Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: Cohen and Trump, Cohen and the GOP, Cohen and America

PBS NewsHour / YouTube WATCH LIVE Trump holds campaign rally 1549984284.jpg...
PBS NewsHour / YouTube

It’s Sunday morning, and after two days of writing about the SpaceX Demo-1 launch, I’m not writing about the SpaceX Demo-1 launch … in a minute.

Because this morning the Dragon capsule reached the International Space Station and [successfully docked] or [had a problem] … And yes, it’s possible I wrote this sentence before the vehicle reached the station at 6:00 ET. However, if I wake up in time, I’ll erase this part and put in only the actual results and you’ll never read this. Which could generate a universe-ripping mind-shredding paradox. Try not to think about it.

In the meantime, here’s my brief video of a Falcon 9 blowing away my phone. And after this, I promise I’m really going to go below the line, check out pundits, and write about something else.

For now.


Renée Graham on the all too common idiocy of GOP Rep. Mark Meadows.
Boston Globe

February began with a Democratic governor apologizing for wearing blackface, and ended with a Republican congressman using a black woman as a prop to prove that the most racist president in modern history is not a racist.

Yeah, it was that kind of Black History Month.

A warning to women—it’s now women’s history month. Sorry about that. Recently these things seem to go about as well for the group being “honored” as an infrastructure week does for Trump.

During Michael Cohen’s congressional hearing, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina held an unintentional clinic on how not to talk about racism. After Cohen, President Trump’s former consigliere and fixer, called Trump “a racist,” Meadows showed his receipts — Lynne Patton, a black former Trump Organization employee. On cue, she stood up behind Meadows like some kind of talisman meant to ward off charges of presidential racism.

And Rashida Tlaib did the nation a favor in smacking down Meadows’ actions. She wasn’t alone in this—almost every Democrat who spoke after Meadows called out his actions, some more obliquely than others—but Tlaib’s deployment of the ‘R’ word will hopefully make similar stunts radioactive.

Jonathan Chait is on the Ilhan Omar attack.
New York Magazine

… she stated, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

This is much worse. Accusing Jews of “allegiance to a foreign country” is a historically classic way of delegitimizing their participation in the political system. Whether or not the foreign policy agenda endorsed by American supporters of Israel is wise or humane, it is a legitimate expression of their political rights as American citizens. To believe in a strong American alliance with Israel (or Canada, or the United Kingdom, or any other country) is not the same thing as giving one’s allegiance to that country. Omar is directly invoking the hoary myth of dual loyalty, in which the Americanness of Jews is inherently suspect, and their political participation must be contingent upon proving their patriotism.

It’s also possible that Omar wasn’t talking about Jews in general, or really at all, but about the power of lobbying groups or even evangelicals whose “allegiance” to Israel is based on the idea that eventually all Jews will convert or die. I don’t know that. But I’m pretty sure I know Chait is way too certain of his assumptions here.

Of course, she is attempting to couch her position as a defense of free speech, and against a tendency to reflexively dismiss all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. And it’s certainly true that many Israel hawks do label criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic without a good basis to do so. There should be more space in American politics to advocate criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights.

Yeah … but of course, the piece doesn’t end on that note, but on the idea that Omar “brought in ugly stereotypes.” Honestly, I can’t tell if Omar is using stereotypes or being stereotyped. But I know Republicans are enjoying this discussion.

Hamid Dabashi turns an outsider’s eye on American racism.
al Jazeera

One more time, as if we needed any more evidence, the depth of the incurable racism at the heart of American society, culture and politics has come on full display. …

Although both Northam and Herring apologised, there are quite a few American politicians who see nothing wrong with blackface. For example, when former Democratic New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind faced criticism in 2013 for wearing blackface and an Afro wig at a Jewish holiday Purim party, he called it “political correctness to the absurd”.

But it’s not just the American political class that has a penchant for racist costumes, Hollywood too enjoys featuring them in its films. There is a long list of Hollywood productions in which blackface has figured prominently: from “Birth of a Nation” (1915), all the way to “Tropic Thunder” (2008).

And I have to say I honestly can’t tell if Tropic Thunder’s parody of an actor using blackface is even an inch less offensive than actors using blackface as a straight up parody of black people. Yep. I am a wealth of uncomfortable ignorance this morning. But I think it’s pretty safe to say … just don’t. Don’t stop to say “is it appropriate in this situation?” Because the answer is always “No.”

Indeed, the United States as a whole has a long history of white men wearing blackface to mock, ridicule, and denigrate black people which goes back to the 19th century and which, as we see, is still perfectly alive and well.

There’s no mystery about why Russia spent much of its effort in 2016 creating media and sites intended to leverage racial divides in America. Everyone looking at the United States realizes that racism is a huge weakness in the country. Because it is. It’s obvious to everyone, including most of those Americans who claim it isn’t.


Paul Krugman on the wit and wisdom of Ivanka Trump.
New York Times

If you’re like me, you could use at least a brief break from talking about Donald Trump. So why don’t we talk about Ivanka Trump instead? You see, recently she said something that would have been remarkable coming from any Republican, but was truly awesome coming from the Daughter in Chief.

The subject under discussion was the proposal, part of the Green New Deal, that the government offer a jobs guarantee. Ms. Trump trashed the notion, claiming that Americans “want to work for what they get,” that they want to live in a country “where there is the potential for upward mobility.”

Can we all agree that two years from now, we just remove the word “trump” from the language? You bridge players, think of something new. Though the phrase “no trump” can stay.

O.K., this was world-class lack of self-awareness: It doesn’t get much better than being lectured on self-reliance by an heiress whose business strategy involves trading on her father’s name. But let’s go beyond the personal here. We know a lot about upward mobility in different countries, and the facts are not what Republicans want to hear.

The key observation, based on a growing body of research, is that when it comes to upward social mobility, the U.S. is truly exceptional — that is, it performs exceptionally badly. Americans whose parents have low incomes are more likely to have low incomes themselves, and less likely to make it into the middle or upper class, than their counterparts in other advanced countries. And those who are born affluent are, correspondingly, more likely to keep their status.

St. Louis community organizer Amy Hunter has a Ted Talk on “lucky zip codes” that seems like a good counterpoint to Ivanka’s ignorance. The phrase may seem odd or simplistic, but I’d urge you to watch or listen to the talk.

Laurie Roberts on the Arizona GOP’s illegal effort to lower the minimum wage.
Arizona Republic

Last week, a House lawyer advised legislators that a bill to create a sub-minimum wage for certain Arizona residents is an unconstitutional violation of a law approved by voters. So naturally, this week the Arizona House, on a party-line vote, approved the bill.

There is, after all, the will of the voters. But there is also the will of the Goldwater Institute, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Arizona Free Enterprise Club. Can you guess which one is more important?

House Bill 2523 would exempt businesses from having to pay certain young employees the state’s minimum wage —  the one enacted by voters in 2016.

Democrats want people to have decent wages? Well, Republicans have something to say about that! According to current GOP philosophy, having to pay someone any minimum wage at all cuts down on the number of people who can be hired. And they do have clear evidence that if you can pay people nothing at all, you can “hire,” oh,  four million or so.

Proposition 206, the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act, raised the minimum wage in Arizona from $8.05 an hour to what is now $11 an hour, rising to $12 next year.

HB 2523 would allow businesses to pay just $7.25 an hour to full-time students under age 22 who work no more than 20 hours a week. That’s nearly a dollar an hour less than the old minimum wage deemed inadequate by voters.

Keep being you, Arizona GOP. Because 2020 is coming.

Cohen Hearing and aftermath

Joan Walsh on how Cohen’s testimony hurt more than just Trump.
The Nation

We the American people are governed today by very bad men, and a few bad women, and after two years, this humiliation feels like a chronic illness for which there’s no relief, a mysterious infection nobody can diagnose or treat. We all know well that the president is a liar, a serial sexual harasser, a business cheat, the plutocrat’s plutocrat; a man who flouts American political norms and even laws; who flaunts his ties to dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin; a man who talks and acts disconcertingly like a mob boss. The corruption of the president and the men (and a few women) around him is obvious and demoralizing. The scandals break so frequently, we’re becoming inured to them. Our chronic illness makes it hard to adequately respond, as individuals and as a nation.

When people say that the Republican Party is now the party of Trump, it’s not just that conservatives have mysteriously dropped their opposition to tariffs and come to accept a centrally-controlled economy in which one man selects winners and losers, crushing industries he doesn’t like and literally showering money on those he regards as his supporters. It’s that Republicans have also adopted Trump’s attitude; that sneering, thought-free, anti-empathy, ugliness-is-strength attitude that dismisses the whole idea of thoughtful policy is possible, or even desirable. From Mark Meadows to Jim Jordan to Matt Gaetz, what makes a Republican today isn’t tax policy. It’s the smirk.

Just like Mafia minions, Trump’s House GOP defenders moved quickly to thuggishly defend him. Florida Representative Matt Gaetz tweeted Tuesday night: “Hey @MichaelCohen212—Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi immediately reprimanded Gaetz for what was clearly a threat to a congressional witness, and Gaetz walked it back. But then he showed up at the hearing, even though he’s not a committee member, glowering at Cohen like a street-level enforcer loitering at the back of the courtroom trying to intimidate someone testifying against a mob boss. (The Florida bar association just opened an investigation into Gaetz’s threat, probably just the beginning of his troubles.)

When I find, as I have with this article, that I keep wanting to paste in more so I can bridge to another good point, or another great line, the best thing to say this — go read the whole thing.

Michael Tomasky was not exactly impressed with one side in the Cohen hearing.
Daily Beast

I’ve spent many tossing and turning nights worrying about these crypto-fascist Republican crazies taking over this country and jackbooting the Constitution and destroying America. But after what I saw Wednesday at the Michael Cohen hearing, I’m going to start sleeping a little easier.

God, these people are idiots.

And that sentiment is so close to what I felt after the Cohen hearing that I might have to get my first tattoo just to record it. You know why, after multiple warnings,  I didn’t bring the Fascism Watch out again when Trump actually did declare a national emergency? Because the way Trump and the whole GOP handled the shutdown and declaration actually ended up with Trump being weaker after he assumed extraordinary power than he was a month before.

What Republicans proved Wednesday more than anything is that they live in a bubble where they just have no idea—or no concern—about how they come across to the majority of the world that lives outside it. If we are indeed living in a reality TV presidency, the reality TV show of this hearing would be called “America’s Stupidest Prosecutors.”

They really thought they were scoring points by puffing out their chests and calling Cohen a pathological liar, as though the same prosecutors who charged him and are the reason he’s now awaiting his prison sentence were just taking him at his word in their Trump probes?

What can you expect? The whole GOP is wearing their WWTD ties, and what Trump would do in every situation is just what Jordan and Meadows and the whole sorry lot did—attack, attack, attack even when it’s not working. After all, that was the life lesson Trump took from Roy Cohn. It’s like one of those fine theories people came up with during World War I. If running toward the machine gun nest didn’t work, try walking slowly.

Will Bunch on what Cohen taught America about Trump.
Philadelphia Inquirer

With hot TV lighting glinting off hairs that turned gray over a decade as President Donald Trump’s lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen went before a congressional committee and a riveted nation on Wednesday to reveal the one secret the president of the United States never wanted you to know.

It wasn’t the new details – more like hand grenades than bombshells – that filled out what anyone paying close attention to two years of scandal should have already known: That Trump knew about illegal hush money to a porn star and a Playboy model, and that on some level he was both aware of, and encouraged, the illegal hacking that helped him win.

No, Cohen’s Big Reveal was as simple as this: Donald Trump, our 45th president, thinks that you’re a sucker – and he got elected anyway.

Honestly, this is the one thing that Donald Trump doesn’t just think. He knows. Not only does he know his followers are suckers, he knows they’re such suckers that even when he says they are suckers (i.e. he could should people on Fifth Avenue) they follow him anyway.

“I am ashamed, because I know what Mr. Trump is,” said his former right-hand man in words that will be forever burnished in the newsreel of American history. “He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat.”

The average Trump supporter is still waiting for Cohen to say something about Trump they didn’t already know.

Virginia Haffernan tries to conduct an intervention for Jim Jordan.
Los Angeles Times

Almost the moment he took his seat before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former fixer, dumped out a trove of glittering doubloons. Then, for good measure, he emptied two massive lawn bags of breadcrumbs.

The coins were damning facts about the president. The breadcrumbs were names of other witnesses who could bring the committee more gold.

In short order, we got the inside line on how the gray-green Trump sausage is made. You pretend to be rich when you want a loan, you pretend to be poor when you ask “the tax department for a deduction.” You pretend to be a ladies’ man when you think the mic is off; you pretend to be faithful to your wife by having your lawyer lie to your wife. You tweet that you’re a paragon of health; you pretend to be frail to sit out Vietnam.

That last paragraph is an incredibly good summary of Trump’s business practices and personal practices. It likely won’t make a difference to the hardcore Trumpist, but remember it. There’s some traction there for the growing number who are disillusioned with The Donald.

But Cohen gave the American public something much more valuable than doubloons and breadcrumbs. He gave us a way out.

Cohen’s performance supplied a sterling template for those still loyal to the president, a way to relocate their moral compasses, regain their dignity, and break free of the spell Trump seems to cast over certain vulnerable minds.

First Cohen detailed without flinching his own 10-year descent into corruption and lies for Trump. It was almost a 12-step drunkalogue.

“Being around Mr. Trump was intoxicating,” he said. “I ignored my conscience. I was so mesmerized by Donald Trump that I was willing to do things for him that I knew were absolutely wrong.”

For the second time this morning—go read it all.

Fabiola Santiago on Congress’ own Florida Man.
Miami Herald

Your Florida Man has finally done it, Fort Walton Beach.

Congressman Matt Gaetz, proud representative of the Sunshine State’s First District, just made the evolution from plain old creepy behavior to tampering-with-a-witness territory.

A self-described “Libertarian-leaning Republican,” a champion of Florida as the new Wild West frontier, and all of 36 years old, Gaetz has finally worked his way up from infantile harassment of freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, to getting into some real legal trouble. …

But witness tampering, now that’s really something.

Some quality battering of Gaetz in this article.

Leonard Pitts on the most frightening thing that Cohen said at the hearing.
Miami Herald

George H.W. Bush did it. So did Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Herbert Hoover. It probably wasn’t easy, yet they knew this was what the moment demanded and democracy required. So each of them took that ceremonial ride to the Capitol with the man who had defeated them, sat there politely as he took power that had been theirs.

Which brings us to Donald Trump. Can anyone, even in their most fanciful imaginings, see him doing that?

Michael Cohen can’t. “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump,” Trump’s former fixer, lawyer and toady told the House Oversight Committee Wednesday, “I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”

Honestly, I didn’t expect Trump to go quietly even if he lost in 2016. In fact, I was pretty sure that’s the way he was setting it up. With the rhetoric he was using and the multiple rallies a day, it certainly seemed as if Trump was working on just turning his rallies into his business, raking in cash by keeping a subset of America at perpetual boil.

Let that marinate a moment. And ask yourself: What happens if this guy whose self-definition, whose entire psychological structure, is founded upon a self image as a man who always wins, loses? Can you see him quietly accepting it with dignity and grace?

One can more readily imagine Mitch McConnell twerking in Times Square.

Lord. I did not need that image.

David Van Drehle on what Cohen revealed about the rest of the GOP.
Washington Post

Like so many figures from the world of President Trump, his former lawyer Michael

As expected, Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee spent an entire day trying to expose Cohen as a liar. For example, they pointed out that he’s headed to prison for lying. They reproved, in very loud and angry tones, his lack of thoroughness in completing a government questionnaire. They even displayed a large photograph of Cohen labeled “Liar, liar, pants on fire!”

To which one can only add: “hanging on a telephone wire.”

In short, they tried everything to discredit Cohen’s charges — except disputing them. Racist, con man, cheat. No one sputtered, “Have you no decency?” No one wept for this good man’s good name. Even drug kingpins are praised for remembering widows and orphans. But Trump’s alleged chiseling at his “charitable” foundation went unrefuted.

I cut off the description of Cohen, Paul Manafort, and Anthony Scaramucci as a matched set of Mafia goons. But it’s fun if you want to look it up.

So the question is not “Where does Trump find his hoodlum henchmen?” It’s “Where does America find such sad excuses for elected leaders?” Either they believe Trump was smeared and are too pusillanimous to defend him, or they accept that the president is indeed a racist, con man and cheat but are, too, groveling to defend the country.

The answer is that we find these people in congressional districts with boundaries drawn to guarantee one-party rule. According to the Cook Political Report, 165 of the 197 seats currently held by Republicans are already safely locked up for the GOP in 2020; by contrast, only four of those seats are considered toss-ups.

Jared Kushner

Nancy LeTourneau on why Kushner can’t be trusted with Any. Thing.
Washington Monthly

On Thursday night, the New York Times reported that Donald Trump ordered officials to give his son-in-law Jared Kushner a security clearance, prompting both his chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn to document their concerns in writing. …

Demonstrating that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, that report contradicts what Ivanka Trump told ABC News just one month ago. She said, “The president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband’s clearance.”

Trump didn’t write it or hand it out. He just ordered that those things happen and overrode the analysis of the security experts in the White House. So … almost no involvement. Experts were concerned about Kushner in part because he was going begging to countries around the world, looking for a bailout from the wreck he had made in his very short time running his family’s company. And also–

It is very likely that intelligence officials were also concerned about several exchanges Kushner had with Russians. For example:

  1. In June 2016, Kushner was involved in the meeting Don, Jr. arranged with Russians at Trump Tower.
  2. In December 2016, Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, the top executive of a Russian bank, who reported that they talked about “promising business lines and sectors.”
  3. In December 2016, Kushner met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who reported that they discussed setting up a secret communications channel with Moscow, using Russian diplomatic facilities in the U.S.

Reminder: Jared Kushner snuck off to see Mohammed bin Salman again last week after it was previously suspected of handing the Saudi murderer top secret information on his last visit. And the White House hasn’t even given an official reason for Kushner’s visit.

Paradox lost

And of course, I got up in time to see the Dragon capsule arrive at ISS. Crew Dragon made a soft dock at 5:51 ET, and successfully achieved hard dock a few minutes later. Astronauts on the station were taking their time about opening the door and going on board (and I have to wonder just how excited cosmonaut Olg Artemyev is to see this particular visitor). If all goes well, the door. Should open around 8:00 ET.

But I couldn’t change that opening. There’s that whole paradox thing.

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