Trump won't run in 2024 – and this will be his excuse

The evolution of the human species is not a straightforward proposition.

While in the past we produced Shakespeare, George Washington Carver, Einstein and Voltaire, to name a few more noteworthy evolved humans, more recently we collectively coughed up phlegm like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump.

Or, you can look at it another way; On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan forced the United States into World War II after dropping bombs on Pearl Harbor. Richard Pryor once wondered what Japan's leaders must have thought at that time. "We teach them a lesson," Pryor said. It was a fundamental misunderstanding of what America was about because Pryor joked that the Japanese hierarchy had only met laid-back Americans from California. They had never met the "white boys on chains" in Alabama or Florida, the white boys who "scare other white people."

At any rate, exactly 31 years later to the day, about five hours into the flight of Apollo 17, either astronaut Harrison Schmitt, Eugene Cernan or Ron Evans, traveling at around 25,000 mph took the very first picture of the whole, fully illuminated Earth.

This moving and beautiful photograph has been replicated countless times since and was nicknamed "The Blue Marble." To say it has been thought-provoking is an understatement.

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Philosophers, historians and the late scientist Carl Sagan are among those who have mused about the significance of a photograph that shows no boundaries, no strife, no drama — just the serene beauty of a planet some eight billion of us now share and call home. Quite an advance in 31 years.

Fifty years later, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, born nearly six years after that photograph was taken, is fighting with Disney over the use of the word "gay." He is the epitome of the person Pryor joked about — as is Donald Trump. But the joke is on us this time. Both of those reprobates have attracted a following of immense numbers of people — many who simply don't get it. Our former president is convinced the world is impressed with his ability to hit a small golf ball into a gopher-sized hole from a few hundred yards away with one shot — and that's more important than anything else occurring on the planet. A madman in Russia has started a war in Ukraine as a monument to his own twisted ego. NASA photographs and scientists confirm we are in the middle of a planet-changing climate event that could mean the end of the human species, even if others on the planet don't want to believe it. In February 2015, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma infamously brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to deny climate change.

"It isn't a lie if you believe it," a Republican legislator told me recently, talking about exactly such things. While that is the most hypocritical thing I've been told on Capitol Hill in the last two days, it's also the philosophy of fictional character George Costanza on "Seinfeld" — and was acknowledged as such by the legislator who, while dead serious, also thought he was being incredibly witty.

Fifty years after the last manned trip to the moon, some of our elected officials are basing their life's philosophy on shallow, stunted fictional characters who were contrived by standup comedians.

Meanwhile, there are those who believe we are trapped in a new Middle Ages.

"We are kind of in the middle of a technological-medieval age," another Capitol Hill legislator told me. "Religion is taking precedence over science. People are denying facts. Hell, in Florida they're banning math books! If we can't agree on facts and truth, then we're truly screwed."

Lest you think there is no purpose to this madness, be assured there is. Those who wish to convince you that facts are not facts have a serious goal in mind: control. The more you doubt facts, the more they can get away with twisting them to their own ends. The next insurrection could therefore be successful — at local, state and federal levels — as the Republican Party continues to try and overturn elections and maintain power, even though a majority of Americans find them to be inveterate, spineless liars filled with the excrement of aging castrated bulls.

Book burnings are apt to take place at county fairs, or be offered during prayer services at some churches under this scenario. In five years we could be dressed in pilgrim outfits, burning suspected witches at the stake and jailing pot smokers for life. Merely celebrating 4/20 could be a felony. Those who want an abortion will be reduced to once again using coat hangers. If you decide to give birth, as the comedian George Carlin said, "Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don't want to know about you. They don't want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no Head Start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you're preborn, you're fine; if you're preschool, you're fucked."

But there is hope. Progress never stops. As much as the atavistic asses of arrogance will use their ignorance to try and control the world, they can't.

Science, facts and reality have a way of eroding the bullshit of humans — even when other humans cannot.

There are those convinced that an apocalypse is once again on the horizon because Donald Trump will run and win re-election in 2024. Former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh is among those who believe he will run. Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen doesn't. "He's always about the grift," Cohen has repeatedly said.

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But the world sits and waits, either in anticipation of the second coming of their Christ and savior Trump, or in fear of the Antichrist and destroyer Trump. He ain't coming. He's too busy conning you into thinking he's coming. So please cough up some more money.

Trump has played it close to the vest as he has traveled across the country to a variety of rallies, pitching baubles and trinkets to dazzle and amaze those of simple minds and limited funds. Buy a hat. Buy a shirt. Buy an ornament. Buy an autographed picture. Buy anything Trump is selling — probably up to and including autographed underwear.

Millions continue to support him by buying his cheap and tawdry knickknacks. It makes me wonder what these homes look like. "Come in. clean your feet on the Trump doormat, hang up your coat on the Trump coat rack. Have a seat and a complimentary beverage out of our Trump lemonade pitcher, poured lovingly into a Trump autographed mug."

Meanwhile, you can take a look at a phone video shot by Donald Trump Jr. inviting you to visit a "top secret" rally with his father — and, gosh, even get a chance to meet Dad! What the hell is a top secret rally? Isn't that what the KKK used to do?

Anyway, Trump won't run in 2024. I've said that repeatedly, and I believe his recent pronouncement to the Washington Post is the reason he will give, eventually, for staying out of the race.

"You always have to talk about health. You look like you're in good health, but tomorrow, you get a letter from a doctor saying, 'Come see me again,'" Trump told the Post. "That's not good when they use the word 'again.'"

Did Trump already get such a notice? He never adequately addressed the medical condition that sent him to the doctor on short notice in the last year of his presidency — that was before contracting COVID, but after an announcement by the White House physician claiming that Trump was in such great health he could live to be 200, despite being, fat, flaccid, constantly unhappy and obviously stressed-out.

He may not have gotten such a notice. And if he didn't, then he's planting the seeds for a new con right now. There's no way Trump will go through another rigorous campaign or the increased scrutiny of another presidency. He was impeached twice. He's making more money pretending to run, without the headache of actually running or ruling, and he knows how to play to his crowd to keep the money rolling. In the end he will try to be a kingmaker — and Ron DeSantis is the leading candidate to become the next GOP emperor with no clothes.

Trump is incapable of evolving. He doesn't know how. He doesn't want to. There are still plenty of folks who will jump off a cliff with him, happily handing him the money that he'll eagerly dive off the cliff to get.

The incredibly frustrating part of this moment in history is that we have an even older president in office now. But Joe Biden is a guy who not only gets it but is trying to do something about it — in an extremely limited amount of time. While he makes noise about running for a second term, that's another variable that is not set in stone. Biden's health seems fine, but it's hard not to believe he's exasperated with the continued popularity of a charlatan con artist and all those others who preach from the same script. What man, in the twilight of his life, would want to deal with such crap for eight long years? Biden continues to dedicate himself to cleaning up Trump's mess, only to be blamed for it.

Evolution is truly a haphazard, non-linear exercise.

But the evolution of the species depends upon the rigorous efforts of those younger than the two septuagenarians at the head of the two political parties — and the willingness of a majority of people to accept truth and facts for what they are, not what they want them to be.

Vaccines work.

Trump is a crook.

Biden is too old.

DeSantis is an idiot.

The Democrats have no bench strength.

The GOP has no soul.

The world is round.

The Holocaust occurred.

Man landed on the moon.

And Putin is a madman.

Evolve, damn it!

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BLM leader busts 'smooth' Fox News host after he begins interview with 'white lives matter'

Trump, Putin and their kind are still dangerous — but here's why their time is almost up

My phone vibrated, indicating a new text message.

I checked and found one from a Turkish colleague who occasionally visited the White House during the Trump presidency: "I'm a 26-year-old journalist. I don't want to end up in jail."

At the time I was in a private screening of the movie "Navalny," about the Russian politician who is widely considered to be Vladimir Putin's greatest national rival. Alexei Navalny survived an attempt on his life, by way of poison applied to his underwear, only to be arrested upon his re-entry into Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering from the attempt on his life in Siberia.

That text message felt even more ironic and surreal as I waded through a sea of happy NHL fans outside the Capital One Arena in D.C. to get to the private screening, hosted by former congressman Joe Walsh and the movie's producer, Olivia Troye.

From behind prison bars, Navalny has called for protests against Putin's chosen war in Ukraine, where Navalny has ancestral roots. He is viewed by Amnesty International as a "prisoner of conscience" and re-entered his country knowing he might be jailed for up to 20 years because he wants to fight the "corruption and thieves" at the heart of the Russian government.

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As for my friend Ibrahim Haskologlu in Turkey, he reported on news that the authoritarian regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn't like. He was called "Fake News" and told me that pro-government groups "started to share my home address and identity information." He reports that he's gotten threatening messages and Turkey's minister of the interior sent him a message that there was "an investigation launched against me."

"There is no false news we have made, we have conveyed what happened completely," he said. "If international journalists do not react on this issue, unfortunately I may not be among you. I don't know where I will be."

There is no doubt we live in dark times. Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed, dismembered and apparently incinerated by a hit squad that was almost certainly working for Crown Prince Mohammed, the effective leader of the Saudi government. Those who tried to kill Navalny have been linked to other prominent deaths in Russia. In January 2021, Bellingcat, Insider and Der Spiegel linked the unit that tracked Navalny to other deaths, including activists Timur Kuashev in 2014 and Ruslan Magomedragimov in 2015, and politician Nikita Isayev in 2019. Another investigation found that Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza was followed by the same unit before his suspected poisoning.

Authoritarian forces are at work around the world, trying to support their greed and avarice by stifling dissent, and dividing the populace through means and methods known and understood by despots since the beginning of time. In the process, they are locking up, killing and jailing the reporters who are trying to get the truth out to the general population — even if the population adopts the voices of grifters and con men like Donald Trump and calls us "fake news."

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Make no mistake, Trump remains one of the leading figures in this authoritarian movement. He is out of office and off social media, but he continues to command a following, including wannabe dictators and Putin lovers across the world, like Erdogan of Turkey. The single greatest threat Trump represents is the march of authoritarianism under the guise of democracy. Trump is the ultimate con. He learned the grift well and has coddled up to and embraced Putin, Erdogan and others who rule with an iron fist. He longed to be like them, and they learned from him. There is no doubt among those of us still capable of independent thought and reason that Trump had a heavy hand in the Jan. 6 insurrection — and that he explored any means of staying in power. As he told me and the world from the Brady Briefing Room on Sept. 23, 2020, a full six weeks before the election, if we stopped counting ballots there would be no change of power.

But what Trump and the rest of these old, dangerous, atavistic, arrogant authoritarians haven't learned yet is that their time is up. It's done. The Navalny documentary — partially shot on cellphone — the text sent by my colleague in Turkey, the home videos posted on a variety of apps by those suffering from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and even the videos posted from Trump rallies are exposing these cretins for what they are: narcissistic power-mongers who care about no one but themselves. Because of social media, they cannot hide and lie with impunity as they could in the past.

These autocrats have experienced success up to this point by using the old methods of controlling access to information — jailing, killing and smearing the opposition and the reporters who try to report the truth.

Social media is the tipping point. Putin can't cover up genocide. Trump's followers are scared, aging white people. These guys are still a menace — but they're not the future.

But social media is proving to be the tipping point. Putin can't cover up genocide. He can't sell his propaganda because he cannot control the dissemination of information, even as he tries to shut down access to the internet in Russia. Erdogan cannot stop the word from getting out because he can't control the 21st-century printing press — the cellphone.

Trump can no longer succeed as he once did because he cannot control social media either. Those left worshiping Trump are, for the most part, scared, aging white people (many of whom are racists, misogynists and religious fanatics) who rely only on Trump and Fox News for the information they receive.

This is not the future. Trump isn't the future. Putin and Erdogan are not the future. The future belongs with teenager Darnella Frazier, who recorded video of George Floyd's death and won a special Pulitzer for it. It resides with brave young reporters like Ibrahim Haskologlu who can reach out across the globe to tell the truth. And it resides with younger politicians like Navalny who — as is clearly shown in a well-constructed documentary — know how to reach out through a variety of social media applications and interact with millions of people who might otherwise never know his name. With millions of followers on YouTube, there is no way to silence him — which is why Putin apparently tried to kill him, though he still won't say Navalny's name.

Social media is much maligned by those in power, and by those who operate large media companies. CNN launched an online streaming service that has so far garnered little more than 10,000 viewers — but that's less an indictment of social media than of the corporations struggling to keep up with the independent and "citizen" media that has become such a dynamic and important player across the globe. Corporate media, slow to react to change, and convinced of the star power of many of its anchors, remains a step behind.

The latest person to fall victim to Putin's rage against the dying of the light is Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian politician mentioned above who has been a strong critic of Putin and his disastrous war against Ukraine. Kara-Murza said in a CNN interview this week that Putin's government is "not just corrupt, it's not just kleptocratic, it's not just authoritarian, it is a regime of murderers."

Of course Russian police arrested him almost immediately. Of course they sentenced him to jail on charges of disobedience. Of course Putin was behind it.

Putin, as it turns out, is the true phantom menace (with apologies to George Lucas). No matter how strongly he tries to squeeze in order to become the 21st century's pre-eminent totalitarian, more countries will continue to slip through his fingers.

Make no mistake, Putin and others like him still have the ability to sway a large number of people. Navalny, quoting many before him, says in the documentary, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." That will always remain true.

But it's becoming easier by the day to rouse people from their slumber.

Putin cannot and will not succeed. His chosen war with Ukraine will ultimately be his downfall. It will cost Russia untold billions, if not trillions, of dollars — and threatens to take the nation back to where it was in 1917: destitute and starving.

The more desperate Putin becomes in trying to hold onto power, the more tenuous the survival of our species becomes. He has world-ending cards to play, and has threatened to use them.

Expect people like Putin, Trump, Erdogan and others to continue playing the cards they believe they were dealt. But all will eventually fail.

The future threat comes from autocrats who know how to manipulate social media, not stifle it. The first of those to emerge will be truly dangerous and terrifying — even more so than an aging sideshow clown who once anchored a network entertainment show and an aging ex-KGB officer who resorts to elaborate Cold War stunts to stifle the opposition.

But as long as there are despots, there will be journalists trying to expose them. Many will be young men and women who will risk prison, or worse, to deliver the facts to a needful public — even if some of the public don't want to hear it.

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Ukraine flag projected on Russian embassy — Russia tried to respond and hilarity ensued

The GOP's Putin caucus undermines Biden at home — while Americans risk their lives in Ukraine

It's increasingly difficult to care about some of the things that seem to bother the American electorate — or at least some of those who've somehow managed to get elected to national office and who could never otherwise hold a job elsewhere.

You know who I'm talking about. I won't mention their names because I still hold them in the highest minimum regard. Since I wouldn't hire them to babysit my dogs, much less represent me in Congress, I have no desire to give them even a moment's consideration as they preach hate and ignorance, and promote conspiracy theories that the rest of us would dismiss even if we were fueled with cocaine, Adderall and a healthy dose of hallucinogens.

Now, imagine being president at this time — trying to strengthen the NATO alliance, support the people of Ukraine, stem a pandemic, reinvigorate an economy and fight the lunacy of the former president's followers while being hampered by your own communication staff's inadequacies and the continued spin of social media disinformation — during the largest war in Europe since the end of World War II.

While some of us are concerned about the volatile nature of a war that could lead to the extinction of life on earth, gaslighters in Congress would have you believe that the greatest peril to the world is the sexual orientation of cartoon characters. And while I see the bombing of a theater outside Mariupol clearly marked "children" and the random murder of innocent women and children near Bucha in Ukraine — captured in stunning satellite and on-the-ground photos — as crimes against humanity, these very same people in Congress are falsely accusing their colleagues of being "pro-pedophile" and dismissing the carnage in Ukraine as a false-flag operation.

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The unhinged, morally bankrupt, chronically dishonest and abhorrent behavior by some members of Congress not only offers us insight into the corrosively narcissistic nature of some of our politicians, but the timing of their comments, and the visceral reactions to them, suggest something far more dangerous: It's a willful attempt to turn our heads from what is truly troubling us.

These insipid actions, and the emotional toll inflicted by these congressional trolls, benefit would-be autocrats in our own country and serves as a handmaid's tale for Putin in Russia. Add "Don't say gay" into the mix and you've got a nation up in arms — driven to distraction by those who know how to tweak our ire.

It is merely a sleight of hand and a twist of fate, and we're all resting on Bono's bed of nails while we wait for the other shoe to drop.

I met former Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Marines in Ukraine — most are diehard conservatives — who've come to the same conclusion: Americans "just don't get it."

There's no better example of what we're really facing in this country than what I was told by an American I met in Ukraine. He is employed by one of several dozen companies present in the region seeking to help mothers, children and even pets escape the Russian army as it tries to level the country. Some of these companies have been hired to train a variety of Ukrainian military units. Many of their employees are former Navy SEALs, Army Rangers or U.S. Marines. Most are diehard conservatives. But they aren't necessarily fans of the far right, though several admit they've voted mostly for Republicans and even Donald Trump — twice. But, after Ukraine's President Zelenskyy stood firm and Joe Biden stood with him, most of the more than three dozen of these people I spoke with during my trip to Ukraine came to the same conclusion: Americans "just don't get it."

Let's call him Tom. That's not his real name, but he was a little reluctant to share it.

By day Tom works as a volunteer, handing out food and clothing and helping refugees from Ukraine find shelter in Poland or elsewhere. By night? He tries to extract mothers and children from eastern and southern Ukraine before Russia can kidnap them and send them to remote locations on the Russian frontier.

A former Navy SEAL, Tom is part of the growing number of volunteers from more than three dozen NGOs and nonprofit companies working in Ukraine trying to assist the Ukrainian government.

"When I heard Zelenskyy say he didn't need a ride, he needed ammunition, I was in," the 42-year-old native Texan said.

Tom is a hardcore Republican and says he voted for Trump twice. He was happy Biden got the U.S. out of Afghanistan, saying, "We needed to leave," but unhappy about the execution of the plan. "You can blame Biden, but I've been in the military a long time. That plan was bungled by those on the ground in Afghanistan," he said. "We had two bases we could've kept open and evacuated everyone through those bases before collapsing them and leaving. It was bad planning that we didn't."

While Tom is a Biden critic, he offered praise for the famous nine-word statement Biden recently made in Poland. "I said right away he was absolutely right. For God's sake, Putin can't remain in charge. Finally, Biden got a backbone. He only said what everyone else has said."

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Tom is still critical of the people in the U.S., particularly members of Congress and elected officials, who don't understand the problem or don't seem to want to do so. "At first I thought people like this were just stupid. But as time goes on, I think they're worse. I believe some of the same things these people say they believe. But I know right now there are people in Ukraine who would absolutely love to be in the United States arguing about some of the silly shit we argue about. But the people I see every day are worried about food, clothes, shelter and whether or not they're going to get lined up and shot."

The only people benefiting from the gaslighting by some U.S. politicians "are the Russians, more specifically Vladimir Putin," Tom explains. "The one thing I am going to take home with me from this experience is 'unity.' If the American people were as united as the Ukrainian people, there'd be no stopping us. And that's what Putin and China fear most. That's why they spark dissent. It's so clear. Anybody who doubts it can show up here and spend a week in Ukraine. I'll give them the tour."

Politics in our country, fueled by the QAnon cabal, is too busy arguing whether or not a deep state of pedophiles runs the U.S. government. Or, if we listen to the former president, whether roving gangs of immigrants are crossing the border in record numbers, trying to take our jobs while also being too lazy to get a job as they take advantage of social services — to which, in reality, they have limited access.

While it's safe to say that most people repeating this nonsense are not "in bed" with Russian agents, but are merely repeating what in their arrogant ignorance they believe to be true, the question remains how many of our elected officials knowingly spread disinformation that benefits Russia, even when they know it isn't true.

RELATED: Putin's invasion of Ukraine exposes the Fox News-QAnon feedback loop

There is little doubt that Russia benefits most from the dissent. I've been to several Trump rallies where his supporters wore T-shirts supporting Russia — at the expense of Democrats and the United States.

High-ranking officials in the Biden White House take it as a given that the GOP is playing into Putin's hands. The only question is whether they're doing it knowingly or unwittingly.

Inside the current administration, there are several high-ranking Democrats who take it as a given that the GOP, or at least some of its members, are knowingly or unwittingly playing into Putin's hands. This isn't new. Republicans visiting Russia are almost as common as mass shootings — and equally dangerous. "They hurt this country and don't care," a high-ranking White House official told me Monday. "They hurt this country because they personally profit from it. And while that's a fact, there's nothing anyone can say that will convince the true believers of it."

Is there any effective means of combating the disinformation? The stakes have never been higher. The fear of chemical warfare has increased. The use of cyberwarfare has been confirmed. The use of hypersonic weapons has been confirmed. The fear of a long, drawn-out war is also growing and there seems to be no end in sight — only the specter of a widening conflict that ultimately draws in NATO troops.

In the meantime, at home the gaslighting has led to low ratings for the president, an ignorance of how gas prices work, a correlation between Biden's election and the beginning of the Ukrainian war that — under the classic logical fallacy "Post hoc ergo propter hoc" — leads some to claim that Biden caused the war in Ukraine. All of this has undermined his efforts and makes it impossible for any sustained U.S. strategy to outlive the current election cycle.

Don't listen to me. Listen, however, to those volunteers who are at this moment risking their lives and doing their best to provide food, aid and shelter to the displaced people of Ukraine. "At this point, if it ends up like Afghanistan, we'd be lucky," Tom told me as we drove through the Ukrainian countryside. "But every time I hear an air raid siren I think of hypersonic missiles, chemical warfare or worse. This is as real as it gets. There are a lot of Americans who don't understand just how close we are to the edge — and the politicians who do know and are busy selling us a load of divisive shit have to be held accountable. I just hope we all survive it."

On Wednesday morning, the White House announced a new sanctions package in response to atrocities in Ukraine, designed to impose "severe and immediate economic costs" on Russia.

Meanwhile, on social media, some members of Congress again declared that pedophiles were taking over the government. Want to guess which topic dominated social media?

The bottom line is that there are Russian assets in our government — whether or not they are willful or unwitting is the only thing to be settled.

Why I'm going to Ukraine

It turned out to be just another Monday at the White House circus. The clowns came and went. The trapeze artists did their high-wire act. The elephants crapped all over the place and someone forgot to clean up after them.

Under Donald Trump, such apt descriptions were used to define the administration. Today I use it to define the White House press corps. While the world is on fire, we're critiquing the wallpaper.

It's not like that everywhere, but if you're looking for reporters to push the envelope to get a story, best steer clear of the White House. I heard a reporter complain on Monday about losing money in the candy machine.

To tell the truth, there is still a lot of decent reporting going on, and people are literally dying for it.

If truth is the first casualty of war, then the best way to kill the truth is to kill those who tell the truth: reporters.

Rumors have circulated for the last week that Russian terrorist teams are targeting reporters in and around Kyiv. Two American journalists have died in the last week covering the current war in Ukraine. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 15 journalists have been killed in Ukraine in the last 30 years.

At least three of those have died since Russia invaded three weeks ago.

Camera operator Yevhenii Sakun died when Russian military forces shelled a television tower in Kyiv about three weeks ago. Then documentary filmmaker Brent Renaud, a well-respected veteran of many conflict zones who has worked for Vice and the New York Times, was shot and killed on March 13 in the Ukrainian city of Irpin, outside Kyiv.

And the latest casualty is Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski, a conflict-zone veteran who was killed while news-gathering outside Kyiv on Monday,

"I don't know what to say. Pierre was as good as they come. Selfless. Brave. Passionate. I'm so sorry this happened to you," Fox reporter and former White House correspondent Trey Yingst tweeted Tuesday. Yingst is himself in Kyiv as I write this, trying to report the news while coming under sporadic fire and in constant danger.

All these people represent the best of what reporters do for us, and even so they are often unappreciated. Everyone who dislikes Fox News paints the entire network with the brush that Tucker Carlson gives them because of his disingenuous, monotonous and Putin-happy rants. Zakrewski was an experienced and ethical combat photographer, who was trying to show people the horrors of war. The criticism of Fox as a network should no way extend to Zakrewski, who died trying to do his job.

You cannot compare what we do in the White House briefing room, even if it is done well, to what is done in a conflict zone. One is reporting, and the other is acting as a mere stenographer.

I asked during Monday's briefing with press secretary Jen Psaki whether Russian hit squads were roaming the countryside in Ukraine looking for reporters. It makes sense that Putin would target us in the field. He doesn't want anyone to know what he's doing. He's responsible for the deaths of many reporters during his career, and he'll be responsible for many more if we let him.

So as the briefing ended and no one had asked the question, I spoke up:

Q: Jen, can you confirm or deny the rumors that there are Russian hit squads in Kyiv going after journalists?

Psaki: I don't have any details on that for you.

Q: But you've heard of it?

Psaki: I can see if there's more.

On Tuesday another reporter asked a similar question. This time Psaki was better prepared:

Q: Is there any reason to conclude that the Russians are deliberately targeting them [journalists]?

Psaki: We have seen from the beginning that they have targeted hospitals, they've targeted journalists. In terms of these individual cases, I can't make an assessment of that from here. But certainly, we've seen, you know, barbaric and horrific actions by the military on the ground, and this is consistent with that.

Putin is a tyrant. He's been a danger on the international scene since he emerged as the leader of Russia. He wants to re-establish the Soviet Union, he's tried to undermine democracies and destroy NATO. He is the most dangerous irritant on the planet today.

His regime has murdered reporters while sowing seeds of distrust worldwide — and Donald Trump wanted to be just like him.

We in the United States barely escaped that noose. It was reporters who pushed back against Trump — sometimes in the briefing room — and it was reporting that, despite all the threats and intimidation, helped to break the back of our American oppressor.

You want the truth? You can't lump everyone at Fox News into the same basket, any more than Trump could call us all "fake news" or the "enemy of the people." You can't toss everyone in the White House press corps in the garbage bin either. There are individuals who know what has to be done and are determined to do it. We need to encourage more of that.

H.L. Mencken noted the problems in modern journalism nearly a century ago. There is a career in journalism, he wrote, for the young person "of original mind and forceful personality — a career leading to power and even to a sort of wealth. In point of fact, it has always attracted" such people, Mencken noted. "It would attract a great many more of them if its public opinion were more favorable to them — if they were less harassed by the commands of professional superiors of no dignity, and the dislike of fellows of no sense. Every time two of them are drawn in they draw another. The problem is to keep them. That is the central problem of journalism in the United States today."

The three journalists who recently lost their lives in Ukraine were not the highly-paid and expensively styled anchors, or the pundits who get wads of cash to offer expert advice on information they've learned second-hand. They aren't sitting in panel discussions on cable news pontificating on things they know little about. They died while trying to inform the rest of us what is going on in Putin's chosen war.

Through these efforts, we can frame the narrative and come to understand Putin's motives. We can see the war crimes on video and through reporting. We understand the desperate nature of the conflict and understand how Ukrainian President Zelenskyy is holding out, and why he gave a live video address to Congress while rallying his people to their cause. Seeing the destruction, hearing the cries of Ukrainian children and other desperate people may be an assault on the senses. But it must be done so we can be informed. Social media is aiding in the exposition of Putin's cruelty and propaganda, but trusted, disinterested third-party observers, (i.e., reporters) can dispassionately frame the narrative while also dispelling rumors, myths and fiction by being eyewitnesses.

When I was a young reporter working in Laredo, Texas, I had a city editor, Peter Lee, who told me that most people run away from a burning building. First responders and reporters, he reminded me, run toward them. "And nobody wants the reporter there," he said with a smile.

It's not a new sentiment and it has stuck with me over the years. Some will appreciate the reporter's sacrifice, many will disparage it and many more won't understand it.

Most war correspondents are not remembered through history, although the history they record is often remembered by everyone. Yates McDaniel comes to mind. Jack Torry, in his recent book "The Last One Out," writes about McDaniel, a young reporter who took astonishing chances to provide credible eyewitness news to the public during World War II.

At a time when journalism is under siege by the right and the left for reasons both real and imagined, it would do us all well to remember that there are still those in this profession who take the view that a wealth of knowledge is more important than a wealth in currency, and that being an eyewitness to history and informing our fellow citizens is among the highest callings we can answer.

If that sounds like dreck to you, so be it.

But many of these people are truly selfless. I've known photographers and reporters who willingly put their lives on the line for no other reason than to show and tell everyone what they see — with no pretense, no prejudice and no ulterior motive. The cynics among us often see bias where none exists — unable to accept the facts as presented to them, they question the motives of those who risk their lives to provide the information rather than question their own predetermined mindset.

As long as humankind continues its inhumanity against itself, reporters will be there to chronicle the events. It is inevitable. They will be unarmed. They will carry notepads, pens, cameras, laptops, cellphones and microphones. They will continue to put themselves in harm's way for one simple reason: We need to know.

That's why I'm going to Ukraine.

Putin suffers an embarrassing defeat in the social media war as his web of lies quickly unravels

In the end, future historians may well label this the first "social media war," just as Vietnam was the first televised war and the Gulf War of 1991 was the first cable news war.

And as Vladimir Putin's "chosen war" against Ukraine enters its third week, fear and outrage continue to spread across the globe like gangrene. It's increasingly apparent that social media is driving the coverage and providing key information.

Some in the United States, including many members of the Republican Party, are trying hard to make this war about President Biden — and in doing so to spread more fear. They want to blame him for the invasion, blame him for rising gas costs and blame him for the deaths in Ukraine. These include the fact-deniers, the delusional dilettantes of destruction and devout worshippers of "alternate facts" who dwell in a shadowy world of misery, misinformation and malignancy. They're using social media to do so.

RELATED: Ignore the GOP's sudden pivot, Republicans have long worked to undermine Ukraine

The value of Biden's efforts to solve the most complicated international crisis since the end of World War II is unrecognizable to those who support the arrogant, obnoxious efforts of Putin-wannabes who thrive in the dark cesspool of American politics. These are the devotees of spreading disinformation who declare they defend democracy while cheering the insurrectionists of Jan. 6.

Biden has been crystal clear about his intentions: He means to economically strangle Putin into submission, avoid a wider conflict and strengthen our European democratic allies — leaving Russia weaker. His experience on the international stage during a lengthy career in public office has provided him with a unique perspective, and the skills to get this done.

There are many in this country who decry experience, or say it doesn't matter. Biden's experience is proving otherwise, although the amount of bile that passes for political straight talk makes it next to impossible for the average uninformed American to understand the nuances of our current international crisis.

Putin has woven a web of lies to defend his invasion of Ukraine and all of them have been unraveled by social media and American intelligence, and plainly presented to the world by Biden from the White House. This has even led to protests in Russia. Putin has tried to scare the rest of the world into giving him Ukraine by threatening nuclear war and trying to make it look like a showdown between the U.S. and Russia. He has failed. He has also failed in trying to disarm and destroy NATO — though he had a valuable ally in that effort, former President Donald Trump, before Biden entered the Oval Office.

Biden has ignored Putin's threats and refused to let the U.S. become directly involved in the conflict. Some of the very same people who support a "no fly zone" over Ukraine are those who say they most fear a nuclear confrontation based on a war with Russia. Putting American pilots in a position to shoot down Russian jets would not only play into Putin's attempts to widen the conflict, but place us even closer to a conflagration whose outcome plays out to the tune of R.E.M's "It's the End of the World as We Know It." But in reality, nobody will feel fine when nuclear winter descends.

Some in the press see this through a different lens. Joy Reid of MSNBC, focusing on the refugee issues, said: "There is a lot of soul-searching we need to do in Western media about why some wars, and lives, seem to matter more than others, and why some refugees get the welcome mat, while others get the wall."

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True. I've seen refugees on our southern border treated as some would treat cattle. The empathy we show European refugees is far more than we show African or Latin American refugees. But this war waged by Putin supersedes those concerns because it is far more drastic in its potential. We cannot lose sight of the fact, for one second, that Putin's march into Ukraine brings with it the seeds of global destruction.

Some in the mainstream media don't understand this — especially in the White House press corps. Some of us there, especially those sitting in the first two rows of the Brady Briefing Room, are so self-absorbed that they believe a press briefing is an opportunity to engage the Biden White House in a one-on-one discourse while the rest of us sit or stand and watch in quiet respect for the stolid questioner. That blew up on Monday, when the 40 or 50 people in the room who don't normally get to ask press secretary Jen Psaki a question rebelled after the AP's Josh Boak pulled the plug after only 39 minutes. Steve Nelson of the New York Post criticized the front two rows for monopolizing the time, and said there were more questions from the back of the room. Others agreed. Finally White House Correspondents Association president Steve Portnoy had to stand up in the middle of the briefing room and moderate. His was an example of statesmanship many politicians could learn from.

Nelson was right, of course — and some of the stupidest questions I've ever heard have come out of the press corps since Biden took over.

RELATED: Putin's threat to the world grows — and much of our news media is not up to the challenge

It has been social media, which routinely engages in such lunacy that you have to wonder if you're watching an SNL skit, that has risen to the occasion — showing the world the scenes of destruction inside maternity hospitals and neighborhoods, and highlighting potential Russian war crimes.

Darnella Frazier, the teenager who recorded a comprehensive video of the killing of George Floyd, was recognized last year by the Pulitzer Prize board. She was 17 and awarded a special citation for "a video that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists' quest for truth and justice."

Much the same thing is going on in Ukraine as those suffering from Putin's chosen war are recording it, posting it on social media and, like Joe Biden, exposing Russian propaganda for what it is. That has helped raise awareness and led to worldwide condemnation of the war.

Some mainstream media reporters, like former White House reporter Trey Yingst, last seen walking with fleeing refugees in Kyiv while telling the stories of tragedy and Russian hegemony, are doing the same thing. That's what covering a war is about. Show. Don't tell.

Watching this war on social media has naturally led to more stress in the world, just as we emerge from two years of stress imposed by a worldwide pandemic. All this has affected our mental health. People across the world are rightfully frightened. You can hear it in restaurant chatter, PTA meetings and social gatherings. "Is this the beginning of World War III — and how do we prevent it?"

Headlines on how to volunteer to fight in Ukraine and how to survive a nuclear war were in my news feed Saturday. Oh, and Aaron Rodgers was in the news again, getting the attention only an NFL diva can garner.

A source inside the Ukraine government told me Wednesday that more than 1.8 million people have fled the country, but also said resistance to Putin has continued to harden — and that each day "gives us all hope that the aggressor will ultimately fail."

This is where you have to give some credit to Biden. With his depth of foreign knowledge and experience, he has thus far outplayed Putin on the international chessboard. Putin has failed to widen the scope of the conflict. He has not been able to cast this as a U.S. versus Russia battle — and it has been social media that has effectively underpinned the arguments made by NATO and Biden. The scenes of destruction and the shots of President Zelenskyy broadcasting from a cell phone have galvanized the world — not the words and images of the mainstream media.

It is social media, at this point, that is making the difference. How do you keep a nuclear power from successfully invading a non-nuclear country? How do you curb a dictator's enthusiasm for greed, avarice and power? The altruists and the most naïve among us have often said, gosh, if we just stood up and held hands and refused to accept aggression, it could end today.

But it will be through the camera phones of ordinary people struggling against a violent, unprovoked invasion that we may come to understand how much we all have in common — and how much we all have to gain by standing up to aging autocrats whose only desires are greed, avarice and power. Not to mention how little their desires have to do with life, and how detrimental it is to the survival of the species.

In short, the camera phone is revolutionizing resistance by cutting through the clutter of propaganda and showing that Putin and his efforts are a "tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," with apologies to Shakespeare.

Joe Biden is demonstrating how to lead this fight without thumping his chest and contributing to that sound and fury.

NOW WATCH: The stunning hypocrisy of Nikki Haley regarding Russia and Ukraine is on full display

The stunning hypocrisy of Nikki Haley regarding Russia and Ukraine is on full display

Putin's threat to the world grows — and much of our news media is not up to the challenge

I think "The Golden Girls" puppet show may hold the key to our future.

But first, the past, when we thought we might not have a future: Once a month when I was an elementary school student our school conducted "disaster" drills. This was different from our monthly fire drills. To practice for a school fire, when the warning bell sounded we all gathered together and walked single file out of the school, quickly and quietly. More than a few of us, while standing outside waiting for the all clear, gleefully imagined our schools burning down as we watched.

The disaster drills were quite different. When the alarm sounded for a disaster drill we walked into the hall single file, sat against the wall with our legs crossed and were told to "duck and cover." The disasters we were told we prepared for were tornadoes and/or nuclear war.

RELATED: This is what would happen to Earth if a nuclear war broke out between the West and Russia

The idea of protecting yourself from a nearby nuclear explosion seems quaint or futile today. For those of us who came of age in those times, there's no way to adequately explain our fear that the Soviet Union and the United States would destroy themselves in a paroxysm of nuclear violence, ending life as we knew it on our planet.

This fear culminated in the arrival of Ronald Reagan to the Oval Office. Reagan, a hardcore Cold Warrior, involved the world in nuclear brinkmanship. Previously, the Soviet Union and the United States had exercised nuclear restraint under the Mutually Assured Destruction (or MAD) policy: If anyone started a nuclear war, we would all die. Reagan changed that. He and his administration became convinced a nuclear war was winnable, which Robert Scheer wrote about in explicit detail in his 1982 book, "With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush and Nuclear War."

"Dig a hole, cover it with a couple of doors and then throw three feet of dirt on top . . . it's the dirt that does it . . . if there are enough shovels to go around everybody's going to make it," T.K. Jones, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Strategic and Theater Nuclear Forces, infamously declared.

As a young adult, I was terrified. My girlfriend (now my wife of 39 years) and I wondered if we should bring children into this world. The watershed event of that extremely fearful time was an ABC broadcast in 1983, "The Day After," starring Jason Robards, Steve Guttenberg, John Lithgow and JoBeth Williams. That television movie explicitly showed us for the first time what would happen as a result of nuclear war. More than 100 million Americans watched that original broadcast on November 20, 1983. It remains the most watched TV movie in U.S. history.

A special edition of "View Point" hosted by Ted Koppel aired directly after the movie. It began with Koppel telling American viewers to look out their window. "It's all still there," he reassured us. "Is there still time?" Koppel then asked, wondering as Scrooge did in "A Christmas Carol" if the movie we just saw depicted a future that would be, or only may be. He was joined by a live audience, as well as Henry Kissinger, Elie Wiesel, William F. Buckley Jr., General Brent Scowcroft and Robert McNamara, who had written earlier that year that "nuclear weapons are totally useless except only to deter one's opponent from using them." Also joining them was scientist Carl Sagan.

That night Sagan introduced the world to the concept of nuclear winter. Of the Cold War pitting the U.S. against the U.S.S.R, he famously said, "Imagine a room awash in gasoline, and there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has 9,000 matches, the other 7,000 matches. Each of them is concerned about who's ahead, who's stronger."

Some argued later that the movie — and, more importantly, Koppel's frank discussion — seen by millions led to a walk away from nuclear brinkmanship. A little more than five years later the Cold War was over. The Berlin Wall came down and the world took a breath. It was at that time my wife and I had our first child. We had delayed, in part, because we didn't want our children to live in the same world in which we grew up.

For more than 30 years thoughts of an apocalypse caused by nuclear conflagration have taken a back seat to climate change, a stray asteroid, a rogue comet, a pandemic or a variety of other extinction level events.

Then Tuesday, a young reporter who frequents the White House texted me and asked if I was worried about World War III. Another reporter asked me if I thought we could survive it. I confess I hadn't thought of such scenarios in years. But Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer with delusions of grandeur, has ordered "a special military operation" on Ukraine. That renewed thoughts I had buried for more than three decades.

The equation remains fundamentally unchanged from 1983. Both countries have arsenals that would render Earth a glowing radioactive hellhole long enough to extinguish all life on the planet. The only people who wouldn't have to worry about the initial blast would be any astronauts in space. But they'd have no home to return to.

Biden knows all of this. Yet, the news we get about Ukraine and from reporters is often lacking in political and historical context, distorts reality and contributes to the potential for a widening conflict. It helps no one that former President Trump publicly sided with Putin, thus further driving a wedge in the American electorate as Biden tries to stop a war.

RELATED: U.S.-Russia confrontation over Ukraine threatens to become all-out war — but why?

There are several things to consider. Could Putin's game in Ukraine lead to a shooting war that includes the U.S.? Could that lead to a nuclear confrontation? The answer to both questions is undeniably yes. Biden knows this too and is playing a long game of slowly strangling the Russian economy with sanctions to halt the threat of expanded war. Putin, who put off his provocative moves until after the Beijing Winter Olympics, is counting on China to be his ally and bail him out with essential raw materials the rest of the world has promised to deny Russia through sanctions. If Putin advances no further than Ukraine on the battlefield it will be a matter of who will blink first. Biden, who knows very well the consequences of the Cold War and how Putin wishes to change the outcome, is also well aware of how quickly things can escalate. Yet, there are still U.S. and NATO troops in close proximity to Ukraine, and Biden has vowed to defend NATO.

In "The Hunt for Red October," former Congressman Fred Thompson, also an actor, played an admiral who summed it up nicely. "This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we'll be lucky to live through it," he warned. An even more ominous warning was issued by Richard Jordan's Jeffrey Pelt to his Soviet ambassador counterpart: Having our troops and their troops in such close proximity was inherently dangerous. "Wars are started that way," he finished.

That's the rub. Volatility on the battlefield is rarely controllable. Escalation is not only possible but probably inevitable under such circumstances — and playing "chicken," as Putin is doing, rarely goes as intended. Make no mistake, Biden knows what he's doing and deserves our full faith. Dealing with Putin is well within his wheelhouse.

Today's problems are exacerbated by Donald Trump, who called the annexation of Ukrainian breakaway regions "genius" on the part of Putin. Naturally those who still look at Trump as their messiah are calling Biden "a loser" and "asleep at the wheel."

The only way to clean up that part of the equation is with better information, which could also lead to better policy, more accurately informed Americans and eventually — one would hope — better informed politicians. (Trump not withstanding.)

Today's Ukrainian conflict is also exacerbated by the ignorance of those who embolden Putin by supporting Trump. Or as one Christian Trump supporter told me, "It's not our problem. We have enough problems with sleepy Joe," he said, channeling the spirit of Neville Chamberlain.

Which brings me back to "The Golden Girls." I was never a fan of the show, but my wife was, so when "That Golden Girls Show!," a parody with puppets, opened at the Strathmore in D.C., I was obliged to go. I marveled at how a sitcom more than 35 years old is still so popular. And as I watched, I wondered why original ideas weren't nearly as popular. After all, "The Golden Girls" was once an original idea and it obviously caught on and even endured — even NFL players like Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs is clearly a huge fan. I looked around for him Tuesday, and while I didn't see him, I was impressed with the diversity of the audience in the theater. Two guys with MAGA hats sitting in that crowd made me think.

And that took me back to something said by Edward R. Murrow at the Radio Television News Directors Association annual meeting in 1958. "We are to a large extent an imitative society. If one or two or three corporations would undertake to devote just a small fraction of their advertising appropriation along the lines that I have suggested, the procedure might well grow by contagion . . ." Murrow was discussing the need for large corporations to invest in producing solid news and delivering it to the American public.

That's what the crisis in Ukraine underlines in today's news and political world: There are millions who don't remember what the Cold War was like, the threat to our survival Russian aggression presents, and how one madman like Putin could bring it all down.

You heard it here first: "The Golden Girls" could save the planet. If one sitcom can survive and be so popular that a puppet show about the original show can sell out theaters, just imagine what one network or newspaper dedicated to real journalism could do for us all. Maybe Murrow was right about us being an imitative society. If one network did it and it caught on then others might follow.

At least if some in the news industry were as bold as the producers of a puppet show, we'd have a fair chance of understanding actual threats to our existence — like Putin or Trump — when they show up on the world stage.

Putin is essentially trying to rewrite the end of the Cold War. That's another lesson to be learned by TV: Reruns don't change. Putin just needs to watch more "Golden Girls." Maybe he'll get the message.

Chaos reigns: A Cold War deja vu crisis and a press corps too dumb to understand it

If you're sensing a bit of déjà vu, just remember David Byrne's 1980s classic and realize that what you think may be "Once in a Lifetime" is actually the same as it ever was.

It appears, at least in Eastern Europe, that the world is reliving a Cold War scenario; a rerun, or at the very least a reboot.

Russia's unsympathetic autocrat, Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer who likes to ride horses shirtless for reasons that defy explanation — unless he wants to be in a Randy Rainbow parody — may or may not be threatening to invade Ukraine (depending on who you choose to believe). This ratcheting-up of tensions in Europe is fast approaching those experienced during the Cuban Missile crisis — at least among many living in Europe and some politicians in the U.S. who are aware of what the threat portends.

RELATED: In the rapidly worsening Ukraine fiasco, the U.S. is reaping exactly what it sowed

The Republican Party, however, with the exception of Russia-hater Mitch McConnell, is probably ready to call it something else: Legitimate political discourse.

In censuring Republican Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for participating in the House inquiry into an actual attempt to overthrow our government, the former party of Abraham Lincoln, on the eve of his 213th birthday, has proven that its leading lights are not his political descendants, nor those of Teddy Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower. Twisting the ideals and goals of those who fought to preserve the Union, trust-busted or led American troops in Europe during World War II, the current iteration of the GOP is ready to destroy it all for the sake of racism, religion and authoritarianism — all while claiming to support democracy.

This happy group of warriors is convinced Joe Biden is responsible for a pandemic they think doesn't exist, while Donald Trump is responsible for vaccines they won't take and don't need. They are racists, delusional tyrants who wish to rule by fiat and want a nation of Christian subjugation dedicated to the violent overthrow of "the government of the people." They are dedicated to lunacy and oblivious of history and science. Many of them happily embrace conspiracies that suspiciously sound like they were spawned by tainted hallucinogens.

I witnessed the Jan. 6 insurrection. I know people who, because they were reporters, got sucker-punched by those people the RNC defends. I saw a crowd beating police officers. I saw the Confederate flag paraded through the halls of our Capitol. Cops got doused with bear spray. Pipe bombs were found planted in the area. Someone defecated in the Capitol and spread it through the halls. The insurrectionists stole government property. They built a scaffold and threatened to hang the vice president.

RELATED: At last the Republican Party comes clean: It stands for terrorism and Trump

And those who insult the legacy of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Eisenhower by calling themselves Republicans began their censure of Cheney and Kinzinger last week with these words:

WHEREAS, Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger are participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse ...

Lincoln, a Kentucky-born country boy, gave his last full measure of life defending the Union and trying to bind the wounds that tore us apart. The current blathering idiots who claim to be members of his political party and bathe themselves in red are ignorant of what the original Republicans stood for and are eagerly stoking the fires to tear the country asunder.

McConnell, the Senate Republicans' leader, proved on Tuesday that he has at least one foot in reality. "It was a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election from one administration to the next. That's what it was," he said regarding the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

He also called into question "singling out members of our party who may have different views from the majority. That's not the job of the RNC," he added.

That's critical in understanding the stance of today's Republican Party. It consists of a solid bloc, a minority of intransigent, predominantly white and mostly older voters who will allow almost no variety of opinions. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa told us Tuesday that he likes to think of the Republican Party as a "big tent," but that tent is only big enough to house those who think alike. The strength in that is the ability to guide the party through rough waters with an ease that can't be done with a big tent of moderates, conservatives and progressives, such as the Democratic Party. Never underestimate the ability of a large number of stupid people working in unison — to paraphrase someone wiser than myself. That's the Republican Party.

It is interesting to see a "Once in a Lifetime" crack in the solidarity of the repugnant Republicans — especially on an issue as important as the insurrection. Perhaps McConnell is trying to bring people like Joe Walsh and George Conway, who've broken ranks with the party, back into the fold. Maybe he'll be successful. It would take a lot more to make that happen, at least according to those who've lost faith in the party of Lincoln.

It is increasingly apparent that many of us in the press don't get this. We don't understand the historic perspective of the times we live in. We don't get the sense of déjà vu others feel. On Monday, with 57 reporters in the White House briefing room, a young reporter asked press secretary Jen Psaki about troop commitments in Europe:

Question: The secretary-general of NATO has recently talked about the possibility of a more permanent military presence in Europe in response to Russia. Where does the Biden administration stand on that issue?

Psaki: We've had a permanent military presence in Europe.

Yeah. We have. At least since the end of World War II. But some reporters apparently don't understand our position in the world, the déjà vu of our problems in Europe or the real problems inside our country.

So while the country is facing a chorus of "same as it ever was," the press today is younger, less informed and far more ignorant of events than in previous years. As a result — and here's one thing that isn't the same as it ever was — the president is treating the press corps like a high school study hall of reprobates who are failing history. There's no déjà vu there. This is an invention of the Biden administration in response to an extremely young and often ignorant press corps. Some of the reporters are so green they smile when administration staffers call us "friends," never realizing how condescending that is.

As a result, the rest of us are less likely to see the news for what it is — and for what it isn't. Domestically, the Republican Party, or the "MAGA party," as Trump is now calling it, is a cancer threatening to destroy what remains of the nation that led the world to the moon, invented the computer chip, pioneered free speech and was founded on the idea that a democratic majority rules.

Donald Trump considered seizing voting machines, said he would pardon the convicted Jan. 6 rioters, and tried, in his uniquely cowardly fashion, to overturn the 2020 election.

In response, the Republican National Committee officially sanctioned the only two Republican House members willing to participate in the investigation of that insurrection.

There is no reasoning with the unreasonable, and as violence is indeed the last refuge of the incompetent (thank you, Isaac Asimov), the question remains: What can we do about this?

Internationally, the Biden administration faces a scenario straight out of the Cold War: Trying to deal with a Russian autocrat who desperately wants to gather Ukraine back into the Russian fold. It is no secret Putin would love to rebuild the Soviet (or even the czarist) empire, and recapturing Ukraine would be a big step in that process.

RELATED: Yes, Putin's a tyrant — that doesn't mean his Ukraine demands are unreasonable

Putin has reached out to China as an ally against NATO and the United States. The U.S. is relying on Germany, Britain, Europe and the rest of the world to assist with economic sanctions that would choke Russia should Putin decide to move forward with an invasion.

This is serious, dangerous territory — and though it seems like déjà vu all over again, there is no guarantee that we will get the same results we did when we faced similar crises during the Cold War.

On the world stage, the dynamics are not necessarily the same. Biden hosted the new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, at the White House this week, trying to keep him on board with severe sanctions against Russia — including shutting down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline — if Putin actually invades Ukraine. Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron tried a diplomatic shuttle between Moscow and Kyiv, trying to get Putin to back down. It remains to be seen if any of this worked.

The concern worldwide is that an escalation in Ukraine could quickly get out of hand, leading to "legitimate political discourse" that could threaten the existence of all life on the planet.

But for some Republicans, that would apparently be just fine.

They're too blind to see or handle any serious issues involving the country at large. They are more concerned about their party, their jobs and their influence over those who give them money to realize the danger they put us all in with their treasonous behavior.

And since Donald Trump entered the political arena, it has been the "same as it ever was."

IN OTHER NEWS: Psychiatrist: Trump's cult isn't born from stupidity — it comes from lack of morality

Psychiatrist: Trump's cult isn't born from stupidity — it comes from lack of morality

America's day of reckoning is nearly upon us as GOP morons continue to see victory

As a thought experiment, see if you can consider any of today's societal problems independent of politics. You may find it impossible, since many of us believe our problems are caused by our divisive politics.

Voting rights. Climate change. The pandemic. Health care. The economy. Education. Infrastructure. All of them have a political component, and because of that a good argument could be made that divisive politics is the single largest problem we face.

Nothing is more representative of that than Wednesday's revelation that Republicans in several states forged electoral-vote letters on behalf of the former president in the 2020 presidential election. It does have the virtue of perhaps proving there was fraud in that election — but not by the Democrats.

RELATED: National Archives: Trump allies caught using forged documents to overturn 2020 election

If that doesn't convince you, then watch Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky grill Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday during a public hearing over the COVID pandemic. Engaged in a blatant effort to score political points with his "fans" (not his constituents), Paul verbally assaulted a government employee who is trying to deal with a crippling pandemic. Though Fauci has no power to impose mask mandates — or much of anything else — that hasn't stopped Paul from calling him a "petty tyrant." Kentucky's junior senator has been Fauci's chief Senate tormentor during the pandemic and has turned a health crisis into a blood sport. Fauci, who finally seems to have had enough, pointed out Tuesday that Paul has not only been harassing him, leading to death threats against Fauci and his family, but also fundraising off the harassment.

What the hell took Fauci so long to call out Rand Paul?

Yes, politics is the problem. President Biden also tried to deal with that Tuesday as he traveled to Georgia and spoke about voting rights and the need to get rid of the Senate filibuster in order to pass crucial voting legislation by simple majority vote. Kentucky's senior senator, Mitch McConnell, threatened retribution if the Democrats modify the filibuster. Of course. Republicans don't want to rely on a simple majority — they don't have one. And perhaps the move says something else about the two senators from the Bluegrass State, neither of whom was actually born in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

RELATED: Biden must make clear what Republicans know: The fight for democracy is a struggle over racism

"The goal of the former president and his allies is to disenfranchise anyone who votes against them," Biden said, arguing for a national law guaranteeing voter access. "Simple as that. The facts won't matter. Your vote won't matter. They'll just decide what they want, and then do it. That's the kind of power you see in totalitarian states. Not in democracies." He warned us that "the battle for the soul of America is not over."

"I've been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months," the president said. "I'm tired of being quiet."

As Bruce Willis said in "Die Hard": "Welcome to the party, pal."

What the hell took you so long to get here?

In some circles, the mere suggestion of modifying the filibuster is treated as tantamount to removing someone's lungs to cure a fever. Of course, that nonsensical reasoning comes from the same political party with members who cannot openly denounce Nazis, while endorsing taking horse deworming pills, injecting bleach and drinking their own urine — either to battle the coronavirus or perhaps because they don't live in states where marijuana is legal and edibles are not readily available. I imagine weekends in those areas are mighty dull if you can't ingest bleach and drink your own urine.

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I'm siding with science and common sense and right now only the Democrats seem to exhibit any common sense or belief in science. At least they aren't advocating imbibing a libation made from your own micturition. At this point the Republican Party has no conscience. It is a party of fascists; angry, small-minded people with no sense of empathy, overwhelmed by their own greed and avarice. Privately they may condemn the "Big Lie," but they don't have the temerity to do so publicly. They let the lies spread.

That's how the remnants of the Republican Party are scamming millions of Americans, by publicly pretending that knowledge and science are political commodities to be traded in the public arena, like pork belly futures. And journalists are aiding and abetting their efforts.

RELATED: Right-wing media and the pandemic: A toxic feedback loop that nurtured fascism

In our struggle to be balanced and fair in the media (and with all due respect, we've never been either of those things), we give ignorance and charlatanism a seat at the table and feed this pair of reprobates regularly. Face it: The American public has a soft spot for soft heads and rewards these dotards with attention, repeated viewing and reading. So it isn't just reporters. The whole country loves idiots. Reporters are just paying the bills by giving the people what they want — gullible, angry stupidity.

The news business is horribly fractured and, in some circles, divisive reporting is seen as an even bigger problem than divisive politics.

As Sam Donaldson writes in the foreword of my new book "Free the Press" — which will be released this week — "Today the cry of 'fake news' and denunciation of the press as 'enemies of the people' hounds the work of even the most careful and honest of news organizations, and the worst purveyors of off-the-wall conspiracy theories and laugh-out-loud falsehoods are followed with slavish devotion in the name of the First Amendment's freedom of the press."

There is something to that too. Nothing could be easier than to fool a self-righteous, ignorant and arrogant reporter — and there are plenty of those around.

As H.L. Mencken pointed out, what ails most reporters is that they are people "without sufficient force of character to resist the blandishments" that surround them from the moment they set foot in Washington. "Journalists are, in the main, extremely stupid, sentimental and credulous fellows — because nothing is easier than to fool them," Mencken warned us.

Today the overwhelming arrogance and stupidity of most reporters is a direct result of media monopolies eliminating jobs and hiring inexperienced and cheaper reporters while downsizing newsrooms in order to increase profits. That has left us with inexperienced reporters who don't know how to cover City Hall, much less the White House.

We can't "call them as we see them," because most of us don't know what we're looking at.

We're looking at fascists.

The Republican party is a fascist party. Moreover, it is a corporate fascist party.

It backed the Jan. 6 insurrection. It wants to curb voting rights.

It labels any forward-looking legislation, such as infrastructure, universal health care and family leave as "socialist" policies. It is a party that overwhelmingly and publicly backs a man who pushed an insurrection to overturn legitimate election results. The members of this party only care about their own power, nothing for you. And they want to exploit you for everything you're worth — which, to them, is what you can bring to the table as a corporate indentured servant.

Yet we in the press have a hard time, because of our lack of experience combined with our sense of fair play, framing this narrative correctly — even as people like former Rep. Joe Walsh, former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, former Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci, former Sen. Jeff Flake, longtime Republican lawyer George Conway and dozens of others have broken ranks and denounced their former colleagues for what they are.

If you can separate politics from our problems, then take a look at the solutions proposed by the two major parties in this country and compare and contrast those proposals. In some cases, I question whether the Democratic Party understands the root cause of some of our problems. Their solutions are questionable at times.

But that still puts them light years ahead of the Republicans, who often have no answers at all. The stock in trade of the Republican Party is to make you afraid, bitter and resentful. They can only blame someone else, tear down reasonable solutions and counter science with bleach and urine.

RELATED: Don't bleach it away: Remembering the day Trump turned the GOP into a death cult

"Keep the faith," as Biden said Tuesday. "Let's go get this done."

When has a president been so direct and dire in his assessment of our country's future — and yet still so hopeful? The last one to exhibit those traits was Franklin D. Roosevelt — also a Democrat, who faced similar backlash as he battled the Great Depression.

Faith can move mountains. But it takes a real butt-kicking to move some politicians.

Does Biden have the shoe leather for that?

The need is demonstrable every day. At one point during the Senate hearings on Tuesday, Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas asked Dr. Fauci a patently stupid question about Fauci's income, blaming "big tech giants" for keeping that information from the public. The accusation was so unbelievably stupid (since Fauci's finances are already a matter of public record) that Fauci shot back, "All you have to do is ask for it. You're so misinformed it's extraordinary."

RELATED: Fauci's fed up: Hot mic catches top COVID doctor mocking GOP senator as a "moron"

Then, as Fauci pulled away from the mic, he could be heard muttering, "What a moron! Jesus Christ."

Yes. Morons. It sounds like a religion complete with its own Moron Tabernacle Choir (with apologies to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). We elected these morons. We get the government we deserve when so few of us vote and when so few of us are educated about the issues, and especially when we treat politicians as if they were professional wrestlers and we're eager to see a smackdown. How close are we to seeing a President Dwayne Elizondo "Mountain Dew" Herbert Camacho?

As legendary TV newsman Edward R. Murrow said at the Radio, Television, News Directors Association annual meeting in 1958, "This nation is now in competition with malignant forces of evil who are using every instrument at their command to empty the minds of their subjects and fill those minds with slogans ... we are engaged in a great experiment to discover whether a free public opinion can devise and direct methods of managing the affairs of the nation. We may fail. But in terms of information, we are handicapping ourselves needlessly."

The day of reckoning is nigh upon us, and the midterm elections this year could decide for years to come whether or not we continue as a democracy. If we are successful, we have to quit playing games and get serious about reality.

As the computer Joshua warns us at the end of the movie "War Games": "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."

Joshua was talking about global thermonuclear war. That's hardly a game. But politics isn't a "game" either. It's supposed to be a way of working out our problems together in pursuit of common goals.

It would be nice if the American electorate were as smart as a fictional computer from a movie produced in 1984.

Donald Trump may finally face prosecution in the New Year: But the trauma won't end there

The Republican American narrative has changed. Once the party favoring small government, which preached we should pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, the GOP has morphed into a party led by those who've had everything handed to them and want to dictate to us our worth, our value and our freedom.

As far as the size of government goes, the GOP still wants it small when it comes to social services, health care and infrastructure — but not so much when it comes to defense, corporate bailouts or pork barrel legislation.

There are those who maintain the Republican narrative was never anything so rosy, or anywhere near that idyllic. I can offer them no comfort.

Cynics tell us our overall national narrative is more accurately a tale of greed, rape and exploitation. The optimists want a tale of redemption and hope. Liars tell us we're the greatest, while idiots, morons, racists, populists, Republicans, Democrats, mainstream media and evangelical Christians all push their own narratives — with enough twists and turns to keep us confused and/or amused. But little of it is real. In America it seems we build a reality based on our feelings and beliefs, while facts have little sway.

At this point the average information-saturated American wonders if there exists an absolute truth — or at least a narrative that includes objective facts. But wait! Some celebrity has just been exposed for doing something indecent in public — and that now has our attention.

This inability to deal with facts, this infatuation with prurient and salacious innuendo, led us to Donald Trump — a man who is as vacuous as he is pompous. He is as phlegmatic as he is he is mind-numbing, as combative as he is clueless, and as un-American in deed as a battle-hardened Nazi stormtrooper. Donald Trump is the antithesis of the American dream, a nightmare ramshackle of a man who rattles around in the cage he made for himself, stinking of Adderall, perspiration and fear. He's straight from the Hollywood B-list, with A-list dreams that can never come true — and he's going to make the world suffer, if he can, for his own failures.

Shortly after the beginning of the New Year, if my sources in the Justice Department are accurate, Donald Trump could face federal RICO charges. Of course there have been threats against Donald Trump in the courts for years, and as his minions know, he's dodged every bullet fired his way. But in the end it only takes one to land, and with the House Jan. 6 committee breathing down his neck, the Southern District of New York and even the Manhattan D.A. still investigating him, it appears as if this cheap polyester suit of a man, the ultimate troll and ultimate grifter, will eventually face a paroxysm of litigation even he cannot conquer. But then again, don't hold your breath: There are many who believe Trump will never face justice until he takes his last breath.

It's not that we don't know what went on Jan. 6, 2021. It's not that we don't know Trump was behind it. It's not that we don't know something was done that fundamentally betrayed the principles of our founding fathers. It isn't that we don't know he's a grifter, a con man or a thief. It is merely a matter of whether or not Trump can get away with it.

Some would rehabilitate Trump. Some have reported on his public support for getting a pandemic booster shot and encouraging others to get it. For some reason, there are those who believe that redeems Trump for his years of denial and criminal behavior. But Trump cannot be rehabilitated before he is charged and prosecuted. Anything else is merely grist for the Trump propaganda mill and an attempt to avoid justice being delivered to him for his obvious or likely crimes.

Innocent until proven guilty is a legal principle that applies to everyone — even Donald Trump. But until he's held accountable, his redemption is not plausible nor, by definition, is it justice.

So as we begin the New Year, it behooves us all to take a look at how we handle Donald Trump. Personally I'm making it a New Year's resolution to reduce my coverage of Trump to just a few possible events:

  1. His indictment.
  2. His official announcement as a candidate for higher office.
  3. An unprecedented cataclysmic event in which he plays a part.

I don't need to cover his attempts at redemption until later. I don't need to report this dullard's boring brutal assaults on the American psyche, thus spreading them. I don't need to snidely comment on every gastrointestinal-like utterance from his larcenous heart, or his neighborhood-bully approach to those who question him.

America needs as little of Donald Trump as we do of the coronavirus.

It's not that Trump created right-wing and QAnon conspiracists who believe the "Deep State" is run by baby-eating aliens. It's that Trump gave them a pathway to legitimization. Everyone has a right to their opinion, but your opinions need to be based on vetted facts. Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers' star quarterback, recently said that science needs to be questioned and he should be free to offer his opinion upon it. He's right on both counts. Science is science because it's questioned and it isn't propaganda. But Rodgers needs to shut up. Most climate scientists couldn't tell him how to thread the needle on a cover-two man under defense with a blitzing inside linebacker — and Rodgers knows squat about science and epidemiology. But like so many famous people, Rodgers confuses his public platform for a universal one, from which he can offer opinions on issues of which he has no knowledge. We have Trump to thank for enabling everyone with an ignorant and uninformed opinion to believe it's just as valuable as those held by people who have actual knowledge of the issues. It is a not-to-subtle method for undermining education and science.

The fourth estate amplifies this problem. With every president since Ronald Reagan stripping reporters of their power to inform, journalism has been reduced to infomercials and arguments on national television between hacks who pretend to be experts and talking heads who pretend to be reporters. We give ignorance a seat on the stage, speak to it and encourage it. Few of us even bother to read newspapers. They are dying.

It's the perfect storm. We live in a world where the media fails to adequately inform a public that is largely unwilling or unable to check the facts, while hacks and con men roam free, cloaking themselves in the flag and Bible and preaching a foul stench that further confuses a laconic electorate.

A politician once said there was nothing wrong with America that couldn't be cured by what was right with America. Today, what's overwhelmingly wrong with America is that we won't take the time to embrace what's right with it. We're far too lazy, content and delusional. One of our chief spokesmen is a narcissistic, fat, old, rich white man born into privilege, who is unable and unwilling to understand what the average American faces, but is eagerly preaching to us against our own self-interest. Because of the lack of education and a compromised fourth estate, many continue to buy what this acidic human being sells.

Donald Trump will one day again be legitimate news. But until then he's unworthy of ink.

World events. The pandemic, infrastructure, the economy, education and health care are but a few issues that deserve more ink than Trump or any NFL quarterback exposing his feet to show he doesn't have "COVID Toe."

I've always taken New Year's resolutions seriously. There is no better time to reassess your own actions and goals than at the end of the year; that week after Christmas and just before the next year kicks into gear.

It's the best time to sit, eat leftovers, have a nice drink if you're so disposed and sit by the warm gas fire of a roaring furnace, if you have one, to think for a while.

Donald Trump was our creation. Our cultural slouch into bedlam, feel-good news, anger politics and Spy vs. Spy mentality (with apologies to Mad Magazine), along with our exponentially increasing inability to recognize fact from fiction, made Trump both possible and inevitable.

If there is a grain of truth to the adage that what is wrong can be fixed by what is right, then as long as we are above the dirt we've got a shot at redemption.

It begins now. Hopefully it doesn't end with us saying, "Don't Look Up."

America got Scrooged by Joe Manchin — but Joe Biden believes in Santa

And so this is Christmas. And what have we done?

The country got "Scrooged" this Christmas.

In a remake worthy of the Bill Murray movie, starring Sen. Joe Manchin and the omicron variant, it looks like President Joe Biden will have a hard time delivering an upbeat spirit of Christmas future.

Prior to the perfect storm of disease and political pestilence, Biden was trying hard to convince the country that the newly passed infrastructure bill was the panacea for all of our ills: clean water, a working power grid and jobs.

That message nosedived on Sunday when West Virginia's only Democrat in the Senate, former college quarterback Joe Manchin, dropped a bomb on Biden — saying on Fox News that the infrastructure's even bigger companion legislation, Build Back Better, was most likely toast because he wasn't going to vote for it. The dynamics being what they are in Congress — a very slim majority in the House and a 50-50 Senate — the Democrats absolutely need Manchin to have a hope of passing the legislation.

Manchin's proclamation set off a firestorm of recriminations, overindulgent speculation and specious political analysis. It was the journalistic equivalent of watching pundits pull out their hair and scream like Bart Simpson being choked by Homer. Worse, it helped to tank the stock market on Monday. You could literally hear Republican staffers on the Hill giggling with delight. At least I did, outside a couple of Republican congressional offices, as they discussed the issue.

RELATED: How Joe Biden lost Joe Manchin — and how he can win him back

On Sunday the White House issued a terse reaction to Manchin through press secretary Jen Psaki. Manchin responded to being taken to the woodshed by the president by blaming the White House staff for his displeasure with the Build Back Better agenda. "That's the oldest dodge in D.C.," a senior Biden official said — a sentiment echoed by Republicans who winced when they heard it. "It means the ball is still in play," I was told.

Kurt Bardella, writing in USA Today, had the best take on the fallout of Manchin's move — at least if you're a loyal Democrat. "My advice to Democrats is assume you will lose everything in 2022. Knowing that, do what you need to do. Don't let anything hold you back. Don't operate from a position of fear. Instead, put the fear in everyone else."

That's good advice for Democrats who will see a total of 22 House members retiring in 2022, the most in the last 30 years. The realization that Biden's window is closing on getting meaningful legislation passed only heightens the frustration with Manchin. Of course rumors of him switching parties doesn't help either.

Others have called Manchin the "de facto president" for being a roadblock to his more progressive colleagues. But writing in Roll Call, John Bennett suggested it was time to quit calling Manchin that, since it misses a key point: Manchin isn't the de facto anything. He's just a rural-state senator, doing what the Constitution allows him to do.

But more to the issue, Sunday's point and counterpoint revealed what was really going on. Blaming White House staff has been around as long as Washington. So, could Manchin's move and the president's reaction be nothing more than a strategic dance around the head of a pin? A mere (gasp!) political maneuver? Some kind of negotiating strategy?

I suspected it was, and asked Psaki that question Monday in her first briefing after the dust-up. "Moving forward," I said, "you've already taken Sen. Manchin to the woodshed. Are you going to invite him back into the fold? Are you going to try to reach out to him?"

Psaki's answer was, "Of course," and then she went on to explain the importance of the Build Back Better agenda, saying the president had made it clear "that we absolutely want to work with Sen. Manchin and all Democrats to get this done." Psaki even held out hope of enticing a few Republicans.

So the bottom line here is "kabuki theater," as one reporter termed it. The BBB negotiations are still ongoing.

No, the BBB isn't dead — and this is no Monty Python skit, either. Manchin and the president are still talking. But you can't blame most of the pundits for missing this. Joe and Joe are a pair of old pros, engaged in old-fashioned politics as it was once practiced daily around here. Since that's not done much anymore, it's become harder to recognize. But as it turns out, old-fashioned politics is still alive, and gasping for air in the fetid stench of a very divided Washington. It's also what Biden relishes. He's a horse-trader working the market. During his long years in the Senate he was one of the best practitioners of this: finding common ground between adversaries.

If the president was done with Manchin, everyone would know it. Biden has never had a problem expressing himself — especially when he's angry. But he's in a different place now. At best, he has one election left in him. He knows his window is closing and he's got the patience and determination to keep focused. He acknowledged that as well on Tuesday in the East Room, as he spoke about the omicron variant. "You've heard me say this before: Some people think maybe I'm not Irish because I don't hold a grudge," he said. "Look, I want to get things done. I still think there's a possibility of getting Build Back Better done."

Biden is passionate about the plan. In his East Room appearance he focused on what is at stake. "Imagine being a parent, looking at a child, and you can't afford — you have no house to borrow against, you have no savings," he said. "It's wrong. But all the things in that bill are going to reduce prices and costs for middle-class and working-class people."

That focus makes it difficult for Manchin or any candidate to ignore the issue — especially if they're running for office in 2022.

And as the president left the East Room Tuesday, he struck an optimistic note: "Sen. Manchin and I are going to get something done," he said emphatically.

That's the tell, poker players. As Yogi Berra once said, "It ain't over til it's over." It ain't over. Bet on the guy who's staying focused.

What is over, though, was also readily apparent in Biden's Tuesday appearance in the East Room. He's done indulging those who are reticent to get vaccinated against COVID. He's apparently had all he can take of the anti-vax, chlorine-drinking, Joe Rogan-worshipping anti-science heathens who are putting the world at risk. As early as Friday, members of the Coronavirus Task Force were saying, "We are intent on not letting omicron disrupt work and school for the vaccinated. You've done the right thing and we will get through this. For the unvaccinated, you're looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm."

I asked Psaki about that on Monday, quoting her recent remarks back at her: "I mean, what you said recently, 'Hey, for those who are vaccinated, it's mild or asymptomatic. For those who are not, death and destruction awaits you.' So are you pretty much done trying to be diplomatic on this?"

With her permanently polite smile, Psaki acknowledged that. On Tuesday, the president reiterated it. "The answer is straightforward: If you are not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned," he said. "You're at high risk of getting sick. And if you get sick, you're likely to spread it to others, including friends and family. And the unvaccinated have a significantly higher risk of ending up in a hospital or even dying.Almost everyone who has died from COVID-19 in the past many months has been unvaccinated."

Biden told people it was their "patriotic duty" to get the shot, and then took the (for him) unprecedented step of acknowledging and thanking Donald Trump, who recently announced he had received the booster.

RELATED: "Don't, don't, don't": Trump lashes out after crowd boos him for getting COVID booster

"Let me be clear," Biden said. "Thanks to the prior administration and our scientific community, America is one of the first countries to get the vaccine. And thanks to my administration and the hard work of Americans, we led a rollout that made America among the world leaders in getting shots in arms."

Watching Biden battle with Congress and the coronavirus with the vigor of a man half his age should remind everyone that, in the end, Ebenezer Scrooge changed.

Biden deserves criticism for his poor and inconsistent messaging. But on Build Back Better and the pandemic there has been no better warrior for the cause.

This week is pivotal in the Biden presidency. As noted, he faces a closing window to get meaningful legislation enacted. He's holding no grudges and wasting no energy that can be put to use getting to the finish line — whether it's playing politics with a colleague or being blunt with those who are willfully ignorant of the reality of the pandemic. There was a time when we were offering beer and prizes to those who weren't vaxxed. Now, Biden is done and it's time to move on: Deal with reality.

He's showing genuine determination and resolve in dealing with the issues that have Scrooged us all. The future of, course, remains unwritten. Scrooge found out that things can change. Joe Biden is counting on that.

Biden and Putin kick off Christmas season with 'useful meeting' — while Trump plays Grinch

Tuesday morning broke cold and crisp at the White House. By mid-morning dozens of reporters were stirring in their warm winter coats — lined up doing live shots on the north side of the campus.

Inside the building, with stockings hung by the fire with care, President Joe Biden began a two-hour telephone call with Vladimir Putin. The call came after the Russian president recently increased worldwide tension by massing troops inside Ukraine with the implicit threat of overrunning a country ruled by a former comedian. I cannot verify whether Putin growled, with his fingers nervously drumming.

While Biden was nestled all snug in his office discussing these grave matters of international importance with a former KGB officer and current autocratic ruler of Russia, our former president, Donald Trump, slithered and slunk and — with a smile so unpleasant! — sent out emails to his loyal followers offering them Trump wine glasses as Christmas gifts for a very affordable price.

RELATED: Joe Biden's Christmas reboot: A tightly wound presidency badly needs some holiday cheer

Some foreign reporters did appear, discussing "first strike" capabilities, as if whatever happened in the phone conversation between the two presidents could lead to a nuclear war sometime before lunch. Maybe the most likely reason they thought of this at all is that their hearts are just two sizes too small.

Others weren't so sure, and a few other reporters, shuffling back and forth in the West Wing or running to their various live-shot locations, expressed more concern about the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus. Some took time to lament the fact that a few reporters had recently tested positive for the virus — including one who apparently sat in on a recent press briefing .

Most of the conversation and consequent speculation among reporters about the Biden-Putin call relied heavily on a background telephone conversation that took place between a White House official and the press corps the previous day. "President Biden will obviously raise our concerns with Russia's military buildup and plans with respect to Ukraine. The agenda will also cover a number of other critical issues including strategic stability, cyber and Iran's nuclear program," we were told.

Nothing was said about outer space issues.

The background call lasted about 20 minutes and left most questions unanswered, although to be fair because of arbitrarily imposed time constraints few questions were asked.

That set the table for Tuesday, with more speculation leading up to the Putin call and even more cud-chewing afterward.

After Biden finished the Putin call, he then called and debriefed our closest allies. He also released a one-paragraph statement:

President Biden voiced the deep concerns of the United States and our European Allies about Russia's escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine and made clear that the U.S. and our Allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation. President Biden reiterated his support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and called for de-escalation and a return to diplomacy. The two presidents tasked their teams to follow up, and the U.S. will do so in close coordination with allies and partners. The presidents also discussed the U.S.-Russia dialogue on Strategic Stability, a separate dialogue on ransomware, as well as joint work on regional issues such as Iran.

A short time afterward, Trump emailed a statement demeaning Biden's conversation with Putin. Perhaps he even shouted it from 10,000 feet up Mount Crumpet. It's unclear what, if any, knowledge Trump could have regarding the Biden-Putin private Zoom call, but Trump, well — shucks, he had to be part of the conversation nonetheless. It's almost as if you're dealing with a hyperactive pre-pubescent child jacked up on sugar, caffeine, fast food and porn.

Oh, and by the way, the kid with the fake hair and the Rodney Dangerfield suits also took the opportunity a few minutes later to ask me to join his "Official Trump Honor Roll" by donating at least $25. It was an opportunity to join "an exclusive roster" and such an opportunity "does not come around often Brian."

Meanwhile, back in the world that mattered, it was reported that Biden told Putin he was prepared to take economic sanctions farther than in 2014, when Biden was Barack Obama's vice president.

Most of the details of this conversation were subsequently withheld by both sides, as one would expect. Everyone wants to control their message.

Putin's minions described the presidents' video conference as "candid and businesslike," and the pair of presidents apparently even exchanged a few jokes. Whether or not they were about Trump — well, who knows?

Russian state television showed a brief video clip of a friendly introduction, while at the White House, national security adviser Jake Sullivan appeared in front of the press corps with press secretary Jen Psaki later in the afternoon and told us it was a "useful meeting."

But it's all on Putin, according to the White House. And some who report on Putin say it all hinges on whether or not the two men mutually respect each other.

So the foreign reporters have figured it all out. Human culture is intellectually equivalent to a pair of roosters ready to go at it in a cockfighting ring. Personally, having seen a real cockfight or two, watching either grows pointless with repeated viewing. The question is: How easily does politics bore you? Because it's dangerous to ignore it.

As it turns out, the endless negativity in politics for some reason overwhelmingly leads to voter disenfranchisement by choice. That's good for the bad politician, but bad for the good citizen.

The cacophony is avoided by most people who are struggling to "pay the bills, man." With millions of homeless in this country, a national reporter asked Psaki on Tuesday why the administration didn't just solve the problem of getting people tested by sending tests to everyone's home. Maybe his heart was two sizes too small. Or maybe I just "Hate all the Noise!" But Psaki, who long ago put it into cruise control when dealing with most of the press, ignored the noise and eased right on by this one. Never venturing out of her lane, she stressed what the White House had done and how getting people to come forward voluntarily was important — and then she stepped on the gas and wiped that tear away. (Apologies to Lennon and McCartney).

I don't think Psaki even blinked. It's one of the reasons she is respected by a press corps who, for the previous four years, were screamed at daily by an administration of spoiled children who often soiled themselves. She's always cool and cordial even when reacting emotionally, which has been rare. Or maybe people have just stopped watching. Some say that's because you can't expect a lot of groundbreaking information from a Psaki briefing. In fact you can't expect much information at all — outside of what is dictated to you. But it will be done in professional and friendly fashion, definitely not rudely.

More to the point, Psaki didn't slap a reporter for asking an oblivious question about universal COVID testing.

Meanwhile, we all continue to deal with the pandemic, raising our kids, paying the bills and struggling to make ends meet in a country that has torn itself apart with political strife, economic disruption and voter disenfranchisement. It is plagued by continuous mass shootings, willful political ignorance, arrogance, transportation problems, a huge national ego problem and supply chain snafus. Education is mostly crude and rudimentary; public schools are based on antiquated models from the last century. The climate is changing. People are angry and frightened. Leadership: Honestly? Most rational adults have long ago abandoned any hope of leadership from most politicians of either party. Much like they've given up hope for unbiased journalism.

At the end of the day they just want to know, as the holiday season rolls around, what to give to their loved ones for presents, and whether there's a reasonable chance the world won't blow itself up before the end of the New Year. You know: the basics.

As it turns out, the White House isn't saying much about it. How effective was the telephone call between the two leaders? Were tensions lessened? Is the world any safer?

That's something Sullivan couldn't say definitively. "So, all I will say is that the ultimate metric for whether the world is safer or not is facts on the ground and actions taken, in this case, by Russia. Let's see. We are prepared to deal with any contingency, as I said at the outset. And I'm not going to make predictions or characterizations. I'm only going to say that President Biden will continue to do all of the necessary prudent planning for a variety of different pathways that could unfold in the weeks ahead."

That's a fine Merry Christmas for everyone.

But wait. There's more.. After it was all said and done Trump sent out an email saying that in 2022 he was going to "SAVE AMERICA" from the radical left. It had something to do with receiving an "Official 2022 Trump Calendar Today," for just a contribution of $25 or more.

As Biden left the Oval Office on Wednesday, he stopped by the press pool and cleaned up one bit of business. Whatever else might happen, the president explained, he wasn't proposing the possibility of sending U.S. troops to Ukraine.

Somebody please pass the eggnog.

…A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

Oh, and spike it.

The hidden motivation driving the Biden presidency

On Monday afternoon, I stood on the cold and blustery South Lawn of the White House, where President Biden and 800 guests were celebrating the signing of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

It was a quintessential autumn experience, complete with the sweet smell of rotting leaves and the faint smell, imagined or real, of burning firewood from somewhere in the distance.

As I stood there watching the sunset with my hands in my overcoat pockets trying to keep warm, I saw something I'd never seen there before: a family reunion (of sorts).

Every other reporter had departed and only a few photographers and technicians remained, gathering up their equipment from the recently concluded public event. That's when I watched the unguarded moment where a man let his hair down (what's left of it anyway) and enjoyed the company of friends and family. That's the only way to describe Joe Biden as he spent time with members of Congress while they congratulated him on the most significant achievement of his presidency so far.

RELATED: Why is Biden failing? His tightly controlled relationship to the media might be worse than Trump's

I've never seen a president look that unguarded and happy in office. Presidents are always guarded — even seemingly in moments of joy or sadness. Each move in the public eye is usually choreographed, planned and controlled, and with Biden more so than with many others. But not on Monday. Instead of the public Biden, I caught a glimpse of how he acts in private.

I was privy to this rare sighting because I was stubborn enough to stick around on the South Lawn as long as he did. Perhaps I should've left after the official ceremony was over. Everyone else in the press corps did. But no one shooed me away. Biden stayed for half an hour after the end of the ceremony, not wearing an overcoat and apparently enduring the weather better than those younger than himself, including me. He took selfies with old and new friends from government. Most were congressional friends. Some were from state and local governments. Some were labor leaders. But make no mistake; President Joe Biden looked like he was at a family reunion. He was with his people. He smiled easily, socialized freely and looked like a man who hadn't a care in the world. Quite frankly I was stunned.

Originally I decided to wait him out because there continue to be questions about the president's health. He has been seen coughing, and has stumbled on occasion. His appearance in a recent CNN town hall with Anderson Cooper drew criticism and concern — it appeared Cooper had to guide the president back on topic as Biden meandered. Some said he looked befuddled. I saw none of that Monday. The president looked as spry and as energetic as he was when I first covered him in a press scrum nearly 30 years ago. Being among his congressional family apparently gave him strength.

In his public speech on Monday, Biden never wavered and seemed filled with vitality as he explained the significance of signing the infrastructure bill. "The bill I'm about to sign into law is proof that despite the cynics, Democrats and Republicans can come together and deliver results," he said. Then he showed his mastery of politics by reminding everyone that the Republicans didn't get everything they wanted and neither did the Democrats — but they worked together to achieve tangible results. "Folks, too often in Washington the reason we didn't get things done is because we insisted on getting everything we want — everything. With this law, we focus on getting things done. I ran for president because the only way to move this country forward, in my view, was through compromise and consensus. That's how the system works. That's American democracy. We compromised. We reached a consensus. That's necessary."

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Some 50 years from now, Biden explained, people would point to this moment and say it was when America rose to the challenge of the 21st century. Retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who spoke prior to Biden, gave Donald Trump some credit for mentioning infrastructure as an issue. But he gave Biden full credit for getting the job done and said that bipartisanship should be "rewarded, not attacked," reminding us that we have to "work together on big issues."

Just about an hour and a half earlier, White House press secretary Jen Psaki in her daily briefing acknowledged that the president's popularity had fallen recently as Biden continues to deal with problems like inflation. She also noted that the president's policies remain extremely popular among voters. Psaki blamed some of Biden's falling popularity on the pandemic. "There's a fatigue from COVID. We see that in poll after poll . . . People are sick and tired of COVID and the impacts on the economy. We understand that; we're tired of it too. That's why the No. 1 priority continues to be getting COVID under control," she said.

But that doesn't explain the weak poll numbers. Some believe that Biden's often misunderstood quest for bipartisanship and finding common ground is a weakness, and therefore a big part of the problem. The White House tried to clean that up this week, putting Biden and every other senior member of the administration on the road to preach the significance of the bipartisan infrastructure deal and to push his Build Back Better agenda, which is currently stuck in Congress.

But there are other problems. This week, Anne Applebaum wrote in The Atlantic about the problems of modern autocracies. She said they are supported by "sophisticated networks composed of kleptocratic financial structures, security services … and professional propagandists."

This also helps explain why Biden's poll numbers are falling. Some may suggest this is an indication that Biden is out of touch, while others may say (as his carefree attitude on the South Lawn might imply) that he knows something the rest of us do not. Applebaum, however, touched on an important problem: the continued promotion of autocracy and the way pundits, the media and members of the public too easily accept a false equivalency between Biden and the autocrats.

We all know the biggest promoter of autocratic fascism. It is Donald Trump. While Biden is promoting bipartisanship and unity, Trump is selling T-shirts that say "Let's Go Brandon," a none-too-subtle code for "F**k Joe Biden." He suggested last week that he had no problem with the Jan. 6 mob calling for the hanging of Mike Pence, his vice president at the time. He claims liberals are presiding over the "disintegration of our country." When Trump isn't debasing the presidency and the country trying to sell us autographed photos, footballs, T-shirts, hats, Christmas cards and ornaments, he's still trying to sell us on how crappy our country is and how the Democrats and the press are the enemy of the people.

Trump tells us life in America is horrible — but neglects to take any responsibility for that, even though he was president for four years. He might have better success telling us how great life is because he was president — but he could never say that because his stock in trade is fear, division, rancor, anger and hatred.

A new poll from The Economist and YouGov reports that 28 percent of Republican voters believe the delusion that Trump will be "reinstated" as president by the end of the year — so he has no reason to accept reality. His message reaches millions of people who gladly support his depraved lunacy with contributions to fund his lavish lifestyle.

Then there are Trump's cancerous second bananas. At nearly the same time Biden was preaching bipartisanship at the White House, authorities took former Trump adviser Steve Bannon into custody for defying a congressional subpoena, as the investigation into the insurrection and attempted coup on Jan. 6 continues. A defiant Bannon didn't cheer unity or celebrate bipartisanship. He vowed revenge and division — again, saying, "We're taking down the Biden regime." He's doubling down on his long-running attempt to burn it all to the ground, which was exactly what he said he wanted to do when he hitched his wagon to the flaming mess that is Donald Trump.

Earlier this week, it was former national security adviser Mike Flynn who got his turn to tell us what we face. Reportedly, Flynn was part of an effort to get the Pentagon to overturn the 2020 election. He also took a stand against everyone in this country who doesn't believe in his personal brand of God. "If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God," he told a crowd of cheering supporters.

How is it we do not clearly see the binary choice facing us? A plethora of former Republicans have warned us, including but not limited to the Lincoln Project, former Sen. Jeff Flake and former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, who has observed that Trump enables and encourages people to become the worst versions of themselves. Still there are pundits, lawyers, publicists and reporters who — as Applebaum suggests — willingly spread the lies and propaganda.

All the punditry and reporting relies on shallow cynicism. We sneer at politicians while contemptuously thinking they are all equally crooked liars and at the same time sucking up to them for access. We don't trust them and we don't trust ourselves, because we know how corruptible and contemptible most media companies are.

And here is a president claiming eternal optimism. What's his Pollyanna game? He speaks of working together and then actually tries to do it. Meanwhile, the GOP wants to expel those in their party who worked with the Democrats. Why? We're not enemies. We're all Americans — or so our forefathers taught us.

If there is an ounce of that sentiment left in us, then the choice is easy to make.

In his famous speech on June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln made it clear: "A house divided against itself cannot stand." He was alluding to scripture, where the Pharisees accuse Jesus of being from Satan because he cast out devils. The irony of that will probably be lost on most evangelicals who support Trump.

Biden remains optimistic that "we can deliver real results for real people," and that compromise can lead to solutions. "There is no limit to what our nation can do," he said. "And there is no one thing that I know more than this: It's never, ever been a good bet to bet against the American people. Never, never, never."

How can you seriously compare that statement to a man who wants to sell you T-shirts while telling you your brother, sister, friend or neighbor is an enemy just because they do not agree with you? Why do we in the press continue to act as if these are two ideas worthy of equal consideration?

You can certainly criticize Biden's actions or policies without claiming he's in any way equivalent to the autocratic fascists who believe in one religion, disavow science, suppress votes, embrace racism and misogyny and call anyone who doesn't agree with them "the enemy." In fact it is normal to do so.

There is a lot wrong with the Biden administration. His staff is too protective of him. He doesn't often explain himself adequately and he hides behind a bravado of optimism while playing his cards close to the vest. His administration often screws up its messaging. He hasn't had an open press conference at the White House since taking office. (His one press conference was limited to a handful of reporters because of COVID restrictions, and really doesn't count). He hasn't adequately explained how he will deal with inflation, the new space race, oil prices or China. His exit from Afghanistan was, at best, awkward.

But these are criticisms of a man who deeply respects our democratic institutions — and who held the largest event I've ever attended on the South Lawn to celebrate the accomplishments of a bipartisan Congress. We must stop pretending that we are merely watching two political parties that understand and care about democracy arguing about how to obtain our mutual goals.

All things are not equal. You cannot compare a man who brings two parties together on the South Lawn and preaches inclusion to a party that wants to turn the republic into ashes.

This country cannot be one religion. It cannot be about one-party rule. It cannot condone voter suppression, racism or misogyny. It cannot criminalize a woman's right to choose. It cannot disparage those who are marginalized and it cannot take joy in hypocrisy, rage and pain.

Everything we face was seen in two distinct events Monday: Joe Biden preaching unity at the White House and Steve Bannon preaching treason while being taken into custody.

Many still want the noble experiment of democracy to succeed. They want the United States to be the citadel on the hill and provide a path to self-government and freedom that the rest of the world can emulate and embrace.

Joe Biden, with his many flaws, shares those ideals. Trump, and the rest of the rats left on the sinking GOP ship, don't make the cut.

An insane week of activity in DC — and one that may define Joe Biden's legacy

My mother taught me at a young age to appreciate people who learn quickly.

Of course, Mom's definition of "learning quickly" was that you only had to stick your finger in a light socket once before learning not to do it again.

That said, I don't know that a lot of people would pass her test — at least when it comes to politics.

Last Friday, shortly before midnight, the House of Representatives finally passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and sent it to President Biden for his signature. The measure was co-signed by 13 Republicans who crossed party lines to make the bill the greatest example of bipartisanship in the last decade. Still, don't confuse it with bipartisanship from the past, which meant large numbers of both parties signing on the bottom line together. But it was a first step, and the bipartisan move gave six Democrats the freedom to step away from the measure and vote against it.

Do not, for a moment, believe that purely symbolic gesture wasn't understood by the White House and sanctioned by the party. The six left-leaning Democrats who wouldn't vote for the bill did so because they wanted the Build Back Better measure voted on at the same time the House voted on infrastructure, and were convinced the BBB would not be voted on otherwise. If Nancy Pelosi had needed those six votes to pass the bill — well, the House might still be in session. But I have no doubt she'd have gotten them eventually.

RELATED: GOP may punish members for backing infrastructure — but Gosar, MTG are no problem

How this all shook out was vintage Washington politics the way it used to be played. Biden's greatest strength, as we found Friday, is working backroom deals, talking with politicians and getting them to come to the table in agreement on important issues. He also understands — unlike some of the Democrats who voted against the infrastructure bill — the art of "Half a loaf." Getting something is better than getting nothing. The Democratic opponents to the bill are more of the "two in the bush" mind, rather than being happy with the bird in the hand.

Former President Trump, who is currently trying to sell MAGA Christmas-tree ornaments while telling his fans they could win an autographed football by donating money to his cause, was obviously angry and issued the following statement:

Very sad that the RINOs in the House and Senate gave Biden and Democrats a victory on the "Non-Infrastructure" Bill. All Republicans who voted for Democrat longevity should be ashamed of themselves, in particular Mitch McConnell, for granting a two month stay which allowed the Democrats time to work things out at our Country's, and the Republican Party's, expense!

By Monday, the leadership of what remains of the morally bankrupt GOP was threatening those who had crossed party lines and voted with the Democrats. So what was their message? What is the Republican alternative to the infrastructure bill? Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley questioned the manhood of Americans who watch too much porn and play too many video games.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who never met a problem he couldn't run away from, called Big Bird a communist.

That's the Republican agenda.

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It turned a few heads. Hawley prompted questions of "what's too much?" A former general who served in both Gulf wars asked, "What does he think soldiers in the field do in their down time?"

As Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat, said about Cruz, "Imagine picking a fight with a fictional bird instead of the man who called your wife ugly."

Clearly there are a lot of people who call themselves Republicans who perpetually stick their fingers in light sockets. Perhaps that is why an overwhelming majority of Americans take such a dim view of them.

As it is, Trump continues to make as much noise as he can, but the passage of the infrastructure bill may well be a watershed event that finally pushes him to the sidelines and into the recesses of time where he and various other demons of democracy should dwell until they fade from existence. The bill's passage also revives the idea of bipartisan cooperation and brings it back into the national consciousness as a solid example of the motto of the Commonwealth of Kentucky: "United We Stand. Divided We Fall."

The bill's passage is even more iconic in juxtaposition to what occurred in federal court this week. District court judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that Trump cannot shield White House records from the Jan. 6 committee. "Presidents are not kings and Plaintiff is not President," she wrote.

Trump, of course, appealed. That's his playbook: Keep everything tied up in court until hopefully it goes away.

But the reckoning for Trump's divisiveness continues, and of late has gathered some steam. Perhaps others are also coming around to the idea that a United States of America is preferable to a divided state of America. As CNN and others reported, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol announced on Tuesday a new batch of 10 subpoenas to former Trump White House officials, as the panel charges ahead in seeking testimony and documents from witnesses relevant to its probe.

These subpoenas follow six others that were announced Monday.

Stephen Miller and Kayleigh McEnany, senior officials in the Trump administration, were among those subpoenaed. Miller, by his own account, "participated in efforts to spread false information about alleged voter fraud in the 2020 election, as well as efforts to encourage state legislatures to alter the outcome of the November 2020 election appointing alternate slates of electors," the committee noted.

McEnany? The woman who accused me of being delusional for asking Trump more than a year ago whether, "win, lose or draw," he would accept a peaceful transfer of power, is being sought because, according to the committee, she made "multiple public statements from the White House and elsewhere about purported fraud in the November 2020 election. For example, in the first White House press conference after the election, Ms. McEnany claimed that there were 'very real claims' of fraud that the former President's reelection campaign was pursuing, and said that mail-in voting was something that 'we have identified as being particularly prone to fraud.' At another press conference, Ms. McEnany accused Democrats of 'welcoming fraud' and 'welcoming illegal voting." She was also apparently hanging around with Trump during the January insurrection.

Trump's woes don't end there. New York prosecutors investigating his business dealings have convened a new grand jury to hear evidence in that investigation, leading to speculation that the ex-president may get an indictment as a Christmas gift — or at the very least a subpoena.

Trump has survived inquiries in the past. But he no longer has the services of a fixer like Michael Cohen, or even the decrepit and derelict Rudy Giuliani. Cohen has long said Trump could face an indictment by the end of the year. He may prove to be right.

Whatever happens to Trump, it is clear there is a renewed sense that on some basic level, our country works best when we try to work together — which means it doesn't work with Trump involved. It is a message the fascists do not want to hear. It is a message people like Hawley, Cruz and Ron DeSantis think they cannot use to get re-elected.

But if the Democrats and whatever remnants endure of the old Republican Party can beat that drum loudly enough, it will drown out the mutants who can only scream they are against cooperation, but always fail to provide an alternative policy worthy of consideration.

And in 2021, we are at that precipice. This country is dominated by two political parties. One has no heart. One has no head. By continuing to back Trump's play, what's left of the Republican party has revealed that it's not only heartless but headless. The GOP is dead. That party is a bloody stump, and individually all that remains are a bunch of schizophrenic, delusional paranoids you'd be embarrassed to see at a neighborhood barbecue, sticking their fingers in light sockets while screaming about Big Bird, video games and pornography. As former Republican congressman Joe Walsh said, "If you are pro-vaccine, anti-insurrection, and you state the truth that Joe Biden won the 2020 election fair and square, you have no future as a Republican. Just think about that."

Meanwhile, for the Democrats to prove they've grown a head to go with their sizable heart, they need to get inflation under control (start by just acknowledging it's a huge problem), find decent candidates who are not as marginal as the far right and continue to pass legislation that helps all Americans. And never stop reminding the voters that's what they're doing. That continues to be the key Democratic problem: poor messaging.

While the Democratic holdouts on the infrastructure bill indicate there are plenty of people on both sides of the aisle who love to stick their fingers into light sockets, last week's actions also show there is renewed hope for a return to sanity..

It's a nice way to cruise into Thanksgiving. As a nation, we all have something to be thankful for: infrastructure and hope.

Democrats -- and America -- face a dangerous inflection point after defeat in Virginia

Those screams you hear resembling a wailing banshee are coming from Democrats. They're convinced the world has come to an end after Terry McAuliffe lost the governor's race in Virginia.

The snickers you hear are from the fascists who believe the Virginia election signals they are on their way to recapturing the former democracy of the United States in the name of their demented overlord, Donald Trump.

As Mary Trump said recently on my podcast "Just Ask the Question," the GOP is working hard to ensure that the minority rules, the rulebooks have all been thrown out and the world will be safe for fascism, courtesy of her uncle Donald. "That party needs to be burned to the ground," she told me.

Frankly, it looks like Donald has already done that and instituted a new party dedicated to voter suppression, misogyny, racism and fascism.

In Virginia, that has also led to a Republican party, according to state legislator Danica Roem, populated by those who say the major issue facing voters is a bunch of "undocumented, transgender teenagers hanging out in bathrooms teaching each other critical race theory while they earn sharia law degrees."

Of course, no one was happier with the election results than Trump, who — unable to tweet his brain droppings on a whim — now issues "Press Statements" about them. Few media outlets bother to publish his meandering, mind-numbing baloney, thus sparing the world considerable dyspepsia, tremors and death-metal rage. Trump, meanwhile, is as giddy as an eight-year-old huffing nitrous oxide as he sees his grand plan falling in place.

This grand plan includes winning state and local races, purging the GOP of Trump non-believers and instituting laws, rules and procedures that will enable Trump, or any other Republican, to win elections in 2022 and 2024, whether or not they actually get a majority of the vote.

"They have a limited window of opportunity," Mary Trump explained. "They know they're the minority party and they're desperate to hold on to power." If Republicans can rig the game, they're almost certain to pull off the feat. If they can't, then they won't.

But we are definitely at an inflection point in this country, and the Democrats have a narrow window to stop the Republicans from destroying what's left of our democracy. And it isn't just our country that will suffer if our democracy ceases to exist. That will lead to a downward spiral for the entire world.

The Democrats' wailing comes from the fact that they see Terry McAuliffe's loss as a harbinger of the apocalypse. "Usually we say that if we get the vote out, then we win, because there are more of us than them," Roem explained. "That didn't happen and we had a large voter turnout."

Virginia turned out more than 50 percent of the vote, but that still means a minority of registered voters elected their governor. It is anathema to democracy that we consider a voter turnout of 50 to 60 percent as terrific.

Anyway, McAuliffe's loss only portends disaster if the Democrats continue to run races the way McAuliffe did — very poorly. He was never the best Democratic candidate for governor, as former Gov. Doug Wilder said in 2020. High-ranking Democrats told me the same thing this week. "He sucked. He stunk," one prominent Virginia office-holder explained to me. "That's what doomed his campaign." Imagine how bad he had to be to lose to an accused racist and sexist.

The problem is that on a national scale, most Democrats from the top to the bottom are as ineffective as McAuliffe. "I have the best ideas and the other guy is a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" means little in a world where truth often takes a backseat to fear-mongering, character assassination and conspiracy theories. The Democrats often don't hit us where we live, but hit us for not living where they think we should.

Roem found a different path. I've known her for a long time and once hired her as a city editor for a newspaper I ran. She not only won re-election as a Democrat, she won precincts that Terry McAuliffe lost.

She says that when she talked to some of those Northern Virginia voters who returned her to the House of Delegates, they said they thought the Democratic Party was filled with Satan-loving communists, but added, "They haven't got to Roem yet." Right-wing voters and swing voters who turned against the Democrat at the top of the ticket voted down-ticket for a liberal, thrash-metal-loving, transgender female musician, giving her a third term in Richmond.

That probably prompted Robert E. Lee to spin in his grave — which would be the most productive thing he ever did for his country, living or dead.

Roem got re-elected doing something too many Democrats (and Republicans) have conveniently forgotten; she works for her constituents. Roem first won election against a far-right Republican who denigrated her gender identity and ignored the issues. Roem didn't make a big deal out of who she was, but campaigned on what she could do, promising to take care of a traffic problem that has plagued Northern Virginia for years, and her predecessor had done nothing about.

She campaigned on public service and she won. She's won re-election as the state's first transgender female legislator by providing needed services. Her constituents have thought enough of her efforts to keep her in office — even if some of them don't like her.

That's the key to survival on a national scale for Democrats. The Republicans do not serve the public good. They prey upon the public with faux culture wars to retain power, while providing little to no service for the people they supposedly represent.

We suffered through four years of "Infrastructure Week" at the White House under Trump in which nothing was done. The GOP continues to try and thwart Biden's attempts to rebuild the nation's crumbling infrastructure. Health care, parental leave — all those things that an overwhelming majority of Americans support, the Republicans block. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly said that his goal is to make a Democratic president fail. The GOP over the years has stood against social security, civil rights and every single progressive idea we now take for granted and value as Americans.

The GOP simply cannot govern. It gave up any pretense of governing to secure autocratic, fascist control in order to serve its billionaire overlords. Republicans preach that we should pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, but conveniently forget to mention that they often relied on student loans and government assistance to get where they are. Mary Trump is right about what needs to happen to that political party of fascists.

But the Democrats also continue to misunderstand the American people. You can call out the Republicans for their hatred and bigotry and that will appeal to your faithful — but if you truly want to convert voters, then be a Danica.

Tip O'Neill, the political heavyweight former speaker of the House, famously said, "All politics is local." So what can the national Democrats learn from a local legislative race in Northern Virginia?

Public service. The Democrats have to quit arguing about their righteousness and start hammering home their service to everyone — even the people who hate them. That makes a difference.

Yes, the McAuliffe defeat in Virginia is a wake-up call for the Democrats. But they shouldn't misinterpret what it really means. Mary Trump tweeted Wednesday, "We need to get angry" and followed it with "And CHANNEL our anger."

Former Republican congressman Joe Walsh said Wednesday, "As someone who used to actively practice in all this culture war stuff and understands it intimately, I think maybe I'll become a Democrat to help Democrats learn how to fight back against Republican fear mongering and thereby win the culture wars by actually persuading voters."

Exactly. Anger without action is pointless, and poor messaging is killing the Democrats. To succeed, they should stop telling us how righteous they are and start telling us what they've done, and what they intend to do. Don't just say it once: Beat that drum loudly, consistently and with renewed vigor and you can beat the Republicans. Every time they engage in character assassination, keep them on target. Democrats always end up playing the game by Republican rules, and they're bad at it. Furthermore, as Donald Trump has shown us, you can throw out the damn playbook and claim to be victim and victor in one breath — while never serving the American public and running a huge con on them the whole time.

This leads to frustration, confusion and voter malaise. There's no way to argue with an idiot who will drag you down into the gutter and beat you to death with their stupidity. Stay out of that fight. It leads to voters screaming that critical race theory is the key issue in voting, while confessing they don't actually know what critical race theory is.

You want to reach voters? "What have you done for me lately?" is the ultimate cry of the voters. The GOP cannot answer that question, so they convince their voters it's a culture war, or it's about conspiracy, victimization, immigration, socialism and destroying the American way of life — which is exactly what they're doing.

The Democrats fall on their own swords waging this idiotic culture war without realizing what they do better than the Republicans: It's about public service, stupid.

Here is the startling truth about America's biggest national security problem

With apologies to Paul Simon, and despite all of the information available to the mortal man, there are still millions of Americans who currently believe they're gliding down the highway when in fact they're slip slidin' away.

As President Biden prepares to travel to Europe to meet with the Pope and our NATO allies next week, there remains a huge national security problem for him to grapple with, one that hasn't been addressed in any meaningful fashion for many years.

It is the root cause of our problems with China. It's why some people don't want to get vaccinated. It's why some people still gleefully follow Donald Trump. It explains why Congress can't get together in a bipartisan fashion to deal with infrastructure, health care and gun control. It's why we have problems understanding climate change. It explains voter suppression. It's why "critical race theory" has become controversial, why elements of our population on the left and right are at war with each other and why some believe the earth is flat and the Holocaust didn't occur. It's why some of us believe we're still the "No. 1" nation in the world when — other than having the largest military — we clearly lag behind other major nations in many critical factors. More than anything else it explains why we fail.

The United States is a nation of militantly ignorant people, arrogant in their beliefs, unable to change their minds and unwilling to try. We lack education.

And the lack of education in this country is such a problem that national security adviser Jake Sullivan described it this week as a critical issue for our national security. "I do consider it a national security problem," he told me during a White House briefing on Tuesday. "In fact, it's Dr. [Jill] Biden who has repeatedly said — and the president frequently quotes her — that any country that out-educates the United States will outcompete the United States, and that is a fundamental national security issue."

NPR reported Tuesday that, in part because of COVID-19, we have 500,000 fewer students enrolled in colleges this year. Does anyone really think we can compete in the modern workplace with just a high school education?

I coached high school football for many years. I can tell you firsthand that the quality of education of the "average" student today would have been below the level of a remedial education when I was in high school. There are scores of students who are functionally illiterate as well as scientifically and mathematically illiterate, and have no idea how government works or what their responsibilities in a democracy are. Many scream about "rights." Fewer understand responsibility.

Many are hoping and praying to find a menial job where they can "survive," and rarely do they dare to dream they might thrive. Many cry out for universal health care, but don't believe we'll get it. Some don't even understand how to get a decent salary, paid medical leave and other benefits, let alone how joining a union could help them accomplish those tasks. They don't know what socialism or capitalism are — other than thinking that one is bad and the other is American. They don't know our history, have no view of the future and are moribund in a present they fear, hate and don't understand.

We have to do better. The reasons are clear. Biden is correct: Without a competitive education, we sentence our progeny to industrial servitude while those who are educated amass power and wealth. Look around. We're in a new space race with China. We're behind in hypersonic technology. Our scientists say we must have a nuclear rocket to beat the Chinese to Mars, but millions of people believe that Clorox might treat the coronavirus. Some even tried it.

Biden wants to provide free or affordable post-secondary education, and has pointedly reminded us how useless a mere high school diploma is today — and that frightens some of us. George Carlin warned us that the overlords of society want you smart enough to operate the machinery, but no smarter than that. Some believe that to be true. Others in Congress tell us that such educational outlays in the budget are cost-prohibitive — while at the same time nodding reflexively each time we increase our bloated military budget.

This is not a recent development. Our dedication to education has fallen steadily during the last 40 years — and like most of the rot that has occurred in this country, I place the blame at the feet of Ronald Reagan and the ultra-conservatives he used to get elected and that he helped bring into the mainstream.

If you don't want to accept that Reagan was a feckless fool who destroyed unions, education, the free press and health care, and took us down the road to ruin, then look at the stench stirred up by George W. Bush and his infamous "No Child Left Behind" education policy.

That moronic mantra became every child left behind, creating an entire generation of Americans who were taught how to pass tests — but never how to think critically.

Many of those children who grew up being trained to pass tests are adults now and beginning to populate mid-level management positions in the American workforce. They have become part of what H.L. Mencken described as a "vast and militant ignorance" a century ago, which reminds us that arrogant ignorance isn't a new phenomenon — only that No Child Left Behind exacerbated the problem. "Team America World Police" and "Idiocracy" look more like documentary films than satire these days.

What's the most striking example of the lack of education? Two words: Donald Trump.

And I have one real question I'd like answered: Will someone please stop sending me emails from Donald Trump and his children, relatives, underlings and minions, begging me for money and guaranteeing me private time with the Donald?

Don Jr. even sent me an email telling me he was going to tell his daddy if I didn't give some amount of money NOW! I also got promised a football if I contributed to Donald Trump — who isn't even officially running for office yet, but certainly has honed the art of conning people out of their hard-earned cash to a laser-like precision.

I know dozens of other White House reporters who are apparently on the Donald's email list, and none of us signed up for his systematic harassment and panhandling. He's an internet stalker and homeless vagrant rolled into one. Apparently the former president took the White House correspondents' email list with him when he fled D.C. Since I'm also getting email from the Sarah Sanders campaign and a few other close Trump associates who hold office, I can only assume they are sending me their scatological musings because Trump has shared the email list with his itinerant, angry, brain-dead acolytes.

They all send me content designed to make the uneducated howl at the moon and scratch themselves like a junkyard dog with fleas. These "press releases" from Trump's moronic disciples are met with yelps of pleasure from their fans. Poor grammar and spelling aside, these fecal releases usually make no sense and appear to be the mutterings of simpletons who've ingested tainted hallucinogens.

The idea that the most qualified candidate in the Republican Party for the highest office in the land could once again be a guy who was impeached twice and encouraged us to ingest Clorox and shine ultraviolet light inside our bodies — that's something even an overabundance of psilocybin in your bloodstream can't explain.

But a lack of education explains all of it, including but not limited to Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

Our lack of education is the single greatest threat to the existence of our nation. Jake Sullivan is right: It's a national security issue.

"And though my lack of education hasn't hurt me none/ I can read the writing on the wall," Paul Simon also told us.

Today, I'm not sure how many people can even read that.