Today, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, posted a GIF based on old footage of the day he took part in the show at the World Wrestling Federation. In the original footage he is shown body slamming a guy in a suit (people who pay closer attention to such entertainments can probably name him).
This GIF has the CNN log superimposed on the face of the original slammee so that Trump is metaphorically “taking down” the network he so dislikes. I haven’t seen anyone do so yet, but it’s only a matter of time before Trump or one of his surrogates claims that it was only meant as metaphor and no reasonable person would take it as a literal threat against the network or any of its employees. “They’re overreacting,” they’ll say, and under other circumstances, I might even agree with them. But here are a few reasons why I don’t.
- What about the unreasonable? I would argue that none of Trump’s support is reasonable, but even discounting that, surely everyone knows that there are unreasonable people out there. We have footage of people at his rallies, whipped up into violence against fellow attendees at the urging of candidate Trump. It is not a stretch to imagine an aggrieved person with access to weapons heading to Atlanta to follow the “instructions” of his commander-in-chief. Heck, quite a few people were quick to jump to the conclusion that the shooter of Rep. Steve Scalise was goaded on by Kathy Griffin, and other intemperate (to put it mildly) left-leaning celebrities. Anyone who took that position mere weeks ago in that shooting should not be defending Donald Trump now.
- Greg Gianforte. This GIF is a pretty good match for the descriptions of Montana Representative Greg Gianforte’s attack on a journalist who just wanted to ask him a question. I don’t blame people for missing the metaphor when there is literally a real-life example in recent headlines of exactly what is depicted here.
- Even the metaphor is troubling. Even if we are not talking about a threat of literal personal violence, a threat to the right of the people to a free press by the leader of the free world is nothing to be blase about. As President he wields a lot of power, especially if you ascribe to the theory of the unitary executive as Republicans tend to do. Tax audits, litigation, prosecution are just the actions contemplated by the Nixon Administration. Add in the surveillance technology of the CIA and NSA revealed by Edward Snowden and you have a scary spectrum of ways Trump could abuse the power of his office if he decided to “take down” CNN or any other news organization.
That said, while I do think the concern is reasonable, I also think this tweet is more an impotent lashing out from someone who never really learned how to deal with criticism. It’s akin to the revenge fantasies of bullied kids who feel powerless against the disapproval of their peers. If a teen or pre-teen posted something like this, school officials would rightly express concern and perhaps get counseling for the youth.
Okay, grains of salt. I only have my personal experience and one semester of beginning psychology to draw from here, plus whatever pop-psychology has been published since Columbine. I don’t know if he’s acting like this because he honestly thinks he can’t be wrong, or because he can’t believe he’s right and so constantly needs re-affirmation from those who he has chosen as his preferred in-group. Either way, whatever contempt I have for the man is mixed with a great deal of pity.
A man went to the school to pick up his son after being informed that the son had been fighting. As they sat in the car on the way home, the boy holding an icepack on his swollen black eye, his dad asked him what happened.
“Johnny said he was going to beat me up if I didn’t give him my lunch money.”
“That’s not a good reason to get into a fight,” said his dad. “Why didn’t you just give him your lunch money?”
“That’s what I’ve been doing; every time he forgets his own money, he does this. A couple of times I talked him into letting me do his homework instead.”
“So if talking was working, why didn’t you talk to him this time?”
“Working? Talking wasn’t working! He started threatening me for my lunch money even when he didn’t forget his. Nothing was ever enough, so I decided that I wasn’t going to do it anymore. He told me yesterday to give him my lunch money or else and I told him no. I’m not giving up my lunch money any more. Well, he said he’d give me until today to think about it and I told him I wasn’t going to change my mind. He told me he would not only beat me up, but he’d beat my friends up, too and I told him I wasn’t going to give him my lunch money.”
“That was yesterday?”
“Yes, Dad. And today he walked up to me when I got to school, yelling at me to give him his money and I just ignored him. Then he said, ‘Okay, just give me half of your lunch money and I won’t beat you up.’ When I didn’t say anything, he said, ‘Okay, I won’t beat up on two of your friends.’ Then he said, ‘Okay, I won’t beat up on 3 of your friends.’
“Well, that sounds like a good deal, why didn’t you give him your lunch money then?”
“Dad! It’s my money. And it’s pizza day. And if i gave him my lunch money again today, he was just going to come back again next week or the week after and demand money again. And besides, I was winning. He kept asking for less the more I refused to give up.”
“Okay, now I’m confused. You did fight didn’t you?”
“Not really. He finally got so frustrated that he ran at me and tripped on someone’s bookbag. He accidentally hit me in the eye and broke his arm when he fell. But he didn’t get my lunch money.”
So, my lovely audience: Should the boy have given Johnny his lunch money? Who is to blame for the “fight”?
It’s not enough for me and if I were advising the President, I would advise that he stand firm, but the House Republicans have started to come to their senses. Speaker John Boehner yesterday announced an offer to the President (to try) to pass a debt ceiling increase good until around the end of November in hopes that the Democrats would come to the negotiating table about the budget. It’s a start.
Of course, their proposal still includes what Newsmax calls “several modest changes” to the Affordable Care Act. I remember when Republican partisans used to accuse me of Bush Derangement Syndrome, reflexively reacting to every move by GWB as if it were coming from the Devil himself (I may be exaggerating slightly). Apparently, GOPers aren’t immune to Obamacare Derangement Syndrome. Anyway, I digress. They should give that up. They should not only raise the debt ceiling but also pass a clean continuing resolution (which they may be considering). They should apologize to the American people and specifically to all those furloughed federal workers. But, for now, I’m going to be happy that they have taken any steps toward being reasonable and negotiating in good faith no matter how small those steps might be.
Certain of my family have been passing this meme around and I found it quite timely and appropriate. I made some nitpicky modifications, but the original idea is signed by a Jason Leith. It’s a paraphrase of Jesus in Matthew 25:41-46
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you reduced funding for food stamps, I was thirsty and you prevented the EPA from guaranteeing me clean water, 43 I was a stranger and you vilified me and demanded that I be deported, I needed clothes and you substituted a sales tax for an income tax and slashed welfare payments, I was sick and you took away my only hope for health care, I was in prison and you tortured me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and endeavored to harm you further?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did to one of the least of these, you did to me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
And might I add, “I was homeless and you denied me affordable housing.”
It occurred to me that I’ve been preaching to my Congressman, presenting problems without presenting any solutions. Or at least not presenting any solutions to HIS problem as he (probably) sees it. So I realized that some of my other preaching on the relationship of the GOP to their base might be germane to our current budget/debt ceiling woes. So here’s the result:
I understand you’re in a tough spot right now. Having taken the position you have on Obamacare and the budget, you’re looking for a way to save face because, if you are seen as caving in on this position, you become vulnerable to getting “primaried” by someone even more conservative than you next spring. But the President isn’t budging on this and I don’t see any reason why he would. And I really don’t want to see you and your colleagues forced to give up because we’re already defaulting on debts and watching our economy crumble. That’s bad for everyone.
So, “caving” sooner rather than later is good for the United States of America as a whole but is bad for [you personally]. And I think the answer is to get comfortable with this idea: The Republican Base is too small and relying solely on playing to “the base” to get through the primary and then having to energize “the base” to make it through the general election is not a winning strategy in the long-term. Playing to and energizing “the base” only serves to push moderates away making the base even smaller. I know this is true, because that’s me. I’ve always considered myself a moderate Republican, but I can’t, in good conscience, support this party anymore. For many reasons, but not least of which is they don’t seem to want me around anyway. “Fine,” I say to myself, “I’ll take my vote where it’s appreciated.” Giving in on this budget fight is going to piss off “the base,” no doubt, but there are literally millions of people who don’t vote at all in the primaries that would easily dwarf the mere 2 million who voted in both primaries in May 2012. In [your district], even if every person who voted for you in 2012 voted against you (all 43,317), there are still 606,285 [that didn’t vote in any primary, Democrat or Republican] in the voting age population to pull from. Now that’s a base! If you could get just one out of 6 of those to vote for you in the primary you’d blow a putative “attack from the right” out of the water. And are those people going to vote for the Democrat in the general? Please! Me personally, I think the GOP needs to repudiate the Tea Party, but for you, in the face of a very real possibility of having to cave in no matter what you might want to believe, I think this provides a way to still come out a winner. Think about it.
Actually, the 43,317 was my Congressman’s vote plus his only primary competitor. I don’t recall anymore if his competitor was tea-party-er than thou but in this district that’s the way to bet. I doubt that very many of those who opposed my Congressman did so because they thought him too conservative and so might respond favorably to a more moderate position.
But the real point is that I don’t think there’s any scenario in which he doesn’t have to give in on Obamacare and just go ahead and fund the government and raise the debt limit. And when he does cave in, it’s really going to hurt him in the next primary. And even if (somehow) it doesn’t, growing the base is going to be the way to remain competitive in the future (I mean 10-20 years out). And Daily Kos thinks this is one of the districts that is turning bluer these days. Moderating is probably good for my district in the nearer future (say, 5-12 years out).
Well, okay, that’s a little harsh. But he’s definitely drunk the kool-aid on this whole continuing resolution.
Right now, it’s clear the Senate is not even willing to come to the table for discussion. This should outrage the American people. We cannot let Obama and his democratic-controlled Senate steamroll over the voice of the public. We cannot let this administration continue to pick and choose what laws it wants to enforce. It is not even fully enforcing its own landmark legislation- Obamacare. If it’s not good enough for the administration to enforce now, it’s clearly not ready!
I will continue my fight to fund this government in a fiscally responsible manner. I will continue my fight to delay Obamacare and protect the American public.”
No real facts of course, just GOP talking points. So here’s my response:
I just read your email blast entitled “Where do we go from here.” You complain about the Democrats not negotiating with you. I gotta tell ya, I wouldn’t negotiate with you either if I were in there shoes. First of all, you’re trying to negotiate on a fight you’ve already lost, both in Congress and in the courts. Second, you’re negotiating from a position of weakness; you’re a minority of a minority insisting on being able to control the agenda and there’s really no reason for anyone to let you do that. The Democrats have finally figured out that they are in the majority (with veto power no less). I don’t know why they’ve let you get away with this strategy this long. Third, you’re negotiating in bad faith; no concession is ever enough. The next time a must-pass resolution comes along you ask for more concessions. Y’all are like the vikings in England back in the middle ages; sure they can pay the Danegeld to keep this band of marauders out of your villages, but that won’t stop the next and the next after that. In such a world, only an idiot would keep letting the aggressor get away with it without a fight. Eventually, even an idiot should be able to figure out that standing up to you is the only possible way to get you to quit. Finally, you’re offering a lousy deal. In the first round you seriously wanted to trade a measly month or two of continuing resolution in exchange for giving up on their signature legislative achievement, the work of a century and a dozen presidents? You’ve got to be kidding me. What were you thinking? I know what you were thinking; they’ll fold like a napkin just like they did the last several times. Well, Mr. Congressman, they aren’t folding. I think they are done folding. I think you should expect them to continue to beat you up in the press and I think you should expect to lose. And I think you should expect to kiss the White House good-bye for the next two cycles if not the next two generations. You’ll be lucky to hold the house, and if you do, it’ll only be because of all the gerrymandered seats.
The place to go from here is out to the floor to pass a clean CR and hope the country forgives you. And then, do the same with the debt ceiling. With all this talk of fiscal responsibility, voting against raising the debt ceiling would mark you as a hypocrite.