If the GOP Health Care Bill Passes a Lot of People Will Die

Alan Zendell, June 27, 2017

One constant of the current administration is the level of noise coming out of both the White House and the Congress designed to distract and confuse the public. It’s a tactic Trump is famous for and one that Steve Bannon promotes relentlessly. It’s also a tactic that’s been used effectively by the Right and the alt-Right over the last decade as the Koch Network summit in Colorado Springs clearly shows. What happened to “of the people, by the people, and for the people?” This isn’t the way the process was supposed to work.

How do you navigate all the lies, distortions, and misdirections? Whatever game you compete in, every coach says, “Never take your eye off the ball.” If you do now, you’ll be a victim of a shell game. As a voter and taxpayer, keeping your eye on the ball means never forgetting that virtually every member of Congress is politically indebted to some large money interests. Once in power, most politicians’ highest priority is staying in power, and money from highly motivated donors can make or break them.

That’s most important right now as we watch the Senate Republicans desperately try to force a large square peg into a small round hole so they can pass their version of the health care bill. It can’t be done without breaking something, and in this case what’s at risk is the physical and financial health of tens of millions of Americans.

Donald Trump famously said that health care was a lot more complicated that he realized, but he was wrong, it’s pretty simple. As I and many others have said before, the battle is really about a massive transfer of wealth. The wealthy in this country do not want to share what they have with everyone else, and that’s what would happen if the government lived up to its promise of affordable health care for every citizen. Health care is the most expensive non-military or public safety item in every national and state budget.

Governments can only spend the revenue they collect and revenue is just another word for taxes. What the health care debate comes down to couldn’t be simpler. Guaranteeing good, affordable health insurance would raise the taxes of the wealthiest Americans significantly. Passing either the House or Senate version of the health care bill would reduce their taxes by a quarter of a million dollars each, at the expense of everyone at the lower end of the economic spectrum. Don’t be fooled by the illusion of a debate. The only debate that’s going on is how to package this can of worms in a way that the Congress people who vote for it can defend it to the voters next year. And that’s only possible if we, the voters, let ourselves be hoodwinked.

Everyone must take this seriously right now. You can’t wait until you need coverage and either it’s not there or you can’t afford it. Imagine you’re me for a moment. Last year, I had open heart surgery which was paid for entirely by Medicare and supplemental insurance . My wife and I spend more than $10,000 each year on health insurance premiums in addition to the Medicare tax dollars we still pay, and we do it without complaint. How much more simply can I say it? WITHOUT MY HEALTH INSURANCE I WOULD BE DEAD NOW.

Last week, as I was about to depart on a car trip of a thousand miles, I felt stiffness in my chest. Because of my excellent coverage, I was able to follow the advice of my cardiologist and get checked out at my local hospital’s emergency room. The bill for my six hour stay in the ER will be about $2,000, which will also be fully paid by my insurance. Would I have made that choice if I had to come up with the money myself? What would someone who could it afford it less than I have done?

It’s not that the peace of mind I got knowing everything checked out fine isn’t worth the cost. It is, but I’m one of the lucky ones. Most people in this country do not have the kind of health insurance I rely on, and if they’re senior citizens on a budget, the premiums I pay would be a major hardship. If the bills presently before the Congress pass, one-fourth of all Americans, mostly dependent children, the aged, and disabled won’t even have those options. A lot of people are going to die because of it. It’s up to us all to assure that that doesn’t happen.

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The Trump Phenomenon

Alan Zendell, June 22, 2017

There’s been a lot written about the Trump phenomenon, but it still defies the imagination in many ways. Look at the various subgroups that make up his base of support, and you’ll invariably come away scratching your head. No single piece of it makes sense; as a whole, it defies logic.

Take the group typically described as white, non-college-educated working class men. Trump claims to be their white knight riding in on a stallion handing out jobs, jobs, jobs. Really? If you grew up in New York as a Trump contemporary, as I did, you’ve known for decades that that is the worst possible description of him. His only pre-occupation has been making money, and his record with respect to working people, including his own employees, has always been abysmal. Did he suddenly wake up one morning and decide to be a better person?

I understand why unemployed coal miners and rust belt factory workers initially found his bombast attractive. It didn’t matter that it made no sense – that’s never been a prerequisite for populist movements. Trump could erase every environmental protection regulation ever written, and there still would be only a handful of new coal mining jobs. Coal is the past, an inefficient fuel source that will never compete with natural gas, wind, and solar in future economies. Yet, even now, coal country is behind him as strongly as ever.

And all those factory jobs? Withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership threw a wrench into decades of progress in free trade, but has it resulted in new factories or thousands of laid-off workers being recalled? If it had, you’d see Trump tweeting about them daily.

We could ask the same questions about women. In his own words and highly visible actions, Trump’s treatment of women is and always has been disrespectful and repugnant. His failed marriages, his attitude toward women as playthings to be bought or rented for a night, were clearly on display all through his campaign. I kept asking myself why any self-respecting woman would ever vote for him. I still don’t know.

It’s been clear from the start that Trump’s greatest talent is his gut feel for human nature. He understands its darkest aspects, and he has throughout his life. He used it from the first day of his campaign and continues to use it today. He knows that angry, frustrated people are susceptible to scapegoating. He understands that blaming someone else for our problems has always been a salve for failure and envy. He also understands tribalism. When things are tough people tend to band together with others like them. It’s ugly, but it’s a part of what makes us human.

Thus, resentment of those more successful than we are, latent bigotries that we may not even know we possess, xenophobia, the wrath of an angry preacher – all these things create a witches’ brew in which all the failed hopes of millions of people come together. That’s how revolutions have always started. It’s why Nikolai Lenin and Fidel Castro and Adolf Hitler were able to overthrow the established order. And it’s why fictional heroes like Robin Hood and Zorro have captured our imaginations for centuries. They represent hope for the downtrodden.

But wait. Donald Trump is no Robin Hood. He doesn’t take from the rich and give to the poor. He doesn’t duel with the cruel land barons so average people can live better. He never has and he never will. His proposed budget does exactly the opposite, and the health care plan he supports will make life for the poorest quartile of Americans worse than ever. Women’s health options will be trashed, and the prospects for the unemployed won’t get any brighter.

So why does his base still blindly support him? He doesn’t build resorts and hotels for the working class and they don’t play on his golf courses. Yet, his childish trantrums still ignite cheering crowds. Why, when this spoiled rich boy screams, “Everyone’s out to get me,” does his base continue to rally to his cause? He’s not like them, and he doesn’t care about them. It’s all about narcissism and his lust for greater wealth and power.

Other world leaders see him as a dangerous, inexperienced novice. He’s a little boy playing with loaded guns, a reckless child kicking down other kids’ sand castles. And our adversaries lick their chops, like professional poker players welcoming a new rube with pockets full of money into their game.

When Richard Nixon surrounded himself with sycophants and yes men (there were no women of significance in his inner circle) what began as a scandal evolved into a crisis that threatened our survival as a nation. Back then I thought we were living through the most dangerous period since the Civil War, but this is worse. Trump confuses dissent with disloyalty, and loyalty is the only currency that matters to him except dollars. People have to wake up and see where our country is headed.

From where I sit the view isn’t pretty.

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Monday Review: Gerrymandering, Russia, and Health Care

Alan Zendell, June 19, 2017

Gerrymandering

Two weeks ago, I wrote that the Supreme Court would be addressing gerrymandering in its current session https://wordpress.com/post/americathebeautiful.blog/801. They are now poised to take up a Wisconsin case in which the lines drawn by the Republican legislature were ruled illegal by a lower court. Before they began to debate it, SCOTUS stayed the lower court ruling so that Wisconsin wouldn’t have to re-draw the lines before the court issues its final ruling. Some people think that’s a bad sign for the plaintiff (the people challenging the current district lines.) On its face the decision to stay the lower court ruling isn’t unreasonable, though it virtually assures that whatever the final decision, the current district lines will remain in place for the 2018 election.

In ruling the lines unconstitutional, the lower court didn’t specify which measurement standard convinced them, though several approaches were mentioned. The plaintiffs based their argument on the Efficiency Gap which I described in my earlier article. That’s notable because of the comments accompanying a 2006 Supreme Court decision, which mentioned it as a possible way to resolve the matter.

Simply put, the Wisconsin case arose because in the first election after the current district lines were enacted, the Republicans won 61% of the legislative seats while capturing only 48.6% of the vote. Whether SCOTUS decides they got there fairly or in violation of the Constitution, this case could determine the political landscape across the United States for the next decade. As in the past, Justice Anthony Kennedy will likely cast the deciding vote.

Russia

As if the Russia investigation needed another bizarre twist, the country was treated, Sunday, to Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s attorneys, appearing on every news channel he could find, making the argument that when Trump himself said he was being investigated for obstruction of justice he didn’t mean it. In one of the most meaningless, convoluted arguments we’ve heard yet, he tried to make the case that Trump was only responding to reports in the Washington Post, and in fact, he is not under investigation. If that seems to make no sense, that’s because it doesn’t.

Such statements are true tests of the blind loyalty of Trump’s base. There is no way any intelligent person could come away from Sekulow’s statements without realizing that they are complete nonsense intended to distract attention from the real issues.

Speaking of which, we seem to be drifting toward ever more dangerous confrontations with Moscow. Under normal circumstances shooting down a Syrian warplane would be an obvious act of war, but no one seems to care much about rules or laws in Syria these days. The downed Syrian warplane was a surrogate for the Russian military presence there, so what’s really happening is that Putin and Trump are beginning a game of chicken that could lead anywhere. Neither man has a reputation for backing down or losing face, though Putin is clearly better at statesmanship.

The most serious risk we face as a nation is that Trump may feel even more driven than usual to stick to his mantra of constantly attacking and never backing down because of the investigation of possible collusion with Russia and his repeated praise of Putin in the past. These are not the things that result in good statesmanship. Could a more dangerous conflict of interest and intention possibly exist?

Health Care

While we were being distracted, Mitch McConnell has been leading a secretive attempt by the Republican majority in the Senate to recast the American Health Care Act passed by the House and condemned by nearly everyone else. Even Trump called it “mean, mean, mean.” This is the same Mitch McConnell who loudly attacked the Democrats for behaving the same way before passing Obamacare, though the reality in 2009 and 2010 was that while Democrats dominated the process, Obamacare was passed after eighteen months of discussion and debate.

This time Republicans won’t talk about the bill they’re crafting. In an administration in which everything is leaked almost in real time, it’s remarkable that McConnell is able to maintain such a tight hold on the process. Today, minority leader Schumer announced that the Democrats will use every procedural trick in the Senate playbook to shut down the Senate’s business until McConnell is more forthcoming about a law that will directly affect the physical and financial health of almost every American.

They probably can’t stop the Republicans from passing something if they’re united, but that’s not what Schumer says he’s trying to accomplish. He says he just wants the secrecy lifted so Americans can see what is being proposed before it steamrollers them. It’s a worthy goal, whether or not it’s true.

Trump’s base continually refers to the president as someone who keeps his promises, as if saying it often enough makes it true. The future of health care in this country may be the most important issue Trump is facing if we manage to avoid World War 3. Let’s see if he keeps the promise of affordable healthcare for everyone.

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Russia Invades the White House

Alan Zendell, June 15, 2017

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was widening his investigation of Russian meddling in our election to include possible obstruction of justice by  senior advisors to the president and even the president himself. President Trump immediately tweeted: “They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice. You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people!”

If it were anyone but Donald Trump, people might reasonably conclude that his response was the righteous indignation of a man who believed he was falsely accused. But we know better. Perhaps he really is innocent, but there’s no way to tell from the things he says. He was schooled by the best, fixer and attorney Roy Cohn. As the Washington Post and others have often reported, Cohn “showed Trump how to exploit power and instill fear through a simple formula: attack, counterattack and never apologize.”

James. D. Zirin wrote a wonderful article in Time last April which explained how Cohn, the unscrupulous, corrupt attorney who was eventually disbarred for his crimes, schooled Trump in the art of Paranoid Politics. It’s important to understand the difference between paranoia and paranoid politics, and the difference sheds considerable light on virtually everything Trump says and tweets. As Zirin explained, when “Trump breached the barriers of political correctness and the Constitution to preach criminalizing abortion, mass deportation of immigrants, or barring Muslims from the country,” those words were neither “born of a sincerely nurtured ideology”  nor evidence that Trump himself was paranoid. Instead they were simply a classic example of paranoid politics, which is nothing more than the art of appealing to the darkest aspects of human nature to arouse fear and anger.

Cohn also schooled Trump to never let the truth get in the way of his defensiveness. It was the same approach he used as lead counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy and with his many mob clients, who, according to David Cay Johnston, writing for Politico, included “‘Fat Tony’ Salerno, boss of the Genovese crime family, the most powerful Mafia group in New York, and Paul Castellano, head of what was said to be the second largest family, the Gambinos.” Johnston documented Trump’s relationship with these mobsters, who controlled the concrete business in New York, in connection with the construction of Trump Towers and other buildings.  Salerno’s involvement with Trump Plaza was part of the indictment that ultimately landed him in prison, but the more important point in today’s context, was what Trump learned watching Cohn’s defense of the mob.

The newspapers in the 1980s were filled with arrogant, angry denials by organized crime figures that had been well known for decades. Cohn gambled, time and again, that conventional wisdom and obvious guilt were irrelevant unless they were corroborated in court. There’s an eerie similarity between the things Trump says and tweets today and public statements of Cohn’s criminal clients. It’s no coincidence, either.

Cohn originally advised Trump to deny everything and go to court when his father was accused of refusing to rent apartments to African Americans. There was no discussion of guilt or innocence, just a strategy of defiance and intimidation. Trump conducted himself that way in all of his many legal battles and counter suits throughout his career, and the strategy was a winning one for him. He was often successful in intimidating his enemies, and even when he lost he achieved financial settlements that were very much in his favor without any admission of guilt. None of those actions ever did permanent damage to either Trump or his businesses, and even the $25 million settlement to people swindled by Trump University in the middle of the 2016 presidential campaign was only a minor bump in the road. Why would he change tactics now?

We’ve had corrupt politicians, even corrupt presidents in the past. But there’s an aspect to Donald Trump’s case that’s sinister to the point of being creepy. Talk to committed Trump supporters and you often come away with the realization that they don’t care whether he’s guilty. The more he gets away with things that would land other people in prison, the more that inflates his Robin Hood-like populist appeal. It’s irrational but it’s true. Arguing with one of Trump’s supporters about whether or not he’s guilty is like arguing about the existence of God with the devout of every religion.

It remains to be seen whether Trump is guilty of any involvement with the Russians during the campaign. It also remains to be seen whether his bullying style crossed any legal lines in attempting to influence investigators looking into his staff’s actions. But one thing is absolutely clear. You can’t believe a word Trump says or tweets when he’s not under oath.

If and when he is – that remains to be seen as well.

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Oaths of Fealty

Alan Zendell, June 14, 2017

David Axelrod said, “Frankly, it was embarrassing.” Stephen Colbert suggested that it made Kim Jong-un seem classy. A broad spectrum of commentators called it bizarre, with the most often heard comment being, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” I felt shocked, disbelieving, and nauseated, in that order.

By now you’ve figured out that I’m referring to the awkward, artificial, and wholly inappropriate Cabinet meeting that Trump conducted on live television a couple of days ago. In his most narcissistic act yet, like a medieval king, he required every member of his Cabinet to proclaim fealty, perform obeisance, and generally embarrass him or herself before the world. It was as staged as a Chinese election, and I’m honestly torn between hoping it was just the repulsive puppet show it seemed to be and being terrified that it wasn’t.

Trump began the show with cheap shots at Democrats, all of whom are nothing but worthless obstructionists followed by hollow, exaggerated praise for the people he somehow convinced to serve in his Cabinet. Then we were treated to a surreal summary of all his wonderful accomplishments that have never been matched by any other president in our history. Finally, our pompous, self-important president basked in the glow of the forced adulation he required as the price of admission to his administration, as one by one, every member of his Cabinet soiled themselves on live television. The fact that this occurred in the wake of James Comey’s testimony that Trump inappropriately demanded a loyalty pledge from him made this display even more outrageous, but then, this is Donald Trump we’re talking about.

Anyone who expected to see a real Cabinet meeting had those hopes dashed when the television cameras were turned off as soon as this latest episode of reality television concluded with Trump praising himself for presiding over a completely transparent administration. All this, after Trump had spent the night tweeting that James Comey was the worst possible leaker, while one of the Donald’s good friends, who claimed he’d never spoken with the president, began leaking…errr…I mean floating the rumor that Trump was considering firing Robert Mueller.

On the same day, the media was full of speculation over whether Attorney General Sessions, the first Senator to pledge loyalty to Trump, would claim executive privilege before the Senate Intelligence Committee or if he might be willing to shed light on the possible existence of taped conversations. Remarkably, in a Cabinet which is a model of transparency, Sessions’ memory seemed to fail him every time he needed it

So Trump once again demonstrated how well he had learned to practice distraction, obfuscation, and misdirection, while in his typically unsubtle manner, having no idea that when he does these things repeatedly everyone begins to see through them. Oh, I get it – that’s what he meant by running a transparent administration.

I wish the media would stop grabbing at every bit of bait Trump throws them. Did we need yet another rehash of the Saturday Night Massacre? Did anyone actually believe Trump would fire Mueller with people in both parties (except our old buddy Newt Gingrich) screaming that he’d better not? Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein effectively told the world he’d resign if Trump ordered him to fire Mueller, and currently Rosenstein is viewed by most Americans as the Department of Justice’s standard bearer of integrity.

I’m a big fan of loyalty, especially today, Flag Day. But I spent thirty-seven years in the federal government, and in all that time I never witnessed a politician demand blind loyalty from a career civil servant. And every time I observed political pressure to commit an illegal action, it was rebuffed out of hand. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

After ten years of living in this country as a legal permanent resident, one of my daughters-in-law is about to become an American citizen. Since her country of origin is currently under the yoke of one of the wannabe dictators Trump has been cozying up to, she understands better than most of us how dangerous a corrupt administration can be. When she is asked to pledge allegiance to the United States of America, she will do so with joy and pride. But the only other loyalty pledge she ever has or will sign was her marriage contract. No wonder I love her.

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Erosion of Trust

Alan Zendell, June 12, 2017

Mountains and huge institutions rarely collapse all at once. Under constant battering by opposition and internal decay, they erode a little at a time until, when their once-strong foundations have rotted to the core, they come crashing down.

We saw it happen to the Soviet Union almost thirty years ago. In retrospect the warning signs were clear. Despite the seemingly overwhelming power of the Kremlin, the satellite Baltic nations began demanding independence in the late 1980s. In the face of mounting revolutionary pressure at home, the Soviet Union’s resources were insufficient to stop the tide of history. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and one by one, subject states broke away. Even with all those portents, when the world woke up one morning in 1991 to find that the Soviet Union no longer existed, most of us were stunned.

Erosion is slow but implacable. Bits crumble, and eventually a weakened substructure is revealed. It looks to me like that is exactly what is happening to the Trump presidency. Independents who voted for him were the first to abandon him. In each of his five months in office, his popularity and approval ratings have steadily declined, until his support among his own party has dropped to around 80%, which political historians consider a critical danger sign. And his base, whoever they actually are, shrinks in every poll.

Last weekend, four Republican Senators spoke out. While none of them overtly withdrew support for the president, they were all highly critical of his behavior. It’s not difficult to read between the lines. They are not only embarrassed by this administration, they see its legislative agenda floundering with little chance of advancing ahead of the 2018 election. They’ve also seen Congress’s approval rating fall even lower than Trump’s, and that has to have their frustration level near the breaking point. Whether Trump survives or goes down, they’ll all still be there answering to angry voters.

Yesterday, Washington Post business writer Steven Pearlstein titled his Sunday column “It’s Time for Business Leaders to Dump Trump.” Business leaders are already bailing, with many large corporate CEOs having publicly distanced themselves from the administration which was supposed to be their champion. “Distancing themselves” is one of those phrases that implies a lot more than it says. If we’re hiking in the mountains and we see a rattlesnake on the trail, we put distance between it and us. When a tsunami warning is issued we get as far from the shoreline as we can. And when a massive ship is about to sink, people jump into lifeboats and get as far away as possible to avoid being sucked under with it.

And Trump’s cabinet? More and more we hear appeals to put country ahead of party. Secretary of State Tillerson looks exhausted every time he takes the podium. He is undercut almost every time the President tweets or speaks. How long can he be expected to support policies he strongly disagrees with?

Perhaps the most frustrated cabinet member is National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster. Pearlstein’s Sunday business column addressed that too. He drew on the distinguished military correspondent Tom Ricks, a big fan of McMaster. According to Pearlstein, “Ricks was encouraged that someone of [McMaster’s] intelligence, integrity, and experience would be there to educate the new president and restrain some of his worst instincts.” But after watching McMaster “contort himself and the truth over the past three months,” Ricks wrote an article in Politico urging McMaster to resign for the good of the country.

Attorney General Sessions was the first major politician to support Trump’s candidacy. He was rewarded for his loyalty by an appointment any ambitious lawyer would crave, but he couldn’t possibly have anticipated the quagmire his new job would become. He, like most of Trump’s supporters, held their noses at his campaign tactics hoping that once he was elected he would be different. They’ve said that for nearly five months, and things keep getting worse. Two months in, Sessions had to recuse himself from the Russia mess, and today under enormous pressure, after trying hard to avoid public testimony, he had to agree to appear in open session before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Does he wish he could turn back the clock?

Sessions is too good a politician to give false testimony, but what about Trump asserting that he too will testify? He repeatedly accuses James Comey of lying, but doesn’t seem to hear the silence that invokes on both sides of the aisle, where most observers believe Comey told the truth. Ask yourself honestly – do you believe Trump would lie under oath if he thought he could get away with it? Does anything about his conduct in the last two years, or in his entire career convince us he’d be truthful? And if his tweets and public statements, whether before Congress or anywhere else, continue to cause disruption and dig ever deeper holes for him, what then?

In the end erosion, like entropy, always wins.

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Life Imitating Art?

Alan Zendell, June 6, 2017

During the tumultuous weeks in 2003 leading up to the second invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush trotted Secretary of State Colin Powell out to present evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction to the United Nations. Whether or not Powell knew at the time that the information he was presenting was false, he later went along with the National Security Council’s decision to support the invasion, even though he was opposed to it.

When, with much of the world media reporting that the evidence of WMDs might have been faked, British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged the UK’s support for the invasion, three members of Blair’s government resigned in protest. They knew how to act when their honor was besmirched.

When Bob Woodward interviewed Powell for his book, The Commanders, he asked him why he hadn’t resigned as well. Powell said he’d have fallen on his sword for nothing and ruined his career. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from the Brits.

We’re not in a shooting war now, but we face an equally serious situation. Last week, we watched President Trump succumb to the swamp politics of special interests who wanted the United States out from under the environmental restrictions of the Paris Accords. What was less widely reported, was that the only two members of his Cabinet who had earned bipartisan respect and support, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were strongly opposed to the decision but were overruled by Steve Bannon.

Many people thought Mattis and Tillerson should have resigned in protest. If it wasn’t enough that the sound counsel of the two most important people in the Cabinet was ignored on an issue that threatens all of us, the spectacle of these two competent advisors being overruled by a craven political hack like Bannon might have been the tipping point. Given all the controversy and confusion caused by the President’s unhappy relationship with the truth over the Russia investigations, I can only guess how difficult it is for them to remain in the government.

I don’t know whether Powell did the right thing fourteen years ago, and I can’t imagine what goes on the minds of Mattis and Tillerson. Neither seems like the sort of person who is either easily bullied or overly concerned about his career. I want to believe that they both think they can do more good within the government than outside it, but how many such incidents will it take to tip the balance the other way? Today, our ambassador to China resigned in protest over our withdrawal for the climate accords. It’s a start.

If these questions weren’t so serious in real life, they’d make for great entertainment, the kind of thing that successful television series thrive on. My curiosity was piqued when I heard Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, the stars of Netflix’s House of Cards talking about the new season, which was released last week. In its first four seasons, the show featured ever more outrageous acts by an unscrupulous Congressman scheming his way to the White House. Ms. Wright commented that the current season topped the previous ones, but that the writers were now stumped about what to do next. The antics of the Trump administration made it tough to be more outrageous than reality. Spacey lamented that the White House may have better writers than he does.

That’s quite a statement, since the fictional President Underwood does things that make the audience gasp in every episode. I had to see for myself, so I began watching season five, which was scripted before anyone knew what the Trump administration would be like. Ironically, in episode two, when the president somehow outdoes himself in his unrestrained lust to hold on to power, the fictional Secretary of State tells the equally fictional Vice President that they have to do something to stop him.

“What can we do,” says the Vice President, whose backbone and integrity have been suspect for two seasons.

“We can resign,” the Secretary of State tells him. “If we do it together, people will listen.”

Were the writers prescient? Is it accidental that whatever President Underwood does, we have no trouble picturing Trump doing the same things? I’m almost afraid to watch the next few episodes. It’s the same feeling I get watching the news every morning.

Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?

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