General Kelly takes on a new assignment

I keep telling myself I won’t write about politics anymore; it’s too depressing. But I keep making an exception for John Kelly, the ex-Marine general who headed Homeland Security and now will be Chief of Staff in the Trump White House.

I make the exception because Kelly is my age and from my home town. Many of the same forces that shaped me presumably also shaped him. But here we are. One could imagine a military guy agreeing to take on Homeland Security — it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. Better someone who is competent that an idiot or an ideologue. But if competence leads to an outcome like this, give me idiocy:

Colindres always thought of America as a dream refuge. He fled Guatemala in 2004 to get away from the drug trafficking, from the murder, from the country where one of his family members was killed. He came across the border through Texas — where many of those he traveled with were caught. He decided to turn himself in and he was released into the US on a provisional waiver.

What he did not know, until after he married Samantha and began legal proceedings to become a US citizen, was that he had missed a court date in Texas. New England Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Shawn Neudauer said an order of removal was issued by a federal judge in 2004.

Colindres maintains the system failed him, too. Officials had his name and address wrong, he said, so he never knew about the court date or resulting order.

“I’m not a criminal. The only thing I did wrong was miss a court (appearance),” he said. “I didn’t know, I was just 20 years old. I made a mistake. I’m sorry. I think that’s all I can say.”

And now Kelly will apply his competence to–what? It will all end badly, for Kelly and for the country. He is likely to end up a dignity wraith, to use Josh Marshall’s brilliant term, having accomplished nothing except ruining his reputation and, like his predecessor, expressing gratitude to the great man who has humiliated him.

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Battle lines being drawn

Here’s an article about Jamie Gorelick, the high-powered progressive attorney who has become the lawyer for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Just another day in Trump’s America.

I find this interesting because the lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, was in my class at Harvard, and this has become the subject of some interest on the class mailing list. As with the head of Homeland Security, I don’t know this person, but it feels like there’s a connection. And I find myself wondering: how does this person make such a choice? The article says that she didn’t realize that some of her friend would call her a turncoat. How could she not realize this? Gorelick has done far more than I have for liberal causes, but if I were attending a reunion, I’d be hard-pressed to shake her hand, knowing that she has in any way aided Trump’s family. At the end of the article Gorelick gets emotional as she worries about the quest for “political purity”:

She teared up, reached for a tissue, and, with her voice cracking, she added, “It would be a travesty for this country to go down that road. I believe in the facts. I believe in the law. I believe if you follow that system, you will get to a fair result. I don’t see that changing. Even now.”

But what if, in following the system, she enables a bunch of people who are intent on destroying that system? How will she explain that to her grandchildren?

Here’s the song running through my head, which is much more nuanced than I’m feeling nowadays:

I can’t stop thinking about General Kelly

. . . the head of the Department of Homeland Security born in the same town as me, in the same year as me.

Here he is at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday night:

That night at Mar-a-Lago, Trump had dinner with Sessions, Bannon, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly and White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, among others. They tried to put Trump in a better mood by going over their implementation plans for the travel ban, according to a White House official.

This is not a Cabinet secretary; this is a courtier.  Does he think he is helping America by doing this?  Does he think his grandchildren will honor him for doing this?  I can imagine a person who takes a job hoping to improve an awful situation by providing common sense and sanity.  This does not appear to be Kelly’s motivation.

Ah, General!  History will not treat you kindly.

Life is stupider than fiction: Trump edition

Here is me complaining about how stupid it was for Mitt Romney’s campaign manager to go public with their plan to “Etch-a-Sketch” his campaign after he won the nomination.

Those were such innocent times!

I find it difficult to imagine Trump as a literary character, because the humorous parts of his character (his absurd vanity, for example) are so hard to reconcile with the incredible damage he could if he somehow managed to get himself elected.  This is real life, unfortunately.

Fiction (the kind of fiction I write, anyway) needs to assume a level of competence in the protagonist — that’s where the tension comes from.  You want a real Russian spy, not the dim-witted dupe that Trump apparently is.  You want a real billionaire who is nefariously turning his attention to politics after mastering the business world, not an unsuccessful huckster.

Trump’s incompetence would be disqualifying in a novel; it should be disqualifying in real life as well.  Too bad reality doesn’t play by the same rules.

We’re hearing a lot of denouncements of Donald Trump lately

But why aren’t they denunciations?

Here’s the sort of thing I’ve noticed, from the Times:

Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, the chairman of the House Democratic campaign arm, said his party was aiming to ensure that Republicans would be tarnished by Mr. Trump, even if they distanced themselves from him.

“A denouncement of Trump at this point is too little, too late,” Mr. Luján warned.

In another article, I spotted a Times writer using denouncements outside a quotation, but later the word was switched to denunciations in the online version.

Here’s a HuffPo article with denouncement in the headline and denunciation in the subhead.  “Trump’s Denouncements of KKK Leader Don’t Matter Anymore”:

“Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see the denunciations are not sincere,” said a Southern Poverty Law Center fellow.

Maybe there’s just been a lot of denouncing going on lately.  Or maybe the language is changing, and denounce/denunciation is going the way of repel/repulsion, and the noun/verb pair is becoming similar.  In the case of repel/repulse, Google Ngram Viewer shows us a big uptick in the use of the verb repulse over the past twenty years, although repel is still more frequent.  Denouncement is used about ten times less than denunciation, Google says.  But maybe this campaign will change all that.