Fast Forward. Please?

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Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On
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I have to assume that I’m not the only one who wakes up every morning worried that something crazy happened overnight, or will happen during the day, right?

It used to be that nothing happened in August.  People were on vacation, there was no 24 hour news cycle, and you tried to stay cool, while dreading the approach of Labor Day.

Think about all the stuff that has happened this month (and I’m not talking about the Mets trading most of their pending free agents).  At the beginning of the month, we learned that our president admitted to the Mexican president that the whole “Mexico is going to pay for the wall” was a load of crap, but would President Nieto, pretty, please, keep that on the downlow?

The next day, we learned that Special Counsel Mueller had empaneled a new grand jury to advance his investigation of the administration and campaign.

A few days later, the president threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”  This apparent  warning to use nuclear weapons was, in a particularly classy move, made in the few days between the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Of course, North Korea backed off on its “threat” to shoot missiles at Guam, and it is likely that the egotist-in-chief will take this as evidence that waving nukes around worked, when it seems clear to pretty much anyone with a brain that all Kim Jong Un wants is to stay in power, so that there really wasn’t any chance that he would bait our unstable leader into doing anything to topple him.  This does not bode well for the next time our country is confronted while the current tiny hands hold the nuclear code.

The next day, the FBI raided the home of the president’s former campaign manager, and an enormous, yellow-haired chicken balloon was set up in a park across from the White House.  Of course, at the time, the primary resident of the house was at the golf resort that he inexplicably still gets revenue from.

But most of that was prologue.  If you are a reader of this blog, you know that I have a big problem with memorials to Confederate figures and the flying of the Confederate battle flag.  So, when I heard that Charlottesville was going to take down its statue of Robert E. Lee, I was pleased.  But when I discovered that this became an excuse for a bunch of neo-Nazis and white supremacists to descend on the city to chant anti-Semitic and other repulsive slogans, I like most people, was disgusted.  And when one of the assholes drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters,  killing one, I was horrified. (I was happy, though, that over the next few days, a few places quickly and quietly either took down or covered their Confederate statues).

It was an event that called for leadership.  For someone to condemn the evil and exalt the good.  To bring the fracturing country together.  Instead, we got a man who blamed the violence on “many sides,” and who failed initially to do what is probably the single easiest thing for an American politician to do–condemn Nazis and white supremacists.  Someone with a brain realized that this was a mistake, and the next day, the White House (not the resident, but the building, apparently) released a more pointed, less equivocal statement.  The statement also said that the president “called for national unity and bringing all Americans together,” but failed to identify a single thing that he has done to meet that call.  The next day, the man himself, looking like a hostage in a video with a gun to his head, read a measured statement, with zero enthusiasm.  Later that day, in an apparent attempt to create “national unity and bringing all Americans together,” he retweeted an incendiary message from a discredited alt-right source, about violence in Chicago (code for–“why are black people so violent?”).

The very next morning, mister unity and reconciliation tweeted a cartoon of a train labeled “Trump” plowing into a person whose face is covered by a CNN logo.  He compounded this by making another statement which returned to the concept that the violence in Charlottesville should be blamed “on both sides,” while his new Chief of Staff watched in dismay.  Over the next few days, a series of CEOs and business people resigned in disgust from various councils, leading to their disbanding.  Also, the members of an arts and humanities panel also resigned, embedding the word “RESIST” as an acrostic in their resignation letter.

Before we could take a breath from this series of ham-handed and abhorrent behavior from our so-called leader, a van plowed into a crowd in the busiest part of Barcelona.  While in the abstract, this is terrible–people were killed and more were injured, it was a bit personal, because my daughter lives in that amazing city.  Luckily, she, her husband and his family, and her friends were all fine, but I know that she was scared.  I couldn’t help but spend the next few days following local news outlets and twitter feeds as the police pieced together the plot and captured and killed the terrorists (not counting the ones they think were killed when their bomb factory exploded).  Although they say they are still looking for more people who might have been involved.  In another brilliant statement, our president responded by recycling a false anti-Muslim story about General Pershing.  While the Catalonian police were dealing with the Barcelona attack, there was another, smaller, one in Finland.

Meanwhile, one nominee for “Worst Member of the Administration,” Steve Bannon, either quit or was fired, and immediately announced, with mustache-twirling glee, that he had his “hands back on my weapons,” which, it appears, Bannon intends to train on his enemies remaining behind.  Which could be fun to watch, although Bannon’s enemies are usually described as “globalists,” often considered a code word for “Jews.”  And while Bannon has denied being an anti-Semite (and it is remarkable that he even has to deny this in 2017), it is interesting that three of the most prominent “globalists” remaining in the administration, Jared Kushner, Steve Mnuchin and Gary Cohn (plus, Ivanka Trump), who Bannon has feuded with, just happen to be Jewish.

That same Friday, Senator Bob Corker, a member of the president’s party, was quoted as saying, “The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”

Monday, though, brought the United States a solar eclipse, and somehow the darkening of sunlight in midday did more to bring our country together than any political leader.  It was amazing seeing how people from all over the country–all over the world–came together to watch the awe-inspiring event, without any name-calling or divisiveness.  Although it was amusing to see, despite the constant hectoring from the press about not looking at the sun directly, there was one idiot who just had to look.  I guess he thought that the warnings were “fake news” and the science was just a Chinese hoax, like global warming.

That night, by all accounts, the president gave a mostly not-crazy speech about Afghanistan (although he did insist on calling our opponents “losers.”)  There were a few things remarkable about that speech, other than its relative sanity.  First, it was essentially a flip-flop from his campaign rhetoric.  I have no problem with that–maybe it showed some growth–although I wonder if his supporters noticed it was another flip flop from what they thought they were getting.  Second, it utterly lacked any specifics. And third, as can be seen in this video from The Daily Show, it is in many ways indistinguishable from the Obama administration policy.  Also on Monday, a second Navy ship collided at sea, resulting in the death of American sailors.  Remarkably, the destroyer was named for the father and grandfather of Senator McCain, who his party’s president regularly belittles and demeans, despite the fact that McCain has done more for this country than the president has, and will ever, do–and I disagree with Senator McCain on many, many issues.

Tuesday morning’s New York Times led with an article about the apparent feud between the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, another member of his party, who is also repellent.  McConnell, according to the article, “has privately expressed uncertainty that Mr. Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.”  Later that day, the press reported on the remarkably condescending and entitled response Mnuchin’s wife, Louise Linton, gave to a woman who posted a snarky comment on her Instagram feed.  Linton mocked the commenter and boasted about her own wealth and expensive clothing and shoes.  In another “you can’t make this up” moment, Linton, an actress of sorts (and apparently a writer with no understanding of the difference between fact and fiction), once actually played a character on CSI:NY who dressed as Marie Antoinette.  An ethics in government group is seeking records to determine whether Mnuchin and Marie Antoinette used a government plane to watch the eclipse.

Tuesday night, the president returned to campaign mode in Arizona, despite the fact that the 2020 election was 1,169 days away.  In that speech, the alleged seeker of “national unity and bringing all Americans together,” railed against the media, gave an incomplete and misleading reading of his Charlottesville statements while continuing to claim some sort of equivalency for the violence there, lied constantly, attacked the two Senators from that state who are both members of his party, made incomprehensible statements about “clean coal,” failed to acknowledge the dead sailors on the Navy destroyer (while referencing himself almost 250 times), threatened to shut down the government if he doesn’t get funding for the stupid wall that he promised would be paid for by Mexico, lamented the firing by CNN of a man who tweeted a Nazi slogan, and made veiled references to issuing a pardon to Joseph Arpaio, who abused his office as Sheriff and was found guilty of criminal contempt of court after he flouted an order to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants.  Pardoning Arpaio is like endorsing racism.  And speaking of racism, the president of the United Stated accused the media of somehow “trying to take away our history and our heritage,” clearly a reference to the Confederate monuments, indicating that he endorses the history and heritage of slavery and those who sought to break up the country he now “leads.”

On Wednesday, the president gave a scripted speech, in which he stayed away from what he had said a few hours earlier, and again called for unity and reconciliation, unconvincingly.  In another shocking interview that day, James Clapper, a retired Air Force General and long time intelligence professional, appointed to high level jobs by presidents of both parties, stated after seeing the Arizona rally, “I really question his ability to be — his fitness to be — in this office, and I also am beginning to wonder about his motivation for it.” Clapper, who admittedly has had some issues, also stated: “In a fit of pique he decides to do something about Kim Jong Un, there’s actually very little to stop him.  The whole system is built to ensure rapid response if necessary. So there’s very little in the way of controls over exercising a nuclear option, which is pretty damn scary.”  Also, a State Department science envoy (who was an Obama appointee), also resigned, continuing the acrostic tradition, by hiding the word “IMPEACH” in his letter.

Thursday morning dawned with the news that the administration was committed to its leader’s hastily tweeted plan to exclude transgender Americans the right to serve in the military.  The Commander-in-Chief, of course, received five deferments from service during the Vietnam War, four for college, and one for bad feet.  As someone who avoided service (and to be fair, at that time, if I had been eligible for the draft, I would have tried to avoid it), he must not think that it is a big deal if others are prevented from serving the country.  Interestingly, in his Afghanistan speech, he read the words that someone else wrote:

The soldier understands what we as a nation too often forget, that a wound inflicted upon a single member of our community is a wound inflicted upon us all. When one part of America hurts, we all hurt. And when one citizen suffers an injustice, we all suffer together. Loyalty to our nation demands loyalty to one another. Love for America requires love for all of its people.

That’s a beautiful sentiment, but based on his insistence on banning transgender Americans from the military, he didn’t mean a single word.  The prior night, a man ran a car into a crowd of people protesting the shooting of a transgender woman by police in St. Louis.  Whether that person did so feeling emboldened by the president’s position that transgender persons are entitled to lesser rights than others, is unclear.  The president also unleashed a morning tweetstorm, attacking his party’s Congressional leaders, the media, the Democrats and General Clapper.  He also retweeted a childish meme of him “eclipsing” President Obama.  Not only did he fail to realize that in that scenario, he was the dark, lifeless moon whose “eclipse” would last mere minutes and President Obama the hot, blazing, life-giving sun, he retweeted it from a guy who days earlier tweeted an anti-Semitic comment.

It is now Friday morning, and so far, I haven’t seen anything too crazy yet.  That could change, of course, but at some point, I have to hit “publish.”

Trying to find a song appropriate to this rant was hard.  Ultimately, though, I decided to go with the Marvin Gaye classic, “What’s Going On,” for a few reasons beyond the fact that it is a great song.  First, the title expresses my own exasperation–I wish I understood what is going on.  Second, the song was written in response to police brutality and the Vietnam War, which sadly seems to still be relevant today.  To be fair, I was pleased to see that the police in Charlottesville were not involved in any of the violence (although maybe they could have done more to prevent it), and the police in Barcelona seem to have done a good job in capturing or killing those responsible for the attack, but you don’t have to spend too much time reading the news over the past few years to see that we still have issues with police conduct.  And our current wars have lasted much longer than Vietnam.  Third, and maybe most importantly, “What’s Going On” is really a plea for love, understanding and unity.  That’s what we need today–not a deranged egotist paying lip service to those values one day, and taking actions the next to destroy them.

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