Blow, Kristof, and Collins

In “Trump’s Leading Rivals Wear Robes” Mr. Blow says the president doesn’t have respect for separation of powers.  More likely, Charles, is that he doesn’t have any idea of what that means.  In “To Reject Trump the Perverse, Poets Wage a Battle in Verse” Mr. Kristof invites us to read the winners from among about 2,000 entries in my Donald Trump Poetry Contest.  Ms. Collins says “Elizabeth Warren Persists,” and that wow, there’s nothing worse than a woman who won’t stop talking.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

President Obama was no fan of the dreadful 2010 Supreme Court decision ruling in favor of corporate personhood. In that case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court asserted that political spending, including by corporations, was a form of speech protected by the First Amendment, opening the door for corporations to spend unlimited money on ads and other tools to get candidates elected.

The president was not alone. As The Washington Post reported the month after the ruling:

“Americans of both parties overwhelmingly oppose a Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations and unions to spend as much as they want on political campaigns, and most favor new limits on such spending, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.”

The Post continued:

“Eight in 10 poll respondents say they oppose the high court’s Jan. 21 decision to allow unfettered corporate political spending, with 65 percent ‘strongly’ opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits. The poll reveals relatively little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent).”

An overwhelming majority of America was aghast. So Obama reflected that frustration in his public statements.

The president addressed the debacle in his 2010 State of the Union address, in the presence of the Supreme Court justices who decided the case. He began his comments with a phrase that had not appeared in the prepared text, “With all due deference to separation of powers.” Then he let loose:

“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.”

Obama had previously criticized the ruling in one of his weekly radio addresses, stating:

“I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest. The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington, or more power to the special interests to tip the outcome of elections.”

He continued later:

“We don’t need to give any more voice to the powerful interests that already drown out the voices of everyday Americans, and we don’t intend to.”

That was his personal opinion — and the opinion of millions of Americans, many of whom were his supporters — and he had every right to voice it. Furthermore, he did so by confining his displeasure to the ruling itself and not impugning in any way the character or qualifications of the justices who rendered it.

And yet, condemnation of Obama was swift and brutal from some quarters.

You could argue that the venue of the State of the Union was not the appropriate one for Obama to repeat his criticism. But it is impossible to argue that his judicial rebuke, which looks quaint in retrospect, comes anywhere close to the venom Donald Trump is spewing at the judicial branch.

You could argue that Obama’s criticism carried more weight because it was aimed at the highest court. But Trump’s treatment of federal judges is worse. He’s punching down. He’s using the awesome power of the presidency to lob highly injurious and personal accusations at public servants below his station. The Supreme Court is on parity with the presidency; federal judges aren’t. This is the behavior of a bully.

As a candidate, Trump claimed that the federal judge Gonzalo P. Curiel shouldn’t be able to preside over his Trump University fraud case because, as Trump put it:

“I’m building the wall, I’m building the wall. I have a Mexican judge. He’s of Mexican heritage. He should have recused himself, not only for that, for other things.”

This of course was a lie. Curiel is an American citizen born in East Chicago, Ind.

Last week, when a federal judge ruled against his Muslim ban, Trump lashed out on Twitter (where else?):

“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”

The next day, Trump again took to Twitter:

“Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”

On Wednesday, while speaking to a gathering of police chiefs, Trump again lashed out at the court and the appeals process, reading a section of law and sniping, “A bad high school student would understand this.”

Trump should know. As a child, he got into so much trouble and became such an embarrassment to his parents that they sent him up the river, quite literally, to a military academy in the Hudson Valley for high school.

This constant, lowbrow attack on the courts is not an insignificant thing and not without consequence. And it is a major break from the way modern presidents have related to and dissented from the opinions of the judicial branch.

The New York Times’s Adam Liptak spoke with Peter G. Verniero, a former justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, after Obama’s 2010 State of the Union, and Liptak reported the exchange this way:

“The court’s legitimacy is derived from the persuasiveness of its opinions and the expectation that those opinions are rendered free of partisan, political influences,” Mr. Verniero said. “The more that individual justices are drawn into public debates, the more the court as an institution will be seen in political terms, which was not the intent of the founders.”

Neil M. Gorsuch, Trump’s own nominee for the Supreme Court, condemned the president’s attacks on the judges as demoralizing and disheartening.”

In the same way and for the same reason Trump is attacking the press, he is attacking the courts: They are the only real checks on his power and raging ego, while most congressional Republicans sit on their hands and swallow their pride.

The only courts or press that Trump sees as legitimate are those that bow to his will. All others are fake, very, very dishonest, unfair or some such. Trump’s intent here is to besmirch the means and motives of his opponents, to drag them down from their perches of principle, to make them more vulnerable to grievous political injury.

He always wants to grind the opposition underfoot. This is how democracy slips away, not always by a singular eruption, but sometimes by slow, constant erosion, the way the river carves itself into the rock.

This is not the behavior of a man who respects the independence of the judiciary or who grants any “deference to separation of powers,” as Obama improvised in 2010. This is a tyrant who sees power as a zero-sum game: The exercise of it by another branch means diminution of his own.

He doesn’t want to be president, but emperor.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

Some people stand up to President Trump in the courts, others in street protests. And the poets among us, they battle President Trump with an arsenal of verse.

The Republican man of the hour
Is a wellspring of bluster and glower.
Trump is rich and he’s white,
How’s he leading the fight
Against entrenched Establishment power?

That’s by Bill McGloughlin, a librarian in Charlotte, N.C., who was one of the winners of my Donald Trump Poetry Contest. We had about 2,000 entries, and today I’m publishing the winners.

Some relied on humor — while complaining that almost nothing rhymes with “orange”! — and that’s the tack taken by Stephen Benko, a retired businessman in Fairfield, Conn. Benko has published an entire book of poems about Trump, but this one is new:

If God made man in his image
Please explain our new President’s visage
That pucker and scowl
Look like murder most foul
What in heaven, Lord, earned us this priv’lege?

Dan Letwin, a history professor at Penn State, wrote a timely “ode to alternative facts”:

Well now, Kellyanne Conway has lately conceived
Of a new understanding of what to believe
When the truth gives you heartburn, don’t worry, relax
You can always resort to alternative facts!

Oh it works for the Donald and all of his hacks
As they go ’bout promoting their retrograde acts
Don’t fret if your documentation is lax
You can always get by with alternative facts!

Don’t fear all those women with signs on their backs
The straight and the queer, the whites and blacks
You can trivialize them with snide little cracks
And wash them away with alternative facts!

Just as loggers might swing an alternative ax
And fell a great tree with alternative whacks
When the truth won’t cooperate, try some new tacks
We live in an age of alternative facts!

I sought out pro-Trump poems, but poets seem to be disproportionately aghast at his presidency. One of the most personal poems came from Amit Majmudar, the poet laureate of Ohio, who submitted a moving poem about his mother becoming a U.S. citizen. It’s a long poem, but it ends:

In the year of our liar 2016
My mom became the citizen
Of a strange America.
Improbability, too, is a force of nature.
We couldn’t not watch.
Unnatural untruths become natural lies.

In 2016, my mom became a naturalized

Citizen just in time to watch
America denature.

Najma Menai of West Lafayette, Ind., a student at Purdue, says that writing poetry is “one of the chief ways I’m keeping myself sane these days.” She submitted this poem warning against Trump’s antics distracting us from critical issues:

He will say something awful
And cause quite the fuss
Until that one thing
Is all we discuss.…

So when Trump says
The wall will now be a fence
Worry more about
Bannon and Priebus and Pence….

And when he acts like a child
On the global stage
Worry more about
How you, yes you, must engage

Richard Kenney, a poet who teaches at the University of Washington, offered a lovely poem about our “commander in tweet.” Two excerpts:

We mustn’t slander our Twitter Commander,
he’ll burble our bird and snatch our bander
and fire off a tweet with his hot little hand, or
maybe report us, so stay discreet—
Commander in Tweet! Commander in Tweet!
Muster the army, commission the fleet!
He’s a patsy for Putin, buffoon complete—
(And that old Constitution? Hit Delete—)

I held this contest partly because we’ve all heard so much commentary about Trump, and I figured that verse might offer a new lens through which to see our president. It also struck me that there are fears that Trump will slash budgets for the humanities and the arts, including the National Endowment for the Arts. So it seemed appropriate to applaud the artists fighting the perverse with verse — and in that spirit, I’ll give the last word to Susan McLean, a poet and English professor at Southwest Minnesota State University:

Trump seethes at what the writers say.
He’ll pull the plug on the N.E.A.
The joke’s on him. Art doesn’t pay.
We write our satires anyway.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

It’s a dark and dismal time for American liberals. Except for the part where the opposition keeps shooting itself in the foot.

We will now pause to contemplate the fact that this week the Senate Republicans attempted to forward their agenda by silencing Elizabeth Warren while she was reading a letter from Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow.

In explanation, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell basically called Warren a pushy girl.

Talk about the gift that keeps on giving. Never has a political party reached such a pinnacle of success, and then instantly begun using it to inspire the opposition.

We’re less than three weeks into the Trump administration, and almost every day the people in power stop delivering the message of the day and veer off into a Strange Tale.

Which do you think the Democrats found most empowering — Trump’s first full day in the White House, when he marched off to the C.I.A. to deliver a rambling tirade about the inauguration crowd size? The Holocaust Remembrance Day proclamation that eliminated any reference to the Jews? Or the new Supreme Court nominee saying the president who named him was being “demoralizing” and “disheartening”?

Or this Senate-silencing moment? The subject at hand was the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general. The debate was going to be endless. It was evening and nobody was listening. Warren was taking her turn and reading a letter Coretta Scott King wrote about Sessions in 1986.

That was when Sessions was rejected for a federal judgeship on the basis of an impressive record of racial insensitivity as a U.S. attorney in Alabama. The charges included referring to a black assistant U.S. attorney as “boy,” joking about the Ku Klux Klan and referring to the N.A.A.C.P. as “un-American.”

His supporters say he’s changed. Indeed, Sessions has evolved into a senator who is well liked by his peers and obsessed with illegal immigrants. Totally different person.

Mrs. King’s letter was not flattering. (“…has used the awesome power of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”) Neither were the quotes Warren read from the late Senator Edward Kennedy (“a disgrace”). But none of it was exactly a surprise, and all of Washington knew the nomination was eventually going to pass. Yet McConnell decided to shut down Warren, claiming she had “impugned the motives and conduct” of a fellow senator.

McConnell cited Rule 19, which is more than a century old. It comes up about once a generation, when somebody calls a colleague an idiot or a liar. But this was totally different. The other senators were startled — or would have been if most of them had not been napping or back in their offices, dialing up donors.

“She was warned,” McConnell said later. “She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Wow, nothing worse than a woman who won’t stop talking.

“They were waiting to Rule 19 someone and they specifically targeted Elizabeth,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “I think because she’s effective.”

The social media exploded. You have to admit we live in wondrous times, people. There was a day when people only took to Facebook to post pictures of their vacation. On Wednesday they were pouring in to watch Elizabeth Warren read her forbidden letter.

Dark and extremely conspiratorial minds suggested the whole thing was a Republican plot to promote Warren as a presidential candidate, since they believe Trump could defeat her in 2020. This presumes that McConnell is suffering from a pathological case of advance planning.

More likely he’s simply exhausted from dealing with a White House occupant who’s managed, just this week, to accuse the media of not covering terrorism, to suggest that George W. Bush was more of a killer than Vladimir Putin, and to use the official presidential account to tweet an attack on Nordstrom’s for discontinuing his daughter’s fashion line.

And the Republicans in Congress can’t figure out how to work around him. The other day the House majority refused to approve a Democratic resolution affirming “that the Nazi regime targeted the Jewish people in its perpetuation of the Holocaust.” It obviously was an attempt to remind people of that Holocaust Memorial Week debacle. But still.

“They’re definitely squirming,” said Representative Joe Crowley, the chairman of the House Democratic caucus, in a phone interview. Crowley was on his way to Baltimore for a party strategy conference. I believe I speak for a great many Americans when I say a strategy would be a very good thing.

The Democrats are immersed in an ongoing battle between centrists and progressives and a long way from coming up with a united message. “There’s still anger and a bit of depression, but … they’re giving us incredible fodder to use against them,” Crowley said.

It’s true. Always look for a silver lining. Or at least a little fodder. Keep talking, Elizabeth.

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