Donald Trump is in the United Kingdom today and The Scotsman, Scotland's national newspaper, published an editorial about him. There is not a single new piece of information in it, but it's nonetheless a must-read. Primarily because there is not a single new piece of information in it:
None of this is news to anyone, obviously, but it helps to step back, often, and remember just how horrible and disgusting our president is on a basic personal level. We tend to forget or, at the very least, gloss over it as we lurch from nightmare to nightmare -- his profound noxiousness, to use an overused phrase, normalized -- but it's important that we remember it. It's important that we remember that his contemptibility is not merely a product of what he's doing, but a product of what he is.
We live in maddening times not merely because we're pursuing awful policies as a nation, but because we're doing it in the service of the worst human being America has produced in the past 70 years. Indeed, most of the laws that have passed and the executive policies pursued since Donald Trump took office in January 2017 would've been carried out under any Republican president -- we know this because Republicans have either actively supported or have silently acquiesced to them --- but his depraved and despicable character sets him apart and brings us all down that much lower. The current Republican agenda is calamitous for our country as it is, but the manner in which he has demoralized Americans and has debased America and its institutions is undermining our very ability to undo his damage once he is gone.
I'm strongly of the view that a politicians policies and platforms matter far more than personal traits. It's counterproductive at best and dangerous at worst to treat politicians like celebrities or brands and no politician will have my support, no matter how likable or upstanding they are, if they do not support laudable and effective policies. We should, however, have a minimum baseline as to who is acceptable as a leader. We should be willing to say that, no, we will not support and, indeed, that we will actively oppose malevolent figures even if we, personally, are not the target of their malevolence.
This should not be a difficult notion to accept, but it's amazing how many people have shown themselves willing to overlook the malevolence of Donald Trump because his awfulness does not directly impact their lives and because, in fact, Trump has been good for them, personally speaking.
There are, broadly, two sorts of people on the political right these days. There are those who thoroughly love and support Donald Trump and there are those who, while claiming to loathe him, are quite happy to accept him and ignore his vileness in order to get something out of him. In many ways I think the second group are worse.
I pity the hardcore, never-wavering Trump supporters more than anything. Many of them are themselves proudly and unashamedly vile and, apart from wondering from time to time who and what made them that way, they're not worth anyone's time when it comes to political debate. Many others are simply desperate and turned to Trump without, I suspect, fully understanding what he was and what he'd do. The only hope there is to elect new leaders who will enact good policies that will make their lives and everyone else's life better thereby relieving them of their desperation and showing them that, no, not everyone in Washington is out to screw them over. We've done a horrible job at this, basically forever.
The latter group, though -- those Republicans who say they hate Donald Trump but who have done absolutely nothing meaningful to oppose him and much, in fact, to enable him -- have made a choice. A bargain, really. They've chosen to look the other way at everything Trump is and everything Trump does because they were promised and were delivered tax cuts and deregulation and permission to continue to think of nothing and no one but themselves in just the manner they have been encouraged to do for the past 40 years or so. These people -- who make up the bulk of Trump's support, by the way -- are not the "deplorables" who made national headlines in 2016 or the "white working class" who were so misrepresented and so misleadingly overexposed in feature stories since then. They're the lawyers and bankers and business owners who happily exchanged their moral and ethical integrity for a few more dollars in their already large paychecks each month.
They are the ones who claim, now, that they don't care for Donald Trump but who happily donate to and support the campaigns of Republican Congressmen who have enabled and protected him. They are the ones who, in the future, will claim long and loudly how much they hated Trump without every being able to articulate how, exactly, they opposed him in anything approaching a meaningful way.
But they know. And we know. And just as we should not forget how despicable Donald Trump is as a human being and how unfit he is to lead our country, we should not forget who put him in power and who let him disgrace and dishonor America in the manner in which he has.
Do you like bourbon? Then I have a story for you.
Some of you may remember The Great Pappy Van Winkle Heist from back in 2013. Hundreds of bottles of the most expensive, most highly sought-after bourbon known to man, Pappy Van Winkle was reported stolen. Coming as it did amidst an unprecedented boom in the popularity of bourbon, it made national news. International news even.
In 2015, Franklin County, Kentucky Sheriff Pat Melton claimed to crack the case. A criminal syndicate was behind it, he said. Racketeering! Guns! Drugs! Serious, serious business. Over a half dozen arrested. A man named Toby Curtsinger the alleged kingpin. The assailants faced decades in prison under state RICO laws. It was a major, major deal and, once again, made news around the globe.
And then, three years later, it was no longer big news at all. It wasn't even all that big of a crime.
One person had charges dropped against them. Everyone else pleaded guilty, with all but one serving no jail time whatsoever. The alleged kingpin, Toby Curtsinger, was sentenced to 15 years. He served 30 days and was released on shock probation just this past weekend.
What made the case turn into almost nothing, with almost no jail time? The fact that there really was no Pappy Van Winkle Heist at all. At least not as it was portrayed.
I am the first and so far the only person I know of to speak to Toby Curtsinger about the case on the record. He invited me to Frankfort to interview him back in January. He told me everything. The reality is far more interesting than the coverage, even if it's nowhere close to being as sexy. I did a short writeup of it for it for Bloomberg-Business Week, which they illustrated into a fun little cartoony bit.
The short version: people in distilleries have been stealing bourbon forever. People have been stealing Pappy for years too. No one really paid it much mind. The alleged Heist was mostly a function of an overzealous employee noticing the inventory being off by 200 bottles and calling the police because he was worried he'd get in trouble. Note: the inventory was always off, usually by more than 200 bottles, and there is almost no chance anyone would've gotten in trouble for it, let alone noticed it. Buffalo Trace would almost certainly have done what they always did in such instances: written the missing bottles off as "breakage." Once the police were called, however, it was a big deal and it all spiraled from there.
In reality, the "Heist" was a snapshot in time, made possible by antiquated security and quality control at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, not uncommon at most distilleries until relatively recently. If not for a local sheriff (since voted out of office) trying to make himself look good and the Buffalo Trace Distillery realizing, after the fact, that it was the best free advertising Pappy Van Winkle ever got, none of this would've made even local news. In the end, of course, this was also all made possible by a crazy cocktail culture-fueled bourbon bubble characterized by marks paying thousands for a bottle of wheated bourbon that, 20 years ago, was being sold in novelty, collectable crocks with cartoon hillbillies on it. That sort of dynamic tends to incentivize a black market and tends to help pedestrian stories make the headlines.
Oh, and despite being portrayed as the "Pappy Van Winkle Bandit" none of the charges against Toby Curtsinger actually involved Pappy Van Winkle. He was popped for possessing five barrels of stolen Wild Turkey. It truly was the Pappy Van Winkle Heist that wasn't.
Finally: I actually did a much, much longer and in-depth writeup of all of this that, for various reasons, didn't work for Bloomberg, but I'm happy they ran with this at least. I may be writing up the longer version someplace, even if I only end up putting it on this blog.