While I was busy with non-existence, the rest of the world was … existing. (More)
I’d rather have stayed with Ms. Scarlet in the BPI TeeVee Studio. The cummerbund was too tight, but this morning I let my Blewberry take me for a tour of the week’s news. I’m glad Chef put a bowl of macadamias on the poker table.
So grab some comfort food and let’s look at a week’s worth of was-ness….
“This isn’t your average sleepy Friday news dump”
It’s Friday night. A Category 4 hurricane is about to slam the Texas coastline, and President Trump just directed the Pentagon to ban transgender people from joining the military and pardoned a politically radioactive convicted former sheriff. News also broke that one of his more controversial advisers, Sebastian Gorka, is leaving the White House.
This isn’t your average sleepy Friday news dump – a trick newsmakers use to bury unpopular news by releasing it when most people aren’t reading news. This is a flagrant attempt to hide a series of politically fraught (but base-pleasing) moves under the cover of an August Friday night hurricane.
In other words, it’s transparent Trump is doing controversial things he knows are controversial, and he and the White House would prefer the public and the media not focus on it.
Of course, the irony for Trump is the exact opposite is happening. In so obviously trying to downplay this news, he’s framing it in neon flashing signs.
“Neon flashing signs,” indeed.
“The core issue here is incompetence and under-qualification”
Official White House statement: "Sebastian Gorka did not resign, but I can confirm he no longer works at the White House."
— Jesse Rodriguez (@JesseRodriguez) August 26, 2017
In the White House, Gorka was initially supposed to work on the Strategic Initiatives Group – a Bannon-masterminded alternative to the National Security Council. And Gorka became perhaps the most prominent administration official publicly defending Trump’s controversial travel ban, a Bannon-crafted policy, in part because he seemed to actually believe the ideas that justified it.
But over time, Bannon and his allies began to lose influence in the White House. On foreign policy, the administration has adopted an essentially conventional stance on issues ranging from NATO to Syria to Afghanistan – the last of which, Trump’s decision to send more US troops to Afghanistan, Gorka specifically cited in his resignation letter.
This was in large part because the self-described nationalists proved to be astonishingly bad at actually pushing their agenda. The travel ban sparked massive protests and has been tied up in court due to the sloppy and rushed way Bannon and another ally, Stephen Miller, wrote it. Bannon tried to convince Trump to pull back from the Afghanistan war, but National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster convinced the president to do the opposite.
The core issue here is incompetence and under-qualification. Bannon was great at running a hard-right, provocative media outlet, no question. But being good at generating outrage online and being good at making policy are two very different skills. His allies tended to be people like Gorka and now-disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, fringe figures who are poorly regarded in their fields, because there simply weren’t a lot of people with real experience or traditional qualifications who agreed with his worldview.
Turns out it’s a lot easier to peddle global conspiracy theories to wingnuts than it is to actually interact with the world. Who knew? I mean, besides … anyone who pays attention to real news?
“Promising ‘law and order’ … didn’t require you to actually adhere to the rule of law”
Then there’s the Arpaio pardon. Vox’s Dara Lind offers a good analysis:
The official reason President Donald Trump pardoned former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio Friday night – issuing the first pardon of his presidency for a criminal contempt-of-court conviction issued for violating a federal court order meant to prevent racial profiling – was Arpaio’s long career in government service.
“Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now eighty-five years old, and after more than fifty years of admirable service to our Nation, he is worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon,” the official pardon statement from the White House read.
But everyone knows the real answer, because the real answer was given by President Trump himself – at a rally on Tuesday night in Phoenix where he all but promised to pardon Arpaio, while coyly saying he wouldn’t do it just yet.
“Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe?” he asked the crowd, to cheers. “So, was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?” The crowd appeared to agree; the president did too.
The fact that the president (and, for that matter, Arpaio) sees a law enforcement officer violating a federal court order as “doing his job” might seem like a paradox. But it isn’t. Joe Arpaio recognized the fundamental truth of Trump’s worldview even before Trump did: that promising “law and order,” and protection from social disorder in the form of unauthorized immigration and street crime, didn’t require you to actually adhere to the rule of law.
Fact is, when conservatives talk about “law and order,” they really just mean “order.” Specifically, they mean a social order that lets wealthy, white, heterosexual, Christian men say and do whatever they want without interference from lesser beings. So if a bunch of white folks retire to Arizona and aren’t comfortable seeing so many Hispanics …
… arrest those Hispanics because they look like foreigners, and hold them while you check their papers. And that’s what Arpaio had his deputies doing. The court order he violated simply forbade him from arresting people solely on suspicion of immigration violations. In practice and in intent, the court found, arresting people you thought might be illegal immigrants worked out to racial profiling … and that violated of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
So the court said Arpaio and his deputies had to have probable cause related to some state crime, and Arpaio said – publicly! – that he wasn’t about to change how he did his job. He even launched an investigation of the federal judge who issued the order, trying to intimidate her as he’d previously intimidated Maricopa County officials who defied him.
Now here’s the thing: the U.S. Constitution is “the supreme Law of the Land.” If you stand for the “law” in “law and order,” then the Constitution should be … supreme. But what do conservatives (and most cops) say when a judge finds that a cop or prosecutor violated the Constitution?
“They let him off on a technicality.”
That word is very revealing. When someone dismisses the Constitution as a “technicality,” they declare: “I don’t care about law – not even ‘the supreme Law of the Land’ – except for the parts I can wield to impose order.”
The God-King spent his entire business career ignoring the law, except when he could use it as a cudgel. Small wonder, then, that he thinks Arpaio was just “doing his job” by ignoring the law … except when he could use it as a cudgel.
“Trump sees his evaluation of the boundaries of legality as superior to the boundaries set by the legal system”
The broader question raised by the pardon, then, is where Trump would draw the line. If he’s willing to pardon Joe Arpaio for ignoring a court order in service of a political goal Trump embraces, why wouldn’t he pardon another individual he respects for similarly ignoring a demand from the court. Say, a former employee or a family member who, say, was issued a subpoena to testify before a special prosecutor?
One message from the Arpaio pardon is precisely that Trump sees his evaluation of the boundaries of legality as superior to the boundaries set by the legal system. The Constitution gives him that power. As we’ve noted before the presidential pardon is absolute. He can pardon anyone for any federal crime at any time – even before the person actually faces any charges and even if no crime actually took place. There’s nothing anyone can do about it, except to impeach Trump and remove him from office to prevent him from doing it again.[…]
Again: The pardon power is absolute. There aren’t many powers in the federal government about which that word applies, but pardoning is one of them. With that power, Trump can send a message about how and where he feels the rule of law should apply. Or, more accurately, Trump can shape how and where those rules apply. He can, as long as he has that power, grant immunity to anyone he wishes for any federal crime they commit.
Bump focuses on the God-King’s personal legal stakes, but I’m more concerned with the message the Arpaio pardon sends to white supremacists.
Let’s say a cop shoots an unarmed Black Lives Matter protester. Let’s say the whole event is captured on video, and the evidence is enough to overcome the double-heaping-helping of presumption of innocence that cops enjoy. Now, the God-King called Black Lives Matter “very divisive” and considered a sheriff who called BLM “terrorists” for a top Department of Homeland Security post. And while he tried to rewrite history in Phoenix, the fact is that he blamed the white supremacist terrorism in Charlottesville on “many sides. Many sides.”
Given all that, if the God-King will pardon Arpaio for explicit racial profiling – or as he sees it, just “doing his job” – why wouldn’t he pardon a cop who shot an unarmed Black Lives Matter protester?
And what message would that send to white supremacists … and cops?
“What’s a girl to do when a bunch of dudes have just told her, in front of an audience, that she’s wrong about what it’s like to be herself?”
Finally, if you read no other news this week, read this brilliant essay on women and sobriety that has gone viral since it was posted last month on Medium:
I’m newly sober and dog-paddling through the booze all around me. It’s summer, and Whole Foods has planted rosé throughout the store. Rosé is great with fish! And strawberries! And vegan protein powder! (Okay, I made that last one up.) At the office, every desk near mine has a bottle of wine or liquor on it in case people are too lazy to walk the 50 feet to one of the well-stocked communal bars we’ve built on our floor. Driving home from work, I pass billboard ads for Fluffed Marshmallow Smirnoff and Iced Cake Smirnoff and not just Cinnamon, but Cinnamon Churros Smirnoff. A local pharmacy, the same one that fucks up my prescription three months in a row, installs self-service beer taps and young guys line up with their empty growlers all the way back to Eye & Ear Care.
Traveling for work, I steel myself for the company-sponsored wine tasting. Skipping it is not an option. My plan is to work the room with my soda and lime, make sure I’m seen by the five people who care about these things, and leave before things get sloppy (which they always do). Six wines and four beers are on display at the catering stand. I ask for club soda and get a blank look. Just water, then? The bartender grimaces apologetically. “I think there’s a water fountain in the lobby?” she says.
There is. But it’s broken. I mingle empty-handed for 15 minutes, fending off well-meaning offers to get me something from the bar. After the fifth, I realize I’m going to cry if one more person offers me alcohol. I leave and cry anyway. Later I order vanilla ice cream from room service to cheer myself up.
“People love this with a shot of bourbon poured over it,” the person taking my order says. “Any interest in treating yourself?”
The essayist is Kristi Coulter, but it’s not just her opinion. A new study published at the Journal of American Medicine found that Americans are drinking more, enough to make it a “public health crisis.” And that’s especially true among women:
It is not yet clear why women and older adults had higher increases in this type of drinking, but the researchers have some ideas. Over the years, cultural norms about drinking have changed, and it has become more acceptable for women to drink in similar ways as men, the researchers note. “Increases in educational and occupational opportunities and rising numbers of women in the workforce” may also have contributed to higher drinking levels in the last decade, they write.
Added stress is another factor that might drive anyone, regardless of their sex, to drink more. High-risk drinking was higher among minority groups, and the authors argue that wealth inequality between minorities and whites has widened during and after the 2008 recession, which may have led to “increased stress and demoralization.” Income and educational disparities, as well as “unemployment, residential segregation, discrimination, decreased access to health care, and increased stigma associated with drinking,” may also play a role, the authors write.
Turns out white male supremacy has an emotional cost for everyone else, as Coulter explains:
The year before I get sober, I’m asked to be The Woman on a panel at the company where I work. (That was literally the pitch: “We need one woman.”) Three guys and me, talking to summer interns about company culture. There are two female interns in the audience, and when it’s time for questions, one says:
“I’ve heard this can be a tough place for women to succeed. Can you talk about what it’s been like for you?”
As The Woman, I assume for some reason that the question is directed at me. “If you’re tough and persistent and thick-skinned, you’ll find your way,” I say. “I have.”
I don’t say she’ll have to work around interruptions and invisibility and micro-aggressions and a scarcity of role models and a lifetime of her own conditioning. My job on this panel is to make this place sound good, so I leave some stuff out. Particularly the fact that I’m drinking at least one bottle of wine a night to dissolve the day off of me.
But she’s a woman. She probably learned to read between the lines before she could read the lines themselves. She thanks me and sits down.
“I disagree,” says the guy sitting next to me. “I think this is a great company for women.”
My jaw gently opens on its own.
The guy next to him nods. “Absolutely,” he said. “I have two women on my team and they get along great with everyone.”
Of course they do, I think but don’t say. It’s called camouflage.
Guy #1 continues. “There’s a woman on my team who had a baby last year. She went on maternity leave and came back, and she’s doing fine. We’re very supportive of moms.”
Guy #3 jumps in just to make sure we have 100% male coverage on the topic. “The thing about this place,” he says, “is it’s a meritocracy. And merit is gender-blind.” He smiles at me and I stare back. Short of hijacking this panel for my own agenda, silent balefulness is all I have to offer. But his smile wavers so I know I’ve pierced some level of smug.
The panel organizer and I fume afterward. “Those fucking fucks,” she says. “Ratfucks.”
What’s a girl to do when a bunch of dudes have just told her, in front of an audience, that she’s wrong about what it’s like to be herself? I could invite them out for coffee, one by one, and tell them how it felt, and they might really listen. I could tell the panel organizers this is why you should never have just one of us up there. I could buy myself a superhero costume and devote the rest of my life to vengeance on mansplainers everywhere.
Instead, I round up some girlfriends and we spend too much money at a hipster bar, drinking rye Manhattans and eating tapas and talking about the latest crappy, non-gender-blind things that have happened to us in meetings and on business trips and at performance review time. They toast me for taking one for the team. And when we are good and numb we Uber home, thinking Look at all we’ve earned! That bar with the twinkly lights. That miniature food. This chauffeured black car. We are tough enough to put up with being ignored and interrupted and underestimated every day and laugh it off together. We’ve made it. This is the good life. Nothing needs to change.
Once she got sober, Coulter says, she had a lot less patience with sexism. While we’re asking why so many women are drinking more … maybe we should ask why so many women feel they need to be numb to get through life?
Just a thought.
Image Credit: Crissie Brown (BPICampus.com)
Good day and good nuts