Category Archives: Donald Trump

Seattle Focus: Jason Lutes and BERLIN

Megan Kelso with Jason Lutes

Cartoonist Jason Lutes was in Seattle to talk about the new book that collects his comics series, Berlin. It took place at The Elliott Bay Book Company, November 8, 2018. This event included a conversation with cartoonist Megan Kelso. It was co-presented by Short Run.

Berlin is a monumental work in comics. Few cartoonists will come close to such an achievement–and it couldn’t have been created by a  nicer guy. What came across, over and over, during this talk is the fact that Lutes is very accessible and down to earth. That open approach plays into part of what makes his landmark work so special. It all began when teenager Jason Lutes wanted to make sense of a documentary about the holocaust he was suddenly exposed to in a high school history class. The teacher for that class was an alcoholic who made no effort to hide his struggles. He literally set up the movie for his class and left to get a drink. That abrupt and careless action ultimately triggered an in depth exploration of Weimar Germany through a creation of an expansive work in comics that would take 22 years to complete.

#ProtectMueller march in Seattle on 8 Nov. 2018

It was not lost on anyone during Lutes’s talk related to the dismantling of the German government of the 1920s that concerned citizens, just outside on the streets of Seattle, were protesting Trump’s own inroads into dismantling the U.S. government. Timing is everything. That Thursday night book talk directly coincided with protests across the country in support of protecting the Robert Mueller investigation after Trump installed a loyalist as acting Attorney General of the United States. Details are everything. If you follow the characters and the rich narrative of Berlin, you can’t help but get an eerie sense of having a mirror held up to the past and to the present.

Cartoonists holding each other’s works: Jason Lutes with David Lasky

Authenticity is everything. What is so appealing about comics by Jason Lutes is the solid storytelling. That involves a dynamic use of the comics medium: a crisp consistency in step with strategically placed visual elements that are pleasing to the eye and move the story forward. A quick example: I was standing in line to get my copy of Berlin signed and I made a point of poring over each page as I flipped my way through. Right around the midpoint, there is a page made up of wordless panels showing a mysterious figure in a row boat. He reaches the shore to find what looks like a vicious snake. He picks it up by its jaws and overpowers it. That same character reappears in the book as does the snake, both providing just the right doses of symbolism as well as pure entertainment. It’s important to note that, while Lutes referred to vast amounts of research and reading, he also fondly recalled the influence of key works in pop culture. Berlin Alexanderplatz, a novel about Weimar Germany, by Alfred Döblin, holds as much importance to Lutes as his viewing of the original Star Wars movie as a kid. Altogether, what you have in Berlin is an honest look from an individual processing and distilling at a meticulous level.

Cartoonists Revisit: Jason Lutes with Jennifer Daydreamer

For many in the audience that night, it was an opportunity to revisit a respected work and commiserate with a friend and colleague. Seattle is a lightning rod for countless creative people and that includes a high number of independent cartoonists. There’s a certain sensibility to the alt-comics artist with Jason Lutes being a prime example. As he discussed in his lecture, it was Seattle that he gravitated to in the 1990s. After attending the Rhode Island School of Design, Lutes moved to Seattle and worked for the comics publisher, Fantagraphics. He subsequently worked for the alt-weekly, The Stranger, just as it began publication in 1991. During this era, Lutes became part of a group of cartoonists that went on to form an integral part of the Seattle comix scene. That group included some members that were in attendance that night: Megan Kelso, David Lasky and Jennifer Daydreamer. It was a treat to have part of the gang together again on such a special occasion.

BERLIN by Jason Lutes

Berlin, the complete collection, is out now. It is a 580-page hardcover published by Drawn & Quarterly. Jason Lutes teaches comics at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Berlin, Comics, Comix, David Lasky, Donald Trump, Drawn and Quarterly, Elliot Bay Book Company, Germany, graphic novels, Independent Comics, Indie, Jennifer Daydreamer, Nazi Germany, Nazis, Seattle, Trump, Weimar Germany

Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau and the Infamous Rape Joke

“Bull Tales” comic strip by Garry Trudeau

The very idea of a comic strip like Doonesbury is in the best spirit of what comic strips have been capable of doing. Doonesbury, which launched October 26, 1970, lived up to its ambitious goals. Now, there’s been a seismic shift in reading habits, and comic strips are evolving and adapting to the new cultural landscape. In 2014, the siren song of Amazon compelled Garry Trudeau to shift his focus to writing a sitcom. On March 3, 2014, the “Classic Doonesbury” series began, featuring approximately four weeks of daily strips from each year of the strip’s run. Trudeau continues to produce new strips for Sundays. The times, they keep a changin’. That said, in the #MeToo era, with a focus on Brett Kavanaugh and rape culture, something can be learned from taking a look back at the early efforts of Garry Trudeau in his Yale college newspaper, specifically, the infamous “rape joke.”

And what exactly transpires within this particular comic strip? Our main character, arguably Trudeau’s alter ego, is annoyed by a female student and contemplates raping her. He wants to dance with her and she obliges but only after insulting him. He makes a self-deprecating observation in relation to the idea of raping her.

What made that joke possible? What made young Garry think that was funny and okay? It’s a joke that left me disappointed when I read it. I had purchased a collection of Trudeau’s Yale comic strips many years ago. In fact, I was a teenager, with ambitions related to comics, when I bought the collection of Yale comic strips. It has been said (and this could be internet trolling) that Trudeau admits to cringing whenever he sees the “rape joke” or hears of it and has even had it removed from later editions of this collection of his Yale strips.

What bothered me way back in the early ’80s, when I first read this comic strip was that I immediately knew it was wrong and yet there it was. Trudeau knew it was wrong too. It’s possible to imagine Trudeau, a Baby Boomer with a pre-internet mindset, mistakenly thinking that he could keep that comic strip under wraps. In all fairness to him, I can’t seem to find any response directly from him about the “rape joke.” There’s this recent Trudeau piece, no mention of the infamous joke, from Comic Riffs at The Washington Post.

He should talk about the “rape joke” now, all these years later. I know, not very likely. It is the stuff of legend how Trudeau has avoided the press. I always found that ironic given how outspoken he has been in his celebrated comic strip satirizing society, politics, and the media.

Is it too much to ask of Garry Trudeau to speak about that “rape joke” within the context of our current state? It’s a fair, even intriguing, question for him and it might just inspire Mr. Trudeau on what lies ahead for him. In fact, if he really wants an invigorating project, why not dissect that “rape joke” and come up with some answers. It could be a graphic novel. I’m not kidding.

Garry Trudeau’s new collection of comic strips, #SAD!: Doonesbury in the Time of Trump.

Garry Trudeau will be in Washington DC on Oct. 1 to speak in support of his latest collection of comics strips, #SAD!: Doonesbury in the Time of Trump, at Politics & Prose.

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Filed under #MeToo, Comic Strips, Comics, Donald Trump, Doonesbury, Garry Trudeau, Political Cartoons, politics, Politics & Prose, Washington DC

TRUMPWORLD: Brett Kavanaugh Loves Beer!

Brett Kavanaugh Loves Beer!

From his opening statement today, one thing is for sure, Brett Kavanaugh Loves Beer! For such a supposedly sophisticated legal mind, Kavanaugh has stumbled and simply come across as upset. “If everyone who loves beer was accused of sexual assault, that would be a very sad world,” stated Kavanaugh today. He proceeded with repeatedly stating how much he still loves beer. Is this a great legal mind? Is this a person of good character? Clearly there is absolutely no moral equivalence between Kavanaugh’s testimony and Dr. Ford’s testimony.

The three accusers of Kavanaugh have welcomed FBI investigations. Kavanaugh talks circles around it when asked if he would welcome an FBI investigation.

Even Senator Lindsey Graham’s histrionic defense of Kavanaugh rings hollow.

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Filed under Brett Kavanaugh, Comics, Donald Trump, Political Cartoons, politics, Trump, Trumpworld

Movie Review: BlacKkKlansman

Adam Driver (left) and John David Washington in ‘BlacKkKlansman’

Do you find yourself flooded by Trumpworld only to wish you could zone it all out? That frenzied state of distraction is exactly what the Donald is aiming for. Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman, aims to give us clarity and put things in perspective.

Topher Grace in BlacKkKlansman

Anyone familiar with Spike Lee’s work appreciates its integrity. 1989’s Do The Right Thing deftly confronts American race relations. That is a powerful movie. Lee brings that same energy and intelligence to 2018’s BlacKkKlansman. As a cartoonist, I often wonder about how the comics medium, in all its varied forms, can best address the current Trump crisis. I think Jim Carrey’s cartoony paintings, with their raw quality, have a much greater impact than perhaps most professional editorial cartoons. As for anything remotely falling under the “graphic novel” category, I’d have to give a lot of credit to John Oliver’s parody of Mike Pence’s Bunny Book. That said, whatever the art form, it is the measured response that ultimately wins the heart and soul of the viewer.

White nationalists clashing with counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., last year. With an anniversary rally planned in Washington on Sunday (8/12/2018), the authorities have planned for weeks to avoid a repeat of last year’s clashes.CreditJoshua Roberts/Reuters

Spike Lee has certainly given careful consideration. Based upon a true story, Lee’s main character is a young and idealistic African American man conflicted by serving his local police force and serving his community at an activist level. The narrative masterfully weaves in the 400-year-old American racial experience: past, present (1972), and future (2018). There are those moments when everything comes to such fine point, especially after the newly-minted undercover detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) has gotten settled into his job. One fellow officer talks with him about how white supremacists are steadily going mainstream and it will eventually lead to the White House. Ron shakes his head in great disbelief.

BlacKkKlansman

It is Ron’s job, which he carved out for himself, to infiltrate the local chapter of the Colorado Springs Ku Klux Klan. He is obviously in need of help since his phone conversations quickly lead to an invitation to meet in person. That’s where a second Ron Stallworth (Adam Driver), in the flesh and Jewish no less, comes in. And the KKK connection just keeps getting complicated, not to mention dangerous. Soon, the original Ron Stallworth is on the phone establishing quite a friendly relationship with the young KKK Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). Lee continues to thoughtfully and gracefully connect the dots, as painful as they are–without a heavy hand. And it is that cumulative effect that adds up to the most powerful film I’ve seen this year. The final moments bring us to our present with a fiery defiance and a remembrance of Heather Heyer, may she “Rest in Power.”

Spike Lee delivers a good dose of reality that can stir the soul. We don’t do this much anymore (maybe for Star Wars and superhero movies) but this film will have you in the mood to clap at the end. This movie got me good and I was clapping. I even yelled out that folks can applaud. I did it in that communal spirit that many of us in Seattle respond to. Well, not only in Seattle. And, like a chain reaction, people did applaud. It didn’t last very long since, as I say, we really don’t applaud movies anymore. But it did happen all the same, even if momentarily. We Americans need to respond to the current American crisis every chance we get. BlacKkKlansman responds to that very real need. It’s a start and it will, no doubt, inspire others to do much more, like voting.

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Filed under African American, Charlottesville, Donald Trump, Spike Lee, Trump

TRUMPWORLD: Sure, Give Bill Browder to Putin!

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president will consider allowing Russian investigators to question U.S.-born investor Bill Browder, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and others. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Anyone in the Trump White House should know that handing over to Putin whistleblower Bill Browder, a very hard thorn in the side of Putin, would be a death sentence for Mr. Browder. And yet White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today that the president will consider allowing Russian investigators to question U.S.-born investor Bill Browder, along with former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and others.

Bill Browder and the Magnitsky Act are essential knowledge during this global crisis and opens a wide window onto how corrupt and murderous the Putin regime is. It is unforgivable for anyone in authority in the so-called Trump administration to have no clue about this. Thankfully, there are real adults out there. Later in the day, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert called the concept “absolutely absurd.”

In a nutshell, Mr. Browder was the first and only American hedge fund investor in Russia, right at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union. He got to see, firsthand, the rise of the oligarchs, and Putin. It was one of Browder’s trusted aides, Sergei Magnitsky, who got too close to Putin’s crosshairs and was murdered by Putin’s henchmen. Ultimately, this led to the passage in Congress of the Magnitsky Act, which keeps Russian criminals, like the killers of Sergei Magnitsky, out of the U.S. The takeaway here is that Vladimir Putin is a very, very dangerous person.

It was an honor for me to review Mr. Browder’s book, Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice. If you want quite a compelling read, I highly recommend this very valuable book. But, by all means, any information you can get is of great value including the recent video clip above with Mr. Browder speaking on Putin in relation to Trump.

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Filed under Donald Trump, Putin, Russia, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump, Vladimir Putin

Comedy Review: David Cross and The OH COME ON 2018 World Tour

Comedy Review: David Cross at Moore Theater, Seattle, June 29, 2018

David Cross is one of the great conversational comics, among a short list of greats. Well, you may have a long list. If a gun were put to my head, and I could cough up, say, only four comedians currently working at this level, I would go with: Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, and David Cross. They’re all around my age and they’re all very relatable but, more than that, they are all masters at this deceptively simple casual banter that, bit by bit, builds into something epic. I caught The OH COME ON 2018 World Tour at its stop in Seattle, at the Moore Theatre, June 29th and I loved it!

New Dad

Be prepared for some very funny material about being a new dad from a comic known for being jaded and highly ironic. Cross assures his audience he’s not one of those comics that does an hour of dad jokes only to end up doing quite a lot of dad jokes–but they’re very subversive dad jokes so it’s all good.

Lots of Good Trump Jokes

If you’re expecting intelligent humor from an intelligent comedian, you’re in luck here–but also be prepared for it to get pretty weird and crass. The material on Trump is priceless and I certainly won’t give any of it away here. I will say that Cross isn’t kidding when he confides in his audience that making fun of Trump is a challenge. As Cross wades deeper and deeper into the Trump swamp, you can see Cross fighting off the fumes and doing his part for his country. One of the best bits is Cross wrapping his head around the recent trend of regretful Trump voters. It’s a thing of beauty to see Cross rattle off all the things that have had to happen before these Trump voters had regrets.

Chemtrails and Vinegar

You’ll thank me for including this YouTube video as accompanying material. Out of the blue, so it seemed, Cross jumped into a long bit explaining this very strange Deep State conspiracy theory. The idea here is that true believers are convinced that there’s a vast government scheme to pollute the air and only a vinegar spray can combat it. Enjoy.

Oh, Come On

The actual bit that is the title to his act glides in for a landing at the very end of the show. It’s just one of those special things you have to see for yourself! Again, I will just say: Cross is masterful at articulating simple and goofy material in a sophisticated and artful way.

Natura Soap

Natura Soap

Perhaps one of the best of the quickie jokes was at the very end, just as some people were sharking their way out. There was David Cross, back on stage, with one last bit. Cross wanted to share a very special item he discovered at one of his recent hotel stays. It is a very special “ergonomic” and “sustainable” soap. Just the sort of thing begging to be made fun of. And, to top it of, it has a gaping hole right in the middle. Well, sometimes comedy material just writes itself. Cross was now armed with a hilarious symbol for all he hates about Santa Monica liberals who live in a bubble–and are thrilled to pay premium for soap with a hole where most of the soap should be.

The OH COME ON 2018 World Tour is on, baby! Visit the official David Cross website right here.

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Filed under Comedy, Comedy Reviews, David Cross, Donald Trump, Moore Theatre, Seattle

White House Correspondents’ Dinner Unlikely Yet Reliable on Edgy Comedy

Aunt Lydia, Dear Lydia!

These White House Correspondents’ Dinners always seem to sneak up on me. It seems that this year’s crept up on me all the more-so given the absence of a president. There was Trump in Michigan doing another one of his weird rallies and that got me to thinking, Why is Trump in Michigan? Oh, wait up, is he avoiding the WHCD? Why, that rascal! Say what you will about dowdy ole C-Span and humorless inside the beltway elites, the WHCD proves each year to be good for some very good laughs. All you need is a sense of humor.

The White House has already had to deal with one Wolf (Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury) and now they’ve got Michelle Wolf. If you listen to her set with a healthy sense of humor, you would probably be hard put to dismiss her out of hand. Her material is not beyond the pale by contemporary comedy standards. And, if we focus on the roasting of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, nothing is particularly unreasonable within context. The art of great comedy is to synthesize down to the essentials a myriad of ideas. To compare SHS to Aunt Lydia, the villain in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” is utterly hilarious on so many levels. Obama or Dubya would have taken a similar jab and laughed it off. But not Her Royal Highness of Deceit. Is there something wrong here? Well, it sure don’t look good.

C’mon Sarah, all you would have needed to do was chuckle!

There is a moment in Wolf’s monologue when she lets loose with a real zinger at former beleaguered chief of staff Reince Priebus. What did he do? He laughed! He even gave the joke a thumbs up! That displays a level of sophistication that is completely lost on Sarah. For her to look upset shows she still has much to learn.

Hmm, Sarah, it would be pretty awkward to chuckle, wouldn’t it?

Getting to the heart of the Aunt Lydia comparison, consider this excerpt from an excellent piece by Megan Wood at Rifinery 29:

Sanders is used as a mouthpiece to protect those in the Trump administration. Much like Aunt Lydia, she lies to Americans who are having their rights stripped away. For instance, Sanders falsely stated that immigrants coming to the U.S. through the diversity visa program aren’t vetted before their arrival. Meanwhile, Trump has been working to remove Dreamer’s rights to undocumented immigrants who were legally allowed to work and study in the country. She has tried to tell American woman that the Trump administration’s effort to remove birth control from mandated health coverage is all about religious freedom. Apparently that is more important, and more endangered, than having control over ones own body. Sanders has also protected those who are accused of crimes against women (much like Aunt Lydia). Recently, she came under fire for protecting former White House aide Rob Porter after accusations of disturbing alleged domestic abuse.

Finally, the myth about Trump is that he’s been this amazing disruptor. He doesn’t stand on ceremony and gets the job done. So, why can’t we also embrace the disruptive force of Michelle Wolf and let her not stand on ceremony and get the job done? Don’t worry. She got the job done.

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Filed under Comedy, Donald Trump, Humor, politics

Book Review: A HIGHER LOYALTY by James Comey

TRUMP DEMANDS COMEY’S LOYALTY–BUT DOES NOT GET IT. illustration by Henry Chamberlain

“The wicked flee when no one pursues.”
–Proverbs 28:1

James Comey speaks up for the truth in his new book, “A Higher Loyalty,” and he tackles his subject from many angles: giving the reader his life’s story, providing compelling examples of the demise of infamous liars, and saying it all with wit, grace, and a good dose of honest humor. This book has a lock on being timeless. A hundred years from now, people will still find it engaging while something like “Fire and Fury” will have become considerably dated. The name Donald Trump will elicit a mild groan in a hundred years while the name of James Comey will draw out favorable comparison with Jimmy Stewart’s character in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Indeed, in James B. Comey we have a real life Jefferson Smith.

This is not a heavy book in the sense of being meant for only the most high-minded of readers. In fact, it is very accessible. The full title, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” is a valuable frame for an assortment of insights. Comey presents the facts and we see patterns emerge involving grocery store clerks, Mafia dons, American presidents, and law enforcement at the highest levels. Tell the truth and reap the rewards. Tell lies and face the consequences. What is so extraordinary is how often Mr. Comey finds himself in the middle of a number of historically significant events right up to our present crisis. I’m talking real American hero stuff where I’m left wondering if Tom Hanks will star in a movie as both Bob Mueller and James Comey.

For you kids too young to remember, Bob Mueller and James Comey go way back. In fact, in the Bush administration, Mr. Mueller was the FBI Director and Mr. Comey was the Deputy Attorney General. This was in the heyday of the U.S. War on Terror, led by mad dog Veep Dick Cheney. One of the most notorious programs of that era, code name “Stellar Wind,” allowed for wholesale spying on Americans, the law be damned. At the eleventh hour, on what may have been Attorney General John Ashcroft’s deathbed, there was a race between Comey and the President’s men to reach Ashcroft to get the final word on continuing the Stellar Wind program. Ashcroft had recently sided with Comey on putting the brakes on it. At that critical moment, just as Comey reached Ashcroft’s hospital bed, heavily guarded by the FBI, Comey put in a call to Mueller requesting that, under no circumstances, was he to be removed by Bush’s people. Without missing a beat, Mueller approved it. That is just a taste. There is more to this episode and it all hinges upon the essential value of integrity and honesty.

JAMES COMEY. illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Another example that is quickly digestible by young and old alike is Mr. Comey’s indictment of Martha Stewart for insider trading. This is a perfect example of how telling the truth would have cut one path while telling a lie led down another path, a path that secured jail time for Martha Stewart. As Comey explains time and time again, his job is to make a case and that rests on finding credible evidence of wrongdoing. Once evidence is secured that the suspect has lied with intent of obstruction of justice, the suspect has been trapped in a corner and will have to pay the price.

We can cut to the chase now and look at an example involving Donald Trump. The one thing that kept rising to the top in conversations that Trump forced upon Comey was Trump’s denial of having anything to do with prostitutes performing urinating acts for his delight in a Moscow hotel. If it was not clear the first time, Trump felt compelled to repeatedly deny this incident. Based upon a lifetime in law enforcement, Comey could not help but bring up the fact that when suspects repeatedly deny something, there is a good chance that they’re lying, which establishes patterns of behavior.

Among the observations by Comey most anticipated by readers are his views on the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified emails. One specific wrinkle in this case that is quite telling involved the spin desired by the Obama administration. Attorney General Loretta Lynch made explicitly clear, in front of staff, that she wanted Comey to describe what was happening with Clinton’s emails and the FBI as a “matter.” This really made no sense. As one colleague wryly said to Comey, “Yeah, sure, you are after all, the Federal Bureau of Matters.” Comey used the term “matter” once in a press conference and then let it go. From there on, it was what it was, an investigation.

Contrary to what is widely believed, Comey did not go it alone and reopen the Clinton email investigation all by himself weeks before the election. What happened involved following procedure, logic, and plain ole common sense. You can’t just dismiss thousands of new Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Again, Comey worked as part of a team. He ended up having to be the face of that team.

The point is, whether it is an investigation involving Democrats or Republicans, the FBI must under no circumstances be swayed into one camp or another. The Justice Department and the FBI are there to protect the American people and the Constitution of the United States. The FBI Director is not to be part of a closed group of friends as Trump would have it. Time and again, Comey speaks to what is in his heart, the people who have inspired him, the ideas and core values that have shaped his life. Sadly, he sees very little, if anything, guiding Trump. It is not said to mock Trump. We live in a crazy Trump-addled time. To say that Trump lacks a moral compass cannot be said enough. Any act that reminds us of how things are not okay, not normal, is a good thing.

Having been fired by Trump, yanked out of the job he loved, all for brazenly political reasons, it makes sense that Comey would ultimately speak out. That he has chosen to write such an even-tempered book, and of value for us now and generations to come, speaks well for the man, the institution of the FBI, and for the country.

“A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” is a 312-page hardcover published by Flatiron Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. You can pick up a copy by simply clicking the icon below:

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Filed under Democracy, Donald Trump, James Comey, politics, Russia, Russiagate

Book Review: ‘Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House’ by Michael Wolff

FIRE AND FURY!

Michael Wolff’s political bombshell, “Fire and Fury,” is like a “Harry Potter” book event: mana for political junkies as well as a breakout book for a much wider audience. It has certainly proven to be an excellent go-to book on my nightstand these past couple of weeks. I felt it in my gut, from the start of the media campaign, that here was something that would hold up to a full reading. Wolff is not Carl Bernstein but he proves to be the right man in the right place and time. Some of the book’s juiciest bits that were placed under the media spotlight helped to distort the narrative. However, it’s not farfetched at all to find that Wolff has compiled something credible. Just don’t tell that to Sarah Huckabee since she swears the whole thing is a “fantasy,” not worthy of the American people.

January 17, 2018: Trump with communications director Hope Hicks and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

What I find most useful is that, by and large, Wolff has neatly organized and presented the machinations of all the oddball characters running amok: the mighty Steve Bannon; the royal duo, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, or Jarvanka; assorted misfits and minions such as Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer; and especially both Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller, highly unqualified special assistants to the president. The important blocks of activity add up for the big picture: Jared Kushner’s highly suspicious dealings around the globe; the inept advice of Jarvanka to POTUS taking its toll; how all things Trump cannot help but inevitably fall like a house of cards. Time will tell just how much Wolff got right. It is in his best interest that the book holds up as it would make for a great movie. In his favor, he has a credible and lengthy acknowledgements list at the back of the book.

One day prior to FIRE AND FURY book release, Jan 4, 2018: Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was flanked by two large television screens as President Donald Trump delivered a video message on stock market increases and economic gains.

This is much more than just about Trump sneaking a cheeseburger into bed or Steve Bannon’s pontificating. It is about a White House in crisis, even before it started, one stoking an international crisis. It is definitely about an accidental presidency, one that repeatedly abuses power, and is illegitimate. While that may sound too harsh for some hardcore Trump supporters, this book lays out the case for why the whole Trump phenomena is a shell game with players who shamelessly want to hang on to power. And it’s surprising how often Steve Bannon comes out sounding like the more sensible one in the bunch–but not for the reasons his supporters might think. The main reason he seems to have any sense is because he knew what a mistake it would be for Trump to fire FBI Director James Comey.

As Bannon explains it, it was Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner (he nicknamed them, “Jarvanka”) who pushed Trump into firing Comey. This Jarvanka push was triggered by the fact Kushner was part of Comey’s investigation into Russian meddling. And it just gets worse from there. Forget about Russian meddling for a moment. It’s all this Jarvanka meddling that’s pretty scary in and of itself. As the following excerpt demonstrates, despite the tabloid style to this book, Wolff puts together a narrative that most likely will be confirmed over and over again, especially by special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation:

“Most problematic of all, Hicks and Miller, along with everyone on the Jarvanka side, were now directly connected to actions involved in the Russian investigation or efforts to spin it, deflect it, or, indeed, cover it up. Miller and Hicks had drafted–or at least typed–Kushner’s version of the first letter written at Bedminster to fire Comey. Hicks had joined with Kushner and his wife to draft on Air Force One the Trump-directed press release about Don Jr. and Kushner’s meeting with Russians in Trump Tower.”

From left to right: White House counselor Kellyanne Conway; Hope Hicks, White House director of strategic communications; and Omarosa Manigault, director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, listen during a daily press briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room, at the White House, on February 14, 2017. White House press secretary Sean Spicer discussed various topics, including the resignation of Michael Flynn from his position as National Security Adviser. Hicks is now one of six past and current Trump administration aides whom Robert Mueller reportedly wants to question. ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES

A key player in the Jarvanka faction is Hope Hicks who provides some good grist for this book. A former model and aspiring actress, Hicks finds herself in the improbable position of being an essential link between the press and the leader of the free world. Hicks regularly provides digestible pits of information to Trump. She was responsible, for instance, in giving Trump a recap on the famous piece in The New Yorker that first connected the dots on Michael Flynn and Russia–except she failed to mention Michael Flynn. Hicks has no qualms over sending out disparaging leaks to the press about anyone deemed a problem, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and members of Trumps legal team, Mark Corallo and Mark Kasowitz. It is no surprise that Robert Mueller is interested in questioning her.

And it all goes on, getting worse and worse. Just as one scandalous scene plays out, another rears its head to fill an endless news cycle. So, plenty of opportunity to deflect, distract, confuse, and alarm. It was just that strategy that led Trump to threaten to unleash “fire and fury” upon North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. It is a well-documented fact that Trump said this since we can clearly view it on numerous news feeds. Unlike some other comments and activities by Trump & Co., there is no hiding behind the trickery of the Trump White House in this case. Wolff does an admirable job of exposing this spin doctor trickery. Sorry, Sarah, this book is significant and so far removed from your claim that it is mere “fantasy.”

If you’ve seen any of the segments Wolff has done during his book tour, he makes a compelling case: after being embedded in the White House for most of 2017, an informative book results, one that makes sense out of the political crisis of our time. Now, I will be the first to admit that Wolff seems just a little bit out of his depth. It’s like a fisherman going out to make a catch and snagging Moby Dick. And I did see his appearance with Bill Maher where he suggests Trump is currently having an affair with UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. He doesn’t come right out and say that and only hints that he would only say as much if he had absolute proof. It’s that whiff of the salacious than can take away from an otherwise even-tempered book. Ultimately, it doesn’t take away much of anything.

“Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” is a 336-page hardcover published by Henry Holt and Company. For more details, visit Henry Holt and Company right here. And you can get this book at Amazon by just clicking the image below:

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Review: ‘The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office’

King Trump Confronts American Presidents. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

If someone could use an employee manual, it would certainly be the current occupant to the highest post in the land. Jeremi Suri’s new book guides us through what has become of the American presidency, from its development to its inevitable decline. If Donald Trump were to read it, “The Impossible Presidency” would provide much food for thought.

Suri’s prose has an inviting conversational tone that lifts the reader up. His main argument is that, after a long period of expansion, the job is now collapsing in upon itself. For the first part of the book, we read about the presidents who transformed the office: Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, and the two Roosevelts. The second part of the book follows the fall: JFK and LBJ; Reagan; Clinton and Obama. FDR was the last president to fundamentally remake the job and save the country, and the world, in the process. No one else is going to top that. Furthermore, the job has become so complex that no one person, according to Suri, can ever hope to juggle all the responsibility. Spoiler alert: Suri advocates for a two-person job with a president and a prime minister. Of course, we’ve already established a partnership between president and vice-president since Carter. But that may not be enough.

It is Donald Trump who so neatly underscores Suri’s thesis about the decline of the job that he cannot help but cast a long shadow over the whole book. Suri uses contemporary politico lingo currently associated with Trump. Suri describes past presidents as responding to their “base” and “doubling down” on important issues. More to the point, Suri provides numerous highly relevant examples of how presidents have appealed to the male white voter. This is a fact that each president has wrestled with from the very beginning.

THE IMPOSSIBLE PRESIDENCY by Jeremi Suri

In a work full of evocative and highly informative passages, what Suri does with FDR stands out. Suri weaves a series of recollections by Saul Bellow as a Depression era youth who is galvanized by the reassurances of FDR, the man on the radio, with the funny posh accent, that everyone intently listened to. In the case of FDR, his word was as good as gold. When FDR ordered an increase in the money supply, he answered any criticism over its legitimacy by stating, “How do I know that’s any good? The fact that I think it is, makes it good.” As Suri points out, that kind of common sense meant everything to a struggling boy like Saul Bellow. It was real words backed up by real action.

In a very accessible and compelling style, Suri guides the reader in distinguishing the most consequential American presidents. In this excerpt, you get a taste of Suri’s writing as he compares Lincoln to FDR:

“If Lincoln was the nineteenth-century president, Roosevelt was the twentieth-century American leader.

Lincoln’s presidency anticipated Roosevelt’s. The latter had to contend with the collapse of the American (and world) economy, but they both spent much of their presidencies at war. In retrospect, Roosevelt’s ability to respond creatively to the Great Depression and echo Lincoln’s war performance is truly exceptional. No other president faced the same range of existential challenges. As a consequence, no other president had so many opportunities to change the basic structure of American society, and vast sections of the modern world. Roosevelt turned the darkest of times into the brightest of new hopes. He was not only the first welfare president, but, by 1944, the first global president, influencing more parts of the world than any previous American executive. He pioneered the New Deal and then globalized its reach.”

No less heroic is the way that JFK navigated the Cuban Missile Crisis. In sharp contrast to FDR’s time, Suri points out, the job of president had become so compartmentalized that, even at the height of the crisis, JFK was hamstrung with a schedule crammed with activities of little to no real significance. The office had taken on such a life of its own that it was assumed the president would simply pick how his advisors wanted to strike at Cuba not whether to discuss other options. Of course, we know JFK found another option. But, in the case of Vietnam, the system forced his hand. For LBJ, it was more of the same: another president distracted as well as compelled to great action.

Suri states that gradual and incremental progress is the new template fashioned by Clinton and Obama. But, Suri goes on to say, a sense for bold action must not be lost. For Clinton, it was not responding to the genocide in Rwanda. For Obama, it was not responding to ISIS as the threat emerged. In both cases, each president was conscious of the risk of overextending and held back when they should have acted. As for Trump, Suri seems to see him as more of a warning that we’ve hit rock bottom and now we must plan for what lies ahead. This is an essential book for putting our current state of affairs into proper historical context.

How Much More of King Trump? Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

The focus of this book is to show how the modern American presidency has evolved into a colossal apparatus. In turn, the role of a modern American president has become virtually unmanageable, too demanding for just one person. Or has it–or is that the crucial problem? To be sure, it is a problem but solving it won’t resolve other government dysfunction. Suri does not delve into what his proposed solution would gain. A team of president and prime minister, as he suggests, would still be at the mercy of a corrupt and compromised Congress. But one step at a time. A post-Trump America, in and of itself, will be a step in the right direction. More and more Americans, even loyal Trump supporters, are coming to see that something is fundamentally wrong with our current chief executive, his election, his entire administration. One American president who Suri does not cover is President Jimmy Carter. Here is a president who valued integrity and did quite a lot of good while in office. Look it up and you’ll see. This book is just the type that inspires you to keep looking up in more ways than one.

“The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office” is a 368-page hardcover published by Basic Books. You can order this book from Amazon by clicking the image below:

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