From the Emergency Room

Yes, it’s been a week – but there was that Hollywood emergency room. You know, new, modern, airy, with giant state-of-the-art gizmos linked by a cool information system, with a full and young cheery staff too – and the doctor on duty was Doctor Smart. Of course Doctor Smart was on duty. This is Hollywood. He even looked smart. Oh, and the emergency room abuts Barnsdall Park with Frank Lloyd Wright’s perfectly restored 1918 Hollyhock House – right up there on the hill when they wheel you out of the ambulance. Cool. That must make gunshot wounds in Hollywood special – but this wasn’t that – just respiratory distress. That can be fixed. That was fixed.

Breathing is good. Actually it’s quite necessary, but then there was the slow walk over to the big new pharmacy, to pick up what was also necessary for the next two weeks. The soulful young (white) urban-hip guitarist in the lobby, quietly singing some sort of New Age nonsense, was a bit much. This may be Hollywood but that was a little creepy – but that doesn’t matter. In another week things will be just fine. There was only one lost week. Did anything happen, really?

Yes, things happened. Donald Trump signed another executive order. We will build a giant wall along the entire length of our border with Mexico, and Mexico will pay for it – because Mexico has (somehow) been humiliating us for years, and it’s time to humiliate them. In China, when the government executes someone, their family is forced to pay for the bullets. It’s the same sort of thing, a display of dominance. The Mexican government said they’d have none of that – they weren’t paying for our damned wall. Trump said fine, if you feel that way, cancel the big meeting we were to have on all the issues. The Mexican government said fine – there will be no meeting – screw you. The Trump team then said they would pay for it – we’d slap a twenty percent tax, or tariff, on all Mexican goods coming into America, and ruin their economy. The business community howled. That would ruin American businesses – they need Mexican parts and whatnot for what they make. Others pointed out that would raise the price of critical goods by twenty percent, and American consumers would end up paying for the big wall, which wasn’t the point at all. That tariff idea lasted about two hours. It was a stand-off. Everyone is angry now. Our relationship with Mexico has never been worse.

That was a hell of a way for Trump to start his first week in office, but the man started his campaign by saying Mexico was sending us its rapists and murderers and drug dealers and it was clear all along how he felt about “those people” – and next to no Hispanic-Americans voted for Trump. They got the message. They understood the dynamics of dominance. Some people may have the right to be here but they need to know they’re not really welcome here – we have to tolerate them, by law, but we don’t have to be nice about it. Don’t like the wall? Too bad – sit down and shut up.

They weren’t alone. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions will be the new attorney general – a man who opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and has no problem supporting new restrictions on voting in the thirty-three states controlled by Republicans. Some people may have the right to be here, and to vote here, but need to know they’re not really welcome here – we have to tolerate them, by law, but we don’t have to make it easy for them to vote.

Don’t like that? Too bad – sit down and shut up. And Jefferson Beauregard Sessions will end all the consent decrees and other federal arrangements that keep police departments from, among other things, shooting unarmed black kids dead in the streets. Forget filing federal civil rights charges regarding your dead kid. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions supports the cops – no questions asked. Don’t like that? Too bad – sit down and shut up. This isn’t your country.

It’s the same with gays – with more and more “religious freedom” acts guaranteeing that anyone can refuse to provide goods and services to “sinners” – as God demands. That was Mike Pence’s claim to fame in Indiana – a strict “religious freedom” act – even if the courts ruled against him and the business community there forced him to back off. The thought was there. Some people may have the right to be here, and to buy goods and services, and now have the right to marry each other, but that can be fixed. They too need to know they’re not really welcome here. They too should sit down and shut up.

And now it’s refugees – unless they’re Christians. We will shut the borders. Some people aren’t welcome here. They never will be – again, a display of dominance.

This is the next four or eight years or maybe from now on. America made its choice, and if you don’t like it, maybe you’re not welcome here either.

This is, as Trump promised in his inaugural address, an “America First” thing – where “America” seems to have been distilled into its straight-Christian-white-male essence. Perhaps that’s a Steve Bannon thing. The annual Holocaust Day message this year did not mention Jews at all – everyone suffered after all – perhaps his doing – but that’s a minor matter. The executive order in question – issued without consolation with State, Homeland Security, Immigration, or any guidelines for them, was pure Trump-Bannon. Congressional Republicans were blindsided too. This was a fiat issued on a Friday. By Sunday night it was a mess:

President Trump’s executive order temporarily prohibiting entry into the United States for migrants from seven mostly Muslim countries and refugees from around the world fueled confusion, angst and a wave of protests across the country Sunday.

Even as administration officials tried to clarify the reach of Trump’s action – “This is not a Muslim ban,” the president said in a statement – the exact limits of its scope and legal questions over its constitutionality remained unresolved. So did the question of whether the administration would comply with orders from federal judges to temporarily halt the travel ban.

Raucous protests erupted in airport terminals from coast to coast. Tens of thousands of people protested outside the gates of the White House, in Boston’s Copley Square and in New York’s Battery Park, with its views over the Statue of Liberty.

Some people aren’t welcome here? Some people disagreed, given what was going on:

At Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, a 70-year-old Iranian woman who recently received her green card was released after being detained overnight. In New York City, a graduate student contemplated whether he would quit his doctoral program to rejoin his wife in Iran after she was blocked from returning to the United States.

And in Iraq, a man who had risked his life working on behalf of the U.S. government bleakly wondered about his future and that of his wife and three children. Visas in hand, the family was due to fly Monday to the United States. “It’s like someone’s stabbed me in the heart with a dagger,” he said.

Trump issued that statement in which he was defensive (I do too have “compassion” for the “suffering”) and wounded (“This is not about religion”) and self-justifying (Obama did the same thing!) and lashing out (“this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting”) and bewildered (Why doesn’t the media recognize my good intentions?) – and that wasn’t pretty.

None of it was pretty:

Barely 48 hours after Trump issued his order, confusion reigned over its reach and its implementation. Even as the president and other top advisers defended the ban, some Trump officials appeared on Sunday to walk back one of the most controversial elements of the action: its impact on green-card holders, who are permanent legal residents of the United States.

“As far as green-card holders going forward, it doesn’t affect them,” Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” contradicting what government officials had said only a day earlier.

In a separate statement, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly was less definitive, suggesting that green-card holders’ status would help them gain entry to the country but that they nonetheless would be subject to a “case-by-case” review.

Meanwhile, Kelly’s department indicated separately Sunday that it would continue to implement Trump’s directive, even as it said it “will comply with judicial orders” issued by federal judges over the weekend, blocking enforcement of the ban to varying degrees.

There’s no way to do both, or to stop this from escalating:

As the legal questions surrounding the order remained unanswered Sunday, the uncertainty and resentment unleashed by the executive order he signed two days earlier showed few signs of waning.

At Dulles International Airport, lawyers seeking to represent people who had been detained failed to get information from Customs and Border Protection officials despite repeated attempts.

Even three Democratic members of Congress – Reps. Gerald E. Connolly and Don Beyer of Virginia and Jamie Raskin of Maryland – ran into similar roadblocks. Connolly pressed an airport police officer to get a Customs and Border Protection official to meet with the lawmakers to tell them how many people were detained and to see whether they had been able to communicate with their attorneys.

“Are people being detained?” Connolly asked the officer. “How can you enforce the law if you’re not enforcing a judge’s order?”

This was not going well:

As White House officials insisted that the measure strengthens national security, the president stood squarely behind it.

Just after 8 a.m. Sunday, Trump tweeted: “Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW. Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world — a horrible mess!”

Later in the morning, Trump tweeted, “Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue!”

What did that have to do with anything? No one knew, but the new straight-Christian-white-male essence of America was being challenged:

The protesters outside the White House pushed on, wielding poster boards with messages such as “Islamophobia is un-American” and “Dissent is patriotic,” chanting “No justice! No peace!” and singing renditions of “This Land is Your Land.”

And in airports from Baltimore to Bangor, from Dallas to Denver, shouts of “Let them go!” and “Let them in!” reverberated Sunday. In many cities, demonstrators invoked the same chant: “No hate, no fear. Refugees are welcome here.”

And there was that odd CNN story with this detail:

Friday night, DHS arrived at the legal interpretation that the executive order restrictions applying to seven countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen – did not apply to people who with lawful permanent residence, generally referred to as green card holders.

The White House overruled that guidance overnight, according to officials familiar with the rollout. That order came from the President’s inner circle, led by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. Their decision held that, on a case by case basis, DHS could allow green card holders to enter the US.

Kevin Drum comments:

The decision to apply the executive order to green card holders, including those in transit, is almost insane. Whatever else he is, Steve Bannon is a smart guy, and he had to know that this would produce turmoil at airports around the country and widespread condemnation from the press. Why would he do this?

In cases like this, the smart money is usually on incompetence, not malice. But this looks more like deliberate malice to me. Bannon wanted turmoil and condemnation. He wanted this executive order to get as much publicity as possible. He wanted the ACLU involved. He thinks this will be a PR win.

Liberals think the same thing. All the protests, the court judgments, the press coverage: this is something that will make Middle America understand just what Trump is really all about. And once they figure it out, they’ll turn on him.

In other words, both sides think that maximum exposure is good for them. Liberals think Middle America will be appalled at Trump’s callousness. Bannon thinks Middle America will be appalled that lefties and the elite media are taking the side of terrorists. After a week of skirmishes, this is finally a hill that both sides are willing to die for.

Josh Marshall thinks that’s insane:

Americans were willing to tolerate a lot of ugliness in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. What exactly justifies this now? Yes, we’ve had a handful of frightening lone wolf terror attacks that have taken a number of lives. (For anyone thinking this is a mere abstraction to me, one of these attacks took place literally across the street from my apartment.) By far the largest loss of life was in Orlando night club shooting in 2016 – a horrible, horrible tragedy. But in each of these cases the offenders were either born in the United States or arrived as children. The simple fact is that there is no precipitating event which provides an explanation for this crackdown even if it wouldn’t justify it. In fact, if you talk to counter-terrorism experts, the US immigration system is very tight, dramatically different from what was in place in 2001. If you look at public opinion data, Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ was never popular with the American people. People voted for him in spite of it, not because of it.

Trump just took care of that little problem:

It all comes down to a simple point. People do awful things out of fear and hate. The two frequently meld into each other in ways that make them hard to distinguish. But this move is driven by hate. It’s driven by feelings of aggression. It is not even engineered in a way that would be effective to address its stated purpose. If you are for draconian actions toward immigrants from a region in the grips of extremism and war, but also happen to be ferociously against immigrants from Latin America where little if any of these apply, maybe you’re just a malevolent person rather than security conscious. To be a true marquee war criminal takes more than just motivation. You need to be in the right place at the right time. A lot of the guys around Trump are the types who are just waiting for their moment.

For all the talk about ‘populism’, what really imbues this White House is nationalism – but not just nationalism in a general sense which can have positive, communitarian aspects. It is a hateful and aggressive nationalism based on zero-sum relationships and a thirst for domination and violence. These are dangerous people.

Marshall also adds this:

One thing to note with everything we’re seeing this weekend. Folks like Reince Priebus were supposed to be the ones to keep the Trump White House on something like the straight and narrow. That never really made sense to me. But that was the idea. That is clearly not happening. But as a colleague pointed out to me this evening, it’s Priebus who is the most visible cheerleader defending the ugliest and most feral Trump White House actions. He was out today defending the egregious de-Judaized Holocaust statement. He’s insisting the weekend immigration debacle is making America great again. He’s not just on board. He’s the top cheerleader.

The same applies to Ryan and McConnell. There are a non-trivial number of Republicans saying this is unacceptable. But both of these men are totally onboard with Trump. Not a shred of disagreement is uttered.

These three men – the leaders in each House and the former Chairman of the RNC – are the establishment in every sense. They are 100% on board.

I will say this does not surprise me. But as I’ve said in other contexts, if I were a Republican, I would be very concerned. And I don’t mean in some moral sense. I mean in the most pragmatic, cynical political sense.

They are going to own this. In a pure straight-Christian-white-male America they’ll be just fine – but that may not be America. Actually, that’s not America, but they may have a bigger problem on their hands. They may have a madman on their hands.

That’s what Maureen Dowd explores here:

It took us years to find out that Richard Nixon was swilling Scotch, eating dog biscuits, talking to the White House portraits and blowing up the Vietnam peace talks in 1968 to help his election bid. It took us years to find out that, despite that deep, reassuring voice, Dick Cheney was a demented megalomaniac.

But with President Trump, it’s all right out there – the tantrums, the delusions, the deceptions, the self-doubts and overcompensation.

It’s the man:

Those who go into the Oval Office with chips on their shoulders and deep wells of insecurity like Nixon, W. and Donald Trump, are not going to suddenly glow with self-assurance. The White House tends to bring out paranoia and insecurity.

Still, it was stunning how fast it got weird. To Trump biographer Tim O’Brien, the new president conjured the image of “a guy on a pogo stick in the Rose Garden bouncing around with a TV remote control in his hand trying to decide what to respond to in the next 30 seconds on Twitter.”

The White House “is distilling Donald to his essence,” says another biographer, Michael D’Antonio. “If he could have commanded the attention of the world media every day of his life in the past he would have. The fact that the press corps is captive in the White House and can be dragged into these executive order signings is, for him, like mainlining heroin.”

“He has hit his stride and is thrilled with this. The only thing that torments him is the disapproval of The New York Times. Every story that is critical of him hurts.”

The former reality star who now denies reality rode the resentment of the aggrieved white working class to the Oval Office and bashes the press but, as D’Antonio says, “he wants the elites’ approval and is always enraged when he doesn’t get it.”

Instead of basking in the most unlikely victory in modern history, President Trump spiraled into a bizarre, Freudian obsession about whether the crowd on the Mall for his inaugural speech was as big as President Obama’s in 2009.

And one thing leads to another:

Now the president is home alone, signing executive orders banning all Syrians in the middle of their devastating war and others from Muslim countries in a document that will come to be seen as a stain on our country and will only serve as a recruiting tool for jihadis – this while he’s telling The Times’ Maggie Haberman that he loves the “beautiful phones” in the White House and has limited TV time in the morning because his meetings start at 9.

“He is really a unique creature,” D’Antonio says. “He’s transfixing, riveting, really. It’s hard to take your eyes off him.”

I ask the biographer if he’s as nervous as everyone else, and he says yes.

“Donald’s manic without being depressive,” he muses. “The only thing you can do is keep him distracted for a day and then one more day so that he doesn’t do anything disastrous.”

It’s too late for that. And there’s no mechanism to fix this. Impeachment is out of the question. There are no “high crimes and misdemeanors” – just a somewhat delusional deeply insecure angry old man doing what he is now allowed to do, causing irreparable harm. Just enough voters in just the right places chose that – and anyway, they know who in America, and in the world, should just sit down and shut up. They’re cheering. They see no harm and they see no crime – because there isn’t any. Others see the disaster, but it’s not their country, is it? That’s a question that will never be resolved.

That day in the Hollywood emergency room was easier than all this. Doctor Smart fixed everything. But where is Doctor Smart when you really need him?

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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