The Fifth Risk, by Michael Lewis – TwoMorePages Book Review

The Fifth Risk, by Michael Lewis – TwoMorePages Book Review

“Holy shit, that department does WHAT?!” This was basically the recurring theme of this book for me.

I’m not sure why I even doubted I’d like this book. I loved Michael Lewis’s books, Flash Boys, The Big Short, Liar’s Poker – and I am obviously interested in all things shitting on Trump. So if you combine those two things into one book, why wouldn’t I love The Fifth Risk?

I learned a ton of things in this book –

  1. The Department of Energy is responsible for:
    • nuclear non-proliferation
    • spending billions on cleaning up an area where we tested the A-bombs (side note – an area which voted for Trump despite their entire economy depending on federal funding. WHAT?! O.o)
    • weapons testing – specifically, bomb development
    • the technology that created fracking! It jump starts projects that eventually change the world!
  2. The Department of Agriculture is responsible for:
    • Fighting Wildfires
    • Managing 193 million acres of national forest and grasslands
    • Inspecting all the animals Americans eat
    • Enrichment programs in rural America, including free school lunch for children
    • The ENTIRE FOOD STAMP PROGRAM
  3. The Department of Commerce is the biggest collector of data in the world – and has very little to do with commerce
    • NOAA falls under it, and is responsible for predicting the weather
    • The Census falls under it,  affecting voter representation
    • The Patent and Trademark Office falls under it, tracking all the country’s inventions
    • The National Institute of Standards and Technology falls under it, setting building standards

Hello! Rachel here, in blue again, and I would like to echo that I learned a ton from this book. (And I was a political science major and I’m going to public policy school so that’s saying something about how obscure some of this stuff is.) But anyways, my general takeaway is that anyone who reads this book is far far more qualified to be president than the current occupant of the White House. And it is capital S scary all the current Administration does not know or care to know. Like, y’all, some of the stuff Lewis talks about is “keep-you-up-at-night, ready-to-build-a-fallout-shelter-if-people-start-ignoring-it” kind of stuff. 

Bungled Transitions

“People don’t understand that a bungled transition becomes a bungled presidency.”

“A bad transition took this entire portfolio of catastrophic risks – the biggest portfolio of risks ever managed by a single institution in the history of the world – and made all the bad things more likely to happen and the good things less likely to happen.”

Of course Donald Trump bungled the transition. He didn’t expect to win, and so made no preparations for that possibility. I’m not surprised about that.

“Day 1, we’re ready to go. Day 2 it was, ‘Maybe they’ll call us?'”
– The transition team at the Department of Energy

“No one showed up that first day after the election, or the next. This was strange: the day after he was elected, Obama had sent his people into the USDA, as had Bush.

At the end of the second day, the folks at the Department of Agriculture called the White House to ask what was going on.

“The White House said they’d be here Monday,” recalled one. On Monday morning they worked themselves up all over again into a welcoming spirit. Again, no one showed. Not that entire week.

On November 22, Leftwich made a cameo appearance for about an hour. “We had though, Rural America is who got Trump elected, so he’ll have to make us a priority,” said the transition planner, “but then nothing happened.”

Get to Know the US Government had not been high on Donald Trump’s to-do list, even after he learned that he’d be running it. On the Monday after the presidential election, the same thing that had happened across the rest of the US government happened inside the Department of Commerce: nothing.

Dozens of civil servants sat all day waiting to deliver briefings tha twould, in the end, never be heard. They’d expected Trump’s campaign organization to send in landing Teams to learn about what was being done there, and why.

The problems that had been Obama’s problems for the past eight years were about to become Trump’s problems. But his people didn’t seem to want to know about them.

“They just didn’t bring any bodies in at all,” says a senior Commerce official.

“A lunch or two with the CFO might have alerted the new administration to some of the terrifying risks they were leaving essentially unmanaged.” 

Image result for i expect nothing and i'm still let down gif

What I *am* surprised about is that he sent NO ONE to try to transition several important departments for a long, long time.

Obama did everything possible to get his department heads to prep to make the transition as easy as possible and Trump shat on all of it. Didn’t even send people to go learn.

Because of fucking course he did.

Trump was going to handle the transition more or less by himself. Not even Steve Bannon thought this was a good idea. “I was fucking nervous as shit,” Bannon later told friends. “I go, ‘Holy fuck, this guy [Trump] doesn’t know anything. And he doesn’t give a shit.” 

Look, as I’ve said before, if Steve Bannon thinks your idea is a bad idea, it’s probably an awful idea. Also, Steve Bannon has friends? 

Maliciously Breaking Things

And when he *finally* sent people to go learn things, this is what his appointee to the Department of Energy asked?

“Can you provide a list of all Department of Energy employees or contractors who have attended any Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings?

Can you provide a list of Department employees or contractors who attended any of the Conference of the Parties (Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in the last five years?”

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

Honestly I can’t say I was surprised that this was there first instinct on contact with one of the “science-y” departments, but it still made me madder than hell. I’m glad it got compared to McCarthyism, but also no one in the general public seemed to care. And, if that isn’t a call to action on making people knowledgeable about climate change, I don’t know what is. 

They’d eventually delete the contact list with the email addresses of all DOE-funded scientists – apparently to make it more difficult for them to communicate with one another.

“That, in a nutshell, was the spirit of the Trump enterprise. “It reminded me of McCarthyism…”

Holy shit, it gets worse?!!?! And that was only at the Department of Energy. At the US Department of Agriculture…

They sent certified letters to several senior career civil servants perceived to be close to the Obama administration, telling them they were being reassigned – from jobs they were good at to jobs they knew little about.

They instructed the staff to stop using the phrase “climate change.” They removed the inspection reports on businesses that abused animals – roadside circuses, puppy mills, research labs – from the department’s website.

When reporters from National Geographic  contacted the USDA to ask what was going on with animal-abuse issues, “they told us all of this information was public, except now you had to FOIA it,” said Rachael Bale. “We asked for the files, and they sent us 1700 completely blacked-out pages.”

…The Trump Administration – just fucking things up because…? Fuck you that’s why.

“It’s not really the Department of Commerce,” said the Bush official. “It’s mission is a science and technology mission.”

“Yeah, I don’t think I want to be focusing on that,” said Ross [Trump’s appointee to head the Department of Commerce]

The above line by Ross actually killed me. But, since I’m mad at Ross, everyone should know that he’s lied to Forbes for more than 15 years about how much he is worth – he overstated his wealth by over 2 BILLION DOLLARS. How’s that for a good businessman. 

The Department of Energy

So, speaking of the Department of Energy, this book was eye opening as to how important the work of some Departments is.

“My team prepared its own books. They were never given to anybody. I never had a chance to sit with the Trump people and tell them what we’re doing, even for a day. And I’d have done it for weeks. I think this was a sad thing. There are things you want to know that would keep you up at night. And I never talked to anyone about them.”

– MacWilliams, of the DoE

Things like what, you might ask?

The list of things that might go wrong inside the DOE was endless.

  • The driver of a heavily armed unit assigned to move plutonium around the country was pulled over, on the job, for drunk driving.
  • An 82 year old nun cut through the perimeter fence of a caility in tennessee that housed weapons-grade nuclear material.
  • A medical facility ordered a speck of plutonium for rsearch, and a weapons-lab clerk misplaced a decimal point and FedExed the researchers a chunk of hte stuff so big it should have been under armed guard – whereupon the horrified medical researchers tried to FedEx it back.

Or…

“Broken Arrow” is a military term of art for a nuclear accident that doesn’t lead to a nuclear war. MacWilliams.

A pair of 4-megaton hydrogen bombs, each more than 250 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, broke off a damaged B-52 over North Carolina. One of the bombs disintegrated upon impact, but the otehr floated down beneath its parachute and armed itself.

It was later found in a field outside Goldsboro, North Carolina, with three of its four safety mechanisms tripped or rendered ineffective by the plane’s breakup. Had the fourth switch flipped, a vast section of eastern North Carolina would have been destroyed, and nuclear fallotu might have descended on Washington DC and New York City.

“The reason it’s worth thinking about this, the reason that bomb didn’t go off was because of all the safety devices on the bombs, designed by what is now DOE.”

So yeah, disaster prevention is a big part of the DoE’s mission. I never knew that. I assumed that well…it mostly dealt with fossil fuel or electricty regulations, you know – energy.

Oh, speaking of disaster prevention –

“These [DoE] labs are incredible national resources, and they are directly responsible for keeping us safe. It’s because of of them that we can say with absolute certainty that Iran cannot surprise us with a nuclear weapon.”

After the [Iran] deal was done, US Army officers had approached DoE officials to thank them for saving American lives.

The serious risk in Iran wasn’t that the Iranians would secretly acquire a weapon. It was that the President of the United States would not understand his nuclear scientists’ reasoning about the unlikelihood of the Iranians’ obtaining a weapon, and that he would have the United States back away foolishly from the deal. Released from the complicated set of restrictions on its nuclear-power program, Iran would then build its bomb.

Ah, well. Fuck.

Yeah, well, never mind science, we’ll deal with Iran, I could hear some Trump person thinking to himself.”

Never mind the science? What the hell?!? Always mind the science! Always!

And who is in charge of all this scary stuff going down at DOE? Oh, you know, only the former Texas Governor and short-lived presidential candidate who wanted to ax the DOE but couldn’t remember he actually wanted to do that and really had absolutely no clue what the DOE did. Oops. 

“[Perry’s] sporadic public communications have had in them something of the shell-shocked grandmother trying to preside over a pleasant family Thanksgiving dinner while pretending that her blind-drunk husband isn’t standing naked on the dining-room table waving the carving knife over his head.”

I think it’s up to us to imagine who might be the naked knife wielding grandfather, except wait, no, don’t do that, it’s an image you really don’t want in your head. 

Okay, well only worry about what you can control, right? Let’s talk about things the DoE does that are NOT disaster related:

Government has always played a major role in innovation. Early-stage innovation in most industries would not have been possible without government support in a variety of ways, and it’s especially true in energy. So the notion that we are just going to privatize early-stage innovation is ridiculous. Other countries are outspending us in R&D, and we are going to pay a price.

Fracking – to take one example – was not the brainchild of private-sector research, btu the fruit of research paid for 20 years ago by the DoE.

“The private sector only steps in once DoE shows it can work.”

Wait – whaaaaat? The Department of Energy directly subsidizes innovation? I don’t know why that wasn’t obvious to me – technological innovation is in the public’s interest, so of course government would be involved in that.

But to have something so close to Texas’s economy – fracking – come from the DoE labs is…well, humbling. I bet if you went out and asked 100 conservative oil and gas workers if they knew that, 98% of them would say no.

Well, I guess I should say…the Department of Energy *did* subsidize innovation –

“Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, activity for activity, it’s hard to find a more effective thing government has done that ARPA-E. [the DoE’s research grant program that subsidizes innovation – it invented Kevlar, for instance].
– Fred Smith, Republican founder of FedEx

  • Trump’s first budget eliminated ARPA-E altogether.
  • It also eliminated the spectacularly successful $70 billion loan program.
  • It cut funding to the national labs in a way that implies the laying off of 6000 of their people.
  • It eliminated all research on climate change.
  • It halved the funding for work to secure the electrical grid form attack of natural disaster.

“All the risks are science-based. You can’t gut the science. If you do, you are hurting the country. If you gut the core competency of the DoE, you gut the country.”

But you can. Indeed, if you are seeking to preserve a certain worldview, it actually helps to gut science. Trump’s budget, like the social forces behind it, is powered by a perverse desire – to remain ignorant. Donald Trump didn’t invent this desire. He was just its ultimate expression.

*sigh*. We are going to be recovering from this administration for the rest of my adult life.

This is what really got me. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine when people claim about “too much government intervention” in their lives, and I just want to scream “DO YOU KNOW WHAT OUR LIVES WOULD BE LIKE WITHOUT IT?!!??!!” We wouldn’t have safe electricity and power, no clean water, no clean food, no weather forecasting (which if you don’t think is important consider how often you check the weather), no life-saving drugs, etc. 

The Department of Agriculture

There’s a drinking game played by people who have worked at the Department of Agriculture: Does the USDA do it? Someone names an odd function of government (say, shooting fireworks at Canada geese that flock too near airport runways) and someone else has to guess if the USDA does it. (In this case, it does).

Okay, got me again. I assumed that the USDA would … focus on Agriculture. They fight forest fires?! They manage the free lunch program for kids? They manage loan portfolios in rural areas? (okay, that last one at least kind of makes sense)

“Of all the budgets USDA’s is the weirdest.” It was weird, first, because the USDA did so many different things. It was weird because so many Americans had no idea how much their lives depended upon it. And it was weird because of the sheer sums of money sloshing around the place, dispensed by government employees no one had ever heard of.

USDA.PNG

Okay, so, we’ve established that the USDA does a lot of shit. What kind of shit? Shit like:

  • Fighting Wildfires
  • Managing 193 million acres of national forest and grasslands
  • Inspecting all the animals Americans eat
  • Enrichment programs in rural America, including free school lunch for children
  • The ENTIRE FOOD STAMP PROGRAM

Similar to the DoE, the USDA touches peoples lives and most of them don’t even know it.

As the USDA’s loans were usually made through local banks, the people on the receiving end of them were often unaware of where the money was coming from. There were many stories very like the one Tom Vilsack told, about a loan they had made, in Minnesota, to a government-shade-throwing, Fox News-watching, small-town businessman.

The bank held a ceremony and the guy would up being interviewed by the local paper. “He’s telling the reporter how proud he is to have done it on his own,” said Vilsack. “The USDA person goes to introduce herself, and he says, ‘So, who are you?’ She says, “I’m the USDA person.’ He asks, ‘What are you doing here?’ She says “Well, sir, we supplied the money you are announcing.’ He was white as a sheet.”

In the red Southern states, the mayor sometimes would say, “Can you not mention that the government gave this?” Even when it was saving lives, or preserving communities, the government remained oddly invisible.

“It’s just a misunderstanding of the system,” said Salerno. “We don’t teach people what government actually does.”

“Georgia was usually a problem. Texas, too. “If they ran any of their football teams the way they run their food program, they’d fire the coach.” 

Ouch, yikes. Although, maybe that’s how we get Texas et. al. on board: compare the food program to football. Worth a shot, right?

It is the greatest of ironies that the people who usually rail against government the most are the ones that rely on it the most.

Well, at least I’ll get to experience some schaudenfraude.

“I worked in the little box in the government most responsible for helping the people who elected Trump. And they literally took my little box off the organization chart.”
– Lillian Salerno, USDA

“What she fears isn’t so much the bad intentions of the people who fill the jobs she once did. She fears their seeming commitment to scientific ignorance.”

Why, why ignore the science. Science makes our lives so so so much easier, I promise y’all. 

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Bunch of gullible idiots…

Department of Commerce

Like so many US government agencies, the Department of Commerce is seriously misnamed. It has almost nothing to do with commerce directly and is actually forbidden by law from engaging in business.

“Commerce is one of the most misunderstood jobs in the cabinet, because everyone thinks it works with business. It produces public good that are of value to business, but that’s different. Every secretary who comes in thinks Commerce does trade. But trade is maybe 10% of what Commerce does – if that.”
-Rebecca Blank, former acting Commerce Secretary

Remember how I said “wait, that department does WHAT?” was a recurring theme from this book? Responsibilities of the Commerce Department:

  • NOAA falls under it, and is responsible for predicting the weather
  • The Census falls under it,  affecting voter representation
  • The Patent and Trademark Office falls under it, tracking all the country’s inventions
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology falls under it, setting building standards

Wtf? We use weather forecasts EVERY DAY at work, and our fundamental data comes from the department of commerce? That’s news to me.

The census? That REALLY IMPORTANT thing that determines how many representatives each state gets in the US House? That’s *also* in the Commerce Department?!

Okay, let’s focus on NOAA because, well, it’s half the department’s budget, and because I literally use their data EVERY DAY at work unknowingly.

“NOAA is a beast. It’s 12,000 employees and they are decentralized – out in these little tiny offices all over the country. But it does more to protect Americans than any other agency except for Homeland Security and the Department of Defense.

It’s incredible value and everyone shits on it. The people are great. They aren’t in it for the money. They’re in it for the mission.”

  -A Senior Bush official, explaining the importance of NOAA to incoming Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

12 THOUSAND employees? If you had asked me about this before I read this book, I’d think it might be a couple dozen meteorologists. But then again, that’s before I figured out that the Commerce Department basically specializes in big data. It makes sense that they would have a ton of data collection employees.

“The more people have access to the weather data, the better it is for the country. There’s so much gold in there. People just don’t know how to get to it.”
– Bush official, in advising Trump on who to pick to run NOAA

And all the data that the Commerce Department collects is applicable in other scenarios as well. It’s not just weather data. All you have to do is give people access:

  • Data scientists in the DHS figured out there was an opioid crisis by discovering odd concentrations of opioid prescriptions.
  • Stanford researchers used data to answer the question “How likely is it that an American child will be better off than his parents?” – using census data allowed the researchers to control for race, gender, and other traits.
    • Results side note – A white child born into the upper income quintile was 5x more likely to stay there than to fall to the bottom. A black child born into the upper-income quintile was as likely to fall to the bottom quintile as to remain rich. WHAT?! O.o
    • Also, 90% of children born in 1940 went on to earn more than their parents. 50% of children born in the 1980s did. I wonder what the information will look like going forward.
  • White House researchers also tried to answer the question: “What causes excessive use of police force?”
    • Results side note – black and white people actually get pulled over at the same rate. But black people get searched significantly more. (the first half was surprising to me)
    • Also, the data was able to pinpoint which officers pulled over blacks at higher rates, some at rates 10x higher than “normal”. That seems helpful.

“David [of NOAA] showed Google and Amazon and Microsoft that there was a business case for taking it. Until we got it up, no one was able to reprocess the data.”

Another ENTIRE INDUSTRY spawned by government. Mind. Blown.

After Trump took office, DJ Patil watched with wonder as teh data disappeared across the federal government. Both the Environmental Protection Agency adn the Department of the Interior removed from their websites the links to climate change data.

The USDA removed the inspection reports of businesses accused of animal abuse by the government. The new acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mick Mulvaney, said he wanted to end public access to records of consumer complaints against financial institutions.

Two weeks after Hurricane Maria, statistics that detailed access to drinking water and electricity in Puerto Rico were deleted from the FEMA website.

In a piece for FiveThirtyEight, Clare Malone and Jeff Asher pointed out that the first annual crime report released by the FBI under Trump was missing nearly 3/4 of the data tables from the previous year.

So of fucking course Trump fucked it up. -.-

And it wasn’t broken accidentally…

“There was nothing arbitrary or capricious about the Trump administration’s attitude toward public data. Under each act of data suppression usually lay a narrow commercial motive: a gun lobbyist, a coal company, a poultry company.

“The NOAA webpage used to have a link to weather forecasts,” DJ said. “It was highly, highly popular. I saw it had been buried. And I asked: Now, why would they bury that?” Then he realized: the man Trump nominated to run NOAA thought that people who wanted a weather forecast should have to pay him for it.

There was a rift in American life that was now coursing through American government. It wasn’t between Democrats and Republicans. It was between the people who were in it for the mission, and the people who were in it for the money.

Speaking of Barry Myers and his attempt to take down NOAA: “Pause a moment to consider the audacity of that maneuver. A private company whose weather predictions were usually dependent on the billions of dollars spent by the U.S. taxpayer to gather the data necessary for those predictions, and on decades of intellectual weather work sponsored by the U.S. taxpayer, and on international data -sharing treaties made on behalf of the U.S. taxpayer, and on the very forecasts that the National Weather Service generated, was, in effect, trying to force the U.S. taxpayer to pay all over again fro what the National Weather Service might be able to tell him or her for free. 

If that doesn’t make you tear out your hair, I don’t know…

We are in the middle of a technological revolution surrounding data and Trump is intentionally handicapping our country at its knees to help his cronies. “Drain the swamp” my ass.

Conclusion

I learned a LOT in this book, a lot about the work of government agencies that I was only vaguely familiar with before; a lot about entire industries that sprang forth from the loins of government (fracking, data analysis, weather predictions); a lot about just how ignorant Rick Perry was when he said he wanted to get rid of the Department of Commerce and the Department of Energy.

…and a lot about how Trump’s administration is purposefully breaking all these things. I keep thinking that there is nothing more that I could learn about Trump that could make me hate him more. And I am consistently proven wrong.

But I’m going to try to focus on the more positive aspects of the book. The unsung heroes Michael Lewis described that manage the food stamp program, that work to make government data accessible to the public, that try to warn people about weather emergencies; that prevent nuclear disaster from befalling the public; that move the needle of innovation and invention forward.

I’m glad I read this book, and it makes me appreciate government way more than I ever did before.

More than that, it’ll give me some factual examples of good government work next time some idiot accuses me of loving big government. “Do you like your weather forecasts? Do you like FRACKING and cheap oil prices? Do you like your small town funded loan through your podunk little bank?” WELL THEN YOU LIKE GOVERNMENT TOO ASSHOLE.

(Side note – I’ve become a lot more hateful as of late. Do I need to worry about this, Rachel?) Nah, deep breathes…deep breathes…except this book made me madder than usual too. 

Anyway, chalk another winner up to Michael Lewis. Making me learn more about the world, one book at a time.

In conclusion, 2/2 would recommend. 

Everything Trump Touches Dies – TwoMorePages Book Review

Everything Trump Touches Dies – TwoMorePages Book Review

Helllooooo everyone. It’s been awhile; I took a long break to knock on 1,500 doors for Beto, so didn’t get to read for awhile, and well…reading political books to take a break from politics didn’t seem particularly relaxing lol.

But, election’s been over for a month, and I got to finish the book I started with Rachel, Everything Trump Touches Dies!

I bought this book based on the title. It’s hilarious. It wasn’t until I read the reviews that I even realized it was written by a Never-Trump GOP strategist, though that would have been readily apparent as soon as I was 5 pages into the book.

Side note – I’m not quite sure who the target audience was for this book. He had several chapters that were preaching to conservatives, but in all honesty, what Republican is going to pick up a book titled “Everything Trump Touches Dies?” If he was targeting liberals, the title works perfectly, but then those chapters addressed to conservatives were wholly unnecessary.

I know *I* am a former Republican turned Democrat, but in my experience, there just aren’t that many of us, certainly not enough to write a book targeted just at us.

That being said, if people like me are the target audience, MAN DID THIS HIT HOME. Like it or not, one of the central tenets of Republicanism is the ability to look down on others, to condescendingly think and say “y’all are stupid”.

My old Republican ID relished this book. Sometimes I’m just not able to be as nice as Democrats are supposed to be, as nice as Beto is lol. Rick Wilson has a way with snark and condescending remarks, and THAT was the most entertaining part of this book for me.

Rick Wilson touched on a few major themes in his book. The rest of this review is mostly direct quotes that I’m going to try to work in while fighting on the internet from now on. Enjoy! 😀

Hi y’all! Rachel here — I’m finally free from a long fall semester and ready to review books again! I’m pretty sure this book is really just a good ol’ fashioned confirmation-bias-style read, but boy was I there for it. I’m used to reading Trump-critical op-eds and books by die-hard Dems, so it was nice to get something from a Republican perspective, even if realistically it’s not necessarily the normal Republican perspective, and even if I know the author was kind of pandering to what a lot of us want to hear.

So, real quick before we get into the juicy stuff. Wilson made it pretty clear he wouldn’t have been opposed to any of the other 2016 Republican candidates so it’s not that he’s completely turned against what he thought the Republican party was before Trump (although I think we could get into a lot of arguments over how the modern Republican party post-1964 has really birthed Trump and the Trump Republican party, but maybe that should be saved for another time lol.) 

For example: 

…I would have taken any Republican in the field over Trump. Even Ted Cruz, and that says a lot.

And he also makes it pretty clear he’s not been influenced by any left-wing conspiracy saying:

Before you ask, I didn’t do it because George Soros offered me a stack of gold bars and membership in the Illuminati. 

Although if you ask me, that would’ve been a pretty darn good reason for writing a book 🙂

Calling Stupid People Stupid

For instance, here is my favorite excerpt from the opening chapter:

I oppose Trump from the right, not the left, and as a constitutionalist, not as a globalist Soros neocon shill out to impose political correctness, sharia law, and full communism. Yes, I know that accusation is a roaring non sequitur, but welcome to rhetoric in the era of Trump.

Their arguments are so consistently dumb, contradictory, and nonsensical that I have to believe there’s a secret Word Finder App for Conservatives Who Love Donald but Aren’t Smart and Want to Seem Smart to Other People Who Aren’t Smart.

God, it feels good to find such colorful ways to call stupid people stupid. And here are some other fun ways to address the Trump Base that will definitely find their use in the future:

“The Trumpian heroic narrative is simple; powerful alpha male warrior descends golden escalator. Forgotten Americans rise, don red helmets. Evil sorceress Hillary is defeated in single combat. Great feasting and rejoicing by the unwashed masses follows. Swamp is drained and all live MAGA ever after. The truth is, as you might imagine, more prosaic, more horrible, and more human.”

“Over and over, Republicans have failed a basic political common sense test on Trump. The excuses they make for him are so out of proportion to the reaction he deserves. In the fact of incompetence, they display indifference. In the face of corruption, they engage in epic whataboutism. In the face of instability, they blame inexperience.”

AMERICAN EVANGELICALS SOLD THEMSELVES TO Trump for 40 pieces of silver. A degenerate, unrepentant man who represents everything evangelicals have railed against for generations bought their loyalty for nearly nothing. It remains one of the most remarkable aspects of the campaign of 2016 and the presidency of Donald Trump.

If being a Republican means buying into stories so obviously, barkingly insane that they sound like Roger Stone’s conspiracy rantings after a three-day meth bender, then we don’t have a political party; we have an inpatient mental health facility.

To remind you once again, a meaningful fraction of Republicans believed that Hillary Clinton was running a global child sex and cannibalism ring from the basement of a Washington, DC, pizza restaurant.

It speaks to the fact that Trump’s notorious base is impervious to reason and immune to irony and is still a deep mystery to many who aren’t Trump supporters. They are willful, petulant, and full of pointless defiance. They’ve become defined by an obsession with Trump as the sole remedy for the offenses imposed on them by a rotating cast of villains and evildoers.

In the process, they’ve become easy marks for every flavor of conspiratorial lunacy and gimcrack appeals to their worst instincts. I know I’m not supposed to mock Trump’s base. It’s elitist, and cruel, and . . . oh, who am I kidding? Honestly, at this point, it’s almost a moral imperative to slap the stupid out of them.

So I’ll dispense with the brief, obligatory nod to their hard workin’, God-fearin’, ’merican salt-of-the-earth values and return swiftly to being an elitist asshole. Because, by God, they’ve earned it.

Okay, so reading some of these descriptions you begin to feel a bit cringe-y, and probably like you, I was alternating between “Yeah get ’em!!” and “oh dear that seems a little harsh?” I’ll leave you to your judgement, but you gotta admit, it’s kinda fun.

On the Republican Party’s Reality Check

Wilson jumps right in to why he wrote this book, and I think he makes his case pretty clearly, if a bit explicitly, so keep in mind that the following words, and less..um…delicate phrasing are his words, not mine. 

Trump and Trumpism need a critique from the right that isn’t just a long swoon and reach for the smelling salts. I’ve forgotten more about conservative policy and philosophy than Trump will ever know and that the New Establishment has abandoned. Sure, I want to save the Republic from Trump and Trumpism, but I don’t mind telling members of the party and movement to fuck themselves on the way there. I’ll admit I am also driven to write this book by a stirring bit of guilt. I’ve spent a career electing Republicans, defending the conservative movement and philosophy, and fixing the messes made by all…

Okay so this next quote is long but he puts it better than I ever could. Edmund will repeat this later on but this is a passage that needs to be read multiple times.

If any GOP member needs a short quick slap-to-the-face eye-opening wake up call, this is it. 

Everything we Never Trump folks warned you of, including massive, decades-long downstream election losses, is coming. Alienating African Americans and Hispanics beyond redemption? Check. Raising a generation of young voters fleeing the GOP in droves? Check. Age-old beefs, juvenile complaints, and ego bruises taking center stage while the world burns? Check. Playing public footsie with white supremacists and neo-Nazis? Check. Blistering pig-ignorance about the economy and the world? Check. Pushing a tax bill that jacks economic inequality into the stratosphere? Check. Shredding the last iota of the GOP’s credibility as a party that cares about debt, deficits, and fiscal probity? Check. 

Could [the Republicans] have turned their considerable resources and energies to defeating Trump? Absolutely. Their clients are the lifeblood of major donor money and command many billions. They could have darkened the sky with the ashes of the Trump campaign in the early primary if they’d chosen to do so. Instead they advised their clients in corporate America to hold their fire. They sat quietly and watched the world burn. 

Yikes. 

On Obama

Speaking of those deplorables, here is what Rick Wilson thought of their thoughts on Obama:

They mocked Obama’s promises of millions of new jobs in the clean energy sector but adored Trump’s gauzy, anachronistic promises to bring back millions of jobs in dead industries like coal, buggy whips, and witch-finding.

They hated how Obama rode into office on the wave of constant attention from the mainstream media. They loathed how the press played along with his game, draining the life out of every other candidate by describing him as an inevitable juggernaut, an unstoppable political force, and a game-changer who was tapping into something deep and powerful in American political life.

Bless their deplorable little hearts, they loved it from Trump.

They hated how Obama’s naive ignorance of the real and brutal world of international affairs was papered over by his hollow promises to make the world respect the United States again. But Trump’s Russia-inflected win, nuclear brinkmanship, and diplomacy-free MAGA-with-MOABs? Beloved.

Or, put another way:

Everything they despised in Obama’s political character and behavior they love from Trump.

Thank you Rick Wilson. Thank you for pointing out the blatant hypocrisy.

The ludicrous theory that Barack Obama was a Kenyan sleeper agent and that his birth certificate was fake sits atop a golden pyramid of dumbassery. It was always absurd, easily debunked, and politically idiotic, so of course Trump (inspired by Roger Stone, you’ll be shocked to hear) embraced it with gusto. If there was a single, long-lead warning that my party would eventually lose its goddamned mind and sink into the messy world of alternate facts, this was it.

lol

Extolling the Virtues of Conservatism, not Trumpism

“(Under Trump) There is a clear pathway for the Democrats to become the party of fiscal sanity, probity, and responsibility.

I find it hard to write those words, but it’s true. Under Trump, the GOP wholly abandoned any pretense that we cared about the debt, the deficits, or borrowing trillions of dollars to fund our political wish list. Fiscal conservatism is a dead letter in my party, and there’s very little stopping the Democrats from picking up the mantle.

We once roundly mocked the Democrats as the liberal “Free Shit” party, but with Trump writing checks like a drunken sailor blowing his entire paycheck on hookers in Olongapo after three months at sea, we’ve lost that privilege.

Yup, using this the next time someone on the internet says that Republicans are the party of “fiscal responsibility”.

Trade is good; tariffs and isolation are bad. All nations seek advantage, and our global trade system is far from perfect, but the alternatives are spectacularly, existentially bad.

A drunk monkey can understand this, which is why it is an impenetrable mystery to this president.

There is a monstrous, looming Mt. Everest of economic studies and real-world examples that the Trump trade war and tariffs path leads to economic disaster. The irony was lost on the MAGA crowd, of course, but they’re the ones who will bear the costs and the burden of his blistering stupidity.

Mmm, delicious. Free trade  was one of the bedrock Republican ideals that I subscribed to back in my Republican days. It was what made me love economics and was a heavy influence in me choosing my major.

Have I yet mentioned I love Rick Wilson’s snark?

Generations of Republican candidates for House, Senate, governor, and local offices argued that government’s size, power, and impact on everyday Americans was a pernicious danger to the Republic. Donald Trump erased that from the Republican vocabulary in a matter of months. Those in office who still believe government can be too big keep silent when President Statist pushes for a bigger, more intrusive state. The GOP is now the party of big government, and it’s all Trump’s fault.

The Troll Part of Trump has no hesitation in using hte power of government to bring their fantasy economic and social policies to life.

Trump has done more to destroy limited-government conservatism than George Soros could have accomplished in a thousand years.

“Small government” 😀

By their own words from just a few years ago, Obama was a lawless tyrant for using executive orders. The headlines from the conservative press were breathless and hyperbolic:

EXECUTIVE ORDER TYRANNY – OBAMA PLANS TO RULE AMERICA WITH PEN, PHONE

I was no fan of it myself, but if governing by executive order was wrong when Obama did it, why not when Trump does it? Is it just one more hypocritical knot in this skein of excuses Republicans will make for Trump?

Conservatives taking victory laps over Trump’s reversal of rules on coal, oil drilling, climate change, abortion, and other issues important to the cause are overlooking the fact that they haven’t truly achieved anything more than a momentary victory. They’ve given future Democratic presidents the justification not only to undo what Trump has done but to impose new executive orders of their own and continue to diminish the role of Congress in setting the laws that govern this nation.

Oh right, about that “executive overreach” …

What’s a Republican Politician to Do?

Why does Trump kill all that he touches? In part because he requires every man and woman in his orbit to destroy themselves to remain in his good graces.

He spends a lot of time chastising Republican politicians for cowtowing to the idiots of the base, whether they do so because of fear:

Somewhere along the line, members of the Trump base became objects of terror to members of Congress. One congressman told me of a moment when he was mildly critical of Trump in a town hall meeting, and within minutes people were posting threats to his Facebook page, blowing up his phone, and mentioning how they hoped he’d support Mr. Trump because otherwise how would the congressman’s kids grow up without a father?

These aren’t Republicans as we once knew them. They’re more feral, more fierce, and wildly less conservative. The narrow line between statism and conservatism is in the rearview mirror of their ratty, clapped-out beaters. They’re angry at everything, all the time, and they increasingly believe in vivid conspiracy theories that members of Congress with an ounce of sense won’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

or pragmatism / rationalization:

The Rationalizers’ permissive parent style of governing works about as well as letting your kids subsist on a diet of cookie dough and television.

“I wish he’d stop tweeting so much” is the equivalent of “Little Donald is so bright, but I wish he’d focus in class.”

“The President isn’t a conventional politician” translates as “We hope Donnie will channel his creativity, and stop setting fires and dissecting roadkill in the kitchen.”

On Reince Preibus, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, & Co.

I really enjoyed this section, but mostly because I really don’t enjoy Reince Preibus, Paul Ryan or Ted Cruz, no surprise there hahaha

 Reince, however, will be remembered as the man who sold the GOP to Trump on the cheap. To his ironic credit, Priebus had ordered the infamous post-2012 Republican autopsy report, which called on the GOP to modernize, approach Hispanic voters differently, and reform itself. 

Well that didn’t work out too hot. 

Paul Ryan’s enabling of Donald Trump is a tragedy for conservatives in three acts.

Paul Ryan was like a man created in a laboratory to sell conservatism and the Republican Party to the American people in the post-Obama era. Then he embraced and enabled Donald Trump.

The idea that Trump was the only way he’d achieve his goals corrupted Paul Ryan. 

Trump didn’t like Ryan failing to display the level of obsequious ass – kissing of, say, a Ted Cruz.

In all 30 years of political life, I have never seen a politician engage in acts of greater self-abnegation and humiliation.

More than almost any other member of the 2016 field, Ted Cruz helped normalize Trump, burning his credibility to a toasty crisp. 

Amazing. 

As the election progressed, it took an array of insiders from the GOP and the conservative movement to legitimize and normalize Trump for the Republican base voter beyond the howling edge of the Fox viewership. These men and women were Vichy Republicans, eager to shred their principles for a chance the to touch the fringe of Trump’s golden wig, eager to bask in the celebrity glow of his spray tan. 

On Trump Himself

DONALD TRUMP IS A TERRIBLE president. That’s not an aesthetic judgment. That’s not a partisan judgment. It’s a simple tally of his incompetence, recklessness, and the costs he’s imposing on the nation he was elected to lead.

I’m not talking about the usual Washington problems, but the bigger, more sweeping costs we face as a nation. The predicate of Never Trump wasn’t simply that he couldn’t be president; it was that he shouldn’t be president.

Leadership takes two things Donald Trump notoriously and evidently lacks: character and an ability to engage in political acts that go beyond oneself.

Donald Trump ponders only how Fox & Friends covers the previous day. Presidential leadership has never before been about tweeting, preening, or boasting. It hasn’t been an endless exercise in self-fellation, until now.

Who could have imagined that a man of Donald Trump’s spectacular vulgarity, vanity, and gimcrack gold-leaf aesthetic would turn out to be a president without a shred of dignity?

Who would have thought a man with a grasp of history derived solely from movies and television would be unable to channel the wonder and power of this nation in times of crisis?

Who could imagine that a serial adulterer with a desperate need to have his manhood validated and who engaged in a string of risible, sleazy affairs would become an international laughingstock?

Who could have foreseen that the faux billionaire up to his ample ass in debt to God knows who would look at the White House as a way to nickel-and-dime the taxpayers and the GOP into bumping up his revenue stream at his hotels and golf courses?

Spoiler: everyone, ever. Those of you who hoped the awesome power and majesty of the presidency would draw Trump away from decades of tawdry, low behavior were in for a rude surprise.

The only unity emerging in the era of Trump is on the negative side: he has drawn people together in vocal, constant, furious anger. No modern political figure, left or right, has had more people hate him with a mad, burning passion than Donald Trump.

This president’s skill isn’t the art of the deal but the art of setting his own ass on fire and causing the world around him to panic.

Trump’s Idiotic Promises / “Accomplishments”

On the Wall:

Trump would pretend the Wall was going to stop the Bad Things and Brown People, when in reality he barely bestirred his round ass to do any of the political things needed to make a deal to build the wall. The Democrats offered the easiest path possible by offering to fund Donnie’s pet project in exchange for a DACA fix. It’s telling that for Trump the issue was never worth any compromise with the hot nationalists around him.

Of course, the Wall as a signifier was always more important than a wall qua wall. It was a way of making racial animus acceptable.

On the Muslim ban:

The travel ban was fatally flawed, but that didn’t stop the Camelot of Stupid from pursuing it until the last dog died. There are a dozen other ways to stop Islamic terrorism, but why not just engage in trolling by executive order instead?

Firing Comey:

Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey is the jewel in the stupid crown of his disastrous, tone-deaf, extralegal approach to government. He didn’t just fire his FBI director in a flagrant effort to obstruct justice; he bragged about it to both Lester Holt of NBC News, and to—you might want to sit down for a moment—the Russian ambassador in a private meeting in the Oval Office.

This decision would be the single most consequential moment in his early presidency, if only because it was so predictably going to lead to an epic political shitshow, launch the Mueller investigation, and haunt his every waking hour.

The Tax Bill:

For all of my party’s yammering about the evils of wealth redistribution, we’ve done a spectacular job of it with this tax bill; the corporate benefits are forever, but the Tax Policy Center predicts that just ten years from now Americans making under $100,000 a year will pay much more in taxes given the provisions of the Trump tax bill.

What about the 2017 tax bill? Isn’t it a towering Republican win, a brand-new conservative approach to . . . oh, who am I kidding? It’s a honking corporate tax cut. It’s a bill written by lobbyists for a tier of wealthy corporate and high-net-worth clients, a triumph of the Washington ecosystem of lobbying and paid advocacy.

About his Staff:

Donald Trump hasn’t drained the swamp or changed Washington in part because the only people he could find to join his government are human train wrecks.

Setting aside the clown show of the inner White House team, Trump’s administration combines all the things you’d expect: venality, incompetence, a stunning lack of policy knowledge, and a slurry of people dragged from Trump’s business world who couldn’t manage a Waffle House.

Trump doesn’t have staff; he has acolytes. He doesn’t have experts; he has enthusiasts.

Trump’s Relationship to the Press

Tune in Fox today, and it meets every clichéd liberal critique of the past twenty years: counterfactual conspiracy nonsense, yahoo-ism, least-common-denominator jingoism, deep and overt bias in story selection, and out-of-context smears. It turns out some Republicans didn’t want fair and balanced after all; they wanted an insular, partisan media environment biased toward the lunatic fringe and that delivered 24/7 Trump adoration.

It was the cable networks (and no, not just Fox), the elite media, inert major donors, a monied horde of lobbyists, and the professional conservative activists who ditched principle for revenue, clicks, and ratings, and transitory influence. They enabled, empowered, and elected Trump and continue to do so with their rolling coverage of his every presidential distraction strategy. 

I thought this was a very good point, but raises the eternal dilemma of “if you cover him, you encourage him, but if you don’t cover him, you could be covering up his misdeeds.”

Of all the norms Trump has shattered, of all the damage he’s done to the Republic, the war on the press is the deepest affront to our traditions, values, and freedoms.

I wonder where the same conservatives will be on the day when some leftist statist in the Oval Office decides to try to shut down Fox or Limbaugh or moves in even more sweeping directions to regulate, control, or suppress conservative voices online.

If conservatives don’t see the downsides of this future, they’re working with a set of mental predicates that assume there will never be a tough election ahead, and never be a moment when the jackboot is on the other foot.

Sean Hannity is the frenzied end point of this particular flavor of conservative hypocrisy. The role he plays for Trump would launch a thousand screaming Media Research Center and Breitbart articles if the partisan brogue was on the other foot.

Imagine for a moment the Republican meltdown that would have come to pass if—hypothetically—Joe Scarborough had spent weeks advising Barack Obama on how to respond to the Benghazi investigation, or if Jake Tapper had counseled Hillary Clinton on her email server scandal. The incandescent, ass-on-fire meltdown would have been one for the ages.

Now THAT is an interesting hypothetical to pose.

Fox may be Trump’s safe space, but Trump is Fox’s safe space, too. It’s a circular feedback loop.

If you’re a conservative who sees this as a good outcome merely because Fox is nominally conservative, you might want to examine your priors.

The president of the United States is addicted to an endless stream of praise from a shallow, dangerously stupid man. That same dangerous, stupid man feeds America’s president a constant flow of conspiracy nonsense, uncritical praise, and uninformed opinion.

Trump’s Relationship with the Alt-Reich

IF THERE’S ONE GROUP I’ve delighted in seeing the ETTD curse hit, it’s the alt-right. The rise of an overtly racist, overtly anti-Semitic tendency in modern American politics is revolting and disturbing and needs a pure, cleansing fire to drive it back into the shadows.

No, not every Trump supporter is a racist, xenophobic, alt-right man-child. However, every racist, xenophobic alt-right man-child is a Trump supporter.

If there’s one legacy of his election and presidency we’ll spend decades cleaning up, it’s the casual ease with which he welcomed them into the daylight.

The fury I felt after defending my party for decades from attacks that it was inherently racist, only to have it elect a man racist in deed and word, tolerant of even more vile racists, and a hero to racists, white supremacists, and anti-Semites leaves me almost speechless with rage.

Looking Forward

Everything we Never Trump folks warned you of, including massive, decades-long downstream election losses, is coming. Alienating African Americans and Hispanics beyond redemption? Check

Raising a generation of young voters who are fleeing the GOP in droves? Check.

Age old beefs, juvenile complaints, and ego bruises taking center stage while the world burns? Check.

Playing public footsie with white supremacists and neo-Nazis? Check.

Blistering pig-ignorance about the economy and world? Check.

Pushing a tax bill that jacks economic inequality into the stratosphere? Check.

Shredding the last iota of the GOP’s credibility as a party that cares about debt, deficits, and fiscal probity? Check.

Rick Wilson goes into a lot of detail about the long term damage to the Republican party as a result of Trump, specifically about how it changes the behavior of Republicans running for office in order to win their primaries.

Republican primaries have become contests for the Darwin Awards, a political version of hold-my-beer-watch-this bubba-ism. In their brave, stupid new world, it’s not enough to build the Wall; they want a 3,000-mile lava moat with robot alligators programmed to eat Mexicans, then a minefield to stop the stragglers, and finally laser turrets to fry the ones that escape the alligators and mines.

Trump’s unlikely win, driven by his shambolic, half-assed campaign, has convinced a generation of Republicans that the careful use of data, polling, analytics, and media placement can be replaced by grunting, atavistic “Build duh wall, deport ’em all” populism, Twitter, and rallies.

And about how that affects them in the general election:

The idea of running as a Trump Republican if you’re not Donald Trump is a catastrophically long reach anywhere outside of seats the best redistricting money can buy. If you’re in a safe seat in a district with a 15% GOP voter registration advantage in Asscrack, Arkansas, that might work. Almost everywhere else, the lesson from January 2017 until today has been that Trump is a mighty headwind for GOP candidates.

Moreover, he even talks about how you’re still fucked if you run as Republican even if you are a “good” Republican.

Baker’s political tragedy is the story of a good man trapped by a bad president and his own fear. With all his good works in the African American community blown away by a tide of hatred and racial animus that Donald Trump slammed back into the American political dialogue, I’m sure Baker today ponders the counterfactuals of a robust, sharp attack on Trump and riding out the anger of the Trump base. It’s a lesson for other Republicans, one that I am certain they’ll ignore.

A GOP looking backward, desperate to restore the economy, racial composition, and social structures of the 1950s, is bad for the brand, and the kind of nostalgia that is both pointless and cruel.

Democrats learned this lesson in Bill Clinton’s election of 1992, and again with Barack Obama in 2008. Both men were more optimistic than their Republican counterparts, painting a vision of an America that works and moves forward without fear.

This was solid reflection, imo. The Republican party has embraced looking backwards with nostalgia as their MO – The second A in MAGA is AGAIN after all.

Beto and Obama were, for me at least, visions *forward*, of hope and optimism in the FUTURE. Don’t know about Bill; I was too young.

Dear Democrats

Dear Democrats: this chapter is for you. Sure, my Republican and independent readers may still glean some amusement or information from it, but I hope you’ll pay attention. Here’s the Truth: Democrats are bad at politics.

No, really. You’re holistically bad at politics both on election day and in the cut-and-thrust of Eashington, and your lack of skills is often Trump’s best ally.

This…was a surprising interlude chapter, with some insights I do and don’t agree with.

Agree with:

Another reason we took over 1,100 legislative seats from you over the past 15 years is your top-down ideology. Florida is not Vermont. Michigan is not Wyoming. New York is not North Carolina. As long as you insist on a single set of national standards for your party candidates, you limit the regions, states, and districts in which you can effectively compete.

The New York Times had a great podcast regarding this with Democrats in Missouri, and I do actually agree with this. By running identical candidates everywhere, we do actually limit the states we can win. The 2018 mid-terms saw this in Missouri and Indiana, and Pod Save America talks about whether or not the Senate will be permanently lost because of it.

I agree. I may have my principles, but I also know that not every Democrat across the nation holds my exact beliefs, and I think it’s extremely limiting to try to run a cookie-cutter candidate. The only way to achieve big change is through small incremental changes and this means fielding candidates that work for each region/state.  

? with:

Ideological rigidity on abortion costs you votes in the aggregate outside of coastal enclaves, but it’s nothing at all compared to guns.

Do you want to know how we beat you, over and over and over? This is going to sting for my Democratic friends, but one of the easiest ways for people on my side to disqualify you with large chunks of American voters is the subject of guns.

This one, I’m a little torn about. I’ve heard the argument that Beto cost himself the 2018 mid-term in Texas because of his stance on guns. Part of me believes it because of anecdotal evidence of people that didn’t vote for him “because he wants to ban sales of AR-15s” (never mind that he would have let you keep yours if you already owned it, or why people even need an AR-15…I digress). The other part of me believes that this actually is the future of activating younger progressives who actually are scared of getting gunned down at school.

I, luckily, did not really ever worry about this kind of thing, and working in as an adult now, I still don’t worry about it. I don’t have kids yet, so I’m not worried about my little ones getting gunned down.

Texas had a school shooting in Galveston, and I thought that, for sure, would activate people behind Beto for his gun control common sense stances, but … nope. I thought we would have a similar reaction to Parkland, but … nope – just another shooting, and then it was like it never happened.

But then again – maybe I’m wrong.

Gun control and gun violence make it into the top 10 of any Most Important Problem polling question panel for about a minute after a tragedy like Parkland, then fall back to where they usually live: in the 1 to 5% range. Jobs, the economy, the direction of the nation, and national security still drive voter decisions. Gun control hasn’t, and doesn’t.

You (democrats) can’t grasp that millions and millions of Americans who own guns, hunt, shoot for sport or pleasure, or carry for self-defense hear your attacks on guns as attacks on them.

So, on this, I’m torn. Part of me thinks that people do care about this – but Rick puts the situation in a very interesting way here, especially that last sentence.

If some gun owners will hear all gun control measures as attacks on them, how will we ever deal with the gun violence problem? That frames the situation as: either you can fix the gun control problem and probably not get elected; or you can get elected, but kids are still going to die. Shitty choices.

Yeah, I disagree with Wilson on this issue. But I think it’s because he’s framing gun control in the “all guns”-mindset. And maybe it’s just me, but let’s be honest, if you value getting reelected over a kid’s life you can’t call yourself pro-life, and you definitely have priorities that are wayyyyy out of whack. 

Disagree with:

(on Pelosi) While we’re on the subject of the GOP’s secret weapons, I’ll name another: Nancy Pelosi. Nancy Pelosi may raise a metric crap-ton of money for the Democrats, but she sets the rest of America’s teeth on edge. Ever wonder why we stuck her in candidate and SuperPAC ads against you until Trump came along? Because it worked for a long, long time; only Trump has made her more palatable.

…she scans as harsh, shrill, partisan, and out of touch to Republicans and = importantly – an enormous swath of independents. We used her against you because she’s a convenient shorthand for the things many Americans see as culturally and socially disconnected from their lives.

On this, I defer to an argument I regularly see on /r/politics. Nancy Pelosi is crazy effective. She is a big reason that the Affordable Care Act exists at all, and she does a great job as House Speaker – the reason why most Republicans hate her is because she is effective.

Yes, what Rick says here is correct to some degree – most Republican attack ads are now going to feature her. And maybe Rick is right in that she doesn’t poll well with independents and Republicans.

But what are we, as a party, supposed to do about that – every time Republicans latch on to an effective democrat with attacks, abandon them? That seems like a good way to get rid of our best talent at their request.

Right?!? I’m all for Pelosi, like Edmund said, she’s crazy effective, and she know’s her stuff better than anyone. And so what if Republicans go after her? They’ve yet to sink her, Dems won the midterms, and man alive she knows how to drive Trump crazy. 

Conclusion

So most of this review was quotes. Rick Wilson is very witty, imo, and I in part made this review so that way I’d have easy things to reference when I wanted to get in internet fights haha.

That being said, some takeaways were very important. In talking about this book with Rachel, I remember saying that one of the weirder chapters was his “looking forward” chapter, where he talks about how Republicans can recover from all of this – where the party should go after Trump.

And I remember saying to Rachel “Um, is he just saying they should become democrats?” Because almost everything he said the Republican party should embrace was something that the Democratic party is already currently embracing – Look forward, not backwards – don’t be fucking racist – respect the rule of law (It’s Mueller time!)- embrace the constitution and respect our institutions – quit bitching about gay marriage – legalize marijuana.

That chapter was…weird. I left it feeling like “Dude, just switch parties, like I did. Being R is not in your DNA – it’s changeable.”

That is exactly what I felt after finishing this book. I mean, c’mon Wilson, I know you’ve made your career in Rep politics, but I don’t think it would kill you to switch to Dem. You know you want to, and why not try to fix your mistakes by working to get “the other team” elected? Seems like a win-win to me. 

All in all, this book was much better than I expected. The snark was extremely entertaining, and he legit brought up some parallels I hadn’t thought of before (the hypothetical about someone from MSNBC being a Presidential advisor to Obama for instance). I’ll have plenty of material for internet fights going forward, and it’ll be a nice bonus to lead with “As GOP strategist Wilson says, ____ .”

Already did it once on the Tarant County Republican page and they seemed stumped when they couldn’t just attack Democrats as a response haha.

I’ll close this review with some pieces from his closing chapter that I found poignant:

Being such an acid-tongued bastard, it sometimes gets lost that it’s not simply that I hate Donald Trump. It’s not simply that I loathe his status as a shit-tier human in every measurable axis and think he’s a stain on the presidency. It’s that I love this big, messy, chaotic experiment we call America. It’s because deep in my heart, I know that the country I love is tougher and vastly better than he is and, when called to its higher purpose, always answers.

Resistance on the right to Trump isn’t just out of stubbornness. It would be easy to say conservatism will survive under the moral and political disaster that is Donald Trump, but it wouldn’t be honest to do so. Team MAGA and the Trump GOP would love for us to shut up and let the world burn.

Like the Guilty Men of Great Britain who sought peace at any price with Herr Hitler, the new establishment conservatives who seek Trump at any price to the country, the movement, and the party will have to contend with the stubborn, angry, determined minority of us who still stand for something more than Nielsen ratings and the Twitter fury of a game show host masquerading as a president.

I think my wrap-up quote would be one of cautious optimism:

Call me a cockeyed optimist about the power of this country to not only welcome but also to create new Americans, but I still believe that we are a system, not a race. We are a nation of universal ideals and principles, not just a few lines on a map or a wall in the desert. 

This quote from Ulysses S. Grant was especially moving for me, and a great way to end this review:

Whatever may have been my political opinions before, I have but one sentiment now. That is, we have a Government, and laws and a flag, and they must all be sustained. There are but two parties now, traitors and patriots, and I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter, and I trust, the stronger party.

Mavericks (Expeditionary Force Book 6) – TwoMorePages Book Review

Mavericks (Expeditionary Force Book 6) – TwoMorePages Book Review

I *love* the Expeditionary Force! And I’m glad to see it back in action. 🙂

One trap I felt like the Craig Alanson had fallen into with the last couple books in this series was that things were starting to feel a little repetitive: our merry band of pirates would get in trouble, Skippy would save them, along with some help from Joe, and that would…be the story. Deux Ex Skippy made me feel like no matter what, the stakes weren’t that high – and though I did enjoy his snark, it’s like eating a diet composed only of candy: you don’t appreciate the candy if all you eat is candy.

I loved the different take that Craig Alanson took in Mavericks, having us follow well..the Mavericks! I really enjoyed the novella earlier, and half the book felt like an expansion of the Novella with Perkins, Nert, et al. Plus, the Mavericks don’t have Deux Ex Skippy to bail them out, so the stakes seemed higher in their sections.

And the second half of the book, that *did* have Skippy was refreshing and nice and entertaining to read, as I’ve come to expect of Skippy sections. 🙂

Hopefully, the next book has this nice split again, and we get to learn even more about Skippy’s origins – his existential crisis introduced in this book was intriguing, where he’s afraid he’s going to go crazy and kill entire species, so he turns a little bit suicidal… I personally felt like that was a little out of character for an AI with as much self confidence as he has, but I’m intrigued to see where the author goes with this.

It’s been the highlight of my last few weeks. Thank you Craig Alanson for pumping out books on such a regular schedule! I love reading them, and I’m glad you were able to self publish on Amazon, for my life would be far less rich without the Ex Force!

Yes We (Still) Can – TwoMorePages Book Review

Yes We (Still) Can – TwoMorePages Book Review

This book is an argument to young people that politics is something very much worth engaging in. It’s fun, fulfilling, and really damn important.

Hello all! Rachel here, I’ll be starting off this review, but don’t worry, I’ll still be writing in blue (just to make it easy). Oh, by the way, parentheses are a thing now. Dan Pfeiffer said so. (PAHAHAHAHA. well, if Dan Pfeiffer said so… haha)

Okay, so like many who read this book, I first heard of Dan Pfeiffer through Pod Save America; I just knew any book by those guys was bound to be pretty damn sweet. And I was not disappointed. Unlike many post-administration memoirs, this book is not a gossip-laden, my president and I were the most righteous people ever, here’s every instance in which I saved the country type of book (Dan also made that clear right off the bat.) Rather, this memoir was a rousing telling of how the Obama Administration came to be, its highs and lows, and how the nation can move forward in this um…interesting political era if we learn from past successes and mistakes.

This book BLEW ME AWAY. Like Rachel mentioned, I learned about this book from Pod Save America, my favorite podcast in the world. I thought it would be good, but HOT DAMN, THIS MIGHT BE THE BEST BOOK I READ THIS YEAR. (Yes, I’m shouting in caps. Yes, that’s on purpose!)

The tone, the message, the stories. I loved EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS BOOK.

This review will be quote heavy. Dan makes his points so well, sometimes it’s hard to build on his poignancy.

So let’s start with the most personally inspiring one shall we?

At the end of the conversation, Obama looked me right in the eye and asked “How often do you get to put your shoulder against the wheel of history and push?”

Wow. I think this is going to be my go-to phrase to pump myself up for volunteering this election season. Here we go Beto!

The Campaign

What most impressed me, in Dan’s description of Obama’s campaign years, was his tale of the campaign’s culture: no assholes allowed. Amazing. I already knew the campaign team was known as “No Drama Obama,” but I didn’t know quite what that meant. 

Our team eventually became known as “No Drama Obama.” Loyal to one another, total commitment to a cause, empowerment and inclusion, and no leaks. People who didn’t adhere to these principles didn’t get through the door, and the few that did ended up working a backwater field office in a noncompetitive state.” If you ask anyone from President Obama on down to a field organizer in Story County, Iowa, they will tell you that our culture was one of the things of which they were proudest.

Huh. Sounds a little different from a certain somebody’s campaign and presidency. No names mentioned. 

Most people think that the motto of the 2008 campaign was “Yes, We Can” or “Hope and Change”; it was actually something we abbreviated to the family-friendly “WTF.” This was our motto and our attitude. When faced with a choice between something safe with less upside or a higher-risk, higher-reward option, we always chose the latter.

I thought this quote was particularly hilarious. It’s weird to think that even from a staffer’s perspective, Obama’s presidency was the longest of long shots that worked basically because of gambles that paid off.

The Presidency

Obviously this book is partisan. Dan Pfeiffer played an integral role in the Obama Administration and he gives us no doubt about where his political loyalty lies. But he also takes a very critical view of politics in America that is honestly quite refreshing, when it isn’t soul-crushingly depressing. Oh well. In a great sum-up of the Obama years, Dan writes: 

For eight years, Barack Obama dealt with:

  • A dystopic, anything-goes media environment upended by the emergence of the internet.
  • An intellectually bankrupt and increasingly rabid Republican Party
  • A right-wing propaganda machine embodied by Fox News
  • The rising tide of fake news and conspiracy theories
  • The emergence of social media platforms such as Twitter that reward the loudest voices and penalize thoughtfulness and analysis.

I think we can all agree this has gotten worse in the past two years. 

Another notable difference between the former and current presidents (although if I was actually to list all the differences I’d be typing until December probably) was their so-called “media diets.” 

In contrast to Trump’s addiction to cable news and Twitter, Obama had a much healthier (and thoughtful) media diet. If Obama read something interesting in a magazine, he would tab it and ask his personal assistant to share it with the relevant members of the senior staff. Sometimes these were stories that highlighted an interesting policy problem that he wanted the staff to address, and other times they were just interesting stories he thought we should read, such as a piece by historian Taylor Branch in the Atlantic criticizing college athletics and a piece in the New Yorker about the possible extinction of bees.

I LOVED this. Remember when we had an intelligent, critical, discerning president…ah the good ol’ days. (*sigh* Are cartoons allowed in this review?

Image result for wolverine crush on Obama)

As someone who very nerdily once dreamed of becoming a presidential speechwriter or Chief of Staff this book was pure gold (even though I know Pfeiffer wasn’t actually a speechwriter or Chief of Staff, he was close – tomatoes, tomahtoes.) So when Pfeiffer was able to talk about how the inner White House functioned, and about Obama’s speech giving – which I always admired – I was pumped. 

Reagan mythology aside, Obama is the greatest communicator of the modern political era. He delivers speeches of oratorical brilliance. In interviews, he manages to seem extraordinarily talented and ordinarily grounded at the same time. No president has been able to hold a crowd so rapt, whether it was a boisterous political rally or a somber memorial service, like Obama.

I 100% agree with Dan here. Having read through many of his speeches, and listened to many more, it’s clear that he and his communications team were top-of-the-line. And I agree even more with Dan, that it is quite a shame that the culture of instant news, instant gratification, Twitter, and “fake news,” limited Obama’s ability to get his speeches and ideas to the public in the manner he wanted, and needed. And as Dan said, Democrats are gonna have to learn to move forward – ahead of the future, not just in line with it – if they want to take back Congress or the White House. 

Yeah one thing that Obama did *so well* was give speeches. I’m actually still seeing some NOW, after his Presidency, for the first time. It does suck that this amazing ability of his got sidelined because well…the internet kind of made ignoring speeches way easier. I’M SORRY OBAMA {and I’m also SO SORRY for not being as politically active as I am now, and not voting in midterms, giving you that awful Congress that you had to fight for 7/8 years of your Presidency… 😥   }

Fox (And Friends) is Destroying America

Yep, yep it is. Without a doubt. 

If you want to know why the Republican Party has become so far out of the mainstream, you have only to look to Fox News.

If you want to know why large portions of the Republican Party believe in debunked conspiracy theories about Barack Obama and refuse to believe accurate reports about Trump, look to Fox News.

If you want to know why so many Republicans yell “fake news” at information that challenges their point of view, look to Fox News. f you want to know why nativism and racism are resurgent in the Republican Party, look to Fox News.

And if you want to know how we ended up with Trump as president, yet again look to Fox News.

More than a decade or so later, I am still in awe of how ham-handedly racist Fox can be.

Really couldn’t have summed up Fox New’s effect on America better than that. I could go on more about it, but I imagine you should probably just read the book.

This was by far my favorite chapter in the book. And woohoo – Rachel opened this section with my favorite quote from it! Fucking Fox News…turning my otherwise 100% reasonable friends and family into conspiracy lunatics. 😥

Fox News isn’t covering news from a perspective that is outside the elite media bubble; it is not even covering issues from a conservative perspective. Simply put, Fox News is not a news outlet. It is a Republican propaganda machine masquerading as a news outlet.

Preach!

“These are just hyperbolic claims” you say? Well, Dan goes into the evidence:

When Obama was president, Fox News almost never covered the good news in the economic recovery, but now that Trump is president, the same jobs and growth numbers that were ignored or dismissed under Obama are trumpeted from the rooftops.

When Obama was president, the consistent theme was that Obama was not tough
enough in his response to Russian aggression in Ukraine and Syria. Now that Trump is president, in part because Russia interfered with our election, Fox News is leading the defense of Trump’s pro-Putin foreign policy.

Going outside the scope of this book, here is Fox News reporting on talking with North Korea, both under Obama and under Trump.

The brazenness of Fox’s bullshit really bugged me. I wanted to inflict some measure of pain on them. Denying them an Obama interview and giving one to their competitors was the biggest card we had to play.

Switching topics to something that I *didn’t* know about before, Pfeiffer went into detail about the time that Obama’s administration temporarily took away Fox’s press credentials. I honestly entirely missed this when it happened – whoops…

First, Chris Wallace, the host of Fox News Sunday and son of legendary journalist MIke Wallace, is the exception to the rule when it comes to Fox. Unlike most of his counterparts, he will aggressively question Republicans and Democrats and at times has called out some of Fox’s bullshit. Wallace was the wrong person to pick t his fight with.

I really liked how he was introspective about the mistakes he made when making that decision too. Very few people would be able to do this. Honestly, that makes him a bigger man than me.

Many of the reporters who rose to Fox’s defense now tell me that they regretted the way it played out because it gave Fox a veneer of objectivity that they didn’t deserve.

And years later when Trump declared war on all of the media except Fox, blacklisting some from campaign events and using the White House to attack networks by name, Fox did not reciprocate that loyalty. In fact, they reveled in their new role as the propaganda arm of the Trump White House.

…aaaaand, bringing this back to present day, we have a President that calls the press the enemy of the American people. Ugh.

When Pfeiffer tried to exclude Fox News, every other news outlet came to their defense. Now that the Trump administration is basically giving preferential treatment to Fox News and shitting on CNN and MSNBC and even CBS now somehow…crickets.

I wonder if we make it out of this administration if Fox News will start being excluded again, and if that’s the right decision or not. I suppose you could ONLY give interviews to Wallace…?

That Stupid “Obama Wasn’t Born Here” Conspiracy

While we were focused on things like saving the economy and passing a health care bill, however, the rightwing fringe was in overdrive. They had become convinced that the “Certificate of Live Birth” we’d released during the campaign was a forgery.

A major part of the conspiracy centered on the difference between the “Certificate of Live Birth” we released and his “long-form birth certificate,” which was on file with the state of Hawaii.

It’s hard to overstate how dumb a discrepancy this is, but it is also hard to overstate how dumb the Far Right of the Republican Party can be.

It still makes me instantly angry whenever someone tries to say that Obama wasn’t born here. Hearing a firsthand account from Pfeiffer’s perspective was illuminating.

During this period, I was living in blissful ignorance of these machinations even though I knew the president was interested in releasing his birth certificate. This was a classic Barack Obama move. He had a natural tendency to want to address the elephant in the room, even if it took him off whatever we thought was the best message. His instinct was usually right, but in this instance, I couldn’t bring myself to give in to Donald Trump and the band of racist nutjobs that he represented.

I didn’t realize that Obama really wanted to just release his birth certificate and be done with it. I remember distinctly thinking at the time that if I was him, I would want to, just to say “STFU YOU STUPID IDIOTS. HERE’S MY BIRTH CERTIFICATE. STOP BEING IDIOTS.” on live TV.

I had always just assumed that he didn’t for so long because that would in essence be “letting the crazies win.” I didn’t realize it was people like Pfeiffer that were holding him back haha.

The president wanted to use this opportunity to take the conversation to a bigger idea beyond the birth certificate. He wanted to talk about the danger of the political conversation getting diverted by these side issues.

Obama is a much better man than I am. I definitely would have just taken the podium and said “Fuck you Fox News.” Instead, we got this:

“Now, normally I would not comment on something like this…but two weeks ago,when the Republican House had put forward a budget that will have huge consequences potentially to the country, and when I gave a speech about my budget and how I felt that we needed to invest in education and infrastructure and making sure that we had a strong safety net for our seniors even as we were closing the deficit, during that entire week the dominant news story wasn’t about these huge, monumental choices that we’re going to have to make as a nation. It was about my birth certificate.

But we’re not going to be able to do it if we are distracted. We’re not going to be able to do it if we spend time vilifying each other. We’re not going to be able to do it if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts. We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.”

HOW DID I MISS THIS SPEECH?!

The Affordable Care Act

“What’s the point of amassing political capital if you aren’t willing to use it to help people?” He pointed out to us that if he didn’t try to pass a law to give access to health care to the uninsured on the heels of a landslide election win with huge majorities in Congress, then it would never get done. “If not now, when?”

This quote is just as poignant to me as the “How often do you get to put your shoulder against the wheel of history and push?” quote that I started this review with.

It says so much about two things:

(1) Obama’s character as a person – He could have remained much more politically popular had he not pushed for health care reform. But he did it, because his biggest goal was not his popularity, but to help people. It wasn’t about his ego – it was about people.

Side note – Apparently Obama, in an effort to try to convince Trump to keep the Affordable Care Act intact, told him to just rename it TrumpCare instead of repealing it. “I didn’t have pride of authorship, I just wanted people to have healthcare.”

(2) Obama’s political pragmatism – That quote basically says “This is as good as it realistically gets. If we’re too chickenshit to try this now, it will literally never happen.”

We prepared for some of the obvious criticisms of any health care bill: Is it a government takeover of health care? Will it raise your taxes? Will it raise your premiums? Etc.

Here’s one we didn’t prepare for: Obamacare will kill you.

I’ve been in arguments before, political or otherwise, where a counterargument comes so far out of left field that I’m temporarily stunned and just go “WAT?!’ (spelled like that on purpose). (Side note – apparently my friend Joe thinks that is my signature phrase, since he said that when trying to do an imitation of me lolol)

Like you prepare for reasonable arguments. How do you prepare for something based on lies that isn’t based on the truth at all?

“This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia if enacted into law.” Boehner knew that what he was saying was complete bullshit. He just didn’t care.

(Iowa Senator Chuck) Grassley, who was intimately familiar with health care policy and certainly knew the truth, had two options at that moment: Tell his constituent the truth and reassure them, or try to score political points. Grassley chose the latter, telling the constituent that “you have every right to fear…[We] should not have a government run plan to decide when to pull the plug on grandma.”

Republicans – cowards, the lot of them. I’m so ashamed to say that I was ever a Republican.

Obamacare as a not-so-secret strategy to kill old people was the highest-profile and most pernicious attack, but it was far from the only one. The Republicans would repeat ad nauseam that our plan would increase the deficit, even though it was completely paid for through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. They alleged that it would cut the Medicare benefits that seniors depend on. Also completely false.

When you can’t attack something on its merits, just make shit up – the Republican strategy to literally everything.

On trying to play nice with Republicans

It seems quaint to think about now, but at the time, outreach to Republicans was a core part of our strategy, so much so that at one point I pitched Plouffe on hiring a disillusioned Republican staffer to join the campaign to serve as a point of contact with the conservative media, including Fox News.

Plouffe loved the idea, and we went so far as to put together a list of possible names before the plan died on the vine. The fact that we even considered such an idea is a sign of how different politics was back then.

The president-elect decided in an unusual gesture of bipartisan outreach to travel to Capitol Hill to pitch the Republicans on his plan and personally solicit their help in saving the economy. Usually Congress gets summoned to the White House, but Obama wanted to show them his desire to work with them in good faith.

Reading about how Obama’s administration basically bent over backwards despite at once point having a super majority is…simultaneously inspiring (because it gives me hope for what  President can be) and rage inducing (because @&*@*%@&^% at Trump’s cabinet selections and judicial nominees.).

Zero “yea” votes from the Republican caucus. Not a single House Republican was willing to work with the newly elected Democratic president to prevent the economy from careening into another Great Depression.

“What a dick,” I thought to myself (about Boehner) “You do the right thing and they ratfuck you anyway.”

To this day, I have perfectly reasonable Republican friends of mine continue to accuse Obama of trying to run the country like a dictator…and it is so upsetting knowing that if he had wanted to, he literally could have run roughshod over the Republicans at one point, but decided he wanted to try to compromise for the good of the nation…and was rebuffed.

The President looked up at us, laughed at whatever the Republican lunacy du jour was, and said: “You know, I was elected about a decade too soon.”

The President said that it was inevitable that the country would have a president of color, but the unique circumstances of his candidacy caused this to happen much sooner than would have otherwise occurred.

He went on to explain that we were living in a period of massive, disruptive economic, cultural, and technological change. And that having a black president with the middle name Hussein as the face of that change had real political and cultural consequences. In other words, Barack Obama drove the Republicans insane.

So insane that the Republicans nominated and America elected Donald Trump. When I think about how the first African American president was replaced by a man whose election caused white supremacists to come out from behind their Pepe the Frog Twitter avatars to dance in the street, I think back to this conversation with Obama on the helicopter.

When I watch Paul Ryan and McConnell bend the knee to a man they know to be dangerously unfit for the presidency, I hear Obama’s observation in my head.

The modern Republican Party is dead. It has no coherent ideology or policy agenda. It’s a conglomerate of clowns, con men, and racists and those who enable the clowns, con men, and racists. American democracy depends on having two functioning political parties. We have only one (it’s the Democrats, I swear).

I know that’s a long passage, I’m sorry! But it’s SO GOOD.

The Republicans did not want to be seen breaking bread with Obama because it would upset their voters. They were petrified of being tossed out in a primary challenge if they were photographed treating Barack Obama like a human being.

WHAT. THE. FUCK.

Their voters hated Obama so much that it paralyzed the Republican Party. Now these Republicans should have had the courage to stand up to the rabid fringe of their party that believed Obama was a secret Muslim Manchurian candidate. That failure is how we ended up with Trump. Before the Republican establishment knew it, the far-right fringe they tried to placate started calling the shots and mainstream Republicans like John
Boehner served at the pleasure of the Breitbart birthers.

*sigh*

During heated budget negotiations in 2011 when Obama and Boehner were on the cusp of a historic deal, Paul Ryan, who was then chair of the Budget Committee, scuttled the deal because it would guarantee Obama’s reelection—even though the deal would have been good for the country and accomplish some of Ryan’s longheld policy goals. In the Republican mind-set, beating Obama in 2012 wasn’t just the primary political goal of the Republican Party; it was their only goal. It was their entire reason for being.

Look. I get that Pfeiffer was an Obama staffer and his perspective will be a bit skewed. But I went and did a little research on this after and it seems true.

Republicans literally turned away a compromise deal that included things that tTHEY WANTED, and THAT WERE GOOD FOR AMERICA, simply because it might make Obama look good.

What. The. Fuck.

But every Obama win came at a long-term cost. The Republican base got angrier and more radicalized. Not just at Obama, but at their own leaders. Faced with this revolt, Republicans like Ryan and McConnell decided to accommodate the crazy instead of confront it.

And this is how the Republican party that I knew (and was a part of) died. Because Ryan and McConnell would rather coddle racists and idiots for votes/power rather than govern.

Barack Obama hates to lose and he really hates to lose to Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate. McConnell is smart, diabolical, and basically a robot sent from the future to destroy the progressive agenda. He is the most cynical person in politics and cares about nothing other than the accumulation of power.

Everyone hates Mitch McConnell. He’s terrible.

He’s really bad. Like, really bad.

OH! And the analysis of Mitch McConnell – that’s the kind of good for America gossip I live for. 

Love it. I, like many, can’t stand the man, so it’s somewhat comforting to know that those who work with him also can’t stand him. 

Trump is a symptom of the plague that has infected the Grand Old Party, but he is not the disease itself. Trump didn’t take over the party; he is the end result of a party that weaponized racial anxiety to motivate their base during the Obama era.

:/

Relationships with the Press

Every White House is engaged in a low-intensity conflict with the reporters who show up every day to report on its happenings. Ours was no different.

This is the nature of the beast—the White House wants to get its chosen message out on any given day, and the press wants to report on the things it believes its readers and viewers are most interested in.

The White House reporters want as much access as possible; the White House wants to find the amount of access that is minimally acceptable without getting in the way of doing their job. Conflict is inevitable.

Dan did a really good job of making me learn things when reading his book. I’ve gotten so used to Trump’s ridiculously antagonistic relationship with the press that it genuinely has slipped my mind that the relationship between an administration and the press is not always sunshine and roses, even if you’re not attacking the 1st amendment on a regular basis.

Their job was to hold the president accountable for his or her actions and to be watchdogs against malfeasance and corruption. They took this job seriously—as they should.

Pfeiffer did a great job giving context and nuance to that relationship with his own personal anecdotes.

Presidential frustration with the media has been around as long as we have had presidents and a press. Some presidents vent to their aides; others angrily tweet that journalists are the enemies of the American people.

Twitter Matters

Pfeiffer went into great and insightful detail about why Twitter matters. I never had twitter before King Mierdas became President. I remember being introduced to it and thinking “What can I do on twitter that I can’t do on Facebook? And I’m character limited? This is dumb.” Whoops…

Twitter removes a layer between politicians and the public—creating a closer relationship that is not filtered through the mainstream media and potentially offering an opportunity for conversation or engagement that is normally reserved for elites and the lucky few who find themselves in a town hall. These are all positive  advances for politics and journalism.

On the other hand, Twitter makes politics louder, meaner, and faster. It distorts reality, hypes the trivial, and obscures the important.

Beyond not understanding why twitter even matters to a layperson, I definitely did not understand why twitter matters to campaigns. Pfeiffer’s insights into the pros and cons were much better than I had expected. This is probably where I learned the most from Dan’s book.

Without twitter, Trump would not have won. I believe this. Without Twitter, there is no President Trump.

He managed to use the platform to dominate the political conversation to the point where his Republican primary opponents could never get enough oxygen to mount a real challenge and Hillary Clinton was forced to respond to him so often that her own positive narrative fell by the wayside.

But it’s more than that. Twitter facilitated a coarser, less substantive political culture that significantly benefited Trump, who is at his very core a Twitter troll.

This put her at a disadvantage against Trump, who is legimigately good at Twitter, because for good or ill, he is his authentic self on Twitter. And that is what the platform calls for.

Authenticity is the coin of the Twitter realm.

An unexpected takeaway from this book was “how to be good at twitter as a politician” Dan went into great detail about how a speaker’s authenticity rather than his/her choice of words is what matters the most on Twitter. Politicians can use it to directly connect to a base that would otherwise never know a candidate existed.

(on the Muslim Ban protests)

I was struck by how this many people could end up here so quickly. How did they know about the Muslim ban? It was a Saturday during the NFL play-offs, not exactly a time when people are glued to cable TV.

It was also clear that there was no group organizing the protest, which is frankly how most protests happen these days. Yet somehow all these people from all these different walks of life had gathered together at a moment’s notice. A flash mob for equality and decency.

I heard a group of people standing near Howli and me talking to one another. “How did you hear about all this?” “I saw it on Twitter and it felt like somewhere I should be, so I came.” Twitter. It’s not all bad.

and lay people can use it to organize more efficiently than ever before. As Dan points out, Twitter is a powerful tool. That’s still a weird sentence…

The 2016 election

Not long after, my phone blew up with push notifications informing me of the outcome I’d never imagined possible. An outcome I’d persuaded everyone would not happen—could not happen—had happened. Donald Trump was the president-elect of the United States. Fuck. How did this happen?

Because I (and almost everyone else) thought Trump was too loud, too crass, too inexperienced, and ultimately too ridiculous to be elected, I discounted his strengths as a candidate and the power of the political forces that propelled his candidacy.

Ugh, reading this chapter was like re-living a horrible nightmare. But Pfeiffer did a good job being reflective about what happened so as to learn lessons from it. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, right?

For all of Trump’s offensive statements and absurd tweets, he had a clear and consistent message that broke through. And the candidate with the more clear and consistent message always wins.

(on attacking Trump for all the terrible things he did in his campaign)

But in the end, these various arguments were never woven into a single coherent narrative about why Donald Trump shouldn’t be president.

Ugh, how I wish this wasn’t true.

Pfeiffer went into detail about how Clinton’s campaign never coalesced around a specific narrative about *why* Donald Trump shouldn’t be President. Their messaging didn’t work.

To my recollection, no one has ever tried the strategy “do so many bad things that the world can’t concentrate on just one and dissect it”. For fuck’s sake, IT’S STILL WORKING NOW! People can’t keep up if you just constantly do bad shit apparently?

It’s counterintuitive to think, but if you’re going to do bad things, you may as well do a BUNCH of bad things? 😕

And I’m just as guilty as Clinton’s campaign. I just assumed that well hey, if one reason is good enough to disqualify him, ten should be TEN TIMES as powerful, right? WRONG.

Campaigns are about telling the American people a story—a story about where we are, where we are going, and why you are the right person, and your opponent is the wrong person, to take the country there.

I never even talked with people like my dad (who ended up voting for Trump…ugh, HOW?!) to see if he was planning on voting for Trump because well…he had disqualified himself so many times, he would obviously lose right?

Well, I talked with my dad AFTER the election, and apparently a big part of the reason for his vote was that “well, everyone discounted him and said he’d never win the primary, and he did, so I thought he must be good at something.”

…..

Oh my god, what Dad?

My sister and I went into the plethora of reasons why Trump would obviously be an unfit President and not only did my dad’s eyes start to glaze over after like the third reason, but he only knew ONE of the three reasons my sister and I started with (the pussygrabbing comments).

If only I’d talked to him BEFORE the election…fuck.

So yeah, poor messaging. Can’t just rely on people figuring it out themselves I guess?

Instead of causing older, more conservative white voters to flee the Democratic Party, Obama was holding on to these voters, who might otherwise have left years ago.

This was a weird realization. Especially since Fox news basically created a narrative out of lies that Obama was the most liberal President ever who had alienated moderates. The only people who believed that were Republicans that weren’t going to vote for him anyway.

It’s hard to argue with numbers showing that more moderate white folks voted for Obama than for Clinton.

Other poignant quotes

There were a couple other quotes that really hit home, but didn’t fit in easily in one of the sections above.

The fact that one of our two political parties now openly traffics in false conspiracy theories as their primary political strategy poses a threat to our system of government. This may sound dramatic, but if anything, it understates the problem.

I hate how some of my conservative friends now openly decry “the death of civil political discourse” while still openly supporting Trump and the current Republican party. Hell, I’ve already lost one closer friend because of it.

Normal political discourse should go like this:

Conservative: Global Warming is real, but for the government to come in and start telling private companies how to behave is problematic. Wouldn’t you be upset if you owned a company and now the government was telling you what to do?

Liberal: Yes, it is a real thing. And while I get why it’s problematic for the government to step in and tell private companies what to do, this is a crisis of as yet unimaginable proportions. Famines! Droughts! This a national security problem, and we need to face it head on as a country; therefore the government will need a heavier hand in this.

Conclusion: Perhaps a cap-and-trade policy, where we provide financial incentives for companies to pollute less would be a good free market solution. We can do temporary subsidies to jump start adoption, but those subsidies should fall off eventually. Let’s argue about when they should fall off and how to do the cap and trade program.

The arguments should be about solutions to problems, NOT WHETHER OR NOT PROBLEMS EXIST IN THE FIRST PLACE if there is scientific consensus that something is happening!

Instead, arguments go like this:

Edmund: Hey, it’s pretty fucked up that Trump might have colluded with Russia to win the election. We should look into that to see if it happened.

Trumpist (I will not label Trumpists conservative): FAKE NEWS!

Edmund: What’s fake? The testimonies are real; the CIA, FBI, and NSA all unaminously agree that this happened; PLUS every intelligence agency of our allies as well.

Trumpist: FAKE NEWS!

Edmund: How are we supposed to have a conversation about this if you call everything that disagrees with you ‘fake’?

Trumpist: Can’t listen to the media man. It’s all fake! It’s the DEEP STATE, out to get Trump!

Edmund: ….this is like arguing with a flat-earther. I want to stab you.

What I didn’t understand at the time, but quickly learned, is that the role of the president is more than to inform or even persuade; it is to comfort.

Chalk up another reason why I think Trump is a terrible president. Even under Bush, I felt like he cared about us all as Americans, and not just his base. Trump only cares about the people who still support him, the rest of us be damned.

Multiple studies show that people are most likely to believe news if it comes from someone they personally know; therefore, there is great power in people sharing on social media the stories and fact-checks that debunk the lies being spread by Trump and his friends in the Republican fringe.

You want to know why my facebook feed has gone from like 5% political posts to like 90% political posts? Why I talk politics in normal conversation way more than ever before? This is why. It’s important to prevent the spread of lies and misinformation (tangent- read that in the voice of Arcturus Mengsk :D)

Maintaining Optimism in Hateful Headwinds

When I was working in the White House and the world felt dark and depressing, it never lasted because hope was just down the hall. Now that hope had gotten on Marine One and left the White House for the last time,

…not gonna lie, this part hit me HARD. When people ask me how I’m doing nowadays, I usually cynically answer “quickly turning into a bitter, angry old man” as a joke, but it is pretty much spot on.

Having a beacon of hope replaced with a beacon of hatred has turned me into not only less of a hopeful person, but more of a hateful person. And I know some of that is my own fault – after all, only you can control your own attitude, right? – but gosh…it’s a hard realization.

The America that I thought I grew up in, where compassion and cooperation is rewarded, where honesty matters, where good intentions matter – was that all a dream? A lie?

Many people are clinging to the idea that someone good and decent like Barack Obama was once president as evidence that America has not crossed a point of no return. People want to believe so desperately that the good, decent smart man they saw on their TVs and social media feeds is the same person off camera as on camera. The good news is I can tell you with every bit of conviction that there is really only one Barack Obama.

:’)

“The March on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history, that we are masters of our fate,” he said. “The arc of the universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own.” We are masters of our fate.

Dan’s concluding chapter talks about how we have to be the change we seek now. It’s part of why he wrote this book, to inspire people like you and me to go out, talk to our friends and family (and have slightly uncomfortable conversations), to educate people who don’t bury their lives in politics like we are now.

Hell, recently, Obama even basically told us all to “Stop Moping” and start doing things to help in the Nov 2018 mid-terms.

So that’s what we’ll all have to do. I know, it’s scary. I actually am terrified. But hopefully  it’ll be easier with a friend or two, and one nice thing about this awful Trump Presidency is that it’s helping us all make new political friends (Thanks Joe and Katie and Katie and Madison; hi Rachel lol).

“Sir, how are you doing?” (to Obama)

The tone of my voice made it clear that my question was about something bigger than how his day was. I was trying to get at two things that had been on my mind since the election.

Basically, I was asking him, “How fucked are we?”

Obama knew what I was asking, and he sighed and shook his head and said, “Look, this isn’t an ideal situation to say the least,” and then we both laughed.

Understatement for the purposes of gallows humor is a tried-and-true Obama-ism.

Then, he said, “Maybe I am just looking for a silver lining, but I am hopeful that this will be the clarifying event that will show the public the two different visions for the country.” And there it was: the eternal optimism and unending faith in the American people. I am going to miss him. We are going to miss him.

Rachel’s Conclusion

Dan sums up the last portion of the book with strategies for Democrats to use to win offices in the era of Trump and radical Republicanism. He talks about messaging, politicking, and the use of Twitter and the internet. It’s fascinating to a policy wonk like me, but I won’t bore you with that here. Can highly recommend though. 

If you want an uplifting, quirky, inspiring, but appropriately cynical book in this time of crisis, this is the book for you. I finished feeling optimistic and with way more knowledge than I had before. Every politician and inspiring politician needs to read this book. Like, now. Before the midterms. As fast as possible, please. 

Edmund’s Conclusion

This is my favorite political book I have read since reading Giant of the Senate, by Al Franken, or Pretty But Ineffectual Words Conscience of a Conservative by Jeff Flake (I’m pretty mad at Flake for immediately caving). Definitely better than Comey’s book, or even Senator Sander’s.

Sure, Rachel and I are definitely the target audience for this, since we both love Pod Save America, and are already used to Dan’s speaking style. But this book DELIVERED, surpassing my already high expectations.

Anyone want one? I’ll buy you a copy.

A Higher Loyalty by James Comey – TwoMorePages Book Review

A Higher Loyalty by James Comey – TwoMorePages Book Review

Well, this review is…interestingly timed, since the inspector general just released its report yesterday about its findings about Comey’s actions during the election.

While Republicans once again cried wolf about HOW SHOCKING THIS REPORT WOULD BE (like the stupid Nunes Memo TWICE!), when it actually came out, it said that the FBI acted without political bias, and that if anything, Comey’s actions helped Trump, not Clinton.

Like duh, obviously. Anyone not living in a Fox News delusion would know that. If the FBI wanted to help out Clinton’s campaign, it would have A) not announced that they were re-opening the Clinton email investigation so close to the election and B) announced that they were investigating possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign BEFORE the election.

But of course, reality doesn’t matter in Fox News Fantasyland.

But anyway…we were talking about Comey’s book! Rachel went on this journey again with me (comments will be in blue).

I might have hyped this book up a little too much in my head. I had expected interesting POV moments where I would learn a lot more than I already knew about the Clinton email investigation and Comey’s interactions with Trump while he was FBI director.

Those things actually only were in the last 1/2 of the book. And didn’t really have a ton of information I didn’t already know from keeping up with events as they unfolded and from his interviews with Colbert, 60 Minutes, etc.

What I did glean from those sections though, was some more insight into his thought processes behind his actions and a lot of insight into who he is as a person.

Hi all! Rachel here. What struck me about this book was not really the dry, straight manner of writing so much as the “I swear I’m the good guy here,” high moral-ed (that’s not a word but oh well) way Comey expressed everything. How he spoke about his past was very interesting and revealing, but it did make you wonder (especially in light of recent events and findings) whether he has altered in his mind how some of his past went down. He does emerge from this book looking overall the good guy, but of course he does – he wrote the book. I think it’s a good memoir, just one that needs to be read with a clear, discerning mind, and a grain of salt. 

He began the book by talking about the progression of his career and the events that made him decide to enter public service. In talking about a trial he witnessed he described two prosecutors who, he says, set the example for who he wanted to be. 

The two prosecutors were only a few years older than I was. They stood straight, spoke clearly and candidly. They didn’t overstate, they didn’t posture. They seemed to have no other motivation that tackling injustice and telling the truth. I was struck by lightning. “This is what I want to do with my life,” I thought.

His description of this event seems worthy and certainly frames the entire rest of the book. He goes on to describe years of being bullied in high school and the lessons he learned from school, family, and early jobs. In discussing his experience with bullies he once again makes a pretty clear insinuation about the current presidency and the events leading to it. 

We all have a tendency to surrender our moral authority to “the group,” to still our own voices and assume that the group will handle whatever difficult issue we face. We imagine the group is making thoughtful decisions, and if the crowd is moving in a certain direction, we follow, as if the group is some moral entity larger than ourselves

But by imagining the group has these centers, we abdicate responsibility, which allows groups to be hijacked by the loudest voice, the person who knows how brainless groups really are and uses that to his advantage.

Wonder who/what he could be referencing there…

Bush/Cheney Administration Storytime

Let me start off with this: Comey is kind of boring haha. It comes off in his writing style where he’s describing scenes in ways while including incredible amounts of (imo unnecessary) detail. I’m sure it’s a byproduct of his craft – these are all things he’d notice as someone who worked at the freaking Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“It was a reservoir of trust and credibility built for you and filled for you by people you never knew, by those who are long gone. A reservoir that makes possible so much of the good that is done by the institution you serve…the problem with reservoirs is that they take a very long time to fill but they can be drained by one hole in the dam. The actions of one person can destroy what it took hundreds of people years to build.”

That being said, you can tell from his writing that he very much is NOT PARTISAN. AT ALL. He basically only cares about one thing: the “reservoir of trust” in the FBI to be nonpartisan and to uphold the law, no matter what, especially against political pressure.

He gives 0 shits about how the FBI can help someone politically.

I don’t care about politics. I don’t care about expediency. I don’t care about friendship. I care about doing the right thing. And I would never be part of something that I believe to be fundamentally wrong. I mean, obviously we all make policy judgments where people disagree, but I will do the right thing.

Boy oh boy is Edmund right – Comey could not appear any more non-partisan. If there is ONE thing you get from reading this book, it is that he really truly does care about the reputation and appearance of the FBI and DOJ, politics be damned. To quote all the times he talks about that theme would bore you guys to tears, so here’s just a few examples I found most revealing. 

The American people must see the administration of justice as independent of politics, race, class, religion, or any of the many other things that divide humans into tribes. We had to do everything we could to protect the department’s reputation for fairness and impartiality, its reservoir of trust and credibility.

The Constitution and the rule of law are not partisan political tools. Lady Justice wears a blindfold. She is not supposed to peek out to see how her political master wishes her to weigh on a matter.

When we tell a judge or a jury or Congress what we saw, or found, or heard, they are not hearing it from a Republican or a Democrat. They are hearing it from an entity that is separate and apart in American life. The FBI must be an “other” in this country or we are lost.

…If we at the FBI started to think like every other partisan in Washington thought – what’s good for my “side” or whose political futures we might help or hurt – then the FBI would no longer have, and would no longer deserve, the public trust.

Say and believe what you want about the man, he truly believes in his work and in the need for integrity in the American justice system. And that is admirable. It is how it should be. Although the recent IG report seems to declare that Comey himself messed up in the Clinton and campaign investigations, it also seems to leave the FBI’s reputation intact, so at least we can take small comfort in that. 

There was one section where I straight up learned about things I knew nothing about before – Comey’s tenure in the Department of Justice under the Bush / Cheney administration. Comey went into extensive detail about how he could not support the “enhanced interrogation techniques” being employed by the US and why: not only was the information gleaned basically useless (because a tortured man will tell you anything, including lies, to get you to stop torturing him), but it wasn’t right in Comey’s eyes AND it wasn’t right legally either.

His description of how the Bush/Cheney administration basically tried to railroad him and the Department of Justice into signing off on the torture programs (nicknamed “Stellar Wind”) was probably the most interest part of the book, especially the part where Bush/Cheney/Republican officials tried to sidestep him entirely by getting a delirious Ashcroft to sign a renewal of Stellar Wind while in the hospital.

Yeah, so the Bush Administration did NOT come out looking too hot in this book. Which, considering Comey, I believe, is a registered Republican, is quite interesting. Comey learned some valuable lessons that can be transferred to our knowledge of the Trump Administration. 

I would discover in the coming months that the pressures to bend the rules and to make convenient exceptions to laws when they got in the way of the president’s agenda were tempting. And it was a temptation fed by the urgency of the topic and the nature of the people around the president, people who couldn’t take the long view or understand the importance to the country of doing things the right way, no matter the inconvenience. They would be painful, exhausting lessons in the importance of institutional loyalty over expediency and politics.

Oh, and Cheney definitely kept his troubled reputation in this book. In discussing the Bush Administration’s attempts to get him to continue the ‘torture program’ he wrote: 

It was obvious that the purpose of this meeting was to squeeze me, although nobody said that. To have the vice president of the United States accuse me of recklessly provoking another 9/11 – even seeming to suggest I was doing it intentionally – was stunning. He didn’t want to hear another side. He didn’t seem to accept the obvious truth that there was another side. To him, he was right, everyone else was wrong, and a bunch of weak-willed and probably liberal lawyers weren’t going to tell him otherwise.

Not a good look. 

 

(Then FBI Director) Mueller and I were not particularly close and had never seen each other outside of work, but I knew Bob understood and respected our legal position and cared deeply about the rule of law. His whole life was about doing things the right way.

~~~

“In every man’s life there comes a time when the good Lord tests him,” Mueller told Ashcroft. “You passed your test tonight.”

~~~

Bob had proven it would be a mistake to break the FBI into a criminal investigative agency and a counterterrorism agency by making the FBI great at both.

We even got small insights into Comey’s opinions of Mueller, which I really enjoyed.  Mueller comes off as universally well respected in this book. It boggles my mind that Republicans today can so mercilessly attack a decorated military veteran who has done nothing but serve his country well (and who was so well respected that both Republicans and Democrats requested legislation to keep him in his FBI Director role for longer than the normal 10 years).

Anyway…we were talking about Comey, not Mueller, so back on topic we go!

Buttery Males!

The middle of his book talked about what most of us came to read about – the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Our investigation required us to answer two questions. The first question was whether classified documents were moved outside of classified systems or whether classified topics were discussed outside of a classified system. If so, the second question was what the subject of the investigation was thinking when she mishandled that classified information.

In secretary Clinton’s case, the answer to the first question – was classified information mishandled” – was obviously “yes.” … The heart of the case, then, was the second question: What was she thinking when she did this? Was it sloppy or was there criminal intent? Could we prove that she knew she was doing something she shouldn’t be doing?

He did a great job framing up the situation right in the beginning.

In 2011, Patreus had given multiple notebooks containing troves of highly sensitive, top-secret information to an author with whom he was having an affair. In contrast to those Hillary Clinton corresponded with, the author did not have the appropriate clearance of a legitimate need to know the information.

Despite the endless drumbeat in the conservative media, filled with exaggerated scandals and breathless revelations of little practical import, Hillary Clinton’s case, at least as far as we knew at he start, did not appear to come anywhere near General Patreus’s in the volume and classification level of the material mishandled.

Although she seemed to be using an unclassified system for some classified topics, everyone she emailed appeared to have both the appropriate clearance and a legitimate need to know the information.

Now that I’m doing this review, another thing that I learned from this book that I didn’t know from before was the context around Patreus’s situation from before. I like that Comey approached this in his book in a similar manner to the way a courtroom would – by drawing comparisons to concluded cases.

His distinction of just how egregious Patreus’s crimes were vs Clinton’s is an extremely important parallel, because not only was his more egregious, he lied to the FBI about it as well. And he only got a misdemeanor + a $40k fine and two years of probation. So the exaggerated “lock her up” bullshit was just that – bullshit, and would never have happened.

We knew that the Department of Justice would never bring – and had never brought – criminal charges in such a situation without strong evidence that the subject of our investigation knew she was doing something she shouldn’t be doing. Accidents, sloppiness, and even extreme carelessness with regard to classified information were not things that were prosecuted. Ever.

This was an interesting piece to read for two reasons. One, being that Comey was basically saying that worst case scenario, criminal charges were never being brought against Clinton. Ever. She was careless, but at the end of the day, not malicious.

Two, and this goes to today’s political climate regarding Trump…it basically says that intentions matter. If you are MALICIOUSLY going around and fucking things up, the DoJ will come wreck your shit. If you are INCOMPETENTLY going around and fucking things up, the DoJ will be more lenient on you.

Well, for Trump and all the things he and his campaign are accused of, which way will judgement lie? Maliciousness? Or incompetency?

“I have asked myself many times since if I was influenced by that assumption (that Clinton was going to win). I don’t know. Certainly, not consciously, but I would be a fool to say it couldn’t have had an impact on me. It is entirely possible that, because I was making decision in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls.

And then of course there was the whole announcement of re-opening the investigation, the thing that Democrats crucify Comey over, and that…arguably was a large tipping point for the election.

I can understand why, with the benefit of hindsight – knowing that the emails on Weiner’s laptop contained no new information – people are super upset at Comey’s actions.

But that’s the thing; this is with the benefit of hindsight.

I can 100% understand Comey’s thought process there, ESPECIALLY if he strongly thought that Hillary was going to win. He was faced with the very real possibility that Hillary would get elected, and that this investigation would find something on Weiner’s laptop AFTER the election was concluded.

Conspiracy theorists are ALREADY going crazy in today’s world with their completely unfounded theories of “the deep state” and how the FBI wanted Clinton to win (lol); imagine how it would have played out if Clinton had won and then suddenly the FBI announced “oh, by the way, we re-opened the Clinton investigation during the weeks up to the election because of new evidence – but we didn’t tell anyone. Oh, and by the way, we found stuff. Elections over though so…….sucks to suck?”

I don’t have much to add here that Edmund hasn’t already wonderfully covered and explained, but I do think that Comey did a pretty good job of giving a very detailed explanation of his actions – which is all we can really ask for anyways, right? It will forever be impossible to know with 100% certainty that his actions – whether subversive and irresponsible or not – influenced the election to such a degree as to hand over the win to Donald Trump. But we can take some comfort in knowing that he, too, is still trying to figure that out and still trying to make sense of all that happened in 2016. 

I have spent a great deal of time looking back at 2016…Like many others, I was surprised when Donald Trump was elected president. I had assumed from media polling that Hillary Clinton was going to win. I have asked myself many times since if I was influenced by that assumption. I don’t know. Certainly not consciously, but I would be a fool to say it couldn’t have made an impact on me. It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump was ahead in the polls. But I don’t know.

Even if I couldn’t persuade them that I made the right decision, I hoped that at least I could explain what I was thinking, the doors I saw, and why I chose the one labeled “Speak” rather than the one labeled “Conceal.” I didn’t handle everything in the investigation perfectly, but I did my best with the facts before me.

Thoughts on Obama

I do enough Trump bashing in my life. He’s a terrible, unfit President who is an embarrassment to the country.

Don’t think it particularly adds to the review here for me to do more, so I’m actually going to take this review in a different direction – Comey’s thoughts on Obama.

(on being asked to interview as Obama’s FBI Director)

Maybe it was because I had become so hardened to the tribal loyalties of Washington, D.C., that it was difficult to believe a Democrat would choose someone who had been a political appointee of his Republican predecessor for such an important post.

(Obama) “In a way, this and the Supreme Court are the two most important personnel decisions a president makes, because I’m choosing for the future. You will be here after I’m gone.” He said he thought there was great value in that long tenure and hoped that if I were the director, I could help a new president.

(Obama) “I don’t want help from the FBI on policy. I need competence and independence. I need to sleep at night knowing the place is well run and the American people protected.” Contrary to my assumption, the fact that I was politically independent from him might actually have worked in my favor.

First off, let’s start with the beginning of their relationship. The great propaganda machine, Fox News, has so consistently pushed out the lie that Obama never wanted to work with Republicans, that he did everything unilaterally, that people seem to have believed it.

But right here is concrete evidence that isn’t true. In fact, Obama went WAY out of norms specifically to pick who he thought was the best person for the job, regardless of party affiliation.

With a serious look on his face, Obama turned to me and said, “Jim, there’s one thing I forgot to talk to you about.”

While I looked confused, the President nodded toward Mueller. “Bob long ago made a commitment to me, and I need you to honor it.” What could this possibly be? The president had assured me of my independence. Now I was being asked for secret assurances?

The President paused to signal the gravity of the moment. Then he went on. “Bob has always allowed me to use the FBI gym to play basketball, and I need you to commit to continuing that.

I laughed. “Of course, Mr. President. It is your gym, in a way.”

Though I love basketball, I knew I would never join him in the FBI gym. I also love golf, but knew we would never play. FBI directors can’t be that way with Presidents. Everybody knows why. Or at least I thought they did.

I picked this passage both because it is humorous, but also because it highlights the strong differences between similar interactions that Comey had with both Presidents.

With Obama, Comey ALSO had the very real fear that he was going to be asked to do something shady outside the norm. But of course, “everybody knows” that you can’t do that. And so Obama made it into a funny joke – “I want to still be able to use the basketball gym.”

With Trump of course, we got…”I need you to see your way to letting Flynn go”.

To be effective at the FBI, I spent a lot of time listening, something we all struggle to do well. It is hard for leaders to listen well because it requires us to be vulnerable, to risk our superior position.

Barack Obama surprised me by picking me as FBI Director. And this is where Barack Obama surprised me yet again. He was an extraordinary listener, as good as any I’ve seen in leadership.

In various meetings with the President, I watched him work hard to draw as many viewpoints as possible into a conversation, frequently disregarding the hierarchy reflected in seating arrangements – principals at the table, lower-ranked folks in chairs against the wall.

Obama hunted for points of view. Maybe it was a legacy of his life as a professor, cold-calling someone in the back row. This approach often led to chaotic conversations, but it allowed him to hear views that, in the Bush administration, would have been watered down by rank or by fear of being teased.

Obama had the ability to really discuss something, leveling the field to draw out perspectives different from his own.

I also appreciated Comey’s insights in his brief interactions with Obama. Most of us probably are ever going to meet him. From his deeds and his actions, I can draw an inference into what type of person and leader he is, but these firsthand accounts of interactions with him are WAAAY more valuable than my third-hand accounts of  reading about him in the news.

“Hey, why don’t we take another (picture) without the guys. You know, just in case.” He was playful as he said it, and he did it in a way that no one was offended. But I could tell he was also being thoughtful in a way few leaders are. What if things didn’t work out with one or the other of these guys? Would having them in a picture with the president ruin it for the Comeys forever? So Obama gestured the boyfriends out of the show, to our great amusement.

Though it was a small moment, what struck me about President Obama’s remark is that it displayed a sense of humor, insight, and an ability to connect with an audience, which I would later come to appreciate in the president even more. These are all qualities that are indispensable in good leaders.

It’s the small things that really show you the character of a person.

Couldn’t say any of this better than Edmund or Comey himself, but yes, Obama comes out of this looking very good – even when described by a Republican. So maybe Fox News people just need to get to know the guy, play basketball or golf with him or something. One can dream, right? Comey talked to Obama about his decisions and the investigation and wrote: 

He wasn’t telling me he agreed with my decisions. He wasn’t talking about the decisions. He was saying he understood where they came from. Boy, were those words I needed to hear.

Although I hadn’t supported President Obama when he ran for office, I had developed a great respect for him as a leader and a person, and it was only at that moment that I felt the full weight of his imminent departure and what it would mean.

This might have been my favorite passage in the book. To hear someone say they hadn’t supported a candidate for office, but that upon getting to know and work with them, they now respected them was truly, truly refreshing. And I think we can all learn a little something from that. 

Republican, Democrat, Independent, agree with Comey or disagree, everyone should read this book. Yes, it’s a little dry. Yes, parts of it will anger you, regardless of where you lie on the political spectrum. But it is an illuminating piece of work, and it does its best to explain the FBI’s and Comey’s role in the 2016 election. And I must admit, my faith in the ability of the FBI to remain nonpartisan still stands. 

Conclusion

When we tell a judge or a jury or Congress what we saw, or found, or heard, they are not hearing it from a Republican or a Democrat. They are hearing it from an entity that is separate and apart in American life. The FBI must be an “other” in this country or we are lost.

I 100% believe Comey when he says everything he did was with the idea that the FBI’s impartiality was the most important thing on his mind. When I look through the lens of his experience in this book, I understand his reasoning perfectly.

Of course, I believed him before I read the book too. I didn’t really blame him and only him for Trump winning like most die hard liberals did; nor did I subscribe to the conspiracy theories that said his firing was justified by Trump (whichever stupid reason you subscribed to at the time).

Comey to me was the definition of nonpartisan. If both sides hate you, you’re probably nonpartisan. This book didn’t change my mind on that, and his response to the IG’s report cements that notion in my mind.

Hopefully, someday soon the insanity will lift from this administration’s awfulness, and people like him can serve the US again.

The Good That Men Do (Star Trek Enterprise) – TwoMorePages Book Review

The Good That Men Do (Star Trek Enterprise) – TwoMorePages Book Review

TRIP!

I bought this book because I had read somewhere on /r/StarTrek that *this* is the ending we should have had for Enterprise. This book DELIVERED.

I *loved* how it interwove the details of the actual ending of Enterprise, and gave more plausible reasons for some of the dumber things that happened.

(1) What do you mean that this little shit freighter would be able to catch up to Enterprise, the flagship of the fleet, and board it?

(2) What do you mean that Trip just DIED in the most anti climactic way possible? You’re telling me we got out of the Xindi War and all sorts of conflicts with all sorts of species, but Archer and Trip can’t figure out a way to get out of a kidnapping situation without Trip DYING?!

Oh…it was all a dog and pony show. Okay, I feel vindicated. 😀

Trip and Section 31

I *loved* Trip’s continuing story arc with Section 31. We got to delve a little further into his relationship with T’Pol after the Terra Prime fiasco, AND we got to see some more working of Section 31, namely that they are not all knowing. Just people working with very limited resources trying to figure out what they can.

Having Phuong and Section 31 be totally duped by the rogue Romulan faction was very interesting to read; and even moreso watching them learn that Romulans are just offshoots of Vulcans. This section of the book was very spy-esque, which is very different than most Star Trek novels, and I appreciated it.

Shran!

My favorite character in Enterprise was actually NOT one of the main characters. It was SHRAN. It’s a shame that Enterprise got cancelled right as they were going to bring him on to be a regular.

Why wouldn’t I love Shran? He is everything I want to be – passionate (basically to a fault), smart, aggressive, emotional.

Shran’s arc with Jhamel and with Theras was very interesting to read. He basically treated Theras as an idiot coward for not doing anything to help Jhamel in the kidnapping. And I empathized completely. Here is the dude getting to marry the girl I’m in love with, and he ran to me for protection instead of trying to help Jhamel? Pffft.

I know part of this was to highlight the very different cultures of the Andorians and the Aenar, but I completely empathized with Shran in that spot.

Theras’s character development as the book progressed was heartwarming to see. Seeing him overcome his pacifistic tendencies to help keep the away team alive was great; and watching him grapple with this inner demons for having tricked Romulans into killing each other with his mental capabilities was enlightening.

Shran had never enjoyed apologizing, but he sincerely wished for a chance to do so to Theras. He’d treated Theras abominably; he’d acted like a bully, intimidating a mild, gentle being every chance he’d gotten. He was trained to be a warrior, and was therefore used to putting himself into harm’s way. There was no heroism to much of what he did; it was mostly done out of duty, or a love of the accompanying adrenaline rush, or perhaps just plain orneriness.

It was nice to see Shran recognize his efforts as well at the end. This was a story arc I particularly enjoyed, probably moreso than that of Trip’s, and that had the benefit of reviving my favorite member of Enterprise’s crew.

Plus, he got the girl! Yay for Shran, getting over Talas’s death to be with Jhamel, hooray!

Setting up for the Romulan War

I loved the exposition of the story arc that the next season was probably going to take with the Andorians/Aenar and the Romulans, and Shran’s role in all of that. We got to see a little of that at the end of Enterprise’s final season, but the fleshed out version with the conspiracy in the Romulan government to make more drone ships was *very* interesting to read.

And we got to learn more about the Coridians, who I actually…did not remember anything about. Were they in the show? It’s been so long. I can’t remember…

But we learn that they are supposed to be a founding member of the Federation – they have the most dilithium, and they are the only ones with Warp 7 capable ships. Sweet, they’ll make the Federation as strong as anyone else!

Except wait…shit, their planet gets devastated, and they withdraw from the Federation for…reasons? I didn’t really get that part. They refused help from Enterprise, saw half their world burn, and they leave the Federation? They should want in now MORE THAN EVER while they rebuild?

Conclusion

 

“This new take on Archer-era history holds together for me a lot better than the standard version does – you know, with Captain Archer’s whole command crew not receiving a single promotion, even after having served together aboard the NX-01 for ten years.

Or Archer’s dog somehow not having aged a day during that entire time.

Or Archer’s famous Big Speech at the ‘Stick, which makes a lot more sense now in the context of the post-Coridan disaster era than it does in the post-Earth-Romulan War time-frame where most of the histories place it.

Of the pirate ship that could barely manage warp two somehow catching up to Enterprise, which had to be traveling at nearly warp five when-”

-Nog

“You’re preaching to the choir, Nog”

-Jake Sisko

I laughed out loud when I read that little conversation between Jake and Nog. Bringing them in as a device to give the past viewers of Enterprise a nod / give the writers of that final episode the finger was genius.

This book helped give me closure on Enterprise’s story, whose final season was SO GOOD. It’s a shame it didn’t get *really* good until after news was announced that it was cancelled. If this Romulan War arc was up next, it would have been *really fun to watch*.

 

 

 

The Carnival of the Night – TwoMorePages Book Review

The Carnival of the Night – TwoMorePages Book Review

Every once in awhile, the internet truly surprises you with something special. I found this book from a link at /r/WritingPrompts , and wow was it great! I finished it in 3 days, and couldn’t put it down.

Not the first book I’ve read from /r/WritingPrompts, but as we know, some of my last experiences weren’t that great.

Nicholas Carey’s writing style was the perfect weave of dialogue, scenery, and bits of mythology thrown in. I loved the introduction of Greek/Roman mythology; I loved the protagonists and the characterization of the antagonists; I loved the description of a corrupted purgatory; and I loved the snippet chapters that read like news reports.

Oftentimes, short writing prompts leave character developments by the wayside, but Nicholas did a great job in this book. The tease with Derek’s character in the beginning was well executed, with the readers not knowing why he was covering his face until we learn about what happened on the boat.

The characterization of Death’s daughter as a sliver of himself, and the reason why he softened was very interesting. And her spunkiness was very endearing.

Tying Greek/Roman mythology in with Bacchus and Zeus and the Gods was also very interesting. If there’s a sequel, I’d like to explore those themes more – I love learning while I’m reading lol.

All in all, by far the best novella from /r/WritingPrompts that I have read yet. I think I actually paid the most possible on Amazon for it, but I don’t regret any of it. Money well spent.