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Friday, January 20, 2017

On Effective Opposition



I have seen eleven American presidents come and go, and today arrived the twelfth.


My views are saturnine. Of my far-flung friends, those keen for the House of Orange are proving even more so. I find that odd. They have got what they wanted, and they are still angry. Still they insult others with old Hillary Clinton slurs and vulgarities. They traduce President Obama with memes almost a decade old. Yet they are still angry. They are bad winners.


But today, the shelves got cleared. No longer can they indulge their counterfactuals and fantasies of ruinations they know are yet to come because they have never occurred.

President Obama is gone, and everyone still has his guns. The sheer idiocy of that claim ought to give the Electoral College fanboys pause before they jabber afresh in the dawn of The New Age.


The Clintons, vanquished, have retreated to Chappaqua with all their accumulated baggage.


Still, the victors grouse.


I have, for some time, predicted Mr Trump will go the way of the late President Nixon, another man of great, even singular intelligence whose demons warred with the better angels of his nature until they at last won, and destroyed him. Nixon, too, was a bearer of old grudges and settler of old scores.

We have seen Mr Trump composing his enemies list on Twitter for a year and a half. He personally attacks those who displease him, relentlessly and daily. Nixon was a keen backchannel player of Crazy Man. He loved making other leaders think he might go off the rails and let fly the nukes, betting the other side would back down.


The Decades television channel has been broadcasting all the extant film and video of presidential inaugurations. I was reminded, last night, how the mood of the victors in 2016 mirrors that of the winners in 1972.


After one of the largest wins in history, Mr Nixon spent the November-January period clearing out the upper ranks of the administration to make way for a coterie of advisors in The White House who would ride herd on cabinet agencies. There was no celebration; just a purge.


There was no joy in the air as the second Nixon term began, 44 years ago today, just mutterings of payback yet to come, and making sure a crushed liberal opposition stayed crushed.


Nixon’s second inaugural address was a flat, cheerless affair. Nixon the world strategist gave a bracing tour d’horizon of a new age of Metternichian pragmatism; Nixon the gutter pol lectured the nation on responsibility, respect, and the abhorrence of dissent.


Mr Trump’s speech I have not heard or read, but it is not hard to set the bar low when awaiting the pronouncements of a man with over two dozen ghost-written books to his credit, in a ceremony his advisors say has been crafted to convey an image of “warm sensuality” even as it emerges he wants lots of Soviet/North Korean-style military parades in Washington. Having ridden a vast army of run-on sentences and word salads that left even Mrs Palin gasping, into office, the new president seems content to bloviate his way forward, taking weekends off, and leaving the actual task of governing to the Republican Party.


All the Republicans who denounced Mr Trump as not a Republican are right: he isn’t. But they believe, the anti-establishment establishment they constitute in Congress, they are smarter than Mr Trump. He is a tiger they can ride.


For a year and a half they veered between terror that he might actually give voters the keys to their gerrymandered, vote-proof districts, and moments of smug confidence that however trying he may be, they can survive him, and get him to sign whatever they send him with a presidential Sharpie and the hashtag #MAGA.


As Churchill said of the Germans- “always either at your throat or at your feet”- the Republicans who schemed and plotted and denounced have all fallen into line. The party mandarins have all done the Trump Tower lobby walk of shame, reduced to the same level as Kanye West and Anna Wintour.


The emasculation of party leaders brings to mind Garry Trudeau's infamous Doonesbury jab that the first President Bush had put his manhood in a blind trust for his term in The White House. Surely no better demonstration of the supinity of the GOP can be cited than that of their 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney. After the most public- and prolonged- of humiliations, the Severe Conservative is at home with his binders and car elevator, and his niece has been sent by Mr Trump to chair the Republican National Committee as his enforcer.


Now they are all on board, the Republicans. It is a truly meretricious relationship. Republicans have an endless list of punitive measures to prove they are the party of idea after all, and they will trade red meat tossed out to Mr Trump’s supporters- in the form of an fast-track of bills passed- for his signature.

They will indulge his extra-constitutional whimsies because things will have to get pretty damned awful before he puts them at electoral risk, and they will confirm his cabinet of grifters, zanies and mountebanks because those are the sorts of people who will cheerfully carry out congressional demands for purges and profiteering.


Just what they will do, I cannot predict. Unlike so many social media chatterati, I am not clairvoyant. But we will all know soon.


On Monday, when Mr Trump shows up for work, executive orders will begin to issue in a profusion, but they will be good orders, even great ones, and bills will start being ground through the sausage mangler.

I am content to wait and see what they do before getting worked up. There will be plenty of targets, and they will be specific. Ideas have consequences, Richard Weaver- a darling of the Old South Right- used to say, and we will, at last, be past the bromides and soundbites and malapropisms and things that don’t matter because they aren’t in Mr Trump’s heart, just his bilious mouth. We will see his lieutenants imposing the short sharp shock of unexpected consequences.


And in that new, 3-D world, it will not be as easy to steamroller things as either Mr Trump’s more shrill supporters proclaim and his opponents hear. But he will have a good ride into the summer


His lobbyist reforms already swiss-cheesed on K Street, Mr Trump will find hundreds of $500-and-hour influence peddlers- most of them former colleagues of the Republicans in Congress- flood the field way more effectively that the President’s Twitterbullying of corporations. The Koch Brothers have not kissed the ring.


Those 190 other nations of whom the President thinks so little will begin to act in response, and, annoyingly, in opposition. Mr Trump may used them as foils for a good long ride. Like Madonna, he will have to up the ante of his acting out regularly to not seem passe’.  

This will please his base. But what will displease them in a New York Values Minute is when they discover his most audaciously-proclaimed punishments have been traded away for what he alone knows is A Great Deal.


There is a four-year campaign ahead, and the early rounds will go to the Republican Borg. They are not legislating for the people. They are pandering to their slavering base, who, were they better read, would agree with the late Gore Vidal that in life, it is not enough to succeed. “Others must fail.”


Republicans have become a parliamentary party. They believe that if they win a majority, they can do as they want and it is legal because their largely-choice deprived voters keep sending them back. That makes it all legal; expediency clothed in a long white gown.


Most of us will continue as foot soldiers on the Social Media Front. There are things we should all strive to do to up our game.


  1. Be better informed than our antagonists. This is not hard. It begins with not being stupid. Stop being a slacktivist, arguing over year-old stories that are no longer relevant because you were too lazy to click past the headline and see what actual facts were.
  2. Don’t waste time on endless chatroom arguments. Trolls will sit there forever, amping up the spiral of insult-trading as fast as the little red-notification icons come on. They want push-back that feeds their claims that they are victims, and you are an intolerant liberal snowflake. Nothing frustrates them so like not getting their way, so they are apt to sit there as long as it takes to call the last slur, and get the last word. Read what they say, and think on it before answering.  When you do, ask for links so you can learn more about what they say. They generally won’t give any because they are just slinging mud at the wall. I always post “I invite Mr _______ to link us to the evidence that Senator Elizabeth Warren is a thief and a liar who has sex with chinchillas.” Sometimes they will start calling names. You’ve won that set; now move on.
  3. Repeal Godwin's Law from your mind. They live for the Nazi thing. It gives them license to let slip their inner vulgarians, because they are doing it for God the Father, God the Son and God the Republican.
  4. Don’t feel like you need to even engage with them at length. Lots of times one fact-based post will do. Drop it in and move on. That just leaves them sitting at their terminal, drooling. Find another place that can benefit from a meme-less, logical-fallacy-free POV.
  5. If a regular troll afflicts your enjoyment of a friend’s discussion threads, just block him. It usually doesn’t take long to see who is never going to budge an inch past her own Tourette-style barking. Why waste time on them?
  6. Look for the logical and factual weaknesses in an opponent’s post. Here’s an example: a troll of mine who likes to claim gays are equal to him in every way but law (he even has gay people he talks to), got overcaffeinated one night lumped me in with what he called lies and libels of the Human Rights Campaign, saying we were all calling all conservatives haters. I invited him- keeping in mind that libel runs both ways, to show me his evidence- in the public forum that is Facebook-  that I have ever been associated with HRC and that I have ever posted anything in my life calling him bigot or a hater. That was the end of that. He apologized. I accepted and suggested he read the Facebook Community Standards, as the next time he got that loose with his lips I’d be swearing out a warrant for him at Facebook Jail.
  7. Here’s a second example. My antagonist from #5, above, likes to argue, when his “I accept the gays as equals” line gets painted into a corner with his support of HB2, that HB2 is a bad law passed in haste because the uppity gays and City Council in Charlotte forced the General Assembly to pass it. Now eleven Republican legislatures are working on HB2 copies without anyone having done anything to force them to act. “Can you explain what justifies those laws?” I ask as I forward him the links. He’s been working, silently, on that one for a month. I didn’t call him a doofus, I just asked questions I know he will not have answers to, and as he sees the Likes stack up on my questions, he knows whose manhood is in a blind trust now.
  8. Always, always, open with reminding trolls their side won. They have the run of the Pottery Barn store now What they break, they own.


As Mrs Obama reminds us, “When they go low, we go high.” It’s not as gratifying to your lower brain stem, but it works better in the long haul. Drawing them out will lead the cocky ones to overplay their hand. Twenty years ago, I was on the board of a bar association considering a rule to bar lawyers from discriminating against litigants, lawyers, judges and jurors over sexual orientation.


The rule engendered ferocious opposition. Insurance company lawyers, for example, moaned that they wouldn't be able to force lowball settlements by dangling the prospect of being outed before claimants. Trial lawyers wanted to disqualify gay and lesbian judges who, as everyone knew, would side with with their own.


Traveling about the state, we’d lunch with local lawyers to hear what was on their minds. I’d be at a table with seven or eight, and on the rare times one of them didn’t bring up the rule, I’d ask for their thoughts.


The responses always started out vague and high-minded. I asked questions to get them to elaborate, to make it clearer to me. Once they sensed they had an audience who wasn’t going to dismiss them out of hand, they tended to warm to their themes. Once we’d reached general agreement among the locals that queers really weren’t real people, much less equals under law, I’d thank them for their insights and clarity, and then ask, “Oh, one more question: did you know I’m one, too?”


And there they’d be, stuck at the table with me for the rest of lunch and the program to follow. I Always insisted on shaking all their hands as the meetings ended.


Be smart. Be strategic. Be persistent. Be better informed. Just be better. Nothing annoys them so much, and in the long haul, it works. Winston Churchill spent the 1930s taxing his own party’s government over its laxity in defense matters and appeasement of enemies on the rise. They exiled him from office; they insulted and abused him mercilessly.


Churchill stuck to his guns, and his facts, and the Hinge of Fate closed on the appeasers just as he predicted. And when Britain’s back was against the wall, people remembered his had been the lone voice of reason. Out went the appeasers, in came Churchill to lead his people to their salvation.


Our day will come. In the meantime, we chip away, we damage, we undermine. And one day the edifice will, quite suddenly, fall.

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