That Empathy Gene

Republicans aren’t big on empathy. Empathy is for losers. In 2010, Bill O’Reilly reminded all Americans that it says right there in the Bible that “the Lord helps those who help themselves” – so Jesus would have argued that unemployment insurance and welfare and food stamps and all the rest are immoral, because charity creates a “moral hazard” for those who receive it. Real charity is doing nothing for these people, thus providing the poor and unlucky the dignity to solve their own problems and finally become “good” people with a sense of personal responsibility. That would mean that when Jesus said that “the poor are always with us” it’s obvious that Jesus was simply exasperated with such losers, who can’t ever seem to get their act together.

That devastating quote from the Bible that O’Reilly thought he found caused quite a stir – because there are no such words in the Bible. Stephen Colbert reminded O’Reilly that O’Reilly was actually quoting Ben Franklin. In subsequent interviews, O’Reilly sputtered that that’s what was clearly implied in the Bible, if you thought about it. O’Reilly also protested that he was a fine Irish lad, who had gone to Catholic schools all his life, and the nuns had taught him that kindness, which the Church calls Charity, can ruin everything.

This was not Bill O’Reilly’s finest moment, but the moment passed, and then he lost his job. He had sexually harassed one too many women at Fox News. Then his boss, Roger Ailes, lost his job, for the same reason – but nothing much has changed over the years. Donald Trump isn’t big on empathy – and there are the women – but that’s another matter. Trump still has his job.

There’s nothing surprising here. The Republican Party is often referred to as the “Daddy Party” – the party of the largely absent taciturn father who, when necessary, beats the crap out of the kid, to beat some sense into the kid, for the kid’s own good, to teach the kid some damned personal responsibility, but otherwise lets the kid sink or swim on his or her own, for the same reason. Inflict pain. Random acts of meanness help too. That builds character. No one whines.

That’s how government should work, and of course the Democratic Party is the “Mommy Party” – nurturing and supportive. No child (or adult) should be left behind. People don’t whine. They’re really in trouble – and random acts of kindness do a whole lot of good in this sorry world. Charity doesn’t ruin everything. The Democratic Party is the party of empathy – real losers who seem to want to turn all good Americans into whining losers too, as any Republican will tell you.

Some of this showed up in Trump’s comments on Puerto Rico – those folks are going to have to shoulder more responsibility for any recovery from Hurricane Maria – the federal government’s emergency responders can’t stay there “forever” – and their financial crisis is “largely of their own making” – and their infrastructure that was a “disaster” before the hurricane. Some said he wasn’t doing enough, so he hit back. He made his point. Don’t mess with him. People who are hardly Americans, except by chance, especially shouldn’t mess with him. He’s the largely absent taciturn stern father. Let these kids sink or swim on their own. It’ll be good for them. It builds character. He’ll help the people in Texas and Florida. They don’t question him. They don’t whine. Donald Trump really is a Republican. Don’t expect empathy.

Empathy, however, is sometimes part of Trump’s new job. Puerto Rico is one thing. Who the hell are they? They get none. Military families are another thing. They’re supposed to get some empathy, and the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Dan Lamothe outline the problem here:

On Oct. 4, the day four U.S. Special Forces soldiers were gunned down at the border of Niger and Mali in the deadliest combat incident since President Trump took office, the commander in chief was lighting up Twitter with attacks on the “fake news” media.

The next day, when the remains of the first soldiers reached Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Trump was assailing the “fake news” and warning the country of “the calm before the storm.” What storm, he never did say.

Over that weekend, as the identity of the fourth soldier was disclosed publicly and more details emerged about the incident, Trump was golfing and letting it rip on Twitter about Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the NFL, North Korea, Puerto Rico and, again, alleged media bias.

But a president who revels in providing color commentary on the news said nothing about what happened in Niger for 12 straight days – until Monday in the Rose Garden of the White House, where he was asked by a reporter to explain his uncharacteristic silence.

He got caught. Empathy had been called for – just the normal stuff – and twelve days had passed – so he faked it:

In his answer, Trump said in his defense that he had written personal letters to the soldiers’ family members, and he then tried to use the issue to gain a political advantage. Trump leveled false accusations at his predecessors, including former president Barack Obama, saying they never or rarely called family members of service members who were killed on their watch, when in fact they regularly did.

As anger swelled, Trump continued to attempt to bolster his broader claim Tuesday by invoking the death of Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, the son of White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly who was killed in 2010 while serving in Afghanistan.

Had Obama ever called Kelly? That settled matters, but there was more:

The White House did not receive detailed information from the Defense Department about the four dead soldiers until Oct. 12, and that information was not fully verified by the White House Military Office until Monday, according to a senior White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on the internal process.

At that point, the official said, Trump was cleared to reach out to the four families – both in letters that were mailed Tuesday and in personal phone calls to family members that day.

“He offered condolences on behalf of a grateful nation and assured them their family’s extraordinary sacrifice to the country will never be forgotten,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

On short, none of this was his fault, and better late than never, but sometime better never than late is better:

In his call with Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, Trump told her, “He knew what was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway,” according to the account of Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.), who was riding in a limousine with Johnson when the president called and heard the conversation on speakerphone.

Wilson recalled in an interview with the Washington Post that Johnson broke down in tears. “He made her cry,” Wilson said. The congresswoman said she wanted to take the phone and “curse him out,” but that the Army sergeant holding the phone would not let her speak to the president.

The White House neither confirmed nor denied Wilson’s account. “The President’s conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private,” a White House official said in a statement.

That’s putting a good face on things, because this guy doesn’t do empathy:

Trump did not serve in the military – he sought and received several draft deferments during the Vietnam War – and has drawn pointed criticism in the past for his comments about military heroes.

As a presidential candidate, Trump mocked the service of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a prisoner of war in Vietnam, and feuded with the Gold Star parents of Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004.

And on his first full day as president, Trump used a speech before the Central Intelligence Agency’s wall of stars honoring intelligence officers who died in service to air his personal grievances, including about the media coverage of the size of his inaugural crowd.

This guy is hopeless at empathy. He doesn’t get the concept:

Peter Wehner, an adviser and speechwriter in President George W. Bush’s White House, said communicating empathy and compassion has been for Trump like speaking “a foreign language.”

“Part of being a president is at moments being pastor in chief, dispensing grace and understanding and giving voice to sorrow, tragedy and loss,” Wehner said. “But he’s a person who’s missing an empathy gene.”

Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist and former adviser to Bush and McCain, said he was surprised by Trump’s twelve-day silence on the Niger attack.

“There is no issue too small for him to comment on,” Schmidt said. “He tweets at all hours of the morning and night on every conceivable subject. He has time to insult, to degrade, to demean, always. But once again, you see this moral obtusity [obtuseness, perhaps] in the performance of his duties as commander in chief.”

That’s harsh, but this may be an inherited or congenital condition – he’s simply missing that empathy gene.

Perhaps it’s a birth defect, or just a Republican thing, but Ashley Parker reports this:

For the past seven years, Gen. John F. Kelly has gone out of his way to keep the death of his son free from politics.

He did not talk about him when – just four days after his death in southern Afghanistan – Kelly found himself commemorating two other Marines killed in combat, in a moving speech in St. Louis. In fact, according to a Washington Post report, he specifically asked the officer introducing him not to mention his boy, 1st Lt. Robert M. Kelly, who was killed instantly when he stepped on a land mine while on patrol in 2010.

Just last month, Kelly slipped away from the White House to attend a Marine Corps scholarship golf tournament in his son’s memory, with little fanfare or attention.

Kelly wanted to keep this private, but his new boss didn’t:

In Trump’s White House, almost nothing is off limits and just about anything can be used to score political points.

Leon Panetta, former defense secretary under Obama and former White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, said Trump’s comments were below the dignity of the office.

“I just think it demeans the presidency when you use John Kelly and his son, both of whom are patriots, to back up his excuses for whatever happened,” Panetta said. “I just think it creates a sense that there is no sacred ground for this president.”

It was too late for that:

A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Kelly did not receive a call from Obama at the time.

Yes, they had nailed Obama – Fox News had something to call outrageous for weeks and weeks – or not:

In May 2011, Obama hosted a breakfast for Gold Star families – those who had lost a family member who was in uniform – and Kelly and his wife attended, according to White House records. A person familiar with the event said the couple was seated at then-first lady Michelle Obama’s table.

Kelly can’t be happy:

Kelly has previously resisted White House efforts to link children’s deaths with politics and policy. Earlier this year, when Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to establish the VOICE office – Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement – Kelly, then the homeland security secretary, at the rollout of the office tried to push back internally against efforts to highlight “angel” moms and families whose kids were killed by undocumented immigrants, one department official said. The families were featured at the event but did not have a speaking role.

The official said Kelly is very sensitive to his son’s death being politicized, and recoils at attempts to politicize parents and families in this manner.

The VOICE office is supposed to prove to America that “those people” really are rapists and murderers and drug dealers, and Kelly would have none of it, not done that way:

Kelly participated in a 2011 Washington Post profile, largely, he said, to highlight the lives and challenges of military families.

Even then, however, his reticence emerged. When first approached about the story, he replied in an email: “We are only one of 5,500 American families who have suffered the loss of a child in this war. The death of my boy simply cannot be made to seem any more tragic than the others.”

That has now led to this:

Since joining Trump’s West Wing team, Kelly is almost always at the president’s side for public appearances. But he was notably absent Tuesday from a Rose Garden news conference with Trump and the Greek prime minister.

The White House offered no explanation of why Kelly was not in attendance.

Trump had just used his dead son to score points against Obama. His boss, the man missing that empathy gene, had just “used” his dead son to slap down, one more time, the man who wasn’t even president anymore, the man who doesn’t even matter anymore. Kelly skipped the Rose Garden thing. That congresswoman said she wanted to take Trump’s phone and “curse him out” – but that’s not Kelley’s style. He probably just needed a stiff drink, alone.

Paul Waldman says it’s worse than that:

Every once in a while a politician says something so outrageous that it produces not the feigned outrage that has become so familiar, but genuine outrage. That’s what President Trump managed yesterday, when in a news conference he was asked about his public silence on the four American soldiers who were killed in Niger, and claimed that while he calls the families of those killed in action to express his condolences, previous presidents, particularly Barack Obama, hadn’t done so.

This was a particularly despicable lie, because it painted Obama – and other presidents, but let’s be honest, mostly Obama – as cruel and dismissive when it comes to the sacrifice of those in uniform, while portraying Trump as the only one who truly cares.

This morning, Trump actually seemed to double down. In an interview with Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade, he referred to the fact that the son of his chief of staff, John Kelly, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010: “I mean, you could ask General Kelly did he get a call from Obama.”

You could, but Kelly might mention that Gold Star parents’ dinner, and Waldman would say that that’s not the point:

It’s obvious from his responses that Trump had absolutely no idea what presidents before him did or didn’t do in this situation, which he admitted again today (“I don’t know what Obama’s policy was”). But he went ahead and claimed that only he calls the families.

This is quite familiar to anyone who has been watching Trump these past couple of years. He takes his own limited experience and characterizes it as unique, extraordinary and unprecedented. No one has ever done this before, no one has accomplished so much, no one knows more than I do. There’s an element of the salesman’s puffery at work, but it also comes from a place of pure ignorance.

As conservative writer Tim Carney hypothesized last week, when Trump claims that no administration has ever done as much as his, it isn’t so much that he’s intentionally lying but that he’s so ignorant of the presidency and politics in general. He never realized that presidents and their staffs work very hard (“Like how 10-year-old me assumed teachers went into a cocoon at 3 pm,” Carney said), so he assumes he must be the first to have ever done so. The comparison to a 10-year-old is apt, because Trump’s brand of ignorance is so infantile. All of us are ignorant about some things, but only Trump believes that if he doesn’t know something, no one else could know it either (“Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated”).

That may be what happened here:

When a normal person is in a state of ignorance, he or she might exercise some caution and refrain from making a volatile accusation that, for instance, his or her predecessors were callous to Gold Star families. But not Trump.

Trump may be missing more than that empathy gene, and David Von Drehle – a former editor-at-large for Time Magazine and the guy who wrote Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year – now has this to say:

What struck me was Trump’s contempt for his predecessors. With scarcely a thought, he attacked not their policies, but their characters, accusing them of being casual about the deaths of American soldiers.

In their eye-opening book The Presidents Club my friends Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy documented the deep and complex empathy fostered among sitting presidents and their predecessors. Only they can understand the weighty experience of the office, and this makes even bitter political rivals into “fellow travelers in the parallel universe where past, present, and future blur, where the terrain of regret looks very different and where there is hardly ever such a thing as a perfect outcome.”

However, the newest club member appears incapable of empathy. Thus, he can malign not just the decisions but also the decency of previous presidents – and not as a matter of principle – merely on impulse, a whim.

Trump really is missing more than that empathy gene:

Patriotism doesn’t require us to praise what is not praiseworthy. Like any other American, Trump is free to criticize as he sees fit. But when an elected leader disparages, without cause, the good faith of other elected leaders, he is tearing the country down. What sort of nation, after all, would elect them?

I might be reading too much into a passing remark, except that Trump has been at this business from the beginning. His campaign was a tirade against “stupid” leaders who never managed to accomplish things that he would deliver on Day One. (We’re still waiting.) The transition was filled with talk of incompetent intelligence agencies. His inaugural address told the world that America’s bipartisan foreign policy of the previous 75 years was only a craven and deliberate theft of the nation’s wealth by its own leaders, to be “redistributed all across the world.” No one could hear and heed that speech without thinking less of the United States. For this was not some buck-chasing talk-show host tossing veiled charges of treason. This was the new president.

This is also a man who sneers at America itself:

I don’t think we’ve ever been led by a person with such a low opinion of America. And I’m hardly the only one to notice. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose military service Trump denigrated during his campaign, had this to say on Monday: “To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of Earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism” – to be Trump, in other words – is “unpatriotic.”

That’s a thought:

The president insists that football players show respect for the national anthem, yet he has no respect for the good faith of those who served before him. He complains that critics are unfair to him even as he unfairly maligns his predecessors. At 71, Trump is experiencing public service for the very first time. We can but hope that the value of it will eventually dawn on him.

Hope won’t help here. This guy is hopeless at empathy. He doesn’t get the concept. The man is missing something – but that should be no surprise. Republicans never got the concept of empathy. Trump is simply more Republican than any Republican ever imagined. They’ve been working on this a long time. Now they have the real deal. Now they have to explain that.

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What Just Isn’t So

fThings weren’t always this way. There’s the curious case of George Aiken – one of those old-school “progressive” Republicans of the Teddy Roosevelt sort. Aiken arrived in the Senate in early 1941 and did turn out to be a bit iconoclastic. Toward the end of his Senate career he was all for food stamps and taking care of the poor, and he was big on the environment long before Nixon suggested the Environmental Protection Agency – he had been president of the Vermont Horticultural Society after all – and he was big on infrastructure spending before Eisenhower came up with the Interstate Highway System. There’s nothing wrong with spending money to make things better. There’s nothing wrong with adding a bit to the deficit to make things better.

Maybe he wasn’t a Republican. Aiken had been elected as speaker of the Vermont House in 1933 – over the opposition of the Republican establishment at the time. He then passed the Poor Debtor Law to protect people who could not pay back the big banks during the Great Depression, further infuriating the Republican establishment. He’d say he was a pragmatist, but he was still a damned good Republican. He was conservative in the old-fashioned sense of that word. Be careful and cautious, taking small steps, but also do what’s necessary for the greatest good, for everyone, even the poor folks. The whole Ayn Rand concept of there being only Makers and Takers in this dog-eat-dog world would have puzzled him.

Admittedly the guy is obscure. The only thing anyone remembers him for was what he said about the Vietnam War in 1966 – maybe we should just declare victory and head on home. He explained that “the United States could well declare unilaterally” that “we have ‘won’ in the sense that our armed forces are in control of most of the field and no potential enemy is in a position to establish its authority over South Vietnam.”

What more do you want? And that wasn’t copping-out either. This was sensible and pragmatic, because such a declaration “would herald the resumption of political warfare as the dominant theme in Vietnam.”

That would change everything. People would shout at each other, not shoot each other. Isn’t that more sensible? There’s no need for any more to die, and he added this – “It may be a far-fetched proposal, but nothing else has worked.”

Everyone ignored him. It couldn’t be that simple. Sure, we could declare victory, but who would believe us? It’s foolish to say something is so when it just isn’t so. No one ever tried that again, until Donald Trump:

Obamacare is finished. It’s dead. It’s gone. You shouldn’t even mention it. It’s gone. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore.

Trump simply declared victory. Move on. His very own Republican Congress couldn’t manage any form of “repeal and replace” at all. That doesn’t matter. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore. Everyone knows this is so – or so he says – but Kevin Drum sees foolishness here:

Needless to say, this is just the latest part of Trump’s campaign to prevent people from signing up for Obamacare. Cut the signup period in half. Eliminate outreach. Eliminate advertising. Shut down the website periodically on weekends. Cut CSR subsidies in a way that makes people think benefits have been cut. Tell everyone Obamacare is dead.

That doesn’t have to be so:

When Republicans started passing photo ID laws, progressives fought back with campaigns to get people registered to vote. Because of this, ID laws probably had only a very small effect on the election. Are progressives doing the same thing for Obamacare? It sure seems like there ought to be a huge campaign to publicize the Obamacare signup period and help people get through it. This might help fight some of Trump’s doom-saying and keep signups high. This in turn will keep Obamacare healthy despite Trump’s best efforts.

That may happen, and Josh Marshall adds this:

President Trump just gave an angry, thrashing, desperate sounding series of remarks about Obamacare. He pressed the point that people think it’s an emergency now that he’s cut off CSR payments. And he thinks that’s good. He went on about how the health insurers only fund Democrats, lashed out at Democrats, and said that health care is going to be great once they repeal Obamacare. It struck me as more unhinged and febrile than usual for Trump. One continuing theme is that even through his anger and need to lash out he seems not to understand even the most elemental details of how the health care system or Obamacare works.

In short, saying something is so doesn’t make it so, and he did get caught on another matter:

During a press conference on Monday afternoon, President Donald Trump made the dubious claim that former President Barack Obama and other former presidents did not personally call the families of soldiers who died in combat.

Trump quickly walked back the claim when a reporter followed up.

Oops:

The President first told reporters that he had written letters to the families of soldiers who died in the recent attack in Niger and said he would soon call the families as well. He then claimed that his approach was unique, and that not all past presidents made those calls.

“The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls. A lot of them didn’t make calls,” he said. “I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it. They have made the ultimate sacrifice so generally I would say that I like to call. I’m going to be calling them.”

Former aides to Obama quickly pushed back on Trump’s claim, calling it a “lie.”

They were late to the game:

A reporter followed up with Trump later in the press conference, prompting Trump to walk back his claim and say that he “was told” that Obama didn’t call the families of fallen soldiers.

“I don’t know if he did. No, no. I was told that he didn’t often and a lot of presidents don’t. They write letters,” Trump said.

“President Obama I think probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. That’s what I was told. All I can do is ask my generals,” the President continued.

This wasn’t his fault. His generals had misled him. Damn those generals! He was the victim here.

That wouldn’t fly, and Dave Zirin, the sports editor at The Nation, reports this curious reaction to all this:

We’ve all seen the San Antonio Spurs’ future Hall of Fame coach Gregg Popovich in a state of exasperation on the sidelines, or in postgame news conferences. Many of us have also heard him speak with great vexation and clarity about the direction of this country and the actions of Donald Trump, particularly on Trump’s “disgusting tenor and tone and all the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic.” But I have never heard this man more frustrated, more fed up, and more tense with anger than he was today.

Coach Pop called me up after hearing the president’s remarks explaining why he hadn’t mentioned the four US soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger.

Maybe it was bald-faced nature of this lie. Maybe it is Pop’s own history in the military, but the coach clearly had to vent. He said, “I want to say something and please just let me talk and please make sure this is on the record.”

Popovich did vent:

“I’ve been amazed and disappointed by so much of what this president had said, and his approach to running this country, which seems to be one of just a never ending divisiveness. But his comments today about those who have lost loved ones in times of war and his lies that previous presidents Obama and Bush never contacted their families, is so beyond the pale, I almost don’t have the words.”

At this point, Coach Pop paused, and I thought for a moment that perhaps he didn’t have the words and the conversation would end. Then he took a breath and said:

“This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner – and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers – is as low as it gets. We have a pathological liar in the White House: unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day. The people who work with this President should be ashamed because they know better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. This is their shame most of all.”

Okay. Now the thirty-four percent of the country that will never watch an NFL game ever again will now never watch an NBA game ever again, and Popovich coaches the men’s Olympic basketball team, so they won’t watch those ever again either. Is that cynical? Charles Pierce, a former sportswriter turned political writer, is even more cynical about this:

Why make the assertion at all? Because he knows that tens of millions of Americans are right now emailing and texting each other about how Obummer never called the families of soldiers who were KIA. A third of the country will believe it by Thursday no matter how much we mock it, or how often it is exposed for the sickening fabrication that it is. I’m sure Benghazi, Benghazi!, Benghazi! is in there somewhere, too.

Of course it is. Saying something is so, that just isn’t so, even if you walk it back, does sometimes make it so – to some – to the right sort of people – the people who actually vote when others don’t. That works too. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore. Sure, why not? Declare victory and go home – but that still leaves that soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others, by saying things that just aren’t so.

Such people are hard to manage, and the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker and Greg Jaffe report on that difficulty:

During the campaign, when President Trump’s advisers wanted him to stop talking about an issue – such as when he attacked a Gold Star military family – they sometimes presented him with polls demonstrating how the controversy was harming his candidacy.

During the transition, when aides needed Trump to decide on a looming issue or appointment, they often limited him to a shortlist of two or three options and urged him to choose one.

And now in the White House, when advisers hope to prevent Trump from making what they think is an unwise decision, they frequently try to delay his final verdict – hoping he may reconsider after having time to calm down.

This is a difficult business:

When Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) described the White House as “an adult day-care center” on Twitter last week, he gave voice to a Trumpian truth: The president is often impulsive, mercurial and difficult to manage, leading those around him to find creative ways to channel his energies.

Some Trump aides spend a significant part of their time devising ways to rein in and control the impetuous president, angling to avoid outbursts that might work against him, according to interviews with 18 aides, confidants and outside advisers, most of whom insisted on anonymity to speak candidly.

“If you visit the White House today, you see aides running around with red faces, shuffling paper and trying to keep up with this president,” said one Republican in frequent contact with the administration. “That’s what the scene is.”

These people worry all the time:

Trump is hardly the first president whose aides have arranged themselves around him and his management style – part of a natural effort, one senior White House official said, to help ensure the president’s success. But Trump’s penchant for Twitter feuds, name-calling and temperamental outbursts presents a unique challenge.

But there is a way to deal with this:

One defining feature of managing Trump is frequent praise, which can leave his team in what seems to be a state of perpetual compliments. The White House pushes out news releases overflowing with top officials heaping flattery on Trump; in one memorable Cabinet meeting this year, each member went around the room lavishing the president with accolades.

Senior administration officials call this speaking to an “audience of one.”

One regular practitioner is Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who praised Trump’s controversial statements after white supremacists had a violent rally in Charlottesville and also said he agreed with Trump that professional football players should stand during the national anthem. Neither issue has anything to do with the Treasury Department.

So one way to keep this president from doing stupid stuff, from suddenly saying what clearly isn’t so at all, is to calm him down by telling him that he’s wonderful:

Especially in the early days of his presidency, aides delivered the president daily packages of news stories filled with positive coverage, and Trump began meetings by boasting about his performance, either as president or in winning the White House, according to one person who attended several Oval Office gatherings with him.

Some aides and outside advisers hoping to push their allies and friends for top postings, such as ambassadorships, made sure their candidates appeared speaking favorably about Trump in conservative news outlets – and that those news clippings ended up on the president’s desk.

Others, however, are more subtle:

H.R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser, has frequently resorted to diversionary tactics to manage Trump.

In the Oval Office, he will volunteer to have his staff study Trump’s more unorthodox ideas. When Trump wanted to make South Korea pay for the entire cost of a shared missile defense system, McMaster and top aides huddled to come up with arguments that the money spent defending South Korea and Japan also benefited the U.S. economy in the form of manufacturing jobs, according to two people familiar with the debate.

“He plays rope-a-dope with him,” a senior administration official said. “He thinks Trump is going to forget, but he doesn’t. H.R.’s strategy is to say, ‘Let us study that, boss.’ He tries to deflect.”

This too is a tricky business:

Some aides and advisers have found a way to manage Trump without seeming to condescend. Perhaps no Cabinet official has proven more adept at breaking ranks with Trump without drawing his ire than Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who has disagreed with his boss on a range of issues, including the effectiveness of torture, the importance of NATO and the wisdom of withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.

The president appreciates how Mattis, a four-star Marine general, speaks to him candidly but respectfully and often plays down disagreements in public. A senior U.S. official said that Mattis’ focus has been on informing the president when they disagree – before the disagreements go public – and maintaining a quiet influence.

But even this guy has his limits:

Unlike his fellow Cabinet secretaries, Mattis has also gone out of his way not to suck up to the president – a stance made easier perhaps by his four decades in uniform and his combat record. At the laudatory Cabinet meeting this summer, he was the lone holdout who did not lavish praise on the president. Instead, Mattis said it was “an honor to represent the men and women of the Department of Defense.”

Trump didn’t fire him on the spot. Mattis lived to fight another day, but Daniel Drezner still sees this:

What’s next? Ordinary toddlers eventually tire out after throwing a tantrum. But this is when the analogy breaks down. Full disclosure: Trump is not really a toddler, but an overindulged plutocrat who has never had to cope with political failure. With each negative shock or story he faces, his behavior worsens, and that just leads to a new cycle of negative press and disaffected GOP officials. The political effects of this are to weaken his historically weak presidency, making it harder for him to do anything that would counteract this trend. This doom-loop means that his behavior is only going to get worse.

Drezner says it did get worse – “By the end of the week, Trump had gone after Obamacare, the Clean Power Plan, UNESCO, and the Iranian nuclear deal.”

Trump was off to the races, saying what just wasn’t so, and Drezner cites Peter Baker of the  New York Times:

President Trump leaves little doubt about what he thinks of his predecessor’s top domestic and international legacies. The health care program enacted by President Barack Obama is “outrageous” and “absolutely destroying everything in its wake.” The nuclear deal with Iran is “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”

Yet as much as he has set his sights on them, Mr. Trump after nearly nine months in office has not actually gotten rid of either. Instead, in the past few days, he took partial steps to undercut both initiatives and then left it to Congress to figure out what to do next. Whether either will ultimately survive in some form has become a central suspense of Mr. Trump’s first year in office.

In the case of health care, Mr. Trump is making a virtue of necessity. Having failed to push through legislation replacing the Affordable Care Act, he is taking more limited measures on his own authority aimed at chipping away at the law. On the other hand, when it comes to the Iran deal, he has the authority to walk away without anyone else’s consent but has been talked out of going that far by his national security team. Instead, by refusing to recertify the deal, he rhetorically disavows the pact without directly pulling out.

These are not the only instances in which Mr. Trump’s expansive language has not been matched by his actions during this opening phase of his presidency. On immigration, diplomatic relations with Cuba and international accords like the North American Free Trade Agreement and a separate trade pact with South Korea, he has denounced decisions made by Mr. Obama or other previous presidents without fully reversing them.

All that was odd, but Drezner also notes this:

To be sure, there are conservatives who defend Trump’s actions as a means to reverse executive-branch power grabs by prior administrations. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York offers the best case for this interpretation. Even York, however, concedes that, “Trump’s actions might not work. After all, he is pressuring Congress to act, but that doesn’t mean Congress will act, especially when the president is feuding with some key members.”

If the best spin of Trump’s actions relies on Congress acting like a mature political organization, that is a thin reed…

It is certainly possible that Trump will walk away from NAFTA or KORUS [the Korean Free Trade Agreement] – the Trump administration’s style is gleefully aggressive enough to alienate countries that want closer ties with the United States. The data are already starting to come in on how loyal allies are reacting to Trump’s disruptive style, and that data is not encouraging.

Drezner cites Politico’s Adam Beshudi on that:

Japanese officials are expressing growing frustration with the Trump administration’s economic policies, vowing to continue striking trade deals with other countries that undercut U.S. agricultural exports rather than seek a new trade agreement with the United States.

The frustration comes both from President Donald Trump’s harsh rhetoric on trade and from his pullout from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Japan still hopes can provide a bulwark against China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region…

In interviews with POLITICO, more than half a dozen senior Japanese officials said they were uneasy with a so-called bilateral – two-nation – deal to replace the TPP, arguing that the goal of the multinational agreement was to create a wide international playing field. They said they are dismayed by Trump’s seeming inability to understand the importance of a multinational pact to establish U.S. leadership in the region and set the trade rules for nations on both sides of the Pacific Ocean as a counterweight to China’s rising influence.

Drezner also cites Karen DeYoung on that:

Instead of leading, Trump’s “my way or the highway” approach has been a detour from the multilateral road the United States has traveled since World War II. And as Trump has left behind, or threatened to, the premier international agreements of this century, from the Paris climate accord to global trade alliances and now the Iran nuclear deal, he has not had many willing followers… Even those who have proclaimed him as a leader have sometimes not felt bound by his demands.

Drezner notes that “from Israel to the Persian Gulf, to Kurdistan to Turkey to NATO to East Asia, even Trump’s few allies have been perfectly happy to ignore him.”

There’s a reason for that. When the President of the United States persists in saying things that just aren’t so it’s probably best to ignore him, and then there’s Josh Marshall:

Peer nation-states make agreements with the US in part because we tend to stick to our agreements, even with the change of administrations. The entirety of Trump’s vision of ‘deal-making’ is one in which you bully and cajole and threaten the other party until you get a deal that works for you and not them. That may make sense in the highly shystery world of New York real estate. But in the global order we’re going to be dealing with Germany and France and China and Mexico … well, we’re going to be dealing with them forever. Not everything is Kumbaya in international relations. Far from it – but except in war, and not even always them, it’s not zero-sum…

Both abroad and with Congress we can see clearly what should have been clear in advance: President Trump has no idea how to negotiate international accords or treaties or how to pass laws. These require building coalitions and trust because you’ll need to work with the same actors again in the future. You also need to build coalitions of people or nations each of which thinks they have something to gain from the effort… Trump’s idea of business is basically cheating. That doesn’t necessarily mean breaking the law, though Trump does plenty of that. It means making money by trickery and hard-dealing in which the other party usually ends up screwed. Those just aren’t the skills that end up being effective for a President. But that’s all Trump knows. That’s why we currently have what amounts to governance via chaos and outburst. Trump doesn’t know how to be President.

Trump, however, does know how to say things that just aren’t so, to declare victory where there is none. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore. President Obama, and all other presidents before him, never spoke with the families of those who died in military action, or even wrote condolence letters to them, but he will – when he gets around to it. None of it is remotely true.

In 1966, George Aiken said we should declare victory in Vietnam and leave. We had “won” after all – but he knew that wasn’t remotely true. He himself called that idea farfetched – but nothing is farfetched to Donald Trump. The only alternative may be to turn the tables on Donald Trump and declare that he was never elected president. He’s not the only one that can play this game.

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Red-Hot Trump

For those of us who grew up in the Ozzie and Harriet fifties and came of age in the long-haired-stop-the-war counterculture late sixties, there was always the matter of cool. James Dean was cool, and then Peter Gunn was cool, and then Steve McQueen was major-cool, and then James Bond was cool, depending on who was playing him at the time. Or maybe James Bond was a dork – opinions vary – but that’s all commercial stuff. There was real cool – Jack Kerouac and the Beats, and Miles Davis. After all, Davis’ rare early recordings were collected in that 1957 album Birth of the Cool – “hot” jazz had disappeared in the late forties and Miles Davis had changed things. He was certainly not hot. He was distant and mysterious and slightly dangerous, like his music, and he didn’t really give a shit about what you thought about his enigmatic modal improvisations, or what you thought about anything else either. He was who he was. Deal with it.

That’s the essence of cool. You are who you are and nothing gets to you. No one can rattle you and you go your own way. You have no use for convention, or the conventional. Of course that can border on parody. There was Andy Warhol. He was always on the edge of becoming his own sly joke about how cool he was, perhaps intentionally, just to keep all the hopelessly straight-and-narrow people, like art critics, off balance. Of course they decided to keep up with him, praising his paintings of soup cans and the like – just to prove they were cool too, because being cool was… well, cool. It’s important to be cool.

But sometimes the culture, which depends on shared conventions to maintain itself, fights back. In the seventies there was that television show, Happy Days, with Henry Winkler as the Fonz. He worked hard at being cool, but at the end each episode we always discovered that the Fonz was warm and decent, and thus much like everyone else, underneath it all. Cultural equilibrium was maintained. Hollywood did its job. The cool was neutered. And Hollywood continues to do that job. The cool and mysterious hero, far outside the mainstream of convention, is always conflicted, as he should be. The most recent Batman – the Dark Knight – really hated his save-the-world job in the end. The price of cool was too high. You lose yourself. Cool is dangerous.

And cool is for the young. No old folks are cool, except for Bernie Sanders. The young don’t care what anyone thinks. Hell, they don’t floss, and try to tell them not to text while driving. They’ll give you that Miles Davis shrug. And now Republicans aren’t cool. In the 2008 election we had the white-hot John McCain, outraged at our failure to go to war with Russia over Georgia, not that anyone remembers that now, and outraged about the lack of respect for America in the world these days, suggesting we flex our muscles a bit more over all sorts of things. And he was also outraged by Obama’s notions of economic fairness, which he characterized as unfair income distribution from the good guys – like Joe the Plumber – to the losers. McCain was outraged at all sorts of things. It’s hard to remember them all. All Americans were supposed to be outraged too. They weren’t.

They went for the other guy. Barack Obama was cool and measured, and always reasonable and thoughtful. He was always saying that he’d rather work with others, even the Republicans, and just fix things. He was implying that being perpetually hot and bothered was a dead end. Be cool. Fix what’s broken.

It’s no wonder he won the youth vote, and the election. Americans like cool, although his own base often was in agony off and on, screaming that he had to get hot and outraged and tell it like it is, slapping the other side around, righteously. But it seems Obama knew better. Keith Olbermann took care of the righteous outrage on the left night after night back then. Look what happened to him. He’s now forgotten. Now the only place to go for a daily dose of righteous outrage is talk radio, for Rush Limbaugh, or Fox News with Hannity and those folks – that stuff for angry old folks. That’s their demographic.

Barack Obama seemed to sense this from the beginning. He knew how to use his cool. It was almost as unfair as it was simple. Let your opponent get all hot and bothered and go nuts, and then raise one eyebrow. He did that to Mitt Romney with one line – “Proceed, Governor.” He did that to Hillary Clinton in 2008 when she went on a rant about his big fancy speeches. He smiled, made no comment at all, and kept giving those speeches. She seemed unhinged. He didn’t have to do a thing, and he did the same thing to John McCain in the general election that year – when McCain tried to cancel that one debate because he had decided to fly back to Washington to solve the financial crisis, all by himself. Cancel the debate? Obama was cool – “You know, it’s a funny thing, but presidents often have to be able to deal with two things at the same time.”

McCain had no response to that. He debated Obama, on schedule, and he didn’t fix the financial crisis. When McCain finally got to Washington, he made things worse – he blew up the deal on TARP by getting all passionate and confusing his own party. It took a week to fix that, but there was no fixing McCain’s reputation as an angry old man who just doesn’t get it. Obama won easily. Obama was young, he was black, and he was cool.

America went with cool, even if Obama was black, or perhaps his being black was part of that. That was our eight-year experiment, and Ta Nehisi Coates, who many call the James Baldwin of our times, wrote about being in on that experiment early on. In a cover story for the Atlantic – My President Was Black – he offered this:

I came to regard Obama as a skilled politician, a deeply moral human being, and one of the greatest presidents in American history. He was phenomenal – the most agile interpreter and navigator of the color line I had ever seen. He had an ability to emote a deep and sincere connection to the hearts of black people, while never doubting the hearts of white people. This was the core of his 2004 keynote, and it marked his historic race speech during the 2008 campaign at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center – and blinded him to the appeal of Trump. (“As a general proposition, it’s hard to run for president by telling people how terrible things are,” Obama once said to me.)

But if the president’s inability to cement his legacy in the form of Hillary Clinton proved the limits of his optimism, it also revealed the exceptional nature of his presidential victories. For eight years Barack Obama walked on ice and never fell.

That, however, is praising what didn’t happen. What did happen? Those eight years never satisfied anyone, really. The ice finally cracked. Obama had been cautious and thoughtful – everything that Donald Trump is not – and Trump won the presidency. It’s not hard to run for president by telling people how terrible things are after all. That works too. Cool is cool, but some like it hot. Those who do got outvoted twice. McCain was hot about everything. Romney may not have been hot about anything, but he was that other opposite of cool. He was hopelessly square, a word from the late fifties but appropriate. Romney seemed to have walked straight out of Ozzie and Harriet Land – and finally, Donald Trump was red hot about everything. Those who like it hot wouldn’t be outvoted a third time.

That makes things uncomfortable. Everything is always end-of-America-as-we-know-it intense, all the time. If you’re not outraged you ought to be, or you’re a fool, or a traitor. Turn up the heat. That’s the only way to get things done. Democrats like to say let’s all calm down and reason things out, as the only way to get things done, and the differences lie deeper than policy. These are differences in temperament. One gets through life, and changes what needs to be changed, by being intense, by being hot about something – or not. Each side believes the other side doesn’t even know how to approach any given problem. This may not be a matter of party. This may come down to how, instinctively, Americans value cool – and cool finally lost.

This was an odd victory that the New York Times’ Charles Blow – a rather cool urban black man of course – characterizes this way:

It must be cold and miserable standing in the shadow of someone greater and smarter, more loved and more admired. It must be infuriating to have risen on the wings of your derision of that person’s every decision, and even his very existence, and yet not be able to measure up – in either stratagem or efficacy – when you sit where that person once sat.

This is the existence of Donald Trump in the wake of President Barack Obama. Trump can’t hold a candle to Obama, so he’s taking a Tiki torch to Obama’s legacy. Trump can’t get his bad ideas through Congress, but he can use the power of the presidency to sabotage or even sink Obama’s signature deeds.

This is anger at the cool:

While Obama was erudite, Trump is ignorant. Obama was civil, Trump is churlish. Obama was tactful, Trump is tacky. There is a thing present in Obama and absent from Trump that no amount of money or power can alter: a sense of elegant intellectualism and taste…

Trump – who sees character as just another malleable thing that can be marketed and made salable – chafes at the black man who operated above the coarseness of commercial interests and whose character appeared unassailable…

All of this feeds Trump’s consuming obsession with undoing everything Obama did. It is his personal crusade, but he also carries the flag for the millions of Americans – mostly all Republicans who were reflexively repulsed by Obama and the coalition that elected him.

That may be overstating things, but Blow points to Obamacare:

Republicans – including Trump – campaigned for years on a lie. They knew it was a lie, but it was an enraging one that excited their base: Obama was destroying America’s health care system, but Republicans could undo the damage and replace it with their own, better bill.

First, Obama wasn’t destroying America’s health care system. To the contrary, he simply sought to make it cover more people. He moved to take American health care in a more humane, modern and civilized direction, to make it more universally accessible, even by the sick and poor who often took its absence as a given.

Second, the Republicans had no replacement plan that would cost less and cover as many or more people. That could not be done. So, their repeal-and-replace efforts failed. But that also meant that Trump’s promise was proven a lie. Trump has no problem lying, but in the end he wants his lies to look plausible.

And of course lies are “hot” stuff:

Last week he took more swipes at undermining the ACA – asking his administration to find ways to increase competition among insurers (a move many worry will move younger, healthier people out of the marketplace) and stopping the so-called “cost-sharing reduction” (CSR) payments – federal subsidies paid to insurance companies to help finance coverage for low-income Americans (a move many believe will send premiums soaring for those people).

Trump is doing this even though it will likely wreak havoc on countless lives. He is doing this even though a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll released Friday found that most Americans want Trump and Congress to stop trying to repeal the law, and instead work on legislation to stabilize the marketplaces and guarantee health care to Americans.

Furthermore, six in 10 Americans believe Congress should guarantee cost-sharing reduction payments, as opposed to only a third who view these payments as a “bailout of insurance companies,” as Trump has called them. There is no real reason to cut these payments, other than to save face and conceal the farce.

Trump isn’t governing with a vision. He’s governing out of spite.

That works too. Some like it hot. George Will – the conservative “intellectual” who likes to think conservative principles through, logically, to prove their validity – isn’t one of them – he quit the Republican Party over Trump. He’s now registered as an unaffiliated voter. Of course he also calls himself an “amiable, low voltage atheist” – so he couldn’t be one of them – and now he says this:

Trump’s energy, unleavened by intellect and untethered to principle, serves only his sovereign instinct to pander to those who adore him as much as he does. Unshakably smitten, they are impervious to the Everest of evidence that he disdains them as a basket of gullibles. He understands that his unremitting coarseness satisfies their unpolitical agenda of smashing crockery, even though his self-indulgent floundering precludes fulfillment of the promises he flippantly made to assuage their sense of being disdained. He gives his gullibles not governance by tantrum, but tantrum as governance.

In short, Trump gives them the opposite of cool, but that might not be a good thing:

With Trump turning and turning in a widening gyre, his crusade to make America great again is increasingly dominated by people who explicitly repudiate America’s premises. The faux nationalists of the “alt-right” and their fellow travelers such as Stephen K. Bannon, although fixated on protecting the United States from imported goods, have imported the blood-and-soil ethno-tribalism that stains the continental European right. In “Answering the Alt-Right” in National Affairs quarterly, Ramon Lopez, a University of Chicago PhD candidate in political philosophy, demonstrates how Trump’s election has brought back to the public stage ideas that a post-Lincoln America had slowly but determinedly expunged. They were rejected because they are incompatible with an open society that takes its bearing from the Declaration of Independence’s doctrine of natural rights.

Bannon and his friends haven’t thought this through:

With their version of the identity politics practiced by progressives, alt-right theorists hold that the tribalism to which people are prone should not be transcended but celebrated. As Lopez explains, the alt-right sees society as inevitably “a zero-sum contest among fundamentally competing identity groups.” Hence the alt-right is explicitly an alternative to Lincoln’s affirmation of the Founders’ vision. They saw America as cohesive because of a shared creed. The alt-right must regard Lincoln as not merely mistaken but absurd in describing America as a creedal nation dedicated to a “proposition.” The alt-right insists that real nationhood requires cultural homogeneity rooted in durable ethnic identities. This is the alt-right’s alternative foundation for the nation Lincoln said was founded on the principle that all people are, by nature, equal.

George Will doesn’t like where this is headed:

Trump is, of course, innocent of this (or any other) systemic thinking. However, within the ambit of his vast, brutish carelessness are some people with sinister agendas and anti-constitutional impulses. Stephen Miller, Bannon’s White House residue and Trump’s enfant terrible, recently said that “in sending our tax reform proposal to the tax-writing committees, we will include instructions to ensure all low- and middle-income households are protected.”

So, Congress will be instructed by Trump’s 32-year-old acolyte who also says the president’s national security powers “will not be questioned.” We await the response of congressional Republicans, who did so little to stop Trump’s ascent and then so much to normalize him.

Don’t expect much. Congressional Republicans know that it doesn’t pay to be cool these days. They have to be as red hot as Donald Trump these days or lose their jobs. Republican voters like it hot, but John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio – the last man standing against Trump in the primaries – the man who somehow couldn’t be destroyed by Trump’s deadly tweets (he shrugged) – just had this to say:

I’m disappointed in the direction of the Republican Party. They cannot be anti-trade or anti-immigrant. They just can’t walk away from increasing debt. The Republican Party can’t go out and start grabbing people out of their homes who have been really good people living in this country and shipping them out of the country willy-nilly or taking away health care for millions of people. This is not what the party is. Look, I grew up in the Reagan era. Here’s what it was. It was sunny. It was positive, inclusive. It was a big tent, and there was room for everybody – pro-growth, all the things that we really like. Connectivity, welcoming, that’s where this party needs to be.

That would be cool, but Robert Kagan – a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who served in the State Department from 1984 to 1988 – the Reagan years – sees a different Republican Party now:

Rarely has a political party more deserved the destruction the Republican Party may be about to suffer at the hands of President Trump’s former strategist, ideological guru and onetime puppeteer Steve Bannon. It was obvious during the earliest days of the campaign that Trump never intended to be either the leader or the protector of the Republican Party. He had contempt for the party. For one thing, it was a proven loser. For another, it crumpled like stick figures under his steamroller. Who could respect people who fell so easily, and so willingly?

Party leaders were especially contemptible in Trump’s eyes. They couldn’t even see what he was doing to them, or if they did, they were too cowardly to stop him. He had contempt for them when they tried to distance themselves from his racist, sexist and all around antisocial behavior. But he had even more contempt for them when they nevertheless came crawling back to him, again and again, pledging their fealty. He knew they came back not because they approved of him but because they feared him and the political following he commanded. He had stolen the hearts of their constituents, and therefore he owned them. He would use them as needed, and dispose of them when he could, knowing they could do nothing about it. “I saw them at Munich,” Hitler said of his British and French counterparts, whom he dubbed “little worms.”

That’s why Steven Bannon’s “firing” didn’t matter at all:

After a few months, it became clear that Bannon had become a lightning rod in the White House, the target of endless sniping from disgruntled Republicans and fellow staffers, unable to get anything done in the sludge of the Washington bureaucracy. He was hamstrung. And so they decided he could do more for Trump on the outside. Trump would play the constrained madman, surrounded and controlled by the “adults,” occasionally letting his true feelings be known to his throngs. Meanwhile Bannon would play the gonzo political maestro on the outside, running Trumpists in primaries to knock off establishment types, even hardcore conservative ones. Trump could even pretend to support the establishment’s choice, but his voters would know better. The result would be a rout. Some establishment Republicans would lose, either in the primary or the general; others would be afraid to run for reelection; others would try to suck up to Bannon in the hopes of persuading him not to unleash the hounds; all would try to mimic Trump. And it didn’t matter which path they took: These would all be victories for Trump.

Kagan calls this the peaceful takeover of a party too craven to fight back:

Republican leaders cry, “You’re helping the Democrats win!” But that doesn’t matter to Bannon and Trump. For one thing, it may not even be true, for who can be sure that a thoroughly Trumpist Republican Party won’t be able to defeat a Democratic Party apparently bent on nominating unelectable candidates on the left? But either way, Bannon and Trump undoubtedly believe it is more important to turn the party into Trump’s personal vehicle, to drive out the resisters, the finger-waggers, the losers, the proud scions of the responsible establishment who could not stop Trump and apparently cannot legislate their way out of a paper bag.

That makes the situation hopeless:

The party would be worth saving if it contained even a dozen women and men of courage. But of course if it did contain such people, it wouldn’t need saving. Today the definition of a brave Republican is someone who is not running for reelection. So rooting for them is no longer an answer. The best thing for the country may be to let the party go. Let it become the party of Trump and Bannon, and as fast as possible. Let the 35 percent of the country who believe Trump is a suitable president, or who hate Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama so much that they would elect Mussolini to the White House, have their party.

And there’s only one answer to all of this:

The rest of Republican voters should leave the party until it earns back the right to their support. They should change their registration and start voting for Democratic moderates and centrists, as some Republicans did in Virginia recently, to give them a leg up in their fight against the party’s left wing. A third party of “good Republicans” is a fantasy. This is a two-party country. To defeat one, you have to support the other, either directly or indirectly.

Right now the country’s best hope is for a moderate Democratic Party that speaks for that sizable majority of Americans who recognize the peril of seven more years of Trump in the White House. Bannon is doing his part to make that happen.

He is? He’s doing this:

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon implored conservative activists at a Washington gathering Saturday morning to continue fighting the GOP establishment, attacking a number of Republican members of Congress by name, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Bannon told attendees at the Values Voter Summit, an annual social conservative conference, to keep up the fight against the “imperial” political class.

“It’s not my war, this is our war and y’all didn’t start it, the establishment started it,” Bannon said. He also said, “Right now, it’s a season of war against a GOP establishment.”

He had told Fox News’ Sean Hannity earlier this week that he was declaring “war” on the Republican establishment.

Bannon is red hot. Donald Trump is red hot. Some like it hot, and they finally got exactly what they wanted – but others find all of this tiresome and stupid, and just not cool. Americans have always liked cool. Maybe they will again. There’s always Bernie Sanders. Unfortunately, there’s no one else at the moment. America needs to work on that.

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How Cause Leads To Effect

Some people have a problem with cause and effect. They need counselling. Don’t talk back to that cop. Don’t tug on superman’s cape. Don’t spit into the wind. Don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger – and if you hold your hand in an open flame and feel no pain you’re probably dead. Some things are obvious – and don’t sneer at the folks on your side. Don’t mock them mercilessly in public. You’ll need them.

The last guy understood this. There was Obama’s somewhat famous foreign policy dictum – basically don’t do stupid shit – that kept us out of endless trouble. Maybe that was leading from behind, a horrible thing to some, but we started no new wars. North Korea wasn’t testing nukes and shooting off missiles. Crises weren’t solved, but they were contained. Iran agreed to give up their nuclear weapons program, for at least ten years, even if they agreed to nothing else. Nothing there was solved, but one part of the problem was contained – and domestically, there was Obamacare, an awkward half-free-market hybrid healthcare system that also included expanding Medicaid to cover those who couldn’t afford even its subsidized policies, but it worked. The number of uninsured dropped dramatically, even if Obamacare didn’t work all that well. It was something. Something is better than nothing.

Obama understood cause and effect. Nationalized healthcare – a single-payer system – Medicare for All or whatever – would enrage half the country. Doing nothing would enrage the other half. He split the difference.

The new guy doesn’t understand cause and effect. Donald Trump will enrage both halves of the country – he likes that sort of thing – and the latest is this:

President Donald Trump will oppose any congressional attempts to reinstate funding for Obamacare subsidies – unless he gets something in return, his budget director Mick Mulvaney said in an interview Friday morning.

The comments by the Office of Management and Budget chief delivered a severe blow to efforts by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to strike a bipartisan deal on funding the subsidies. Trump canceled those payments to insurance companies on Thursday night, raising hopes among some Democrats and centrist Republicans that the Trump administration could accept a bill that would revive the subsides while offering states more flexibility to opt out of Obamacare.

But Mulvaney panned those efforts, calling the so-called cost-sharing reduction payments “corporate welfare and bailouts for the insurance companies.”

That’s a bit of a misrepresentation, but there was this:

The administration, however, opened the door to negotiations on the now-canceled payments. After speaking to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Saturday, Trump said that a temporary deal could be struck on shoring up the insurance markets. Mulvaney suggested the insurance payments could be a bargaining chip in a broader negotiation with Congress to either repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health care law – or fund Trump’s long-stalled border wall with Mexico.

Yes, he wants that wall, but this is dangerous:

Republican leaders are worried that Trump’s move to end Obamacare subsidy payments could backfire on them in the 2018 midterms, inciting voters upset about skyrocketing insurance payments. But Mulvaney said voters are far more likely to punish congressional Republicans for failing to live up to a seven-year promise: repealing Obamacare.

That could go either way, and there was this:

A new multi-state lawsuit has been announced to stop President Trump from halting key ObamaCare payments to insurers.

Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., signed onto the lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in California, according to Sarah Lovenheim, a spokeswoman for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D).

On Thursday night, Trump announced he would stop making the payments, which led to an outcry from critics saying he was sabotaging the health-care law.

The complaint will seek a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and permanent injunction requiring the cost-sharing reduction payments be made.

Those weren’t corporate welfare and bailouts for the insurance companies – they allowed a whole lot of people to finally afford health insurance – and people know that:

A solid majority of the public – 71 percent – wants to see President Donald Trump make Obamacare work instead of dismantling the law, according to a recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

While the poll was conducted before the White House announced that Trump would end crucial subsidies for insurers under Obamacare, 60 percent of respondents said they want to keep the payments in tact…

Thirty percent considered the subsidies – called cost-sharing reduction (CSR) – a bailout to insurance companies and said the program should end.

That thirty percent is with Trump on this, and there are the details:

Democrats (93 percent) and Independents (74 percent) were far more supportive of the idea than Republicans. About half of the Republicans surveyed – 48 percent – said they’d like to see the Trump administration make the current healthcare law work. Four in 10 Republicans said Trump should make the law fail, according to the poll.

That’s odd. Fewer than half of Republicans are with Trump on this, and Greg Sargent sees the miscalculation here:

President Trump’s peculiar combination of malevolence, certainty in his own negotiating prowess, and cluelessness about the details of policy, sometimes leads him to issue fearsome-sounding threats that are rooted in a baffling misread of the distribution of leverage and incentives underlying the situation at hand.

That is, this guy doesn’t understand cause and effect:

There is already a bipartisan set of negotiations – led by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the leaders of the health and education committee – that have been continuing over how to shore up the Affordable Care Act’s individual markets. According to a Democratic source familiar with the talks, there is broad agreement that Congress should appropriate the money to cover the billions of dollars in cost-sharing reductions (CSRs), which, if halted, could cause the individual markets to melt down. The sticking points are over how much flexibility the deal should give to give states in defining what counts as insurance coverage, and there’s a decent chance those sticking points will be resolved.

Indeed, Alexander has publicly confirmed that he believes Congress should appropriate the funds to cover the CSRs. He has also publicly allowed that he believes Murray has already made serious concessions towards the flexibility of ACA rules that Republicans want, though Murray still insists that the regulations requiring insurers to offer “essential health benefits” must remain. What this means is that, presuming a deal is reached, the real lingering question will be whether Republican leaders in Congress will accept such a compromise and allow a vote on it.

They too will have to understand cause and effect:

The pressure on Republicans to do that will be intense. The Washington Examiner recently reported that vulnerable House Republicans worry they could have a major political problem on their hands if these payments are stopped, because it could harm large numbers of people in their districts. As it is, millions are enrolled in plans with cost-sharing reductions, which pay money to insurers to subsidize out-of-pocket costs, and if they are halted, insurers could exit the markets, further destabilizing them and leaving millions without coverage options. Tellingly, influential House Republicans such as Reps. Tom Cole (Okla.) and Greg Walden (Ore.) have called for Congress to appropriate the payments.

Cause and effect do matter here:

In the end, Trump and Republicans are the ones likely to feel more pressure to support such a deal, which will put them in the tough spot of choosing between taking the blame for chaos in the individual markets and weathering the rage from the right that accepting a deal will unleash. Even if Trump doesn’t understand this, congressional Republicans surely do.

All of this puzzles Josh Marshall:

This morning President Trump tweeted out: “The Democrats ObamaCare is imploding. Massive subsidy payments to their pet insurance companies has stopped. Dems should call me to fix!”

This is almost word for word the kind of chilling message a hostage taker sends. I’ve got your kids. You need to call me.

Of course, that might have been intentional:

Part of this is dominance. The desire to act, dominate, destroy. There’s the need to produce something for his most ardent supporters. But the biggest drive is what is contained in this tweet. To force Democrats hands by using Obamacare beneficiaries as hostages.

“Dems should call me to fix!”

Setting aside any moral calculus, this is folly in political terms. A lot of Senate Republicans get this. This hurts millions of Americans. But Trump is doing the damage in plain daylight. He’s shooting himself without even realizing it. If the ‘deal’ Trump wanted was one that helped people, Democrats might face a dilemma over whether to follow their political advantage or making good policy. But there’s no conflict. For Democrats politics and policy line up entirely.

Marshall thinks Trump is making a bad mistake but just can’t help himself:

The underlying driver here is Trump’s transactional, bullying way of approaching business which he brought from his predatory business to the White House. I don’t think you can understand what’s happening here except through that prism. For Trump, Democrats own Obamacare. It’s theirs. If he breaks it, it’s still theirs. It’s all on them. The “Obamacare” brand is the entirety of it. The more he breaks it, the more they need him to fix it. It’s like if the Democrats owned a building or a company. They more he damaged it, the more they’d need him to stop. This is a logic Trump understands. It’s his native environment. This is an organized crime mentality, one he used again and again in his private business.

But that’s not how big social programs like this work. Legislation and governance is fundamentally about people. That’s not just lofty rhetoric. The consequences of government play out in elections. Trump doesn’t get that. A lot of Republican Senators do.

But the man just can’t help himself:

President Trump signed his executive order on cross-state insurance policies yesterday. He just cut off CSR funding. He’s about to decertify the Iran nuclear deal. Each action is consistent with the campaign he ran in 2016. But they’re coming in a rush. Why now? Each move has some contingent logic. But I suspect the big driver is that rising pressures on the President are leading him to act out. And the acting out is escalating. Beyond the policy specifics and verbiage, Trump’s politics is about dominance and destruction. It’s a drive deep in him and one that he shares – albeit with very different life experiences – with his core political supporters. That’s the bond.

And that leads to stupid shit:

Most of us have seen this raft of articles talking about rising pressure in the White House – the President is coming apart, angry, isolated. I’m skeptical of these reports, to the extent they suggest he’s about to blow apart or lose it entirely. But he does seem increasingly erratic, impulsive. He’s under pressure because he feels like he’s losing. For Trump these policies and policy moves are not just about politics. They are characterological. The more pressure rises, the more he feels besieged, the more he’ll take unilateral actions to assert himself – to balance himself.

Cause and effect are in play here then, in an odd way, and Paul Waldman says this about the Iran business:

Today, President Trump announced that the only way to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons is to begin destroying the painstakingly negotiated agreement that is keeping them from getting nuclear weapons.

“History has shown that the longer we ignore a threat, the more dangerous that threat becomes,” Trump said, as though we had been ignoring Iran until now. “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout.”

So he’s going to withdraw his certification of their compliance, which means Congress now has to decide whether to re-impose sanctions. Congress will probably allow the deal to survive, with additional conditions. And Trump today said that, going forward, if he’s not satisfied, “the agreement will be terminated.”

None of that makes sense:

What exactly is Trump trying to accomplish? The answer may seem obvious, but it isn’t at all.

Presidents, we know, are supposed to have “vision,” a broad conception of where they want to lead the country. When they run, it’s often presented in vague terms. The closest Trump came as a candidate was promising that “We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning.” While in a sense “making America great again” was a kind of vision, presidents also need specific goals to guide their decision-making, a real conception of how they want things to turn out so that they can figure out the best way to get there.

Trump’s lack of those specific goals – or to put it another way, the lack of a defined end-state he’s trying to reach – may be one of his most underappreciated weaknesses as a president. Most people, even many in his own party, understand that he’s spectacularly uninformed about policy, not particularly bright and distressingly impulsive. But he also seems to have no idea where he’s trying to go…

That has become obvious:

Ever since he was a candidate, Trump has complained that the nuclear agreement, which was negotiated not only between Iran and the United States but also with Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union, is a terrible deal, while seldom getting specific about what exactly he objects to in its provisions. We knew what President Barack Obama was trying to accomplish with the deal in the first place: an Iran that, whatever else it might be up to, couldn’t threaten anyone with nuclear weapons.

What’s Trump’s vision? An Iran that not only doesn’t have nuclear weapons but also is a force for peace and stability, and maybe a liberal democracy to boot? Well, that would be great. How is pulling out of the nuclear agreement going to get us there?

This new guy clearly doesn’t understand cause and effect:

Trump seems to believe that there’s some mythical “better deal” awaiting somewhere, and if he threatens to withdraw from the agreement, then the Iranian government will fall to its knees and say, “We submit! We’ll do whatever you want!” But of course it won’t, and the other partners aren’t interested in starting the process all over again either. If we do pull out, there’s a chance the agreement could collapse and Iran would resume its pursuit of nuclear weapons, which is exactly the thing the agreement is preventing.

It would be edifying to hear Trump or some of his aides and allies explain exactly how this scenario is supposed to play out and where it’s supposed to end up. But if they tried to do that, it would become obvious how little they’ve thought it through.

There’s a lot of that going around:

Trump has decided to go whole-hog to destroy the individual health insurance market, with executive orders that will drive up premiums, send insurers from the market and potentially lead to many people losing their coverage. And what exactly is the health-care future Trump is aiming for with these actions? It’s almost impossible to tell. He often talks as if he’s a social democrat wanting government to provide for everyone (“We’re going to have insurance for everybody”), but then moves to remove government protections and move us toward a cruel Randian future more in line with what most Republicans would like to see. Can anyone say they have any idea what health-care system Trump envisions, and how it relates to the decisions he’s making now?

And it’s more than that:

A president with a better grasp on policy would at least have a sense of what course is likely to produce success and which outcomes are reasonable to predict. Trump, on the other hand, is apparently willing to believe any ridiculous story somebody tells him, if it ends with “Trump wins!”

A case in point: Conservative economist Kevin Hassett, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, apparently told Trump that just one of the White House’s proposed tax changes – allowing corporations to repatriate cash they have parked overseas and pay low taxes on it – would be such a spectacular shot of adrenaline to the economy that it would make every American family $4,000 richer. Sane economists, both Democrat and Republican, will tell you that this notion is utterly ludicrous. But it sounds good to Trump, so he has been touting the number, as proof of how great his tax cuts are going to be.

Again, this new guy clearly doesn’t understand cause and effect:

Presidents don’t need to be policy geniuses, but at the very least they need a sense of how cause leads to effect and a vision of what they’re trying to accomplish. That way they can tell whether what they’re doing is likely to take the country to the place they want to go. Trump has neither, which means he’s either being pushed around by people who have figured out how to manipulate him for their own ideological ends, or he’s flopping about aimlessly with no principles to guide him except if Obama did it, I should do the opposite.

Either way, it’s not very encouraging.

Josh Marshall agrees with that:

President Trump straight up lied in his speech today on ‘decertifying’ the Iran nuclear deal. He said: “The Iranian regime has committed multiple violations of the agreement.” This is not true. The US, the Europeans, outside observers, and the inspectors, all agree that Iran is meeting the conditions of the deal. If Iran were violating the deal, all of this drama wouldn’t have been necessary. Trump could have just canceled the deal without any need to justify the decision. He would have had broad support for doing so. That’s the bind he’s been in. The Iranians are keeping their end of the bargain. So Trump really hasn’t had a good rationale – legal or geopolitical – for getting out.

He doesn’t have a good rationale:

In addition to all the things the President says his new policy will accomplish he made this pledge. “We will deny the regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.”

But of course there was no explanation of how that would happen. It’s possible that the deal might stay in place even if the US pulled because the benefits to Iran and Europe are good enough to keep it going. But assuming the deal gets totally scuttled there are really only three ways to “deny the regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.” 1) You can impose sanctions and other forms of pressure to a great enough extent that the Iranians relent. (That’s kind of what Obama did – crippling sanctions plus covert, often cyber, sabotage.) 2) You sign a new agreement. Or 3) you can go to war and physically coerce them into stopping.

“One” seems highly unlikely since the European powers and China and Russia don’t want to do that. Without them, really ruinous sanctions aren’t possible. “Two” seems unlikely mainly because the Trump administration shows really no inclination even to want a deal. “Three” fits the Trump mentality but it’s fraught with incalculable danger. There’s a reason why it never happened under President Bush and even Israel was held back largely by its own generals.

Marshall suggests looking at a bit of history:

What we see here really looks like Bush administration policy on North Korea in the first years of this century. The Clinton administration had a deal too. It was sort of still born. The GOP Congress hobbled it from Capitol Hill and cut off funding for it. There’s evidence – though it wasn’t that rock solid – that the North Koreans started violating the agreement in the late Clinton years. For all that though, the nuclear weapons program we’re now so concerned about and which has produced numerous nuclear weapons, was shuttered.

The Bush foreign policy team decided that deal was appeasement and basically forced a complete breakdown of the deal. They would not tolerate North Korea getting a nuclear weapon. No appeasement, no payoffs, no cowering. Only they had no actual plan for how to do that. In 2006, North Korea detonated its first nuclear device.

So here we are:

The Bush team wouldn’t stand for appeasement, opted for a policy of strength and moral clarity and got a nuclear North Korea. By any possible definition the policy was an abject failure. Might the Clinton approach have failed too? Maybe – but it kept the program shuttered for almost a decade. For all the messiness, that was a success.

Set aside all the policy ins and outs with the President’s decision today and this looks almost exactly the same. The Trump team thinks it’s a terrible deal, a giveaway, appeasing a rogue regime. In its place they have no plan at all.

Maybe that will do. There’s David French – the conservative lawyer who writes for National Review. He writes about both Donald Trump and the alt-right and pulls no punches, and then got all those death threats aimed at his wife and children. Now he writes about ordinary rural conservatives who support Trump:

Trump is stoking a particularly destructive form of rage – and his followers don’t just allow themselves to be stoked, they attack Trump’s targets with glee. Contrary to the stereotype of journalists who live in the Beltway and spend their nights at those allegedly omnipresent “cocktail parties,” I live in rural Tennessee, deep in the heart of Trump country. My travels mainly take me to other parts of Trump country, where I engage with Trump voters all the time. If I live in a bubble, it’s the Trump bubble. I know it intimately.

And I have never in my adult life seen such anger. There is a near-universal hatred of the media. There is a near-universal hatred of the so-called “elite.” If a person finds out that I didn’t support Trump, I’ll often watch their face transform into a mask of rage. Partisans are so primed to fight – and they so clearly define whom they’re fighting against – that they often don’t care whom or what they’re fighting for. Don’t like the media? Shut it down. Don’t like kneeling football players? Make them stand. Tired of American weakness overseas? Cheer incoherent and reckless tweets as evidence of “strength.”

This is a place where cause and effect don’t matter, and Kevin Drum sees this:

The two big explanations for the rise of this rural anger (and the rise of Trump) revolve around economics and race. The modern economy has screwed these folks over and they’re tired of it. Or they’re badly threatened by the growth of the nonwhite population. Which is it? Almost certainly both, and in any case it doesn’t matter much – both of these things are likely to get worse from their point of view. The nonwhite population share is obviously going to keep growing, and the economy of the future is only going to become ever more tilted toward the highly educated. If working-class whites really are enraged by either or both of these things, they’re only going to get more enraged as time goes by.

That’s especially true if they keep voting for Republicans, who will actively make these things worse while skillfully laying off the blame on “elites” and “Hollywood liberals.” Keeping the rage machine going is their ticket to political power.

In this case, Republicans have thoroughly muddled cause and effect, and Drum isn’t sure that can be un-muddled:

How do we prick this bubble? Obama tried to give them cheap health care, and it enraged them. He passed stricter regulation on the Wall Street financiers who brought us the Great Recession, and they didn’t care. He fought to reduce their payroll taxes and fund infrastructure to help the economy get back on track, and they sneered that it was just a lot of wasted money that ballooned the national debt.

At the same time, Obama didn’t try to take their guns away. He didn’t outlaw Christianity or conduct a war on Christmas. He didn’t do much of anything related to abortion. He did promote a number of gay-friendly policies, and praised the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.

None of it really seemed to matter, though. The culture war stuff remained enraging regardless of what Obama did or didn’t do.

Drum admits that there may be no answer to this. Some people have a problem with cause and effect. They need counselling. Instead, they elected Donald Trump.

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That Man from Mars

Pop psychology books come and go. In 1992 it was Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus – a massive bestseller discussed endlessly on daytime television, and then completely forgotten. The guy who wrote it said he had earned degrees in meditation and taken a correspondence course in psychology – but that was from a diploma mill. He was not actually the recipient of a real doctorate in psychology, or anything else. He was a relationship counselor. Anyone can be a relationship counselor. Give advice. That’s all there is to it. It may be horrible advice, but no relationship counselor is going to lose his or her license for that. There is no license. Take the money and run.

John Gray took the money and ran, but for a time his book was a big deal – and kind of stupid. Mars was named for the God of War. Venus was named for the Goddess of Love. Men prefer war. Women prefer love. They do? But he wasn’t saying that. Gray’s book was about two different approaches to solving problems, and the true nature of married couples’ domestic spats. He didn’t dive deeper.

He should have dived deeper, because the metaphor is kind of useful. Some men do see life as war. Winning is everything, in spite of the horrible cost of war, and that generates any number of assumptions. If life is war, real men inflict pain on others – to win, or to set a condition in which the other, having felt real pain, or anticipating real pain, backs off. Also, if life is war, toughness is everything. Be tough or appear tough. Never smile. Random acts of meanness help too, even if they don’t make sense. In fact, it really is better if they don’t make sense. Keep them guessing. Keep them worried – and win.

John Gray didn’t go there, but this has played out in American politics. The Republican Party is often referred to as the “Daddy Party” – the party of the largely absent taciturn father who, when necessary, beats the crap out of the kid, to beat some sense into the kid, for the kid’s own good, to teach the kid some damned personal responsibility, but otherwise lets the kid sink or swim on his or her own, for the same reason. Inflict pain. Random acts of meanness help too. That builds character. No one whines.

That’s how government should work, and of course the Democratic Party is the “Mommy Party” – nurturing and supportive. No kid (or adult) should be left behind. People don’t whine. They’re really in trouble – and random acts of kindness do a whole lot of good in this sorry world. And that means that Republicans are from Mars and Democrats are from Venus – and Donald Trump is a man from Mars.

After all, there was no reason for this:

President Trump is throwing a bomb into the insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act, choosing to end critical payments to health insurers that help millions of lower-income Americans afford coverage. The decision coincides with an executive order on Thursday to allow alternative health plans that skirt the law’s requirements.

The White House confirmed late Thursday that it would halt federal payments for cost-sharing reductions, although a statement did not specify when. Another statement a short time later by top officials at the Health and Human Services Department said the cutoff would be immediate. The subsidies total about $7 billion this year.

By law, the federal government is required to make these payments, so Trump is not faithfully, as chief executive, administering and executing the law in this case – he’s actually breaking the law – but Republicans have made that a bit murky:

The cost-sharing reductions – or CSRs, as they are known – have long been the subject of a political and legal seesaw. Congressional Republicans argued that the sprawling 2010 health-care law that established them does not include specific language providing appropriations to cover the government’s cost. House Republicans sued HHS over the payments during President Barack Obama’s second term. A federal court agreed that they were illegal, and the case has been pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Donald Trump won’t wait for the courts. Consider it a random act of meanness, and it is mean, and dangerous:

Trump has threatened for months to stop the payments, which go to insurers that are required by the laws to help eligible consumers afford their deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses. But he held off while other administration officials warned him such a move would cause an implosion of the ACA marketplaces that could be blamed on Republicans, according to two individuals briefed on the decision.

He preferred an implosion, and he got one:

Health insurers and state regulators have been in a state of high anxiety over the prospect of the marketplaces cratering because of such White House action. The fifth year’s open-enrollment season for consumers to buy coverage through ACA exchanges will start in less than three weeks, and insurers have said that stopping the cost-sharing payments would be the single greatest step the Trump administration could take to damage the marketplaces – and the law.

Ending the payments is grounds for any insurer to back out of its federal contract to sell health plans for 2018. Some states’ regulators directed ACA insurers to add a surcharge in case the payments were not made, but insurers elsewhere could be left in a position in which they still must give consumers the discounts but will not be reimbursed.

Insurers elsewhere will bail out now, and they’re not happy:

A spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group that has been warning for months of adverse effects if the payments ended, immediately denounced the president’s decision. “Millions of Americans rely on these benefits to afford their coverage and care,” Kristine Grow said.

And California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), who has been trying to preserve the payments through litigation, said the president’s action “would be sabotage.” Becerra said late Thursday that he was prepared to fight the White House. “We’ve taken the Trump Administration to court before and won, and we’re ready to do it again if necessary,” he said in a statement.

Trump’s move comes even as bipartisan negotiations continue on one Senate Committee over ways to prop up the ACA marketplaces. Both Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have publicly said the payments should not end immediately, though they differ over how long these subsidies should be guaranteed.

That doesn’t matter now, because Trump got tough:

The top two congressional Democrats, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), excoriated the president’s decision. “It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America,” they said in a joint statement. “Make no mistake about it, Trump will try to blame the Affordable Care Act, but this will fall on his back and he will pay the price for it.”

No, he won’t. He’ll look tough. No one will ever mess with him again:

While the administration will now argue that Congress should appropriate the funds if it wants them to continue, such a proposal will face a serious hurdle on Capitol Hill. In a recent interview, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing HHS, said it would be difficult to muster support for such a move among House conservatives.

Congress couldn’t repeal and replace Obamacare. All the Republican alternatives hurt tens of millions of Americans. All their alternatives polled at about a seventeen percent approval rating. Americans hated all their alternatives, and key Republicans bailed. They couldn’t even muster fifty of their own votes for that last try in the Senate – but Trump had promised something.

He got nothing. He looked like a fool, so he’ll destroy the insurance markets and be done with it – promise kept – he wins. Some men do see life as war. Winning is everything, in spite of the horrible cost of war – but in war people die. That’s just how it is, in spite of this:

One person familiar with the president’s decision said that HHS officials and Trump’s domestic policy advisers had urged him to continue the payments at least through the end of the year.

Donald Trump really is from Mars:

Word of the president’s decision came just hours after he signed the executive order intended to circumvent the ACA by making it easier for individuals and small businesses to buy alternative types of health insurance with lower prices, fewer benefits and weaker government protections.

The White House and allies portrayed the president’s move as wielding administrative powers to accomplish what congressional Republicans have failed to achieve: fostering more coverage choices while tearing down the law’s insurance marketplaces.

Congressional Republicans failed to achieve that for good reason:

Critics, who include state insurance commissioners, most of the health-insurance industry and mainstream policy specialists, predict that a proliferation of these other kinds of coverage will have damaging ripple effects, driving up costs for consumers with serious medical conditions and prompting more insurers to flee the law’s marketplaces.

Kevin Drum adds detail to that:

Trump’s executive order basically reclassifies “association” health plans for small businesses as health plans for big businesses, which aren’t required to obey Obamacare rules that protect pre-existing conditions. This allows association plans to legally sell policies only to healthy customers, which will make them much cheaper. Naturally, healthy customers will flock to these policies, leaving the Obamacare exchanges with only the old and sick.

The logical next step is to say that Obamacare premiums will skyrocket, but I’m not sure that will happen. The exodus of healthy customers will be so dramatic and so unpredictable that I can’t imagine any insurer continuing to sell on the Obamacare exchanges. They’ll just stop, and that will be the end of Obamacare.

The same thing will happen outside the exchanges too. Individual health policies will still be required to insure anyone who applies, including those with pre-existing conditions. But with all the healthy customers scampering off to cheaper association plans, it will be all but impossible to figure out the likely composition of the remaining risk pool. So insurers will just exit the individual market completely.

Drum is not happy:

Trump’s plan, obviously, is that this chaos will force Congress to respond. Anything will be better than a collapse of the entire individual market. Even Democrats will be forced to support a Republican plan that will at least prevent the market from imploding.

We’ve never before had a president who used millions of the poor and sick as pawns like this. It’s just plain evil.

It’s the work of a man from Mars. Be tough and win. Inflict pain. Do those random acts of meanness and win. It’s the same with DACA – those kids are fine kids, but they’re outta here! Why? There’s no answer, and it’s the same with Puerto Rico:

President Donald Trump suggested Thursday that Puerto Rico is going to have to shoulder more responsibility for recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria, saying the federal government’s emergency responders can’t stay there “forever.”

His comments – in which he also blamed the beleaguered island for a financial crisis “largely of their own making” and infrastructure that was a “disaster” before the hurricane – come as Puerto Rico still reels from a lack of electricity, public health access and a rising death toll. The remarks quickly prompted cries from Democratic lawmakers, who argue that Puerto Rico still needs a lot of help, as well as the mayor of San Juan, who said they were “unbecoming” and appeared to come from a “hater in chief.”

Meanwhile, Texas and Florida – two states Trump won during last year’s presidential election – also were struck by severe hurricanes recently, but the President has made no public indication that the federal government is pulling back on its response there.

He could have said nothing and just stopped all aid to Puerto Rico, but some said he wasn’t doing enough, so he hit back with a bit of pure meanness. It’s almost certain that he will not stop all aid to Puerto Rico, but he made his point. Don’t mess with him. People who are hardly Americans, except by chance, especially shouldn’t mess with him. And let kids sink or swim on their own. It’ll be good for them. It builds character. He’ll help the people in Texas and Florida. They don’t question him. They don’t whine. In spite of his spats with his nominal party, Donald Trump really is a Republican, and Republicans are from Mars.

In an odd way this applies to tax policy too, as Josh Marshall explains here:

What Republicans are calling “tax reform” is shaping up as the worst kind of legislative mess. To the degree we know specifics the plan would amount to a massive windfall for the wealthiest Americans. This is hardly surprising. What is surprising are the ways the chaos and disorganization within the GOP (and perhaps also a sense of invulnerability) have led to the creation of a law which would actually hurt a lot of people who really don’t need to be hurt and are politically powerful to boot.

This too is the random infliction of pain:

Here the 2001 Bush tax cut is the archetype. The law was a windfall for the very wealthy. But for very good political reasons, the authors of the bill were careful to make sure the great majority of Americans did get some tax relief. The gains for middle and lower income people were meager, arguably trivial. But the Bush team could say accurately that there was relief for everyone or close to everyone. The political logic of doing this is obvious.

The Trump ‘tax reform’ actually manages to raise taxes on a substantial number of people. Big picture, it’s a massive tax cut for the very wealthy and the mind-bogglingly wealthy, paid for – among other things – by a substantial tax increase for the upper middle class and the only moderately wealthy.

That is odd:

The moderately wealthy can probably afford to pay higher taxes. Why they should do so to fund massive cuts for the extremely wealthy isn’t at all clear. What is significant on a political calculus is that wealthy people vote and make their views heard in the political world, through campaign contributions and in other ways as well. Put simply, they can fight back. That may not be fair. But it is the system we live in today. That makes this legislation not just bad policy but highly questionable politics.

If life is war then maybe another rule at play here. Don’t pick a fight with those who can fight back, and here this gets complicated:

The bill also ends tax deductions that are mainly enjoyed by people in blue states. The biggest example is the ability to deduct state income taxes against federal taxes. This hits lots of voters in states with significant income taxes, many quite wealthy but also a lot of middle class families.

There are two points to note about this. It’s not just bad policy. It’s hazardous politics. It’s not fair but more affluent people have much more ability to fight back than more marginalized or poorer populations. The Trump crew is figuring it’s not a problem since a lot of those people are in blue states and thus don’t matter. But it’s not quite that clear. There are red or purple states with income taxes. There are also lots of GOP members of the House of Representatives in Republican districts in blue states. Look how many Republicans there are in the California House delegation.

In short, if life is war, don’t wage war on your own troops, and don’t offer up bullshit:

Republicans and particularly President Trump have been arguing that this is a question of equity, that red states are subsidizing blue states with this exemption. There is a narrow argument here. Income tax states get a deduction that no-income tax states don’t, in practice, get. There’s nothing for them to deduct. But in the great majority of cases those income tax states send far more tax money to the federal government than they get back. The money ends up going to (mainly) low tax red states which get much more back from the federal government than they pay in taxes. In other words, in the vast majority of cases the subsidy is going in the opposite direction.

Setting aside the policy equities involved, Trump and the GOP are bringing the politics of grievance to tax policy, arguing that red states which are subsidized by blue states are actually being victimized.

Republicans may have gotten things backwards:

This is an awful piece of legislation. Democrats should oppose it on policy terms even if somehow the politics of it passing were great for Democrats. But it is also a very politically vulnerable piece of legislation. It hurts a lot of people who have the power to make their voices heard in the political process. It also puts Republicans in income tax states in a vulnerable position. There are also Republicans in the Senate who are not comfortable with the way this is likely to balloon the deficit. Normally I’d expect those folks to fold. But Trump’s escalating fight with Senators like Bob Corker may shift that calculus.

And then there’s this:

Republicans are currently in a bad spot with their committed partisans and with their funders over their inability to accomplish anything on the legislative front even though they control the entire government. In political terms, the inability to act on Obamacare has been deeply damaging. “Tax reform” – which is actually a huge tax cut – is shaping up as the last chance to deliver. Normally, cutting taxes should be the easiest thing in the world for Republicans. It’s goodies for everyone. The losers only see the losses in indirect ways. But they’ve got a bill that is vulnerable because of its sloppy construction. They’re coming off an Obamacare battle that has seriously drained their credibility as a party that wants to pass laws that help as opposed to harm people. Finally, Trump has sown the whirlwind within his own party. Each of those factors is going to make difficult what should be easy. They are also in desperate need for a “win.”

They may not get one:

Democrats can do a lot to make a Republican loss more likely. If they can force a defeat on the tax cut, they will usher the GOP into 2018 with a deeply unpopular President and no legislative accomplishments whatsoever. That would be a victory which sets the GOP up for, though by no means guarantees, a shattering result in the 2018 midterm elections. It is shaping up as the final, everything-on-the-line battle of year one of the Trump presidency.

Republicans are from Mars. All of life is a war and they know all about war, about being tough and about being mean, and they have that man from Mars in the White House. Democrats are from Venus. They know nothing of war. They don’t see all of life as war, and they see being tough and being mean as stupid – and they might win this one. Someone should write a pop psychology book about that.

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The Lit Wick

Jack Nicholson used to be America’s favorite madman – the “eternal outsider, the sardonic drifter” – the guy with the odd gleam in his eye. He was smart as hell. He was dangerous. Maybe he was a psychopath. No one knew what he would do next.

Nicholson grew up in Neptune City, New Jersey. Maybe that explains it – he was from a different planet – but his dangerous madness was a bit comic in Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969) where he was the oddball that tagged along with the two counterculture rebels on motorcycles. Then he went dark. In 1974 he starred in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown – where he was just plain mean and nasty and dangerous. In 1977, Polanski was arrested at Nicholson’s home for the sexual assault of that thirteen-year-old girl, and then fled the United States never to return. That didn’t hurt Nicholson’s reputation at all.

In 1975 he was the madman in the insane asylum in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – the adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel directed by Miloš Forman, the immigrant Czech director. Czechs know a few things about dangerous madness that might not be madness at all – think of Franz Kafka and Milan Kundera. In this case, the madmen in the insane asylum are quite sane, in their way. The system is insane. Nicholson’s character leads them to freedom. The film swept the Academy Awards, Nicholson won Best Actor. Madmen were cool – but in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining (1980) Nicholson played an all-out murderous psychopath, and in A Few Good Men (1992) he was the unhinged Marine Colonel who had ordered the murder of one of his own men. Madmen weren’t cool anymore.

That was the arc of his career. Nicholson is an eighty-year-old man now. No one sees him much, except courtside at every Lakers home game out here in Los Angeles. He screams at the refs. Sometimes they throw him out of the building. Madmen can be a pain in the ass – but for three or four decades Nicholson rode a cultural wave to fame and fortune. Americans were and maybe still are fascinated by madmen. Madmen are smart as hell, or maybe they’re psychopaths, or maybe they’re both. No one knows what they’ll do next either. And they can do great evil, or lead the rest of us to freedom – no one knows which it will be – but damn, they are fascinating. That’s why Donald Trump is president.

That’s why Donald Trump is dangerous:

US President Donald Trump has “lit the wick of the war” against North Korea, a Russian state news agency quoted North Korea’s foreign minister as saying on Wednesday.

The statement follows weeks of escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States, fueled by Pyongyang’s repeated nuclear tests and Trump’s tough talk.

Speaking to Russia’s state-run TASS news agency, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri-Yong Ho cited Trump’s September speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York as the tipping point.

Trump did threaten to “totally destroy” North Korea and mocked their leader. He called him “Rocket Man” and now keeps calling him “Little Rocket Man” – over and over and over. There were a lot of reports that Mattis and Kelly and Tillerson told Trump not to do that at the UN, and the shot of Kelly’s face-plant in the audience went viral, but Donald Trump doesn’t much care what his secretary of defense (Mattis) or his chief-of-staff (Kelly) or his secretary of state (Tillerson) think. He’s flying over that cuckoo’s nest. He’s the sane one here. The system is insane. He’s the hero.

That led to this:

During an appearance with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House on Wednesday, Trump said that while he listens to others around him, he has a “different” attitude when it comes to the North Korea – one he describes as “tougher.”

“I think I have a little bit of a different attitude on North Korea than other people might have. And I listen to everybody, but ultimately, my attitude is the one that matters, isn’t it?” Trump said. “That’s the way it works. That’s the way the system is.”

He’s right. He alone can decide to nuke North Korea. No one can stop him. That’s his decision alone – and he might do that, or he might not. Mattis and Kelly and Tillerson will just have to deal with that. Trump was doing his Jack Nicholson thing – the madman as hero.

That has a few folks worried:

New York Magazine contributing editor Gabriel Sherman on Tuesday reported on a remarkable conversation he had with a senior Republican official, who described imagined conversations Donald Trump’s chief of staff Gen. John Kelly and defense secretary James Mattis have had about “physically restraining the president” in the event he “lunges for the nuclear football.”

Sherman was discussing the growing concern in the West Wing over Trump’s temperament, particularly as the president continues to escalate feuds with prominent Republicans like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) while simultaneously setting the United States “on the path to World War III.”

“A conversation I had with a very prominent Republican today, who literally was saying that they imagine Gen. Kelly and Secretary Mattis have had conversations that if Trump lunged for the nuclear football, what would they do?” Sherman told NBC’s Chris Hayes. “Would they tackle him? I mean literally, physically restrain him from putting the country at perilous risk.”

That’s possible, but that’s also reporting on what some anonymous someone imagines might happen, maybe. It captures the worry but doesn’t speak to what’s really going on. It’s reporting worry. It’s not reporting events.

So, what’s really going on? NBC News had the scoop of the day:

President Donald Trump said he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal during a gathering this past summer of the nation’s highest-ranking national security leaders, according to three officials who were in the room.

Trump’s comments, the officials said, came in response to a briefing slide he was shown that charted the steady reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons since the late 1960s. Trump indicated he wanted a bigger stockpile, not the bottom position on that downward-sloping curve.

According to the officials present, Trump’s advisers, among them the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were surprised. Officials briefly explained the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup and how the current military posture is stronger than it was at the height of the buildup. In interviews, they told NBC News that no such expansion is planned.

Three different sources reported that same thing – they had to explain the real world to Donald Trump – which also explained another thing:

The July 20 meeting was described as a lengthy and sometimes tense review of worldwide U.S. forces and operations. It was soon after the meeting broke up that officials who remained behind heard Tillerson say that Trump is a “moron.”

We’re in a standoff with North Korea over its nuclear “ambitions” and Trump is poised to set off a fresh confrontation with Iran by not certifying to Congress that Tehran is in compliance with that 2015 nuclear deal, and three months ago everyone in the room was stunned and his secretary of state muttered that thus guy was a moron, but that is what happened:

The president’s comments during the Pentagon meeting in July came in response to a chart shown on the history of the U.S. and Russia’s nuclear capabilities that showed America’s stockpile at its peak in the late 1960s, the officials said. Some officials present said they did not take Trump’s desire for more nuclear weapons to be literally instructing the military to increase the actual numbers. But his comments raised questions about his familiarity with the nuclear posture and other issues, officials said.

Two officials present said that at multiple points in the discussion, the president expressed a desire not just for more nuclear weapons, but for additional U.S. troops and military equipment.

He wanted more things that go “boom” everywhere, which really is a problem:

Any increase in America’s nuclear arsenal would not only break with decades of U.S. nuclear doctrine but also violate international disarmament treaties signed by every president since Ronald Reagan. Nonproliferation experts warned that such a move could set off a global arms race.

“If he were to increase the numbers, the Russians would match him, and the Chinese” would ramp up their nuclear ambitions, Joe Cirincione, a nuclear expert and an MSNBC contributor, said, referring to the president.

“There hasn’t been a military mission that’s required a nuclear weapon in 71 years,” Cirincione said.

This did not go well:

Details of the July 20 meeting, which have not been previously reported, shed additional light on tensions among the commander in chief, members of his Cabinet and the uniformed leadership of the Pentagon stemming from vastly different world views, experiences and knowledge bases.

Moreover, the president’s comments reveal that Trump, who suggested before his inauguration that the U.S. “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability,” voiced that desire as commander in chief directly to the military leadership in the heart of the Pentagon this summer.

Some officials in the Pentagon meeting were rattled by the president’s desire for more nuclear weapons and his understanding of other national security issues from the Korean Peninsula to Iraq and Afghanistan, the officials said.

That meeting followed one held a day earlier in the White House Situation Room focused on Afghanistan in which the president stunned some of his national security team. At that July 19 meeting, according to senior administration officials, Trump asked military leaders to fire the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and compared their advice to that of a New York restaurant consultant whose poor judgment cost a business valuable time and money.

Tillerson might have been muttering the right thing, but Trump has a tweet for all this:

Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a “tenfold” increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!

And there was this:

Later Wednesday, the president said he “never discussed increasing” the size of the nuclear arsenal, repeating his claim of “fake news.”

“Right now, we have so many nuclear weapons,” Trump said at a press-availability with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “I want them in perfect condition, perfect shape. That’s the only thing I’ve ever discussed.” Defense Secretary Mattis also called the NBC report “absolutely false.”

In short, he’s a reasonable man, but David Corn knows this man:

Trump first demonstrated he knew little about nuclear weapons in the 1980s, when he repeatedly boasted to reporters that he would make a good nuclear arms negotiator and that the job would be easy. In a 1984 interview with the Washington Post, Trump, then a 38-year-old celebrity developer, said he hoped one day to become the United States’ chief negotiator with the Soviet Union for nuclear weapons. Trump declared he could negotiate a great nuclear arms deal with Moscow. Comparing crafting an arms accord with cooking up a real estate deal, Trump insisted he had innate talent for this mission. He claimed he would know exactly what to demand of the Russians – though he conceded his lack of experience in the technical field of nuclear weaponry. “It would take an hour-and-a-half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. I think I know most of it anyway,” he said. “You’re talking about just getting updated on a situation.”

A few months earlier, Trump had expressed the same sentiment to a New York Times reporter. The writer noted, “Trump thinks he has an answer to nuclear armament: Let him negotiate arms agreements – he who can talk people into selling $100 million properties to him for $13 million. Negotiation is an art, he says and I have a gift for it.” In 1986, Trump told Bernard Lown, a cardiologist who invented the defibrillator and who received the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for joining with a prominent Soviet physician to promote nuclear arms reduction, that he could concoct a nuclear disarmament deal with the Soviet Union and end the Cold War in an hour.

And nothing much changed:

During the 2016 presidential campaign, he uttered several troubling statements about nuclear arms that revealed he hadn’t learned much in the intervening decades At a Republican debate, he botched a question about the nuclear triad – America’s system of sea, air, and land-based nuclear weapons – a clear sign he did not understand the fundamentals of the structure of the US nuclear command. He babbled, “For me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

That’s something a maniacal Jack Nicholson character would say, and there’s this:

Over the years, Trump’s reckless and fact free talk about nuclear weapons has been coupled with remarks showing he has a fatalistic approach and possibly believes a nuclear conflagration is unavoidable. In a 1990 interview with Playboy, Trump said, “I think of the future, but I refuse to paint it. Anything can happen. But I often think of nuclear war.”

That’s also what those in the July meeting probably sensed they were facing too, but NBC News stuck by their carefully sourced story, which including this:

At one point, Trump responded to a presentation on the U.S. military presence in South Korea by asking why South Koreans aren’t more appreciative and welcoming of American defense aid. The comment prompted intervention from a senior military official in the room to explain the overall relationship and why such help is ultimately beneficial to U.S. national security interests.

Tillerson was muttering the right thing after all, but Trump had another tweet for all this:

With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!

This was more of the same:

As a candidate, Trump threatened to “open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” He repeated that threat in a post to Twitter in March. He also floated the idea of canceling the long-held tradition of White House press briefings, which were moved mostly off-camera for weeks last summer.

Jordan Weissmann wonders about all this:

Shutting down critical TV networks is, of course, a favorite move of would-be strongmen the world over – Hugo Chávez was particularly fond of it – and many were aghast to see a U.S. president musing about such an idea on social media. Just in case he hadn’t made his point clearly enough, though, Trump told reporters later in the afternoon that he thought it was “frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write.” The man is not a fan of the First Amendment.

Which raises the question: If Trump grows angry enough, could he try to exact revenge on NBC, or any other news networks, by stripping their parent companies’ of their broadcast rights?

The answer is no:

Trump’s threat is a bit awkward since, technically, NBC does not have a single broadcast “license.” That’s because it’s a television network – it creates programming, which mostly airs across affiliate stations around the country run by other companies. However, NBC’s corporate parent Comcast does own 10 NBC stations in major markets, which the company says reach 27 million households, or a little more than a quarter of the American TV viewers. And just like every other broadcaster on the public airwaves, those very valuable stations need to periodically renew their licenses with the Federal Communications Commission.

In theory, Trump – or one of his political allies – could file an official petition asking the FCC to deny licenses to Comcast’s stations the next they need to be re-upped. But to do that, they’d have to find something to complain about other than NBC’s critical White House coverage, because the commission doesn’t regulate news content. When stations’ licenses are challenged, it’s typically over technical or cut-and-dry legal issues like whether stations misled the FCC in previous applications. In one famous case from the 1980s, RKO General lost broadcast rights after it misled the FCC about bribery charges it had faced. But that legal battle took almost 20 years to resolve.

Again, Trump didn’t know what he was talking about:

“I really don’t see anything Trump could do,” said Angela Campbell, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center who specializes in media and telecommunications. “They [the FCC] don’t really deny anyone a license to begin with, but they certainly don’t do it because of what was broadcast on a news program, because that would be such a clear content-discrimination claim.”

And there’s this:

If Trump or his friends did find a superficial excuse to challenge one of Comcast’s broadcast licenses – that is, something other than “bad for country!” – chances are the effort wouldn’t go very far. The FCC is an independent body, and while its members are nominated by the White House, the recently confirmed chair, Ajit Pai, is a by-the-book business-friendly conservative who served on the commission during the Obama years. Even if you don’t like his stand on net neutrality, he probably isn’t going to entertain Trump’s desire for a political vendetta.

Meanwhile, Trump’s favorite media punching bag, CNN, is entirely safe from this nonsense, because cable networks aren’t regulated by the FCC.

So chill out, everyone, or don’t:

If Trump’s threats are toothless, why worry? Because by talking openly about censoring unfriendly news outlets, he’s leading the right one step closer to a very dark place politically. As University of Tennessee professor Stuart Brotman pointed out to me, there actually is a historical parallel to Trump’s Twitter threats: During the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon talked about going after the Washington Post Co.’s radio and TV broadcast license. “The game has to be played awfully rough,” he was caught saying on the White House tapes. His political allies eventually filed challenges against broadcast licenses of two Post-owned stations in Florida, both of which failed.

But even Nixon felt compelled to keep his plotting behind closed doors. With Trump, it’s out in the open, performed for millions supporters checking their iPhones. Maybe he’s just putting on a show for them. But a lot of those voters are going to come away with the idea that shutting down news stations is a good idea. And that might do more damage to the country than quiet, Nixonian skullduggery ever did.

It’s that Jack Nicholson thing. Madmen are smart as hell, or maybe they’re psychopaths, or maybe they’re both, and they can do great evil, or lead the rest of us to freedom – and no one knows which it will be. Maybe that’s not all that fascinating now, not with this guy.

As for Gabriel Sherman and his more impressionistic reporting, he did offer this:

In recent days, I spoke with a half dozen prominent Republicans and Trump advisers, and they all describe a White House in crisis as advisers struggle to contain a president who seems to be increasingly unfocused and consumed by dark moods. Trump’s ire is being fueled by his stalled legislative agenda and, to a surprising degree, by his decision last month to back the losing candidate Luther Strange in the Alabama Republican primary. “Alabama was a huge blow to his psyche,” a person close to Trump said. “He saw the cult of personality was broken.”

According to two sources familiar with the conversation, Trump vented to his longtime security chief, Keith Schiller, “I hate everyone in the White House! There are a few exceptions, but I hate them!” Two senior Republican officials said Chief of Staff John Kelly is miserable in his job and is remaining out of a sense of duty to keep Trump from making some sort of disastrous decision. Today, speculation about Kelly’s future increased after Politico reported that Kelly’s deputy Kirstjen Nielsen is likely to be named Homeland Security Secretary – the theory among some Republicans is that Kelly wanted to give her a soft landing before his departure…

West Wing aides have also worried about Trump’s public appearances, one Trump adviser told me. The adviser said aides were relieved when Trump declined to agree to appear on the season premiere of 60 Minutes last month. “He’s lost a step. They don’t want him doing adversarial TV interviews,” the adviser explained. Instead, Trump has sat down for friendly conversations with Sean Hannity and Mike Huckabee, whose daughter is Trump’s press secretary.

This is not going well:

Several months ago, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversation, former chief strategist Steve Bannon told Trump that the risk to his presidency wasn’t impeachment, but the 25th Amendment – the provision by which a majority of the Cabinet can vote to remove the president. When Bannon mentioned the 25th Amendment, Trump said, “What’s that?” According to a source, Bannon has told people he thinks Trump has only a 30 percent chance of making it the full term.

“What’s that?” That’s what sums up everything here. As that North Korean fellow said, the wick is lit. Everything is coming to a head. Madmen are smart as hell, or maybe they’re psychopaths, or maybe they’re both, and Donald Trump seems to be one of them. That’s fun in the movies. Jack Nicholson made a career of that. But in real life that’s another matter.

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A Sporting Chance

“I hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense.” ~ H. L. Mencken

“In response to the challenge of strangers, sport arose as a sublimated representation of a community’s armed might as well as its pride of place and clan.” ~ John Thorn

To some, a community’s pride of place and clan is everything. Know who you are and be proud of it. Be proud of your people – be proud of your hometown football team – and then some fool packs up and leaves for the big city, or for Paris, never to return. Another marries outside the religion, or even worse, outside the race – either way, outside the clan. They stop cheering for the Steelers or whatever. They’re idiots. Idiot literally means a “private person” – from the Greek idios – “one’s own” and only one’s own. They’ve left the clan – but H. L. Mencken is impressed with the common sense of such folks. If sport arose as a sublimated representation of a community’s armed might as well as its pride of place and clan, all sports are hogwash. Or all sports are about something else – something dark and irrational – armed might and the clan.

Sometimes that’s blatant, as Allegra Kirkland notes here:

Color guard displays, enlistment ceremonies, military appreciation nights: These were among the many displays of “paid patriotism” that NFL teams once regularly carried out as part of lucrative contracts with the U.S. Defense Department.

She explains it all. It seems that taxpayers paid each team over five million dollars a year for that – sweet free money for years – but she notes that the business with the national anthem is a bit more complicated. Before 2009, players were in the locker room for that. They ran out, to big cheers, after all that patriotic stuff was over. That wasn’t football. That was something else. Everyone understood that. One team was called the Patriots, but they weren’t. They were football players.

What changed? It wasn’t the money – the DOD said they didn’t ask for that change – they weren’t paying for that – and there never was any NFL rule about the players standing for the anthem. And the DOD is not paying for anything now. John McCain and a few others put an end to “paid patriotism” – McCain said he preferred the real thing. But remember, Donald Trump said that John McCain is no hero at all – he never was. It’s all quite complicated.

It’s also quite normal now too. Americans have their Olympics clan-chant – USA! USA! USA!

Everyone understands what that means. “We” will humiliate those other guys. Americans cheer for the clan, not the individual athletes, and Donald Trump tapped into that. America would always win. No nation would ever humiliate America ever again, even if none really had. He said they had, and starting with Mexico, we’d humiliate them all – and starting with Little Marco and Lyin’ Ted, and moving on to Crooked Hillary, he humiliated anyone who disagreed with him about anything at all. His tweets destroyed them. He was a winner. We’d all be winners, again, finally. He’d make America great again.

That hasn’t worked out. Things are falling apart. Nothing is getting done. Donald Trump is picking fights with Republican allies he needs in Congress and with his own cabinet – guys like Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson, guys he appointed and now regularly and publicly insults – and one by one, our foreign allies shrug and walk away. The United States is now far less important than before. They’ll do what they can for their own countries, on their own. They’ll work their own trade deals with Asia, and everyone else. They’ll work with Iran on that nuclear business, to keep everyone safe. They don’t need us for that – and the Paris climate accord will be fine – they’ll work with individual states over here on such things. Let Trump be Trump. They have other things to do.

This has put Donald Trump in an awkward position. The “clan” needs a win. So, is there a contest, with a big prize, for the person who accurately predicts the exact date and time of the Trump Tweet™ where he calls for the NFL to ban all black players and make professional football an all-white sport, with no whiners? If not, why not? Contests are fun. And what about the exact date and time of the one where he calls for that to extend to all sports? And what about the exact date and time of the one where calls for legislation to make all of this into law? There should be a prize for nailing the exact date and time, to the second, of these three things. The “Klan” needs a win. That may seem farfetched, but these back football players, kneeling on one knee for the anthem, in attitude of prayer, to protest the constant string of the deaths of unarmed young black men at the hands of the police, are insulting the clan, and the military too – the community’s armed might as well as its pride of place and clan. They are “idiots” in the original sense of the word. And they are whiners.

Trump is working on that:

Up early Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump fired off several tweets referring to his ongoing feud with NFL players protesting during the national anthem.

Trump escalated his tiff with the football league by suggesting the government nix the NFL’s tax breaks – “Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!”

There’s only one problem with that:

The NFL gave up its tax exempt status in 2015, leaving it unclear which tax breaks Trump would be looking to eliminate. The league does see tax breaks when building stadiums, but those are granted by local governments, not the federal government.

Oops. This president is not a well-informed man, or even an informed man – no surprise there – but the clan (and the Klan) will forgive him, because he heart was in the right place:

Monday night, Trump defended Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who said recently that he would not allow any player who kneels during the national anthem to play – “A big salute to Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who will BENCH players who disrespect our Flag – Stand for Anthem or sit for game!”

Trump’s renewed interest in the NFL and players’ protests came after Vice President Mike Pence walked out on a football game over the weekend when players kneeled for the national anthem.

Jerry Jones is taking a risk with this. Imagine all his black players getting together and deciding to kneel for the anthem at the next game. That would be a cool challenge. Do you really want to field an all-white team, do you, Jerry? Good luck with that. This could escalate.

It has escalated:

The NAACP is furious with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones – claiming his comments about sitting players who “disrespect the flag” are tone-deaf and misinformed.

Tony Covington – a former NFL safety who’s now an executive with the NAACP – issued a statement on behalf of the organization blasting Jones.

“Jerry Jones’ comments are more than tone-deaf, more than misinformed and misguided – they are a public commitment by an NFL owner to violate his players’ Constitutional right to free speech – one of the principles on which our nation was founded.”

Covington continued… “They are proof that athletes like Colin Kaepernick who have quietly and peacefully used their platform to protest violence against communities of color do so at their own peril.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says it has reached out to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for a private meeting “in order to determine how he can best protect his players.”

“We hope that he will work with us and the Players’ Association to forge this critical path forward.”

The idea here is that the right to free speech is one of the principles on which that nation was founded, a basic thing that defines the American “clan” – so Jerry Jones is the “idiot” here – the odd man out.

But it got worse for Jones:

Local 100 of the United Labor Unions filed a complaint against the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday, alleging owner and general manager Jerry Jones has violated the National Labor Relations Act by threatening players if they choose not to stand for the national anthem.

Jones said earlier this week if a player “disrespects the flag” and national anthem by not standing, then the player will not play.

According to the filing to the National Labor Relations Board, “the employer, evidenced by repeated public statements, is attempting to threaten, coerce and intimidate all Dallas Cowboys players on the roster in order to prevent them from exercising concerted activity protected under the act by saying that he will fire any players involved in such concerted activity.”

This did escalate:

Jones has said players will not play, not that they would be fired, if they do not stand for the anthem, but Wade Rathke, Local 100’s chief organizer, said that is a “distinction without difference when it comes to the law.”

“You can’t discipline somebody for something that is a right they have under the law, whether that discipline is termination or benching or giving a slap on the wrist or writing up in their files they’ve been a bad boy,” Rathke said. “That’s just not what they can do when it comes to concerted activities. I know in the modern age people think workers shouldn’t have rights, but they still do. This union was offended by those comments. Mr. Jones just got carried away being a rich guy and there’s no laws he has to respect.”

According to Rathke, the NLRB will assign a field agent to investigate the claim and if there is a determination that there is a violation of the act it will go to trial if no settlement is reached.

And then it got even more interesting:

According to the NFL’s game manual, players are not required to stand for the anthem; however, it is written that they “should” stand at attention.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to NFL teams expressing a belief that “everyone should stand for the national anthem” and that the dispute surrounding the issue is “threatening to erode the unifying power of our game.” He spoke of a plan that will be reviewed with the teams at next week’s league meeting, which would “include such elements as an in-season platform to promote the work of our players on these core issues.”

That might not fly. Those players might not want to be good little boys, not on the issue of all the dead unarmed black kids, and there was this:

When asked if he would really sit a player like Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant, Jones initially deferred.

“The policy and my actions are going to be that if you’re not honoring, standing for the flag in a way that a lot of our fans feel that you should, if that’s not the case, then you won’t play,” Jones said, noting that his stance is “nothing new.” He added, “As far as whether or not I will basically institute or basically do what I said, I just would say that the implication that we’re not respecting the flag is just not going to be accepted and so I would just ask anybody to look at my record relative to what I say I’m going to do and you go from there.”

What did he just say? Who knows? Maybe that was the point, but there was this from the Dallas Morning News:

Jones can legally outline policies and procedures for his employees, according to local attorney Chad Baruch, a First Amendment expert who focuses on constitutional and appellate law.

“He’s a private employer, so he’s free to make any rules he wants that infringe on free speech,” Baruch said. “He’s totally unconstrained legally. The First Amendment protects your right to have opinions against government intrusion, not to exercise that right at work.”

Fine, but the Washington Post’s Cindy Boren adds this:

Perhaps Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys owner who has forbidden his players from doing anything but standing during the national anthem under penalty of benching, should give Tony Dungy a call.

Dungy – the Hall of Fame coach – directed a bit of advice toward Jones about trying to squash protests in a tweet Monday night after Jones told ESPN that his players would be benched if they did not stand for the national anthem. Dungy’s point? Protesters, not the establishment, decide when a protest ends.

“Why would he think the controversy would go away when in the players’ minds the same issues are still there?” Dungy wrote.

And there are new issues too:

Last month, Dungy spoke up for players who had taken a knee or linked arms in their attempt to make a statement about racial injustice, defending their First Amendment rights after Trump stirred up a storm that unified players by calling anyone who protests a “son of a bitch” who should be suspended or fired. In a “Today” show interview, Dungy said that he thought the demonstrations of Sept. 24 were about freedom of speech, and about Trump’s remarks.

“Up until yesterday, the players would want people to know this was not about the flag,” he said. “This was not about patriotism. In their opinion, it was about social change. A group of our family got attacked and called names and said they were unpatriotic and should be fired for what we feel is demonstrating our First Amendment right. We’re going to band together as a family, and they reacted.

“You had people who hadn’t been in this movement now saying, ‘I’m going to side with my teammates.'”

Damontre Moore and David Irving of the Cowboys raised their fists at the end of the national anthem Sunday, but Coach Jason Garrett said Monday that they would not be disciplined.

The owner’s head coach let that pass. Perhaps Jerry Jones should fire him – or something – but there is that other famous football coach:

In a radio interview Monday, Mike Ditka was asked his opinion on NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem, and the legendary player and coach painted a pretty rosy picture of the world in response.

“I don’t know what social injustices there’ve been,” Ditka told Jim Gray on Westwood One before “Monday Night Football.”

Ditka stated that folks need to be “colorblind” and not judge people by the color of their skin. And apparently he thinks everyone has been doing a pretty good job of that.

“All of the sudden it’s become a big deal now about oppression,” he said. “There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of. Now maybe I’m not watching as carefully as other people. I think the opportunity is there for everybody – race, religion, creed, color, nationality. If you want to work, if you want to try, if you want to put effort in, I think you can accomplish anything.”

He’s not as carefully watching as other people, but he is fine with Jerry Jones:

Ditka said he would institute similar rules if he were in such a position. “If you don’t respect our country, then you shouldn’t be in this country playing football. Go to another country and play football.”

So said the white man, who says those black folks have nothing to complain about and should stop whining. America, love it or leave it. If you’re not part of the clan, and proud of it, get the hell out. No one wants you here anyway. They do play football in Canada. It’s the late sixties all over again.

Or maybe it isn’t:

Most Americans disagree with President Donald Trump that football players should be fired for kneeling in protest during the national anthem, but a majority also would prefer that the players stand during the song.

The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll finds that 57 percent of Americans don’t think the National Football League should fire players who kneel during the anthem as a protest against racial injustice and police brutality toward African Americans. This includes 61 percent of NFL fans who watch at least a few games each season.

Those guys should stand, but this is no big deal, except that there are clans within clans:

Eighty-two percent of Democrats and 29 percent of Republicans disagree with the president about firing the football players.

It all depends on who you ask:

Eighty-five percent of Americans told Reuters/Ipsos they almost always “stand in silence” when “The Star Spangled Banner” is played at a public event they are attending. Fifty-eight percent say “professional athletes should be required to stand during the national anthem at sporting events.” But most say such athletes shouldn’t be fired if they refuse to stand, and 53 percent say it’s not appropriate for the president to comment on “how the NFL and its players conduct themselves during the national anthem.”

Democratic pollster Mark Penn, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, told Fox News, “There’s kind of a standoff on this thing,” with many Americans opposed to the protests during the national anthem but at the same time opposed to firing the protesting athletes as Trump suggested. “The country can’t take more division like this,” Penn said, adding that most Americans want bipartisanship and cooperation.

The general consensus is that it’s not appropriate for the president to comment on how the NFL and its players conduct themselves during the national anthem – because it really doesn’t matter much – but things are falling apart. Nothing is getting done. Donald Trump is picking fights with everyone in sight and our foreign allies shrug and walk away. Donald Trump is in a bind. The “clan” needs a win. He really may call for the NFL to ban all black players and make professional football an all-white sport, with no whiners – but it seems Americans define the “American clan” a bit more broadly than he does. Those who protest the constant string of the deaths of unarmed young black men at the hands of the police are part of the clan too. Only the Klan is upset, but that’s another matter.

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