6

Queen Elizabeth II did her job

From The Washington Post, by Monica Hesse:

She became the queen before many of us were born, before many of our mothers were born, before many of our grandmothers were born, a fixed point on a spinning axis. Whether you loved her or not she was always there. Death and taxes and Queen Elizabeth II were the only certainties of life for 70 years, until she died on Thursday at the age of 96.

Chances were that what you loved or hated wasn’t the woman herself but the institution she embodied, a sprawling $28 billion firm of inherited titles and property. The woman herself? She was a cipher by design. Her position prevented her from vocalizing opinions on politics, elections, social movements and individual people — anything of consequence, really, because modern monarchs don’t run the government even while they appear on its money.

You knew she was outdoorsy: corgis, horses, hunting expeditions. You might have read somewhere that as a teenager she served as a mechanic in World War II. She saved her wartime rations to pay for her wedding dress and thereby won the love of a nation that, in those dark days, needed a fairy tale but a practical one.

You knew, vaguely, that the job was never supposed to be hers. She came to the throne by way of an abdicating uncle, a dead-too-soon father, a lack of a male heir. In 1952 the country’s legacy suddenly rested on the sensible shoulders of a 25-year-old mother of two.

Was it a fairy tale? Was it feminism? The highest-ranking woman in the world, and her power came not via her hard work or via a wedding ring on her finger but via a chaotic ladder of genealogy reaching through centuries: beheadings and infertility, abdications and overthrowings, all leading up to this singular woman holding the throne longer than anyone had before, or likely ever will again.

Little girls aren’t taught to play-act at being queen. They play-act at being princesses, which is a much gauzier, more romantic kind of role. (If you don’t believe me, check the costume aisle at Halloween or the product lines of the Disney corporation).

Being a queen is a grown woman’s job, and not for the faint of heart. There’s a certain amount of keeping everyone in line, of grinning and bearing it, whatever “it” is at the moment. In Elizabeth’s case it was a parade of prime ministers, a series of national tragedies, a daughter-in-law named Diana whose untimely death caused the sort of frenzied grief that is bestowed upon beautiful 36-year-old princesses and not reserved, 96-year-old queens.

The role of queen is not about finding oneself — the arc of princesses, both real and fictitious — but rather about sublimating oneself: in the duty of family, in the duty of work and in the duty of country.

She was forever tied to Britain’s past and forever responsible for the monarchy’s future. A king must rule; a queen must rule and also lend her body to the act of motherhood, which Elizabeth did four times. For her first birth, her husband Philip was off reportedly playing squash. By her fourth, she reportedly asked him to be in the room.

Was this a political decision in the name of gender equality, or did she just want the support of her husband while doctors rummaged around her cervix? We’ll never know, and the point of Elizabeth is that we never needed to. Her existence as monarch was already so revolutionary that her acts did not have to be.

And then those children grew up, and their hair grew gray while Elizabeth’s grew white, and it started to seem as if she could live forever or die at any moment.

In the past few years, especially, her mortality became more obvious. She got covid. She reduced her public engagements. In April 2021, her husband of 73 years died, and in a photograph that circulated widely from the funeral, Elizabeth sat socially distanced and alone in St. George’s Chapel, wearing double masks, watching the casket carrying Prince Philip make its way down the aisle with nobody in arm’s reach to comfort her. At this point she already looked unsteady on her feet, and very, very small.

By the time Buckingham Palace announced Thursday morning that the Queen’s health was poor, it was evident that we were talking about hours of time rather than weeks, as her family hastened to her bedside.

You know what got to me, in a way I didn’t expect? When I realized that through the course of my whole lifetime, the words to the de facto English anthem have been “God save the Queen,” but now and for the rest of my life, and maybe for the rest of my daughter’s — through the reigns of Charles, then William, then George, as a series of powerful men replace this powerful woman — they’ll be “God save the King.”

Look, I’m an American, and as such I am liberated from any legitimate impact of the monarchy. I do not have to concern myself with the tax burden, the iffy bloodlines, the intermarriage, the outer-marriage, the jewels, the jubilees, the two-dozen official residences, the Crown’s pomp and the Queen’s circumstances. As an American I don’t have to deal with all that.

But as an American I can also remark, with both wonder and dispassion,on what made the Queen so meaningful: She always seemed like a remarkably average woman.

She was not imbued with any preternatural wit, or presence, or beauty, or grace. Her appearance was wholesome rather than striking. She was not sexy or sparkling. She did not appear to have a way with words. Her quotes and public addresses were not particularly deep.She did not give introspective interviews about being a working mother “having it all.” She was not on book tours or launching podcasts or chatting with Diane Sawyer. She did not build her brand in the ways we now expect famous, powerful women to do; instead she sought to preserve an antique brand — for better or worse, but not for herself.

This, to me, is the legacy. This is the remarkable thing. That for 70 years the most important figure in Britain was a woman who did not do many of the things or embody many of the characteristics that society often demands women do and be. For 70 years the Commonwealth’s most important resident was an extremely average woman who was made sublime only because the people allowed her to be.

She did her work. She did her work stoically, stoutly, relentlessly, uncomplaining, for 25,000 days while her contemporaries retired or died, and her children divorced or became caught up in Jeffrey Epstein scandals, and one of her grandsons resigned and moved into Tyler Perry’s house in California and the other grandson stayed put and sired his own heirs who may one day carry on the work that his grandmother had been doing since before the invention of birth control or Barbie.

She did her work. Whatever any of us think of the monarchy, we can think something of showing up to do the work. “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service,” she once told her future subjects in a radio address broadcast on her 21st birthday. “And the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

She insisted she was merely a humble public servant. And the most extraordinary thing is that maybe that’s what she was all along.

2

Hey, Ya Can’t Have It Both Ways. You’re Playing Footsie with the Truth.

From The New York Times:

While Mr. Trump and his allies have repeatedly claimed that the former president had a standing order to declassify all materials he took from the White House, his lawyers have not made that assertion in court. In fact, they have said that any special master in the case would need a high-level security clearance.

But Mr. Trump’s lawyers have gestured toward his claim of declassification by declining to concede that the documents were classified. They did so again in the filing on Friday night, writing that the Justice Department had wrongly assumed “that if a document has a classification marking, it remains classified in perpetuity.”

1

Steve Bannon Cares About as Much About Building a Border Wall as I Do

From Esquire, by Jack Holmes:

It may well have been lost amid the semi-respectful frenzy of a royal departure from this earthly plane, and even amid the absolute avalanche of court activity around the former president of the United States. But that latter guy’s former chief White House strategist and the chief executive of his first presidential campaign was perp-walked through a New York courthouse in handcuffs on Thursday. Steve Bannon has been charged by the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, with two counts of money laundering, a count of scheme to defraud, and two counts of conspiracy. He stands accused of defrauding American citizens who so desperately wanted a wall on the southern border that they were willing to donate to an organization called We Build the Wall, Inc. to see it done.

Once upon a time, you may remember, Mexico was going to pay for the wall. Mr. Donald Trump said so, and the man’s word is bond. He was foiled, we can only assume, by the pesky Deep State, just like he was foiled by Congress after he scrapped the promise to force our southern neighbors to pay for it and asked for some taxpayer cash. The Legislative Branch declined to exercise its power of the purse to fund this boondoggle, so Trump responded by declaring a phony national emergency as a pretext to seize the money in an outright assault on the Constitution’s separation of powers. He also at one point shut the government down. But all of this did not see much wall built by 2019, when We Build the Wall was founded to finance the project with private funds.

This is actually the second time Bannon has been accused of malfeasance in relation to We Build the Wall: both Bannon and the group’s figurehead, Brian Kolfage, were previously accused of pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars raised by the group and related nonprofits. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York charged Bannon, Kolfage, and two other men for their activities related to We Build the Wall back in 2020. Kolfage and another defendant pleaded guilty, and are named as un-indicted co-conspirators in this indictment. But on his way out of office, Trump pardoned Bannon before the case went to trial. This was one of many pardons Trump handed out to his cronies, but he no longer has that power and it doesn’t apply to state charges anyway.

Above all of that, though, Bannon’s alleged scheme is emblematic of what this whole movement represents: preying on people’s fear of The Other for your own personal gain. The Wall was a potent vehicle for the MAGA message that Real America, the true and rightful citizens of the United States, had to build a citadel to protect themselves from the unruly hordes outside the castle walls. Donald Trump doesn’t care about illegal immigrants. He hires them. And Steve Bannon doesn’t give a flyer about building the Big, Beautiful Wall. This was a crew of moral degenerates who could work a crowd, convincing people they were on their side. I mean, look at this New York Times breakdown of the three other principals charged by the feds in the We Build the Wall fiasco:

Brian Kolfage, a decorated Iraq War veteran and motivational speaker, had created a string of pro-Trump websites using bogus stories to draw clicks and sell ads. Timothy Shea sold a Trump-themed energy drink he marketed as containing “liberal tears.” Andrew Badolato had a trail of failed businesses, unpaid tax bills and sexual misconduct allegations.

Even in the perp-walk video above, Bannon continues to run the playbook, casting his legal peril as a political prosecution. Except he’s charged with ripping off members of his own movement! The shamelessness.

And it might just work, at least in the court of public opinion. Millions of our fellow citizens responded to this stuff over the last half-decade, shoveling money at the people selling it. In the case of Trump and Bannon, it’s the alliance of a phony New York business genius and a former investment banker-slash-Hollywood producer, who both claim to be populist champions of the Everyman. Trump used to brag his campaign would be self-funded, and he hasn’t stopped asking for money since. He may, without exaggeration, have sent more emails asking for money than any politician who’s ever lived. That includes appeals to fund his post-election campaign to “Save America.” The nation itself was being stolen away from him and his followers, you see. By the way, the Save America PAC is also under investigation. One worries the money may not actually have gone toward saving America. It’s probably a matter of time until his fans start to proclaim they knew they were getting scammed all along, and they liked it.

1

Tweet of the Day

Andrew Weissmann @AWeissmann

18 USC section 1001 makes it a crime to lie to a federal judge. Will Trump tell FLA court he had a blanket order declassifying everything (including nuclear capability docs)? I doubt it cause at bottom he’s scared as hell of accountability and jail.

1

Bannon’s MAGA Grift

From The Bulwark, by Charlie Sykes:

“Stephen Bannon acted as the architect of a multimillion dollar scheme to defraud thousands of donors across the country.” Manhattan D.A. Alvin L. Bragg.

“Mr. Bannon lied to his donors to enrich himself and his friends.” New York Attorney General Letitia James

This may seem like an old story by now, but what a grubby tale about a grubby man, and the grifty movement that he embodies.

After his perp walk Thursday, Bannon played the part of a defiant, smirking political victim. But as the latest indictment reminds us, he’s merely a badly-dressed crook, who knew he could prey upon his gullible fan base. He is both an architect and artifact of the MAGA movement.

It’s worth remembering that beneath all the Sturm und Drang of its “semi-fascism,” Donald Trump’s MAGA has always been a shabby fraud built upon a cynical contempt for its own true-believers.

Writes Greg Sargent:

The outsize role of grift in American conservatism is a story that goes back at least a half century. But Trump glommed on to those tendencies while also exacerbating them in his own ugly ways, and the Bannon saga is a particularly grotesque example of that.

Bannon and a group of associates allegedly raised $25 million from hundreds of thousands of donors for something called “We Build the Wall.” In 2020, federal prosecutors charged that Bannon had lied when he said he wouldn’t take any compensation, instead raking in $1 million for himself and a co-conspirator through a nonprofit group.

For your edification, I’d suggest reading some of the details of the new indictment:

WeBuildtheWall, Inc. solicited donations through the Crowdfunding Website … as well as in media appearances by UnindictedCo-Conspirator 1, Bannon, and others, as well as in emails to potential donors, updates to WeBuildTheWall, Inc.’s own website, and on social media. Starting on January 11, 2019, a key part of these solicitations was the promise that Unindicted Co-Conspirator 1 would “personally not take a penny of compensation from these donations.”

That was, of course, total bullshit.

The object of the conspiracy was to promote WeBuildTheWall, Inc.’s fraudulent efforts to raise money through donations by obscuring the fact that, contrary to WeBuildTheWall, Inc.’s representations about Unindicted Co-Conspirator 1 not taking a salary, Unindicted Co-Conspirator 1 was in fact receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation from WeBuildTheWall, Inc. In order to obscure Unindicted Co-Conspirator 1’s salary, and with intent to promote the carrying on of the Scheme to Defraud, the defendants WeBuildTheWall, Inc. and Bannon, and others, caused WeBuildTheWall, Inc. to transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars to various third-party entities, including entities controlled by Bannon and others, which would then transfer a portion of the money received to Unindicted Co-Conspirator 1.

**

One of Trump’s most successful rhetorical tactics is his claim that any attacks on him are really an attack on his loyal supporters. He is their voice. They are under attack. He alone can protect them.

But the opposite is true. As Tim Miller wrote here a few days ago:

When it comes to Trump’s contempt for his own fans what more evidence do you need than his behavior on January 6th. He doesn’t even care about his most loyal foot soldiers. He’s letting them rot in jail, their lives ruined, because they acted on his bid to combat. Ashli Babbitt and others are dead because they believed a lie he told to protect his own vanity. 

Tens of thousands of other Trump voters died because they refused a life-saving vaccine thanks to MAGA leaders who fed them lies about Bill Gates wanting to track them as part of an experiment into the effects of Cracker Barrel on the human body.

Because here’s the truth: Nobody cares less about MAGA Americans than Donald Trump and his coterie of MAGA elites. 

They literally let their own voters die in a bid to keep power. 

When Trump says that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue without losing the support of the MAGA base, Trump is, of course marveling at his own popularity. But he is also admitting his deeply felt disdain for the rubes and marks who have fallen into his hands. Trump’s contempt for his supporters is shared by others in his orbit, including Bannon, who know that they can monetize their lies and scams by fleecing their most loyal backers.

They are counting on their marks to: (1) continue to buy the con and pony up the cash, (2) not realize that they are being lied to and ripped off.

As David Frum has repeatedly noted, victims of scams are often angrier at those who point out the ruse than at the fraudsters themselves.

But as hopeless as it might seem, somebody needs to tell them.

1

‘The Special Master,’ with apologies to ‘The Alchemist’

Satire from The Washington Post, by Alexandra Petri:

With apologies to Paulo Coelho and his novel “The Alchemist.”

The shepherd boy fell asleep in the half-ruined democracy. He always slept soundly among the sheep. A dream came to him. In the dream he reviewed a lot of classified paperwork and made significant pronouncements about it. When he awoke, he went to tell his father of what he had seen. His father nodded and told him, “You must fulfill your own personal news cycle. You must seek out the Special Master.”

The boy sold his sheep and set out on his journey. He traveled over mountains and hills and through tunnels and across trestles, until he came to a prominent peak. He could hear very steadily from deep inside the mountain the sound of reams of papers being shuffled.

He called out in greeting, but there was no answer. The door opened and a wizened arm reached out. It tossed some shredded bits of paper at his feet. Then the door shut again and he heard footsteps receding. The boy spent the morning piecing together the bits of shredded paper.

At midday, as the sun beamed hotly down on the boy, he paused and wiped his brow.

“What has brought you here?” a voice asked. He turned and looked. A man clad in black robes was there, someone who could be an allegory of all kinds of things.

“I am trying to fulfill my place in the news cycle,” the boy said. “I dreamed that I would one day review some important documents.”

“You seek the Special Master,” the man in black said.

“Yes!” the boy cried. “Do you know of him? Can you tell me where he makes his dwelling?”

“The Special Master dwells within that mountain,” the man said. “But before you gain admission, you must prove your worthiness. What are you doing with those papers there?”

“I am piecing them together,” the boy said. “It is my dream.”

The man studied him closely. “Can you talk to your heart?” he asked.

“I — I think so,” the boy said. “I will try.”

“Then you may come work for me and earn your keep here,” the man said, “while you wait to meet the Special Master.”

The boy sprang up in gratitude. “Thank you,” he cried.

In the days that followed, the man in black set the boy many tasks to complete. The boy fetched the man’s slippers. He steamed all his robes. He watched the man sort through documents and declare that they were covered by executive privilege.

One day, the man led him to a toilet that was clogged. “Look into the heart of this toilet,” the man said. “What do you see?”

“I see water,” the boy said.

“Look deeper.”

“I see toilet paper?”

“Look with your heart,” the man said.

“I … see documents,” the boy said. “They do not belong there.”

The man led him to a wall where there was ketchup and shattered bits of ceramic. “What do you see?”

“Rage,” the boy said.

“With your heart?” the man said.

“Economic … economic anxiety,” the boy said.

A long time passed. The sun rose and set many times, which is one way of noting the passage of time. The man led the boy to the top of the peak and set him a final task: “You must declassify a document using only your mind, telling no one about it.”

“That is impossible!” the boy said. “Everyone knows that you can only declassify using procedures.”

“Is it impossible?” the man asked. “Or do you only think it is impossible, o my Special Apprentice?”

The boy gasped and his heart leaped within him. “You! You are the Special Master!”

“Special Master is only a title,” the man said. “There are no requirements. Become acceptable to a district judge and various legal teams and you, too, can become one.”

“You wily old sorcerer!” the boy cried. “You knew all the time that I could have stayed at home and never left the sheep, and been spared all these puzzles and indignities!”

“Ah,” the man said, “but then you would never have learned the language that is within all languages, and the song that the heart sings, and the dreams that the angels dream for each of us in our lifetimes, and how to call to the wind so that the wind may answer.”

“Did I learn all those things?” the boy asked, in wonder. “Are these the powers of the Special Master?”

“Well, no,” the man said. “Mostly the Special Master is sort of a judge’s aide, and his job is to kind of familiarize himself with case details to a degree a judge can’t.”

“Oh,” the boy said. “That’s a bit of an anticlimax.”

“Only if your heart says it is,” the Special Master said. And he vanished into the mountain, never to be seen again, like a dream or a document that had been improperly stored.