All classified documents are not the same!
After months of outrage, surprise, chagrin, despair, or glee (depending on whose ox is being gored), it's time to settle down, take a deep breath and add up what we've learned from the Great Classified Documents Scandal.
First lesson. It's obvious that there are too many government documents stamped "Classified," a majority of which are undeservedly so. Several members of recent administrations have told me that most of the so-stamped documents that crossed their desks contained nothing they hadn't already read in the Washington Post that morning. For the most part, their accidental or purposeful release might prove embarrassing, but would have no impact on national security.
Second lesson. It's equally obvious that no formal process exists for controlling the flow of paper during a presidential transition to prevent classified documents from either accidentally or on purpose ending up in boxes of papers being shipped from the White House to the home or office of a now-former president and vice president. Technically, the National Archives is in charge. But no one from the Archives is on the job when occupants of the White House flee the coop. It's up to the president, vice president and their staff to make sure no confidential documents end up in the moving van.
Given such an unorganized process, it's no surprise that some classified documents would end up not in the National Archives, where, by law, they belong. But that's the fork in the road. That's where things change. That's where it's important to make distinctions, which so many in the media have failed to do.
Third lesson. There's a big difference - no, a HUGE difference - between knowingly stealing hundreds of classified documents and unknowingly discovering a handful of them in your closet. And there's no doubt about it: Joe Biden and Mike Pence are on one side of that equation, and Donald Trump is on the other.
Which, I hasten to add, is not meant to give Biden a free pass. There's no excuse for having discovered classified documents in his Washington office last November but not revealing it until January. No excuse for not waiting a couple of months before inviting a search of his Wilmington home. And no excuse for insisting this is no big deal. The White House could not have bungled their handling of this issue worse than they did.
But the truth remains: Other than the fact that classified documents are involved, there's no comparison between the case of Donald Trump and what happened with Joe Biden and Mike Pence. Last September, trying to downplay the importance of Donald Trump's theft of classified documents, Trump attorney Jim Trusty told a federal judge that the whole controversy amounted to nothing more than failing to return an "overdue library book."
As is usually the case with Trump attorneys, he's got it backward. What matters is not learning you have an "overdue library book," but what you do about it. Biden and Pence are like the guy who forgot about checking out the book, discovered it a year or so later, and immediately returned it to the library, apologized and paid the fee. Trump's the guy who stole the book from the library in the first place and then refused to return it when the library asked for it back.
It's the same difference, at every level, with those classified documents. Biden and Pence ended up with a relatively small number of documents which, in the rush of leaving the White House, ended up in a pile of other stuff. Trump cherry-picked hundreds of documents he wanted to keep as his own and personally directed that they be shipped to Mar-a-Lago. They ended up with classified material by accident; he stole them.
Once discovered, Biden and Pence immediately notified the National Archives, returned the documents, and invited further searches of their property. Trump never informed the National Archives. And, once contacted by the Archives, refused to return the documents for an entire year - until the FBI, at the request of the Archives, conducted its search of Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8, 2022.
The difference could not be more clear: Biden and Pence committed an error; Trump committed a crime. And both cases should be handled accordingly. Biden and Pence should get the slap on the wrist they deserve. Donald Trump should face criminal charges.
Meanwhile, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. FBI agents just completed their search of Mount Vernon and Monticello. No classified documents were found.
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Kevin McCarthy has no soul. He believes in nothing and stands for nothing - except, no matter what it takes, the greater glory of Kevin McCarthy.
To that end, McCarthy embraced Marjorie Taylor Greene for Congress, even though she proposed the assassination of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He was one of 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 election on January 6, even after an armed mob of Trump supporters sent him running for his life. After spending one minute blaming Donald Trump for the insurrection, he quickly changed his tune, voted against impeaching Trump, and rushed to Mar-a-Lago to kiss an especially large part of Trump's anatomy.
Yet nothing reveals McCarthy's lack of moral compass more than his embrace of serial liar George Santos, or whatever his name is. For the last three months, reporters have been digging hard to find anything Santos says is true. So far, they've found nothing: not his name, heritage, family, religion, sexuality, education, career, wealth, home address - or, most likely, what he had for lunch.
Among many whoppers, Santos said he graduated from Baruch College, where he played on the varsity volleyball team. (He did neither.) He claimed to have worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. (He did not.) He boasts of owning 13 properties. (He does not).
Santos also lied about his family. He said his family name was Zabrovsky. (It's not). He said his mother immigrated from Belgium. (She did not.) He said she was in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11 (She was actually in Brazil on that day) and died a few years later. (She died in 2016.) He said his grandparents were Ukrainian Jews who survived the Holocaust. (They were not. They were born in Brazil.) He claimed that his family was Jewish, but later said he only meant they were "Jew-ish."
That's just for starters. In Brazil, Santos now faces renewed criminal charges of fraud for allegedly using a stolen checkbook in 2008. He's under federal and state investigation for financial irregularities, including loaning more money to his campaign than he made on his job or had in his bank account. And this week, in the how-low-can-you-go category, he was accused of stealing $3,000 he'd fraudulently raised for life-saving surgery for a poor veteran's service dog. Without surgery, the dog died.
In any other profession - attorney, doctor, CEO, chef, journalist - anybody who told such a string of lies would be summarily tossed out of their job. Were any Democrat so guilty, Republicans would be holding impeachment hearings. But what has happened to George Santos? Nothing! Despite his pack of lies, he was sworn in as a Member of Congress and awarded seats on the House Small Business and Science, Space and Technology Committees.
McCarthy claims his hands are tied. "I try to stick by the Constitution," he piously told reporters on January 11. The voters elected him to serve, he insisted, so it's up to the voters to make another decision two years from now. In the meantime, there's nothing he can do about it.
And that's as big a lie as any lie George Santos has told so far. There are at least three things Congress could do to hold Santos responsible. At the very least, they could block him from sitting on any committees. Democrats did that to Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar in 2021. And Republicans stripped one of their own, Iowa's Steve King, from all committees in 2019.
The Constitution gives Congress a second option: Censure. It requires only a majority vote, and forces a Member to stand in the well of the House while the Speaker reads the bill of charges against him. It's been used 24 times since 1832, most recently in 2021, when the House censured Paul Gosar for tweeting an animated video in which he killed Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Third option? What Congress should do - and would do under a Speaker with any moral compass: Expel George Santos from the House. This is the ultimate punishment, requiring a two-thirds vote of the House. It's only been used 20 times. It's reserved for those who've proved themselves utterly unworthy of serving in Congress.
If anybody fits that bill, it's George Santos. But this Congress will do nothing about Santos - only because Kevin McCarthy is desperately afraid of losing just one Republican vote. What Santos has done is disgusting. Even more disgusting is that he has the full faith and support of the Speaker of the House.
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Let C-SPAN out of its cage!
There were a lot of losers in last week's GOP clown show. Hardliners in the Republican caucus lost because they failed in their goal of defeating Kevin McCarthy. Moderates lost because McCarthy gave so much away in appeasing his extremist opponents. And McCarthy himself lost, even though he won, because he had to surrender so much power in order to get the job.
When the madness finally ended, there was only one clear winner: C-SPAN. Thanks to C-SPAN, we were able to watch every agonizing minute of the speakership battle: probably the greatest reality show ever seen on national television. And all because of a loophole in House rules big enough to drive a network TV truck through.
Under normal operating procedures, we see only whatever part of House procedures the Speaker wants us to see: video provided to C-SPAN by government-controlled cameras fixed on the Speaker's podium. Only during special events, like the State of the Union, are more cameras allowed in the chamber, free to roam and capture reactions or whatever else is going on.
And that's what happened last week. It was officially a special event - the election of a new Speaker of the House. In fact, for five days, because the balloting dragged on for so long, there was no Speaker at all. All rules were off. C-SPAN was let out of its cage. C-SPAN went wild.
There's an old saying, attributed to Otto von Bismarck, that to retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch either being made." To which I can only say: Baloney! Last week, with C-SPAN unchained, we watched the law-making process up close - and the results were delicious! What could have been five days of agonizingly boring vote-counting turned out to be pure entertainment, complete with memorable television moments.
On the Republican side of the House we saw: Kevin McCarthy finally losing patience and confronting hold-out Matt Gaetz; Marjorie Taylor Greene begging anyone to take her cellphone and talk to Donald Trump; Mike Rogers lunging at Matt Gaetz, only to be restrained by colleague Richard Hudson. If only there had been microphones to capture their conversations! Meanwhile, on the sidelines there was newly-elected serial liar George Santos, ostracized by fellow Republicans, sitting alone and picking his nose.
On the Democratic side, who can forget seeing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, engaged in conversation with Paul Gosar, who once posted an anime video in which he killed her; or California's Katie Porter, sitting quietly during the hours of debate absorbed in the perfect book - Mark Manson's 2016 bestseller "The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck" - which she picked up at a little free library box, while walking from her basement apartment to the Capitol.
Seriously, C-SPAN's open-ended coverage was worth the price of admission. It proved to be so popular, in fact, both inside and outside the Chamber, that when it was over, members of both parties said let's keep it that way. Asked if C-SPAN should be able to maintain roving cameras in the Chamber, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise told CNN: "I think that'd be great. I think it's great that the public's going to be able to see more about the way government works."
In a rare form of bipartisan agreement, conservative Freedom Caucus member Matt Gaetz and Progressive Caucus leader Mark Pocan both moved to change the rules by allowing C-SPAN cameras to broadcast floor proceedings of the House, like they did during the Speakership challenge. Gaetz introduced an amendment to House rules, while Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pocan, who called C-SPAN's coverage "worthy of an Oscar," tweeted his introduction of legislation requiring House cameras "to continue to capture the full Chamber & not just what the Speaker wants." "If this is truly the people's house," Pocan added in an interview, "Americans deserve to see the inside of that house."
C-SPAN itself, meanwhile, has made its own formal request to Speaker Kevin McCarthy to continue to operate independent cameras in the House Chamber. "We do not propose replacing the existing House Recording System or its output," C-SPAN's co-CEO Susan Swain wrote McCarthy. "Instead, we request to install a few additional cameras in the House chamber."
It's an offer Speaker McCarthy will be hard-pressed to deny. After all, as Pocan told me, "there's nothing wrong with more transparency and sunlight." After enjoying so much sunlight in the House last week, it would be a tragedy to go back to legislating in the dark. Free the C-SPAN cameras!
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Unlike most others, this column is not about something that happened. It's about something that's happening before our very eyes. A work in progress: the destruction of the House of Representatives as a serious, credible, legislative body - unraveling in the context of this week's embarrassing attempt by House Republicans to elect a new Speaker.
It didn't start with Kevin McCarthy. Republicans have been undermining the legitimacy of the House ever since Newt Gingrich. In turn, Gingrich, John Boehner, and Paul Ryan each gave more and more power to the most extreme elements of the Republican Caucus. Until Kevin McCarthy surrendered to them entirely. And now, no matter who ends up stuck with the job, it won't be the new Speaker running the House. The inmates have taken over the asylum.
It's been painful to watch. Nobody deserved to be so publicly humiliated on national television. After years of sacrificing whatever was left of his manhood for the job, after begging for support and promising anybody anything they wanted, after (as of this writing) struggling through multiple agonizing ballots in which Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries got more votes than he did, he still couldn't round up 218 votes to become Speaker of the House.
Nobody deserved to be so publicly humiliated. Nobody except Kevin McCarthy. Whatever public humiliation he suffered, he has nobody to blame but himself.
Republican or Democrat, friend or foe, the one thing anybody who's ever served with McCarthy in Sacramento or in Washington agrees on is that he believes in nothing but himself. As a former Republican House staffer told the New Yorker's Jonathan Blitzer, his main strength is his total malleability. In McCarthy, there are no core red lines, no core beliefs, no inviolable principles. Which, in the end, meant that nobody, not even the crazies he cultivated, could really trust him.
"Kevin basically is whatever you want him to be," former Congressman Bill Thomas, for whom McCarthy was a staffer for 15 years, told the New Yorker. "He lies. He'll change the lie if necessary. How can anyone trust his word?" As many members of the Republican Caucus learned, you can't.
Ironically those who ended up trusting McCarthy the least were those he courted the most: Members of the Freedom Caucus. The crazies like Matt Gaetz, Andy Biggs, Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Paul Gosar. No matter how many QAnon conspiracy theories they spread nor how many white supremacist rallies they attended, he never criticized or disciplined them. He promised them war on Hunter Biden. He offered them committee chairmanships. He agreed that any one of them could dethrone a Speaker.
But, rather than gain their trust, McCarthy only lost it. If he'd bend over so easily for us, they figured, why wouldn't he do the same thing for Mitch McConnell or Joe Biden? In the end, when he really needed them - except for Marjorie Taylor Greene (who knows what he promised her privately?) - all the hardline conservatives rewarded McCarthy by turning on him and eating him alive.
McCarthy made the same fatal mistake with Donald Trump. For four years, he was happy to sit on Trump's lap. He took pride in Trump's calling him "My Kevin." On January 6, he briefly broke with Trump, but by January 28 he was in Mar-a-Lago kissing Trump's butt and absolving him of any responsibility for the assault on the Capitol. And what did his slavish loyalty to Trump gain him in the speakership battle? Nothing.
As of this writing, anything could happen. McCarthy could still squeak out a win. But that's no longer the central issue. What matters now is no longer who ends up being Speaker, but what Republicans have done to the House of Representatives. They have finally succeeded in turning the House over to a handful of anti-government hardliners whose stated goal is to, in effect, shut government down entirely, not direct its power to help the American people.
Look at the record of the most recent GOP Speakers: Newt Gingrich, forced to resign; Bob Livingston, chosen as Speaker but resigned before being elected because of a sex scandal; Dennis Hastert, resigned and went to prison for sex abuse; John Boehner, forced to resign; Paul Ryan, forced to resign. And whoever ends up as new Speaker, serving in name only, having surrendered all power.
If this week's chaos in the House proves nothing else, it proves that Republicans are not only not interested in governing, they are incapable of it.
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The most effective Speaker - ever!
Welcome to the next chapter in our history. Not so long ago, American historians talked about the "legendary" Sam Rayburn of Texas as the most effective House Speaker in history. But no longer.
From now on, historians will talk about the "legendary" Nancy Pelosi: the first woman Speaker, the first Californian, the first Italian-American, and - whether you agree or disagree with her politics, you must admit - the most effective Speaker ever.
As she promised two years ago, Pelosi stepped down as Speaker after the 2022 midterms, nudging Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Whip James Clyburn to join her in passing the torch to the next generation. But her legacy will live forever. None of the major legislation passed by Congress since she first became Speaker in 2007 would have happened without her.
Pelosi cites the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," as her proudest achievement. With over 20 million Americans enrolled today, she can not only be proud, she can almost claim ownership. As Susan Page recounts in her biography of Pelosi, "Madam Speaker," at one point Obama, pushed by Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, was ready to abandon the whole package and go for a smaller bill.
That's when Pelosi stepped in, telling Obama, in effect: "over my dead body." A more modest Plan B? "I said, we're not going there," Pelosi explained to Page. She told Obama there were only two options: Go big or get nothing. Obama agreed, and Pelosi delivered. The whole package.
Part of Pelosi's secret was knowing how to deal with her Members. Both the House Republican and Democratic Caucuses were badly fractured. But where Republican leaders John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and Kevin McCarthy clearly lost control, Pelosi was always in command. She was a demanding leader who didn't suffer fools gladly, but she always treated everyone fairly. She knew every member, knew their districts, knew what they really needed, as opposed to what they wanted, and treated everyone with respect. I never attended any event where Speaker Pelosi didn't recognize by name every single Democratic Member present.
Pelosi always knew what buttons to push to get what she wanted from Members, as Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), elected to succeed Pelosi as Democratic Leader, relates. After several conversations with her, Jeffries would still not agree to support President Obama's Iranian Nuclear Deal - when, out of the blue, he got a call from the White House inviting him to join Obama on a trip to New Orleans on Air Force One. During the flight, of course, Obama told the young congressman he really needed his vote. No sooner had the plane landed in New Orleans than Jeffries' cellphone rang. It was Pelosi, asking "How was the ride?"
For their part, Republicans always made two mistakes in dealing with Nancy Pelosi. First, they always underestimated her. They treated her like some naive San Francisco lefty. They never realized what she really was: a tough, brilliant, political strategist schooled by her father Tommy D'Alessandro, the mayor of Baltimore and former congressman, in how to get stuff done.
Then, having underestimated Pelosi, they proceeded to demonize her - spending millions of dollars in TV ads portraying her as the devil incarnate. Which Pelosi merely shrugged off - noting, correctly, that the only reason they attacked her was because she was so effective. In return, Pelosi used their negative ads to raise over $1.3 trillion to support Democratic candidates - winning back the House not once, but twice.
The person who most underestimated Nancy Pelosi, of course, was Donald Trump. And, in return, she's the one person who most flummoxed him. In his first meeting with congressional leaders in the Oval Office, when Trump declared he actually won the popular vote, only Pelosi spoke up: "Mr. President, what you're saying has no basis in truth." She stormed out of another meeting with Trump in the Cabinet Room and, on national television, famously ripped up her copy of his 2020 State of the Union speech.
Any doubts about Nancy Pelosi's power? Watch the incredible HBO documentary on Pelosi shot by her daughter Alexandra. On January 6, in the secure location where congressional leaders had been rushed to safety as an armed mob assaulted the Capitol, Pelosi is clearly the person in charge - giving direction to Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, and Kevin McCarthy, and on the phone with Vice President Mike Pence, advising him to stay low.
The legendary Nancy Pelosi. We've never seen a Speaker like her before - and we'll probably never see another one.
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Growing up in the small town of Delaware City, one of the first lessons I learned, playing in the dirt street in front of our house, was: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."
It's so true. It makes so much sense. It's such a powerful lesson it's hard to believe most Republicans today haven't yet learned it. Instead, following their demented leader Donald Trump, they seem to delight in name-calling - as if it makes them smarter or more clever. When, in fact, it just makes them look more desperate.
As a progressive, I've been called many names over the years, including pinko, leftie, commie, and bleeding heart liberal. But today, it appears, I'm something worse than all that. Now, I'm also "woke."
For Republicans today, there's nothing worse and nothing more un-American than being woke. Right up there with deporting anybody who entered this country illegally, they believe it's their divine mission to rid this country of anybody woke. And nobody takes that job more seriously than the self-appointed Anti-Woke Master, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
"We have respected our taxpayers and we reject woke ideology," he declared upon winning re-election last month. "We fight the woke in the legislature. We fight the woke in the schools. We fight the woke in the corporations. We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die."
I must admit, never having heard the term "woke" before, DeSantis got me thinking. Other than the fact that I was, indeed "woke," as in "awake," and not asleep, I had no idea what he was talking about. And, by the way, I bet none of his wildly-applauding supporters knew what he was talking about, either.
So, I decided to check. And I'm glad I did. Because I discovered that, no matter what DeSantis thinks it means, being woke is not something to be ashamed of. In fact, it's something to be proud of.
"Woke" first emerged as an African-American slang word for someone who gets it, someone who understands discrimination faced by Blacks. It was famously used by the folk singer Lead Belly at the end of his 1938 song "Scottsboro Boys," about nine Black teenagers accused of raping two white women. "I advise everybody, be a little careful when they go along through there," Lead Belly warned. "Best stay woke, keep their eyes open."
Beginning in 2014, its use became more widespread as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. And in 2017, Merriam-Webster actually added it to the dictionary, defining woke as "aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)." Now, I ask you, what's wrong with that?
In other words, if I believe, as conclusively demonstrated in "The 1619 Project," that systemic racism has permeated, and still continues to permeate, every aspect of American endeavor - health care, transportation, hiring practices, Hollywood, television, corporate boardrooms, etc. - then, I'm "woke."
If I believe that young Blacks are more likely to get longer prison sentences for drug possession than white teenagers. ... If I believe that police are more likely to pull over Black teenagers for traffic offenses. ... Or if I believe that efforts by many red states today to cut the number of polling places, ban early voting, or require photo ID are efforts to suppress the Black vote - then, I'm "woke."
If I don't believe the "white replacement theory" - that there's a deliberate plot, organized mainly by Jews, to promote mass non-white immigration, abortion, miscegenation, and interracial marriage in order to overtake America's white majority and destroy white culture - then, I'm "woke."
Or if I believe that a former president of the United States should not be sitting down for dinner with an avowed white supremacist and a Holocaust denier - then, I'm "woke."
With no apology to Ron DeSantis or Donald Trump, I see nothing wrong with that. I believe we not only have to accept the reality of America's systemic racism, we have to do everything we can, in any way we can, to end it. As Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) advises: "We have a moral obligation to "stay woke," take a stand and be active, challenging injustices and racism in our communities and fighting hatred and discrimination wherever it rises." We can never be "woke" enough.
Ron DeSantis can call me "woke" as many times as he wants. I wear it as a badge of honor.
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The slow but sure demise of Donald Trump
We are a nation of rubberneckers. Like everybody else on the road, no matter how much it brings traffic to a crawl, we can't resist slowing down to gawk at the scene of a car wreck.
Today we can't resist slowing down to watch another kind of car wreck: the slow but sure political demise of Donald J. Trump - who, it's still hard to believe, was once President of the United States, but will soon be just another total piece of junk towed off to its final dumping ground.
I admit that I, too, am somewhat skeptical that will happen. With good reason. We've seen this movie before. Like Houdini, we've seen Trump escape from countless near-death experiences: the "Access Hollywood" tapes, the Mueller investigation, his bungled Covid response, two impeachments, and a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Still, this time seems different. Trump's Teflon toga is finally wearing thin. In the last few weeks, on both the legal and political fronts, Trump's been hammered by a series of setbacks that not even he can likely survive. Add it up. Put together, the list of troubles he now faces is overwhelming.
First, the legal challenges: Trump's under fire at the same time from prosecutors in New York City, New York state, Georgia and the Department of Justice. Meanwhile, he just lost two big legal battles. The Supreme Court, packed with three of his nominees, rejected Trump's plea for special treatment and ordered his tax returns turned over to the House Ways and Means Committee. And the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, including two Trump appointees, overturned a lower-court Trump judge and denied Trump's request to have a Special Master review presidential documents seized by the FBI at Mar-A-Lago. Both those investigations will now proceed.
Trump's also the target of a criminal case underway by Georgia prosecutors for his attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election; and of a civil case brought by the New York state attorney general, where he's accused, along with his three oldest children, of financial fraud. And this week, top executives of the Trump Organization, though not Trump himself, were found guilty on 17 criminal counts of tax fraud and other financial crimes.
That's not all. Under an updated New York state law, Trump's still fighting a lawsuit brought by former Elle magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll, who's accused him of raping her in a Bloomingdale's dressing room. Attorney General Merrick Garland has named a Special Counsel to investigate Trump's possible criminal involvement in the Jan. 6th attack on the Capitol. And Trump could also be one of those referred to the Justice Department by the House January 6 Committee for the crime of sedition.
So much for Trump's multiple legal challenges. He's fared even worse on the political front. Herschel Walker's loss in the Georgia Senate run-off is only the latest sign that whatever political magic Trump once had is melting fast. He planned to be the primary agent in this year's midterms. Instead, he was their Agent Orange.
Starting with the 2018 midterms, Trump has led the Republican Party to three disasters in a row. This time around, his candidates for governor, in the primary or general election, lost in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, New York, Arizona, Oregon, Kansas, and Maryland. His hand-picked candidates for Senate lost in Arizona, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. In the end, he was considered such poison that the Walker campaign begged him to cancel a planned rally in Georgia on Walker's behalf.
Trump's political stock has fallen so low that more and more Republican rats are jumping off his sinking ship. Not just frequent Trump critics like Utah's Mitt Romney and Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey. Even long-time Trump loyalist John Cornyn (R-TX) abandoned him, telling reporters: "I think he's less relevant all the time."
But let's be honest. Trump's troubles are not limited to the legal and political front. He's also clearly in trouble on the mental health front. Indeed, his actions since the embarrassingly flaccid launch of his 2024 presidential bid - openly dining with a white supremacist and Holocaust denier; appearing with a QAnon pizzagate conspirator; demanding that we "terminate" the Constitution which he once took a vow to defend - are the signs of someone who's not quite "all there," if not bat-guano crazy.
Legally, politically, and mentally, Donald Trump is a dead man walking. Only a spineless sycophant like Kevin McCarthy could still defend him.
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Joe Biden turns 80. Too old to tango?
Poor Joe Biden. He's today's Rodney Dangerfield. He can't get any respect - even though, in truth, Biden's at the peak of his career.
He's president of the United States, a job he sought for decades. He not only beat Donald Trump, he got more votes than any other presidential candidate in history. Despite a deeply-divided Congress, he accomplished more in his first two years than any president since LBJ: leading Americans out of the worst of the COVID pandemic, creating 10 million new jobs, empowering Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, signing the first gun reform legislation in 30 years, the biggest infrastructure bill since the '50s, and the biggest climate change investment ever - while leading the West in helping Ukraine defend itself against Vladimir Putin's invasion.
On top of that, Biden just defied history by leading Democrats to stunning success in the midterms: maintaining control of the Senate (and most likely picking up one more seat, in Georgia); only narrowly losing the House, instead of the "Red Wave" most pollsters predicted; and winning key governorships in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Given that record, you'd think Democrats would be chanting "Run, Joe, Run!" But, instead, in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, 56 percent of Democrats are chanting "Go, Joe, Go." We don't care how good a job you've done. Go back to Wilmington - because you're too old. You just turned 80!
It's true that, on his last birthday, Biden became the oldest person ever to serve as president. But so what? At the risk of alienating most of my Democratic friends, I dare suggest that making Biden's age their number one concern is a big mistake. For several reasons. First, because politics is all about winning. In 2020, Biden beat Trump by 7 million votes. He'd crush Trump by even more in 2024, were Trump again the Republican nominee. Holding onto the White House. In the end, that's all that counts.
And, by the way, Trump's no spring chicken. Were he re-elected as president, God forbid, he'd turn 80 in 2026. I don't hear Republicans complaining about his advanced age. I don't hear Republicans distressed about re-electing 80-year-old Mitch McConnell as Republican Senate leader. Nor did I hear any Republicans regret re-electing Iowa's Sen. Chuck Grassley at the ripe old age of 89 - at which point Grassley immediately filed papers to run again in 2028, at the age of 95!
Democrats are also ignoring demographics which demonstrate, quite simply, that Americans are living longer and more meaningful lives. Data released at Stanford University's Century Summit in December 2020 shows that Americans are living longer than ever before - about 30 years longer, on average, than a century ago.
Americans are not only living longer, they're working longer, well into their 80s. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Washington Post showed that working octogenarians reached a high in 2019, with roughly 734,000 octogenarians in the U.S. workforce that year, compared to 110,000 in 1980. Joe Biden's not bucking the trend, he's setting the trend.
Biden might, in fact, qualify for the category of "Superager" - a term coined by researchers at Northwestern University for octogenarians possessing a brain as sharp as people 20 to 30 years younger. While not enrolled in their program, Biden fits their definition of superager. "These folks stay active physically," says Associate Director Emily Rogalski. "They tend to be positive. They challenge their brain every day, reading or learning something new -- many continue to work into their 80s. SuperAgers are also social butterflies, surrounded by family and friends, and can often be found volunteering in the community." Biden could be their poster boy!
It's not unfair to raise the age issue. Biden himself told MSNBC's Jonathan Capehart: "I think it's a legitimate thing to be concerned about anyone's age, including mine." But, Biden added, the best way to decide whether he can handle the job of president is "Watch me." And, on that score, there's no doubt. Biden knows the job, gets things done, has great energy, works a 10-hour day, is on the road two or three days a week, and is clearly in charge. Yes, he'd be applauded, like Nancy Pelosi, for passing the baton to the next generation at age 82, but he's earned the right to make that decision himself.
The right question is not how old is Biden? But can he win? And is he up to the job? The answer to both is yes. Case closed.
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American carnage? Been there, done that!
We survived four years of Donald Trump, but he just won't go away. Like a zombie, he's now trying to come back from the politically dead. And, given today's toxic political environment - where anything goes, no matter how ugly or extreme - that very prospect has raised fears of democracy destroyed.
Civil libertarians warn about what Trump Redux might look like: declaration of martial law; armed white mobs attacking homes and businesses of law-abiding Black Americans; FBI agents rounding up and deporting anybody who dares criticize the president; magazines and newspapers censored by the government; publishers thrown in jail for publishing articles critical of the government; American Jews deported and would-be Jewish immigrants denied entrance to the country; and labor unions declared illegal and shut down.
You think that could never happen? Think again! As historian Adam Hochschild reminds us, it already has. Once before. Here in the United States. Between 1917 and 1921. During and right after World War I. Under President Woodrow Wilson.
It's all laid out in Hochschild's new book, "American Midnight," one of the most powerful, deeply researched, beautifully written, and scariest books I've ever read. For those of us who thought we knew American history well, this is a period that has largely escaped attention. Perhaps because we're ashamed of it. And should be.
Or perhaps because we still naively think of Woodrow Wilson as a great progressive, which he clearly was not. Yes, he deserves credit for some progressive achievements: introducing a progressive income tax, eliminating child labor, sponsoring anti-trust laws, adopting an eight-hour work day, and devoting his life to preserving world peace through the League of Nations. But at the very same time Wilson was engaging the United States in a war for democracy in Western Europe, he was presiding over a war against democracy at home. Wilson was, in fact, a lifelong racist and anti-Semite.
Under Wilson, the years 1917 to 1921 represented a total breakdown of democracy. It was America at its worst. At every level, led by Wilson's Justice Department, governments acted to crush dissent, deny civil liberties, and foment and forgive political violence against African-Americans, immigrants, Jews, labor unions, anti-war activists, and the media.
With Wilson's knowledge and blessing, Postmaster General Albert Burleson declared over 70 magazines and periodicals "unmailable," simply because they dared question U.S. involvement in World War I. Unable, in the pre-internet age, to reach readers, they simply shut down. Meanwhile, operating under the Espionage Act, which had nothing to do with "espionage," the government arrested hundreds of people who expressed opposition to WWI, including Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, who won 6 percent of the popular vote in 1912. Debs was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his argument that "men were fit for something better than slavery and cannon fodder."
Because of their wartime push for better working conditions, labor unions were another target, especially the Industrial Workers of the World, or "Wobblies," whose colorful organizing tactics drove the Wilson administration crazy. In April 1918, in what is still the largest civilian criminal trial in American history, 112 Wobblies were found guilty and sent to prison - not for acts of theft, sabotage, or violence, but solely for words they had spoken or written critical of the government.
As in any war on civil liberties, immigrants were another prime target, especially those who did not reflect what Wilson called his "old Colonial white stock." The government practically shut down immigration from southern Eastern Europe - Italians, Poles, and Jews - thousands of whom ended up victims of the Holocaust.
But, no surprise, the worst abuses were what Hochschild calls "white race riots," attacks on African-Americans by mobs of armed white vigilantes - an early version of today's Proud Boys - with the tacit, if not open, support of the federal government. Dozens of blocks of Black homes and businesses in East St. Louis, Illinois, destroyed in spring 1917. Thirty-five blocks of "Black Wall Street" in Tulsa, Oklahoma, wiped out in May 1921. More than 70 African-Americans lynched by mobs in 1919 alone, including 17 World War I veterans - three of whom were murdered in their uniforms.
And over all this mayhem presided the "progressive" Woodrow Wilson. Reading "American Midnight" is a chilling reminder of how close we came to the loss of civil liberties under Donald Trump and a powerful warning about why he should never be entrusted with power again. The total breakdown of democracy? If it happened once, it could happen again.
Credit: Tribune Content Agency