When Exhaustion is Progress

Things were hot out here in 1992 – on April 29, a jury acquitted four officers of the Los Angeles Police Department for use of excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King. But everyone had seen the videotape. They beat the crap out of a helpless Rodney King lying face down on the ground. LAPD Chief of Police Daryl Gates ran that kind of department – and the trial had been moved to Simi Valley, where all the retired cops lived. Enough was enough. There were six days of riots with looting, assault, arson, and murder. Sixty-three people died. Governor Pete Wilson sent in the California Army National Guard, and President George H. W. Bush deployed the 7th Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Division too. It was that hot, and on the third day of the riots, Rodney King gave an impromptu news conference in front of his lawyer’s office. He was in tears – “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?”

The answer was no. That same morning Governor Wilson had requested federal assistance. The first President Bush then invoked the Insurrection Act and signed Executive Order 12804 federalizing the California Army National Guard and authorizing federal troops to help restore law and order. With Bush’s authority, the Pentagon then activated Operation Garden Plot – placing the California Army National Guard and federal troops under the newly formed Joint Task Force Los Angeles – but the deployment of federal troops would not be ready until Saturday. That was too late, because by that time the rioting and looting were under control. No one could get along, but everyone could become exhausted. That’s how all of that ended, in mutual exhaustion.

Rodney King had asked a dumb question. People dig in. People don’t get along. They never have, but they do become exhausted. Then they give in, or they give up – sometimes both sides do that – and then human progress is possible. Until then, expect unpleasantness. Even if no one is rioting, expect foolishness.

Expect this sort of thing:

President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders dug in Wednesday for a lengthy partial shutdown in a newly divided government after a White House meeting – the first in 22 days – could not break an impasse over Mr. Trump’s demands for billions of dollars for a border wall.

During the contentious meeting in the Situation Room, Mr. Trump made his case for a wall on the southwestern border and rejected Democrats’ proposals for reopening the government while the two sides ironed out their differences.

He is not interested in reopening the government and talking this out. There’s nothing to talk about, but there’s more to this:

“I would look foolish if I did that,” Mr. Trump responded after Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, posed the question to him directly, according to three officials familiar with the meeting who described it on the condition of anonymity. He said that the wall was why he was elected, one of the officials said.

He was not elected to be reasonable and thoughtful. Don’t confuse him with Obama. How would it look if he agreed it was best to get the government going again, to end that nonsense and sit down and take some time to hash out the issues? He’d look like a fool!

Democrats will help him with that:

Democrats were equally adamant, according to another official who was present for the discussion. Pressed by Vice President Mike Pence and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the incoming minority leader, they refused to budge from their offer to devote $1.3 billion to border security.

They’ll make him look like a pigheaded fool – all he has to do is agree that there’s a lot to discuss – and there’s this:

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said after the meeting that he had no intention of putting Democratic bills to reopen the government to a vote if Mr. Trump would not sign them.

Yes, what’s the point if Trump won’t sign anything at all? Mitch McConnell doesn’t seem to care either way about the wall. He doesn’t want to waste time, but “Mitch only pawn in game of life” of course.

And then Pelosi twisted the knife:

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, who is in line to be elected speaker on Thursday, said: “We are asking the president to open up government. Why would he not do it?”

“He could not give a good answer,” Mr. Schumer said.

But he had an answer:

Mr. Trump tried creative ways to persuade the Democrats that they should support his wall. At one point, he said Ms. Pelosi should back it because she was “a good Catholic” and Vatican City is surrounded by a wall, according to one of the officials familiar with the discussion.

There’s no report that she laughed in his face, but there is this:

In her first legislative act as speaker, Ms. Pelosi plans on Thursday to bring up two bills to reopen the government. One would fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8, providing a month to break the impasse over border security funding, and a second would provide money for the remaining shuttered agencies and departments through September. The homeland security measure would devote $1.3 billion to border security measures, such as enhanced surveillance and fortified fencing, but not the wall.

Mr. Trump’s rejection of those measures left the prospects of a resolution at their dimmest since the shutdown began on Dec. 22. It also highlighted the difficulty of the current situation, in which Democrats, Republicans and even some White House staff members have found themselves trying to anticipate what Mr. Trump will accept.

No one knows what he will accept:

Before he met congressional leaders on Wednesday, Mr. Trump publicly rejected a compromise that Vice President Pence floated privately with Democrats last month to stave off the government funding lapse, saying $2.5 billion in border security spending was insufficient. In the hours before a midnight deadline to avert a shutdown before Christmas, the vice president had broached that number, which his team has quietly continued to push in the days after parts of the government ran out of money.

“No, not $2.5 billion, no – we’re asking for $5.6” billion, Mr. Trump said during a cabinet meeting, hours before the Situation Room briefing.

His rejection of the figure seemed to confirm the concerns of Democratic leaders who had questioned whether they could trust senior White House officials to broker any compromise that could then be rejected by a president who has often shifted his position at the last moment, especially when it comes to immigration.

No one knows what he will accept, and the Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis points out the problem there:

Rep. Nancy Pelosi is set to regain the House speakership Thursday and instantly cement her place as the most powerful woman in American politics.

It is a job she has done before, even during a Republican presidency, but Pelosi faces a novel challenge in her new role as President Trump’s chief adversary – how to balance her esteem for the presidency against her barely veiled contempt for the man who holds it.

“I respect the office that he holds and the agencies of government that he appoints to – I think I respect them more than he does, looking at who he has appointed to those offices,” she told The Washington Post in an interview as she prepared to take the speaker’s gavel.

She has seen too much:

When she entered the Oval Office on Dec. 11 for a meeting with Trump and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), she had a phrase in mind that she planned to use in private – “Trump shutdown.”

She did not realize she would deliver that line in front of television cameras. The world watched as the president interrupted her after she uttered those words at the outset of a wild 15-minute exchange: “Did you say ‘Trump’?”

Moments later, Pelosi urged him to kick out the media and proceed with private talks more befitting, in her view, the stakes and the setting.

She was unhappy:

“What I saw in that Oval Office circus was someone struggling really to try and respect the institution of the president while having total disdain for the man himself,” said Jim Manley, who was a top aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who served alongside Pelosi. “She’s smart enough to know that she can’t go into the gutter, but you know she’s going to find ways to tweak the guy.”

The needling, aided by Schumer, paid political dividends after Trump proclaimed at the end of the meeting that he was “proud to shut down the government for border security” – words that have been shown on a seemingly endless loop as the president deals with the damage.

Shortly after leaving the meeting, Pelosi told a private gathering of fellow Democrats that the wall was a “like a manhood thing” for Trump, a comment seemingly calibrated to unnerve the president – and promptly and widely leaked to the media.

But it wasn’t always like this:

Despite Pelosi’s image as a liberal partisan, an image driven relentlessly by GOP campaign ads, she has a long history working productively with Republicans first as a junior lawmaker serving on bipartisan House Appropriations and Intelligence committees, later during her first two years as speaker, dealing with Bush.

Like Trump, Bush at the time had weak approval ratings and inspired deep enmity in the Democratic base – to the point that some lawmakers floated impeaching him. And while Pelosi was personally against the Iraq War and campaigned against it to win the majority, she was never heard to speak askance of Bush’s manhood or any other aspect of his character.

Bush signed several major laws passed by Democrats, led by Pelosi and Reid, including energy, tax and foreign-aid bills, and in the final months of his presidency, the leaders worked closely together to address an epochal financial crisis.

“President Bush was very committed to continuing what had been started [in Iraq] and to see it through, and so they clashed on that,” said Daniel P. Meyer, who served as Bush’s legislative affairs director during Pelosi’s speakership. “But it was a professional relationship. I don’t think there was personal animus in any way, shape or form.”

Trump has changed all that. And there was that cabinet meeting. Anne Gearan covers that:

President Trump, 12 days into a government shutdown and facing new scrutiny from emboldened Democrats, inaugurated the New Year Wednesday with a Cabinet meeting. It quickly became a 95-minute stream-of-consciousness defense of his presidency and worldview, filled with falsehoods, revisionist history and self-aggrandizement.

Trump trashed his former secretary of defense, retired four-star Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, as a failure after once holding him out as a star of his administration.

“What’s he done for me?” Trump said.

He claimed to have “essentially” fired Mattis, who had surprised the White House by resigning in protest last month after the president’s abrupt decision to pull U.S. forces from Syria.

And Trump, who did not serve in the military and received draft deferments during the Vietnam War, suggested he would have made a good military leader himself.

“I think I would have been a good general, but who knows?” Trump said.

How hard could it be, after all? And there was this:

He took credit for falling oil prices, arguing they were the result of phone calls he made to the leaders of oil-producing nations.

“I called up certain people, and I said let that damn oil and gasoline – you let it flow, the oil,” he said.

He knows people. He made the calls. He fixed everything. His economic advisers squirmed in their chairs, and there was this:

After saying last month that he would proudly take responsibility for the government shutdown over wall funding, he sought to blame Democrats for not sticking around over the holidays to negotiate. He said he stayed in Washington because the border security debate was “too important a subject to walk away from.”

“I was here on Christmas evening. I was all by myself in the White House – it’s a big, big house – except for the guys on the lawn with machine guns,” he said.

This was getting surreal, and then there was this:

Amid concerns within his own party about whether he will pull troops out of Afghanistan, Trump offered a discursive and somewhat inscrutable account of the fall of the Soviet Union, blaming it on the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

“Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan,” Trump said.

His point was that the United States should pull out of hopeless and expensive wars, but he skipped over the many reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 as he held up the loss of empire as an example.

“The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there,” he said, breaking with the stance taken by past U.S. administrations that the invasion was an illegitimate power play against a neighboring nation. “The problem is, it was a tough fight. And literally they went bankrupt; they went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer part of Russia, because of Afghanistan.”

Aaron Blake offers this – Trump’s Bizarre History Lesson on the Soviet Union, Russia and Afghanistan – Trump’s wrong about everything here – but that doesn’t seem to matter:

The president, who frequently faces criticism for his light public schedule, also bemoaned the lack of credit he has received for what he views as the many accomplishments of his first two years.

“I have to tell you, it would be a lot easier if I didn’t do anything, if I just sat and enjoyed the presidency, like a lot of other people have done,” Trump said.

That would be a lot easier for everyone. This has become exhausting. Can we all get along? Let’s hope for that.

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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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