The Real-Life Drama We Are Living Through

Mark Twain (amongst others) said, “Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction.”

 

The political drama we are living through right now, especially this past week, or maybe ever since T was elected, exceeds any fictional portrayals we have seen in any novel, TV program or movie for dramatic action and psychological tension. Maybe the actors we are seeing in the White House or Congress do not equal the imaginative portrayal of the perfidy of villains or the courage of heroes we have seen in fiction, but that is arguable. What Trump and the GOP lack in imagination, for example, they exceed in the daring and reality of the evil they do and the pain they cause.

 

Unlike many fictional dramas, this one began at a point of high tension and expectation. It began last Sunday, when Attorney General Barr released his own summary of the Mueller Report announcing the end of the investigation. He did not turn the Mueller Report over to Congress or to the American people, as was the case when President Clinton was investigated. He instead chose to tell us his version, to give us the Barr Report instead.

 

There were two main conclusions in the Barr Report. One, “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” (Although it did establish that Russia did work to interfere in the election.) Two, regarding obstruction of justice, or whether the President acted in a criminal manner to interfere in the Mueller investigation, the Barr Report announced that the Mueller Report supposedly did not draw a conclusion, but said that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Therefore, according to Barr, there was no obstruction of justice.

 

A tremendous hush rose over the land, especially amongst the majority of Americans. My heart dropped through the floor. We all knew Barr was a Trump loyalist. So why hadn’t the Democrats better prepared for this? I felt the political world was falling apart.

 

After two years of almost daily revelations of Russian contacts and of acting in Russia’s interest, of lies, threats of violence and assaults on the character of anyone who opposed him, on Mueller, FBI agents, reporters, Senators, Congresspeople, Judges, immigrants, women, children, people of color, even some members of his own cabinet and his own hatchet man, of financial crimes and of using the Presidency to advance his own financial interests ⎼ it felt like all the cries for justice were suddenly silenced. All the expectations that the Mueller Investigation would finally expel the evil that had infested our nation were shattered.

 

Even before the report was released, the GOP were priming the news media and much of the media bought in to the GOP messaging. CNN reported that one person at the White House said, before Barr released his summary, “’We won’ and the campaign has been absolved because there weren’t any charges related to conspiracy or obstruction.” A Trump campaign adviser told CNN: “It’s a great day for America…”

 

But once Sunday afternoon rolled around and Barr released his summary report, the GOP and their propaganda outlets went wild, shouting so loudly and repeatedly it was difficult, at first, to hear anything else but the silence in between the shouts. “There would be no further indictments to come,” said Barr. “Complete exoneration,” said the GOP. “A tremendous relief. ” GOP Rep. Mark Meadows, a Trump loyalist, claimed: “After 22 months of a special counsel and 2 years of congressional investigations, it’s over. The clock has finally struck midnight on the ‘Russian collusion’ fantasy. No collusion.”

 

This is how the week began. This is Act One. The exposition and conflicts were largely spelled out.

 

And then Act Two. First, the cries for vengeance. The GOP claimed the real criminals were the press and the Democrats. T said, “There are a lot of people out there who have done some very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country.” There would be new investigations, but this time, it would be into all those who dared to accuse the President of any crimes or misdeeds.

 

I felt my level of tension rising and was worried about who the GOP would try to indict.

 

Democrats, after at first trying to shift the focus from the reports and investigations to other issues, important economic issues, finally began to fight back. The level of conflict rose. As Rachel Maddow pointed out, the press and the Democrats began to realize that they really hadn’t heard from Mueller at all. Barr was clearly not a neutral party. They asked about what was being hidden by Barr. Why is the report being kept secret not only from the American people but from Congress?

 

Many examples of collusion with Russia were enacted right in our face, in public, a fact Democrats, including Congresspeople Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi, made clear. The way this report was being handled or mishandled was not what was needed to restore any faith in the rule of law by the people of this nation. It wasn’t Barr’s place to summarize anything or hide the evidence but instead to turn it over to Congress and the people.

 

On Thursday, the nine Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee signed a letter calling for Adam Schiff to resign as chairman of the committee. At the congressional hearing on Russian interference in the election, Republican Congressman Mike Conaway stopped the hearing to read the GOP letter, which said: “Your actions both past and present are incompatible with your duty as chairman.” T also called for Schiff to resign.

 

But then Schiff had his chance to be a hero and he played his part with courage and insight. You can see it all on MSNBC.  In the hearing he responded to Conaway and the other Republicans by spelling out, clearly, passionately, even poetically a list of examples of collusion and possible criminal behavior by the President and his supporters over the last two plus years. His response to the GOP attack had all the power of the best dramatic fiction. He said,   “You [The GOP] think it’s ok” that members of T’s campaign were willing to accept dirt from the Russians. “I don’t think it’s OK. I think it’s immoral, I think it’s unethical, I think it’s unpatriotic, and yes, I think it’s corrupt and evidence of collusion.”

 

What will be the climax? On Friday, Barr said he will give a redacted version of the Mueller Report to Congress and later the public. Democrats said they plan to subpoena the report and possibly Mueller and Barr. Will the subpoenas be successful? What will the report actually say? Or what might Mueller say? Is this the beginning of Act III?

 

Rep. Schiff spoke out again, saying the Attorney General was not, as he had claimed, compelled by the law to redact the report and hide it from Congress. Barr’s actions, and even his original appointment and confirmation, create the precedent for Presidents under investigation in the future to nominate and fire Attorney Generals to protect themselves, not the American people.

 

If Barr succeeds in placing himself between the Mueller Report and the American people, as the arbiter of truth and law, he could position the President above the law and turn the Presidency into an autocracy.

 

Will there be a catharsis, a cleansing of the nation by going through this drama? Will this struggle yield a stronger democracy or destroy what is left of democracy? And what will our place in the drama be? When and how will we, the people, act? The tension is still rising. The consequences couldn’t be much higher.

 

This post was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

It Is Time to Call, Write, and Demonstrate: A Summary and Call to Action for Those Who Understandably Can’t Stand the News

The Justice Department does not belong to any one party or individual. But Sunday, Mr. Trump tweeted: ‘‘I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!’’ This was only one of his Sunday tweets.

 

The President can suggest actions to the Justice Department, but cannot demand. And he cannot, or at least should not, demand actions that directly interfere in the Mueller investigation. However, he is trying to get Rod Rosenstein and Christopher Wray to do just that and investigate the investigation.

 

At the heart of the latest battle is the charge there was a “spy” planted in the Trump campaign. In fact, the person is, as far as I can tell, not a spy but an informant. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies use informants all the time. By trying to claim malfeasance on the part of the FBI, Trump is distorting the facts once again, and once again attempting to undermine the FBI and Mueller investigation, and is putting the safety of the informant at risk. This is tantamount to claiming that anyone who reveals negative information on him is violating the law.

 

Trump also tweeted: “At what point does this soon to be $20,000,000 Witch Hunt, composed of 13 Angry and Heavily Conflicted Democrats and two people who have worked for Obama for 8 years, STOP! They have found no Collusion with Russia, No Obstruction, but they aren’t looking at the corruption…”

 

In this tweet, he is trying to say that the real corruption is being committed by Mueller and Democrats, but this is misdirection and worse. His very insinuations are examples of his interfering in the actions of the Justice Department and Mueller’s investigation.

 

According to a CBS fact check of his statements, the tweet is “short on facts.” CNN said “Trump said 11 false things in just 5 tweets.” Chris Cillizza of CNN said, “There’s zero factual basis—at least that I can find—for Trump putting a $20 million price tag on the Mueller probe.” In December, the cost was $6.7 million.

 

Mueller is a Republican, and like others on his team, he owes his position to a Republican President. He was appointed by President George W. Bush to head the FBI in 2001. And he served in that role for six years under Obama. In terms of the charge of collusion, that is an unresolved issue. Mueller was tasked with investigating that charge and the investigation is clearly not over. Yet, the President often tweets “no collusion,” as if by repeating it often enough people will believe it.

 

Trump’s lies are increasing in frequency as is the threat to what’s left of democracy in America. The Washington Post found that in the first 100 days, he lied or played loose with facts 4.9 times a day. Recently, it has almost doubled to 9 times a day. (See also the New York Times and Politifact.)

 

The threat is increasing as the President and his enablers in Congress, like Devin Nunes (Republican Congressman from California), are demolishing, to an unprecedented degree, the boundaries created by the separation of powers doctrine. Nunes has been leading the effort in Congress to get all the information on the confidential informant and portray his role as somehow malfeasant, instead of the normal operation of an investigation. And for months, he and other Republicans have been pressuring Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to turn over information that the Mueller investigation has on the President and others. If Rosenstein doesn’t, he can be impeached for contempt of Congress. If he turns over the documents, he is violating his position overseeing the investigation. The GOP has already drawn up eight articles of impeachment against him.

 

After meeting with the President Monday, along with FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, Rosenstein agreed to have the Department of Justice Inspector General investigate the Mueller investigation, especially the use of information from the confidential source.

 

However, this is not enough for the President and conservative Republican members of Congress. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and 17 other GOP Congressmen (mostly members of the Freedom Caucus) signed a resolution today (5/22) demanding the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the DOJ and FBI. Senior officials from the DOJ, FBI and National Intelligence are set to meet with 2 Republican members of Congress on Thursday to “review” highly classified information the lawmakers have been seeking related to the Mueller investigation. In a beautiful example of irony, Democrats have been excluded from this meeting supposedly called to examine political bias in the FBI and DOJ. The New York Times points out the strategy here: limit the investigation and attack the investigators.

 

Monday evening, Rachel Maddow spoke about the meeting at the White House. By summoning Rosenstein and Wray, Trump was not just complaining. He was taking action in the vein of his firing, last year, the then FBI Director, James Comey. She questioned: have we now gone too far down a slippery slope?

 

The Justice Department has done several things in the past that Maddow finds disturbing. The DOJ has “shed or demoted” all the justice officials who Comey provided with corroborating information about his meetings with the President. Congress has asked the DOJ for FISA warrant applications, which they handed over, something never done before. The DOJ is now being asked to turn over information which can help Trump in his case against Mueller. This violates every principle of an investigation. On Sunday, when the President demanded the DOJ open a counter-investigation, he crossed another dangerous line. He took another step toward the destruction of the rule of law. Why is Rosenstein going along with this?

 

And, if we the citizens don’t act, why? Why are we going along with this? I understand feeling depressed by all that’s happening, and feeling powerless. But to give in to that feeling is to let Trump win.

 

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said: “The president’s behavior is the kind of grossly autocratic behavior we’d expect in a banana republic, not a mature democracy,” Do we have or have we had a “mature democracy” for a while now?

 

In 1776, Thomas Paine, philosopher and writer who influenced the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence, said: “These are the times that try men’s souls. …Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.” Our souls, our consciences, our lives are being tried to an ever-increasing degree by this administration. It is time to act. It is time to call any member of Congress you can, or go to the office of politicians, especially Republicans, and speak out and demonstrate, to stop this interference into the Mueller investigation. To stop the gradual destruction of the rule of law. We must prepare for November, but not wait until then.

Don’t Let the Party of Grinches Steal Your Holidays

As linguist, cognitive scientist and author George Lakoff has clearly pointed out in his book The All New Don’t Think of An Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, Republicans have too often dictated the terms and imagery of political discourse in our country. It is time for this to stop. Read this book.

 

It was the GOP word machine that branded Conservatives as Populists out to save America from “big government” and “effete, wasteful liberals.” But after this week, and this year, this imagery is no longer going to capture anyone, except for those who have walled themselves off in forts built from right-wing news distortions. After this week’s debacle with the tax-health-care-environment rip off/”scam” bill, we see very clearly that the GOP attack on “big government” is just a way for the wealthy and their paid representatives to steal money from social programs. Americans are discovering new political metaphors that touch more and more people and undermine support for the GOP agenda. The struggle against oppression that we are waging is not just against politicians, but against metaphors and ways of thinking. Here are some metaphors I have heard this week. (If you noticed or created other liberating metaphors, please share them.)

 

Last night, I was listening to MSNBC. Chris Hayes and others were using imagery, with a sweet touch of humor. Humor is always helpful in dealing with a threatening reality, although I don’t feel very amused right now. Mr. T is the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The GOP is the party of Grinches. (This goes back, possibly, to Joe Scarbough’s album of Christmas music.) They are stealing not only Christmas but Hanukah, Kwanzaa, all holidays and vacations for years to come, if their tax bill gets enacted.

 

For those of us not in the dictator class, the cost of living, and health care premiums, will “rise” even more “precipitously” under this new bill than before the ACA. The tax bill will “de-stabilize” health insurance markets. (Some GOP supporters say the premiums for Obamacare are already too high. They should examine the rates before the ACA and look at how the GOP have been trying to increase premiums in order to undermine the Democrat’s program ever since the ACA was passed.) By 2026, when the temporary tax cuts for the middle class and lower class that are in this bill end, it has been predicted that health insurance premiums will be doubled. 83% of the tax cuts in this bill will be for the rich, the would-be dictator class. The GOP is not just trying to steal Christmas; they are stealing the future. They are “looting America.” One of my favorite images is from Bernie Sanders, who talked about the GOP tax plan back in October as “the Robin Hood principle in reverse.” Of course, I always loved the story of Robin Hood.

 

The future the GOP envisions has children suffering without care. About 50% of those on Medicaid are children. Yet, as the debt goes up next year, or the year after that, the party of Grinches is salivating over the chance to cut Medicaid. They have been trying to end this insurance for children, the disabled, the elderly for years. They do not believe it is right for people to help others. They also, somehow, forgot to renew CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program). They will fight for a foetus in the womb, but not a child who’s been born. They also want to cut Medicare and Social Security, to deny most of us the chance to collect our investment and retire with dignity.

 

Many Republicans are trying to reverse the American Revolution, and re-establish one-man rule. One aim of the constitution was to prevent any one person from getting the power of an autocrat. But create an autocracy is exactly what it seems Mr. T and his followers are trying to do. This is what traitors to democracy try to do. They are trying to take away our freedom, take away voting rights and freedom of the press. Going along with this, is the “figurative” assessment by former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, that Putin is treating T as an “asset” or “pawn” of the Kremlin.

 

They claim Dems are stealing their freedom by stopping them from polluting or limiting choices in health care. Well, how free are you if you can’t afford the premiums for health insurance? How free do you feel if you have to choose between paying a medical bill or your rent or food?

 

If you doubt the GOP are trying to reverse the American Revolution, just listen to the sycophantic ceremony of obeisance by Republican congresspeople yesterday. They were fawning over Mr. T for his leadership. Tennessee congresswoman Diane Black said: “Thank you, President Trump, for allowing us to have you as our president.” They sounded like politicians in North Korea giving obeisance to Kim Jong-un. Are Republicans equally afraid of what their ruler might do? Or are they being paid so much they don’t care?

 

They are certainly trying to undermine progressive taxation, which means a tax system that attempts to have those who get more from the economic system pay a higher rate of taxes. It is a way to preserve some power for the great majority of Americans to influence the political process.

 

Last night, Rachel Maddow talked about a report by Politico that there is a secret working group of the GOP in Congress, using material, even classified material, to try to deceive people into thinking the FBI is biased against the president and engaged in a criminal activity. They claim members of the Mueller investigation are so dastardly that a few even gave money to the campaigns of democratic legislators (as if it is only legal and acceptable to give money to the GOP). Ignore the fact that Mueller, McCabe, etc. are Republicans. The GOP claim that the FBI is involved in criminal behavior investigating the President. They talk about “the fix is in.”

 

When Mr. T and other Republicans do something illegal, they deflect. They claim those who oppose them are doing something illegal. They shout “lock her up” when they feel they might, deservedly, be locked up. This is not just Newspeak of 1984. It is the undermining of free speech that happens with dictators. It is Dictator-speech. It is undermining the rule of law speech. It is time to wake up and protest speech.

 

Senator Mark Warner said Republican congresspeople are engaged in “irresponsible” attacks, coordinated with right wing media, and aimed to undermine Mueller and undermine the rule of law. They are dangerous. He warned us to be vigilant. “No one is above the law… It is critical that all of us… speak up against these threats, now, before it’s too late.” Only if we can rise to the occasion will we save ourselves.

 

While I am sharing my outrage with you, another metaphor I’ve heard from more responsible media is that Democrats lack a vision. They are divided. The GOP who have been so divided they couldn’t pass a major piece of legislation until this week, try to influence the news media to say it is the Dems who are divided. They have taken the Dems imagery of the GOP as “The Party of No,” when Barack Obama was president, and turned it on Dems today. “The only thing Dems can unite on,” they claim, is an opposition to T.

 

Well, the Democratic party has, at times, certainly been confused and dastardly. But one thing this week and this year have made abundantly clear is that although both the GOP and DNC operate in the same money-driven system, there is a great difference between them. The DNC is made up of different people with different viewpoints, and underwriters, and many often fail to do what I think is just or reasonable. But I think Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and others have vision. I think most people who identify as Democrats share a vision of freedom, of the right to vote and of a free press. They share a vision where people can disagree without disagreement being criminalized. They support the role of government in caring for fellow humans. Do not forget that it was Democrats (Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton) who largely brought us CHIP (along with Republicans who were not afraid to work “across the aisle”), and it was liberal Democrats who brought us Social SecurityMedicare and Medicaid. Dems actually think science is valuable. Hopefully, we can get the DNC to catch up to Democrats.

 

We need to support politicians who recognize we are all part of the community of humans and we share the neighborhood with other species. Those who oppose the dictatorship of Mr. T and his right-wing followers need to unite, now, in any way possible to preserve the environment of the neighborhood and preserve the right to wander, speak and live freely, justly, in it.

 

So, for the holidays, whichever ones you celebrate, please enjoy, but be vigilant. And remember what has been done this week. Remember and work to support the rights, freedoms, dreams of justice, education, equity, and metaphors that most of us share yet some would squash.

 

 

 

Last Night, A Battle of Good Against Evil?

I thought I’d have a little fun. For the last two nights, my wife and I watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, written by J. K. Rowling, between portions of Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and checking in on the Senate’s fight over the Republican denial of health care bill.

 

It was a very surreal experience, like living in a fantasy world. McConnell became, in my mind, the powerful Auror, enforcer, Director of Magical Security for the magical world, a character named Graves (played by Colin Farrell). Graves was trying to appear like he was acting for the welfare of others. In reality, he was always pushing his own agenda, built from megalomania and a delusion of superiority, to undermine others, and make all of us Nomajs or Muggles subservient to him and his cohorts. We learn at the end that Graves was only a mask worn by the evil Grindelwald, a Dark Wizard, second only to Lord Voldemort, who hid away after nasty crimes in Europe. (Did he ever go to Russia?)

 

And then there was the Obscurus, a dark force that ran rampant destroying buildings and killing. The Obscurus was built from the energy created by the abuse, and oppression of the magical ability of Credence, an adopted son of Samantha Morton, the leader of the New Salem Philanthropic Society. These “Second Salemers” were like the first, religious bigots calling for a war against all those with magic and who are “different.” Graves-Grindelwald tried to use the power of the Obscurus, of oppression, for his own ends, but it turned against him. I took the Obscurus as a warning. When a government tries to assault the magic, well-being, and humanity of so many of us, it will only lead to destruction.

 

And on Wednesday, when Mr. T. had Secretary Zinke threaten Senator Lisa Murkowski for her opposition to the Republican bill, this fit in so well with the movie and the plot, of a battle by evil against the good. It was almost too much, too blatant, but the inappropriate behavior of this President is blatant.

 

I won’t try to make too close a comparison between the movie and the real life drama in the Senate. Rowlings work has often been seen as a metaphor for different battles between “good and evil.” But I think there were heroes Wednesday and Thursday. There was Senator Lisa Murkowski, certainly, and Susan Collins. And Senator McCain, who created a great and multi-dimensional drama of his own. And the Democrats, who stayed together as a unified force. Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat from Hawaii, interrupted her cancer treatments to fly to D. C.. And all of us, who have been making calls, demonstrating on the streets or in the halls of Congress, or writing letters. I’m afraid that there will be many more battles, and we need to learn all we can from this one. In the end, it seems to me that we Nomajs are the ones with the real magic.