John the Backstabber

It was an odd Monday. Coverage of the death of Kobe Bryant didn’t seem to be a direct insult to our troops. But it seems it was. A celebrity’s death gets hours of play, when those protecting our freedom get little notice, if any – and that’s because the media hates the military. This man was a rich useless (black) celebrity who played a little-boy’s game. He wasn’t a soldier. He wasn’t anything, really. So, was the massive media coverage of his one dead minor man, Kobe Bryant, an intentional direct and carefully coordinated insult to our troops? That was the talk on talk radio all day. Evangelical call-in shows led the way.

But outrage is easy, and it can go both ways, as Max Boot notes here:

It seems as if it was months ago, but in fact it was only on Friday that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) caused a furor in the Senate chamber with his closing statement in President Trump’s impeachment trial. This is what he said: “CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that key senators were warned, ‘Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.’ I don’t know if that’s true… I hope it’s not true.”

As Schiff was speaking, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) shook her head and said, “Not true.” Afterward, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said, “That’s when he lost me,” while Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) called the CBS report “completely, totally false.”

How these senators know that the report was wrong is a mystery; simply because they didn’t overhear the “Trump confidant” doesn’t mean that he didn’t say it… and it’s not as if Trump hasn’t threatened retaliation against senators in the past.

The larger issue, of course, is what Senate Republicans are and aren’t outraged about.

And that would be this:

Schiff’s mild remarks had so many senators in a state of apoplexy, yet they had nothing to say when Trump previewed his attorneys’ defense on Saturday with a typically unhinged tirade against “lyin’, cheatin’, liddle’ Adam ‘Shifty’ Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, Nervous Nancy Pelosi, their leader, dumb as a rock AOC, & the entire Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrat Party.”

This was followed on Sunday with a tweet containing unsubstantiated allegations and a threat against the lead House impeachment manager: “Shifty Adam Schiff is a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man. He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!”

Was that a death threat? Who knows? Boot says it doesn’t matter:

Is the standard here that the president gets to say anything he wants – no matter how dishonest or vile – while his opponents have to observe rules of decorum straight out of a Victorian parlor?

Yes, those do seem to be the rules, not that most Democrats mind. They prefer to be gentlemen, or strong women of character, not our-of-control characters. Trump seems to think that sort of thing is for suckers and losers. And he can get away that. He can get away with anything. And that why his party loves him, but Boot sees that ending soon:

On Monday, some stirrings of unease began to be heard from the Senate Republicans after the New York Times reported on Sunday that in his forthcoming book former national security adviser John Bolton writes that Trump told him in August “that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens.” This is smoking gun evidence that directly contradicts what Trump lawyer Michael Purpura told the Senate on Saturday, and bizarrely repeated on Monday: “Not a single witness testified that the president himself said that there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance, a presidential meeting or anything else.”

All the House witnesses said the opposite, but yes, the president had not addressed each and every one of them, face to face and on the record, or had not put that in writing, in a notarized document, and thus said that was what he was doing. They had been told what to do, on the president’s orders, but someone else has issued to order, for the president, so perhaps that’s a defense of the president, but that book is still an issue:

Bolton submitted his manuscript for White House review on Dec. 30, so there is every reason to expect that his version of events was already known to Trump and his senior aides. That could, in fact, explain their desire to rush the Senate to exonerate the president without hearing any witnesses.

They knew what was coming, so it had to come after the election next November, when everyone would find out everything bad was true, and intentional, and it would be far too late for anyone to do anything about it. Trump could laugh and sneer at everyone than. Republicans could gloat. Look what we got away with!

But, as the New York Times lays out here, that damned book got in the way:

The White House and Senate Republican leaders struggled on Monday to salvage their plans to push toward a quick acquittal of President Trump this week in his impeachment trial, after a new account by his former national security adviser corroborated a central piece of the case against him.

The newly disclosed revelations by John R. Bolton, whose forthcoming book details how Mr. Trump conditioned military aid for Ukraine on the country’s willingness to furnish information on his political rivals, angered key Republicans and reinvigorated a bid to call witnesses, which would prolong the trial and pose new dangers for the president.

Trump should have told them about this:

A handful of Republicans from across the ideological spectrum appeared to be moving closer to joining Democrats in a vote to subpoena Mr. Bolton, even as their leaders insisted that doing so would only delay his inevitable acquittal.

They saw that they had no choice about that, even if Trump’s lawyers simply plowed ahead:

As they opened the second day of their defense, Mr. Trump’s lawyers largely ignored the revelations from Mr. Bolton, reported on Sunday by The New York Times that bolstered the case made by the House Democratic prosecutors that the president had repeatedly tied the security assistance to investigations he wanted. The assertion is at the heart of their abuse of power charge accusing Mr. Trump of using his position to gain foreign help in his re-election campaign.

Instead, the White House team doubled down with a defense that was directly contradicted by the account in Mr. Bolton’s book, due out in March. Mr. Trump’s lawyers told senators that no evidence existed tying the president’s decision to withhold security aid from Ukraine to his insistence on the investigations, which they have claimed were requested out of a concern for corruption.

“Anyone who spoke with the president said that the president made clear that there was no linkage between security assistance and investigations,” said Michael Purpura, the deputy White House counsel.

Again, technically true, but irrelevant, and there was this:

They defended and played down the role of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer who was at the center of Mr. Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign, calling him a “shiny object” Democrats were brandishing to distract from a weak case. They sought to raise doubts about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and his son Hunter Biden, suggesting they were corrupt in an effort to bolster their claim that the president had a legitimate reason to demand that they be investigated.

And they continued to argue that Mr. Trump’s actions were far from impeachable.

Again, Joe Biden and his son were and still are awful people and Donald Trump is not awful at all, in any way. And there was this:

Alan Dershowitz, a celebrity law professor, argued that the Constitution holds that impeachment is for “criminal-like behavior,” telling senators that the country’s founders “would have explicitly rejected such vague terms as ‘abuse of power’ and ‘obstruction of Congress’ as among the enumerated and defined criteria for impeaching the president.”

The theory has been rejected by most constitutional scholars.

As evening set in, Mr. Dershowitz made the legal team’s only reference to Mr. Bolton, telling senators that the description of Mr. Trump’s actions in his manuscript “would not constitute an impeachable offense.”

He added, “Let me repeat: Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power, or an impeachable offense.”

So, even if all of it is true, none of it is a big deal in any way – even a violation civil or criminal code. One does not remove a president. Wait for the next election. He was insistent, not that this mattered now:

Behind closed doors, Republicans were singularly focused on the former national security adviser’s account, which stoked turmoil in their ranks and opened new cracks in their so far near monolithic support for the White House strategy of denying witnesses and rushing toward a final verdict, almost certain to be an acquittal…

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, sought to calm his colleagues at the private lunch, telling them to “take a deep breath” and not to leap to conclusions about how to proceed.

But according to people familiar with Mr. McConnell’s thinking, he was angry at having been blindsided by the White House about Mr. Bolton’s manuscript, which aides there have had since late December. The leader put out a statement saying that he “did not have any advance notice” of Mr. Bolton’s account.

And there was this:

Even Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and usually a reliable ally of the president’s, said that Mr. Bolton “may be a relevant witness” and that he would like to see a copy of Mr. Bolton’s manuscript.

Graham now spits on the grave of his lifelong best friend John McCain because Donald Trump told him to, so this was a bid odd, but what followed was quite predictable:

At the White House, Mr. Trump raged throughout the morning at Mr. Bolton, accusing him of lying. Hosting Israeli leaders, the president told reporters that he had not seen the manuscript of the former adviser’s book but disputed its claims as “false.”

In a series of early-morning tweets hours before the trial resumed, the president accused Mr. Bolton of telling stories “only to sell a book” and defended his actions toward Ukraine as perfectly appropriate.

“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” President Trump wrote just after midnight.

But Mr. Trump later complained to associates that the presentations from his defense team were boring.

He seemed worried, but by early evening, the New York Times team of Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, gave him more to worry about:

John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, privately told Attorney General William P. Barr last year that he had concerns that President Trump was effectively granting personal favors to the autocratic leaders of Turkey and China, according to an unpublished manuscript by Mr. Bolton.

Mr. Barr responded by pointing to a pair of Justice Department investigations of companies in those countries and said he was worried that Mr. Trump had created the appearance that he had undue influence over what would typically be independent inquiries, according to the manuscript. Backing up his point, Mr. Barr mentioned conversations Mr. Trump had with the leaders, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Xi Jinping of China.

Mr. Bolton’s account underscores the fact that the unease about Mr. Trump’s seeming embrace of authoritarian leaders, long expressed by experts and his opponents, also existed among some of the senior cabinet officers entrusted by the president to carry out his foreign policy and national security agendas.

This was new, an addition:

The book also contains an account of Mr. Trump telling Mr. Bolton in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations of political rivals, The New York Times reported on Sunday. The matter is at the heart of the articles of impeachment against the president.

And that led to the White House accusing Bolton of sending hundreds of advance copies of his new book to everyone in Washington, to generate sales, but there had been only once copy out there:

In a statement on Monday, Mr. Bolton, his publisher and his literary agency said they had not shared the manuscript with The Times.

“There was absolutely no coordination with The New York Times or anyone else regarding the appearance of information about his book, ‘The Room Where It Happened,’ at online booksellers,” Mr. Bolton, Simon & Schuster and Javelin said in a joint statement. “Any assertion to the contrary is unfounded speculation.”

Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The Times, responded that “The Times does not discuss its sources, but I should point out that no one has questioned the accuracy of our report.”

There was one copy, in the White House. Someone there ran off all the hundreds of copies. Someone in the White House doesn’t like the boss. But this was the new problem:

Mr. Bolton wrote in the manuscript that Mr. Barr singled out Mr. Trump’s conversations with Mr. Xi about the Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE, which agreed in 2017 to plead guilty and pay heavy fines for violating American sanctions on doing business with North Korea, Iran and other countries. A year later, Mr. Trump lifted the sanctions over objections from his own advisers and Republican lawmakers.

Mr. Barr also cited remarks Mr. Trump made to Mr. Erdogan in 2018 about the investigation of Halkbank, Turkey’s second-largest state-owned bank. The Justice Department was scrutinizing Halkbank on fraud and money-laundering charges for helping Iran evade sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department.

Mr. Erdogan had been making personal appeals to Mr. Trump to use his authority to halt any additional enforcement against the bank. In 2018, Mr. Erdogan told reporters in Turkey that Mr. Trump had promised to instruct cabinet members to follow through on the matter. The bank had hired a top Republican fund-raiser to lobby the administration on the issue.

For months, it looked as though the unusual lobbying effort might succeed; but in October, the Justice Department indicted the bank for aiding Iran. The charges were seen in part as an attempt by the administration to show that it was taking a tough line on Turkey amid an outcry over Mr. Trump’s endorsement of its incursions in Syria.

Barr and Bolton sensed something was terribly wrong here, and Bolton has been carrying on the fight:

Mr. Bolton’s statements in the book align with other comments he has made since leaving the White House in September. In November, he said in a private speech that none of Mr. Trump’s advisers shared the president’s views on Turkey and that he believed Mr. Trump adopted a more permissive approach to the country because of his financial ties there, NBC News reported. Mr. Trump’s company has a property in Turkey.

That seems likely and fits the pattern:

Mr. Trump has repeatedly praised dictators throughout his presidency. Last year, he said, “Where’s my favorite dictator?” as he waited to meet with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Mr. Trump’s soft spot for authoritarians dates at least to his presidential campaign, when he praised Saddam Hussein for being “good” at killing terrorists and suggested that the world would be better off were Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the deposed Libyan dictator who was killed in a violent uprising in 2011, “in charge right now.” Mr. Trump then suggested the ouster of both men was ultimately worse for the Middle East because the Islamic State had filled the void.

Mr. Trump declared himself “a big fan” of Mr. Erdogan as they sat side by side in the Oval Office last fall after Mr. Trump cleared the way for Turkish forces to invade Syria, though he warned Mr. Erdogan behind the scenes against the offensive.

Of Mr. Xi, Mr. Trump has been similarly effusive. When the Chinese Communist Party eliminated term limits, allowing Mr. Xi to keep his tenure open-ended, Mr. Trump extolled the outcome.

Mr. Xi had personally asked Mr. Trump to intervene to save ZTE, which was on the brink of collapse because of tough American penalties for sanctions violations.

Bolton’s new book may cover that too, so something must be done, as the Washington Post reports here:

President Trump and his allies are moving to undermine the credibility of former national security adviser John Bolton, while also preparing to fight his ability to testify during the Senate impeachment trial, according to White House aides and outside advisers familiar with the strategy.

As the president’s lawyers were defending his actions toward Ukraine on the Senate floor on Monday, Trump aides and allies were privately girding for the growing possibility that multiple witnesses will be allowed to appear. They scrambled to determine which testimony they could block and which witnesses they should potentially call, the aides said.

In short, they know they’ve lost on this:

Among White House aides and Capitol Hill Republicans, there was a growing brew of anxiety, unease and frustration, as well as the sense that the allegations contained in Bolton’s book, which is due in March, could push the Senate impeachment trial into next week, yielding more damaging disclosures for Trump as he heads into this year’s reelection contest.

Though the White House continued to push aggressively Monday against witness testimony – especially from Bolton – some aides are now convinced that they will lose that battle.

But that’s not Trump’s fault:

White House counsel Pat Cipollone has privately insisted to senators and allies that the White House did not know Bolton was going to make such an accusation in the book.

Perhaps so, but it was time to go on the attack:

The president’s allies tried to portray Bolton as a disgruntled former employee or as someone greedily trying to profit off his time in the White House.

The Republican National Committee blasted out talking points attacking Bolton – who has served in Republican administrations dating back to Ronald Reagan – in an email titled “That’s one way to boost book sales.”

“How convenient that this leaked info happened to be released at the same time preorders were made available for the book on Amazon,” read the Republican committee email. “What a joke.”

And there was this:

Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, in a text message to The Washington Post said he regretted pushing Bolton for the position of national security adviser and said the president was always skeptical of Bolton. He said that Bolton “never once raised any objection to what I was doing in defending” the president, and accused him of acting cowardly.

“I never thought of him as not having the courage to deal with people man to man,” Giuliani said. “So I put him in the category of John the Backstabber.”

John the Backstabber – Jack the Ripper’s little brother – right? Rudy is losing it, but others took the long view:

Aides and allies said they took solace in their belief that Trump will be acquitted regardless of whether Bolton or other witnesses appear. One senior Republican official likened the allegations in Bolton’s manuscript to the nausea that can accompany a rough boat ride – unpleasant but not fatal…

But behind the scenes, the White House worked feverishly to quell a possible rebellion in the Senate, with both senior adviser Tony Sayegh, who was brought back into the administration to help with impeachment messaging, and White House director of legislative affairs Eric Ueland reaching out to Republican lawmakers and their aides.

The message was that the nausea will pass so don’t any fancy ideas here. But otherwise it was panic:

In a statement, the attorney for acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Bob Driscoll, dismissed the charges in the book concerning his knowledge about alleged actions taken toward Ukraine as having “more to do with publicity than the truth.”

“John Bolton never informed Mick Mulvaney of any concerns surrounding Bolton’s purported August conversation with the president,” Driscoll wrote. “Nor did Mr. Mulvaney ever have a conversation with the president or anyone else indicating that Ukrainian military aid was withheld in exchange for a Ukrainian investigation of Burisma, the Bidens, or the 2016 election.”

Attorney General William P. Barr also has consistently worked to inoculate himself from the Ukraine scandal – even as his Justice Department has gone to court to advance the administration’s efforts to withhold documents and testimony from Congress as part of the impeachment process. When news broke Sunday night that Bolton claimed to have told Barr, after Trump’s July phone call with Zelensky, that the attorney general’s name had been invoked, a Barr spokeswoman was quick to dispute Bolton’s account.

The spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec, said Bolton did not bring up the July phone call during a conversation with Barr. Two Justice Department officials familiar with Bolton and Barr’s conversation, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s political sensitivity, conceded that Bolton had called Barr in late July or early August but claimed the two talked only about Giuliani’s Ukraine-related efforts.

Everyone senses real trouble here, so that called for this:

For about two hours on Monday, Trump’s attorneys Pam Bondi and Eric Herschmann argued that it was Biden and Obama who should be investigated for corruption or abuse of power, laying out a case thick with political innuendo that has been sharply refuted by sworn witnesses during the House’s impeachment inquiry late last year.

Bondi said the focus on Biden, in particular, was made necessary by the House’s charges against Trump, which relied on contentions that Trump’s request for Ukraine to investigate Biden was “baseless” and meant to inflict political damage.

“We would prefer not to be discussing this, but the House managers have placed this squarely at issue so we must address it,” Bondi said.

She ended by arguing that Obama should be impeached right now. Republicans sat on their hands. Rudy was right. John the Backstabber had ruined everything.

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A Species of Extremely Venomous Snake

There’s the snake:

The black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) is a species of extremely venomous snake, a member of the family Elapidae native to parts of sub-Saharan Africa. First formally described by Albert Günther in 1864, it is the second-longest venomous snake after the king cobra…

And there was Kobe Bryant:

Opposing teams designated “Kobe stoppers,” or dedicated shadows, to frustrate the Lakers’ lone weapon. He was the Black Mamba, a nickname he gave himself after watching Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill,” in which the snake, known for its agility and aggressiveness, was used as a code name for a deadly assassin. “I read up on the animal and said, ‘Wow, this is pretty awesome,'” Bryant recalled. “This is a perfect description of how I would want my game to be.”

White folks didn’t get it, or they got it and didn’t like it. Bryant’s play was hyper-aggressive and deadly, and after a bit of a nasty scandal he was tired of apologizing for himself. He’d win. He’d carry the team if he had to. Some called him a ball-hog. So what? He got the job done, with deadly precision. He was the Black Mamba, and for a bit, he was the best there was, and oddly enough, off the court he was a thoughtful and courteous gentleman. He mentored young players. He had a quick smile – but he wasn’t going to apologize any longer.

Some would say he didn’t know his place. Others say that’s exactly what he knew. But it was the same with Barack Obama. Race has always been an issue in this country. Donald Trump is still angry with Colin Kaepernick and that Black Lives Matter business. Donald Trump began his run for the presidency with the Birther stuff – Barack Obama didn’t know his place. But now Kobe is gone:

Kobe Bryant, the retired Los Angeles Lakers basketball star who was one of the greatest to play the game, and his 13-year-old daughter were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday outside Los Angeles, rocking the sports world and generating an outpouring of grief and shock across the country…

It was a moment of national mourning, coast to coast. Thousands of people converged at Staples Center, the Lakers’ home arena in downtown Los Angeles; condolences poured in from presidents, celebrities and sports luminaries; and several entertainers paid tribute to Mr. Bryant at the Grammy Awards, which took place at the arena hours later. A shrine emerged at Mr. Bryant’s high school alma mater in suburban Philadelphia.

The rest is detail about who reacted with what words, and this was why:

Signing with the league right out of high school in 1996, he changed the way the NBA identified, groomed and developed its youngest stars… Yet he was far more than a basketball giant. He was among the world’s best-known athletes, a star on the order of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, swarmed by fans whether he was in Beijing or Beverly Hills. It is not uncommon to hear young people in some quarters shout out, “Kobe!” when they hit a jump shot.

He won an Oscar in 2018 for an animated short film on his life, and was a largely beloved figure, though sexual assault charges in 2003 cast a shadow over his image. Mr. Bryant publicly admitted to having consensual extramarital sex with his 19-year-old accuser, but insisted he had not committed a crime. The charges were ultimately dropped as the woman declined to testify, and she and Mr. Bryant reached a civil settlement, allowing him to resume his storied career.

There were more championships, and Mr. Bryant evolved into a father and a man with business interests that stretched far beyond his sport… In retirement, Mr. Bryant was busy becoming a modern Renaissance man who wrote and produced films and cultivated friends in the technology and venture capital sectors to help him with his investments.

That seems to have angered many people, many of whom immediately posted items like this on Facebook:

Thirty Marines and one Sailor from the 1st Marine Division and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing of the I Marine Expeditionary Force died Jan. 26 when their CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed near Ar Rutbah in the Al Anbar Province while conducting security and stabilization operations.

That was from 2005 but that wasn’t the point. A celebrity’s death gets hours of play, when those protecting our freedom get little notice, if any – and that’s because the media hates the military. And from there the comments morphed into how the media hates Donald Trump. And soon some were demanding that Trump shut down CNN and MSNBC and the New York Times and the Washington Post and whatnot. And this man had called himself the Black Mamba! Why don’t these people know their place?

It got ugly early out there. It was one more chance to choose sides in the culture wars. But who’s the extremely venomous snake here? There was this:

Two days ago, NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly revealed that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had berated her with expletives after she asked him about the Ukraine scandal. Today, President Donald Trump chimed in – by appearing to threaten to cut off NPR’s federal funding.

Trump retweeted a comment from right-wing radio host Mark Levin, who had highlighted a Fox News story about the Pompeo controversy and asked: “Why does NPR still exist? We have thousands of radio stations in the U.S. plus Satellite radio. Podcasts. Why are we paying for this big-government, Democrat Party propaganda operation?” Trump added that Levin’s tweet raised a “very good question!”

But they’re not paying for much of anything here:

Only a small portion of NPR’s funding actually comes from tax dollars. According to its latest financial report, just one percent of its annual operating budget consists of “grants from Corporation for Public Broadcasting and federal agencies and departments.” Most of its funding comes from corporate sponsorships and dues paid by member stations across the country. Those member stations in turn receive about 12 percent of their funding from the CPB and other federal, state, and local government sources. Some stations also receive money from colleges and universities.

Still, if Trump did decide to retaliate against NPR because of its coverage of his administration, he could do some serious damage – at least if he can convince Congress to go along. “Elimination of federal funding would result in fewer programs, less journalism – especially local journalism – and eventually the loss of public radio stations, particularly in rural and economically distressed communities,” NPR notes on its website.

That might be the idea here, because someone got very angry:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attacked a National Public Radio reporter in a blistering statement Saturday after the network said the top U.S. diplomat admonished her using expletives, called her a liar and demanded she find Ukraine on a map.

The incident has drawn sharp criticism of Pompeo, but he accused NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly of lying, even while not disputing her account of his tirade.

That is, she lied, so he had every right to scream at her:

Kelly interviewed Pompeo Friday morning at the State Department in Washington, pressing him on the Trump administration’s Iran policy before turning to Ukraine and former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. The career diplomat who still works under Pompeo was reportedly surveilled and possibly threatened by associates of President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, but Pompeo has never issued a public statement of support for her.

That line of questioning angered Pompeo, according to Kelly, who stared her down after the interview was ended by a staffer and then called her back to his offices.

There, he berated her using the f-word, asked whether Americans cared about Ukraine and demanded that she find the eastern European country on a map, she reported Friday on NPR’s “All Things Considered”.

After pointing it out, she said Pompeo abruptly dismissed, and she thanked him for his time.

The encounter was not off the record, according to Kelly, who said she wouldn’t have agreed to it being so if anyone asked her.

All the relevant emails bear that out now but that was after the fact:

Pompeo disputed that fact, claiming Kelly “lied to me, twice.”

“First, last month, in setting up our interview and, then again yesterday, in agreeing to have our post-interview conversation off the record,” he said Saturday in a statement.

He went further, saying it was “another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this Administration.”

“It is no wonder that the American people distrust many in the media when they so consistently demonstrate their agenda and their absence of integrity,” he said.

His statement didn’t dispute any of the contents of their tense, post-interview exchange, including his use of expletives or him asking about American interest in Ukraine.

But then he jumped the shark:

He also insinuated that Kelly, who was born in Germany and has a master’s degree in European Studies from Cambridge University in the U.K., misidentified Ukraine on an unmarked map as Bangladesh.

“It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine,” he concluded his statement.

She pointed to Bangladesh! She pointed to Bangladesh! It was just the two of us. It’s my word against hers! She pointed to Bangladesh!

Yeah, well, whatever:

NPR’s senior vice president for news Nancy Barnes stood by Kelly in a statement to ABC News.

“Mary Louise Kelly has always conducted herself with the utmost integrity, and we stand behind this report,” Barnes said.

And of course Mike is who he is:

In October, he accused Nancy Amons, a correspondent with Nashville’s WSMV television station, that she has her “facts wrong” and “sounds like you’re working, at least in part, for the Democratic National Committee” when she asked whether Trump’s hold on security assistance to Ukraine was contingent on Ukraine’s president announcing an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.

He also used that attack – of working for the DNC – against PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff in October, when she asked similar questions about whether it was appropriate for Trump to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden.

It’s all about choosing sides, and about punishment:

President Trump escalated his attacks on Rep. Adam B. Schiff on Sunday, issuing what appears to be a veiled threat against the California Democrat one day before Trump’s team is expected to deliver the crux of its defense in the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history.

“Shifty Adam Schiff is a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man,” Trump tweeted Sunday morning. “He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!”

Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is the lead impeachment manager in the Senate trial.

That seems to be the problem, but this was an odd solution to that problem:

Schiff responded in an interview on NBC News’ Meet the Press, saying he believes Trump’s remarks were intended as a threat.

“This is a wrathful and vindictive president; I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Schiff said in the interview. “And if you think there is, look at the president’s tweets about me today, saying that I should ‘pay a price.'”

“Do you take that as a threat?” host Chuck Todd asked.

“I think it’s intended to be,” Schiff replied.

A wrathful and vindictive president may be a new species of extremely venomous snake, or maybe not:

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said it was “ridiculous” for Schiff to claim that Trump was threatening him. In an appearance on Fox News Channel’s Media Buzz, she accused the California Democrat of “grandstanding,” although she acknowledged that she hadn’t had an opportunity to ask Trump what he meant by the tweet.

“I think he means … [Schiff] hasn’t yet paid the price with the voters,” Grisham said.

But she’ll check with the boss, maybe it was a death threat, and there was this:

She also echoed Trump’s attack earlier Sunday on Schiff, saying, “I mean, it seems he’s having a little bit of a mental issue when you sit on the floor for hours and hours and hours. He’s obsessed with this president and trying to take him down.”

Schiff delivered his remarks on the floor while standing, but this was Fox News so he was sitting on the floor the whole time, and maybe he was pointing to Bangladesh too, and really, it doesn’t matter:

Some Republicans on Sunday defended Trump’s remarks about Schiff. In an interview on CNN’s State of the Union, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said he was not troubled by Trump’s declaration that Schiff “has not paid the price.”

“I don’t think it’s a death threat. I don’t think he’s encouraging a death threat,” Lankford said.

Host Jake Tapper responded by saying that “people who are supporters of the president have heard his rhetoric and then actually tried to bomb and kill politicians and the media.”

Sure, but is that Trump’s problem? And there was this:

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who is also an impeachment manager, called Trump’s tweet about Schiff “really unfortunate” and said the president has said things before “that seem threatening to people.”

“He really ought to get a grip and be a little more presidential,” she said on State of the Union.

That might be difficult, given those who advise this president:

A Florida pastor and longtime spiritual adviser to President Trump says she was speaking in metaphor when she recently prayed in a sermon for all “satanic pregnancies” to end in miscarriage.

In video of the Jan. 5 sermon, posted by the libeal advocacy group Right Wing Watch, televangelist pastor Paula White breathlessly calls on Jesus Christ to “command all satanic pregnancies to miscarry right now.”

“We declare that anything that’s been conceived in satanic wombs, that it will miscarry, it will not be able to carry forth any plan of destruction, any plan of harm,” White said before an auditorium of congregants.

As of Sunday morning, the clip, which was just under two minutes long, had been viewed more than 2.5 million times.

Oops:

White’s words are largely being interpreted literally – that she wishes for evil women to have miscarriages – but she shared a rare response to the criticism in which she explained that she was speaking in metaphor, praying for evil plans to be foiled in her congregants’ lives.

It was too late for that:

“So Paula White wants everyone at @WhiteHouse to know she is praying for abortion,” tweeted Jennifer Gunter, an obstetrician and gynecologist who writes a column on women’s reproductive health for the New York Times.

“No pregnancies are satanic. Every child is a gift from God,” tweeted James Martin, a prominent Jesuit priest. “No one should ever pray for any woman to miscarry. No one should ever pray for evil or harm to befall another person. Jesus asked us to pray for our persecutors, not to curse them. To love our neighbors as ourselves.”

No, no, no, this wasn’t a death threat! But it was this:

The 53-year-old megachurch pastor, who recently joined the White House Office of Public Liaison as a religious adviser, delivered the remarks during a sermon in which she inveighed against a variety of forces, including anyone who sought to harm Trump.

“We come against the marine kingdom, we come against the animal kingdom,” said White, eyes closed. “We declare that any strange winds – any strange winds that have been sent to hurt the church, sent against this nation, sent against our president, sent against myself, sent against others – we break it by the superior blood of Jesus right now.”

She also condemned “any hex, any spell, any witchcraft, any spirit of control, any Jezebel,” and “anything that the enemy desires through spells,” according to the footage.

But at least she didn’t condemn the black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) at the time, or Kobe Bryant. Still, one should worry about extremely venomous snakes, those extremely venomous people out to punish all others.

Maybe they shouldn’t be in charge. That’s the premise of Fred Kaplan’s new book The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War as shown in this excerpt:

As senators try President Donald Trump for impeachment and some of them call for placing limits on his ability to wage war against Iran, it is worth recalling that, early on in his term, lawmakers of both parties raised fearful concerns about Trump’s war powers more broadly – specifically whether he should have the power to start a nuclear war all on his own.

On Oct. 30, 2017, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on whether the president needed new congressional authorization to use military force against terrorists around the world. When his turn came to ask questions, Democratic Sen. Edward Markey asked the witnesses whether Trump could launch a nuclear first strike without consulting anyone from Congress.

At first, the witnesses, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, hesitated, calling the question “hypothetical,” but Markey wouldn’t relent, and finally, Mattis allowed that the president could order a first strike if an adversary was seen “preparing” to launch an attack.

That is a worry:

Markey, a longtime advocate of nuclear arms treaties, knew the answer before asking the question, but some of the senators were surprised. Among them was the Republican chairman, Bob Corker. A businessman from Tennessee, Corker was deeply conservative, but he was also agitated by stories he’d been hearing about Trump’s mental state. Recently Corker had made a stir by likening the White House to an “adult day center” and warning that Trump’s reckless threats toward other countries could pave a “path to World War III.”

After the hearing, Corker told his staff that he was “riled up” by Markey’s exchange with the two secretaries and that he wanted to hold a separate hearing on the subject as soon as possible – “something real sober,” as he put it, “pointing out that the president has the power to basically destroy the world.”

There was a separate hearing on the subject, and it was just as frightening, but there was nothing much that was new:

There was a history of senior officials and underlings maneuvering around an untrustworthy chain of command. Back in the summer of 1974, amid reports of President Richard Nixon’s frequent drunkenness under the pressures of Watergate and his imminent impeachment, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger quietly asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff to call him if they received any “unusual orders” from the president. (Neither Schlesinger nor the chiefs, then or now, were in the chain of command for nuclear orders, so this would have technically been an act of insubordination.)

In late 1973, Maj. Harold Hering, a Minuteman missile launch officer in training, asked his instructors, “How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?” And, more broadly, “What checks and balances exist to verify that an unlawful order does not get in to the missile men?” Hering, a proud Air Force officer, had served multiple tours as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He simply wanted assurances that, if he ever got the signal to launch nuclear missiles against a foreign country, he would be following legal orders as military law required. For his devotion to the law, he was instantly yanked out of missile crewman class, given a desk job, and, after a review board meeting, drummed out of the military.

Nobody wanted to answer Hering’s questions, in part because they couldn’t be answered without raising doubts about the whole system of command and control over nuclear weapons. They aroused suspicions that the elaborate process of consultation over the decision to launch nuclear weapons might be fragile.

And then there’s C. Robert Kehler, former head of U.S. Strategic Command, which is in charge of plans and policies on nuclear weapons:

“The human factor kicks in,” as Kehler testified. There was no safety switch in place, no circuit breaker that someone could throw, if the human in charge turned out to be crazy.

And if the human in charge turns out to be a new species of extremely venomous snake the world could end. And that might happen. But our own Black Mamba, gone now, was a good man. Damn.

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The Amateur in Trouble

The History Channel has put its 2012 docudrama The Men Who Built America back in its broadcast rotation. So, once again, “Cornelius Vanderbilt grows from a steamboat entrepreneur to the head of a railroad empire, and gets into a heated rivalry with Jim Fisk and Jay Gould; the up and coming John D. Rockefeller founds Standard Oil. Many business owners lay their own rail lines which leads to the Panic of 1873. Later, Rockefeller starts to expand his wealth by diverting his business from the railroads to a new innovation, oil pipelines.”

And once again “Andrew Carnegie builds an empire around steel, but finds himself struggling to save face after the ruthless tactics of his business partner, Henry Frick, result in both the Johnstown Flood as well as the bloody 1892 strike at the Homestead Steel Works.”

And once again “J. P. Morgan proceeds to banish the dark with the direct current electric light of Thomas Edison, but the two soon face serious competition from the alternating current of George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla. As the 19th century comes to a close, the titans of industry must try to work together to stop a new threat in budding politician William Jennings Bryan, who threatens to dissolve monopolies in America.”

And once again “Rockefeller, Carnegie and Morgan team up to help elect William McKinley to the U.S. presidency by paying for his 1896 campaign, to avoid a possible attack on monopolies. However, fate intervenes when McKinley is suddenly assassinated, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt assumes the presidency and promptly begins dissolving monopolies and trusts in America. Meanwhile, Morgan buys out Carnegie Steel to make Carnegie the richest man in the world, and Henry Ford designs an affordable automobile with his Model T and starts his own business, Ford Motor Company, which sets a new business model for companies to follow.”

And all of it is unwatchable – Hollywood’s latest unknown vaguely sexy young male actors chewing the scenery, hoping for a break that might lead to real roles, one day, speaking overwrought unlikely dialog created by some “expert” who had decided that this was what those rich old white guys must have been shouting at each other long ago.

That was the challenge. Make these guys sexy, and make business decisions tense and exciting and dramatic and sexy too. Pump it up. This would be a big hit.

It wasn’t – “Linda Holmes writing for NPR ridiculed the series for dull presentation, corny re-enactments and ineffective narration. She slammed the production for feeling ‘a lot like a tricked-out version of an elementary school filmstrip’ and suggested that the series might be popular among those who accepted Donald Trump as one of the experts.”

That alone explains why the History Channel put this back in its rotation, and why the American Heroes Channel brought back its parallel 2015 series American Titans:

The idea for the pieces (the birth of American capitalism) is certainly interesting, but the acting is amazingly bad. The guys who play Vanderbilt and Fisk, in particular, were as bad I have as any I ever seen on television; the worst part is that someone thought they were good enough to leave in the final product.

Who cares? This is greedy filthy-rich old white guys stabbing each other in the back and rigging elections and, on the side, without a second thought, screwing the little guy, or just killing him, and thus making America what it is today. And the greedy filthy rich old white guys are the heroes! That’s so damned cool. That’s so damned Trump. Ya gotta love it.

Americans would love to see Andrew Carnegie sneering at Henry Frick one more time, implicitly accepting the premise that this country was built by a small handful of only a very few amazingly rich heroes who were nasty and spiteful – and those are the only people who really matter in the world.

But there’s no Andrew Carnegie sneering at Henry Frick now. All we have is Donald Trump, sneering almost randomly. There seems to be no matching greedy filthy-rich old white guy there to challenge him, Carnegie to Frick, Cornelius Vanderbilt to Jim Fisk and Jay Gould, man to man.

But wait. Check with the Washington Post. There’s Michael Bloomberg:

Mike Bloomberg is lagging behind his Democratic competitors in the polls, and he will not appear on the next presidential debate stage or on the ballot in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina.

But the former New York mayor has attracted the obsessive attention of President Trump, who is annoyed by Bloomberg’s constant ads targeting him, concerned about the billionaire’s outsize spending, focused on his growing numbers in the polls and seemingly fixated on his TV appearances.

The president has repeatedly attacked Bloomberg on Twitter, calling him “Mini Mike” to insult his small stature, and frequently focused on him in conversations with campaign advisers and White House officials.

Those conversations with campaign advisers and White House officials might be tense. The ridicule and sneers and the insults and nicknames, and the devastating tweets, just aren’t working:

“It’s very clear that the ads we are running have gotten under his skin because they are effective,” said Howard Wolfson, a senior Bloomberg aide. “Mike’s poll numbers are improving, the president is screaming. Mike is a data-driven guy. When he sees data is working, he doubles down.”

Wolfson said to expect more blistering ads against the president in coming months. So far, Bloomberg’s spots have targeted Trump over impeachment, his position on vaping, his health-care-policy decisions and his relationship with the military. Many have prompted rapid responses from Trump, sometimes minutes after they air.

Trump’s advisers have repeatedly encouraged the president to focus on other opponents instead. Campaign manager Brad Parscale and senior adviser Jared Kushner have warned against giving Bloomberg more attention and do not see him as the threat that Trump does, aides have said. There is no plan for the campaign to target him with advertisements at this point, advisers said.

But forget that. Bloomberg gets to him:

Trump has repeatedly brought up Bloomberg – calling him “evil,” in the words of one close adviser – and said that he wants to destroy Trump with unrelenting money, even if the president does not believe Bloomberg can win, according to aides.

He has called Bloomberg’s ads “lies” that are unfair depictions of his record in the White House. Several advisers have said the president also references Bloomberg’s 2016 Democratic convention speech as a sore point and repeatedly asks advisers about his polling numbers, which have hovered below 10 percent in public surveys.

If so, why is Donald Trump worried? The New York Times reports on that panic:

For weeks, President Trump’s advisers have urged him to ignore Michael R. Bloomberg’s nationally televised needling, warning him that it would only help the low-polling late entrant to the Democratic presidential primary by elevating his standing.

Mr. Trump heeded the counsel for a while, according to several of his allies, even as he repeatedly expressed anxiety about Mr. Bloomberg’s spending. But as he has tuned into coverage of his Senate impeachment trial, Mr. Trump has been pricked by a deluge of television ads funded by the former New York City mayor – a far wealthier billionaire who has made clear in his public remarks that he doesn’t fear the president.

The ads have been everywhere, appearing when Mr. Trump catches up on television viewing in Washington and following him to Florida when he visits his new home state. But on Thursday morning, when the spending migrated to Mr. Trump’s favorite morning show on Fox News, Mr. Bloomberg’s aides all but spoke to the president through the television screen.

Fox News sold the open thirty-second slots to the Bloomberg campaign, and openly acknowledged that Bloomberg was running, and not a bad guy, and that messed up everything for Trump:

The show, “Fox and Friends,” aired without commentary a new ad from Mr. Bloomberg’s team that is based on reporting from a new book, “A Very Stable Genius,” describing the language Mr. Trump used to excoriate military generals during a Pentagon meeting in 2017. The ad described him as “erratic” and pointed to the “chaos” in his administration.

Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey, appeared on the show to unveil the ad, saying the military is an “institution that everyone respects. I think people want our commander in chief to respect the institution, and I think he weakens the country by attacking it.”

The ad struck Mr. Trump with its focus on a topic he has often been concerned about – maintaining support among members of the military. So the president, who is notorious for reacting to what he sees on Fox News, did just that.

This called for one of those devastating attack-tweets:

“Mini Mike Bloomberg is playing poker with his foolhardy and unsuspecting Democrat rivals,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “He says that if he loses (he really means when!) in the primaries, he will spend money helping whoever the Democrat nominee is.”

He added: “By doing this, he figures, they won’t hit him as hard during his hopeless ‘presidential’ campaign. They will remain silent! The fact is, when Mini losses, he will be spending very little of his money on these ‘clowns’ because he will consider himself to be the biggest clown of them all – and he will be right!”

That wasn’t particularly coherent, which is a worry, but Trump was there to project righteous anger, and he did do that, not that it helped anything:

From Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to Brad Parscale, his campaign manager, to his polling team and other advisers, the president has been told repeatedly that Mr. Bloomberg isn’t worth his attention.

Meanwhile, even for some Democratic observers who are uncomfortable with how much money Mr. Bloomberg is flooding into the system, there is a relief in watching the candidate get into Mr. Trump’s head in a way that few have.

“Trump fears Bloomberg because Bloomberg is actually the guy who Trump played on TV – a fantastically wealthy, self-made success with unlimited resources and a willingness to spend it,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama.

The Trump campaign played down any worries about Mr. Bloomberg.

“It’s a free country and he can set his money on fire if he wants to,” said Tim Murtaugh, a campaign spokesman. “He’s still in a statistical tie with the back of the pack in the Democrat field.”

Trump was clear. Look how that idiot is wasting his money! That says it all! That’s all any voter needs to know!

Bloomberg, however, was in a different universe:

Guided by extensive internal polling, Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign first began directly attacking Mr. Trump with an ad on health care, accusing the president of ruining insurance for millions of Americans and undermining coverage of pre-existing conditions. The ad about pre-existing conditions immediately drew a Twitter rebuke from the president.

From health care to the environment to impeachment, the Bloomberg campaign has been running ads attacking Mr. Trump’s record nationally, particularly in key swing states. The ad about pre-existing conditions, for example, was backed by more than $1.2 million in the Orlando, Fla., market alone.

Trump was saying that it’s all about the money. That man wastes it. And that man talks about health care and the fires burning everywhere and everyday worries. Yeah, but who cares about that? He’s throwing his money away. He’s a fool, and of course that’s a matter of interpretation, because the fool knows all about the right, and about even more:

In a further tweak to Mr. Trump, the campaign is also running ads in his strongholds, such as $14 million worth of ads attacking the president in Texas. The state is also a Super Tuesday state, where Mr. Bloomberg hopes to amass delegates.

And the Bloomberg campaign confirmed that the ad about the Pentagon that set off Mr. Trump on Thursday morning would continue airing on Fox News.

Every television ad attacking Mr. Trump concludes with a contrast to Mr. Bloomberg, whose mayoral record and subsequent activism are portrayed glowingly; none of the ads are simply a takedown of the president.

That’s trouble, which the Associated Press’ Jonathan Lemire explains by stepping back a bit:

They are circling each other like wary boxers, with taunts on Twitter, snarky asides and belittling descriptions. They rose to prominence in Manhattan on parallel tracks, amassed wealth real and perceived and displayed a penchant for putting their names on things.

That’s where the similarities end. President Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg could hardly be more different as people, but now they both want the same job: Trump’s.

Bloomberg is making the case that he is many things that Trump is not: a builder of a financial data and media company that employs 20,000 people, a billionaire whose worth Forbes estimates at $60 billion, a problem-solver with a steady temperament who was elected three times as mayor of the nation’s largest city, one of the world’s leading philanthropists.

“Bloomberg is someone Trump would have liked to have been: to have invented something everyone uses, to have real wealth, to be seen as a creative person. Trump had to create an image for himself,” said George Arzt, onetime press secretary to former New York Mayor Ed Koch. Arzt knows both men professionally and personally.

He said Bloomberg is someone who likes to solve problems, someone who likes to be hands-on, even including the design of new Department of Sanitation trucks, while Trump is “basically a showman.” Arzt added that Trump always sought the limelight while Bloomberg shied away from it until he ran for mayor.

And that is the real contrast here. One of these two is a fraud. One of the two says that he’s a very stable genius, the smartest man in the room, the best president ever, for all time, the sexiest man alive and the smartest and everyone else is a damned fool, and everyone loves him, and then there’s this:

Trump, who said he once considered Bloomberg a friend, had a brutal assessment of his now-rival during a CNBC interview this week: “He’s spending a fortune. He’s making a lot of broadcasters wealthy. And he’s getting nowhere.”

That’s not quite true.

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Fighting Boredom

“Boredom is rage spread thin.” ~ Paul Tillich

“I like boring things.” ~ Andy Warhol

“All man’s troubles come from not knowing how to sit still in one room.” ~ Blaise Pascal

But who can sit still in one room? Who can follow each minute of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump as it plays out in the Senate, hour after hour, day after day? All one hundred senators have to sit still in one room and listen to all this, but no one else has to. That’s boring. But that isn’t so. Parents and teachers know this. When the kid whines that this or that is really boring, say no, you’re bored. It’s not the object. It’s the observer. The kid will get it, eventually. The kid will stop saying that this or that is boring. He or she is bored. That’s all. Nothing is inherently boring. Things just are what they are.

But still, there’s the impeachment trial of Donald Trump as it plays out in the Senate. That’s boring. No, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait finds this fascinating:

The first day of President Trump’s impeachment trial centered on the rules of evidence – Democrats want to admit documents and testimony the administration has blocked, and Republicans want to, well, block them. So far, Mitch McConnell is winning. He held his entire caucus together in a series of votes to block any new evidence from being admitted before the trial begins.

But the victory is Pyrrhic. Given that a vote to remove is almost inconceivable – Trump could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and all that – the trial is fundamentally an exercise in shaping public opinion about Donald Trump and his abuses of power. By voting to withhold evidence, Republicans are placing themselves in the unpopular position of abetting a cover-up.

Kevin Drum says that’s all wrong:

Mitch McConnell obviously has one overriding goal here: to keep the trial short and the public bored enough not to watch it. Refusing to allow new evidence is part of that: it ensures that nobody bothers turning on their TV in hopes that something new and exciting will happen. It won’t. Since Democrats have little choice except to repeat stuff everyone knows already, what’s the point of watching?

As long as the trial is short and dull, McConnell wins. Very few people even know who John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney are, let alone whether they avoided having to testify.

There’s something to that. There’s refusing to allow new evidence, making everything said old and stale. And then there’s Adam Schiff, the congressman from right here in Hollywood (and on out to Burbank on the other side of this hill out back) who is a meticulous former prosecutor but also the representative of a district that includes three major Hollywood studios. “Casablanca” was filmed in his (this) congressional district. He knows what to do. He owned the second day of this thing. No one was going to be bored. The New York Times’ Michael Shear reports on that:

The House Democratic impeachment managers began formal arguments in the Senate trial on Wednesday, presenting a meticulous and scathing case for convicting President Trump and removing him from office on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the lead House prosecutor, took the lectern in the chamber as senators sat silently preparing to weigh Mr. Trump’s fate. Speaking in an even, measured manner, he accused the president of a corrupt scheme to pressure Ukraine for help “to cheat” in the 2020 presidential election.

He became a storyteller for a day:

Invoking the nation’s founders and their fears that a self-interested leader might subvert democracy for his own personal gain, Mr. Schiff argued that the president’s conduct was precisely what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they devised the remedy of impeachment – one he said was “as powerful as the evil it was meant to combat.”

“If not remedied by his conviction in the Senate, and removal from office, President Trump’s abuse of his office and obstruction of Congress will permanently alter the balance of power among the branches of government,” Mr. Schiff said in his opening remarks. “The president has shown that he believes that he’s above the law and scornful of constraint.”

There you have it. Trump was trying to cheat. This was evil. The president was sneering at everyone, and at the Constitution – this was and is pure scorn – and Schiff and his team was going to try and stop this nonsense:

In a series of speeches, Mr. Schiff and the six other impeachment managers asserted that the president pressured Ukraine to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son, Hunter Biden, while withholding as leverage nearly $400 million in security aid for Kyiv and a White House meeting for its president. When he was caught, they said, Mr. Trump ordered a cover-up, blocking witnesses and denying Congress the evidence that could corroborate his scheme.

“President Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to a strategic partner at war with Russia to secure foreign help with his re-election,” Mr. Schiff declared. “In other words, to cheat.”

And that got a rise out of the other party:

Mr. Trump – impatient for his legal team to have a chance to mount a vigorous defense of his behavior – was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, hurling insults at the impeachment managers and telling reporters he would like to personally attend the Senate trial in order to “sit right in the front row and stare into their corrupt faces.”

At a news conference in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum, Mr. Trump said that John R. Bolton, the former White House national security adviser, could not be allowed to testify because he “knows my thoughts on certain people and other governments, war and peace and different things – that’s a national security problem.”

Most of that was name-calling and nonsense, as usual and as Schiff expected, but of course, some people were still bored:

On the first day of oral arguments, Mr. Schiff opened with a plea for patience, telling senators that “we have some very long days yet to come.” But senators already seemed restless; many passed notes to each other, and as the hours wore on, a handful of seats were frequently empty as lawmakers from both parties slipped out of the chamber for brief respites from the weighty – and often very tedious – arguments.

A protester in the Senate gallery briefly interrupted arguments from Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, shouting “Schumer is the devil” and yelling that Democrats support abortion before being dragged out by Capitol Hill police officers.

That may have been a welcome break from the tedium:

For now, the president’s legal team must sit silently in the chamber as the president’s House accusers have exclusive access to the microphone. Under the rules of the trial adopted on Tuesday, the House managers have 24 hours over three days to present their case, leaving White House lawyers to take in their searingly argued case about Mr. Trump’s actions, with no opportunity for immediate rebuttal.

The president vented his spleen about the process on Twitter, firing off so many posts that he set a record for any single day in his presidency.

As of 11:30 p.m., Mr. Trump had posted or reposted 142 messages on Twitter, surpassing the previous record of 123 set in December. Most were retweets of messages from allies and supporters assailing Mr. Schiff and others prosecuting the case.

He was sneering at top speed, thumbs tapping out short nasty insults on his iPhone screen at a furious rate, while this was happening:

Even as the House managers began laying out their case, newly released emails revealed additional evidence of friction between the Defense Department and the White House over a freeze sought by the president on military assistance to Ukraine. The emails, released just before midnight on Tuesday as a result of a Freedom of Information lawsuit, underscored the confusion and surprise among lawmakers, including some prominent Republicans, who learned that the military assistance to Ukraine had been held up.

Arguing for the prosecution, Mr. Schiff delved deeply into the details of the Ukraine pressure campaign, citing specific dates and meetings. But he also sought to pull back the lens, telling senators that they must act to remove Mr. Trump or “we will write the history of our decline with our own hand.”

Yes, Michelle Cottle notes that this was high drama:

Mr. Schiff began with a brief history lesson featuring a quote from Alexander Hamilton about the sort of “unprincipled,” “desperate,” “despotic,” self-serving leader that America’s founders feared when providing for impeachment. This president, he contended, is their worst nightmares made flesh. Stressing that no man is above the law, Mr. Schiff referred to Mr. Trump more than once as “a president who would be king.”

Going forward, Mr. Schiff explained, the House managers’ case would be broken into three parts: Wednesday would be spent on a “factual chronology” detailing “the president’s corrupt scheme in narrative form.” Next would come a discussion of “the constitutional framework of impeachment as it was envisioned by the founders,” followed by an analysis of how the president’s “corrupt course of conduct” is precisely the sort of misbehavior “impeachment was intended to remedy.”

This was high drama that was, however, draining:

Running two and half hours, Mr. Schiff’s presentation was methodical and his narrative coherent and comprehensive – some might even call it exhaustive. At one point, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, threw his hands about in frustration at being denied a break for so long.

But Mr. Schiff was merely the opening act, after which flowed a stream of his fellow managers providing even more granular detail – and more video clips. (Someone should have brought popcorn, except no food – other than candy – is allowed on the Senate floor during the trial.) With each passing hour, the evidence against the president piled higher, even if some senators could not be bothered to stay in their seats and listen.

Gail Collins notes what those particular senators missed:

Schiff, one of the managers the House sent to handle the impeachment trial in the Senate, has been the rock star of the proceedings. (Okay, suggesting this is a rocking experience would be… overstatement. But you get the idea.)

On Wednesday, Schiff spoke for nearly two and a half hours, nonstop, to open the Democrats’ case. Not a record, but really long, even for a politician. Donald Trump took up just a little over two hours at his impeachment-day rally, when he had enough time to suggest that the late Congressman John Dingell went to hell and to call Schiff “not exactly the best-looking guy we’ve ever seen.”

That does seem to be how Trump thinks, and that’s the problem:

Schiff’s mission was to take the Senate – and better yet, the American public – through Trump’s impeachable behavior, step by step. It’s certainly an action-packed story, and the Democrats have the advantage of audiovisual aids.

So much easier to keep the audience’s interest when you’ve got the title character on tape, saying stuff like, “I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”

Trump was busy making himself a cartoon villain, while Schiff went the other way:

For much of our modern history Republicans have tended to be the ones continually quoting the founding fathers, usually in regard to the dangers of an over-powerful federal government. Now the tables have turned. Clearly Mitch McConnell and his minions need to come up with some early American heroes who wouldn’t have seen a problem with a president who tries to make secret deals with a foreign power in order to enhance his chances for re-election.

On Wednesday, Schiff concluded with references to George Washington crossing the Delaware, Thomas Paine, Washington’s farewell address and Benjamin Franklin announcing our government would be “a republic, if you can keep it.”

Other Democrats then picked up the story, and they’ll be doing it for quite a while.

And then there’s the president:

He’s made the occasional burst into public – expressing the wish that he could be right there at the trial, where he could “sit right in the front row and stare into their corrupt faces.”

Really, try to imagine Donald Trump sitting still for two and a half hours of anything. Let alone a recapitulation of all the disasters of his term in office. His handlers, in a perfect world, would have had him somewhere on a remote ice floe.

“All I do is, I’m honest,” he told reporters clamoring for an impeachment reaction. “I make great deals. I’ve made great deals for our country.”

How do you think the founding fathers would have felt about that? Just try to imagine if one of them got caught trying to trade taxpayer money for political dirt on an opponent, and George Washington calming a horrified colleague with, “Well yeah, Mr. Hamilton, but remember… he makes great deals.”

This wasn’t even a fair fight, and Charlie Savage sees this:

When President Trump’s impeachment trial opened this week, the Democratic House managers prosecuting the case piled their table high with binders and notepads. Only a few rested on the defense table.

The contrasting amount of material the two legal teams brought into the Senate chamber to support their initial arguments foreshadowed a broader difference in their approaches to the trial.

In its opening days, the House managers have focused on the facts. They are trying to build a clear and coherent story around their theme that the president abused his power – delving into the details, putting up slides to summarize major points, and playing a well-organized selection of video clips of statements by Mr. Trump and by House witnesses.

Eschewing props, the defense team has focused instead on the process. They have used their time to reinforce the House Republican theme that impeachment is a sham and unfair to Mr. Trump – urging the Senate to swiftly dispose of the case without subpoenaing any additional documents or testimony.

That was a mistake. The facts were not boring. Look at this! This really happened! And then even stranger things happened! But process is always boring. By rule, this should not have happened, and it did, and this other thing should have happened, and it did not! You could look it up!

Which is the more compelling argument? But of course that doesn’t matter. Mitch McConnell already has more than enough votes to acquit Trump of everything. He can afford to be boring. Adam Schiff, however, is winning the argument and all subsets of the argument, by being dramatic and dramatically thorough. So he loses. But he wins, eventually. No one wants to be bored to death.

Posted in Trump Impeachment, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Word from Switzerland

President Trump has been impeached by the House of Representatives, by the Democratic majority, and is now on trial, but it’s not quite a trial. It’s a trial in the Senate, where the majority in the Senate, the Republicans, gets to make up all the rules, so now it looks like they’ll have a trial where they will hear no witnesses and admit no evidence. This should be quick work. Each side will present opening statements, which will be, in effect, their closing arguments, because nothing else will be allowed. And that is quite clever. And that means that no one will care about such nonsense. The Republicans have always had the votes in “their” Senate to acquit this president or at least to keep him from being convicted – he might be guilty of everything the House said but two-thirds of the Senate has to agree on that. If only a simple majority agrees he’s guilty he walks. Either way, he walks. And that makes this whole thing a bit absurd. Everyone knows the outcome already. The arguments, now, are about process. And these processes seem not to matter a bit.

But someone has to make sense of this. The New York Times Nicholas Fandos gives it a go:

A divided Senate began the impeachment trial of President Trump on Tuesday in utter acrimony, as Republicans blocked Democrats’ efforts to subpoena documents related to Ukraine and moderate Republicans forced last-minute changes to rules that had been tailored to the president’s wishes.

What? That went like this:

In a series of party-line votes punctuating hours of debate, Senate Republicans turned back repeated attempts by Democrats to subpoena documents from the White House, the State Department and the Office of Management and Budget that could shed light on the core charges against Mr. Trump. More votes were to come throughout the evening on Democratic efforts to subpoena current and former White House officials, although the outcome was expected to be the same.

It’s as if nothing mattered, but it does:

On its face, Tuesday’s debate was a technical one about the rules and procedures to govern the trial. But it set the stage for a broader political fight over Mr. Trump’s likely acquittal that will persist long after the proceeding is over, helping shape the 2020 campaign.

Democrats were laying the groundwork to argue that the trial was a cover-up rigged on Mr. Trump’s behalf and to denounce Republicans – including the most vulnerable senators seeking re-election in politically competitive states – for acquiescing.

Republicans, for their part, insisted that the Senate must move decisively to remedy what they characterized as an illegitimate impeachment inquiry unjustly tarring the presidency.

He did so much that was wrong! He did nothing wrong! There will be weeks and weeks of that, resolving nothing, as with this:

Standing in the well of the Senate, the Democratic House impeachment managers urged senators to reject proposed rules from the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, that would delay a debate over witnesses and documents until the middle of the trial, with no guarantee that they would ever be called.

“If the Senate votes to deprive itself of witnesses and documents, the opening statements will be the end of the trial,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the lead manager.

Well, yes, but that’s the whole point, and there was this:

At the heart of the trial are charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress approved last month by the Democratic-led House. They assert that Mr. Trump used the power of his office to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rivals, withholding as leverage nearly $400 million in military aid and a White House meeting. The president then sought to conceal his actions from Congress, the charges say, by blocking witness testimony and documents.

Mr. Trump’s legal team argues that the charges are baseless and amount to criminalizing a president’s prerogative to make foreign policy as he sees fit. In a break with most constitutional scholars, they also claim that the impeachment was unconstitutional because the articles of impeachment do not outline a specific violation of a law.

That matter was settled long ago. Trump’s people found one retired Harvard law professor who agrees with Trump on this, now. He used to agree with everyone else. But they found their one guy. He’d do, and the rest was what everyone expected, bluster and whining:

Half a world away, Mr. Trump, in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, sought to use the global stage to project confidence about his standing at home. He swatted away questions from reporters about the impeachment trial, instead bragging about the strength of the American economy under his leadership.

But in the Senate chamber, his lawyers replayed for senators many of his most frequent and personal grievances, accusing Democrats in only slightly more lawyerly terms of conducting a political search-and-destroy mission that Mr. Trump rails about daily on Twitter.

So it came down to the tweets, and Frank Bruni suggests what is really happening here:

Donald Trump obviously relishes the role of bully. But his greatest talent by far lies in playing the victim.

He’s a victim of Adam Schiff. A victim of Nancy Pelosi. A victim of all Democrats, really, and of his own seedy henchmen (Michael Cohen, Lev Parnas) and of the “deep state” and of the “fake news media” and of the entire establishment, whatever that is…

No president has ever been treated so badly. I’m not being sarcastic. I’m taking dictation: He has made this exact claim – repeatedly.

Bruni is referring to Trump tweets like this one but sees the larger picture:

His victimhood is front and center in his defense against the articles of impeachment and in the legal papers filed by his lawyers on Monday, as his trial in the Senate moved forward.

The lawyers write of a process “rigged” against Trump. They portray his Democratic accusers as unhinged tormentors, too consumed with his destruction to see how unimpeachably he has really behaved. The 171-page document is so soggy with Trumpian self-pity it weeps.

It’s so bloated with Trumpian hyperbole it waddles. On just one of those pages, his lawyers recount how Democrats exercised “shameful hypocrisy” as they “concocted an unheard-of procedure” and held those infamous “secret hearings in a basement bunker” while journalists “happily fed the public a false narrative” and the poor president was denied any rights whatsoever…

It expands on – and continues in the precise spirit of – a preliminary legal brief that his lawyers filed last weekend. “The scream of a wounded animal” was how two legal experts who contribute to The Atlantic assessed that argument. They could as easily have been describing the rest of Trump’s presidency, the whole of his political career and much of his life.

So, this is who the man has always been:

“This goes all the way back to his childhood,” Michael D’Antonio, the author of “The Truth about Trump,” told me. D’Antonio said that at the military-themed boarding school that Trump attended, he was known for complaining to superiors about unfair treatment. “It’s a strategy for him. He believes and has said that whining is a way to get what you want.”

Timothy O’Brien, who wrote the Trump biography “TrumpNation,” recalled that in the 1980s, when Trump failed to get the support that he wanted from Mayor Ed Koch for an enormous development in Manhattan, he threw himself a pity party, railing that “the system and local government were conspiring against him.”

As the conservative columnist Rich Lowry noted in August 2015: “By Trump’s own account, he’s the baddest, smartest thing going, except if you ask him a challenging question, in which case he kicks and screams and demands to know how anyone could treat him so unfairly.” Lowry crowned Trump “the most fabulous whiner in all of American politics.”

The CNN anchor Chris Cuomo subsequently asked Trump about Lowry’s words.

“I am the most fabulous whiner,” Trump conceded. “I keep whining and whining until I win.”

He whined operatically as November 2016 approached and it seemed that he’d lose to Hillary Clinton. “The election is going to be rigged,” he pouted, ever the victim. Then he beat Clinton – and still whined, insisting without proof that she’d done better in the popular vote because of millions of illegal ballots.

That man can’t help himself, but Bruni must admit the whining does help Trump:

It’s disgusting. It’s also part of his political genius. He has turned himself into a symbol of Americans’ victimization, telling frustrated voters who crave easy answers that they’re being pushed around by foreigners and duped by the condescending custodians of a dysfunctional system.

He’s their proxy, suffering on their behalf, and in that way he collapses the distance between a billionaire with multiple golf resorts and displaced factory workers struggling to hold on to their one and only homes.

But while it’s a fact that they’ve been dealt a bad hand, it’s a farce that he has. His fortune began with money from Dad. He has stiffed creditors, evaded taxes, attached his name to a bogus diploma mill, skimmed money from a fraudulent philanthropy, run afoul of campaign finance laws, signaled receptiveness to Russian interference in the 2016 election and tried to obstruct the investigation of that – all without any commensurate punishment.

Thanks to Republicans in the Senate, he’s poised to evade punishment again. We should all be such victims.

But damn, it works! Or maybe not, as Jennifer Rubin notes this:

The Senate and Trump have been banking on a non-trial with no new witnesses or evidence. That is how they intend to spare Trump and the Senate from the humiliation of overwhelming, persuasive evidence of the president’s guilt. The problem is that Americans overwhelmingly think this is wrong.

As in prior surveys, CNN’s newest poll finds, “Nearly seven in 10 (69%) say that upcoming trial should feature testimony from new witnesses who did not testify in the House impeachment inquiry. And as Democrats in the Senate seek to persuade at least four Republican senators to join them on votes over allowing witnesses in the trial, the Republican rank and file are divided on the question: 48% say they want new witnesses, while 44% say they do not.”

To make matters worse, a significant majority of Americans already consider Trump guilty of the charges set forth in the articles. (“58% say Trump abused the power of the presidency to obtain an improper personal political benefit and 57% say it is true that he obstructed the House of Representatives in its impeachment inquiry,” the CNN poll finds.) In trying to whitewash his conduct by suppressing evidence, Trump, and by extension Republicans in the Senate, will look like they are engaged in a cover-up. Trump might “win” acquittal (because Senate Republicans are spineless) and utterly lose in the court of public opinion. The more obvious the cover-up, the more that 69 percent of Americans will come to see the trial as a fraud and Trump as guilty.

But really, this is quite simple:

Trump and his cronies seem so certain of acquittal that they are oblivious to the consequences of their tactics: In conducting a cover-up in plain sight, they convince a substantial majority of Americans that Trump is guilty as sin, and his Senate accomplices are doing his dirty work.

That may be so, but the real action was in Switzerland:

President Trump trumpeted what he called “America’s extraordinary prosperity” on his watch, taking credit for a soaring stock market, a low unemployment rate, and a “blue-collar boom” in jobs and income, in a presidential turn on the world stage that was also meant to make impeachment proceedings against him in Washington look small.

Trump ran through economic statistics with a salesman’s delivery, crowing about growth during his three years in office that he said bested his predecessors and defied his skeptics.

“America is thriving, America is flourishing, and, yes, America is winning again like never before,” he told an audience of billionaires, world leaders, and figures from academia, media and the kind of international organizations and think tanks for which his “America First” nationalism is anathema.

In short, as he had been saying all along, he’s the best president of all time, and all those Euro-weenies and academics and economists are fools, and yes, he’s angry:

As the impeachment trial began in the Senate during Trump’s long day of activity here, the president repeatedly pivoted away from his broader economic message to lash out against his domestic political foes and the effort to remove him from office.

“READ THE TRANSCRIPTS!” Trump tweeted shortly after meeting with a group of global business leaders representing industries including energy, telecommunications and finance. Before the meeting, he decried the impeachment process in remarks to reporters – repeatedly calling it a “hoax.”

But of course he was in the wrong place for all of this:

Trump is making his second visit to the World Economic Forum, which for its 50th anniversary this year is focusing on climate change and sustainability. A sign at the entrance to the news center notes that paint for this year’s installation was made from seaweed and carpets from recycled fishing nets.

And that sort of thing only makes him angrier:

In an apparent back of the hand to critics who say he is allowing massive backsliding on U.S. environmental progress, Trump said the United States has its cleanest air and water in 40 years. And in remarks outside the hall, Trump said he is “a very big believer in the environment.”

In his speech, Trump made no mention of impeachment or U.S. politics, although he took a swipe at “radical socialists,” his term for Democrats and ideas about expansion of the government’s role in health care, education and other issues.

That applies to the environment too:

Trump was billed as the keynote speaker for the annual business-themed confab in this Alpine ski town, but the main attraction was Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 17, who has sparred with Trump on Twitter.

“Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour,” she told conference attendees Tuesday. “And we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else.”

In December, Trump insulted the teenager and Time magazine “Person of the Year” as “so ridiculous” and suggested that she “work on her anger management problem.”

Thunberg was quick to respond, updating her Twitter biography to describe herself as “a teenager working on her anger management problem.”

Trump had not yet arrived in Davos when Thunberg gave her first address Tuesday morning, saying that “without treating this as a real crisis, then we cannot solve it.” He did not attend her main speech later in the day, although she was in the audience for his.

He may have to destroy that little girl, because she’s the enemy, and so are the rest of those people, and he’d get them good:

President Trump renewed his threat to put hefty tariffs on European cars Tuesday at the World Economic Forum, promising hardball tactics if trade negotiations do not go his way.

Just days after Trump scored wins with China, Mexico and Canada, the move highlighted how Trump is quickly pivoting to make Europe the next front in his protectionist trade war.

As part of this push Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned Italy and Britain could face U.S. tariffs if they pursue taxes on large technology companies such as Facebook and Alphabet’s Google. French President Emmanuel Macron agreed in recent days to delay a similar tax to avoid Trump’s tariffs.

The threatened tariffs were evidence of the growing rift between the United States and Europe, on clear display as leaders from the two continents appeared to be talking from different scripts. Trump insisted on discussing a new trade deal, while European leaders kept emphasizing action on climate change and cooperation.

He wanted to punish them for anything and everything that they had ever done to irritate him, and he has his one favorite tool for that, those tariffs:

In Europe, world financial leaders expressed hope that Trump had come to Davos to announce a reduction in trade tensions not just with China but with Europe as well. Macron tweeted Tuesday morning that he and Trump had a “great discussion” in which they agreed to work together “to avoid tariff escalation.”

But Trump made it clear his new focus is a wide-ranging trade deal with Europe and that he had not taken tariffs entirely off the table.

“They know that I’m going to put tariffs on them if they don’t make a deal that’s a fair deal,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal.

He makes threats. He can cause great pain, and he will. Don’t mess with him:

For months, European officials have tried to stay under Trump’s radar, hoping he was distracted with the China talks. Several European leaders, including Macron, have invited Trump to high-profile ceremonies, in part to keep trade discussions going and avoid tariffs.

“Up until now, Europe has managed to keep its head low when it comes to Trump’s trade ire,” said Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “But with Trump calling a truce with China, he may be looking to pick one last trade fight before the November election – and Europe is in his sights.”

And his base will love that. Now the Europeans will feel great pain, and screw that environmental nonsense:

“The world is in a state of emergency, and the window to act is closing fast,” Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, said in remarks shortly before Trump took the stage. The European Union has its own Green Deal in the works to become carbon-neutral by 2050, including new regulations and massive government investment.

In his formal address at Davos, Trump dismissed such concerns as overly alarmist. He stressed that countries should be free to make their own decisions.

“We must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse,” Trump said. “These alarmists always demand the same thing – absolute power to dominate, transform and control every aspect of our lives.”

In short, no one will tell him what to do. No one will tell any American what to do. No one will tell the United States what to do. And thus Max Boot sees this:

President Trump keeps bragging about having the “biggest and by far the BEST” military “in the world,” with $2 trillion worth of “brand new beautiful equipment.” This is, as usual, a vast exaggeration. But even if it were totally true, it wouldn’t matter. There isn’t enough military equipment in the world to make up for the unilateral disarmament that Trump is committing in the field of soft power.

In fact, we have no soft power left:

The Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye defined soft power as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies.” Under Trump, America’s attractiveness has gone down even as its stock market has gone up. The Pew Research Center found in a survey of people in 22 nations that the number who expresses confidence in America’s president fell from 70 percent in 2013 to 28 percent in 2018, while the numbers who see U.S. power as a major threat climbed from 25 percent to 45 percent. A recent YouGov survey found that more Germans view Trump as a danger than they do North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and China’s Xi Jinping combined.

Much of the world rejects Trump’s policies. A new Pew Research Center survey of people in 32 countries found that 68 percent oppose his tariffs, 66 percent his withdrawal from climate change agreements, 60 percent his border wall, 55 percent allowing fewer immigrants into the United States and 52 percent his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement. What makes Trump’s decisions worse is that so many of them were taken either without consulting U.S. allies – as when he pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership three days after taking office – or without seriously listening to their concerns.

But wait, there’s more:

It’s not just his policies that make Trump – and by extension the whole country — so much less popular worldwide. All of the appalling behavior that causes him to lose standing at home – his incessant lies, his bombastic threats, his playground name-calling and abusive tweets, his racism, his erratic zigzags – also undermines him abroad. When Trump pardons war criminals, tries to legalize bribery by U.S. companies, insists that he did “NOTHING WRONG” in pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political opponent, calls the media “the enemy of the people,” tries to discredit the intelligence community (“go back to school!”) and the FBI (“badly broken”), and orders investigations of the investigators – in other words, when he acts like a typical dictator – that’s when American soft power melts as fast as the polar ice caps.

Every time Trump meets with foreign leaders, the yawning gap between his inflated self-image as a “very stable genius” and the disturbing reality becomes starkly apparent.

So it comes down to this:

It never occurs to Trump that he is confirming every anti-American stereotype on the planet. If you think the United States is a rapacious imperialist bent on despoiling the planet and looting other countries with an army of mercenaries, Trump seems intent on convincing you that you are right.

But he’s not on trial for that. And it’s not much of a trial anyway. He’ll walk. So he will be the face of America now and maybe forever. Whatever happens, the world will remember all of this.

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Well-Armed and Unreasonable

Details matter. There’s Castle Doctrine – “castle law” or “defense of habitation” law. In English common law the term is derived from the aphorism that “an Englishman’s home is his castle” – a concept established as English law by the 17th century jurist Sir Edward Coke, in his The Institutes of the Laws of England, 1628 – “For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge].”

That’s one reason we have the Second Amendment. People should be allowed to keep a gun at home to protect their home and family. That’s their right, and the police are always late anyway. But don’t take your gun outside the house – outside your “castle” so to speak. There the public has rights too. There’s the right to not get shot over disagreements in public places – except that’s no longer so in Florida and other states that have passed “stand your ground” laws. There the idea is that you carry your castle with you. If you feel threatened, even slightly threatened, by a stranger in a public place, far from home, you have the right to blow his (or her) brains out right there on the spot.

This has led to endless litigation. That’s a distortion of castle doctrine. There’s no castle there – but yes, the courts have found that arms for self-defense, at home or in special defined circumstance, are just fine. That’s probably what the Founding Fathers had in mind.

The current view on the American right is not that at all. The current argument there is that because Thomas Jefferson once said that we’d probably need another revolution now and then, the Founding Fathers added the Second Amendment so citizens, when outvoted by their fellow citizens on this issue or that, could overthrow the duly and legally elected government to make things right, because the people are sometimes stupid, and democracy is sometimes stupid. Sometimes, to preserve freedom, the will of the people must be abrogated. That’s why Michelle Bachmann and others said that if Congress, elected by the people, passed Obamacare, true patriots had their guaranteed Second Amendment Remedy. They could fix that – with armed revolution to overthrow the mistaken-majority’s government – or at least assassinate a few stupid politicians. The Founding Fathers knew voters could be stupid. Patriots with guns could fix that – thus that amendment.

That’s rather dramatic, and odd. That makes democracy, government by the agreement of the majority, by the vote of the elected representatives of the majority, the evil enemy of freedom. That has people talking about “the tyranny of the majority” and taking up arms to fight that. The formula is simple. Hate democracy with all your soul, and love freedom instead. The majority has taken away freedoms. Seatbelts are mandatory now, and so are helmets for motorcyclists. And that’s where it starts. Soon no one has any freedom to do anything. Majority rule must be stopped!

The Founding Fathers cannot have had that in mind, but the third view of the Second Amendment is just boring. “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

What? There was an argument behind that:

While both James Monroe and John Adams supported the Constitution being ratified, its most influential framer was James Madison. In Federalist No. 46, Madison wrote how a federal army could be kept in check by state militias, “a standing army would be opposed by a militia.” He argued that state militias “would be able to repel the danger” of a federal army, “It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops.” He contrasted the federal government of the United States to the European kingdoms, which he described as “afraid to trust the people with arms,” and assured that “the existence of subordinate governments forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition.”

In short, a big federal army, a big standing army, was asking for trouble. A standing army would be too tempting to any president. He’d become a tyrant in a day or two, with his very own big army. State militias would fix that. Those wouldn’t be his.

The Second Amendment established those. Those are the words. That’s all it did.

And then the whole issue became moot. Except for each state’s National Guard – with tanks and planes and artillery and whatnot – we have a giant standing federal Army, and Navy, and Marine Corps, and Air Force, and Coast Guard – and that’s the president’s very own. James Madison would not be impressed. That’s not what he had in mind. He worried about those enterprises of ambition. The president is not a king.

But all those details are forgotten now, with the Washington Post reporting on the day’s big event:

Thousands of gun rights advocates packed the streets around the Virginia Capitol on Monday, bristling with weapons, flags and threats of insurrection but never erupting into the violence authorities had feared.

Armed militias carrying assault-style weapons marched in formation until the crowds grew too thick. Protesters without firearms filed through 17 metal detectors at a single entrance to Capitol Square, where Gov. Ralph Northam had temporarily banned weapons, and cheered fiery speeches about the Second Amendment.

But nothing nasty happened, just disagreement, which was not what anyone expected:

This was the aftershock of last fall’s elections, when Virginia voters gave majorities in the General Assembly to Democrats who promised to enact gun-control laws. The losing side of that equation thundered through this city’s streets Monday. They were joined by self-styled patriots from all over the country, whipped into a near-frenzy by social media calls – including from President Trump – to make Virginia the bulwark against any retreat on gun rights.

When the president tweeted, over and over, that “they” are going to take your guns, so show up locked and loaded in Richmond, people did worry:

Intelligence from law enforcement about outside threats had put Virginia officials on edge and led to a massive police presence. The crackdown also made Northam a symbol of the country’s cultural and political divide – as evidenced by harsh signs Monday depicting him as a “tyrant,” “radical Ralph” and Photoshopped into a Nazi uniform.

“Democrats in the state are demonstrating unadulterated power without authority,” Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America, thundered in Capitol Square. “No one listening to my voice should ever vote for the party of gun control, the party of Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer,” he said, interrupted by boos at the names of the Democratic leaders.

But those were just images and words, and there was the other side to this:

Democrats who had met with pro-gun lobbyists Monday morning said they, too, were responding to thousands of fired-up constituents – the voters who put them into office on the promise of stricter gun laws. “You will see sensible gun-violence-prevention legislation pass this year,” Del. Alfonso H. Lopez (D-Arlington) said before heading into a party caucus.

And that was that:

Authorities reported no major incidents and only a single arrest – of a 21-year-old woman charged with wearing a mask in public – despite the presence of numerous out-of-state militia and extremist groups that had threatened violence online and in social media…

One man was turned away at the metal detectors for having screws in his pockets. A pink smoke bomb went off near the entrance to Capitol Square, but police were unable to find out who detonated it. Officers did remove a homemade guillotine that had been set up on the street, inscribed with the words: “The penalty for treason is death.”

Northam praised law enforcement and said he was thankful there was no violence. “Today showed that when people disagree, they can do so peacefully,” he said in a written statement. “The issues before us evoke strong emotions, and progress is often difficult. I will continue to listen to the voices of Virginians, and I will continue to do everything in my power to keep our Commonwealth safe.”

But it was still quite a scene:

On Monday, before full light, thousands of people were converging on the Capitol, bundled against temperatures that didn’t get above freezing until afternoon. By midmorning, the streets were packed like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. A militia’s fife-and-drum corps mixed with the sounds of police helicopters whirring overhead.

On Ninth Street, the sea of gun-toting, camouflage-wearing humanity was too thick to move. A group of burly men formed a chain, each holding the backpack of the one in front, to try to make headway down the hill. Flags sprouted like flares – American flags, Gadsden (“Don’t Tread on Me”) flags, militia flags. Squadrons of militias formed lines and executed marches, then sat along the curb and warmed their hands and rested their weapons.

A reporter felt his bag snag on something, turned and saw that it had caught the edge of a long assault-style rifle. “Sorry, you’re good,” said the man carrying it, his face concealed behind a scarf and dark glasses.

Another man carried a gigantic .50-caliber Barrett M82A1 rifle, probably five feet long, and wore a helmet and body armor.

“This sends a strong visual message,” said Brandon Lewis, patting the rifle. He had driven from Bergen, NY, where he owns a shooting range.

But the message was only about this:

Much of the crowd’s ire was focused on Northam, who vowed to pass gun control after a shooter killed 12 people at a Virginia Beach municipal building last year. He has touted measures such as universal background checks, a limit on handgun purchases of one per month and a “red flag” law allowing authorities to temporarily seize weapons from those deemed a threat. Democrats seem to be backing away from plans to ban assault weapons.

This is standard stuff that the public overwhelmingly approves, but that’s the tyranny of the majority:

“Sign here to recall Radical Ralph,” called out Chris Anders, 48, of Loudoun County, who was gathering signatures for Northam’s removal on behalf of a group called Virginia Constitutional Conservatives. “People are tired of someone trying to roll over them,” he said.

He was suddenly drowned out by cheers. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was nearby, shouting angrily. “If you try to take our firearms it’s another 1776!” Jones roared, calling Northam a “piece of trash.”

That was a call to end the United States of America because, as a democracy, majority rule has become tyranny. Jones thinks it’s time to start over. He’s never said what he prefers to majority rule. Perhaps competing armed militias are the answer to everything.

Who knows? But the Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak saw this:

Scores of men – plus a handful of women – dressed up in battle-rattle and draped themselves with assault weapons, long guns and handguns on Monday. They strapped hunting knives to their thighs and wore body armor and body cameras on their chests, shoulders and helmets.

To a rally. A peaceful rally. On city streets in a quiet state capital on a holiday weekend.

That’s a uniform of fear, right there.

Fear of having to pass a background check if they want to buy a gun from a private individual?

Fear of not being able to buy more than one handgun every month?

Fear of not being able to carry an AR-15 across your chest to a county fair that doesn’t want your weapon aboard the Tilt-a-Whirl?

Fear of getting help taking a gun away from your suicidal son?

Those are all of the restrictions on guns that the Virginia House of Delegates passed. There are no more than those, so Dvorak argues that the fear here is actually about a loss of power:

“It happened like that,” a man dressed in full camo with a handgun strapped to his hip told his friend, snapping his finger. “We were good for years, then the left took over and they’re going to take our guns away. Virginia is the home of the NRA. They want to run them out, too.”

Be honest, people. Most law-abiding, regular old Virginians could still have a weapon – many weapons, even – under the common-sense legislation that the new Democratic majority in Richmond is passing.

But that doesn’t matter:

Besides thousands of people who went through security to adhere to the emergency order banning weapons on Capitol grounds, thousands more who decided they couldn’t be without their weapons encircled the Capitol.

Huge assault weapons strapped across chests and backs knocked against each other in the port-a-potty lines. Some walked in a masked phalanx, bookended by German shepherds.

One group pushed through crowds in a conga line of camo and Carhartt, holding on to each other as they muscled through a crush of people. “Racist, white supremacists coming through,” one line leader bellowed, laughing, like everyone should know he really isn’t racist.

And on the other side there was this:

Counterprotesters were urged by their leaders to avoid the rally. The Moms (who) Demand Action – the group that worked hard to help flip the state’s legislature from red to blue – didn’t show up with their shirts and signs. The families of people killed in massacres avoided the scene. The rowdies who like to clash with everyone Netflixed and chilled.

That helped keep the peace.

But it also meant there were no counterprotesters there to explain that requiring safety checks that still make owning a gun easier than driving a car are not a wholesale assault on the Second Amendment.

But there was no one there who would listen to that, much less actually consider that, so these people shouted and marched and then everyone went home, which left the Chicago Tribune’s Rex Huppke saying this:

The Monday protest seemed to highlight my many failings as a white man in his late 40s. For example, I have spent most of my adult life thinking it would be, at the very least, rude for a civilian to carry an assault rifle around in public, even if that civilian had the right to do so.

Apparently I was mistaken. Monday’s rally showed that a large adult male holding a high-powered weapon in public while demanding something most people oppose is the purest expression of freedom and patriotism and not, as I previously suspected, a selfish display aimed at making others feel threatened and uncomfortable.

How I could be so wrong is beyond me.

Jeff Hulbert, of a Maryland group called Patriot Picket, which describes itself as “Defenders of Liberty and the 2nd Amendment,” described Monday’s protest to the Washington Post: “This is the Woodstock of the 2nd Amendment.”

Now I’ve missed Woodstock twice.

And then there’s this:

The other fundamental error I made was not realizing that the views of a small number of predominantly white, male gun worshippers should take precedent over everyone else’s view.

Democrats took control of the state legislature and the governor’s office on a platform of tougher gun laws.

A September Washington Post-Schar School poll found 88% of Virginians support expanding background checks and 82% support “red flag” legislation. The poll also showed that more than 80% of Republicans, Democrats and independents support universal background checks.

Some of that thinking might have been spurred by actual data. The gun-control advocacy group Gun Violence Archive reported Monday that in the first 20 days of the new year, there have been: 763 gun deaths; 1,427 gun injuries; 28 children ages 11 and younger shot; 150 kids and teenagers ages 12 to 17 shot; 15 police officers shot; and 14 mass shootings.

Just Sunday night, two people were killed and 15 wounded when a gunman fired at a line of people waiting outside a bar in Kansas City, Missouri, to celebrate the Super-Bowl-bound Kansas City Chiefs’ victory.

But in the face of overwhelming evidence that America has a violence problem exacerbated by readily available firearms, and that the clear desire of most Americans is to see tighter restrictions on firearms, Monday’s Virginia rally showed that neither of those things should matter to white men who like guns.

And then there’s this:

To better fall in line with the examples set by these pro-gun protesters, I put together a to-do list:

Stop being a liberal weenie and recognize that, as a white man in America, I am the victim. (This can be applied to anything that isn’t handled in the exact way I want it to be handled, be it gun control, impeachment, the #MeToo movement, political correctness…)

Begin to fear everything EXCEPT gatherings of thousands of predominantly white men carrying large and intimidating firearms in public spaces.

Purchase an unnecessarily large and intimidating firearm and then get mad that I can’t purchase more unnecessarily large firearms faster.

Wear camouflage in places where it makes me stick out rather than blend in, like on the streets of a state’s capital city on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Equate my right to protest while carrying an unnecessarily large, intimidating firearm to all other forms of protest in which people don’t carry large firearms, and refuse to acknowledge the difference.

Speak endlessly about my love of freedom and democracy while ignoring any outcomes arrived at freely and democratically that get in the way of me purchasing more firearms and carrying them wherever I want.

Respect the strength and patriotism of thousands of white men carrying firearms through the streets while not admitting that I might have a wholly different opinion if those firearm-carrying men were predominantly nonwhite.

Hopefully this list will get me more “in sync” with the Virginia protesters.

That might do the trick:

If I read Monday’s rally right, I’m entitled to be well-armed and unreasonable.

Aren’t we all?

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Governing by Ridicule

“I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Matilda’s father keeps saying that in the Roald Dahl book – and Danny DeVito keeps saying that to the poor little girl in the 1996 movie – with the additional irony that he is a short tiny actor – but it doesn’t matter. Matilda is a hidden genius with extraordinary powers, and a good heart, and a quick smile, and she makes things all better for everyone. Her father doesn’t believe that. He can shut her down and shut her up through intimidation. But all he does is hurt her feelings and harden her resolve to do what she thinks is right, and is right. And everyone loves the story. Everyone knows what it’s like to be told to sit down and shut up, to be told who has the real power and always will have the real power – and it’s not you and never will be you. This is a story where bullies, in the end, have no power at all. They sputter out insults and ridicule but these bullies don’t matter at all. Smart and generous and decent people are the people who matter. Yes, it’s a fantasy.

There’s the real world and the question now. Is it possible to govern a nation and construct a new foreign policy based entirely on insults and ridicule? Is that what motivates others?

There’s the test case. Donald Trump has decided that Obama had been wrong. The way to deal with Iran, to get them to agree to never have nukes and love Israel and Jesus and stop being a pain, was not to slowly work out agreements on this and that, but to destroy their economy with massive sanctions and to mock and humiliate them – and then when they finally give in, to kick them in the face so the world would know we’re wonderful. And part of that humiliation was to take out one of the three top men in their government, their top general. He was a nasty man, but he seems to have been just a part of our plan. We would humiliate these people. Trump was Matilda’s father – “I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

That’s part of his personality. There’s a pattern here. William Saletan identifies this:

Trump admires tyrants and defends their atrocities. He has excused North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s mass executions (“Yeah, but so have a lot of other people“) and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s murders of journalists and dissidents (“At least he’s a leader“). As a presidential candidate, Trump shrugged off the gravity of using chemical weapons. “Saddam Hussein throws a little gas, everyone goes crazy,” he joked.

At home, Trump has encouraged religious persecution and political violence. He called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States (he later imposed a modified version of the ban) and for collective punishment of Muslims who live here. As a candidate, Trump urged his supporters to “knock the crap out of” protesters. In 2018, at a political rally, he praised a Republican congressman for criminally assaulting a reporter. “Any guy that can do a body slam,” said Trump, “he’s my guy.”

Trump has long advocated war crimes. He has endorsed torture not just for information, but because our enemies “deserve it.” As a candidate, he proposed that for the sake of “retribution,” the United States should “take out” the families of terrorists. Wives and children were legitimate targets, he argued, because by killing them, we could deter terrorists who “care more about their families than they care about themselves.” Two months ago, he intervened in legal and military proceedings to thwart punishment of three American servicemen who had been indicted for or convicted of atrocities. Then he deployed the men in his reelection campaign.

But wait, there’s more:

Trump agrees with past presidents that we and our terrorist adversaries have played by “two [different] sets of rules.” But unlike his predecessors, he takes no pride in America’s higher standards. He sees them as a needless impediment, defended by “weak” and “stupid” people. In 2016, Trump complained that ISIS was “cutting off the heads of Christians and drowning them in cages, and yet we are too politically correct to respond in kind.” Torture laws should be relaxed, he argued, “so that we can better compete with a vicious group of animals.” “You have to play the game the way they’re playing the game,” he explained.

And there’s this:

Some presidents have caused pain through recklessness or indifference. Trump inflicts pain on purpose. To deter migration from Latin America, his administration separated migrant parents from their children. Trump argued that the separation was a “disincentive.” Too many people, he explained, were “coming up because they’re not going to be separated from their children.”

That’s just a bit of what Saletan lays out and ends with this:

Having an evil president doesn’t make the United States evil. We have a lot to be proud of: a culture of freedom, a strong constitution, vigorous courts, democratic accountability, and laws that protect minorities and human rights. On balance, we’ve been a force for good in the world. But Trump’s election and his persistent approval from more than forty percent of Americans are a reminder that nothing in our national character protects us from becoming a rapacious, authoritarian country.

It’s too easy to become Matilda’s absurdly unaware father, and that’s where Trump is comfortable. The Washington Post’s Anne Gearan and John Hudson cover that:

When President Trump decided early in his administration to pressure fellow NATO members to spend more on their military budgets, he threatened to pull out of the alliance.

When Iraqi leaders this month said they wanted U.S. troops to leave their country, the president said he would impose “very big sanctions” on Baghdad in response.

And after tensions with Iran recently escalated to the point of potential war, his administration privately threatened large automobile tariffs on European countries if they didn’t call out Tehran for alleged violations of the 2015 nuclear deal that Trump has sought to dismantle.

Trump’s maximalist approach to diplomacy has become a hallmark of his administration’s foreign policy, one that has scored him some short-term victories, been derided as extortion by his detractors and played a central role in an impeachment fight over his actions toward Ukraine that will play out on the floor of the Senate this week.

That is, threats and insults and ridicule seem self-limiting, not that this matters to Trump:

Although the president has been inconsistent in how he has carried out his worldview, he has made clear that he has no plans to back away from his strong-arm tactics even as they have increasingly antagonized American friends and foes alike, leaving the United States potentially more isolated on the world stage.

Trump heads to snowy Davos, Switzerland, on Monday for an economic forum attended by world leaders and corporate honchos where tensions with his administration will probably be on display. The president is expected to use his address there Tuesday to crow about successful trade deals, a humming U.S. economy and his recent showdown with Iran.

“We are booming. Our country is the hottest country anywhere in the world. There’s nothing even close,” Trump said Thursday as he confirmed that he planned to go to Davos. “Every world leader sees me and they say, ‘What have you done? This is the most incredible thing that we’ve ever seen.’ “

Every world leader would deny saying that, if it were worth the effort to deny having said any such thing, but getting into an argument with Trump over this sort of thing will only encourage the guy. Let it go. He says everybody everywhere loves him. He says that everyone agrees that he’s the greatest president of all time. Don’t argue with him. Let everyone see the pathology.

Deal with the real issues:

Trump’s visit to Davos will put him in close quarters with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and executives from European manufacturers, days after news that the Trump administration had threatened a 25 percent tariff on European automobiles.

The White House has not announced whether Trump will meet directly with Merkel, although diplomats said they expect the two to talk. Germany has been a central target of Trump’s threats on several fronts, as he argues that it does not compensate the United States enough for the military units hosted there and has been allowed to take advantage of economic policies that are unfair to American consumers and companies.

How to deal with Iran is also likely to be a discussion at the forum, particularly if Trump and Merkel meet.

This is tricky:

Last week, the Trump administration confounded European officials by threatening to impose the auto tariff if the governments of Britain, France and Germany didn’t initiate a mechanism in the Iran nuclear accord that could re-impose an arms embargo and economic sanctions on Tehran. That step, which the three took Tuesday, could eventually unravel the wobbly remains of the Obama-era agreement, though the Europeans are still actively seeking to salvage it. Trump pulled the United States out of the international pact in 2018, but the other signatories to the deal have tried to keep Iran committed to its tenets.

“Extortion,” said one European official of the U.S. effort to coerce European foreign policy through tariffs.

Yes, the whole thing backfired:

The U.S. allies had already planned to initiate the dispute mechanism, said U.S. and European officials, but the threat forced them to reevaluate their plans for fear of being viewed as bowing to Washington pressure.

“We wanted to do this, but Trump’s threat nearly derailed the plans because of how sensitive we are to being perceived as Washington’s lap dog,” said a European official.

“This case demonstrated that the Trump administration has lost the art of diplomacy with allies,” said Jeremy Shapiro, director of research at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “The entire nature of a close ally is that you work together to find ways to be in sync without resorting to threats.”

But what about threats and insults and ridicule? They’re supposed to work wonders. But they may have gotten Trump impeached:

House Democrats allege that Trump tried to leverage a White House meeting and military aid, sought by Ukraine to combat Russian military aggression, to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, as well as a probe of an unfounded theory that Kyiv conspired with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump insists he did nothing wrong and that his concern was with corruption broadly in Ukraine rather than to force investigations that could benefit him in his reelection campaign this year.

And as part of Trump’s defense, administration officials have tried to couch his handling of Ukraine policy, which even concerned some Republicans while the aid was withheld over the summer, as fitting perfectly within his strong-arm foreign policy approach as they deny any corrupt intent on Trump’s part.

All he said to Zelensky was “I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” What’s the problem? That’s what America now says to every nation in the world. That’s the way it should be. They want to impeach him for that?

It seems that they do, because there is a problem:

In the broader debate over Trump’s foreign policy, there have been repeated clashes over both the short- and long-term implications for the United States. While proponents of Trump’s coercive style say it has produced results, critics contend that it has hurt American leadership in the world and cost the United States some trust and goodwill among friends.

Trump rankled allies last year when he attempted to extract billions of dollars from them through a formula he coined “cost plus 50 percent,” meaning that countries should pay the cost of stationing American troops on their territory plus 50 percent more.

The formula alarmed European officials, most acutely in Germany, where the Pentagon has more than 33,000 troops. After the backlash, defense officials said the formula only pertained to U.S. allies in Asia.

Okay, white folks are off the hook on this, but this is still dangerous:

Veteran diplomats and analysts argue that Trump shows a dangerous lack of understanding about why U.S. troops are in allied countries – noting the main point is to protect American interests and project power.

“President Trump fails to understand why America has allies in the first place,” said Harry Kazianis, an Asia specialist at the Center for the National Interest. “He treats allies more like mafia partners in crime who need to kiss up to America for protection.”

Trump says he is using the skills of a real estate magnate to get better deals for Americans whose global generosity he says has been abused.

But that might be the wrong model:

“Every day we learn more about the tactics this administration uses to further its goals, and every day we see that they are no more sophisticated than the tactics of gangsters,” said Dana Shell Smith, a former ambassador to Qatar who quit in protest of Trump policies.

Fred P. Hochberg, who headed the Export-Import Bank under Obama, said Trump is “always itching for a fight” and prioritizes short-term payoffs to the detriment of the country.

“The United States has prospered by working with others and taking a longer-term view; good relations yield better and more sustainable results for the American people,” said Hochberg, author of the new book “Trade is Not a Four Letter Word.” “It appears the current thinking is, ‘Get what you can now, and don’t worry about longer-term consequences,'” Hochberg said.

Perhaps it is about getting what you can, because Saletan notes this too:

Trump views the military as a mercenary force he can send around the world for hire. A Very Stable Genius, the new book by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig of the Washington Post, describes a White House meeting at which Trump said American troop deployments should yield a profit. Trump told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham he’s doing exactly that: “We’re sending more [troops] to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia’s paying us for it.” He recounted his business pitch to the Saudis: “You want more troops? I’m going to send them to you, but you’ve got to pay us.” And he proudly reported that the Saudis had accepted the deal. “They’re paying us,” he told Ingraham. “They’ve already deposited $1 billion in the bank.”

No one can find any proof of that, but it seems that in that meeting described in the book, Trump is shouting out one question over and over at the Joint Chiefs and Tillerson and all the others – “Why aren’t we making MONEY at this!” That’s when Tillerson called him “a fucking moron” on his way out the door.

Ah well, he had called the Joint Chiefs babies and fools and cowards – total ridicule – maximum pressure – to motivate them or make them admire him or something. That’s what he does because he seems to think that that’s how the world works.

Jackson Diehl reinforces that:

Much of this president’s international engagement has been a hodgepodge of impulsive and contradictory actions. But to the extent there is a Trump doctrine, it amounts to this: Use tariffs, sanctions and other means of economic pressure to compel U.S. adversaries – and, as often, allies – to accede to White House demands.

The amount of this pressure has varied from China to South Korea and from Ukraine to Mexico. So have the results. But in three cases – North Korea, Iran and Venezuela – Trump’s explicit policy has been “maximum pressure.” And in those instances, the record at the moment is clear: maximum failure.

That’s rather obvious:

Maximum pressure was supposed to induce the regime of Kim Jong-Un to surrender its entire arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Three years in, it is still building them – and it has now publicly sworn off any further negotiations with the Trump administration. Whether Kim will order a return to the testing of long-range missiles or nuclear warheads in the next few months, thereby provoking an election-year crisis for Trump, remains uncertain. What’s certain is that North Korea will end Trump’s first term with a dozen or so more nukes than it had when he took office.

And there’s this:

Maximum pressure was going to force Iran to renegotiate the curbs on its nuclear program – and maybe cause the regime to collapse. Instead, by the end of this year, the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is likely to have enough enriched uranium to build a bomb, according to the latest Israeli intelligence assessment. The previous deal, which Trump shredded, ensured that Tehran would remain at least a year away.

That is, the Obama deal ensured that Tehran would remain always a year away from building the bomb, as long as the deal was in place, but there’s more to this:

Iran’s economy has contracted by 10 percent, many of its people are rebellious, and Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the architect of its foreign adventurism, is dead. But this regime, like Kim’s, has ruled out negotiations with Trump, and so far its willingness to ruthlessly gun down protesters has kept domestic dissent at bay. It, too, could cause Trump trouble between now and November – in this case, with attacks across the Middle East or on the Internet.

What won’t happen is a new nuclear deal.

Trump made that impossible, and there’s this:

The least noticed but most striking failure of maximum pressure has come in Venezuela, a country just three hours by air from Miami that for decades was deeply dependent on the United States for oil revenue. Trump cut off that income stream, confident it would cause the collapse of a socialist dictatorship already in economic and political free fall.

Instead, a year later, the regime of Nicolás Maduro appears to have stabilized. The lights are back on in Caracas, once-empty stores are full of goods, and the U.S.-backed opposition has been ousted – at least physically – from the National Assembly. Trump’s demand – that Maduro leave office and make way for fresh elections – won’t be realized anytime soon.

How did this happen? Diehl offers this:

First, Trump set wildly unrealistic goals. As numerous North Korea experts pointed out three years ago, Kim was never going to surrender his entire arsenal at a stroke; at best, he could have been coaxed into a step-by-step process. On Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded a dozen major concessions that were inconceivable without a change of regime. And Venezuela policy supposed that Maduro’s criminal clique, which has nowhere to take refuge, would willingly surrender office – or be overthrown by equally corrupt generals.

And there’s this:

Trump’s next mistake was assuming that unilateral U.S. action was enough to succeed, and that he didn’t need the international cooperation obtained by previous presidents. He was wrong. China, whose aid Trump lost when he launched a trade war, has quietly helped North Korea survive sanctions. Russia has done the same for Venezuela, trafficking as much as 70 percent of its oil exports. U.S. allies in Europe have refused to go along with Trump’s voiding of the Iran nuclear deal and reimposition of sanctions. Even Middle East nations such as Saudi Arabia have quietly sought accommodation with Tehran.

And there’s this:

Trump’s biggest miscalculation was that economic weapons were enough to strong-arm the likes of Kim, Khamenei and Maduro. He supposed that prosperity is their priority; it’s not. He waxed lyrical about the beach developments that North Korea could have. But these dictators don’t care about glitzy resorts. Their only interests are their own survival and that of their extreme ideologies.

Economic pressure sometimes works, of course. Mexico has made concessions to Trump to dodge sanctions, as did China. But for the hardest cases, it’s a poor substitute for a multifaceted foreign policy. That’s why “maximum pressure” will be an emblem of Trump’s tenure: a crude, half-baked strategy that was destined to fail.

And of course the use of threats and insults and ridicule was destined to fail too. Is it possible to govern a nation and construct a new foreign policy based entirely on threats and insults and ridicule? That feels so good to so many Americans, but the answer is no. But nothing in our national character protects us from becoming a rapacious, authoritarian country. And that’s why Donald Trump is still our president.

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