And it’s got a little bit of everything.
Yes, Bezos has dealt with it brilliantly. It helps — how shall I put this delicately? — that his pride got the better of his embarrassment, and that there was nothing embarrassing about his pride.
.. It also helps that Bezos has the financial means and journalistic tools to get to the bottom of the hacking. I don’t know if the government did the hacking — the truth is probably prosaic, but Pecker’s friendship with Trump raises an eyebrow — but if it did it would be a scandal for the ages.
.. Even now the connections are tantalizing. Why is Pecker “apoplectic” about Bezos’ investigation into who leaked the story to the Enquirer and whether the leak was politically motivated? And how might the potential withdrawal of legal immunity that Pecker obtained last year in connection with his handling of Trump’s hush money payments to his mistresses affect the Southern District’s investigation of Trump’s probable violations of campaign-finance laws?
Going forward, I think we need to start describing all of these ties as the Axis of Pecker. Just saying.
.. But I think context and intention matter. Billy Crystal did “blackface” for a Sammy Davis Jr. impression, and I don’t think Crystal is racist in any respect. Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman, to name a few boldface names, have all done blackface. If we’re going to start excommunicating people from public life for this, we’re going to destroy a lot of people who almost surely intended no harm.
Gail: Yeah, but I don’t remember Billy Crystal doing his act with a guy wearing a sheet.
Bret: That’s true. And I think that’s in a different league in terms of offensiveness. But again, I think we need to better understand the context, whether it was connected to a pattern of behavior, and whether it was ever repeated. And again, we are talking about an incident from 35 years ago followed by an admirable life without any hint of racial bias.
Right now, Northam’s real moral jeopardy is that he has contradicted himself and is doing a duck-and-cover move. He has a good opportunity to rise above it, first by clarifying how exactly that photo ended up on his yearbook page — and whether he’s one of the people in the picture, as he now claims he isn’t — and then by explaining why the casual racism of a past generation mustn’t be communicated to the present.
.. There was a time when I thought term limits were a great idea. But I’ve cooled on it. When you’ve got a politician who isn’t going to be able to run for re-election, you’ve got a politician spending a whole lot of time planning how to get the next job. Plus you get a lot of … strange people. Rest my case.
.. I’m as eager as anyone to see what’s in Trump’s tax returns. But how do Democrats handle this to make sure it doesn’t redound to Trump’s political benefit?
.. You mean how do they avoid having so many people investigating him the public begins to feel sorry for him?
.. I mean, going down every rabbit hole means that you are going to come up empty many times. That can do as much to obscure criminal behavior as it can to expose it, and to desensitize the public to the significance of truly scandalous disclosures when they are merely bobbing in the sea with not-so-scandalous ones.
.. It doesn’t help when cable TV is obsessing about this stuff 24/7. I think the investigations would be better helped if news about them came out only once every other week, with Representative Adam Schiff or someone like him saying: Here’s the stuff we’ve learned, here’s why it matters, here’s what we’re going to look into next and here’s why.
Gail: Well, cable TV does cover other stuff — I’m just sitting here watching CNN cover climate change in Louisiana. But the producers know what the public is obsessing about, and so do politicians. When they see their constituents these days, the first question a lot of them get isn’t “How’s the infrastructure bill doing?” It’s “What are you going to do about Trump?”
.. I think Trump’s calculation is that he can do a Groundhog’s Day in reverse: That is, shut down the government again and again, and behave worse with each successive iteration. This rallies his base while, at some point a majority of Americans will say, “Just give him his darn wall.” Or so he figures. But we’ll have to see how he reacts to the “agreement in principle” that the House and Senate seem to have reached.
The alternative narrative, and the more convincing one, is that Trump has continued to play games with the livelihoods of American workers for the sake of a bit of fencing that solves nothing except his own political problems.
One thing that is becoming clear is the G.O.P. campaign theme for 2020. They are going to claim Democrats are the party of
- open borders,
- nationalized health care, and an
- environmentalist agenda that will wind up outlawing
- air travel and
- steaks and maybe even
- milk, too.
The Republicans are indeed ranting now about the Green New Deal, which Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats put forward. A.O.C. did mention eliminating “emissions from cows or air travel,” but — contrary to Trump’s swipes — that was a rather lighthearted description of a perfect future rather than a part of the plan.
And Trump has been playing the socialism card, but I don’t think it’s going to work. There are a number of Democrats who’d like to move toward a society that offers health care for everyone, free college tuition for those who can’t afford to pay, and federal work programs for the unemployed — paid for by much higher taxes on the rich. Most Americans want the same things. If the Democrats are smart about the way they present the programs, things should be fine.
I am aware, Bret, that this sort of talk causes you great pain. That’s why we’re in different political camps.
.. It causes me great pain because I’m attached to no party: I can’t support the Trumpian G.O.P. but I can’t support the Democrats, either, as long as they’re repudiating their belief in traditional liberalism for the sake of an anticapitalist, ruinously expensive policy agenda. I would love to hear a Democrat say, as Hillary Clinton did, we are not Denmark! And I fear the Democrats’ new progressivism will so turn off voters that they’ll re-elect Trump as the better of two bad alternatives.
All of which is to say, we’ll have plenty to converse about in the months ahead. And maybe we might even disagree a bit more.
When we are secure and confident in our oneness—knowing that all are created in God’s image and are equally beloved—differences of faith, culture, language, skin color, sexuality, or other trait no longer threaten us. Rather, we seek to understand and honor others and to live in harmony with them.
.. In the Qur’an, the people who opposed Islam when Muhammad began to preach in Mecca are called the kafirum. The usual English translation is extremely misleading: it does not mean “unbeliever” or “infidel”; the root KFR means “blatant ingratitude,” a discourteous and arrogant refusal of something offered with great kindness. . . . They were not condemned for their “unbelief” but for their braying, offensive manner to others, their pride, self-importance, chauvinism, and inability to accept criticism.  . . . Above all, they are jahili: chronically “irascible,” acutely sensitive about their honor and prestige, with a destructive tendency to violent retaliation. Muslims are commanded to respond to such abusive behavior with hilm (“forbearance”) and quiet courtesy, leaving revenge to Allah. They must “walk gently on the earth,” and whenever the jahilun insult them, they should simply reply, “Peace.”
.. There was no question of a literal, simplistic reading of scripture. Every single image, statement, and verse in the Qur’an is called an ayah (“sign,” “symbol,” “parable”), because we can speak of God only analogically. The great ayat of the creation and the last judgment are not introduced to enforce “belief,” but they are a summons to action. Muslims must translate these doctrines into practical behavior. The ayah of the last day, when people will find that their wealth cannot save them, should make Muslims examine their conduct here and now: Are they behaving kindly and fairly to the needy? They must imitate the generosity of Allah ..
.. By looking after the poor compassionately, freeing their slaves, and performing small acts of kindness on a daily, hourly basis, Muslims would acquire a responsible, caring spirit, purging themselves of pride and selfishness. By modeling their behavior on that of the Creator, they would achieve spiritual refinement [what I would call growing in God’s likeness].
It is church leadership, from the popes all the way down, that hasn’t been able to tell right from wrong. Yet how can this be, in an institution at least nominally dedicated to precisely that task? I think there are two interrelated reasons.
The first is an age-old problem. Since its alliance with the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, the Catholic hierarchy has been tempted by power. It has cloaked itself in mystery to rule by edict rather than by example. At root, this scandal springs from idolatry: Bishops employ secrecy and deceit to promote the heresy that the priesthood is superior to the people in the pews. The words of John A. Hardon, a Jesuit priest, are as true now as when he wrote them 20 years ago: “Most of the chaos in the Catholic Church today is due to the pride of priests.”
.. The second is the church’s unfortunate negative obsession with sex — a problem it shares with many conservative Protestant congregations. To a broken world they offer a gospel of no-nos. The church exalts, from the Virgin Mary to the parish priest, the sexless life, as though the very engine of God’s creation were a sign of spiritual failure and source of shame.
Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history. We also know that this treatment inflicts trauma; interned Japanese have been two times as likely to suffer cardiovascular disease or die prematurely than those who were not interned... Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation, on being the nation that sends humanitarian relief to places devastated by natural disasters or famine or war. We pride ourselves on believing that people should be seen for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. We pride ourselves on acceptance. If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place... People on all sides agree that our immigration system isn’t working, but the injustice of zero tolerance is not the answer... . She reported that while there were beds, toys, crayons, a playground and diaper changes, the people working at the shelter had been instructed not to pick up or touch the children to comfort them. Imagine not being able to pick up a child who is not yet out of diapers... Twenty-nine years ago, my mother-in-law, Barbara Bush, visited Grandma’s House, a home for children with HIV/AIDS in Washington. Back then, at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, the disease was a death sentence, and most babies born with it were considered “untouchables.” During her visit, Barbara — who was the first lady at the time — picked up a fussy, dying baby named Donovan and snuggled him against her shoulder to soothe him. My mother-in-law never viewed her embrace of that fragile child as courageous. She simply saw it as the right thing to do in a world that can be arbitrary, unkind and even cruel. She, who after the death of her 3-year-old daughter knew what it was to lose a child, believed that every child is deserving of human kindness, compassion and love.
In 2018, can we not as a nation find a kinder, more compassionate and more moral answer to this current crisis? I, for one, believe we can.