Between Moon and Mars

Everyone has to grow up somewhere. Some of us grew up in Pittsburgh, in the raw new suburbs in the hills just north of the city, in the fifties, not far from the Moon and Mars – but it wasn’t that exciting. Mars was a tiny town in nearby Butler County – in a small valley along Breakneck Creek. It was a nothing place. It still is, although the high school football team is the Mars Fightin’ Planets. Cool. But no one knows why, in 1882, they renamed the place Mars. That might have been a cry of existential despair. It’s lonely out there.

The Moon was Moon Township – downstream along the Ohio River. That became home to Pittsburgh’s first modern airport in 1951, now Pittsburgh International Airport. In 1991, they relocated the terminal a few hundred feet. It’s now in Findlay Township, but most of the runways and the cargo area are still in Moon. It’s a major air-shipping hub with big hangers and warehouses. Things are fine on the Moon – and parts of The Silence of the Lambs were filmed in Moon Township. A few Moon Township police officers had minor non-speaking roles as extras in that nasty movie. It’s a curious place – but back in the fifties it was a nothing place too.

Everyone has to grow up somewhere. Many of us, back then, posed for a snapshot under the odd road sign out in the middle of nowhere, the one with the two arrows pointing opposite directions – “Moon” one way and “Mars” the other. That’s what it felt like. We were floating alone, way out there, detached from the solid everydayness of everyone else’s world. Most of us left – for the solid real world. Most of us didn’t want to be that detached from reality, even symbolically.

That doesn’t seem to bother Donald Trump. He just visited Moon Township. He decided to bypass reality. Emily Stewart sums that up:

Speaking for more than an hour to a crowd in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, President Donald Trump described newly announced tariffs his “baby,” discussed executing drug dealers, described an NBC journalist as a “sleeping son of a bitch,” and called a black congresswoman “low IQ.”

And that was detached from this:

Trump was in town to support Republican Rick Saccone, who is running against Democrat Conor Lamb to represent Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District in a special election slated for Tuesday. The seat was held by former Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), who resigned in October amid revelations that he had pressured a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair to have an abortion. The race is unexpectedly tight.

That’s because Conor Lamb is young and photogenic and smart and thoughtful and dynamic – and a former Marine and a former federal prosecutor, and fine with tariffs to support the local steel folks, smart tariffs, and he’s pro-life and pro-guns (within reason) and not happy with Nancy Pelosi at all. Rick Saccone is a doofus. Even the Republicans seem a bit embarrassed by him, which might be why Trump changed the topic:

Trump endorsed Saccone early on in his speech before returning to the persona that became so familiar in the 2016 election – that of the unscripted, self-congratulatory candidate eager to rile up a crowd. “Don’t forget, this got us elected,” he said. “If I came like a stiff, you guys wouldn’t come here tonight.”

Trump brought up many of his favorite topics and insults during the freewheeling speech: He called Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) “Pocahontas,” which some say is racist, bragged about his 2016 victory, and attacked the press. He also mentioned some relatively new items, which included a call to execute drug dealers. For the first time, however, President Trump publicly unveiled his 2020 campaign slogan: Keep America Great!

He was all over the place:

Earlier this month at a White House summit on opioids, the president floated the idea of giving drug dealers the death penalty; on Saturday evening he brought it up again, which got some of the most enthusiastic cheers of the night. Drawing inspiration from China and Singapore – which he said have a “zero tolerance” policy and are extremely tough on drugs – Trump said drug dealers in the US should face harsher penalties than they do now.

“They shoot one person, kill some person, knife one person, the person dies, they get maybe the death penalty or maybe life in prison, no parole, right? Okay? A drug dealer will kill 2,000, 3,000, 5,000 people during the course of his or her life,” Trump said. He declared that the “only way to solve a drug problem is through toughness.”

In short, kill them all. The audience cheered. Legal experts gasped, but this is the Moon place after all, and there was this:

Trump, in his characteristically elliptical way, announced his 2020 campaign slogan by first explaining why he can’t use the 2016 slogan, “Make America Great Again” – because “I already did that.” It’s now “Keep America Great!” (Which includes the exclamation point.)

He already made America great again? That isn’t the solid everydayness of everyone else’s world. America’s allies are planning tariffs on our goods. Europe and Canada and Mexico haves given up on us. They’ll slap massive tariffs on goods we export to them, throwing tens of thousands of Americans out of work. They’ll set up their own mutual free trade agreements, and exclude us. They already have, and there was this:

Trump, as usual, spent much of his rally assailing the media and “fake news.” But he appeared to be particularly annoyed with NBC News, which he said was “perhaps worse than CNN” – which is, by the president’s standards, a major insult.

The President specifically called out NBC News anchor and Meet the Press host Chuck Todd while describing a media appearance that took place nearly 20 years ago. “It’s 1999, I’m on Meet the Press, a show now headed by sleepy eyes Chuck Todd,” Trump said. “He’s a sleeping son of a bitch. I’ll tell you.”

He hurled the same sleepy-eyes insult at Todd on Twitter in April 2017. In September last year, he called former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick a “son of a bitch” as well.

Todd responded in jest on Twitter soon after Trump’s remarks, reminding viewers to set their clocks for Daylight Saving Time “before your eyes get too sleepy.”

There’s no point in taking him too seriously, but it was Women’s History Month:

The president didn’t mince his words when it came to a number of high-profile women he perceives as his enemies.

Trump’s slander of Senator Warren, who is speculated to be a contender in the 2020 presidential election, invoked a typical misogynist trope – he characterized her as an angry woman. “You know, I was watching, during the campaign, and Hillary [Clinton] was sitting right there, and Pocahontas was up, she was so angry, you know, I think she’s losing the audience,” Trump said.

Trump also went after Oprah Winfrey, presumably because there’s buzz that the billionaire TV personality might be interested in a presidential bid. “Oh, I’d love Oprah to win,” Trump said. “I’d love to beat Oprah. I know her weakness.” He said a campaign would be a “painful experience” for her.

Trump also mocked Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) as “very low IQ.” He made similar remarks at the annual Gridiron Club dinner in Washington, DC this month.

He continued to imply that black folks have low IQs – and black women have even lower IQs – and he didn’t care – but there was this:

Trump did have some nice things to say about particular women on Saturday. He took credit for Representative Karen Handel’s (R-GA) victory in the 2017 Georgia special election against Democrat Jon Ossoff, even though Handel kept him at arm’s length during the race. And he complimented his wife Melania for being a “great” first lady. “You think her life is so easy, folks? Not so easy,” he said.

Yeah, there’s Stormy Daniels. The perpetually humiliated Melania Trump has to live with the story of her husband’s affair with the porn star, just after she had given birth to their son, now pretty much confirmed. Her life isn’t all that easy, thanks to him, but there was more:

Trump, who has been president for more than a year, mocked the idea of acting “presidential” and how boring it would be. He performed a quick bit as an example, marching around stage and speaking in a low, slow tone. “That’s much easier than doing what I have to do,” he said.

The president called Saccone “handsome” and his opponent “Lamb the sham.”

Trump took credit for the recent Winter Olympics, which he said “would have been a total failure” without him.

Trump said CNN is “fake as hell.”

At that point the crowd was chanting “CNN Sucks!” That went on for quite a while. Everyone forgot Rick Saccone, and there was this:

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Sunday sat down for an interview with NBC’s Todd that came just after Trump’s son-of-a-bitch comments. When asked about the president’s remarks about various people, Mnuchin attempted to distance himself and the White House from campaign-trail Trump.

“He’s using these vulgarities in the context of a campaign rally and obviously there were a lot of funny moments on, on, on that rally,” Mnuchin said.

“Yeah, they were hilarious,” Todd shot back.

Mnuchin seemed to be saying that this was “Moon” Township for God’s Sake, not the earth as we know it, but there is the solid real world, as Jonathan Swan reports here:

There’s a reason Trump said hardly anything about Republican candidate Rick Saccone during a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday night that was supposed to promote his candidacy. Trump thinks Saccone is a terrible, “weak” candidate, according to four sources who’ve spoken to the president about him.

Trump held that opinion of Saccone before leaving for the rally, and I’ve not been able to establish whether his time on the ground with the candidate changed his mind.

Trump probably didn’t change his mind:

Trump isn’t the only top Republican who’s found Saccone underwhelming. The widely-held view from Republican officials: Democrat Conor Lamb is a far superior candidate to Saccone and running a far better campaign. Lamb is running effectively as Republican Lite. He’s pro-gun and says he personally opposes to abortion (though he supports abortion rights).

The thing that most irks senior Republicans involved in the race: Saccone has been a lousy fundraiser. Lamb has outraised Saccone by a staggering margin – nearly 500 percent.

That should not have happened:

Forecaster Nate Silver tweeted today: “Stating the hopefully-obvious, but the fact that PA-18 is competitive is a really bad sign for Republicans. It voted for Trump by 20 points and Romney by 17. The previous Republican incumbent there (Tim Murphy) didn’t even have a Democratic challenger in 2014 or 2016 & won by 28 points the last time he did, in 2012.”

But that did happen:

Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter emailed me this quick analysis: “My short answer is that one should never read too much into any one race but this is more than Saccone. This is a red congressional district that should go for the generic Republican. But the environment today is much worse than ‘normal’ for Republicans. That’s not because of Saccone or Lamb, but because of Trump.”

He is breaking a few rules:

There was a great deal of commotion last week after Trump commented on how Chinese president Xi Jinping consolidated his power to effectively become president for life. Trump suggested that “maybe we’ll give that a shot some day,” which a lot of people took to mean he was talking about himself.

Trump brought this up during his rally for GOP special candidate Rick Saccone tonight, and he grumbled about how the media misinterpreted his “joke” to make it reflect on his “dictatorial attitude.”

“I was joking,” Trump snarked. “Fake news! Fake! Horrible!”

And the crowd assumed he wasn’t joking. It’s their little joke. It will remain a joke until Paul Ryan introduces legislation to declare Donald Trump President for Life, and then someone else mentions the Constitution, and then all hell breaks loose. Worry about it then. This was Moon Township, not Earth – not yet.

And here on Earth as we know it, the New York Times’ Michael Tackett reports this:

Carol Rains, a white evangelical Christian, has no regrets over her vote for President Trump. She likes most of his policies and would still support him over any Democrat. But she is open to another Republican.

“I would like for someone to challenge him,” Ms. Rains said, as she sipped wine recently with two other evangelical Christian women at a suburban restaurant north of Dallas.

That’s anecdotal, and there’s much more of that, but this sort of thing is real enough:

While the men in the pulpits of evangelical churches remain among Mr. Trump’s most stalwart supporters, some of the women in the pews may be having second thoughts. As the White House fights to silence a pornographic actress claiming an affair with Mr. Trump, and a jailed Belarusian escort claims evidence against the American president, Mr. Trump’s hold on white evangelical women may be slipping.

According to data from the Pew Research Center, support among white evangelical women in recent surveys has dropped about 13 percentage points, to 60 percent, compared with about a year ago. That is even greater than the eight-point drop among all women.

“That change is statistically significant,” said Gregory A. Smith, Pew’s associate director of research, who also noted a nine-point drop among evangelical men. “Both groups have become less approving over time.”

Something is changing:

The women in suburban Dallas all conceded they have cringed sometimes at Mr. Trump, citing his pettiness, impulsiveness, profanity and name calling. Still, they defended him because he delivered on issues they cared most about, such as the appointment of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

“Certainly we are all embarrassed, but for the most part he represents what we stand for,” said Ms. [Linda] Leonhart, who is active in the women’s ministry at her church.

This “church lady” is embarrassed, and there’s a lot of that going around:

“I don’t know any evangelical woman who is going to defend the character of the president,” said Carmen Fowler LaBerge, host of “The Reconnect,” an evangelical-centered radio show.

“Many things the president says and does are things that many evangelicals use as examples with our kids of what we should not do,” added Ms. LaBerge, who did not support Mr. Trump in 2016. “This is not who we are as evangelicals. This is not how we treat people.”

But of course they are frightened:

Some evangelical women simply keep their views private. Gathered at a well-appointed home in Falls Church, Va., last week, eight Christian women agreed to talk about their feelings about the president, on one condition: that they not be identified.

They feared reprisal in the workplace, at their children’s schools, even at their church. They meet in secret and have a private Facebook group, which its organizer said has about 160 members, to talk about their support for Mr. Trump.

Their support is fading:

Even among religious conservatives, the Pew poll suggests tolerance for Mr. Trump has its limits.

“It may simply be that there’s not a single breaking point as much as a tipping point, the ‘Oh Lord, I can’t stand another one of these,'” said William Martin, a scholar at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University and author of “With God on Our Side,” which charted the political rise of the religious right.

Something must be done, so something may be done – Trump Lawyers Are Considering a Challenge To “60 Minutes” Airing of a Stormy Daniels Interview – a simple solution. Stormy Daniels was paid to shut up. She signed the agreement. She took the money. They want a court order – CBS cannot air the segment, now recorded and edited and ready to go but not yet scheduled. CBS will object – “public interest” and “freedom of the press” and all that. Trump may weigh in. Anderson Cooper did the interview. He’s from CNN – the “enemy of the people” – and he’s gay too – and none of this ever happened anyway. This could get ugly. This could only make Trump look worse. This will not impress the church ladies.

This also raises another question. Is Trump serious? Maybe he’s just being provocative. He took a right turn at Mars and spoke on the Moon, geographically, to people from another planet. If so, shrug. If so, the press should shrug, but they don’t.

That bothers D. R. Tucker, who points out how dangerous that is:

Here’s the problem: Trump has been this way for years. There has never been a time when he wasn’t vulgar or vicious or vainglorious. However, from the outset from his campaign, the Fourth Estate has generally sought to downplay and normalize this abnormal figure in our politics.

How many times did the press run stories about Trump “pivoting” to becoming “presidential”? How many times did major American newspapers – most notably the New York Times – run insipid, mawkish, borderline-unreadable “into-the-heart-of-Trump-country” stories? How many times did cable news networks– including CNN this morning – give valuable airtime to shameless Trump lackeys?

Journalists who genuflected to both Trump and the voters who either embraced or ignored his bigotry bear partial responsibility for this madness. Those journalists had a moral and ethical responsibility not to downplay the threat this man posed to the civic soundness of this nation – and they neglected that responsibility.

Tucker thinks they should cover this planet:

Trump and George W. Bush should be regarded as equally vile and equally injurious to our democracy. Trump and Bush are also equal in terms of the extent to which Fourth Estate figures kissed their rear ends in the interests of false balance. Remember the coverage of the 2000 presidential campaign, when Bush was depicted as a nicer, funnier, more interesting figure than the allegedly dour, boring, overly wonky Al Gore? Remember the coverage leading up to the Iraq War, when the press refused to ask the hard questions about whether or not we were being sold a bill of goods?

Journalists who normalized Bush in the 2000s effectively aided and abetted Bush’s deadly deception in Iraq (to say nothing of his hubris at home). Journalists who normalized Trump in the 2010s made the same despicable decision, for the same rancid reason.

Reporting comprehensively on the profound character flaws of Presidents or presidential candidates who happen to be Republicans is not, and never was, a form of “liberal bias” or “Democratic cheerleading.” Kissing up to those who are comfortable with racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia is not being an “objective journalist”; it’s simply being a fool and a chump.

Tucker also has a few questions:

What happens when a president doesn’t respect the office of the presidency, or the people that president is supposed to serve? What happens when a president willfully divides a nation, pits group against group, lies on a seemingly minute-by-minute basis and attacks the Constitutionally-protected press and his political adversaries in the most diabolical of ways? What happens when a president cultivates support from white nationalists and voters who don’t think white nationalism is a problem? Doesn’t the press have an obligation not to sugarcoat the hazards of this sort of behavior? Chuck Todd didn’t play patty-cake with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin this morning, but how many times have we seen Todd’s colleagues play patty-cake with Trump acolytes in the name of “respecting the office of the presidency and the president”?

In the wake of Trump’s repulsive remarks in Pittsburgh, it’s time for the press to pivot, and stop normalizing this nonsense once and for all.

That’s why, long ago, standing under that the odd road sign out in the middle of nowhere, the one with the two arrows pointing opposite directions – “Moon” one way and “Mars” the other – it seemed best to get the hell out of there. But now there’s nowhere else to go.

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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