Nancy and Sluggo

There are icons. There are Jungian archetypes. And there are comic strips that capture and define the culture. Everyone at one time or another has been Charlie Brown in Peanuts – lost in a world where nothing quite works out but everyone else seems just fine – even Snoopy, the beagle. And everyone who has ever worked in an office has been Dilbert at one time or another. But the old comics were more elemental. In the thirties, Ernie Bushmiller introduced Nancy – a precocious eight-year-old who knew things and did things and was a bit sassy and a bit of scold but was always right – and Bushmiller added Sluggo, Sluggo Smith, Nancy’s friend from the wrong side of the tracks. He was lazy and his favorite thing was napping. And he was kind of dumb. He was the foil. Girls were smart and wise about the world. But they were insecure too. Boys were just dumb and crude.

This wasn’t subtle. Even the drawing was crude. But the strip ran for decades, peaking in the late fifties. Andy Warhol painted “Nancy” in 1961 between painting those iconic soup cans. This was iconic. Everyone got it. Nancy would try to set Sluggo straight and he just didn’t get it, because he couldn’t get it. Girls got it. Boys didn’t. This was how life was.

Kids born in the late forties read “Nancy and Sluggo” in the fifties before they went off to college in the sixties. And one of those kids must have been Donald Trump. And maybe now he realizes he’s Sluggo and he has a Nancy on his hands, a real Nancy:

A Gallup poll out this week finds that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a favorable rating of 38% and an unfavorable rating of 48%. That’s bad enough for a net favorability rating of -10 points.

The same poll also showed that President Donald Trump’s favorable rating is 40% to unfavorable rating of 58%. That means his net favorability rating is -18 points.

The leading figures in the US government right now are not popular. For the first time during Trump’s presidency, though, Trump is more disliked than Pelosi.

So, if American political life is now a comic strip, the irritating scold Nancy isn’t quite as offensive as the dense and crude Sluggo – sure of himself and always wrong. She says bland and rather obvious reasonable things about ending the current government shutdown. He makes threats, and then more threats. He plays Sluggo. But there’s more to this. Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei report this:

With the departure of White House chief of staff John Kelly, the misinformation emanating from President Trump has only escalated.

Alumni of this White House see a possible reason. Although Kelly was thwarted in many of his efforts to control the president, one place he made authentic inroads was clamping down on the paper flow to the Oval Office. “Anyone who circumvented that process was going to have a serious problem,” said a former official who saw the transformation up close.

“It has devolved into anarchy,” added another alumnus of Trump’s White House.

There are those still in the White House who are panicked about this, for good reason:

Wednesday was Kelly’s last formal day in the White House, but his influence had declined since he announced his departure on Dec. 8. Since then, Trump has made several unusually specific factual assertions that were quickly shown to be inaccurate, suggesting more un-vetted information may be reaching him than had been the case in the heyday of Kelly’s control:

Arguably the most notable one: During Wednesday’s devil-may-care, 95-minute Cabinet meeting, Trump said that back in 1979, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan “because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there.” A Wall Street Journal editorial scolded: “We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President.”

No one knew where that came from, although Putin might have said that to Trump in one of their many private phone calls, and there was more:

Trump tweeted last Sunday: “President and Mrs. Obama built/has a ten foot Wall around their D.C. mansion/compound.” The Washington Post reported: “Obamas’ neighbors said there is no such wall. The 8,200-square-foot structure, despite several security features, is completely visible from the street.”

At the Cabinet meeting, Trump said: “The Vatican has the biggest wall of them all.” Dan Scavino, Trump’s director of social media, had tweeted during the campaign: “Vatican City is 100% surrounded by massive walls.” The NY Times reports: “Vatican City has walls, but they do not enclose the entire territory and visitors can easily enter some parts.”

Also during the Cabinet meeting, per the NY Times, “Trump mocked India for doing no more in Afghanistan than building a library, which generated head scratching in New Delhi because, according to Indian news media, the country has not built a library in Afghanistan in many years.”

And then there’s the president’s depiction of how tariffs work. “China is paying us tremendous tariffs. We’re getting billions and billions of dollars of money pouring into the Treasury,” he said Friday at a Rose Garden news conference. The NY Times points out: “The United States does not send China a bill for the cost of tariffs, which are often passed on to American importers or consumers.”

Allen and VandeHei suspect that “the president believes he pays no price for escalating inaccuracies, even ones that have been repeatedly debunked.”

Perhaps he pays no price, but others still have to do clean-up:

President Donald Trump’s acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said he’s “not too concerned about the details” when pressed by CNN’s Jake Tapper about comments the president made about Russia’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan…

On CNN’s State of the Union, Tapper first pressed on Mulvaney on the “challenge” of “controlling the flow of information” to Trump, who often spouts incorrect information.

Mulvaney insisted “the president gets the best information available,” and argued Trump sometimes disagrees with his advisers on decision-making.

“I’m not talking about the decisions,” Tapper replied. “I’m not taking issue with the decisions. I’m taking issue with bad facts, information that’s incorrect, such as why the Soviet Union went into Afghanistan. And I’m wondering if you are at all concerned that there is a campaign to get bad information to President Trump?”

Who is feeding Trump this stuff? Is it Putin? Is it Erdogan? Is it Alex Jones? And why are they feeding Trump this stuff?

Don’t worry about that:

“I think those are comments the president made borne out of frustration for where we are,” Mulvaney replied. “I’m not too concerned about the details.”

Others are concerned about the details. Sluggo is doesn’t get it. He never will. Someone has to do clean-up:

White House national security adviser John Bolton on Sunday outlined conditions for a U.S. troop departure from Syria that appeared to contradict President Trump’s insistence less than a month ago that the withdrawal would be immediate and without conditions.

Speaking during a visit to Israel, Bolton said that certain “objectives” must be achieved before a pullout could take place. “The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement.”

Bolton acknowledged that pockets of the Islamic State remain undefeated and that a quick U.S. pullout could endanger U.S. partners and allies in the region, as well as U.S. forces themselves.

Israel was worried. We leave Syria now and Assad and Putin can do what they want. They send Hezbollah south to take on Israel, with Syrian air support. Trump had said Israel can take care of itself – that’s why we give them all that money – but the Israelis saw they were being abandoned. That’s why Bolton was in Israel. Trump didn’t mean it, and Trump decided to say he had never said any of it:

Trump, who has declared the battle won against the militants, and just two weeks ago said he refused military entreaties for more time, said Sunday that he remained committed to the withdrawal but told reporters: “I never said we’re doing it that quickly.”

Okay, he NEVER said that, but there was this:

Trump touched off global confusion and panic when he announced via Twitter on Dec. 19 that he would order the withdrawal of the 2,000 troops stationed in Syria. “Our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back and they’re coming back now. We won,” Trump said. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders added that “we have started returning United States troops home.”

On Dec. 23 – after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in protest of Trump’s withdrawal decision – Trump tweeted that he had discussed what he called a “slow and coordinated U.S. pullout” from Syria with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

During a Christmas visit to troops in Iraq, Trump said that he would deny any request from the military to extend the mission in Syria. “They said again, recently, ‘Can we have more time?'” Trump said of U.S. generals. “I said: ‘Nope. You can’t have any more time. You’ve had enough time.’ We’ve knocked them out,” he said of the Islamic State. “We’ve knocked them silly.”

There’s a reason that Israel was worried. No one knew what he was saying, when, and the Israelis were not alone:

Among the policy decisions still to be made is what to do about the tens of thousands of Syrian Kurdish fighters that U.S. forces have trained, armed and advised to carry out the ground war against the Islamic State.

Turkey, a NATO ally, considers them terrorists and has vowed to drive them out of the northeastern Syrian territory seized from the militants as soon as the Americans leave.

“It’s also very important that as we discuss with members of the coalition, and other countries that have an interest, like Israel and Turkey, that we expect that those who have fought with us in Syria… particularly the Kurds,” not be put in “jeopardy” by the withdrawal, said Bolton, who plans to travel Tuesday to Ankara.

So, in Ankara, Bolton will have to explain that we will protect the Kurds, the folks they hate – we’ll stay to do that – so don’t believe what the president tweets – but trust him. He trusts you, even if the rest of his administration does not:

While Trump has expressed confidence that Turkey, which controls its own Syrian force opposed to both the Kurds and to President Bashar al-Assad, is capable of picking up the remaining fight against the Islamic State, Pentagon and State Department officials question Turkish priorities and capabilities.

Bolton will tell Erdogan not to worry about that. Trump doesn’t believe the Pentagon or his own State Department one little bit. He trusts Erdogan.

This is getting confusing, but there’s a lot to clean up:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also headed to the region this week to reassure Arab allies that the United States will not abandon them to either the Islamic State or to Iran. Reports that the Americans were leaving, said a senior administration official who briefed reporters Friday on Pompeo’s trip, were “false news” and there was no Syria departure timeline.

But the real issue is Israel:

Plans and assurances offered by Bolton in Israel were additional confirmation that withdrawal plans are on hold until conditions on the ground match the president’s stated assessment of the situation in Syria.

In a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bolton said that “the defense of Israel and other friends in the region is absolutely assured,” that the Kurds and others would be protected, and that the administration would “make sure ISIS is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again.”

In short, listen to him, not Trump. Be absolutely assured. Everything will be fine, but this is no way to run a foreign policy:

While Bolton’s reassurances may have come as a relief to some, a top House Democrat stressed that the priorities the national security adviser outlined were “obvious” – and simply highlighted how dangerous Trump’s initial withdrawal announcement was.

“We don’t want ISIS to rise again and be a transnational terrorist threat, and we don’t want our allies the Kurds to be slaughtered by Erdogan in Turkey. That was obvious,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Sunday on ABC News’s “This Week.”

“I’m pleased that John Bolton has recognized the national security interest, and that’s what we want to have,” Smith said, “not a tweet going ‘Eh, let’s get out of Syria.'”

But the problem persists. Sluggo is crude and dumb, aggressively so, and the government shutdown is harder to clean up:

Trump administration officials began taking extraordinary steps to contain the fallout from the partial federal government shutdown Sunday, as the budget impasse between the president and congressional Democrats showed no signs of nearing a breakthrough…

The shutdown’s impacts mounted, with the Trump administration scrambling to mitigate its effects on Americans expecting to get a tax refund next month, those who rely on federal assistance for their housing, and vulnerable national monuments and parks.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development sent letters to 1,500 landlords Friday as part of a last-minute effort to prevent the eviction of thousands of tenants. A lot of those tenants live in units covered by a HUD program that many agency officials didn’t realize had expired on Jan. 1 and that they are now unable to renew.

The letters instruct the landlords to use their reserve accounts so that no one is evicted, HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said. He said the budget and contract staff are “scouring for money” to figure out how to fund the contracts on an interim basis.

Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service officials are trying to determine whether they will be able to pay tax refunds next month, despite the fact that they said last year they would be prohibited from doing so in the event of a government shutdown.

And the National Park Service, under pressure because of deteriorating conditions at some of its most popular parks, authorized tapping entrance fees to pay for trash pickup and other operations that have halted as a result of the shutdown – a move some critics said may be illegal.

But that’s a special problem:

At least seven people have died at national park sites since the shutdown began, including a man at Yosemite National Park who illegally brought his dog on a trail and subsequently fell. At Point Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco, the buildup of human waste became so severe that officials closed the park because of public health concerns. At Joshua Tree National Park, authorities shut campgrounds after determining that illegal off-road driving had damaged the park’s resources.

Theresa Pierno, president and chief executive of the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, said in an email that drawing from visitors’ fees would drain money that was supposed to be spent on addressing the parks’ massive maintenance backlog.

“For those national parks that don’t collect fees, they will now be in the position of competing for the same inadequate pot of money to protect their resources and visitors,” Pierno said. “Draining accounts dry is not the answer.”

Sluggo made a mess of things, and here comes Nancy:

In a sign of the acrimonious tenor of talks to reopen the government, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) blamed President Trump for the continued impasse and sharply criticized him for repeating that he is considering declaring a national emergency to build the border wall, a campaign promise.

“The impression you get from the president is that he would like to not only close government, build a wall, but also abolish Congress so the only voice that mattered was his own,” Pelosi said in an interview, which aired on CBS News’s “Sunday Morning.”

That seems to be the case:

President Donald Trump renewed his threat to invoke a national emergency as a way to circumvent Congress and build a wall on the southern U.S. border, depending on what happens in ongoing talks to end a partial government shutdown now into its third week.

“I may declare a national emergency dependent on what’s going to happen over the next few days,” Trump told reporters Sunday before departing to the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland for what he termed “meetings on Border Security and many other topics” with senior White House staff.

Democrats have already threatened a legal fight if Trump tries to declare a national emergency. “He’ll face a challenge, I’m sure,” Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama said on Fox News that Trump has some “inherent powers” to bypass Congress, but that border funding must be done the right way, via legislation.

No one thinks this is a good idea, and it may be moot as Trump has not thought this through:

Trump said on Friday he could declare a national emergency to circumvent lawmakers and build the wall, though budget experts said Congress would still need to allocate the funds. Asked about it on “Fox News Sunday,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “whatever action he takes will certainly be lawful, and we’re looking at every option.”

There are none:

Washington Democrat Adam Smith, the incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Trump has the authority to declare an emergency and have the U.S. military build the wall but that such an action would likely be challenged and would be a bad use of defense spending.

“In this case, I think the president would be wide open to a court challenge saying, ‘Where is the emergency?'” Smith said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “You have to establish that in order to do this.”

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, disputed that the president has the power to act on his own.

“Look, if Harry Truman couldn’t nationalize the steel industry during wartime, this president doesn’t have the power to declare an emergency and build a multibillion-dollar wall on the border,” Schiff said of the former president on CNN.

Nancy was right. Sluggo cannot do anything he simply feels like doing. It is that old comic strip all over again, and Josh Marshall sees this:

It is telling and entirely predictable that the first time President Trump is seriously checked by another branch of government he threatens to declare a national emergency and essentially rule by decree. As history teachers us, while authoritarianism usually sells itself on efficiency and power, it is far more often paired with failure and incompetence.

Still, this may, oddly enough, fix the problem:

The danger of this kind of blatantly illegal resort of ‘national emergency’ powers speaks for itself. But I can see a reason why various players, maybe including Trump himself, might see this as a way out of the standoff.

President Trump could declare his emergency and say he’s building his wall. This lets Senate Republicans off the hook and allows them to pass budget bills to reopen the federal government. But the emergency declaration and actions taken under it would certainly spur immediate lawsuits. And I think there’s a good chance they’d succeed, at least succeed in getting into court.

So the government gets to open and Trump gets a face-saving way out of the standoff.

So he loses and he wins:

He gets checked by the courts. But that just gives him another grievance and claim of unfairness, something he’s been happy to have and exploit in all the other immigration related actions he’s been stymied on.

This would still be a disaster for the country. And perhaps he wouldn’t get checked. These emergency provisions Congress created give the President a lot of power. But cynical members of the President’s party seem likely to see this as a painless (for them) way out of the impasse.

That would be an odd sequence of events. Trump does something stupid. He declares a highly-questionable national emergency. He reopens the government because he simply took what he wanted and there will be a wall – the Army will build it. Congress has no say in any of this. And then his “national emergency” is challenged and shot down. Congress does have a say. So no one builds a wall, but he gets to play martyr, as does his base – and he can say he fulfilled his promise. The courts screwed him, and America, but he kept his promise – or he would have kept his promise had the courts not been so evil and anti-American, just like Congress, and so on and so forth. But there’s no giant wall and the government is open again – so everyone wins.

That’s absurd. There’s a reason Nancy Pelosi is now more popular than Donald Trump. Nancy is smart and she knows things and she gets things done – and Sluggo is still Sluggo. Everyone knows this comic strip.

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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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