Nel's New Day

May 18, 2020

A Tale of Two Commencement Speakers

Ben Sasse, former president of Midland University (population 1,385) and current U.S. senator from Nebraska, showed what the Republican considers humor in his commencement speech to Fremont (NE) seniors. 

“Ninety-five percent of all gainfully employed psychologists—and I’m serious there are dozens of them that are gainfully employed— their job is really just to help people forget high school and the other five percent they just research hamsters who get lost in mazes, which come to think of it is a lot like high school and that’s why we want to forget it … If you’re headed to college, do not—do not—major in psychology. That part’s not a joke.”

Sasse said that at future reunions graduates would remember their senior year as “that time when China started a big global pandemic that created the worst public health crisis in over a century and brought the economy to its knees and we had to stay home and everybody was hoarding toilet paper.” A 1990 graduate of Fremont High School, he said the students were not “missing out on that much” by not having a graduation ceremony because “nobody remembers” their high school graduation. Later, he attacked China again.

“We’re going to have to have a serious reckoning with the thugs in China who let this mess spiral out of control by lying about it.”

A school board member Michael Petersen for the town of 26,500 asked Sasse to apologize and posted a statement to the students on Facebook.

“You deserved better than the graduation remarks from Senator Ben Sasse. The racism, implying that our graduates are fat and lazy, disparaging teachers, and attacking the mental health profession are despicable.”

In other statements, Sasse, up for re-election in less than six months, said, “Everybody named Jeremy is the worst,” and “back in the day when we were a lot fitter than you people are, we used to have to climb ropes all the way up to the ceiling of the gym all the time.” Nebraska will probably re-elect him. Sasse’s spokesman said that people should be able to take a joke.

Sasse has perceived himself as a potential presidential candidate and, Charles Pierce points out, “declared himself the avatar of homespun heartland values and virtues.” In his book Them, he claims that “we rally against common enemies so we can feel part of a team.” (Sort of like his attacks on China acquired from far-right conspiracy theories?)

The little-known senator from Nebraska is now much better known after his speech went viral on the internet. The Omaha World-Herald described Sasse as “unshaven” and “wearing a loosened red tie and white shirt.” (See for yourself in the photo.) Other responses:  

“Is this satire?” – Daily Beast columnist Matt Lewis.

“Who is this actor SNL got to play Sasse? He looks JUST like him.” – Daily Beast columnist Noah Schachtman

“If you’ve ever been to an open mic standup comedy show where there’s one guy who’s so bad the whole room goes completely silent and starts scanning for exits because the vicarious embarrassment is too much—and you want to re-live that—there’s Ben Sasse to oblige.” – former New York Observer editor Elizabeth Spiers

“Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiikes.” –  historian Kevin Kruse.

“Who hurt Ben Sasse in high school?” – Sarah Longwell, Bulwark publisher

Ben Sasse bombs with bigoted Dad jokes in open-mic-night graduation address – Stephen Robinson on wonkette.com

The taped commencement speech from Nebraska’s “senior senator,” approved by a school administrator, will not soon be forgotten by the graduating class. 

Another political figure made two virtual commencement speeches last week, their messages infuriating Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) although his name was not mentioned. Former President Obama addressed graduating seniors first at historically black colleges and universities and then all graduating high school seniors nationwide on major television networks. President Obama said:

“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing. A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge….

“Do what you think is right. Doing what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy—that’s how little kids think. Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way—which is why things are so screwed up.”

The commencement speech called for “honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others,” emphasizing community instead of the Ayn Rand individualism:

“[I]t doesn’t matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick…. [O]ur society and democracy only works when we think not just about ourselves, but about each other….

“Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us—sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed—and set the world on a different path.”

Thin-skinned DDT took umbrage and told reporters, “Look, he was an incompetent president, that’s all I can say. Grossly incompetent.” DDT still hasn’t recovered from a leaked speech last week when President Obama told 3,000 former staffers the White House approach toward COVID-19 has been “an absolute chaotic disaster.”

Jennifer Rubin, a GOP columnist, has a theory about DDT’s reasons for attacking President Obama—and it’s not as a shiny object to distract people from almost 100,000 people dying from COVID-19 after DDT dragged his heels in managing the virus.

“First, Trump has been in a juvenile competition with his predecessor since the day he took office. Trump insisted the economy was stronger under him than under Obama. (That was false then and is now, well, self-evidently ludicrous.) Trump tore up the Iran deal and backed out of the Paris accords in part because Obama was associated with them. As it becomes patently obvious that Trump’s presidency will go down as one of the worst in history and that his achievements are minuscule compared with Obama’s, Trump becomes even more frantic to position himself as a superior president. It is the sort of thing a narcissist crumbling under the pressure of his own humiliation would do.

“However, when one looks more carefully, a more specific different reason emerges for Trump’s new round of Obama-bashing. Trump seeks to make Obama out to be a criminal or unfit. It goes back to the original sin of Trump’s political career—birtherism—and to his campaign, which channeled cultural and racial animosity among whites against elites, nonwhites and immigrants.

“Trump’s effort to delegitimize the only African American U.S. president and to convince his followers that they are victims has been central to his political identity and to the bond with his cult. In times of political peril, as he was in the 2018 midterms when he invoked a “caravan” of migrants to stir his base, Trump always returns to white grievance. Just as birtherism made no sense but became a totem of the MAGA crowd, “Obamagate” now provides the same function of unifying, energizing and enraging Trump’s camp.

“When Trump is staring at international humiliation and political defeat, he first went to the well of anti-Asian xenophobia (e.g. imploring an Asian America reporter to ask China her question). When that fails to hit the mark, he goes back to his touchstone: racism directed against African Americans. He remains convinced that if he just gets his rabid base sufficiently engaged, he can pull out another improbable win. And prepare yourself: Should Biden select an African American vice president (as I think he should), the grotesque racism that will ooze from the right will make birtherism seem innocuous.”

As Rubin wrote, “The conspiracy cupboard is bare.”

David Smith, Washington bureau chief for the Guardian, told CNN’s Don Lemon that DDT’s obsession on President Obama is fixated on envy, vengeance, and racism. About the “clash of opposites” between DDT and the former president, who has re-entered the fray of politics, Smith wrote:

“One a mixed-race cerebral lawyer who has been married to the same woman for nearly three decades and publishes annual lists of his favorite books; the other a white billionaire and reality TV star who wed three times and measures success in TV ratings. Where one is renowned for elegant turns of phrase and shedding tears after mass shootings, the other serves up jumbled word salads and schoolboy spelling errors and has struggled to show empathy for the coronavirus dead.”

Matthew Miller, a former director of the DOJ office of public affairs, said about DDT’s animosity toward President Obama:

“Most of all, it’s driven by the fact that Obama has the thing that Trump has always craved but never achieved, and that’s respect. I’ve always thought that the respect that Barack Obama gets from people in this country and around the world is something that just eats Trump alive inside.”

DDT needs to work hard to regain his base. He has been dependent on older voters, but COVID-19 is hurting him. First, that base started to die, and then they turned on him because he said he preferred they continue to die so that the stock market goes up and he gets re-elected. In 2016, DDT won voters over 45 years old, but he lost support with them. In the 45-64 category, he dropped from four percent majority to a loss of 1.4 percent to Joe Biden, totalling 5.4 percent. In the over-65 age group, he went from 13.3 percent majority in 2016 to a loss of one percent to Biden, a total of 14.3 points.

Two speeches—one calling graduates to rally around hate and the other to build community and democracy.

November 26, 2018

Conservative Politicians Continue Far-right Activities

Last week, many people vacationed—including Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) vacationed for Thanksgiving, but politicians kept busy.

Sent to the Pacific Rim APEC trade summit last weekend, VP Mike Pence worsened global affairs of 21 nations representing 60 percent of the world’s economy with his refusal to compromise with China. Instead, China continued bonding with North Korea. The conflict was so bad that the group couldn’t even agree on a routine joint statement for the first time in 30 years. DDT frequently asks people if Pence is loyal. The answers have varied from Pence as a committed warrior to ending his usefulness because DDT needs female voters. One of DDT’s concerns might be Pence’s promise of consequences for the Saudis’ killing U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi despite DDT’s attempt to cover for the Saudis.

Two days before Thanksgiving, John Kelly, DDT’s chief of staff, signed a “Cabinet order,” a memo allowing U.S. troops, 5,900 active duty members and 2,100 National Guard members, on the Mexico border to use lethal force. DDT had already left town for Mar-a-Lago. This past weekend, ICE agents fired tear gas, a deadly chemical, at mostly Honduran asylum seekers near the Tijuana port of entry.

Hillary Clinton was pilloried for using a secure private server for her emails, but the GOP refused to criticize Ivanka Trump for using her personal email account that she shared with her husband, Jared Kushner, to send hundreds of emails last year to White House aides, Cabinet officials, and her assistants, frequently in violation of federal records rules. When she first joined the White House, she claimed all access and perks of the White House with none of the legal responsibilities or constraints. Maybe investigations by the FBI and Congress? Or cries of “Lock her up” and “Crooked Ivanka”?

Lame duck House Republicans subpoenaed former FBI director James Comey and former DOJ AG Loretta Lynch to appear in private hearings this week. Comey said he is willing to appear in an open hearing but not a closed one:

“While the authority for Congressional subpoenas is broad, it does not cover the right to misuse closed hearings as a political stunt to promote political as opposed to legislative agendas.”

DDT’s appointment of lap dog Matthew Whitaker as acting DOJ AG may fail to give him protection. According to an argument in court from the Robert Mueller investigation team:

“The validity of the Special Counsel’s appointment [in May 2017] cannot be retroactively affected by a change in the official who is serving as the Acting Attorney General.”

Two rulings, one by a DDT-appointed judge, have already upheld the constitutionality of Mueller’s appointment. Three Senate Democrats are also suing to have Whitaker removed on constitutional and legal grounds.

The U.S. Supreme Court is taking a case about whether Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross’ decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, an odd move because the case is already being heard in a New York court with closing arguments next week. The Constitution requires an accurate count of the population every ten years, something that will be lost if the estimated 24+ million people avoid the census because of fear. The census is used not only for congressional districting but allocation of federal funds, disaster and epidemic preparedness, and other government support. Ross has skipped the lengthy approval process about new survey questions and lied when he said that the DOJ had requested the addition of a citizenship question to enforce the Voting Rights Act. The Department of Commerce has only six months to submit the information to printers.

More people may not participate in the census after DDT’s proposal that census information be shared with law enforcement, an illegal action under the Census Act of 1879. In 1954, Congress passed a law stating that the Commerce Department cannot share its census data with any other government agency or court with up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines for violation. Only Congress can change this law. When Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) asked acting assistant attorney general John Gore about data being disclosed “for law enforcement or national security purposes,” DOJ attorney Ben Aguinaga answered, “I don’t think we want to say too much there in case the issues . . . or related issues come up later for renewed debate.” In other words, maybe.

DDT may not get the trade agreement similar to and replacing NAFTA that he proudly announced weeks ago. Republican lawmakers are furious about the nondiscrimination protections of sexual orientation and gender identity included by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Several GOP members of Congress object to the new trade agreement because of this one provision, but it must be passed by the end of the year to avoid the Democratic majority in the House on the first of January. Congress has just 12 days to not only pass the agreement but also agree on the farm bill and keep the government from shutting down on December 7 with DDT threatening to allow this to happen if he doesn’t get his wall.

Farmers hurt by DDT’s tariffs are promised $12 billion say they don’t want to be on the dole, but they’re not even getting the promised welfare. Only $838 million of authorized $6 billion has been paid out because farmers cannot apply until harvests are completed for the season, harvests delayed by bad weather. Soybean sales shrank by 94 percent from last year, and the subsidy covers less than half the farmers’ losses. China pork tariffs that responded to DDT’s steel and aluminum tariffs cost farmers $2 billion. Partners with farmers also get government money; Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) might get $125,000, the subsidy cap. Farmers may permanently lose their foreign countries for crops, and DDT’s tariffs may force the U.S. to keep borrowing money from China to pay for farmers.

For the second year in a row, DDT is skipping the Kennedy Center Honors, again because he doesn’t feel comfortable.

While people in the U.S. complain about Russia interfering with elections, DDT campaign worker and sycophant Steve Bannon played a role in the UK passing Brexit, supporting the nation’s separation from the European Union. Emails dating back to October 2015 reveal that Bannon, former VP of Cambridge Analytic, participated in the campaign to persuade UK voters in supporting the separation from EU. Like the U.S. the UK has laws to stop foreign companies from manipulating UK affairs.

Mississippi votes for a U.S. senator in a runoff tomorrow; the GOP candidate, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, announced last Tuesday that it was on November 22, the day of her announcement, but that was Thanksgiving. After her lauding public hangings, a number of large companies—including Aetna, AT&T, Boston Scientific, Leidos, Pfizer, Union Pacific, and Walmart—asked her to return their donations. DDT, who failed to attending lacked the time to go to Arlington National Cemetery close to the White House or visit military members on Veterans Day, extended his Thanksgiving vacation to give two campaign rallies in Mississippi today for the GOP Senate candidate.

Since the midterm elections when the Senate election to replace Jeff Sessions, who resigned to become AG before he was fired, several revelations have caused concern for Republicans about Hyde-Smith’s success. After she talked favorably about public hangings (aka lynchings), she suggested that black students should not be able to vote. Photos of her posing with Confederate artifacts at the “Shrine of [treasonous] Jefferson Davis” and the caption “Mississippi history at its best!” were accompanied by information that she promoted a measure praising a Confederate soldier’s effort to “defend his homeland” and pushed a revisionist view of the Civil War. She not only attended a private high school to avoid integrated schools but also enrolled her daughter in a “segregation academy.” The daughter graduated in 2017.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), considering a run for president, gave an interview to the New York Times about the reading habits of himself and his family. An analysis of his 33 book recommendations show all were written by white authors. Sasse’s three children, ages 17, 15, and 8, are homeschooled, probably reading no books of people by color.

The Ohio state House argued that “Motherhood is necessary” to ban abortions at six weeks, before a pregnancy appears on an ultrasound which is not medically recommended. The law is unconstitutional unless the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Even if the bill passes the state Senate, it cannot become law without Gov. John Kasich’s signature because Gov.-elect Mike DeVine cannot sign a bill passed by the legislature before he takes office.

On the more positive side, Maine will have Medicaid expansion after the departure of rabidly right-wing Gov. Paul LePage. He had refused to follow orders from the state Supreme Court to obey a vote by the people.

A U.S. district court judge ordered ICE to release over 100 Iraqis from detention centers and jails in Michigan after they had been there for more than a year. They are to be released within 30 days under “orders of supervision” and allowed to return to their homes. The majority of the detainees had been living in the U.S. for decades. Although they committed criminal offenses, they had served their time and been living “peaceably in their respective communities” since then, according to the ruling. The opinion also cites ICE’s refusal to provide documents to detainees’ attorneys, and the judge wrote that he will be issuing sanctions against ICE. Detainees had not been permitted in-person visits from family and friends, and the majority would be persecuted and even murdered if they were forced to return to Iraq because they are Christians.

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