Trumpy Bear

When writing “Remembering Teddy Roosevelt in the Era of Trump” almost two years ago, I made mention of a certain, ahem… item:

The Trump teddy bear, only $79.95 from vermontteddybear.com. Vomitorium not included.

I assumed it was the worst piece of kitsch that Trumpists could come up with. Boy, was I wrong! What is kitsch, anyway? Google’s quick retort:

Art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.

This definition helps explain why Trumpy Bear is so popular with liberals, despite being marketed to the Trumpistas who watch Fox News:

Firstly, liberals thought it must be a parody or hoax cleverly put over to make Fox News look like an even stupider platform than it already is. Surely this can’t be for real!

Secondly, once it turned out to indeed be a real product marketed to Trump TV viewers, it reaffirmed the notion (widely held by Eastern liberals) that Trump supporters simply have no taste whatsoever! Thus, it (ironically) manages to please both camps in wholly different ways. As a prospective Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanzaa gift, it definitely has crossover appeal. It’s also cheaper by half than the Vermont teddy bear, while packing twice the kitsch.

To paraphrase an old saw attributed to actor Edmund Kean: Dying is easy, satire is hard. In fact, it’s almost impossible now, because Trump is arguably the first American Dada president (though Nixon came close). The Guardian’s Australia columnist Van Badham says it best: “A thousand satirists with a thousand typewriters could not invent this in a thousand years.”

Nevertheless, see “Scott Pruitt: Of Mattresses and Moisturizer,” in which Kirstjen Nielson has disappeared, Trump has resorted to cannibalism, and Sarah Sanders defends him to the bitter (too much mustard?) end. Also featured: “Sheriff” Sean Hannity as Trump’s new Chief of Staff.

The commentariat class keeps getting hoodwinked by Trump’s tweets etc., convinced they must be from The Onion, but turning out to be real Trump comments claiming that people who buy cereal need to show ID. (Not usually true, except for R. J. Reynolds branded cereals, or certain communities where there are large concentrations of cereal abusers.)

No teddy bear jollity in Paris, though, where leaders of European nations were met by a broody Trump having a bad makeup day. (Melania applied too many coats to the left cheekbone.)

Angela Merkel channels Chandler Bing: “Could I BE any more uncomfortable?”

Only one question remains: How could Trumpy Bear be made into an even more over-the-top expression of right wing kitsch? Maybe it could come with a free AK-47 and a self-burning cross that doubles as a nite lite.

The elderly gent billed as “Corporal Frank Warholic” lends himself to the obligatory MST3K riffing:

“My name is Frank, and I’m a warholic.”
“Hi Frank!”

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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Operation Faithful Patriot – Genesis of a Name


[The White House.]

Secretary Mattis: Mr. President, I have the preliminary list you ordered, of names for the military operation on the Mexican border.

President Trump: Good! Pull up a seat, but first get me a Diet Coke.

Secretary Mattis: I’m not a vending machine, sir.

President Trump: Let’s hope you’re at least a fighting machine. Otherwise, well — you know the drill.

[Together in unison]: YOU’RE FIRED!!!

Secretary Mattis [forcing a chuckle]: I’m glad we can laugh about it like this, sir.

President Trump: Then let’s get down to business. What names have they come up with over at the Pentagon?

Secretary Mattis: Comprising the A-list, we have Operation Godless Narcissist, Operation Sniveling Demagogue, and Operation Orange Splunkhead.

Trump [frowning]: You know Jim, I had the most successful show on television for over 20 years. I have a sixth sense about marketing that’s allowed me to sell everything from steaks to Supreme Court justices. Your boys are good boys. Boys and girls, men and women, and a few in-betweeners we haven’t managed to kick out yet…

Mattis: Sir, what’s your point?

Trump: My point is they’re good boys, but they don’t have an ear for marketing. Those names you just gave me might be good enough for small cleanup operations in a non-election year. But they don’t say Donald Trump, they don’t inspire brand recognition, they don’t have that quality of hugeness and tremendousness which people associate with the Trump brand. In short, these are not bigly names.

Mattis: So you want something biglier? [pronouncing this last word with obvious distaste]

Trump: Biglier, and infused with the spirit of this nation. Give me something that speaks to me of big cars and dead Indians. Jack LaLanne and Lana Turner. Wisconsin takes the field. Pretzels with mustard on a hot day.

Mattis: You’re losing me, sir. And there’s still the B-list to get through.

Trump [skeptically]: Does it come with mustard?

Mattis: Not as such. But some of the names are slightly, uh, biglier.

Trump: Fire away, then.

Mattis: For the B-list we have Operation Shirking Leader, Operation Lying Viper, and Operation Xenophobic Idiot.

Trump: Hmmn… Some of those are biglier, but not in a good way. To energize the base, I’m looking for a name that conjures up images of Christian Minutemen beating brown-skinned invaders over the head with bibles while humming The Star-Spangled Banner. I’ve got it! Operation Faithful Patriot!

Mattis: Do we really want to bring religion into this? After all, you’re not known as a particularly religious man.

Trump: I get the basic plot. Boy meets girl meets snake. Fire and floods. Like Puerto Rico, but without the welfare.

Mattis: [with a look of quiet exasperation]: Very well, Operation Faithful Patriot it is. Anything else?

Trump: Have you looked into my plan to bring tactical nuclear weapons to the Mexican border?

Mattis: I’m afraid the Joint Chiefs consider it impractical.

Trump: What impractical? Use it or lose it. You hire a crane. Put some nukes where they’ll do a lot of people a lot of good. The American people have never felt so protected as under Donald Trump. After all, if you laid all the Geraldo Riveras in the world from end to end, you’d have… Well, a lot of Geraldo Riveras!

Mattis: No offense, sir, but you seem to be wandering again. And there’s only one Geraldo Rivera.

Trump: I was speaking metaphorically. You could have like a river of Geraldo Riveras, all of them voting for me.

Mattis: An interesting thought experiment, but how do you know they’d vote as a bloc?

Trump: They’d have to. Otherwise I’d deport them.

Mattis: I should have seen that coming. Anyway, we can’t send nuclear weapons to the Mexican border. It’s just not done.

Trump: They told Christopher Columbus to go back to making pizza, no one sails over the edge of the earth. But he did it anyway. That’s what I want to do. Not the same thing, but the same thing in a different way. More modern, less Italian.

Mattis [humoring him]: Uh-huh.

Trump: Different flavors of nuclear weapons for different days of the week. All pointed at Mexico saying give us your rapists, your murderers, your drug dealers, and we’ll give you our nukes. This one’s called Rocky Road. It has little marshmallows and packs a hundred megaton blast.

Mattis: Mr. President, you’re flat-out crazy.

Trump: They say Trump is crazy. Crazy like a fox. He knows how to bring home the bacon. Millions of jobs that weren’t there before. Jobs in meat-packing, jobs in sheetrock, jobs carrying things to and fro. Today it must be a camel. But tomorrow it could be hot rats. Desert rats in jeeps stationed on the Mexican border, eating American food. They say La Choy makes Chinese food the American way. But I say America makes nukes the Chinese way. To eat in or take out. Nukes delivered by moped. No one will spot them going in. Believe me, no one.

Mattis: Mr. President, you can’t deliver tactical nuclear weapons by moped, and this whole line of thinking is completely unhinged.

Trump: I hear the Fake News say [imitating announcer’s voice] “Donald Trump has become unhinged.” But the truth is, I was never hinged. I was always a swinger.

Mattis: Your point being?

Trump: Before you say no to nuclear weapons, remember what happened to Fidel Castro.

Mattis: What happened to Fidel Castro?

Trump: He’s dead, Jim.

Mattis: I walked right into that one. Okay, let’s say we manage to deliver tactical nuclear weapons to the Mexican border by moped, or camel, or a contingent of harnessed rats. We still can’t use them without irradiating our own people.

Trump: I thought of that. What we do is get a really big fan, put it on high, and just blow all that radiation over the border to Mexico, like Christopher Cross.

Mattis: I’m afraid nature has a bigger fan. It’s called “The Wind,” and it’s quite unpredictable. It could turn in an instant, and all our people would get dosed. They call the wind Mariah. The rain is Tess, I believe.

Trump: Funny, I’ve groped women named Mariah and Tess. Do they have a name for fire? Maybe I could make it a trifecta.

Mattis: In their native wisdom, they call the fire Joe.

Trump: Oh well, never mind then. You just get the word out about Operation Faithful Patriot. And rustle up some nukes. Have them delivered in shopping carts by CIA agents dressed as homeless people. Make sure they know how to rap. And don’t talk to any newspapers, either.

Mattis: Yes sir, I’ll get right on it. No sir, I won’t.

* * *

Sidebar: Windsongs

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Justice Kavanaugh: Private Swearing-In Ceremony

The swearing-in or “making” ceremony installing Brett M. Kavanaugh as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States was held in private. Nevertheless, some details have emerged. One person present may have had their iPhone on record.

As often noted, this was the first time a sitting Justice (Justice Kennedy) was to swear in an attorney who had previously clerked for him. Of greater significance is the new language inserted into the ceremony by Donald Trump.

What follows is a rough transcript reconstructed from the unverified recording and from personal recollections. It appears the private ceremony differed markedly from the second, public ceremony held later for the cameras.

Present and participating were Judge Kavanaugh, Justice Kennedy, and President Trump.

Judge Kavanaugh’s wife and children were also present, but were bound and gagged and wearing red pyjamas, in keeping with tradition.

Selected guests were also present, but were camouflaged as eggplants and led in through a secret passageway.

Trump [to Kavanaugh]: You’ve passed through many trials and tribulations, my friend. And while your breasts are not particularly large, your intellect is massive. I’m attracted to you as a jurist. That’s why I ultimately appointed you to the Supreme Court. I have faith that you will reach fair decisions, reciprocal decisions.

Kavanaugh: Thank you, Mr. President. I couldn’t ask for a higher honor.

Trump: You know that, right? You know I could have appointed others — those who I call my captains, those who share my blood. The Rooster wanted me to choose someone with a shorter paper trail — but I said: “You’ve tried the rest, now try the best.”

Kavanaugh: A profound sentiment, sir. I am greatly indebted to you.

Trump: You are indebted to me. I’m the Master of this Show, the Brander-In-Chief. I took one look at you and said, “This is something we can sell.”

Kavanaugh: I appreciate your confidence in me, sir.

Trump: And sell we did, and found a lot of buyers among Senators. Tremendous Senators.

Kavanaugh: Some of them were quite tremendous, yes, Mr. President.

Trump: I personally made Susan Collins an offer she couldn’t refuse.

Mrs. Kavanaugh: Argle. Mmph.

Kavanaugh: What’s that?

Mrs. Kavanaugh: Argle. Mmph. Ahbah. Rzzzzle…

Kavanaugh: You’ll tell me later, dear.

Trump: As I was saying, you’re my brand of Supreme Court justice, the kind I can work with, the kind who remembers who his friends are. The kind who knows that 90% of success is having a rap and being provocative.

Kennedy [interrupting]: Mr. President, if I may quote a line from It’s A Wonderful Life: Why don’t you kiss her instead of talking her to death?

Trump: You have a point. Fat Tony wants us to get on with the ceremony, and he has a point.

[Trump adjusts the lighting so that the room is suffused in a soft orange glow. Kennedy walks over to Kavanaugh and addresses him pointedly.]

Kennedy: Raise your right hand. Do you swear, promise and pledge debenture, declenture, accenture to blambify the rheostat in oleosis cum ultimatum? Say “what.”

Kavanaugh: What?

Trump: Now Brett, if you have any doubts or reservations, this is the time to say so. No one’ll think any less of you. Because once you enter this Supreme Court family, there’s no getting out. This family comes before everything else. Everything. Before your wife and your children and your mother and your father. It’s a thing of honor. Then, God forbid if you get lawyer’s block and can’t write opinions, we’ll take care of you, ’cause that’s part of it. If you got a problem, you just gotta let somebody know.

[Kavanaugh nods silently.]

Kennedy: This man right here, he’s like your father, except he’s orange. You got a problem with somebody here or on the outside, you bring it to him, he’ll solve it. You stay within the family.

[Kavanaugh once again nods his assent. Trump produces a sewing needle from his jacket and proceeds to heat it over a candle flame. He pricks himself, then turns to Kavanaugh.]

Trump: Alright, give me your hand.

[Trump pricks Kavanaugh’s finger and presses it against his own. The two are bonded in blood.]

Trump: Okay. It’s done.

[Trump next produces a card which he holds by the edges and sets ablaze.]

Trump: This is Saint Peter, my family saint. Now, as that card burns, so may your soul burn in hell if you betray your President.

[He passes the card to Kavanaugh.]

Trump: Now rub your hands together like this and repeat after me. May I burn in hell…

Kavanaugh: May I burn in hell…

Trump: If I betray my President.

Kavanaugh: If I betray my President.

Kennedy: Congratulations! Welcome to the family.

Trump: And on it goes, this thing of ours…

Mrs. Kavanaugh: Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.” Ark!

[Exeunt omnes]

* * *

Acknowledgements: Some portions of the dialogue were adapted from The Sopranos, Season 3, Episode 3, “Fortunate Son,” written by Todd A. Kessler.

Queen Elizabeth Plans for Trump Visit

donald-trump-queen-elizabeth-ii-funny

Queen Elizabeth II: Must I luncheon with that horrible man Donald Trump?

Private Secretary: I’m afraid, Your Majesty, that the worst has happened. He has arrived in Windsor and expects to be in your company this very day.

Queen Elizabeth II: Humph!!! Well, I may luncheon with him, but I shan’t serve him tea.

Private Secretary: But Your Majesty, without the ‘T’ you would only be luncheoning with a Rump!

Queen Elizabeth II: Could I use my body double? The one made out of Eton collars and fermented dishrags?

Private Secretary: He might catch on — but then again he might not…

Queen Elizabeth II: So be it! And don’t forget to switch on the antiquated Google voice, the one that sounds like Wilfrid Hyde-White.

Private Secretary: I always thought it sounded like Piglet getting a tonsillectomy.

Queen Elizabeth II: Make him a quick in-and-out job, and remember to count the spoons afterward.

Private Secretary: Yes, Your Majesty.

Queen Elizabeth II: And don’t let him lean on the furniture, or shed any of that awful hair.

Private Secretary: No, Your Majesty.

Queen Elizabeth II: Do you suppose he’ll want to use the — er, facilities?

Private Secretary: I imagine that’s always a possibility.

Queen Elizabeth II: Well if he does use the facilities, I want everything scrubbed clean.

Private Secretary: Yes, Your Majesty.

Queen Elizabeth II: Just can’t bear the thought of a man like that using the facilities.

Private Secretary: No, Your Majesty.

Queen Elizabeth II: Do you suppose we could put an out-of-order sign on the facilities?

Private Secretary: I’m afraid, Your Majesty, that it would not be seemly.

Queen Elizabeth II: What about putting fly paper on the urinals? Would that be seemly?

Private Secretary: Definitely not, Your Majesty!

Queen Elizabeth II: Pity. Just checking.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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Scott Pruitt Epitaph

Like bad meat, the freshness date on Scott Pruitt’s tenure as EPA chief has finally expired. This epitaph rings true in more ways than one:

Though Pruitt had something of a reputation as a chicken-plucker, ironically it’s Rudy Giuliani who’s now running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Apparently, Mueller has to prove he’s not a Blue Fairy from Fairyland before Trump will deign to sit down with him for an interview. Would love to see Mueller let fly with a subpoena!

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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Scott Pruitt: Of Mattresses and Moisturizer

Could Pruitt’s strange purchases be a tell regarding the administration’s contingency plans? An imagined presser with Sarah Huckabee Sanders illuminates the matter…

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of mattresses and moisturizer,
Cabbages and kings–
And why the Mueller probe is hot–
And whether Cohen sings.”

Is Donald Trump a cabbage or a king? How will he react when Mueller tries to boil him in a pot? (A pot of Trump’s own making, I might add.)

At this stage in the Mueller investigation, any unusual mattress purchases by administration officials should be looked on with alarm. For, the conventional wisdom is emerging that this is not a president who’ll meekly resign in the face of even the most all-encompassing scandal. Rather, it’s easy to picture a physical standoff in which Sarah Huckabee Sanders pulls a Baghdad Bob: Milk Duds firmly planted in her jaw, she might go out to face reporters and opine: “This is not a war. I know a number of individuals in the organized crime community, and none of them believe this is a war.”

“But what about all the mattresses piled up in the Oval Office,” CNN’s Jim Acosta might ask accusingly. “What about the unusual number of packages delivered to the White House from Wayne LaPierre?”

“We don’t comment on security matters,” Sanders might reply. “And anyway, all the experts from Rudy Giuliani to Jeanine Pirro agree that the President has an absolute right to pardon himself. Granting pardons is not unusual for this President. His recent pardons of Muhammad Ali, Edith Piaf, Daffy Duck, and Gorilla Monsoon show that he’s a conscientious and compassionate individual. He’s presently holed up in the Oval Office discussing other potential pardons with his new Chief of Staff, Sheriff Sean Hannity, and his new Homeland Security Director, Sheriff Joe Arpaio.”

“When did Hannity become a sheriff?” an unnamed reporter calls from the gallery. “According to Executive Order number 14722,” Sanders replies (reading from her notes), “all members of the President’s cabinet and senior staff shall henceforth have the title of Sheriff honorarily bestowed upon them, and shall be addressed as such in official communications, and by the White House press secretary.”

“What happened to Kirstjen Nielson?” Andrea Mitchell blurts out, barging her way to the front of the queue. “Why hasn’t she been seen in 29 days?”

“The President respects Ms. Nielsen and appreciates the huge contribution she made to the security of all Americans during her tenure at the White House,” Sanders drawls. “Unfortunately, she became a BAD Homeland Security Director, and the President was obliged to eat her.”

April Ryan of National Urban Radio pointedly remarks: “House Speaker Paul Ryan is on record saying he’s not quite sure the President’s powers extend to cannibalism, but at any rate, eating other people sends the wrong signal for the midterms.”

“The President has been in close consultation with Speaker Ryan,” Sanders replies, “and both of them agree that the sa-fe-ty of the public is always the uppermost thing in their mind.”

“But don’t you think there’s some danger to our republic in normalizing practices like cannibalism?” Kasie Hunt of Kasie DC (cue music) asks. “Ritual cannibalism is a time-honored tradition in many cultures,” Sanders replies. “It’s Fake News when biased reporters claim that the President is normalizing something which is already normal.”

“Sarah, is there any history of insanity in the President’s family?” fires Jim Acosta, getting himself back in the game. “Dammit Jim, I’m a press secretary not a geneticist!” Sanders fires back. “But as far as I know, there’s not an above-average amount of insanity in the Trump clan, which can trace its illustrious history back to…” (checking notes) “Sawney Bean in East Lothian, Scotland, back in the 1500s.”

“But wasn’t Sawney Bean a cannibal?” pipes Kelly O’Donnell. “That hasn’t been proven,” says Sanders. “The matter is still under investigation, so I would simply refer you to outside counsel. And the fact that human bones were found on Mr. Bean’s property could have some totally innocent explanation. They might have fallen from a meteor. You guys in the liberal press always jump to the wrong conclusions!”

“Sarah, I want to pursue this mattress question,” Andrea Mitchell chimes in. “It’s not just the mattresses. Why is there now a contingent of a hundred armed Secret Service agents deployed in a ring around the Oval Office 24 hours a day? Who ordered that and why?

“Again, we don’t comment on security matters” answers Sanders. “I can only say that for reasons of national security, we’re rounding up a number of individuals who currently pose a threat to peace and freedom. We want them to be as comfortable as possible during their detention, which is only temporary. In order to insure their comfort, the President and his staff are testing out mattresses from different U.S. manufacturers, with the goal of finding out which is the most comfortable, which is the most durable, and which represents the best value for the American people. And though tests are ongoing, I can say with confidence that tomorrow’s gonna be a great day.” (Grins toothily from ear to ear.)

“But following up, why the ring of Secret Service agents?” Mitchell persists. “I haven’t talked specifically with the President on that subject,” says Sanders, “but in terms of the question you’re asking regarding that matter, I would refer you to the Secret Service, which is very loyal to the President, and whose duty it is to protect the President under any and all circumstances.”

“But Sarah, you know the Secret Service won’t comment on protection procedures,” says Mitchell. “I’m sorry Andrea, I’ve already given you plenty of time. I’m moving on. Jonathan?”

Jonathan Swan of Axios: “Sarah, I want to turn to the subject of Scott Pruitt. There’s a rumor going around that he’s been sent by the President on a kind of scavenger hunt, to track down all the supplies that the White House would need to function more or less autonomously for an indefinite period of time.”

“Sheriff Pruitt is doing a great job at the EPA,” Sanders pivots, “and the President is very pleased with his efforts to drain the the swamp and rescind the tangle of Obama-era regulations foisted on the American people, causing the economy to tank, and threatening to shift our currency from the greenback to the Mexican jumping bean. These jumping beans have now been rounded up and quarantined, and are receiving humane treatment at ICE facilities in high school gymnasiums across America.”

Swan replies (politely but icily): “In case my question wasn’t clear, I’m referring to leaked security footage of Pruitt’s personal bodyguard showing up at a Chick-fil-A and trying to order 3,000 chicken sandwiches to go.”

“I believe Sheriff Pruitt has already stated his love for Chick-fil-A as a company and as a way of life. It’s not just a Godly sandwich, but also a middle of the day pick-me-up, as well as a marital aid. A large take-out order, if it actually occurred, would not be unusual given that the President currently has to spend so much time locked up with his aides, strategizing on how to make America great for the American people, who overwhelmingly support his efforts.”

Shannon Pettypiece takes up the theme: “I think what we’re getting at is that when you look at the mattresses, the armaments, the large take-out order (and we haven’t even gotten to the moisturizer), it certainly looks as though the President and his close allies are turning the White House into a kind of Fort Apache.”

Sanders: “Well Shannon, I think you might have us confused with the other party, the one that has Pocahontas for a spokesman. As for moisturizer: An army travels on its stomach, but an administration needs to save face. And what does a face run on? Moisturizer! According to OMB figures, large purchases of moisturizer have been made by every administration since McKinley. There’s really nothing remarkable about Sheriff Pruitt scouting out the different brands, seeing what’s on sale. Peter?”

Peter Baker: “Then the moisturizer isn’t for Pruitt’s personal use?” “None of the items Sheriff Pruitt has recently procured — the Bozo The Clown imitation throw rug, the 8mm projector, the two tons of Silly Putty, and the autographed picture of Charo — are for his personal use,” replies Sanders. “These are all items which any President would use in the natural course of fulfilling his duties as leader of the free world.”

And so it might go, with the Huckabee droning on until all brain cells in a 300-foot radius spontaneously die, or run away with their tails between their legs. (I realize brain cells don’t have legs. Relax, it’s only a metaphor.)

“Reporters,” said the Huckabee,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
She’d stonewalled every one.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

* * *

Only the King of Fools can pardon himself…

…for being a buffoon!

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization. No cathedrals were harmed during the making of this post. No soup of any kind was thrown at any person.

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Kim Jong-un Funny #1

Prepping hard for summit

According to reports emerging from the hermit kingdom, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is hard at work preparing for his June summit with President Trump. Just as we in the West find it difficult to comprehend the politics and culture of a land so foreign, our Eastern counterparts evidently have a reciprocal problem. It’s hard for even Americans to make sense of our present government; but with the aid of a jerry-built gizmo, the North Korean leader hopes to become inured to its subtleties.

The Kim Jong-un Funnies – Collect them all!

* * *

Will The Real Mr. Magoo Please Stand Up?

Mr. Magoo, the animation world’s tribute to blind capitalism

The president’s spinners are (metaphorically) exercising their diaphragms. As a counterpoint, let’s take a mystery tour through film, TV and literature, sampling everything from Rocky and Bullwinkle to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

According to Washington scuttlebutt, Donald Trump has a pet name for Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Mr. Magoo. But implicit in Rudy Giuliani’s recent statements to the press is the claim that Trump paid attorney Michael D. Cohen approximately $460,000 blindly, without knowing the reason. This rather absurd claim is being made by Trump loyalists in an effort to thread the needle. Trump supposedly knew enough about the things Cohen was “fixing” to pay him $460,000, yet had no specific knowledge of the Stormy Daniels payment.

If Sarah Sanders has lost all credibility as press secretary, perhaps she could be retrained to function as a seeing eye dog — that is, if Trump is really blind and not just faking. No slush fund would be needed to meet with her expenses. An occasional crumb of truth should square things with The Sarah, if not too much of a shock to her system.

On the other hand, when it comes to spinning tales about Trump’s dalliances, Kellyanne Conway may deserve the nod as top service dog. Capping a week of not-to-be-believed moments, Conway appeared on State of the Union last Sunday, claiming that when Trump stated point blank aboard Air Force One on April 5 that he had no knowledge of the payment to Stormy Daniels, he was referring to his knowledge back in 2016, not his present day knowledge. Jake Tapper soldiered on with grim determination:

Conway’s phrase “democratization of information” (referring specifically to the president’s tweets) is a novel way of saying “oppression of the masses through short, targeted nuggets of propaganda aimed at a fifth grade reading level.”

Her implication that the end justifies the means, and that a 3.9% unemployment rate excuses Trump for being a walking embarrassment in most respects, is infuriating to people who know that the present downward trend in unemployment began during the Obama era, and that in addition to (ideally) forming sound policies, a president must also be truthful and well-spoken.

It pains me to think that if you manage to (temporarily) stuff an extra $10 a week in the pocket of the average worker, he or she might not care about the stench of corruption wafting from this White House. Is that what America has come to? Maybe it’s time sell off the Statue of Liberty, or turn it into a Trump-style combination casino and knocking shop.

At one point in the interview, Conway mistakenly cites T. S. Eliot, giving me an excuse to chime in:

As we measure out our lives with coffee spoons,
Do we dare to say impeach?

She also references “the sheer volume and velocity” of what Trump puts out in “just one breakneck week.” I shudder to think, volume and velocity of what? I’ll wager he ensures full employment for that little mustachioed man who cleans up after the parade:

Yes friends, a parade of corruption the volume and velocity of Trump’s will require a huge (or bigly) cleanup effort — and not everything left sitting in piles on the street will be rose petals.

I’ve remarked in the past that this administration has bad energy and attracts sharklike folk who lie shamefacedly. What more can one say? I’m reminded of an offhand comment by Chris Matthews that Nixon had a sense of shame which Trump lacks. While Nixon agreed to resign in the end, Trump may have to be dragged kicking and screaming from the White House, surrounded by flunkies claiming that he hasn’t really been indicted or impeached. It’s all Fake News. “Ride a painted pony, let the spinning wheel spin!”

Our march of memes to describe a clumsily corrupt administration rolls on. We know things will end badly, but how many light bulbs will get broken at the end of the day? In this regard, it’s well to remember that in the annals of the unsighted, before Mr. Magoo there was Mr. Muckle:

And lesser-known than either is the “help me” guy from Rocket Attack U.S.A.:

Now if that isn’t an apt meme for the Trump administration, I don’t know what is! Except possibly “Hodge Podge Lodge,” a locale found in the original Mr. Magoo cartoon from 1949:

One imagines the main dish served at Hodge Podge Lodge is word salad — a concoction Trump’s PR flacks routinely fling chimplike at reporters, as does Trump himself. In “100 Days of Gibberish,” Guardian contributor Lindy West quotes this passage from an April 2017 AP interview with The Donald:

Well he said, you’ll be the greatest president in the history of, but you know what, I’ll take that also, but that you could be. But he said, will be the greatest president but I would also accept the other. In other words, if you do your job, but I accept that. Then I watched him interviewed and it was like he never even was here. It’s incredible. I watched him interviewed a week later and it’s like he was never in my office. And you can even say that.

— Donald Trump (full transcript here)

West describes Trump’s rhetorical style as “untethered from both meaning and reality.” Imagine trying to translate him into French or Japanese! Quoted in the Japan Times, Chikako Tsuruta says: “He is so overconfident and yet so logically unconvincing that my interpreter friends and I often joke that if we translated his words as they are, we would end up making ourselves sound stupid.”

The Japanese prefer polite speech, so translating Trump’s off-color remarks laced with epithets attacking his enemies points to “a long-standing dilemma dogging the profession — whether to sanitize the words of a controversial speaker.” Still, if you eliminated everything that’s crude, illogical, or untethered from reality, you’d be left performing John Cage’s famous 4’33” of silence:

Between Trump and the chattering class responding to him, silence is needed now more than ever — that and peaceful morning meditation music.

Other than flinging word salad, distracting attention is another technique favoured by Trump flacks: Don’t look at Russian collusion, look over here at this banjo-playing bear!

Getting the public gradually accustomed to shocking news also seems to be a thing. It’s no secret that the endless scandals plaguing this administration can lead to outrage fatigue. Some suggest that this is being cynically milked. Take Rudy Giuliani’s series of inane TV appearances, such as his recent interview with George Stephanopoulos:

Like Conway, little by little Giuliani is trying to normalize the phenomenon of Trump having a slush fund to pay off porn stars. Of course that’s what all celebrities and “people of worth” do. And taking the Fifth? Well natch the president wouldn’t want to answer questions from a special counsel engaged in a WITCH HUNT!!! Trump taking the Fifth is as American as motherhood and apple pie.

Watching the interview and harkening back to the Japanese issue of genteel speech, I wonder: At what point does “the president’s top attorney” become “a slippery bastard who can’t be nailed down on even the simplest of facts”? (Gomenasai.)

As Stephen Colbert points out, a recent Trump tweet included the phrase “There is no O…”

For those familiar with James Thurber’s brilliant book The Wonderful O, this sounds an ominous gong of totalitarianism. For as Thurber noted, if the letter “O” were outlawed, we should have to throw out everything from cellos and mandolins to calico and clocks — even the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act so prized by pork-lovers in Congress — which itself would have to be outlawed, except that we should need a different word, since even the word “outlawed” would be outlawed, along with Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump.

Come to think of it, I could probably give up calico and clocks in exchange for losing Stormy and Donald. But playing the mandolin… Ah, now that would be a true sacrifice.

The Sleeping Gypsy, by Henri Rousseau (1897)

Sidebar: Break it to me gently

The 90s TV show Northern Exposure was a treasure trove of practical philosophical wisdom, including tips on breaking bad news gently. It was set in the mythical town of Cicely, Alaska, where events took on an air of magical realism, such as a man fusing with a satellite which re-enters earth’s atmosphere piping hot.

The unfortunate victim is Rick (Maggie O’Connell’s boyfiend), and it falls to Dr. Joel Fleischman to break the news. Feeling awkward and tongue-tied, he resorts to telling a joke:

Joel (uncomfortable): Hi Maggie, how are things?

Maggie: Rick didn’t come home last night, okay? If he wants to behave like a child, then let him! I mean, if I have to be the bad guy, okay! But I am not going to have another death on my hands! I mean, alright, I admit it, I do — I’m sensitive. I’ve lost four boyfriends. Four! Do you know how that feels? And of course I ask myself, is that me? Is it something I do? What is it, Fleischman? You want to tell me something, I can tell by your face.

Joel (uneasy): Yes. Yes… I do. I want to tell you something. A joke!

Maggie: A joke?

Joel: Yeah! You see, this guy goes on a trip and he leaves his cat with his friend. Well, he calls his friend and asks how the cat is. His friend says, “The cat is dead.” The guy says, “Geez! God! Couldn’t you break the news to me a little more gently? You know, lead into it: Your cat crawled up on the roof, there was a loose tile and it took a little fall… like that?” Next month, the guy goes on another trip, calls his friend, and asks how his mom is. The guy says, “Well, she crawled up on the roof and there was a loose tile…”

Maggie (laughs): Not bad!

Joel (leans forward earnestly): Rick crawled up on the roof…

Taking their cue from this vignette, spinners for the president shouldn’t immediately let fly the news that Trump and Cohen conspired to establish a secret slush fund for paying off porn stars. Let them begin with a more genteel admission. Not “The cat crawled up on the roof,” but rather “Stormy Daniels went down on…” Oh, never mind!

(You see, you made it to the end, and there really was a Stormy Daniels joke.)

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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The Trump-Cohen Reptile Fund

Have you heard enough confusing statements from Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump, and Sarah Sanders about the Stormy Daniels payoff?

Oh, you want more? Well, here’s Jimmy Kimmel’s wrap-up of last week’s events:

These multiple versions of reality begin to feel like slow torture. But the insanity doesn’t end there. Here’s a paragraph from Rudy Giulani’s walkback statement of May 4:

My references to timing were not describing my understanding of the President’s knowledge, but instead, my understanding of these matters.

Now, if I didn’t know better I’d swear these guys are taking a page from the old Monty Python Confuse-A-Cat playbook, making an organized effort to produce inane results. (“I hope to God it works!”)

I’m also reminded of Schrödinger’s cat. It’s like in one version of reality, you open the box and Stormy Daniels is dead, traces of catnip trailing down her blouse; in another version of reality you open the box and she’s live and well, strutting her stuff.

In one version of reality, Donald Trump doesn’t know anything about a payment to Stormy Daniels; in another version of reality he and Michael Cohen have gamed it all out as early as February 2016, with Cohen taking out loans against his property to start a reptile fund that couldn’t be traced back to Trump, and Trump later reimbursing him via structured payments disguised as a “retainer.” Welcome to the Reptile of the Month Club! Only one in fifty reptiles makes it through our exclusive screening process…

As consumers of information, we are like readers of Philip K. Dick’s novel Martian Time-Slip, in which a character experiences a schizophrenic break with reality, and keeps reliving the same event multiple times — each time with a different outcome. (An aside: Someone uploaded the audiobook of Martian Time-Slip to a media site, and end users complained that there seemed to be something wrong with the audio — some parts repeat. They didn’t get it that the character is reliving the same event over and over again…)

In political dictatorships — whether left-wing or right-wing — reality is determined arbitrarily by the dictator.

In the spiritual realm, if we voluntarily seek the counsel of a teacher who embodies truth, then it can be very beneficial to see the truth through his or her eyes.

But in the realm of politics, when we are saddled with an uncouth and ignorant leader who keeps changing reality under our feet day after day, this is meant to wear us down and break our spirit as a people. It’s similar to interrogation techniques where a captive is subjected to psychological manipulation such that he must parrot the views of the interrogator (even knowing they are wrong), or else face torture. Take this Orwellian tableau:

O’Brien stands beside the bed, and Winston feels that O’Brien, who is the torturer, is also somehow a friend. The aim of O’Brien is to teach Winston the technique of doublethink, and he does this by inflicting pain of ever-increasing intensity. He reminds Winston that he wrote the sentence: “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four.” O’Brien holds up four fingers of his left hand, and he asks Winston how many there are. Winston answers four a couple of times, and each time the pain increases (this is not done to make Winston lie, but to make him really see five fingers instead of four). At the end of the session, under heavy influence of drugs and agony, Winston really sees five fingers. Now Winston is ready to enter the second stage of his integration…

— from “Work: Summaries & Interpretations: Nineteen Eighty-Four”

This concept was borrowed for a very disturbing two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Chain of Command.” There, Captain Picard is tortured by his Cardassian captor in order to get him to say he sees five lights when there are only four. At this stage, the purpose is not to extract any particular information, but simply to enforce a relationship in which the interrogator controls the reality experienced by the target.

In a similar vein, Trump’s tweets and Sarah Sanders’s press briefings are meant to drive home the message that Reality is whatever we say it is. Facts don’t matter. What we said yesterday doesn’t matter. If we say the opposite today, that’s not changing our story.

It’s also like the Donovan song that toys with Zen Buddhism: “First there is a payment, then there is no payment, then there is.”

The president spoke to the NRA on Friday, and I saw no indication that he would keep his promises to families affected by the rash of school shootings:

(See also Trump’s America: Teachers With Guns.) So, we know that Trump doesn’t just lie about personal matters, but about substantive policy matters as well. We’re used to politicians lying, but sometimes a difference in degree amounts to a difference in kind.

This brings me back to a point I made in Trump’s Mental Fitness: An Expert Opinion. Impeachment is a political process. A political leader who lies constantly, who saps the strength of the nation, who cheapens truth, and who uses the mammoth megaphone of the presidency to say, in effect, that I alone determine the nature of reality, is not a fit leader. Whether or not he’s been found guilty of a crime is beside the point. In a democratic nation which values truth, he must be removed from office by constitutional means, because truth matters.

Sidebar: A Chinese mystery

In a post about Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant and other views of the immigrant experience, I mentioned Wayne Wang’s outstanding film Chan Is Missing. There, the main protagonist laments: “This mystery is appropriately Chinese. What’s not there seems to have just as much meaning as what is there.”

The same is true of Trump’s infamous Air Force One comments of April 5 to AP reporter Catherine Lucey. The video is usually truncated, omitting Lucey’s final question and what Trump does not say in response. Transcript:

Catherine Lucey: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

President Trump: No. No. What else?

Catherine Lucey: Then why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no truth to her allegations?

President Trump: Well, you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. And you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen.

Catherine Lucey: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

President Trump: No, I don’t know. No.

Catherine Lucey: Did you ever set up a fund of money that he could draw from?

President Trump: [Silence — no response — ignores the question]

Trump seems extremely eager to issue vocal denials about the Stormy Daniels payoff; but when Lucey asks a question designed to get at whether there was a slush fund Cohen could have used to make the payment, Trump suddenly falls silent. We now know why.

While the details are still emerging (and the spinners are still spinning), today’s version of reality is that circa February 2016 (just after Trump had significant primary wins and began to look like a serious candidate), Michael D. Cohen may have begun setting up a campaign-related slush fund. He may have used personal funds from home-equity lines of credit as discussed in this Wall Street Journal article.

Later, as stated by Trump’s new personal attorney Rudolf Giuliani, President Trump reimbursed Cohen by means of monthly payments of $35,000, which Giuliani alleges were a “retainer” for Cohen’s services, even though (according to Giuliani) Cohen did “no work” for Trump during this later period in which the “retainer” (or repayment) was being serviced.

The possible implication is that in February 2016, Cohen (and/or Trump) recognized that one or more people would need to be paid off to get Trump through the election, and that the funds should not be directly traceable to Trump. Cohen therefore set up a slush fund using his personal finances, expecting to be reimbursed covertly by Trump later on, which appears to have been done.

While both Trump and Giuliani claim that the so-called “retainer” was legitimate and represented common practice, investigators might view it as a “structured payment” intended to hide financial irregularities, or even crimes.

Common sense suggests that the payoff to Daniels a few days before the election was campaign-related, and is therefore subject to campaign finance laws. Such laws often treat innocent oversights with no more than a fine; but where there appears to be a willful conspiracy involving multiple persons, multiple payments, intentional concealment, and possible bank fraud, criminal prosecution does not seem so farfetched, at least to this non-lawyer.

What tomorrow’s version of reality will bring, who can say? One hopes, the truth — but with this administration, one learns to expect the lie du Jour.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Links

Trump Is Said to Have Known of Payment to Stormy Daniels Months Before He Denied It (The New York Times)
Trump and His Aides Have No Idea What They’re Talking About (The Atlantic)

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On Fox News, Giuliani Confirms Slush Fund, Plausible Deniability

slush-trump-cohen-giulianiSquaring the facts, and calling b.s. on Trump’s ghosted tweet…

In Drain the Swamp or Pad the Reptile Fund? (April 9), I offered what I thought to be the most likely explanation for Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels a few days before the 2016 presidential election.

I suggested that Cohen had standing orders from Trump to pay off women who might blackmail Trump or write “true confession” stories for the media, and that Cohen had access to a general purpose fund — sometimes called a “slush fund” or “reptile fund” — from which to make such payments. If the fund ran dry, Cohen knew it would be refilled or “padded” later. He fully expected reimbursement.

A key point in my theory was that Cohen’s witting role was to be the cutout man, so that Trump himself would not know the details of such settlement(s) involving payment, and could therefore maintain plausible deniability when grilled by reporters.

I included video and analysis of Trump’s answers (and non-answers) to reporter Catherine Lucey aboard Air Force One on April 5. There, Trump seems eager to issue vocal denials that he knew anything about the payment to Daniels, but suddenly clams up when Lucey asks if he ever set up a fund which Cohen could draw from. (That last bit is important, but is usually not played.)

Appearing on Fox News on May 2 and May 3, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani has now largely confirmed this theory. Like most spinners for Trump, Giuliani is discursive. He nevertheless claimed or implied:

– That Trump only learned the specifics of the payment to Daniels quite recently.

– That the payment to Daniels was “funneled” by Trump to Cohen through Cohen’s law firm.

– That Trump paid Cohen a “retainer” of approximately $35,000 a month to take care of matters like “some Stormy Daniels woman” and not bother him about the details, just as Giuliani would do for his clients (who are “busy people”).

– That the $130,000 payment to Daniels was covered by this monthly “retainer.”

– That the payment had nothing to do with politics or the election, but was rather a personal payment by Trump to Daniels to help save his marriage.

– That Trump paid Daniels this large sum despite her claim of a sexual affair being false and extortionate.

– That no campaign funds were expended, and no campaign finance laws were criminally violated.

– That at worst reading, Donald Trump simply failed to report this contribution made from his own pocket, funneled through Cohen as part of a standing arrangement.

– That Trump spent $100 million of his own money on the campaign, compared to which the $130,000 payment to Daniels is insignificant.

– That such a failure to report is not usually treated as a criminal matter, and should not have resulted in “storm troopers” “breaking down” Cohen’s door.

Overall, Giuliani’s statements conform to the general theory of a slush fund from which Cohen could draw, giving Trump plausible deniability about payments made. Quite a few of Giuliani’s claims nevertheless remain suspect. For example:

– A general retainer doesn’t usually cover specific large settlements.

– In aboveboard operations, the client isn’t intentionally kept in the dark about settlements reached and large payments made by his attorney.

– Giuliani is invoking the “John Edwards defense”: that Trump paid off Daniels a few days before the election for personal (rather than political) reasons. This defense worked for Edwards, but may not work for Trump.

A rather pressing question is: Why did Trump and Giuliani decide that at this juncture in time it’s better for Trump to be seen as an outright liar than to continue to deny making the payment to Daniels? The volte-face is, after all, one of the most difficult public relations maneuvers to pull off. (Fox News tastefully avoided showing Giuliani’s feet. Was he wearing flip-flops? Regardless, this stinks to high heaven.)

The most likely explanation is that the court-authorized raid by the FBI on Cohen’s various premises turned up hard evidence that Trump was funneling money to Cohen to facilitate the Daniels payoff, so the previous claim that Cohen had “gone rogue” was no longer even vaguely tenable.

This is only speculation on the part of this lowly blogger, based on reading news accounts and listening to statements made by the various protagonists. But if you read my post of April 9, you’ll see I pretty much nailed it.


Sidebar: Trump tweet seems to have been ghosted

If you know Trump’s bombastic, emotional (not to say illogical) style, you may seriously question whether this 3-part tweet dated May 3 was really written by Trump, or by one of his attorneys:

The complex sentence structure, legalese, lack of typos (bar one), and correct use of capitalization all point to a ghost writer with experience drafting legal briefs. (Maybe we should call him “Little Docket Man.”)

I suppose some bright young thing could write a Twitter app that would mangle an otherwise cogent statement, turning it into a Trump tweet, adding elements of mania and illiteracy, and pasting NO COLLUSION! NO COLLUSION! NO COLLUSION! in appropriate (or inappropriate) places. Ain’t science wonnerful?

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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Donald Trump vs. Ferris Fremont

Comparing Donald Trump with the fictional president of an authoritarian state conjured up by SF writer Philip K. Dick. Listen to a short audiobook clip and see what resonates with you.

Radio Free Albemuth is a novel by P.K. Dick written in 1976, published posthumously in 1985. It’s not a final draft, and so has an improvisatory air that’s sometimes enjoyable, sometimes not.

Despite its flaws, there’s a lot to like; but I’m not reviewing the book here, or dealing with the totality of its plot and vision of America in the mid-70s, nor with Dick’s unique brand of gnosticism. My narrow purpose today is to compare a Philip K. Dick character — Ferris F. Fremont — with a Republican Party character — Donald J. Trump.

To lay the groundwork, I should nevertheless give a few minimal plot details. Radio Free Albemuth takes place in an alternate history where America has become an authoritarian state under the bootheel of president Ferris F. Fremont — sometimes described as a composite of Joseph R. McCarthy and Richard M. Nixon.

This is a dark period for America, but help has come in the form of VALIS — who in P.K. Dick’s iconography might be God, or might be an AI entity from a distant star. (But that doesn’t concern us here).

Groups supporting Fremont include FAP, or “Friends of the American People,” a right-wing populist group which spies and informs on citizens. Members of this group are called FAPers.

The rest is fairly self-explanatory, and the fun lies in tallying up the ways in which Trump resembles Fremont (and the ways he doesn’t).

Dick’s alternate history is dark, dystopian, paranoid, and conspiratorial. I’m not for a moment suggesting we live in that world, or that Donald Trump = Ferris Fremont. But as with books like Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, asking tough questions about how our present day world compares with those fictional worlds is a great jumping off point for discussions among English and PolySci majors, or anybody else who gives a fig. 😉

So what’s the verdict? How close is Donald Trump to Ferris Fremont? And in what ways does our present world resemble the fictional world of Radio Free Albemuth?

For people who don’t actually listen to the excerpt, I should mention that P.K. Dick has an interesting answer to a perennial question:

Why should such disparate groups as the Soviet Union and the US intelligence community back the same man? I am no political theoretician, but Nicholas one time said, “They both like figureheads who are corrupt. So they can govern from behind. The Soviets and the fuzz, they’re all for shadow governments. They always will be, because basically each of them is the man with the gun. The pistol to the head.”

No one had put a pistol to Ferris Fremont’s head. He was the pistol itself, pointed at our head. Pointed at the people who had elected him. Behind him stood all the cops in the world, the left-wing cops in Russia, the right-wing cops in the United States. Cops are cops. There are only divisions of rank, into greater and lesser. The top cop is probably never seen.

Again, I’m not endorsing this ultra-paranoid (and somewhat simplistic) view, but it does suggest that authoritarianism is authoritarianism, whether left-wing or right-wing.

From another SF writer, Robert Heinlein, I learned the important distinction between bad and worse. The political situation in the US is bad at the moment, but things are far worse elsewhere. We are not yet living in a dictatorship. Still, it remains to be seen whether American democracy can survive the onslaught of billionaires funding covert psyops to shoe in their handpicked candidates, as with Cambridge Analytica.

Note 1: In case this isn’t obvious, much of the novel is written from a pacifist perspective. P.K. Dick is not advocating violence, but does reference the violence used by Ferris Fremont to ascend to power.

Note 2: Regular readers would know that I frequently write about peace studies and the need to create a more peaceful world. To discuss Dick’s dark, dystopian vision is obviously not to endorse it.

Note 3: The excerpt is read by Tom Weiner. I’ve searched for working commercial links to the full audiobook produced by Blackstone Audio, but it appears to be out-of-stock, possibly discontinued.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Links

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
Auspicious Good Fortune (free audiobook!)
Blackstone Audio

Quote of the Day

“The Constitution? We can dismember it for you wholesale…”

* * *

No More Stormenatti!

Please, my fellow liberals, stop treating Stormy Daniels like a civil rights hero, and stop booking Michael Avenatti on every show in the MSNBC lineup…

I get it. Daniels and Avenatti are going up against Donald Trump, so it’s tempting to welcome them as fellow travelers, or at least “enemies of mine enemy.” But if Republicans have become roundly unprincipled, liberals should stand up squarely for something better than the crass opportunism represented by Stormenatti.

I’m a liberal, but not a knee-jerk liberal. I tend to embrace causes of social compassion and human rights. I also try and see through all forms of propaganda and b.s. I just can’t take any more #Stormenatti on MSNBC, particularly on Lawrence O’Donnell, where Avenatti is given nothing but softballs to hit. It’s like a Bizarro World version of Fox News, but with liberal propaganda. It’s transparently bad journalism, and drives away principled people who might otherwise be allies.

Politics can be a mixed bag; it sometimes brings us insight, but other times asks us to put on blinders. Yea to the former but nay to the latter.

If you’re not just playing politics, but take a principled stand against Donald Trump due to his unbridled hucksterism, then you should also take a stand against Daniels and Avenatti — for the same reason. Not that I want their legal bid to fail; I just don’t want to see them dominate the news or be held up as role models.

Metaphorically speaking, Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels both inhabit the same grindhouse exploitation film — and the person they’re exploiting is you the viewer. They’re both in show business, both insatiable publicity hounds, and perhaps neither has much to offer beyond the brassy, artificially inflated personas they flash for the cameras.

I’m not suggesting a ban on coverage of #Stormenatti, but please don’t make it/them nightly attractions, and please practice basic journalism, like asking tough, skeptical questions about their means and motives.

What is the great civil rights cause championed by Stormy Daniels and her lawyer? That she ought to get paid more than $130,000 for having sex with Donald Trump and keeping quiet about it?

What are the underlying circumstances? Why were she and other porn stars hanging around the golf resort where Trump was staying? Because they were on the lookout for millionaires, hoping that an initial hookup might be bartered into a hefty wad of cash — which Daniels eventually got. Later, she made a self-interested business decision that if she could overturn the contract that netted her $130,000 for one night’s work, she could make millions as a celebrity in her own right. Gandhi, MLK, and Susan B. Anthony move over!

I’m not a lawyer, and don’t pretend to understand the legal distinction between “blackmail” and “hush money.” But if there is a legal distinction (and it may be a fine one), I see very little moral and ethical distinction. So, notwithstanding that I’m a liberal, it makes me want to throw up when I see the shrewd and rapacious Michael Avenatti blathering away on Lawrence O’Donnell as if his client were a cross between Joan of Arc and Harriet Tubman.

One can cover newsmakers from a liberal point of view while still retaining an iota of skepticism. The New York Times covers #Stormenatti, but with a tad of snarkiness that helps restore perspective. This they do by interspersing factual narrative with titles of films in which Daniels actually starred. My favourite (make-believe) ones are Bring Me Some Head for Alfredo Garcia and Three Days of the Condom (links are Roger Ebert reviews).

I’m always trying to refine my understanding, and to avoid saying what’s already been said better. So when researching this post, coming across “Stormy Daniels is a feminist heroine,” I assumed it must be meant sarcastically. I was gobsmacked to find it was a credulous (if rhetorical) claim by none other than Krystal Ball, who often appears on MSNBC.

My mind works in a discursive manner, so I can only say that I’m reminded of a scene from a DVD extra called “Dr. Forever! – The Celestial Toyroom.” It’s about the toys that Doctor Who fans had when they were kids. Some toys came in boxes of Weetabix wholegrain cereal — which was a terrific marketing coup, and had the side benefit of keeping millions of young Britons extremely regular. Sadly, Krystal Ball was not among them.

By all means, let’s treat all people everywhere decently, and let’s not be overly judgmental. The conservative right tends to apply hateful stereotypes to women who make certain less-than-ideal career choices, but the fallacy in Ms. Ball’s thinking is that she applies a syrupy inverted stereotype to the same women. In truth, Ms. Daniels is neither an untouchable sinner, nor a feminist heroine taking back power from the patriarchy one spank at a time. Like her lawyer, Daniels is just another huckster, not easily distinguishable from millions of other hucksters who dot American life, from telemarketers to folk selling quack baldness remedies on late night TV. May they one day find better wisdom.

As human beings, we are all of us more than we appear to be. In characterizing where some people presently are, I don’t mean to restrict, confine, or belittle them. We all have the potential to bring out deeper aspects of our selves — aspects which are in some sense truer. But that acquisitive instinct or spirit of hucksterism tends to be a stumbling block, making it hard for us to be our best selves.

If we recognize this greediness to be a stumbling block in human nature, then we would ideally choose as role models those who epitomize unselfishness and charity.

There’s a sense in which real estate magnates and porn stars go together. They are both found at golf resorts plying their respective trades or proclivities. But the world is so much bigger than that! America is a great and good nation, and the national attention should be focused on better things.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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