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Conservatism and health care

The Senate today held a vote on a procedural measure that would allow for debates and amendments on, well, something. No one is quite sure what measures will be debated and amended, This Vox explainer did a nice job of helping me understand what’s going on. The final vote was 50-50, with Vice-President Mike Pence performing his one constitutional duty by breaking the tie. There was also some high drama, as Senator John McCain, recently diagnosed with brain cancer, nonetheless showed up and voted. He then gave a powerful, stirring speech, in which he launched an all-out attack on the bill he had just voted for. “I will not vote for this bill,” he said in a powerful, if wavering voice. Uh, okay.

I’m hardly the first person to point this out, but Republicans currently control the House, the Senate, the White House, and likely hold a 5-4 advantage on most Supreme Court votes. And after voting to repeal Obamacare a jillion times when Obama was President, they can’t seem to pass a health care bill now. No Democrats will vote for a bill repealing the single most important legislative achievement of the Obama administration, though Democrats do have bills ready for a vote that would fix the problems the ACA undoubtedly has. But those bills will never be allowed on the floor for debate or votes. Republicans have made it clear that they have no interest in bi-partisan cooperation on health care. And they haven’t been able to get much done. Today’s vote in the Senate was procedural. Will it lead to a final bill? Probably not, but you never know. I certainly hope not; every bill out there, including the House bill that passed, the Senate bill that didn’t pass, and the various bills under current consideration, all of them are terrible bills. If the goal is to expand the numbers of Americans with adequate access to affordable health care, these bills all fail. In fact, they fail pretty spectacularly. They reduce the numbers of healthy people buying insurance through the ACA exchanges. They cut Medicaid. They will take health insurance from 20 to 25 to 35 million Americans. Which means, in all likelihood, that people will die.

As a loyal Democrat, it’s tempting to conclude that these bad bills exist because Republicans are bad people. These bills are variously described as ‘mean-spirited,’ ‘cruel,’ vicious’ and ‘lethal.’ The implication is that Republicans are uniquely indifferent to basic human suffering. Republicans want to cut taxes for rich people. (They always want to cut taxes, and rich people pay higher taxes than poor people). And in these debates, they always look terrible, like a party of nasty, uncaring Scrooges, out to hurt, or even kill poor people. Of course, they try to defend their various bills, insisting that CBO scores are wrong, that poor people won’t lose their insurance, that what they’re doing is allowing states more flexibility and providing people with more freedom. It never works. They look terrible in every instance. These are historically unpopular bills.

I don’t think, though, that Republicans are meaner than Democrats. I think that’s a dangerously hubristic way of looking at it. Preening about our moral superiority is a temptation most progressives have given into at least occasionally. But it isn’t true. There are philosophical differences between the parties, and we’re never going to get anything done if we insist that those differences are also moral. I know lots of Republicans. Good folks. They’re just real bad at health care policy.

And the reason isn’t hard-heartedness or indifference to suffering. It’s conservatism. Republicans tend to be conservatives, and a lot of Republicans are deeply committed, ideologically conservative. In fact, I believe that Republicans are far more committed to ideological conservatism than most Democrats are to ideological progressivism, which I don’t think is even a thing. You will often hear Republicans, talking about some policy or another, say things like ‘that policy is incompatible with the basic principles of conservatism.’ I’ve never heard a Democrat say the equivalent. Never once.

If you know enough conservatives, and you listen long enough, you’ll hear them admit to this: they don’t think health care is a right. They think health insurance is a commodity, like any other commodity. If you can afford it, great. If you can’t, well, then live without it. If you get seriously sick, and don’t have insurance, there are any number of charitable organizations that can help out. (And in my experience, Republicans give generously to those charities). When we talk about universal health care, conservatives don’t believe it’s something government can or should provide. Big government, the federal government, is inefficient, corrupt and overly expensive. Putting government in charge of health care is likely to hurt a health care system that generally works pretty well. And Obamacare doesn’t just expand health care, it mandates that private citizens purchase policies (sin number one), and provides federal funding to subsidize such purchases (sin number two).

That’s a hard philosophy to argue for, though. It sounds terrible. It makes it sound like rich people should get better health care than poor people should. It makes it sound, in fact, like the lives of rich folks are more valuable than the lives of poor people. I think the conservative stance on health care is actually a principled one. But it’s based on bad theory, and on bad research.

The fact is that government-provided health care programs–specifically Medicare and Medicaid–are more efficient and effective and cost-effective than the care private insurers provide. Medicare is so efficient, in fact, that doctors don’t much like it. It doesn’t compensate them all that generously.

As to the philosophical point; is health care a right? Do all Americans have a right to affordable, effective health care? Should every American citizen have government provided-or-mandated health insurance? The answer to that question is ‘sure, probably.’ Health care is a right if sufficient numbers of citizens believe it to be a right. Besides, if we have a right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ that would seem to include a right to see a doctor without being bankrupted. The Framers wouldn’t have agreed, of course, because their health care sucked. The idea that going to a doctor was likely to make a sick person better is a reasonably recent one. But yes, health care is a right. How do I know that? Polling data says so. If 60% of Americans think health care is a right, then it’s a right.

Conservatism is on the wrong side of history on this question, which is hardly surprising, because conservatism is generally opposed to change. I mean, the most fundamental difference between liberalism and conservatism would seem to be ‘should things change, or should they not change.’ So, as change happens, conservatives tend, at least initially, to oppose it.

The other hallmark of conservatism is a commitment to free markets, a commitment which, of course, I share. I don’t want the government to regulate the prices of cell phones, or DVRs. I want the market to do that. But providing some commodities and services is generally beyond the capacities of markets. Roads should be built by the government, as should electric grids and sewage systems. And health care fits in that category. Health care is a service that is uniquely unresponsive to market ideology.

That’s why one consistent conservative answer to health care includes the expansion of health savings accounts. They’re not that terrible an idea. They’re also no panacea. You’d be able to put some of your money in a savings account, tax free, which you could then use to defray health care expenses. See, that way you would be incentivized to shop around, to ask several hospitals to quote you their best price for that MRI, for example.

Except very few people are ever going to do that. The relevant economic principle is ‘asymmetry of information.’ Doctors know more about our health than we do. If my doctor says ‘you need an MRI,’ I’m going to get one. Even if I ask for a second opinion, I’m not really reducing the asymmetry of relevant knowledge. i[‘m just seeing a second person who knows more about it than I do. That’s why insurance companies pay a lot of money to medical experts who determine if a proposed course of treatment is likely enough to work for it to be covered. And so does Medicare.

Does this reduce freedom? Yeah, some. We’re put our family’s health in the hands of these people, these doctor folks. It’s frustrating, and yes, we should (and do) inform ourselves, and research, and talk to people, and do whatever we can to take control of our own health. I agree with every effort to inform ourselves. But when the doc says ‘get an MRI,’ I’m getting one.

So what we’re currently seeing is conservatives trying to provide universal health care when they don’t believe in any part of it. Of course they look bad. Of course the results are bad. Barack Obama tried the most conservative, most market-oriented approach to increasing access to health care he could possible manage. The result is the ACA, and it’s not great. And all of its problems, all of them, stem from the fact that it’s a conservative, market-oriented approach to health care. We can and must do better. All Americans have a right to affordable health care. Time for us to do better.

 

Trump fights back

Following the various ins and outs of the multiple scandals and misstatements and gross ineptitudes of the Trump administration is just exhausting. Every day there’s something new; if only a new Trump tweet. The President apparently spends his days watching cable news, and fuming. Every once in awhile, he vents. Most recently, he vented to the New York Times, where, among other absurdities, he claimed “I’ve given the farmers back their farms. I’ve given the builders back their land to build houses and to build other things.” None of which is remotely true, in any sense whatsoever.

Of course, the Russia scandal must seem like Chinese water torture to Trump, who is not known for his patience anyway. Drip, drip, drip; every day, new revelations. Right now the press is primarily focusing on the various, previously undisclosed meetings members of the Trump campaign and administration held with various Russian entities. The national media is good at that kind of story; who met with whom, for how long, when. For the most part, these meetings merely suggest possible collusion, but don’t prove that collusion took place. The meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner with a raftful of variously skeevy Russian figures comes closest to proving some kind of actual inappropriate or illegal interaction between Trump staff and Russians. Of course, we don’t know what they all talked about. Oh, yeah, adoption. That’s suspicious enough. Did the Trumpskies promise to consider reversing the Magnitsky act in exchange for dirt on Hillary? Hello, collusion.

But the ‘meetings with Russians’ angle, though certainly fascinating, has always seemed to me something of a sideshow. The real action, I think, is likely to be financial. The relevant questions, it seems to me, would include some version of these: how many deals did the Trump organization conclude with Russian oligarchs? How much Russian funding did the Trump organization receive? Did any of these transactions involve money laundering? Were there violations, by the Trump organization, of the Corrupt Foreign Practices Act? And finally this: does Vladimir Putin own Donald Trump?

Those kinds of questions are difficult for the national media, in large measure because very few such transactions are in the public record. To dig into those kinds of details requires someone with subpoena powers, and expertise in forensic accounting. These are the kinds of questions that Robert Mueller’s investigation is supremely well equipped to answer.  Mueller’s staff has precisely that kind of expertise. And Mueller himself has subpoena powers. It’s just impossible for me to imagine Mueller not asking for Trump’s tax returns.

And if he does, all hell could break loose.

Donald Trump is a fighter. Does anyone think he’ll just mildly turn over personal financial records? No. He may claim executive privilege. (A first step, and one he will lose). He could pressure the Justice department to fire Mueller. He could fire Jeff Sessions. He could pardon his family members. And he could pardon himself.

Does he have the authority to pardon himself? No one knows. It’s never been adjudicated. Probably not, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try.

And so, as has been the case since last November, the real question is this: if this President acts so egregiously, so nakedly in his own self-interest, if he behaves so far outside American political norms, what will Congress do? Will the Republican-controlled Congress act? Put another way, can we rely on the patriotism and integrity of Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate?

And the answer to that is also pretty clear. No. We can’t. They won’t act. Trump can abuse the pardon power of his office, and they will let him do it. A constitutional crisis only exists if the political will exists to force the issue. I see no sign of either integrity or patriotism among the current Republican leadership. Man, that’s scary.

Wonder Woman: Movie Review

I wouldn’t necessarily say that Wonder Woman is a great superhero movie. I’d say it’s just a really good movie. It’s exciting, and, best of all, it’s morally rigorous. At its heart, it’s a movie about an extraordinarily gifted and powerful young woman who is convinced she knows how to save the world. Her weakness, as a protagonist, is naiveté, innocence, based on a childhood in which she was raised on myth, not history. Ultimately, she has to cope with disillusionment and confusion. She has to make a crucial decision; given humanity’s propensity for war, are we worth saving? I know, that’s a familiar sci-fi trope. But it’s still compelling.

Gal Gadot plays Diana, who is pretty much a goddess, immortal, raised by Amazon warriors. She’s superbly trained in the ways of combat, which is weird, because the Amazons live on a remote island, guarded by mists, where no one ever comes with whom they might fight. They’re anti-war, like most great warriors, but war, for them, is at best a faded cultural memory. Still, they spend their days training. They’re in incredible shape, and they are amazing with bow, arrow, spear and hand-to-hand combat. But why? Who are they preparing to fight?

And then World War I intrudes. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) comes flying in, his plane shot to pieces, and crash-lands in the Amazon’s lagoon. Diana dives in and saves him. A German flotilla sees him land, charges in after him, and Diana, and her Mom, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and her BFF, Antiope (Robin Wright; so good to see Buttercup again!), fight them off. And Antiope dies, but only after executing the most spectacular stunt in action movie history. Movie’s worth seeing just for that one stunt. And also the scene where Diana takes out a German machine gun nest. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Diana (never once, in the entire movie, called Wonder Woman, BTW), decides that Ares, God of War, has to be the instigator of WWI. I mean, a massive war, tens of millions of casualties, fought for the most idiotic reasons; of course, it has to have had malevolent and superhuman origins. The God of War done it. Has to be.

Except he didn’t. Didn’t need to. We see, briefly, Field Marshall Douglas Haig (James Cosmo), head of the British Expeditionary Force, and he expresses typically Haigian indifference to his own soldiers’ high casualty rates. It’s hard to imagine the combination of pig-headedness, callousness and sheer imbecility of the British (and French and German) High Commands, but the completely insane way in which WWI was prosecuted, on all sides, is a matter of historical fact. No wonder Diana is misled, and goes on a search for Ares, who, she’s been told, she can kill with her special sword.

I’m delighted that the movie is set in the First World War, and not the Second. WWII might tend to support the ‘some enemy hath done this’ school of thought about warfare origins. I mean, Hitler, right? But no. No enemy hath done this. We’re perfectly capable of doing it to ourselves.

Finally, of course, Diana meets Ares, played by Professor Lupin, otherwise known as David Thewlis. And he tells her the truth. And initially, she can’t handle it. And finally, she does.

At the time I watched the movie, it didn’t occur to me how cliched that final confrontation between Diana and Ares really was. My son pointed it out to me. Final fight scenes between superheroes (good v evil, of course), are inherently undramatic; guys flinging other guys into buildings, doing massive amounts of property damage, but not actually hurting anyone. When you’re impervious to being damaged by ginormous collisions with big steel-and-concrete structures, then why do you insist on flinging your opponent around the way they all do. What are you accomplishing? It’s boring, honestly; nothing’s at stake. Diana and Ares are having a deep and profound conversation about the nature of evil, and why Men (feminist, right?) fight wars. They didn’t need to bash up buildings to have that convo. Also, spoiler, but the movie suggests that she decides for humankind because she’s learned about love by falling for Steve Trevor. It’d be more interesting if she fell in love with human beings, more broadly understood. For women, and their children, since this is a feminist superhero movie. Not just some dude, making this a romantic melodrama.

So it’s not as feminist as it imagines itself being, and the ending isn’t anything innovative. It’s still a fine film, beautifully conceived and superbly acted. And it stars Gal Gadot, who is a miracle as Diana. The whole cast is terrific, in fact, including Chris Pine, who gives depth and relevance to a pretty thankless pretty boy role.

It’s really good. If it could have been a bit stronger, so what? It’s the best summer action movie so far this year. It’s so good, in fact, that for a second I forgot who the President was. That’s my new benchmark.

 

 

Autumn of the Black Snake: Book Review

William Hogeland’s Autumn of the Black Snake is one of the finest books of popular American history I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Such familiar figures as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson and Henry Knox, come to life as never before, not as saintly paragons of civic virtue, but as they sometimes, often, were: grasping, venal, impatient, corrupt, and fundamentally indifferent towards people they regarded as their inferiors, particularly peoples of color. This is Hogeland’s fourth book about eighteenth century America, and all of them are remarkable, but I absolutely couldn’t put this one down. Above all, although I’m a history junkie–especially American history–Autumn of the Black Snake tells an extraordinarily important story that I’ve never heard before.

The book’s full title is Autumn of the Black Snake: The creation of the US Army and the Invasion that opened the West. Above all, it tells about the first real war fought by the new, fully constituted United States government. This war had no generally accepted name–not the War of 1812, not the Revolution, not the French and Indian war, though it was related to all three. And the stakes could not have been higher. Would the United States of America remain an eastern seaboard nation? Or would it expand, beyond the Alleghenies, and into what was then known as the ‘Northwest Territory’; the area we now know as western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. And once that territory was inhabited, cultivated, domesticated, administered, what was to stop further Western expansion?

George Washington had started his career in that territory, moving from his base in Virginia, on to surveying in Ohio, then land speculation, and also, of course, military adventurism.  He knew the area well, and thought it contained the richest land he had ever seen. Some of the richest plots, he had surveyed and claimed for himself. Any Virginia planter was anxious for new land, as tobacco farming (and later, cotton farming) so badly depleted the soil. Now, it was 1791, and he was President of the newly formed United States of America. Ohio beckoned. And his vision for America required aggressive west-ward expansion. And Washington was happy enough to try to purchase land from the peoples who already lived on it. When that failed, though, it could always be obtained via conquest.

Only the first attempt to send an army to conquer it was a catastrophic failure. The Shawnee leader, Blue Jacket, and the Miami leader, Little Turtle did not agree about much, but they did agree that the future of their peoples required military cooperation between all the tribes of the Ohio Valley. They were fighting for the survival of their people. They had, against all odds–including the difficulties of coordinating the efforts of people who spoke different languages, worshipped different Gods, were in every sense from different cultures. None of that had come to matter. Now they were busy getting their heads around a new identity–not as Shawnee or Miami or Ojibwa or Potawatomi, but Indians, as their enemies saw them. And so, Blue Jacket and Little Turtle led their forces against American militiamen, led by General Arthur St. Clair. They had fought and they had won. St. Clair may have lost 650 men; he might also have lost 900, casualty lists being unreliable. Every student of American history knows about the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and the defeat of General Custer by forces led by Sitting Bull. Almost no one remembers St. Clair’s defeat. But he lost, at least, twice as many men, and his defeat looked far more consequential. The western boundary of the United States looked to be the Allegheny mountains.

To Washington, that result was unacceptable. And he knew what had caused it. The soldiers who lost so disastrously were poorly trained, poorly supplied, and poorly led. And this, in Washington’s professional estimation, was inevitable, given Congress (and most Americans) detestation of a ‘standing army,’ and corresponding love of militias.

Militias fed an enduring American myth; the freeholding soldier/citizen, who left his plow, grabbed his musket, and ran off to victory in combat. Washington had tried to win a war using militiamen, and knew them to be entirely untrustworthy and ineffective. Most Americans thought of standing armies as following the British model–poorly paid mercenaries, drawn from the dregs of society, instruments of royal tyranny. But Washington knew this truth; that soldiers are as good as their training, their discipline, and their effective leadership. Alexander Hamilton, who had been Washington’s Chief of Staff, knew it too. So did Henry Knox, Washington’s head of artillery. America needed an army; Washington and Hamilton conspired to persuade Congress to provide it one.

Commanding it would be General Anthony Wayne, a man who Washington knew well from his Revolutionary War days. Wayne is in some respects another American archetype; the military man par excellence, who can’t do anything but soldier. Wayne had been an effective commander; post-war he proved an abysmal businessman, a hopeless financier, a miserable and corrupt politician. He was good at one thing; training and leading troops. Washington promised him five thousand soldiers, fully supplied, and sent him to Ohio.

I have always known about the militia vs. standing army rift in early American politics–it was a major theme in the fight over constitutional confirmation. I knew that, initially, we didn’t have an army. Then, suddenly, we had one, and have had ever since. I just assumed that at some point in the late 18th century, Congress had decided to authorize one. What I didn’t know was that St. Clair’s disastrous defeat (which I hadn’t heard previously known ,much about), provided the impetus Washington needed to get Congress to act.

And so, Anthony Wayne trained his army. It took him over a year. He built forts, and guarded supply lines, and his army began marching, inexorably, west. His movements may have appeared ponderous, but they were incredibly effective. Little Turtle, the singular military genius opposing him, said, in admiration, ‘Wayne never sleeps.’

We know how it turned out. I’m from Indiana, and we have a town named Fort Wayne. As late as the 1930s, Anthony Wayne was a sufficiently notorious military hero that a strapping young actor with an unfortunate name, Marion Michael Morrison, took Wayne’s last name for his own screen persona. Ohio was made safe for white people. Within fifteen years, its population grew, from a few thousand to 150,000. And the United States became known for west-ward expansion.

At what cost? And that’s part of the genius of Hogeland; he never forgets the cost. Washington, Jefferson, Wayne himself were all slaveowners. Indians could be defeated and killed because, well, they weren’t white. We know the names Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton. We don’t know Little Turtle, or Anthony Wayne. Hogeland writes:

That the more decisive war, and thus, the more important people, has lapsed into obscurity points to a vacancy in American memory when it comes to what is perhaps the longest-lasting legacy of George Washington’s career, and to the political, moral, and existential burden his career, and its national indispensibility, will forever carry. That legacy is the formation of a permanent military establishment, via the conquest of indigenous people, in pursuit of the industrial and imperial power that, with our victory in its first war, the United States did go on to achieve.

Ultimately, the hero of this book is not Washington, nor Wayne, nor Wayne’s treasonous second-in-command James Wilkinson (who I haven’t talked about, but believe me, his story is insane). It’s Little Turtle. Little Turtle, who saw clearly how this professional army should be fought, and could be defeated. Little Turtle, whose outlook was never melancholy, but always tragic, who saw clearly what defeat would mean, who fought valiantly to prevent it, but who knew, in his heart, that his people were doomed.

Empires know what conquest costs. And the building of an American empire came on the backs of black slaves, of brutal and uncompensated labor by a people deemed inferior. And by the defeat of indigenous peoples, whose only crime was living on land Americans wanted, and who paid for it via genocide. Our history is not triumphant. It’s tragic. Hogeland captures that tragedy, while acknowledging genuine achievement. Can we hold that paradox in our heads?

Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2: Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2 was one of the summer movies this year I was most looking forward to. I hoped that I could catch it in its opening weekend, but other family members wanted to see it too, and coordinating schedules proved a challenge. But last night, we finally gathered at the cineplex. And we had a good time. It’s a surpassingly strange film, far more interesting in terms of its theology–I’m not kidding–than as the goofy comedy action movie it purports to be. But it’s entertaining; I’ll give it that.

Let’s start by talking about dramatic structure. Hollywood action movies follow the basic structure of late nineteenth century melodrama. All of them, without exception. Hero, heroine, comic sidekick, villains and their sidekicks, bad guys doing dastardly deeds, ultimately defeated by good guys, usually involving a fight, with awesome stunts. The plots are often rather baroque, with multiple subplots all racing towards a satisfying and exciting final confrontation. Still, there’s always a discernible hero, with a strong objective. Often it involves some kind of quest. The hero is trying to blow up the Death Star, or steal the Ark of the Covenant from the Nazis, or steal a magical orb from one bad guy, and using it to activate an ‘infinity stone,’ or something. That last bit was, as far as I can remember, Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) quest in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. In order to accomplish that, Quill assembles the team known as the Guardians of the Galaxy–Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (a raccoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Groot (a tree, voiced by Vin Diesel). Comic sidekicks, in other words. It was an amusing, but frankly pretty conventional superhero action movie plot.

This sequel is very different in structure. For most of the movie, Quill and his pals are just trying to stay alive. As the movie begins, they have been hired by a gold-skinned, genetically perfect species called The Sovereigns, to protect Anulex batteries from destruction. A massive beastie attacks; they fight it, and win. But Rocket, the scamp, steals some of the batteries they were hired to protect. So the Sovereigns come after them, and destroy their ship. So there’s no noble objective, no quest. They’re just trying to stay alive, because they’ve infuriated an entire civilization for no good reason.

In my review of the first Guardians movie, I compared it to Star Wars. That would make this one The Empire Strikes Back, and sure enough, we get a “Luke, I am your father.” moment. (It’s not anything like Empire in any other sense). The father, in this case, is Ego (Kurt Russell), who we earlier saw, in a flashback, with Peter’s Mom, looking absurdly like Kurt Russell, age twenty. (I don’t know how they did that, but it’s a very cool effect). But the Ego who shows up and declares himself has aged, and says he has been searching for Peter for years. And so, Ego takes Peter, Gamora and Drax with him to his planet, leaving Rocket and Groot (now, baby Groot), behind to repair their badly damaged ship. Where they are captured by another group, the Ravagers, under the putative command of Yondu (Michael Rooker). They’re professional thieves, and Yondu essentially raised young Peter. But they’re on the outs from other Ravagers, who have rejected them because Yondu broke the Ravagers’ code, by selling children into slavery.

At this point, the movie gets very weird. We’re a third of the way in, and nothing like a plot has managed to reveal itself–no quest, no objective, other than just staying alive. And Ego is a generous and welcoming host, and his planet is beautiful, considering that he lives on it by himself, with one aid, the empath Mantis (Pom Klementiev). At which point, the movie becomes an exploration of the doctrine and theology of apotheosis.

Apotheosis: the process by which men become deified. Ego, turns out, is a God. He became a God over millions of years, during which time he constructed this planet to glorify, well, him. Peter’s his son, and Peter is divine. He has a share of Ego’s creative power. He can create worlds of his own, if he wants to. And he’s immortal. Human Mom, Divine Father. The music set it up beautifully. The songs are the best parts of this movie, as they were in the previous one, and as Ego’s ship descends to his planet, we hear George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.”

As a Mormon, I found this unexpected twist fascinating, because apotheosis is, sort of, a Mormon doctrine. “As Man is, God once was; as God is, Man may become.” Right. But the more Peter (and his friends) dig into it, the more we learn about Ego’s divine reign. He’s awful. He’s kind of a monster. Peter is not his Only Begotten–Ego’s fathered lots of children, who he then executed when he finds that they lack the divine spark that Peter has. Anyway, it looks like Ego’s kind of bored, and wants his divine son to hang around, for company. There’s also a bit of a ‘we can rule the universe’ vibe to it.

It turns out that his spark of divinity resides at the planet’s core, where it can be gotten to and blown up. Since Ego’s plan for ruling the universe involves mass slaughter, killing him seems like a good idea. He’s a God, and he’s immortal, but apparently, he can also be killed. So that becomes the big quest thing, the movie’s plot. But it comes very late in the movie. And has almost nothing to do with Peter, our protagonist, who does very little to accomplish it. Mostly, it’s pulled-off by Groot and Rocket, who escaped from the Ravagers (with help from Yondu, and also Gamora’s ferocious sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), who wants to kill Gamora, because of how their father pitted them against each other as children.

And that’s another theme of the movie, isn’t it? The abuse and murder of children. Yondu’s great sin, the thing that got him excommunicated as a Ravager, is his sale of children into slavery. He loved his adopted son, Peter, but Peter’s childhood was grim; a series of petty crimes. And, of course, that’s Ego’s great sin, too; the murder of his own children. Although almost nothing in the movie establishes Peter Quill as a Christ figure, he’s torn between two fathers; the brutality of Ego, his biological/divine father, and Yondu, the Dad who raised him, a Joseph the Carpenter figure.

So this is a movie about apotheosis, about men becoming Gods, about the most profound ideas of divinity, and divine responsibility, and the endless challenge of eternal life: boredom. Eternal life without eternal progression, really: the Mormon conception of hell. And it’s a movie about child abuse, about fathers abusing their children, and even murdering them.

And absolutely nothing in the tone of the movie, the approach of it, suggests either profundity or tragedy. It’s a clever, fun, post-modern comedy action flick, stylistically. Self-referential, with lots of jokes and deadpan insults splendidly delivered by Chris Pratt. Peter imagined, as a child, that Nightrider-era David Hasselhoff was his father, and sure enough, Hasselhoff himself gets a cameo. The Looking Glass hit, Brandy, is solemnly declared, by Ego, the greatest piece of music ever written. I love this exchange: “We’re friends!” “You’re not friends! You do nothing but fight!” “You’re right. We’re not friends. We’re a family!” (And, of course, the music’s perfect yet again: Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain). It’s a clever, funny, self-consciously self-referential movie, with jokes based on the characters, yes, but on ’70s and ’80s pop music, and other tropes drawn from superhero movies.

It’s an odd combination: theology, and post-modern jokiness. It’s too genial a movie to dislike. But what do we say about it? That it’s reaching for a profundity it doesn’t ever earn? That it’s fun but plotless, and let’s just ignore the theology stuff? Or this: that the Divine can be approached many ways, reverentially, yes, but also through jokes and fight scenes and goofiness? Ambitious failure? Or better, deeper, more interesting than it needs to be, given its origins as a summer superhero movie? And do we even have to choose?

Let’s talk about collusion

It’s been awhile. Our esteemed POTUS is back in the country, after zipping across various oceans, to the Middle East and Europe, where he hectored our closest allies about NATO ‘dues’ they don’t in fact actually owe, shoved the President of Montenegro, offended the Pope, and grabbed hold of a palantir orb with some of his Arab pals, in an apparent attempt to communicate with Sauron. (He does seem to like back channel communications). Meanwhile, the various investigations into the Trump/Russian connections keep trudging onward. Let’s catch up.

Have you had this experience? You’re talking to a Trump supporter, and you mention the Russian connection, and they look at you smugly and say ‘can you show me any evidence of actual collusion?’ And you can’t. And we still can’t; not quite yet. But we’re getting closer.

For example: this. In case you don’t want to click on the link, here’s the gist: the Wall Street Journal reported that, last summer, a Florida GOP operative named Aaron Nevins was in communication with a Russian hacker who goes by Guccifer 2.0. Guccifer had hacked into the DCCC computers, and provided Nevins with all kinds of information useful to the Trump campaign. Memos with self-oppo research (where you hire someone to look for dirt on your candidates, so they can be prepared for ads). Databases of voters in key districts. Nevins called it ‘a map to where all the troops were deployed.’ Also, internal details about congressional districts in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia, which were eventually used to create attack ads in those states. I’ll grant you that Nevins wasn’t involved in the national Trump campaign. But he shared his link to Guccifer 2.0 with Roger Stone, who was a highly placed advisor to the Trump campaign. Stone piously insists that he didn’t share that link with anyone else. We’ll see.

So, yes, there is absolutely evidence of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russia: Guccifer to Nevins to Stone. Of course, the Russians are offering pro-forma denials that Guccifer worked for them, but US intelligence sources know better. And there’s no evidence, so far, that Stone shared Nevins’ information with anyone else in the Trump national campaign. Still, this is collusion. This is what it looks like.

And here’s why it’s significant. Remember the second Obama Presidential campaign? Remember 2012? Well, the Democrats created what the Washington Post called “a high-tech political start-up whose main purpose was to put more people on the streets, armed with more information about the voters they were contacting, than any campaign had ever attempted.” They created a nonpareil voter database, allowing volunteers to contact undecided voters with better information than anyone had had before.

That database still exists, and has expanded. And in the waning days of the 2016 campaign, one of the advantages Hillary Clinton seemed to have was what pundits called ‘a strong ground game.’ She had more volunteers than Trump did, and they had this database to guide their efforts. So if polling showed a race as tied, it seemed likely that Hillary would outperform expectations, because she would working with better information.

But if that database was in the hands of the Republicans, that advantage could be lessened, or even eliminated. And look at what Nevins said he got from Guccifer: “sensitive information on voters in key Florida districts, breaking down how many people were considered dependable Democratic voters, undecided Democrats, Republican voters and the like.” Maybe not the entire database, but clearly at least some of it.

So, yes, there was collusion, and yes, it could easily have made a difference in the election.

What was the other major turning point in the election? Surely, it has to have been the Hillary Clinton email scandal, and the various twists and turns in that whole story. And a key moment in the election came when James Comey, the FBI director, announced that the FBI was not pursuing a criminal investigation into Hillary’s emails. He could have just let it go at that. But he didn’t. He chose to use that opportunity to give Secretary Clinton a real scolding. Remember?  “Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

Why did he do that? Well, we know a lot more about it now. As Business Insider describes it, Comey received a document regarding the Clinton investigation, a purported memo between Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the DNC, to a staffer for George Soros, saying that she had been assured by Loretta Lynch (Obama’s Attorney-General), that the Justice Department planned to go easy on Hillary. This memo is a fake. US intelligence has confirmed that its a  Russian creation. It’s not genuine. And Comey immediately mistrusted it. But it informed his decision-making nonetheless.

According to Business Insider, Comey “feared the document would be leaked and cast doubt on the credibility and independence of the FBI’s email-server probe — part of why he decided to bypass the Justice Department and announce the findings of the investigation in his impromptu press conference in July. CNN reported that sources close to Comey said he “felt it didn’t matter if the information was accurate, because his big fear was that if the Russians released the information publicly, there would be no way for law enforcement and intelligence officials to discredit it without burning intelligence sources and methods.”

So there we have it. The Russians hacked into DCCC computers, and got enough information to negate the Clinton campaign’s ‘ground game’ advantage. And perhaps the biggest turning point in the campaign, Comey’s press conference chiding of Hillary Clinton over the email scandal was driven by the FBI’s possession of a fake document they didn’t think they could properly or effectively expose.

Would Hillary Clinton have won without Trump having these improper advantages? Did the Russians really win the election for the Donald?  I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. Was there collusion? Absolutely, but who know who high it went. These news stories are highly significant, but they don’t constitute proof of anything. Still, the investigation needs to continue. We need to know. A hostile foreign power may well have put their favored candidate in the White House. That’s got to concern every patriotic American.

Alien: Covenant, Movie Review

My daughter and I went to see Alien: Covenant last week, having seen all the previous Alien movies, so why not this one? Like any Ridley Scott film, it’s stylish and attractive; the production design is attractively creepy, beautifully eerie. The acting was generally good, and the scary moments were appropriately scary. The fact that the movie really didn’t work very well at all isn’t really the fault of the production team. Editing, lighting, special effects: kudos to all. Sorry things didn’t work out overall.

We went to a weekday matinee, and the theater was close to empty. Which meant that my daughter and I felt freer than usual to talk a bit during the screening. And she kept saying “here’s what’s going to happen next. This is going to happen, and that’s going to happen, and that character there is going to die.” And I’d think, “I can see where you’re coming from. That’s clearly what they’re setting up. But it’s can’t possibly all be that obvious. Surely, a veteran filmmaker like Ridley Scott–just a few months shy of his eightieth birthday, with forty films in the can, an amazing career–will throw in some plot twist, surprise us, change things up.”

Nope. He never did. My daughter got it all right, every twist and turn. She got one thing wrong. She assumed that the character played by Danny McBride, a veteran spaceman named Tennessee, would be killed by the alien before the end of the movie. Because: Danny McBride. Fine actor, and it was nice to see him in a dramatic role, after all the obnoxious comedies he’s done. Still, it’s an Alien movie: I figured he was toast. So, here’s your spoiler: he survives.

But see, here’s the real problem. This is, as I understand it, the second movie of what should become a trilogy, closing out the Alien saga with Prometheus (2012), Alien: Covenant (2017), plus a third one, apparently. And based on the first two movies of that trilogy (if it happens, because IMHO, another movie’s completely unnecessary), what Scott’s trying to accomplish is to provide us with a complete, fully fleshed out origin story for the aliens. How did they come to exist, how did they spread, where did they come from, in short, what’s the deal with the monsters? And I don’t care, and I don’t think anyone else does either.

Here’s what I assumed: the aliens came from some planet somewhere. They evolved. They’re the apex predators on that planet, just as we humans are the apex predators on ours. At some point, some idiot brought them aboard a space ship, where they survived by, among other evolutionary traits, burrowing inside the body of a rival species so they can burst spectacularly out of some poor schmuck’s chest. That’s what I assumed. They’re a life form; they evolved. And I’m good.

Sorry, no. There’s an elaborate backstory. Michael Fassbender plays two androids, a good one and an evil one. I’m not going to give away anything more. Just know this; you’ll figure it out an hour in, and then you’ll doubt yourself, because it couldn’t possibly be that dumb. Yes it can.

So there’s lots of sound and fury. It ends up not signifying a darn thing. Various characters fight valiantly against creepy, evil, skeletal, fast moving aliens. And, mostly, succumb. The Ripley this time is a ship’s officer named Daniels. She’s played by Sam Waterston’s daughter, Katherine. She’s very good. She’s a fine actress, and she plays desperation convincingly.

Also, Billy Crudup is in this, and that’s always a treat. He’s such a fine actor, and he plays a complicated, compelling character, the ship’s captain (accidentally), out of his league and in over his head, but doing his level best to keep everyone alive. And screwing up, but still. Crudup is the reason to see the movie, I think, to the extent that there is one.

Other than that, I can’t even say it’s a big disappointment. My expectations were low enough, to be honest. This movie fell short nonetheless. Remember a few weeks ago, a very similar (VERY similar) evil-aliens-in-a-space-ship flick called Life? It was derivative and obvious and not very good. But the alien was scary, and I thought the movie, overall, worked a lot better than Alien: Covenant.  Shame, really. The first Alien movie was terrifically scary. The second one, Aliens, was even better. But the franchise hasn’t held up, and that’s disappointing.

 

Love is the purpose of life.

In Church yesterday, our former stake President spoke, a stake assignment, and he began by asking this: what is the purpose of life? What one word would we use to describe the purpose of life? And the word he chose was ‘joy.’ Men are that we might have joy, he said. It was a good answer I thought, for a talk in Church. We are, he said, meant to have joy, to experience joy, to fill our lives with joy. And it wasn’t difficult for him to find scriptures and General Authority quotations to support it. But ‘joy’ does seem to me, well, a trifle correlated. Like, it’s the official right answer to that question. I know too many people suffering from, among other ailments, depression. We don’t all get joyful lives. Lives full of worth, and dignity, yes. Not always happy lives.

‘Joy’ was certainly a better answer than ’42,’ that sublime Douglas Adams joke answer in Life, the Universe and Everything. Although I rather like the joke, because of this: Jackie Robinson’s jersey number was 42. From that, I might extrapolate this: the meaning of life is encompassed in the civil rights movement. The meaning of life is to treat all human beings with dignity and respect; the meaning of life is equality. That’s a good answer too. But it’s not quite right either.

Looking at the world, though, looking at Mother Earth and the creatures who inhabit it, a much truer answer comes to mind. The purpose of life is survival. That’s the biological imperative of all life; to carve out some niche, some corner of existence, and survive. My wife suggested another biological imperative; reproduction. But that seems inextricably linked to survival; we reproduce so our species can survive. So species survival becomes as crucial as individual survival; either way, the purpose of Life is to continue living. The purpose of Life, is Life.

But we’ve got that one sussed, we humans. We’re the most successful super-predators on earth. Other species may be stronger, faster, fiercer. Our claws aren’t weapons; our feet aren’t that fleet; our hands are comparatively weak. But we can shape the environment to our needs. That’s extraordinary. We don’t need to cower in trees anymore; we can cut trees down, and use them to build impenetrable fortresses. We have the leisure to contemplate questions like ‘what is the purpose of life,’ because we no longer are in danger. I live in Utah; mountains and deserts. Our biggest predators are probably mountain lions and wolves. Cats and dogs; we’ve domesticated them both to the point of absurdity. Fear of felines? Our cat is curled up on the sofa, sound asleep. That’s where he usually is. There is no sense whatsoever in which he’s a threat to me.

Nor is anything else. Bacteria, yes, and viruses. We cannot be killed by anything large, unless we behave with the most colossal stupidity. We can be killed by the tiniest of creatures. They’re what we fear, sometimes, when we’re feeling poorly. But mostly, we take survival for granted. That drives us in two directions. We can be killed by each other. It’s easy, but unprofitable, to worry needlessly about essentially non-existent threats. We worry ourselves sick about terrorism, a threat so infinitesimal it’s essentially a statistical rounding error. Or, we find ourselves feeling purposeless. What now, we think? Having won the fight for survival, what purpose comes next?

And if we’re Christians, the answer is something impossible, something nonsensical. Love God, and love your neighbor. God, who is invisible, who manifests Himself only indirectly; we’re urged to love Him. Commanded to, in fact. And then the really tough one. We’re to love our neighbors as ourselves. And who do we mean by our neighbors? Everyone.

The purpose of life, is to love. And maybe that leads to joy, or to salvation. But that’s what we’re meant to do, what we’re expected to do. And it’s essentially impossible. The Sermon on the Mount is built on paradoxes, on examples of behavior we could not possibly emulate, being imperfect.

And Jesus had to know that. He was born under hostile occupation. His people were despised and enslaved, and he was the poorest of his people. Nazareth was a tiny, unimportant, a backwater town in a backwater region. Did he know what it felt like to be struck across the face; did the requirement that we turn the other cheek come from personal experience? How do you love the people who have enslaved you? How do you love those who strike you, who compel you to carry their baggage a mile, who call you names and visit violence upon you? How do we love then?

I love my wife. I love my children. I love a few friends. I love other family members. That’s not always easy. And my love is hardly unequivocal. I get offended easily. I get my feelings hurt. But, yes, sometimes, I am able to truly love, I think. I hope. I pray. But a few years ago, someone I thought of as a friend hurt me badly. He damaged me, he lied about me, he tried deliberately to get me fired from a job I loved, and he advanced professionally as a reward. And I am required to forgive this person. I am required to love him. And I can’t do it. I’ve tried. The best I can do is a weak, milquetoast, anodyne expression of grudging charity. If I were driving in my car, and he stepped into the street, I probably wouldn’t run him down. But love him? Love him? It’s beyond me.

And what about people who are genuinely evil, rather than merely weak? As my wife and I discussed this, she asked if she was required to genuinely love Donald Trump? That should be simple enough; he hasn’t actively harmed me or her, and he’s clearly a damaged man. We ought to be able to find some compassion, at least. But I find it impossible to even consider. What about Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao? What about Hitler?

And yet, and yet. This is from George F. Richards, an LDS apostle back in the ’40s. It’s from October Conference, 1946.

I had a remarkable dream. I have seldom mentioned this to other people, but I do not know why I should not. I dreamed that I and a group of my own associates found ourselves in a courtyard where, around the outer edge of it, were German soldiers—and Fuhrer Adolph Hitler was there with his group, and they seemed to be sharpening their swords and cleaning their guns, and making preparations for a slaughter of some kind, or an execution. We knew not what, but, evidently we were the objects. But presently a circle was formed and this Fuhrer and his men were all within the circle, and my group and I were circled on the outside, and he was sitting on the inside of the circle with his back to the outside, and when we walked around and I got directly opposite to him, I stepped inside the circle and walked across to where he was sitting, and spoke to him in a manner something like this:

“I am your brother. You are my brother. In our heavenly home we lived together in love and peace. Why can we not so live here on the earth?” And it seemed to me that I felt in myself, welling up in my soul, a love for that man, and I could feel that he was having the same experience, and presently he arose, and we embraced each other and kissed each other, a kiss of affection.

I think the Lord gave me that dream. Why should I dream of this man, one of the greatest enemies of mankind, and one of the wickedest, but that the Lord should teach me that I must love my enemies, and I must love the wicked as well as the good?

Isn’t that why we’re here? Isn’t that why the gospel exists, to lead us to that point? Isn’t that the purpose of life? To love, to forgive, to embrace, without reservation or complaint, all our brothers and sisters?

We’ve mastered survival. Now we have to do something impossible, extend ourselves unimaginably, genuinely love our brothers and sisters. We start with our children, and we love them, impossible little pills though they sometimes are. And we love our families. That’s practice; that’s the easy part. But eventually, we have to find it in our hearts genuinely to love. Everyone. All of mankind, all living creatures. All. Is it easy? No, it’s impossible. It cannot, cannot be done.

So we have to do it. And that’s God’s work and his Glory. To get us to the point where we rely on His miracle; the miracle of Love, the miracle of at-one-ment. Because He is Love. And His Love is equal, and it’s full, and it’s unrestrained.

The purpose of Life is Love. And it’s impossible. And it’s necessary. The gospel is built on paradox, and that’s okay. Only by doing what can’t be done can we fulfill our purpose. Best if we start now.

Donald Trump and the oath of office

Jane Krakowski was on Colbert’s show last night, and as is obligatory when actresses appear on late night talk shows, Colbert complimented her on her appearance. “Thanks,” she said, and added that she was trying to lose her ‘Trump ten pounds.’ Everyone she knew was in the same fix: weight gain caused by binge eating, caused by Trump-caused anxiety.

This week has been especially bad, and it’s only Tuesday. Last night, the Washington Post dropped this bomb: Trump had provided two high ranking Russian officials with highly classified information, apparently just to brag. “I get great intel,” boasted Trump. “I have people brief me on great intel every day.” And then, to prove his point, he revealed code-word level information. And White House staff, panicked, began calling intelligence agencies to limit the damage.  At the same time, various Trump surrogates denounced the Post story as ‘fake news,’ with carefully parsed statements (Gen. McMaster’s was a gem) in which they take issue with things the Post story did not, in fact, say. Then, this morning, Trump cut them off at the knees, using Twitter to assert that he had the perfect right to share information with Russia. As a friend of mine put it on Facebook:

“[Media reports] Trump does staggeringly stupid thing

[Trump surrogates] he absolutely did not do the stupid thing

[Trump, tweeting the next day] I did the stupid thing

[Surrogates] …and that is why stupid thing is actually brilliant, and

[Trump, tweeting] I did it for the stupidest reason imaginable

[Surrogates] … the thing is now United States policy despite dishonest media reports on its stupidity, and also

(loop to beginning)”

As President of the United States, Donald Trump can declassify information any time he believes it to be in the national interest. He didn’t do anything illegal. I thought the best story on this was this one, on the Lawfare blog. Lawfare points to two crucial issues: first, that it matters why Trump did it: “what Trump thought he was doing might well inflect whether we should see this as an act of carelessness, an act of carelessness bordering on treachery, or an act of judgment (even if misjudgment) of the sort we elect presidents to make.” And second, that an act need not be criminal or illegal to be an impeachable offense:

Violating the oath of office does not require violating a criminal statute. If the President decided to write the nuclear codes on a sticky note on his desk and then took a photo of it and tweeted it, he would not technically have violated any criminal law–just as he hasn’t here. He has the constitutional authority to dictate that the safeguarding of nuclear materials shall be done through sticky notes in plain sight and tweeted, even the authority to declassify the codes outright. Yet, we would all understand this degree of negligence to be a gross violation of his oath of office.

This analogy gets to the heart of my main concern about Trump’s Presidency. I do not believe that Donald Trump takes his oath of office seriously. For the first time in US history, we cannot trust this President to set aside his own emotional predispositions and act in the best interests of the nation.

There have been Presidents in the past that I didn’t think were particularly effective Presidents. This is because I disagreed with them on matters of policy. I thought their political philosophy was likely to prove ineffectual; I thought they were wrong. But I never questioned their patriotism. I never questioned their commitment to the job. I never questioned that serving the nation was their highest and only priority. Of course, people make mistakes, and some policy choices work better than others; of course, we’re all only human. But the men (only men so far, alas) who have served in the White House have always understood that they are doing the most important and difficult job in the world. Early in the first season of The West Wing, John Spencer, playing White House Chief of Staff, talking to his wife, tells her “this is the most important thing I will ever do in my life.” And she responds, understandably hurt, “it’s not more important than your marriage.” “Right now,” says Leo, “it is more important than my marriage.” And he was just Chief of Staff.

The Oath of Office is deceptively simple. “I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” But its implications are profound. If you take that oath, then for the four or eight years you serve, it’s your first and only priority.

And I do not believe that that’s how Donald Trump understands his duties as President. I don’t think he considers that serving the nation and its people to be his first and highest obligation. I think he lets stuff get in his way. I do not believe him to be a serious person, taking a serious job seriously. I don’t know if he’s merely a particularly buffoonish clown, or if he’s actively mentally ill. He’s not . . . right.

That’s why his refusal to divest of his business interests is so disheartening. Every previous President has done this. President Carter sold his peanut farm; George W. Bush sold his baseball team. Trump has business interests all over the world. Are those businesses still important to him? Does he weigh their success as he conducts foreign policy; is profitability a factor in his decision-making? We have never asked that before about any former President. We find ourselves obliged to ask it about this one.

Far more important, though, is the raw emotionality with which Trump seems to make decisions. He gets angry, he gets frustrated, he gets his feelings hurt. So does everyone else. But most of us can set those emotions aside when we need to. Most of us can engage productively with that co-worker we dislike. Most of us can take a deep breath, set aside our resentments and fears and make important decisions.

i think it’s likely that Donald Trump is an immensely damaged human being. Of course, even mental health professionals balk at long range diagnoses. But Trump’s constant, incessant braggadocio has to some from somewhere. It’s not just that he seems to be a near-pathological liar. But have you noticed how his lies are pretty much always self-aggrandizing? He had the biggest crowds at his inauguration; he has the best temperment, he’s a phenomenal negotiator. He’s always the best; the smartest, the most aware. He doesn’t just get two scoops of ice cream, he deserves them. He’s such a good boy.

That has to be hiding some deeply seated inferiority complex, doesn’t it? And he can’t set it aside. And we don’t have time for him to work through it.

He gets the best intel, he tells the Russians. And then has to prove it. (Lavrov and Kislyak had to have been astounded. They didn’t think this would be so easy). By off-the-cuff declassifying highly sensitive intelligence, jeopardizing our relations with an ally, and quite possibly putting intel sources at risk. Let’s not forget this: Trump didn’t reveal classify information, he blurted it. To prove to his Russian comrades friends what good intel he gets. (To prove, yet again, once more, that he really is President, that he really did win). And people could die. Who did he compromise? How much at risk is our source?

It’s visceral, instinctive, our fear of him and of what he might do next. We sense it. This guy hasn’t put the nation first. He probably can’t. No wonder we’re all putting on ‘the Trump ten pounds.’ Every second this man spends in the Oval office is a continuing national emergency. Ending it will require impeachment and removal. Not much else matters politically.