Almost Heaven

Those of us who grew up on Pittsburgh knew West Virginia. West of Pittsburgh there was Weirton. next to Steubenville, Ohio – dark dying steel towns. A bit further south there was Wheeling, another dying dark steel and coal city, straddling the dark and murky Ohio River. Many of the nearby hills had been leveled – their tops ripped off to get the coal out. That wasn’t pretty. This was the industrial northwest edge of West Virginia and everything south of there was a mystery – deep woods and deep hollows and deep mines and deep poverty. There was nothing there. This was a place disconnected from the rest of America, and the world.

America and the world had passed this place by, but in 1971, John Denver had a hit song that opened with the words Almost heaven, West Virginia – because “life is old there, older than the trees, younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze” and so on. He wanted those “country roads” to “take him home” to West Virginia. That place was almost heaven.

None of us knew what he was talking about. John Denver had his monster hit but that place wasn’t almost heaven. That was where the earth itself was ripped apart and tortured, the streams poisoned and the air fouled, so a few aggressive rich people could get even richer, while everyone else lived on nothing, with nothing, proudly – because that’s how things should be.

That made no sense back then but that makes sense now. West Virginia is Trump Country. That’s where Donald Trump goes in times of trouble, where people know how things should be. That was the site of his latest rally:

President Donald Trump said he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “fell in love” because of Kim’s “beautiful letters,” but another top Pyongyang official warned that denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula won’t happen unless the U.S. backs up its warm words with action.

Trump, speaking at a rally in West Virginia on Saturday night, said both leaders took tough positions at their June summit.

“I was really tough and so was he, and we went back and forth,” Trump told an adoring crowd of thousands at Wesbanco Arena in Wheeling. “And then we fell in love, OK? No, really, he wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters. We fell in love.”

What? He could say this only in West Virginia, where people simply accept what the rich do, and say, no matter how absurd, but Slate’s Fred Kaplan is not that accepting:

My first reaction, upon seeing this online Sunday morning, was that it must be another Twitter hoax. My second reaction, upon watching the video and grasping that it was real, was utter discombobulation: Where to begin in appraising the latest episode of this surreal scramble of a presidency that makes the zaniest political satire seem lame and predictable by comparison?

Kaplan begins here:

The most obvious point to make is not the most unsettling – the fact that Trump declared “love” for the most monstrous dictator on the planet, a dynastic thug who murders high-placed critics (including an uncle and half-brother), imprisons millions more, and perpetuates a regime that isolates and impoverishes his people.

No, the inference that we, as American citizens, should draw and find urgently worrisome is that – to an even greater extent than many of us had already realized – Trump’s judgment is out of whack. He cannot be trusted to nominate Supreme Court justices, decide matters of war and peace, order take-out sandwiches for the office, or anything else, large or small. There can’t possibly be a member of Trump’s Cabinet, or the U.S. Congress, who isn’t painfully aware of this fact.

That may be so, but this was Wheeling and these were his people, and Kaplan sees trouble ahead:

What will come of Trump’s grand illusion? Love is blind, as several poets have noted, and one can only wonder how much Kim will ask of his paramour – and how much Trump will grant him – in their time alone at the next summit. Yet, to paraphrase another bard, Hell hath no fury like a lover scorned, and one can easily picture Trump reverting to “fire and fury” tactics after realizing that Kim has taken him for a ride.

In short, Trump might give away everything for “love” – South Korea and Japan would just have to take care of their own security and we’d stand down in the Pacific – or, as a lover scorned, it will be nuclear war for everyone over there – or he was just kidding around:

At the rally in Wheeling, after professing his love for the butcher of Pyongyang, Trump predicted that his critics would denounce him for his ardor. “They’ll say, ‘How horrible! So un-presidential!'” he said, mockingly. He then went on: “It’s so easy to be presidential. But instead of having 10,000 people trying to get into this packed arena, we’d have about 200 people standing here.”

And we can’t have that:

For Trump, it’s all about the numbers of adoring followers. The slog of being presidential is a downer. Acting horrible and un-presidential is fun!

Kaplan is appalled. Trump’s judgment really is out of whack. He cannot be trusted with anything. And no one knows what he’s talking about:

The FBI investigation meant to defuse the explosive conflict over Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh sparked a new round of partisan combat Sunday, as the White House appeared to retain sharp limits on the probe even as President Trump and Republican officials publicly suggested otherwise.

Two Trump administration ­officials said Sunday that the White House had not placed any limits on the FBI investigation into claims of sexual assault leveled against Kavanaugh – but was also opposed to a “fishing expedition” that could take a broader look at Kavanaugh’s credibility and behavior.

It seems that there no limits and there are firm limits:

The statements, made by press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway in television interviews, followed reports that federal investigators are pursuing allegations made by two women but not a third, Julie Swetnick, who signed a sworn affidavit accusing Kavanaugh of sexually aggressive behavior and being present at parties where gang rapes occurred.

Trump himself tweeted late Saturday that he wanted FBI agents “to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion.”

But a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe internal conversations, confirmed Sunday that Swetnick is not expected to be interviewed and said interviews pertaining to the other allegations will be limited to Kavanaugh, the first two accusers, and people who have been identified as present for the incidents.

In short, don’t listen to Trump, who tweeted out that all the reports that there we limits here were wrong – that was fake news. No, that was real news, or it wasn’t:

“They ought to be doing multiple investigations at the same time,” Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), a Judiciary Committee member, said in an MSNBC interview Saturday. “There are multiple allegations currently in front of the committee, and I think it is not hard to figure out the universe of witnesses. It is not 500. It may not be 50. But it has to be more than five.”

White House spokesman Raj Shah said Sunday that Democrats are “merely attempting to further delay and politicize” the investigation.

And Trump, in a shift in tone from the night before, tweeted Sunday afternoon that Democrats are “are starting to put out the word that the ‘time’ and ‘scope’ of FBI looking into Judge Kavanaugh and witnesses is not enough. Hello! For them, it will never be enough – stay tuned and watch!”

He changed his mind. Or someone told him what to say now. Or he’s letting others take care of this stuff. Or no one is in charge:

The order to the FBI was signed by Trump but has not been made public. White House officials have sought to lay responsibility for the details on either the Senate or the FBI.

The president’s Saturday tweet also sparked confusion in the FBI, which had previously been told to conduct only a limited investigation of particular allegations, a person familiar with the matter said. It was unclear Sunday whether there had been more communications between the White House and the FBI clarifying what agents should look into.

The only official description of parameters has come from Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who said Friday that the FBI investigation would be no more than a week long and would be limited solely to “current credible allegations” against Kavanaugh.

What is credible? There is that second woman:

Deborah Ramirez alleges that Kavanaugh, as a Yale University freshman, drunkenly exposed himself and shoved his penis in her face in front of a group of classmates, according to an account she gave to the New Yorker. Her attorney said Saturday that Ramirez planned to cooperate with the investigation. She spoke with the FBI on Sunday, according to a person familiar with the discussion.

If the FBI interviews a whole lot of other folks Deborah Ramirez said were there at the time – she has given them a list – and the FBI shows, from those multiple sources, that this probably happened – before the FBI is told that they are forbidden to speak to these people – would that, to those who do not live in West Virginia, disqualify Kavanaugh from a seat on the Supreme Court?

It might, and there’s this too:

Charles Ludington, a former varsity basketball player and friend of Kavanaugh’s at Yale, told the Washington Post on Sunday that he plans to deliver a statement to the FBI field office in Raleigh on Monday detailing violent drunken behavior by Kavanaugh in college.

Ludington, an associate professor at North Carolina State University, provided a copy of the statement to the Post.

In it, Ludington says in one instance, Kavanaugh initiated a fight that led to the arrest of a mutual friend: “When Brett got drunk, he was often belligerent and aggressive. On one of the last occasions I purposely socialized with Brett, I witnessed him respond to a semi-hostile remark, not by defusing the situation, but by throwing his beer in the man’s face and starting a fight that ended with one of our mutual friends in jail.”

Ludington says he was deeply troubled by Kavanaugh appearing to blatantly mischaracterize his drinking in Senate testimony.

“I do not believe that the heavy drinking or even loutish behavior of an 18 or even 21 year old should condemn a person for the rest of his life,” Ludington wrote. “However… if he lied about his past actions on national television, and more especially while speaking under oath in front of the United States Senate, I believe those lies should have consequences.”

David Atkins agrees with that:

I still can’t figure out what Brett Kavanaugh was thinking.

His bizarre, angry, entitled performance before the Judiciary Committee is now the subject of national mockery. And his easily disprovable lies on matters both small and large are being exposed even before the weeklong limited FBI investigation. Particularly good here is Nathan Robinson’s thorough deconstruction of Kavanaugh’s perjury at Current Affairs, as well as Brianna Gray and Camille Baker’s takedown at The Intercept. And now a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s is contesting his description of his drinking, including one shocking allegation that Kavanaugh responded to an mild insult by throwing a beer into a friend’s face, causing an altercation that led to jail time for a member of their social circle.

And that raises a fundamental question:

Why in the world did he try to paint himself as a choir boy in high school and college, when those claims could be so easily disproven? Why not just admit that he was a wayward, somewhat mean-spirited teenager inclined to drink too much and joke about sex, but that like most boys he cleaned up his act as he grew up? That would have been far more credible given what we already know about prep school frat boys, and it would have humanized him and made him a more sympathetic character. He could have denied the allegations of assault while conceding that he did do more mild things of which he is now ashamed.

But he didn’t. He chose to lie blatantly, obviously and effortlessly – all while under oath.

Did he really think that the public would believe that a Devil’s Triangle was a drinking game, when every worldly person knows exactly what it really is? Did he truly think the public would buy the notion that teenage boys asking “have you boufed yet?” refers to flatulence rather than a sex act? Did he believe that people would accept his lie that being a “Renate almnius” was a term of endearment for his friend, rather than a vicious inside joke about her supposed promiscuity? Did he think none of his college friends would expose the reality of his drinking habits?

Why tell so many easily controvertible lies?

Why? Atkins offers this:

Kavanaugh inhabits the same post-truth worldview as Donald Trump: not only does the truth not matter, but it doesn’t even matter if everyone knows you’re lying. All that matters is that you fought back, didn’t concede an inch to the other side, and looked strong and unshakeable to your base of supporters.

But that sort of thing only works on Saturday night in Wheeling:

That attitude may well have earned Kavanaugh the continued support of the President. But he also had to know that the weight of his bald-faced lies would expose him to open ridicule and reduce the chances of his being confirmed. And he must know by now that even if Republicans do confirm him to the Court, House Democrats won’t sit idly by while an unrepentant perjurer and accused sex assailant rules from the bench in an aggressively partisan manner. There will be investigations piled on investigations that will not only have severe consequences for Kavanaugh himself, but also for the credibility of the Supreme Court itself.

And if he was willing to lie with such breezy facility on so many comparatively minor issues, why should anyone believe him over Dr. Ford, Ms. Ramirez or Ms. Swetnick? Did that not occur to him?

The whole episode demonstrated not only a shocking lack of character, but also a bizarre failure of judgment.

But in Trump Country that doesn’t matter, and Jonathan Swan reports that doesn’t matter at the White House either:

For the White House, it’s Brett Kavanaugh or bust. They have no Plan B and there’s not even discussion of one, according to five sources with direct knowledge of the sensitive internal White House talks.

“He’s too big to fail now,” said a senior source involved in the confirmation process. “Our base, our voters, our side, people are so mad,” the source continued. “There’s nowhere to go. We’re gonna make them fucking vote – Joe Manchin in West Virginia, in those red states. Joe Donnelly? He said he’s a no? Fine, we’ll see how that goes. There will be a vote on Kavanaugh… It will be a slugfest of a week.”

They seem to see no other option:

“There’s no time before the [midterm] election to put up a new person,” a White House official close to the process told me.

When Trump spoke to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House Saturday afternoon, he told them, “I don’t need a backup plan,” in case Kavanaugh’s nomination collapses.

That’s just as well, because the small team working to confirm Kavanaugh has not been looking for a backup candidate, let alone vetting one.

Sources close to the White House legal operation complained that even if they did want to rush through a new nominee, they couldn’t be sure any male nominee wouldn’t have what one called a “Kavanaugh problem.”

“You nominate any man and how do you guarantee… How do you vet for that?” said that source. “For an accusation that’s 36 years old? You can’t.”

So this is it:

There’s been plenty of speculation that, after the elections, Trump could put up a female judge such as Amy Coney Barrett, who was on his shortlist last time. But two sources involved at a senior level in Kavanaugh’s confirmation told me they worry Barrett might end up being “too conservative” for the pro-choice Republican senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.

All that speculation reflects the anger and tension filling the White House.

The bottom line: As of this weekend, sources close to Kavanaugh seemed optimistic the limited weeklong FBI investigation would give the three wavering Republican senators – Jeff Flake, Collins and Murkowski – the confidence they need to vote yes.

But a week is an eternity in this political environment. And if Kavanaugh’s nomination collapses, there are no easy alternatives.

And then Swan reports this:

This scenario seemed unthinkable a month ago, but it’s now being privately discussed by sources involved in Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation: If Kavanaugh falls after the FBI investigation this week and Democrats flip the Senate in November, will Trump nominate a compromise Supreme Court justice who’s acceptable to Senate Democrats?

The answer: No way, according to sources with direct knowledge of the president’s thinking, both inside and outside the White House.

So it’s this guy or no one:

“If Kavanaugh doesn’t make it, it all depends on the midterms,” said one of those sources. “If they hold the Senate, okay, regroup, put somebody up next year or maybe end of this year. But if he [Kavanaugh] doesn’t make it and the Senate flips, I think it’s 4-4 for next two years.”

“Politically, I think they would rather keep it 4-4 rather than put somebody acceptable on the court,” the source added. “He [Trump] needs to run on polarization and the court in 2020.”

That the plan:

One of Trump’s most trusted advisers told me he’d counsel Trump that if Democrats win the Senate, under no circumstances should he nominate a compromise candidate.

A senior administration official close to the process told me: “A 4-4 tie is a conservative win. Not as much as a 5-4 majority, but it takes constitutional interpretation out of D.C.”

And a White House official told me Trump has made clear he’d nominate somebody in Kavanaugh’s judicial mold no matter what happens in the midterms.

“He sees it as a fundamental promise,” the official told me. “They [Democrats] are not going to be rewarded for this. He’s not going to undercut allies and reward enemies.”

So, if the Democrats win back the Senate, Donald Trump will nominate Roy Moore, or Ted Nugent, or Sean Hannity, or Alex Jones, for that open seat on the Supreme Court, just so they can be shot down by a Democratic Senate, one right after the other, which will outrage his base, and then they’ll get out there and vote for him in the 2020 election. It’s a plan.

It’s almost heaven – but John Denver was wrong about West Virginia. That’s where the earth itself was ripped apart and tortured, the streams poisoned and the air fouled, so a few aggressive rich people could get even richer, while everyone else lived on nothing, with nothing. Who would want to live there, or in mean-drunk Brett Kavanaugh’s America, or in Donald Trump’s goofy world, where he’s “in love” with Kim Jong-Un? That’s not heaven. That’s not even close.

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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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