Slate’s Slow Burn – TwoMorePages Podcast Review

Slate’s Slow Burn – TwoMorePages Podcast Review

Holy shit this was good. Like “drop everything you’re doing and listen to this right now” good. I’m new to the podcast world and never thought I’d be a person who listened to podcasts, much less spent time reviewing them.

But HOT DAMN THIS WAS GOOD. Informative, entertaining – everything you could want from a history lesson.

Listening to Slow Burn was like listening to a remarkably fun history lecture. And I got do it with my friends Chadd Hanus and Rachel Hanes!

There were two main takeaways in this pod for me:

What even happened in Watergate?

A) What the hell happened in Watergate? It happened before I was born so I feel like most of what I know is just steeped in lore.

Everyone seems to universally agree it was bad (hence why every scandal now has a -gate next to it), regardless of political party. But I didn’t really know what was involved in it before I listened to this pod.

(Rachel here!) So, what struck me the most is this. Okay, imagine with me for a moment that you’re like 87 years old. Maybe you are, I don’t know. But you were born during the great depression and can remember WWII and you definitely remember the Cold War, not to mention the Watergate era. Now imagine getting the news today. Wouldn’t you be like “Wait. I thought we defeated the Nazis? What do you mean we have chilly relations with Russia again? Wait what? A president degrading the press and involved in electioneering dirty tricks? DIDN’T WE SOLVE THESE PROBLEMS???” 

Just a fun little thought exercise. 

I think if you had asked me about it before I listened to this podcast, I would have given you some vague answer about Republicans breaking into the Democratic headquarters, and Nixon helping to cover that up.

But I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what they stole or why that was important; more importantly, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what exactly was involved in the cover up and why it brought down Nixon.

For instance, the first episode goes into how Republican government officials DRUGGED AND RESTRAINED A SENATOR’S WIFE WHO KNEW TOO MUCH AND WAS BLABBING IT ABOUT IT. Whaaaaat?! This is real life? Holy shit.

Less salaciously, the second episode goes into how there was a US Rep from Texas (FUCK YEAH TEXAS!) that smelled something fishy and worked really hard to get a congressional hearing, only to have Nixon have his Republican friends squash it and never see the light of day.

Ahhh, back when we had Texas leaders willing to stand up for what’s right….the good ol’ days.

Or, the fact that the case was almost dead in the water until one person in Nixon’s inner circle said something like “So, I guess you guys already know that the President has an automatic taping device in each of his offices?” Talk about an unforced error – would Watergate even be in the public consciousness if Nixon hadn’t been so paranoid so as to record his Presidential conversations? Or would it have just been buried as “another partisan attack” in the annals of history?

This KILLED me. Because basically Nixon got taken down in the same stupid manner that Trump’s administration keeps shooting itself in the foot. I had never heard this part of the saga before either – and in a way it’s scary that basically these guys just keep having to stick their feet in their mouths in order for us to have any idea about anything their doing. 

Speaking of partisan attacks: it was interesting – and both scary and comforting – to hear that Nixon and his guys tried to get out of the whole mess caused by their shenanigans by blaming a hyper-partisan, liberal press that was “out to get” Nixon and all Republicans. Sounds a little familiar. 

Also, side note – I did not know that Nixon’s Vice President got removed from office literally a week before he did for totally unrelated bribery charges; WHAAAAAAT?! Moreover, it was really shocking to hear that Nixon had counted on his VP to be his impeachment insurance policy – thinking that people would vote against his impeachment in order to prevent his VP from being President instead.

So yeah, I learned a lot haha.

Damn that also was super eerily close to what’s going on today, i.e. vp insurance policy. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Trump is counting on everyone disliking Pence just as much as they dislike him – or on everybody being more scared of Pence because he may get more scary stuff done. 

Wait, what year is this?

Image result for what year is it

Episode 5, “True Believers” delved into the topic of President Nixon’s supporters and their thoughts during the whole debacle, and is the main subject of my second takeaway: how weirdly similar it is to today’s events with Trump.

Public support for Nixon apparently remained relatively high up until the Saturday Night Massacre, where he fired his Attorney General and his deputy Attorney General for refusing to fire the special counsel.

And you know, I’d like to think that a similar Saturday Night Massacre would convince people that some shady shenanigans were going on, but uhhh, James Comey and Sally Yates, etc, were already let go and there just wasn’t the same level of outrage from the entirety of the nation as there was when Nixon did it. Heck, just this week the Republicans in the House put up Articles of Impeachment for Rod Rosenstein so they could eventually get to firing Mueller and even that only earned a few small paragraphs in the nations news. 

It was really eerie hearing radio clips and arguments that could have literally been copy/pasted to today. Things like

(paraphrased) “The liberal press, namely the New York Times and the Washington Post, have it out for the President, and are just looking for controversy”

Geeeh, where might I have heard THAT before? At least they didn’t call them “the enemy of the American people”…so +1 point for Nixon’s supporters? lol

“Richard Nixon’s apologists thought that liberals were obssessed with attacking the President.

Liberals meanwhile thought that Nixon apologists were willing to go to absurd lengths to ignore the truth to cover up for the President.”

Uh…that seems familiar.

“What about Clinton/Obama Chappaquiddick? Nixon might be a bad guy, but Kennedy was WAY WORSE”

One of the arguments that Nixon supporters used to bring up whenever Nixon’s misdeeds were brought to light was a familiar refrain: WHATABOUT (other democratic person)?

As if there was no way for both things to be bad…?

Seems exactly like whenever Trump does something unquestioningly bad, and instead of trying to defend him, his supporters then just go “What about xxxx”.

Main difference being that most of the things that they accuse Clinton or Obama of are pure fantasy: Uranium One/Pizzagate with Clinton; Death Panels/Invasion of Texas/Not Being Born Here with Obama. Chappaquiddick at least *did* happen.

Yep yep yep, this is what I was saying earlier. There are SO MANY PARALLELS. Although, what worries me about the scary similarity Watergate has to today are actually the non-parallels. During the Watergate era there were a very limited number of news stations and newspapers. And definitely no internet. So it was kinda hard to get people totally into their partisan bubbles (yeah there were conspiracy theory radio shows but those were really not super effective – at least according to this podcast). Today, people are so hyper-“bubbled” that I don’t know if we’ll ever get enough people on the same page to start fully convincing the nation some more “dirty tricks” are going on. 

Conclusion

Slow Burn is the first stand alone podcast that I’ve listened to, standalone meaning it had a definitive beginning, middle, and end (vs serialized like Pod Save America.)

I really enjoyed it. I’ll be honest, I originally just wanted to see how similar/different Watergate was to what is going right now with Trump and Mueller’s investigation, inspired in part because John Oliver has hilariously named what’s going on as “Stupid Watergate: A scandal potentially on the scale of Watergate, but where everyone involved is dumb and bad and terrible at everything”

The similarities are…kind of eerie in how alike they are:

  1. Both Presidents described the investigations against them as witch-hunts
  2. Both Trump and Nixon supporters attacked the Press as “liberal” institutions making up fake stories to discredit the President.
  3. The House of Representatives initially had investigations squashed by partisanship (Dumb Devin Nunes in our time closed the House Intel Committee’s investigation without even interviewing all possible witnesses / Patterson in the 1970s got his squashed by Nixon’s friends)
  4. (Potentially), both could be blown wide open with the presence of tapes that nobody had previously known about.

 

Interestingly enough, Slow Burn is about to start a second “season” where it goes into Clinton’s impeachment proceedings. Given the quality of this podcast’s dive into Watergate, I am definitely listening to it. I’m not only going to listen to things that make Republican presidents look bad. I want to learn ALL THE THINGS! 😀

Oh yeah, the Clinton White House 100% deserves its turn, no doubt, no doubt. And I’m ready for it 🙂 

And this podcast has opened my eyes to stand alone podcasts. I just started The Wilderness in part because I enjoyed this one so much.

Slate.com did a really good job with Slow Burn; I was extremely impressed between the interviews, historical references, and new things I never knew before. 🙂

 

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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.

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House – TwoMorePages Book Review

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House – TwoMorePages Book Review

You know how best to get everyone to read a book? Freak out and tell everyone not to read it, call it a bunch of lies without even knowing what’s in it, like Trump’s administration did lol. I hadn’t planned on reading this book at all, and yet here we are!

Honestly, I thought my friend Elijah would be right when he said that I probably wouldn’t learn anything by reading the book. It would just reinforce some of the things I already thought, and so it probably wouldn’t be a good use of my time. So surprise surprise, when I *did* actually learn things in Fire and Fury!

It never really occurred to me that Trump’s advisors would not only NOT be one unified front, but would actively be undermining each other. I thought they were just incompetent and that’s why they couldn’t get on the same page.

Nor did it occur to me that Steve Bannon, of all people, would sometimes be the voice of reason among the senior advisors. For instance, he was the loudest voice against firing James Comey! WUT?! I’m sure this is due in part because he ended up being such a primary source for the book, but he’s painted as this racist political mastermind.

So here we go. Let’s talk about some of my favorite passages from this book. And Rachel’s too (in blue!)

The Administration’s Beginning

“Don’t let him piss off the press, don’t let him piss off the Republican Party, don’t threaten congressmen because they will fuck you if you do, and most of all, don’t let him piss off the intel community,” said one national Republican figure to Kushner. “If you fuck with the intel community, they will figure out a way to get back at you and you’ll have two or three years of a Russian investigation, and every day something else will leak out.”

Lol, if this was really told to Kushner and Trump’s advisors right in the beginning, that was extremely prescient. The only thing they got wrong so far was predicting legislative pushback from Republicans, since they seem to be actively aiding in obstructing Mueller’s investigation so far (*cough Nunes*).

Hi guys – Rachel here! Writing this a few months out, (and quite a few Mueller team revelations and subpoenas later), it’s remarkable to watch how little the modern Republican leadership (and I’m not taking shots at all of them or all Republicans so hold your horses people) seems to care that Trump is actively going after the Mueller investigation. Basically the strongest quote is Lindsey Graham saying firing Mueller will be “the beginning of the end of his presidency,” but since I’m pretty sure we’ve already past that point, its not much of a threat. And wow, let’s just say Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have severely given up the mantel of any ethical leadership. I pretty don’t much want to hear them say the words moral, right, or good, ever again 

The Breitbart formula was to so appall the liberals that the base was doubly satisfied, generating clicks in a ricochet of disgust and delight. You defined yourself by your enemy’s reaction. Conflict was the media bait – hence, now, the political chum. The new politics was not the art of the compromise but the art of conflict.

On Friday, January 27th, the travel ban was signed and took immediate effect. The result was an emotional outpouring of horror and indignation from liberal media, terror in immigrant communities, tumultuous protests at major airports, confusion throughout the government, and, in the White House, an inundation of lectures, warnings, and opprobrium from friends and family. What have you done? Do you know what your’e doing? You have to undo this! You’re finished before you even start! Who’s in chart there?

But Steve Bannon was satisfied. He could not have hoped to draw a more vivid line between the two Americas – Trump’s and liberals’ – and between his White House and the White House inhabited by those not yet ready to burn the place down.

Why did we do this on a Friday when it would hit the airports hardest and bring out the most protesters? almost the entire White House staff demanded to know.

“Err…that’s why,” said Bannon. “So the snowflakes would show up at the airports and riot.” That was the way to crush the liberals: make them crazy and drag them to the left.

Never really thought about it in that respect. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that okay, this was Bannon trying to set a tone for the administration, one that purportedly never thought it was going to win, and so never planned for what to do if it did.

The way Bannon is described in the beginning of the administration is true to what we know about him – he is brash, and he is a man of action. It makes perfect sense that he would advise Trump to just start making executive orders, and then let the fallout happen. Even more than that, it makes perfect sense that he would do something that would provoke the maximum response and push people away from what would have been the middle.

If I’m being introspective for a second, I’m as guilty as anyone of being pushed left from his actions, and then condemning people that were pushed to the right. There are some friendships of mine that will never recover.

Bannon and Trump’s actions reshaped the national dialogue. The administration of most Presidents, after winning, tries to unite the country again, bringing people back to the middle so that compromise can be reached. So that we can move on and move forward as a country. Bannon and Trump did the opposite, and that’s part of why you still see stupid shit about Clinton when the election was FOURTEEN MONTHS AGO.

But it’s interesting to see that this was planned. That we were all part of Bannon’s game. Which if I take a step back, is honestly…pretty impressive. Especially when the rest of the book paints everyone else as basically incompetent idiots running around just trying to make the best of their situations. Steve Bannon – racist political genius.

 This is probably something I’m going to end up saying a lot here, but Steve Bannon – at least Michael Wolff’s Steve Bannon – is scarily prescient. This man, from what it appears, was smart enough to know enough about a deep, dark, scary vein running through America. Do I severely dislike the man? Hell yes. Do I think maybe the way he is portrayed in this book is at least in part a product of his own making? Again, 100%. Do I think he is extremely, virulently racist and discriminatory? Oh yeah, for sure and for certain. But, I also think he knew pretty much exactly what he was doing and what he needed to push and prod to make his scary-ass dreams come true.  

The Stupid Wiretapping Allegations

“At the Obama White House, Mr. Trump’s statements toked fears among some that intelligence could be covered up or destroyed – or its sources exposed – once power changed hands. What followed was a push to preserve the intelligence that underscored the deep anxiety from which the White House and American intelligence agencies had come to view the threat from Moscow.”

-The New York Times

Here was more confirmation of a central Trump thesis: The previous administration, its own candidate defeated, was not just disregarding the democratic custom of smoothing the way for the winner of the election; rather, in the Trump White House view, Obama’s people had plotted with the intelligence community to put land mines in the new administration’s way.

So here is one example of something I genuinely learned from this book. Perspective, however screwed up, from the other side.

I remember being absolutely livid when Trump’s allegations against President Obama came out. I got a fight with my buddy Scott, from which our relationship has never truly recovered. I almost doxxed him, I was so mad, in order to prove a point as to how dangerous those allegations truly were.

It’s interesting to see how Trump and his administration saw it. From Trump’s POV, where he’s always a victim, the fact that intelligence agencies were scrambling to protect themselves wasn’t a symptom of a larger problem – namely, that they didn’t trust the President.

No, instead, it was a symptom of some larger conspiracy, where Obama’s administration set “land mines” in Trump’s way to prevent him from having a good relationship with the intelligence agencies. Absolute lunacy from a 3rd party perspective, but at least now, you can get a glimpse into the craziness.

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped” in Trump Tower jsut before the victory.”

And once you understand that level of paranoia and craziness from Trump, you can see how it was so easy for Trump to jump to his stupid tweets accusing Obama of heinous acts that he didn’t do.

So…learning…yay…?

Yeah, okay so here’s something  I still have problems understanding. So I get that Trump is terribly paranoid. Sure, I think we’ve all grasped that by this point. But, in reading this book, it struck me once again just how odd it is that the rest of the Trump team – like all of them, generals, commanders, RINOs, CEOs, the Kushner family, etc. – are going along with the paranoid shtick. I know they get to be in some of the powerful position in the world by following along with Trump’s paranoiac behavior, but you know…they still technically won the election. Meaning, they could hold onto power and not bow to conspiracy theories every three days. Just a thought! *cough* Javanka and Kelly *cough* 

Steve Bannon’s Best Quotes

Despite the fact that I think he’s an absolutely awful human being, Steve Bannon has the most entertaining and memorable quotes in this entire book.

“The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers. Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”

-Steve Bannon

“He (the President) said to me everybody would take that Don Junior meeting with the Russians. I said, ‘Everybody would not take that meeting.’

‘I’m a naval officer. I’m not going to take a meeting with Russian nationals, and do it in headquarters, are you fucking insane?’ ”

-Steve Bannon

It boggles my mind that Bannon and I have things we 100% agree on. Bannon’s condescension and disbelief at the stupidity of that meeting in Trump Tower mirrors mine. He just makes it so entertaining to read lol.

“I’m pretty good at coming up with solutions, I came up with a solution for his broke-dick campaign in about a day, but I don’t see this. (Russia thing). I don’t see a plan for getting through. Now, I gave him a plan…but he’s the President…and you can’t stop him. The guy is going to call his own plays. He’s Trump…”

-Steve Bannon

“If he fires Mueller, it just brings the impeachment quicker. He wants an unrecused attorney general. I told him if Jeff Sessions goes, Rod Rosenstein goes, and then Rachel Brand goes. We’ll be digging down into Obama career guys. An Obama guy will be acting attorney general.

I said you’re not going to get Rudy (Guliani) because he was on the campaign and will have to recuse himself, and Chris Christie too, so those are masturbatory fantasies, get those out of your brain.”

-also Steve Bannon haha

That last one is I think my absolute favorite. “Those are masturbatory fantasies, get those out of your brain” bahahaha

The way that Bannon describes *just how bad* of a decision firing Mueller would be is hilarious entertaining.

Quick snap back to real life, I’m obvious on Team Mueller, and hope he finds enough to not only get Trump out of this Presidency, but charged with actual crimes. With the increasing speed of front-page worth news articles related to Trump, since this book got released, Mueller got a subpeona to interview Bannon.

What’s weird to me is that Bannon has basically lost everything now. He was kicked out of the White House by Kelly/Jared/Ivanka. Then, because of some of these hilarious quotes in the book, he and Trump no longer publicly get along. And on top of that, the Mercer family, the main family backing Breitbart, cut ties with him and so he got fired from Breitbart, of all places.

So here he is, having lost everything. No income. No relationships. No nothing. He’s literally got *nothing* to lose by talking.

So why isn’t he turning on Trump and Trump’s family? *Especially* because the book goes into so much detail about how much he hated Jared and Ivanka. Considering how vengeful he seems to be, this would seem to be a prime opportunity for some vengeance at getting ousted by them.

Instead, he’s hiding under executive privilege from Trump, and seems to be actively trying to not answer Mueller’s questions. WHY? I’m so confused…

Couple months out from the release of the book and not one whisper from Bannon. Which, agreeing with Edmund, is super super super odd. It’s kinda like the saying about toddlers and puppies, although this time applied to a much more sinister case scenario — The scariest sound of all is silence. 

Favorite Quotes from Other People

It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything – not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored. And his staff is no better. Kushner is an entitled baby who knows nothing. Bannon is an arrogant prick who thinks he’s smarter than he is. Trump is less a person than a collection of terrible traits.

I hate the work, but feel I need to stay because I’m the only person there with a clue what he’s doing. The reason so few jobs have been filled is that they only accept people who pass ridiculous purity tests, even for midlevel policy-making jobs where the people will never see the light of day. I am in a constant state of shock and horror.

-Gary Cohn

I think this totally unrefuted blurb from Gary Cohn is the most telling thing about the inner workings of the Trump White House. This is someone who was on the inside, who worked for Goldman Sachs. Why wouldn’t I believe him?

“Its impossible to make him understand you can’t stop these investigations. In the old days, you could say leave it alone. Now you say leave it alone and you’re the one who gets investigated. He can’t get this through his head.”

-Roger Ailes

I think it’s funny that even Roger Ailes speaks condescendingly of Trump, especially in relation to the Russian investigation that most die hard Trump supporters think is a “nothing-burger.”

To me, the exposition of the relationship between Murdoch, Ailes, Trump, and Bannon was fascinating. Three of these men have been household names for decades now, and all four will be for a long, long time in the future. But I guess what’s crazy is you never think about the fact that these guys actually know each other – like each other, hate each other, tolerate each other – in real life. But that’s beside the point. The point is this quote by Roger Ailes: 

“Men who demand the most loyalty tend to be the least loyal pricks.” 

Now, who on earth in the White House do we know demands absolute loyalty from anyone he encounters… You’d think by now people would know Trump is one of the least loyal humans ever. I mean come on, the man’s been stabbing people in the back since the 70s. 

Trump: Marshmallow in Chief

“The President fundamentally wants to be liked. He just fundamentally needs to be liked so badly that it’s always…everything is a struggle for him.”

-Katie Walsh

The speech also confirmed Ivanka’s understanding of her father: he just wanted to be loved. And, likewise, it confirmed Bannon’s worst feat: Trump, in his true heart, was a marshmallow.

This is simultaneously the most insightful and most sad revelation from this book. That maybe, at his core, Trump isn’t an awful person. He’s just a someone with the mind of a child who’s surrounded himself with awful people, and so he does awful things with the powers granted him based on their influence.

It makes sense when you zoom out and see which world leaders he gets along with the best. They’re all people and regimes that flatter him – literally almost everything else doesn’t matter. He gets along with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the Phillippines, autocratic regimes that flatter him.

And the countries that he gets along least with? Our allies who don’t just cowtow to him, but expect him to lead and set a good example. Germany, Australia, France, Great Britain, Canada.

Or when you look at his visceral reaction to the press. Fox News, which is basically a propaganda machine built on fellating Trump, is his favorite. He even likes Infowars and Breitbart, not because of the quality of their journalism, but because they praise him. Meanwhile, actual good news outlets are all “fake news” because they are critical of the MANY things his administration is failing at.

So how do we approach things given this information? Because right now, the only people who deign to be his sycophants are awful people with awful agendas. They are the only ones with his ear.

Does the press start focusing on praise when he does well, to encourage him to do more good things? Like a child? I’ve always heard you teach children/pets tricks by praising them when they do something well, not punishing them when they do something you don’t want to do. Could that work with Trump as well?

And if so, how does that change the national discourse? Does it change it in a positive way? Will he stop attacking the press if so?

To be clear, this argument is not advocating to go full on Fox News apology mode, ignoring anything he does poorly and making excuses for them. It’s just to give him a little positive press when he DOES do something well that’s popular – like when he pulled out of the TPP for instance. And then continue being critical of him where he fails.

Or maybe we can praise him for things like NOT firing Mueller? 😀

Would that work? Would that help dilute the advice of his awful advisers, and somehow mitigate some of the terrible effects of his awful presidency? Food for thought.

I gotta agree – this portion of the book hit me hard too. But, maybe I’m more cynical, I just have a hard time believing that underneath the racism, sexism, power hunger, class-ism, etc. that Trump is just a big Marshmallow. Truly, I think he has a narcissistic personality that has been fed simpering, sycophantic flattery over his entire life, is someone who has never worked an honest job (yes, I know he worked, but come on, it wasn’t really honest), and is very rarely contradicted by his inner circle when he says something blatantly (or dog whistle-y) wrong. Give a man like this nearly unlimited power and attention…well, why did we except him to change upon entering the Oval Office. I’m sure he does feel some level of sympathy about bad situations, but if the man – who, let’s just reiterate, is THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES – needs a card that reminds him to say “I hear you” at a listening session for shooting victims…something’s off there. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, this book was a better read than I thought it would be. I got a little glimpse into Trump’s POV (however wrong) in certain issues, developed a better understanding of the adversarial relationship that Priebus, Bannon, and Jared/Ivanka had in Trump’s White House, and maybe got a little glimpse into the President’s character as well, along with some *very* entertaining quotes from Bannon.

A worthwhile read.

The Only Pirate at the Party – TwoMorePages Book Review

The Only Pirate at the Party – TwoMorePages Book Review

My evolution as a violinist has included many thrilling performances, and I still love what I do, but there are times when even I get burned out. When this happens, I go back to that moment ten years ago. I picture myself on the stage with my bow in the air. I feel my heart racing, I see the faces in the audience smiling, and I remember the moment I thought, I have to make this my life.

So I was overseas, with limited access to internet and…whoops, I read through all the books that I had on my kindle. So…what was I to do, but re-read something I’d already read?

Well, what book to read then? I’d just finished a load of sci-fi with the latest installment of Craig Alanson’s The Expeditionary Force (aka THE ADVENTURES OF SKIPPY haha), fantasy with Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, and well…I was trying to read to relax instead of stress out with righteous indignation, so politics was obviously out of the question (thanks Trump lol).

I looked through my library and…voila! The Only Pirate at the Party, from my first favorite violinist, Lindsey Stirling! I didn’t remember a ton about it, since I’d last read it 2 years ago, but I remembered it being mostly positive and uplifting?

It hit the spot, helping me turn around a vacation that honestly had not gone that well up to that point, and helping me cool off some of my anti-Trump rage. So kudos to you, Lindsey. 🙂

Uplifting Messages/Advice

That’s the best part about being a kid. Nothing seems impossible until someone bigger and older tells you it is. I grew up in a lovely little world where nothing was too far out of reach if I wanted to work for it. I think I still live in that world.

Standing out on purpose is one thing, but doing so by default takes a lot of energy and confidence. I’m proud of the things that set me apart, and I know why they are good; but that doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult.

Lindsey had a lot of great and relatable messages to her readers in this book. The above two are my favorites.

I’m often told that I have a lot of (too much?) energy, especially for my age, and I know for a fact that I stand out. I’m confident now, but I wasn’t always. Stick me in a completely unfamiliar place, and you’ll see me struggle sometimes if I can’t turn “it” on.

Based on her stories, Lindsey seems the same way. She grew up a certain way, found it didn’t *quite* conform, but rolled with her personality and upbringing anyway. It’s nice to see and read affirming messages, and I hope she reached some of her younger fans with them.

Living in the Moment

Once upon a time, I thought I blew the greatest moment of my life. I no longer believe that is possible. Life is kind and full of great moments, but I think the greatest moment of my life is always ahead of me. When I reach it, there will be another, greater moment to come.

I want to spend more time balancing in the present. It’s the only thing that truly exists. If I’m too busy ruminating over the past or pining for the future, some of those great moments will pass by before I get the chance to live in them.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I had been pretty stressed out, both personally and at global affairs for several months leading up to re-reading this book. I’d spend hours ruminating on what-could-have-been if only I’d made a different decision at a certain point in time in December, or stressing out about the LATEST idiotic thing that Donald Trump did, or stressing about learning that someone *else* I knew and looked up to had voted for and continues to support Trump through it all. Oi.

But Lindsey’s message of staying in the moment, of not dwelling on the past or waiting for the future was a kind reminder to pay attention to the present, was a good reminder to enjoy the here and now. It helped that I was in New Zealand, of course, but yeah – I should enjoy this vacation, weather and bad luck be damned.

Lindsey Philosophy

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” What genius came up with that one? A robot? What a load. Let me set the record straight. Throwing stick sand stones is mean (and archaic), but you really want to hurt me, use words. They are much more effective.

Lindsey went into detail about how pretending to not care about how others feel about you may work for some people, but not for her. I think that’s a really good lesson for any of her readers that have or have had self esteem issues.

It’s not weak that you care about what other people think of you. You can try to minimize it, but it’s okay to still care.

“Not long after, I came across some positive comments on the internet, and I was reminded why I do what I do: to bring people joy. Am I the best violinist in teh world? No. Do I need to be the best to bring people joy? No.”

What’s important is how you deal with it. Lindsey’s solution was to care more about what she thought of herself, and to think about why she performed. And bravo to her for that.

“Maybe my best isn’t as good as someone else’s, but for a lot of people, my best is enough. Most important, for me, it’s enough.”

And of course, her real overarching idea in that chapter was acceptance. It’s okay if you’re not the best, as long as you’re accomplishing what you set out to do. For her, it was helping others have fun via entertaining them.

For me, it’s okay if I didn’t make the perfect trade – sure, I maybe could have retired if I had, but I still came out well ahead of most of the decisions I could have made, so I should be happy with what I’ve done, and look to the next trade, instead of beating myself up for not timing the top and making the perfect one.

Selfishly Selfless

Selfishly selfless: Selfless behavior resulting in positive recognition for good deeds, warming the heart and causing feelings of being noble and heroic.

Selflessly selfless: Selfless behavior resulting in negative recognition, or no recognition at all.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: being selflessly selfless was really hard for me.

Her chapters about her Mormon missionary work were very interesting. She went into depth about how hard it was, and about her mindset going into it: that she’d go and save souls and be super recognized for it, and oh how fun that’d be!

If you’ve seen The Book of Mormon, the main character has similar aspirations for credit, and falls on his face, similar to what Lindsey experienced initially as well.

Her main point with her mission stories is that if you go into the mindset that helping you will help you feel better via praise from others, it’ll sometimes be really hard to enjoy being selfless. Which is…an interesting concept.

I’ll admit that part of the reason why I help people when I can is exactly that. I want to be recognized for helping others so that way I feel better about myself. Selfishly, I also think that doing so will end up coming around karmically to help me out if I’m even in a bind, which is…if you think about it, kind of a selfish reason to be selfless.

“Whenever anyone asks him how he found the church, Mike talks about you. Says he met a little short haired angel on the subway.”

Her major success story in her missionary work brought a smile to my face, and is clearly an important moment in her life. I’m glad she shared it.

Lindsey’s Struggles

Reading about Lindsey’s struggles, both professionally and personally, was a lot more than I honestly expected. I had expected more of “Well, things were hard at first, but then I kept working and things kept getting better and then yay!”

When the lights faded, I held it together until I reached the bathroom, where I locked the door, sank to the floor, and sobbed. I was humiliated, but more than anything, I felt utterly betrayed by God. Leading up to my performance, I was confident it was nothing short of divine intervention that had led me there – that God wanted me to do well. Instead of rising to the top as I had prayed for, I took a nosedive, and I couldn’t understand why.

Reading about how she locked herself in a bathroom and cried after what happened to her on America’s Got Talent was heartbreaking. I’ve been there where you think “welp, guess it was fun having hopes and dreams. That’s over. What are my consolation prizes / where do I go from here?”, and it is a *dark* place.

At first, I felt like I had a split personality. Every time I ate something out of my comfort zone, the internal battle would begin in my head. Automatically, the eating disorder side of my brain would say, You can’t even say “no” to a small bowl of ice cream? You are pathetic and weak.

Furthermore, reading about Lindsey’s struggles with anorexia were both frightening and eye opening. If I ever have a daughter (or son) going through something similar, I hope I’ll be able to help them, first with getting them to read her anorexia chapters in this book, and then starting on a support structure from there.

Hopefully the chapters here would help her (or him) to see that she (or he) is not alone, that others have gone through it, and that they have triumphed, Lindsey being one of them.

I’m fortunate enough to not have gone through something like that, but damn, the way she described anorexia was psychologically pretty frightening – the way her relationships with her friends changed, the way her relationship with her family and her mother changed. That’s scary.

Gavi

I can only hope I never have to find another keyboard-playing best friend. Those are some big shoes to fill. I would know, since I once tried to wear Gavi’s shoes into a venue. It was snowing, and I couldn’t find my own. I ended up using one as a toboggan instead.

And Last but not least, I heard it from someone somewhere that Gavi thinks I’m hott. Don’t make me say it again, I’m blushing so hard right now.

-Phelba

I’ll close this review the same way that Lindsey closed her book, with Gavi.

I had heard whispers that Gavi and Lindsey were almost a couple, but never quite. Lindsey wrote this book while he was still sick, but everyone thought he’d recover. He was a healthy guy in his late 20s, early 30s before he got sick – surely nothing to worry about?

But then…

Gavi passed away after the completion of this book, but before it was published. Losing him was the darkest period of my life, but he will always be a light in my memory.

When I think of him, I will always imagine him laughing, because that’s what Gavi was best at – making people laugh and spreading joy.

I love you, Gavi. I love you more than you will ever know.

That’s just…so sad. 😦

Reading this book gave us all insight into Lindsey’s past life via her stories and musings, but it also gave us a window into her life at the time of her writing this book. I’m sorry you and Gavi didn’t get your storybook ending, Lindsey.

Seems like you two truly did have something special, especially after hearing Gavi’s Song, from your Brave Enough album. Gosh, I even believe the online speculation that you named your album Brave Enough because you wished you had been “brave enough” to tell him your feelings. 😥

Conscience of a Conservative by Jeff Flake – TwoMorePages Book Review

Conscience of a Conservative by Jeff Flake – TwoMorePages Book Review

{Edited Preface: Like The Words of Radiance review, this one has two voices. This time, I read the book along with my good friend Rachel, and she’s shared her thoughts below in blue.

Funnily enough, Jeff Flake had an unexpected announcement while we were coming up with our thoughts. I wrote all of my thoughts *before* his announcement and Rachel wrote all of them *after*, so there will be a slightly interesting dichotomy in timing and verb tenses. Enjoy!}


So I’ve been reading a lot of political books lately given our…unique political climate. Senator Bernie Sanders’s book was cool, if a bit preachy. Senator Al Franken’s book was hilariously entertaining, while also being on point with his messaging.

But in order to prevent myself from living in an echo chamber, I thought it important to read something from a conservative viewpoint. On a recommendation from my buddy, Eric Kuhle, on our Acadia National Park trip, I picked up Jeff Flake’s book, “Conscience of a Conservative.”

It was way better than I thought it would be. And, surprisingly, it read *really* similarly to Al Franken’s “Giant of the Senate book.” The main difference wasn’t one of topics, but of tone. Whereas Franken’s book carried a mostly comedic tone, Flake’s come off in a very serious manner. The only time he really tries to be funny is when he points out the absurdity of some of the situations he has been faced with as a US Senator.

Hi! Rachel here. I picked up this book on a recommendation from Edmund and, I have to admit, I honestly enjoyed it. It was short, witty, to-the-point and a breath of fresh air in an otherwise very smothering political atmosphere. Was it a little preachy? Yeah, of course, it’s a book written by a politician. Was it necessary? Absolutely. 

On Bad Information and the Threat to Democracy

For instance, the third chapter of Flake’s book is titled “On Bad Information and the Threat to Democracy”. Compare that with Franken’s chapter “Lies and the Lying Liars that Tell Them”. You could have dropped one persons’s chapter into the other verbatim and aside from a slight change in tone, I would never have noticed. For instance, compare the following statements from each of their books:

Whatever the source, a steady diet of bad information, conveyed in bad faith, can over time become a serious threat to democracy. Over time, a determined effort to undermine the very idea of truth softens the ground for anti-democratic impulses.

-Jeff Flake

I know I’m sort of farting into the wind on this. But I hope you’ll fart along with me. I’ve always believed that it’s possible to discern true statements from false statements, and that it’s critically important to do so, and that we put our entire democratic experiment in peril when we don’t.

-Al Franken

or these statements from each of their books:

There was once a time in politics, as well as in journalism, when in order to be serious and credible, you had to observe a baseline fidelity to empirical truth. And if you made mistakes – or worse, if you were a bad actor and got things wrong on purpose – you suffered real consequences. Violate the public trust, and you paid a steep price. The higher up the food chain you went, the more serious and credible you were expected to be.

That order seems to have vanished.

-Jeff Flake

All of this to say that I care a lot about people in politics telling the truth. And even considering all the horrible things Trump got away with during the campaign – mocking a disabled reporter, attacking a Gold Star family, referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “drug dealers,” calling for Muslims to be banned from our country – I still can’t believe he got away with lying so much.

Frankly, it made me wonder whether, sadly, the war was over and the liars had won.

-Al Franken

I’ll give credit where credit is due. Flake is an eloquent writer. While his prose is more fancy than Franken’s, they basically had the exact same message. And remember that they are on pretty staunchly opposite sides of the political aisle.

THE TRUTH MATTERS. AND AGREEING ON WHAT IS PROVABLY TRUE OR FALSE MATTERS.

Look on my facebook wall and you’ll see that I don’t shy away from political debate. But you’ll notice that until someone tries to use “#FakeNews” to discredit something that they disagree with, I try to be relatively cordial, trying to address the specific points that we are disagreeing on vs assuming that they are dumb.

Just because we disagree doesn’t make either one of us stupid. I fully agree with Day[9] when it comes to internet arguments, and try to approach discussions that way.

But try to discredit anything you disagree with as “fake” not because it’s actually fake, but because it disagrees with you? Now I’ll treat you like an idiot child.

If you treat everything that you disagree with as “fake” and then ignore it, how are we supposed to have a reasonable discussion? Your mind can’t be changed, and you can’t support your argument with provable facts. Why are we even talking?

It was very heartening to see Senator Flake, a staunchly Republican Senator, agree that facts are important.

Perhaps most destructive of all, we haven’t ever had an occupant of the White House who so routinely calls true reports that irk him “fake news” while giving his seal of approval to fake reports that happen to support his position.

It is madness to turn ourselves inside out in an attempt to make reality comport with an alternate reality, just because someone in power would like us to.

It was further heartening to see him call out Trump specifically for what infuriates me about him – calling everything that disagrees with him “fake” while automatically praising anything that agrees with him, regardless of its validity.

I’d go further down this rabbit hole, but I already did in my review for Franken’s book, so no need to rehash that here.

Only in anti-democratic propaganda states do we see “alternate facts” successfully compete with the truth for primacy. Only in such states do we see a sustained program of bad information emanate from the highest levels of the government. This, as I will continue to point out in the course of this book, is not a conservative value. And as conservatives, we simply cannot carry on as if it is not happening.

As someone who grew up staunchly conservative and who has become sickened at what now passes as conservative, it’s nice to know that there’s still someone home who has the ability to think critically. And that if Flake thinks this, surely other Republican Senators and House Representatives do as well.

I wholeheartedly agree with Edmund’s analysis above. While always a liberal, I too grew up in a pretty conservative extended family and I have watched the Republican party and its conservative affiliates leap to the right and leave my family behind, bewildered and all of a sudden pretty liberal. (Shout out to all the Southern Baptist conservative Texan families out there who have rejected this administration as well…oh wait, no one else? Ah well.) Senator Flake analyzed the situation fairly aptly: The Republican Party, “following the lead of a candidate who had a special skill for identifying ‘problems,’ if not for solving them…lurched like a tranquilized elephant…” with no solution or moral code in sight.  That’s a pretty damning indictment of someone who will continue to work on behalf of the Republican Party for another year and a half. 

On Fox News

I fully expected to receive the “Do you believe the President is a citizen?” question, and sure enough, when the question came, I said that if we wanted to be taken seriously, we had to stop indulging in ugly conspiracy theories. Those words were met with a choros of boos.

When a conspiracy theory becomes litmus-test orthodoxy, objective reality is at risk.

The truth is the truth, and anything else is a waste of time. Still, to be booed because I didn’t subscribe to a right-wing conspiracist fantasy about our first African American president is a sobering experience indeed.

The impact of the support of the absurd birther theory regularly received on certain shows on Fox News cannot be overstated. In fact, the impact of the conditioning that the minds of American conservatives receive on some of these Fox shows cannot be overstated.

That last paragraph was something I had not expected to read AT ALL in a book written by a conservative senator. That was an amazingly pleasant surprise.

So kudos to Jeff Flake, calling out bullshit where he sees it.

I know that one of the big hullabaloos about him writing this book at all was that he put himself in danger of losing re-election, not from a democratic challenger, but from a primary challenger. And I think that danger is very real, given that he calls out the idiotic ideas that galvanized the extremes of his party’s own base (who are the ones who usually vote in primaries). So again, major props to Jeff Flake.

Way to stick to your principles, Flake. I really hope you’re not punished for it from within your own party, that smart conservatives actually read your book and show up to the Primary voting booths.

So I’m adding to this review a few days late and it looks like my prediction that Flake would drop out has come true. I haven’t quite come to terms yet with how I feel about that. This is a man with whose policies and voting records I vehemently disagree.  This is a man who voted 91% of the time with the Trump Administration’s policies. But as much as I disagree with this, I can’t really blame him – Flake is a staunch conservative who borders on libertarianism, of course he would vote this way. 

However. This is also a man who wrote in his condemnation of the modern Republican party, “We hold out our hand, expecting our share of nonwhite votes, and yet we give these Americans too few reasons to come our way. Instead, we demonized them, marginalized them, blamed them for our country’s problems…” That statement right there? Incredible. A member of the modern Republican party being able to critically diagnose his party’s failings in this regard is almost unprecedented. 

On Globalism and Free Trade

Seemingly overnight, the word globalist became a grave insult among people in my party who also called themselves “conservative.” I remember a right-wing blog post during my election t the Senate that said I had “been seen in the company of globalists in Paris, France.”

Quel scandale! Globalist as opposed to what, exactly? A provincialist? A parochialist? A localist?

In this country, we are less than 5% of the world’s population. We are 20% of the world’s economic output. And if we don’t trade, we don’t grow. Given the alternatives, I’ll take the globalist moniker, thank you.

One of my favorite snippets of the book came in his chapter about Free Trade. It’s one of the few times that he comes off as comedic and, imo, the perfect amount of snarky.

Yes, Flake! This is something that has been driving me up a wall for years. When on earth did we decide that being a “globalist” or internationalist was such a bad thing? Did we learn nothing from World War 1 or World War 2? Let’s just set this straight. No, the U.N. is not out to take over the world and ruin American lives. No, isolationism is not the best way to solve problems. No, understanding other cultures is not going to undermine your own. No, attempting to make peace through treaties and diplomacy is not a symbol of a country’s weakness. And no, globalization and trade and international relations ARE NOT A ZERO SUM GAME. They’re just not. 

As someone who grew up with the notion that free trade makes everyone richer and better off, the whole “protectionism” vibe that we’ve been seeing with the election of Trump, the potential election of Marie LePen in France, and the whole BrExit fiasco has been super puzzling for me. Who votes to cut off their nose to spite their face? Well, a lot of people apparently.

Free trade is a lift-all-boats phenomenon, and that is precisely what free-market economics is all about. It provides for the most efficient use of capital…It is precisely because we have taken advantage of globalization that we have the standard of living that we have.

In America, it’s even weirder, because, to me, the party that is about hands-off government and laissez-faire economics should be the party that is all about open borders and free trade. IT MAKES EVERYONE RICHER, so why wouldn’t the pro-business party be all for it?

His condescension at the idiot members of the Republican party that seem to be for protectionism, those idiot members who use globalist with a negative connotation perfectly encapsulates how I feel about them. DO YOU NOT LIKE MONEY? WHY WOULD YOU BE FOR TRADE WARS?

On Thinking About What You Say

In politics, it is difficult to win an argument with complexity and facts when the other side offers easy answers and free stuff without worrying about the details. This is largely how Donald Trump vanquished the Republican field in 2016.

Candidate Trump was giving – and we, the Republican electorate, bought – the late-night infomercial: “Health Care for Everybody! Much Better, at a Fraction of the Cost! Free Border Wall! Super-Colossal Trade Deals! But Wait! There’s More!!”

This doesn’t need much commentary by me. It is just straight up funny, while being OH-SO-TRUE.

Trump promised his electorate the world, and those of us who questioned how the fuck he was going to do things that seemed mutually exclusive like make health care better while simultaneously making it cheaper while simultaneously covering more people were brushed off. And then of course, when push came to shove, came “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” Yeah, “nobody.” /s

Exactly. As a Political Science major a little piece of me dies inside any time a politician or layman tries to say that a policy is bad because it is too long or complicated. There really isn’t ever such a thing in politics as an easy solution. In fact, there is a whole branch of political science devoted to something called Wicked Problems: problems that have incomplete or contradictory information, a plethora of people and interest groups involved, a large economic burden, and interconnections with other problems and policy areas. So yeah, the legislation that is the most detailed, comprehensive, thought-out, and analyzed is probably going to be the best legislation to pass. And yeah, we all knew health care (and literally any other policy arena) was going to be complicated. 

On Checking the Powers of the Executive Branch

I was puzzled when the new president’s senior adviser Stephen Miller – who was also credited with a principal role in the development of the travel ban – appeared on national television and announced that “our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.” Will not by questioned? Really?

Presidential power should be questioned, continually. That’s what our system of government, defined by the separation of powers, is all about. It shouldn’t matter whether the president belongs to my party or to another one.

Besides, I’m from the West. Questioning power is what we do.

Aside from entertaining Jeff Flake’s mic drop there at the end (Woooh! West USA!), I was very happy to see that Senator Flake understands that the legislative branch is there not to serve at the leisure of the President, but to work alongside him/her, and to provide a check on executive power when it is over-reaching.

Contrast that other Republican lawmakers literally saying that our representatives “work for the President” instead of their own constituents.

Once again, a little piece of me dies every time I hear a politician – on either side of the aisle – say they serve the interests of the President. No you don’t. Please, just read the Constitution once. That’s all I ask. And while Flake has voted incredibly frequently for the President’s agenda, and while I disagree with most of it, I believe that *he* believes he is voting in the best interest of those who elected him, not the President. 

The Senate must be the saucer that cools the coffee, as George Washington is said to have told Thomas Jefferson.

A case in point early in the new presidency was President Trump’s increasing pressure on the Senate to dispense with the filibuster for legislation so that he might be able to get his program through the Senate without concern about achieving consensus.  Such a move would turn the Senate into just another majoritarian body just like the House of Representatives, thus forfeiting its reputation as a deliberative body at all, much less the world’s greatest. At that point, it might be fair to ask: Why have a Senate at all?

That is not how constitutional democracy works. And it’s not how the United States Senate works, either.

How willing would the Republicans be to go along with the President? Would we be willing to change the institution for short-term gain? We all consider ourselves institutionalists, but what will we do when the President starts tweeting, scolding us for obstructing his agenda?

What happens if there is a tax bill which isn’t getting any Democratic support? Will we stand up and say no, we’ve got to be bipartisan, we’ve got to work for it and pick up the necessary votes? Or will we scrap the rules?

I will not support any such effort to harm the Senate. It is a line I cannot cross.

 

I was pretty pumped when I read the above section in his book. And then I went to google and found out that he did indeed vote on completely partisan things like removing the filibuster to put Gorsich on the Supreme Court. And he voted for the terrible Republican health care bill. And he voted to put Devos as Secretary of Education.

So…partial credit. Good rhetoric, no matching action. :/

But maybe he’ll be better going forward? I hope so.

Maybe. I’ve probably studied politicians and Congress too much to have much faith in them but maybe now that Flake has completely severed his ties with the President and the scary wing of his party he’ll be more inclined to buck them. 

On Conviction of Conservative Beliefs

Never has a party so quickly or easily abandoned its core principles as my party did in the course of the 2016 campaign. And when you suddenly decide that you don’t believe what had recently been your most deeply held beliefs, then you open yourself to believing anything – or maybe nothing at all.

Why did we do that/ And how did it happen? How did conservatives betray conservatism? Or worse: how did we embrace incoherence?

The quick answer: We did it because it was cheap and easy and the real world is hard and defending a principled position to voters is harder still.

His introspection into what has happened to the Republican party over the past decade, but ESPECIALLY in the 2016 election was especially poignant in my opinion.

It is a testament to just how far we fell in 2016 that to resist the fever and stand up for conservatism seemed a radical act.

I often wonder what Barry Goldwater would make of the current state of his party and of American politics more generally. I am confident that he would not be pleased or amused.

The party of Lincoln would now likely be unrecognizable to the Great Emancipator.

I don’t even recognize the current Republican party. It’s not the same party that I grew up with, *that I was a part of* in my younger years. It’s funny now to me that I’m considered “so liberal” when I don’t feel like I’ve really changed that much. didn’t change – the party did, bringing the needle *so far to the right* that apparently now I’m liberal?

When did it become a conservative value to place party over country?

When did it become a conservative value for your elected official to do/say something because he has an R next to his name, but not okay for someone else to do/say a similar thing because he as a D next to his name?

When did it become a conservative value to turn a blind eye towards lies and misinformation?

When did it become a conservative value to be okay with consorting with foreign powers during an election?

So it’s refreshing to see that at least one (and hopefully more) Republican lawmakers feel the same way, that their party has changed, and not for the better. They may not all have the courage of conviction that Jeff Flake has, who may or may not be committing career suicide by breaking ranks and publishing this book; but I want to believe that some at least are smart enough (and sane enough) to realize what is happening to the Republican party.

It’d be nice to be able to “come home again” and be able to agree with a Republican on political topics without having to believe such silly things as “Obama wasn’t a US citizen” or “Climate change isn’t real”.

When your raison d’etre stops being How can we hold to the principles of limited government and economic freedom? and becomes How can we hold on to this majority for one more cycle? then you’ve become the very thing that you’re supposed to be against.

In this era of dysfunction and collapsed principle, our only accomplishment is painstakingly constructing the argument that we’re not to blame and hoping that we’ve gerrymandered ourselves well enough to be safe in the next election.

We decided that it was better to build and maintain a majority by using the levers of power rather than the art of persuasion and the battle of ideas. And we have decided that getting nothing done is okay.

There are many on both sides who like this outcome so much that they think it’s a good model on which to build a whole career. (Edmund insertion: *Cough Ted Cruz*) Far too often, we come to destroy, not to build.

Moreover, I like how he spends entire chapters talking about the foundations of good governing, and how poisonous the current Republican party’s stance on governing is for the country.

TARP was actually a modest price to pay to forestall a global depression. My vote against the bill is a vote that I still regret.

Here’s what mattered: At a moment of national and global crisis, that vote was an abdication of my responsibility as a member of Congress.

For instance, he goes into detail about how stupid it is to “Vote No, but hope yes” (on the TARP bill), and about how he is ashamed to have done so in the past.

He talks at length about how bipartisan legislation used to be passed, and about how wholly partisan victories are shallow, because they’re just as easily overturned in the next election cycle without bipartisan support. He uses specific examples of attempts at good, enduring legislation, successful or otherwise, and it’s not all to make himself look good – some of his examples he isn’t even involved in.

I have to agree with everything above. I think it is remarkable that a sitting politician could come out with such a damning expose of his entire party and I admire him for that. It was interesting that he agreed with Franken when he traced part of the start of the Republican Party’s decline to Newt Gingrich. Both Flake and Franken wholeheartedly condemned Gingrich for bringing to light the vicious underbelly of the Republican Party. Flake’s condemnation of Gingrich echoes my concerns with many of today’s politicians: “Newt, whose talents for politics exceeded his interest in governing…” This is extremely on point. As someone who one day would like to enter the world of politics, it worries me that many politicians seem to prize their ruthlessness and cunning over their concern and care for their constituents. 

Conclusion

I am a proud conservative and a lifelong Republican. That does not make the Democrats my enemies. America has too many real enemies to indulge such nonsense.

It’s good to not demonize the people on the other side of the political aisle, and this book helped me a ton in that respect. The similarities between Jeff Flake’s book and Al Franken’s book were eye opening to me. If two senators that are that different from one another politically can agree on things like that, it gives me hope for the future.

This book helped me greatly in that respect. It’s good to know that not all Republicans are Trump supporters who are ignorant to logic.

It’s great to know that not all Republican lawmakers have abdicated their responsibility in understanding that the legislative branch doesn’t work as an arm of the executive branch.

It’s fantastic to know that some of them like Jeff Flake have such strong conservative convictions that they’re willing to put themselves out there and risk their own re-election to help lead their party’s return to sanity.

I think it’s really interesting that once Republican legislatures are free from the shackles of worrying about re-election, they say and do sane things. Like Bob Corker. or John McCain.

Of course, relying on Senators not worrying about re-election to keep Trump in check is not sustainable. So I do hope that Jeff Flake, like his idol Goldwater (whose book Flake based his own book on), sparks a conservative revolution, one that affects the ranks of normal congressmen and women that *are* seeking re-election.

Now, more than ever, America’s separation of powers is what is keeping her afloat. But that requires legislators like Jeff Flake to have the conviction to stand up for their conservative ideals rather than act as servants for Trump.

And maybe more than that, I hope it helps spark activism amongst more moderate conservatives, ones who look around and see that things ARE INDEED NOT NORMAL AND NOT OKAY. I plan on giving this book to some of my more conservative, older friends. They’d be much more likely to read a book by the Republican Senator from Arizona than the Democratic Senator from Minnesota. I don’t know if it’ll work, but I sure hope it does.

I could not agree more. The only way to escape our political malaise is to educate ourselves. Jeff Flake’s book is a good first step in this direction. I can only hope that his actions support his words. 

 

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate – TwoMorePages Book Review

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate – TwoMorePages Book Review

Kudos to Rachel, who turned me onto this book. I wouldn’t have read this without her recommendation, and my life would have been much less rich for it.

Al Franken is hilariously insightful. It’s like one of the correspondents from the Daily Show became a Senator. I really enjoyed his insights into the workings of the Senate, complete with plenty of tangible real world examples.

For instance, I always felt like this Congress was more obstructionist, but I was never quantified it. I didn’t realize that 40% of all cloture votes in US Senate History were called by Mitch McConnell alone, just to delay progress so that Obama couldn’t get credit for things. McConnell called for cloture votes on some things that would eventually pass 98-0! He called cloture on bills that he himself ended up voting yes on! HOW STUPID IS THAT?

But more than that, his take on the difference between Congressional behavior just a few decades ago compared to Congressional behavior now was interesting, specifically his take on the specific drivers that caused that change in behavior.

His discussion of various facets of policy was passionate. It was like he took the words and arguments straight from my head, replete with the righteous anger of being lied to over and over again.

One of the tenets of his book is that a strong failing of Democrats is messaging. This book? Definitely the antithesis of that. Strong, direct, entertaining, and to the point.

 

Operation Curdle

“On this day,” Obama declared in his inaugural address, “we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

To which Mitch McConnell basically responded, “Oh yeah? Well, screw you, buddy!”

The way I see it, Republicans had three options for how to deal with the new political reality they faced in January 2009.

Option 1: Recognize that the new President was hugely popular and had a mandate from the American people to deal with a series of pressing crises, and ask, ‘How can we help?’

Option 2: Recognize that the new President was hugely popular and had a mandate from the American people to deal with a series of pressing crises, and say, ‘Congratulations, but we have some political standing too, and we’re going to make you come to the table and negotiate. So let’s sit down and work out something we can all live with.’

Option 3: Focus on reducing his popularity, refuse to respect his mandate, and as for those pressing crises? Not only are we not going to help him solve them, we’re going to do everything we can to prevent him from solving them, and then we’re going to blame him for failing to solve them. In fact, after a while, we’re going to start blaming him for creating the problems in the first place!

Democrats and Republicans had faced this dilemma many times before, but never before had anyone ever chosen Door Number 3.

And then, having enjoyed making a big show out of refusing to help the President succeed, Republicans then turned to making a big show out of complaining that he had failed.

In reality, he hadn’t. The stimulus kept us from falling into another Great Depression, and created millions of jobs. But it took awhile to kick in, and it wasn’t as strong as President Obama and Democrats wanted (or as economists had called for). It’s hard to get people excited about avoiding a hypothetical depression when you’re slowly muddling through a huge recession.

Let’s just start off with the meat of things, shall we? I really liked Al Franken’s perspective as a Democratic Senator in the midst of Obama’s first term, a term that brought with it the Great Recession.

More than any other subject I ever studied, I loved economics. One of these days, I want to teach economics. It’s fun; it affects people; and it makes sense. One of the basic tenets of basic macroeconomic theory is that that GDP (Gross Domestic Product) = C (consumer spending) + G (government spending) + I (investment spending) + nX (net exports). (I still remember that Mr. Santucci!)

Going into 2009, C in that formula was falling off of a cliff. People were scared. They were losing their jobs, and so were spending less, making industry stall and making more people…lose their jobs. See how that’s a shitty cycle?

In Econ 201, you learn that the total monetary supply = M (Total amount of money in circulation) * V (velocity of money, how often money changes hands). Going into 2009, the value of V was dropping *so much* that the US economy was experiencing deflation *despite* printing trillions of dollars and increasing the value of M. The only realistic way to stop that is with a strong increase in overall spending. Well, as we just learned before, consumer spending wasn’t going to do that (and in fact was falling as a result of the falling total monetary supply), so you have to get *government* spending to pull us out of that hole. You increase G in C + G + I + nX.

I remember being livid at the time at people saying “We should have just let all the banks fail.” No, that’s how you decrease the velocity of money EVEN MORE and make the economy EVEN MORE DEFLATIONARY, putting us into an even DEEPER RECESSION.

And I remember having to politely say “A statement like that shows a profound misunderstanding of basic economic theory” instead of what I wanted to say: “Are you insane?! Have you even seen the rate at which the velocity of money is declining?! Do you even understand the implications a drop in velocity of that magnitude? No, of fucking course not, because you’re too stupid to understand what that even means. All you know is that ‘Government intervention = bad, herp derp.’ ”

I will defend to my last days the necessity of government intervention in 2009. Anyone in their late 20s or early 30s was a direct recipient of that government intervention. Our thriving economy now is a direct result of that aid. So if you’re someone like me, who is doing relatively well now, and you want to complain that “the government should not have intervened in 2009”, know that deep down, I truly want to punch you in the face and make you retake economics, you ungrateful imbecile.

So to read about Al Franken’s experience in the Senate itself trying to get that through was interesting. He could have been the 60th vote to help push through a better, $1 trillion dollar stimulus (instead of a $.7 trillion one that took longer to work), but his election was held up because of a recount. It still boggles my mind that he won by less than 200 votes. That’s insane.

The stimulus had been a successful test run of the Republican strategy: Abdicate their responsibility to govern, obstruct the President’s agenda, complain that things weren’t getting better, and wait for Americans to get fed up so they could profit politically as his expense. Operation Curdle was well under way.

And that brings us to what Al Franken so affectionately refers to as “Operation Curdle”, an unfortunately very successful political maneuver. Fuck things up, blame it on the guy in charge even though you’re the reason it’s fucked up, and then somehow score political points with it.

In a rational world, this would never work. It 100% relies on the stupidity of the governed to be too dumb to see through your charade. The fact that it *does* work, and works *so well* makes me question my faith in the intelligence of people.

On hundreds of occasions, the minority would use a parliamentary procedure called “forcing a cloture vote” simply to waste everyone’s time. They did it more than ever before in history; in fact four out of every ten cloture votes in the history of the United States Senate up to 2014 came in the eight years that Mitch McConnell served as minority leader.

In most of the situations there wasn’t actually anything to debate. McConnell would force cloture votes on ridiculously noncontroversial stuff.

So it was not uncommon for us to file a cloture motion on a Monday for a vote on say, a noncontroversial district court nominee, only to have the nominee confirmed with an overwhelming majority (in one case by a 98-0 vote) late on Thursday evening. That’s right – Republicans would routinely filibuster things that they’d then turn around and vote for.

What made it worse that McConnell had made his intentions clear by actually saying, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Not making sure that kids get a great education, not creating millions of good jobs, not even getting our deficit under control. No, his first priority was about Republicans winning the next presidential election. I wasn’t shocked that he thought that. I was just appalled that he actually said it.

Like how is this okay? Congress had been around for more than 225 years through 2014. And Mitch McConell, by himself has 40% of the cloture votes under him? That is brazen obstruction.

Which brings us to…

 

“But that’s Washington for you” – Politiphobia

And the thing was, ordinary Americans who weren’t themselves rabid partisans saw all this happening and blamed both sides. I was always amazed when I would go around Minnesota and meet people who didn’t follow national politics that closely but who knew that Republicans had been extremely uncooperative during the Obama administration. “I know,” I’d say, “it’s awful.”

“Yeah,” these people would often respond. “But that’s Washington for you.”

These folks didn’t reach that conclusion without some help. Many political reporters can’t seem to write a sentence about a problem without casting at least some blame onto both sides. Congressional Republicans knew that, and made hay with it. McConnell and his friends consistently blamed Obama for the partisanship of the Obama years, managing to suppress their giggles all the while.

After eight years of refusing to help the President govern – in fact either years of actively trying to make the country ungovernable – Republicans hadn’t just created a monster within their own ranks. All that inaction and gridlock helped to create a nation of politiphobes, people who (correctly) felt like they were being left behind in the economy and (correctly) felt that the political system was broken and rigged against people like them and (extremely incorrectly) felt that everyone who had anything to do with politics was more or less equally to blame.

But perhaps the worst side effect of Operation Curdle isn’t from people who refuse to believe that anything is wrong. It’s from people that agree with Franken and me that something is wrong but that blame both sides for it.

Even today, I’ll hear people say “Oh, well they all suck, what are you going to do?” or “I think politics has always been like this. It’s just being reported more now.”

WAIT. FULL STOP. WHAT?! NO.

There is quantifiable evidence of specific and malicious wrongdoing by one party over and over again. Gerrymandering is how Republicans control 2/3’s of seats in state and national legislatures despite consistently only garnering just south of 50% of the popular vote. Mitch McConnell led 40% of all cloture votes IN US SENATE HISTORY.

Trump, our idiot Republican President, consistently lies to our face over and over and over again. In the same amount of time that Trump was under investigation for possible collusion with Russia AND had fired Comey to obstruct said investigation, literally the only thing that Fox News could come up with to discredit Obama was that he liked to eat his burgers with fancy mustard.

But you want to blame *both sides*? How in the wut…? How are these things even remotely equal?

I know Democrats aren’t perfect. No party or person ever was or ever will be. But if you’re going to paint all politicians from both parties with that broad of a brush, you’ve created a perverse incentive for politicians to just go balls to the wall with unethical obstruction.

It’s like if the penalties for murder or speeding in your car were the same. Well, I’m already speeding, so I may as well go murder that guy I really hate? It doesn’t make sense.

Why is this worse? Because the people that are die hard party line people are basically always going to vote Republican no matter what. This last Presidential election proved that the Republican party could basically put up a completely unqualified candidate, one who routinely lies, who had no experience in government, who is openly prejudiced, and those people would still vote for him.

Look no further than the millions of people who didn’t think Trump was a particularly good candidate, but *still* voted Trump because he had an (R) next to his name. Nothing is ever going to change those minds or votes.

But other people, smarter people, people with the ability to think critically and see when they’re being lied to? If they become politiphobes and distance themselves from politics altogether because “both sides are bad”, this only amplifies the voices of the aforementioned.

Republicans tend to do *much* better in low turnout elections. They have a motivated base that consistently votes Republican basically no matter what. Not voting is like a Republican half-vote.

So it’s a Republican victory if they can obstruct everything, and then have people blame BOTH parties for it.

It’s frustrating for me, as someone who pays attention and doesn’t like getting lied to; but it’s got to be *mind-blowingly frustrating* as a sitting Senator like Al Franken, trying to do your best despite the gridlock, and STILL getting the blame for said gridlock.

Several of my good friends seem to have fallen into this politiphobe mindset, and hey – at least it’s better than being a die hard party line person no matter what. But I really do wish they’d look into things some more and see that one party seems to consistently be on the wrong side of things more than the other. Please don’t paint both sides with the same brush.

 

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

The distinctly antigovernment Limbaugh / Gingrich agenda swept in a significant number of radical Republicans and with them a partisan enmity that has just grown even worse over the past two decades. In addition to the nastiness, there seemed to be a new willingness to lie about the basic facts.

Even after the Rush book came out, I kept noticing conservatives in the media saying things that were recklessly, provably false. And every time I noticed it, it would drive me bananas. No matter how many times it would happen, it would engender the same visceral reaction every time. “You can’t just lie!” I would yell, to no one in particular. “You can’t!” But they did.

I’ve struggled sometimes to succinctly define why I’ve turned so anti-Republican as I’ve grown older. It should be the opposite, right? I mean, I grew up Republican in a conservative suburb of Houston; several of my friends and their families are conservative; I honestly don’t feel like I’ve changed *that much* from my childhood. So what happened?

Al Franken helped me put my finger on it. I hate being lied to.

All of this to say that I care a lot about people in politics telling the truth. And even considering all the horrible things Trump got away with during the campaign – mocking a disabled reporter, attacking a Gold Star family, referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “drug dealers,” calling for Muslims to be banned from our country – I still can’t believe he got away with lying so much.

Frankly, it made me wonder whether, sadly, the war was over and the liars had won.

And one party seems to consistently lie over and over. This is the party that put Trump into office AND CONTINUES TO DEFEND HIM; all he ever seems to do is lie, from stupidly petty ones like “I had the biggest inauguration crowd ever” to more serious ones like “I didn’t have any contact with Russia” when it is so provably true that he had business dealings there.

This is the same party that blamed Obama for the partisan atmosphere in Washington that they themselves created; the same party who said  “There is certainly long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices.” when it came to Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, but then turned around and used the nuclear option to push through their own nominee in Gorsuch; the same party that said the Affordable Care Act would have “Death Panels”.

Lies. The Republican party and Trump specifically have normalized them, and that is maddening to me. His election was 100% verifiable proof that you could be caught lying “with your pants on fire”, and somehow it doesn’t matter?

Trump has deployed a variety of methods to debunk debunkings that have proven startlingly effective. The first and most common is to simply ignore the correction even when confronted with it.

This is why he’s continually planting the seed that the media is dishonest. It renders statements of contrary fact highly suspect, because you tend to hear those via the media:

Trump: The US murder rate is at a 45 year high.

You: That’s wrong. The FBI says that it’s at a 50 year low.

Trump Supporter: Uh-huh, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. Where’d you hear that?

You: CNN

Trump Supporter (sarcastic): Ah, okay. CNN, right. And they always tell the truth. Come on, man! Wake up!

I have no problem having political discussions with my conservative friends. Discussions are healthy – it’s how viewpoints change and new information is presented. Not living in an echo chamber is important.

I *do* have a problem when the crux of their defense is calling anything they disagree with #FakeNews.

That’s not a freaking discussion. That’s the equivalent of a person plugging their ears and going “LALALA. If I can’t hear you, it’s not true.” How are we supposed to discuss things if literally everything you disagree with is “fake”? if we can’t agree on basic facts like the DoJ saying that the murder rate is at a 50 year low? Or that Comey straight up said he thought he was fired because of the FBIs investigation into possible Russian ties to Trump’s campaign?

If you reply saying something factual is #FakeNews just because you don’t like it or because it disagrees with you, that is infuriating. And I very much think less of you for it.

But I really think that if we don’t start caring about whether people tell the truth or not, it’s going to be literally impossible to restore anything approaching a reasonable political discourse. Politicians have always shaded the truth. But if you can say something that is provably false, and no one cares, then you can’t have a real debate about anything.

I know I’m sort of farting into the wind on this. But I hope you’ll fart along with me. I’ve always believed that it’s possible to discern true statements from false statements, and that it’s critically important to do so, and that we put our entire democratic experiment in peril when we don’t.

I firmly believe that you can draw a straight line from Rush Limbaugh through Fox News through present-day websites like Breitbart and the explosion in “fake news” that played such a big role in the 2016 campaign. And that’s how someone like Trump can wind up in the Oval office.

I love that Al Franken went into detail about how frustrating it was that it seemed (seems?) like the truth doesn’t matter anymore.

I love how he explored how Trump isn’t a one off aberration, but a culmination of the result of Republican support tactics over the last two years, specifically the last 8 years under Obama. How lying about things that were 100% false (like Obama not being born here) somehow increased their own support base, and that after being proven wrong, nothing bad happened to them.

I found his insights into how this endangers our entire democracy especially poignant. If we can’t agree on what is provably true or false, how are we ever going to agree on anything? For that matter, how will we ever govern?

 

Pivoting

Probably the most ridiculous political skill I had to learn was how to “pivot,” a term which basically means “not answer questions.”

His chapters describing how he had to change his behaviors as he became a politician were really interesting, both in contrast to how little President Trump has done in that regard, and in just straight up spelling out in what ways he had to act differently.

Honestly, I’m not sure I could ever learn how to “pivot” as he described above, or just straight up not answer questions asked of me. It seems so counter intuitive, and yet his stories of how he got misquoted and burned when he tried directly answering baiting questions showed how necessary it was.

So kudos to him.

 

Ted Cruz

Here’s the thing you have to understand about Ted Cruz. I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I hate Ted Cruz.

Rachel mentioned that the chapter devoted to shitting on Ted Cruz was her favorite. And I can easily see why. It’s amazingly funny.

The problem with Ted isn’t that he’s humorless. It isn’t even his truly reprehensible far-right politics. No, the problem with Ted – and the reason so many senators have a problem with Ted – is simply that he is an absolutely toxic coworker. He is the Dwight Schrute of the Senate.

“Clinton’s own Department of Justice did a study of the assault weapons ban and concluded that it doesn’t work.” -Ted Cruz

“No it didn’t. Actually, what the report said was there wasn’t enough data to reach a conclusion, because the study was conducted only two years after the ban was implemented.” – Al Franken

“Just go read the report.” – Ted Cruz

…later, after looking up the report

“Our best estimate is that the ban contributed to a 6.7% decrease in total gun murders between 1994 and 1995, beyond what would have been expected in view of ongoing crime, demographic, and economic trends. However, with only one year of post-ban data, we cannot rule out the possibility that this decrease (in gun murders) reflects chance year-to-year variation rather than a true effect of the ban.” -Justice Department Report

“Well, I guess you owe me an apology.” -Al Franken

“Why?” – Ted Cruz

“Well, the last time we spoke, you said that anybody who is for the assault weapons ban is engaged in sophistry.” -Al Franken

“No I didn’t” -Ted Cruz

And that’s when I realized that Ted Cruz was really something special.

It’s hilarious that Ted Cruz has an entire section devoted to how shitty of a person he is. Not just how shitty of a Senator he is, but specifically how terrible of a person he is.

If nothing else, this book is worth reading specifically for the Ted Cruz chapter.

Ted Cruz isn’t just wrong about almost everything. He’s impossible to work with. And he doesn’t care that he’s impossible to work with. And that’s why, even when the choice was between Ted Cruz (who was a sitting member of the United States Senate) and Donald Trump (who was Donald Trump), establishment Republicans couldn’t bring themselves to rally behind Cruz.

Hahahaha.

 

Conclusion

My story, the one you’ve just finished reading, is a small part of a bigger story – the story of how progressives picked themselves up off the mat and made an epic comeback.

And now we have to do it again. This comeback starts with standing up for our values and making it clear that no president has a mandate to spread bigotry or roll back the clock on progress. It continues through next year, when we have a chance to punish Republicans for enabling this disaster and take back governorships and state legislatures all across the country.

Meanwhile, we can hold President Trump accountable for everything he does – and not just that, we can hold accountable every single Republican who enables him, so that when we kick him out, we can kick them out too.

There’s a part for you to play in the next great progressive comeback story. But only if you can keep from losing your mind or getting so discouraged that you quit before the comeback even begins.

Al Franken’s final chapter is fantastic. It’s uplifting, motivational, and channels all of the anger and frustration that we as readers just experienced in the preceding chapters into something positive.

In the beginning months of Trump’s Presidency, I read about (and experienced) “outrage fatigue.” Every week, Trump would find some new way to make a mockery of the office, the rule of law, or the country. Hosts like Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah all made the joke that the first couple of months of Trump’s Presidency felt like years and that we had all aged rapidly for it.

I worried that this fatigue would eventually spread. By the time the 2018 mid terms rolled around, would people be so tired they wouldn’t bother caring anymore? Would this all be a new normal? And that was terrifying…but I was so tired.

Books like this give me hope, inspire me to do more. So Kudos to you, Al Franken. Between you, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris, I have Senators and leaders that I can look up to, especially since my own (Ted Cruz (ugh) and John Cornyn) suck so much.

Thank you Al. And thanks again, Rachel, for being my inspiration to read this book. You rock.