From the Washington Post this evening comes word that
President-elect Donald Trump said in a weekend interview that he is nearing completion of a plan to replace President Obama’s signature health-care law with the goal of “insurance for everybody,” while also vowing to force drug companies to negotiate directly with the government on prices in Medicare and Medicaid.
Aardvark knows Pharma and, trust me, ladies and germs, we are talking about billions and billions of dollars here. We are talking about platoons of lobbyists at both the federal and state levels. We are talking campaign contributions in an amount that would make Croesus green with envy.
And so, in the remote event that Trump is to be believed, we are about to see a colossal confrontation between financial interest and fear of Trump’s mob. “’They’re politically protected, but not anymore,’ he said of pharmaceutical companies.”
“I think we will get approval. I won’t tell you how, but we will get approval. You see what’s happened in the House in recent weeks,” Trump said, referencing his tweet during a House Republican move to gut their independent ethics office, which along with widespread constituent outrage was cited by some members as a reason the gambit failed.
Depicted at the top of this post is a stopped watch from Poland. It is right twice a day. Just so, the Donald is right to advocate “insurance for everyone” and price negotiations with the drug companies.
But is he right to think that bluster, bullying, and fear of Trump voters will overcome profound financial self-interest on the part of those in the pay of Big Pharma? Will all those folks who take Pharma’s shilling experience a mass Damascus experience?
I don’t think so. And corporate America may be poised to learn that while Marco Rubio and Mike Pence may yearn to be their well groomed, well spoken, well compensated towel boys in the corporate brothel, Trump yearns to be their master, the capo di tutti capi. It’s the billionaire class that is about to stroll down the road to Damascus.
And the revelation they will receive is that the time has come to take down the Donald and replace him with the Pence.
“Character is destiny,” said Heraclitus. Trump’s character is bad, and so will be his destiny–because the king’s character is the source of the writing on the wall.
Old friend Hans Jungfreud, who lives across the ocean and shares our pain, has shared these items, beginning with his observations on our new royal family.
Henrich Heine, tr. by J. Reed
Towards midnight now the hours moved on,
In silent sleep lay Babylon.
Only up in the castle there
The vassals shout, the torches flare.
Up in the hall of the mighty King,
Belshazzar’s feast was in full swing.
His armoured men sat glittering round,
Goblet on goblet of wine they downed.
The goblets’ clinking, the liegemen’s cheer,
Are what the dour king likes to hear.
His face is flushed, his cheeks aglow,
The wine it makes his courage grow.
Blindly he’s drawn beyond all bounds,
Till a sinful challenge to God resounds.
He boasts and blasphemes against the Lord,
To the roaring cheers of his servile horde.
The King commands with an eye that burns,
A servant hastens and returns.
With golden vessels his back is piled;
Jehovah’s temple has been defiled.
And the King he seizes with hand of sin
A sacred vessel filled to the brim.
And he drains it hastily, drains it dry,
And with foaming mouth they hear him cry:
‘Jehovah, your power is past and gone —
I am the King of Babylon.’
But scarce the awful word was said,
The King was stricken with secret dread.
The raucous laughter silent falls,
It is suddenly still in the echoing halls.
And see! as if on the wall’s white space
A human hand began to trace.
Writing and writing across the stone
Letters of fire, wrote, and was gone.
The King sat still, with staring gaze,
His knees were water, ashen his face.
Fear chilled the vassals to the bone,
Fixed they sat and gave no tone.
Wise men came, but none was equipped
To read the sense of the fiery script.
Before the sun could rise again,
Belshazzar by his men was slain.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
A propos of l’affaire Lewis, many pundits of a progressive bent have made these points:
- President Elect Birther lacks standing to complain of attacks on the legitimacy of his presidency.
- If anyone does have standing to make such an attack, that person would be John Lewis.
- Trump is a lout to attack a civil rights hero on MLK day.
Aardvark agrees, though his agreement is bootless.
What strikes me about this affair is that Congressman Lewis played Trump like a violin. Mixing the metaphor, the good congressman put a large and smelly piece of cheese on a large and lethal mousetrap. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he knew why he was doing it and when he was doing it. Rep. Lewis exhibited no particular subtlety or finesse, nor, plainly, did he need any subtlety. He just put the cheese on the trap and the mouse pounced, right on time, utterly heedless of the consequences.
To follow up on the previous post, if my name were Vladimir Putin, I would be scared shitless to have a guy this childish as my agent.
This morning Nicholas Kristof asks, trenchantly discusses, but does not answer the question whether Trump is “Kremlin Employee of the Month”—concluding, “We can’t afford even the perception that our president is the Kremlin’s man in Washington.”
Well, that’s right. We can’t afford it, but it looks as if we have bought it anyway.
Meanwhile, from the Washington Post we learn that “There’s no joy in Moscow after tough talk from Trump appointees.” This comes amid other reports of possible buyers’ remorse at the Kremlin.
Which would you want, a stable, predictable enemy, or an unstable, mentally challenged tool? Hmm … That would depend on how unstable and how mentally challenged, wouldn’t it?
Many are wondering. I don’t know the answer. But I did take a shave with Occam’s razor this morning and determined that the explanation that best fits the known facts is that old Vladimir has Trump by the short and curlies.
Whether the blackmail involves golden showers in a Moscow hotel is another matter. Probably it’s something else.
And here’s another puzzlement: if Trump doesn’t want to be perceived as Putin’s bitch, why does he go to so much trouble to act like Putin’s bitch?
ENQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW.
It is January 14. As we count down toward Doomsday, the public conversation is dominated by two questions:
- Is it true, as Rep. John Lewis has claimed, that Trump would not have been elected but for Russian interference, and is his presidency therefore illegitimate?
- Why is Trump so publicly in love with Putin?
This post addresses the first of these two questions. By the way, Trump attacked Lewis this morning and Lewis has just responded by emailing the Aardvarks to ask for a monetary contribution. Dr. Aardvark and I are considering whether to click the $50 button or one of the others.
That said, Aardvark agrees with Kathleen Parker, who wrote today that we will probably never know whether Russian influence actually tipped the scale.
The fundamental question about the election is not does not involve the source of supply of fake news, it involves the source of demand for fake news. Think of it like this. Just up the road from Happy Acres, conveniently located, lies the Humongous Booze Barn, which offers a wide selection and highly competitive pricing to complement its geographic convenience.
Does the convenient location of the Humongous Booze Barn contribute to Aardvark’s consumption of strong drink? Yes, maybe a little. But despite the enticing selection of alcohol they offer, no one at the store forces Aardvark to buy the stuff. He buys it because some evenings sobriety is too painful to endure.
For many millions of our fellow citizens, reality itself has become too painful to bear. I suspect that a lot of them are aware, at least dimly, and in the back of the mind, that they are consuming fake news. But they go on pouring it down their gullets because it makes them feel good. And if they can’t get it from one source, they will get it from another.
What would happen if the Humongous Booze Barn ran out of Jack Daniels? Won’t happen, but what if it did? Would Aardvark be disappointed by the temporary absence of his favorite tipple? Yes, he would. Would he say to himself, “It’s Jack Daniels or nothing,” and leave the store? Or would he buy another brand? You know the answer.
If the National Enquirer runs out of fake news from Pravda it will get fake news somewhere else, and its customer base will keep on consuming the product.
As Aardvark writes on the evening of Friday the 13th of January, the gyre keeps widening, and we remember Nixon’s integrity, patriotism, and trustworthiness with increasing fondness.
Senator Burr, Republican of North Carolina, and Senator Warner, Democrat of Virginia, have released the following statement, and I quote:
Joint Statement on Committee Inquiry into Russian Intelligence Activities
WASHINGTON – Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today issued a joint statement regarding the Committee’s inquiry into Russian intelligence activities:
“As part of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s oversight responsibilities we believe that it is critical to have a full understanding of the scope of Russian intelligence activities impacting the United States.
In the course of its regular work, the Committee conducts oversight of the Intelligence Community’s collection and analysis related to Russia; however, the October 7, 2016, joint statement on election security from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), combined with the declassified Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) of “Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections” raise profound concerns.
The Committee will, therefore, conduct a bipartisan inquiry of the intelligence reporting behind the Intelligence Community assessments from January 6, 2017 on this subject.
The scope of the Committee’s inquiry will include, but is not limited to:
- A review of the intelligence that informed the Intelligence Community Assessment “Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections;”
- Counterintelligence concerns related to Russia and the 2016 U.S. election, including any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns;
- Russian cyber activity and other “active measures” directed against the U.S., both as it regards the 2016 election and more broadly.
The Committee plans to:
- Hold hearings examining Russian intelligence activity;
- Interview senior officials of both the outgoing and incoming administrations including the issuance of subpoenas if necessary to compel testimony; and
- Produce both classified and unclassified reports on its findings.
The Committee will follow the intelligence wherever it leads. We will conduct this inquiry expeditiously, and we will get it right. When possible, the Committee will hold open hearings to help inform the public about the issues. That said, we will be conducting the bulk of the Committee’s business behind closed doors because we take seriously our obligation to protect sources and methods. As the Committee’s investigation progresses, we will keep Senate leadership, and the broader body, apprised of our findings.
We have received assurance from the Director of National Intelligence that the Intelligence Community will fully and promptly support our requests for information related to the investigation, and we have every reason to believe that commitment will be honored by the incoming administration.
Majority Leader McConnell and Democratic Leader Schumer have made it clear they expect any investigation into Russia’s involvement in our nation’s elections to be conducted in a bipartisan manner. It is a charge the SSCI takes seriously, as bipartisanship—in fact, non-partisanship—is at the very core of the Committee’s charter and is essential to preserving the intelligence equities involved.”
In addition to the joint statement, the Senators offered additional comment separately.
“As I indicated in my December statement, the SSCI has focused a great deal of attention on Russia’s behavior around the world,” said Chairman Burr. “Over the last two years, we have held more than ten hearings and briefings on these issues, with four reviewing Russia’s so-called ‘active measures.’”
“The SSCI was established to oversee the intelligence activities and programs of the United States Government, and to ensure that the appropriate departments and agencies provided informed and timely intelligence to our nation’s leaders,” Burr added, “and part of our inquiry will necessarily be focused on what happened, and what didn’t happen, in this case.”
Of the investigation, Vice Chairman Warner said, “This issue impacts the foundations of our democratic system, it’s that important. This requires a full, deep, and bipartisan examination. At this time, I believe that this Committee is clearly best positioned to take on that responsibility, but whoever does this needs to do it right. If it turns out that SSCI cannot properly conduct this investigation, I will support legislation to empower whoever can do it right. That is my position now, and it will be my position for the duration of the investigation. I look forward to working with Chairman Burr on this tremendously important matter.”
* * *
And now, our national anthem.
On Morning BLO this morning they played a clip of Trump’s cabinet nominees systematically rejecting all of Trump’s foreign and defense policy positions. Following which, Morning Joe delivered the Morning BLOviation along these lines: Well, all those witnesses were prepped for their testimony by the Trump transition team, therefore what they said must represent the true Trump position on foreign and defense policy—not the bullshit Trump was peddling in the campaign and the bullshit he continued to spew in his press conference—and therefore, per Morning BLO, it follows as the night the day that we all can and should all breathe a great sigh of relief.
Joe was implicitly addressing a broader question: how much of his own bullshit does Trump actually believe?
Joe’s line of argument this morning was too much even for the sock puppets. They pushed back, arguing in words or substance that we still don’t know how much of his own bullshit the man believes. Joe was reduced to arguing that, well, at least you have Mattis and Kelly, not Bolton and Giuliani, and isn’t that better? And so it is.
Joe was wrong for an additional reason not addressed during the Morning BLOviation session. It is this. As a retired shyster, Aardvark well knows that, when they take the stand, witnesses are frequently unwilling or unable to spit out the words that you forced down their throats during the horsesheddinig session the night before. What the witness actually says at the deposition is a pretty unreliable indicator of what he was told to so–especially where the witness is a strong individual with strong views on the topic of his or her testimony.
* * *
And one more thing. Many have commented on Rex Tillerson’s lack of credibility regarding what he knows and what he remembers. As a retired shyster, Aardvark thinks Mr. Tillerson was applying what he thinks he learned about how to bullshit his way through a deposition.
Aardvark writes midday January 11, nine days before the inaugurattionl
You need to read David Brooks’ column yesterday, titled Bannon Versus Trump. My summary does not attempt to do it justice. That said, these are my takeaways:
- The similarity, in many important respects, between the ideology of Steve Bannon and that of “Putin’s ideologist Alexander Dugin”—both “populist ethno-nationalists” opposed to the current “international order” of globalism,
- How reports of Russian hacking are bringing the conflict between “Republican regulars like John McCain,” who like globalism and the prevailing international order, and the populist ethno-nationalists to a boiling point,
- How “Trump planted himself firmly in the [populist ethno-natuibakust[ camp, and dragged Fox News and a surprising number of congressional Republicans with him,” but
- How the ethno-nationalists are unlikely to carry the day in the US because, while Putin is “theological and cynical, disciplined and calculating, experienced and knowledgeable,” Trump is “inattentive, unpredictable and basically uninterested in anything but his own status at the moment.” In short, although Trump may be temperamentally inclined toward a war of civilizations, he lacks the skill set to pull it off.
My friend Hans, citing Josiah Strong’s 1885 call for racial, religious, and civilizational conflict, fears that Brooks’ populist ethno-nationalists will fulfill this awful promise and unleash civilizational conflict. But Brooks would tell Hans not to worry so much: Trump is just too incompetent to get us in that kind of trouble.
As Brooks peers into his crystal ball, he sees Trump becoming distracted, enjoying the company of the Davos crowd, writing “a million astounding tweets,” but unable or unwilling to bring about “terrible policy-making.”
Alas, the last year shows that David Brooks, for all his insight, has a cloudy crystal ball—the biggest cloud of all being a bias toward optimism.
So let Aardvark say this about that. Aardvark deplores our current tendency toward hyperbole. He cringes when someone describes a medium sized disappointment as a “tragedy”—because, when a real tragedy takes place, what word do you use for it? He winces when a medium sized setback is called a “crisis.” He hides his head when a kid’s performance is praised as “awesome,” when an accurate description would be “minimally acceptable, all things considered.” If the kid ever does do something awesome, what word would you use?
Having made that point of personal privilege, I have to say—though I might be wrong—that multiple clusterfucks seem to lie just over the Horizon, whether or not Brooks is right to presict that it won’t rise to the level of a conflict of civilizations:
The Ethics Crisis. The Morgan Lewis firm has tried to lawyer their way out of this, but Aardvark recalls those times when he had to say to a client, “Sir, I am a competent lawyer, but you do not need a competent lawyer; what you need is Merlin the fucking magician.” Merlin the fucking magician is not a Morgan Lewis partner.
The Health Care Crisis. Push is rapidly coming to shove. In this morning’s news conference, Trump sounded as if he and his boys might conceivably have come up with a tweaked form of Obamacare that they can sell as Trumpcare. If they have done that, then Obama says he would support it, and so would I. But the Republicans won’t pass it, and there will be hell to pay.
The Roosian Crisis. Pretty clearly, we have only just begun.
The Environmental Crisis. That’s the one that will ensue once the EPA begins to side with the polluters.
The Infrastructure Crisis. That’s the one that will occur when the Republicans don’t support Trump’s infrastructure plans. And, probably not last, and not necessarily least,
The Fiscal Policy Crisis. That’s the one that will erupt when the Republican congressfolk try to rob from the poor and give to the rich.
Methinks yon David Brooks had better go ahead and retain a highly competent clinical psychologist, skilled in the treatment of depression.
Aardvark and Dr. Aardvark are leaving this horror movie to get some popcorn. We’ll be back around Christmas, assuming there’s anything to come back to.
In a recent post I drew one point of comparison and contrast between Trump and George Wallace: Wallace, though despicable, engaged in rhetoric that drew bogus conclusions from actual facts, and thus had some mooring in reality. Trump just makes shit up—and then comes to believe his own lies.
So which one, Wallace or Trump, would probably make a worse President?
Depressing, isn’t it?
In Politico this morning we have another important comparison and contrast—between Trump and Berlusconi. Aardvark—noting that, in Italy, they appear poised to elect an actual real life clown, not just someone who plays a clown on TV—highly recommends the article.
Also highly recommended is Garrison Keillor’s latest rant on the stupidity of the Trump electorate, “Thank you, Trump voters, for this wonderful joke.”. It begins with this ditty:
He promised the swamp would be drained,
Was elected, said “Rain!” and it rained
And the old crocodiles
Wore flesh-eating smiles
And the turtles were well entertained.
Keillor’s entertaining screed is an example of exactly what the Politico writer, Gianni Riotta, warns against as highly counterproductive: sneering at the unwashed masses. That said, I doubt that many of the unwashed are reading Garrison Keillor, and I hope he keeps it up, if for no other reason, just to make Aardvark feel a little better.
Finally, not to be missed is “Pizzagate: From rumor, to hashtag, to gunfire in D.C.,” which tells the story of poor Edgar Welch and how he came to believe the bogus story about Hillary’s pedophile ring at the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant.
And so, what is to be done about this mess? What do we do, and what do we say to acquaintances, friends, and family who supported Trump?
I don’t know, but I am pretty sure that there are two approaches that will not work. One is to sneer and yell. Another is to try to have a rational conversation.
We’ll have to improvise. Many are victims of a cult of personality, and so we have to ask ourselves what might break the grip of the cult. For example, most of them hate Obama. We might point to his recent friendly comments about our outgoing President.
If your Trump supporting friend responds by saying that Trump is just being a hypocrite when he says a few nice things about Obummer, try asking that most devastating of questions: Was he Trump lying then about Obama, or is he lying now?
First he came for the Mexicans, but we were not Mexicans, and we yearned for a tax break, so we did not speak out.
Then he came for the Muslims, but we were not Muslims, and we wanted go get on with entitlement reform, so we did not speak out.
Then he came for the pharmaceutical companies and other global corporations.
This time it’s getting SERIOUS!
As is his wont, early this morning, over coffee and toast, Aardvark took in Morning BLOviator and his merry band. Inter alia, a guest appearance by Michael Lewis, author of a new book entitled The Undoing Project, led to an abstract schmooze over the relative merits of reason and data versus gut instinct in making decisions—and to a more specific discussion about whether The Donald’s performance in the recent election exemplified a kind of gut instinct genius in connecting with the masses.
Well, there is one thing that we now know about The Donald’s peeps, and that is that they are really, really pissed. Among those of us who can detect the difference between a charlatan and a tribune of the people—in other words, among elite snobs—there is still some degree of puzzlement about why they are really, really pissed. (For one of many insightful articles, check out this interview with Prof. Kathy Cramer.)
But royally pissed they are. And gullible, too.
My father—a good and decent man whose memory I revere, but a man of his time and place—was mightily pissed when the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education back in 1954. In the evening, he would sit at the dinner table in his work stained clothes and proclaim in a loud voice that all nine members of the Court were getting generous monthly checks from Moscow.
Lots of people were saying that. And some of them were very reliable, in his opinion.
Now, in 1954 my father didn’t get his “facts” about the monthy Soviet cash subsidy to the Court from Twitter or Facebook, because those means of communication did not exist. Nor, interestingly enough, did he get them from George Wallace, as far as I can tell. George make a big deal about the fact that “Communist sympathizers” were among those supporting the civil rights movement. That was actually true. This, Donald, is an example of advocacy: taking actual facts, and drawing tendentious conclusions from them. Obnoxious as it was, Wallace’s claim was not a fabrication concocted from whole cloth.
The Donald’s alleged genius does not, in my view, lie in gut instinct as such. It lies in a complete lack of boundaries—even the boundaries that George Wallace observed—and an ability to put together a coalition of the royally pissed and the deeply gullible. Bush and Rubio and the rest of that crew could have done the same thing, had they so chosen. What held them back was a shred of decency.
You could call a really successful embezzler a genius at accounting, but that would be a very idiosyncratic way of viewing the situation.
Satan is said to be the Father of Lies. This is his son, in whom he is well pleased.
Paul Krugman weighs in today on the subject that has to be uppermost in the minds of progressives: why did so many Trump supporters vote against their own interests?
Was it because of our message? Or because they didn’t hear our message because the news media didn’t convey our message? Because they have hate in their hearts? Or because, in their delusion, they bought into Trump’s magical thinking and his cult of personality? Some of all of these things?
Krugman concludes on a tepidly pessimistic note:
One thing is clear . . . : Democrats have to figure out why the white working class just voted overwhelmingly against its own economic interests, not pretend that a bit more populism would solve the problem.
Aardvark begs to differ. He is unaware of the identity(ies) of those who “pretend that a big more populism would solve the problem.” My opinion is that the only course of action that might work is full throated advocacy of a program to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Not, in other words, a bit of populism, but instead, a lot of populism.
Let’s war game out the alternative, folks. Krugman focuses on coal country, where Trump has promised magically to bring back the mining jobs that he has no way in hell of actually bringing back.
What happens who he fails, and the former miners grasp that their savior has deserted them? “Maybe a Trump administration can keep its supporters on board, not by improving their lives, but by feeding their sense of resentment,” Krugman writes. I don’t know whether he can do that, but I am highly confident he’s going to try–aided and abetted by his buddies in the Kremlin, who will ramp up their already successful fake news program.
Resentment? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
The question is which way the mob will march, and who will be in front of it.