans, the corruption and dictatorships that plague many countries “can’t happen here.”

This refusal to accept the lessons of history blinds many Americans to the dangers posed by the Donald Trump Presidency. 

Since assuming office on January 20, 2017, Trump:

  • Repeatedly attacked the integrity of the American Intelligence community for confirming Russian subversion of the 2016 Presidential election—while siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin that this didn’t happen.
  • Fired FBI Director James Comey for investigating that subversion. 
  • Fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she warned him that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had misled the FBI about his Russian contacts.
  • Forced House Republicans to release a memo falsely accusing the FBI of pursuing a vendetta against him. 

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  • Repeatedly attacked his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from investigations into ties between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign. On November 7, 2018, Trump fired him.
  • Repeatedly attacked the integrity of the FBI, raising the possibility of his firing more of its senior leadership for investigating that subversion.
  • Accused those who participated in that investigation of committing “treason”—as if he were the monarchical embodiment of the state.
  • (The Constitution does not define “treason” as disloyalty to the President—or a private citizen, which Trump was when he ran for President. It defines “treason” as “levying war” against the United States, or giving “aid and comfort” to countries or entities that have declared war on the United States.)

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  • Attacked and alienated America’s oldest allies, such as Canada and Great Britain.
  • Repeatedly praised brutal Communist dictators Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un.
  • Falsely accused former President Barack Obama of illegally “spying” on his 2016 campaign.
  • Repeatedly asked aides to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller—but was finally persuaded that this could lead to his impeachment.
  • Slandered Federal judges whose rulings displeased him.
  • Spoken admiringly of American Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen.
  • Shut down the United States Government for over a month, imperiling the lives of 800,000 Federal employees, to extort money from Congress for a worthless wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • “Joked” that the United States—like China—should have a “President-for-Life.”
  • Repeatedly attacked the free press as “the enemy of the people.” 
  • Encourages his followers to violently attack those he hates in the press. On July 2, 2017, he tweeted a video of himself punching a man with the CNN logo superimposed on his head during a WWE wrestling match. 

  • Used the Presidency to further enrich himself, in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.
  • By March 17, 2019, had said or tweeted 9,179 lies or misleading statements—an average of 11.6 lies a day. 
  • Requires his Cabinet members and lesser appointees to fawn over him with over-the-top flattery previously reserved for notorious dictators.
  • Appointed William Bar as Attorney General to replace William Sessions—after Barr sent a fawning 20-page memo to the Justice Department criticizing the foundation of the Special Counsel investigation.
  • Authorized Barr to investigate the Federal law enforcement and Intelligence agencies that legally investigated links between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s Presidential campaign.
  • Plans to turn the traditional nonpartisan July 4 celebration on the National Mall into a Trump campaign rally that celebrates himself. 

* * * * *

Donald Trump isn’t crazy, as many of his critics charge. Nor is he a political innocent who “simply doesn’t know better,” as his Republican allies have repeatedly claimed.

He knows exactly what he’s doing—and why.

He intends to strip every potential challenger to his authority—or his version of reality—of legitimacy with the public. 

If he succeeds, there will be:

  • No independent press to reveal his failures and crimes.
  • No independent law enforcement agencies to investigate his abuses of office.
  • No independent judiciary to hold him accountable.
  • No independent military to dissent as he recklessly hurtles toward a nuclear disaster.
  • No candidate—Democrat or Republican—to challenge him for re-election in 2020.
  • No candidate—Democrat or Republican—to challenge his remaining in office as “President-for-Life.”

The absurd faith that “America is different from other great powers” brought us the Vietnam war—and the 58,000 needless dead that will forever be its legacy.  Now that same faith threatens to bring us an absolute Right-wing dictatorship.

“AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM” IS KILLING US: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 4, 2019 at 12:05 am

“Who are we?” asks Christian G. Appy  in the opening of his 2015 book, American Reckoning: The  Vietnam War and Our National Identity.

For Appy, it’s impossible to understand the enormous impact of the Vietnam war on the United States without first understanding the image that Americans had of themselves before that conflict. And he describes that image as:

“The broad faith that the United States [was] a unique force for good in the world, superior not only in its military and economic power but in the quality of its government and institutions, the character and morality of its people, and its way of life…..

“It was still unimaginable to most Americans that their own nation would wage aggressive war and justify it with unfounded claims, that it would support undemocratic governments reviled by their own people, and that American troops would be sent to fight in countries where they were widely regarded not as liberators but as imperialist invaders.”

Appy contends that, for millions of Americans, the Vietnam war dealt a mortal blow to that tremendously appealing self-image.

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Yet for millions more, the United States remains an exemplary nation with a divine mission to lead other nations—willingly or unwillingly—to follow its example. And those Americans become furious when anyone—especially a foreigner—dares question that belief.

On September 11, 2013, the New York Times published an Op-Ed (guest editorial) from Russian President Vladimir Putin, entitled: “A Plea for Caution from Russia: What Putin Has to Say to Americans About Syria.”

To no one’s surprise, Putin strongly opposed an American air strike on Syria. Its “President” (i.e., dictator) Bashir al-Assad, is a close ally of Russia. Just as his late father and dictator, Hafez al-Assad, was a close ally of the Soviet Union.

And Putin is a former member of the KGB, the infamous secret police which ruled the Soviet Union from its birth in 1917 to its collapse in 1991.

In his September 11 guest editorial in the New York Times, Putin offered the expected Russian take on Syria:

  • Poison gas was used in Syria.
  • It wasn’t used by the Syrian Army.
  • “Opposition forces [used it] to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons.”
  • “There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough [al] Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government.”

But it’s the concluding paragraph that enraged American politicians the most—especially Right-wing ones. In it, Putin took exception with American “exceptionalism.”

Referring to then-President Barack Obama, Putin wrote:

“And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too.

“We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Vladimir Putin

Putin has never publicly shown any interest in religion. But by invoking “the Lord,” he was able to turn the Christian beliefs of his Western audience into a useful weapon.

Americans’ outrage quickly erupted.

“I was insulted,” then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters when asked for his blunt reaction to the editorial.

“I have to be honest with you, I was at dinner, and I almost wanted to vomit,” said U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey).

Putin had dared to question the self-righteousness of American foreign policy—and those who make it.

Making his case for war with Syria, Obama had said: “America is not the world’s policeman….But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.

“That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

In short: Because we consider ourselves “exceptional,” we have the divine right to do whatever we want.

It’s not necessary to see Putin as a champion of democracy (he isn’t) to see the truth in this part of his editorial:

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

From 1938 to 1969, the House Un-American Activities Committee sought to define what was “American” and what was “Un-American.” As if “American” stood for all things virtuous.

Whoever heard of an “Un-French Activities Committee”? Or an “Un-German” or “Un-British” one?

The late S.I. Hayakawa was a professor of semantics (the study of the relationship between words and what they stand for).

In his bestselling book, Language in Thought and Action, he observed that a person has four ways of responding to a message:

  • Accept the speaker and his message.
  • Accept the speaker but reject the message.
  • Accept the message but reject the speaker.
  • Reject the message and the speaker.

Americans might want to consider #3 where “American exceptionalism” is concerned.

FASCISTIC OATHS—PAST AND PRESENT

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 14, 2019 at 12:05 am

William Kristol—a Right-wing political analyst—has been dubbed “the godfather of neoconservatism.” And with good reason. 

During the first two years of the George W. Bush administration, as the editor of the Weekly Standard, he was one of the leading instigators of the 2003 war with Iraq.

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Bill Kristol

He—like senior officials on the George W. Bush administration—falsely claimed that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and planned to use them against the United States.

Another Kristol lie: Hussein planned 9/11 with Osama bin Laden.

He has never apologized for either lie—or the resulting war that killed 4,487 American soldiers and wounded another 32,226.

But even after the disaster of the 2003 war against Iraq, Kristol wasn’t through urging the United States into another murderous quagmire.

In a September, 2013 column, Kristol called for a return to war—not only in Syria but Iran as well:

“…Soon after voting to authorize the use of force against the [Bashar al-] Assad regime, Republicans might consider moving an authorization for the use of force against the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

“They can explain that [President Barack] Obama’s dithering in the case of Syria shows the utility of unequivocally giving him the authority to act early with respect to Iran.”

So it’s no small thing that Kristol has found himself agreeing with Democratic Massachusetts United States Senator and 2020 Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren that Democrats should begin impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

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Elizabeth Warren

He did so on a segment of MSNBC’s “Meet the Press” on May 7, 2019. 

Earlier in the day, Elizabeth Warren had stated on the Senate floor: 

“More than 600 federal prosecutors have now said that what’s laid out in the Mueller Report would constitute obstruction of justice, and would trigger a prosecution for any human being in this country other than the President of the United States.

“Robert Mueller put all of the facts together for us, put all of the information together for us, and abided by the Trump administration declaration under the Office of Legal Counsel that a sitting president cannot be indicted for his crimes.

“We took an oath not to try and protect Donald Trump, we took an oath to protect and serve the Constitution of the United States of America, and the way we do that is we begin impeachment proceedings now against this president.” 

On February 15, 2019, Kristol had posted this tweet on Twitter: 

“Members of Congress take this oath of office (see Title 5, Section 3331 of the United States Code): “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

On May 7, in a blistering attack on his fellow Republicans, he posted “the new GOP Congressional oath”:

“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend Donald Trump against all oversight; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to him; that I take this obligation despite mental reservation and in the spirit of evasion of duty. So help me God.”

Hours later, Kristol appeared before a “Meet the Press” panel and attacked Democrats for being “so terrified about the word impeachment that we can’t even have hearings….I must say I agree with Elizabeth Warren. I never thought I would say this.

“Robert Mueller’s report… invited Congress to take a look for itself at the obstruction of justice charges. They have an obligation to do it. They don’t have to impeach him. They may take a look and decide there aren’t grounds for impeachment. Maybe they wanna censure him…I think Elizabeth Warren’s right. Begin the hearings.” 

Kristol’s “new GOP Congressional oath” is a deadly reminder of another oath that had fatal consequences for Nazi Germany—and the world.

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Soldiers swearing the Fuhrer Oath

On August 2, 1934, President Paul von Hindenburg died. Adolf Hitler was then serving as Reich Chancellor—the equivalent of attorney general. Within hours, the Nazi Reichstag [parliament] announced the following law, back-dated to August 1st:

“The office of Reich President will be combined with that of Reich Chancellor. The existing authority of the Reich President will consequently be transferred to the Führer and Reich Chancellor, Adolf Hitler.” 

Immediately following the announcement of the new Führer law, the German Officer Corps and every individual soldier in the German Army was made to swear a brand new oath of allegiance:

“I swear by God this holy oath, that I will render to Adolf Hitler, Führer of the German Reich and People, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, unconditional obedience, and that I am ready, as a brave soldier, to risk my life at any time for this oath.”

No doubt Kristol, who considers himself a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, remembers all too well the fate of those old-time conservatives who dared oppose Hitler.

The lucky ones were sent to concentration camps. The unlucky ones wound up on meat hooks.

FICTION BECOMES NIGHTMARISH REALITY: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 8, 2019 at 12:59 pm

Donald Trump’s appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 2, 2019 was an occasion for rejoicing among his supporters.

But for those who prize rationality and decency in a President, it was a dismaying and frightening experience.

For two hours, Trump gave free reign to his anger and egomania.  

Among his unhinged commentaries:

“We have people in Congress that hate our country.” 

If you don’t agree 100% with Trump on everything, you’re a traitor. 

“He called me up. He said, ‘You’re a great President. You’re doing a great job.’ He said, ‘I just want to tell you you’re a great President and you’re one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.'”

Trump attributed these remarks to California’s liberal governor, Gavin Newsom.  On February 11, 2019, Newsom announced the withdrawal of several hundred National Guardsmen from the state’s southern border with Mexico—defying Trump’s request for support from border states.

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Donald Trump at CPAC

“You know if you remember my first major speech—you know the dishonest media they’ll say, ‘He didn’t get a standing ovation.’ You know why? Because everybody stood and nobody sat. They are the worst. They leave that out.”

Once again, he’s the persecuted victim of an unfair and totally unappreciative news media.

“And I love the First Amendment; nobody loves it better than me. Nobody. I mean, who use its more than I do? But the First Amendment gives all of us—it gives it to me, it gives it to you, it gives it to all Americans, the right to speak our minds freely. It gives you the right and me the right to criticize fake news and criticize it strongly.”

Trump has repeatedly called the nation’s free press “the enemy of the people”—a slander popularized by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. And while Trump brags about his usage of the First Amendment, he’s used Non-Disclosure agreements and threats of lawsuits to deny that right to others.

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“For too long, we’ve traded away our jobs to other countries. So terrible.”

While this remark—like virtually every remark Trump made at CPAC—got rousing applause, he failed to mention that his own products are made overseas:

  • Ties: Made in China 
  • Suits: Made in Indonesia 
  • Trump Vodka: Made in the Netherlands, and later in Germany
  • Crystal glasses, decanters: Made in Slovenia 
  • And the clothing and accessories line of his daughter, Ivanka, is produced entirely in factories in Bangladesh, Indonesia and China.

“By the way, you folks are in here—this place is packed, there are lines that go back six blocks and I tell you that because you won’t read about it, OK.”

He’s obsessed with fear that the media won’t make him look popular.

“So we’re all part of this very historic movement, a movement the likes of which, actually, the world has never seen before. There’s never been anything like this. There’s been some movements, but there’s never been anything like this.”

Trump sees himself as the single greatest figure in history. So anything he’s involved with must be unprecedented.

“But I always say, Obamacare doesn’t work. And these same people two years ago and a year ago were complaining about Obamacare.”

In 2010, 48 million Americans lacked health insurance. By 2016, that number had been reduced to 28.6 million. So 20 million Americans now have access to medical care they previously couldn’t get.

“But we’re taking a firm, bold and decisive measure, we have to, to turn things around. The era of empty talk is over, it’s over.”

  • Trump has boasted that he and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un “fell in love.” Then he met with Kim in Vietnam—and got stiffed on a deal for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
  • On July 16, 2018, Trump attended a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. There he blamed American Intelligence agencies—such as the FBI, CIA—instead of Putin for Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election.

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“I’ll tell you what they [agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement] do, they came and endorsed me, ICE came and endorsed me. They never endorsed a presidential candidate before, they might not even be allowed to.” 

Trump can’t stop boasting about how popular he is.

“These are hard-working, great, great Americans. These are unbelievable people who have not been treated fairly. Hillary called them deplorable. They’re not deplorable.”

On the contrary: “Deplorable” is exactly the word for those who vote their racism, ignorance, superstition and hatred of their fellow citizens.

A FINAL NOTE: Trump held himself up for adoration just three days after Michael Cohen, his longtime fixer:

  • Damned him as a racist, a conman and a cheat.
  • Revealed that Trump had cheated on his taxes and bought the silence of a porn “star” to prevent her revealing a 2006 tryst before the 2016 election.
  • Estimated he had stiffed, on Trump’s behalf, hundreds of workers Trump owed money to. 

And, only two days earlier, Trump had returned from a much-ballyhooed meeting in Vietnam with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. Trump hoped to get a Nobel Peace Prize by persuading Kim to give up his nuclear arsenal.

Instead, Trump got stiffed—and returned empty-handed. 

FICTION BECOMES NIGHTMARISH REALITY: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 7, 2019 at 12:10 am

“Is this man simply crazy, or is he crazy like a fox?”

That was the question that Bandy X. Lee, an assistant clinical psychiatry professor at the Yale School of Medicine, wanted to answer.

And she tried to do so as the the editor of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. 

“It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to notice that our president is mentally compromised,” she and colleague Judith Lewis Herman asserted in the book’s prologue.

According to Dr. Craig Malkin, a Lecturer in Psychology for Harvard Medical School and a licensed psychologist, Trump is a pathological narcissist:

“Pathological narcissism begins,” Malkin writes, “when people become so addicted to feeling special that, just like with any drug, they’ll do anything to get their ‘high,’ including lie, steal, cheat, betray and even hurt those closest to them.

“When they can’t let go of their need to be admired or recognized, they have to bend or invent a reality in which they remain special despite all messages to the contrary. In point of fact, they become dangerously psychotic. It’s just not always obvious until it’s too late.”

Lance Dodes, a retired psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, believes that Trump is a sociopath: “The failure of normal empathy is central to sociopathy, which is marked by an absence of guilt, intentional manipulation and controlling or even sadistically harming others for personal power or gratification.”

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But an observer didn’t need to be a psychiatrist to feel frightened by Trump’s behavior at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on March 2.

For two hours, in National Harbor, Maryland, Trump delivered the longest address (so far) of his Presidency—and of any American President.

“You know, I’m totally off script right now,” Trump said early on. “This is how I got elected, by being off script.” 

And from the moment he embraced an American flag as though he wanted to hump it, it was clear: He was “totally off script.” 

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“How many times did you hear, for months and months, ‘There is no way to 270?’ You know what that means, right? ‘There is no way to 270.'”

Once again, Trump reveales his obsession with his win in 2016—as if no one else had ever been elected President.

“If you tell a joke, if you’re sarcastic, if you’re having fun with the audience, if you’re on live television with millions of people and 25,000 people in an arena, and if you say something like, ‘Russia, please, if you can, get us Hillary Clinton’s emails. Please, Russia, please.'”

Here he’s trying to “spin” his infamous invitation to hackers in Vladimir Putin’s Russia to intervene in an American Presidential election by obtaining the emails of  his campaign rival. Which they did that same day.

“So now we’re waiting for a report, and we’ll find out whether or not, and who we’re dealing with. We’re waiting for a report by people that weren’t elected.”

It doesn’t matter to Trump that America’s foremost enemy—Russia—tried to influence a Presidential election. What matters to him is that the report may end his Presidency.

“Those red hats—and white ones. The key is in the color. The key is what it says. ‘Make America Great Again’ is what it says. Right? Right?”

Color matters.  Words, ideas don’t. 

“Now, Robert Mueller never received a vote, and neither did the person that appointed him. And as you know, the attorney general says, ‘I’m going to recuse myself.'”

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller and Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are career Justice Department officials. They weren’t voted into office.

“Number one, I’m in love, and you’re in love. We’re all in love together. There’s so much love in this room, it’s easy to talk. You can talk your heart out. You really could. There’s love in this room. You can talk your heart out. It’s easy. It’s easy. It’s easy.”

Trump apparently finds it easy to fall in love—with Right-wing audiences and Communist dictators such as Kim Jong-Un.

“And from the day we came down the escalator, I really don’t believe we’ve had an empty seat at any arena, at any stadium. They did the same thing at our big inauguration speech. You take a look at those crowds.”

Once again, he must brag about how popular he is and how many people want to listen to him.

“A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people. And they are. They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources, they just make ’em up when there are none.” 

By January 21, 2019, The Washington Post found that Trump had made “7,645 ‘false or misleading claims.” He is in no position to talk about integrity.

“But we’re going to have regulation. It’s going to be really strong and really good and we’re going to protect our environment and we’re going to protect the safety of our people and our workers, OK?”

To “protect our environment,” Trump appointed Andrew R. Wheeler, a former coal company lobbyist, to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

FICTION BECOMES NIGHTMARISH REALITY: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 6, 2019 at 1:10 pm

“One man in the free world has the power to launch a nuclear war that might destroy civilization: the President of the United States. What if that man were mentally unbalanced?”

That is the premise of the 1965 novel, Night at Camp David, by Fletcher Knebel. 

At the time of its release, its plot was considered so over-the-top as to be worthy of science fiction:

Iowa Democratic Senator Jim MacVeagh is summoned to Camp David, the Presidential retreat, by President Mark Hollenbach. MacVeagh is expected to become Hollenbach’s next Vice President. But he becomes alarmed that Hollenbach is clearly suffering from intense paranoia. 

He wants to develop a closer relationship between the United States and Russia—while cutting ties with American allies in Europe. Moreover, Hollenbach believes the American news media are conspiring against him with his political enemies.

Only one person possesses evidence that Hollenbach is losing his grip on sanity—his mistress, Rita.  Desperate to retain his power, Hollenbach orders the FBI to investigate both MacVeagh and Rita.

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So why was a 53-year-old novel released in 2018? The answer lies in two words: Donald Trump.

In a November 30, 2018 review of Night at Camp David, Tom McCarthy, national affairs correspondent for the British newspaper, The Guardian, writes:  

“The current president has seen crowds where none exist, deployed troops to answer no threat, attacked national institutions – the military, the justice department, the judiciary, the vote, the rule of law, the press – tried to prosecute his political enemies, elevated bigots, oppressed minorities, praised despots while insulting global allies and wreaked diplomatic havoc from North Korea to Canada.

“He stays up half the night watching TV and tweeting about it, then wakes up early to tweet some more, in what must be the most remarkable public diary of insecurity, petty vindictiveness, duplicity and scattershot focus by a major head of state in history.”

From the beginning of his Presidency, Trump aroused fear—based not only of what he might do, but that he might be mentally unbalanced.  Consider: 

On March 4, 2017, in a series of unhinged tweets, he accused former President Barack Obama of tapping his Trump Tower phones prior to the election:  

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”  

“Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!”  

“I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!”

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”  

A subsequent investigation by the Justice Department turned up no evidence to substantiate Trump’s foray into Presidential libel.

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Donald Trump

Trump’s shoot-first-and-never-mind-the-consequences approach to life has been thoroughly documented.  

From June 15, 2015, when he launched his Presidential campaign, until October 24, 2016, he fired nearly 4,000 angry, insulting tweets at 281 people and institutions. The New York Times needed two full pages of its print edition to showcase them.

Among these targets were:

  • His Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton
  • His fellow Republican Presidential candidates
  • Actress Meryl Streep
  • News organizations
  • President Barack Obama
  • Comedian John Oliver
  • The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)
  • Singer Neil Young
  • The state of New Jersey 
  • Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  

And during his first two weeks as President, Trump attacked 22 people, places and things on his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account.  

Trump’s vindictiveness, his narcissism, his compulsive aggression, his complaints that his “enemies” in government and the press are trying to destroy him, have caused many to ask: Could the President of the United States be suffering from mental illness?

One who has dared to answer this question is John D. Gartner, a practicing psychotherapist. 

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John D. Gartner

Gartner graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University, received his Ph.D in clinical psychology from the University of Massachusetts, and served as a part-time assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University Medical School for 28 years.

During an interview by U.S. News & World Report (published on January 27, 2017), Gartner said: “Donald Trump is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president.”

Gartner said that Trump suffers from “malignant narcissism,” whose symptoms include:

  • anti-social behavior
  • sadism
  • aggressiveness
  • paranoia
  • and grandiosity. 

“We’ve seen enough public behavior by Donald Trump now that we can make this diagnosis indisputably,” says Gartner, who admits he has not personally examined Trump.  

More of that behavior was on full display on March 2, 2019 at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland.  

For more than two hours, Trump delivered the longest speech (so far) of his Presidency to his fanatically Right-wing audience.

Facing a hostile Democratic House of Representatives and a potentially explosive report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump threw down the gauntlet.

“JUST ANOTHER WEEK IN CALIGULA’S ROME”—AND TRUMP’S WASHINGTON

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 5, 2019 at 12:16 am

“Just another week in Caligula’s Rome.”

That was how conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks summed up President Donald Trump’s Washington, D.C. for the week of February 24 to March 1, 2019.

Every Friday Books faces off with liberal syndicated columnist Mark Shields on The PBS Newshour. And on the program for March 1, the two men found common cause in sizing up the appearance of Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee two days earlier.

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David Brooks and Mark Shields on “The PBS Newshour”

During that hearing, Cohen, Trump’s longtime attorney and fixer:

  • Condemned his former boss as “a racist, a conman [and] a cheat.”
  • Confirmed that Trump had instructed him to pay $130,000 in hush money to porn “star” Stormy Daniels, to buy her silence during the 2016 Presidential campaign.
  • Provided the committee with a copy of a check Trump wrote from his personal bank account—after he became President—“to reimburse me for the hush money payments I made.”
  • Produced “copies of letters I wrote at Mr. Trump’s direction that threatened his high school, colleges, and the College Board not to release his grades or SAT scores.”

But for Brooks, far more was at stake than the individual accusations:

“To me, it was more of a moral occasion, more than anything else. What it illustrates is a President and, frankly, Michael Cohen who long ago decided that celebrity and wealth is more important than being a good person. And they have dragged us all down there with us.

“And the people they have dragged most effectively are the House Republicans, a lot of them on that committee, who decided that they were completely incurious about whether Donald Trump was a good guy or a bad guy or a really awful guy, that—their own leader, they didn’t seem to care about that, but they were going to rip the skin off Michael Cohen.

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Michael Cohen testifying before Congress

“And so they attacked him. And what struck me is how moral corrosion happens, that you decide you’re going to defend or ignore Trump. And then to do that, you have to morally distance yourself from him. And then you have to morally distance yourself from him every day.

“And, eventually, you just get numb to everything. And so [Ohio Republican Representative] Jim Jordan and other people on the committee were saying, oh, we all knew this, like, it’s all unremarkable. And so that’s—that’s how moral corrosion happens.”  

During the hearing, California Representative Jackie Speier asked Cohen: How many times did Trump ask you to intimidate creditors?

Cohen estimated the number at 500. 

For Shields, this counted as especially despicable behavior: “And—but the thing about it is, when he stiffed those small business—the plumbers and the electricians who did the work in the Trump projects, and he came back, and Donald Trump loved to hear about it, I mean, reveled in it.

“Now, I mean, at what point do you say that there’s no honor here? I mean, there’s nothing to admire.” 

Shields was equally appalled by the refusal of Trump’s Republican committee defenders to condemn his moral depravity—as a businessman or President.

“If you can’t deal with the message, you shoot the messenger. And that’s what their whole strategy was.

“The very fact that not a single member of the Republican committee defended Donald Trump or what he was charged or alleged to have done, to me, was revealing. They just decided to go after Michael Cohen.”

So why have Republicans aligned themselves with such a man? 

Republicans don’t fear that Trump will trash the institutions that Americans have cherished for more than 200 years. Institutions like an independent judiciary, a free press, and an incorruptible Justice Department.

He has already attacked all of these—and Republicans have either said nothing or rushed to his defense.

What Republicans truly fear about Donald Trump is that he will finally cross one line too many—like firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. And that the national outrage following this will force them to launch impeachment proceedings against him.

But it isn’t even Trump they fear will be destroyed.

What they most fear losing is their own hold on nearly absolute power in Congress and the White House. And the riches that go with it.

If Trump is impeached and possibly indicted, he will become a man no one any longer fears. He will be a figure held up to ridicule and condemnation. 

Like Adolf Hitler.

Like Richard Nixon. 

And his supporters will be branded as losers along with him.

Republicans vividly remember what happened after Nixon was forced to resign on August 9, 1974: Democrats, riding a wave of reform fever, swept Republicans out of the House and Senate—and Jimmy Carter into the White House. 

House and Senate Republicans can imagine a future without Trump—but not one where they disappear.

If they are conflicted—whether to continue supporting Trump or desert him—the reason is the same: How can I hold onto my power and all the privileges that go with it?  

ACCOMPLICES TO OUR OWN DESTRUCTION: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 13, 2019 at 12:10 am

On December 22, 2018, President Donald Trump shut down the Federal Government.  The reason: Democrats refused to fund his “border wall” between Mexico and the United States. 

Like Adolf Hitler, who ordered the complete destruction of Germany when he realized his dreams of conquest were over, Trump’s attitude was: “If I can’t rule America, there won’t be an America.”

An estimated 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay. Trump told Congressional leaders the shutdown could last months or even years

Thirty-five days passed, with each one bringing increasing stress and fear to the lives of those 800,000 Federal employees.

Meanwhile, House and Senate Democrats held firm. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even cancelled Trump’s scheduled State of the Union address at the House of Representatives until the shutdown ended.

Finally, on January 25, 2019, Trump walked into the White House Rose Garden and said he would sign a bill to re-open the government for three weeks:

  • Lawmakers would have until February 15 to negotiate a compromise on border security.
  • Otherwise, the government would shut down again.

As the February deadline loomed ever closer, on February 11, 2019, CNN published a story under the headline: “Washington on the brink as new shutdown looms”:

The story bluntly laid out the stakes involved: “If no deal is reached and no stop-gap spending measure emerges, a new government shutdown could be triggered, again subjecting 800,000 federal workers who could be furloughed or asked to work without pay.”

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, ten months and eight days. And all but the first six months of his reign were drenched in slaughter and debauchery.

The nickname “Carrot Caligula” was stuck on Trump owing to his strange orange skin color.  

So how can America’s continued slide into tyranny and destruction be stopped? 

There are basically three ways:

First, Congressional Republicans could revolt against Trump’s authority and/or agenda. They could, for example, make clear they will not accept another disastrous government shutdown.

In December, the Republican-dominated Senate unanimously passed bills to keep the government open and temporarily provide funding without Trump’s wall money. 

Then Trump said he would not sign the bills.  

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could have reopened the government by re-introducing the same funding bill that the Senate had already passed. He refused.

The odds of Republicans revolting against Trump are nearly impossible. They fear that if he is removed or rendered impotent, voters will turn on them in 2020—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. 

There are ample grounds for this—such as the continuing revelations that Trump has decades-long secret ties to Russian oligarchs linked to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

This solution 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. 

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.

Gaius Caligula

Among the potential enemies Trump has enraged are members of the United States Secret Service.

Among the agencies directly affected by the Trump-ordered government shutdown: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Its employees include the Secret Service agents who protect Trump.

In short: The men and women guarding Trump—along with their families—faced economic ruin because Trump didn’t get his way on “The Wall.” 

And now they may face those dangers once again—for the same reason.

Besides the Secret Service, a great many Federal employees—such as FBI agents and members of the military—are armed and in close proximity of the President.

Even more ominous for Trump: By the end of the shutdown, his popularity had fallen to a historic low of 37%.

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.”

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

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on February 12, 2019 at 12:15 am

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

It’s a question millions of Americans have no doubt been asking themselves since Donald Trump took office as President of the United States.

And no doubt it’s the question that millions of Germans asked themselves 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 the unexpected happened: 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.

France would fall to Hitler’s legions in June, 1940.  England would fight on alone—until, in December, 1941, the United States finally declared war on Nazi Germany.

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? 

Apparently not.

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

Whereas Barack Obama, in 2008, had run for President on the slogan, “Yes, We Can!” Trump ran on the themes of fear and vindictiveness. He threatened violence not only against Democrats but even his fellow Republicans.

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Donald Trump

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

  • He repeatedly and viciously 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.”
  • When American Intelligence agencies—such as the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency—unanimously agreed that Russia had interfered with the 2016 Presidential election, Trump disagreed. Then he publicly sided with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin against those men and women charged with protecting the security of the United States.   
  • When FBI Director James Comey refused to pledge his personal loyalty to Trump—and when he continued to investigate Russian subversion of the 2016 election—Trump fired him.  
  • Trump repeatedly attacked his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for not “protecting” him from agents pursuing the Russia investigation. On November 7, 2018, the day after Democrats won a majority of House seats, Trump fired him. 
  • Trump has repeatedly attacked Seattle U.S. District Judge James Robart, who halted Trump’s first anti-Muslim travel ban.

And on December 22, 2018, Trump shut down the Federal Government because Democrats refused to fund his “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.

As a result:

  • For weeks, hundreds of thousands of government workers missed paychecks.
  • Smithsonian museums closed their doors.
  • Trash piled up in national parks. 
  • Increasing numbers of employees of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA)—which provides security against airline terrorism—began refusing to come to work, claiming to be sick.
  • At the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) many air traffic controllers called in “sick.” Those who showed up to work without pay grew increasingly frazzled as they feared being evicted for being unable to make rent or house payments. 
  • Due to the shortage of air traffic controllers, many planes weren’t able to land safely at places like New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
  • Many Federal employees—such as FBI agents—were forced to rely on soup kitchens to feed their families.
  • Many workers tried to bring in money by babysitting or driving for Uber, 

Nancy Pelosi, the newly-elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, summed up Trump thus: “The impression you get from the President is he would like to not only close government, build a wall, but also abolish Congress, so the only voice that mattered was his own.”

LEARNING FROM THE MUNICH DISASTER: PART FIVE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 1, 2019 at 12:05 am

On January 25, 2019—the 35th day of the Federal Government shutdown—President Donald Trump did what no one expected. He caved.

In a White House press conference, he said:

  • Lawmakers would have until February 15 to negotiate a compromise on border security.
  • Otherwise, the government would shut down again.
  • If Democrats did not give in to his demands to fund a border wall, he might use his executive authority to command the military to build the wall instead.

Essentially, he agreed to the same deal he was offered in December, 2018—before he allowed himself to be bullied by Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh into shutting down the government.

For all of Trump’s defiant words, his action was universally seen as a serious defeat—by both his opponents and supporters.

Among the latter was Right-wing provocateur Ann Coulter. Summing up the reaction of his Hispanic-hating supporters, she tweeted: “Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as president of the United States.”

On the PBS Newshour, liberal political analyst Mark Shields said: “it was a total defeat for him. And, believe me…there will not be the will among Republicans in three weeks to go back and do this again. Once it’s open, it’s going to be opened.”

His counterpart, conservative analyst David Brooks, agreed: “It is a total—a total victory for the Democrats….If Donald Trump wants bring this on again, [Democrats will be] happy.

“The Republicans are miserable. They never want to come back to where they are right now. And so the odds that we will have another shutdown strike me as low. And it would be—for Trump, it would be suicidally low to—just to try this again.”  

* * * * *

During his years as President, Bill Clinton tried to win over Republicans by supporting measures they liked—such as making it harder for the poor to get welfare via the Federal government. 

In the end, his efforts to win over Republicans convinced them that he was weak. So they tried to impeach him for getting oral sex from a White House intern.

Bill Clinton.jpg

Bill Clinton

Similarly, Barack Obama spent the first two years of his Presidency hopelessly trying to gain Republican support. This only led to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s saying that his goal was to make Obama “a one-term President.”

At least for the moment, Democrats seem to have learned that cowering before bullies only wins you their contempt. As Niccolo Machiavelli warned in The Prince, his classic work on politics:

“From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved. The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved. 

“For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain. As long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours: they offer you their blood, their goods, their life and their children, when the necessity is remote, but when it approaches, they revolt.

“And the prince who has relied solely on their words, without making other preparations, is ruined. For the friendship which is gained by purchase and not through grandeur and nobility of spirit is bought but not secured, and at a pinch is not to be expended in your service. 

“And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared. For love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose. But fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.” 

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

At the time of the 1938 Munich conference, a group of highly-placed German army officers were preparing to overthrow Adolf Hitler in a military coup. They counted on France and England to stand firm against the Fuhrer, handing him a major foreign policy defeat.

The officers intended to use that as an excuse to remove him from power—before he could plunge Germany into a disastrous war it could not win.

But when Britain and France surrendered Czechoslovakia to Hitler, his prestige in Germany shot to unprecedented heights. Knowing that overthrowing such a popular leader would be suicidal, the army officers abandoned their plans for a coup.

Convinced of his own invincibility, Hitler recklessly plunged ahead, demanding that Britain and France agree to cede Danzig, a city in northern Poland, to him.  

This time the Allies held firm. The result was World War II.

At least for now, Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats fully understand the lesson of Munich. You must stand up to tyrants—or there will be no end to their evil demands.

The only question is: Will they continue to make use of that lesson—or once again allow themselves to be cowed by a ruthless tyrant?

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