Donald Trump

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Trump will eventually be flushed down the vortex along with other waste products swirling around him, I’m fairly certain at this point, but as an amateur student of human psychology I’d be fascinated to know if he’s fully wrapped his declining brain around this scenario. Is it within his mental powers to grasp that some combination of potential financial crimes, traitorous activity and obstruction of justice could end up with him laundering prison clothes rather than moneyAs I’ve mentioned, I don’t think America is saved when Trump is toppled, but his ouster is necessary if we’re to have a chance to rescue our Republic and reform our government. Or maybe we’ll end up in another Civil War. Either or.

Elizabeth Drew, the great correspondent of the Watergate Era, cautions that any Trump impeachment process must be a gradual and bilateral one. Of course, we live in a faster age and a far more divided one, so I don’t know if that’s possible. It’s not that I don’t think McConnell and Ryan and the rest wouldn’t kick a sad old goat from a cliff to save their own hides, but I’m not sure that if Russian collusion is proved that it doesn’t pull way more Republicans over the precipice than we can currently guess. The GOP will fight such an outcome with all it has.

In a New York column about Trump’s possible ouster, Frank Rich cites Drew’s work and compares the slow-forming Watergate inferno to the fire next time. An excerpt:

Here’s Drew describing a typical Watergate day: “The news is coming too fast. Faster and harder than anyone expected. It is almost impossible to absorb.” And here she is a week after Nixon’s vice-president, Spiro Agnew, resigned upon pleading no contest to charges of bribery and tax fraud: “The city seems to be reeling around amidst the events and the breaking stories. In the restaurants, the noise level is higher. At the end of the day, someone says, ‘It’s like being drunk.’ ” It already feels like that right now.

One could argue that the context is different today — that the America of 2017 is not the America of the early 1970s. We think of our current culture as being harder to shock, easier to distract, and more inured to crude public figures who violate traditional societal norms as unabashedly as Trump. This, in theory, would make him harder to dislodge than Nixon, whose sins would more easily scandalize a relatively innocent 20th-century citizenry. But even without the internet’s cacophony, Nixon faced a post-1960s America as factionalized, jaded, and accustomed to shock as our own: It had witnessed the assassination of two Kennedys and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a complete overhaul of its mores as a consequence of a rising counterculture and women’s movement, and a domestic civil war precipitated by the catastrophe of Vietnam. The alarming toxicity of Trump has burst through the noise of our America much as Nixon’s did through his. And while the technology for delivering news makes it come faster and harder in 2017 than Drew or any of us could have anticipated in that day of daily newspapers and nightly news broadcasts, the onslaught of shocking developments felt no less overwhelming then than now.

Human nature hasn’t changed — not for those of us standing outside a teetering White House or for the cast of characters within. Much as Trump risked his presidency by empowering hotheaded ideologues like Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon, so Nixon’s White House had recruited the similarly reckless G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt to wage war on the president’s perceived enemies. As John A. Farrell writes in his new, state-of-the-art Richard Nixon: The Lifeboth of them were “wannabe James Bonds.” Hunt, an alumnus of the CIA’s Bay of Pigs fiasco, was the prolific author of often pseudonymous spy novels, while Liddy was alt-right before it was cool: “a right-wing zealot, with a fixation for Nazi regalia and a kinky kind of Nietzschean philosophy,” who “organized a White House screening of the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will.”

Though there are a number of areas where the Nixon and Trump narratives diverge, in nearly every case Trump’s deviations from the Watergate model make it even less likely that he will survive his presidency.•

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While Trump’s Presidential victory was the result of accidents, miscalculations and, perhaps, treason, he wasn’t nearly as much an outlier GOP candidate as he was portrayed at the time. In fact, he was the logical culmination of a decades-long race to the bottom.

As Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich had spent a couple of decades selling “Family Values” hogwash they never cared about to Republicans in order to get tax breaks for wealthy donors, Trump peddled himself as an avenging patriot for struggling Caucasians in order to enact the same. It was merely a franker, more vulgar version of the same bullshit. A message for the White Working Class (which is where I’m from): Whenever a politician urges you to blame black or brown people for your problems, rest assured a white person will soon have his or her hand in your wallet.

Trump, I’m certain, ends in utter disgrace, but all of America may be headed for the same. That’s because treachery is widespread. Mitch McConnell ran interference on the investigation of Kremlin tampering during the election and the Ryan Congress has done its best to scuttle a real probe of collusion between Trump and Putin. Perhaps the traitors and their abettors are routed or maybe we lose democracy or end up in Civil War 2.0. Everything is now on the table.

Bruce Bartlett, a former Reagan Administration domestic policy adviser, welcomed Trump’s odious campaign, believing it would end in crushing defeat, forcing the GOP to move back to the center. Instead of the tonic he hoped for, however, he and all of us were served another drink of poison. In a smart, searing Politico Magazine essay about the fall of his party (morally and intellectually, if not yet practically) Bartlett calls the rise of Trump a “natural outgrowth of 30 years of Republican pandering to the lowest common denominator.”

The opening:

Almost two years ago, I wrote an article for Politico endorsing Donald Trump for president. It was a tongue-in-cheek effort—I “supported” Trump only because I thought he would lose to Hillary Clinton, disastrously, and that his defeat would cleanse the Republican Party of the extremism and nuttiness that drove me out of it. I had hoped that post-2016, what remained of the moderate wing of the GOP would reassert itself as it did after the Goldwater debacle in 1964, and exorcise the crazies.

Trump was a guaranteed loser, I thought. In the Virginia presidential primary, I even voted for him, hoping to hasten the party’s demise. In the weeks before the November election, I predicted a Clinton presidency would fix much of what ails our country. On November 8, I voted for Clinton and left the ballot booth reasonably sure she would win.

Needless to say, I was as dumbfounded by the election results as Max Bialystock was by the success of “Springtime for Hitler.” For two months after Trump won, I couldn’t read any news about the election, and considered abandoning political commentary permanently. It wasn’t just that Trump disgusted me; I was disgusted with myself for being so stupid. I no longer trusted my own powers of observation and analysis.

Almost everything that has happened since November 8 has been the inverse of what I’d imagined. Trump didn’t lose; he won. The Republican Party isn’t undergoing some sort of reckoning over what it believes; his branch of the Republican Party has taken control. Most troubling, perhaps, is that rather than reassert themselves, the moderate Republicans have almost all rolled over entirely.

Trump has turned out to be far, far worse than I imagined.•

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In the immediate aftermath of the GA-06 defeat of Jon Osoff, who has charisma on loan from Martin O’Malley, Liberal Twitter exhorted Democrats to develop a clearer policy message. When trying to win votes, it’s better to be lucid (except when it’s not), but policy isn’t what elevated Trump to the Oval Office–he had none–or Karen Handel to Congress. In addition to Kremlin machinations and FBI blunders, what enabled the Klu Klux Kardashian to be elected was his peddling of a deeply racist, xenophobic message that found the ready ears of nearly 63 million citizens. If lots of people are voting to Make America White Again, sound fiscal policy won’t make a dent.

It’s not that Dems can’t defeat such ugliness at the voting both–they’ve done it before and even won the popular tally in 2016–but they need the right candidate more than anything else. Someone bold and broadly appealing whose authenticity is unquestioned. Easier said than done, I suppose. 

In the Slate piece “A GOP Without Fear,” Jamelle Bouie, who consistently rises above the clatter, argues that Republicans don’t fear the horrendous effects of a draconian reimagining of health care, the first attempt by either party to literally murder its base, since identity politics rule the day. In other words, you can’t fall from grace when grace itself isn’t valued.

An excerpt:

It’s likely that Republicans know the bill is unpopular and are doing everything they can to keep the public from seeing its contents before passing it. As we saw with the Affordable Care Act, the longer the process, the greater the odds for a major backlash. But this presupposes a pressing need to pass the American Health Care Act, which isn’t the case, outside of a “need” to slash Medicaid, thus paving the way for large-scale, permanent tax cuts. The Republican health care bill doesn’t solve any urgent problem in the health care market, nor does it represent any coherent vision for the health care system; it is a hodgepodge of cuts and compromises, designed to pass a GOP Congress more than anything. It is policy without any actual policy. At most, it exists to fulfill a promise to “repeal Obamacare” and cut taxes.

Perhaps that’s enough to explain the zeal to pass the bill. Republicans made a promise, and there are forces within the party—from hyperideological lawmakers and conservative activists to right-wing media and Republican base voters—pushing them toward this conclusion. When coupled with the broad Republican hostility to downward redistribution and the similarly broad commitment to tax cuts, it makes sense that the GOP would continue to pursue this bill despite the likely consequences.

But ultimately it’s not clear the party believes it would face those consequences. The 2018 House map still favors Republicans, and the party is defending far fewer Senate seats than Democrats. Aggressively gerrymandered districts provide another layer of defense, as does voter suppression, and the avalanche of spending from outside groups. Americans might be hurt and outraged by the effects of the AHCA, but those barriers blunt the electoral impact.

The grounds for political combat seem to have changed as well. If recent special elections are any indication—where GOP candidates refused to comment on signature GOP policies—extreme polarization means Republicans can mobilize supporters without being forced to talk about or account for their actual actions. Identity, for many voters, matters more than their pocketbooks. Republicans simply need to signal their disdain—even hatred—for their opponents, political or otherwise. Why worry about the consequences of your policies when you can preclude defeat by changing the ground rules of elections, spending vast sums, and stoking cultural resentment?•

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I know, roughly, how it ends for Trump, but how does it turn out for America and the world? I often feel about humanity the way Lee Child does in a New Statesman interview:

Question:

Are we all doomed?

Lee Child:

Of course we are. Evolutionary history shows we’re a vicious bunch, clever but not clever enough. We’ll be done soon, and the planet will recover. Call it fifty thousand years, from the invention of language to extinction. A tiny blip.•

I’ll confine myself for now to the immediate disaster, even if it’s connected to the longer-term, climate-related one. We know five things:

  1. Russia aggressively hacked our election.
  2. The Kremlin wanted Trump to win.
  3. Team Trump had an extraordinary number of meetings during the campaign with dicey Russian figures and have repeatedly lied about the contact.
  4. Trump was eager to remove Russian sanctions.
  5. Trump desperately wants to preempt any investigation into the preceding factors.

If these were merely unusually suspicious but unrelated occurrences, Robert Mueller would be the person I’d want investigating me. He’ll get to the bottom of it and has the credibility to be believed despite the awful appearance if all involved are innocent. If I were guilty, wow, he’s the last person I’d want un-digging the grave.

No matter how things develop, the one thing we can be certain of is that Trump, a human being devoid of shame or decency, will make everything far worse than it need be. He’ll make sure that there’s copious collateral damage and it will be you and me.

Two excerpts follow.


The opening of Richard Evans’ first Foreign Policy piece, “The Madness of King Donald,” which provides historical context for moments when a leader has lost it:

Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States, has not been in office for very long, but already the contours and characteristics of his rule have become clear. Rather than govern conventionally, through officers of state appointed for their competence and experience and with the agreement, however reluctant, of Congress, he has chosen to gather round him an informal coterie of friends, advisors, and relatives — many of them, like himself, without any experience of government at all — while railing against the restrictions imposed on him by constitutional arrangements such as the independence of the press and the judiciary.

Trump’s entourage resembles nothing more closely than the court of a hereditary monarch, with informal structures of rule elbowing aside more formal ones. Trump did, after all, win widespread support in the electorate by promising precisely this: shaking up, bypassing or overthrowing the Washington establishment and trying something new.

The result, however, has been chaos and confusion, contradiction and paralysis. It has become clear that the president of the United States is someone who does not read his briefs; who does not take the advice of experts in the intelligence field or indeed in any other; who fires off brief statements without thinking whether they are consistent with his administration’s declared policies; who is seemingly incapable of putting together a coherent sentence with a subject, a verb, and an object; who is apt to give away state secrets to a foreign power; and who seems to have no respect either for the truth or for the Constitution (not least in respect of freedom of religion and freedom of speech). He may not be mad, but a growing number of commentators allege that Trump is suffering from dementia, or is mentally subnormal, or is suffering from a personality disorder of some kind.

In a situation where a head of state is incapable of carrying out his duties properly, what guidance can history offer us?•


In a smart blog post, Michael Dorf riffs on Thomas Nagel’s essay about consciousness “What Is It Like To Be a Bat?” in arguing that normal people lack the tool set to comprehend Trump. An excerpt:

Here’s my hypothesis: Normal humans are similarly unable to understand or explain what it feels like to be Donald Trump, because in some respects Donald Trump is different from normal humans, just as bats–in virtue of their ability to echolocate–are also different from normal humans.

I can illustrate the hypothesis with a recent example of Trump’s behavior. In the aftermath of the London Bridge and Borough Market attack, Trump tweeted “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!'” The tweet was indecent for two reasons: First, any reasonable human being would have expressed solidarity and sympathy; and second, the premise of the tweet–that Mayor Sadiq Khan said that Londoners need not be alarmed about terrorism–was false.

Khan had said that Londoners ought not be alarmed by the increased police presence they would see in the wake of the attack. When this was patiently explained, Trump did not apologize. Instead, he vented again, calling the clearly correct response a “pathetic excuse.”

If we were dealing with a normal human being–even a normal but evil, stupid, or ignorant human being–we might ask whether Trump deliberately misconstrued the original statement by Khan for some nefarious purpose, whether he somehow misunderstood the original statement by accident, or whether there is some other explanation for this bizarre and despicable behavior. But Trump is not a normal human being. He is not even a normal but evil, stupid, or ignorant human being. Trump is Trump. Asking what Trump was thinking or feeling when he decided to launch a patently unfair and grotesque attack on the Mayor of London while the latter was working to soothe and protect the people of London is like asking what echolocation feels like to a bat. The same appears to be true of much of Trump’s inexplicable behavior.•

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We’re doomed, Bill Kristol writes on Twitter, if Trump and Pence are all we have to offer. He was talking about the GOP, but the same might be said of the whole of America. This Administration has done permanent damage to the office of the Presidency, moving it into aberrant territory no matter how much we try to not allow its kleptocratic, sociopathic and autocratic nature be normalized. The power of the position allows it to define an awful lot. 

It has taken the Republican’s Constitution-defying rejection of Merrick Garland (orchestrated by McConnell but also supported by that great patriot McCain) to the nth degree. And it may only get worse. Newt Gingrich is now questioning whether Robert Mueller can really be true and impartial, a hilarious statement from that famously immoral, profiteering gasbag. It seems a trial balloon aimed at the eventual firing of the Special Prosecutor (and one that was echoed by Trump’s spelling-challenged lawyer). If that occurs, there should be no faith that Congress will act to protect us. The party is a now a safe distance beyond complicit.

Taking things a few paces deeper into Twilight Zone territory was today’s bizarre meeting in which Trump assembled cabinet members to rain down praise upon him, like Billy Mumy’s evil child demanding people think only “good thoughts” or they’ll wind up jack-in-the-boxes in the cornfield. Reince Priebus, an ambitious man with no shame, said “we thank you for the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda.” Somebody better get a saddle ready because a horse may soon be joining the Senate.

It wasn’t too long ago–four years to be precise–when perfectly bright and well–intentioned person like Bill Gates was decrying that the American President didn’t have more sway over the country. “Some days I wish we had a system like the U.K.,” he said, “where the party in power could do a lot and you know, you’d see how it went and then fine you could un-elect them.” He was speaking of President Obama, of course, and the problem with having such a deeply decent person like 44 in the Oval Office is it can make it difficult to envision about worst-case scenarios.

Two excerpts follow: One from Kristol in the Weekly Standard about the tidal wave of youth that may wipe out the GOP in coming elections, which is hopeful in believing we’ll continue to be free and democratic and not a dictatorship or interrupted by Civil War 2.0. The other by Jeet Heer of the New Republic looks at Trump as a capo with nuclear capabilities trying to run Washington the way Gotti ran Queens.


From Kristol:

Lost in the back and forth—and especially in the efforts to be somewhat reassuring—was the most notable finding in the poll. It had to do with age. Donald Trump’s job approval/disapproval was 40 percent, 54 percent among Americans 65 and over; it was an almost identical 39 percent, 55 percent among 50-64 year olds; it was slightly worse at 35 percent, 55 percent among those 35 to 49 years old; and among Americans 18 to 34, Donald Trump’s job approval was 19 percent approve, 67 percent disapprove, an amazing -48 percent.

Now we are not knee-jerk respecters of youth. We give no greater weight to the opinions of the young than to those of the old. In fact, we’re inclined to give them less, as the young lack experience, and experience is a great teacher. We would even go so far as to say that the overvaluation of the sentiments of the young may be one of the curses of our age.

On the other hand, one would have to be blind not to see the political risk for Republicans and conservatives in these numbers. First impressions matter. Most people don’t change their political views radically from the ones they first hold. For young Americans today, Donald Trump is the face of Republicanism and conservatism.

They don’t like that face. And the danger, of course, is that they’ll decide their judgment of Trump should carry over to the Republican party that nominated him and the conservative movement that mostly supports him. If he is indeed permitted to embody the party and the movement without challenge, the fortunes of both will be at the mercy of President Trump’s own fortunes.•


From Heer:

The mafia analogies aren’t just casual gibes, but speak to something fundamental in Trump’s background and character. In his younger days, Trump was mentored by Roy Cohn, a mob lawyer, and he consorted with criminals, notably convicted felon Felix Sater. Trump’s record shows “repeated social and business dealings with mobsters, swindlers, and other crooks,” David Cay Johnston, who has extensively investigated Trump’s mafia tieswrote in Politico last year, and “Trump’s career has benefited from a decades-long and largely successful effort to limit and deflect law enforcement investigations into his dealings with top mobsters, organized crime associates, labor fixers, corrupt union leaders, con artists and even a one-time drug trafficker whom Trump retained as the head of his personal helicopter service.”

It was perhaps inevitable that Trump would run into conflict with the likes of Comey, Bharara, and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates (whom Trump also fired, after she refused to defend his executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries). Trump supporters might dismiss these figures as Washington insiders—inhabitants of “the swamp”—but they are more accurately seen as representatives of the legal and administrative state. They are all experts in the law and bureaucracy; they know the rules, understand why the rules exist, and enforce them. In other words, they are the polar opposite of Trump, an anti-professional to whom laws were meant to be broken.

But the mafia shouldn’t be seen as the antithesis of government, and rather as an alternative apparatus. The mafia tends to thrive when the administrative state is weak or corrupt, and thus unable to protect and provide for its citizens. Trump’s message as an outsider candidate was that normal politicians were unable to protect ordinary Americans, in part because they were too hamstrung by laws and regulations. Like a mafia don, Trump promised he’d deliver for the people, even if it meant breaking the rules (as when he boasted he’d break the Geneva convention to fight terrorism).•

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As I stated earlier, the Comey testimony didn’t lead me to believe the GOP is serious about holding Donald Trump accountable for his actions–past, present or future ones. If anything, leading members of the GOP spoke publicly about the fired FBI director post-hearings like a spurned lover, bitter because he was dumped, not the target of obstruction of justice.

Lindsey Graham made him sound like Jean Harris: “Comey should be upset by the way he was fired. It was pretty tacky. Take this for what it’s all worth: A good man, Comey, who’s upset and in many ways, got a reason to be upset. But I don’t believe the president committed a crime.”

Maybe as Bill Kristol suggested in the top tweet, the hearings postmortem by Republicans was all a poker-faced show of solidarity performed on a stage that’s been set on fire, but Rick Wilson’s caustic take seems more likely.

Excerpts follow from two articles, one which believes impeachment became more likely today and the second which relates the GOP desire to turn the page on the whole sordid mess.


From Richard Wolffe’s reaction in the Guardian:

The Republican reaction was as great a curiosity to behold as Trump’s infatuation with Putin’s Russia. As James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, told the Australian press this week: “I have had a very hard time reconciling the threat the Russians pose to the United States with the inexplicably solicitous stance President Trump has taken with respect to Russia.”

We all have had a really hard time with this one. No wonder Clapper also said that Watergate pales in comparison to Trump’s collusion with Russia and the firing of Comey.

And that’s where Trump made his biggest mistake. Because James Comey is an elite athlete of Washington and Donald Trump, well, isn’t.

Comey paces himself, warming up a day early with the release of his written testimony. Then he opens the proceedings with an off-the-cuff slam dunk on Donald Trump’s head.

He uses his team to leak his landmark memos about all those freakish meetings with Trump, knowing they will lead to a special counsel. He can play offense by assassinating Trump’s character. He can play defense by staying safely behind classified information and the integrity of FBI investigations.

And he can fake his opponents far better than they can. “Look, I’ve seen the tweet about tapes,” he told the good senators in his best boy scout voice. “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”

Lordy, we all hope there are tapes and memos between now and the end of the Trump era. In the meantime, there are dozens of lines of inquiry to keep Comey’s former FBI employees busy forevermore.

What, for instance, is the point of a back channel using Russian communications, like the one Jared Kushner apparently wanted to set up?

“I’m not going to comment on whether that happened in an open setting,” Comey began rather coyly. “But the primary risk is obvious. You spare the Russians the cost and effort to break into our communications channels by using theirs. You make it a whole lot easier for them to capture all of your conversations. Then to use those to the benefit of Russia against the United States.”

And now, with the firing of Comey, Trump has made it a whole lot easier to get himself impeached.•


From a Politico piece by Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim:

James Comey brought the biggest circus Washington has seen in years to the Capitol Thursday, confirming word-for-word the reports that President Donald Trump urged him to drop an investigation into Michael Flynn and swear loyalty to the president. Comey even said he kept memos because he feared the president would lie about their conversations.

Republicans’ reaction? Essentially, a collective yawn.

“It’s sort of like the build-up to a big Super Bowl game and everybody gets disappointed. You saw the countdown on all the TVs,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who sat through most of the hearing in person even though he does not sit on the Intelligence Committee. “They were expecting a bombshell, what they got was a confirmation of what we knew already. There was very little new information.”

But do revelations from the former FBI director himself that Trump gave him “direction” to shut down an investigation into the former national security adviser or that Comey believes he was fired to derail the broader probe into Trump’s associates’ ties with Russia offer new reason for alarm?

“No,” Tillis said. “It’s like I keep on saying. Y’all think I’m a broken record. Let’s solve health care, let’s solve taxes, let’s move on.”•

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Terrorists act as they do, irrationally and violently, because they’re weak, and under Vladimir Putin’s leadership, Russia has become something of a de facto terrorist state (in addition to an autocratic one), even if many of its “imported” attacks are virtual. The Kremlin capo is a dumb thug leading his country into disaster, economic and otherwise, and only an utter buffoon could be impressed by his macho, swaggering incompetence.

Enter Donald Trump. The current American President has long been entranced by Putin’s “strength,” in part because he wanted to get his tiny fingers on lots of rubles and also because he’s a simpleton who can only comprehend blunt, overt behavior absent any subtlety. Only when compared to someone as gormless as Trump can Putin seem the mastermind. They are both worst-case scenarios for their countries.

“We imagine the villains of history as cunning strategists,” Masha Gessen writes in her New York Times op-ed, asserting that yesterday’s Fascist “geniuses” were actually figures who used enormous personalities, media savvy and fortunate timing to compensate for their many flaws. A close study of Trump’s most obvious twentieth-century predecessor, Benito Mussolini, reveals that Il Duce was a vulgar, murderous clown who couldn’t even make the trains run on time, despite the popular historical narrative. Gessen believes Trump’s ineptitude won’t ultimately be what prevents U.S. autocracy, should such an outcome be thwarted. It may even aid his attempt at authoritarianism, she writes.

As Jesse Ventura, another unlikely politician who ascended on persona and media know-how, used to say: “The scum always rises to the top of the water.” Well, maybe not always, but it’s often not the best and brightest who find themselves in possession of tremendous power. 

An excerpt:

A careful reading of contemporary accounts will show that both Hitler and Stalin struck many of their countrymen as men of limited ability, education and imagination — and, indeed, as being incompetent in government and military leadership. Contrary to popular wisdom, they are not political savants, possessed of one extraordinary talent that brings them to power. It is the blunt instrument of reassuring ignorance that propels their rise in a frighteningly complex world.

Modern strongmen are more obviously human. We have witnessed the greed and vanity of Silvio Berlusconi, who ran Italy’s economy into the ground. We recognize the desperate desire of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to be admired or at least feared — usually literally at his country’s expense. Still, physical distance makes villains seem bigger than they are in real life. Many Americans imagine that Mr. Putin is a brilliant strategist, a skilled secret agent turned popular leader. 

As someone who has spent years studying Mr. Putin — and as one of a handful of journalists who have had an unscripted conversation with him — I can vouch for the fact that he is a poorly educated, under-informed, incurious man whose ambition is vastly out of proportion to his understanding of the world. To the extent that he has any interest in the business of governing, it is his role — on the world stage or on Russian television — that concerns him. Whether he is attending a summit, piloting a plane or hang-gliding with Siberian cranes, it is the spectacle of power that interests him.

In the past few months, Americans too have grown familiar with the sight of a president who seems to think that politics consists of demonstrating that he is in charge. This similarity is not an accident (nor is it a result of Russian influence). The rejection of the complexity of modern politics — as well as modern business and modern life in general — lies at the core of populism’s appeal. The first American president with no record of political or military service, Donald Trump ran on a platform of denigrating expertise. His message was that anyone with experience in politics was a corrupt insider and, indeed, that a lack of experience was the best qualification.•

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Authoritarianism is, among other things, a revenge of mediocrity.

The bully with the biggest ego and largest pulpit appeals to a nation’s mean streak, seeking out those who’d rather cow than compete. Together they swing a hammer like a weapon rather than a tool, looking for a target to blame. Russia hacked the election (likely with some degree of collusion from the GOP) and the FBI acted foolishly on bad intel to disrupt Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but there’s no avoiding the reality that nearly 63 million Americans found a tyrant enticing, many of them drawn in by his absolute worse qualities.

From Business Insider essay by Josh Barro, who recently recused himself from the Republican Party:

Yet here we are, with a Republican president who calls himself “the most militaristic person” despite avoiding the Vietnam War on account of bone spurs. A Republican president who takes credit for others’ successes and no blame for his failures. A Republican president who fires the FBI director because of an investigation into any wrongdoing of his associates and then blames his press secretary for people getting mad about it.

A Republican president who is twice divorced and gleefully recounted his philandering to the press, posing as his own spokesman. A Republican president who boasted to a casual acquaintance about his history of sexual assault — “when you’re a star, they let you do it” — and then excused those comments as “locker-room talk,” as though it were normal for a grown man who wished to be president to display the maturity and respect for women you’d expect from a caricature of a junior-varsity high-school football player.

This is not the behavior of a man. It is the behavior of a man-child. Donald Trump surrounds himself with fellow man-children who behave in a similar manner. And a great many American voters eat it up.

Why? Well, one reason is that many men in America right now have little to offer women. They do not live up to either to the old, chauvinistic standards for adult men or the new, egalitarian ones. They want what Trump has — the women, the money, the brass-plated apartment — without having to do better or be better to get it.

They think they’d be better off under a return to high-school norms, where men could “be men” but really be boys, and gain status through cruel dominance plays without bearing any real-life responsibilities.

This approach to life worked for Trump because he inherited hundreds of millions of dollars. But it is no way to run a country or a society — or a political party.•

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It’s been roughly two weeks since stunning news broke that Trump had fired James Comey. It may as well have been a decade.

Since then, Trump admitted in an TV interview that he canned Comey to end the Russian investigation, the FBI director produced a memo of a conversation in which the President asked him to let Mike Flynn off the hook and it’s been reported that the Administration prevailed upon the DNI and NSI directors to intervene on his behalf to end the inquiry. Complicating matters further, the Putin praiser shared secret intelligence with Russian representatives in the White House. 

If this nonstop turmoil seems like Watergate played out at warp speed, Elizabeth Drew, the political journalist who chronicled Richard Nixon’s disgrace, doesn’t believe potential collusion with a foreign adversary nor obstruction of justice will result in a speedy ending for our Kremlin-loving kakistocracy, even if that’s what the country dearly needs. She warns that progress to endgame may be grindingly slow and must be bipartisan, a trickier feat to achieve today than in the 1970s.

Three excerpts follow from Matthias Kolb’s long-form Süddeutsche Zeitung Q&A with Drew, conducted soon after Comey’s ouster.

_________________________________

Question:

You know so many people on the Hill, in Washington Journal you describe how the different senators and congressmen talked to you about their thought process about how and when to criticize Nixon. Is this a similar situation?

Elizabeth Drew:

Not quite yet. If you took a secret ballot, Trump would be out. But it doesn’t work that way. I do know from various sources, most Republicans in the Senate want him out; they joke about it. I wrote that in a recent article.  The senators see each other in the gym or in the hallways and some weeks ago some Republicans  on the Senate floor were taking bets with each other over how Trump is going to be forced to leave office, not whether. Several sources told me about this. But they are not anywhere near… they are not ready for this.

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Question:

You have covered American politics and presidents for more than five decades. Has there been anything similar to that?  

Elizabeth Drew:

No, Ronald Reagan maybe. He was an actor who was not very verbal. Reagan spoke well and could read aloud smoothly what was written down for him. But he was not a thinker. Barack Obama was our most contemplative president, a real intellectual. Reagan was not and Trump is definitely not. Trump doesn’t like to read. He gets intelligence briefings which he doesn’t like. His staff asks people to present things to him in pictures, that is similar with Reagan. I remember an aide telling me that he tried to explain something to Reagan about the war on drugs, and he made it like a movie plot to get Reagan’s attention. Trump likes pictures, aides have to draw things. It is alarming. Trump has no attention span, he is very impatient.

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Question:

Will Trump stay in office for four years?

Elizabeth Drew:

From the beginning, I’ve thought that he wouldn’t last. He looks frustrated so much of the time. In his business, no one was in a position to block him.  He’s been going through a frustrating time. He’s lonely;  Mrs. Trump is apparently moving down here in the summer, but he’s not a quitter. And he likes being president; He said that the other day at this victory party at the Rose Garden after the House passed  the health care bill. You all saw the pictures, I’m sure. He said: “How’m I doing? I am president, can’t you see?” He will not give it up, I think. Things would have to become really bad. But I wouldn’t put any money on anything.       

Question:

If some younger reporters ask you for advice how to cover the Trump administration, what do you tell them? I took away from reading “Washington Journal”  that you should be skeptical about simple narratives and that historic events like Watergate could have gone a different way. 

Elizabeth Drew:

Watergate was not the simple narrative that many take it to be, nor will this be – however it turns out. and will never be. I tell those reporters: “Let it play out, don’t try to game it. Follow what is happening and watch for certain things.” I also tell my friends: Watch for certain things and be patient. Trump will be in trouble for firing Comey,  and it likely will build. Be careful and you have to be responsible with what you are writing. Watch the Republicans: He cannot be driven from office just by Democrats. Watch for key Republicans to say certain things that might signal that he is in serious trouble. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader, is important. I’m sure that he has in his head how he wants to handle this, but he won’t say much. He’s a careful and smart man who has been around for decades. If you hear criticism of the president by Mitch McConnell, he’s in big trouble. You can’t just rush a president out of office because you don’t like him. It doesn’t work that way and should not work that way. It must not be partisan because it otherwise will not be successful. It would tear the country apart.•

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Republicans are still mostly resisting a real investigation of possible Trump collusion with Russia and his obstruction of justice in regards to the Comey firing. Some lip service, some mild gestures, that’s all thus far. 

Chief among these defiant defenders is Paul Ryan, who’s quoted today in Politico as saying “some people want to harm the President.” His odd stance could stem from reflexive partisanship and the Speaker’s long-held desire to pass at any cost his punitive tax and social welfare cuts. Perhaps he believes a Trump resignation or impeachment would put those plans in peril.

We have to at least consider that it could be something even darker. Ryan may believe Mike Pence is likely to be swept away in this same scenario, leaving him, third in line, as the new President. He might not want any part of what would be an office made untenable by such a large-scale scandal. Even worse, it’s possible the Russian connection runs deeper than we know and may pull under a large number of GOP elected officials. 

Regardless of the cause, the party appears to be in a death spiral and is threatening to feed the entire nation a poison pill. What may save us is that despite any desperate machinations from the White House or Hill, the truth is likely to ultimately be exposed.

From Edward Luce’s latest Financial Times column, which asserts that tax cuts is a ridiculous reason for Republican self-immolation:

Whenever the elites express outrage at his actions, his supporters take pleasure in their anguish. Mr Trump knows how to cater to his base. If that means passing secrets to the Russians the day after firing the man investigating his campaign’s alleged Russia collusion, all the better. Scholars call this “negative partisanship”. People no longer join a party because they believe in its agenda but because they despise the other one. By mocking his opponents, Mr Trump is literally delivering on what he promised. It is a mandate for nihilism.

This poses a terrible dilemma for Republicans. Some are hoping to bide their time until midterm elections. Mr Trump’s approval ratings are so low that if the polls were held today Republicans would lose control of the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate. At that point, Republicans would start to abandon Mr Trump’s ship. Democrats may well campaign on a promise to impeach Mr Trump. But that is almost 18 months away. Other Republicans are hoping to extract what they can before the Titanic starts to sink.

Most, such as Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, are prepared to suffer the indignity of working with Mr Trump if it gives them the chance to pass a big tax cut. In Mr Ryan’s view, such a cut would unleash America’s animal spirits and restore freedom to individuals.

It is a coherent position. But Mr Trump keeps making it harder for Mr Ryan to build the case for it. The chances are now at least as good that the firestorm around Mr Trump will engulf his economic agenda. Even if Mr Ryan can pull off tax reform, would the bargain have been worth it? The answer is no. Taxes rise and fall. But a great party cannot erase how it acted at a critical moment in the history of the republic.•

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Trump is certainly not Nixonian in intellect or policy, but he shares with his predecessor an utter disregard for truth, a deep paranoia that mints enemies like pennies and a nefariousness that will probably lead to disgrace if not tragedy. His sense of being cheated, a rich man who feels deeply impoverished, has its origins in a Rosebud-ian psychological wound and perhaps some mental illness, has rendered him extremely immoral and deeply disturbed. In the country’s future–should there be one–it will be possible to have a worse President if that person retains all his terrible qualities but is basically competent. We should be glad of his ineptitude, provided it doesn’t get us all killed.

On the day when the Washington Post delivered what appears to be a bombshell about a terrible breach by Trump in the company of his Russian comrades, a misstep to be added to his litany of lies, acts of kleptocracy and attacks on American democracy, here’s a piece from Garry Willis’ 1974 New York Review of Books piece about Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men:

Nixon was always Wronged; so, since the score could never be settled entirely, he felt no qualms about getting back what slight advantage he could when no one was looking. Even at the height of his power, he feels he must steal one extra vote, tell the marginal little lie. He is like a man who had to steal as a child, in order to eat, and acquired a sacred license—even a duty—to steal thenceforth; it would punish the evil that had first deprived him. Thus he took as his intimate into the Oval Office the very man who helped him try to cheat his way into the office of governor of California. Those who say Nixon did not know what kind of thing his lieutenants were up to forget that the judge who decreed in favor of plaintiffs in the fake postcard-poll case of 1962 did so on the grounds that both Haldeman and Nixon knew about the illegal tactic. Watergate is the story of a man who has just pulled off a million-dollar heist and gets caught when he hesitates to steal an apple off a passing vendor’s cart.

Nixon engages in a kind of antipolitics; a punishment of politics for what it has done to him. That is why he could never understand “the other side” in the Washington Post’s coverage of the Watergate investigation. Jeb Magruder has written that his staff was pleased when two unknown local reporters, Bernstein and Woodward, were given the break-in as their assignment. When the story did not lapse after a decent interval, Nixon conceived it as an ideological vendetta directed by Katharine Graham for the benefit of George McGovern—something to be countered by high-level threats, intimidation, and “stonewalling.” Even Henry Kissinger tried to intervene with Mrs. Graham.

Actually, if the coverage had been political, it might have failed. Very few columns or editorials played up Watergate in the election period, even at the Post. Those wanting high political sources and theoretical patterns would not have found the sneaky little paths under out-of-the-way bushes, as Woodward and Bernstein did. They thought, from the outset, they were dealing with robbers, not politicians. When their tips kept leading them toward the White House; they balked repeatedly, out of awe and fear and common sense; but the evidence kept tugging them against the pull of expectation. The editors kept them at it, but gave them little help. They must pursue their modest leads even after they wanted to be switched to “the big story” at the Ervin hearings. Others would theorize, editorialize, do the White House circuit. Theirs was the leg work, the endless doors knocked on, wrong numbers called, the days of thirty leads checked out and nothing to show for it. A leitmotiv of the book is “back to square one.”

They advanced, as it were, backward—always back to the same sources; would they talk this time? No. Then put them on the list of people to go back to. Back and back. Which became up and up. Up, scarily at the last, “to the very top” (as the Justice Department man had put it). Their sources—originally secretaries and minor functionaries—were added to when parts of the gang like Dean started dealing to get out; but there had always been people who talked because they were sincerely shaken by what was going on—not only Hugh Sloan at the outset, but the mysterious White House cooperator called “Deep Throat.” It is good to know the gang could not entirely succeed in imposing its code of omertà.•

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If Twitter pulled the plug on Trump for his repeated slanders, how would he go about presenting his alternative reality? He could rely on traditional-media blitzes as he did yesterday when he flubbed both history (Andrew Jackson) and current events (Kim Jong-un), but he would receive pushback from most non-Fox interlocutors and accommodating an endless parade of talking-heads wouldn’t leave him much time for running the country and golfing.

In the direct aftermath of the recent Tax Day protest, Trump took to his favorite online platform and repeated the claim he and other Republicans offer whenever #Resist assembles in large numbers: The protesters were few and paid. It’s obviously an effort to undercut the legitimacy of those marching for essential American ideals.

When interviewed in the middle of February in Süddeutsche Zeitung,Yale historian Timothy Snyder explained the tactic this way:

The idea is to marginalize the people who actually represent the core values of the Republic. The point is to bring down the Republic. You can disagree with them. but once you say they have no right to protest or start lying about them, you are in effect saying: “We want a regime where this is not possible anymore.“  When the president says that it means that the executive branch is engaged in regime change towards an authoritarian regime without the rule of law. You are getting people used to this transition, you are inviting them into the process by asking them to have contempt for their fellow citizens who are defending the Republic.•

At that moment, Snyder believed we had a year to save liberal democracy in the U.S. In an excellent new Q&A with Chauncey DeVega of Salon, the academic says he believes the Administration’s heretofore failed efforts at legislation make a unconstitutional, near-term power grab even likelier. I will say that the sycophantic media reaction to the Syria bombings probably made might seem more right than ever to a jittery, unhinged Oval Office.

Gun to his head (figuratively, I mean), Snyder guesses the attempt at authoritarianism will fail. He also provides a smart analysis of why a cartoonish TV personality like Trump is judged by a very different standard by a wide swath of the public.

An excerpt:

Question:

In your book [On Tyranny] you discuss the idea that Donald Trump will have his own version of Hitler’s Reichstag fire to expand his power and take full control of the government by declaring a state of emergency. How do you think that would play out?

Timothy Snyder:

Let me make just two points. The first is that I think it’s pretty much inevitable that they will try. The reason I think that is that the conventional ways of being popular are not working out for them. The conventional way to be popular or to be legitimate in this country is to have some policies, to grow your popularity ratings and to win some elections. I don’t think 2018 is looking very good for the Republicans along those conventional lines — not just because the president is historically unpopular. It’s also because neither the White House nor Congress have any policies which the majority of the public like.

This means they could be seduced by the notion of getting into a new rhythm of politics, one that does not depend upon popular policies and electoral cycles.

Whether it works or not depends upon whether when something terrible happens to this country, we are aware that the main significance of it is whether or not we are going to be more or less free citizens in the future.

My gut feeling is that Trump and his administration will try and that it won’t work. Not so much because we are so great but because we have a little bit of time to prepare. I also think that there are enough people and enough agencies of the government who have also thought about this and would not necessarily go along.•

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During his years in politics, John Dean has seen some questionable characters–he’s been a questionable character. But he’s never seen anything like Donald Trump, a Ku Klux Kardashian who wants to run the world the way Gotti ran Queens, minus, of course, the late capo’s admittedly expert management skills.

Many decent Americans didn’t want to believe that such a vulgar clown could be elected to the highest office in the land, but as Wolfgang Streeck notes, “strange personalities arise in the cracks of disintegrating institutions.” That’s what makes Trump so especially dangerous despite his profound ineptitude and paucity of political ideology. 

During Watergate, Republicans in Congress were prepared to jettison Nixon, as country came before party. In our decaying state, that’s no longer true. The cracks in contemporary American democracy may be big enough for the worst possible outcome to snake through, especially since, as Dean argues, Trump’s base seems to want authoritarianism.

From Marc Pitzke’s Spiegel Q&A with Dean:

Spiegel:

Nixon stretched his presidential powers until they snapped. Do you see this with Trump, too?

John Dean:

Trump hasn’t really done anything yet to abuse his powers. I don’t even know if he knows what all his powers are as president. And that worries me. He will learn. After he learns how the presidency works, he could become much more dangerous, because his personality doesn’t change. Once presidents find their powers, they don’t give them up. They use them.

Spiegel:

Or abuse them.

John Dean:

After Watergate, Congress flexed its muscles and became the constitutional co-equal of the president, to balance out his powers. That deeply troubled Dick Cheney, then chief of staff to Nixon’s successor Ford. And after Cheney became vice president for George W. Bush, they snatched that power back.

Spiegel:

After September 11, 2001.

John Dean:

9/11 changed everything. We lose more Americans every year drowning in the bathtub than through terrorism. But terrorism has been used as a lever to frighten people, pass legislation, sound tough and coerce us into giving away our rights in pursuit of phantom problems. Granted, terrorism is a real problem everywhere. But you can’t prevent it. Terrorists are nutcases who are hellbent on killing people for ideology. That’s pretty hard to stop.

Spiegel:

Trump, too, is making the “war on terror” a main theme of his presidency again.

John Dean:

The difference this time is the authoritarianism. That’s the hidden explanation of the 2016 elections. Who voted for Trump? Who are these people who, as he famously said, would let him shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still support him? It’s people who want too strong a leader, who would do what that leader tells them. Similar to the Europeans following Mussolini and Hitler. There’s a streak in humanity that likes that kind of leader. That’s Trump’s core. Authoritarianism.

Spiegel:

You think he’s actually trying to create an authoritarian state?

John Dean:

I don’t think Trump is a deeply self-aware person. But he’s absolutely off the charts as a narcissist. He is the consummate narcissistic salesman. He is in fact a sick man. And that’s potentially very dangerous.•

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Throughout the election and even after, there were a steady stream of perplexing stories suggesting Donald Trump would “become Presidential” once he won the primary, at the convention, during the debates, after he took the oath, etc. 

It was ridiculous.

In the last week or so, Trump, a sociopath and demagogue, endorsed Marine Le Pen, announced we could soon have a “major, major conflict” with North Korea, threatened to “break up” the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, refused to provide key documents about Michael Flynn and gave a rambling, delusional interview to the Associated Press. Meanwhile, he continues to employ white nationalists Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Jeff Sessions and Sebastian Gorka, uses the office as a cash register for himself and his family and pushes health-care and tax “plans” that are cocktail-napkin policy, as ridiculous as they are draconian.

He is not normal. He is not going to become normal. Stop trying to normalize him.

Matt Bai, a very gifted journalist for Yahoo! News, is the latest to offer a take about a potentially moderating Trump, with a new twist: Perhaps the orange supremacist, who is resolutely uninformed, incurious and lacking in common decency, wants to change for the better but the media is holding him back.

Oy gevalt!

Bai thinks he’s being a realist, not a normalizer, but Le Pen’s hand-picked replacement to be acting leader of the National Front in her stead was a Holocaust denier. She’s Trump’s preference. That’s abnormal.

Prediction: If Trump should survive his first four years, no matter how disgraceful they may be, there will be “think pieces” penned about how he’ll change were he to get a second term.

An excerpt:

Here’s where I come down. I don’t think the chances are high that Trump can somehow evolve into a wise president who unifies the country and understands the world. I’ve been trying to play baseball a lot of my life, and I’ll never hit a 90-mile-per-hour fastball. We are who we are.

But I also don’t think we can preclude the possibility. And if, in the 100 days to come and the 100 after that, Trump’s inclined to reinvent himself as a more thoughtful statesman, we shouldn’t jump up and down screaming “flip-flopper” like a bunch of fools with severely limited vocabularies. We have to give him room to grow.

Because if we don’t, we’re only proving his point about the media — that we report only what we can stand to report, rather than the truth, and that we’re never going to give him credit for anything. And Trump will get some things right. The law of averages compels it.

Critics on the left will call this “normalizing” Trump. I call it acknowledging reality, which is that he is the president, and we don’t get to decide for people what’s normal and what isn’t.

Trump could yet find a way to be bigger than he seems. We shouldn’t ask any less of ourselves.•

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Like most people who order assassins into a Malayasian airport to murder their half-brother with nerve agent, Kim Jong-un makes it difficult to examine his motivations with a sober head.

Historian Bruce Cumings attempts to do just that in an article in The Nation which explains the recent U.S. political bungling that allowed us to arrive at this scary precipice. There was a prime opportunity not even 20 years ago to have a nuke-free North Korea, but, alas, it was bungled by the Bush Administration. In the intervening period both sides of the aisle have ignored the meaning of this failure, exacerbating the situation. 

Now America’s guided by a deeply ignorant, unbalanced President who’s managed after much effort to finally locate one murderous despot he despises. So it’s game on, but it’s the most dangerous game.

An excerpt:

As I wrote for this magazine in January 2016, the North Koreans must be astonished to discover that US leaders never seem to grasp the import of their history-related provocations. Even more infuriating is Washington’s implacable refusal ever to investigate our 72-year history of conflict with the North; all of our media appear to live in an eternal present, with each new crisis treated as sui generis. Visiting Seoul in March, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asserted that North Korea has a history of violating one agreement after another; in fact, President Bill Clinton got it to freeze its plutonium production for eight years (1994–2002) and, in October 2000, had indirectly worked out a deal to buy all of its medium- and long-range missiles. Clinton also signed an agreement with Gen. Jo Myong-rok stating that henceforth, neither country would bear “hostile intent” toward the other.

The Bush administration promptly ignored both agreements and set out to destroy the 1994 freeze. Bush’s invasion of Iraq is rightly seen as a world-historical catastrophe, but next in line would be placing North Korea in his “axis of evil” and, in September 2002, announcing his “preemptive” doctrine directed at Iraq and North Korea, among others. The simple fact is that Pyongyang would have no nuclear weapons if Clinton’s agreements had been sustained.

Now comes Donald Trump, blasting into a Beltway milieu where, in recent months, a bipartisan consensus has emerged based on the false assumption that all previous attempts to rein in the North’s nuclear program have failed, so it may be time to use force—to destroy its missiles or topple the regime. …

A bigger lesson awaits Donald Trump, should he attack North Korea. It has the fourth-largest army in the world, as many as 200,000 highly trained special forces, 10,000 artillery pieces in the mountains north of Seoul, mobile missiles that can hit all American military bases in the region (there are hundreds), and nuclear weapons more than twice as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb (according to a new estimate in a highly detailed Times study by David Sanger and William Broad).•

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Bernie Sanders, whose TV campaign ads were even a shade more alabaster than Trump’s, is a politician, so he has to choose his words carefully when speaking to supporters of the Ku Klux Kardashian, reassuring them that they’re not deplorables, even if many are.

The coded racist language the GOP has employed over the last 50 years became explicit in the candidacy of Trump, who falsely blamed non-white “others” for the nation’s ills, promising to corral them, and to pull away benefits from “those people” living off the system. The not-so-subtle joke was that the conman was talking about taking his crude scissors to a social safety net that was helping to hold aloft many of his very voters.

The punchline has started to land squarely on the jaw of those living in Trump country, a land that time forgot. Three excerpts follow from reports about #MAGA voters now in the crosshairs. They haven’t exactly lost their religion when it comes to their idol, but they have come to realize that being told your supreme may be attached to a steep price tag. 


From Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times:

I came to Trump country to see how voters react as Trump moves from glorious campaign promises to the messier task of governing. While conservatives often decry government spending in general, red states generally receive more in federal government benefits than blue states do — and thus are often at greater risk from someone like Trump.

Ezekiel Moreno, 35, a Navy veteran, was stocking groceries in a supermarket at night — “a dead-end job,” as he describes it — when he was accepted in WorkAdvance two years ago. That training led him to a job at M&M Manufacturing, which makes aerospace parts, and to steady pay increases.

“We’ve moved out of an apartment and into a house,” Moreno told me, explaining how his new job has changed his family’s life. “My daughter is taking violin lessons, and my other daughter has a math tutor.”

Moreno was sitting at a table with his boss, Rocky Payton, the factory’s general manager, and Amy Saum, the human resources manager. All said they had voted for Trump, and all were bewildered that he wanted to cut funds that channel people into good manufacturing jobs.

“There’s a lot of wasteful spending, so cut other places,” Moreno said.

Payton suggested that if the government wants to cut budgets, it should target “Obama phones” provided to low-income Americans. (In fact, the program predates President Barack Obama and is financed by telecom companies rather than by taxpayers.) …

Judy Banks, a 70-year-old struggling to get by, said she voted for Trump because “he was talking about getting rid of those illegals.” But Banks now finds herself shocked that he also has his sights on funds for the Labor Department’s Senior Community Service Employment Program, which is her lifeline. It pays senior citizens a minimum wage to hold public service jobs.•


From Yamiche Alcindor of the New York Times:

KINSMAN, Ohio — For years, Tammy and Joseph Pavlic tried to ignore the cracked ceiling in their living room, the growing hole next to their shower and the deteriorating roof they feared might one day give out. Mr. Pavlic worked for decades installing and repairing air-conditioning and heating units, but three years ago, with multiple sclerosis advancing, he had to leave his job.

By 2015, Ms. Pavlic was supporting her husband and their three children on an annual salary of $9,000, earned at a restaurant. That year, they tapped a county program funded by Congress, called the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, to help repair their house.

The next year, they voted for Donald J. Trump, who has moved to eliminate the HOME program.

The Pavlics’ ceiling may no longer be cracked, but in the zero-sum game that Mr. Trump’s budget seeks to set up, the nation is showing new fissures. The president’s budget proposal would cut deeply into the Department of Housing and Urban Development, paring rental assistance and eliminating heating and air-conditioning aid, energy-efficiency assistance, and partnerships with local governments like HOME. With the savings, Mr. Trump says, he would beef up military spending and build a wall along the Mexican border.

“Keeping the country safe compared to keeping my bathroom safe isn’t even a comparison,” Mr. Pavlic, 42, said. “We have people who are coming into this country who are trying to hurt us, and I think that we need to be protected.”

His wife is hoping Mr. Trump changes his mind.

“I am glad that he is our president, but I do believe, though, that if he could see this from a personal point of view that he would probably maybe change his mind about cutting this program,” Ms. Pavlic, 44, said. “Any mom wants their kids to be safe, so any mom wants their home to be safe.”•


From Sean Collins-Walsh of the Austin-America Statesman:

MAVERICK COUNTY — On a cliff overlooking the Rio Grande, Dob Cunningham got out of his four-wheeler, walked across a patch of wildflowers poking out from the rocks and stopped at a small, rough concrete block adorned with horseshoes, spurs and a Masonic emblem. Under raised letters reading “DOB,” the year 1934 was carved into the concrete, with a blank space to the right.It was Cunningham’s headstone.

“That way it’s done,” he said. “I didn’t want anyone to go and spend a bunch of money on it.”

Working as a farm hand in his youth, serving 30 years in the Border Patrol in his prime and tending to an 800-acre ranch with his wife, Kay, in his golden years, Cunningham has spent his whole life on the border, and he’s seen it change. Growing up, he would wade across the river to play baseball with kids in Mexico, and those who came north were polite. In recent years, he said, migrants have broken into his house, and drug smugglers traverse his property regularly.

Cunningham voted for Donald Trump — more importantly, he said, he voted “against Hillary” because he and Kay “didn’t want to see the country go socialism” — and agrees with the president’s desire to secure the border. But he opposes Trump’s plan to build a border wall from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, saying it won’t work along the Rio Grande because of flooding. If the federal government tries to condemn part of his property to build the wall, Cunningham plans to fight as long as he can afford to.

“The government or the illegals won’t run me off,” he said. “We’ve lived here and we’ve raised a daughter here, and I’ve put a lot of sweat and blood in this place. We don’t want to just give it away.”•

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During the odious Presidential election season, I quipped that Trump’s campaign might land him in the Oval Office or a prison cell or perhaps both. Everything is still on the table.

Terrible things are happening in the country, but they’re nothing compared to what’s coming. Francis Fukuyama may be cheered that our checks and balances are neutralizing the autocratic aims of a Commander-in-Chief who wants to run NATO the way Gotti ran Queens–a debatable point–but that doesn’t mean the orange supremacist and his Rasputin of Seinfeld residuals, Steve Bannon, won’t leave in their wake a shocking death toll. Utter incompetence, incomparable ignorance, disastrous diplomacy, putrid policy and rampant kleptocracy will leave us vulnerable on many fronts. The results will be felt across decades though sometimes they’ll just suddenly go boom. 

We’re a joke now, but it’s no laughing matter.

In a wonderfully worded Vanity Fair “Hive” piece, Graydon Carter dissects this Madoff-magnitude Presidency, while Roger Cohen of the New York Times analyzes how the dysfunction and dishonesty are playing out on the world stage.


From Carter:

It can reasonably be said that our dear leader is now the most ridiculed man on the planet. In fact, he may well be the most ridiculed man in history. For a preening narcissist who takes himself terribly seriously, being the butt of the joke heard round the world has got to hurt. The handpicked assortment of craven nitwits and supplicants that he has surrounded himself with have valiantly tried to insulate him from the derision. But they’re only human. Your heart has to go out to the ones doing the heavy lifting: banty Sean Spicer, the M. C. Escher of the English language, and Kellyanne Conway, the president’s temperament fluffer. (Look away from CNN, Mr. President. There’s something shiny and bright over there!) Engaging as it is to watch these overworked mouthpieces, I fear their days must be numbered. Comments about microwaves that turn into spy cameras and what should be understood when the president puts words in quotation marks are having minimal effect in reducing the scorn heaped upon their boss. Hats off to them for their tenacity, but no amount of spin is going to change the fact that the Trump White House, like the company its inhabitant has run for the past four decades, continues to be a shambolic mess.

Trump’s one brief moment of acting presidential—when he read off a teleprompter for 60 minutes and 10 seconds during his address to Congress—served only to show just how low the bar for presidential behavior has plummeted since January. Watching TV commentators applaud him for containing himself for a little over an hour was like hearing a parent praise a difficult child for not pooping in his pants during a pre-school interview. Besides, vintage Trump is not going anywhere anytime soon. A couple of weeks earlier, during a visit by the Japanese prime minister, Shinzō Abe, the president told an acquaintance that he was obsessed with the translator’s breasts—although he expressed this in his own, fragrant fashion.

Trump may be a joke, but the chaos and destructive forces around him are not.•


From Cohen:

When Donald Trump met Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany earlier this month, he put on one of his most truculent and ignorant performances. He wanted money — piles of it — for Germany’s defense, raged about the financial killing China was making from last year’s Paris climate accord and kept “frequently and brutally changing the subject when not interested, which was the case with the European Union.”

This was the summation provided to me by a senior European diplomat briefed on the meeting. Trump’s preparedness was roughly that of a fourth grader. He began the conversation by telling Merkel that Germany owes the United States hundreds of billions of dollars for defending it through NATO, and concluded by saying, “You are terrific” but still owe all that dough. Little else concerned him.

Trump knew nothing of the proposed European-American deal known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, little about Russian aggression in Ukraine or the Minsk agreements, and was so scatterbrained that German officials concluded that the president’s daughter Ivanka, who had no formal reason to be there, was the more prepared and helpful. (Invited by Merkel, Ivanka will attend a summit on women’s empowerment in Berlin next month.)

Merkel is not one to fuss. But Trump’s behavior appalled her entourage and reinforced a conclusion already reached about this presidency in several European capitals: It is possible to do business with Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but these officials are flying blind because above them at the White House rages a whirlwind of incompetence and ignorance. 

Trump’s United States of America has become an unserious country, the offender of the free world.•

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The recent Washington Post editorial which excoriated Bernie Sanders for stating the obvious in calling our new President a “liar” stands as the most thick-headed thing I’ve read this year. 

The pathological liar in the White House assaults truth on a daily basis, threatening our very democracy, but others are supposed to bite their tongues and pretend they hear nothing out of some misplaced nobility, which is tantamount to strictly observing the Marquess of Queensberry Rules while fighting a chainsaw-wielding maniac. To not point out the lies is to essentially be complicit with this full-blown realization of the Dubya Era truthiness.

Despots thrive on the excessive decency of others. Pursuing facts and objective truth are of paramount importance, as is vigorously underlining the lies of a wannabe tyrant.

Two excerpts follow.


From “Donald Trump and the Rise of Tribal Epistemology,” David Roberts’ excellent Vox piece about the “limits of journalistic neutrality”:

Now tribal epistemology has found its way to the White House.

Trump and his team represent an assault on almost every American institution — they make no secret of their desire to “deconstruct the administrative state” — but their hostility toward the media is unique in its intensity.

It is Trump’s obsession and favorite target. He sees himself as waging a “running war” on the mainstream press, which his consigliere Steve Bannon calls “the opposition party.” 

For the media, Trump represents a great challenge but also a great opportunity. He will make the work of journalism more difficult (calling only on sycophantic outlets during press conferences is likely just the beginning). But by putting the integrity of the press in the spotlight, he might just force a long-overdue reckoning with the role of media in democratic politics.

The US political media underestimated Trump’s potential for many reasons. Prominent among them was its longstanding refusal to grapple with the deepening asymmetry in American politics — the rejection, by a large swathe of the right, of the core institutions and norms that shape US public life.

Under Trump, that asymmetry has become glaring and inescapable. And it is bumping up against the foundations upon which all independent journalism stands.

It is time for journalism to take a side — to fight, not for any political party, but for the conditions that make its own existence possible.•


From a deeply disturbing, just-published Time magazine interview:

Question:

So you don’t worry that your credibility, that if you’ve cited things that later turn out to be wrong, based on anonymous sources that that hurts you.

Donald Trump:

Name what’s wrong! I mean, honestly.

Question:

Fox News said… 

Donald Trump:

Brexit. Wait a minute. I predicted Brexit. What I said about NATO was true, people aren’t paying their bills. And everyone said it was a horrible thing to say. And then they found out. And when Germany was over here I said, we are going to have a great relationship with Germany but you have to pay your NATO bills, and they don’t even dispute it, ok. So what have I said that is wrong? Everyone, I got attacked on NATO and now they are all saying I was right. I got attacked on Brexit, when I was saying, I said long before the day before, I said the day before the opening, but I was saying Brexit was going to pass, and everybody was laughing, and I turned out to be right on that. I took a lot of heat when I said Brexit was going to pass. Don’t forget, Obama said that U.K. will go to the back of the line, and I talked about Sweden, and may have been somewhat different, but the following day, two days later, they had a massive riot in Sweden, exactly what I was talking about, I was right about that.

Question:

But even in that Sweden quote, you said look at what happened on Friday in Sweden. But you are now saying you were referring to something that happened the following day.

Donald Trump:

No I am saying I was right. I am talking about Sweden. I’m talking about what Sweden has done to themselves is very sad, that is what I am talking about. That is what I am talking about. You can phrase it any way you want. A day later they had a horrible, horrible riot in Sweden and you saw what happened. I talked about Brussels. I was on the front page of the New York Times for my quote. I said Brussels is not what it used to be, very sad what has happened to Brussels. I was absolutely lambasted. A short time later they had the major attack in Brussels. One year ago today. Exactly one year ago today. And then people said you know Trump was right. What am I going to tell you? I tend to be right. I’m an instinctual person, I happen to be a person that knows how life works. I said I was going to win the election, I won the election, in fact I was number one the entire route, in the primaries, from the day I announced, I was number one. And the New York Times and CNN and all of them, they did these polls, which were extremely bad and they turned out to be totally wrong, and my polls showed I was going to win. We thought we were going to win the night of the election.

Question:

So when you…

Donald Trump:

And then TIME magazine, which treats me horribly, but obviously I sell, I assume this is going to be a cover too, have I set the record? I guess, right? Covers, nobody’s had more covers.

I think Richard Nixon still has you beat. But he was in office for longer, so give yourself time.

Donald Trump:

Ok good. I’m sure I’ll win.•

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Better governance was not the goal of the most recent American Presidential election.

Pundits on the Left (and many on the Right) have been excoriated as “out-of-touch” for not believing Trump could win the election, though the candidate himself was said to have thought he had little chance on Election Day. The two main reasons why so many high-information voters and members of the punditry felt he had little chance for victory: 1) Basically sane and decent people didn’t want to believe their fellow citizens would stoop to supporting a bigoted demagogue who was wholly unsuited for the position, and 2) Many traditionally astute observers judged the campaign based on who had better policies when anger was really all that counted this time. It was a populist revolt, which is always based more on emotion than rational thought.

Personally, I believed Clinton would win by five or six points nationally, taking the popular vote and electoral college, until James Comey insinuated himself, at which point it seemed it would be a dead heat. When the FBI concludes investigating Trump and his associates for possible treason, the department itself needs to be examined for its outrageous actions and how outsiders to the organization, like Rudy Giuliani, seemed to know ahead of time about its coming October surprise.

From Simon Kuper’s Financial Times piece on the perils of populism:

All populist movements now offer some version of “Lock her up!”. Pim Siegers, a village councillor for the far-left Dutch Socialist Party, told me that when he tried to convince people that the populist Geert Wilders wouldn’t solve their problems, they often replied: “We know. But ‘they’ — the elite — don’t like him.” Voting populist is often simply a way to punish elites. One campaign poster during last year’s Brexit referendum urged, beneath a picture of the grinning politicians David Cameron and George Osborne: “Wipe the smile off their faces. Vote Leave.” No matter that voting Leave might make you worse off; at least it would hurt the elite too. Similarly, many poor Americans wanted to abolish Obamacare chiefly to punish Barack Obama.

Liberals still often delude themselves that today’s political battle is about which side has better solutions. When Trump proposes killing off the National Endowment for the Arts, liberals counter that the NEA costs taxpayers a pittance (less, for instance, than Trump’s weekend trips to his Mar-a-Lago resort). But smart policymaking isn’t the point. Trashing the NEA punishes liberals.

Populist leaders act out revenge fantasies for people who feel slighted. Hence that quintessential populist persona (which Trump incarnates): the troll. Trump being Trump, he sometimes turns the dial up to 11 and goes from punishment to sadism, as in his odes to waterboarding.

The joy of punishment goes back to the Old Testament, but Randy Newman captured it beautifully in his 1988 satirical song “I Want You To Hurt Like I Do” (“One thing we all have in common/ And it’s something everyone can understand/ All over the world sing along… ”). Newman wrote the song as a counter to “We Are the World”, the liberal-solutions anthem. American conservatives understand the joy of punishment. •

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The Credibility Gap of the Nixon era can’t begin to speak to what America now endures, a post-truth Presidency that lies directly into cameras, not in the hopes of fooling anyone, but in an attempt to fashion it’s own alternative reality. 

There are many problems with that disgraceful approach, chiefly that it precludes an enlightened democracy, but one other small but meaningful danger is that such an Administration would likely be disbelieved should it in fact acquire intelligence of a genuine risk to society. A President who lies pathologically cannot be believed, a White House that enacts Bannon-playbook Muslim travel bans on false pretenses can’t be trusted, an Oval Office which seems to be in the thrall of an adversarial foreign power must be questioned at every turn. You can’t believe such a pack of liars because it’s dangerous to do so, and it might occasionally be perilous to not trust them. But how would we know the difference?

From Thomas Joscelyn’s Politico report about the laptop ban on certain Muslim countries, which may be a response to a legitimate threat or maybe not:

Initial press reports, including by the New York Times, cited anonymous officials as saying that the restrictions were not a response to new intelligence. But the DHS announcement implies otherwise. One question on the DHS web site reads, “Did new intelligence drive a decision to modify security procedures?” The answer: “Yes, intelligence is one aspect of every security-related decision.” The British government’s quick decision to follow suit also suggests that something new is afoot here.

Subsequent reports from CNN and The Daily Beast indicate that intelligence collected during a U.S. Special Forces raid in Yemen in January led to the restrictions. That is possible. The raid was highly controversial, but the Trump administration argues the costs were worth it because the U.S. learned key details about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) plotting. A Navy SEAL perished during the operation, as did a number of women and children. Within hours, jihadists began circulating a photo of an adorable little girl who died in the crossfire. The girl was the daughter of Anwar al Awlaki, a Yemeni-American al Qaeda ideologue killed in a September 2011 drone strike. Al Qaeda immediately called for revenge in her name.

Whether new intelligence led to the decision or not, we already know for certain that al Qaeda has continued to think up ways to terrorize the skies. For years, Al Qaeda operatives in Somalia, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere have been experimenting with sophisticated explosives that can be smuggled onto planes.

DHS points to the “attempted airliner downing in Somalia” in February 2016 as one reason for ongoing concerns. That bombing was carried out by al Shabaab, al Qaeda’s official branch in Somalia. Al Shabaab attempted to justify the failed attack by claiming “Western intelligence officials” were on board the flight, but that excuse may be a cover for something more sinister.

Some U.S. officials suspect that al Qaeda’s elite bomb makers wanted to test one of their newest inventions, a lightweight explosive disguised as a laptop that is difficult to detect with normal security procedures. At the very least, Shabaab’s attack demonstrated that al Qaeda has gotten closer to deploying a laptop-sized explosive that can blow a hole in jetliners. While no one other than the terrorist who detonated the bomb was killed, the plane was left with a gaping hole in its side.•

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Trump poses many existential threats but let’s focus on two in particular that are linked: His autocratic impulses are a threat to liberal governance and America’s ethos of an immigrant nation, and his cultivation of a culture of complaint is a bankrupt brand of populism, a nauseating nostalgia for yesterday which places us in risk today and tomorrow.

The upshot is a federal government contemptible of the Constitution, one that’s willfully trying to block the steady flow of genius into the country and one that’s more enthusiastic for steel and coal than semiconductors. The Trump promise to America is that we can live like the 1950s and win the 21st century, that we don’t have to compete with the whole world because we can build a wall to keep out the future. He’s a new manner of aspiring autocrat concerned not with ideology by with its destruction. In Holly Case’s Aeon essay about contemporary strongmen who are divorced from governing principles beyond promising to make difficult challenges vanish, she concluded this way:

The new authoritarian does not pretend to make you better, only to make you feel better about not wanting to change. In this respect, he has tapped a gusher in the Zeitgeist that reaches well beyond the domain of state socialism, an attitude that the writer Marilynne Robinson disparages as ‘nonfailure’, and that the writer Walter Mosley elevates to a virtue: ‘We need to raise our imperfections to a political platform that says: “My flaws need attention too.” This is what I call the “untopia”.’ Welcome to the not-so-brave new world.

In 2017, China is a notable exception to this definition, an autocracy aiming to win the race in supercomputers, semiconductors and solar, which is particularly perilous when paired with America’s retreat. We picked an awful time to stop looking forward, and the ramifications will be felt long after Trump is gone.

From Michael Schuman in Bloomberg View:

China is marshaling massive resources to march into high-tech industries, from robotics to medical devices. In the case of semiconductors alone, the state has amassed $150 billion to build a homegrown industry. In a report in March, the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China pressed the point that the Chinese government is employing a wide range of tools to pursue these ambitions, from lavishing subsidies on favored sectors to squeezing technology out of foreign firms.

The only way for the U.S. to compete with those efforts is to “run faster.” Yet Trump’s ideas to boost competitiveness mainly amount to cutting taxes and regulation. Although reduced taxes might leave companies with more money to spend on research and development, that’s not enough. The U.S. needs to do much more to help businesses achieve bigger and better breakthroughs.

Trump is doing the opposite. One reason U.S. companies are so innovative is that they attract talented workers from everywhere else. But Trump’s recent suspension of fast-track H-1B visas could curtail this infusion of scientists and researchers. If his intention is to ensure jobs go to Americans first, he need not bother. The unemployment rate for Americans with a bachelor’s degree or higher — the skilled workers that H-1B holders would compete with — is a mere 2.5 percent. 

This policy isn’t just a threat to Silicon Valley, but across industries. Michael McGarry, the chief executive officer of PPG Industries Inc., worries about the effect visa restrictions would have on his paint-making business. “We create a lot of innovation because of the diversity that we have,” he recently told CNBC. “We think people with PhDs that are educated here should stay here and work for us and not work for the competition.”

China will likely try to capitalize on this mistake. Robin Li, CEO of the internet giant Baidu Inc., recently advocated that China ease its visa requirements to attract talented workers to help develop new technologies for Chinese industry, just the opposite of Trump’s approach.

Trump’s budget proposals are similarly a setback. He wants to boost defense spending by slashing funding for just about everything else, notably education. By one estimate, some $20 billion would have to get cut from the departments of education, labor, and health and human services to accommodate his plan. If Trump wants to contend with Chinese power, he’d be better off reversing those priorities — to create more graduates and fewer guns. He could offer proposals to make higher education more affordable for the poor, for instance, or to bolster vocational training. So far, there’s little evidence he’s making such spending a priority.

China, by contrast, is expanding access to education on a huge scale.

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Fidel Castro attempted to hide his extravagances, but he was an outlier among recent dictators, most of whom have taken pains to cultivate conspicuous displays of wealth, which they believe projects unassailable power. It’s a sort of autocratic architecture, a weaponized interior design. Big, shiny hotel-esque hideousness was the preference of Nicolae Ceausescu, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi, all of whom seemed to have uniformly possessed a child’s comprehension of what affluence should look like: a Vegas casino in which the house always wins.

The new millennia has continued with much of the same, though more zeros have been added at the end of the number with the rampant kleptocracies in Russia and Dubai, among other tyrannical regions of the globe. With the election of Trump, a tin-pot dictator painted gold, the White House now has a figure given to ridiculous gaudiness, and his use of the Oval Office as a cash register for himself and his family is an unsurprising extension of this greed motif. It’s the prosperity gospel of a President who doesn’t like to read.

From “Trump’s Dictator Chic,” Peter York’s excellent Politico article:

Then, in late 2015, I came across a set of pictures with no identifying text. They appeared to show a gigantic apartment in what looked, from the windows, very much like New York. But I know Manhattan and its sophisticated style pretty well, and at first glance, you would think the place didn’t belong to an American but to a Russian oligarch, or possibly a Saudi prince with a second home in the United States. There were overscaled rooms, and obviously incorrect-looking historical detailing and proportions. The home had lots of gilded French furniture and the strange impersonal look of a hotel lobby, with chairs and sofas placed uncomfortably far from one another. There were masses of gold; there were the usual huge chandeliers, branded relics of famous sportsmen like Muhammad Ali, and mushroom-colored marble floors. There was relatively little in the way of paintings, but otherwise, the place reeked of dictator chic.

As it turned out, this familiar yet unfamiliar apartment—a familiar style to me by then, but in an unlikely location—belonged to Donald Trump, who by then was running for president. This was the penthouse of the potential leader of the free world. The design work, I have since learned, was started by the late Angelo Donghia, a decorator better known for a chic Manhattan look. But the substantive current design had been done by one Henry Conversano, who designed extensively—and perhaps unsurprisingly—for casinos. No matter how you looked at it, the main thing this apartment said was, “I am tremendously rich and unthinkably powerful.” This was the visual language of public, not private, space. It was the language of the Eastern European and Middle Eastern nouveau riche.

Why does all of this matter? Domestic interiors reveal how people want to be seen. But they also reveal something about the owners’ inner lives, their cultural reference points and how they relate to other people. With its marble-inlaid dining table, painted ceilings and gold flourishes quite literally everywhere, Trump’s aesthetic puts him more in the visual tradition of Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov, who erected a massive rotating golden statue of himself in Ashgabat, than the self-effacing gray-suited conventions of Western democratic leaders. Atop Trump Tower, Trump’s apartment projects a kind of power that bypasses all the boring checks and balances of collaboration and mutual responsibility and first-among-equals. It is about a single dominant personality.

This, of course, is a startlingly un-American idea.

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What should we do if the President is a demagogue, a fascist, and a vicious bigot who surrounds himself with more of the same? What if he tramples on the Constitution, slanders other public figures and makes up bullshit incessantly? What about if it’s becoming increasingly clear that his campaign colluded with the Kremlin to corrupt our election process? What if he’s using his office to greatly enrich himself and his family? What if he’s trying to delegitimize the free press and the judiciary branch so that he won’t have any checks on his worst impulses? What if he’s already committed several impeachable acts and nothing has happened?

What then?

In a Medium essay, Bernie Sanders asks “What Should We Do If the President Is a Liar?” The piece was written in response to ridiculous charges made by Amber Phillips of the Washington Post, who derided the Vermont Senator for “lowering the state of our political discourse” by pointing out that the President frequently lies, which he does.

This kind of knuckle-rapping is exactly what a Berlusconi who dreams of being a Mussolini depends on–it’s what all fascists rely upon. They behave as disgracefully as possible, accepting no basic rules or laws, while decent people are pinioned by polite norms, too afraid to say what’s blindingly apparent. Her comparison of Sanders’ rebuke to Rep. Joe Wilson yelling “you lie!” during an Obama State of the Union address is foolishly disingenuous and false moral equivalency of the highest order for many reasons, the biggest one being Obama wasn’t a serial liar and conspiracy-theory peddler while Trump is. Phillips’ description of Trump’s assertion of widespread voter fraud, which is a complete lie, as an “eyebrow-raising claim,” is one way to put it, just not the honest way.

· · ·

You know what would be good? If the Twitter brain trust announced they were revoking Trump’s account because he slandered President Obama with serious, baseless claims of wiretapping. They could point out that no one has an absolute right to tweet, that it’s a privilege. It’s a very, very easy privilege to earn, but there have to be some rules. If Trump can produce proof his tweets weren’t slanders, he can have his account reactivated. Until then, farewell.

· · ·

In “How Trump Became an Accidental Totalitarian,” Nick Bilton’s smart Vanity Fair “Hive” piece, the writer theorizes the new President’s outrageous and unhinged behavior isn’t the product of a Machiavellian mastermind but the acts of an unintelligent person who “doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing in the White House.” The opening:

Like everyone else, I’ve been thinking a lot of late about Donald Trump and his infamous Twitter meltdowns—trying to deduce exactly what he’s up to regarding his constant, and seemingly never-ending, attacks on the press. The more that Trump has pushed the narrative that all unfavorable reportage of his regime is “fake news,” the more I’ve noticed a leitmotif. Trump, it seems, is using Twitter the way despotic politicians have manipulated the media throughout the past century when they needed a comfortable vessel for their lies.

Just travel back to Weimar Germany, where during his ascent to power in 1920, Adolf Hitler purchased outright a newspaper called The Volkischer Beobachter, which would grow its circulation to more than 1 million readers in the 40s as it became the organ of the National Socialist regime. The Beobachter, as it was often called, facilitated the Nazis’ revolting propaganda and culture of genocidal hatred. It allowed Hitler and Goebbels the opportunity to publish countless fake news stories about adversarial countries, about Jews, and, indeed, the press.

In some ways, Hitler set an early precedent for how to propagate fake news (or call real news “fake”) at the dawn of the information age. Kim Jong Il would control state media to his advantage much the same way. Saddam Hussein and his sons “owned” a dozen newspapers in Iraq, controlling virtually everything that was printed, and what was not. Vladimir Putinmanipulates the press in Russia. (He also allegedly has journalists killed.)

Freedom of the press is a sacrosanct right of Western democracies. But Trump, who has upended so much of what we believe in, has proved that the First Amendment is no longer enough to keep honest reporting unmolested. Indeed, were Hitler or Saddam to operate in our modern times, God forbid, they wouldn’t need to go through the hassle of running a state organ or Beobachter news outlet. They could simply open up their smartphones, sign up for a Twitter account, and start tweeting lies 140 characters at a time, both pushing their own agenda and decrying as false anything that they disagreed with.•

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Masha Gessen has made it clear she doesn’t believe Russia is responsible for America electing an autocratic sociopath, and in the big picture she’s right.

I don’t doubt Kremlin interference one bit, nor that it was likely committed in concert with high-ranking members of the Trump campaign if not the President himself, but there’s no real excuse for nearly 63 million citizens voting for a candidate who was clearly a habitual liar, vicious demagogue and utter incompetent. That’s on us.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t aggressively strive for the truth in this gravely serious matter, and that arrests shouldn’t be made and impeachment be pursued if illegal activities can be proven. Certainly Congress would be investigating the matter at full throttle if a Democratic President had behaved in a similar manner, but partisan hackery has become a hallmark of the legislative branch.

In a Gessen piece just published at the New York Review of Books, the reporter wonders why the Russian espionage is a more important lie to many in the media and the Intelligence Community than the avalanche of dishonesty Trump and his cabinet regularly send down the mountain. On this point, I’ll disagree with her.

She’s right that it would be foolish to focus on the Putin connection to the exclusion of the many other assaults on liberal governance we’re enduring nearly daily, but an American President conspiring with an adversarial foreign power to gain office–whether the machinations actually helped him win votes or not–would be a singular shock to the system. Destroying health care and lowering taxes on the highest earners would be awful policy, but it wouldn’t be treason. The suspicious activity proceeding the election may very well be.

From Gessen:

The dream fueling the Russia frenzy is that it will eventually create a dark enough cloud of suspicion around Trump that Congress will find the will and the grounds to impeach him. If that happens, it will have resulted largely from a media campaign orchestrated by members of the intelligence community—setting a dangerous political precedent that will have corrupted the public sphere and promoted paranoia. And that is the best-case outcome.

More likely, the Russia allegations will not bring down Trump. He may sacrifice more of his people, as he sacrificed Flynn, as further leaks discredit them. Various investigations may drag on for months, drowning out other, far more urgent issues. In the end, Congressional Republicans will likely conclude that their constituents don’t care enough about Trump’s Russian ties to warrant trying to impeach the Republican president. Meanwhile, while Russia continues to dominate the front pages, Trump will continue waging war on immigrants, cutting funding for everything that’s not the military, assembling his cabinet of deplorables—with six Democrats voting to confirm Ben Carson for Housing, for example, and ten to confirm Rick Perry for Energy. According to the Trump plan, each of these seems intent on destroying the agency he or she is chosen to run—to carry out what Steve Bannon calls the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” As for Sessions, in his first speech as attorney general he promised to cut back civil rights enforcement and he has already abandoned a Justice Department case against a discriminatory Texas voter ID law. But it was his Russia lie that grabbed the big headlines.

The unrelenting focus on Russia has yielded an unexpected positive result, however. Following Flynn’s resignation, Trump designated Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, a thoughtful and highly respected military strategist, as his national security adviser. And Fiona Hill, probably the most knowledgeable American scholar of Putin’s Russia, is expected to take charge of Russia policy at the National Security Council. Hill has been a consistent and perceptive critic of Putin, and a proponent of maintaining sanctions imposed by the United States following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both of these appointments—and the fact that sanctions remain in place six weeks into Trump’s fast-moving presidency—contradict the “Putin’s puppet” narrative (as does the fact that Russian domestic propaganda has already turned against Trump). But such is the nature of conspiracy thinking that facts can do nothing to change it.

Imagine if the same kind of attention could be trained and sustained on other issues—like it has been on the Muslim travel ban. It would not get rid of Trump, but it might mitigate the damage he is causing. Trump is doing nothing less than destroying American democratic institutions and principles by turning the presidency into a profit-making machine for his family, by poisoning political culture with hateful, mendacious, and subliterate rhetoric, by undermining the public sphere with attacks on the press and protesters, and by beginning the real work of dismantling every part of the federal government that exists for any purpose other than waging war. Russiagate is helping him—both by distracting from real, documentable, and documented issues, and by promoting a xenophobic conspiracy theory in the cause of removing a xenophobic conspiracy theorist from office.•

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Late to Industrialization, China entered the process knowing what much of the Western world had to learn the hard way in the 1970s: Urbanizing and modernizing an entire nation brings with it tremendous economic growth, but it can’t be sustained by the same methods–or perhaps at all–when the mission is complete. It’s a one-time-only bargain.

A richer nation can’t grow endlessly on the production of cheap exports, so the newly minted superpower is pivoting more to domestic demand, a nuance no doubt lost in the Trump Administration’s ham-handed appreciation of global politics. In “Trump’s Most Chilling Economic Lie,” a Joseph Stiglitz Vanity Fair “Hive” article, the economist highlights the insanity of America engaging in a trade war with China and expecting to emerge the richer. An excerpt:

Trump’s team may be tempted to conclude, naively, that because China exports so much more to the U.S. than the U.S. exports to China, the loss of a huge export market would hurt them more than it would hurt us. This reasoning is too simplistic by half. China’s government has far more control over the country’s economy than our government has over ours; and it is moving from export dependence to a model of growth driven by domestic demand. Any restriction on exports to the U.S. would simply accelerate a process already underway. Moreover, China’s government has the resources (it’s still sitting on some $3 trillion of reserves) and instruments to help any sector that has been shut out—and in this respect, too, China is better placed than the U.S.

China has already shown how it is likely to respond if Trump should launch a trade war. At Davos, President Xi Jinping came out as the great supporter of globalization and the international rule of law—as well China should. China, with its large emerging middle class, is among the big beneficiaries of globalization. Critics have said that China does not always play fair. They complain that as China has grown, it has taken away some of the privileges, some of the tax preferences, that it gave to foreigners in earlier stages of development. They are unhappy, too, that some Chinese firms have learned quickly how to compete—some of them even appropriating ideas from others, just as we appropriated intellectual property from Europe more than a century ago.

It is worth noting that, although large multinationals complain, they are not leaving. And we tend to forget the extensive restrictions we impose on Chinese firms when they seek to invest in the U.S. or buy high-tech products. Indeed, the Chinese frequently point out that if the U.S. lifted those restrictions, America’s trade deficit with China would be smaller.

China’s first response will be to try to find areas of cooperation. They are experts in construction. They know how to build high-speed trains. They might even provide some financing for these projects. Given Trump’s rhetoric, though, I suspect that such cooperation is just a dream.

If Trump insists on an adversarial stance, China is likely to respond within the framework of international law even if Trump puts little weight on such agreements—and thus is not likely to retaliate in a naive, tit-for-tat way. But China has made it clear that it will respond. And if history is any guide, it will respond both forcefully and intelligently, hitting us where it hurts economically and politically—where, for instance, cutbacks in purchases by China will lead to more unemployment in congressional districts that are vulnerable, influential, or both. If Boeing’s order book is thin, it might, for instance, cancel its purchases of Boeing planes.•

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