Friday, December 29, 2017

Trump's Big Mouth Tips His Hand

Donald Trump, in a cabinet meeting last week after the GOP passed its big tax bill – the only major legislative achievement of his first year as so-called president – said this:

“But Obamacare has been repealed in this bill. We didn’t want to bring it up. I told people specifically be quiet with the fake news media because I don’t want them talking too much about it. Cause I didn’t know how people would... But now that it’s approved I can say the individual mandate on health care – where you had to pay not to have insurance, okay, think of that, where you pay not to have insurance – the individual mandate has been repealed.”

I think this is a superb example of Trump’s inability to control his mouth – and, in doing so, reveals something he shouldn’t normally want revealed. Consider this:
  1. He’s boasting about the repeal of the individual mandate (a GOOD THING from his point of view, right?), at the same time as he’s saying he felt the need to downplay this supposedly GOOD THING.

    It’s like saying “We cured cancer, but we wanted to stay quiet about it.”

  2. In order to keep the American people from hearing about this GOOD THING the Republicans were doing, Trump didn’t want the “fake news” talking about it.

    In other words, he didn’t want the media, which he claims tell only lies, to report (and obsess about) this good, but TRUE, thing. Surely he was afraid that by telling the public the truth about this GOOD THING, the media would make it sound BAD. What made him think his followers would believe the media anyway?

  3.  And Trump’s reason for this hush-hush approach (and here is the REVEAL) was that he wasn’t sure “how people would...” Would, would...something. I’m sure he was about to say “how people would react” or “how people would take it” or "how people would like it". It’s like saying “We’ve cured cancer, but I’m not sure whether people will be happy about it.” 

    But as he was about to speak those words, Trump suddenly realized where his train of thought was taking him. He pulled back at the last moment and left the sentence unfinished. After all, it would have been an admission that not everyone thinks this GOOD THING is really that good. Maybe even he realizes that – outside the 35% of Americans who will follow him to the ends of the Earth – many Americans, maybe even most, might not actually want him to “repeal Obamacare”.

  4. So, while the provision to rescind the individual mandate was being considered (you can’t say “debated”, since there was hardly any of that), Trump didn’t dare talk about it. 

    But after the deal was done, after the die was cast, the Rubicon crossed, the point of no return passed, when it was too late to do anything about it,
    then it was okay to come clean. Hence, his “But now that it’s approved I can say...”

    It’s like telling your wife, “Honey, I’ve sold the house and we’re all moving to Mexico. I didn’t tell you before, cause I knew you’d object, but now that it’s too late, I thought you should know. ¡Olé!”

In summary:  Trump didn’t want the LYING PRESS telling the TRUTH about the VERY GOOD THING he was doing for Americans, because he knew that many of those Americans would think it was NOT a good thing, but after it was TOO LATE to change it, he couldn’t help BRAGGING about how he’d tried to HIDE the whole thing since it was such a VERY GOOD THING. 

And what fake president wouldn't be proud of that?

Friday, October 27, 2017

Veep Said It Best

Last week we learned that there are up to 1000 US troops stationed in Niger, a force level that even key senators were not aware of. This follows Donald Trump’s earlier announcement that he will send additional troops to fight in Afghanistan indefinitely.

Such news makes me think of a certain scene from “Veep”, the Emmy-winning farce about a West Wing in disarray. By the way, it’s a portrayal that is looking more realistic and prescient every day.

In this particular scene (season three, episode nine), White House strategist Kent Davison travels to New Hampshire to deliver some urgent news in person to Vice President Selina Meyer. Feeling the full gravity of what he’s about to say – that President Hughes has unexpectedly decided to resign and that Selina will shortly become president – Kent has difficulty beginning.

Noticing Kent’s solemn look, Selina quickly asks him, “What is it? Are we at war?”

Without skipping a beat, he answers, “Ma’am, we’re America. We’re always at war.”

Ain’t that the truth.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Stupid Question

This is a stupid question, but also a serious one. 

Why is the National Anthem played, and people expected to stand, at every pro sports event in the US? As far as I know, this doesn’t happen at hockey or soccer games in Finland, unless it’s an international game. 

If this happens at sports venues, why not at other places where Americans gather in public? Like at movie theaters? You could imagine that after the commercials and trailers of upcoming features, just before the lights go down for the movie itself, a giant American flag would fill the screen and the Anthem would start in surround sound, while the audience rises to its feet. 

Likewise, why not at the ballet, the opera? Why doesn’t every university class begin with the Anthem? Or every business meeting? Or the beginning of every workday in the office? Or the beginning of every shift at the factory? Or every church service, so that before the preacher steps up to the altar, the congregation would stand, forget about God for a moment and gaze lovingly at the flag while the choir sings a lovely rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”? 

And should it be only at gatherings? Why not in out in public? There could be speakers on every street corner that would blare out at regular times, or even randomly, a recording of the Anthem, forcing pedestrians to stop and display their patriotism by standing with their hands over their hearts for a couple of minutes before hurrying on down the sidewalk. 

Why only at sports events? 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Valeuutiset?

As part of my ongoing struggle to learn Finnish, I have now and then tried reading various books suomeksi. One of these I recently took a stab at (once again) is “The Thousand-mile Walk to the Gulf” by the legendary 19th century naturalist and conservation evangelist John Muir. It’s the account of his walk from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico in 1867, just after the Civil War.

One passage I ran across about a man he encountered along the way struck me as surprising resonate to today:

Matkasin muutaman mailin vanhan tennesseeläismaanviljelijän kanssa, joka oli hyvin kiihtynyt juuri kuulemistaan uutisista. ”Kolme kuningaskuntaa, Englanti, Irlanti ja Venäjä, on julistaneet sodan Yhdysvalloille. Voi, se on kamalaa, kamalaa”, hän sanoi. ”Taas on sota alkamassa, ja vielä näin äkkiä oman ison tappelumme jälkeen. No, ei kai sille mitään voi, enkä mä voi muuta sanoa kuin eläköön Amerikka, mutta parempi olisi, jos mitään kärhämää ei tulisi.”

”Mutta oletko varma, että uutiset pitävät paikkansa?”, minä kysyin. ”Kyllä vaan”, hän vastasi, ”sillä mä ja muutama naapuri oltiin kaupassa eilen illalla, ja Jim Smith, joka osaa lukea, luki tän jutun sanomalehdestä.”


I traveled a few miles with an old Tennessee farmer who was very excited about news he had just heard. “Three kingdoms, England, Ireland and Russia, have declared war on the United States. Oh, it is horrible, horrible,” he said. “Again, war is coming, and yet so soon after our own big fight. Well, I don’t suppose anything can be done about it. The only thing I can say is hooray for America, but it would be better if there were no squabbles.”

“But are you sure that the news is correct?”, I asked. “Sure,” he answered. “Me and a few neighbors were at the store yesterday evening, and Jim Smith, who can read, read the story from the newspaper.”

Needless to say, no such war had been declared. Ireland? Really?

In today’s environment -- where reality itself seems to be in dispute at every turn and what you think really happens in the world will depend on which media you consume -- the farmer’s falling for a 19th century version of fake news somehow feels familiar.

From this you might be tempted to think Muir's account shows that, in this regard, there’s nothing new under the American sun. But, still, you can’t blame an illiterate farmer for trusting his friend Jim’s recitation of an erroneous newspaper story. It’s not as if he could Google “Ireland declares war”!

Today’s Americans, with so many ways to receive and double-check the news, have no such excuse for falling for stories that are demonstrably false (like Trump's claim that at least 3 million illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton in the US election, depriving him of a popular-vote victory), while at the same time crying “fake!” every time they encounter legitimate news (such as Russia’s election meddling) that goes against their politics. 

But that doesn't stop many from doing it anyway. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Trump at Sea

I admit this is me being nit-picky, but...here we go.   

To explain why emergency aid has been seen as arriving more slowly to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria than it did to the similarly affected areas of Texas and Florida, Trump said this: 

“It’s an island, sitting in the middle of the ocean. And it’s a big ocean. It’s a very big ocean.” 

Now it must be said, Trump is correct, at least in his first three words. Being an island means Puerto Rico is much harder to reach. The logistics are completely different from sending aid to Houston. 

But rather than just stating this simple fact, Trump couldn’t resist adding a rhetorical flourish that is so characteristic of him: unnecessary exaggeration, hyperbole that puts Trump in the best possible light, or explains away his shortcomings. It’s something I find so infuriating about him. 

Puerto Rico is not in the middle of the ocean. It’s not Bora Bora. It’s about 1000 miles from Mar-a-Lago, about the same distance as between Mar-a-Lago and Manhattan, a distance I’m sure Trump can easily grasp. Trump probably really does understand Puerto Rico is in America’s backyard, but it suits him to downplay that fact. 

By informing the American public how incredibly remote Puerto Rico supposedly is (“I can tell you, it’s remote, so remote. You won’t believe how remote it is. Nobody knows how the hell to even get there. Believe me. It’s so far away that everyone speaks Spanish!”), Trump hopes to get a pass for making Puerto Ricans wait so long for some presidential attention. 

Of course, this is Trump's go-to tactic of distorting facts (or making them up out of whole cloth) to fit a narrative in some way positive to himself. Some may call it "being disingenuous". Others may call it lying. He does it all the time. 

If Trump thinks exaggerating the “remoteness” of Puerto Rico lets him off the hook (somewhat) for a slow relief effort, God help the folks in Hawaii (2300 miles from the US mainland) if they ever need help. Or consider poor Guam, now in the nuclear crosshairs of Kim Jong-un. That tiny US territory really does sit in the middle of a very big ocean, 5500 miles from the West Coast (though a bit closer to Alaska). 

In the world according to Trump, those places might as well be on Mars.