Autumn in Pennsyltucky


Swamp Rabbit and I had just finished another dreary sales trip and were driving home from Pennsyltucky, that vast stretch of Trump country that lies between Philly and Pittsburgh. Billie Holiday was on the radio, singing “Autumn in New York,” an elusively moody song, warm and fuzzy on the surface but elevated by Holiday’s irony to a bittersweet meditation on memory and loss.

At one point she drops the irony and sings Autumn in New York/Is often mingled with pain. It’s like a stab in the heart. I had to make an abrupt stop on the shoulder of the road to recover. This rattled the rabbit, who’d been dozing next to me.

“Why you stopping?” he shouted. “You having one of them mood swings?”

“My hope tank is on empty,” I replied. “We didn’t make any sales today. I was a fool to think I could save enough money to quit this job and be my own boss again and succeed at something that  would somehow cancel out all the disasters I brought on myself over the years.”

“Quit listening to that depressing shit,” the rabbit said. “Put on some happy music.”

He reached out and pushed a button on the dash to change the radio station. Billie Holiday went away. Some moron was singing I’m in love with your body, over and over.

I got the car back on the road and said, “Turn off that garbage, rodent, or you’re walking home.”

He pushed buttons until an NPR news report came on. A scientist said it was too late to save the planet from global warming. Donald Trump praised a congressman who body-slammed a reporter last year. Then he brushed aside evidence that a bunch of Saudis killed and dismembered a Washington Post reporter.

“There you go,” the rabbit said as the newsreader droned on. “Non-stop bad news. That should make you feel better.”

I resisted an urge to kick him out of the car. He was half-right. The news doesn’t make me feel better; it makes me feel vindicated. See, I told you the new dark age was coming.

 

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Trump’s accomplices in the media


I will not be held like a drunkard/ under the cold tap of facts… — Leonard Cohen

The news today is Donald Trump. The news every day is Trump. One day he’s  lying about Dianne Feinstein as his fans chant “Lock her up!”  Then he’s smiling for the cameras as borderline psycho Kanye West raves his praises in the Oval Office. Never has the news cycle been so dominated, day in and day out, by the whims and follies of such a relentless phony.

Part of the blame for Trump’s ascendancy has to go to the news media. He’s made more than 5,000 false of misleading statements thus far in his presidency,  but the media continue to pretend his pronouncements might be fact-based. By the time they refute his recent lies, he’s already telling new ones.

“Think of the irony,” I said to Swamp Rabbit. “Trump claims the media reports fake news. He’s right, but it’s his fake news. By treating him as credible — by reporting his lies as facts and his trashy behavior as normal — the media become his accomplices.”

“I don’t follow,” the rabbit replied while staggering onto the porch of my shack in the Tinicum swamp.

“That’s because you’ve had too many whiskeys,” I said. “That story in USA Today is a good example of what I’m talking about.”

In an op-ed last week, Trump or his ghostwriter attacked Obamacare and the concept of Medicare-for-All. Every sentence in the piece contained false or misleading information, but there it was in print, presumably because USA Today didn’t have the guts to make corrections before publishing it.

All around us, the swamp frogs croaked. I reminded the rabbit that we’re bludgeoned 24/7 with unfiltered information — infotainment, most of it — to the point where the  media, hiding behind false notions of objectivity, have stopped trying to separate the real news from the fake. To the point where many readers and viewers throw up their hands and accept reality TV as reality, and reality TV stars as real-life leaders.

The rabbit told me to hush up, I was shouting. “Get down off your soapbox,” he said. “Ain’t nobody can hear you  ‘cept me and them frogs, and frogs don’t vote. ”

Footnote: This is a sort of addendum to  “The Times’s Trump story is a few years too late.” I’m sure whole volumes will be written about why Trump was never held accountable, by the media or anyone else, for a lifetime of lies. Unless Robert Mueller catches up with him.

 

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‘Moderate Republican’ is an oxymoron


I was reading aloud to Swamp Rabbit about how Donald Trump helped get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed for a lifetime gig with the Supremes:

‘As long as [Trump] was willing to go to the mat for [Kavanaugh], it fortified probably people up here, too,’ said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the chamber’s third-ranking Republican leader.

A clumsy sentence, but Thune’s meaning was clear: elected Republicans always play follow-the-leader if they think it’s in their best interest, even when the leader is an ignorant racist bully who would love to be our first dictator.

“It ain’t just elected Republicans,” Swamp Rabbit said. “It’s Trump’s base. It’s all them pissed-off guys who hate labor unions and immigrants and science and black people and uppity women. It’s them dummies who think coal is coming back.”

I wanted to argue, but he was right — Republicans follow Trump because of, not in spite of, what he is.

I thought of Trump mocking Christine Blasey Ford, one of the women who accused Kavanaugh of sex assault. Rank-and-file Republicans laughed at Ford and cheered Trump. Liberal talking heads on cable news said Trump’s remarks might trigger a backlash among moderate Republican senators — Flake, Collins, Murkowsky. But several days later, two of the three moderates voted with the other Republicans to confirm.

“There ain’t no moderate Republicans,” the rabbit said. “You’re either for Trump or you’re against him. Being against him is like being against tax breaks for the rich. It’s like being for a higher minimum wage, for cleaning up the environment, for affordable health care, for abortion rights. The same goes for Kavanaugh. Voting against him would have been like voting against being a Republican.”

Bottom line? Republican senators know Trump is a pig, but he’s their pig. They got on the bandwagon after his victories in the primaries, and they embraced him with real fervor when it became clear he was a faux-populist who had suckered the base into supporting pro-rich policy goals. They confirmed Kavanaugh for him, even after the judge was caught in numerous lies. They would salute Trump if the law allowed him to become dictator.

Footnote: In a previous post I referred to the more polite Republican legislators — Lindsey Graham and so on — as vile but discrete, to distinguish them from the overtly vile Trump. It’s a distinction no longer worth making, judging by the conduct of Graham and his gang during the Kavanaugh hearings.

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The Times’s Trump story is a few years too late


I built what I built myself,” Mr. Trump has said, a narrative that was long amplified by often-credulous coverage from news organizations, including The Times.

Certainly a handful of journalists and biographers, notably Wayne Barrett, Gwenda Blair, David Cay Johnston and Timothy L. O’Brien, have challenged this story, especially the claim of being worth $10 billion…

But The Times’s investigation of the Trump family’s finances is unprecedented in scope and precision, offering the first comprehensive look at the inherited fortune and tax dodges that guaranteed Donald J. Trump a gilded life. The reporting makes clear that in every era of Mr. Trump’s life, his finances were deeply intertwined with, and dependent on, his father’s wealth…

It’s good that The New York Times has owned up to being “often credulous” in it’s decades-long coverage of Trump, and that it gave credit to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Johnston, former reporter for The Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer, who was on to Trump’s humongous lies way back when he was a failing casino owner in Atlantic City.

But still … Why was the newspaper of record’s masterful, 14,000-word investigative piece not written a few years ago, when it might have helped deny the presidency to a lifelong fraud who has destroyed the last shred of confidence people had in the federal government?

I asked my sagely friend Swamp Rabbit as we chatted on the porch of my shack in the Tinicum swamp. “That’s easy,” he said. “The Times and the rest of the media had been propping up Trump’s public image since the 1970s, on account of they know people like reading about a cocky guy on the make, a bragger who makes big promises.”

“But his promises were empty,” I replied, “He cheated the people he did business with. A lot of them went broke waiting to get paid by him. He was never anything but a con man.”

The rabbit rolled his eyes and spit in the swamp. “His fans liked that he was a con man. They liked the idea that he charmed all them bankers and was a self-made man. They didn’t want to know he started on third base and got dragged across home plate by his father Fred.”

“Trump’s not charming,” I countered. “He’s vulgar, ignorant and delusional.”

The rabbit laughed. “To a lot of people, them things are the same as charming. This is America, Odd Man. Give the people what they want.”

Footnote: Trump is an ogre and U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kanavaugh is a weasel, but they have two things in common: Both are liars and both think their inherited wealth entitles them to behave badly.

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Judicial temper tantrum


Everybody got a good look at Brett Kavanaugh’s judicial temperament the other day, and at his fear that he might get caught lying if the FBI investigates Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that he tried to rape her.

Under questioning, Kavanaugh sniped and ranted. He said he was the victim of a left-wing conspiracy to keep him off the Supreme Court. “My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed,” he wailed, as if the Republican majority in the Senate had somehow turned against him. As if the sky was falling.

“I ain’t never seen the like,” Swamp Rabbit said, watching Kavanaugh on TV as he threw an afternoon-long hissy fit instead of trying to refute the rape allegations. “He thinks he should be in the Supremes, but he keeps losing his shit. You sure he went to law school?”

Kavanaugh was a ball of weepy, petulant anger — the sort of anger a preppy might show when his dad says he can’t borrow the Lexus to party with his preppy friends.

With one big difference: There was panic in his anger, especially when questioners on the Senate Judiciary Committee mentioned the FBI. He looked like the thought of FBI agents interviewing his old sidekick Mark Judge was his worst nightmare. “I’m innocent of this charge!” he whined.

He was cruising toward confirmation despite his pathetic tantrum until yesterday, when Republican Sen. Jeff Flake called for a floor-vote delay.

Now the Yale Law School grad who can’t seem to make a coherent argument will have a whole week to think about what Judge and other ghosts from his school days might say to the feds. And about the world of trouble he’ll be in if they say too much.

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Kavanaugh’s dirty secrets still surfacing


The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
William Faulkner

(I wrote the following before a third accuser came forward today.)

I’d just got back from a sales job upstate at a ski resort that doubles as a venue for dog shows. A pit bull had tried to bite me. My glasses fell into the little lake near the slopes and it took me a half-hour to fish them out. I was mad when I got home.

Swamp Rabbit was on the porch at my shack, watching breaking news on TV. Senate Republicans were hurrying to confirm U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a proud graduate of the spoiled rich boy’s club, before Democrats could push to investigate the allegation that he tried to rape a girl back in prep school.

“Did you see him on Fox News pretending he never ran with a gang of preppies, that he was never a drunk?” I said. “Did you see him sniveling? You were right, he’s a weasel.”

“He’s a weasel, but that don’t mean the attempted rape story is true,” Swamp Rabbit replied.”Them Dems can’t go around presuming he’s guilty if they ain’t got the dirt on him.”

No one’s calling Kavanaugh guilty, I told the rabbit. They’re just asking for a background check now that two women (so far) have accused him of sexual assault. They want to hear from his old buddy Mark Judge, the recovering alcoholic who wrote a book about the boozing and harassment of girls that went on when Judge and Kavanaugh were preppies together. And from his roomy at Yale who says Kavanaugh was a drunk and a braggart. And from the other women who say he was a dirtball back in the day.

“How many dudes you know were goody-goodies when they was young?” the rabbit countered. “I wasn’t into sex assault, but I was a drunk and I wasn’t nice to all the girls. I bet you were just as bad, Odd Man.”

“You’re still a drunk,” I reminded him. “The difference is you and I don’t pretend we were choir boys.”

I tried to explain. Kavanaugh could have admitted he was rowdy in his school days, that he drank too much and did stuff he now regrets. Instead, he told Fox News he never did the sort of things he’s been accused of, and treated women with “dignity and respect.” He’s stuck with the squeaky-clean persona constructed for him by Republicans. If he gets caught in a lie, the structure will collapse.

“By that time he’ll have a gig with the Supremes,” the rabbit said. “He won’t need no structure.”

The rabbit was right, of course. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, he gets a life-long appointment to the Court, which means he’ll have decades to take part in rulings that could screw up the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans.

“What a system,” I said. “What a world.”

“What a weasel,” the rabbit replied. “You got any whiskey around here?”

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We live in a democracy — or so they say


This is what happens when all the president’s men are grifters:

Another day, another set of regulations targeted for reversal by President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency. The latest possible rollback affects a powerful greenhouse gas with up to 36 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide.

The agency moved [Sept. 10] to make it easier for drillers to meet requirements meant to curb leaks of that gas, methane, from oil and natural gas infrastructure. The rules are not final, and the public will have 60 days to comment on the potential changes after they are published in the Federal Register.

While the changes will save industry money, the agency’s own analysis found the proposed rules could pump hundreds of thousands more tons of the climate-warming gas into the atmosphere and add millions of dollars in agricultural, health-care and other costs to the U.S. economy because of climate change.

I read the story and thought nothing can be done, there’s no point getting worked up about corporate polluters and climate change and millions of people who suffer from climate-related hunger and thirst.

But I got worked up anyway.

Then I calmed down and wondered why I feel contempt not only for Trump but for everyone who supports him. Have I become hopelessly intolerant, or am I merely
reacting in a sensible way to people who back policies that shouldn’t be tolerated in a civilized country?

I asked Swamp Rabbit, who was visiting my shack. He said, “Ain’t nothing civilized about this country. How are you defining tolerant?”

I told him tolerance is about conceding that people have the right to believe or disbelieve as they see fit. It is not about allowing giant corporations to poison the environment because they don’t believe in science.

“Blah blah,” the rabbit said. “We got Agent Orange in the White House and a bunch of his yes men running Congress. Who’s gonna stop ’em?”

Democracy will stop them, I told him. Even the dimmest citizens will come to realize that Trump, a lifelong bully, thief and liar, is making policy changes that are hurting the country. (I didn’t believe my own words, but they sounded good.)

“What if they stay with Trump?” he said. “They got a right to believe what they want, you said so yourself.”

For the sake of argument I told him the majority of Americans were sensible, that the majority always prevails in a democracy.

“How are you defining democracy?” he said. “Germany was a democracy until them sensible Germans elected Hitler.”

I was getting mad. “Wait a minute, rabbit. It wasn’t long ago you were warning me not to compare Trump to evil dictators. I think you said comparisons like that are too simplistic.”

“I was wrong,” he said. “There ain’t no such thing as too simplistic. Trump’s the living proof of that.”

Footnote: Alright, let’s not get too pessimistic. The midterms will be a big first step toward ousting the would-be-dictator if enough disgusted voters turn out.

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