Susan B. Glasser

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As I’ve stated before, it seems clear how it ends for Trump, his family and his minions–in utter disgrace–but I don’t know how it turns out for America. There are just too many variables at play to prognosticate.

It may depend on how far and wide the sweep of justice extends. I have the same dream scenario that many do: The cynical players in government and outside will be washed away in a wave of justice, returning some semblance of sanity to our society. That’s not likely to be the result, however.

You can’t impeach, indict or arrest away what ails us, even if it’s a necessary start. Nearly 63 million citizens went into a voting booth and chose a bigoted, ignorant, kleptocratic sociopath. We’re deeply divided, armed to the teeth and living in a time where profiteers and ideologues alike are using our new media tools to obliterate truth. We’d better divine some solutions for our moral and political rot because eventually the crooks, trying to steal democracy as well as currency, aren’t going to be so stunningly incompetent.

In an excellent interview Susan B. Glasser of Politico Magazine conducted with Elizabeth Drew, the Watergate chronicler still doing excellent work in this time of Trump, speaks of her prescience when Nixon’s ouster still seemed unthinkable: “I may be a witch. I just had this instinct. I said, ‘I think that we might change vice presidents and presidents within a year.’ Now, this was a wild thought in the fall of 1973. I just smelled it.”

In one exchange, Drew, who asserts that the Nixon and Trump scandals are different despite their similarities, speaks to a common point they share: The lawlessness and abuses of both Administrations go far beyond one break-in or a single meeting with Russians connected to the Kremlin. It was and is a pervasive evil. An excerpt:

I want to explain something. There is one very strong similarity between the two periods. Because this gets down to, “Well, what was Watergate?” And I felt throughout it was a very unfashionable thought. A lot of people just treat it as a detective story and a lot of people still think it was a detective story that these odd people broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters. They got caught because of a night watchman, caught the tape on the door. They were indicted. The cover up began. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, they did incredible reporting.

They were just dogged and they kept at it and they broke the case of the cover up, but Watergate was much bigger than just that invasion of the DNC headquarters. To me, the worst thing that the so-called burglars—plumbers, rather. They were called plumbers because they were plumbing leaks. [LAUGHS] But they have the name “Plumbers” on their door in the Executive Office Building. They had an office there. They broke into the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, who had leaked the Pentagon Papers. In some ways, Watergate was as much about the Pentagon Papers as anything else. Now, just think about it: these bums breaking into somebody’s psychiatrist’s office to try to get his files, fortunately, were so incompetent. They messed up everything they did. They were real stumblebums. There were no files in that office although they supposedly cased it.

But that was really more troubling than the break-in to the Watergate, and it was a whole array of abuse of power, where they used the instruments of government against Nixon’s perceived enemies — and he was very good at perceiving enemies. We don’t have that now but Watergate was not a simple detective story. I always thought it was a constitutional crisis. And we still have that element of it. It’s: Can you hold a president accountable for the acts of his subordinates? We’re going to get to that question at some point in this. I don’t know when. I’m getting ahead of the story but the most important article of impeachment against Nixon was Article II, which held that a president could be held accountable for the acts of his subordinates, even if he really didn’t know anything about it.

That they created an atmosphere where these things can happen and if it ever got to impeachment and I don’t know if it will or won’t. People insist it won’t. I don’t know. It could under certain circumstances. This is a very important question. We were scared then in a way that we aren’t now. So it was quite different.•

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There is no honor among thieves, especially kleptocrats.

If memory serves, Ian Frazier in Travels in Siberia shared a theory that the brutality inflicted by the Mongols on the inhabitants of the Kievan Rus’ in the thirteenth century turned Russians into abused children whose deep wounds have caused them to act out in a serial destructive fashion as adults, continually relapsing into aberrant behavior. 

That’s probably not so, neat theory though it is. One way or another, however, Russia is ruled by swaggering, infantile Kremlin machismo, which is now mirrored by the White House, home (at least most weekdays) to America’s own problem child, Donald Trump. Russia may have initially thought it had an ace in the hole aboard Air Force One, especially when Mike Flynn was drinking a cup of кофе as National Security Adviser, but the media, much of it under Vladimir Putin’s thumb, has since turned on Trump. If these two volatile crackpots and their minions end up forming a circular firing squad, we may all be caught in the crossfire.

From Susan B. Glasser’s Politico Magazine interview with veteran Putin reporter Masha Gessen:

Susan B. Glasser:

What should we expect next? What are the scenarios that keep you up at night with your imagination?

Masha Gessen:

Oh, the nuclear holocaust is my primary worry. But—

Susan B. Glasser:

You know, why—cut straight to the big stuff. You know, never mind the littler crises. Any particular nuclear scenario?

Masha Gessen:

I’m worried about Russia. I’m—this is—I mean, we’re already out of the honeymoon phase, and it’s been less than two months. And I think it’s—I mean, the danger of having these two unhinged power-hungry men at their—respective nuclear buttons cannot be overestimated. But—

Susan B. Glasser:

So you would see them as potential enemies as much as potential friends? That this scenario—

Masha Gessen:

Oh, absolutely.

Susan B. Glasser:

—we should worry about is Trump versus Putin, not just Trump and Putin uniting?

Masha Gessen:

Right. I’m actually worried about a collision with them.

Susan B. Glasser:


Masha Gessen:

The Trump/Putin collision. But, you know, as useful as I think it has been for me to think back to the early Putin days, and the middle Putin days, [LAUGHS] to understand what’s happening here, there are some huge differences, right? And one difference, weirdly, is just how fast Trump is moving, right?•

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Maybe it’s time for James Baker to get his “panties in a wedge.”

It takes a village to build a tyrant, and the veteran Bushie was one of the educated fools who thought Trump’s demagoguery wouldn’t be a problem once he was ensconced in the Oval Office. A painfully naive exchange from a June 2016 interview in the Financial Times:

Are America and its institutions strong enough to survive any shock, even one as seismic as Donald Trump in the White House?

“Yes,” declares Baker, emphatically.

“I won’t get my panties in a wedge because of what I am hearing from the political candidates. What they say in the campaign and what they do once they are in the White House are not the same thing.”•

The former Chief of Staff, who voted for Trump, is concerned by what he’s seen so far of the new Administration, but he still believes the sociopath he supported is “pragmatic” and the early machinations of the Simon Cowell-ish strongman are merely “kinks,” a sentiment that would make more sense if he was referring to the President’s alleged Russian pee video. 

From Susan B. Glasser in Politico:

When he reigned in the Washington of the 1980s as its premier backstage power broker, Baker took as his personal motto the saying, “prior preparation prevents poor performance.” Clearly, the Trump White House is not yet delivering on the prior preparation part, a problem that Baker says may well be because Trump comes from decades of running his own company exactly as he wished. “Running a business and running the government are two entirely different functions, quite frankly, and process matters,” says Baker, who tells me he has also given his advice directly to Trump, Tillerson and Trump’s new chief of staff, Reince Priebus. And presumably also Vice President Mike Pence, who was seated next to Baker at last night’s Super Bowl in Houston. “Process matters a lot in order to avoid mistakes, controversy.”

Already, he is struck by a White House that he worries is set up for internal conflict, division and miscommunication. “The White House that they have constructed has a lot of chiefs,” he says. “In this White House, it seems to me, you’ve got at least four, maybe five, different power centers, so we are just going to have to wait and see how it works in practice.”

But it would be a mistake to say Baker sees Trump as doomed to fail. As befits a congenital dealmaker, he’s an optimist at heart, one who can often discern an opening where others see a closed door. And so Baker is careful to say he believes—well, maybe hopes is a better word—that Trump will turn out to be a pragmatic president who cares enough about succeeding in the job to change course after screwing up. “Pragmatic” is a great compliment when wielded by Baker, and he is not one to choose the public bullhorn of opposition to a president of his own party. “It’s not unexpected you have these kind of kinks. The important thing is you learn from ’em,” he says.•

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