It was a week of promises broken and loyalty betrayed.
- Repeal, replace, repeat. If health care were a carnival game, the Senate seems on course to get the cheapest prize on the shelf — or perhaps no prize at all. The week began with drama aplenty as ailing Sen. John McCain returned from his sickbed to begin debate on Obamacare. Excited Republicans on Tuesday brought forth their version of repeal and replace. It failed, 43-57. Next up: straight repeal. That too failed, 45-55. What next? In the early hours of Friday morning, Senate Republicans rejected a so-called “skinny bill,” a lowest common denominator effort to change something, anything.
- He said he would be “much better for the gays.” President Trump announced he was banning transgender folks from the military, claiming their medical expenses were exorbitant. The result of a thoughtful analysis, perhaps? Nope. A Defense Department review of the issue was not due for another six months. The announcement was spur-of-the-moment, part of an early-morning presidential tweetstorm. Moreover, it turns out that health care costs for trans service members — one estimate is that there are currently 15,500 — are insignificant. So, what other explanation is possible? Oh, yeah: flat-out bigotry.
- Thank you, sir, I’ll have another. Is Jeff Sessions a masochist? The president has unleashed a campaign of attacks on his own attorney general — the first senator to support him. It began with last week’s New York Times interview where he described Sessions’ recusal on Russia as “extremely unfair.” It was followed this week by a near-daily series of denigrating tweets — “VERY weak,” “disappointed,” “where is the investigation A.G.” Anyone else would have quit long ago. For Sessions, desperate to keep the job he always dreamed of, no humiliation seems too much.
- Who are we? National Democrats decided to re-brand themselves, saying that they would now offer Americans “A Better Deal.” Not a “great deal,” or even a “good deal.” Just “better.” Meh. If you want to sell me peanut butter, don’t tell me it tastes not quite as bad as the other guy’s. Tell me I’ll like it. Otherwise, I’m not switching.
- Next up. Who else jumps the ship Trump-tanic? Sessions should go. Sean Spicer already has — and new communications director Anthony Scaramucci is promising a possible sweep of his whole department. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus seems doomed. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is signaling that he too is headed for the lifeboats; a spokesperson refused this week to say he was “happy” in his job. Others — such as Defense Secretary James Mattis -- are also bothered by Trump’s interference in their jobs. And once they’re gone, an even bigger question arises: What self-respecting person would ever want to replace them?
- Total war. Total Wine & More may be the Uber of alcohol. The national firm has been battling state regulators left and right, and this week won a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. The ABCC had fined and suspended Total Wine for selling booze too cheaply — supposedly below its cost. (And by the way, what the heck is the government doing trying to keep consumer prices high?) A Boston judge struck that down, saying volume discounts justified the chain’s pricing. Total Wine’s not going to stop there, however. The state’s regulations, and particularly its protection of the oligopolistic distributors, are ripe for challenge. Like the taxicab industry before it, the status quo faces extinction.
- Mind-blowing. It’s hard to imagine any sane parent now letting their child play football. A Boston University study of the brains of 111 NFL players found nearly all — 110 — with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the disease vividly documented in the 2015 film “Concussion.” Moreover, rates of CTE were also high among college and high school players. Yeah, the NFL, Pop Warner and coaches everywhere will tell us they can make the sport safe. But this sounds awful lot like the tobacco industry promising us a safe cigarette. Never happened.
- Memory loss. A bunch of local teens figured out TD Garden had been ignoring an agreement to raise funds for Boston’s recreation centers — to the tune of $13.8 million. They figured this out because they, umm, actually read the law. Maybe the kids might want to read some more laws. Who knows what other treasures adults have conveniently forgotten?
- Crazy on you. And finally, psychiatrists who wish they were political commentators were thrilled this week when the American Psychoanalytic Association said that they can now discuss Trump’s mental health. Ever since the mid-1960s, the profession had banned diagnoses from afar. But Trump is such an easy target that the docs can’t resist — and now at least one organization is giving them leave. Count me a skeptic. Psychiatrists are only human. Those who lean left will dub Trump nuts (although they’ll use more medically correct terminology such as narcissistic, impulsive, delusional and paranoid) while those who lean right will call him a paragon of sanity.
This column was first published by Cognoscenti on July 28, 2017.