Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Trump's Great Wall

Why is President Trump demanding congress approve funding a border wall which he promised Mexico would pay for?

This question, one would think, is top of mind for what's left of Trump's supporters after his latest gaffe-fest, this one at Tuesday's campaign rally in Phoenix.

I'm going to focus on this question because, if you're making a case to support the President, it's a vital one. Also, there's an overbundance from Trump's Tuesday speech to adequately address here.

There was his declaration that he went to better schools than people who identify as elites. He has a nicer apartment than them too and, oh by the way, he also sometimes lives in the White House.

As always, thanks to The Onion for nailing it. 
There was the fact that on a day when "some of the remains" of ten missing U.S. sailors were found after Monday's collision between a U.S. warship and an oil tanker near Singapore, the President didn't mention the tragedy once.

There was his total reimagining of his response following the maelstrom in Charlottesville, in which a white supremacist mowed through a crowd of protesters in his car, leaving one woman dead.

Then, not least of all, there was the tone-deaf absurdity of holding a campaign rally at a time when one might think a President would seek to unify a fractured nation.

None of the above facts seems to matter to the people who still support Trump.

But, building the wall – and getting Mexico to pay for it – matters.

It mattered throughout Trump's campaign when the two promises converged to form a central pillar of Trump's platform and, based on Tuesday night's campaign stop (really, let's call it what it was), it matters now.

"If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall” Trump proclaimed in Phoenix. “The American people voted for immigration control. We’re going to get that wall."

Indeed, Trump voters wanted the wall. It was a rallying point, a physical manifestation of immigration concerns propped up by the act of handing the bill to Mexico – a taut middle finger to the country many Trump voters aim their blame for illegal immigration.

After all, any xenophobic, ethnocentrist can build a wall with taxpayer dollars. But getting Mexico to foot the bill? Now that's making them really "pay" and that's just the kind of anger Trump's tapping.

Indeed, Mexico paying for the wall is/was as important as the wall itself.

Trump knew it and that's why, at campaign event after campaign event, he claimed, "We're going to build a beautiful wall and Mexico's going to pay for it!" Trump made his two-part promise and people chanted, "Build the wall! Build the wall!"

Now, here we are six months into his presidency and to little surprise, Mexico is not paying for the wall. As leaked transcripts of conversations between he and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto revealed, Trump seemingly wanted the issue to go away just days after taking office.

Trump proffered the following solution to Peña Nieto and asked the Mexican President to play along: "I do not bring up the wall but when the press brings up the wall, I will say, 'let us see how it is going – let us see how it is working out with Mexico.' Because from an economic issue, it is the least important thing we were talking about, but psychologically, it means something, so let us just say “we will work it out.”

Naturally, Trump's tune changed last night in front of an audience comprised mostly of adoring supporters. The crowd wanted red meat and the President obliged with what little he has left to toss out. But today, questions remain for those trying to take the President at his word: why does Trump need congressional funding for a wall that's being paid for in pesos?

Did the President abandon the plan to have Mexico pay for the wall? When did he make this decision? Is he perhaps going to use U.S. taxpayer money and then send them a bill? Does he intend to make them pay for it by other means, perhaps hammered out in a new trade deal?

If you're a Trump supporter, the answer to these questions should lead you to another: what's left to support?

This is a Republican President with majorities in both branches of congress who has not even one modest legislative accomplishment and who has alienated Republicans throughout congress, including the Senate Majority Leader. 

He is a self-proclaimed deal maker who has failed to make a single deal.

He's never happier than when he's in front of a crowd. 
How does this President presume to ever build consensus to fund a wall when he can't build one to repeal Obamacare, legislation that his party has rabidly opposed since its inception seven years ago.

Critics of Trump, a population which now includes anyone objectively gauging his performance, know full well there will be no wall. This group has long since abandoned the application of anything approaching a realistic expectation of the President.

Supporters of Trump on the other hand have to wonder, what can he accomplish outside of making promises that he either abandons or just plain fail, often spectacularly? 

With apologies to Pink Floyd, Trump's building a wall alright, it's just not along the border — there's a brick for every lie, every failed promise, every sad trip to the trough to desperately lap up what's left of his support.

The wall is going up and he's on the other side, a dog licking his bowl clean.

Friday, August 18, 2017

A Thought on Barcelona

Upon graduating college I didn't have a job but, because I've led an extraordinarily fortunate life, I did have two parents generous enough to send me to Europe for a few months.

I had an unpaid internship at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Outside of that, my responsibilities were nil. Once my internship was complete, I just toured around Europe on the cheap.

Sagrada Família in Barcelona. One of just
a few times I strayed from Las Ramblas.
I stayed in hostels, traveled by train and, when possible, hopped on the cheapest airline I could find. One such flight took me to Barcelona. I found a clean place to stay in the heart of downtown just off Las Ramblas, the spot where 14 innocent people were murdered in cold blood yesterday.

Las Ramblas is a picturesque pedestrian mall that stretches almost a mile from the Plaça de Catalunya square in the city center, south to an old Mediterranean port. It's lined with tall, leafy trees, shops, restaurants and teeming with street performers, tourists and locals. Centuries-old architecture abounds.

It's where I had paella for the first time or, more accurately, the first 45 times. It's where I drank cheap Spanish beer and watched the world wander by.

This boulevard and the blocks surrounding it are Barcelona's heart and a cultural epicenter. There are cathedrals, concert halls, a world-class aquarium and more historical sites than a short-term visitor could hope to see, never mind actually sit and absorb their importance.

As for me, I didn't see the aquarium, the old opera house, the history museum or the Picasso Museum of Barcelona. I never really got past Las Ramblas and, for the time I was there, I never wanted to.

From the moment I first stepped foot on it, I was smitten.

The Spanish and Catalan shop owners, the waiters, the bartenders and, really, all the locals, were welcoming and friendly. They bore no similarities to the cold shouldered, disaffected types that tend to inhabit world-class cities.

Along Las Ramblas there were painters, sculptors, hundreds of street performers and hundreds upon hundreds of travelers like me, just happy to be in a place that was so, well, happy.

As my time in Europe was running out, I could have hopped a train for another European city on my bucket list, instead I stayed at my shabby little room off Las Ramblas. My visit was supposed to be for just three nights, a pit stop to somewhere else. Instead I was there a day shy of three weeks.

For the duration of my visit, I was never scared. This was post 9/11 but pre-ISIS. As I spoke with my wife this morning about yesterday's events, she remarked that the goal of these attackers is to incite fear that resonates beyond the cold, instant brutality of taking innocent lives.

These cowards are also trying to mark a piece of land as their own. They're telling the people of Spain and the world that there's one less place you can feel safe.

"I am not afraid." Barcelona rallies on Las Ramblas
 the day after the attacks.
They wanted us to be scared when they hit New York City, San Bernadino and Boston. They wanted us to be scared when they gunned down innocents in Paris on two occasions in 2015 and when they drove a cargo truck through crowds in Nice and when they stormed a hotel in Mumbai and bombed buses in London.

Their methods may vary but, at their heart, these cowards share the same weak, sad, conviction that their beliefs elevate them above the innocent people they target. Their lives are worth more than ours and, because of that, they get to make our world smaller, one beautiful city at a time.

Thankfully, it's not working. Paris is still Paris. London is still London and the lights are still on in New York, Mumbai and Boston. And, less than 24 hours after the attack, the people of Barcelona showed up in the thousands on Las Ramblas to remind the world just who they are, what they stand for and what their beautiful city means to them.

My wife and I don't travel as much as we'd like but we managed to take a short trip to Europe last fall and, of course, we worried before we left. But we went and I'm so very glad that we did. Staying home might make us feel safe but what good is safety when making your world smaller is the tradeoff?

When you get a chance to go somewhere, please go. Don't listen to the fear that the cowards want to instill; listen to the voice they're trying to silence within you.

Go to New York, or Boston, or Europe and, of course, go to Barcelona and when you get there, go to Las Ramblas.

But book a room, I'm betting you won't want to leave.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

President Pence Won't Save Us

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump courted the vote of white supremacists.

David Duke, one of the euphemistically labeled "alt-right's" most prominent figures and former Ku Klux Klan figurehead, confirmed as much Saturday in Charlottesville, VA.

Artwork supplied by the office of the Vice President.
Newsweek quoted Duke saying the rally was a “turning point” to “take our country back” and “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That's what we believed in, that's why we voted for Donald Trump.”

But the alt-right also elected Vice President Mike Pence and, as Trump's radioactivity intensifies and his supporters continue to abandon him, it's shining an increasingly bright light on the veep.

The vast majority of experts and historians questioned say there's little likelihood of impeachment or the use of other means to remove Trump, like the 25th Amendment of the Constitution.

But Trump seems set on testing their assertions. As he does, we must consider the man who'd inherit his mantle.

Prior to becoming Vice President, Pence was a congressman and, later, Governor of Indiana. He self-describes as a Christian, conservative, Republican, "in that order."

He's also a man who voted for the war in Iraq, has a proven track record of opposing gay rights and supported public funding of "conversion therapy" sometimes referred to as "pray the gay away."

In his current role he's been forced to become a man who consistently suspends his convictions in order to align with and defend his president.

And align Pence has.

On nearly every major blunder of Trump's administration, Pence has been an ardent and vociferous defender and one who has eagerly adopted Trump's tactic of dismissing criticism as "fake news."

The role of loyal soldier is admirable and Pence's position is difficult: forced to defend this President's consistently indefensible behavior while also attempting to float above Trump and his ceaseless parade of missteps.

But, while Pence's tolerance for Trump might be viewed as loyalty, the fact is, the Vice President has proven incapable of defending Trump without committing many of his sins.

See Pence's comments on Charlottesville: he could have simply released a statement condemning the acts, but instead he deflected responsibility and blamed the media for its criticism of Trump.
The Vice President's defense of the President's Charlottesville response.
Click to read. 

He then proceeded to totally mischaracterized Trump's remarks and assign them a sentiment the President never conveyed. (Trump later left egg on Pence's face by reversing course and doubling down with his "fine people on both sides" comments.)

Put plainly, what Trump says is not what Pence defends.

This is a pattern of behavior with Pence. As a candidate and now as Vice President he's made a habit of fudging the President's comments, defending the newly invented dialogue and then admonishing those who criticize the President's actual remarks.

When Michelle Obama characterized Trump's comments on the Access Hollywood tape — wherein Trump said he kissed women whenever he pleased and that he could do anything he wanted, including grabbing females by the vagina – as a "a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior," Pence took aim.

“I don’t understand the basis of her claim,” he said. “What he’s (Trump) made it clear is that was talk, regrettable talk on his part, but that there were no actions, and that he’s categorically denied these latest unsubstantiated allegations.”

The tactic here is clear: take another's criticism, mischaracterize the fundamental nature of what they're criticizing, then return fire by labeling them unsubstantiated.

This question is likely to be answered in 2020. 
That's one Trump/Pence approach.

Another favorite is just spouting off falsehoods, such as the time he told the National Governors' Association that Trump's healthcare plan would provide coverage for more Americans.

By now, of course, you're well aware that a Congressional Budget Office evaluation of the Senate health care bill Pence was referencing revealed 22 million Americans would lose coverage.

Pence's pattern of dismissing, re imagining and repackaging reality, mirrors that of his boss. But, as Trump shores up the racist, hate-mongering base that helped elect them both, it's surprising that Pence isn't wise enough to see the very real implications to his own future.

For, despite his suspiciously vocal protestations, the wheels are in motion for a Pence 2020 run. In fact, Pence is the first VP in history to form a fundraising committee independent of the president this early in his boss' first term.

In addition to his PAC, Pence has hired an established GOP fundraiser, and is reportedly "nurturing his relationship with the donor base." 

Not even the sweet, sweet protestations of Kellyanne
can convince us of this alternative fact.
What he hasn't done and what he'll have to defy every available shred of logic to accomplish, is to separate himself from Trump after he's aligned himself so tightly with the president.

That feat will be doubly difficult once Trump identifies him as a threat and seeks to eviscerate him just as he's done with countless others including Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, Reince Priebus etc. etc. etc

Once Trump labels him "Turncoat Mike" or "Traitor Pence" confirmation of Pence's many gross political miscalculations will be laid bare.

True to his recent form, Pence dismissed reports of his Presidential ambitions by attacking the media, calling them "disgraceful and offensive" to him and, laughably, his family.

Successfully navigating the wake produced by Trump is a difficult political dance but it's decidedly easier than administering the executive branch of the U.S. federal government. Given Pence's unmitigated failure to accomplish the former, it strains credulity that he could achieve the latter.