Stand by your monster

“Check it out,” Victor Cortez said, changing channels on the old Zenith I’d pulled out of a trash dump for Swamp Rabbit. The subject on MSNBC was the impeachment hearings. Same thing on CNN. But the big story on Fox News was “Kanye West spreading his message of faith” and — this might have been fake news — selling $55 pancakes at a breakfast event.

Victor’s point was that Fox would rather show anything but a bad-news story about Trump. And when there are bad-news stories they have to cover — the actual hearings, for example, which started Wednesday — they will ignore the facts and pretend they’re good-news stories.

“But even Fox has shown a few cracks,” Victor said later in the week, after acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor testified on the first day of the hearings and Fox News host Chris Wallace called Taylor “a very impressive witness and… very damaging to the president.”

The hardcore Trump suck-ups — Hannity, Carlson, Ingraham, and so on — would follow Trump all the way to the Führerbunker, Victor explained, but actual reporters at Fox News with a shred of credibility are hedging their bets regarding Trump’s long-term political health.

“Not so with them Republicans in Congress,” said Swamp Rabbit, who had just arrived at my shack for his weekly appointment with Victor, his parole officer. “Trump got on the phone with Zelensky and said sure, you’ll get that military aid, but I want you to do something for me, meaning get dirt on Biden. That’s an impeachable offense, plain as day, unless you’re a Republican.”

“But Republicans are saying there was no explicit quid pro quo,” I said. “Trump didn’t explicitly say ‘You won’t get the aid unless you deliver dirt on Biden.'”

“It don’t matter,” Swamp Rabbit replied. “You don’t have to spell out the quid pro quo. All you gotta do is conduct it. If I’m holding your swamp cat and say ‘I’ll give your cat back to you but first I want you to do me a favor,’ then I’m abusing my power and breaking the law.”

I reminded Swamp Rabbit that Trump’s toadies — people like Lindsey Graham and Nikki Haley — know he’s the lowest of the low, a guy who has cheated big banks and small business owners, robbed his own charities, betrayed foreign allies, taken kids from their parents and jailed them, and worse. They don’t care; they’re afraid he will denounce them to his base, that vast horde of lost souls who’d be happy if he made himself president for life.

“But that don’t make no sense,” the rabbit said. “They’re propping up a monster. Don’t they care what history is gonna think of them?”

All three of us laughed at that one. “Does Trump care about history?” I said. “Does his brother, Kanye West?”

A wall can’t keep the future out

“So you’re telling me part of the multibillion-dollar wall Trump is having built on the Mexican border can be breached with a hundred-dollar saw? You’re not making this up?”

Swamp Rabbit wasn’t making it up. He was reading from a news article he’d called up on my laptop:

…When fitted with specialized blades, the saws can slice through one of the barrier’s steel-and-concrete bollards in minutes, according to [border] agents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the barrier-defeating techniques. After cutting through the base of a single bollard, smugglers can push the steel out of the way, creating an adult-size gap. Because the bollards are so tall — and are attached only to a panel at the top — their length makes them easier to push aside once they have been cut and are left dangling…

Swamp Rabbit’s parole office, Victor Cortez, interrupted to vouch for the story’s accuracy. “I’ve got one of those reciprocating saws,” he said. “With the right blades it will cut through anything.”

I don’t believe you,” I said. “That reporter is tripping.”

“Just because you can’t drive a nail don’t mean some saw can’t cut through steel,” Swamp Rabbit replied.

I asked why the U.S. Border Patrol didn’t build a regular old brick wall. The rabbit said it was because they thought the concrete and steel bollard system was the best design they could afford.

“They can peek through the bollards — poles is what they are — and see them pesky refugees coming,” he explained. “And they can fix the poles that get wrecked if the refugees are too fast for them and sneak through.”

I persisted, just for the sake of argument. Didn’t Trump say the new wall would be “virtually impenetrable?” Didn’t he assure all those good old boys in the MAGA hats that he would save them from the marauding rapists he warned about?

“The Mexicans were gonna pay for the wall, too,” Swamp Rabbit noted. “If Trump said it, you can bet it ain’t true.”

Footnote: The refugees or aliens or whatever you want to call them are using ladders as well as saws to get past the wall. Who would have thought?

The ‘biggest’ impeachment ever?

Swamp Rabbit’s parole officer Victor Cortez dropped by a few days ago and jabbered about current events. He was upset because Donald Trump had claimed that the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by U.S. forces was a great triumph for Donald Trump.

“Trump gave final approval for the raid,” I said to Victor. “Doesn’t that count for something?”

“Not really,” he replied, noting that Trump had nothing to do with the planning of the al-Baghdadi hit. If anything, he jeopardized the impending operation when he let Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan talk him into a withdrawal of American troops from Northern Syria and a betrayal of the Kurds who had done most of the fighting against ISIS.

Then he dashed his chance to look presidential, Victor said, by lying about the circumstances of al-Baghdadi’s death (“[He] died like a dog. He died like a coward.”) and by claiming the al-Baghdadi hit was the “biggest” ever, more significant than the killing of bin Laden.

I wondered aloud if Trump and his flunkies would spin his ongoing impeachment saga with the same vigor they brought to the al-Baghdadi story. Trump could justifiably boast “This will be the biggest impeachment ever. Clinton didn’t come close to being convicted. Nixon didn’t even hang around long enough to be impeached.”

At that moment Swamp Rabbit emerged from the swamp and approached my shack for his weekly check-in with Victor. “Trump ain’t gonna get convicted by the Senate,” he predicted. “But I’m looking forward to him losing the election then getting hit with criminal charges.”

“He could spin that, too,” I said. “He could say he’s the biggest American politician to ever face criminal charges after leaving office.”

“Damn right,” Swamp Rabbit replied. “Then after he gets convicted and tossed in the slammer he could say ‘I’m the biggest federal inmate ever, bigger than Al Capone. They treat me like a king in here. My cellmates have to settle for ratburgers, but I get Big Macs.”

I said, “Big Macs in jail? That’s far-fetched, rabbit.”

“The idea of Trump getting elected in 2016 was far-fetched, too,” he replied. “Look how that turned out.”

Half-cocked and loaded

We were talking about Trump and Twitter. Swamp Rabbit noted that making threats is a dangerous habit for a president who has no self-control and isn’t on good terms with the English language. “Take a look at these here tweets,” he said.

The first tweet was from June:

“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights [sic] when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. — Donald Trump, June 21

The second was from last week:

Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed! — Donald Trump, Sept. 15

“So is he cocked and loaded or locked and loaded,” Swamp Rabbit asked. “What’s the difference? Is this porn movie talk?”

I did some research. It looks like Trump was thinking of handguns in old Western movies when he said “cocked and loaded,” which refers to pulling back the hammer of a revolver so that it will discharge a bullet faster when you press the trigger. Someone must have told him that the more contemporary term is “locked and loaded,” which can refer to locking a magazine in place on an AR-15-type assault rifle, the weapon of choice for Trump fans who try to kill as many people as possible in crowded public places.

“The problem is that Trump is talking about missiles, not rifles,” I said. “Missiles could start World War III.”

“True dat,” Swamp Rabbit replied. “On the other hand, he’s a punk at heart. He does most of his dirty work through them toadies he hires and fires. He won’t start no shooting war.”

Never assume, I told him. What if another jackass like John Bolton starts pushing Trump’s buttons? And what happens when he can no longer wangle his way out of facing criminal charges, or if the polls say he can’t get re-elected?

“He might go off half-cocked,” I concluded.

Swamp Rabbit wanted to know what “half-cocked” meant. I opened the online dictionary and showed him that going off half-cocked means rushing to get something done without considering the possible consequences.

“It’s like shooting a musket after you forget to pull the hammer all the way back,” I explained. “The musket might go off in your face.”

Swamp Rabbit, obviously tired of the subject, signaled for me to shut up. He said, “I still think Trump picked up them phrases from a porn movie.”

Out with the old kook, in with the new

“John Bolton’s ouster makes the world safer,” according to a headline in The Nation, but the analysis that followed was unpersuasive. Yes, the loony chickenhawk is gone but not his boss, who has launched a misguided trade war against China, trashed the nuclear deal with Iran, threatened to nuke North Korea, and encouraged Boris Johnson to destabilize the EU and destroy what’s left of the United Kingdom. How is the world safer?

“Why do you read that crap?” said Swamp Rabbit, who was looking over my shoulder at the story. “Why don’t you feed the cats, or pull up them weeds over there by the tomato patch?”

I told him it’s important to follow the mainstream news analysts. They usually reach the wrong conclusions from the facts they gather, but careful readers can use the same facts to piece together conclusions that make more sense.

“I’m gonna piece together some lunch from that pork roll I swiped at the SuperFridge today,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Stop by my shack if you want a sandwich.”

I told him no thanks, I had some Triscuits, I was reading up on who might be chosen to replace Bolton. Politico said Trump was looking at more than a dozen “generally conservative” candidates, some of whom have ties to Bolton or Fox News or the George W. Bush administration. The pick will be a “yes person,” according to an insider quoted in the article.

But we already knew all that, didn’t we? We knew the new national security adviser is likely to be as despicable as Bolton (one of the liars who helped start the disastrous war in Iraq by falsely claiming Saddam had WMD) though possibly not as overtly kooky. That he or she will be an ass-kissing neocon who will obey all orders from Trump, no matter how stupid or vile.

In the end it won’t matter who’s chosen. No one Trump hires could possibly be any more impulsive or vindictive than he is, and he has the final say on policy. The world will be no more or less safe.

I should have waded over to Swamp Rabbit’s place for that sandwich.

Footnote: Imagine a just world in which government officials and their toadies are held responsible for their roles in debacles like Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya, where hundreds of thousands of people died for nothing and trillions of dollars were wasted. All the Boltons would have been banished years ago. A lot of them would be in jail.

One step forward, ten steps back

Swamp Rabbit and I were wondering why some people still think progress is inevitable despite evidence that it’s being blocked on all fronts by the sociopath in the White House and his Republican enablers. A case in point:

The Trump administration is rolling back requirements for new, energy-efficient light bulbs. The Energy Department announced the move on Wednesday, withdrawing standards that were to be put in place to make commonly used bulbs more efficient… Critics of the reversal say it will mean higher energy bills and more pollution. “The rollback will eliminate energy-efficient standards for light bulbs that were slated to take effect in January that would save consumers billions of dollars and reduce millions of tons of climate change carbon dioxide emissions,” says Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.

“I don’t get it,” Swamp Rabbit said, staring out at the swamp from my front porch. “Why’s Trump want to bring back them old bulbs that burn out fast?”

“Nostalgia,” I replied. “He misses lead paint and coal-powered trains and leaded gas for cars and asbestos-contaminated buildings. He hates wind turbines and solar panels, women, immigrants, animals, affordable health care, gun control. He wants to save plastic straws and bring back goose-stepping.”

Swamp Rabbit glared at me. “Don’t be cute, Odd Man. What’s the real reason?”

I shrugged. “It’s hard to tell with sociopaths. Maybe lobbyists for the old light bulb companies got to him. He’s against regulating methane emissions, too. He killed the Clean Power Plan. He’s obsessed with reversing Obama’s policies. We talked about that, remember?”

Swamp Rabbit was playing the pessimist today. “Talk is cheap,” he said. “The peeps care about today, not tomorrow. We ain’t making no progress.”

“Progress is all about stops and starts,” I told him. “Two steps forward, one step back. Or one forward and two back. Thesis and antithesis.”

The rabbit leaned over and spit into the swamp. “I don’t go in much for that Hegelian shit. If we don’t stop moving backwards soon, there ain’t gonna be no time left to move forwards.”

Dissing Mother Nature and other ‘nasty’ women

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen hurt Donald Trump’s little feelings this week when she told him Greenland wasn’t for sale. Trump called her “nasty,” his favorite word for women he can’t bully, and canceled a state visit to Iceland.

Even The New York Times was befuddled: “Is this real life? Or a Peter Sellers movie?”

Also in the news this week was the fact that the ice in Iceland is “leaving” due to man-made global warming, a concept Trump and his fellow troglodytes scoff at.

Greenland is melting, too,” my friend Swamp Rabbit noted. “It lost eleven billion tons of surface ice the other day on account of that heat wave from Europe.”

Swamp Rabbit was in tears because he hadn’t been able to scrape together enough money to fly to Iceland to attend a funeral service for the first glacier it has lost to climate change. There will be many others.

Meanwhile in the other hemisphere, in Sao Paulo, it was nighttime at 3 pm, largely because of a giant overhead plume of smoke caused by fires in the Amazon rainforest, an irreplaceable resource that sucks up carbon dioxide and produces 20 percent of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere. These and many other fires down there have been linked to “deforestation efforts” by Brazil’s Trumpian president, Jair Bolsonaro. Such efforts are helping to accelerate the pace of climate change.

I reminded the rabbit that our environmental crisis is also political crisis. That dictator types and their oligarch friends, rather than caring about the future, are fixated on things like buying unspoiled Arctic land to dig for fossil fuels and rare minerals, and burning rainforests to make way for cattle-grazing.

“I don’t get it,” I confessed. “These greedy old guys will all be dead in a few years. Why don’t they just let the world be instead of working to ruin it?”

“Ain’t no way to know,” Swamp Rabbit said. “But I’m guessin’ Trump would find a way to blame all them women who were nasty to him.”

The endangered includes humans, too

Rick Wilson’s book Everything Trump Touches Dies came to mind yesterday when I read that the Endangered Species Act is in danger:

New rules will allow the administration to reduce the amount of habitat set aside for wildlife and remove tools that officials use to predict future harm to species as a result of climate change. It would also reveal for the first time in the law’s 45-year history the financial costs of protecting them. The long-anticipated changes, jointly announced by the Interior and Commerce departments, were undertaken as part of President Trump’s mandate to scale back government regulations on corporations, including the oil and gas industry, that want to drill on protected land.

I wondered again about our ongoing emergencies. I’m sure I’ve already asked, but who would have thought a few years ago that a festering heap of fast-food garbage named Donald Trump would somehow parlay his incompetence into a successful run for the most powerful job in the world?

“Ain’t no point to that question,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Might as well ask why mudslides and earthquakes happen.”

I tried to think of a character in literature like Trump, a minor sociopath who somehow rises to the top and tries to remake the world in his own foul image.

“What about that dude in Lord of the Rings?” Swamp Rabbit said. “The evil wizard who chops down all the trees and fouls up the water and builds a factory to breed an army of monsters? Saruman, his name was.”

“No way,” I replied. “Saruman was a good guy until he got depressed and started thinking that what’s rotten in the world is stronger than what’s good. Trump was always on the rotten side. He was born rotten.”

I reminded the rabbit that the Endangered Species Act helped save the bald eagle, the grizzly bear and other species when they had been all but wiped out, and that Trump’s rule revisions are a big blow to people who are working to keep the ecosystem from collapsing.

“What about Sauron, the actual lord of them rings?” Swamp Rabbit said. “He was always tempting peeps to switch to the dark side. He’s the dude who flipped Saruman.”

I shook my head. “Sauron is like Satan. He lives in the Dark Tower and has an all-seeing eye. Trump can’t see past the tacky gold trim in his New York penthouse.”

Swamp Rabbit scowled. “You sound like all them other peeps who thought Trump was a joke. Ain’t none of them laughin’ now.”

Footnote: I’d recommend Elizabeth Kolbert’s book The Sixth Extinction, but it might mess up your mind. You might end up like Saruman.

Oh, Baltimore!

I was trying to convince Swamp Rabbit that there was nothing new about Donald Trump’s style of racism, that Randy Newman had sung about it long before Trump became president.

I told him that Republican Richard Nixon, running for president in 1968, wooed Southern white Democratic voters by stoking their anger regarding desegregation laws. And that Alabama Governor George Wallace, running as a third-party candidate that year, also reached out to Democrats, and ultimately helped get Nixon elected.

And that Lester Maddox of Georgia, another segregationist governor, walked off the set of the Dick Cavett Show in 1970 when Cavett refused to apologize for implying that some of Maddox’s constituents were racists.

And that all these events influenced singer/songwriter Newman, whose 1974 album Good Old Boys, addressed America’s enduring racial divide in ruefully funny songs like “Rednecks,” told from the point of view of a Southern bigot who understands that the North has been no kinder to black people than the South:

Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show/With some smart-ass New York Jew/ and the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox/And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too/Well he may be a fool but he’s our fool/If they think they’re better than him they’re wrong/So I went to the park, and I took some paper along/And that’s where I made this song…

And I told Swamp Rabbit that Newman, in 1977, released an album that included “Baltimore,” a song about a big city on the skids (Oh Baltimore! Man, it’s hard just to live) that could have been written last week.

And that the blowhard Trump, ranting on Twitter in 2019 about “disgusting, rat and rodent infested” Baltimore — its population is about 64 percent black and its poverty rate about 24 percent — would sound just like Wallace and Maddox if not for his Northern accent and his tendency to make remarks even more blatantly racist than anything those governors ever said.

And I reminded the rabbit that almost every prominent Republican politician has either defended Trump’s recent racist remarks or declined to comment, which puts them all on the wrong side of history.

Swamp Rabbit stopped me and said, “Where you goin’ with all this, Odd Man? I already know Republicans ain’t worth a damn.”

“Just wanted to turn you on to Randy Newman,” I said. “Politicians come and go, but good songs never get old.”

Footnote: Dick Cavett is a gentile from Nebraska, not a Jew. Newman, who is Jewish, has always enjoyed using unreliable narrators.

One more: Anyone who pretends they’re surprised by the recently discovered recording of Ronald Reagan referring to black people as monkeys during a conversation with Richard Nixon either wasn’t around when Reagan was in office or wasn’t paying attention.

The special counsel underwhelms

Swamp Rabbit and I went on the road yesterday to work a hick-town event and were stuck in traffic for a long while before we got back to my shack to watch the highlights of the Mueller hearings.

“You were wrong, rabbit,” I said as the cable news recaps were playing. “Mueller clammed up, just like he said he would, but the fact that he’s a Republican had little to do with it.”

“OK, it ain’t politics that stopped him from answering all them questions,” the rabbit conceded. “It’s got more to do with him being old and worn out.”

I had to agree that the special counsel had seemed frail and befuddled; that Mueller the relentless, all-knowing investigator had turned out to be a mythic hero created by the media and embraced by those of us hoping for someone who would single-handedly bring down the most divisive and dangerously corrupt president in U.S. history.

But it was also clear that the hearings hadn’t been a waste of time; that House Democrats strengthened their case just by holding Mueller’s hand and coaxing him to repeat his team’s findings. He declined to answer about two hundred questions, but he did confirm that the Russians had interfered with the 2016 election; that their interference had helped Trump; that Trump had encouraged them to interfere; and that Trump’s cronies, some of whom are already in jail, had schemed with Russian officials on his behalf.

Just as important, Mueller’s testimony reminded viewers that his report had documented multiple instances of obstruction of justice on Trump’s part, including the fact that he’d ordered former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller and then, after McGahn refused, ordered him to deny he’d ordered the firing.

“And how about them scumbags on the other side,” Swamp Rabbit said, referring to Attorney General William Barr and the Republican members of the Judiciary and Intelligence panels who attacked Mueller. “They all know Trump is a lying pig, but there ain’t a one of them didn’t get down in the mud with him.”

“History will remember them,” I replied. “Just like it remembers the Know Nothing movement and the German American Bund.”

“I don’t know nothing about no Bund,” the rabbit said, reaching under the couch for the bottle of bourbon he’d stashed there.