“Ocean, n. A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man — who has no gills.” ― Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary
What a week, kittens. Work has been mental in my new role (pleasantly challenging…but still mental) and this week the apartment above us decided to spring a leak or twelve. To cut a long story short, we have water damage in almost every room of our house and multiple light fixtures disconnected from the electrical supply to avoid murdering us in our sleep. It’s been emotional and sleep deprived au chez Small Dog this week
This weekend I’m writing, cleaning up the mess from said aquatic shenanigans and catching up on work emails. I also intend to force myself to exercise, which will clash with my other intention to lounge and read. Here is your weekly batch of reading, let’s catch up in the comments!
On Wednesday the White House fixed on it’s retaliation policy or at least an attempt to shift the media narrative…by revoking the security clearances of a whole bunch of other people who are security experts and have been critical of the current administration, who are not Omarosa. Cool. That makes sense./s Reporters noted that the original statement on the revocation was dated to late July and when asked about it, the White House issued a new statement with the date removed. So either their comms team is ridiculous, or the administration has been sitting on this a while. Either way, the national bench team of experts who can be called up to assist in a national emergency, has now been reduced. I’m not even going to touch the question of whether or not Mr. Trumps sneering Twitter tirades towards his reality TV protégé are racist. His racism has been well documented for forty years, whether there is a tape of him using racial slurs or not. A Klan leader has endorsed him, white nationalists chant his name. What else do you people need?
Let’s talk more about masculinity! The Wayfarer YouTube channel did an interesting series on masculinity which I enjoyed watching and hope to similar media of more widely. Episode 1, 2, 3, and 4. (Creator and actor Justin Baldoni gave a good Ted Talk on this as well.)
X sent me this piece and felt surreal to read, almost as if I had stumbled across a sort of (much more brilliant and articulate) cultural mirror image. I haven’t been able to string together my thoughts on being a third culture kid who feels a bit adrift between Brexit Britain and Trump’s America….but clearly I don’t need to because this woman handles the conflict (or at least the writing of it) deftly.
“In the land of the ostriches, the blind are king. When politicians bury their head in the sand, ignorance rules the country. ― Erik Pevernagie
Darlings, another Friday is upon us! As usual I’ve put together a melting pot of news and pop culture for your weekend reading and am dropping it before anything else upends the news cycle. This has been an unexpectedly busy week for me and I am looking forward to the weekend. I have a weeklong series coming to you starting tomorrow which I hope you enjoy. It’s a bit of a new thing for me, so while I’m sure it will be flawed, I hope it will still be fun.
Share your favorite pop culture finds and weekend links with me in the comments!
Mr. Manafort’s trial kicked off this week, filled with ostrich leather jackets and sleazily moving money all over the world and all principles stealing from one another in the process. There are no heroes here.
As of Monday, this is the story and the timeline. Let’s see what happens this week as to whether it shifts…or falls out of the collective public consciousness. Whatever happens, it’s yet another narrative shift on this point and what’s already in the public domain is damning. Or would be if it weren’t 2018 and all of us in the upside down.
Another op ed that feels relevant. If you want people to stop flirting with socialism, you need to make capitalism more attractive as an option. We can argue theory until the cows come home, but people don’t turn on systems unless they feel that system has let them down in some way.
“Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.” ― H.L. Mencken
I read this piece from The Washington Post today and it made me genuinely wonder how this political moment and the personality of this president is going to be viewed, both in a few years and further down the line. George W. Bush has gone from being almost universally derided to being seen as a gentle sort of man who probably wanted to the do the right thing but was perhaps not equal to the task. This is an enormously flattering take, in my opinion, but it exists. Barack Obama is increasingly seen as a idealistic and probably personally good man who fell short of his own ideals and disappointed many. What are we going to make of Donald Trump with his frankly brilliant showmanship and his seething grievance, his apparent privilege and his ever present resentment of scrutiny and criticism? I then realized something that I’ve been struggling to put into words about Mr. Trump that finally clicked into place. That’s what defines so much of his behavior and statements since coming into office: a reaction to scrutiny.
Mr. Trump is strange because he catapulted from celebrity into public life (which are NOT the same thing, just ask the Royal Family). Celebrity is a space where personality is everything, selling your own narrative arc to the public in the great public theatre of pop culture is part of the job. In this world, your foibles and failings can be winked at if not treated as actual assets. Mr. Trump cultivated shamelessness as armor against criticism and leveraged it into a successful brand. The only thing that matters is your fandom, they are your social leverage and quite often your marketing.
Public life is different. Shame is one of the great levelers in it and is supposed to act as a policing measure, something we are now watching fail in real time as an administration (far from one person or personality) copes with several scandals in any given week which would have ground most previous administrations to a halt or broken them. Fans are not the same thing as allies and in this world you need the latter. And yet, in this world, the glare of attention does not just come with adoration or outrage, it comes with scrutiny. That seems to be what Mr. Trump didn’t really expect and which he is coping with extraordinarily badly.
On just a personality level he simple doesn’t seem capable (or indeed interested) in behaving with the reserve we have historically expected of our presidents and insists on emoting publicly. I’m personally wrestling with the idea that this is something I’ve been clamoring for in men and masculinity for a long time. If we are going to insist on space for different emotional displays in women than what has been historically acceptable and encouraged, we must do the same in men. Does the president of the United States have a right to be petty in public? Maybe he does. But like so many of the gender changes we are going through as a culture, this is such a rapid shift that we are having to grapple with the fallout of it in real time. Some of this fallout is an omnipresent attention on the president’s emotional state. He finds this unflattering and unfair, but in many ways it’s a self created problem. More on that in a moment.
On a higher level, how dare his business life be looked into? How dare the movements and actions of his children be front page news? How dare his motives be questioned or his rants on Twitter be evaluated as statements of policy? In other words, how dare we the public (especially the unfriendly public whose votes he didn’t win) scrutinize him?
He didn’t seem to realize that this is literally part of the job. This is what being a president is. It’s often one half of the country hating you, and everything you doing carrying weight. He seems love and crave the attention while resenting it at the same time. He enjoys the spotlight, but that same spotlight is shining into areas of his life and business that he probably thought (with good reason) might not see the light of day and he’d rather it not.
I’m fascinated by reporting that focuses on his businesses because having worked in similar industries, I know how often those industries (while absolutely following the letter of the law in most cases and doing nothing illegal in the slightest) can be vehicles for transactions and behavior that the vast majority of the population finds distasteful at the very least. The business world of the very wealthy is one of the great engines of capitalism, but there are also a lot of shades of gray around the edges. In its most extreme cases, there is an awful lot of white collar crime that goes on that is simply never paid attention or prosecuted. I would not be surprised if the Trump Organization participated in this, what reporting is out there indicates that this is at least possible if not likely. But this sort of crime and behavior is so rarely punished. We kind of wink at it as a society–which is a whole topic in and of itself. Had he never won the presidency, it’s entirely likely to me that Mr. Trump could have continued existing in this probable space as well as his celebrity space very comfortably and profitably for the rest of his career.
But the office brings scrutiny and that’s fundamentally different from publicity. For better or worse, the office is different from the man and no matter how hard he tries to combine the two (which it really seems as though he is trying to do, which is also a topic for another day because I think this has interesting potential to affect our politics as a nation permanently), holding this office means that the stakes have changed and certain people or groups are going to hold him accountable for things he has never been asked to answer for. His emotional state is a matter of national interest. His business relationships may have security implications. His bad behavior is suddenly not a brand consistent foible, it’s a liability.
It may very well turn out that the Trump Organization did nothing illegal or even unethical during the campaign, especially with foreign interference. They sure aren’t acting like it, but it’s possible. It’s also possible that it never occurred to key people that the meetings they were taking may have been dangerous and unethical–I genuinely wonder this. Again, none of these people with few exceptions had engaged in public life before. Celebrity yes, but not public service. They may simply have not realized what a massive conflict of interest it was to take meetings with certain actors, how unethical and in appropriate it would seem for the office. Ignorance doesn’t make them less responsible or mean they shouldn’t be held accountable, but as an explanation it too is possible.
When I say I think Mr. Trump is unfit for the job, this is a big part of what I mean. He didn’t seem to understand some of these implications about winning the office and as he learns the implications in real time, he throws temper tantrums in public that are damaging to the country’s ability to govern itself domestically and abroad. I happen to think he’s brought a lot of drama on himself by making the Mueller investigation about himself when ostensibly it’s about Russian interference in the election–especially as he insists that it’s a topic that has nothing to do with him personally. This would not be the clown circus it is if he had kept a tighter reign on his Twitter temper. In fact, he probably would be under a lot less scrutiny overall if he himself hadn’t insisted on making various claims publicly over the years–the size of his fortune, various relationships, and so on.
Donald Trump, and frankly a lot of American electorate, have badly confused politics and entertainment for years now. He’s the public face of this phenomenon and depending on how this scrutiny on him plays out, he may be the most public victim of it…or its first great success. Either way, he doesn’t seem to be enjoying the ride. I have a strange level of sympathy for him on this point alone: I really don’t believe that he really knew what he was getting into when he won; he did not want and is not prepared (or possibly emotional resilient enough) for this level of scrutiny. I guess no one in his life or team prepared him for this reality, and if they tried he clearly didn’t listen. There are no stakes if you’re just playing role, after all, and he’s built his whole public persona on role playing until it all suddenly became very real. I believe reporting which suggests that he was terrified of his first year in office and is now just sort of winging it.
Because I don’t think Mr. Trump ever really wanted to be president. He just wanted to play one on TV.
ETA later this same day, the President tweeted this, once again changing the official version of this story. More intelligent people than me have commented about this but I am baffled by what he chooses to be defensive about under scrutiny and what he chooses to just blurt out to the world. For some reason, probably going back to the idea of shame as a public policing mechanism, our system seems totally unable to hold him accountable to what he admits publicly. If this had leaked or been revealed a la Nixon, it would be a scandal in any other administration. I suspect this confessional style statement will have precisely zero effects.
Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!
“The lawyer with the briefcase can steal more money than the man with the gun.” ― Mario Puzo, The Godfather
What a week. Paul Manafort is on trial for financial fraud, Michael Cohen is dangling stories about other Trump associates to the media, Rudy Giuliani is shooting off at the mouth and revealing things that his client would probably prefer him not to reveal while trying to move the goalposts from “There was no collusions,” to “If there WERE collusions, would it really be that bad?” Meanwhile the president’s tweets have, ah, intensified. A reminder for everyone, whatever your political persuasions or opinions on the several scandals involved in this story: every single one of these main actors has proved themselves to be an unreliable narrator.
On to the links, kittens, I have a cracking round up for you with only the socially acceptable amount of cynicism! And once again, I’m dropping this early because goodness knows what else is going to land and this thing is over 1,000 words already. There’s a lot going on.
Reminder: the stock market is not the economy and there is a case to be made that it’s stronger and bigger at the moment, at the expense of things like wage increases. There is a LOT of money in the world, and it is concentrated in surprisingly few hands.
Let’s talk about a couple of gun stories this past week. I’m very liberal, but believe it or not, I’m not anti-gun. I am virulently anti the ways in which the second amendment has been weaponized (pun very much intended) to change the nature of our public discourse and therefore our society. I believe firmly that interested parties have weaponized (again, intentional) fear to line their own pockets and build political power, and I also believe that norms about who can or should be armed are clearly tinged with racist, sexist, and class overtones. There are more guns than actual people in the United States, while less than a third of citizens actually own them. Finally, I believe we should not be able to print them.
We need to talk about this, because crimes like this should make us as a society reevaluate ourselves.
Lock him up. He assaults women and destablizes governments. I’m not interested in allowing him to escape the consequences of his actions.
Speaking of, one of the most powerful figures in the US Catholic hierarchy resigned this week. GOOD.
Theresa May’s Impossible Choice. In some ways I have a lot of sympathy for Ms. May while still not liking her very much. She did not seem to want the job of prime minister, she was left with a hot potato after others of her party literally fled from government after the Brexit vote, and she doesn’t have enough of a consensus nationally (to say nothing of within her own party) to take any action that won’t likely end her political career. I don’t agree with her politics at all, but from time to time, I get a strange and temporary twinge of emotion around her.
I’m well over the various sleaze scandals of the administration (in as far as we’re dealing with consensual sleaze), and more interested in following some of the implications of new fiscal policy to their logical conclusions. At the end of the day, the current administration’s political support comes from an alliance of very wealthy people who want to hold on to more of their wealth through changes in tax law and removing restrictions to corporations, and working class people to whom the president promised a populist message of government care on issues like healthcare and stoking grievances for fun. A Washington Post reporter summed it up as, “Trump is the embodiment of the culture-wars-for-the-poor, tax-cuts-for-the-rich approach to politics.”
“After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working.” ― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
Guys, it’s my last officially day of holiday (weekends are just lovely bonuses) so I’m dropping the links post early. I’m spending the day reading, writing, and generally goofing off.
My second week of holiday did not include a glamorous vacation, but it DID include fantastic calls and chats with friends, some insanely good vintage shopping, a bit of a health reset, and general errand running. It’s been a very good break. Let’s catch up on the week that was together, shall we?
Even by 2018 standards, this week’s political news was nuts. In one week, President Trump destabalized the NATO alliance, trashed and undermined a key ally, legitimized and supported an adversarial leader, and disputed the analysis of his entire intelligence community on the world stage. The statements at the joint press conference in Helsinki were so bad that his team had to spend a day in the Situation Room to develop a media clean up operation and the best they could come up with was the claim that the president misspoke…a claim which he managed to bungle further by ad libbing statements that basically mirrored the ones that got him in hot water in the first place.
The July 17th episode of The Weeds is fairly measured and thoughtful discussion on the wider situation with the President and Russia, and what the actual range of potential issues are ranging from outright kompromat to the (far more probably and likely) that both parties have kind of ended up in this situation through a years’ long series of events and relationships that neither party dreamed would end up where it has.
Out of curiosity, how dumb does does the White House think the rest of the world is? It is absurd to say that the president misspoke one word in one line and take that explanation at face value, when he’s been parroting the same lines for years at rallies, in interviews, at (rare) press conferences, and across his Twitter feed. Here, the NPR Politics desk breaks this story down.
Finally, the New York Times published a pretty amazing article claiming that the president was briefed on the intricacies of the Russian operation to spread disinformation well before his inauguration, and also claiming information from sources connected to the Russian president himself. Which makes Mr. Trump’s continued muddying even stranger and frankly suspect. Here’s the thing, since the beginning of this investigation, I haven’t thought it likely that Mr. Trump ordered “collusion” or cooperation with foreign governments during the election (I believe his business ties to Russian oligarchs are of far more interest and a potential source of opinion influsence). I think it’s far more likely that people around him may have done so more blatantly, the question being was Mr. Trump aware of it and to what extent. But he certainly makes things worse for himself at almost every turn. He’s made the Mueller investigation personal when its remit is Russian interference in the election and not Mr. Trump; if he stopped tweeting about it, it wouldn’t get nearly as much airtime. He goes on stage and flatters the dictator who his own intelligence community says is waging information warfare. He flounders his own half-hearted corrections. He has connected the idea of his presidency being legitimate to Russian interference. He’s a walking self created crisis.
I am very curious to follow this pilot project, as there is very interesting research about there about the positives and negatives about this concept. It’s one I support in theory but want some real world evidence on.
A deep dive into the decision by the Obama administration to not make a bigger deal, either internally or internationally, of presumed election interference. Interesting that they use the same excuse as Mr. Comey: the best of the bad options. In both instances, I’m not sure I agree.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” ― Augustine of Hippo
We’re back from Prague and what a joy it was to have a break from the news…but what a week it was. Between threatening the NATO alliance, praising the NATO alliance, trashing the British Prime Minister in an exclusive interview to a tabloid, being unwilling to answer questions about that interview when he visited the PM’s house the next day and walking back his statements, and messing up protocol when visiting the Queen….President Trump…honestly, he met my expectations. All of this bullshit and nonsense is absolutely par for the course. Can you image Prime Minister May touching down in the US and criticizing the President’s trade war with China from a podium in the Rose Garden, while opining that Speaker Ryan (or for the sake of argument, Secretary Clinton) really would have been a preferable president? No, because that would be INSANE.
The curve this man is graded on continues to astound me. I take refuge in the protests to confirm that not everyone is letting him get away with it.
Meanwhile we have a Supreme Court nomination who cut his teeth in the Ken Starr investigations and has some interesting ideas about how presidents can or cannot be held legally accountable while in office, former FBI agent Peter Strzok gave the most full throated rebuttal of the Deep State conspiracy theorist trash of anyone actually in or formerly in the government (which is sad and which I think is part of the reason that the oversight committee has not, at least at time of writing, asked the other party in the Sexting Scandal Lisa Page to testify publicly), and the Mueller investigation just handed down more indictments and have now formally laid out specifically how the Russian government took action to attempt to affect the 2016 elections (the documents are worth reading). And finally, the president once again used racist and enthno-nationalist dog whistles throughout.
I appreciate the gesture, but there are also a lot of much more recent killings of black men and women who deserve additional resources and attention. This murder was a landmark event in American society and is one of the sparks of the organized Civil Rights movement and deserves an ending…but so do many more ordinary men and women. Black Lives Matter turns five this week, by the way.
Yes, I definitely struggle with this concept more than I should or want to.
“The erosion of the division between public and private has been coming for a while now.” If you’ve been following the gross “Planebae” story and it’s aftermath, this piece is required reading about the scary new reality where everyone, everywhere is a public figure now, and what the consequences of that may be.
To say that I’m crushing on Alex Ohanian and Gareth Southgate of late would be colossal understatements. Positive masculinity role models for all!
Got on Jubilee Line. Sat down. Doors close. Frantic banging on window. Manic dad with cute daughter. Look at empty seat. Find bunny. Very cute bunny. Train moves. Get off at next stop and hope dad is logical. Next train arrives. Dad, daughter and bunny reunited. Joy. pic.twitter.com/mgxWdD1LcJ
“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
What another week of news, and once again I can’t keep up–but we’ll do our best to recap along the way. We are past the Fourth of July and therefore officially into summer. I have switched to my “summer” sunglasses (aviators), purchased a linen shirt (which I duly report back on in my next shopping update), and all my drinks are iced. Consider me ready for the season.
I’ve put together a list of (mostly) poppy and fun links for your reading pleasure and I’m going to try and get a few additional posts together because I am officially on holiday! Jeff and I are going off to explore a new city neither one of us have been too, and I am going to do my best to try and unplug from work. Historically, I am TERRIBLE at this. (It doesn’t help that there’s an awful lot going on, a new contract to move into, and annual budget season to contend with…and shut up, C., you’re not helping yourself!)
Filing this under things I didn’t realize weren’t already federal crimes.
This piece from Slate hit me so hard this week that it actually took a full day to process. This passage deserves a block quote:
I am sad, above all, because the damage being done now no longer feels like it can be stemmed—let alone reversed—with a single election. This will last decades. The downturns my generation has already weathered—the 2008 crisis that hinged on obscure derivatives traded by a privileged few, robbing wealth from millions—were only the beginning. Education is now a luxury. Pensions barely exist. Health care is under threat. Retirement is, to those my age, a cruel joke. We’ve been waiting. For recovery, for relief, for some semblance of an American dream we can access.
It is clear, now, that there was nothing to wait for. In the time we’ve been waiting, the rich have only gotten richer and angrier and whiter, but it will never be enough for them. The good-faith ideological battle some thought right and left were waging turned out to be no such thing: Modern conservativism was never about small government. Or personal liberty—for women and people of color, anyway. It wasn’t about fiscal responsibility: The GOP passed a tax plan that has blown up our national debt, which is projected to reach 78 percent of America’s GDP by the end of this year, the highest it’s been since 1950. And Republicans are still not happy. They will pretend that this crisis they created will require “sacrifices,” gutting services poor Americans desperately need, like health care. The poor and disadvantaged will die.
Meanwhile, those in power will celebrate how much they deserve their wealth and how little anyone else deserves.
Finally, there are still children separated from their parents. You can donate to RAICES, KIND, and the ACLU to help.