Saturday, July 07, 2018

How to play Chicken with a Blowhard Bully

The modern Democratic Party is a lot like the lovable high school doofus nerd who gets pantsed by the school bully in Back to the Future. Wanting desperately to respond, the doofus can only clench his fist in frustration, as Crispin Glover does in the role of Michael J. Fox's dad when faced with Biff the overbearing (and orange haired!) bully.

So as a public service, I am here to help. The other night, the inimitable and utterly predictable bully Donald Trump attempted to Mock Elizabeth Warren. Incapable of self consciousness or irony, Trump challenged a potential lie by Warren, who had allegedly claimed Native American heritage in a Harvard faculty application years earlier. Trump, a fabulist (that means serial liar) like no one before in the history of American politics, is incapable of going a day- or even 5 minutes- without telling a whopper. Whether it was claiming that he had the largest crowds in history at his inauguration (pictures showed the lie) or contending that millions of illegals voted in the 2016 election, explaining Hillary Clinton's popular vote margin, he just can't help himself. So when he appears at a Montana Senate campaign rally and goes off script like this:

"In a freewheeling speech in Montana, Trump cycled through many of his favorite themes but repeatedly returned to vigorous campaign-year attacks on Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

He again referred to Warren of Massachusetts as “Pocahontas” to ridicule her claims of Native American ancestry. Warren is among the Democrats considered a potential 2020 candidate.

Trump said Thursday that he would give her a DNA test in the middle of a debate and say: “I’ll give you a million dollars for your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian.”

“We will take that little kit and say – but we have to do it gently. Because we’re in the #MeToo generation so we have to be very gentle – and we will very gently take that kit, and we will slowly toss it, hoping it doesn’t hit her and injure her arm,” Trump said.

Here was Warren's actual response, on Twitter:

"Elizabeth Warren

Hey, @realDonaldTrump: While you obsess over my genes, your Admin is conducting DNA tests on little kids because you ripped them from their mamas & you are too incompetent to reunite them in time to meet a court order. Maybe you should focus on fixing the lives you're destroying."

But she missed a great opportunity, although it's still there for the taking if she wants it. Here is how she should have responded:

"Mr. Trump, you are challenging me to take a DNA test to prove that I have Native American ancestry. I accept your challenge..... but only if you will agree to take a polygraph (lie detector) on live television to prove your claim that you never sexually harassed or attacked any of the 19 women who have accused you so far, and your claim that you never had sex with a porn star, Stormy Daniels, or a Playboy Playmate, Karen McDougal, while your wife Melania was home taking care of your infant son. We'll have each woman appear, tell her story, while you are hooked up to a lie detector. After each one tells her story, you will be asked a few yes or no questions, such as "did you ever attempt to have sex with this woman," and "is she telling the truth." If I fail the DNA test, I will resign my Senate seat.... if, and only if, you fail any one of the lie detector exams for any of the women's accusations, you will resign the presidency. Deal? Oh yeah, and just for good measure, we'll throw in a question or two about whether your presidential campaign committed a felony by receiving stolen e-mails that you used to attack Hillary Clinton."

The beauty of this response is that it attacks the serial liar where it hurts the most: with his base. By challenging the bully straight up, Warren can show that he is all hot air, and that he'll collapse and retreat when challenged on his own turf. To really spice it up, Warren should deliver this speech in Montana at a campaign rally for incumbent Democratic Senator Jon Tester. Imagine the ratings for the rally- and imagine the ratings for a live television appearance by Trump hooked up to a lie detector.

Sunday, July 01, 2018


One of the pluses of being a student of history is that it's easier not to suffer undue anxiety over the current state of affairs of the United States of America. Having recently finished biographies and historical novels covering the period of the founding of our country (Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow, c. 2004) and of the Civil War and aftermath (Grant, by Jean Edward Smith, c. 2001), I have a better perspective on how dire our straits are right now and how important the next two elections (2018 midterms and 2020 presidential) are to the continuation of this democracy.

My response to people who think if we don't impeach Donald Trump that we will sink into Fascism is that we need to look at the reverse: where would we be with a president just as awful on policy grounds but who is not so vulgar, narcissistic, abusive, and offensive- say, a Mike Pence. Or worse, a president just as cruel and abusive as Trump, but who was cunning and intelligent and who had an actual agenda (say, a Ted Cruz, whom I thought in early 2016 was the worse of the two remaining candidates).

My hope is that Trump can manage to stay in office at least through the first Tuesday in November to continue to motivate people to go to the polls, because there are more of us (the decent people who don't want to use power to abuse minority groups) then there are of them (the bad guys- although they don't see themselves that way when they look in the mirror- right, Jay Brimberry?). So, just to lend a bit of historical perspective, on this 155th anniversary of the battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, between Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and George Meade's Army of the Potomac, a brief look back at true dire straits is helpful. This was the battle that decided the war, and the greatest speech by an American president, now written in stone at his memorial in Washington, might give us some hope:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."