Monday, October 23, 2023

BTRTN: One No Trump…The Only Good News in Two Hideous Weeks

It has been two weeks of heartbreak, triggered by unmeasurable savagery on innocent children, women, and elderly Israeli citizens, followed by retaliation that – while expected and justified -- nevertheless wrought havoc on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians. It has been two weeks of Republican farce in Washington. Is there anything about these past two weeks to leaven the shock, sadness, and suffering? Here is one perspective.

When the word came through that Hamas terrorists had not only murdered but also brutally tortured children in the October 7 assault on Israel, CNN anchor Kate Bolduan appeared to be on the edge of physical sickness. The acuteness and intensity of her revulsion captured the moment. A new, unimaginable line had been crossed.

Some two hundred civilians – from babies to octogenarian holocaust survivors – were taken hostage by Hamas, which then warned Israel that retaliation that caused injury to Palestinian civilians could result in the murder of hostages. Huh? It’s ok for us invade your country and kill your innocent citizens, but don’t you dare do the same to ours.

The Hamas savagery was not the viciousness of isolated lunatics. It was a plan that was coordinated and broadly implemented. The inference was simple: by going so obscenely in excess of any norms of warfare, Hamas seemed to be deliberately provoking Israel to retaliation of unprecedented scale. Hamas appeared to be daring and luring Israel into a costly, debilitating, grinding land war in Gaza that would inevitably involve vast civilian carnage, damaging Israel’s global stature, draining its resources, and leaving it ever more vulnerable to a rapidly accelerating regional war. No win, no way out.

Around the globe, a war of messaging erupted. While there was widespread abhorrence of the inhumanity of the Hamas attack, there too ensued a wave of condemnation of Israel’s historical policies in Palestine that put Israel on the defensive. Israel did not help its own cause, issuing an unrealistic demand that nearly one million Palestinian civilians abandon homes in Northern Gaza to avoid shelling. Israel commenced bombing, and cut off the flow of food, water, and fuel to Gaza.  Soon, reported Palestinian civilian casualties eclipsed the number of Israelis killed by Hamas.

When a bomb scored a direct hit on a hospital in Gaza, the assumption throughout the Middle East was that Israel was responsible, even though there was no reason on earth why Israel would do so, and evidence was quickly produced that the bomb was very likely an errant terrorist missile launched within Gaza. Facts? Evidence? Analysis? There was apparently no time for any of that.

With the Middle East melting down before our eyes and the specter that war could suddenly and rapidly escalate and envelope the region, it was all we could do to hold our breath and pray that cooler heads would prevail.

Which brings us to the one thing that we all could be thankful for in the last two weeks: Donald Trump was stuck in a New York City courtroom whining about a gag order. Joe Biden, and his team of seasoned, knowledgeable, and thoughtful people were in charge.

There, folks, is your only good news: we did not have to navigate the most toxic, explosive, dangerous two weeks of the 21st Century with an ignorant, self-involved, amoral, and impulsive moron in the White House.

Americans of all stripes can and should be proud of the strong, measured, and wise actions of the Biden administration over the past two weeks. Joe Biden has, from the very first moment, been crystal clear in articulating uncompromising American support for Israel while simultaneously strongly guiding Israel to wage its retaliation within the accepted rules of combat, all while keeping his administration focused on anticipating and acting to mitigate a humanitarian crisis of epic scale.

At no moment was he more compelling, human, and convincing than when he sought to teach Israel the painful lessons the United States learned in the wake of the 2001 al Qaeda attacks in Washington and New York:

“Justice must be done. But I caution this: While you feel that rage, don't be consumed by it. After 9/11 we were enraged in the United States. While we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.”

Biden’s message over days of diplomacy boiled down to this: please, Israel, don’t make mistakes. Don’t do exactly what Hamas wants you to do. Hamas may be firing AK 47s and holding hostages and shooting missiles, but their target is to take you down off the moral high ground. Don’t do what the United States did after 9/11. Stop, think, and do the right thing.

Joe Biden, Tony Blinken, and dozens of top White House officials have been working 24/7 to define and then execute the moral high ground: stand wholly with Israel in the face of a depraved assault, temper Israel’s plan for retaliation in order to diminish civilian casualties, and work urgently with all parties in Middle East to mitigate the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding… a humanitarian crisis that is far, far more the responsibility of Hamas than Israel.

Make no mistake: the strategy was set from the top down. Joe Biden called all the shots. It was Biden who chose to embrace Bibi Netanyahu 100% publicly, which gave the President the latitude to pressure his Israeli counterpart privately. It was Biden seeing the bigger picture: the need to contain the conflict, preventing it from metastasizing into a region-wide war.  

This was definitely not the caricature of Biden so many have a been pushing… that of a doddering, shuffling old man mouthing the words others authored. Flying to Israel, two powerful speeches, real time top-to-top negotiations – this was all Joe Biden, and even tough Biden critics had to acknowledge that he hadn’t missed a trick.

And, yes, we could reflect on the remarkable contrast – that so rarely in the last ten years of news cycles was Donald Trump so far off the radar.

Not that he was silent. He was busy tweeting about his disappointment with Bibi Netanyahu for supposedly failing to participate in the 2020 missile strike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, and he made the tasteless comment that Hezbollah is “very smart."

Perhaps more significantly, Trump was MIA as the House Republicans continued to sink into a quagmire of reckless, feckless failure to govern. The virtually nonstop coverage of war in the Middle East spared House Republicans what would have been C-SPAN grade scrutiny of their electile dysfunction. For essentially the exact same two weeks, the House Republicans managed to get rid of their own Speaker without having the slightest plan for how he would be replaced.

The circus that followed indeed had three rings. First came the sotto voce humiliation of initial candidate Steve Scalese, who won the nomination from the caucus vote but immediately realized he lacked the votes to win. He ducked rather than rendezvous with a McCarthy-style public humiliation. In the second ring we found Jim Jordan, who quickly discovered that elephants never forget if you’ve been a nihilist asshole for your entire career.

And yes, there in that third corner was Donald Trump, who made a splash by endorsing Jim Jordan for the Speaker’s gavel at the very outset. Republicans in the House ignored him repeatedly. First, the caucus nominated Steve Scalese over Jordan. Then, when Scalese bowed out, Republicans did not fall in line behind Jordan, refusing him the Speakership in three public votes and finally voting to remove him as the caucus candidate.

Yep, lost in the tumult, shouting, bombings, hatred, and violence of the last two weeks was the fact that Donald Trump – the virtual certain 2024 Presidential nominee of his party – was only seen grumpily sitting in a courtroom in New York and then publicly lambasting powerful black women who were holding him accountable for the massive fraud behind his fortune.

Trump, who played a key role in forcing his party’s rightest-wing wing-nuts to finally vote for McCarthy in January, appeared powerless to convince enough House Republicans to support Jim Jordan. Because this time, it isn’t the wing-nuts who are gumming up the works. This time, the stubborn holdouts are the threatened Representatives in districts won by Biden and the traditionalists who are furious that Matt Gaetz was able to take down McCarthy.

This time, they appear to realize that the penalty for supporting Trump’s choice is greater than the pain of incurring Trump’s wrath. If true, that would be a small but significant turning point for the Republican Party. It would represent the realization that being the party of nihilists, performance artists, full-on boneheads and borderline skinheads was probably a bad idea.

Then, finally, came the news that two of the lawyers in the inner sanctum of Trump’s plotting to overturn the 2020 election had copped plea deals in the Georgia election interference case. Once again – as in the Speaker race – Trump’s ability to remotely call the shots and maintain a vise-like grip over his all in his sphere unraveled. Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro both decided that the time had come to abandon Trump and turn evidence against him. Others will follow.

Yes, Donald Trump will be the Republican Party’s nominee for President in 2024. But make no mistake, Donald Trump was weakened in the past two weeks. Most pointedly: within his own party.

There has been no good news in the past two weeks. There is unfathomable grief, exponentially intensified hatred, ballooning risk, too much anger, and not enough measured reflection. There is the very real danger that our legislative branch will remain frozen, unable to act.

What we can hope, however, is that America had a chance to think about carefully about the contrast between Democratic leadership and Republican leadership in a time of global crisis.

The Republican Party, led by a reality television host, has become a party of nihilists, performance artists, lightweights, and generally unserious people who think that the business of governing is secondary to self-aggrandizement, fundraising, and Fox News adulation. It is coming home to roost. The few serious Republicans saw that Donald Trump’s preferred candidate for Speaker of the House would only push the party further into a sinkhole of election deniers, conspiracy theorists, and anti-government subversives who want 2024 to be the final election in United States history.

The Democratic Party is led by a serious man who is proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that a wise, deeply experienced octogenarian can out-think, out-perform, and outlast a confederacy of dunces who are so inept, divided, and lacking principle and meaning that they cannot elect a candidate even when they hold a majority of the votes.

The last two weeks have meant many different things to many different people.

Here’s one take.

In an immensely complicated, conflicted, emotional, dangerous, frightening world, there is such a thing as a moral high ground.  Entrusting our future to people who can see it, articulate it, and execute according to it is our only enduring hope.

Without it, we are destined to sink to that lowest common denominator of violence and hate.

The good news of the last two weeks is that they showed just how dangerous our planet would be if Donald Trump is ever returned to the White House.

Let’s hope enough people took note.


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  1. One of the best commentaries I’ve read on our current crises., and I use the plural here on purpose. The dumpster fire that is the GOP house could not have come at a worse time. We are so lucky to have Joe Biden in the White House. The thought of the Orange Man sitting at the Resolute desk right now gives me a severe case of the creeps. Well done , and please keep up the good work!

  2. This is by far the wisest piece I have read in a long time. Thank you Steve and Tom.

  3. This is the wisest and most thoughtful piece, humor included, that I have read recently.

  4. Very well said, Steve!

  5. Great commentary, Steve.


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