Banter M Issue 79: Trump's Calculated War On Your Sanity

In this week's issue of Banter M:

Trump Wants You To Feel Like You're Going Crazy: If you feel like you're slowly going insane, you're not alone, says Bob Cesca. Donald Trump has declared war on your mind, and we must fight to remain sane. 

My Trump Voting In-Laws and The Monsters Amongst Us: Justin Rosario was curious if time would let him forgive his Trump voting in-laws. Here is the update you've all been waiting for. 

Tear Down Your Own Fence: Ben Cohen wants you to tear down your own fence. Literally. 

Trump Wants You To Feel Like You're Going Crazy

by Bob Cesca

If you feel like you're slowly going insane, you're not alone. As we careen headlong toward the destruction of the United States by the tiny hands and overly articulated mouth of a cartoon supervillain, it feels like no matter the size and impact of the bombshell news stories dropping day to day, it never seems to be enough to force this monster named Trump to step down.

On Wednesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the text of former FBI director James Comey's statement in advance of his Thursday testimony -- testimony that's already breaking the internet hours before the festivities on the Hill begin. The document shows that Trump lobbied Comey multiple times to drop both the Trump-Russia probe as well as the investigation into Mike Flynn's contacts with Turkish and Russian officials. Trump also threatened Comey's job, denied having anything to do with Russia, and insisted that Comey pledge personal loyalty to Trump.

By now, you've likely heard about the various details of the statement, including the fact that Trump insisted to Comey that he did not have sexual relations with that woman -- the Russian hooker. The upshot is that Trump absolutely attempted to obstruct justice, and, in firing Comey last month, went all in. If collusion or money-laundering doesn't bring Trump down, the obstruction of justice will.

I hope.

The Republicans, however, will do whatever they can to make sure Trump gets away with all of it. Hell, it's unlikely they'll take any action on the bare minimum: stopping Russia from attacking future elections and meddling in our politics. Never mind punishing Trump or his sycophants -- it looks as if Putin will get away with it, too. 

Speaker Paul Ryan told MSNBC's Greta Van Susteren that it doesn't seem appropriate that Trump asked Comey for his loyalty, but continued by saying there's nothing new here -- nothing to see. “But I don’t think that that’s new. I think that that’s already been reported on. I think that was something that was in the New York Times — gosh, a month or two ago,” Ryan said.

Romulan commander Charles Krauthammer referred to Trump's meetings with Comey as "seductions." Yes, really. Krauthammer added, "Seduction is not an impeachable offense.”

“This is not obstruction,” Krauthammer continued. “This is not shutting the investigation down. It could be throwing some of these people under the bus, but it is saying on the big one… how about letting the world know? That is a totally plausible scenario.” 

And, of course, the most egregious response came from Trump's personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, who said Trump feels "vindicated" by Comey's statement.

"The president is pleased that Mr. Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the President was not under investigation in any Russian probe," Kasowitz wrote. "The President feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda."

The president feels vindicated, which means he concurs with Comey's statement, which also means he might've confessed to obstruction of justice. But Paul Ryan said we heard all of this before. Naturally, Ryan is referencing, among others, the May 11 bombshell story in The New York Times about Trump demanding Comey's loyalty. Oh, by the way, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told Tucker Carlson Wednesday night that the loyalty pledge had to do with loyalty to the nation -- not Trump himself. Yeah, right. So why didn't Trump's lawyer, or Trump himself via Twitter, make that case? Because it's horseshit, that's why.

How do we know it's horseshit? 

Rewind to May 12 -- the day after The Times published its "loyalty" story. On that day, Trump posted one of his most mind-blowing tweets ever. This one rivaled his prior tweets about nukes, or about three million illegal voters, or about "sending in the feds" to Chicago, or the tweets in which he compared the intelligence community to the Nazis. 

This time, Trump wrote: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” 

Here, in response to The Times, Trump outright warned Comey against leaking to the press, ostensibly in order to confirm the story. He also tried to intimidate Comey into rubber-stamping Trump's side of the story by mentioning the possible existence of a secret Nixon-style recording system inside the White House. And he subtly implied that the loyalty story was fake news. In fact, The New York Times characterized Trump's reaction like so: "Mr. Trump denied the account."

But Comey's statement this week was materially the same story that appeared in The Times last month -- the story that Trump denied the day after it was published. 

Let's review. The Times reported that Trump asked Comey for his personal loyalty -- a no-no when it comes to any FBI director. Trump denied the story. Then, this week, Trump via his lawyer confirmed every word of Comey's written statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee -- declaring that Trump's feels vindicated now. But, goddammit, it's always been the same story, be it in The Times or in Comey's own words. 

This is how they'll win. Team Trump will continue to pull this scam, denying then confirming then denying until we give up -- bending logic and confounding reality. During the election, Politifact documented 17 instances in which Trump denied saying something that he had previous said on video. And his track record of getting away with oratory murder is well known. There are literally dozens and dozens of news cycles that should've killed with fire Trump's political aspirations. Serge Kovaleski, the Khan family, the pussy tape -- it's impossible to instantly recall every story because they're too numerous to list. Now, with the Trump-Russia story, we shouldn't expect Trump to suddenly find his honesty. On the contrary, as the investigatory noose begins to tighten, we should expect more nincompoopery, more gaslighting and more soul-crushing frustration.

Feel insane yet?  

My Trump Voting InLaws and The Monsters Amongst Us

by Justin Rosario

A few days before the election, I made it excruciatingly clear to my friends and family that I did not want to know if they voted for Donald Trump. This was still when everyone, including Trump himself, assumed Hillary Clinton was going to win. Trump would become a footnote in history and life would move on.

Still, I found Trump and everything he represented to be so loathsome that I really, honestly, did not want to look people I knew in the eye and know for a fact that they voted for such a monster. I assumed my in-laws would vote for him because Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are staples of their media diet but I was willing to pretend otherwise for the sake of family harmony. I'd been putting up with their racism, both subtle and otherwise for almost twenty years, I could just take a deep breath, smile, and move on.

But then Trump won, which was bad, and then my mother-in-law felt the insane need to tell us she'd voted for Trump and that was the end of that.

So here we are 7 months later and pretty much nothing has changed. I do not speak to my in-laws and they, thankfully, have given up on trying to engage me in any way. As I mentioned in March, I'm no longer afraid that Trump is going to succeed in turning America into an enclave of white nationalism but that hasn't changed my opinion of my in-laws in the slightest. They still willfully voted for a monster and that makes them monsters in their own right. If anything, my distaste for them has only deepened as Trump stumbles about, undermining the foundations of our society. 

Several years ago, Lou, Debbie's stepfather, decided to have "The Talk" with me. We went out to lunch and he explained to me the folly of my liberal ways. He told me that I had to rethink my politics because even though he would be gone soon, I had to think about my children's future. The conversation devolved into another political argument that went nowhere but the sheer arrogance stuck with me so I never forgot the incident.

I now think of it often when I think of Lou voting for Trump and the "better future" he claimed to want for my kids. I promise you that my children, his grandchildren, were not with him in that voting booth. They were as far from his mind as possible, tucked away where he wouldn't have to look into their eyes as his voted for chaos and hate and rage and white nationalism. Instead, I was there right next to him as he checked the box for a beast. I was there so Lou could justify voting for a man that stood against every conservative ideal that he claimed to believe in. People like me and my liberal dark-skinned friends were stealing his country away from him and we had to pay for that.

I occasionally wonder if he has the slightest sense of shame that he traded his grandchildren's future for a chance to stick his finger in my eye. Does he regret that his grandchildren are still young enough to suffer in a school system devastated by Betsy DeVos' war on public education? Does he feel bad that by voting for a bully that advocates for picking on the weak he's made it far more likely that his autistic grandson will be abused as he gets older? Does it bother him that by voting for massive cuts to education, the special needs services that Jordan relies on to make any progress at all will vanish? 

I doubt it. A sense of shame seems to be wholly absent from Trump voters. This is one of the reasons I avoided Lou more than his wife is because the first time he smirked about me about Trump, I would have found it very difficult not to slap him right across the face, something I've thought about doing once before.

A week before my family and I moved down to northern Virginia, we had a sidewalk sale to unload some of our stuff. As I was sitting outside waiting for customers, Lou sat down with me and we got into yet another political argument. This one was different, though. It was about abortion and Lou was not pro-life. He'd never once mentioned it in all the years I'd known him. This was important because as I explained to him what TRAP laws were and how his precious "small government" Republicans were using big and intrusive government to strip women of their constitutional right, he just chuckled and said they could always drive to another state. I stared at him for a minute and got very quiet. That chuckle was devoid of any empathy or compassion and that was when I realized that he was, at his core, a very bad person. 

This was the first time I saw what would become the norm for conservatives in action. It didn't matter that what the GOP was doing wrong or dishonest or cruel or immoral; all that mattered is that it was against what liberals wanted. I should have been more worried about what that meant for the conservative movement as a whole but I simply chalked Lou up as a lost cause and stopped discussing politics with him. A few years later, his vote for Trump confirmed what I already knew and it gave me the strength I needed to walk away with zero regrets.

Someday, I will sit down with Debbie's mother who, unlike her husband, does not revel in her cruelty, and explain to her why, for the rest of her days on this earth, we will not speak again. She's not as politically active as her husband but that didn't stop her from voting for what she knew was a monster. I'm sure she has her excuses, Hillary was corrupt, something about her emails, maybe even Benghazi, but I really don't care. She chose to stand next to the KKK, neo-Nazis and the worst people in the country and vote with them. She'll claim ignorance but that won't cut it with me. She had a decision to make and decided to go with the guy that told her it was OK to be a terrible person and be proud of it. All of the lies she tells herself won't change her need to vote for hate and to that I say, "Go fuck yourself."

And the rest will be 100% guilt-free silence.

Tear Down Your Own Fence

by Ben Cohen

At times living in the modern world can be completely overwhelming. The political catastrophe unfolding on our television sets asides, we are more isolated from each other than ever before, more stressed out than ever before, and more anxious about our futures than ever before. 

The more I think about this, the worse it gets and I find myself suffering an existential anxiety I find even hard to articulate. Why this is the case is anyone's guess, but I suspect it has something to do with the environmental crisis we are now finally waking up to, and the knowledge that the way we live simply cannot go on. We cannot go on consuming whatever we want and we cannot continue propping up the economic system creating the ecological catastrophe we are facing as a species. The angst we feel is ourselves pushing against the boundaries of ecological sustainability and knowing it is entirely of our own making. We work too hard to consume too much, and the entire vicious cycle is finally catching up to us and making western society break at the seams. The political crises we see around the world is simply a reflection of this unease, and the politicians we elect are a desperate attempt to do something about it (and often not in the right way). 

What to do about all of this? This is a question I have been struggling with for some time, and I don't have any concrete answers. But I am coming to believe that before anything else, we must act locally before thinking about grand ideas to save the world. We cannot wait for a charismatic leader to swoop in and fix all of our problems, but we can make a big difference in our everyday lives with small acts of defiance and kindness. There could be any number of ways to kick this off -- a neighborhood book sharing stand, planting fruit trees on your street, delivering food to the old lady next door and so on. But one thing has stuck in my mind after visiting a neighborhood my wife and I will be moving to in the next few months that I genuinely believe could make a real difference, and that is pulling down fences separating your land from your neighbor's. The neighborhood we are moving to is an incredibly liberal one with lots of trees, organic food shops and yoga studios etc etc, but I've lived in ones like that before and none had the same level of openness between neighbors. The neighbors on both sides of the house we are moving into could very easily walk onto our land, and rather than wanting to fence them off to protect 'what's mine', I'm very much looking forward to living in what seems to me a more human way to exist.

I'm strongly coming to believe that the concept of owning land is in itself completely ridiculous -- we all live on the earth and have a right to be here, so the invention of land rights is basically a human created myth that has nothing to do with actual ecology. We are animals, and we need the land to survive, just as every other plant, fungi, insect and animal does. When we die, we go back into the land to feed everything else that lives off of it, and the cycle continues. The land we buy was there billions of years before you, and will be there billions of years after you so the more we squabble about who owns what, the more ridiculous it really becomes.  

I'm not advocating giving away your land for free, or giving up completely on the concept of land rights -- it isn't practical, and it would require a shift that most people simply wouldn't be capable of making. But I think it is clear that this construct we have created goes to the very heart of what is causing us a lot of unnecessary problems. And I think it is high time we started doing something about it. 

So what would this look like exactly? Firstly, I don't think ripping all your fences down at once is the right way to go about it. Your neighbors might get freaked out by it and think you are going mad. So instead talk to your neighbors and see if they'd be up for taking down at least a portion of the fence separating you. If there's an old, beat up part of the fence rotting at the back of the garden, even better. Take it down and see how you feel -- if you get an overwhelming sense of anxiety, it's ok -- you can put the fence back up, and you still legally own the land anyway, so there's no chance of your neighbor stealing it from you. There's a good chance your neighbor will respond positively to you reaching out, so you never know what you might be able to achieve. If you have kids, it means more space to play and less isolation as they grow up. 

This might all sound a bit crazy, but given the state of the world right now, it is extremely important that you feel like you have some control over your own life. And that starts with some form of solidarity with the people around you. Neighborhoods are a great place to start making changes you can see straight away, and it could give rise to something much, much more powerful.