So, Joe, Here’s the Lowdown

Morning Psycho

So, today, Morning Joe took a breather from his homicidal career as a serial intern killer, to go on another long rant about the cowardly Republican senators, who have cast their lot with Captain Orange Man, even as he steers the ship into the iceberg.

Joe, let me explain this to you, because it’s pretty clear what is happening.

This onion, I think, has several layers.

First off, stop marveling that the Republican senators elected in 2014, 2016, and 2018 are mostly lacking in public spirit and moral fiber. You remind me of the man who visits the zoo and expresses wonderment that all the animals in the place marked “Tiger Cage” have stripes. But this is no cause for amazement. The zookeepers put all the big cats with stripes into the “Tiger Cage,” and they put all the other guest animals in other places. It did not happen by accident.

By like token, all the recently elected Republican senators are people who thought it would be a good career move to be a well compensated towel boy, or girl, in the plutocrats’ brothel. Just-do-the-right-thing is not exactly the go-to life strategy of people for whom that is an attractive career move.

Now, I know your next question: well, even if they are not guided by morality, why are they willingly sailing into the iceberg on Captain Orange Man’s ship?

I do not believe it is very challenging to reverse engineer what they must be thinking.

Pardon my blunt speech here, but the time is long past to mince words. The Republican braqnd and the Republican organization rests on three stools: (1) the plutocrats, or at least a good part of the plutocrats; (2) the Main Street country club types, or at least a good part of them; and (3) the white trash, whom the plutocrats and the country club types have heretofore manipulated and exploited for fun and profit.

It looks as if, in 2020, the stool is probably going to come apart, and the Republican Party will face a great crisis. But guess what? After the debacle, there will still be plutocrats, and the plutocrats will still need towel boys and girls for their brothel, and the towel boys and girls will still be well compensated.

Maybe Humpty Dumpty will somehow be put back together again, this time without Trump. Maybe the plutocrats and the Main Street country club folks will form a third party, to be called the Rational Conservative Sensible Pro Growth American Centrist Party, or something along those general lines. Whatever. The plutocrats will still need to buy politicians and lobbyists. And they will want to buy loyal politicians—people who bloody well know how to take a bullet for the team. They will not want to hire people whose escutcheons are blotted by any hint of adherence to science or to the first principles of Judeo-Christian ethics.

Let Us All Rend Our Garments in Unison, Making as Loud a Noise as Possible

Actually, I agree generally with the substance of the commentary, though not necessarily with the mood music.

And I think it might be worth your while to take a listen to today’s Morning Rant. That, you should not be surprised to learn, is the very reason why I posted it.

We are indeed in a situation of peril. But here’s the deal.

Let’s say you’re out on the interstate, driving, let’s say, on the open road to get from one of Trump’s Hellhole Cities to another. And something goes wrong. A driver near you is behaving dangerously. There’s a blinding snowstorm. You’re driving into the sunset, the sun comes out from behind the clouds, and you can’t see a damn thing. These things have all happened to me, and I’ll bet they have happened to you as well.

There are three reactions you might have.

  1. You might pretend there’s nothing wrong, and drive with only the normal level of skill and attention.
  2. You might have a panic attack.
  3. You might rev up your concentration to its highest pitch, switch into driving with your utmost level of skill, and just bloody well get through it.

Two of these approaches invite disaster. Only one is appropriate to the situation.

This is the spirit in which I aim to blog, because, as the subtitle says, we are “living in an implausible, poorly written dystopian novel.”

Who Leaked the Transcripts?


And Does the End Justify the Means?

It’s axiomatic that if foreign heads of government cannot have private conversations with the President and others in our government—if they reasonably anticipate that their exact words will be printed in the press—then they will cease to have candid conversations. Either they will stop talking at all, or, if they do talk, they will only mouth the same bullshit they would serve up in a campaign rally.

This is terrible. The reasons are obvious, but David Frum’s analysis is still worth a read.

And, in addition to major injury to American interests, leaking the transcripts was a crime.

Who Done It? And Why?

We know they are the real transcripts because the White House did not claim otherwise, or ask the Washington Post not to publish. (That, per the WaPo’s reporter, on Morning Joe.)

So who leaked the transcripts? To begin with the obvious: you can’t leak the real transcripts unless you have the real transcripts. There are, then, essentially three possibilities.

Scenario Number One: It Was the “National Security Establishment”

One possibility—perhaps the most obvious one—is that someone in the State Department or the military was the leaker. David Frum lays out the case:

Senior national-security professionals regard Trump as something between (at best) a reckless incompetent doofus and (at worst) an outright Russian espionage asset. The fear that a Russian mole has burrowed into the Oval Office may justify, to some, the most extreme actions against that suspected mole.

The nature of this particular leak suggests just such a national-security establishment origin. It is a very elegantly designed leak. The two transcripts belong to calls whose substance was already widely reported in the media; they give away nothing new.

Better still from a national-security establishment point of view: both calls make the foreign leader look good at home. Enrique Peña Nieto will be helped, not hurt, by his dignified defense of Mexican national interests; Malcolm Turnbull is shown being simultaneously compassionate to deserving refugees but stern in his defense of Australian law and preexisting agreements with the United States.

Best of all, from that same national-security point of view, the transcripts reveal Trump as an arrant fool without actually compromising any important U.S. national interest. Speaking to the president of Mexico, Trump claims he won the state of New Hampshire because it is a “drug-infested den.” Trump won the state’s Republican primary, but lost New Hampshire in 2016, and that quote will not help him do better in 2020. The Turnbull transcript confirms the accuracy of early reports that Trump erupted in temper—and exposes Trump’s claims about the call as untrue. …

Scenario Number Two: It Was Trump’s Posse

We have it on good authority that pretty much everybody in the White House is leaking like a sieve. And some of those leaks—especially of late—seem to have come from members of Trump’s coterie who want to reveal just how bad things are getting, as a step toward protecting Trump from himself. For example, this afternoon Jonathan Chait—speaking in general terms, not specifically about the transcript leaks—had this to say:

During his very brief tenure as communications director, Anthony Scaramucci blurted out something very telling: “There are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president.” The conviction that Trump is dangerously unfit to hold office is indeed shared widely within his own administration. Leaked accounts consistently depict the president as unable to read briefing materials written at an adult level, easily angered, prone to manipulation through flattery, subject to change his mind frequently to agree with whomever he spoke with last, and consumed with the superficiality of cable television.

Scenario number two seems like a definite possibility.

Scenario Number Three: Trump

Today Morning Joe advanced another highly plausible theory: that the leak was engineered by Trump himself. And who on God’s green earth might he do such a thing, given that the transcripts make him look like an idiot?


  • he’s so oblivious that he doesn’t know the transcripts make him look like an idiot, and because
  • he thinks, correctly, that his base will be pleased to see him being nasty to foreign leaders—and will not grasp that the transcripts make him look like an idiot, and because
  • the obvious damage to national security will allow him to claim, once again, that the press is the enemy of the people.

Now, this is truly a harebrained idea. But it’s the very sort of harebrained idea that an improvisational narcissist would come up with, in the misguided view that he’s cuter than Bambi.

And, By the Way, Does the End Justify the Means?

Under scenario three, obviously not.

Under scenarios one or two, well, as my philosophy professor used to say, if the end does not justify the means, then what does justify them?


An Increasingly Confused Mental State

Recently I posted on the topic, I Actually Think His Mental State is Deteriorating. This morning, Morning Joe and his merry band—surely not Aardvark followers—picked up on the very same point. The Andrew Jackson/Civil War madness. The Duterte White House invitation. The anticipated honor of talking to Kim Jong Un. The utter incoherence on his health care message. The catastrophic interview with John Dickerson.

This man is not well.

He was not well to begin with. Now that he’s losing, losing, losing, he’s breaking down.

Stephen Miller, Wunderkind of Clusterfuck


On Monday, January 30, Morning Joe used his initial rant time to

  • identify White House staffer Stephen Miller as the author of the executive order on immigration,
  • assert that Miller failed to consult with attorneys at the Justice Department or elsewhere, and
  • generally damn Miller to hell.

The burden of Joe’s morning rant was that Mr. Miller is young, lacking in experience, wanting in judgment, and badly in need of adult supervision, or better yet, in need of being told not to let the door  hit him where the Good Lord split him as he walks out.

Aardvark seconds that emotion.

But I have uncovered some additional reasons to conclude that, while we may be in good hands with Allstate, we are not in good hands with Mr. Miler.

Firstly, though he was (per Morning Joe) drafting a legal document of vast import, Mr. Miller did not in fact darken the door of any law school and is not a member of the bar.

Secondly, his experience in government comes from being an aide to Michelle Bachman and then to Jeff Sessions.

Thirdly, he is a nutjob, who was raised in a liberal family but experienced politico-religious conversion through his reading of Guns, Crime, and Freedom by Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association.

Having done yeoman service for Bachman and Sessions, he was hired by Cory Lewandowski to work for Trump, where his reputation for nuttiness grew to an epic scale.

Oh, and by the way, Morning Joe assured us that he had spoken with some of the adults on the Trump foreign policy team, and that a clusterfuck like the one we witnessed this weekend definitely will not happen again.

Oh, yes it will.




Show Biz, Spicy Facts, and Shooting the Messenger

Joining Ms. Conway as a national joke is Sean Spicer. The Huffington Post has collected these jewels, among many others.


Morning Joe joins the chorus of those calling for Trump’s good advisors to throw out his bad advisers, and fulminates over lack of experience. But then Joe lets slip the truth that a fish rots from the head down. And therein, of course, lies the problem, because good advisors might possibly put the fish in the freezer and slow down the rot, but they can’t undo the decay.

Paul Krugman wonders whether, when bad news comes, as it inevitably will, Trump will shoot the messenger. When the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports rising unemployment, will The Donald denounce the statisticians for joining the conspiracy against him?

Of course he will. Because he’s delusional. He really did see those thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the fall of the twin towers.


The Oval Office Effect, Vindictive Tweets, and No Freakin’ Idea*


Once again this morning, Morning BLO and his merry band plead with the Donald to start acting like a grownup and try to marshal evidence that his long awaited maturity from childhood into adolescence might at least be taking place.

Meanwhile, Tom Friedman reports that he has pretty much given up on any hopes for mature and decent behavior—and marshals overwhelming evidence of “immaturity, a lack of respect for the office he’s about to hold, a person easily distracted by shiny objects, and a lack of basic decency.” He illustrates his point with multiple retweets.

Will Trump take a stroll down the road to Damascus, or will he be be the same person that 48.2 percent of us wisely voted against and 46.1 percent of us unwisely voted to elect? The correct answer comes, of course, from Joe Biden: “We have no freakin’ idea what he’s gonna do.”

*Thanks to Vasari for calling the image to my attention. It’s subject to copyright, but this is fair use.

Where are the Clowns? Send in the Clowns


This morning, in a column titled The Lords of Misrule, David Brooks brilliantly relates Trump’s tweets to medieval carnival culture—a way of venting over injustice that often got out of hand. He writes,

The first problem with today’s carnival culture is that there’s an ocean of sadism lurking just below the surface. The second is that it’s not real. It doesn’t really address the inequalities that give rise to it. It’s just combative display.

This is a resolution I’m probably going to break, but I resolve to write about Trump only on the presidential level, not on the carnival level. I’m going to try to respond only to what he does, not what he says or tweets. I really wish some of my media confreres would do the same.

Brooks’ observations nicely complement Morning Joe’s better than average morning BLOviation today–the burden of which is that the tweets are hurting Trump’s poll numbers, the manufactured chaos is wearing everybody down, and that, in his own interest, our new minority president should be much more discriminating as he twitters.

Don’t you love farce?
My fault, I fear
I thought that you’d want what I want
Sorry, my dear
But where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns
Quick, send in the clowns

Morning BLO and the Power of Horseshedding


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.

“A Voice for the Voiceless,” or, the Putative Genius of Donald J. Trump


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.