Oct. 11

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Trump vs. NFL Continues; Trump May Be Winning

Since Vice President Mike Pence renewed the administration's squabble with the NFL by walking out of Sunday's Colts-49ers game, the whole situation has developed rapidly. To start, Cowboys coach and Trump supporter Jerry Jones announced that he will henceforth require all players to stand for the national anthem. This is a solution in search of a problem, since the Cowboys are one of a small handful of teams that has had no players demonstrate during the anthem. In response to Jones' declaration, ESPN personality Jemele Hill took to Twitter to observe that Cowboys fans who found Jones' announcement problematic could consider boycotting his sponsors. Though her suggestion was carefully worded, and fairly tame, it got her suspended from her job for two weeks.

Naturally, Donald Trump—who, having assigned all the really serious problems to Jared Kushner, apparently has nothing but time on his hands—decided to wade back into the fray. First, he praised Jones:

A big salute to Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who will BENCH players who disrespect our Flag."Stand for Anthem or sit for game!"

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2017

And, later, he attacked Hill:

With Jemele Hill at the mike, it is no wonder ESPN ratings have "tanked," in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2017

One would think that Trump would have to wait until Twitter doubles its character limit next month before squeezing this much criticism-worthy content into a single tweet, but he is nothing if not efficient. We have, first of all, some dog whistle racism, given that Hill is an outspoken black woman and a popular target of conservatives, including some who have less-than-enlightened racial sensibilities. We have the continuing obsession with ratings, which apparently isn't fading despite the fact that the Trump presidency is pulling some of the lowest ratings in history. And we also have a statement of "fact" that is not remotely factual. Despite Breitbart and Fox News narratives to the contrary, ESPN's ratings slump is a product of changes in the cable business (cord-cutting, mostly), and has little to do with politics (particularly not the politics of one personality among dozens).

Still, while Trump's war with the NFL (or, more accurately, with some of its black players) may be petty, and calculated, and of questionable propriety for someone of his high station, he's clearly got the league worried. Commissioner Roger Goodell knows that politicizing the game affects his bottom line for the worse. He also recognizes that, on a personal level, many of his owners are in agreement with Trump about players being seen and not heard. Consequently, the league is considering a directive that would require all players to stand for the national anthem.

If the NFL follows through with this, then the ball will be in the players' court. They are unionized, of course, and new rules like this have to be collectively bargained, not imposed by fiat. So, they may well respond to any new directive by telling Goodell & Co. to shove it. On the other hand, they may also conclude that the protests are doing more harm than good, that they don't want the ugly fight that pushing back would entail, and that they prefer not to put their livelihoods at risk. So, it is possible that NFL management might be able to impose its will, collective bargaining be damned. And if that does come to pass, then Trump is going to take a weeklong (or maybe yearlong) victory lap. Winning! (Z)

Trump Feuding Openly With Tillerson

Recently, we described the sour relationship between Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as the worst-kept secret in Washington. At this point, however, it doesn't really seem correct to use the word "secret," since the feud is out in the open. Last week, Tillerson did not deny that he called the President a "moron" (with some sources saying that it was actually the more earthy "fu**ing moron"). On Tuesday, The Donald fired back, telling Forbes that, "I guess we'll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win."

There's a certain irony in this statement, inasmuch as anyone who is actually intelligent realizes that IQ tests are only a crude barometer of brainpower, not unlike judging a potential basketball player solely on their height, or a potential author solely on their typing ability. Late in the day Tuesday, the White House tried to walk it back and claim that Trump was just joking. The first problem with that excuse is that he regularly claims he was "just joking" when he wants to take back something he wishes he hadn't said. The second problem is that this is not the first time, or the second time, or even the tenth time that The Donald has wielded his large...IQ as a weapon. In fact, he's done so nearly two dozen times on Twitter alone, including at least half a dozen IQ test challenges like the one he issued to Tillerson.

So yes, Trump was definitely expressing actual irritation with the IQ line. And this kind of publicly visible spat between a president and a cabinet secretary is really unprecedented. Certainly there have been many occasions when presidents and their underlings did not get along. The best known case, at least in recent memory, is the frosty relationship between Lyndon B. Johnson and his (inherited) Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. RFK thought Johnson was a boor and a con man, and blamed LBJ—in part—for his brother's death (since the trip to Texas was Johnson's idea). Meanwhile, as far as LBJ was concerned, the "grandstanding little runt" was a do-nothing snob who gained his position through nepotism. As venomous as this "partnership" was, however, the two men never made their anger public. If either had, then termination or resignation would have been necessary.

Indeed, no president, prior to Trump, has tolerated the kind of public defiance we've seen from cabinet members in the last few months. And no secretary, prior to Rex Tillerson and Jeff Sessions, has tolerated the kind of public abuse we've seen. The executive branch simply cannot function properly if it does not present a united front to the world. Not only is public squabbling very bad optics, it also interferes with day-to-day functionality. If someone is collaborating or negotiating with the Secretary right now, can they really be confident he has the weight of the President behind him? Or even that he'll be around next week? Regardless of who is to blame, there is no escaping the conclusion that the time has come for Tillerson to go. The question is when either he or Trump will finally accept that. (Z)

Pruitt Makes It Official

On Tuesday, while Donald Trump was dominating headlines with his IQ challenges and his NFL bombs (and likely working to create a distraction), EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt moved forward with plans to scrap the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. Apparently uninterested in the 'P' part of his agency's name, Pruitt will essentially cease federal efforts to control greenhouse gases.

Explaining his decision, Pruitt said, "When you think about what that rule meant, it was about picking winners and losers. Regulatory power should not be used by any regulatory body to pick winners and losers." That's an interesting way to put it, although it might be worth pointing out that roughly 99.9% of governing boils down to picking winners and losers. Before announcing his decision, Pruitt did his due diligence, of a sort, having numerous meetings on an almost-daily basis to discuss his plans with individuals who would be affected. The only problem is that nearly all of those meetings were with top executives and lobbyists from various corporate concerns, while virtually none were with environmentalists. Some might consider that a clue as to Pruitt's true motivations. (Z)

Obamacare Fight May Finally Be Over

As their thoughts turn to the tax code, and next year's budget, and the upcoming midterms, Congressional Republicans are reportedly reaching a conclusion that many people thought was forgone months ago: Obamacare is probably here to stay. It's survived parliamentary tricks, court challenges, and two repeal attempts this year. In other words, having gone through denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, many in the GOP are moving towards acceptance. Not all have given up hope, of course, but an already difficult challenge has gotten harder now that reconciliation is no longer available (meaning 60 votes would be needed), and many Republicans are leery of failing and ending up with egg on their faces a third time.

Assuming the Party does decide to move on, they face two new questions. The first is, what will they do about Obamacare? There is still much leeway to either nourish the program, or to let it wither on the vine. The latter may be more satisfying, but runs the risk that citizens suffer and the GOP is left holding the bag. The second question is, what do the members who are running for re-election next year tell their constituents? After all, they have been promising a repeal for the better part of a decade. Needless to say, neither of these questions has very clear answers, as yet. (Z)

Page Will Plead the Fifth

Carter Page, who served as a foreign policy advisor to then-candidate Donald Trump, likely has some information about the Russians mucking about in last year's election. Quite a few people looking into the matter, starting with the Senate Intelligence Committee, would like to hear from Page, and to see some of the paperwork he has squirreled away. Page attempted to negotiate favorable terms for his cooperation, but was unable to do so. Consequently, he announced Tuesday that he will plead the fifth, and won't share anything.

This, of course, is Page's right, and may prove to be best for him in the long run. However, it's probably not best for Donald Trump, because—right or not—it confirms the perception that the campaign has something to hide. It's also the case that some of the folks looking into the Russia matter, most obviously Robert Mueller, are pretty good at putting the screws to potential canaries, and getting them to sing—particularly canaries who appear to be hiding something. Depending on who knows Page's secrets, whatever they may be, and how much of that information Page's confidants have decided to share, he may not be out of the woods yet. (Z)

Are the Democrats Too Old?

Writing for CNN, Ryan Struyk has become the latest pundit to ask a question that we've heard a lot this year: Is the Democratic Party too old? Not the rank and file members of the party, mind you; those folks tend to lean pretty young. Struyk is referring to the party leadership, which—outside of Barack Obama—is mostly composed of individuals in their late sixties and early seventies. He laments the dearth of promising young candidates with significant political experience, while suggesting that the oldsters will (1) Struggle to meet the demands of the job, and (2) Have difficulty connecting with younger Democratic voters.

We are going to take the position that these notions—which you will certainly see reiterated a lot in the next two years—are misguided, for a number of reasons:

In short, there are a number of things Democrats should be worrying about as they prepare for 2020. The demographics of the Party's leadership, however, is not one of those things. (Z)

Eminem Blasts Trump

It would appear that Kid Rock is not the only Detroit-based rapper who has strong opinions about Donald Trump. His fellow Michigander Eminem, a.k.a. Marshall Mathers, also has a few thoughts about the President, though they are not quite as flattering. He was kind enough to share some of them at Tuesday night's BET Hip Hop Awards. Among other things, the rapper described Trump as, "A kamikaze that will probably cause a nuclear holocaust," a "racist 94-year old grandpa," and someone who is, "spitting in the face of vets who fought for us." And that doesn't even include the lines that are not printable in a PG-rated blog.

With Kid Rock on one side of the equation and Eminem on the other, this certainly seems like an Epic Rap Battle of History waiting to happen. However, we mention it here because Donald Trump rarely lets a slight from a prominent person pass, much less several dozen slights all in a row. But the problem, in this case, is that Eminem is one of rare individuals who has even less restraint, and even less of a filter, than The Donald. If Trump decides to do battle with Slim Shady, he could quickly find himself outgunned. (Z)

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