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CSotD — Squirrels and Strawberries

There has been a boatload of editorial cartoons on Trump’s threat to start yet another unwinnable land war in Asia, but Matt Wuerker‘s raises the issue of whether it’s a classic blunder, an attempt to distract, or, perhaps, a blundering attempt to distract.

Wuerker is going for (C) a blundering attempt to distract.

(BTW, for those just discovering Comic Strip of the Day at its new location, I’m an unapologetic progressive. Not a disclaimer, just information.)

I’ve been resistant to the theory that Trump does these things on purpose as a distraction, but I’m starting to come around. I’m still, however, not convinced that he has much background on anything.

That is, when he appeals to the mistaken impressions that the Deplorables have about Iran in general and the Iran deal in particular, I think he genuinely shares them.

And I wish I thought there were some Dick Cheney mastermind behind it all, but I don’t think anyone is currently navigating the Ship of State.

Moreover, I’m convinced that Trump is a result, and not a cause, of our current situation, which makes it hard to credit him with some evil plan.

I’m not the first to compare Trump to Captain Queeg of “The Caine Mutiny,” and I can picture both of them in their bunks, unable to sleep because they’re obsessing over some ridiculous fixation, whether it’s the Iran Deal or the missing strawberries.

Queeg summons his officers to the galley, Trump fires off a round of midnight tweets.

But it’s important to recall the ending, in which Jose Ferrer chews out the smartass college boys because we need our Queegs, however annoying, depressing and marginally competent they are.

In that book, Herman Wouk introduces a quote that is both beloved in the service and absolutely true:

The Navy is a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots. If you are not an idiot, but find yourself in the Navy, you can only operate well by pretending to be one. All the shortcuts and economies and common-sense changes that your native intelligence suggests to you are mistakes. Learn to quash them. Constantly ask yourself, “How would I do this if I were a fool?” Throttle down your mind to a crawl. Then you will never go wrong.

It’s brilliant, because it means that the stupidest person aboard can save the ship. The Constitution is similarly crafted, relying on checks and balances.

The difference being that Queeg was only captain of one ship, not Chief of Naval Operations.

And, for all that Jose Ferrer (the character is named Greenwald, which cracks me up) goes on about supporting even a marginally competent captain, Tom Tomorrow notes that Congress is there to advise and contain, not to passively enable, the Executive Branch.

Its “officers” should find a place between defiant, childish opposition and irresponsible subservience, but you have to be pretty old to remember a time when our Legislative Branch sought that happy medium.

Our other Constitutional check on unbridled authoritarianism is the First Amendment, but Mike Marland notes the current perils facing the Fourth Estate.

Trump’s move to strip his critics of access to classified information could simply prompt the adoption of the usual workarounds. After all, Nixon would never have thought to keep Deep Throat from knowing what was going on, and if the USS Caine had been as leaky as the Trump White House, the story would be of a ship laying at the bottom of its berthing.

However, the same values that have killed local diners in place of fast-food franchises and independent bookstores in place of Big Box chains and neighborhood drug stores in place of Rite Aid and CVS have turned local newspapers into what, when USA Today came on the scene, earned it the scorning nickname “The McPaper.”

The NY Daily News is now owned by TRONC and is being run as a burger joint, not a newspaper. Yesterday, they announced the layoff of half their newsroom, and, since I’m stealing this graphic from Tom Falco, I’ll link to his coverage of the fiasco.

There’s a major impact in the sports section, a type of cut I’ve long compared to the owner of a popular steakhouse deciding to save money by purchasing cheap, gristly cuts of meat, and then blaming vegan food fads when traffic drops off.

Yes, the Internet has had an impact, mostly because corporate blockheads ignored the camel’s nose when it first poked under the tent flap.

But the fatal wounds to newspapers have been self-inflicted by Wall Street owners who don’t understand, or give a damn about, any “mission” beyond making money for investors.

You have to be old, or living in the sticks, to remember that original mission.

If the Internet really were the cause of all this, there would be a lively samizdat happening to replace the dying print product, but, since there was never any cunning plan to replace newspapers, online chatter is less an alternative than an incoherency.

While, as Jen Sorensen ably notes, whether Trump is purposely throwing out distractions is less important than whether the media is snapping them up like doggy cookies and ignoring more important matters.

Newsroom cuts mean gobbling down those delicious, non-nutritious cookies rather than digging around.

Tronc declared, as it slashed its staff, that it would be going for “breaking news,” which is to say, the low-hanging fruit. Or doggie cookies. Whatever.

In the wake of Shay’s Rebellion, Jefferson — then in Paris — wrote to a friend:

The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.

Well, we’re working to undermine that last bit, as well.

Meanwhile, Darrin Bell and Candorville get the last word.

 

Community Comments

#1 Bill Williamson
July/24/2018
@ 5:13 pm

Mike Peterson is a great addition to this site and I’m enjoying looking around at some of the others.

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