Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Ghost of Trump Yet to Come

If you think the Trump administration is going to get better in 2018, Steve has two words for you: bah and humbug.

There are many terrific film versions of Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic, A Christmas Carol. Traditionalists will annually search obscure cable channel listings for the 1951 Alistair Sim version.  Others contend that Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is simply a modern retelling. But serve me some gruel on Christmas Eve with only one Netflix rental in my stocking, and I will choose Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol every time.

Magoo is like fingernails on a blackboard to your Dickens classicist, but there are reasons to recommend it this year as we thank the good Lord for allowing us to survive, thus far, the presidency of Donald Trump.  The first is that the Magoo version does a good job of filling in the background on Scrooge’s childhood, provided much-needed context for understanding how the richest guy in town became such a cold-hearted, unfeeling, desperate, and isolated adult.  Hmmmm. Imagine five-year-old Donny Trump skipping through a commercial real estate development site mournfully singing “I’m All Alone in the World”. Maybe he was just another kid treated like crap by an angry, bitter parent. “A hand for each hand was planned for the world -- why don't my fingers reach? Millions of grains of sand in the world -- why such a lonely beach?”

The second reason is that the defining trait of the Magoo character is that he is so painfully nearsighted as to be virtually blind. Crucial, though, to the Magoo persona is that he never is deterred by his failing eyesight. Rather, he simply imagines that which he cannot see, convinced that his hallucination is real, even in the face of immediate evidence that he is wildly incorrect. Meanwhile, we, the audience, watch in horror as he careens carelessly, oblivious to the dangers we all see so clearly. Sound like anyone we know?

Finally, Magoo's voice is actually Jim Backus, better known as the bloviating out-of-touch millionaire Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island Who better to deliver a Republican tax plan customized to the needs of the donor class? “Ringle, tingle – coins as they jingle make such a lovely sound!”

Yes, it’s Christmas time, and today we celebrate the season by tuning into A Christmas Carol: The Ghost of Donald Trump of the Future.  We will follow the Magoo-in-Chief as he stumbles through  2018, continuing to prove that no matter what hideous deed he has committed, what awful words he has uttered, and what preposterous lies he has told, he can always find a way to do something even worse.

This has indeed been the signature identity of the man’s first year in office. Every time that you thought this guy had done the worst thing that an American President had ever done, he found a way to do something even more horrendous. Firing the director of the FBI for his investigation of Trump? Bad.  But then Trump pulled our country out of the Paris Climate Accord. Nauseating? Yes, but not as awful as rallying to the defense of neo-Nazis. Retweeting anti-Muslim videos from a right-wing hate group? Sickening, but still not as horrific as actively and enthusiastically campaigning to elect a pedophile to the U.S. Senate. And these represent just a small sampling of Trump’s capacity to disgrace.

 Is there always a way for this guy to sink lower? Let’s find out!

You settle in under your down quilt, warm and cozy on Christmas Eve.  The crisp winter air seeps through a cracked window and you click the remote to see the 11pm round up on CNN.  Your eyes grow heavy and you curl up and begin the steady rhythmic breathing of deep sleep. Suddenly, your sleep is interrupted by the enormous gong of the church bell down the block, signally 1:00 a.m. You bolt upright in bed, staring at the CNN screen still on in front of you.

It is February 17, 2018.

Robert Mueller has filed indictments against Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, leading to press speculation that in addition to the expected indictments on grounds of perjury and illegal negotiations with a foreign government, Mueller has clear-cut evidence of tax fraud on the couple’s jointly-filed return.  Insane with rage that his daughter faces jail time, Trump thunders that Mueller’s investigation has been proven by Fox News to be biased, and has crossed his “red line.” He orders Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller. Rosenstein refuses, and resigns. In sequence, the six attorneys who are set to succeed Rosenstein as Deputy Attorney General all resign rather than fire Mueller. Trump then orders Jeff Sessions to appoint Donald Trump, Jr. as Deputy Attorney, who promptly fires Robert Mueller. 

Democrats howl for impeachment, but Speaker of the House Paul Ryan notes that “the President has every right to feel that this inquiry has been biased from the get-go,” and concludes that “the President is acting totally within his authority” in having Mueller fired.

Mueller’s staff, stunned that Trump has shut down the investigation, race to NBC News and present a comprehensive summary of the Mueller investigation to date, including the bombshell “smoking gun” that candidate Donald Trump was directly involved in the Wikileaks email release, including a screen-grab of an email in which Jared Kushner conveys a specific instruction: “DT demands this gets done before D’s convention – no problem, right?”

After watching the reports break on the news, Trump calls the head of the Federal Communications Commission and orders him to revoke NBC’s broadcasting license for possession and dissemination of stolen government documents. When NBC attempts to conduct business as usual, Trump orders the National Guard to seize NBC’s assets and arrest their senior personnel.  NBC ceases broadcasting and is hemorrhaging cash every day that it cannot sell ad time. Asked to comment, Mitch McConnell notes that “Well, that’s probably not how I would have handled it, but the President and the FCC are simply acting under the authority that they've been granted.”

Watching NBC bleed to death, the management of CBS and ABC quietly put the screws on their news organizations to avoid incurring Trump’s wrath. CBS signals its eagerness to placate Trump by firing Stephen Colbert of The Late Show to silence his unrelenting scathing criticism of the administration.

The following week, Donald Trump announces that Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and Donald Trump, Jr. have all been granted complete pardons for any crimes.  “I’ve finally decided that I must right the grievous wrong that Robert Mueller has committed against loyal patriots. It is now time to move on and make America great again!”

You suddenly wake up in a hot sweat, gripping your dampened sheets and feeling a raging ache in your chest. But soon you catch your breath, and gradually realize that it was all just a horrible dream. You shake it off, and lie back down. Exhausted, you soon drift back to sleep. Suddenly, you hear the powerful gong from the Church steeple, ringing twice. You are instantly fully awake.

It is August 11, 2018.

The early morning tweet characterized Theresa May as a “shriveled-up prune who was begging for me to save her just six months ago.  She was BEGGING for it… if you know what I mean.” In subsequent tweets, he announced that the United States was going to “terminate diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom,” and even challenged May to “name one thing that England did before the United States,” indeed an odd charge to a country that pre-existed the U.S. by roughly a millennium.  The U.K.’s decision to withdraw an invitation for a formal state visit wounded Trump’s ego terribly, but after the third time he had retweeted anti-Muslim videos from the right-wing extremist group Britain First, even the Queen had had enough.

Back on the home front, Trump has ordered that the Secret Service be expanded from its current staff of 3,200 into an investigative force of 12,000 field agents with the power to investigate all matters deemed by the President to be “crucial to the preservation of the United States of America.” Trump believes that it is vital that the White House have its own investigative body serve as a “check and balance” against the “politically biased FBI and CIA."

Trump announces that recently-launched Secret Service investigations into Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker are “turning up unbelievable things about these creeps. We will soon have proof that each of these individuals has committed treason against the United States of America. Believe me, it’s unbelievable. And we are also finding some really bad things about a few dozen Congressional candidates. We will have our investigations wrapped up by October. All I can say is thank God I made sure that the Secret Service has the power to investigate wrong-doing in all branches of government.”

Secret Service charges against Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor lead to the passing of articles of impeachment in the House, which identified her impeachable offense as “willfully refusing to base her Supreme Court opinions on textual grounding in the United States Constitution.” Congressional Republicans are aggressively pushing this case, smelling another possible Supreme Court opening.

Yet even Trump was knocked off his stride when North Korea stunned the world by brazenly announcing that it would test an ICBM with a telemetry system so advanced that it could be guided to detonate within a single square mile as far away as Washington, D.C.  It then announced that it had intentionally abandoned a tanker and left it floating 100 miles east of New Zealand, roughly the identical distance from Pyongyang as is Washington. It launched the ICBM with a dummy warhead, which landed in the Pacific two miles from the abandoned tanker, proving unequivocally that North Korea could destroy the United States capital with less than 25 minutes notice. Upon hearing of the successful test, President Trump tweets “Lil’ Rocket Man and his missiles – SAD!  Probably has a tiny penis….. He knows that I can destroy him whenever I want!”

CNN flashes an image of an intensely angry Kim Jong-un pointing to a map of the East Coast of the United States, with dotted lines indicating missile trajectories aimed at New York, Boston, Washington, and Palm Beach, Florida, home of Mar-a-Lago.

You bolt upright in your bed. You search frantically for the "time" icon on your iPhone, and you breathe a huge sigh of relief to see that it is 2:32 a.m. on December 24, 2017. The image on the tv screen is not of Kim Jong-un, but of pasty Republican gas bags supplicating themselves in veneration of the President as he affixes his signature on the new tax law. Your breathing is still rapid and your heart is still pounding, but you realize that this, too, was just a dream. You lie back on your pillow in a vague daze until you hear the unmerciful clang of three bells. Terrified, you peek out from under the covers.

It is Tuesday, November 6, 2018. Election Day.

The nuclear arsenal of the United States of America stands at Def Con 1. Kim Jong-un stood before the North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly and announced that the “days of testing are now complete,” and that “it is now time to rid the world of war-mongering despots and their evil empires.” You have to give the guy credit for throwing shade on Trump by referencing Dubya.

Donald Trump is beside himself with rage. His idea had been to blow North Korea off the face of the earth two days before the election, and then announce that the United States had intercepted North Korean launch instructions and had no choice but to launch a pre-emptive strike. His top General refused to carry out the order.  Smoldering with bitterness, Trump had to endure the humiliation of watching his core team of military commanders announce that if Trump tried to fire the general, they would all quit and take the account of the fabricated story to the Washington Post.  Trump had been certain the seemingly justified use of thermonuclear power to destroy an obviously deranged threat to the United States would be just the trick to ensure that Republicans retain both chambers of Congress.  Without his October surprise, the election was a toss-up.

Even after nearly crippling centrist and liberal-leaning television news channels with threats, lawsuits, and carefully orchestrated ad boycotts, Trump’s approval ratings remained lodged in the high thirties. His tax bill had backfired, as the reduction of the corporate tax rate was proven to have been used to placate investors and buy back stock rather than invest in either capital improvement or higher wages. When monthly economic reports showed none of the GDP increases that Republicans forecasted, Wall Street ran for the bears, shaving the DJIA back to October, 2016. His one “go-to message” – that business was thriving under his leadership – had been ripped out from under him, with nothing to show for his promises but slowed job creation, no real income growth, and a sagging Dow.

Worst of all, Trump was realizing that what had been his most potent weapon in 2016 – his charismatic personal presence in stadium shows – was nowhere near as effective in 2018. Even Jared and Ivanka told him that he was hurting himself every time he went out.  He was slurring his words. He occasionally repeated the same story within ten minutes. He forgot where he was. He couldn’t even read well from the teleprompter. Seeing Trump in person made his own supporters nervous.

It was all coming apart, and his agitation about the mid-term election was growing hourly. While the Secret Service allegations had clearly damaged a handful of Democrats competing in purple districts, there was enough anger and discontent to risk losing control of Congress. Trump knows that his fate – one way or another – will be sealed tonight.

In a matter of hours, Trump would either keep both the Senate and the House and cruise through toward a second term, at which point he could relax and focus on the 2024 presidential campaign of Donald Trump, Jr.

Or, he could lose both, and watch the odds of a successful impeachment trial and conviction go from zero to essential certainty.  

Trump drummed his fingers with anxiety. He was right. He is always right. Go with your gut, baby. You are THE Donald!

Trump picks up his Galaxy s8 and slowly tapped out the words, “Just learned that Lil’ Rocket Man plans imminent launch… must act NOW!” He raised his pointing finger to the “send” button, and then …

“NOOOOOOOOOOOO, DON’T!!!! DON’T SEND THAT TWEET!!!!” You scream into the pitch black night, shattering the silent night of Christmas Eve.  Panting uncontrollably, you lunge for your iPhone. It is 3:47 a.m. on December 24, 2017. A dream -- it was just another dream! The Ghost of Future Trump did it all in one night! There is still time. There is still time to stop the lunacy before he kills us all. You jump out of bed and dance with joy. There is still time to save us all!

There is no Tiny Tim in this story. No Lord’s bright blessing, no razzleberry dressing. No Christmas far more glorious than grand.

Our goal in our little fanciful post today is no different than the motive that drove Dickens, Capra, and Magoo: scare the crap out of us so that when we all wake up tomorrow, we immediately and urgently change.

The conceit of A Christmas Carol is that if we could only clearly see – however fleetingly – the precise trajectory of our future and the impact of our actions on the world around us, we would immediately change the way we live today.  We would appreciate those we love so much more deeply, we would understand how desperately we would miss them if they were gone. We would focus on what is important and ignore the trivial, and we would understand the radical inter-dependency of human life. God bless us, everyone.

Happy holidays from BTRTN. Here’s to a 2018 where we all go out and act, do, and fight to return this nation to the principles, ideals, and values that actually did once make us great. 

That means making sure that we win the Senate and the House in 2018.

That means going to work.  This is the year we must earn our wings.

God bless us, everyone.

And, yes, thanks to you, too, Magoo --you’ve done it again.

“This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.” --
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

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