Consider the Sharpie. The iconic, proudly permanent, marker, “born for unique, unruly, courageous, outrageous self-expression that never, ever fades from glory,” says its manufacturer. A tool that might have been expressly invented for President Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, Trump displayed a hurricane forecast map in the Oval Office. It appeared crudely altered as if with, say, a bold-tipped black marker, to back up his insistence, that Hurricane Dorian had presented a serious threat to Alabama, days after it had turned toward the East Coast.
“A Sharpie-writer forces others to pay closer attention,” noted Michael D’Antonio. “The tool that the White House selected – it is unclear whether or not Trump himself made the alteration – to make an impression seems to reveal more than Trump might have wanted. Like a grade-schooler’s attempt to turn a report card D into a B the line added to the weather map only drew more attention to the reality the scrawl was intended to cover-up. Ill-informed about the hurricane he was supposedly monitoring, our President offered not the truth but a forgery.”
Over the previous weekend, even as Dorian began to wreak historic damage in the Bahamas, Trump was tweeting comments on everything from the media to the economy to the weather, noted Jill Filipovic: “On Sunday, Trump claimed, for example, that Dorian could hit Alabama; the Weather Service says that’s not true. After the Weather Service corrected the record and said Alabama isn’t threatened, Trump made the same claim again – and again. He accused his own weather service of issuing a phony report.”
The tweets, she wrote, “point to a President who appears for all the world to be slipping; a man whose empathy is absent and who obviously lacks intellectual understanding of basic concepts.”
But he is leaving a permanent mark, as Frida Ghitis noted. “The Trump administration is taking $3.6 billion from approved military construction projects to pay for part of the wall. Yes, that wall – the one Trump said Mexico would pay for,” she wrote. Projects in 23 states, three territories and overseas will lose funding: “He is hurting the military and military families, harming national security, politicizing the Defense Department, and playing games with the Constitution, for his own political benefit.”
Hurricane Dorian’s real path was scary enough. “When your home is paradise, it’s easy to forget that disasters often lurk just beyond the horizon during the months of June to November,” wrote Ashleigh Sean Rolle, a Bahamian writer who has been in Canada for several months and watched the storm’s impact from afar.
In earlier storms, Rolle wrote, “I can remember my mom putting a towel down by the door to soak up the water and then immediately beginning to mop. Her behavior confused me, since I knew the water would inevitably find a way into our home. Why didn’t she just leave it until the storm passed? I wasn’t mature enough to understand that this was how she coped. The constant mopping gave her something to do.”
Hundreds of people were reported missing and at least 43 died in the Bahamas as the storm tore houses apart, tossed boats in all directions and wrecked the Grand Bahamas International Airport before heading toward the Carolina coast.
The US, the UK and other nations rushed to help the Bahamas. But, of course, disaster response is a domestic issue too. “Hurricanes are getting more intense and our preparedness efforts are not keeping up,” wrote Lars Anderson, who served as a FEMA official during the Obama administration. “The system is broken. FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security have no confirmed leadership. Instead of increasing money to prepare better for these disasters, money is being reduced and diverted to Immigration and Customs Enforcement… the White House does not seem to prioritize those who are vulnerable to these dangerous storms.”
‘Everything depends on what we do now’
Ahead of CNN’s marathon town hall on climate change with 10 Democratic candidates, actor Emma Thompson wrote that we are living through “unseasonal heat that kills, rain that instead of sweetening, inundates and destroys, hurricanes that devastate. This is climate change. We are in it. It is all around us and set to get worse. Everything depends on what we do now.”
That sense of urgency was clear from the way the candidates responded to audience questions at the town hall.
“I’ve spent much of the last 25 years thinking and lobbying about climate change and trying to get it on the agenda,” wrote Columbia Business School professor Geoffrey Heal. “This town hall impressed me. While there were differences, all the candidates seemed well-informed about the issue and backed policies that make sense.”
David Gergen, who has served in four administrations as a presidential adviser, wrote, “We have never seen either party treat threats to the environment with such urgency. Having just returned from a glacier expedition in Greenland – and seeing firsthand how real the threats are – I can just say: this could be a major tipping point in our politics.”
Republican Alice Stewart wasn’t wowed. “The plans are big and bold, unwavering and unsustainable. The Democrats’ passion was unmistakable, but it was exhausting to hear the cavalcade of candidates race to the left in their efforts to save the world from their perceived existential threat of climate change,” Stewart wrote.
Van Jones and Michelle Romero saw reasons for hope. “The optimistic message that the 10 presidential candidates managed to find for tackling our greatest existential threat was this: Addressing climate change isn’t about preventing the worst, it’s about mustering our energy and creativity to win a better future.”
Other takes on climate:
Pete Buttigieg: Bold climate action will be or our new national project
Elizabeth Warren: A climate plan that works for the most vulnerable
Pence and Barr pay tribute
Recent events in the Trump administration reminded former federal prosecutor Elie Honig of a practice known in the mafia as “kicking up”: the decisions by Vice President Mike Pence to stay at a Trump resort in Ireland and by Attorney General William Barr to host a party that could cost more than $30,000 at a Trump hotel in Washington.
Honig wrote, “Essentially, all members of a mafia family must make sure that some of their earnings end up in the boss’ pocket. From the member’s point of view, ‘kicking up’ is a way to show respect, curry favor, and reinforce the hierarchical power structure. From the boss’s point of view, it’s a way to get rich.”
It’s also hard to square with the rules of some government agencies. Honig wrote that when he was working at the Justice Department, “employees were trained not to sell a child’s Girl Scout cookies in the office, to prevent even the appearance of mixing personal finance with Justice Department business. Compare that to Barr cutting a personal check for reportedly $30,000 to a Trump business and you can see the magnitude of the ethical problem.”
(For more on Pence’s trip, read Michael D’Antonio’s take.)
Boris, Brexit and Bieber
The Sharpie style of governing showed up on the other side of the Atlantic too in the past week. Trump’s pal, the new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wrote 21 rebellious members, including Winston Churchill’s grandson, out of the Conservative Party for backing a bill to deny him the option of a “no-deal Brexit.”
It turned out to be an epically disastrous week for Johnson: “On Thursday, in the most potent of humiliations, Johnson’s own brother quit his ministerial post and said he would stand down as an MP – that rare breed of politician to leave his job in order to spend less time with his family,” wrote Eliza Mackintosh.
It’s about time for Johnson to apologize for his role in the Brexit drama, wrote Holly Thomas. “Johnson, whose shock of blonde hair and nonchalant exploitation of power are almost as iconic as they are unkempt, pushed energetically for Britain to leave the European Union in 2016. His Leave campaign was as deceitful as it was obnoxious.”
Thomas drew a contrast between Johnson’s behavior (along with that of Trump) and the wisdom contained in the refreshingly candid essay posted on Instagram by Justin Bieber. The pop star regretted, Thomas wrote, his ” ‘heavy’ drug use, disrespecting women, abusing his relationships, and letting his extraordinary fame and wealth at a very young age go to his head. It was an emotive and sincere outpouring of remorse, a sentiment too often left unexpressed.”
She added, “On the subject of imprudence enabled by massive economic privilege and power, you could carpet a luxury golf course with the things Donald Trump hasn’t apologized for in his 73 years.”
The school year is well underway after a summer of mass shootings that traumatized Americans. But tragically this is not a new worry for today’s students.
Thirteen-year old Violeta Esquivel wrote,
Who would have thought sanctuaries
would no longer be safe?
Even churches and schools,
safe spaces are lost
Esquivel, who lives in Southern California, was one of three teen poets who wrote on gun violence for CNN. She ended her heartbreaking poem this way:
America never gets to heal
when our wounds reopen again and again
There have been more mass shootings in 2019 than there have been days this year.
For now I’ll just lock-down my heart,
I don’t want to prepare for the next bullet
Josh Campbell counseled against feelings of futility over America’s shooting epidemic: “When facing a threat, the first question we ask is, what power do we have over it? With a hurricane, we naturally resign ourselves to the fact the only thing one can do is prepare for the worst and try to flee from danger. You can’t stop a hurricane – only try to limit its impact …This seems to be the same fatalistic approach we now employ when dealing with mass murder. We want to stop them, but feel powerless. Like hurricanes, it feels as though mass shootings are here to stay.”
This is a mistake, he wrote. “Unlike natural disasters, and contrary to what politicians and the gun lobby might tell us, there are things we can do to stop this cycle of mass murder that is inflicting our country.”
In CNN Business’ Perspectives section, Rosabeth Moss Kanter praised Walmart for putting limits on ammunition sales and backing gun safety legislation. The company’s “courage serves as an example for other CEOs, whether their concerns are guns, health or sustainability.”
James Mattis, author
Coverage of the new and already best-selling book by James Mattis focused mostly on his differences with President Trump, but Peter Bergen took a deeper look at the former defense secretary’s account. “It’s true that Mattis implies sharp criticism of Trump, but he also registers strong disagreement with George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, who he argues made strategic errors that have been costly to the American military and to American interests.”
Mattis made clear he’s holding back his full take on Trump, but if what he says about prior presidents is a signal, then he will unload on the 45th president very soon after he heads back to Trump Tower.
2020: It’s getting real
With the arrival of Labor Day, the 2020 campaign shifted into higher gear. The 10 Democrats who took part in the CNN’s Climate Crisis Town Hall will debate Thursday in Houston. Three of them, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, face an extra hurdle, in Kelly Dittmar’s view. “Waging a successful campaign for office is hard enough for any candidate. Imagine waging two at a time. That’s what is required of the women running for president, who have to oversee a traditional campaign in addition to a second one to convince skeptics of their ‘electability.’”
In a controversial move, the Democratic National Committee rejected plans for “virtual caucuses” in Iowa and Nevada next year. Denis McDonough, President Obama’s former chief of staff, wrote that, “the ‘virtual caucus’ proposal comes with serious cybersecurity risks. Security experts agree that the technology, as it exists now, is too vulnerable and could easily fall victim to hacking by outside actors, including foreign adversaries such as Russia. Given the scale and imminence of the Iowa and Nevada caucuses, Democrats simply cannot take that risk.”
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Take a break
Labor Day weekend seems like a distant memory already, but a piece we published then still rings true. Ryan Holiday, writing on the virtues of leisure, pointed out that “our phones are not lifelines, they are worklines. They keep us connected to our profession constantly and allow business to intrude regardless of the importance.
“Who has time for a day off? To read a book? To paint? To go for a three-hour bike ride? To hang out with friends and family? Work beckons. Responsibilities call. The office needs you for a meeting. But what kind of shape will we be in if we do this without respite? If we stigmatize and shame people who prioritize their long-term mental and physical health over the short-term gain of tasks completed, meetings attended, emails returned, conference calls joined?