After Decades of Investigation & Litigation, Will Stormy Daniels Finally Rid Us of Trump?

“Let’s be real though. Out of personal mendacity and sheer, repetitive volume, Donald Trump is obviously not afraid to go to court. A goodfella moves through the world with confident impunity. He has screwed over numerous contractors to the tune of millions of dollars while building his gold-plated real estate empire. Trump has defrauded investors and students, and deceived members of his own family. He has publicly disparaged Gold Star families, Senators currently dying of brain cancer and any number of real or imagined opponents. He has said, awful, barely repeatable things about women, famous and otherwise, demonstrating that the opposite sex is his preferred target for vulgarity and disrespect. Donald Trump – and the cheeseburger he reportedly takes to bed – lose sleep over none of this.

But there’s one woman, a singular litigant, who’s demonstrating a weird, unsettling power over Donald Trump that none of us fully understands yet. I speak of course of Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels. She and her lawyer Michael Avenetti are giving Team Trump the full court media press over her alleged affair with POTUS 45 – and confirmed $130,000 payout. And what has Trump said of the unfolding scandal – and the lady who has him by the literal balls? Nada. Nary a tweetstorm or press conference tangent. Things that make you go hmmmm…”

Read the full post at Contemptor.


John Kelly Still Has a Job: Why Team Trump Will Never Get Right with Female Voters

“At other moments away from Contemptor, to be honest, the effort of putting my pained – and very female – American perspective out into the world hasn’t always felt worthwhile. I trust my voice and believe that our democracy faces unprecedented peril that requires committed resistance. But as a female writer, sometimes a break from Twitter trolls to come up for air is necessary self-care. One particularly dedicated jeerer, @lightbluecollar, last week blamed me and my work for an 18 month-old case of mother/daughter incest in Oklahoma. I’m no stranger to angry white men on the Internet, but it’s a source of personal exhaustion to engage them with the anger and ignorance on 11 that comes with Making America Great Again.

Anyway, here I am – older, wiser and ready to resume the rhetorical battle for our country, its solvency and soul on this platform. While we’re on the subject of being trolled, let’s talk for a moment about the Trump White House and its continually audacious personal and civic inability to respect women – the interest group that comprises more than half of the American electorate.

The Rob Porter scandal is nearly two weeks old, a veritable eternity for the Trump administration and its ability to generate controversy. Yet the story still occupies front page real estate on The New York Times website. Why? Because of Camp Runamuck’s puzzling, but by now expected impotence in publicly condemning domestic violence, and rooting its practitioners and acolytes out of the West Wing.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

2018: It’s Here, It’s Blear and Full of Sneer


2018 burst out of the gate spraying bizarre and unpleasant phenomena like so much buckshot. At the national level, it’s fairly clear that our President is an unstable, corrupt, half-literate, white supremacist. Understated facts seem to pass for fashionable dissent this year, as congressional cynics and ignorant voters pretend this is patriotic American status quo. So here goes. Donald J. Trump is bad for the country in every conceivable moral, secure and rational sense – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365. He needs to be removed from office while we still have a country left.

At the regional level, Chicago has been so uninhabitable this first week of January, our famous rats are freezing to death. Back in the late 1990s, there was a joke making the pop cultural rounds (memes were not yet a thing): in the end times, we’ll still have rats, cockroaches and Cher. With the ex-Mrs. Bono/Allman strutting through a 2018 concert tour while Windy City rodents give up the fight, she is now the likeliest of resilient species to survive deadly climate change.

The first week of the new year has also presented a variety of personal challenges for me. Some of these were consciously chosen, for example selecting January as the month to simultaneously give up carbs, sugar and alcohol. Others hurdles are happenstance, like my estranged, mentally ill father bombarding my inbox with four senseless Yahoo! E-cards in five days.

All I can tell you is that the confluence of crap that flew this week (which assuredly includes the national and regional stressors) resulted in a cleansing Friday morning sob – catalyzed by a missing sock. Equilibrium is in short supply.

Perhaps this week’s jarring, frigid threats have adopted a heightened intensity because they follow the most mellow and unstructured 10-day accord in recollection. Online and in real-life, I rarely stop moving. Depending on which day you ask, I’ll say this is because I’m hustling to create community and opportunity, or that I’m the victim of my own subconscious dysfunction. A darker self addicted to achievement, operating in perpetual fight or flight mode to avoid some undefined danger. Either way it’s productive.

This way of life also produces acute periods of burnout. And when I bid my day job a 2017 adieu on Thursday, December 21, I felt fully particularly singed by the following events:

  • Bob and I married on August 19, an only-in-the-movies perfect summer day that was nonetheless the culmination of a three-month engagement and planning gauntlet.
  • We took exactly one day off after the wedding weekend before I was asked to leave the husband to deal with a monthlong, international corporate crisis. The trip was canceled three days before boarding owing to a separate, more acute, local panic that lasted until Thanksgiving. In between there were rush immunizations, a flurry of shopping and packing, and much hand-wringing over a long separation from the man to whom I’d just said “I do.” All that adrenaline for naught.
  • At the same time post-wedding employment chaos unfolded, I co-wrote a non-fiction book and met an October 1 manuscript deadline. Anyone who’s ever completed a long form work of journalism, which requires interviewing, transcribing and developing coherent, connected stories from numerous sources, knows the unique mix of excited rush and sheer terror.
  • The #MeToo movement. I don’t need to explain to women what this season-long and still unfolding sociopolitical movement has asked of each of us – publicly and privately. The grappling with the horrors large and small that dot our pasts, the pre-holiday thrill of watching ensconced, menacing, powerful perverts topple like so many fetid dominoes, even as we wondered if there would be real, lasting change after the purge.
  • Did I mention Donald Trump stubbornly remains the humiliating, heartless and vacuous President of the United States?

By contrast, during the last glorious week between Christmas 2017 and New Year’s Day 2018, time and cold reality suspended. For the first time in years, languishing through unplanned, relatively news-free days (by deliberate choice), I rested. I lived in the moment. I had an indoor honeymoon with my best friend and the love of my life. I read the most recent issue of The Atlantic cover to cover; binged watched quality television while Bob and I held hands. We were an island of simple pleasures, removed from winter’s assault and the frenzied business of an exhausted mind in perpetual motion.

The peace was so – to use an incongruous word that is no less accurate – intense, that 2018’s opening sprint of national, local and personal madness still assumes manageable proportion. I’m clinging to the shards of a zen hangover with everything I’ve got.

Increasingly Blurred Partisan Lines Offer Hope for Journalism in 2018

2017 has been a strange and disturbing year for the United States in so many far-reaching ways. Long, well-researched books will be written about this year’s impact (or lack thereof) on income inequality, government corruption, gender dynamics, the justice system, immigration, suffrage, healthcare, civil rights, the First Amendment, foreign policy, war and climate change. I’m hard pressed to think of a major issue facing humanity that hasn’t been stress tested to the point of breaking spirits, cultures, families, the economy and the nation in the seventeenth year of the 21st Century.

For liberal political journalists, it’s been especially hard to dissociate the self from the reporting. 2017 has been an unusually challenging year for investigating topics unemotionally. At least tangentially, we have a stake in the story by virtue of sharing space with other people affected by a policy, decision or revolution.  I don’t live in Puerto Rico, but I don’t need to in order to feel helpless anger over fellow Americans failed by every possible government system in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. People are still dying from the ripple effects of disease, water and power shortages, not to mention the callousness of a President who believes a paper towel tossing photo op is #MAGA – because brown people are takers.

As a writer/human hybrid, there have been many days and weeks this year when the power of the pen hasn’t felt forceful enough. That the exercise in information sharing that is journalism falls impotently short of the action needed to right a country that has popularly lurched toward heartlessness at the highest levels of government. Isolationist xenophobia, backs turned to war-torn refugees, a place where Nazis are labeled “very fine people,” black lives only matter when it comes to kneeling in protest and female reproductive health is a political bargaining chip for the dominant hierarchy of middle-aged white men. It’s easy to become disoriented and confused to the point of inertia. Should I be writing about this? Should I be in the streets? Am I supposed to be deliberating? Hand me another scotch in the meantime.

I do not pretend to be a moderate. Never have. I can’t be less than all the way when it comes to constructing government and social systems that support and offer opportunity equally. I do not believe we go it alone. Call me a socialist, a radical, an angry intersectional feminist or any of the more colorful epithets offered by my (typically male) Twitter trolls. When the leader of the country governs by pandering to the ignorant 35 percent, rather than representing all Americans, displaying the kind of divisive, threatening behavior and rhetoric well known to despots, I’m happy to be branded an enemy of the state. As lonely and frightening as it can be to sit outside the circle, the air is a lot less toxic.

All of this is to say that as the end of the year approaches, I and many other exhausted journalists in my acquaintance are still trying to find our footing. Just the facts has been replaced by fake news, many of the policy threats are deeply personal and after all, wallowing in the muck of the Trump era is spiritually exhausting. However the work continues in a bi-partisan way, and if there’s comfort to be found in the crusade, it’s the unexpected shared experience with an increasingly large number of conservative writers and pundits. If you’d told me just 18 months ago, that I’d find myself aligned with the thoughts of the New York Times columnist David Brooks, the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan and Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center – in the same week! – I wouldn’t have believed it possible. But here we are:

“The Republican Party is doing harm to every cause it purports to serve. If Republicans accept Roy Moore as a United States senator, they may, for a couple years, have one more vote for a justice or a tax cut, but they will have made their party loathsome for an entire generation…Young people and people of color look at the Trump-Moore G.O.P. and they are repulsed, maybe forever.”

“The support being given by many Republicans and white evangelicals to President Trump and now to Mr. Moore have caused me to rethink my identification with both groups. Not because my attachment to conservatism and Christianity has weakened, but rather the opposite. I consider Mr. Trump’s Republican Party to be a threat to conservatism, and I have concluded that the term evangelical — despite its rich history of proclaiming the ‘good news’ of Christ to a broken world — has been so distorted that it is now undermining the Christian witness.”

“[Republicans], have faith. Not everything comes down to an immediate election that is this coming Thursday. Think long term, philosophically. Be true to your own political principles, but have some faith and don’t make decisions that are not ones that you’re really comfortable with.”

Suddenly it seems conservative to stand against cynicism, pedophilia, party before country and the corporate raiding of the American people. I and other liberals may disagree with these writers on “everyday” policies. But in 2017, normalcy has been supplanted by Constitutional crises and the end days of representative democracy. The journalistic blurring of party lines may offer small 2017 comfort. But as a writer, it gives me energy to take on 2018.

Learning to Listen

America has a hard time listening. We can watch the news and see what’s going on, but there’s a difference between looking and listening, especially when there’s so much noise to filter. Learning to listen requires us to go beyond the words, to hear and appreciate what’s also being communicated in moments of silence.

Over the past week, we’ve seen our listening problems rise to the surface, unfolding via the growing reports of harassment and misconduct by Harvey Weinstein. News coverage prompted numerous celebrities and victims to emerge from the shadows years, or even decades later. What caused the delays? A familiar set of problems – hostile work environments, fear of retaliation, a power imbalance and good old fashioned fear.

Actress Rose McGowan’s Twitter account was suspended after sharing her own abusive experience with Harvey Weinstein. Her initial accusation was shushed out of court for $100,000. The deluge of accusers that have supported McGowan’s account reflects another dark chapter for male accountability in Hollywood. It’s clear that Weinstein’s actions were well-known, and textbook bystander silence was the rule until the accusers generated enough media coverage to make it safe for other powerful men to come out against Weinstein.

Consider this situation in the context of the recent repeal of campus sexual investigation standards promoted by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The repeal means that the burden of proof shifts even further toward victims, while protecting rapists like Brock Turner.  The result? Offenders are receiving the communication that they can abuse with minimal (if any) repercussions.

In the short and long term, victims are facing ever steeper battles to be heard while waiting for (historically) ineffective campus police/security to take action, under rules which mandate that rape kits and tests be performed within 72 hours of an attack. Additional roadblocks placed in front of people who deserve support.

Remember that the man-child in the Oval Office stands in the company of Weinstein and Turner for his own aggressive and unwelcome behavior towards women. There was outrage a year ago when the infamous Access Hollywood footage came to light, but not enough to derail his campaign. Is that predictive of Weinstein’s fate? Some time in the pop cultural penalty box  before business resumes as usual?

We cannot afford silence any longer. There isn’t space to devalue the traumatizing experiences others. A nation recovering from several natural disasters (with a notable lack of action and coverage in Puerto Rico), a President speaking to hate groups while cancelling necessary healthcare subsidies for lower-income citizens….we need a multitude of loud voices against these atrocities, but we must also learn to listen. The cynically powerful and repressive are muffling voices that should be heard. 

The Spice Girls

Yesterday, as news broke regarding the resignation of Sean Spicer as White House Press Secretary, I immediately contacted a fellow Washington vigilant – my younger sister Jenny. Since our earliest childhood days, we’ve been news and politics aware (I’ll hardly regret a ballot more than one cast for Reagan in a 1984 kindergarten mock election). But ever since the post-9/11, Fox News-aided ascendancy of modern-day Republican ideology, neither one of us has been able to relax for a moment.

Wound tightly by patriotic and personal concerns involving the war on terrorism, protracted assaults on woman’s reproductive health, the social safety net, voting rights, immigration and rational gun policy, we’ve been busy worrying. The Obama years brought some comfort in the form of a decent, rational if imperfect leader. But even then the Tea Party and other self-styled citizens of the “real America” talked endless, incendiary shit about the President, immigrants, the LGBTIQ and a long-settled woman’s right to make decisions about her own body.

Some of it was more than talk. Jenny and I have paid attention to what’s gone down in the states, including our own. Budget impasses, government shutdowns, disgustingly offensive bathroom laws, innocent citizens of color gunned down by local police. Elections matter and the right has been gaining the macro and micro majorities required to transform America into something less free for “those people” (most of us) – for decades.

My second favorite pundit and I are especially alert, exhausted and afraid for our country in the Trump era. The international shame, ridicule and danger. The proud, illiterate ignorance of our President, the moral and ethical stench wafting from every corner of the White House. But every now and then we’re given a gift of comic absurdity, a small moment of levity that transcends danger into the mere comically sad. So many of those moments have been offered by Sean Spicer these last, harrowing six months. Bless him.

It’s kind of hard to pick a favorite. Writers such as Erin Gloria Ryan have pointed out that Spicey came out swinging for the unintentionally humorous fences:

“Mr. Spicer’s relationship with the press got off to a bad start. Just one day after President Trump’s inauguration, our boy Sean issued a bizarre statement claiming the crowd was the biggest ever. His sagging suit indicated that perhaps he was not the greatest at gauging the sizes of things.”

Her piece in The New York Times yesterday ends with an endearment I burningly wish I’d written first: “Goodnight, sweet wince.”

No matter how insane Spicer’s behavior grew in defense of his probably-bankrupt-in-every-sense boss and the Trump administration, it was a mostly harmless show. We (and here I mean the larger “we,” not just Jenny and I) have long expected slanted spin from the Press Secretary’s podium. Spicey added that special mix of pitiful audaciousness that made his briefings among the highest-rated programs on daytime television. The man hid from the press in the bushes. This is a thing that actually happened. Under the direst circumstances – the running aground of America by a circus clown and his enablers – we need the occasional laugh to keep us going.

What are we to do now? Basically, this was my question to Jenny when I messaged her late yesterday morning. I sent her a link to the Times’ breaking news item about Spicer’s decision to walk away from the madness. She’s a mother of two girls married to a wonderful Muslim-American man. As many readers know, Jenny’s had to take vigilance a step further than some (me) when it comes to protecting her family from rhetorical and legislative threats. Thus she was predictably less flapped than I:

“This should surprise no one.”

Point taken, and yet somehow I was blindsided by Spicer’s move. I assumed that a man who’d spent six months and a day eating shit in front of America on behalf of Donald Trump could survive anything – especially a new supervisor. The moment when one is lulled into the belief that a head can’t be further scratched, The Donald and his team offer a new itch.

In reply to Jenny’s resigned assessment of the latest Friday news twist in Washington, I offered this. Maybe a sign of obscured, but persistent optimism.

“We must be ready for anything and yet because absurdity continues every day, any sort of end of it is still a jolt.”

Spicey was easy to dismiss. A fool who earnestly wanted respect, even if he had no idea how to gain it.  As Forrest Gump said, “Good, that’s one less thing.” Scaramucci, Sanders and their soulless sleaze on the other hand? No more laughing. Just more worrying.

America’s Red Herrings

Do you know the term “red herring?” defines it as “something intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand; a misleading clue.”  The concept, removed from argument context, should be familiar; we’ve been exposed to it every news cycle since the 2016 election process began, though examples can be found throughout history.

But back to 2016 and our present. It was an efficient distraction to say “look at her emails.” It may now be worth it to the President to sacrifice a son to media frenzy in order to make darker moves behind the scenes. The red herring has to receive notice, it must be given attention to be effective.

That process is made easier with reduced access to information. The media and public are ready to pounce on any morsel delivered by POTUS via Twitter, even when the tweets don’t make any sense. That’s what happens when he controls the message. From the ranks of dubiously moral Mad Men character Don Draper: “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” That’s exactly what we’re witnessing. The conversation keeps changing. “Alternative facts”  have ascended. The term is part of popular vernacular and explains why Kellyanne Conway still has a job despite never saying anything relevant.

This shift is worrying, but dig a little deeper below the surface distraction. The big, bold red herring headlines aren’t always what’s important to the American people, the stuff of daily life. What does impact us? The little things hiding behind Don Jr. ‘s turn at e-mail scandal, or what’s been swept under the rug of America’s consciousness:

These examples brings me back to the point: the surface craziness of Team Trump serves as distraction from the larger agenda. It’s the flash that hides the impact, allowing the Trump administration to dominate news cycles with loud, hollow clamor. Meanwhile, the shady bits are happening outside the average citizen’s social media or news feed. It’s not just POTUS engaging in this charade. Congress is complicit as well,  as with 2016’s non-appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. In 2017, it’s secretive discussions on healthcare reform that are meant to strong-arm support while introducing massive, decimating reforms under a arbitrary deadline.

This kind of flimflam is completely unacceptable, particularly from men and women elected to  lead America through an increasingly complicated 21st Century. This is not the America we were promised, and local elections are beginning to show impact from concerned citizens awake to the con. Long declared party loyalties are disintegrating – with good reason.

As easy as it is to place blame on a distant and cynical Washington D.C. for the easy circulation of red herring news, we are equally culpable.  We must overcome all-too pervasive apathy toward staying informed and engaged. We don’t have the luxury of avoiding tough challenges that can depress the mood. The health of our nation is like work, oxygen, love – we need it.

Staying informed is a responsibility bestowed upon us by privilege-turned-rights of the First Amendment. Cutting through the din is unpleasant, but sticking your fingers in your ears is much more dangerous.