Americans probably long for the good old days when a big news story stuck around for weeks and weeks – Bill and Monica and that blue dress, something to talk about endlessly, followed by the impeachment and acquittal and then the thorough trouncing of the Republicans that followed in the midterm elections, because they had come off as nasty mean-spirited prissy prudes. They had miscalculated. No one cared that Bill Clinton was horn-dog jerk. Most men are jerks like that. He had been doing just fine as president. That was what finally mattered – but that whole thing took months to work out – and it took more than a month to work out who would be the next president, with those hanging chads and all the rest. That went all the way to the Supreme Court, but before they decided to stop all recounts and hand the presidency to the second George Bush, there was only one news story.
It had been the same with Watergate. After the House and Senate hearings began there was only one news story until Richard Nixon resigned. The nation obsessed about that. On March 1, 1932, it was the Lindbergh kidnapping – and that went on forever. The kid’s body was found on May 12 and in September 1934, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested and his trial ended on February 13, 1935 and he was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death and he was executed on April 3, 1936 – a long run for a news story. H. L. Mencken called this “the biggest story since the Resurrection” – and maybe it was, and maybe it wasn’t. Charles Lindbergh was the ultimate American hero at the time. The kid, his son, wasn’t even two years old when he had been grabbed. The nation could really obsess about that, and did.
The same thing happened with Obamacare. That seemed the only news story from the day Obama took office in 2008 and nothing else mattered until it was signed into law in 2010 – and then the story really took off. The Tea Party swept the midterms that year. They wanted it gone. There were court challenges that didn’t work – the Supreme Court shrugged. There were endless votes in the House to replace it, but with a Democratic Senate that went nowhere. Republicans retook the Senate, but that didn’t work either – Obama was still president and would veto whatever they passed with the House. There was a government shutdown in there somewhere too – to force Obama to give in and end the damned thing. That didn’t work either. Trump’s election, on the promise to repeal and replace the whole thing, didn’t help either.
No one had a better alternative, but they’re still working on it:
The latest proposal would give states control over billions in federal health-care spending, repeal the law’s key mandates and enact deep cuts to Medicaid, the federally funded insurance program for the poor, elderly and disabled. It would slash health-care spending more deeply and would probably cover fewer people than the July bill – which failed because of concerns over those details.
The appearance of a new measure reflected just how damaging Republicans consider their inability to make good on a key campaign promise of the past seven years: to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.
But trying again brings its own perils. It remains far from certain that McConnell can marshal the 50 votes he needs to pass the measure.
There are a number of Republican senators who still would rather not be a part of taking health insurance away from thirty million Americans – this latest version is the most severe yet. It may pass, barely. It probably won’t pass. After the end of the month, because of the Senate’s arcane reconciliation rules, Republicans will need sixty votes, not fifty, to repeal the damned thing. That might kill the whole thing. But the Obamacare story goes on, and on and on
The Obamacare story, however, might die. The good old days are gone. The Trump administration killed them. Now it’s one damned thing after another. One news story overtakes the next in a matter of hours. Kim Jong Un can fire off all the missiles he wants, testing this and that, and test his hydrogen bomb, but Donald Trump will tweet something that pisses off the Brits, or say he’s not really pulling out of the Paris climate accord, then say he really is, and then say he isn’t, and then say he is. Donald Trump can say the DACA “dreamer” kids are gone, and then say he agrees with Pelosi and Schumer that they can stay, and then say he never said that at all. There will be a wall – or it can wait – or it will really be a fence. Or there will be a wall. Who knows? And all along, Robert Mueller is working away – news stories pop up – that Russia thing keeps popping up. The subject changes again, and forget these “theme weeks” – Infrastructure Week – Made in America Week. Each “theme week” is over by noon on Monday. Other things come up, like the most powerful hurricanes ever seen. Harvey took out Houston. Irma took out Florida. Maria is about to take out what’s left of the Caribbean that Irma missed. That’s three Category 5 hurricanes in a row. Kim Jong Un can fire off all the missiles he wants. Who’s he again? And what’s this about Obamacare? What’s that, and why does it matter now? We have a healthcare system. Call it what you want. Everyone else has moved on.
New news shoves out old news stories. This was supposed to be Trump’s big week at the UN – he would address them and do his “America First” thing. He’d tell them they didn’t matter very much at all. American would finally sneer at the whole world, and Americans would love Donald Trump for that. It would be his dream come true.
Slate’s Fred Kaplan comments on how that started out:
President Trump got off to an underwhelming start at the U.N. General Assembly on Monday morning. He sat on a panel flanked by various diplomats, including Ambassador Nikki Haley, who introduced him before he delivered some brief remarks, and it would be charitable to describe the welcoming applause as “light.”
Then came the clunker. Haley had told the assembled that the new American president sees “tremendous potential” in the U.N. – a cold enough slap at an organization that’s been around for 72 years and, for all its flaws, has accomplished quite a bit. But Trump followed that dig with a face-splash of ice water, saying that the real “potential” he saw was “right across the street” – a reference to one of his East Side real-estate projects – and noted that the U.N.’s presence was what gave it such potential.
That would be concerns Trump World Tower – 845 United Nations Plaza, just across the street from the General Assembly Building. If you’re in the city you can’t miss it – it was the tallest residential tower in the city when it was built – an 861-foot-high seventy-two story (ninety floors) black glass monster, towering over everything. It’s quite an erection, in all senses of that word. And what Trump did in 1999 led the city to revise every zoning resolution they had. The thing was erected “as-of-right” – within the existing zoning and building regulations, so it didn’t require approval by all those pesky city agencies. Trump had assembled a whole lot of small contiguous lots and transferred their development rights to that stretch of First Avenue – no one had thought of that before. And then he just built the giant building. Nothing was approved by anyone. Naturally the project pissed off everyone there in Turtle Bay, and they fought him, trying to block construction. But they lost. The city then rewrote the zoning rules – no more swapping minor miscellaneous development rights with no hearings at all – but it was too late. Trump just grinned and sneered at his neighbors.
One of those neighbors was Walter Cronkite, the retired anchorman for CBS News. In 1999 Cronkite told the New York Times that it wasn’t just him – the protest against this monster was “supported by a whole lot more less-than-wealthy folks, who are sharply offended by the unnecessary grossness of this project.” Cronkite lived in an apartment on the twenty-fifth floor at 870 United Nations Plaza across the street – with neighbors like Truman Capote and Johnny Carson and Bobby Kennedy – and his view of the city disappeared, so this was personal. But Cronkite was right – everyone hated the thing. It was a big fuck-you to the city, but this monstrosity was finished in 2001 – no one could stop Trump.
Kaplan puts that this way:
It’s so typical of Trump to view the rest of the world, even the official assembly of the world’s leaders, as a footnote to the saga of his own wealth.
But that’s not the point:
Trump’s remarks, which he read from notes, were brief and inconsequential. U.N. reform was the topic on the agenda, and Trump spoke of the need to “focus more on people and less on bureaucracy” and to ensure that no one member-state “shoulders a disproportionate share of the burden … militarily or financially.”
In that last line, he may have flashed a glimpse of his “America First” theme, which is expected to shine front and center in his longer address to the General Assembly – his first as president – on Tuesday.
In short, pay us big bucks for all we’ve done for you or we’re outta here. He’s said the same sort of thing to NATO of course. He’s a businessman, but Kaplan notes the UN folks aren’t:
The issues facing the leaders and delegates from the 193 member-states this year are especially varied and complex: terrorism, climate change, cyberattacks, refugees, North Korean missile and nuclear tests, the chaos across the Middle East and North Africa, Russian threats to Ukraine, Chinese expansionism. And the question on the minds of many is whether this new eccentric president will step into America’s traditional leadership role or retreat to a mix of military unilateralism and diplomatic isolation – and if he does take a stab at leadership, whether he has the slightest talent for it.
Monday’s ceremonies held no high promises, and not just because of Trump’s tepid welcome. Bureaucratic reform generally tops an agenda when the heads of an organization – whether national, international, or corporate – don’t know how to grasp the substance of their crises. Yes, the U.N. is an inefficient maze with diffuse and cumbersome procedures. But sleeker organizational charts and zero-based budgeting aren’t going to solve the problems that the United Nations was founded to solve.
Oh well. Trump will take his stab at leadership. He doesn’t have slightest talent for it – but he does have that giant building across the street. New Yorkers hated him for that. He laughed all the way to the bank. Perhaps this will be the same sort of thing,
Perhaps it won’t. New news shoves out old news stories, and as Margaret Hartmann reports, it seems something came up:
For some time former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn have been vying for the undesirable title of Trump associate most likely to be taken down by the Russia probe. Manafort pulled ahead on Monday night with the release of two explosive reports that revealed he’s been intermittently under federal surveillance since 2014, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors recently told him that they plan to indict him.
So now the UN stuff doesn’t matter:
According to CNN, the FBI’s investigation of Manafort dates back to at least 2014, long before Trump was even a candidate. They originally became interested in Manafort due to his consulting work on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russia former Ukrainian president who’s been accused of corruption.
The wiretap of Manafort had to be approved by the court established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, meaning federal judges found that there was probable cause to believe Manafort was an agent of a foreign power. Sources say that surveillance was eventually discontinued due to lack of evidence (and Manafort recently registered as a foreign agent retroactively.)
FISA warrants must be continually renewed, and Manafort was not under FBI surveillance when Donald Trump Jr. invited him to a meeting with several people connected to the Russian government in June 2016. But the FBI obtained a new FISA warrant that extended at least through early 2017 as part of its investigation into possible contacts between Trump officials and Russian operatives.
This is trouble:
Apparently, in their probe of Manafort, federal agents might have scooped up some information on the “boss” as well. Manafort was being wiretapped during a period when he was known to be in communication with Trump, and it’s possible that the president was picked up during the surveillance.
At the National Review, David French offers a quick take on this:
If the reports regarding Manafort are accurate (a big if), then this is disturbing news about the former campaign chair for the president of the United States. To obtain a FISA warrant the government has to bring forward evidence sufficient to establish probable cause that the wiretap target is the agent of a foreign power. That’s not a terribly high evidentiary threshold, but if there also exists sufficient evidence to indict Manafort (possibly for unrelated acts), then the stakes escalate considerably.
None of this means that Manafort is actually guilty of anything, but only the most mindless, tribal partisan would look at these developments with anything but concern and alarm. Potential corruption that close to the president – especially when connected with our nation’s chief geopolitical foe – is deeply problematic.
That’s a bit of understatement, given this sort of thing:
Hillary Clinton said in an interview that aired Monday that she wouldn’t rule out challenging the legitimacy of the 2016 election based on the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the election.
“Democrats have said that they think there was Russian interference in the election, but that they’re not challenging the results of the election,” Fresh Air host Terry Gross asked Clinton in the interview. “As more and more information comes out about the depth of Russia’s interference in the election, do you think, at some point, that it would be legitimate to challenge the legitimacy of the election?”
“I don’t know if there’s any legal constitutional way to do that,” Clinton said. “I think you can raise questions.”
Gross returned to the point: “Would you completely rule out questioning the legitimacy of this election if we learn that the Russian interference in the election is even deeper than we know now?”
“No. I would not. I would say -” Clinton began.
“You’re not going to rule it out?” Gross pressed.
“No, I wouldn’t rule it out,” Clinton said.
Forget that UN speech:
Clinton loosely compared the American election to the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom, and the recent presidential election in Kenya, the results of which were tossed out over irregularities. Clinton pointed out that Cambridge Analytica, the data analysis firm closely aligned with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, was involved in all three contests.
“What happened in Kenya, which I’m only beginning to delve into, is that the Supreme Court there said there are so many really unanswered and problematic questions, we’re going to throw the election out and re-do it,” she said. “We have no such provision in our country. And usually we don’t need it.”
Now we do – maybe.
How did it come to this? Eugene Robinson suggests this:
Hillary Clinton, with all her vast experience and proven ability, was defeated by Donald Trump, a reality-television star who had never before run for office, displayed near-total ignorance of the issues, broke every rule of political rhetoric and was caught on videotape bragging of how he sexually assaulted random women by grabbing their crotches.
That’s not just unlikely, it’s impossible. At least it should have been, according to everything we knew – or thought we knew – about politics. Yes, Comey’s last-minute revival of Clinton’s email scandal robbed her of momentum. Yes, her neglect of the Rust Belt was a terrible mistake. Yes, the Russians were working hard to defeat her, with the blessing – and at least the attempted collusion – of the Trump campaign.
But the election never should have been close enough for relatively minor voting shifts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to elect the likes of Trump. The election never should have been close enough for Clinton to lose Florida and barely eke out a win in Virginia.
Still, we might have known this was coming:
Trump never should have won the Republican nomination over a field that included so many talented politicians. And Clinton never should have had to work so hard to win the Democratic nomination over Bernie Sanders, an aging socialist from Vermont who wasn’t even a Democrat until he entered the race.
None of what happened should have happened. And it is a mistake to blame Clinton’s character flaws, Trump’s mastery of Twitter or the media’s compulsion to chase every bright, shiny object. Something much bigger and deeper was going on.
Robinson argues that the traditional left-to-right, progressive-to-conservative, Democratic-to-Republican political stuff somehow became obsolete:
Look at the issues on which Trump and Sanders were in basic agreement. Both doubted the bipartisan consensus favoring free-trade agreements, arguing they had disadvantaged U.S. workers. Both spoke of health care as a right that should be enjoyed by all citizens. Both pledged to strengthen, not weaken, entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Both were deeply skeptical of U.S. involvement in foreign wars, vowing to do their nation-building here at home. Both advocated mammoth, job-creating investments in infrastructure. Both contended “the system” was rigged to favor the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else.
Leave aside for the moment the fact that Trump has not fulfilled his promises. The overlap in what he and Sanders said they would do is striking – as is the contrast between what Clinton and Trump’s GOP rivals were saying.
Trump was uniquely transgressive on one issue – immigration. He addressed the anxieties of white working-class voters by presenting immigrants as all-purpose scapegoats.
But put that aside:
The Trump and Sanders campaigns revealed that there are large numbers of voters whose views are not being reflected by Democratic or Republican orthodox positions. Are the parties adapting? Democrats seem to be inching toward support of truly universal health care, while Republicans have thus far thought better of taking health insurance away from millions of people. Perhaps this is a start.
But I see no evidence yet that either party is engaged in the kind of fundamental rethinking I believe is called for. So it is a mistake to assume that Trump is necessarily a one-term president or that Sanders is done politically. You know the saying: In the land of the blind, a one-eyed man is king.
And in the land of the blind the big political stories that used to have legs, stories that people would obsess about for days, or weeks, or months, or years, really don’t matter that much any longer. They come and go. Forget Obamacare. Forget Trump telling the UN to pay us big bucks for all we’ve done for them or we’re outta there. Trump might go to jail. The last election could be overturned. Neither is likely, but now both are almost possible. And forget our two political parties – no one is paying attention to either of them anymore.
The good old days are gone. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders killed them. Now it’s just one damned thing after another. Get used to it.