Mort Report Extra: The Ghost of Common Sense

“Common sense will tell us, that the power which hath endeavoured to subdue us, is of all others, the most improper to defend us.” Thomas Paine

This is an urgent plea to everyone I can reach. Please pass it on to every American you know before November. Non-voters make up our largest bloc. Others are undecided, and sentient Republicans are wavering. No election in history, anywhere, has been more crucial. 

 We saw last week how deeply hypocrisy and prostitution now permeate our government. Smart young people offer promise, but if we do not vote now, it will be too late for them.  An apathetic, ill-informed electorate will have squandered democracy by default.

If the Mort Report is new to you, I’m a correspondent who has covered world news for 50 years on seven continents for editors who demand strict objectivity. Like all real reporters, I am obsessed with getting facts straight and basing analyses on observation, not opinion.

Until 2016, I’d have cut off a left toe before presuming to tell people how to vote. But I’ve watched Donald Trump for decades, and I know a heartless would-be despot when I see one. During his campaign, it was clear he would attempt a coup d’etat. With a corrupted Republican Party and enough blind cultist followers to sway an election, he threatens not only our democracy but also the survival of our planet.  Please keep reading; this is not hyperbole.

Climatic chaos is real, already affecting food supply. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just reported temperature rise could reach the 1.5-degree Celsius tipping point within 12 years. To keep our planet habitable, carbon emissions must be cut by 100 percent before 2050. Trump denies it all, pushing coal and fossil fuels as if there were no tomorrow.

Erratic foreign policy risks global conflict and unstoppable cyber-invasion. We can’t win a war of attrition with China. We are abandoning our historic defense of human rights and the free exchange of truthful information. We are silent when governments murder journalists.

A calculated spike in prosperity achieved under the Obama administration misleads too many. As Tom Friedman put it, if you burn your furniture to stay warm in winter, you have nowhere to sit in spring. Wile E. Coyote may have already looked down; Nasdaq plummeted on Thursday and Friday. In any case, wealth doesn’t matter on an unlivable planet.

The Kavanaugh process shed blinding light on a perverted America. Trump called Christine Blasey Ford “a very credible witness.” Later, he mocked her cruelly to delighted laughter from his cult. He is like those black balls with a window on top that deliver a different message every time they’re turned over. Far from stupidity, this is cunning calculation.

Trump lied in saying an IRS audit prevented him from revealing tax returns. Then he stonewalled. A New York Times investigation now tells us why. He began with a half-billion dollars of his father’s evaded taxes. He cheated, used mob tactics, borrowed from Russians who continue to influence him. When his “very stable genius” failed him, and his father did not bail him out, he declared serial bankruptcies at others’ expense.

We’ve had incompetent presidents before but never one so self-serving and palpably unfit. The Washington Post tallies an average of eight lies or inaccuracies a day since he took office. The 25th Amendment or impeachment require a Congress that puts the people’s interest above its own. Either would elevate a religious fundamentalist committed to rich donors.

For Republicans, Trump is manna from heaven, a snake-oil salesman who cons the masses. They have systematically crippled the IRS to help themselves and the tax cheats who fund them. Dodged taxes amount to what we spend on helping the poor.

Democrats are disorganized, with leaders who waffle. But at this turn in our history, this is not about parties. Only a crushing, humiliating landslide by one can force change in the other.

Paul Krugman, a Nobel laureate in economics who warned about Trump from the start, interpreted the Times’ findings with spine-chilling clarity: “Our trend toward oligarchy – rule by the few – is also looking more and more like kakistocracy – rule by the worst, or at least the most unscrupulous. Corruption isn’t subtle; on the contrary, it’s cruder than almost anyone imagined. It also runs deep, and it has infected our politics, quite literally up to its highest levels.”

While we were transfixed by the Kavanaugh saga, Paul Ryan led a House vote to make tax cuts permanent, which would add $3.2 trillion to the deficit over a decade. It may fail in the Senate, but it is a clear sign to rich donors. The fix is in.

Republicans need a Supreme Court majority to protect the Citizens United decision, an Orwellian-named license for big money to subvert democracy. Trump needs Kavanaugh’s expansive view of presidential powers. The court can now overturn the duel-sovereignty doctrine that allows states to prosecute cases even after a federal pardon. As Robert Mueller probes deeper into Trump’s ties to Russian, that could be crucial.

As it turned out, Dr. Blasey Ford’s courageous testimony made the debate about her. Republicans said a good man was convicted without proof. Trump gave the FBI only enough leeway to give the appearance of investigation. Agents did not talk to three of Kavanaugh’s Yale buddies who in a Washington Post op-ed said he lied about drinking to oblivion. They skipped interviews with the accused and the accuser. And this was not a trial.

An appeal from 2,400 professors at nearly every law school in America had nothing to do with sex or beer. Nor did a condemnation by retired justice John Paul Stevens, a Republican who had backed Kavanaugh. It was about what we all saw for ourselves: a partisan, intemperate man, unable to control his emotions, who blatantly threatened political payback.

Roger Post, former Yale Law School dean, said Kavanaugh would step down if he cared about the Court’s integrity and independence. “Judicial temperament is not like a mask that can be taken off at will,” he wrote in an essay. “It is in the DNA as is well illustrated by Merrick Garland, who never once descended to partisan rancor despite the Senate’s refusal even to dignify his nomination with a hearing.” Kavanaugh’s “savage and bitter” screed, he concluded, incredibly marks the public mind and undermines America’s commitment to rule of law.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine defended her support by shifting blame and ignoring the central issue: “(The) process that has become so dysfunctional, it looks more like a caricature of a gutter-level political campaign than a solemn occasion.” A man is innocent until proven guilty, she insisted. Her stand was different on Al Franken, who she helped drive out of the Senate without an investigation.

Joe Manchin, the only Democrat to vote yes, told reporters he believed there was an assault, but nothing proved it was by Kavanaugh. He avoided the key issues of temperament and partiality. With only a narrow edge in West Virginia, he opted for staying in the Senate.


Trump’s priorities at home shame us. Hundreds of millions are being diverted from cancer research to fund private lockups for thousands of children taken from their parents at our borders. There is so much else. But I worry more about his impact abroad, largely unnoticed as American television focuses on his daily antics at home.

His agenda makes some sense on the surface. We should control borders. China has been gaming us for years. North Korea is a potential threat. Trade accords like NAFTA have problems to work out. But his courses of action almost invariably provoke worse blowback.

Russia matches our nuclear capability, but Putin is not after global murder-suicide. He undermines democracy in America and Europe with cyber-attacks and – here the term is apt – fake news. With Putin’s mysterious hold over Trump, we do little to stop him. We badly need NATO for strategic planning and intelligence, yet Trump treats partners like deadbeat vassals.

The Chinese, as everyone but Trump knows, don’t like losing face. Bridling at his threats, China has gone from an economic rival to military adversary ready for a High-Noon showdown. Trump calls developing nations shitholes and limits aid to the few states that back his policies. That allows China to recolonize Africa, securing raw materials, minerals, oil and U.N. votes with no regard for human rights or official plunder. It is building bases and deploying warships to mark new territory across the globe.

We are already fighting for access to the vital South China Sea, now dotted with Beijing’s flags on manmade islands. American bluster makes little impact when U.S. warships collide into one another, killing their own crewmen. The other day, U.S. and Chinese destroyers nearly collided. When tensions run high, accidents or miscalculations can be calamitous.

In the Middle East, Trump plays checkers on a backgammon board. His policy on Israel imperils its future as sympathies for Palestinians grow. He gives Saudi Arabia and the Emirates free rein against an infuriated Iran that pre-Trump diplomacy nearly brought out of its shell. Few Americans know the suffering we condone in Yemen, but our allies and enemies do.

Europe had united with open borders and common policies. Now it is dangerously destabilized, with Russia breathing hard from the east. Diehard Fascists in Germany, Italy, Hungary and beyond love Trump’s brand of faux-populism. They reject refugee tides from Africa and the Middle East, against whom America slams its doors. Imagine the potential outcomes if we continue to ignore the reasons why so many are forced to leave their homes.

Trump-think is based on a selective view of human beings. Non-Americans (aliens) are lumped in catchall categories rather than as individuals in diverse collectives. This makes us our own worst enemy. “Muslims” aren’t terrorists. They’re a largely peaceable collective of 1.8 billion people. When zealots among them preach terror, we react indiscriminately. Innocent deaths create new terrorists in geometric proportions.

Announcing his candidacy, Trump singled out Mexicans: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people.” That still defines his border policy.

This mindset disgusts friends and emboldens foes. When a U.S. president tells sovereign states that it is his way or else, most prefer the or else. If strong-armed, as Canada was, they wait for payback. A nuclear-tipped superpower needs a leader who understands world realities. Celebrity status – whether it’s a Donald Trump or an Oprah Winfrey -- is not enough. This is serious business.


In the end, the fault lies with Congress, which enables and abets Trump’s depredations. In the Kavanaugh vote, only Lisa Murkowski of Alaska put principle ahead of her place at the trough to defy Mitch McConnell, who ramrodded confirmation after blocking Obama’s compromise nominee for a year. 

I first noticed McConnell in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan supported rightwing death squads in Central America as “freedom-fighters” against communism. CIA agents helped them smuggle drugs to Florida. John Kerry, then heading the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tried to stop organized murder of students, clerics and others suspected of leftist sympathies. McConnell thwarted congressional action. Since then, I’ve kept watch on him.

When McConnell was a kid, polio threatened to cripple him for life. His parents found pubic largesse to cure him. Now he moves heaven and earth to torpedo Affordable Health Care. He vowed to make Obama a one-term president. Failing at that, he opposed Obama at every turn, whatever to cost to America.

In a Madame Secretary episode, the Tea Leoni character sought congressional approval to waive stringent rules to rush food to 250,000 starving Somalis. She spoke to a senator who so resembled McConnell that he could have worn a nametag. Well, he drawled, Congress has to protect farmers. (Rules say food aid must come from American stockpiles, shipped from a domestic port under a U.S. flag.) Then he offered an exception if his Senate pals could use a Pentagon plane for an inspection tour abroad – to Cabo San Lucas where they had to examine an eroding coastline near a golf course.

If even TV writers show us blatant reality that reporters and news analysts detail every day, America ought to notice.

This self-serving bias explains Kavanaugh. When women confronted McConnell as he got off a plane, he stared straight ahead and marched on. “We will not be intimidated by these people,” he said later, “There is no chance in the world that they’re going to scare us out of doing our duty.” They? That’s us. McConnell declared his prejudice before witness testimony. With blinders imposed by the White House, the FBI did not corroborate ancient history only a victim would recall.

McConnell’s Senate speech dwelt on how a Democratic plot wrecked a noble man’s life. He skipped the nominee’s disqualifying partiality, which united America’s legal profession in opposition. It was a stunning performance, complete with outrage at those importuning women. How dare American citizens tell their elected representative what they think?

And yet people like McConnell are returned, term after term, because not enough voters take the trouble to use Trump’s signature words: You’re fired.

This administration grotesquely undercuts everything we are supposed to be, from Stephen Miller, the weird 33-year-old automaton who imposes inhuman suffering at our borders to cabinet secretaries who destroy parks, wilderness and natural resources – and so much else.

There is no accountability. Trump is a civil servant on a short-term contract. He owes us daily accounts of what he does in our name, particularly when he vacillates constantly and thumbs policy decrees in cryptic terms via mobile phone in the early dawn. Sarah Sanders went three weeks in September without a briefing. Trump had become more accessible to reporters, she said; she wasn’t needed. There was truth to that. Her gross distortions shed little light. We depend on anonymous leaks, suspect at best, and accept that as a new normal. It’s not.

Danger looms of a convention to redraft the Constitution. Only 34 states are needed to call one; 28 are now committed. Kakistocracy could take over, with neither checks nor balances. This is no skirmish, as Charles Blow wrote in the Times. It is war.

Expect anything, even what would have seemed like paranoia two years ago. A “Presidential alert” recently lit up cellphones across America, a test of a national system for the White House to warn Americans of a sudden emergency. Like a terror alert in November?

The Reichstag is burning. if we do not start dousing the flames in November, we can only blame ourselves for the smoldering ruins.


Here are links to the Times’ investigation, the Post’s fact checks and the IPCC update:

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