Declaring Identity

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Freud never said that but everyone agrees he would have said that, had he thought about it, or he probably did say that once or twice. Not everything is a phallic symbol, unless it is. And sometimes a hat is just a hat, but don’t say that to Robin Givhan, the Washington Post’s fashion critic. Sure, she once won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism and worked for Vogue and all that, but now she has upset all the Trump Republicans everywhere with this:

The bright red Make America Great Again baseball cap entered the popular culture as candidate Donald Trump’s political swag. It has transformed into an open wound, a firestorm of hate and a marker of societal atavism.

Has there been in recent memory any other item of clothing – so specific in design and color – that pits neighbors against each other, causes classroom altercations, sparks both rage and fear, and ultimately alludes to little more than a mirage?

The Make America Great Again hat is not a statement of policy. It’s a declaration of identity.

Or at least it became that:

In the beginning, the MAGA hat had multiple meanings and nuance. It could reasonably be argued that it was about foreign policy or tax cuts, social conservatism, the working class or a celebration of small-town life. But the definition has evolved. The rosy nostalgia has turned specious and rank. There’s nothing banal or benign about the hat, no matter its wearer’s intent. It was weaponized by the punch-throwing Trump rally-goers, the Charlottesville white supremacists, Trump’s nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Kanye West and proponents of the wall, the wall, the wall.

The hat has become a symbol of us vs. them, of exclusion and suspicion, of garrulous narcissism, of white male privilege, of violence and hate. For minorities and the disenfranchised, it can spark a kind of gut-level disgust that brings ancestral ghosts to the fore. And here, in 2019, their painful past is present.

The MAGA hat speaks to America’s greatness with lies of omission and contortion. To wear a MAGA hat is to wrap oneself in a Confederate flag. The look may be more modern and the fit more precise, but it’s just as woeful and ugly.

To wear the hat is to take on history and divisiveness – because whatever personal meaning might be attached to the hat, the new broader cultural meaning overrides.

So that hat is a statement – but then so was the miniskirt way back when. So were baggy jeans and hoodies. So were pink pussy hats two years ago. But this hat is different. Someone is going to feel the pain, soon. This hat is the uniform of the self-styled enforcers. Or it’s just a hat. There’s Rich Lowry – In Defense of the MAGA Hat – the counterargument that the hat represents unapologetic patriotism and certainty and boldness, and Donald Trump, who embodies those three things.

Lowry doesn’t address whether unapologetic patriotism includes beating the crap out of those who question anything about Donald Trump, but it doesn’t matter. It’s just a hat. Wear it to signify your attitude toward the world. Other people are stupid and you don’t care how they feel or even what they think. It’s America first, and you first. Have a problem with that? Yeah, well, who the hell cares?

Perhaps that’s too harsh, but that plays out in other ways:

One of President Donald Trump’s top aides likened the shutdown to a “vacation.” Another called it a “glitch.” And on Thursday, Democratic leaders pounced after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he didn’t “really quite understand why” unpaid federal workers are going to food banks.

As the government shutdown stretched into its 34th day and as roughly 800,000 federal workers are bracing for their second missed paycheck, the White House is facing an intensifying backlash over seemingly out-of-touch comments from Trump’s group of largely wealthy advisers.

The comments are also handing Democrats leverage…

That’s an understatement. Wilbur was a gift:

Ross went on CNBC to encourage federal workers to seek low-interest loans to tide them over, and appeared to minimize the shutdown’s toll on thousands of workers who live paycheck to paycheck.

“These are basically government-guaranteed loans because the government has committed, these folks will get back pay once this whole thing gets settled down,” Ross said. “So there is really not a good excuse why there really should be a liquidity crisis now.”

“Now true, the people might have to pay a little bit of interest, but the idea that it is paycheck or zero is not a really valid idea,” he continued.

Ross didn’t say who would make these small and (maybe) short-term loans – the big banks won’t – and he didn’t say what would happen if these new potential borrowers had lousy credit ratings because they were already deep in debt, and thus poor risks. They’d have to be turned down, but details do not interest Ross:

Federal employees have reported going to homeless shelters to find food for their families, but when asked on Thursday about the desperate measures, Ross replied: “Well, I know they are, and I don’t really quite understand why.” Ross argued with loans backed by the guaranteed back pay, federal workers should be able to find the money to carry them through the shutdown.

Ah, no:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly pounced on the comments, characterizing them as a “let-them-eat-cake attitude.”

“He said he doesn’t understand why they have to do that,” Pelosi told reporters, unprompted, during a news conference. “I don’t quite understand why, as hundreds of thousands of men and women are about to miss a second paycheck tomorrow.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also drew parallels between Ross and Marie Antoinette, pointing out that Ross is a billionaire while many federal employees live paycheck to paycheck. “Those comments are appalling and reveal the administration’s callous indifference towards the federal workers it is treating as pawns,” Schumer said.

“Secretary Ross, they just can’t call their stockbroker and ask them to sell some of their shares.”

This wouldn’t do:

Even Trump distanced himself from Ross’s comments, saying Thursday afternoon, “I haven’t heard the statement, but I do understand that perhaps he should’ve said it differently.” Still, Trump praised Ross’s performance and suggested the commerce secretary was merely implying mortgage lenders and grocers in the same communities as federal workers would help them “work along.”

President Trump imagines a world where mortgage leaders say sure, skip a payment or two – catch up later – no big deal – and where grocers – the big national grocery chains that own the giant supermarkets everywhere – say sure, let’s run a tab – pay us later whenever that is – load up that shopping cart – we trust you. It would be the same at the gas station on the corner, and with the home and auto and life insurance folks. Pay us later. That’s how things work in the United States, or so Trump imagines. Isn’t it pretty to think so?

But this got ugly:

Other Trump officials have also received backlash for comments that seemed out of step with the thousands of federal workers who have burned through the savings.

Kevin Hassett, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, got flak after appearing to compare the shutdown to a vacation, saying it could leave workers “better off” because they will receive back pay and many aren’t having to report to work. Hassett later said his words were taken out of context.

No, they weren’t, and there was this:

Lara Trump, an adviser and daughter-in-law to the president, was criticized earlier this week after saying the shutdown was necessary to get strong border security.

“Listen, this is, it’s not fair to you, and we all get that,” she told Bold TV when asked what she would say to furloughed workers. “But this is so much bigger than any one person.”

This is for the greater good. As Lord Farquaad said in the first Shrek movie – “Some of you may die, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”

The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey and Damian Paletta have more:

On Day 34 of the government shutdown, with federal workers set to miss their second straight paycheck on Friday, the Trump administration was prominently represented by two denizens of Wall Street: Wilbur Ross and Larry Kudlow.

Ross, the commerce secretary, on Thursday morning bemoaned air traffic controllers, who he incorrectly said were calling in sick, and added in a CNBC interview, “I don’t really quite understand why” federal workers were visiting food banks. Instead, he suggested they apply for loans from banks.

Then there was Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser, who called the shutdown “just a glitch.” He went on in a midday gaggle with reporters: “Am I out of touch? I don’t think I’m out of touch. I’m addressing the problem. I’ve met with my individual staff members and God bless them. They’re working for free. They’re volunteering. But they do it because they believe government service is honorable and they believe in President Trump.”

They’re told they have to work without pay or they’ll lose their jobs. That’s not volunteering because they believe so deeply in President Trump. That’s coercion by threat, but President Trump believes the same thing:

Late Thursday afternoon, Trump sought to tamp down talk that his administration lacked empathy, singing the praises of federal workers.

“I love them,” Trump said during a meeting in the Cabinet Room. “I respect them. I really appreciate the great job they’re doing. Many of those people that are not getting paid are totally in favor of what we’re doing.”

The president offered no evidence to support his claim.

That’s because he hasn’t talked with any of them:

Trump has made no appearances at area food banks or other gathering places for furloughed workers, nor has he used the bully pulpit of his office to spotlight their basic struggles.

He also has rarely mentioned workers in recent meetings. In a Jan. 15 call with surrogates, he blamed Democrats for them not being paid and made no suggestions for helping them, according to audio obtained by The Washington Post.

In meetings with conservative leaders and economic advisers this week, Trump has worried that the furloughed workers could hurt his economic accomplishments, according to two people who have spoken with him.

Well, at least he recognizes a threat, but still, he really is stuck:

Trump has watched television news segments about workers being furloughed, but advisers have cautioned him that talking about the workers would only bring attention to the administration’s role in precipitating the shutdown, according to White House aides. Other advisers have urged the president to highlight federal workers in his remarks and show that he feels their pain.

And he’s not sure who these people are:

Trump has alternately cast federal workers as Democrats who would never support him; hostile members of the “deep state” who are determined to stymie his presidency; or patriotic Americans happy to work for no pay because they believe in his promise of a border wall.

In private conversations, Trump occasionally has called the shutdown a “strike,” suggesting workers were voluntarily not coming to work, according to White House aides and others in contact with him. The president also has asked what federal bureaucrats do, while showing particular interest in any shutdown complications for airport security and tax returns, aides said.

So he is learning what the government actually does, but it may be too late for that, as Alexander Bolton reports here:

Frustrated GOP senators read Vice President Pence the riot act at a closed-door meeting Thursday, telling him the partial government shutdown needs to end soon, according to lawmakers in the room.

Republican senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), warned the vice president that prolonging the shutdown is not a smart political strategy, in hopes of sending a clear message to President Trump that he needs to resolve the crisis as soon as possible.

Lawmakers vented their irritation to Pence shortly before six GOP senators defected to vote for a Democratic-backed bill that would open the government without funding Trump’s proposed border wall.

One GOP senator said lawmakers told Pence “the shutdown needs to come to an end, this is not a strategy that works [and] we never should have had a shutdown in the first place.”

Pence in turn told them that “the president is interested in striking a deal,” according to the source.

Pence lied:

The pushback against Pence came from outspoken critics of the shutdown like Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), as well as from lawmakers who usually keep a lower profile – Sens. John Boozman (Ark.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and Jerry Moran (Kan.).

One of the most remarkable moments during the Senate luncheon came when McConnell told Pence that shuttering the government to try to secure funding for a border wall was not a smart approach.

“McConnell talked about how we need to bring this process to a close; we should never have had a shutdown; they don’t work; I’ve said this numerous times; I don’t know how many times I’ve told you there’s no education in the second kick of a mule,” said a GOP source familiar with the meeting.

These are Republicans unhappy with Trump:

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters after the Senate votes that Pence got an “earful” from senators.

“We’re all hearing from our constituents who are working for no pay,” Cornyn said. “And there’s a parade of horribles of people who are having to cope with not getting paid, and it’s not good.”

“There was a lot of frustration expressed about the situation we find ourselves in,” he added.

But that won’t end:

A pair of measures to reopen the government – one with President Trump’s border wall, the other without it – failed in the Senate on Thursday, sending lawmakers from both parties into frenzied efforts to forge a compromise that could end the nearly six-week partial shutdown.

In back-to-back votes, the Senate first blocked Mr. Trump’s proposal to add $5.7 billion for his border wall to legislation to resume funding for the government, then turned back a Democratic measure that omitted the wall. Neither side was able to garner the 60 votes needed to advance its bill.

But the results undercut the president by revealing that his proposal drew less support in the Republican-controlled Senate than did the Democrats’ plan, which attracted a half-dozen Republicans willing to break with Mr. Trump. And, with the shutdown reaching a grim milestone on Friday as 800,000 federal workers miss a second consecutive paycheck, pressure is mounting in both parties to find a solution.

That may get to Trump. The Hill’s Heather Caygle reports this:

Now that the Senate has shot down President Donald Trump’s compromise offer to end the month-long government shutdown, White House officials aren’t sure of their next move. But they do know one thing: they’re losing, and they want to cut a deal.

But that’s easier said than done:

The president is weighing the idea of a three-week continuing resolution to fund the government, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) revealed Thursday afternoon, reviving a prospect the president has previously ruled out. Trump acknowledged the proposal in an afternoon meeting with lawmakers, saying that Democrats would have to offer “some sort of pro-rated down payment” on the Mexican border wall he is demanding. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly shot down Graham’s idea, however, telling reporters late Thursday “that is not a reasonable agreement.”

This won’t be easy:

The White House’s new appetite for a negotiated resolution came after the administration managed to peel off just one Democratic vote – that of Sen. Joe Manchin (D, WV) – a fact that came as a particular surprise to Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who has touted his relationships with Democratic lawmakers but lacks deep experience on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile several Republicans abandoned their party to vote for a Democratic counter proposal offered by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that would have funded the entire government through March 8 without providing any additional money for the wall. That was a grim sign for Trump and his aides looking for a way to end the partial shutdown.

The grim sign was that Jared was totally useless, and there was this:

Trump’s next move remained a mystery to many West Wing aides even as the White House considered Graham’s proposal Thursday. But with Trump’s approval rating dropping to its lowest point in a year and advisers warning of a rising economic toll from the enduring stalemate, the president and his team are more eager than ever to strike a deal, according to a half dozen sources familiar with the situation.

And there was Nancy Pelosi too:

As Trump looks for an exit strategy, most Democrats remain dug in, insisting they will not negotiate with the president until he reopens the government first.

Introducing Pelosi in a closed-door meeting of House Democrats on Thursday, a triumphant House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) quoted Sun Tzu’s classic The Art of War.

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win,” Clyburn said. “Thank you for winning for us. Now let’s go to war.”

And as Cameron Joseph reports, then there was Trump:

It looked for a moment on Thursday that a bipartisan Senate group was making progress on a deal to end the shutdown. President Trump then threw a wall up in front of the compromise.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and a bipartisan group of senators talked up a new potential agreement to fund the government for a few weeks so they could negotiate around the wall and other immigration measures. Graham said he talked to Trump, who didn’t rule out the measure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) huddled in McConnell’s office to try and break the logjam. Schumer was tight-lipped as he exited the meeting with McConnell, repeating “we’re talking” with a smile roughly a dozen times as he walked back to his own office. And for the first time in weeks, it seemed like some progress was being made.

Then the White House chimed in.

“As was made clear to Senator Lindsay Graham, the three-week CR [continuing resolution] would only work if there is a large down payment on the wall,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement as McConnell and Schumer met.

And that was that:

That was met with an icy stare from Democrats.

Sen. Angus King (I-ME), a moderate who caucuses with Democrats, talked up the new potential compromise to reporters after exiting the Senate floor Thursday afternoon. A reporter then read him Sanders’ statement.

“That presupposes the outcome of the discussions. The down payment for me is my expression of good faith, entering into this in a good-faith way,” King said, accusing Trump of “short-circuiting the process” once again.

“I wish the President would quit thinking of the shutdown as a weapon. He’s basically saying ‘give me what I want,’ or in this case ‘give me a part of what I want, or I’ll shut the government down.’ That’s what we’re trying to get away from here,” King continued. “I don’t like rewarding shutdown politics.”

Now add this:

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), another dealmaker, was even more frustrated by the White House’s latest stance.

“So we hold people’s wages hostage for a large down payment on a wall that the majority of Americans don’t believe is the most effective thing? So then what does he hold their wages hostage for next?” she asked incredulously. “How many times will he continue to hold federal employees’ wages hostage, if he is able to feel that this is a successful strategy? It’s just plain wrong. He’s got to stop it.”

And then he put on his red MAGA hat and ended it all:

At the White House, Trump told reporters that “we have to have a wall” in any deal while threatening “alternatives,” a seemingly veiled threat at declaring a national emergency at the border.

He will have his wall, and American taxpayers will pay for it – or there will be pain. He will have his way, or there will be pain.

It’s the hat. Put on the red hat and you say such things. Put on the red hat and you believe such things. The red hat isn’t a brown shirt or white sheets, but it will do.

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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