Decency and Humor in the Age of Trump

This weekend, Michelle Wolf skewered the Trump Administration at the White House Correspondent’s dinner, especially Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She also roasted the media for practicing “access journalism.” Media types like Mika Brzezinski and Andrea Mitchell have criticized them. Sean Spicer and Donald Trump howled their disapproval too. They are wrong. Michelle Wolf, I cautiously say, was right.

I’m not for trashing the President or White House just for the fun of it. I have evolved a bit from the angry days of early 2017 on this- I don’t think calling Donald Trump names, for instance, is a good representation of one’s anger. I hate his policies, I think he’s generally a bad man, but I think we still have to treat the Presidency as something prestigious and decent, when possible, if for no other reason than to protect it for his successors.

I’m still fine with what Michelle Wolf said though- it was all true. The media did give this monster hundreds of millions of dollars of free media in the 2016 Election, allowing this to happen. MSNBC showed his rallies in full sometimes, then talked about them for hours afterwards. Mika and the Morning Joe team had Trump on the show almost every week during the election. Andrea Mitchell and others continuously treated Hillary’s e-mail “scandal” as real, despite her being cleared several times. They created this monster. They have to own it.

They haven’t really been better with him in the White House either. They continue to cover Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Sean Spicer before her, even though they outright lie about things as petty as crowd sizes. Kellyanne Conway talks about using “alternative facts.” The President denies meetings he was in, and denies deep relationships with people in his orbit when convenient. The President changes stories on his many scandals from week to week. He even tried to claim he fired James Comey over his treatment of Hillary Clinton, as he continues to call for Hillary to be jailed. Nothing this Administration says should be treated as fact, none of his aides should enjoy credibility with the press. This includes his Chief-of-Staff, who has accused Democratic Congresswomen of lying when the facts say otherwise.

What I’m saying is Michelle wasn’t too harsh on Sarah Huckabee Sanders for skewering her ethics- she was too nice. She wasn’t too harsh on the President- she was too fair. She wasn’t too harsh on the media either- she nailed her critique perfectly.

My advice for the media is to quit the “respectability politics.” This was a comedy show, and a good one at that. The people on the other side- Trump, his staff, and his supporters- don’t respect the free press, they hate the reporters, and they don’t care about an informed populace. They don’t want it to continue to exist. They lie to you- you the reporters- every day. The best way to know if Sarah Huckabee Sanders is lying is to check if she’s talking. Yes media, they are not your friends- and they never will be.

Trump’s desired America is an America where a compliant press prints what he tells them to. He has largely received that (see above on his coverage). Since he’s not getting it all his way, he lashes out at the media. They seem to think they can appease him. They should take a note from Michelle Wolf, and realize they cannot. Stop trying, just for the sake of access to more lies- we already went through this in the Iraq War. They’re going to call the media, “the media elites”- embrace it and roast these frauds with the truth.

The Geography of a Wave

Democrats need roughly two dozen pick-ups in November to win the U.S. House of Representatives. I say “roughly” because it’s rare that a party loses no seats (Democrats lost a New Orleans seat in 2008, but picked it back up in 2010, for example). There is much argument about how they should do that, and what voters to target. To answer those questions, geography helps.

There are not many seats to win in “blue” areas. There’s a seat in New York City, maybe two if you count nearby suburbs. There’s not much to grab in Los Angeles. Chicago is basically solid blue in the city area. Philadelphia has one seat in the city. Atlanta, Miami, Detroit, San Francisco, and any other big city you add in doesn’t offer a combination of seats large enough to get two dozen seats. You basically can’t get to a majority using safely Democratic seats and voters. They’re not distributed broadly enough to do that. While I believe the base of any Presidential victory in 2020 for Democrats begins with the Obama/Clinton coalition of votes, that’s not going to win back the House for Democrats any time soon.

This means that the road to a functioning Democratic House Majority is essentially running through suburban America. That means nominating moderate candidates. When Democrats last won the U.S. House in 2006 and 2008, they were winning with candidates like Jason Altmire in suburban Pittsburgh. Was Altmire something to excite liberal activists? No, it’s fair to say not. He lost an incumbent on incumbent primary in 2012, so I don’t think he was “loved” by activist Democrats. Who did love him though? Suburban Pittsburgh general election voters who elected him three times. It’s worth repeating again though- we had a majority for two-thirds of his tenure. Those were actually the “good ole’ days.” When Blue Dogs existed, and so did a Democratic Speaker.

The “big, blue wave” of 2016 is not going to look much like the current Democratic Caucus in the House, if it happens at all (I’m not totally convinced the Biblical wave is on it’s way). It’s also not going to look like a Bernie Sanders rally. The new members of a Democratic Majority won’t pass all the litmus tests, won’t be good at purity, and might have very different rhetoric than the current members. The may even (*gasp*) be open to compromises on policy with a potentially narrowly divided Senate and Republican White House.

I guess what I’m saying is “the big, blue wave” of 2018 might be purple. Purple is better than red though.

Thinking About Barbara Bush, and America in 2018

Former First Lady Barbara Bush passed yesterday, leaving behind an amazing life and legacy. She served as First Lady and Second Lady for twelve years, was mother to a President and Governor, and is herself the descendant of former national leaders. I don’t want to whitewash the obvious negatives of the Bush family, herself included, but Barbara Bush was a giant onto herself. She started the Barbara Bush Foundation, which concentrated on literacy. She was, surprisingly to many, a supporter of a woman’s right to choose. She was a mother who lost a child to cancer. She was easily her husband’s better half. There is a good reason we hold her up as a symbol of a more civil, classy American politics- because it was true.

It would be fair to say that the current White House has not taken a page from her. Melania Trump seems to be either a prisoner of the Trump White House, or complicit in it’s worst behavior. I think it’s largely unfair to criticize her, as I don’t think she either wanted this job or believed it would happen, and it’s not my place to judge her decision to marry the President. It’s not unfair to criticize the Trump White House though, a place so classless that their leader, the President, has been in public spats with a porn star, Lavar Ball, actors and actresses, and even members of his own administration, usually via Twitter, and almost always via taunts and insults. Find me anything similar in Barbara Bush’s long public life. You won’t.

I started out in politics criticizing Barbara’s son, George W. Bush, particularly for the Iraq War. The Bush family has had millions of critics like me, and has taken some huge public falls at our hands. George H.W. Bush left office a defeated man in 1993 after one term, George W. Bush left office as one of the least popular Presidents in American history in 2009, largely due to the economic meltdown and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Jeb Bush was utterly humiliated in the 2016 Republican Primaries. Despite all that, the Bush Family has maintained their public class- a public class that I attribute largely to Barbara, the woman who steered the ship in that family through the good and the bad.

In 2016, America elected a President who’s only shared quality with the Bush Family was his political party. I would offer the current President has lowered the bar on decency far below the level set by Barbara Bush. I would also offer that many of his voters wanted exactly that. It’s disappointing to watch. Personal failings are something we all have to accept and forgive in our national leaders- they are merely our fellow people. Making a habit of getting into the mud is not something we should accept.

They Run for the Hills

Charlie Dent is resigning. He’s not just retiring in January as planned. He’s leaving within weeks. He’s either had it with Congress and can’t do it anymore, has a new job, or both. My bet is both, because I wouldn’t blame him.

House Republicans are fleeing in record numbers. Donald Trump is less popular than any recent President at this point, and they see him as a drag on their candidacies this Fall. Hillary won 25 Republican House seats, and many more yet are retiring. They see losing the House as likely.

House Republican moderates are fleeing too. The combination of the Hastert Rule (you need a majority of the majority to bring anything up for a vote), the strength of the Freedom Caucus/Republican Study Group/Tea Party wing of the House, the rise of Trump, and the fall of Boehner and even Ryan has diminished their influence. The Republican Party belongs to Donald Trump, not “small government” ideology Republicans. They can’t be reasonable and cut deals.

The House is a tough place for any moderate these days, and many are fleeing. The rise of the far left has threatened the existence of moderate Democrats in this year’s primary- though moderate Democrats are still usually winning. Angry ideological activists are flexing their political muscles on both sides. Moderates are increasingly finding themselves frustrated by their behavior. Even those representing genuinely moderate districts, where their constituents agree with them.

I once worked for Chris Dodd, one of the most effective Senators of the last century. He passed legislation like the Family and Medical Leave Act, landmark mental health protection legislation, and of course later on, the ACA and Dodd-Frank. He always said compromise and bi-partisanship was critical to passing any major legislation. I do not think he would be able to be as effective today. Sure, he was an openly liberal Senator, but I doubt today’s far-left would tolerate his cooperation. They would probably have shot down his 1993 FMLA bill for not getting 100% of what they want. I also doubt he’d get a Republican to co-sponsor any of his major bills today- they’d primary that Senator out, with millions of dollars of help.

This is why we can’t have nice things anymore.

Immigration, Democrats, and Elections

There was no one in my childhood years I felt closer to than my great-grandmother. Julia Kravchak died when I was nine years old, but she left a huge impression on me. One of the values her life instilled in me was my support of immigrants in our nation. She came over in one of the last ships before the more exclusionary immigration laws of 1924 went into effect, a dark moment in our history, joining her husband who had come here for a chance to find work, and flee communism in Czechoslovakia. I thank God every day that they made that decision, and that America welcomed them. My current existence can be traced to them.

My political career has been influenced by these values. I’ve worked for candidates who largely have supported immigrant rights. A few years ago, I worked for a young woman in Iowa who came here as a war refugee from Bosnia. Getting to know her story, I’ve grown to admire it. The best of the United States is shown when we open our doors to refugees and those who need sanctuary in our nation. When we are a welcoming people, we are a great people.

There are limitations though to anything. Whether we’re talking about Ellis Island, or refugees, they come to the United States via a legal process. Much of the political debate around immigration in 2018 centers around people who did not. I think most fair people agree that we don’t want to go down Donald Trump’s road for immigration- deportation squads, walls, deporting veterans, and destroying families. I think most decent people agree that we want ICE and other federal authorities to follow laws, show compassion, and treat undocumented immigrants with humanity. Literally almost all of us support allowing the DREAMers to stay in America, they came here as children and never willingly violated our laws. There is broad agreement for us being a decent and humane country. There is not broad agreement for lawlessness and “anything goes” enforcement though.

The United States is still a nation, and nations have borders and laws. I support “sanctuary city” laws personally, only because I think it helps law enforcement do their job, but I’m conflicted there. If someone is arrested, be it for murder, rape, drunken driving, gang activity, theft, or any other felony or serious misdemeanor, I am for that person being thrown out of the United States. I also think you have to enforce penalties and sanctions against employers who knowingly are employing undocumented immigrants “off the books.” For one, it’s exploitation of them as workers. Secondly, it’s unfair to everyone in the legal employment market, who’s wages are often undercut by workers who are forced into low wages because of their immigration status. Immigration should not endanger a community or hurt legal workers. We have to enforce our laws.

Most decent and honest people in this country can see the nuances and understand the challenges we face. We don’t want an immigration policy based on the racist concept of “white identity,” but one based on fairness, decency, and law. Republicans have done a good job though at making Democrats appear to be extremists, a political party willing to support lawless behavior and crisis to win an election. It is not true, but as long as the perception holds, it will hinder Democratic chances at victory. Make no mistake, Republicans will use every caravan from Central America, and any bad people on it, to scare their base into showing up in 2018. It is unfair and unjust, but it is reality.

Democrats need to stand up and be clear, beyond just supporting DACA. Democrats need to be humane, fair, and reasonable on immigration, arguing for a solution to the problem, but also supporting our workers and keeping our communities safe. Don’t support bad actors, but call out the absurdity of the American right’s position on immigration. If we do that, I believe most Americans will hear us, elect us, and let us comprehensively solve the problem. If we let ourselves become extremists in the other direction though, we will probably lose.

No, Don’t Boo Gabe Kapler

Yes, I get it- Phillies fans are unhappy with the team’s start. You’re mad at Gabe Kapler- why does he make so many moves? You’re still mad that he pulled Aaron Nola opening day. You’re confused why the team carried so many relievers North.

Let me remind you of something- the team lost one game where they were shut out, and one game where they surrendered 15 runs. I’ve got bad news for you- that’s the players, not the manager. You can’t manage your way through all of your pitchers being bad at once, or your line-up putting up three hits against Matt Harvey, maybe the worst starting pitcher in the league last year. Bad players make any manager look bad.

I’m not arguing that Kapler did a great job managing. I’m not arguing losing a series to the garbage-lite Braves is okay. It’s not okay for your pitchers to get lit up by the Swansons, Tuckers, and Flaherty’s of the world. That’s not the point of this post at all.

The point is that today is the Phillies fifth game of 162. This team will be fine, or at least should be. The season is long. Kapler has not been proven brilliant or stupid, yet. He may be a dunce. Perhaps his active managerial style, playing match-ups, and using his whole roster will work out.

So save the booing on Thursday, Phillies fans. Remember how Doug Peterson was an idiot after not using Blount for any carries in the week two loss to the Chiefs? Me neither.

It Feels Good to Bust Assumptions

I had a really nice time on Tuesday night. After a full day of work events, I took a ride up to Citi Field for my annual Phillies-New York trip I do with my buddy Mike (he’s a Mets fan who then does one to Philly. After the game, I went to a diner with a different friend, and hung out until just after midnight in Queens.

Everything was great until I got to the Lincoln Tunnel on the West Side Highway. I could have avoided the check point the NYPD had set up for the tunnel, but why do that? I had a singular (one) Bronx brewing company beer in the second inning, around 7:30 pm, and it was now 1 am. I was certainly legally, if not .00 sober. So I pulled up, rolled down the window, and greeted the officer with a hello. His response? “How much have you had to drink tonight?” So, while the question seemed aggressive, I told him. He asked for my license, and I gave him it. He walked over to the other officers there. They talked for a minute. Then a different officer came over and told me to get out of the car and follow him.

Is this for real?

He lead me to the back of the car, and asked me again what I drank. I told him, again. He then asked me if I “really want to stick to that story, because I’m about to find out.” I gave the only response I could- yeah. He then asked me to take a deep breath and blow into the breathalyzer.

The result? .01. Yes, .01. He said have a nice night and walked away.

I’m still quite a bit annoyed today, for a couple of reasons. One? I think the NYPD is the best police force in the world, I don’t like thinking ill of them. Two? I don’t drink and drive. I keep my bar tabs to $10 or less when I’m driving, in part because I can’t afford a DUI- and I don’t want to kill anybody. The fact that these guys just took a look at me leaving their city and decided I was probably a drunk was insulting. I’m cool with a checkpoint, that’s their job. I’m cool with being questioned, that’s also their job. There was zero reason for them, as they were taking down their checkpoint, to just assume I was driving drunk, ultimately without cause.

But hey- at least they were wrong.

There’s Nothing to Learn from Roseanne Herself, but Plenty to Learn from her Show

Roseanne is a wacko. I don’t say that lightly. Watching her show in my childhood with my mother was something I enjoyed. Her show was funny. More importantly, the show represented something I identified with- blue collar American life. Hence, I call Roseanne Barr a wacko very reluctantly.

Let’s not mince words though, Roseanne the actual person has become something terrible. I find it disappointing, but not some mortal sin that she supported Donald Trump in 2016. You have to grant people some slack for their politics, even when they involve supporting ignorance. What I can’t grant her is any slack for supporting conspiracy theories. Her dabbling in supporting the insane online conspiracy theory of “#PizzaGate” is just a bridge too far for me. The crazy theory is that a DC area pizza shop was the host of a child sex ring run by the likes of Hillary Clinton and John Podesta. There is absolutely zero evidence of this theory. It was created by an anonymous troll. The conspiracy theory caused a crazed gunman to go to Comet Ping Pong Pizza in Washington, DC, nearly causing a violent incident, and eventually landing him in jail. It’s one thing to vote for an ignorant bigot. It’s a next step into the wilderness to take part in conspiracies that nearly caused violence.

For as easy as it is to dismiss Roseanne Barr the person, it is less easy to dismiss the television character and show. The character Roseanne is one of the 62 million Trump voters, and actually depicts the part very well. She bought into his messaging. She believes supportive news about Trump is real news. She cites economic anxiety as a reason for her vote. The part is played well. How well? The ratings are super high. They’re particularly strong in markets like Pittsburgh, the types of “flyover country” markets that made Trump President.

Deconstructing the value of Roseanne Barr herself is fairly irrelevant. I don’t believe her or her show will matter in the 2018 Election. The disconnect those of us on the left currently feel towards the people watching her show will matter. The heated disagreement in this country, depicted in the rhetoric of the show, will matter. The inability of Democrats to speak to those “heartland” media markets could stop an otherwise “blue wave” from happening. That’s the story to take away from here.