The first election day since Donald Trump was elected president a year ago brought a funereal mood to Washington that you could feel on the streets. The swamp, apparently, remains undrained. Elections for governor in Virginia and New Jersey and for mayor in New York City cheered the locals a bit, producing the expected victories for Democrats. Virginia was the most consequential of these. It seemed a harbinger of the next presidential race. The moderate, decidedly un-Trumpian Republican Ed Gillespie was accused of making ‘ugly racial appeals’ — this for expressing the opinion that the statues of Virginia’s Civil War heroes should not be razed in a frenzy of revisionism. Fifty-seven per cent of Virginians want the monuments to stay up, too, producing a rough equilibrium. They are scared to death to say so, and the political class is scared to death of their power. There are signs that politicians’ fear is on the wane. The Latino Victory Fund, a group that opposes Gillespie, ran a television advert that showed a redneck driving a pickup truck with an Ed Gillespie sticker on it. He was speeding through a suburban neighbourhood after non-white children, as if to run them over.
The President himself missed the anniversary on his tour of Japan, Korea and China. In seeking a solution to the Korea crisis, Trump has lately been putting a lot of trust in China’s ability to influence the North. This week, Asia expert Orville Schell raised something Americans seldom think about: what if it works? What if Xi Jinping were to help bring about the collapse of the regime in the North, and the effacement of what Trump on Wednesday morning called ‘the line... between decency and depravity’? Surely Xi would want American missiles out of South Korea — and perhaps the Americans along with them. What then?
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the claim that the Trump campaign colluded with ‘the Russians’ to get their man elected last fall is not producing much evidence of campaign wrongdoing. Paul Manafort, the flamboyant foreign agent who ran Mr Trump’s campaign for a few weeks in the summer of 2016, has been indicted for lobbying work he did for the Ukrainian government in the early years of this century, for hiding money offshore, and for failing until last summer to register a lobbying operation he carried out before 2014. Is that all you’ve got? The misdeeds long antedate Manafort’s involvement with Trump, and investigative reporter Ken Silverstein, who for decades has traced the links between American plutocracy and foreign oppression, says that there was a very good reason Manafort didn’t register — no one is ever prosecuted under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
At the core of the indictments is work Manafort once did for the aluminium oligarch Oleg Deripaska. The two worked closely together, although there have been no reports that Manafort was ever invited on board Deripaska’s 238ft yacht the Queen K off the coast of Corfu to chat with the man himself, as George Osborne (while shadow chancellor) and Peter Mandelson (while European trade commissioner) were in 2008.
You can tell that Republicans are a party with a death wish whenever they roll out one of their fantasy tax plans. There was a new one last week, which actually had some good things in it. It cuts the high (35 per cent) corporate tax. It eliminates the ‘marriage penalty’ for income tax. It abolishes the arbitrary ‘alternative minimum tax’. But what will stick in most people’s heads is this: the cuts for big moguls are paid for by eliminating the mortgage-interest deduction on homes over $500,000. In other words, it will take $100,000 or $200,000 right off the top of the value of every middle-class home. This is the exact opposite of the way Trump promised to govern. Trump won’t be around forever, but apparently the party’s genius for losing elections will be.
Perhaps photos of Juli Briskman’s backside have made it across the pond to England. The 50-year-old employee of Akima LLC was out cycling near the Trump National Golf Club in Loudon County, Virginia, in late October when the presidential motorcade rolled by. As she pedalled along, she gave the cars the single-fingered American bras d’honneur. It happened there was a press car in the entourage. Photographers from Agence France Presse and elsewhere put their shots online. They went viral and she added one to her own social media.
A bad move by Juli. Akima is one of those government-dependent firms around Washington that are very circumspect about what exactly they do. Its website says: ‘Akima LLC’s Business Groups and their operating companies represent an uncommonly broad array of specialized talents, technologies, domain expertise and proven program success at some of the most visible and demanding implementations across all of government and industry.’ Whatever they do, it’s not considered good form to give the President the finger. Juli lost her job. But maybe that bad move is going to turn into a good one. Someone has set up a GoFundMe crowd-sourcing page for her and it seems to be accumulating donations at a rapid clip.