President’s Trump’s Karmic Krisis

The news that President Trump (and the First Lady) have COVID-19 throws the political landscape into unknown territory. Because he is 74 years old, male and obese, there’s a 34% chance that he might die. However, he will obviously – unlike you and me – receive the best possible medical care. His odds will be better.

Still, he might meet his maker in a development that makes even the most hardened atheist wonder if there’s someone Up There. And even if he doesn’t, he’s going to come out of this seriously physically weakened. I know from personal experience. So what happens next?

This is a development that everybody believed impossible: it weakens him with his base. Not only is his stance that COVID-19 is no big deal now lying in tatters, the mere fact that he is sick and incapacitated and quarantine makes him look like less of a big man in the eyes of his right-wing testosterone-obsessed supporters. They hate nothing more than weakness. Trump understands that a strongman has to be, well, strong.

If Trump dies before November 3, it falls to the GOP to choose a replacement nominee. The Republican National Committee could simply go with the path of least resistance, Mike Pence. But Pence himself may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus as well due to his close proximity to Trump. And the general consensus is that he doesn’t have what it takes to win a presidential election. If Trump dies, I think Joe Biden will win automatically. But the Republicans will do their best, and they would more likely turn to an also-ran like Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.

What if Trump and Pence are both incapacitated? Then we get acting president Nancy Pelosi.

Of course, the odds are that Trump will not die. He will probably recover, more slowly than anyone will ever know. He will never quite be the same guy and he will not live as long as he would have otherwise. If he is reelected after a recount crisis of epic proportions, the man we see in the Oval Office will be diminished. Ironically, he will be weak physically as well as mentally. Unless Biden himself prevails, we will end up with a Republican Joe Biden.

So this is the way America ends, not with a bang but a whimper.

Debate 1: A Bully and a Weakling

Anyone appalled by Donald Trump‘s relentless interruptions and refusal to follow debate rules in last night’s first presidential debate is both right and obviously hasn’t paid much attention to the president, like ever. This is his usual shtick, and you have to assume that Biden’s team was ready for it.

What I saw last night was a bully and a weakling unable to fight back. Biden had several prepackaged zingers at the ready but the one he chose to unleash towards the end, a clumsy — hey, this is Joe Biden, man – defense of his deceased son Beau Biden appeared out of thin air, not after Trump said anything about it or him, and then itself got derailed by Trump talking about Hunter.

Ugliness all around.

Yesterday in the space I wondered who would show up on the Democratic side, rabid Biden or sleepy Joe? The man on the right side of the stage with somewhere in between but closer to somnolence than anything else. It did have the effect of showcasing Trump’s rudeness. But I don’t think it gave Democratic voters cause for confidence.

If last night encapsulates the decision faced by the electorate on November 3, they have to choose between a madman who coddles white nationalists— blink and you would miss his call out to the Proud Boys —and a befuddled corporatist who isn’t up to any job, much less leader of the free world. On its face, the choice may feel obvious. What is less obvious, and I think more important, is that it’s hard to get people off their couch to do anything on election day, especially when it is a grim duty like trying to cast a vote for Joe Biden.

If the typical American voter had a gun to his or her head and had to choose, Biden wins. But that’s not how voting works. It’s voluntary. The problem for Biden is enthusiasm, and last night shows why.

What To Expect Tonight in the First Debate Between Biden and Trump

            Conventional wisdom says that tonight’s first presidential debate of 2020 won’t move the needle. It also says that Donald Trump made a mistake by setting low expectations for Joe Biden’s mental acuity.

            As usual, conventional wisdom is wrong.

            95% of American voters have never heard Joe Biden speak for more than five minutes. They didn’t watch the Democratic primary debates. Obama didn’t give Biden many high-profile speaking opportunities as vice president. The last time Biden was on the national stage was during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings — 28 years ago. You have to be over 50 years old to remember them and even then, he didn’t say or do anything worth remembering as chairman of the Senate judiciary committee. For all practical purposes, only one of these two men has actually been running a semblance of a campaign this year. Biden has not. All that people know is that Biden was Obama’s vice president and that he’s been in DC a long time.

            Biden’s support is almost entirely a negative reaction to President Trump. No one is talking about Biden’s affirmative agenda, such as it is. People aren’t voting for Biden, they are voting against Donald Trump. Therefore, tonight is about Joe Biden.

Tonight’s debate will therefore be Joe Biden’s first true introduction to the American people. Many of the people who have already decided to vote for Joe Biden will be disappointed when they finally focus on the election and Biden himself over the course of 90 long minutes. Some voters could feel buyer’s remorse. That could certainly feed the enthusiasm gap that already favors Trump.

For Donald Trump, nothing much is at stake. His support is baked in. Everyone knows the president and has formed their opinion. Nothing he says, no matter how outrageous, will get Trump into serious trouble. His goal, or at least it ought be his goal, is to expose Joe Biden as unfit for office. He will do what Trump does best, goad and troll and poke and prod in the hope that Biden decompensates into unseemly anger or nonsensical rants.

Whether that works or not will depend on which Joe Biden shows up tonight. Will it be the ghostly half-dead victim of dementia who, during the primary debates, couldn’t wait for his 60 seconds to be over? Or will it be Biden in honey badger mode, the guy who shoves voters and calls them dog-faced pony soldiers? If it’s Sleepy Joe, the debate is over and so is this campaign. If it’s Weird Malarkey Joe, things could get interesting.

Reports from inside the campaign say that Biden intends to focus on Trump’s incompetent and counterproductive reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. The recent New York Times stories about Trump’s finances and taxes will certainly add more grist for the mill.

If I were preparing Biden, I would advise him to come out of the gate the way Kamala Harris did against him during the primary, balls to the wall: “You killed 200,000 innocent Americans. I want you to stand up here and apologize to their friends and families.” Obviously Biden has to use the tax issue, but I wouldn’t linger on it. All Donald Trump has to do is mention Hunter Biden, Burisma, Ukraine and then it becomes a game of I know what I am but what are you?

Aside from Biden’s advanced age and the obvious mental issues that go with it, one thing Democratic voters are going to want to see is a willingness and ability to fight and be aggressive. Voters always expect the president to exude strength. Democrats, however, tend to fall short on that metric and Biden even more so than most. Biden has an opportunity to show that he knows how to attack and how to punch back. I am not optimistic on this front.

Donald Trump’s biggest disadvantage tonight is that he never prepares for debates or any public appearances. He won’t be able to cite statistics or draw upon details in any kind of credible way. But I don’t think that’s going to matter. Ultimately this is a contest of personalities and tone, and nobody’s going to care about who knows the capital of Vanuatu. If I were Trump, I would keep up the attacks on Biden’s mental state and acuity and provoke him into losing it over something personal.

Tomorrow morning Democrats are going to say that Joe Biden won and Republicans are going to say that Donald Trump won. When historians look back with some objectivity, I think they will write that Trump carried the night.

Joe Biden Will Be a Republican President

Image: US-POLITICS-VOTE-DEMOCRATS

Past performance is no guarantee of future returns but there are few more reliable ways to predict what comes next than to examine the historical record because, most of the time, history really does repeat.

What kind of president would Joe Biden be? His centrist supporters assure progressives that he will be one of them, pushing an aggressive legislative agenda reminiscent of FDR’s New Deal. His Republican opponents portray him as a socialist. But Biden hasn’t actually promised anything ambitious.

The last two Democratic presidencies provide a good indication of what a Biden Administration would look like. Like Biden, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama hail from the centrist party establishment. If personnel is policy, the three men hang out with many of the same advisors, businesspeople and elected officials. They’re not identical: Clinton is a charismatic retail politician, Obama is aloof and professorial, and Biden is an LBJ-style buttonholer minus Johnson’s secret idealism. But they’re ideologically and temperamentally similar to a remarkable extent.

I remembered Clinton and Obama as deeply disappointing to voters with traditional liberal Democratic values. I remembered that most of their major legislative accomplishments would not have been out of place under a Republican administration.

When I checked the historical record recently, however, it was even worse than I remembered.

Clinton used his political capital to push through free trade deals like NAFTA and the WTO, which killed manufacturing jobs and drove the final nails into the coffin of big labor. He “ended welfare as we know it,” making it even more difficult for people who lost their jobs to get back on their feet and adding the chronically poor to the ranks of the homeless. Clinton signed Joe Biden’s now infamous 1994 crime bill into law, codifying a racist judicial system that disproportionately punishes black men for relatively minor offenses.

Clinton repealed the 1930s-era Glass-Steagall Act, banking deregulation set the stage for banks to wallow in the reckless predatory lending practices that tanked the global economy in 2008-09.

His most impressive achievement was balancing the federal budget and paying off the deficit, but he didn’t do it by raising taxes on the rich. He imposed austerity on social programs—just like a Republican would do.

I searched hard for Clintonian achievements that could credibly be called liberal or at least left of center, but aside from a few minor regulations here and there, there aren’t any. “So we liberals and radicals searched the Clinton administration for vast new programs to applaud. But nothing loomed into view,” Paul Berman wrote in The New Republic at the end of Clinton’s presidency in 2000. Clinton was a moderate Republican president.

In some ways—especially foreign policy—Obama was even worse. Clinton bombed with the bloody relentlessness of a Reagan or a Bush: Bosnia, Sudan, Afghanistan and, forgotten now, Iraq so much and so often that pilots dumped their bombs in the desert to cover for the fact that they were running out of fresh targets. His sanctions stopped everything, including medical supplies, from entering Afghanistan. But he had nothing on Obama.

After Col. Muammar Gaddafi signed a peace deal with Bush that ended Libya’s nuclear program, Obama assassinated him with a drone, plunging that nation into a bloody civil war. Thanks to Obama, Libya, formerly the most literate and prosperous country in Africa, is now a failed state where slavery has been restored. Obama similarly wrecked Syria, where he also funded and armed jihadi extremists against secular socialist leaders. Obama radically expanded Bush’s drone program, kept Gitmo open, effectively pardoned Bush’s torturers, expanded the USA-Patriot Act and NSA spying on your phone calls and emails.

With Democrats like these, you don’t need Republicans!

For liberals, there is one relatively bright spot in these 16 years of Democratic rule: the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare was the first major health-sector reform in decades and brought coverage to tens of millions of patients, most beneficially via Medicaid expansion.

Let’s face it. The last two Democratic presidents didn’t really govern like Democrats. Compare the ACA to the achievements of Republican presidents like Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Republicans push through huge changes when they are in office.

And I’m not even going to point out—well, yes I am—that Obamacare was conceived by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.

As I wrote at the beginning of this essay, what happened under Clinton and Obama won’t necessarily be replicated by Joe Biden. But it almost certainly will be.

There’s a reason Biden considered picking a Republican running mate and a reason Republicans are endorsing him and a reason he gave Republicans more speaking time at the Democratic National Convention than AOC—he’s one of them, not one of us.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Mail-in Balloting, the 12th Amendment and Impending Doom

Letters to the editor: On vote-by-mail

            More than 80 million Americans are expected to cast mail-in ballots this fall, representing a 16-fold increase over 2016.

            This is probably going to cause a constitutional crisis of epic proportions.

            The problem isn’t the possibility of fraud that Donald Trump has been going on about. Cases of possible double voting or voting on behalf of dead people Daley-machine-style are statistically insignificant, amounting to at most 0.0025% of mail-in votes.

            The real issue is that the ballots may not be counted on time, triggering the insanity of the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

            The date to remember is December 14th, when the delegations of the Electoral College meet in their respective states. That’s a hard deadline. Each delegation can only certify their state’s vote counts if they are 100% complete—machine votes cast in person at polling places on election day, early votes, absentee ballots, write-ins and, this year, COVID-19 mail-in ballots. If the state fails to certify on time, its electoral college votes aren’t counted.

            Within each state, there is a canvassing/certification deadline for county officials to submit their results. Most are in late November. California, with a December 11th deadline, cuts it close and usually files its national certification last.

            State election officials are doing their best to meet the challenge. They are hiring additional staff, buying new tabulation machines and installing drop boxes. Even assuming that they will be able to hire the additional personnel they need in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the practical impediments to meeting the December 14th deadline are daunting. Mail-in ballots are manually opened and signatures must be visually compared, sometimes several times, to Board of Election records.

Then there are technicalities. For example, 16 states require mail-in ballots to be submitted with an extra “privacy envelope.” In the battleground state of Pennsylvania, 6.4% of absentee ballots submitted in a 2019 election were rejected because voters neglected to insert their ballot inside the privacy envelope inside the mailing envelope—a significant margin that could change the outcome on a national level. Both parties are gearing up for legal challenges about issues like this across the nation.

“Every absentee or mailed ballot, even if dropped off directly at the designated county drop box or polling center, most likely will not get counted on Election Day, and it can easily be challenged and delayed and even rejected on a technicality,” Jed Shugerman writes at Time. “Every mailed or absentee ballot, in an envelope with signatures, is its own hanging chad, its own built-in legal delay.”

            If enough states are embroiled in vote-counting controversies to prevent either President Trump or former Vice President Biden from achieving the 270 electoral votes required to declare them president-elect on December 14th, the obscure 12th Amendment kicks in.

            Used only once—in 1825 to elect John Quincy Adams—the 12th Amendment triggers a bizarre “House of Cards” series of remedies guaranteed to eliminate any remaining belief that the Framers wrote a perfect document designed to withstand the test of time, or that the United States is a democracy.

            After the new 117th Congress convenes on January 3rd, the House of Representatives would vote to elect the president and the Senate would elect the vice president. “Each state delegation gets one vote, and 26 votes are required to win [out of 50 states],” reports the Associated Press. “In the Senate…each senator gets a vote, with 51 votes [out of 100 seats] required to win.”

            Even if Democrats enjoy another “blue wave” election that allows them to pick up congressional seats, they will not capture 26 state delegations in the House of Representatives. Trump would win. If Democrats have taken back the Senate, they could select a vice president to replace Mike Pence.

            It wouldn’t matter if a newspaper recount were to determine later on that Biden should have won both a popular and electoral vote landslide. Trump would remain in the White House.

            The Democratic Party and its allies in the media have been pushing mail-in balloting, but voters who want to see Joe Biden elected and are willing to brave the health risks should consider showing up for early in-person voting. In-person ballots are far less susceptible to rejection over technical issues like security envelopes, they are counted immediately and they thus meet the December 14th deadline for certification.

            As my readers are aware, I do not support either Trump or Biden and will be voting third party, probably for the Greens, this fall. But I don’t support disenfranchisement either. I want everyone’s will to be expressed.

            No matter what happens, no matter who wins, American politics are about to become extremely dangerous. Democracy fails when the losing side refuses to accept the legitimacy of the winning side. That will certainly be the case this year.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

If Biden Loses, This Will Be Why

Can Biden Plan for a Pandemic Presidency? - The Atlantic

It would be a stretch to say that Joe Biden is in trouble. He is ahead in the polls, including in states where Donald Trump won last time. Unlike Trump, who is nearly broke, Biden’s campaign is raking in corporate donations.

Of course, Democrats couldn’t have asked for a weaker incumbent. Nearly 200,000 Americans dead of COVID-19 after the president downplayed the threat and failed to provide relief, tens of millions of people newly unemployed months away from the election, polls showing that a record number of voters believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, supplemental unemployment benefits expired with no sign that they will ever be renewed. Almost any other candidate would be poised to trounce Trump by double-digit landslide of historical proportions.

Not Biden.

The two crazy old white men with bad hair are in a dead heat in key battleground states like Florida. As one would expect during a normal year—when the president had not just killed a bunch of voters and made a bunch of others jobless—the race is tightening. Biden is still ahead by seven points nationally but that’s not significantly better than Hillary Clinton was doing at the same point in time. A worried Bernie Sanders has been advising Biden to nix his vague rightward pivot and articulate stronger stances on bread-and-butter issues.

More than any other single factor, I am focused on the enthusiasm gap. Anyone who counts yard signs and bumperstickers can see that Trump’s supporters are fired up while Biden’s are dutifully going through the motions, motivated primarily by their desire to unseat the incumbent.

Like most elections in recent years, 2020 isn’t about swaying swing voters on the fence. It’s a turnout game. Whoever gets more of their baked-in supporters to the polls wins. Not only are Biden’s supporters not all that into him, more of them are scared of the coronavirus than Trump’s people—and that could make all the difference when they decide whether or not to leave their homes on Election Day.

Then there’s the debates. Biden could exceed expectations. But those expectations are there for a reason. Biden has never been a good debater; he was awful during the primaries. He is well past his expiration date. He is easily rattled (“lying dog-faced pony soldier”) and Trump is a master rattler. Debates could destroy Biden.

            Setting aside the almost inevitable constitutional crisis caused by the system’s inability to deliver and process an expected 80 million mail-in ballots, there is a real chance Donald Trump could straight out win.

            At this point, there are still several things that Biden could do to maintain and even expand his lead over the president. If I were advising him, I would tell him to do the following:

            Nail Down the Base. The progressive Democrats who supported Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren during the primaries are not, contrary to statements by the old liberal centrists, “purity ponies” determined to punish the Democratic Party because their preferred candidate didn’t win. They are driven by policy—and so far the Biden campaign has refused to throw them any red meat. Democrats can truly unify the party in November by getting Biden to campaign on at least one major issue dear to progressives, like Medicare For All, the Green New Deal, or swearing off wars of choice. It would be smart to add in some minor promises with symbolic residence, like prosecuting CIA torturers, Closing Gitmo, eliminating drones, refusing to prosecute Julian Assange and allowing Edward Snowden to come home. Progressives don’t need the whole cow. But you do have to throw them a bone, or risk losing them the way Hillary did in 2016.

            Weasel Out Of the Debate. If he followed this advice, I would be even more determined not to vote for him. Denying voters the right to watch candidates answer questions about themselves and their stances is profoundly undemocratic. Still, ethics aside, debating can only help Trump. If I were Biden, I’d refuse to prove to the country what every honest person who has been paying attention knows: he is suffering from dementia.

            Announce an Agenda for the First 100 Days. Biden likes to compare himself to FDR. Like FDR, he should announce his agenda for his first 100 days in office. That way, should he win, Republicans won’t be able to argue that he didn’t earn a mandate for specific changes. During this time of medical and socioeconomic crisis, Americans crave specific solutions to their problems. While it is true that staying vague frustrates the writers of GOP attack ads, it also feeds the suspicion that Biden, like Obama, is all hat and no cattle when it comes to trying to legislate big changes.

            Personnel Is Policy so Appoint Personnel Now. Progressives were let down in a big way by the choice of right-wing prosecutor Kamala Harris as Biden’s vice president. Biden supporters’ most frequently uttered talking point is that he would appoint better qualified cabinet members than Trump has, but keeping losers like Lawrence “Women Can’t Do Math” Summers among his closest advisors and compiling a foreign policy team so full of neoconservatives that only Dick Cheney is missing doesn’t inspire confidence. Writing a blank check doesn’t make sense anymore. Let’s see some of those cabinet appointments now, before we vote.

            Campaign in Person. Last but not least and probably most controversially, Biden needs to hit the road like COVID-19 never happened. Elections are job interviews and Donald Trump seems to want the gig. Biden doesn’t. He needs to appear in public, distance socially, no mask, heavy schedule of in-person appearances. Most Americans venture out in public every single day these days and manage not to contract COVID-19. Surely Biden’s handlers can figure out how to do the same for their candidate.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Housecleaning Sale for Completists

If you are a completist fan, this is for you.

I’m cleaning out my archives and came across the last six existing (that I know of) uncorrected galley proofs of my 2004 book “Wake Up… You’re Liberal!” The book is notable for several reasons: it has an introduction by none other than George McGovern, it’s my last argument that progressive should and can work within the Democratic Party, and it’s my first full length all-prose book.

Sales are on a first come, first serve basis. If you are still reading this, there is at least still one copy available.

As a bonus, I’m throwing in the equally rare, extremely obscure promo excerpt used to market my 2006 book ” Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?”

Price is $20 + $5 shipping.

Please make sure to let me know your mailing address. Important: I do NOT ship internationally unless you contact me and arrange for me to calculate the shipping cost.

If, and only if, you live in inside the United States, use this button:


THE STRINGER now Available for Pre-Order

I am excited to announce that my next graphic novel collaboration with the brilliant Spanish illustrator Pablo Callejo is now available for pre-order. Long time readers will recall that Pablo was the illustrator of my graphic memoir “The Year of Loving Dangerously,” which is currently in development to become a possible TV series.

THE STRINGER, written by your favorite cartoonist and occasional war correspondent, he’s ripped from the headlines and anticipates the brave new world of fake news and deep fake video. It’s a love letter to journalism, a story with a double twist ending and, as always, a deeply personal and political take on the state of the world today. I’m extremely proud of it.

Of course you can wait to order the book directly from me or from your local independent bookstore but if you pre-order from Amazon you will directly impact the overall success of the book because of the outsized impact of Amazon pre-orders. I’ll leave the ethics of book buying to you. Thanks for reading!

High Crimes against Journalism and Decency: Jeffrey Goldberg’s Insane “Trump Called Troops Suckers” Piece Is a New Low

9-11-97

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote an article for The Atlantic that could harm Donald Trump’s chance to win re-election. Setting aside the controversial content of the remarks attributed to the president, it is important to note that this is an atrocious example of journalism.

You could almost call it “fake news.”

And corporate media is taking it at face value.

You may think Trump is a turd—I do. You may want him to lose the election—I do. (I also want Biden to lose, but that’s another column.) You may believe that Trump probably said what Goldberg reports—I think there’s a good chance. But everyone who cares about journalism ought to be deeply disturbed by the nonexistent sourcing for this story and its widespread acceptance by media organizations that ought to know better.

It’s easy to see why Democratic-leaning media corporations jumped all over Goldberg’s piece: it hurts the president and it reinforces militarism. But they’re degrading journalistic standards to manipulate an election.

According to Goldberg, four anonymous sources told him that Trump called American marines who died in World War I “losers” and repeatedly questioned why anyone smart would join the military or be willing to risk their life by fighting in one of America’s wars.

Anonymous sources have their place. I have used them. But basing a news story entirely on accounts of people who are unwilling to go on the record is journalistically perilous and ethically dubious. There are exceptions, as when a Mafia source fears physical retribution.

There is no such claim here. Most media organizations’ ethical guidelines are clear: news without attribution is not news. It is gossip.

            The Los Angeles Times, a publication my readers know that I hold in low regard, nevertheless takes a stance against anonymous sources. “When we use anonymous sources, it should be to convey important information to our readers. We should not use such sources to publish material that is trivial, obvious or self-serving,” the paper’s ethical standards say. “An unnamed source should have a compelling reason for insisting on anonymity, such as fear of retaliation, and we should state those reasons when they are relevant to what we publish.”

            The Atlantic piece falls way short.

Likewise, writing that strips statements of necessary context is anti-ethical. Trump, writes Goldberg, “expressed contempt for the war record of the late Senator John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. ‘He’s not a war hero,’ Trump said in 2015 while running for the Republican nomination for president. ‘I like people who weren’t captured.’” He goes on to note that Trump wanted to deny McCain the honor of lowering flags to half-mast after McCain died.

Goldberg frames Trump’s comments as part of a general bias against the military and portrays his attacks as unprovoked. Truth is, long before Trump made those comments he had been engaged in a well-documented, long-running feud with the Arizona senator. McCain based his political career on his military service and the five years he spent as a POW in Vietnam. McCain was Trump’s enemy, and there is considerable evidence that McCain—known for a sharp tongue—started the war of words. Trump gave back in kind.

“Nor did he set his campaign back by attacking the parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004,” Goldberg continues in another context-free passage. Khan’s father famously spoke against Trump at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. “You have sacrificed nothing and no one,” Khan said. In Trumpian terms, Khan started it. But Goldberg’s omission makes it look like Trump attacked a fallen soldier out of the blue.

Goldberg does this a third time: “When lashing out at critics, Trump often reaches for illogical and corrosive insults, and members of the Bush family have publicly opposed him.” Both sides have insulted each other; as far as the record shows, Trump is usually running offense, not defense—but Goldberg falsely portrays the enmity as a one-way street.

One of the praiseworthy aspects of this president is his relatively restrained approach to military interventionism, coupled with his willingness to directly engage adversaries like North Korea and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the latter which recently signed a peace agreement with the United States. It is logical for Trump, who is skeptical of illegal wars of choice like Afghanistan and Iraq, to question why people would volunteer to fight and possibly die in such a pointless conflict. For Goldberg, militarism is a state religion. Questioning it is intolerable.

Goldberg’s piece, the tone of which reads like the pro-war hysteria following 9/11, reflects the aggressively militaristic neoliberalism of the Democratic Party in 2020.

Goldberg references Trump’s 2017 visit to Arlington cemetery with then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. “A first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan … Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, ‘I don’t get it. What was in it for them?’ Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said, that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.”

            Joining the military, of course, is hardly a non-transactional decision. Soldiers get paid. They get medals. They get free college. They are revered and thanked for their service. Military service gives you a leg up when you run for political office.

Moreover, Trump’s question is one Americans should be asking more often. Why would a 29-year-old man volunteer to travel to Afghanistan in order to kill the locals? No one in that country threatened the United States. No one there did us any harm. Afghans don’t want us there. Why did Robert Kelly go?

Goldberg seems obsessed with Trump’s description of fallen soldiers as suckers. “His capacious definition of sucker includes those who lose their lives in service to their country, as well as those who are taken prisoner, or are wounded in battle,” Goldberg writes. But is he wrong?

            LBJ suckered us into Vietnam with the Tonkin Gulf incident, which historians of all stripes accept was a lie.

            George H.W. Bush suckered us into the first Gulf War with a tale of Iraqi soldiers rampaging through a Kuwaiti hospital and pulling babies out of incubators. Another lie.

            After 9/11 George W. Bush suckered us into Afghanistan by saying Osama bin Laden was there—he was not.

            Of course Bush lied about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. More suckering. (At the time, Goldberg spread the lie that Saddam Hussein was allied with his enemy Al Qaeda.)

            Assuming that anything in Goldberg’s piece was true, Trump was right.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

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