Saturday, July 29, 2017

Goodbye to the Voice(s)
of Our American Childhood

If you're of a certain age today in America, and even if you’re not, you lost something special on July 26. It was some of that part of yourself that, over time, you may have tricked or reasoned your way out of believing in. Your childhood.

June Lucille Forer died that day at a hospital in Los Angeles, at the age of 99, 54 days before her 100th birthday. The world never really knew her by that name. You could say the world knew her by her professional name, June Foray, but that’s not even right.

The world really better knew her as Rocket J. Squirrel and Natasha Fatale, as Nell Fenwick and Witch Hazel, as Mother Magoo and Cindy-Lou Who, as Grandmother Fa and Jokey Smurf, as a talking Mattel doll and two of the boys in the water in a Steven Spielberg movie. Hers was the voice of a hundred faces, the animated faces and identities of our collective American childhood. ...

Read the full appreciation at Geeks

Image credit: Foray: Randy Leffingwell/Los Angeles Times. Geeks logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Six months and change:
The Trump presidency* and the nation

WE’RE ABOUT 12.5 PERCENT through the presidency* of Donald Trump, six months and change, and for a chief executive who famously distrusts the polls, there’s been a lot for him to disbelieve in lately. No fewer than five opinion polls in a row — released within days of July 20, the day of Trump’s six-month anniversary in The White House — show how politically and civically damaged Trump is.

If the polls are any indicator, there’s a lot to suggest that a ghost-ship narrative has taken hold of the subconscious of those in power at House Trump; what’s been more or less consistently communicated to the public is an administration bereft of any governing vision that extends beyond imposing the word No or asking How Much It Costs ... that and the ongoing parade of horrors and conundrum led by the tweeter-in-chief.

The first six months of his shambolic administration have been defined by two stories — the Russia hacking controversy, which dogs House Trump structurally and imagistically; and the prospects for Trumpcare, which faces a bruising legislative future — and by the Trump White House’s woefully ham-handed responses to dealing with both of them.

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Over that six months (and really before the administration began), House Trump has violated some basic laws of political physics: First, don’t vacate the high ground of a story you can’t escape. Like nature, the media abhors a vacuum, and the media, facing a relative absence of credible sourced information, will go with smart analysis, informed speculation and White House leaks — until the credible sourced information shows up (and it always does). At the very least, House Trump is learning that lesson from the immense fallout surrounding the Russia hacking scandal: Define the story early or the story will define you. Forever.

Second, don’t measure yourself against the actions and policies of your predecessor. To do so is to nullify your own identity. We’ve seen this time and again in the fury of conservatives’ attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell feverishly looking for every procedural trick in the book to topple the Obama White House’s greatest legislative achievement; and Trump himself calling for (or demanding) one more try — just one more repeat do-over.

In the bizzarro-world looking glass through which we view modern American politics, it’s clear: Thanks to a mountain range of insecurities, shady financial dealings with a sanctioned and adversarial foreign power; a perverse misapplication of congressional energy, and a squandering of already meager good will, Donald Trump has done the improbable: making much of the first six months of his administration more about the Obama presidency than about his own.

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THE DISCONNECT that’s existed between House Trump and the American people reveals itself in a wave of surveys that underscore the popular sense of an administration in free fall, and a chief executive increasingly unpopular and out of touch. One poll in particular tells a story Trump would just as soon forget: The media, a favored White House punching bag, has supporters who are punching back on its behalf.

According to a July 17 survey from Public Policy Polling, a majority of American voters trusts the networks, metropolitan daily newspapers and other big media outlets more than than they trust Trump. According to the PPP poll, 54 percent of Americans said they put stock in CNN, a major Trump bête noire from the campaign days into the White House, more than they trust the president*. Only 39 percent said they trust the Trump more than CNN. ABC and NBC got the same benefit of the doubt (each with 56 percent majorities). The New York Times and The Washington Post got similar respect.

There’s a growing call for The Donald’s impeachment. A Monmouth University poll released on July 17 showed that more people want to see Trump impeached today than was the case for then-incumbent Richard Nixon at the start of the Watergate scandal. “About 4-in-10 Americans currently support impeaching Trump six months into his term, which is significantly higher than the number who called for Richard Nixon's impeachment six months into that president's second term,” the poll says.

“The president's job rating currently stands at a net negative 39% approve and 52% disapprove. This is nearly identical to his 39%-53% rating in May.”

◊ ◊ ◊

ACCORDING TO GALLUP, Trump has registered the lowest favorable opinion results in decades. “President Donald Trump averaged 38.8% job approval during his second quarter in office, which spanned April 20 through July 19,” Gallup reported. “No other president has had a worse second-quarter average. Bill Clinton is the only other president who fell below the majority level of approval at a comparable point in his administration.”

“Trump's average approval rating for his second quarter in office, 38.8%, is more than five percentage points lower than the next closest president, Bill Clinton at 44%,” Gallup reported. “The two are the only presidents on the list whose average job approval does not rise above 50%.”

And Gallup finds that Trump isn’t growing the Republican church at all. On the contrary: “Trump maintains solid support among his fellow Republicans. However, with fewer than three in 10 Americans identifying as Republican he cannot rely on Republicans alone to have healthy job approval ratings.”

◊ ◊ ◊

By an admittedly slim margin, the Democrats are now preferred over Republicans to run Congress, as a check on Trump’s machinations, according to the Washington Post/ABC News poll. The survey found that voters are “clearly preferring Democrats in control of Congress to check President Trump even as Republicans appear more motivated to show up at the polls.

“A slight majority of registered voters — 52 percent — say they want Democrats to control the next Congress, while 38 percent favor Republican control to promote the president’s agenda, according to the poll.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Birth of a Commotion

It wasn’t exactly the shot heard ‘round the world, and it didn’t need to be; it was the press release sent and resent around the Twitterverse.

On July 19, HBO announced some of its post-Game of Thrones future with its greenlight of an original drama series that will revisit the American past, and provocatively revise it, in a time of real-life racial and ethnic turmoil that rivals any in our history.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, showrunners, writers and developers of Game of Thrones (just starting its seventh season) will create and write Confederate, a series set to chronicle “the events leading to the Third American Civil War,” HBO announced.

From the press release: “It takes place in an alternate timeline, where the Southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution. The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone – freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate, and the families of people in their thrall.” ...

Read the full report at Geeks

Image credits: White Walker: Game of Thrones/HBO. Geeks logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Trumpcare Dies in the Senate.
Cause: Pre-Existing Conditions

In recent days and weeks, the debate over the future of Trumpcare in the media has generated a kind of Health Metaphor Full Employment Act. You’ve read the words: Trumpcare was On Life Support. It was in Critical Condition or Guarded Condition. It was hashtagged with #Emergency Room or it was Flatlining. Its declining fortunes dovetailed with the phrases available to describe it.

Finally, on July 18, the medical language ran out about the same time the bill did: Trumpcare, aka the American Health Care Act, was dead at the age of four months and 12 days. Time of death? Depends on who you asked. Some say it died that day, when Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia announced plans to vote against the legislation.

Others think it died the day before, when GOP senators Jerry Moran of Kansas and Mike Lee of Utah stated their opposition. ...

But there’s not much debate over the cause of death: Trumpcare died from complications of its own elitist history; an inability to improve on what it was meant to replace; and the passionate and ecumenical reaction to the Trumpcare bill in social media, editorials, petitions, months of sour polling data, phone calls and — especially — in angry, deeply personal reactions from citizens at town halls across America. ...

Read the full story at Swamp

Image creit: McConnell: Via Politico. Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Straight shooters I and II:
Mueller and Wray raise the bar, and the stakes

PRESIDENT* TRUMP does nothing by half measures, not even arrogance. The shambolic enterprise that his administration has been from the beginning has always been typified by the gale force of the Trump persona. But upon taking office, and for too long since then, he’s assumed the personage of the bloated amateur of a high diver with more nerve than skills, a man whose inescapable cannonball splash is followed by a climb from the water, and a fast but prideful undulating away from the scene, for all the world acting like a man on his way to the medal stand at the Olympics.

This was maybe never more obvious than when he fired then-FBI Director James Comey in a timed-release fit of pique that showed just how thin-skinned and reactionary this president* is. In a Trumpian bellyflop nobody saw coming, Comey was cashiered on May 9, two days before Comey was to testify in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. “In a letter informing Comey of his removal, Trump told him, 'It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.’”

“I don’t think this is rule of law. This is rule by Trump,” former FBI special agent Clint Watts told The Daily Beast on May 9. “[Trump] doesn’t like anybody who’s independent. I think it made him nervous that he couldn’t get Comey under his wing.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution said Trump’s decision to fire Comey “removes the one person of stature (figurative as well as literal) in the government whom everyone knows will—even when he’s wrong—do what he thinks is the right thing and damn the torpedo[e]s,” Wittes wrote on his lawfare blog. “It removes, in other words, the essential person for a credible investigation.”

It was the power of the Trump brand, his style of decision-making that invited speculation by various seers in the punditburo who debated whether Robert S. Mueller III, the former FBI director appointed to investigate the role of Trump and his family and minions in the Russia hacking affair, was compromisable — either through the impact of the Trump persona and the force multiplier of the vast powers of the presidency ... or through some inner failing on the part of Mueller himself, as if the man could be bought and sold in the marketplace after all.

Many on the right apparently felt the same way, with a growing chorus calling for Mueller's head in a basket, too, just like Comey. “The idea that the investigation is illegitimate and politically motivated has been gaining currency on the political right for months,” The New York Times reported June 12. “Conservative writers, radio hosts and cable personalities — emboldened by the president himself, who has called it a witch hunt — have repeatedly sought to discredit the inquiry, its investigators, the mainstream news accounts of it, and the lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are demanding more answers.”

They needn’t have bothered. Mueller was appointed in mid-May, and tasked with a “full and thorough” investigation into the cyberscandal in which Russia tried to thumbscale the 2016 presidential election. A former prosecutor, ex-Marine and as celebrated a former director as any in the annals of the FBI, Mueller took the helm as Director one week before 9/11 — as crucible an event as you could ask for. In the current crisis, he’s presented himself as someone who intends to perform his brief, to fulfill the job he was brought on to do. He made that clear in a statement in a tweet after his appointment: “I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability.” Full stop.

◊ ◊ ◊

SO HOUSE TRUMP already faced the expected pushback from Mueller, whose mission is to aggressively investigate what Trump doesn’t want investigated at all — that’s why he fired Comey in the first place. That was bad enough. But then, of course, Trump needed to name Comey’s replacement at FBI; he tapped someone who, with his recent testimony as evidence, may be as much of a problem for him as Comey or Mueller.

FBI Director nominee Christopher A. Wray, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 12, set the terms of engagement for anyone at House Trump who’d try to interfere in any way with the Russia investigation:

There are no terms of engagement. There will be no engagement.

“I would consider an effort to tamper with Director Mueller’s investigation to be unacceptable and inappropriate,” Wray told a committee already predisposed to hosannahs for this former G-man and successful Atlanta litigator. In his comments, Wray praised Mueller as “the ultimate straight shooter.”

◊ ◊ ◊

This isn’t just a budding law enforcement bromance in the works. What we’re seeing — and Trump knows this — is a pre-emptive warning to House Trump: Tampering? A late-night phone call just to ask an innocent question? Don’t even contemplate. What Mueller and Wray have done, separately but together, is establish a united front on the Russia hacking investigation, to suggest, without actually saying so, that, while this investigation may have one objective, it's likely to develop through multiple channels.

Friday, July 14, 2017

No 'SoHa,' NowOrEver

WHEN I LIVED at 125th Street and Fifth Avenue in the borough of Manhattan, it was a hard-won badge of honor. I’d hopscotched around New York City for more than a few years, moving from Hell’s Kitchen (in what is now predominately known as Chelsea, in a victory of urban planners with no sense of urban poetry) to Greenwich Village, and even vacating the city altogether, spending a brief stint in Jersey City.

But when I took possession of my fourth-floor walkup up-uptown, I also took proud ownership of a relationship with an old neighbor, one that began when I crossed Central Park North and walked into the southernmost district of Harlem.

For generations, the history behind this celebrated 3.8-square mile swathe of upper Manhattan has been a source of pride to African Americans — indeed, to any and all Americans with a sense of history beyond the star-spangled pabulum we’ve been fed all our lives. ...

During the 20 years of the Harlem Renaissance, novelists, poets, artists and musicians made the area a vibrant, genially explosive hothouse for some of America’s most powerful and enduring artistic contributions. And the streets and parks of the area have kept the names of the secular saints of black history: Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, Malcolm X Boulevard, Frederick Douglass Boulevard, Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard, Marcus Garvey Park, Jackie Robinson Park. ...

For years now, there’s been a kind of cultural détente at work there, a relationship that saw elements of upscale, privileged, entitled America co-existing with the earthier aspects of Harlem’s more indigenous identity. Even as Starbucks, Old Navy and American Apparel moved into the neighborhood, the older, legendary persona persisted. The lion, it seemed, could lie down with the lamb. Mocha Frappuccino went just fine with sweet potato pie.

Lately, however, there’s been a move afoot to obliterate the name of that iconic district. With one trial balloon or another, real-estate developers and some business owners have undertaken efforts to change the name of at least part of Harlem to “SoHa,” a too-hip-by-half compression of “South Harlem” that borrows the sadly frequent tendency to shorten established neighborhood names to something almost unintelligible (and certainly unintelligent).

The rationale is flimsy at best; the proposed name change is thought to attract more home buyers, or to make the neighborhood more appealing to young, upwardly mobile residents — those with no compunction about changing manifestations of history that don’t personally involve them.

But just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should. ...

Read the full piece at Swamp

Image credits: Harlem Renaissance map: Ephemera Press. Harlem subway map excerpt: MTA. Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Supremes' declarations of independence

IN HIS September 2005 Senate confirmation hearing, John Roberts told senators that, if confirmed to join the nation’s highest court, he would “remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”

As the head umpire of the team of judicial referees we call the Supreme Court of the United States, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has been in a unique position to do just that — weighing in on matters whose import in the national life is nothing short of existential, making decisions with his (now, finally) eight colleagues that are, often enough, nothing short of unpredictable.

That unpredictability is sometimes the most predictable thing about SCOTUS decisions, as a look at the current, almost-ended term will show. The Supremes’ meme isn’t always what we think it is. This term has shown that, regardless of the ideological reflexiveness commonly assumed about the Supreme Court's members, they’re prone to handing down surprises from the bench, rulings that confound those who confuse Supreme Court justices with other people — like politicians.

This fact doesn’t stop presidents from making nomination choices for the high court in as predictable, and political, a way as you could ask for. Donald Trump has been no different.

◊ ◊ ◊

When Neil M. Gorsuch — Trump’s first pick for the court — was Senate-confirmed as an associate justice in April, it aroused waves of shock and fear in the nation’s progressive community, who conjured Chicken Little scenarios in which the sky of American jurisprudence would always be falling — on them, courtesy of the narcissistic First Hairpiece from New York and the strict-constructionist 10th Circuit Court judge from Denver.

Fast forward three months, and the high court hasn’t turned into the retributive right-wing playground many had feared. Recent pre-Gorsuch decisions by the court suggest just the opposite.

Despite the convenience of labels, and the equal convenience of our current political polarities, reports of the death of SCOTUS’ judicial independence have been greatly exaggerated, and not just recently. That fact could have a major impact on, and be a major complicator of, Trump’s judicial master plan.

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CONSIDER THE recent past at the high court: In October, not long after the first Monday in October that marks the start of the every Supreme Court term, the court ruled unanimously in Bosse v. Oklahoma that the death sentence for Shaun Michael Bosse, convicted of murdering his girlfriend and her two children, was reversed, his case to be reviewed by a lower court because the victim’s family members recommended a punishment to the jury. No ideological divide there, despite conservatives’ general appeal for death sentences.

On March 21, the court, 6-2, ruled that Elijah Manuel, an African American man, could sue the city of Joliet, Ill., for unlawful detention after he was arrested in 2011 by white police officers and held for seven weeks on suspicion of possessing illegal drugs, which turned out to be no more than vitamins. Most of the court’s conservatives agreed with this stand against prosecutors and in favor of a black male plaintiff.

The court’s breaks with the presumptions of social and political orthodoxy go back way before last October. Years before. We saw the court’s willingness to cross partisan lines of party politics in June 2012, when Chief Justice John Roberts (a Reagan-era Republican) cast the deciding vote to uphold President Obama’s signature and centerpiece, the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — and ushered in a torrent of divergent opinions about his true political leanings. Roberts similarly upheld Obamacare from the bench again in June 2015.

◊ ◊ ◊

In April 2014, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, kindred ideological spirits, were on the opposite sides of Prado Navarette et al. v. California, a SCOTUS decision that ruled that an anonymous tipster’s call to 911 to file a report was a valid reason for the California Highway Patrol officers to stop a driver for suspected drunken driving.

Thomas wrote the majority opinion for the court’s customary conservatives — Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito Jr. — plus the usually liberal Breyer.

Meanwhile, Scalia, ordinarily a rock-ribbed ideological conservative, dissented along with the court’s reliable progressives — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Scalia wrote that the court’s majority in the case had given law enforcement a “freedom-destroying” authority. “Drunken driving is a serious matter, but so is the loss of our freedom to come and go as we please without police interference.”

Scalia wrote: “After today’s opinion all of us on the road, and not just drug dealers, are at risk of having our freedom of movement curtailed on suspicion of drunkenness, based upon a phone tip, true or false, of a single instance of careless driving.”

Also in 2014, in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, a case upholding Michigan’s voter-approved law banning the consideration of race when making decisions on university admissions, Justice Stephen Breyer (usually part of the liberal clique) sided with conservatives in the 6-2 ruling.

◊ ◊ ◊

SINCE GORSUCH was confirmed in April, he’s largely settled into an amen corner with Justice Clarence Thomas as a champion of ultraconservative views. Gorsuch has rendered his first opinions, blasting outta the blocks on cases, supporting gun ownership rights, pushing back on the Obama-era latitude of rights of same-sex couples, and weighing in (on the Trump administration’s side) over the Muslim travel ban.

A cascade of rulings is expected between now and later in July, when the court ends this term. Gorsuch will certainly make his feelings known in most or all of them. But the more than occasional unpredictability of the court, with both recent and historical rulings as evidence, is well established. He won’t change that; he may well confirm it all over again.

When new presidents make appointments to the Supreme Court, there’s much attention paid to a presumed left/right divide and where in that divide the prospective new justice is expected to be. It’s zero-sum-game thinking, subject to head-slapping surprises and strange judicial bedfellows. We’ve seen plenty of both since the first Monday of last October.

The new president* needs to get used to that for the high court’s terms to come.

In the wake of Roberts’ June 2015 Obamacare ruling, Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice, a conservative judges’ advocacy group, told Politico that “Republican presidents need to be careful about appointing conservatives.” Levey’s right; it’s anyone’s guess how presidents in the future, or the one we’ve got now, are prepared to handle the matters of another kind of law.

The law of unintended consequences.

Image credits: SCOTUS: official portrait. Scalia: Official SCOTUS photo. Roberts: Win McNamee/Associated Press. Neil Gorsuch and Trump: Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dear Theresa: What a Difference a Year Makes

Prime Minister May,

Well now. It’s been one thing after another, eh? You started with such high hopes and great expectations a year ago. After David Cameron’s uncommonly swift exit from 10 Downing Street a year ago, you took charge of the government making history from day one, as the second woman in history to serve as prime minister and leader of the Conservative (or Tory) Party — no less than Margaret Thatcher was the first. You, therefore, stepped into huge shoes to be filled.

You struck the right notes in the beginning, starting with your first speech to the nation.

You said: “[W]e believe in a Union, not just between the nations of the United Kingdom, but between all of our citizens, whoever we are, and wherever we’re from. ...

“As we leave the European Union, we will forge a new, bold, positive role for ourselves in the world, and we will make Britain a country that works, not for the privileged few, but for every one of us.

“That will be the mission of the government I lead, and together, we will build a better Britain.”

What a difference a year makes. What began with a galvanizing, egalitarian cri de coeur, a rally point for British identity, has since devolved into classic party politics — with a cruel twist. You’ve unwittingly aided the interparty divisions your speech of last year sought to downplay; you’ve accidentally undercut Conservative aspirations by trying to appeal to the other side; and you’ve signed on for a ride on the Trump Train, hitched your wagon to the much-maligned reality TV star ostensibly running the United States — a tie-up that serves you, or the country, no good at all. ...

Read the full piece at Swamp

Image credits: May: Friedemann Vogel/EPA. Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Little Donny and Big Vlad

PHOTO-ILLUSTRATIONS can be a wonderful thing, in this digital era a fine and helpful way of distilling myriad, wieldy concepts into a visual snapshot that clarifies at a glance. Case in point: Sarah Rogers’ photo-illo of President* Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin, published Thursday in The Daily Beast. The image of a seriously downsized Trump next to an oversized shot of Putin tells more than one story without a word.

It visually describes Trump’s comparative position in any head-to-head matchups with Putin at the G-20 summit now underway in Hamburg, Germany, regardless of the headline achievements emerging from their meeting Friday.

The Russian hacking scandal — the collective of events that, according to a plurality of sources in a position to know, almost certainly affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election — has been the gift that keeps on giving the American people real reason to worry. That won’t begin to change until the denier-in-chief accepts the role of Russia in that scandal, despite Putin’s denial that Russia played any part in hacking our election. That hasn’t happened yet.

◊ ◊ ◊

It’s of course welcome news that Trump and Putin reached agreement on a cease-fire in Syria. The accord the two arrived at on Friday goes into effect on Sunday, and anything that dials back the deadly hostilities in that six-year-long conflict can only be a positive thing.

But that’s resolving a problem both Russia and the United States had a direct role in cultivating to begin with. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is an ally of Moscow; helping him maintain his grip on power is to Russia’s advantage (which is why Russia started airstrikes against the rebels seeking Assad’s overthrow in 2015). In 2014, the United States started airstrikes against the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria, and supports the rebels in their battle with the Syrian military.

But Russia has no control over Syrian forces — certainly not compared to Assad himself, anyway — and the United States has no direct control over (or military participation with) the rebels. So to some extent, the cease-fire declared on Friday will be between the proxies in the conflict. Therefore, any such cease-fire could fall apart. Previous cease-fires have done just that.

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FOR AMERICANS, the big concerning issue remains the Russia hacking scandal. Trump’s steadfast refusal to admit that anything happened in the run-up of the U.S. vote last year — despite the best informed and researched evidence of the U.S. intelligence community — is deeply problematical.

To the extent that hackers did intervene in the U.S. election, the United States remains at a disadvantage: With the weight of available proof, it’s difficult to believe something didn’t take place.

It’s impossible to think another such event won’t happen again if our national leadership refuses to believe it happened the first time. Such undying denial makes a Next Time almost inevitable.

◊ ◊ ◊

None of this stopped Trump and Putin from informally agreeing to forget about the past in an effort to move ahead — a lot like two belligerents making peace without addressing what made them belligerents in the first place. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who’s at the summit and who was a witness to the Trump-Putin dialogue, said their meeting was “rightly focused on how do we move forward from something that may be an intractable disagreement at this point.”

“There was not a lot of re-litigating things from the past,” Tillerson said, blowing right past the fact that nothing’s been litigated at all. It’s especially ironic since Trump and Putin actually discussed cybersecurity matters at the summit. “I had a very lengthy conversation with the President of the United States, there were a lot of issues such as Ukraine, Syria, other problems, some bilateral issues,” Putin said. “We again returned to the issues of fighting terrorism and cybersecurity.”

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, was plenary about the whole thing. “President Trump said that he heard the clear declarations of President Putin that this is not true, and that Russian leadership did not interfere with these elections. And that he accepts these declarations.”

Trump’s blind faith in the assertions of an adversary isn’t so different (or any less naïve) than that of President George W. Bush, who said in June 2001 that he looked into Putin “in the eye” and got “a sense of his soul.” This is worse than whistling on a walk through a graveyard; this is whistling on a walk through a graveyard that's known to be dangerous.

◊ ◊ ◊

PUTIN’S DOMINANCE in that Daily Beast image also serves as a proxy for other dignitaries who stand head and shoulders above Trump on the world stage. We saw a glimpse of this changing of the geopolitical guard at and after the G-7 summit in May.

At that summit, Merkel took issue with Trump’s unwillingness to sign on to the Paris Accords, the first globally binding agreement on dealing with climate change — a pact signed by 195 countries. “The entire discussion about climate was very difficult, if not to say very dissatisfying,” she said. “There are no indications whether the United States will stay in the Paris Agreement or not.”

After the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was as blunt as possible about prospects for the U.S. role in European affairs. “'The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days,” she said.

◊ ◊ ◊

Since then, Merkel and, more recently, French president Emmanuel Macron (whose physical snub of Trump at the G-7 made headlines) have imparted a fresh dimension of world leadership — leadership that has less to do with arms and bluster and military strength, and more to do with social, environmental and emotional stewardship of a fractious and chaotic world.

The tensions at the G-7 in Italy seemed to be imported to the G-20 in Hamburg. Look at the latest so-called family photo of world leaders. If cosmetics and stagecraft count for anything at these events, and they do, it was a big deal that Trump, ostensible leader of the free world, stood at far stage left, while Merkel stood front row center — next to Chinese president Xi Jinping and ... Putin.

Nothing confirms the veracity of Rogers’ photo-illustration more than that.

The G-20 summit ends Saturday.

Image credits: Trump-Putin photo-illustration: Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast. Assad: Source unknown. Trump sworn in: Pool. Merkel: AFP/Getty Images.
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