Archive

January 23rd, 2017

Inauguration boycotts are an American tradition

    The news media is making a huge fuss over the several dozen Democrats who are planned to boycott the inauguration of Donald Trump as president. But there is less here than meets the eye. Politicians skipping the swearing-in ceremony of a candidate they opposed is a tradition almost as old as the Constitution.

    In 1801, John Adams did not show up for the inauguration of his successor, Thomas Jefferson, and although Adams said the reason was that his son had just died, some historians believe he was angry and wounded by the election outcome. So was Theodore Sedgwick, who with the Federalists out of power suddenly was no longer speaker of the House. His decision to attend to urgent business elsewhere can be put down to nothing but political pique.

    Adams was not alone among 19th century presidents in missing his successor's inauguration. John Quincy Adams did not attend Andrew Jackson's; Martin Van Buren did not attend William Henry Harrison's; Andrew Johnson did not attend Ulysses S. Grant's. (Some historians think Grant did not invite him.)

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I want to go home now

    This creepy parallel universe is a pleasant enough place to visit, but I think I would like to go home now.

    Don't get me wrong, it has its charms.

    There is a certain unified aesthetic to it, and I like the simple words that are used. It was fun and wild to hear "carnage" and "tombstones" in an inaugural address!

    Imagine an inauguration where it would be regarded as a mean, pointed critique to state that one of the things that makes America America is the First Amendment! But that is what makes this parallel universe, in which we have elected Donald Trump the president of the United States, so exciting.

    Trump could not stop waving, almost as though he could not believe it either. He gave his usual rally speech and said the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism." (I think this ended terrorism, although I would have to check.)

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Going to the Women's March for my wife

    I've read with concern news articles about divisions among the organizers of Saturday's Women's March on Washington, including questions about why men haven't been more involved. One Washington Post online headline speculated that participation might be "considered unmasculine" by some. Regardless, the march is important to me for a very personal reason.

    It's this: My beloved wife, Debbie, who worked hard as a volunteer for the candidate of her choice in this election, suffered an accident late on Election Day and died early the next morning. Nov. 8 was the worst day of my life.

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Donald Trump's inauguration was a Gothic nightmare

    The sky over the Capitol is a dull, unpleasant shade of white. Only one of the five flags hanging over the inauguration stage has the right number of stars.

    The red hats have multiplied. You could have sworn there were only a few hats, but when you turn to look again there are 18, 20, a whole sea of them.

    They are not just baseball caps, red with a sharp slash of white letters. Some are beanies with pompoms. Some of them are blue, but not for long. When you look back, they have turned. Eventually they all become the same hat. Eventually the people beneath the hats all become the same young man who smiles like the world has just been given back to him, like a $100 bill that fell out of his pocket without his noticing.

    Sometimes you smile at someone and discover that in the time it took for your smile to rise to your eyes, the hat has sprouted on her head. She was not wearing it before, surely, or you would not have smiled. Now she has the hat and your smile, too. You can never smile again.

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Donald Trump still can't escape Hillary Clinton

    As Donald Trump took the oath of office Friday, a shadow loomed over his inauguration. Was it his multitudinous conflicts of interest and almost certain violation of the Emoluments Clause? Well, yes, but there's another shadow: Hillary Clinton.

    Clinton may not have been the right person to beat Trump in November, but since then, she's been the perfect person to lose to him. Despite her own efforts to bow out discreetly -- to the margins of the Democratic Party, to out-of-the-way bookstores, to the woods -- he can't get her out of his head. Even now, he seems incapable of moving on from an election that he won.

    Who can blame him? Clinton won the popular vote decisively, by almost 2.9 million votes, or 2.1 percentage points. Trump is the third-worst-performing winner in presidential history. He edged out only Rutherford B. Hayes and John Quincy Adams, who both won in the electoral college and lost the popular vote. Sad!

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Donald the Unready

    Betsy DeVos, whom Donald Trump has nominated as education secretary, doesn’t know basic education terms, doesn’t know about federal statutes governing special education, but thinks school officials should carry guns to defend against grizzly bears.

    Monica Crowley, selected as deputy national security adviser, withdrew after it was revealed that much of her past writing was plagiarized. Many other national security positions remain unfilled, and it’s unclear how much if any of the briefing materials prepared by the outgoing administration have even been read.

    Meanwhile Rex Tillerson, selected as secretary of state, casually declared the United States would block Chinese access to bases in the South China Sea, apparently unaware that he was in effect threatening to go to war if China called his bluff.

    Do you see a pattern here?

    It was obvious to anyone paying attention that the incoming administration would be blatantly corrupt. But would it at least be efficient in its corruption?

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Trump's election is disappointing for feminism. But it's not the final word.

    Of the thousands of letters I received in the course of my public thrashing before the Senate Judiciary committee during the October 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, one in particular stands out. A seventh grader shared with me her frustration with the whole mess - indeed, with politics in general. Her class had voted on whether to believe my allegations that Thomas had sexually harassed me, or his denials. She voted for me, and wanted me to win. I lost that vote in her class - as I had, of course, with the Senate's decision to confirm Thomas.

    Men always side with men, my young letter-writer concluded. But, she also reminded me, life goes on. I was faced with the Senate's apparent dismissal of my sexual harassment claim, calls for my job by state officials and death and rape threats from strangers. To add to the open opposition, pundits concluded that the hearing was a meaningless flash - predicted that women would fear coming forward with similar complaints after witnessing the Senate's dismissive treatment of the issue.

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This watchdog doesn't bark at Republicans

    Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who has primary oversight responsibilities in the U.S. House, styles himself a zealous believer in executive-branch accountability and an advocate of state- and local-government authority.

    Except when it's politically inconvenient, apparently. The Utah Republican led ferocious congressional investigations of alleged abuses by federal officials during the administrations of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Now that Donald Trump is about to take over, he seems to have lost his zeal.

    Chaffetz is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which used its almost-unlimited investigative jurisdiction to probe Clinton's use of a private e-mail server while at the State Department, says he has no interest in going on "fishing expeditions" to examine the incoming administration of President Donald Trump. This from the man who announced plans to keep the e-mail probe alive in 2017, even after Clinton's electoral defeat and the closing of the matter by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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The Obamas were a master class in dignity and civility. Did we learn what they taught?

    This is when grace leaves the White House.

    Without talking about politics or policy, without getting into race or class, red or blue, the Obamas set a remarkable standard for personal decency and civility during their years as our first family.

    The Obamas came in making history, changing America on day one. They were the first African-American occupants of the country's most famous address, a home slaves helped to build.

    Few families have faced such scrutiny. Would they be too black? Would they be too white? How on Earth would they satisfy a nation of people who cry with joy at the sight of their faces and want them dead because of the color of their skin?

    Their eight years in the White House were a master class in dignity and tolerance.

    And it's easy to forget that now.

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January 22nd

'Slants' is offensive -- and deserves a trademark

    Should the federal government have the authority to deny legal protection to trademarks and service marks it finds offensive? The debate is one that the U.S. Supreme Court has avoided for decades. But this week, in a case called Lee v. Tam, the justices finally heard argument on the question. Let's hope they come out in favor of the First Amendment.

    Lee v. Tam involves the Slants, a dance-rock band from the Portland, Oregon, area. All the members are Asian-American. In 2011, the group filed an application to register its name as a mark. The application was denied on the ground that "Slants" would be offensive to large numbers of Asian-Americans. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board upheld the refusal, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the decision.

    The judges did not dispute that the mark was offensive. Instead, they ruled that the prohibition on federal registration of disparaging marks violates the First Amendment. Trademarks are a form of expressive speech, the panel wrote, and the government cannot penalize speech because it happens to dislike the message. In an interesting twist, both sides agreed that the Supreme Court should decide the issue.

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